Volunteerism and Tomatoes


Not sure about where to go with this concept but I will dive in. My compost piles gets pretty hot but not hot enough, apparently, to damage or disrupt the viability of tomatoes seeds. How do I know this? Well, almost every time I spread compost from my pile I see tomato sprouts in a week or so. They get weeded out and life goes on. This season one of these “volunteer” tomato sprouts managed to escape my evil weed pulling eye and was discovered at about 12 inches tall and very robust. Since I tend to be curious I let it go. It is now 6 + feet tall and loaded with small cherry style tomatoes with GREAT flavor. It is absolutely prolific, even as the day time temperatures are up near 90 F! I have never saved tomato seeds but I will be tempted this year.

I have heard that tomato plants respond well to a bit of rough play…slap them around a little and they produce better. I was sure there had to be some science to it so off to the web I went. Even though tomatoes are self pollinating they seem to benefit from some Buzz pollination….honey bees don’t generate enough energy….you need some volunteer big bombers…the Bumble Bees!


Now, after understanding the need to “buzz” pollinate I tried to find some Bumble bees and ask them over every morning and or evening for a while…..I haven’t seem any RSVP’s nor “crashers” of the bumble bee kind so I took matters into my own hands so to speak this morning. I became a surrogate for my tomato blossoms and did my buzzing best to mimic the action. I grabbed my “Sonicare” toothbrush, and no dear – I did not use your brush….. it was mine, put on my yellow and black horizontal striped shirt…..not really, and went out to buzz around. I took my new toy out…Nikon J1 on video mode to capture my impersonating actions….Check out the video. After a little experimenting I was able to determine which blossoms would dispense pollen….a very visible emission! Watch closely….



Handful of the volunteer tomatoes….still green

Ahhhhhh – Back Home & Back in the Garden

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I have just walked through the garden this warm and muggy Saturday morning. I picked a few spears of asparagus, a handful of blackberries –they  have been washed and sequestered in the freezer bag for jam-  and a handful of strawberries. I will let Kathy pick through the pretty ones for her snacks and the ugly ones will go into the neighboring freezer bag for strawberry jam. I wonder if the big jam and jelly manufacturers also use the ugly berries as I do? The ugly ones taste just as good and once cooked down their beauty is really from the inside……Naturally grown, no chemicals and caressed by loving hands.

Tomatoes are getting big! In some cases tipping the plants sideways. The Oxheart, I love the shape, are being grown in my garden for the first time and seem to be producing well. I have been dying to try one…I have a good sized one that is a uniform color of pink. A little reading the web shows a variety of possible colors when ripe of which pink in one. I will give it a squeeze today or tomorrow and use that as a gauge on its ripeness.

Yesterday was one of those days that epitomizes the value of “home”. I had returned form my trip to Louisiana Thursday night. My son Ben, 22, is home from LSU for a couple of weeks, Joe, 17, was off from soccer training that night so it was feeling very nice at the house/home. I usually rise early, a little late this Friday morning, about 6:15, you have to sleep in once in awhile!  Joe is a self riser and was down around 6:30 to make his coffee, grab a bite to eat and converse in his usual morning grunts. As is my normal morning habit I was heading out the door to bicycle down to my hangout at our local Starbucks® when I spotted a sticky note from Ben on the back door glass. – “Dad, if you are going down to Starbucks®, please wake me up so I can go with you.” Ahhhhh – that warms a father’s heart. I needed to finish a business proposal so asked Ben if it would be OK if while we sat I could bang out the email? It was agreed and off we went. A couple of my old cronies were there and were introduced to Ben, the Baristas called me a liar…..not in a mean way but when I ordered a Venti Caramel Frappacino it didn’t register and they they thought that maybe I was pulling their legs…..there may be a history of that behavior by some customers!!!!!!

Once we returned Joe was off at class, Ben was “fixin” to cut the grass and Kathy wandered out to the garden with me. She proudly talked about her efforts over the past week “keeping” the garden while I was gone. I was able to see firsthand how well things were doing rather than through the vicarious text message news feed. We puttered about a bit, I cut some asparagus spears and she expressed some surprise….”where did you find those? I just picked yesterday!”…. She was surprised because these were  quite tall and thick….I just grinned…

Later she came into the house with a monstrously large pickling cucumber. The week before I had brought a large one in and she said, “I was wondering if you would find that one…I hid it to see if you could.”  As she was showing me the large one she said, “This was the one I had hid from you on the vine….the one you brought in was one I didn’t see!” Big smile from both of us and to the both of us……warm and real.  That seems to be common with my cucumber plantings. I plant pretty dense and when the production amps up it is a bit like hide and seek with the cucumbers.

Such a nice morning in the garden. Family, green, green growings and a pace of life that just makes you sit back and say “Ahhhhhh!”



Vicarious Gardening

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I am on the road again and my lovely and wonderful wife is diligently managing the garden duties. This past two days most of the garden communication has been via text messaging while I am able to during the sessions I am facilitating in Covington, Louisiana.

Tuesday May 22. 2012 9:41 AM

“Nice strawberry harvest this morning! Ate every one of them while watering!!!! – then some words checking on me…

I wasn’t able to respond immediately but I did grin at her comment….I was also a bit disappointed that there weren’t and berries to add to the bag in the freezer  for the next batch of jam. Some more traffic with sweet nothings and gobbledygook ….private stuff. Then!

May 23, 2012 1:25 PM

“How do I shut off a sprinkler that is stuck on.!? I already tirned(sp) sprinkler box off so could it be a valve?” (Reference to our automatic watering system)

I replied, “It is the valve. On the side of the house by the AC unit is a valve”

She replied, “By the front of the house where the hose is?”

I texted back, “By the front. Yes by the hose.”

She then asked, “ Are they levers? Or a round one like for the hose.”

I paused for a moment and then typed back, “I am closing my eyes and trying to picture it. I believe there is like a T handle positioned in the line with the pipe and it should be turned sideways.”

Her response clarifies my image. “One is sideways and one is up and down? “ (not really a question but I know it is posed as one)

“Turn the up and down one sideways”, is my response.

“process of elimination?, was the response. I simply stated, Yes”

“Got it.. Thanks”, she noted. Then we discussed in a bit of detail the need to call the repair folks. I did want to know which station hung open and she responded, “ Two…..The tall riser in the strawberries………… Both in the back yard.”

A bit more business stuff and at 2:33 PM her text message was, “ Oh!. FYI….I picked a big tomato this morning!” My immediate response was, “Have you sampled it yet?”

She replied immediately, “ Not yet… But if anything like the cherry ones I had the other day, it will be yummy.” I quizzed her a little on which plant it came off of – it was the Celebrity plant! I asked her to send me a picture and a few hours later it arrived. Looks good enough to eat, eh?

Phone photo capture….lovely red, ripe and ready……TOMATO

Kathy….again thanks for keeping the garden going and  sending bits and pieces of the enjoyment you know I am missing from the garden…and yes – I do miss you too!



A New Gardening Convert


I am smiling this evening sitting in my hotel room in Covington, Louisiana tonight. My good friend John, the one I have mentioned many times in the past, has become a convert. Now he hasn’t said it out loud but as they say…..actions speak louder than words. A couple of weeks ago he Pismo proofed his garden…Pismo is his tomato eating golden retriever. We both thought the problem was solved… Then there was evidence of a bird attack on the tomatoes… OK let them have a bite or two near where they can perch and the others can ripen… Then came the rodent attack and it was ugly. On my first view they had eaten the inside out of a nice sized Celebrity tomato. They must have put out a dinner call because in two days every single tomato at every stage of development was gone, disappeared, consumed and gnawed off to the stem. They left their telltale calling cards…mouse droppings.

The conversion bug hit John! We talked this past week about traps and such but I didn’t follow through. John did and did so in a big way. First night with the traps he dispatched two of the gnawing, nibbling nemesis of his efforts. Then he went over the top and bird proofed his two 4X4 raised beds. With his recent actions….I am convinced that the conversion is complete. John – welcome to the brotherhood of backyard gardeners and to be politically correct – an honorary sisterhood is bestowed on your wife Beverly for putting up with my tinkering in your back yard – The evidence is posted below in the form of photos sent just hours ago. Wear the mantle proudly!

Look closely lower right. John also warned me – I stop by and pull weeds once in awhile…it might be painful if not careful.

The support structure for the bird netting. Nice job John!




Growing Tomatoes, Beans and Other Things


I am learning all the time……my recent lessons include “patience” and “trust”. The little back yard farm is a classroom of life’s little lessons. So – off to school!

Patience is a virtue – we have all heard that old and well-worn cliché but……..it is so true. I love to see my garden grow and most importantly watch it  produce, produce( isn’t the English langauge funny this way – same spelling but oh so different meaning) with the quality and taste absent from the supermarket produce….there’s that word again. So. my lesson on patience – I planted an heirloom variety of tomato this year that gets great reviews from many home growers, Mortgage Lifter. My friends, Jane and John here in Kingwood mention it frequently. The plant grew beautifully, tall, strong and lots of blossoms. The blossoms would bloom, then wither, die and fall off. Oh I searched the web for an answer – not much luck as  the symptoms did not show up on my adjacent tomato plants, in fact with the exception of the Beefmaster variety, everything is loaded with young and growing tomatoes. 10 days ago I was ready to rip that plant out of the ground and start over….. slow down Bishop, show some patience, let things develop at their own pace and by golly the plant stepped forward and showed me one developing tomato last Sunday – Mother’s Day! I was leaving for a consulting job off in Midland Texas….gotta pay for my hobbies – and I decided to give it another week. Well on my return, guess what – the one was looking good and several more are developing nicely – see photo below. I just did a little web search and may add morning and late evening “shaking” to my tomato cages to aid in fruit set. The Beefmaster….it too has a few tomatoes on it when I checked it this morning so it also earned a reprieve…

Mortgage Lifter – Looking good! And companions too!

Beans – they are doing well. I like the looks of the purple pole beans as they mature. They emerge from  the beautiful purple blossoms green! then as they gain size and length the slowly morph into that deep purple color. Unfortunately they lose that wonderful color while being cooked….oh well! at least for a bit…I can enjoy the color.

Well on its way to purple….they are fun to watch as they mature.

I have been gathering green beans from both my accidental plantings of bush beans and from my conscious efforts to grow bush beans…I have added more of the pole beans but they are a few weeks away from producing. I took a hanging bucket that hosted an upside down tomato plant last year and planted bush beans on the top side. They are doing very very well. Makes me wonder if “container growing” for bush beans might be a good option. My biggest complaint  – and it is not a big one – is that they grow low to the ground and I am up there at about 6’3″ off the ground….a long ways from those tasty pods. I am still limber and healthy enough at 61 to pick those ground hugging varieties but this hanging basket will make it easier to harvest the produce and actually looks pretty good to boot. There are some purple bush varieties many actually pass as an ornamental as well as a source for a side dish. Gotta give it a try.

Nice green basket – the flowers will be white – kind of boring so maybe I will try some of the purple ones too….a bit more aesthetically pleasing???

Cucumbers…asparagus…..strawberries…..blackberries…..peppers….. all are kicking in now. I checked a very dark purple/black blackberry for ripeness this morning and it fell off into my hand…….I was listening closely and I heard a plaintive cry……please, please don’t let me go to waste……so I didn’t – oh it was so good….can’t wait…wait a second, wasn’t I talking about patience….I better wait!

So close to being ready…..back off and wait!

I have getting some very nice Anaheim and Ancho peppers over the last few weeks. I roasted some on the grill last week and used them in a salad. So tasty. My Serrano peppers are a month or more away from producing. I had been looking at the nurseries for the last month and finally found some at the big box store – Lowes. I like buying at the local nursery but a man has got to do what a man has got to do.

A nice 6 or 7 inch long Anaheim pepper….I will be patient and give it a few more days!

Oh….I mentioned trust at the beginning of the post – well – I have been gone for  5 days and 11 hours, approximately….. in the past I have worried about my little plot while gone but I have become more comfortable in the last couple of years with trusting my wife to give the attention I want/need/like –  for my back yard farm…. I sent a text message early in the week as a reminder but I learned that she was tending to my babies in the back with nearly the same care I would give….Some of her efforts, I am sure, are driven by the benefits of the harvestasty goodies and maybe, just maybe driven by the love we share….. Should I run a poll on what y’all think the driving factor is?   I don’t think so…the Valentines day poll was a bit painful –  ;0  –



Did you all see the announcement – The 16th century home of Winnie the Pooh is on the market. Near the   ” 500-acre wood” –  is up for sale…just $ 3 plus million – USD – I wonder if I could put a big ktchen garden in on the property?

Egrets – Just Egrets

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This post has gone to the birds – no garden talk. Just me, my camera (with the big lens) and the birds in their backyard! I took these last year but decided to post a little differently this Mother’s Day….. Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers taking time to look through the lens with me. I set this up as a slideshow….I hope you are patient and allow the 11 photos cycle through.

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A click on the photo below will take you to the full gallery shot that afternoon. Hope you take time to look.

Strawberry Jam – It’s As Easy As……..Well, Jam


I finally gathered up enough of the misshaped and odd looking strawberries that did not become treats for my wife…and yes, me too – to make a batch of strawberry jam. I keep a gallon sized freezer bag in the freezer(duh) and add to it as the consumption allows. When the gallon bag is bulging full it is time to make jam. So today was the day.

I use the “Sure-Jell” low sugar/no sugar pectin and I always default on using sugar, only 4 cups per batch vs. 6 cups for the regular recipe. It takes 6 cups of mashed up strawberries to get started…accurate measurement is critical to making successful jams and jellies. I still have a cup or so in the freezer bag for the next batch. Once measured and mashed up – see below – you add the pectin mixed with ¼ cup of the sugar (from the original 4 cups measured out) into the mix and begin cooking…another key is to follow the recipe…..I know it’s not a man thing to follow recipes or directions but I have learned many good lessons the hard way!

6 Cups of mashed up strawberries with the pectin/sugar mix stirred in.

Now – when it boils vigorously foam tends to build up on the surface of the jam…even when adding a dollop of butter in an effort to keep the foam down. The foam is not a bad thing….it just not aesthetically pleasing when viewed in the jars….. ewwwww, what’s that stuff floating in the jam? So, I just scoop it off, put it into a little bowl for immediate consumption. Today Kathy was making her special breakfast treat – 3 tbs. of quick oats, a 4 tbs. of egg whites, some cinnamon and topped with any sort of fruit compote…. Cooks two minutes covered in a very small fry pan, flip and add the fruit…today was the strawberry jam foam – must have been good because I got a real kiss as a thank you……nuff said.

The foam starting to show up on the surface of the mix….close to boiling. Keep stirring Bishop – you don’t want to scorch the jam….also, stirring is clearly stated in the recipe/directions!

Then into the sterile jars, processed for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath and now wait until cooled and probably at least 24 hours to make sure it jells well. I already tested it…the utensils used in the process pick up and hold lots of jam…if it jells well more sticks to the utensils and I get to clean-up the tools……yes I do use my tongue….it’s only me and my germs…..I don’t share. I hate to waste any of that precious sweetness!

