Car and Air Shows and the Haunting of the Ugly Tomato

Reader Contribution by Mary Carton
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Three years ago I ordered seeds for some heirloom tomatoes. One was my standard Cherokee Purple, a couple that I hadn’t grown before, Rutgers and a dark variety of a Brandywine. Each year I like to try an heirloom I haven’t tried before, seeing if I would like it better than the Cherokee Purple. So far, none have beaten it on my taste tests.

I started my seeds that February, so by the middle of April, they were ready to be put out in the garden. I pulled all of the leaves off except the top set, dug a deep hole and put some Epsom salt, a time-released fertilizer and some of those moisture retention crystals from a plant source in the bottom of the hole. I put the plant in the hole so that only about an inch was above ground. I back filled around the hole to about an inch below the surface, so that I had a little pond around the plant to hold water. Next I put newspaper down and a thick layer of sawdust and wood chips mulch down around and on paths.  Before I could get hooligan cages around them, Levi laid down in one of my little ponds containing a plant. After straightening up the plant, a heavy duty hooligan cage made of concrete wire was placed around each plant.

As the summer progressed, the tomatoes grew and started fruiting, except one, the Brandywine. It just kept growing and growing and grew out and over the top of the cage. Finally it started putting on fruit, only these were oval shaped. A description not matching the packet they came in. As they got to the size of a large egg, they started changing color to red, again not a description on the package. All that trouble and it wasn’t the tomato I ordered. Apparently the germination rate of the seeds was great, as 70 percent of my plants were this non-heirloom variety. Well, they are a good salad-size tomato, I thought.  After the first ones ripened, I pulled several off the vine and took them to the house. I washed one and bit into it, nasty, no flavor, and a lumpy texture like a very over ripe watermelon. 

The rest of them went into my compost box, and the vines yanked out of the ground and composted. I threw the fallees on the ground out into the pasture, much to the delight of the Hooligans. They kept dragging them back to the garden.

The next year, I only started Cherokee Purple’s.  They were a few inches tall, when Mom came to the house telling me about this very nice tomato plant growing out of the vents in the compost box.  I have plenty of plants Mom and I know what kind they are; but this is a very nice large one she protested.  Finally I relented and pulled it out of the composter and moved it to the garden.  It was the first one to fruit, and it was one of those tasteless oval tomatoes again!  So out of the ground and to the composter it goes. 

That fall, Mom came over one day asking if I had seen the two nice tomato plants in the composter. A little late in the year to be planting out in the garden, I told her, but I pulled them out of the compost, put them in a pot and moved them into the garage to overwinter along with my flowers. I moved them into larger containers two or three times that winter, thinking I’ll have the first tomatoes next year. 

As soon as the threat of frost was over, I moved them out into the garden.  As they fruited, both were those danged tasteless ones. Again, up they came and were thrown out into the field to be mowed over and over again over the course of the summer.

This past year, I started my tomatoes from seeds again with home made potting mix. I used equal parts of potting soil, compost from the box, vermiculite and perlite. When the plants were large enough, I plowed up the garden. After the Hooligans were finished chasing and rolling with each other, I took the tiller through one more time to smooth things out. I planted them as usual, deep, Epsom salt, time-released fertilizer and moisture crystals, mulched and put a Hooligan cage around each. As they started to fruit, there was one of those tomatoes that won’t go away again. A seed must have been in the compost, and it came up instead of the Cherokee Purple. This time I dumped it, cage and all, in the loader on the tractor and dumped it, cage and all, into a compost pile, and made a mental note not to use it for potting soil.

This year I finally got my garden plowed up the last day of May. There’s something about freshly plowed soil that is like catnip to the Hooligans. After letting them play for a day or two, I was ready to plant the tomatoes, cucumber and squash potted up on my patio table, but three inches of rain hit. The cucumbers were blooming in the pots, so those and the squash went into the flower beds. I put hooligan cages around the cucs after planting. I’ll be glad to have room on the table for my morning coffee while I watch the hummingbirds. Sunday Mom came over asking if I’d seen that nice tomato plant coming out a vent hole in the compost box. Surely those seeds can’t last three years in a hot compost bin?

Since I’ve been on an antibiotic for my bout of RMSF, I haven’t been able to get out in the sun much. Trying to do yard work is a chore as I overheat easily. One of my trips to Tuscumbia, I noticed a car show at Spring Park. On the way home, I stopped and made a circle around the park snapping a few shots and came home and then went back to the EMS picnic to take pictures of the AirVac helicopter. My daylilies are in full bloom, but are hidden away in beds, which desperately need cleaning.

A start-up air show was at the Muscle Shoals airport the next Saturday, and I sat in the back of my truck under an umbrella catching the action. Between take offs, I took photographs of some of the dragonflies flying around. That night a few of us from our lab took our Clinical Laboratory Scientist student from out of state to see the Miracle Worker. The play takes place at Ivy Green, birth place of Helen Keller and heralds in the Helen Keller Festival starting this week. I’m taking a couple of vacation days to volunteer as a photographer. Next month is the W.C. Handy Music Festival.

Tuscumbia had four inches of rain in an hour today. The stadium at my high school was flooded and some kids with a homemade boat were floating around in the stadium. Hopefully things will be dried out by Friday.

Ya’ll come see us.

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