In Praise of What Doesn’t Look Ripe

Urban agriculture can be practised in many places, but it is often practised in public spaces. We cultivate in front of our house, we take possession of a square around a city tree, we garden in an open courtyard or in the alley. The fruits of our labor are visible and within everyone’s reach.

As far as I’m concerned, you could say that my vegetable garden is open to anyone who passes by, with no fences or protection. Gardening like this necessarily implies a small notion of sharing. Let’s face it, it’s sometimes hard to resist a beautiful red strawberry or a perfectly ripe tomato, even if the plant doesn’t belong to you. I’m well aware that a few harvests will be gleaned during the season. Even so, I hope and aspire to have an interesting harvest of my own.

Deceiving the Eyes

As a general rule, varieties that don’t fit the usual “image” we have of a fruit or vegetable are less popular. Take, for example, a white eggplant or a purple bell pepper. Shape can also have an influence, think of a cucumber that turns on itself as it grows (like the long Suyo) or a ball-shaped eggplant (like the Turkish eggplant). Explore varieties when buying seeds or transplants, and you’ll have a great opportunity to diversify your knowledge of varieties and tastes.

Dutch white cucumber. Crédit photo : Les Jardins de l’écoumène

Today, I’m sharing with you two favorites that have been passing the test for several years at my house: the Jewel raspberry and the Green Zebra tomato!

Jewel Raspberry

Framboisier Jewel. On voit bien la framboises immature auprès des framboises mûres!
Crédit: La Pépinière ancestrale

I planted my Jewel raspberry bush right at the end of my plot by accident. In fact, I didn’t even know what variety it was. This little raspberry stick was left over from our annual distribution of fruit trees at the Urbainculteurs. An unclaimed plant in its death throes, I planted it, saying to myself: “we’ll see what happens”.

For those who don’t already know, the Jewel raspberry bush produces absolutely delicious black raspberries, and that’s its great incognito quality! The raspberry clusters form at the end of the stem (very prickly!), in the shape of umbels. The funny thing is that for a long time they display the characteristic red color of raspberries, giving the impression that they’re ready. But beware, at this stage they are still very hard and, above all, very tart! I must admit I’ve seen gleaners’ faces contort several times after biting into a raspberry they thought was ready (hihi). I’ve never seen them again. This raspberry has to be completely black and shiny to be tasted at its full potential, a real delight!

Green Zebra Tomato

I’ve already talked about the Green Zebra tomato on this blog, and I love it so much! This tomato is indeterminate, which means it can reach a good height and you’ll need to stake it. Its superpower lies in the fact that you have to know this variety well in order to know when the fruit is ripe. I call it the camouflage plant. It remains almost completely green throughout its development, with a few stripes of darker green, hence the name Zebra. When it’s ready, the texture of the fruit softens. But above all, it turns orange-yellow around the stalk – you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled!

It’s absolutely delicious, and makes a wonderful addition to your summer salads. Because of its unusual appearance, and especially because it blends right in with the leaves, I think it’s a tomato of choice for high-traffic areas. I’ve never seen a Green Zebra tomato disappear from my plants.

Tomate Green Zebra en camouflage
Crédit : Les Urbainculteurs

So here are the basics of incognito gardening, which you can explore further. I’d love to hear your tips! Happy gardening! 

Marie-Andrée is the urban farm manager and a trainer at Urbainculteurs, where she has been working since 2015. She plans and supervises the production of Jardins du bassin Louise, an urban vegetable farm with a social and educational vocation. Outstanding at teaching, she also co-hosts the podcast Mâche-patate and is one of the main trainers of the Urbainculteurs online training course. Les Urbainculteurs is a non-profit organization, based in Quebec since 2009. Their mission: to develop and promote a productive, accessible and responsible urban agriculture for the benefit of organizations and individuals, in order to increase food security, improve our living environments and promote an ecological transition.

3 comments on “In Praise of What Doesn’t Look Ripe

  1. Bananas that are not within reach of the ground can be very frustrating. The easiest way to get them down is to cut down their trunk. If they are not ready, they can not be put back to finish ripening. Fortunately, if they look even slightly ripe, they probably are, and they are quite efficient at ripening if not initially ripe enough.

  2. A thought provoking article! Love it!

  3. Funny! I like your means of protection. I guess the honor system doesn’t always work!

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