A Volunteer Outshines Enigmatic Garden Crops

by Curt Kovener

An enigma is a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand. Thus, like farm crops, our garden this growing season was an enigma.
The usual plant/transplant time was unseasonably cool and wet. In May 8.5” of rain washed out the lane, changed creek banks and toppled trees here in the wilderness.
The tomatoes and peppers we planted after the traditional May 10 frost-free date just languished waiting for the ground temperature to rise. Then when it did, it did so with gusto and the rains stopped. That prompted evening time watering and fertilizing. Despite our nurturing, the vegetables reluctantly bloomed and when they did few fruit set. Even the tomato hornworm avoided our plants this season.
Blossom end rot, splitting fruit, slowly ripening fruit mostly got eaten by the new invasive stinkbug which apparently really likes the new southern Hoosier climate thanks to climate change.
The herbs—chives, rosemary, basil, and dill—all did quite well with the additional nurturing as did the asparagus.
But the Rutgers and Roma tomatoes were a disappointment.
The best tomato producer we had this year was a volunteer Mortgage Lifter. That is an heirloom variety that can be saved for seed and it produces big, pulpy fist-sized fruit year after year. It got its name from a depression era farmer who developed the variety then sold enough of the plants that he paid off or ‘lifted’ the mortgage on his farm.
The volunteer tomato came up in the herb garden, a fenced in 4’x4’ raised bed. It got there from the compost when mixed in with the soil early in the spring. The unknown seed just sat there in the cool, wet spring and germinated late to begin its growth.
Because of the lack of growth from our store-bought plants, we let the Mortgage Lifter grow amongst the herbs. And it quickly surpassed the earlier planted tomatoes.
The Mortgage Lifter lifted our gardening spirits even as the stink bugs developed a taste for the lonely plant’s fruit.
Several quarts of diced tomato are now in our freezer awaiting their call to be a part of the wilderness kitchen magician’s culinary recipes.
With cooler temperatures and frost in the forecast, we pulled all vegetables and put them on the compost pile. But a Mortgage Lifter branch with six tomatoes on it, is hanging from the cabinets in front of the window over the kitchen sink. We’ll see if any ripening will continue. If not, some very late season fried green tomatoes will be on the supper plate.
And rather than rely on compost for next year, I have saved some seeds for window sill planting next February & March. Or maybe we’ll just toss out the seed in the herbs in June and enjoy another late tomato crop.