Live And Learn

Ninety-nice percent of the things you worry about don't happen; the other one percent you can't do anything about, so why worry at all? That's one of my favourite sayings: it sums up how I feel about life in general, and gardening in particular.

That explains why I'm always telling people to put their gardens in early. Plants like peas, spinach, and lettuce can take a spring frost in stride. Others might represent more of a risk, but most years it's a chance worth taking. The frost will come if it comes; if it does, you can't stop it, and if it doesn't, you have an early crop.

Of course, when disaster does occur, gardeners must be philosophical. No one can predict the weather with absolute accuracy. When it does take a turn for the worse, there's no point taking it personally.

One spring, we planted an entire acre of tomatoes. It had been unseasonably hot the day we put them in - I remember the boys getting sunburns! The plants were growing beautifully. The nights had been warm, the days sunny, and with the end of May approaching, frost seemed out of the question.

As we stepped out the front door one morning, though, the nip in the air was unmistakable. Ted and I immediately ran to check the tomato plants. Sure enough, when we got to the field, we were greeted by row after row of withered, miserable-looking plants.

Yet the carnage wasn't quite complete. The frost had been strangely selective, killing some plants to ground level while leaving others next to them untouched. Still, we had lost about 85 percent of them.

Of course we were devastated. Our bumper crop had been taken away with one cruel, unexpected blow. By then, even our cautious friends had their gardens planted and like us were shaking their heads in disbelief.

All you can do with an experience like that is try to learn from it. We ended up getting quite a good crop of green tomatoes off the surviving plants, although nowhere near what we had hoped. The plants that had been nipped at the top grew out bushy and wide, and eventually bore some fruit. Even some we thought were completely destroyed somehow grew back from the roots, although, with our short season, they barely had time to flower before fall.

The experience also made us take a long second look at where we were planting our tomatoes. Because they were at the top of a hill,  they were far more exposed than they should have been. They lay at the mercy of spring frosts and summer winds.

At the same time, we decided it was time to upgrade our operation. That summer, Ted set to work on a new greenhouse, where the tomatoes were grown from then on, so we would never again have to take that kind of risk with such a large crop of tomatoes. If you plant a half dozen tomatoes in your back yard, you can easily cover them if you're hit by a late frost. If you have a whole acre, however, the bed sheets aren't nearly big enough! I like taking risks, but there's such a thing as being foolhardy.

The most important lesson we learned from those tomatoes, though, was the truth of that old farmers' adage: "There's always next year." Sure enough, we survived to try again.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer