The trellises worked: A tomato success story

Brandywine tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Red Brandywines ripening in the shade of the tomato trellis.
Tomatoes ripening on the vine by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes ripening on the vine.

How did our tomatoes grow this year? They did quite well, thank you very much, and little thanks to me. My wife did most of the work. I just took the pictures and enjoyed the bounty.

As you may recall, we tried something different this year. Tired of the weighty tomatoes collapsing the stakes and metal cages we “secured” them with, my wife found a plan for tomato trellises. Our son, who has become quite the food guru, lives in a loft in Wooster, Ohio, 16 miles north of us. He and his wife have no outdoor space for growing the vegetables and herbs that he loves to use for his gourmet cooking. (See the May 27, 2010 post entitled “A beautiful morning well spent.”)

Amish farm Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
The Amish farm on which our home is built.

Our house is built on an Amish farm four miles southwest of Mt. Hope and four miles northwest of Berlin, the unofficial capital of Ohio’s largest Amish population. In other words, we’re out in the country with Amish neighbors and farms all around. Since our son drives right by us every workday, he asked to join us in our limited gardening. After the drought of 1988, we gave up most gardening. My wife turned to flower gardening, which adds a multitude of color to our little acre and a half each growing season.

Wildflower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The backyard wildflowers are only some of the beautiful flowers my wife cultivates each year.

The tomato trellis plans called for plenty of space, which required me to dig out more yard along the bricked garage wall at the south end of our home where we annually grow the tomatoes. We have discovered that the tomatoes seemed to thrive on the extra heat radiated by the bricks.

I dug out the grass by a couple of more feet, spaded the ground and added some horse manure the neighbor supplied when he fertilized the fields adjacent to our home. Our son, my wife and I erected a pair of the trellises on May 15. My wife purchased and planted a dozen heirloom tomato plants. Varieties included Hillbilly, Striped Zebra, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Red Brandywine, Roma’s, and Old German. A friend from church also gave us an unknown variety. And several Yellow Pear tomato plants volunteered from last year’s crop.

Driving tomato stakes by Bruce Stambaugh
Our son drove 7 ft. stakes into the ground to form the support of the trellis.

We purchased seven foot oak stakes at a local nursery. The original plans called for eight-foot stakes, but the sevens were the best we could find without having some special ordered at a much-increased price. The main stakes were pounded into the ground, and the lateral ones were spaced and tied with garden twine.

The plants seemed to grow slowly the first month. But once the summer heat and humidity really kicked in, the tomato plants boomed. My wife repeatedly tied the ever-increasing shoots as best she could. Still, the end result looked like a jungle.

The plants are still producing, but with the peak of the season behind us, the plants production has slowed considerably. We did have to fight a bit of blight throughout the summer, but the plants continued to thrive. And we enjoyed their abundant production.

Green Zebra tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Green Zebra tomatoes growing on the vine.

I especially enjoyed the Green Zebras and the Hillbilly. They were sweet and low on acid. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, they made many summer lunches on the back porch tasty and enjoyable.

My wife also made delectable tomato salads with slices and chunks of the different varieties offered on the same plate, sprinkled with fresh mozzarella cheese and virgin olive oil. Cuttings of fresh basil perfectly seasoned the offering.

Mixed tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
A plate of colorful heirloom tomatoes.
Sliced heirloom tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Heirloom tomatoes ready to eat.
Canned tomato products by Bruce Stambaugh
Just some of the beautiful and delicious handy work of my wife.

Of course my industrious wife also canned whole tomatoes as well as chunked tomatoes, made tomato soup, and peach salsa. I did persuade her to reveal her delicious tomato soup recipe, which is as follows:

Tomato Soup

Group 1
14 qts. cut up tomatoes (preferably Roma’s)
14 stems of celery cut up
14 bay leaves
27 whole cloves
1 green pepper diced

Cook the above until all vegetables are soft. I use a roaster. Then put through a strainer. I let the initial liquid drain off before cranking the strainer handle. I can this for juice. Keep hot until ready to add group 2.

Group 2 (Note that any recipe with dairy products like butter and cream should be properly pressure canned.)
12 Tbsp. flour
1 # butter
6 tsp. salt
1 cup cream
16 Tbsp. sugar

Slowly cook group 2 to make a paste.

In a kettle/roaster bring the strained group 1 to a boil and add group 2. Stir often. Bring back to a slow boil. This is not a thick soup.

Put in jars, makes approx. 17 pints. Process in a water bath 30 min.

When ready to use put 1 jar in kettle with ½ jar milk and heat thoroughly.

Neva Stambaugh

Of course I tried to document the progress of the tomato growing and harvesting throughout the summer. Following is a sequence of how our tomatoes grew following the May 15, 2010 installation of the trellises.

Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-July by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-July.
Tomatoes mid-August by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-August.
Tomatoes mid-Sept. by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes mid-Sept., beginning to die out.
Tomato blossoms by Bruce Stambaugh
Tomatoes in blossom.
Green tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Green tomatoes on the vine.
Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Ready to pick.

