tomato seeds

Our plucky little garden at the Parktown Food Hub operates, for the most part, on donations. We re-use and re-purpose things you would probably never guess had a second life hidden inside them. Our raised beds are constructed out of used shipping containers. The good soil in the beds is the result of three years of amending the North Carolina clay with broken bags of soil and mulch donated to us by the friendly folks at Triangle Ace Hardware down the street and our gorgeous house-baked compost, itself made up of the cast off of the cast off of the cast off from our broken food systems, and an unimaginable tonnage of shredded cardboard packaging.

Even Fran volunteers out in the garden.

The compost at the Hub is hard-working. Prevailing wisdom is that you shouldn’t put meat or dairy in your home compost pile because it will make the whole thing smell or attract unwanted diners to the pile. But our compost? It’s so fast and full and filled with browns (all that shredded cardboard packaging and unending fallen leaves from around the property) that it can eat up almost anything we feed it, save those dad gum tools of the devil, the produce stickers.

Last fall, Honey Bee Hills, one of the farmers at the South Durham Farmer’s Market (who share their food with the Hub every week throughout the year, getting elusive fresh produce into homes that struggle to find it) donated a boatload of tiny, delicious sungold tomatoes. Things move fast at the Hub, with literal tons of food coming in and going out each week, but we weren’t quite fast enough to get the tiny sungold tomatoes out to neighbors before they started to wilt and leak. The whole lot of them went into the compost, where the fruit decomposed and joined all the other rotting waste in making us more gorgeous soil. But those sungold seeds…

This year, we we shoveled the beautiful, dark brown compost onto all our spring beds in the garden and planted new seeds in them: lettuce and herbs and peppers and squash and cucumbers. And before we knew it, those sungold seeds, hidden away in the dark, dank, fertile world of the compost all those months, started sprouting…everywhere.

Tomato sprouts came up in the pepper bed.

Tomato sprouts appeared among the squash vines. 

Tomato sprouts filled the cucumber plot. 

A raised bed full of lettuce got taken over by sungold tomatoes. We tried to weed them out and finally, after weeks and weeks of weeding, just gave up and ceded the lettuce bed over to sungolds. The herb garden which we had neatly trimmed and tended, filled to bursting with the largest tomato vines I have ever witnessed, where tiny tomato after tiny tomato budded and grew and ripened faster than we could pick them. Volunteers spent several hot, sweaty Saturdays trying to wrestle the vines into submission. We had so many tiny tomatoes that we decided to send people home with tomato sauce kits – sungolds and herbs from our garden and a little recipe for how to roast and simmer them into homemade sauce. 

I have weeded out more tomato sprouts than you can imagine over the last six months, so many that the tiny little tomato stalks have filled my dreams some nights – and they JUST KEPT COMING. I think finally, here in mid-December, after a giant construction project and a few freezing nights, we *might* have come to the end of the sungold sprouts. Maybe.

I shared this story in a sermon about the parable of the mustard seed back in October, and when I told Farmer Rich from Honey Bee Hills farm about it, he quipped: “Just goes to show, doesn’t it, that sometimes you reap what you DON’T sow!” And, well, his sermon would probably have been better than mine.

I’ve already written about how Rich and Liz sold Honey Bee Hills and are living on their sailboat, now, and the hopefulness of people upending rotten food systems to make sure everyone has enough. But I have also found hope this year in the seeds themselves. Those sungolds were done. Finished. Rotten. Kaput. Left for dead in the compost pile. We were grateful for their service, grateful for the donation, grateful to have them added to the rotting mound that would eventually become new soil, but we never expected that they would SPROUT. We did not plant those seeds – they hid out, waiting for the right moment, and when the sun finally arrived, they did what they do: found water and light and germinated, grew into giant vines and produced food that ended up feeding a dozen or more families.

And I wonder, in these days when things are dying all around us, if we might choose to believe the truth of the garden: that what we perceive as the end might actually be a beginning in disguise. That those systems and habits and familiar patterns that we sense fading or being taken, abruptly, away from us might not be lost to total oblivion. Maybe, instead, they’re just in the process of shedding their detritus and hiding the seeds away, wintering for a while until the conditions align for them to break open into the new thing, in the new place, for the new people.

I suspect that is happening all around us. I hope it is true.

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