Tomatoes! Make ’em Stop! Practical Gardening Gone Wild



I don’t know why I agreed to the request from the woman who lives downstairs. Linda had asked that I grow some tomato plants for her—one ‘Sweet 100s’ and a second ‘Champion’—oh and would I mind maybe bush zucchinis and a single cucumber plant?

I no longer worked the grounds at the retreat center and hadn’t taken on any gardening clients this summer, so I had a bit more energy. I had been growing only one tomato vine, and that seemed more than enough. With the removal of all the perennial beds, there certainly was space along the west fence for her plants. So, I thought, why not.

God help me for such shortsightedness!

harvest vine

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Nearly 40 ‘Straight 8’ cucumbers have been picked from that single plant and it’s still fruiting. And the zucchinis? The ones I began hand pollinating at the beginning of the season? Well after the first 15 fruits, and having stopped playing bumble-bee, they continued to produce from every single bloom and, with the well spaced rains, the squashes grew at a nightmarish rate! Seven plastic grocery bags filled to bursting, and requiring two hands to carry, were toted out to friends and enemy alike.

It is the tomatoes that are pushing me over the edge. I surrendered and stopped picking the tiny ‘Sweet 100s’ after the first half-bushel—they can rot on the vine for all I care!

But the ‘Champions’? They are out of control.

Harvest pot

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

harvest 3When I realized what monsters were afoot I lopped off several of the limbs and plucked flowers before they could set. I think I made harvest 3them mad…they grew all the more. The one plant off the kitchen door (pictured above) is over four feet high by eight feet wide! So far it has produced more than 70 full sized fruits, with at least 30 more still ripening. (Folks, that’s over a bushel from one vine!) I can’t sauce down, blanch and freeze, or give them away fast enough.

Next summer I will keep in mind there is only one person in this house that cooks. And to not plant veggies where the old chicken coop once stood.

Oh, and here are a few recipes to use up some of the multitude from the garden:

Fresh Ratatouille-ish 

8 med. tomatoes, blanched/skinned and diced*

1 med. Eggplant diced (skin on)

3 small summer squash, sliced

2 small zucchini, julienned (or omit summer squash and use a total of 5 zucchini diced)

1 tbl. each, dry, oregano, basil

1-3 tsp salt (to taste)

1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Olive oil

Sauté Eggplant in olive oil until slightly tender, add squash and sauté until they are tender. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.

*Or 2 cans Mexican style stewed tomatoes


Fresh Tomatoes Soup

½ stick butter

3 chopped sweet (Vidalia) onions, about 2 cups

8-10 cups fresh chopped tomatoes, skinned or not

1/8 c lemon juice (about 2 tbls)

4c vegetable or chicken stock (one large box)

¼ c thickening agent; flour, gluten free mix, or instant potatoes (Optional…I sometimes like it clear)

½ c fresh minced parsley, lightly packed

½-1 tsp salt (to taste)

½ tsp fresh ground pepper

Sauté onions in butter, add broth, tomatoes bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Puree half the batch. Add thickening and simmer another 10 minutes. Add parsley, salt, pepper, cook until parsley is tender. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.


Tomato Bake

1 box Quinoa shells or bag of egg noodles, cooked and well drained

4-6 cups diced tomatoes (about 8-10 fruits)

1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

(If using Quinoa, 1 tbl sugar)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbl butter melted into cooked noodles

Take 9×14 glass baking dish, greased. Add buttered noodles, add seasoning to tomatoes and pour over noodles and mix together. Cover with foil. Bake 350 for 15 minutes, uncover and cook another 15 minutes or so until top begins to dry just a bit.

You can also top this casserole with any kind of cheese, seasoned coating mixes like Shake and Bake, French’s Fried Onions, or the pot-luck favorite–precooked stuffing mix layer on top. Do not cover with foil if you are adding any of the toppings.

Harvest table

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

 In the Beginning…

Intimacy Relearned



A pair of Mourning Doves rested beside the massive zucchini leaves near the bird bath. They cooed, crouching in the warm soil, and rubbing their heads along each others beak and neck. Scratching the soil with their feet they created a shallow divot. They tucked themselves down into the earthen bowl to lay close together, front to tail, heads resting atop one another’s back.

