We accidentally planted 40 tomato plants. That’s not a typo. Forty. It started off innocently enough. When the ground was still snow-covered and the creek was still solid, we were dreaming of spring and yearning for warmth and the smell of dirt and sunshine, so we planted a packet of seeds indoors to pass the time. Our plan was to start many different types of seeds, imagining a garden full of diverse foods, a smorgasbord of flavor and color and nutrition! Our children would learn to prune, weed, harvest, and preserve all of the vegetables of the rainbow: beans and squash and peppers and cauliflower, carrots and onions and potatoes and peas! But then we had a baby in March, and our toddler tackled potty training, and where on earth did all of those seed packets that we bought go anyway? I couldn’t find my glasses, let alone a non-descript paper bag buried somewhere in a three-car garage. But we had the packet of tomato seeds, so tomatoes it was.
This was our first growing season living on our acreage, and we were determined to have a big, bursting-at-the-seams garden to show for it. (Be careful what you wish for!) A friendly retired farmer with a rusty trusty orange tractor agreed to come till up our big plot of dirt, and once you’ve got tilled dirt, you might as well fill it up with plants! We plunked some pea and green bean seeds in the ground, adding some rows of carrots and lettuce and kale here and there, and then mounded up as many cucumber, watermelon, and cantaloupe hills as we could handle. After all that, we still had half the garden sitting there empty. Those 40 poor little tomato starts were scraggly and yellow at this point, and we weren’t sure if any of them would survive the transplant, but we had them, and we couldn’t just waste all that beautiful tilled Iowa soil, so we planted every last one of them, figuring nature would take care of the rest. The healthy ones would grow, and we would thin out the sickly ones later.
They ALL grew.
Deer broke into our garden and demolished every single plant into sad little sticks (TWICE!) and they STILL grew back!
Have you heard of eating seasonally? It’s a beautiful philosophy and practice: at its simplest, you eat foods in the season in which they are grown. When peaches are in season, you eat them. When they are no longer in season, you don’t. As each food becomes ripe, you delight in it, you indulge in it, and you reap the benefits of enjoying peak flavor and the most nutrient-packed version of that food that it could possibly be. Eating seasonally means that your food doesn’t have to travel from all ends of the earth. Whatever is ripe and delicious right now in your world, you welcome it with open arms, experiment with it, eat it three different ways for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and by the time it is out of season, you will be glad to not see it again for another year.
This was our tomato season, and so we ate tomatoes. We canned tomatoes. We canned tomato sauce. We made marinara, tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, salsa, and every kind of tomato product we could think up. We filled our freezer with tomatoes for the whole year ahead. We put tomatoes in our smoothies, salads, and sandwiches. Tomatoes became our way of life. Tomatoes were our destiny.
At first, it was bliss. My kids and I skipped out to the garden every morning, eagerly anticipating our daily harvest, pleased as punch at our garden’s bounty. We filled our pockets, grocery bags, buckets, and strollers full of tomatoes. We laughed and admired the fruits of our labors, popping little grape tomatoes into our mouths like candy. As the season wore on though, sometimes, I couldn’t stand the sight of tomatoes anymore. I was tired of picking them, tired of eating them, tired of dealing with them. I wanted variety! I wanted something new.
It isn’t hard to see the parallels to parenting. Seasons come, and seasons go, and with each one comes new delights, new challenges, new tasks, and new lessons to learn. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, monotonous, or repetitious. It can feel like never-ending work. It can be hard to focus on the present moment, when longing for what’s coming next can consume our thoughts. But try to slow down and enjoy your tomatoes. Whatever phase your children are in right now, that is your tomatoes. Figure out what bounty life is giving you right now, and appreciate it. Do you have a newborn? Your tomatoes might be snuggles, rocking, physical closeness. If you have a toddler, your tomatoes might be tickles, “Why?” questions, or reading books. Your preschooler wants you to play pretend with her now more than she ever will again in life. That’s your tomatoes. Get out there and pick them.
Every phase is temporary. Every season is fleeting. Fill your basket with the bounty of the season, and figure out how to make it work with your life right now. Taste its unique flavor. Notice all the nuances of texture and taste, slowly at first, and then go ahead and gorge yourself. Have your fill of it until its juices are dripping down your chin and elbows, and there is no other food in all of the world that could be better than this food, right here and now.
Because in the blink of an eye, the seasons change. The wind changes direction and blows a little cooler, the leaves turn color and scatter in crispy clusters, and the tomatoes plop to the ground. One minute you will have bushels of shiny, red orbs, piled high on your counters and overflowing all over your table. And the next minute? You will find yourself standing in the middle of a brown garden, withered vines strewn about in discarded piles.
It can feel like grieving, the end of a season. To say goodbye to something that has brought so much pleasure, so much effort, so much energy and vigor…it is hard to see it go. Sometimes, in the middle of the season, it can feel like it will never end. We might take it for granted, believing that this season’s bounty will last forever. But a seasonal eater knows better: enjoy it while it is here, for soon it will be not.
Grieve it when it’s gone. But take heart…when tomato season ends, it’s time for apple season!
What are your tomatoes?