DSC_8904What if you could talk to the animals like Dr. Dolittle? Which language would you learn: elephant, eagle, buffalo, beagle?  How about alligator, guinea pig, or flea?

Recently, I spent some time with Dr. Dolittle’s cousin who knows how to speak to both the animals and the plants.  His name is Fred Woodruff.  Many people know him as the Tomato Man.

Fred talks to the animals and the plants at his home where he raises tomatoes, plums, apples and peaches.  There’s plenty of evidence that Fred knows their language and that they understand his.

Of his 315 tomato plants he has four varieties: 602’s, Better Boys, Early Girls, and Celebrities.

His nephew gave him two Celebrity plants, which Fred broke up and made into four.  He planted them deep into a 25-gallon bucket, deep enough that the plant was level with the top of the bucket.DSC_8883

At first he was disappointed with their level of growth, so one day he looked down on the plants from his porch and began talking to them: “Look, I’m giving y’all two weeks to grow six inches.  If you don’t grow six inches in two weeks I’m going to pull you up.  To tell you how serious I am I’m going to write it down in my book.”  Which he did.

Fred said he later apologized to the plants because he realized he was a bit impatient with them.  They must have accepted his apology because in two weeks they had grown about ten inches above the bucket.

He planted the Celebrities on March 15.  By the end of July he had harvested 76 tomatoes (over 17 pounds) off of just one plant and there were over 30 green ones still on that one plant.

Fred’s secret is to add more dirt to the bucket when the tomato plant sends off a shoot, which is called a sucker.  He says some people prune suckers, but he adds dirt to each one and lets them grow into another stalk.  Instead of a plant having only one stalk, his plants end up having four, five, or six stalks, and that means four, five, or six times as many tomatoes per plant.

DSC_8886Before the season is over, Fred will have harvested about 1600-1700 pounds of tomatoes from his vines–25 are in buckets; the rest are in 6 rows, which are staked with rebar and held up with bailing twine.

Of course, no tomato plant will make tomatoes without being pollinated.  Since honeybees are in short supply these days, Fred does not leave this important part of the process to chance.  He takes care of the pollination process himself.  He uses a little paintbrush and brushes the blooms, going from one to another.  Fred is a busy bee.  He even makes a buzzing sound because the plants are listening.

The animals know that Fred raises a good crop too and they come calling often: deer, DSC_8899opossums, and raccoons.  He sets live traps and relocates the opossums and the raccoons.

Not long ago he caught a raccoon in his trap under the peach tree, which he has had to prop up in many places because the limbs are breaking due to its heavy crop of Georgia Belle peaches, which Fred says is the best peach God ever made.

When Fred saw the raccoon in the trap from his porch he started talking to him.  He told the coon he didn’t know whether he ought to introduce him to his .38 pistol or take him across the creek and let him go like he did the rest of the critters.

He said he went back inside and when he came out that raccoon had found his way out of that trap.  “I guess he thought I was serious about using that .38 so he found decided he better leave.”

On more than one occasion Fred has had unique experiences with birds.  Once, not long after his sweet wife died, a bird flew inside his house and perched on the back of the chair in the kitchen while he was eating breakfast.  It stayed there and tweeted as if it had a message for Fred.

On a day that he was filled with grief, the message that bird brought him was a song of joy and hope.  For even as he grieved the loss of his dear wife, Fred was sure that God had sent him a messenger to let him know that as life continues He would provide for all his needs, just as he provided for that little bird.

Then on another day as he sat outside in his chair, leaning back against some foliage, exhausted from his work in the garden, a bird flew down and landed on his knee.  Then it hopped up on his head.  For several minutes the bird worked around in his silver gray hair, apparently trying to pull some of it out to use in making a nest.  And you thought I was kidding when I told you that he knows the language of the plants and the animals.

There is a language Fred knows even better.  That’s the language of love.  He cultivates that language and harvests it in the garden by taking with God.  You never know if the dirt on his knees is from pulling weeds or from kneeling in prayer.  He does a lot of both in the garden, and it’s from his life of prayer that his praises of God flow so easily from his lips.

If you have ever met Fred, then you know of his love for the Lord and his love for people.  His tomatoes and peaches are actually a way of sharing God’s love with others.  It’s his way of staying connected to the earth and to his Maker and being able to bless others with his gifts of joy and generosity.