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My new job working in the greenhouses has been educational, challenging and satisfying. It is interesting to see how plants grow, how they respond to more or less light, too much fertilizer or not enough watering. Here are just a few unexpected lessons:

I have spent the better part of my first two weeks pruning and staking tomatoes, watching them outgrow the first tie-ups and shoot out overlooked suckers at lightning speed when moved from the covered greenhouse, with its darkening extra roof cover, into a sunny place. Suckers, those cute little sets of delicate dark lacy leaves in the axil between the leaf and stem, could be less than an inch one day streaking up to 6 inches overnight. Such are innocent distractions in my walk with the Lord: little things that seem to grow overnight and take over my calendar, my thoughts, my time. It has taken me years to see the little suckers in my life and to learn to cut them off early rather than letting them dominate and control. Often these little distractions seem to start with words that fall out of my mouth, however are really an outcome of my thinking.

I also imagined where the phrase “green thumb” must have been birthed: pinching suckers. The stain of tomato plants on one’s hands is not easily cleansed. When you wash your hands with bleach, the stain browns and soaks into the rest of the cracks in your fingers and hands. The term has a few other origins related to peas and algae, but my thoughts are from experience. Suckers can have harsh consequences on your hands.

Sometimes my thoughts can be like suckers that take me away from intentional living and leave a nasty stain.

When young plants are over-fertilized, if they survive, it is often with deformity. They show signs of being burned: leaves curl and wither, leaf stems produce deformed leaves. Without proper leaves the plan will die or have very slowed growth. Too much of a good thing will always be too much. Sometimes children raised in an overbearing or controlling religion can be this way: too much religion can burn them, allowing their delicate emotions and spirits to dry up, stop growing. How many times have my words or actions “over-fertilized” my friends, acquaintances, or children? Yikes.

In tomatoes, suckers can temporarily take the place of those dead leaves to supply nitrogen needed until the plant itself grows sufficiently past the burn. Once that happens, the suckers can be eliminated. In children and relationships, other things can take be those suckers: distancing, substances, unhealthy actions. Unfortunately for children and relationships, those things that grew up instead of the healthy relationship are not so easily removed and may actually do more damage.

Where and how you tie up tomatoes matters. The tie up support goes over the flower but under the leaf. For friends and family, cover the positive with joy and care, support the structure without damaging the fruit.

After engaging with each plant so intimately during those two weeks, positioning ties in just the right places, I could identify each plant and knew if any were missing or moved. I almost started naming them! Although I tried to treat each equally, I had my favorites. Considering that there were approximately 100 tomato plants each in gallon pots, I consider remembering all that a better test than answering those memory questions at the Medicare annual physical.

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