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Tomato, Tomato Regardless of How You Say it – They Both Taste Yummy

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I should be rewarded with my first ripe tomatoes in less than two weeks and they will not be the commercial hothouse or worse varieties. There is just something special about YOUR tomatoes, picked at the peak of ripeness, sliced and savored! Granted, my first ones will be of the cherry variety so probably not sliced but nonetheless, savored.

Cherry type, Sweet Million - just love those clusters

Cherry type, Sweet Million – just love those clusters

Years ago I worked at a produce warehouse loading and unloading trucks at night while trying obtain a degree during the daylight hours. It was a bit of a challenge. I did learn quite a bit about produce! Some lessons were painful, i.e., thoroughly was your hands after handling Seranno or Jalapeno peppers! Apples had to be my favorite – the apple room was kept quite cold, a real blessing in the hot weather and because I was the tall guy, I stayed in the room to stack the boxes. The hand trucks carried boxes stacked 5 high, I had the job of adding 3 more boxes after the lads dropped them off. Crisp cool air and the wonderful scent of apples.

Here were other rooms at the warehouse that were not as pleasant. Tomatoes were shipped to us as “breakers”, meaning the shoulder of the tomatoes were just beginning to show color. The rest of the tomato was green and extremely firm! The tomato boxes are designed for air circulation for a reason. We stacked boxes in the tomato room “loosely” – each stack stood independently a few inches apart from the others. Once the room was full we shut and sealed the door, turned up the warmth, humidity and added ethylene gas. From Wikpedia –

“ Commercial ripening rooms use “catalytic generators” to make ethylene gas from a liquid supply of ethanol. Typically, a gassing level of 500 to 2,000 ppm is used, for 24 to 48 hours. Care must be taken to control carbon dioxide levels in ripening rooms when gassing, as high temperature ripening (68F) has been seen to produce CO2 levels of 10% in 24 hours.” http://ne-postharvest.com/ripening.htm#controlledatmosphereripening

It was a similar process in the banana room and once the fruit had been gassed and gasses evacuated, well mostly evacuated, then we moved them out and loaded the local delivery trucks. I would guess that we walked over 15 miles during an 8 hour shift, excepting the Friday night shift, which was typically 14 hours and more. The Saturday local runs were huge!

I have a diverse mix of tomatoes this year, two types of Cherry, Celebrity, Mortgage Lifter (standard and a grafted variety, Brandywine Red and Pink –both grafted varieties, Patio varieties – determinate, most of what I grow are the indeterminate types, Cherokee,  Juliet and a volunteer of some sort. The volunteer is starting to set fruit and it appears to be a smaller cluster variety. I had great luck with a volunteer plant last year….it was prolific!!!!

Celebrity Variety - 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

Celebrity Variety – 4-5 inch size and does well when it is hot.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

The newest tomato on the patio plant.

DSC_3072

One of the Patio varieties.

Other garden notes, the barrel and in ground potatoes are kicking butt! I have not had such vigorous and tall growth in my limited potato growing experience. The pole beans are reaching skyward on the arches made from the Crepe Myrtle cuttings, Snap Peas are in their last week of production, asparagus is coming up, I have Chard and more Chard…. I will use some Chard in a smoothie today and may even try some of the kale in a smoothie.

Some of my Swiss Chard

Some of my Swiss Chard

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The Yukon Gold Potatoes as of the middle of April. They are much bigger now!

The blackberry vines have a heavy set going on and I hope I get to harvest before the birds find them. I also have my Pineberry – a white strawberry with red seeds and my Alpine strawberries producing. Hopefully I can propagate the Pineberries to make a bigger planting for next year and the Alpine berries…..so tasty but so tiny…fun, tasty but mostly ornamental!  I had to stop typing and step outside to sample the Pineberries and the Alpine berries. Very yummy. It is tough to gauge the ripeness of the Pineberries. The color change is minimal, my best gauge is the firmness and it appears that when ripe they pull off of the stem easily. I have lots of Pineberry runners showing up so hopefully I have a bigger patch next year.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red.

