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My cousin Becky loves gardening about as much as I do. We often compare notes on what works and what doesn’t.

“How do you do on your tomatoes?” she asked.

“Oh, I do okay,” I said.

“Do you do anything special?”

“Not really,” I replied. “I do usually plant them in tires so the tires heat up during the day and keep the tomatoes warm at night.”

“Do you get a big crop?” Becky asked.

“I get an okay crop,” I replied. “My biggest problem is I get them going well, I keep them weeded for about half of the summer, but then everything hits at once. As a scoutmaster, I have scout camps, then the berries need picking, and the peas need shelling. The tomatoes grow weedy. They still produce well, but not as well as they could.”

“Do you ever talk to your tomatoes?” she asked.

“Not intentionally,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”

“As a girl growing up, my mother would swear that plants do better if you talk to them and praise them. I keep my tomatoes weeded, watered, and I talk to them.”

“What do you say to them?” I asked.

“I tell them they are very good tomatoes, and that I love them. I also tell them thank you for giving me food. But they still don’t produce very well. Everything they give me is green and undersized.”

“Do you fertilize them?” I asked.

“Yes. I get a load of fertilizer from the dairy farm that is just down the road.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“You tell them how beautiful and wonderful they are, then you dump a load of cow poop all over them. I think the problem is that after you tell them all those wonderful things, and then do that to them, they don’t believe a word you say.”

“Don’t you use manure on yours?” Becky asked.

“Sure,” I teased. “But I don’t go extolling all of the plants’ virtues before I douse them in it. I just do it.”

Becky’s daughter, Kaley, said, “He’s probably right, Mom. Let me take over raising the tomatoes and see if they do better.”

“Yeah, Becky,” I joked. “Maybe you smashed your green thumb with a hammer and turned it purple.”

The subject changed, and we got talking about other things. The summer went by, and I forgot all about our visit about gardening and tomatoes. But in the fall, I invited Becky and her family up for a cookout. We were finishing up roasting hot dogs and marshmallows when the conversation turned to the harvest.

“So how did your garden turn out this year?” I asked.

“Quite well,” Becky said. “Especially the tomatoes.”

That was when I remembered our previous conversation.

“So, did Kaley take over the tomatoes like she said?”

Becky nodded. “She did, and they turned out incredibly well.”

“Did she talk to them, too?” I asked.

“Yes,” Becky said. “I think it’s part of our family heritage to talk to our plants.”

“So, what did she do differently?” I asked.

“Nothing, really. Same water, same weeding, and same manure. The only difference was what she said to them. She said I was killing them with kindness, and that needed to change.”

“What did your daughter say to them?” I asked.

“She said, ‘You tomatoes better get your act together and produce lots of fruit or I’m pulling you out by your roots.’ Boy, did they produce!”