Crops love these long sunny days. The tomatoes are bright green and getting taller every time I turn around. I really need to get the stakes up so I can start trellising them. If this tomato season is anything like last year’s I should have some ripe tomatoes to taste in a month’s time.
The popcorn germinated fast, it went from a tiny green shoot just barely poking above the soil to two stalky leaves waving in the wind in like 3 days time. I was so amazed at the speed that I had to do a double take at my calendar to make sure I was reading the date correctly. I hope the popcorn continues to grow fast because the weeds have germinated too and I’d like the cornstalks to shade out the weeds so I have less wheel-hoe work to do.
Notice the tiny weeds next to the corn seedling
I’ve already done a few passes on the tomato rows with the wheel-hoe. It seems we have a transition from the planting phase of the season to the weeding phase, not this farmer’s favorite but I’m trying do a bit of weeding each day so at least the weeds don’t get as tall as me.
Now that all my tomatoes are planted, a quarter of an acre in total, I’ve moved my attention to another part of the field. The popcorn part of the field! I grow a total of a half an acre of heirloom popcorn. The field has been prepped and the beds have been made. So earlier this week I direct seeded 11 beds of Dakota Black (my personal fav) which works out to be about a quarter of an acre.
The rest of the beds will be seeded with Pennsylvania Dutch Butter and Smoke Signals (a new variety for me). After all the popcorn is seeded I have to cover each row with drip tape to provide irrigation, thats about 8,100 feet worth! Laying out drip tape can take some time but once the water is turned on the popcorn should germinate quite quickly.
I can’t forget about the tomatoes for too long as they are growing pretty fast and will need to be trellis soon. Trellising my tomatoes involves putting a series of t-post and stakes in line with the plants then weaving baling twine between them to hold the sprawling tomato vines up. Oh and the tomatoes need to weeded very soon too.
Wheel hoe in action
Like most farmers I build on my experience from year to year with the hopes that this year will be better than the last. So I tend to grow many of the same crops and varieties that performed well in previous years. It is comforting to know you have a crop that you are familiar with and for the most part you have an idea of what to expect throughout the growing and harvesting season. As you refine your crops and figure out what varieties grow well and taste great, you drop the ones that continued to have problems in the field or just didn’t taste great. Removing poor performing crops leaves space for something exciting and new.
This year my new addition to the farm is Aunt Molly’s ground cherry. A ground cherry grows similar to a tomatillo, a sprawling green plant that is covered in dangling paper husks. Once the paper husks drop off the plant you will find what looks like a golden-yellow cherry tomato inside, but this fruit is super sweet tasting like candy and often used to make jams or pies. I transplanted about a 100 ground cherries last weekend, so far the tiny plants seem to be growing well.
With all this sunny weather, I’m finally getting the tomatoes in the ground. Last Tuesday I transplanted 650 cherry tomatoes and later in the week I transplanted 370 heirloom tomato seedlings. I still have another hundred or so to get in the ground but I feel much more relaxed now that the tomatoes are out of their cramped seedlings trays and spreading their roots out in the field.
In the spring with the return of sunshine and warm temperatures as a farmer you feel the need to hurry up and get everything done. The little voice in your head is telling you that you’re late and if you don’t get all your tasks completed right away your crops won’t grow and then you won’t have anything to harvest and your farm will be ruined. But you must be careful because all that rushing around can not only cause stress but you could easily injure yourself, farming is a dangerous occupation. To quiet that nagging little voice in my head, I look back at previous year’s records to see that I always eventually, get everything planted, things do grow, there is a harvest and everything turns out fine.
An entire quarter of an acre planted in tomatoes
This spring is a bit of waiting game, it feels like you are at the starting line, standing by for the race that is the growing season to begin. You are focused and ready to run but you get jittery as you wait for the starting pistol to be fired. I know there is a lot of work to be done in the field and I just want to get started but the weather is in charge of this race.
Stormy weather makes for a wet field that can’t be worked without ruining the soil structure and forming bricks. Clear cold April nights still allow frost to easily show up. So I stand on the sidelines with my trays of tomatoes which are waiting to go into the ground.