I watched these two birds with a sense of reverence. Mourning Doves mate for life. I wonder if they possess an innate sense of intimacy, unlike humans who require an awareness of it for close physical contact.

Sharing my thoughts with a friend, I learned that the physical element of intimacy was the least of its definitions. That caught me by surprise; I thought that was all of its meaning. When later I pulled the dictionary from the shelf, I found intimacy to mean:

  1. a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
  2. a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history
  3. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like: to allow the intimacy of using first names.
  4. an amorously familiar act, sexual intercourse.

Being a survivor of abuse, the word intimacy tends to strike a cord of fear in my heart. Discovering that intimacy is largely about a mutual knowing of someone else, I had to think if and where this was true in my life and redefine what I thought.

My first sense of this closeness brought to mind the woman who guided me into a writing career. She is four hours drive away, and we talk on the phone often. This seems obvious, though, based on my original definition, I had only thought of her as a dear friend.

Another friendship, very different from the one above, is with a sister Benedictine Oblate who lives in New York. We’ve only met once and yet we share a deep spiritual connection with prayer for one another. The sense of deeply knowing the other increases as we read each others blogs or exchange emails. This is a friendship of absence; we are not involved with each others life.  I would never be asked to a wedding or baptism—and yet the prayers that flow between us are intimate and, I believe, reliable.

There is a developing closeness with a lovely woman in Westphalia, Michigan, and her family’s open welcoming of my presence. I had spent a night this week at their home and, in the morning, found loveliness in sharing prayer time in the company of another—a rare occurrence for me. The lightness I feel in her presence draws me out of my anchoritic life and at the same time breathes air into it.

A loving reciprocal relationship with another person isn’t something I’d imagined possible. I enjoy the company of (most) others and my solitary nature never drew me truly close to anyone. I always felt distanced, different, and singular.

Maybe it’s my aging, my lack of family, or, of late, being called out of my hermitage to be a pray-er, that draws me to appreciate more the profoundness of knowing another. There is a depth of learning more about myself through their eyes.

At times it makes me shudder, this word intimacy, when I realize that being known so is to be vulnerable. It has also opened my eyes to the startling closeness of God.


An Abrasive Solitude



One cannot live the life of an anchorite with an expectation of companionship. The journey to draw closer to God often means a journey away from people. To bring Christ into our world is to serve others; to draw closer to God is to leave all behind. It is a paradox. The challenges I face as I learn what it is to be a Benedictine Oblate seem to strike at the core of who I thought I was. I must now be more of the Body of Christ.

In less than a year, and more so within the past few months, I was expelled from groups in which I had been active for several years, in which I had sought friendships, and forced to face an estranged family come to haunt. I feel I must step outside myself to address these relationship issues, and yet, to discern if it is a calling beyond my comfort zone. My spiritual director hit a nail on the head when he said, “A calling by the Holy Spirit is not just a feeling.”

This conflicted desire to go out—for I would rather remain in my rooms—and be a model of Christ in the world has only brought me the disdain of some, and caused others to hate me. Can the desire be, therefore, just a feeling and not a calling?

From my own heartaches I’ve learned to be gentle with others. When someone is mean I don’t assume they’re evil but that there is brokenness in them. Yet when I’m being pushed away and treated coarsely, I still assume it is something I’ve done to initiate their brokenness.

It is hard to silence the devil’s self-deprecating lies that crowd out the Essence of God. When the parasitic Legion comes, I hear in my head the worn tapes of self-loathing…for being unlovable, for again being rejected, for again not being worthy or worth affection. It is (it seems always) the precarious balance between solitude and isolation. Rejection enforces the latter.

There is also a careful balance between wanting, for the love of God, to go home to Him, and the when-will-this-all-end despair of exposure to the earthly sufferings of others.

I struggle to follow God’s will and am often uncertain if it is his will. Is this sensitiveness my cross to bear well? Is the brokenness of the world something sent to rest hard upon my heart, or a grotesque intrusiveness to contaminate my peace? Am I despised because I believe in the teachings of Catholicism or do I bring these teachings offensively into my world? Am I honest in my faith or delusional?

I do not doubt God’s Love and Mercy. I doubt and question the genuineness of my actions.  What is it in the silence of my heart that chafes against the world in which I walk?

