Food: A real life Jack and the Bean Stalk
As I watched Tyrone Schave harvest some of his tomatoes a couple of days ago, I couldn’t help but think of him as a real life Jack and the Bean Stalk character. That’s because Tyrone needs a ladder to get to the uppermost canopy of his gigantic plants.
When I first met Tyrone a few years back, it wasn’t long before we were exchanging tomato growing stories. Despite the fact it was the middle of winter we bantered back and forth about tomato varieties, soil preparation, plant selection and other delights in growing this vegetable that both of us adore. But when he told me he could grow plants 20 foot high, I was skeptical.
Then he invited me over to his patch one day last week and when I saw his plants my jaw dropped in amazement. They were indeed 20 foot high and as I stood in total awe, Tyrone climbed a ladder to pick some fruits that were at the uppermost branches of these behemoth specimens.
Of course I had to know what his techniques were for producing such colossal bushes. “I read a book about growing tomatoes like this that was written by a guy that lives in Alabama,” he said. “At first I didn’t know if I could grow plants this big since the growing season here is so short, but I followed his techniques and it worked.”
Tyrone starts out by purchasing healthy seedlings in the spring of the year. These plants are common varieties such as Big Boy and he also has a couple of cherry tomato specimens. The trick is in the soil preparation. First he digs a big deep hole, reserving the soil which he mixes with a bagged manure mixture. The plants are then put in the hole and this fortified soil is packed down around the roots.
Another tip he uses is taking off all the branches except the top two leaves when they are seedlings. The plants are next to his garage which helps deflect sunlight and warms up the soil fast. He mulches them with straw and has built a fence around the area to keep out critters. Another trick he uses is watering the plants with river water, an easy commodity since he lives on the Wisconsin River in Rhinelander. In addition, as the plants grow, he places a wire cage around each one, and further fortifies the plant by inserting wooden rods through the wires under the branches for support.
It’s evident that all these techniques have worked for my friend as far as growing giant tomato plants, but it’s also apparent that Tyrone has a spectacular green thumb is other ways. He has a smaller garden with different vegetables growing with lush vigor, and his yard is beautifully landscaped. He takes great care and pride in his outdoor surroundings.
While Tyrone’s plants are truly a source of wonder, tomatoes are very plentiful now all over the Northwoods. Tyrone freezes much of his harvest for use during the winter months like I do, but fresh tomatoes can be relished in a wide range of recipes fresh from the vine. I’ve included some of my favorites for this week.
There’s no doubt that I am truly in awe of Tyrone’s tomato growing techniques however. After all, I’ve never in all my gardening years seen a person harvest tomatoes by ladder and you have to admit, that’s impressive even by Jack and the Bean Stalk standards.
1 1/2 lbs. tomatoes (5 to 7), diced
1/2 medium red onion, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 green or red bell pepper, diced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice
Tortilla chips, for serving (optional)
Mix all the ingredients except chips. Let stand for at least a couple of hours so the flavors mix. Serve with tortilla chips.
Tuna Salad Stuffed Tomatoes
1 can (12 ozs.) tuna, drained and flaked
4 ozs. cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 Tbs. chopped dill pickle
1 Tbs. dill pickle juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. each celery seed and pepper
5 medium tomatoes, cored
Bacon bits, optional
In a bowl, combine and mix thoroughly tuna, cheese, mayonnaise, celery, onion, pickle, pickle juice, salt, celery seed and pepper. Chill. Cut tomatoes, not quite through, into quarters; place on individual plates and spread apart. Spoon 1/2 cup salad into each. Garnish with bacon bits if desired.