Pruning, harvesting and strategy

publication date: Sep 19, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski
This is my first year as a serious vegetable grower. For a while, I thought my tomatoes were doing just fine. Blooms everywhere and a promising early harvest of cherry tomatoes convinced me I was on the right track. I didn't need to intervene. Nature would run its course and reward my efforts of planting, watering and occasionally applying eggshells.
Janet Gadeski photo
But in late August as I bushwhacked through the jungle of tomatoes planted too closely together, I realized that the discipline of pruning tomatoes is much like the discipline of strategy.

Like good ideas at your organization, stems, leaves, blossoms and green fruit abound, all of them full of promise and early results. Yet I see that the leaves are shading some of those fledgling tomatoes and keeping them from ripening. The green tomatoes that are in the sun haven't reddened or grown larger for a couple of weeks, which tells me the plants can't process sun, water and soil fast enough to keep everything growing.

And there's no way that flowers blooming late in August can produce reasonable fruit by the end of September, though I do appreciate the optimism they suggest.

Choosing only the most promising

So I pick up the shears and start clipping, setting strategic priorities for my tomato patch. I start with the new blossoms - tiny, perfect, deceptive promises of fruit that won't mature in the time that remains. Off they come, along with the stems that support them and divert nutrients from fruit that has begun to ripen.

Lush green stems seem to be everywhere. They're long and thick, signalling the plant's great health. Yet it's August 26th and some of them haven't set a single tomato. All style, no substance, gobbling up water, nutrients and sun. In a moment they're dispatched to a more useful life as compost, a foundation for next year's tomatoes. I should have done that months ago.

I leave the tough choices until the last. Now I have to deal with fruit-bearing branches. They're all on the way to giving me tomatoes, but some are hindering others, shading them from the sun. What do I do about those? I count the tomatoes, evaluate their size, their stage of ripeness - and make some sad decisions. Tiny sacrificial tomatoes fall to the earth to give their slightly larger, riper cousins the air and sunlight they need.

Immediate and future rewards

With all the excess foliage out of the way, I can see some weeds that have been stealing resources from my tomatoes. I yank them up and reveal a few tomatoes that have managed to ripen in formerly hidden places. Now I have something for a salad - fruit that would have rotted if I hadn't done the pruning that made it visible.

For me, this is the hardest part of gardening. In the arid, frost-prone gardens of the Alberta foothills where I spent my childhood, nothing grew to the point where it needed drastic pruning. Devoted gardeners gave fervent thanks for any growth, and cutting it back seemed heretical. Prayer was far more common than pruning, especially as freezing weather approached around Labour Day. So I don't like to prune.

Perhaps you're finding it just as difficult to maintain your strategic course at work. Pruning is even more challenging when it involves redirecting resources to keep your highest priorities well-fed. Stakeholders - dedicated volunteers, powerful community members, your brightest young hires - will be disappointed, even alienated by any move that diverts staff, money or attention away from their pet projects.

But pruning pays off. My household and my dinner guests have been eating tomatoes ever since. The biggest one so far weighed 19 ounces! So stay on course and support your highest-yielding initiatives. Pruning pays off.

Contact Janet or follow her on Twitter @CFPed.

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