By the way, after the first frost, the plan is to disassemble the trellises and store them for the winter. We also plan on extending the growing area yet again to allow more room to maneuver between the garage and the trellises.

We found several advantages to using the trellises. They were much more effective in cutting the loss of tomatoes to dry rot. Varmints, especially the four-legged variety, caused less damage, and the tomatoes were much easier to pick.

If you used trellises or have other options and suggestions, we would like to hear them. Please leave a message with your successes, ideas and lessons learned.

Enjoy your tomatoes while they last.

Bruce Stambaugh
Sept. 29, 2010

Roma tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Roma tomatoes awaiting the canner.
Picked tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
A variety of heirloom tomatoes.

Breaking the diet for a BLT

By Bruce Stambaugh

Shortly after I had finished my usual breakfast of whole grain cereal, fruit and juice, I went to work in my home office.

However, I was soon distracted, not an unusual occurrence for me. But this interruption was too enticing to not track down.

The house had taken on a savory whiff I hadn’t smelled in a quite awhile. My wife was frying bacon.

Now in most households, that probably is a non-event. But in ours, the aroma of bacon sizzling on a griddle is an extraordinary occurrence.

A little more than two years ago, I was diagnosed with cerebral arterial sclerosis or hardening of the arteries in the brain. Besides taking a daily statin medication, my diet changed drastically overnight.

No more red meat for me. Fried foods were out, as were dairy products, processed and most starchy foods. In their place, I was allowed to eat fish, chicken and turkey, along with five to six servings of fruit and vegetables per day.

Simply put, if it had no legs or two legs, I could eat it.

The doctor was clear. If I didn’t change my eating habits along with exercising even more than I already was, I was a prime candidate for a stroke or heart attack.

My doctor was very compassionate in his approach to sharing the news. He revealed that he had the exact same problem and was following the same diet. His encouragement helped me make the necessary transition very smoothly.

This change had a huge impact on not only my life, but my wife’s as well. She is the chief cook in our household, and this new diet would change the way she shopped, cooked and ate as well.

Of course, eating healthier would also be an advantage for her. Not eating red meat was not an issue for her, and she loves fish as much as I do. She made the transition in meal preparation as easily as possible.

My wife found recipes and ingredients that fit my diet. Our son, the family organic guru, was a big help in providing advice and suggestions on spices and herbs to season and prepare food that fit my restricted diet.

With all of this background information, why was bacon frying in our kitchen? Well, I was cheating, with my doctor’s permission. After my first check up following the diagnosis, the good doctor was well pleased with the blood work results. The diet and increased exercise were working, assisted by the medication.

When he asked me how I was getting along with the diet, I told him that the only thing I craved were BLT’s, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. The doctor just chuckled and said, “Well, you can eat them now and then. Just don’t do it often.”

Those words were music to my ears. Or maybe better stated, BLT’s for my salivary glands.
With the heirloom tomatoes my wife and son planted last spring at their peak of harvest, BLT’s were once again on our lunch or supper menu now and then. And I couldn’t have been happier.

The bacon was obtained from a local farmer that raises and butchers his own hogs. The tomatoes were picked fresh from the jungle of leafy vines that climbed the trellises we built last spring.

Enjoying a delicious BLT may be a regular routine for most people. For me, it’s guilt-free, gourmet dining at its finest.

From every angle, August is golden

Golden sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Hazy sunsets in Amish country are the norm in August.

By Bruce Stambaugh

These are what I call August’s golden days. If I only referenced orangey sunrises and the hazy, citrus sunsets, that moniker would apply.

August is so much more than lovely solar appearances and disappearances. It is always full of golden moments that make golden memories.

I realize my reflections are provincial. In a world full of disease, disaster, dismay and hostilities, not all would share my august perspectives. However, I cannot deny what I have observed and experienced in this transitional month in Amish country.

In calling August golden, I mean to take the broadest definition possible. Everywhere you turn, deep, rich yellows and golds appear. August is golden, too, in that it is good, providing success and satisfaction as the harvesting begins.

Mowing oats by Bruce Stambaugh
Mowing and stacking the oats into shocks is the first step in the harvesting process for the Amish.

August is usually a hot month in most of the northern hemisphere. Even the poor people in Moscow, Russia, where temperatures have seemed more like Dallas, Texas, have been especially suffering.

True to form, hot and humid have been the bywords in Ohio, too. Those who have had to work out in these blazing elements would argue for sizzling and sultry as better descriptors. But no matter how we describe the daily dog days of August, the benefits surely outweigh the negatives, no matter how muggy.

Coming and going by Bruce Stamabugh
One wagon heads to the barn while the other returns to the field to be loaded again.

My Amish neighbor’s circle of friends purposefully gathers the air-dried, ripened oat shocks wagonload after wagonload. Their water thermos got a workout, too. With their cooperative efforts, the impressive stand of honey-colored sheaves had disappeared by day’s end.

