Green Strawberries (or fun with ethylene)

Have you ever purchased a green strawberry? We buy green bananas all the time.  Sometimes we even buy green tomatoes.  But why haven’t you ever bought a green strawberry?

All fruits (and many vegetables and nuts) fall into two categories based on their ripening characteristics: climacteric or non-climacteric.  Climacteric fruits will continue to ripen after the fruit has left the plant.  Non-climacteric fruits stop the ripening process the minute they leave the plant.  That is why you have never bought a green strawberry.  A green strawberry will always be a green strawberry.  It will never turn red, it will never get juicy and it will never taste good.  Strawberries are the quintessential non-climacteric fruit.

Bananas, on the other hand are the quintessential climacteric fruit.  Bananas are the most consumed fruit in America.  According to a 2006 report by the USDA, each American eats a whooping 25.14 pounds of bananas per year.  This is amazing when you think about how perishable bananas are and the distances they have to travel to get here (the top producer and exporter of bananas is India).  An understanding of the science behind this climacteric/non-climacteric thing is what allows us Americans to eat so many things that come from so far away.

Ripening is controlled by several variables.  One of these is ethylene.  When fruits start to ripen they produce ethylene.  Knowing this, we can hasten ripening by exposing the fruit to ethylene or we can slow down the ripening process by chilling the fruit (which suppresses ethylene production and is how they keep bananas fresh for so long).

The last of the yupneck’s 2010 tomatoes

O.K. I know you are thinking “This is a pretty cool horticultural fact and all, but what can I do with it?”  Well, it can help you save your fall tomato crop, that’s what.  Tonight, it is supposed to get down to 28 degrees at my house.  I am fairly certain this is going to finish off my fall tomatoes.  I have nursed them through two light freezes already.  Each time a little more of the foliage got burned and I had to cut it back.  Not much protecion left for the tomatoes that are still on the vine. So, tonight I am going home and picking what is left of my green tomatoes.  I will then take them in the house and put them in a brown paper bag with two or three ripe bananas.  I will fold the bag shut and leave it for three or four days.  When I open it up this weekend, I should have a bag full of red tomatoes!  The ethylene that is being released by the bananas will save my fall tomato crop!

Poinsettia grown by me in my Greenhouse Management course taught by a real Master of Horticulture, Dr. Terri Starman. Our poinsettia’s were wrapped in brown paper sleeves for shipment.

Here is another useful ethylene tip.  If you bring home flowers or potted plants this holiday season that are wrapped in plastic or paper  (this is common with poinsettias), un-wrap them ASAP.  You see, those plants are producing ethylene as well.  The wrappings will trap the ethylene and your flowers/plants will drop their leaves/petals pretty quickly if you do not get them out of their protective coverings.

Now that you have the facts about ethylene you can use the handy chart below to determine which fruits you can buy while they are still “green” and which fruits will never get ripe for you once they leave the plant.

Climacteric Non-Climacteric
Apples Bell Pepper
Apricots Blackberries
Avocados Blue Berries
Bananas Lemons
Cantaloupes Limes
Figs Oranges
Nectarines Grapefruits
Peaches Raspberries
Pears Summer Squash
Persimmons Egg Plant
Plums Pumpkin
Tomatoes Strawberries
Watermelon  Grapes

Picket Fence – Phase 2

Hanging the stringers

My wife and I made real progress on the picket fence this week end.  In fact, we were rather surprised at how much progress we made.  After a good breakfast and a few errands, we got busy.  Before we could really get going we had to “notch the posts” to hold the stringers.  For our fence design, we wanted the posts to show.  The posts would then have 2 1/2″ pickets with 2 1/2″ gaps that hang on stringers that are flush mounted in the back of the post.  After the top and bottom stringers were set, we trimmed the posts to their final height.  The post tops were cut to be 6″ taller than the top stringer. 

Next, we set up the cutting center.  This was basically a sheet of plywood on two saw horses.  I reinforced the plywood by placing three 4X4 posts under it and screwing them down.  Next, I set up a cutting jig for the posts.  This was done by screwing a piece of a 4X4 to the end of the plywood to serve as a stop for cutting the pickets.  I then moved my chop saw until the blade was the proper distance from the stop.  I then squared the saw and screwed it down to the plywood.  Once this was a secure, I set up my portable table saw behind the cutting jig.  I set the saw to rip pickets 2 1/2″ wide.

