Tag Archives: tomatoes

Spring 2013 Lessons Learned

It’s been an eventful 2013 spring for the Snarky Gardener.  He has learned humility and patience, especially since it’s taking forever for everyone to know how wonderful he truly is.  Mother nature has given many lessons this year, and it’s possible the Snarky Gardener won’t make the same mistakes next year.  Here’s the summary of highlights and lowlights (is that really a word?) for this spring.

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Fenced Back Yard Garden – 6/13/2013

Starting my own plants

This year started with much (probably too much) enthusiasm as January can make a gardener in Ohio a little nuts.  Overall it went well, with lots of tomatoes, and basil plants to plant and trade.  I do need to improve on starting dates, labeling, and hardening off.  All of these issues come down to one thing – patience.  I tend to want to start seeds earlier than they should be, forget to label and/or record properly, and to rush plants outside too soon.

Spinach was a little hard to get germinated (maybe one in two seeds actually sprouted).  I used the AeroGarden starter kit, so maybe spinach just doesn’t do very well with that system.  I’ve done some research on soil cubes and could go that direction for spinach and others next year.

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Frosts and freezes

Last year we in Northeast Ohio got spoiled with an early spring with warm weather in March and April.  This year we had freezes and frosts into late May and I lost quite a few tomatoes and peppers.  I’ll make a concerted effort not put out the majority of my frost intolerant plant until late May next year.

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Frosted tomatoes – 5/25/2013

Groundhogs

This is the second year I’ve had issues with groundhogs in my garden.  Last year in July, a little guy (named him Woody) terrorized my garden for a week or two until I finally caught him in the act of trespassing and theft.  He took out half my early corn and green beans before I was able to finally capture him.  Let’s just say that he’s in a better place now.

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Woody – 7/15/2012

This year the fun started earlier in late May as a momma and her little one moved into Woody’s old house, which is a burrow under a stacked pile of pine trees 5 feet behind my garden. It began with a few carrot tops missing and culminated with the loss of spinach, peas, kale, broccoli, and even Jerusalem artichokes. I called in the experts this time as my own trapping efforts were getting me nowhere. First morning we had a raccoon, who had been stealing my trap bait of corn and apples. My trap is obviously cheap and worthless. Since the raccoon, we caught two more raccoons, Mama and another baby groundhog.  On July 4th, I added some 3 foot chicken fencing to the north side with 1 1/2 feet on the ground and 1 1/2 feet attached to the current fence. This will keep future groundhogs (there will be more) from digging under (crossing my fingers).

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Bucky – 6/20/2013
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Mama caught fleeing the scene outside my garden – 6/21/2013

My long-term plan is to remove the wood either by having the landlord move it or by acquiring a chain saw.  The cleared area will make a good place to expand my composting efforts.

Overwintering and collecting seeds

I overwintered several different plants this year, mostly because I wanted early spring produce.  Carrots, kale, onions, mache, and turnips all made it back for 2013.  I let the kale, mache, and turnips go to seed with a concerted effort to collect the Seven Top turnip green seeds.  I ended up with a giant bag of turnip green seeds on 7/14 (more than I’ll ever use), so if you want some, just let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get them to you.  I’m still planning to collect tomato and bean seeds for sure, with a possibility of collecting peppers and eggplants this year too.

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Seven Top turnip greens flowering with plans to go to seed later.

 

Top Ten Best Vegetable Crops to Grow in Northeastern Ohio

The Snarky Gardener lists the best vegetables for Northeastern Ohio gardens

The list is ordered by asking, “If I was starting a new garden today, what would I grow to (almost) guarantee success?”  An important fact to remember is that success includes planting them at the right time of the year.  Some can withstand frosts and prefer spring or fall.  Others love the heat of July and August.  Also, some can handle a bit of shade where others must have at least 6 hours of sun a day to grow well.  All these variables are noted below.

