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Category: Women of Wisdom

Learning From My Tomato Plant

August 29, 2023

When I look back on this summer, I will remember our sweet cherry tomato plant and the delight it brought to my soul. It lives in a pot on the patio with a basil plant, sharing space and bringing joy together. The growing vines wrap around several long sticks, gathered specifically for the purpose of supporting its growth.

This plant has become so significant to me that when we left for 3 weeks this summer I got a babysitter for my tomato plant. A dear friend came to water the plant and harvest the fruits, ensuring it would continue to grow in our absence.

It is more than just a plant to me. The abundant sweet fruits foster a tradition of belonging. Because we frequently use the patio door for our comings and goings, we pass our tomato friend often, and my son and I each pluck a small tomato each time we come and go. We both love fun little rituals, and for me, those little tomatoes have anchored me to home.

That’s why I was so disturbed when I noticed that one of the leaves on my plant friend was yellow one morning. We were in a hurry though, and I plucked a red globe and went about the errands of the day. As the days went on another leaf turned yellow and then a third. At first, I didn’t take action. I just didn’t have the knowledge to know why it was happening and how I could help, so I did nothing. 

I was paralyzed by my lack of knowledge. 

Then one morning I realized that it wasn’t producing new fruits. The plant was giving me a clue about a need that it had, and it was dependent on me to help it. Dr. Google helped me find the information I needed about why tomato leaves turn yellow. 

It ends up that it can be a vitamin deficiency in the soil, but to properly diagnose it I had to observe whether it was the old leaves or the new leaves that were yellowing and whether it was yellowing on the very edges or all of the leaf except the veins. Each of these different indicators could help me understand whether my plant needed nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, calcium, or iron. A soil sample test could give me specifics, but I could also learn what it needed by just observing the red flags the plant was giving… well, the yellow flags.

It ended up that my plant just needed more nitrogen. That knowledge and a quick trip to the nursery solved the problem. By providing for that need through fertilizer, the new leaves aren’t yellow, and it will keep producing the sweet cherry tomatoes that can continue to fuel our daily ritual.

People are kind of like tomato plants. We need certain things in order to grow properly. We all have needs. And we all give indicators when those needs aren’t being met. Sometimes we don’t have the knowledge or understanding of why those behaviors, emotions, or changes in relationships are happening or what we can do about it. Paralysis caused by lack of knowledge can lead to stagnation and deterioration in plants and people. 

With my plant, the leaves would still be yellowing, and likely the production of fruit would have been affected. With people, if we choose denial or avoidance, negative effects will also follow. But, just like with my own hesitancy about the plant, once I have the desire to help and the commitment to understand the people in my life who may be hurting or have unmet needs, I can help bring relief.

As people we have physical needs, and those can be obvious most of the time. But, according to Colby Peters, founder of Human Systems, we also have needs for growth, safety, individuality, and relationships. These can be harder to understand unless we look for the clues. Our bodies and emotions can often be great indicators of unmet needs.

For example, feelings of irritability and boredom may indicate a growth need for adventure or challenge. On the other hand, feelings of irritability and anxiety may indicate a safety need for quiet space and familiarity. These may both look like irritability on the outside, but as we seek more knowledge and look a little deeper, we can understand and respond more accurately.

I can love and support my own growth, the growth of my children, and all those in my circle of influence just like I supported the growth of the tomatoes. People and relationships can continue bearing delicious fruits too. 

Knowledge is power. Growth power. Nourishing power. Connective power. Healing power. Belongingness power. Progress power. Change power.

Those are all beautiful fruits!