A good shot of how the sringers are set into the posts

Now that the stretchers were in place and the cutting center was ready, my wife and I set about making the pickets.  We did this by cutting 5/4″ boards that were 5 1/2 inches wide into 42″ long sections.  We then ran these sections through the the table saw to create two 2 1/2″ wide pickets from one 42″ section.  When the wheel barrow was full of pickets, we would go and hang them. 

Hanging pickets is pretty easy if you have the right tools.  In our case, the right tool was another jig.  Since we had hung our stringers perfectly level, we used them to hold the jig that I built for this purpose.  This jig was very simple.  I took a 4′ 2X4 and screwed a 4′ 1X4 at a 90 on the top and another 1X4 to the back that hung past the bottom edge of the 2X4.  This created a lip that I could use to screw the jig down to the stringer.  This jig ensured that all of the pickets would be perfectly level across the top. 

The yupneck at work hanging pickets

With the help of this jig, my wife and I set about hanging the pickets.  Working together, she would hold and space the picket (using another picket), and I would screw them down.  I used galvanized screws for this entire project so I do not have to worry about rusty screws staining my posts in the future.  As you can see from the pic, we made very good progress.  We got about two thirds of the front of the fence built in about four hours.  Now that we have the jigs and “a system” we expect to finish the rest of this side of the fence by the end of next weekend.  Check back to see how it goes.

Spider Lilies in Heaven

Spider lilies outside the home of the Graceless Gaijin in Totsukawa this past October

A young friend of ours is currently doing one of the coolest things that I can imagine a tall, blonde, 22-year-old American ever doing after graduating from college.  She is teaching English to Japanese elementary students in remote, rural Japanese village named Totsukawa.  While she is away, she is keeping a blog so all of us who are stuck in our mundane, state side lives can live vicariously through her.  She is an excellent writer.  When I was reading her latest post, I came upon a little gem that really caught my eye: “Spider lilies are called “higanbana” in Japanese.  According to Buddhist beliefs there is a river that separates the world of the living and the world of the dead, and higanbana grow on the opposite bank to guide the spirits across the river.”   Now how cool is that?  Spider lilies leading the way to Buddhist heaven.  This pleases me greatly since spider lilies are probably my favorite bulb.  I don’t know if I will go to Buddhist heaven (or Christian heaven for that matter), but if I do get to go I really like the thought of spider lilies leading the way!

My spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) were a gift from the previous homeowner.  The first fall that we were there, we noticed these odd, single stems beginning to shot up in our front yard.  We had no idea what they were but we decided to mow around them and see what they would become.  Well we were pleasantly surprised when the flowers burst open!  I instantly fell in love with these bright red, exotic looking beauties.  When I found out that one of their common names is “Naked Ladies”, I decided I loved them even more!

Until I read her post, I did not realize that spider lilies are native to Japan.  These rather unique looking bulbs rise up out of the ground on a single stalk and produce a single, red flower.  They usually bloom here in late September or early October.  Thanks to the graceless gaijin, I now know that they bloom at the same time in their native Japan. 

The spider lilies that surprised me again this October

Spider lilies have a relatively short bloom time, generally two weeks or less.  When they are in bloom you can extend their life by providing adequate water.  Once the flower dies, the foliage appears a couple of weeks later.  The foliage is a dark green clump that is reminiscent of lariope.  This clump will last until spring.

Luckily for us, these bulbs naturalize very readily in Texas.  If you buy bulbs (The Southern Bulb Co. is a great place to look:, you can plant them in full sun or partial shade.  The bulbs should be buried to a depth of three or four inches in good soil that has been amended with lots of organic material.  Provide normal water through the spring and summer and then wait for the fall show.  Since they naturalize so readily, you can also divide the bulbs you already have.  It is best to do this in the spring after foliage has died back.

Since the blooms and the foliage of the spider lilies eventually all die and disappear, I always seem to forget they are there.  Each fall, the appearance of those single “naked” stalks always lifts my spirits and informs me that once again, it is time to slow down and pay attention to what nature is about to share with me.  I don’t know if Spider lilies will line the path to my heaven, but I certainly hope they do!

Felder Rushing at the Antique Rose Emporium

The yupneck meets Felder Rushing at the Antique Rose Emporium

This weekend I got to meet one of my gardening heroes.  The Antique Rose Emporium  was holding its annual Fall Festival and the featured speaker was FELDER RUSHING!!!  (  Now, if you are not familiar with Felder you are missing a treat.  Felder Rushing is a highly educated, highly respected and highly unusual MASTER of HORTICULTURE!  Felder is a very accomplished horticulturist and a very enlightening and entertaining speaker.  When he is not on the road extoling the virtues of gardening, he lives in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi in a very interesting and cutting edge house (horticulturally speaking).  He is also the host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting (  In addition to his radio gig, he writes gardening books and travels the country evangelizing the masses on the virtues of “Slow Gardening” in his “truck garden” (I am not kidding here.  He really drives all around the country in an old truck that has a garden growing in the back of it!)