While I wait I continue starting seeds in the greenhouse and potting up seedlings to get them ready to take to the market. I know the rush of planting will start soon but my list of tasks to complete, continues to grow longer as I wait.
The weather is keeping us farmers on our toes this spring. Just when I thought sunny skies were here to stay, in blows another storm. Before this current storm is over we will get about an inch of rain, so my field will need about a week to dry out before the tractor can get back in. Sunny days are in our forecast but they are followed with another late week rain event. So just as my field drys out it will get wet again. It is too early to tell if my tomato planting will be delayed but it’s highly possible.
As a farmer no matter how many seasons you’ve experienced or fields you’ve worked you will never be fully in control of your crop plan. Mother nature always has the upper hand, there is no point in fighting to be in charge as that will only cause frustration. Your energy is better spent learning to dance with Mother nature and remember to expect the unexpected.
The tomato seedlings have been enjoying their time in the greenhouse but these tiny tomato plants have grown up and they are ready to be welcomed into their forever home. So at Friday’s farmers’ market I had my full selection of 17 different varieties of heirloom tomato plants for sale. With the likes of Sweetie, Gold Nugget, Cherokee Purple, and Garden Peach; just to name a few.
Some may ask, isn’t it a bit early for transplanting tomatoes? Well, that depends, if you are an experienced tomato grower and determined to have the first ripe tomatoes in the neighborhood, then now is a great time to transplant as long as you protect the plant from frost. Here in Sonoma Valley our last average frost date is April 15th. But if you are a beginning gardener or don’t want to wake up each chilly morning stressed that your tender tomato plant was attacked by frost, then you should wait until tax day, April 18th to transplant tomatoes.
I’m still sweating it up in the greenhouse. Potting up thousands of tiny seedlings into fiber pots takes a lot time.
Garden Peach Tomatoes
But it’s so rewarding to see how the seedling quickly gets comfortable in its new home. There’s more space so it stretches out its roots checking out all the nooks and crannies. With more space I have to add more germination mix to fill up the fiber pot and this gives the seedling a little boast, like drinking a green smoothie in the morning. After the seedlings are tucked into their new pot they head outside, to enjoy the sun unfiltered, no more greenhouse plastic standing in their way of absorbing pure UV rays.
Rainbow Lacinato Kale
They also get to experience the fresh windy air. Blowing around in the breeze allows them to develop strength and toughen up for what nature will bring. After a mere week outside of the greenhouse in their new fiber pots, the seedlings are almost double in size, are richer in color and are downright perky.
Various Heirloom Tomatoes
Sprouts of summer crops are starting to fill the greenhouse. The various basils are teeny tiny. I’m still waiting for crops like cucumbers and summer squash to germination. While the eggplants and peppers are starting to grow their first true leaves.
But the tomatoes plants are vigorous growers and I have been busy potting them up into 3-inch pots. At the market this year I will have five different cherry tomato varieties and twelve different heirloom tomatoes.
Many of the varieties I have grown since I started my farm. But like always, I have added a few new ones to spice things up. With cherries you will see two newcomers named Black Cherry and Be My Baby. The newbies in the heirloom department are Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye and Paul Robeson. I can’t wait to grow these myself and I know home gardeners will love these new varieties for their color variation, great flavor, and their suitability to our growing conditions. I expect to have the full selection of tomato seedlings for sale at the Friday market in about two weeks time.
Things are heating up in the greenhouse. With the return of the sun, seedlings have been growing much faster than the previous grey rainy weeks. I have been busy potting up 6-packs full of lush spring crops that are begging to go outside into your home garden.
With all the rain some garden beds are still soaked making the soil too wet to work. To get some seedlings in the ground quickly remove any weeds or old plants from your garden beds, then put a thick 6-inch layer of compost on top of the existing soil and plant directly into that. The plants will get established in no time.
After enjoying this beautifully wet winter, I loaded up the truck on Friday and headed back to the farmers market. Since now is a great time to get your spring garden started I had lots of different leafy green seedlings for sale. Crops like collards, chard, and cress really enjoy these sunny but sometimes chilly and cloudy March days.