Tomatoes Thrive In August Heat

Tomatoes thrive in August heat.

August is the March of summer.

Like March, in August you can feel a new season nudging in, looking to take over not long after the month runs out.

But August, again like March, is in no hurry to depart gracefully—or even, for that matter, to depart.

It gets to be about mid-August. We’ve made it through two nasty heat waves since the tail end of July. Then, the weather breaks. We get a cool night or two. Suddenly we feel, as the expression goes, that fall is in the air. We begin to entertain thoughts of opening the sweater drawer, untouched for at least two months. We start thinking about firewood. Hot soup takes on a renewed appeal.

Then—bang!—another heat wave comes in, as it did earlier this week.

Not so fast, August is telling us. I’m still here. I’ve still got it.

We know it. And we resign ourselves to more hot, sticky, sweaty weather. Unless we can get to a beach, or ensconce ourselves in air conditioning set on high, chances are good that we are not happy with this latest heat wave.

Tomatoes, however, are happy. In fact, they are downright giddy with hot, sticky, sweaty pleasure. Every hour of hot sun, every hour of high humidity is, for them, heaven sent.

For two species in a deep, historically symbiotic relationship, human beings and tomatoes have a decidedly different take on the weather.

What’s comfortable for people—say, cool, crisp days—is uncomfortable for tomatoes. They grow little, if at all. They essentially hunker down.

Heat waves, of course, are another story. Tomatoes crave them. In the high heat and humidity, they grow and flourish and swell. Their vines climb higher and higher up the wooden stakes and metal cages thoughtfully provided by their human tenders.

For tomatoes, these stretches of hot sun and moist air are, in a Shakespearean sense, their salad days. In their short stretch of existence, they shivered as small, skinny plants in late May; built strength in their roots and vines through June; worked hard to reach toward the sun in July.

Now, in August, they’re in their glory. They’re the Rat Pack in 1960 in Las Vegas, the Beatles in 1964 on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the Rolling Stones in 1972 during their “Exile On Main Street” tour.

They are enjoying the sweet, sensual vigor of August because they know, just as their human tenders know, that their lives are starting to draw to a close. They, too, felt those cool interludes earlier this month, the dips in the nighttime temperatures, the winds from the north and northwest that have been getting a bit chilly.

By the end of the coming month, September, they know they will fully mature. And when that day comes, they know the human tenders won’t be far behind, plucking them from their life-giving vines and slicing them for sandwiches or dropping them into green bowls of lettuce.

They can feel summer, and their lives, are drawing to a close.

But tomatoes live in the moment. Especially during these heat waves, they make the most of every minute, rooted in the rich garden bed, feeling the warm breeze out of the southwest, thriving in the thick, moist air.

If you go out early enough in the morning with the garden hose to give them a drink of water and prepare them for another long day without rain, and listen carefully, you can hear the Sweet 100s and the Sunbursts, the Celebrities and the Carolina Golds, and the Big Girls and Better Boys murmuring to each other.

This is tomato weather, they are saying. This is tomato weather.

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