The yupneck and Felders truck garden

Felder is as much philosopher as he is horticulturist.  His talks and books are full of his Southern hertitage, humor, charm and wisdom.  If you like stuffy talks about how to properly prune your hybrid tea roses, then Felder is probably not going to be to your liking.  But if you enjoy listening to and learning from someone that admires a man that wore shoes spray painted silver with yellow lightening bolts on them while doing “wheelies” on his tractor through the middle of town, then Felder is all the gardening resource you will ever need.

Building the Picket Fence

The yupneck leveling a post for the picket fence

I started this blog as a way to share some of the things I am learning as I pursue my Master’s degree in Horticulture at Texas A&M (Whoop!) with my fellow gardeners.  What started out as fun is slowly turning into a new side line for me; garden writing.  So far, four of the articles that are contained on this site have been published.  This has been a very exciting and fun diversion for me.  Once I stated getting published, it kind of changed the way I look at just about everything I do in the garden and around the house.  Now, instead of just taking cuttings from my coleus like I always have, I have to stop whatever I am doing and go find a camera so I can document it for an article!

This post is a classic example.  I am in the process of building a picket fence around my house.  In my “pre-writer” days, I would have just built the fence, taken a picture or two to show my friends and family, and then moved on to my next project.  Not anymore.  Now, each project has to be “documented”.  So, this post will document the “beginnings” of the picket fence project.  All of this picture taking is driving my wife a little nuts but she is going along with it for now.

I don’t know if I have mentioned it or not, but my wife and I are remodeling an old farmhouse.  One of the projects that we planned to do was build a picket fence around the place.  This was pretty low on the priority list (way behind getting central heat and air, a new kitchen and a new bathroom) until two weeks ago. 

Who would throw this out?

Two weeks ago, the fence took on a whole new level of importance when we picked up a beautiful Australian Shepherd out of the middle of the road.  Someone had “dumped her” in our neck of the woods.  At first, we figure she was lost.  She was so pretty and wearing a collar.  Who would dump such a fine animal?  So, thinking she was lost, we took her in and set out to find her owner.  Well, no owner came forward and we slowly began to accept the fact that we had inherited a dog.  Now normal people that do not have the means to keep a dog would simply not keep her.  However, I am proud to say my wife and I are not normal.  Instead of taking her to the pound, we decided to build a fence!

As luck would have it, my neighbor had just taken down a lovely two board fence that ran across the front of his property.  Since the yupneck is too cheap to buy new, I bought the used 4X4 posts and the runners from him.  He also owns a bobcat set up as a post hole digger.  So, for a very few dollars, I got most of the materials for the fence and someone to save my back from the hours of manual post hole digging. 

My neighbor's post hole digging machine

Alan showed up at 7:15 last Sunday and drilled all of my post holes.  It took him 20 minutes to drill 17 holes.  It would have taken me 20 minutes to dig a single hole.  Over the past week, Sally and I have cleaned out the holes, filled the bottoms with brick bats and started cementing the posts in.  We finished this Sunday right after church.  If you notice in the pictures, we are still wearing our church clothes (like I said before, we are not completely normal)!

I am very excited that this project is under way.  I have wanted a picket fence for quite some time.  No, let me restate that.  I have NEEDED the fence for quite some.  You see, as this blog is supposed to highlight, I am a gardener.  Because of this, I have completely filled up all of the beds around my house.  This fence will allow me to create literally hundreds of more feet of beds!  Also, who has ever closed their eyes and envisioned an antique farmhouse in the country that didn’t have a picket fence?  No one, that’s who!  Old farmhouses are required to have picket fences covered in old roses (one of which we bought at the Antique Rose Emporium this weekend) and surrounded by beds full of things your grand mother grew.  That is what this fence will do for me.  It will complete the dream!

Setting posts in our church clothes

I hope to have the first section of fence completed by Thanksgiving.  My birthday is pretty close to Thanksgiving this year and I have asked all five kids to come celebrate by throwing me a painting party.  If all goes well, we will have the fence and the garage painted by the end of next weekend.  Check back to see how it goes.

P.S.  If you would like detailed instructions on how I build a picket fence, email me or leave a comment and I will post everything you need to know.