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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Notes from the Field: All in Good Time

One of our favorite farmers, Clayton Carter, posted some photos from Failbetter Farm in Maine this week with the title 'August is Hell.'  These pictures were not of suffering sinners or rings of fire.  They were not even of extreme heat, tornadoes, or the terrible drought in the Midwest.  They were snapshots of beautiful vegetables including tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers ready to go to market, lovely tiny carrot plants growing for harvest in October, and other wholesome, vibrant, farm-y subjects that one would not normally associate with Hell, if one were inclined to think much about that dark place.  No one was being tortured, or even punished for anything, except maybe for the crime of planting a few too many vegetables to reasonably harvest.  In fact, those photos looked very much like what we envision when we think about a successful harvest as we create the farm plan for the year in midwinter.



At the beginning of last week, I was wondering if we were ever going to get enough cherry tomatoes for everyone to harvest.  I kept walking and driving by the field tomato patch, looking at the same green tomato every day, wondering if it was ever going to ripen.  It seemed to have been the same size and color for weeks.  Even the harvest records from last season, which clearly showed that our tomatoes don't really begin to ripen until the second week of August, did not convince me.  Watched pot never boils or not, I was starting to become a little obsessed.

After a few days of August weather (hot, but not too hot, and humid), it began to appear that that particular worry was probably misplaced energy.  By Thursday it was clear that we were DEFINITELY going to have enough cherry tomatoes for everyone to pick that afternoon.  Friday it rained, which causes the Sun Golds to split when they are very ripe, so there were lots of cherry tomatoes for, let's see, about 24 hours.  A few more hot, humid days, and it became difficult to explain to some enthusiastic Sunday evening cherry tomato pickers why we had ever had a 2-pint limit.   On Monday we picked 195 pounds of tomatoes.  Two days later, we picked more than 700 pounds.  I was reminded (once again) that while we can control certain things on the farm, like when crops are transplanted and when and how they're fertilized or weeded, one of the many, many things we cannot control is when they ripen.  They ripen when they are ready, and when they are ready they need to be picked.  Now.


August harvests, which are marvelous, are also backbreaking.  Peppers and eggplant and okra and tomatoes all put us in the same hunched posture for picking.  Summer squash and cucumbers require us to lean all the way down to the ground for hours at a time.  Melons are another thing entirely; they took Erinn and Andy all day long on Friday to pick after a morning in the squash plants -- lifting and tapping or smelling each one, examining it for signs of ripeness, then gently, gently sliding it from the vine and tossing it to the other person to load onto the truck.  All this picking doesn't leave very much time for transplanting (lettuce and spinach are still going in the ground for October harvest), seeding (arugula, radishes, turnips and other fall greens), fixing tractors (Gretta and Gus), weeding (those delicate fall carrots), fertilizing (broccoli!) or office work, which is why I'm writing the newsletter this week at 12:30 at night.

Now, I'm not complaining.  Better this than the alternative.  Better abundance than scarcity. There's no way to rush this kind of summer harvest.  Staring at the tomatoes will not make them ripen; being anxious about them will not make them ripen.  Same with the melons.  Only their own good time, a little warm weather (but not too hot!  Not too windy!), and some ethylene gas can make it happen.  All we can do is be ready to pick them when they do.  All of them.  Right now.  


Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda, for the farm crew

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