We had a tiny little glimpse of spring weather as the new year arrived, and as we put away the last of the Christmas decorations, my mind wandered into the garden I don’t have yet. We still don’t have a garden at our new house, but I’m determined this year, if the Lord permits me the time I need to prepare for it.
Our last house was a gardener’s paradise. An acre of wonderfully fertile soil out in farming country for me to begin our amateur homestead! Twenty years of military moves and tiny, temporary residences prevented me from gardening until we “retired” to the country, so when I tilled that first plot, my zeal definitely outweighed my knowledge.
I planted corn, beans, cucumbers, okra, and tomatoes in that ambitious little piece of dirt. It was WAY more than I was prepared for, and the only bumper crop that year was my experience. I had hoped for a natural, organic garden, even a bit wild. What was wild about it was how quickly the entire garden resembled a bed of tall weeds, producing very little in terms of healthy veggies. It was a learning experience to be sure, but painful nonetheless.
Among the many lessons learned that year was that tomatoes don’t do so well left out in the field with every other plant. Oh sure, they’ll grow, but not very well; the sprawling was too difficult to control. My second gardening season, I added a couple of raised beds in the hopes that having better access to my tomatoes would make it easier to maintain them. I still didn’t fully grasp how much I’d have to train those branches. It didn’t take long for the chaos to take over again. We did at least get a few sweet little cherry tomatoes to whet the appetite. I did a lot more research that fall and winter.
Year three, I got serious about my ‘maters. I’d planted asparagus where the previous year’s tomatoes were, and with that perennial addition, I found myself fully invested, committed, and charging ahead with the intense training my unsuspecting tomato seedlings had been signed up for.
I experimented with two different forms of tomato training that year. In one raised bed, I held my growing plants up by firmly (but gently) tying them to tall, thick, deeply-embedded stakes. In another bed, I supported them using horizontally-run lines of garden twine, known as the Florida weave. Both methods were equally successful, although I came to prefer the stakes, as the twine had a habit of becoming tangled as the plants grew taller and wider.
What I eventually learned was that my much-earned bumper crop of tomatoes wasn’t particularly due to the method I used to train the plants, but rather the fact that I was diligent to train and prune them regularly, as well as making sure they had the proper conditions for growth.
Perhaps the pruning and feeding of tomato plants could yield another “parable” post entirely, but the training of these plants is something I’d like to make a practical application with, if I may. These little tomato seedlings of mine were very much like the tender hearts of those who are trying to live the life of a faithful servant of God–especially children or those who are babes in Christ–new Christians of any age. Given the right conditions for growth, any plant will grow well. But as we are with our own vegetable gardens, our Heavenly Father is far more pleased with those who bear fruit. That kind of growth requires diligent and firm training. Otherwise, as I saw with my wild (albeit huge) plants in the untamed garden, we may end up with feral hearts and souls that are wild and bear very little fruit.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8
If we are not careful to provide firm support for growing hearts, training them to grow upright and to cling tightly to the firm foundation that will keep them steady, we may end up losing them to uncontrolled conditions that can pull them down where they can be broken or trampled on, or even swallowed up by weeds.
It’s definitely countercultural to say that not all growth is good growth and to suggest at all that we are firm in the training of young hearts (or those young in the faith). “Tomato staking” sounds mean and harsh in a world that celebrates free expression and resisting authority, but let us never forget that God isn’t looking for the biggest, most beautiful plant.
He’s wanting us to bear fruit.