A ripe Pineberry. At this stage it is almost overripe. The best stage is just a blush of pink and the seeds are red. The flavor is similar to a pineapple with a hint of strawberry.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

One of the many blackberry clusters.

My commercial vermicomposting bins are working very well. I have added the third box on the top, two more to go before I harvest the bottom box. The design of the bins has a liquid collecting pan and spigot. I pulled about a quart of worm poop water off the bottom yesterday. I mixed a pint with two gallons of water and fed some of my potted plants and the strawberry towers. Everything seems to be happy in the garden right now! The summer, or at least a real summer heat has not appeared yet. May is tomorrow and the heat wave can start at any time!

TTFN

Bishop

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Strawberries, Strawberries, Blackberries, Dewberries and More Strawberries

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This has been a banner year in my strawberry patch and it appears to be heading in the right direction for all of my berries. I have made three batches of strawberry jam, have 2/3 of a bag of the frozen ugly berries (I freeze the ugly berries and try to share the pretty ones with my family), snack on them while puttering in the garden and still have some to give away. The very warm and humid Houston growing environment is a real challenge. The moist air and damp ground will rot a berry quickly. One of my regular tasks and one that my wife is good at helping with is to flip the berry up onto the plant leaves keeping them off the ground!

My composting worms are being spoiled with the wonderful spoils. All of the bad berries, berry parts trimmed off the ugly berries and those that went beyond ripe go to the worm bin. If you didn’t already know, worms eat their body weight in scraps every day. What a life, eating your body weight in super sweet, soft and juicy strawberries every single day. This has been going on for a month now and will probably extend for another month. I hope they don’t revolt when their diet changes!

The strawberry plants are so thick that they hide the ripening berries unless you are vigilant at combing through the leaves to find them before the bugs and rot set in! I really love how the plants fill in over time and make a beautiful and edible border to the yard. I did not keep good records on which variety is planted where….over time they run together on their own. I have Chandler which is well suited for the south, Seascape, Sweet Charlie and Sequoia….. Added Alpine Strawberries and the Pine berry, the white colored strawberry….

I have “ June Bearing” and” Everbearing”….I don’t think I have any Day-Neutral  varieties…..yes I do Seascape! The link below is one of the better strawberry info websites I have found for US growers.

http://strawberryplants.org/2010/05/strawberry-varieties/

Which berries will develop next? Two years ago I saved some wild Dewberries I found in the woods nearby. I planted them in a big pot hoping for the best. Last year the birds robbed the few berries that tried to ripen. This year, for whatever reason, the vines are loaded with blossoms! Finger crossed and I rubbed my lucky rabbit’s foot in hopes of enough dewberries for more than just a garden snack.

Next I should be able to enjoy my Blackberries. I have thornless and thorny blackberries……I said thorny! They are beginning to bud out and a few brave blossoms are popping open. Last year was a disappointing blackberry season, both for me and for the local growers. I will double down on the good luck charms hoping for the Dewberry harvest to mirror the blackberry harvest.

I am hoping for a berry, berry good spring and early summer in the berry patch. FYI, April 2nd and I munched on my first asparagus spear of the season. They are so sweet picking straight from the garden…..do not pass go, just straight into my mouth! Yum!

Gardening gift from my wife.....I am always in the learning mode!

Gardening gift from my wife…..I am always in the learning mode!

Immature Strawberry

Immature Strawberry

I smell jam cooking!!!

I smell jam cooking!!!

Blackberry blossom.....

Blackberry blossom…..

Alpine Strawberry

Alpine Strawberry

Garden Helper - shifting between the brown to green phase.

Garden Helper – shifting between the brown to green phase.

Dewberry Blossom

Dewberry Blossom

He was so hard to spot....I first spotted him jumping from branch to branch.

He was so hard to spot….I first spotted him jumping from branch to branch.

TTFN

Bishop

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