Hands in the Dirt: Amish Tomatoes
Photo and article by Donna Iverson
When I go to a farmers market, the first vendors I look for are the Amish. These are people who know how to grow healthy food, especially if they advertise themselves as organic farmers.
In late spring, the Amish were missing from my closest farmers market and I missed their produce, their friendly manner and their wit. In one encounter, a young Amish man responded to my comment that I loved beans, with “Love is a pretty strong word for beans.”
So as I meandered down the rows of early spring vegetables, I stopped immediately at a table full of seedlings marked “Amish tomatoes.”
With no Amish produce for purchase, I decided to grow my own.
The small seedlings were transplanted to my community gardening bed in late April. Fellow gardeners told me it was too early and I might lose them. But in April of 2020, I needed to see something growing and especially something Amish. They represented survival, resilience and simple beauty. And lucky for me, they made it,
Once they started growing, I became curious. What made a tomato Amish and what exactly had I purchased?
As a college history major, I first checked their origin. According to Wikipedia, Amish tomatoes originated in the 1870s in the oldest Amish community in Wisconsin. Well, it wasn’t Michigan but it was a close neighbor.
An heirloom variety, Amish tomatoes are acorn shaped and grown for making tomato paste. They are thick of texture and have few seeds with a unique tangy sweet flavor.
Slow to ripen, they need about six hours of sunshine and like many heirlooms, are drought tolerant. Belonging to the indeterminate category, they grow quite tall and need strong support like cages or wooden stakes. Once they start to ripen, you will get a slow steady supply instead of one large harvest.
My first Amish tomato is just starting to ripen, as it has slowly turned from pale orange to a bright red. I am loath to pick it, as I enjoy seeing it beaming out from my garden bed as if greeting me with hope. So I leave it be for now, because hope is no small gift in the summer of 2020.
Article and photo by Donna Iverson
The trend in gardening for decades has favored hybrid plants and vegetables that are bigger, brighter, and more easily transportable. The price for this enhancement is that these hybrids have often lost their flavor and aroma. For example, numerous giant rose varieties have no scent and winter hothouse tomatoes ...no flavor.
As a contrarian, my preference has always been for the smaller, taster, and more fragrant native plants.
So when it comes to strawberries, it’s the wild strawberry that I seek out. Like all native wild plants, it is sweeter and more nutritious. It is also low maintenance requiring less water than cultivated strawberries. In addition, it deters weeds.
Best of all, the taste is superb: pop a miniature red berry into your mouth and savor its strong strawberry sweet tartness.
If you are lucky, you may find wild strawberries growing like a weed near where you live. If not, you can purchase wild strawberries ( Fragaria Vesca), often called alpine strawberries, at local nurseries. It is possible to grow them from seed but not easy. Seeds can be purchased from a few catalog companies like prairiemoon.com
Wild strawberries are a cool season crop producing berries in early summer, from April through June. A local patch near me hasn’t gotten the message about hot weather, and is producing handfuls of berries during July,
Wild strawberries might make a wonderful addition to your yard, perhaps as a ground cover or as edging. It also does well in hanging basket and the transitional strawberry pot on your deck or back step,
To propagate wild strawberry, clip a runner from an existing plant and transfer it to your garden, watering well until it is established. Once it has taken hold, it will likely need watering during hot dry spells like we are having here in West Michigan.
One of the delights of wild strawberries, is that you pretty much have to eat it as soon as you pick it. It doesn’t keep in the refrigerator. Although a friend says she freezes wild strawberries and makes wild strawberry jam.
And for you foragers out there, wild strawberry is one of the sweetest most delectable fruits you will ever come across
Photos and article by Donna Iverson
As the pandemic summer rolls on, I am finding myself drawn to the garden as sanctuary. Instead of focusing on weeds, watering, and insect pests, I look forward to garden visits for its calming effect.
In previous summers, I had a garden “to do” list. But now, my highest priority is to connect with the garden itself as a sort of meditative practice. It has become an escape hatch, a way to disconnect from stress and worry.
In tai chi, you learn to look at the world through “soft eyes.” Instead of narrowly focusing in on garden details like tomato plants, you open your field of vision to as wide a perspective as possible.
Next you engage all your senses. Listening for the breeze in the nearby trees, smelling the green emitting from the plants, touching the soft stem of the cucumber, snipping an arugula leaf to taste its tangy flavor and looking at how the sunshine plays among your plants.
Grounding is also helpful to connect to the garden as sacred space. Again, drawing from tai chi, you feel your feet connect to earth, perhaps imagining roots growing down into the soil.
While this practice can turn your existing garden space into a sanctuary, you can also purposely set out to create a sanctuary garden. What do you need? Not much.
At a most basic level, you could create a sanctuary spot on a deck or patio. First you need a comfortable place to sit. Next add greens, preferably those common in the area you live. Perhaps a small table that holds a cup of tea.
You want to feel enclosed so you have a sense of entering a space separate from your everyday world. A peaceful calming space that might include garden art or wood chimes.
But you could take the opposite approach. And just switch lenses to appreciate the garden you have right now as sacred space. It’s almost a left brain right, brain thing...just tune out your thinking brain and listen for the “music” emanating from your garden plants, from the air around them and the sky above.
Make it a ritual..something you do every day or every week, depending on your schedule. You will begin to look forward to spending time in the garden if you don’t already. Allow the calm it offers to wash over you. When you are at your most stressed, spend time in the garden ...not because of garden chores that need doing, but because it offers a place to recharge, renew and escape the drain that is 2020.