1.  Tomatoes

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Mildly Snarky tomatoes – 7/4/2013

Tomatoes are a garden staple and usually a great success in any garden I’ve ever had.  They should be started inside from seed or purchased from a reliable grower.  Cherry tomatoes produce a lot and are less picky than other varieties.  Most tomato plants (except for Roma types) will keep growing until the first frost of the fall and will need support (technical term is indeterminate).  I’ve used 6 foot steel fencing for this purpose as you can also grow peas up them. Plant tomatoes deep so the first primary leaves are touching the soil as the buried stem will put out roots. Tomatoes do need full sun – the more, the merrier.

When to Plant Tomatoes in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed.

2.  Onions

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Green onions and garlic

By onions, I mean the bulbs you buy at the garden store and use as either green onions (tops and all) or later as full onions.  Onions (and other related plants – garlic, leaks, chives) are also mammal resistant, as deer and rabbits and groundhogs will usually leave them alone.

When to Plant Onion in Northeastern Ohio: These can first be planted in March or April and can be continuously planted through the fall.

3. Green Beans

tendergreenseeds

Easy to grow (once the spring frosts are over) and will help to improve the soil with their nitrogen fixing.  They also produce food quickly (under 60 days) so they can be planted later in the season (through the beginning of August here in Ohio).  Beans are a favorite food of groundhogs and rabbits though so you’ll need to fence them in.

When to Plant Green Beans in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed until August.

4.  Zucchini

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Burpee’s Sure Thing Zucchini
Very prolific, zucchini are always welcome in my garden.  I tend to go with the all-female varieties – like Burpee’s Sure Thing.  Plant Zucchini in mounds with 2 or 3 seeds per mound.

When to Plant Zucchini in Northeastern Ohio: around the end of May after all danger of frost has passed and the ground has warmed up.

5.  Potatoes

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Yukon Gold potatoes – 6/15/2013

Planted in spring, potatoes are really easy.  Just put in the ground and hill up dirt or mulch (leaves or straw) as the plant itself grows up.  Just wait for the plant to die off and then dig up your taters.  You will need store bought seed potatoes as grocery store potatoes are usually sprayed with chemicals that keep them from sprouting.

When to Plant Potatoes in Northeastern Ohio: as early as St. Patrick’s Day through May.

6.  Garlic

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Garlic, like potatoes, are super easy.    I did find out the hard way, you must split the bulbs up into cloves before planting.  But after they are in, you are good to go.  Garlic can be strategically planted to help deter critters (deer, rabbits, etc) from eating other crops.  Many animals do not like the smell of garlic.

When to Plant Garlic in Northeastern Ohio: mid October to be pulled in July or March/April (though this will grow smaller bulbs).

7.  Turnip Greens

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Easy to grow and very nutritious (a so-called “super food”), though somewhat bitter to eat sometimes (colcannon anyone?).  I’ve been going with Seven Top turnips over the last year or so, which are only grown for their greens.  The standard Purple Top White Globe turnip is also good for it’s greens, though you do have to worry about the roots getting tough and dried out as the summer temperatures spike.  Turnips prefer cool weather and can be sown in early spring or fall and will overwinter (and then promptly go to seed if not harvested in time).  They can also handle partial shade.

When to Plant Turnips in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.

8.  Carrots

Red Cored Chantenay Carrot

These are an issue for some gardens as rocky or clay soil can make for forked carrots.  Red Cored Chantenay is the 6 inch variety I grow that’s just perfect for Northeast Ohio’s clay soil.  They also overwinter well, coming back up for a special spring treat.  The tops are loved by fuzzy animals, both mammals and caterpillars.

When to Plant Carrots in Northeastern Ohio: April to August.

9.  Peas

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Freshly picked Sugar Snap peas – 7/2/2013

Think of peas like green beans (i.e. they fix nitrogen) for the spring and fall.  They can be planted as early as St. Patrick’s day in Northeastern Ohio.  And like green beans, they are loved by bunnies and groundhogs, so you’ll need to fence the peas in and the rodents out.  Also, they are tasty right off the vine, so there’s a chance they never make it back to the kitchen.

When to Plant Peas in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.

