COLUMN: Heirloom tomatoes and nursery rhymes

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By Cheryl Steenerson

I took a trip up to Indiana last week. It’s just a day trip, albeit a long one. Going up, I drove through a gully washer. I’ve been through a lot of gully washers in my life but this was the mother of all gully washers that hit just before I got on Interstate 465. Thankfully, there wasn’t too much traffic at that time of day, but as usual, it was undergoing some construction.

Trying to see the road was tough, let alone watching the traffic, when the rain is coming down so hard the wipers can’t keep up. The last 45 minutes to get to my hometown seemed like two weeks. Then, the sun came out. Typical.

I got to see Mary Ruth’s, my “other” mother’s beautiful gardens. They’re not big areas, but they are beautiful, because they’re almost all flowers. She loves her bloomers. I did, however, give her a rare heirloom tomato to grow out this summer. The only condition was that she save me a few seeds. Her husband Dale said, “Those are certainly strange looking tomatoes and they’re huge.”

I had given them a variety that is called Bulls Bag. While the tomatoes were still very green, they had developed a shape that looks like those things you see hanging off the hitches of some pick up trucks. I’d prefer to think of them as heart shaped, sort of.

The plant is about 5 feet tall and loaded. They put it out in mid-June and it was about 10 inches tall. They have it growing next to the garden shed, facing the south. There are trees that provide early afternoon shade.

There have been no pest problems. I’ve got some growing here, but they’re not as big yet. They got a later start. It’s got a long harvest date. I can’t wait to eat one to find out what it tastes like.

Heirloom tomatoes have a quality taste. Some have that high acid “bite,” others are sweet and still more run the gamut in between. The old varieties are usually heavy producers. The end product doesn’t keep long though. Can it, juice it or freeze it, don’t let them get away from you. They’re too good and you worked too hard to let them go to waste. Although, you do get volunteers to come back next year, if you drop some seeds.

It’s August and I can’t tell what kind of weather we might have the rest of this year. The cornhusks do seem a little thick, meaning a cold winter. Mother Nature gives us plenty of signs to watch as weather predictors. I did stumble upon a great book at the library (one of the benefits of working there). It’s called Forecasting Fun, Weather Nursery Rhymes, compiled by Terry Pierce.

Who knows The Itsy Bitsy Spider rhyme? Did you know it’s a weather forecaster? A spider doesn’t make a new web when it’s going to rain. If you walk a regular path daily, pay attention to the spider webs. Red Sky at Night is another rhyme we all know that tells us a red sky in the morning means bad weather is coming.

The wind is also a helpful predictor with its own rhyme. “When the wind is in the east, ‘tis neither good for man nor beast; when the wind is in the north, the skillful fisher goes not forth; when the wind is in the south, it blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth; when the wind is in the west, then ‘tis at the very best.”

Clouds also have clues that come in rhyme. “When clouds appear like rocks and towers, the earth’s refreshed by frequent showers.”

Who knew that Mother Goose was such a fountain of science knowledge?

Now, lets get out there and harvest.

School has started and it won’t be long before the apples and pumpkins start coloring the landscape. Summer and all its heat will soon be on the downhill swing. I’m thinking we’re really going to enjoy this fall. Happy growing.

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.