they’re going to get heavy.
These almost-tomatoes are the first visible signs that I did not drown them like I was sure I had. For awhile, I got a little over zealous with watering and was whipping the hose around like it was spraying magic beans that would grow on contact with anything they hit.
I mean, why wouldn’t I water them a lot? It’s summer, it’s already hot, and in the greenhouse, it’s even hotter. I would think that being buried in all that soil has to feel like a sauna because that’s what this thing is—I go in there for five minutes and come out with a radiant tan and drenched in enough sweat to legally declare the greenhouse as an official part of Dante’s Inferno. Honestly, my skin has never been clearer.
I consulted Jessica about the yellow leaves. She confirmed that, yes, the leaves were yellow, and yes, I was overwatering them. That was when she inquired about my cage-less plants.
“They’re going to get heavy,” she said. “They’ll need support. Also, are they both in the same pot? That’s not going to work for much longer.”
What she was trying to say, was that these plants would fluff out ten times their original size; like my daughter’s hair when it’s humid outside. If I wasn’t careful, I’d walk in there one day and step into a Peruvian rainforest; only it would be less exotic because I’m in Colorado. Together these two tomato plants in one pot would be huge, and jungly, and I would cry, because I know tomato worms will grow with the plant until they are large enough to bark. I’ll walk in one day and there it will be, a huge tomato worm just hanging out like Jabba the hut.
“You got any ice water?” he’ll say in a thick New York accent. “It’s friggin hot in here.”
I had never considered insects in my greenhouse before I started this whole business. I know, everyone knows gardens and bugs are synonymous, but to be fair, I also used to think that jicama was pronounced, “gee-uh-cama,” so, I think it’s a fair assumption that I’m an idiot.
When I decided this was going to be a thing, I was thinking about not buying strawberries every week at the grocery store. That’s it. I didn’t think of the science and entomology behind any of this. So, if I had never considered feeding my plants plant food, I most certainly did not know that hornworms (their legal name) existed—not until my aunt casually said, “I hope you don’t get tomato worms, they are so disgusting.” She mentioned it the way someone casually mentions the house you just bought is haunted.
“That is so cool, your house. It’s gorgeous. Also, after 2:00 a.m. there’s a weeping and wailing noise that comes from the fourth bedroom on the right side of the hall, and sometimes, something will hum and stroke your hair around 11:00 p.m. Have a great night!”
So, of course, I had to look up what a hornworm was, and I really wish I hadn’t. I’ve seen earthworms, and they aren’t my favorite, but they’re fine. I mean, I wouldn’t want to see one on my dinner plate or touch one, but they’re okay because they’re usually under the pots slopping in the water leftovers. They aren’t all up in my face inching over leaves where I can see them and just visibly being gross to look at. I told Jessica that I promised if I ever saw one, I would set the entire greenhouse on fire to ensure they will never get close to my house. Ever.
“Tomato worms aren’t that big,” she said. “Besides you’re in a greenhouse and there are fragrant marigolds planted with your tomatoes that those worms hate; marigolds that are probably attracting the aphids that killed your peppers.”
Anyway, I had already read tomatoes needed to be caged, but because I have no idea what I’m doing, I assumed it was after there were actual tomatoes. Had Jessica not politely questioned my cage-free gardening, I would be wrestling tomato plants into cages like how I wrestle my son into his car seat: sobbing and fighting and wondering how I got here in life.
The next day I set out to get cages. I frantically wandered the aisles at Home Depot with the same urgency that someone might if their plants had simply shot out of the ground forty feet overnight. I was already watering them more than I should have been, and it was hot outside. I didn’t know how much time I had. I worried they would be un-manageable by the time I got home.
I saw an employee in the garden section. She was older with a wide brim straw hat. She wore a pink bandanna around her neck and looked relaxed while she watered the perennials that were in full sun.
“Where can I find the small tomato cages,” I asked. “I don’t need very big ones yet.”
She looked at me like I just asked her where the women’s underwear section was, and if they had the bras with concealing petals.
“We don’t have small cages,” she said. “They’re all the same size.”
“Well, what if my tomato plants are small?” I asked.
“You do know they’re going to grow, right?” she said.
When I got home, I put a cage over one of the tomatoes; it looked small and insignificant. I couldn’t see this thing getting wild and unruly. I transferred the other plant to a new pot, where it went into shock and waived the horticultural finger at me in the form of shriveled leaves for a week. Then, I proceeded to water it several times every day, including after evening—giving fungus a solid chance for rapid growth. I went to bed that night hoping I didn’t kill it or somehow activate the super-sized version of hornworm incubation. I locked my doors, just in case.
As of today, they’re still alive and each plant has a flower. I’m not sure if I’ll kill them before they have a chance to become anything but yellow flowers. There are no hornworms in there, as far as I can tell. I look for them, without looking for them—but I wonder about them in the back of my mind. Sort of the way you might wonder what is making that humming noise and stroking your hair at 11:00 p.m.
“That is some soft hair you got there,” the worm will say, in his familiar New York accent, “I could stroke it forever.”