What Are The Odds? Today, I’d Say They Were 100%

What Are The Odds? Today, I’d Say They Were 100% June 24, 2016

On a day filled with #Brexit confusion and financial markets falling like boulders flung from a pinnacle, I am praying you sense God’s steady, unshifting shalom and sustaining, eternal love for you, no matter what the headlines tell you.

Just for a bit of fun, I’m sharing a story full of irony. The fact that this particular weird thing has now repeated twice in my life has me pondering what lessons I can learn. Maybe you have some insight for me.

What are the odds?
What are the odds? 

I was so excited about having a garden in this rental house. After years of living in townhomes with no outdoor space, I was tickled to discover the yard in this house had a garden plot. I’m a tomato junkie, and have dreamed of growing them since the Tomato Jonestown years. When we lived in Waukesha, WI from 1995-2004, I twice tried growing tomatoes in a yard filled with black walnut trees. It was then I learned tomatoes and black walnut trees are like the Montagues and Capulets.

Our current yard is barren of trees. My grandsons and I planted the garden space this spring, and I’ve been delighted to watch those little tomato plants grow even bigger than the bumper crop of weeds that surround them.

Then the other day as I was walking out to the garden, I tripped over a green stinky orb in the lawn. It was a black walnut fruit. I looked around, and behold! Dozens of them had dropped like pennies from hell across the lawn. In my neighbor’s yard, no more than 20 feet from my garden, is a single prolific black walnut tree. In a flash, I had a moment of hope that maybe it was far enough from the tomato plants that they wouldn’t be affected by its toxins.

Wrong. The tomato plants that have just blossomed and are in the process of setting fruit are repeating the familiar sudden wilt and death I witnessed when I tried growing tomatoes back in Wisconsin. The picture above shows three black walnuts and a wilted tomato plant in my hand. It looks like I’ll be buying my garden tomatoes from the farmer’s market again this year.

I’m sharing a quick bit below about my first encounter with tomatoes and these vicious trees. It’s a part of a longer story in my book Uprooted: Growing A Parable Life From the Inside Out,

Tomato Jonestown

A few years ago, my family moved into a home on a shaded, tree-filled lot in a suburban subdivision. I decided to turn the one sunny spot in the backyard into a garden, and spent days digging up sod, breaking up hard clay, and removing rock and weed from my plot. I sowed some lettuce and radish seeds, and then planted a row of tiny tomato plants I’d purchased at a local garden center. Even as I planted, I thought I could almost taste my tomatoes, sliced on a plate, dressed with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, black pepper and fresh basil.

My harvest included 2-1/2 microscopic radishes and a handful of bug-infested lettuce. The tomatoes were my last hope. I tended my little tomato plants with care. They struggled to grow, their leaves a lemony pale green. I threw some fertilizer around them, but and wondered if I offended the tomato plants somehow. Within 48 hours of budding into flower, each and every tomato plant died. A mass suicide.

I chalked it up to some sort of angry tomato disease or a bum batch of fertilizer, and vowed to try again the next year.  The following spring, I added some top soil to the tired, heavy dirt in my garden and nestled a row of tomato plants into my garden.  Visions of grilled gruyere and dead ripe tomato sandwiches danced in my head.

It was a repeat of the previous year’s tomato Jonestown. My plants…my babies!…set flowers, and promptly died.

I’d invited a friend to come see view the bodies of my dearly-departed tomato plants. She glanced around my tree-filled yard and asked, “What kind of trees did you say those are?”

“Black walnuts,” I responded. “The squirrels love `em.”

“Ah ha!” she cried. “Those trees pump a toxic substance into the soil that kills many other plants.”  That substance, juglone, is toxic to all kinds of growing things. Tomatoes were at the top of the list for plants that could not grow near black walnut trees. I learned that even if I clear-cut those 17 trees to the ground, it would take years for the soil to be rid of the toxins.

I threw down some grass seed and called it quits on my agricultural career.

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