10.  Kale

Red Russian Kale - 1/29/2013

Kale is a relative to cabbage and broccoli but easier to grow.  Red Russian kale seems to be a winner as I know several other local gardeners who also raise it. You’ll need to keep an eye out for little green worms as they love kale.

When to Plant Kale in Northeastern Ohio: April through September.

11.   Spinach

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Johnny’s Selected Seeds – Tyee Spinach (F1) (OG)

I threw spinach in because it’s one of my favorite “super foods”.  I like it better than most other greens (including lettuce and kale).  But it’s a little hard to get started and will bolt (go to seed) once the weather gets hot.  Also, spinach can handle some shade.

When to Plant Spinach in Northeastern Ohio: April / May and again in August/September.

Slow Cooker Chili with Jacob’s Cattle Beans

I was at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market in Kent Ohio this winter and ran across some Jacob’s Cattle beans from Breakneck Acres (located just around the corner from Snarky Acres – aka my house).  I had read about Jacob’s Cattle beans in one or two of my many gardening books and wanted to eat (and grow) some myself.  After a Google search, I found a recipe I could adapt to make my own special local chili.  Converting it into a crock pot recipe made it quick and easy.

Note:  I saved back one bag so I could plant them this spring.  Maybe in the fall I’ll be doing this same recipe with my own beans.

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1 pound (aka bag) of Jacob’s Cattle beans
1 or 2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp. Garlic powder)
Olive oil for frying
1 pound ground beef
3-4 T. chili powder
2-3 T. cumin
Fresh cilantro
2 Jalapeno peppers
Dash of cinnamon
Large can crushed tomatoes (2 1/2 cups fresh)
1 tsp. local honey (instead of brown sugar)
2 T. vinegar (white, red wine, apple cider or balsamic)
Salt and pepper to taste
Turnip Greens (optional)

Soak the beans in water about 2-3 inches above the beans in the crock pot or a non-metal bowl for 6-8 hours or overnight. Discard the soaking water and cover with fresh water an inch or two above the beans. Cook the ground beef until nicely browned and crumbled, set aside. Sauté the onions in a oil until soft, then add everything to the crock pot and stir well. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 to 10 hours.

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Soaking the Jacob’s Cattle beans
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Frozen tomatoes from last year’s garden
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Two jalapeno peppers from the AeroGarden
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Onions and garlic from the garden
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Onions and garlic chopped up
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Local grass fed ground beef
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The finished product – local chili

Ingredient sources

Home:
– Jalapeno peppers – fresh from the AeroGarden
– Turnip Greens – frozen from last year’s garden
– Tomatoes – frozen from last year’s garden
– Onions – fresh from the garden
– Garlic – fresh thinnings from the garden
– Cilantro – fresh thinnings from the Front Yard Herb garden

Local:
– Jacob’s Cattle beans – from Breakneck Farms
– Ground beef – from Sirna’s Farm CSA in Auburn Ohio
– Local Honey

Commercial:
– Olive oil
– Cumin
– Chili powder
– Cinnamon
– Vinegar
– Salt and pepper

Oh the Plantmanity!

Note – “plantmanity” is like humanity but with plants.

May and June have been tough on my gardening nerves.  May gave us several frosty low temperature nights (including a hard freeze on 5/24/2013).  The pots and leaf mulch came out to cover tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.  Unfortunately, the coverings weren’t enough for some and those plants didn’t make it (cue the violin music).  I lost 5 or 6 tomato plants plus 3 eggplants.  A few of my potatoes also got frozen but they have grown back since.  Fortunately, I hadn’t planted my peppers yet, since they seem to do better when planted after the weather has warmed up (think June).  Also, the Snarky Gardener has been overzealous this season with plant starts, so replacements have readily available.  All in all, not a complete disaster but I will consider this next spring when starting and planting my tender little friends.

