That above is one of the saddest looking tomato plants ever. It also happens to be the plant growing (or not) in my garden. It hasn't set any fruit and the leaves are starting to curl up and wither. It also may have been the victim of an over zealous pruner early on.
The are plenty of reasons why the tomato isn't making tomatoes. For one thing, it's an heirloom (Abraham Lincoln). While heirlooms usually make tastier fruits, they are also a lot more finicky. For another thing, the weather has been a bitch this summer. We all think that tomatoes love the heat, but even they have their limits. And days and days of temperatures over 95 degrees make them throw a mini temper tantrum and refuse to make fruit.
When I first started gardening, worry about crop failure kept me up at night. I would lie in bed, concerned that my pepper plant had only produced a single pepper or worrying that it would just die overnight. Over the past few years, I've mellowed out a bit. Some crops didn't do as well as I had hoped (for example, the Brussels sprouts that didn't grow at all, then got eaten by a cabbage worm), others were so amazingly productive I still have vestiges of them dried or in the freezer.
The stakes are rather low in my backyard garden. I don't need those tomatoes to live. If the plant did decide to produce fruit, I'd probably save a few dollars, but the impact on my life as a whole would be rather low. If the plant continues on as it is, I'm out $3 and the chance to grow something more productive.
It's a failure but it doesn't compare to the failure of say, entire swathes of corn in the midwest or other areas. The low stakes of it all makes it a lot easier to accept. It also makes me wonder about failure in life in general. Is there ever something that is so critical to survival that I couldn't bounce back from if it all didn't work out in the end?