( some pictures enlarge by clicking…like the papaya tree.. Oh my)

Dale wants to know why I count everything? Well, clearly I was once an Australian Shepherd—she must not know?

Anyway, I am a counter; I count on good luck, good friends, good times, good weather and good reads. The beautiful thing about being an optimist is I’m never disappointed. Life is a roller coaster and every bottom leads to the top of the next plateau—that”s what I count on.

But what could this have to do with these 48 tomatoes in our kitchen today? (There’s a few more you can’t see…really about 61 in all.)

Well, that’s simple. A few weeks ago I counted over 314 tomatoes in our garden and hoped the crop would make it—note: I refuse to count cherry tomatoes. Anyway, the tomatoes started becoming randomly ripe here or there without rhyme or reason throughout the garden. In that the plants are often over 6 feet tall, I had to hunt for tomatoes as if they were Easter eggs.  Eventually, after boiling down about 31 tomatoes to freeze into 3 or 4 quart baggies of sauce per day, I think the tomato bunny is leaving my yard.

Today’s pick included a 17 green beans, a mess of collard greens and about 18 1/2 tomatoes.

However, please note the six large brown bags on the table behind today’s hunt. These bags are the secret to reaping in ripe tomatoes in Florida’s early heat and before the 4,129* bugs here that use infrared spyware and well coordinated attack plans can sting the fruit…Dang, I dislike everyone last one of them…(NOTE: for the first time in, no joke, 42 and 1/2 years of gardening in North Florida, I haven’t seen but two fruit stinging insects in my garden! I’m not sure if this is due to the air quality improvement, the normal season we are having weather wise here for the first time in ten and 1/4 years or random luck. But, for whatever the reason, I’m getting worried about not seeing the insects I hate to see… so I’m going to a shrink about this,)…

This is our first child and my wife, Dale, back in 1982 in our Micanopy home. The garden is about 27 feet left of her.

Bonus picture: this papaya grew as a volunteer from our compost I spread last August. It’s about 25 feet tall; so far, it has had 33 papaya’s on it. In all, 17 papaya’s grew in the garden from our compost but I transplanted the others thinking, “Who needs 17 papaya’s growing in a veggie garden?” Good thing. Apparently the trees live up to five years.

Anyway,,, back to those 6 brown bags—they held 56 (plus three rotten) tomatoes in different stages of ripening and four papayas… So, the deal is to pick most of the tomatoes in the garden as they just start to ripen, especially if the tomato has splits or rings on its top which means they’re likely to split open or rot on the vine if you leave them outside. There’s a trick to this picking called timing, but why go into that when your mind is already blown by the  128 tomatoes I’ve made into sauce and frozen in 18 baggies so far? Plus, every recipe leaves something out.

Above: 73 tomatoes plus three rotten ones.

The three rotten ones….

Here’s the fifty-six tomatoes from the brown bags.

Of the 56 tomatoes in the bags, 36 were ripe.

It can take up to four or five days for tomatoes pulled from the garden less than green but turning white or red in spots to ripen in the bags. I check them every day as one that goes bad in the bags makes a mess. Some tomatoes may ripen in one to two days,,, it all depends on how ripe they are when you pick them.

I hope this helps. But here’s the thing: you don’t need hardly any space at all to grow tomatoes. You can grow them in pots on a balcony if that’s what you have to use. Or, since tomatoes are the best thing coming out of just about any garden, if you have a 3 foot wide, ten or 15 foot long space that gets at least 1/2 day sun, dig that soil up. Add good soil, put up a straight fence down the middle of that row supported well by stakes that are at least four feet high. Now, buy 9 starter tomatoes from Lowes (if you only have a ten foot row–one planted every 3 feet on either side of the fence) and plant them. Be sure you have a watering source… hose, sprinkler… something….

This type of set-up might yeild you 100 tomatoes…!?!?

One more thing,,, stay away  from Big Boy or Better Boy tomatoes if planting in Florida. They’re size is spectacular to see but the top ridges in these varieties tend to split open in Florida’s heat.  Plant around Feb. 15th or August 15th in Gainesville and cover if we get a weird cold night or two.

And, if you have a backyard, plop a pool in it if you can—there’s nothing like a swim after a day of picking 18 and 1/2 tomatoes.

Cheers from tomato land.

Franque23 is counting on you.

*I will admit to having never counted the insects…maybe.