I always find it a miracle that once the sea of grain is cut and shocked, a carpet of bright green immediately replaces it. The hardy clover thrives all the more once it has the ground to itself.

There are other kinds of gold in August, too. The Incredible sweet corn arrives almost simultaneously with the transparent apples. It’s husking, cutting, cooking and freezing corn one day, making tartly sweet applesauce the next.

Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Heirloom tomatoes ripen on the vine.

The growth of the heirloom tomato plants my wife and son planted in late May is so
prolific, the plant runners get tied daily. Their yellow, red and green-striped fruit add to the festivities.

House wren by Bruce Stambaugh
A house wren leaves the nest after feeding her brood.

The noisy tan house wrens worked frantically to satisfy their last brood of the summer. Their hungry youngsters consumed an amazing amount of worms, caterpillars and insects.

When the little ones began to greet their parents at the entrance to their birthplace, it’s nearly time for them to fly. In our case, the babies were there before church, but not when we got home. The grandsons and I found them learning to forage and hide in the brush pile under the pines near the hammock where other golden moments were made.

Monarch and swallowtail butterflies joined the goodness of the month as they enjoyed the nectar of the milkweed and wild and domestic flowers. Both the black and yellow-billed cuckoo birds announced their arrivals as the tent caterpillars hatched.

The much publicized but often under performing Perseid meteor showers still managed to send enough bright streaks though the new moon sky to extend the month’s goldenness 24/7.

Next week the full moon will strut its stuff, casting a golden glow across landscapes, rural and urban alike. Ready or not, summer vacation has yielded to elongated yellow buses and excited, golden voices of children beginning a new school year.

All things considered, August is a positively golden time of year.

Hammock fun by Bruce Stambaugh
Playing on a hammock in the cool shade serves as a diversion from the August heat and humidity.

A beautiful morning well spent

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was a gorgeous morning for what my son and my wife had conspired to do. The project itself was both practical and uncomplicated.

Of course, they needed me as the gopher, as in go for this and go for that. As it turned out, I will remember that beautiful morning for a long, long time.

Our son came to help build a pair of tomato trellises, since we will share the eventual bounty with him and his wife. My wife had found a magazine picture of just what was needed for our heirloom tomatoes.

Last year, the heirlooms flourished. But as the blossoms turned into baby tomatoes then plump fruit, the plants gave way to gravity even though they had been staked. If we didn’t get the tomatoes before they hit the ground, the dry rot did.

The main problem was that the tomato patch quickly became a vegetative jungle. It was difficult finding the ripe ones that hung hidden in the leafy overlap. That problem needed to be remedied if our two families were to fully enjoy the fruits of our labors.

readying the site
My son and my wife readied the site for the tomato trellises.

The proactive plan seemed simple enough. The growing tomato plants would be safely tied to the wooden trellises, which would better distribute the weight than the previous individual supports had. We had the perfect place to erect them, the south-facing plot next to our bricked garage wall, the scene of last year’s prolific patch.

The needed materials as shown in the picture were easy enough to come by. My wife had already obtained the sturdy oak stakes. I retreated to the neighbor’s farm for baling twine.

Using a measuring tape and a container of flour, the experts measured and marked where the supporting sets of three stakes each would go. Our energetic son climbed the stepladder with sledgehammer in hand, and the seven-foot posts were pounded into the fertile ground at an angle so they crossed near the top. Not wanting to look too professional, we just eyeballed the angles.

After each set of stakes was thumped into place, we attached the crossbars, again three on each side. We secured them to the stakes by crisscrossing lengths of twine around and around and tying them off. I think I can tie square knots in my sleep now.

tying twine around the stakes
Baling twine was used to secure the horizontal and vertical stakes.

Each bar was leveled in place. A top bar, which according to our son was purely for looks, was laid in the cradle of where the angled stakes intersected.

pounding in the trellis stakes
Our son pounded in the stakes that formed the trellises.

Once the first trellis was completed, one would think the second would go easier. Somehow that didn’t really happen. Still, it turned out all right, just a little off skew. The tomatoes won’t care.

In the process of all this measuring, climbing, pounding, angling, leveling and tying, we threw in a little kibitzing as well. You know how mother, father and son, and husband and wife can be. Personal, profound, picky, sarcastic, vulnerable, venerable, loved.

This constructing trio was all that and then some on this lovely morning. While we worked beneath a cerulean sky, robins, nuthatches, house wrens and blue birds called and fed and gathered nesting materials all around us.

Building anything isn’t exactly my strong suit, unless it’s memories. Indeed, this morning well spent fit that definition like a gardener’s glove. In truth, we had built more than tomato trellises.

Creating productive, valued, lasting recollections with family seemed a most appropriate way to prepare for Memorial Day. Come late summer, when the heirlooms are heavy laden but securely ripening, memories of a different flavor will be made.

the tomato trellises
The completed tomato trellises stand against the garage wall.