A nice little bounty to stash away in the pantry. I still have a few jars of strawberry jam from the 2011 season so I may have to gift some of it or eat a lot more biscuits & jam, toast & jam and maybe try Kathy’s egg white concoction with strawberry jam lathered across the top! Yum!

The bounty….all in reused jars. The hexagonal jars get used up first as I don’t trust them to reseal with previously used lids. The rest of the jars get new sterilized lids. That’s what the recipe/directions tell me to do…….




Garden Harvesst – Bragging Via my iPhone

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I was out in the garden yesterday morning and was enjoying the “cooler” temperatures…..hah, not cool by most folks standards but it’s all relative…75 degrees F at 6:30 AM. My daughter out in California, a great gardening spot called Camarillo, loves to garden and I love to brag a little – well maybe sometimes more than a little! I decided to quick send a few braggadocio photos via my iPhone…  Not my usual quality of photo resolution but fun nonetheless! She seemed to take my comments and sharing in a positive way! Isn’t that right Melissa?

I love the sharing but most of all I love to enjoy the freshness and flavor!

PS… I think I have a new gardening buddy, three-year old Caleb who lives two houses down the street. He and his mother came by to check out the garden. I kept a swatch of carrots waiting for the two of them to stop by – wanting Caleb to pull them up. He seemed to be really excited about pulling them up – I rinsed them off in my Valentine’s day sink (long story there) and let him and his mother take them home. I also picked a red, ripe strawberry for him to taste – his eyes lit up and he loved the flavor.  Ah…..the makings of another convert!



Potatoes Are Harvested

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Just finished up the potato harvest…..mixed results. The Rubbermaid bin seemed to be a little more prolific…. I had high hopes for my wire baskets. I was anticipating small new potatoes up the length of the plants that were systematically covered  with soil, mulch and compost. I found many more clinging to the plant stems in the bin. I may have had better success all the way around had not the leaves come under attack by a little critter….a little orange bug destroying the leaves….apparently the nymph stage of a leaf hopper. I did get some potatoes and we will enjoy them!

I did reap a bounty of composted material from the baskets and the bin. Two wheel barrow loads of the good stuff. I will try again next spring and probably use some 40 + gallon garbage cans or recycled 55 gallon food grade plastic drums. As a bonus the material from the baskets and bins were loaded with worms… the red wriggler composting types near the surface and some big fat earthworms churning away in the middle…. One wheel barrow load has been spread and I will work on the other soon….

Had garlic mashed potatoes last night….I really think I can tell a difference between the store bought spuds….who knows how long they have been stored and what they have been sprayed with….vs. mine, fresh from the garden! I also grilled some carrots that I recently harvested… That was a first for me and they were not bad at all….need to try that again. Tomatoes are really looking good – a real surprise is the volunteer plant that I let grow….loaded up with clusters of cherry tomatoes!

Click on the photos for a larger image.



Making Ready to Transfer the Worms

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The worm bin is getting to be well filled with that wonderful stuff euphemistically referred to as worm castings – worm poop – I use Rubbermaid containers…36 quart size to house them. They reside in the garage year round and the Houston heat does not seem to bother them. I actually made two bins when I ventured off into worm world. I have found that 4 months or so is an ideal time to let the little guys toil away in darkness before preparing their new abode and harvest more of the good stuff.

As part of my ongoing research into growing methods…..not really research, its just that I get bored easily and I am always want to try something new and different. The back-up bin was put to use growing potatoes. In addition to the 4 foot tall wire baskets housing potatoes I tossed a handful of extras into the bin filled with about 8 inches of soil. Over the next few months I kept adding shredded leaves and compost as the plants grew. Yesterday I decided it was time to make ready the bin for the worms and dumped the contents – potatoes, leaves, compost and all.
I was pleasantly surprised…with minimal efforts I have 8 or so pounds of naturally grown potatoes. My wife is wanting to cook the new potatoes today….I agree hun!



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