Taking aim at sucker
August 3 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Taking aim at sucker | Friday, Aug. 3, 2001

Friday, Aug. 3, 2001

Taking aim at suckers

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor I commiserated in a column about this time last year that my tomato crop had degenerated into a collection of tall vines bearing golf-ball sized-fruit. I bemoaned the pitiful appearance of my minuscule 'maters and concluded that a nearby hedgerow of red tip photinias must have robbed them of needed sunlight. Cleve Wilkie of Kinston heard my plea and wrote a nice two-page letter to set me straight and render sage wisdom on the growing of one-slice-per-sandwich tomatoes.

Wilkie is retired from the N.C. Baptist Children's Homes and widely respected for his contributions there. He still writes an earthy and delightful column for Charity and Children, and he harbors a wealth of information about growing tomatoes.

I was already doing much of what Brother Wilkie suggested - using lots of mulch and lime and such - and he counseled the addition of elements such as chemical sprays to bolster blossoms in setting fruit and preventing the perennial problem of blossom-end rot.

But there was one piece of advice that made all the difference, and it had to do with suckers. My friend, Roger Hensley of State Road, had given me the same advice a couple of years before, but it seemed like so much trouble that I didn't follow through. I should have taken Roger's advice.

After Brother Wilkie explained to me the science of suckering (complete with hand-drawn illustrations), I decided it was worth a try. "Suckers" are shoots that sprout in the junction of two stems at about the same time blossoms begin to form. If allowed to grow unchecked, they will produce blossoms and fruit of their own, but in doing so, they draw strength and resources from the first round of blossoms.

The result is scads of little-bitty tomatoes and hardly any big ones.

The solution is to check the vines every few days and pinch those little suckers off. Since my "garden" consists of only six tomato vines surrounded by a short row of green beans, it doesn't take very long. And, as I search for suckers, I can practice my imitation of Barney Fife saying "Nip it! Nip it! Nip it in the bud!"

After faithfully following Wilkie's advice, my vines produced tomatoes that could strike fear into the heart of a bad comedian. The quantity is down, but the quality is up. My tomatoes are healthy, hefty and lip-smackin' good.

Now I can share the red fruit of happiness with neighbors and friends without having to apologize for their puny proportions. Just one tomato goes a long way.

My thanks to Cleve, whose lifetime of ministry extends even to the fruits of the field and to the gardening-challenged.

I'm still a preacher at heart, and couldn't learn about growing big tomatoes without seeing an obvious analogy to a problem we face in fostering Christian maturity and church growth.

How often have we as Christians allowed extraneous activities to distract us and keep us from growing in our faith? How often have churches gotten themselves into so many different projects and ministries that they can't do any of them well?

Our resources can become so stretched by a multiplication of well-intended but energy-draining activities that we can become ineffective in our core mission to God and to our families. We become like tomato plants diverting our energies to hungry suckers and failing to nourish the work of our first calling.

Sometimes it's better to do a few things well than to do many things poorly.

Spend a few minutes thinking about personal, church or even denominational "suckers" that might be diverting needed energy from your life and ministry as an individual or from your church's work as part of God's family.

It could be time well spent.

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8/3/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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