Growing tomatoes in the Northwest is humble work, starting seed in late February, carrying the seedlings to the greenhouse each morning, bringing them back into the warmth of my home at night, babying them.
I sing to them in the morning.
A few days ago it snowed. Yesterday it was seventy-five in the greenhouse. Spring on the Olympic Peninsula.
I transplanted my eighty-one tomato seedlings to bigger pots today, pinching off the lowest leaves and planting them deep so they’ll grow strong roots, for what’s below the surface is even more important than what’s above. A lot of people buy tall tomato starts from nurseries, only to be disappointed when the plants struggle when put in the ground.
In a few days I’ll have to let go, leave my seedlings overnight in the greenhouse, trusting that they’ll not only survive the overnight chill but become hardier for it. Knowing exactly when you can leave them on their own may be the most important part of growing tomatoes.
And today, as I gather another issue of poets, I think of how raising tomatoes can teach me about writing – that a good poem needs more going on beneath the surface, and if it does, it will continue to grow and fruit long after you let it go.
Patrick Loafman, editor