Local, organic agriculture. Environmental education.

Tomatoes Are In!…the ground

tomatoes closeupWhat a long strange spring it has been.

It is common in June this year to keep a blanket at the end of the bed.  Lots of summer crops do not like the chilly nights, starting with tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, along with watermelon and zucchini. A lot of Summer program participants at the farm dress appropriately in layers due to the fickle weather and cool breezes.

Too bad the wacky weather has not brought in much soaking rain.  Remember that the farmers, (the organic, all natural ones seeking sustainable practices) like a nice soaking rain in the evening, especially after transplanting a whole bunch of seedlings, while the sun shines brilliantly during the day. Though cool, the sun has reared its warm self on these long solstice days without enough moisture.The rain barrel runneth empty. Most of the fields are dry, except a few whose long, tall grass (now mowed) hide the pent-up mud by way of low elevation and snowy winters. The large multi-gallon tank remains at the ready and in use for germinating carrots and growing onions.

One must adapt to the conditions, especially on a diverse farm where each field is its own climate and unique growing standards, or idiosyncrasies. This flexibility means the farmer (who has spent most of the off-season busily staring at spread sheets, interpreting soil tests and reading the latest no-til vs. soil nutrient density arguments) must make special considerations for each field, and crop, so as to ensure viable growth, cultivation and success. Which brings us to tomatoes in late June.

No they are not ready yet. And nor is the corn for that matter. Head lettuce galore adorns the farm stand along with radishes, arugula, kale, chard and Saturday morning yoga at 8 am, to name a few.  And speaking of individualizing characteristics, as to the transplanting of tomatoes, you cannot just sow a seed and hope for bountiful tomatoes and vegetarian (hold the B)LT sandwiches come August.  These 20 or so different varieties of tomato seedlings are nurtured from March until now, mostly in the greenhouse.
First there are the tomato plants for the home gardener at the plant sale who does not have to worry about wet, rocky fields and then there are the plants for the fields, who have to wait for consistently warm nights, and days.  These are tropical plants that prefer warm, hot days and nights, no temperature fluctuation please. Once the farmer sees a national weather advisory approved forecast of sun and warmth, only then can she turn the soil and begin to amend and prepare the fields and bed rows, at least 750 feet of tomatoes at 18 inches apart, in single rows.Amendments include lime, greensand and bone meal (each one adding a balance and nutrient specific intention), depending on those winter readings mulled over with a cup of coffee in February. Most amendments are added by a hard-working hand broadcasting into the row and in some cases poured by measured cup into the hole that will hold the tomato.  Once amended, the field is ready for the garden peach, yellow pear, san marzano, super sweet 100 and beloved sun gold.  The flats of fruits benefit from being soaked in a tray of water before being gently coerced from their 2 inch pot, lower leaves pinched and plant heeled into the warm ground.  But oh that warm, warm ground. The south coast farmer took the post hole digger from the tool shed to make headway into the rocks, sand, silt and clay, at the spot where the d.c. farmer had twice measured for said holes.
Young Farmers in a dwindling teen program (they all must be out sailing or sleeping away at camp) helped gingerly to set in these tomatoes in their proper place, where they (not the teens) will mature and bear ripening green, red, orange and even purple tomatoes as the summer continues and reaches its height. The maturing teens are indeed welcome back to help stake, cultivate and weed as needed, as the program does run through August 15th.
But there were also a couple, hardy, field volunteers who will weekly continue to come participate in this and other endeavours. These timely facets of farming do take many members of the community to accompany the farmers’ efforts and planning. Whoever comes to help, be it rain, sun, tools and labor, it is worth it to try to attempt for a diverse harvest and to care for the land, with diversity and natural practices. So even if the blanket remains at the end of the bed, may it not impede the growth in the tomato bed.

© 2014, Jon Belber. All rights reserved. Friends of Holly Hill Farm

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