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Frosted Tomatoes (how sad) – 5/25/2013

On May 31st, my dog River and I discovered some furry friends in the garden.  I had this issue last year, but it took me a week or two before figuring out that I had a groundhog.  Half my corn crop, not to mention my spinach, my carrots, my cucumber vines, and various other tasty treats were lost before trapping the little basta . . . .  critter (aka Woody).  This year, I noticed some of my carrots had been nibbled down (both inside and outside my fence), but I really knew I had a problem when I saw the tiniest little guy scurrying from the garden into the stacked up logs behind the garden.  Bucky (yes, I named him Bucky) was so small he could run straight through my 2″ X 4″ fencing without skipping a beat.  A few days later, we noticed a second, much bigger groundhog (I named her Mamma), who had dug under the fence to get in for the free buffet.  I currently have a trap set up inside the fence near that opening with delicious apples and corn as bait.  So far I’ve lost a little spinach, all my broccoli, all my Tuscan kale, some carrot tops, and lots of peas plants.  On 6/4/2013, I picked all the spinach just to be safe.  It was starting to bolt anyways, so I’d rather eat it then have fuzzy little creatures make a salad with it.

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Broccoli after groundhogs got done with it – 6/5/2013
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Here piggy piggy – 6/4/2013. (That’s comfrey in the foreground.)
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Woody the Groundhog – captured 7/15/2012.   He’s in a better place now.

Tomato and Basil Time!

With spring in full force, my thoughts have turned to tomatoes and basil starts as I’ve been trading and selling them.  The Kent Community TimeBank has given me an outlet for them where I don’t need to worry about the exchange of money.  The truth of the matter is plant starts represent mostly time as they have to be treated like infants so the KCTB seems to be appropriate.  The basil has been more popular than I would have ever imagined, so I’ll make an effort next year to produce more.

On 5/12/2013, I attended the Foods Not Lawns Cleveland plant swap.  I traded 4 tomato starts (1 Mega Cherry cutting from my AeroGarden and 3 Sweet 100 Cherry starts).  In return, I received two Chocolate Cherry tomatoes, two Long Purple eggplants, and a whole bunch of comfrey plants.  Comfrey is useful as a nutrient mulch because it accumulates minerals well.  Just chop it down a few times a year and put the leaves in your compost or around your heavy feeders (tomatoes, corn, broccoli, etc).  Who needs to buy chemical fertilizer?  Not this Snarky Gardener.

The AeroGardens have been producing well, giving me Jalapeno peppers, basil, cutting celery, parsley, and tomato cuttings (for starts).  The Mega Cherry tomatoes are just getting ripe, and will be eaten seconds after they are ready.  I will be saving the seeds from the red pepper to see if I can get them to grow.  Practice makes perfect when it comes to seed saving.  I tried to save the seeds from a green one, but they never spouted.  I should have better luck with the riper Jalapeno.

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Mega Cherry tomatoes – 5/7/2013
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Jalapeno peppers and Thai basil – 5/7/2013

Of course, with all these starts running around, I planted 6 in late April and early May to get some from under my feet (even with a chance of frost still possible).  This chance became reality on 5/13/2013 and 5/14/2013 as temperatures fell into to low 30’s overnight.  Overturned pots became makeshift protectors inside the steel fence tomato cages.  I did lose one Sweet 100 Cherry tomato plant as the pot I covered it with was too thin and holey.   Luckily I have more plants where that came from.

On 5/12/2013, the first of the potato leaves poked their heads out (and were promptly frosted).  I’ve been checking on them from time to time, finding a few that turned rotten.  I’m not sure if this was caused by using the leaf mulch (it’s pretty wet in places) or the potatoes themselves, but I pulled any that didn’t look good.  Fortunately the Snarky Gardener is smart enough to have extra potatoes that he didn’t plant the first time, so those will fill in any open spots.

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Potatoes sprouting up from leaf mulch – 5/12/2013
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Potatoes coming up by my kale – 5/17/2013

Spring has sprung!

After several days of warmer weather (70’s) and rain in the middle of April, my garden finally started jumping up.  The spinach I had planted in March under 2-liter bottles have spouted.  My Oregon Snow Peas are also popping out of the ground (I thought they were goners with the long cold early spring).  But the real surprise was my overwintered Red Russian kale.  I even took them off my garden plan as they didn’t look good in late February and early March.  With the warm sun and then rain, they have really perked up.

