My son fancies himself a horticulturalist. Not the garden-variety horticulturalist, but the sandbox variety.
This year, his interests have taken him to a place where he likes to make something out of nothing. Seeds, which are almost nothing, is where he started this past spring.
He planted tomato seeds in an egg carton, inside the house, and fussed over them like a mother hen. He agonized over whether to keep them protected inside the house or replant them outside when the time came. I felt exactly that way before my two oldest sons were ready to start college.
About six plants actually made it through the egg carton stage and were replaced outside. He mourned the loss of each plant that didn’t make it past the egg carton.
“Mom, how do farmers keep their plants alive long enough for a harvest?”
I do not have a green thumb by any stretch of the imagination, but I know how to grow strong, independent children. My motherly advice to my son was:
“Son, the plants that didn’t make it weren’t strong enough to develop into a full-grown tomato. Take good care of the others and soon you will have your harvest.”
He planted them in a flower garden on a side of the house that doesn’t get much sun. He thought that if he planted them in a safe place where the sun wouldn’t fry them, he wouldn’t have to water them as often. My would-be gardener was surprised when their growth was stunted and they didn’t produce… uh, produce.
“You cannot protect them from the wind, rain, and sun and expect them to grow,” I said. I was thinking about his first few months of Taekwondo. “You have to challenge them and then support them through it. Try putting your plants in full sun and water them often.”
So he transferred three of the plants to his old sandbox, which had plenty of sunshine, and he planted some pumpkin seeds there to keep them company.
The pumpkin seeds began to grow. As they grew, they wandered all over the sandbox. One even started growing up a nearby tree. They sprouted plenty of flowers, but no pumpkins. My son was confused. They had sun. They had water. They were growing, but… no pumpkins.
My advice was: “You have to give them boundaries. They are putting too much effort into spreading out and not enough into production. You need to make them stop spreading and then they will start producing.”
Experimenting with that advice, my son cut three feet off the vine that was growing up a tree. Two days later, a tiny pumpkin developed just before the cut.
He was very pleased with his pumpkin’s progress but, now, two of his tomato plants had invited some pests to their place – caterpillars – and now the plants looked like they might not make it.
I told him, “You must be very mindful about those that they spend time with, and vigilant against harmful intruders. Not everything out there will be good for them. There are parasites that thrive on destroying your good work.”
He distributed a natural pesticide on the ground around the remaining plant and hoped that it would be enough to deter the caterpillars.
It was. Yesterday, he picked five tomatoes from his plant. The look on his face when he held the ripe fruit of his labors was priceless. He was amazed. He was in awe. He was so joyously proud.
…I knew exactly how he felt.