How do you plant a tomato plant?
You start off with a lovely tomato plant, maybe one you grew yourself from seed or one you bought at a local greenhouse where they grew it from seed.
You pick a variety that reminds you of the tomato plants your dad bought, when ‘Big Boy’ and ‘Beefsteak’ and ‘Supersteak’ grew in many backyard gardens.
Or perhaps you buy a variety called ‘Old German’ because it reminds you of your ancestors who came to the United States from Germany. And you think it would be a good match for the variety ‘German Johnson’ which always reminds you of your grandmother.
You touch the tomato plant and it releases its distinctive tomato plant scent onto your hands. You pause as you breathe in the scent and it releases all your memories of tomatoes grown in the past. You remember your dad bringing in buckets of tomatoes and your mom wondering what she would do with all of them.
You remember summer lunches at your grandparents, always served with a platter of sliced home grown tomatoes and recall how some relatives salted their tomatoes, others sprinkled theirs with sugar, but you liked yours plain.
You feel the ground, it’s warm. The air is warm. You’ve checked the long-range weather forecast, and there is not even a hint of frost so you’ve decided you really have made it through another winter, through another spring, to the first hint of summer.
You recall how your dad planted his tomato plants. He dug a deep hole and put some well-rotted cow manure in the bottom of the hole, the cow manure you yourself helped him get from a generous farmer who told your dad he could take all he wanted.
So the first thing you do with your tomato plant, upon which you are pinning all your hopes for a perfect bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, with a thick tomato slice so big it covers the bread from corner to corner, is cut off all the side branches to leave just one or two leaves at the very top.
Then, because your tomato plant isn’t nearly as big as the ones your dad planted, you dig a trench instead of a deep hole, lay the tomato plant in the trench, and gently bend the tip of the plant up so it will be out of the soil when you cover the roots and most of the stem.
You know that along that buried section of stem, more roots will grow and you’ll end up with a stronger, healthier tomato plant, the kind of plant that will produce bigger, better tomatoes, no matter the variety.
And you side dress it with a bit of organic fertilizer because you don’t know of a good source for cow manure, but you know your dad, and grandpa, and all the grandpas before them would laugh from Heaven at the idea of buying a bag of cow poo.
Then you give the ground a good pat around the tomato plant and gently water it in.
Finally, with your tomato plant in the ground, you say one last prayer for no more frost and begin waiting for the tomato plant to grow, for those yellow flowers to show up, and for that first perfect ripe tomato to be ready to pick.
And that’s how you plant a tomato plant. Just like that.