My grandpa’s greenhouse used to smell pungent and tangy – full of tomatoes. I remember them shooting up to the ceiling, ripening the air with hot green leaves, and my grandpa disappearing below them as he walked to the back of the structure, tending to his plants. It was always too hot; I hung back outside, hands clutching the bottom of the Dutch door, which opened into a room that exuded sweet and dense air. I rarely followed him. However, twenty years later, I have been doing my best to recreate the magic that happened between those walls of glass.
As this is the second year in my experimental gardening in that very same greenhouse, I decided to try growing some cherry tomatoes. I liked those the best, and felt optimistic after reading that Sungolds flourished in our region. Soon, two Sungold and six Beefstake starters were in the dirt, next to the window that had produced the most prolific crop of cucumbers last year. I waited and watered and watched, everyday getting just a hint more of that alert, tomatoey smell. And then, one day — a flower! The most precious sight, exploding in a burst of bright yellow, beamed up at me. Hope.
I’m not sure what exactly it was that gave me such hope, but maybe it was the fact that there was the promise of new life, the promise of something simple and perfect growing just as it should, the promise of a tasty treat. After all of my concentrated watching, soon a few more blossoms emerged. Elated, I admired them, leaned my face close to inspect their perfectness, and avoided bumping them at all costs as I watered around their delicate petals.
But then I witnessed a terrifying turn: those same beautiful, bright yellow buds were shriveling, drying, and dropping off the vine, leaving no bulbous promise behind them. I was losing all of those precious flowers—what was happening?! I couldn’t figure it out. The soil was moist, there was plenty of sunlight, it wasn’t too hot nor too cold…Maybe, I thought, the problem was just with that one bunch and the rest would fix themselves.
That was not the case. A week later, more flowers dropped and so did my hopes. Again I thought maybe it was a two-time thing and waited it out, but after more precious buds fell, I did what any novice would do: I googled it.
Clearly, I was not the first person with this problem; the search engine auto-filled my dilemma as if it were an everyday problem. Pages of results popped up, and the most frequent solution? Shake the plants! Tomatoes, as I discovered, are self-pollinators. However, they require wind, or even a slight breeze to make it happen.
All of my care to avoid the delicate flowers had actually been hurting the plants! I should have been bumping into them to mimic natural air flow and allow them to pollinate. Getting a little agitated would do them good (and us too, occasionally). Replacing “watching” with “shaking” in my care for these Sungolds has made a big difference and I’ve learned that sometimes all it takes is a little nudge to make things happen.