August To-dos, Practical Gardening



Our warmest month in southern Michigan is usually August. The heat—though we seem to be short on that this year—combined with the shortening daylight hours pushes plants to maturity. Vegetables are coming on strong for the harvest, perennials are setting seed, trees and shrubs are hardening up for the winter to come. It’s that time of year, as busy as the spring, when your gardening to-do list starts to grow as fast as the zucchini!

So…here is a list to help you keep on track of what to do in August.


  1. Keep deadheading so plants continue to look their best.
  2. Be sure to keep up on watering, especially container grown plants.
  3. Fertilize once a week with a 1/4 strength solution.
  4. Certain cultivars of annuals decline after July. Consider replacing them.


  1. Regular maintenance will keep your perennials looking their best. Keep up on deadheading and removal of dying plant material.
  2. If perennials are overgrown, you can start digging and dividing them this month and into October. Keep an eye on watering new divisions—late summer/early autumn tends to be dry.

Vegetable & Herb Gardens:

  1. Keep watering and weeding.
  2. Check plants regularly for signs of pest or diseases. Remove infected plant materials. DO NOT compost blighted tomato leaves.
  3. Deadhead flowering herbs—like basil—to keep them productive.
  4. Harvest regularly to keep plants actively producing. By mid-August, remove any new tomato flowers. There’s not enough time for them to set proper fruit and removal will allow better growth for the fruit remaining.
  5. Feed your vegetable plants now, and only once, with a foliar feed (preferably organic). It will boost the harvest into fall.
  6. Plant fall crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale. If you didn’t start your transplants last month, purchase them. Direct seeding will take too long for you to reap a harvest.
  7. Direct sow quick growing fall crops such as spinach, kale, turnips, small carrots, and radishes.
  8. Plant garlic for harvesting next summer.

Trees and Shrubs:

  1. Trees and shrubs will need an inch of water per week to stay healthy, either from rain or the hose. Do not fertilize after mid-August; any new growth may be too tender to survive a harsh winter.
  2. Any summer blooming shrubs that are done flowering can be pruned.

Next week I would like to post your favorite, down home, family style harvest recipes. If you would like to contribute, message me on Facebook.


Beet Red and Farm Life, Guest Post from Michelle Dawn Jones


Image compliments of Michelle Dawn Jones.

A delightful story from Michelle Dawn Jones, a mother and farmer in Canada.

I love beets. Pickled or plain they please me. I like the greens too. My husband professes a dislike for beet greens, a fact which I can’t quite get my head around. This winter, sing the bags upon bags of beet greens in the freezer, we shall find our way to his stomach by so many circuitous routes that when we are gone he will miss us. I smile knowing at some point he will read this and think himself forewarned. Determined do I rise to the challenge.

I did up beets for the freezer this week. Beets aren’t like beans, rinsed and tidy. Beets come with dirt and grit and infinite red juices. I can only wipe the oozing red pink from the counters so many times without remembering my mother over a boiling pot of pink.

It was Halloween, a definite NOT holiday for us. My mother the minister’s wife had helped the church get an All Saints Day party off the ground instead. Kids were asked to go as a character from the Bible. My mother suggested I go as Lydia, the seller of purple, and promised to make me a purple tunic. By make, she meant dye a sheet and towel the appropriate color and wrap it around me. I can still picture us standing in the aisle at the drugstore reading directions on different colors of purple Rit dye.

At home in the kitchen, my mother stirred my sheet in a canning pot of water and dye, less than impressed.

That’s not purple, it’s beet red. Could have made this color myself for free, she said.

We dried the sheet and towel, and dressed me for the party. All along the way she muttered about throwing in a few beets for free and $5 for something that could hardly be called purple.

I didn’t mind the wrong colored garments so much as being twelve and wondering if I really belonged anymore at something for little kids, but being twelve turned out to be an advantage. The woman assigned to run the evening, leader of all games and parties, upon whom all eyes would be fixed at all intervals requiring direction . . . being twelve, it was hard to miss the horror in my mother’s eyes when they saw each other. My awkwardness changed to absolute delight as our host’s bright red lips and ample bedecked bosom jiggled over to greet us. A fifty something, slightly overweight church lady host, enthusiastically dressed as Rahab, the prostitute. I gazed at her very fine impression of a hooker and felt glad indeed to have agreed to come. Thirty years later, I’m still slicing beets and smiling.

See more from Michelle at County Road 21.