Heaven Is

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vine Ripened Tomatoes in Winter
With all due respects to Kevin Costner -- Heaven is not located in a corn field in Iowa. I know this to be true because I have found Heaven. Heaven is right out my back door.

Heaven is located just off the main campus at the University of California (UC), Davis -- just a short drive west on Hutchison Drive. Turn left onto the gravel road where you spot the sign that reads "Vegetable Crops" and you have arrived at Heaven's front door.

Greenhouse Heaven: UC Davis
There are 152 Greenhouses located on the campus of UC Davis. Not all of them are located in the same area, but in the row of greenhouses harboring vegetable crops, if you are a passionate fan of all things gardening, you will find Heaven on Earth. It just doesn't get any better than this.

The wife that is Venus and I -- plus gardening friend Nels Christensen -- lucked into a private tour of this greenhouse facility thanks to the kindness and generosity of Garry Pearson, who goes by the official title of Lead Greenhouse Manager for the Department Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

But, in all truth, he just directs things in Paradise.

Starter Crops for Field Research
I have been longing for all things greenhouse in the Bird Back 40 ever since the wife and I way overpaid for little slice of heaven some five years ago. It remains on my "to do" list, with about 100 projects that I would like to accomplish before I pass from this Earth.

But -- now -- for the first time -- I can understand what a greenhouse allows a gardener to do. There is quite a bit of magic that takes place behind these windows of glass and wonders of the vegetable world that will probably never find its way into any home garden.

Wolf Peach-Look But Don't Touch!
This is pure research, baby. Research can be hazardous indeed. If you are tempted by these tiny cherry tomatoes as I was, best not touch. This is very close to an original strain of the "wolf peach." In Latin, they call it Lycoperscion. In other words? It's poisonous. One bite of that tempting berry, or several, could result in rash of bad things like headaches, a really bad stomach cramp or something even worse.

This is the original tomato. For many years, people believed tomatoes to be poisonous. They weren't all that far off the mark. Tomatoes were once used as decorative plants for a summer garden. Nobody really gave any serious thought about using it as a food crop until only just recently in historical terms. It wasn't until a legendary Ohio seedsman by the name of Alexander Livingston develop the first commercially successful variety of tomato, did anyone give it much credence as a food source.

Climate Controlled Seed Vault
For his work in this field, Livingston is often referred to as the "Father of the Modern Tomato." Can you imagine a world without tomatoes now? A world without salsa? Scary thought!

Pearson's tour eventually took us into a cold vault -- almost like a meat locker. It would be the perfect place to hang out on a hot summer day, but not so much in the winter. I had heard about this room before, but never thought I'd get a chance to see it. This is one important place. This is the seed vault. This is where seeds for every known tomato and vegetable variety are kept, documented and stored for clinical research.

To put things into perspective? A backyard gardener could spend a lifetime growing different varieties every single year and still not come close to approaching half of the varieties that are stored in this climate controlled area. Just being inside it makes you feel a tad humble.

Flat of Shady Lady Tomato Starter Plants
And -- of course -- there are the tomatoes. Starter plants are grown by the thousands here -- mostly for field research. But one or two of them -- uh -- just might find a way into our summer garden this year. It was on this tour that I learned the variety called "Shady Lady" was the replacement for another variety called "Celebrity." Venus and I have grown both in our garden. But little did we know that one was the replacement for another.

In this Heaven, the ingredients for a tasty summer salad are grown year round. From red leaf lettuce to a splash of Romaine -- you'll find everything here except the croutons. Most of what Pearson told us during our short tour of Heaven flew a good mile over my head. Some of it I understood -- but most I did not. It's a humbling moment for gardener who gets taken to school. As much as I've learned through the years, I ain't seen nothing yet.

Starter Plants for Our Spring Garden!
However, thanks to the tour, I do have some pretty good ideas about where to go next. Gardening is an experiment with nature. Always move forward. Don't get stuck in the same old routine. Always be open to trying something new.

Heaven? In an Iowa corn field? I don't think so. Heaven is right out the back door.


Andrea said...

Amazing. Just amazing! I definitely share your aw!

Jenn's Cooking Garden! said...

Looks like y'all had a fabulous time.



Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure the story about wolf peaches and the original tomato is not quite true to history. Not so much that wolf peaches didn't exist, but that edible tomatoes definitely did pre-exist farmers in Ohio.

Bill Bird said...

Of course edible tomatoes existed. There's evidence of that from period paintings in Europe. As to when it became a standard food crop? That's still anyone's guess. Livingston does indicate in his book that they weren't used much as a food staple. They were hollow, tough and decorative in nature. As for the original Wolf Peach? Oh, that was real. Those still exist. You'll find them growing wild in various spots throughout South America.