Friday, April 11, 2008

Who'd be a tomato?

I can tell spring has arrived! My workshop, normally the bastion of wood and metal bashing operations has suddenly taken on a fine green shimmer as boxes of seedlings sit in the window gaining the sunlight but avoiding the late frosts that still catch me out every year. This year, tomatoes and some geraniums fell victim to a late unexpected and unannounced frost. My normally reliable weather forecast showed an overnight temperature of 4C(about 40F) but in the morning the thermometer showed -2C (28F)!

The thin spindly stalks with two tiny leaves on top waving so precariously in the breeze cannot possibly be enough to carry all the information the plant will need to know that it's supposed to be cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, or tomatoes, or even a Broom bush
Now that the seeds are through my only responsibility seems to be to ensure that they have enough water to drink. The workshop provides shelter from the excesses of the climate and the south facing window they sit in provides ample daylight.

But just simply watering is problems enough. - Too much water and everything becomes waterlogged and rots away. A situation I have endured already this year. But there again, too little water and the little seedlings shrivel and wilt. So I plod on, trying to create the experience which will guide me in future years.

Soon now, those seedlings will be big enough to brave the big wide world outside the confines of my workshop and will get to sit in a place of honour in one of the beds of my "Potager". Here, life will really get exciting for them. For the first time they will be blown in the wind, feel the wonderful sensation of fresh rain dropping on their leaves and enjoy basking in the Mediterranean sun. A privilege which many Europeans and those from further afield pay to enjoy!

But here, also in the big wide world, are the threats to survival. Heavy rainfall beating the poor defenceless seedling into the ground, predators, who see such delightful tiny plants as a very welcome addition to their next meal and don't seem to realise that those tiny little plants are only there so that they can become my next meal!

But most will survive. A few will be lost along the way. Others, where the seeds have been sown directly into the ground, will be torn away from the very land that gave them life before they have a chance to become the mature adult they all hope for, by the worst of all the predators - me! I shall arbitrarily decide on life or death for those tiny seedlings based on what? - for sure health will have something to do with it, but most likely it will be the proximity of their neighbours that decides which plants get to live and which to die a premature death.. Imagine, if a world authority could apply the same rules to us humans. "OK. We know we put you in here but now we have decided that there are simply too many people for this patch of land so we are going to thin you all out!"

But the majority will survive all this and will start to climb up and grow. Now that same predator, who only weeks ago was making arbitrary decisions about life and death, suddenly becomes the kind friend and appears everyday with helping hands. "Would you like a little drink?" "Let me tie that loose limb up for you." And then with a perverse twist and a glint,in his eye, the same helpful friend tears another limb from the body saying "Oh you didn't want to start a little spur there!"

By now, that tiny spindly stalk has turned into a vine several feet tall bearing beautiful flowers. The plant knows what it is doing. The survival of the species depends on this plant producing enough fruit to regenerate itself next year. For now, the beautiful flowers are designed to attract a little help from some friends. If they can just attract a bee to transfer the pollen - ahhhh - that's better.

The flower petals fall away and the tiny fruits start to flourish, growing daily.
The tiny spindly seedling has done well It has grown and produced enough fruit to ensure not only the survival of the species but it's prolific expansion. It's had a bit of help along the way and it's survived some overwhelming odds as well. But it has survived and maybe it deserves a pat on the back.

But even now, that biggest of all predators has one final, cruel twist up his sleeve. He carefully pulls and twists the seed bearing fruits from the plant . The helping hand is no longer a friend. He is not pulling the fruit to ensure a good healthy start for the next generation of little plants. No he is going to eat the beautiful, succulent fruit while extolling it's virtues to anyone who will listen!

Who'd be a tomato hey?

1 comment:

Kate said...

This is a beautiful piece Ian. I wil re-read it later. I think you have become my new latest blogger-of-note and I will put a link to your blog from mine, when I get home from the market later. You sound like a really nice bloke!Sorry I havn't come by for a while but I will be back more often now.