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Red Russian kale – 4/13/2013
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Spinach sprouts among the leaves – 4/13/2013

It also looks like I’ll be collecting Seven Top turnip seeds as they are sending up flowers.  I let them go last fall thinking I could eat them this spring but forgot all about whole biannual thing.  I had enough greens to eat one meal, but I’ll let the plants use the rest of their strength to make babies.

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Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013
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Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013
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Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013

On 4/27/2013, I planted the first of my many tomato plants (four Sweet 100 Cherry plants) inside the cages in “Tomato Row”.  I’m a little early (or am I?) but the 10-day forecast looked good plus they were getting root bound. I also planted the only mini pepper that grew from the seeds I started (sigh). I have a pepper-producing AeroGarden mini Jalapeno that I may plant outside plus a mystery pepper I received from Amishland Seeds with my Amish Paste tomato seeds.  And I have a plant swap with Food Not Lawns Cleveland in a few weeks, so hopefully my pepper population will be increased over this one lonely plant.

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Full garden view taken from the south – 4/27/2013
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Caged Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes and Sugar Snap Peas – 5/4/2013
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Planted Fenced Backyard Garden Plan- 4/30/2013

In April, I joined the Kent Community TimeBank.  The KCTB is an organization that allows for the trading of services between community members using a simple yet cool website.  So far I’ve given 2 hours of weeding to one member and received strawberry plants (which I planted in the northwest corner on 4/27) and compost from two other members.  The time bank allows me to use my gardening talents in the local community while receiving other valuable services (I’m looking at you, dog groomers, graphic designers, and equipment renters).  The best part is I’m getting in better physical shape without those pesky gym memberships.

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Strawberry plants a Kent Community TimeBank member delivered on 4/27/2013

Steel Fence Tomato and Pea Cages

The Snarky Gardener spent the weekend raking leaf mulch and digging holes.  In preparation for climbing peas and tomatoes, I brought out the tomato cages I “built” last year. Two years ago I purchased 150 feet of 60″ tall steel fencing (to protect my garden from critters).  50′ + 50′ + 20′ + 20′ (50′ X 20′ garden) equaled 140 feet of needed fence with 10 feet leftover.  Last year, I had an eureka moment and decided to use the extra as a tomato cage as I hadn’t had much luck with store bought ones. Plus the fencing looked a lot like the pea netting I had seen on the Internet. So I curled the fence around like a giant C, buried it into the ground about 6 inches, put dirt over it to hold it down, and planted peas around it. After it worked so well, I ended up buying another 50 feet and cutting 6 more 4 to 5 foot sections (leaving 20 feet to increase my 50′ X 20′ to 50′ X 30′ this year). Did I mention the SG uses math all the time at his day job?

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Homemade tomato and pea cages – 3/31/2013

So this spring I raked open 6 spots (pant, pant, pant) and broke ground on “tomato row”. This area was brand new and untilled, so I had to bring out “Big Blue”, my broadfork purchased from the Valley Oak Tool Company.  Weighing in at 18 pounds, it’s a solid piece of equipment and easy to use (though it would have been easier if SG was in better shape).  I was thinking of taking pictures or video of me actually using it, but thought the video on the Valley Oak site would do the trick.  Next week I’ll be planting climbing snow peas around each cage.  Last year none of the experimental peas made it back into the house as I’m a grazer but 6 times as many hopefully means some for everyone else.

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Breaking up the soil with my broadfork “Big Blue” – 3/30/2013
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“Big Blue” taking a break – 3/30/2013
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Tomato cage buried in place – 3/30/2013
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Interlocking the top for stability – 3/30/2013
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Tomato cages with too much mulch piled up behind them – 3/30/2013
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“Tomato Row” – 3/30/2013
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Caged Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato plant and Peas – 5/4/2013
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Caged Tomatoes and Peas – 5/4/2013
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Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes – 6/17/2013
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Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes – 7/4/2013