The Color of Summer

Friday, June 27, 2014

Vine-Ripening Lemon Boy Tomatoes-Bird Back 40
The color of summer in a backyard vegetable garden is a show not to be missed. Like the rainbow, backyard produce can produce a glow, a hue, an iridescence that excites the soul. I can see that excitement in the photo to your immediate right. I will soon be able to taste that glow and excitement that is the first vine-ripened tomato of the 2014 summer gardening season.

And there's a quiet satisfaction in knowing that we made that. We made it happen. All that work -- all that prep -- it's all going to start paying off now with a bounty of produce that will transform the Bird Back 40 into our personal farmer's market. It may not be the first tomato to ripen up in the Sacramento area. Others have beat us to the punch and are weeks ahead of us.

Sioux Tomato
No matter. It's not a race. It's just the first tomato of the season. This weekend the Lemon Boy tomato pictured above will join the first cucumber of the young season on small snack plate to be voraciously consumed by two backyard gardeners who are eagerly awaiting that first taste of the summer season.

It's late June in Sacramento. You won't see them in these pictures -- but the weeds are EVERYWHERE. I suppose that's the price one pays for wearing a boot for a solid month, waiting for a cranky Achilles Tendon to heal. But heal it has. There is strength in that step again. The pain is gone. I'm ready to be turned loose in the garden for the first time in nearly two months.

Heirloom Tomato Monsters-Bird Back 40
A lot of work awaits.

But with the work comes excitement. Yes -- I need to stake up some tomato plants that have grown so large that they fallen over. But as I peer into the depths of those plants, now hidden by weeds, what I can see brings a large smile to my face. That courtship we danced with Love Apple Farms in May is paying dividends with monster production in the month of June. We haven't lost a single plant to disease this year, which is incredibly rare. Not only that, the vast majority of them are loaded for bear.

This includes the Sioux Tomato which has found a home in the Bird Back 40 for the very first time this year. This isn't a new tomato -- not by any stretch of the imagination. Introduced in 1944 by the University of Nebraska, the Sioux qualifies as an exceptional heirloom variety that has withstood the test of time. I may not have planted this variety before, but I've certainly heard good things about it from others.

Paul Robeson Tomato
In the world of growing heirloom tomatoes, my friends, there's nothing quite like the marketing campaign called "word of mouth."

When I stroll through the garden and study the various tomato plants in various stages of production, it's not the single fruit that interests me nearly as much as the cluster of fruit. Cherry varieties offer fruit that is clustered together, but that can be hard to find with standard, larger varieties. So if I find clusters of fruit on plants that are designed to produce 1 lb. beefsteak monsters or more? That's called excitement.

Honeybee Forages on Basil Flowers
These clusters exist on the Paul Robeson. What is a Paul Robeson you ask? Well, I'm glad you asked! Please, let me enlighten you.

Paul Robeson was an equal rights advocate who stood up to the infamous Joseph McCarthy communist witch hunts of the 1950’s, which nearly destroyed his career in opera. Idolized in Russia, as well as the rest of the world, this black Russian heirloom was named in his honor. Today the Paul Robeson can be found in vegetable gardens around the world, including the Bird Back 40.

Think that might go well in a jar of Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa? Yeah -- I think it might too. It makes for an interesting story too.

Siam Queen Thai Basil-Bird Back 40
It's summer. The tomatoes are fruiting. The corn is growing. Peppers are popping. Bees are buzzing with excitement as they race from one tempting patch of pollen to another. The first tomato of the season awaits harvest.

Does it get any better than this?