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November 22, 2013

NOTES FROM THE JOURNEY: Graced by fall tomatoes

By JOHN PAUL CARTER

In July, I thought my garden had no future and all my efforts had been in vain. My friend’s tiller had been in the shop in March and we had been out of town the first week in April, so it was the 20th before I got all my 16 frail tomato plants in the freshly plowed  ground. They were like a bunch of kids who marked their sixth birthday the day before they started first grade – already far behind.

Because the plants were a “duke’s mixture” of what remained at the market at that late date, their future didn’t look very promising. However, they managed to hold their own until July came with its 100 degree days and scarce rainfall.

Their fruit was scant and Carole kept urging me to let the garden die. But I kept on pulling weeds and watering every two or three days. Thankfully, my bird friends, whom I feed year-round, pitched in to help by controlling the insects that threatened to devour the struggling plants.

Somehow, in spite of the ineptness of the gardener, all but a couple of plants survived the severe August heat and, in September, began to grow, spread and blossom. In a miracle of miracles, for the last two months we’ve had a fall crop of tomatoes that has surpassed even my best past summer harvests. We’ve given away more than we’ve kept and I harvested the remaining green ones before last week’s freeze.

There aren’t many things that taste as good as tomatoes fresh out of the garden in November. To enjoy such a harvest “out of due season” from plants that I didn’t expect to survive the Texas summer is pure grace. 

It reminds me of what the English poet-preacher John Donne (1575-1631) wrote about the grace of our Master Gardener: “God made sun and moon to distinguish seasons and day and night. And we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons. But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of His mercies.

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