I’ve been spending my days hunting for pumpkins. What started as nice little pumpkin plants in neat straight rows has grown to vines with big green leaves stretching far and wide. It’s hard to walk as every space is either covered in vines or weeds. I watch each step I make so I don’t accidentally crush a perfect pumpkin. Harvest involves a lot of searching under leaves and close examination to see if the various pumpkin varieties are ready to be picked. The process is similar with finding the gourds except they tend to be smaller and easily hidden amongst the weeds. I’m sure from afar I look like a confused chicken moving my head from side to side and quickly pecking at the ground before wandering off in the opposite direction.
Thursday I started to harvest the popcorn but it is a slower process than normal as this field didn’t get weeded, what can I say, I was busy this spring. So the popcorn field is truly a jungle, as I enter I’m not only surrounded by tall cornstalks but six-foot weeds. A couple of steps in and it’s hard to see where you entered. But I just keep moving forward tossing popcorn cobs into my burlap sack. I eventually make it out the other side with a bushel or so of popcorn and lots of scratches.
After our recent heat wave it has been nice to have some days with cool breezes and cloudy skies. But I was still caught off guard by last Thursday’s rain, well more like a heavy mist but water from the sky nevertheless.
This fall weather just seemed so out-of-place, until I remembered that it is September. Signs of autumn are popping up all around the farm; pumpkins ready to harvest, the sun’s angle creating long shadows, dead tomato plants, and shorter days.
It seems like just yesterday I was ordering seeds and making my planting schedule for the season but now I’m starting to think about removing irrigation and putting things away for the winter. Having a seasonal workload was one of the things that drew me to a life a farming. I like how your tasks have a cycle and the work ebbs and flows throughout the year. This just feels natural to me I have more energy in the summer and enjoy taking on more work; in the winter I want to slow down and get cozy reflecting on life. So as we enjoy the last days of summer filled with tomato sandwiches, I look forward to windy fall days surrounded by pumpkins.
Lately it seems like everyday is a race. A race to pick as many tomatoes as possible before it gets too hot. My race day starts the night before, I load the truck with boxes, pint baskets, snacks, and water. To figure out when to wake up, I look at when tomorrow’s sunrise is, so I can plan to be out in the field as early as I can. Sunrise is getting later and later, right now it’s happening at 6:38am to be exact, that is not much time before 12 noon when it becomes too hot to pick tomatoes (cause nobody wants soft pre-cooked tomatoes). I would like to start harvesting before 6:30 am but as you can imagine harvesting in the dark is hard. So I start harvesting at sunrise and I fill the flats that each fit 12 pint baskets as fast as I can.
Sometimes I have cat supervision
This time of year with the plants aging and the heat wave happening a lot of the fruit that is hanging is split or soft, so it’s a bit like an obstacle course. Cherry tomato harvest in late summer is not as fast as earlier in the season so you really feel the time speeding by as pint baskets slowly fill.
Once the day has become too hot for picking, I go inside to start sorting the tomatoes removing damaged fruit and mixing the colors. By the time this is finished it’s time to prep for tomorrow and load the truck with supplies. It may be a race but it won’t last forever.
The tomatoes are still the star of the farm, requiring my full attention most every day.
But across the field a successor is lurking in the weeds. The pumpkins are growing well, the vines are curling up the tall weed stalks and sticking out past the edges of the field. I’ve even spotted a few orange ones already. There is also gourds and winter squash keeping the pumpkins company.
It is hard to think about autumn during the hot sunny weather of August but we are less than a month away from the fall equinox. The seasons move along at a quick pace, so make sure to take time to enjoy what tasty produce is currently at the farmers’ market, take a moment to soak up the warm weather, take a minute to watch bees buzzing from flower to flower, and take a deep breath of the summer’s afternoon breeze.
Before you know it juicy tomatoes will only be a memory and we will be pulling on our rain boots and cozy sweaters.
What can I say, I’ve just be picking tomatoes since we last spoke. It’s true my days are measured by how many flats of this tomato variety or that tomato variety I have harvested.
I shuffle through the tomato rows quietly bobbing up and down as I pick tomatoes. I sometimes listen to music but I find more enjoyment just listening to what is going on around me. The rumble of tractors in nearby vineyards. The cooing of mourning doves flying into the trees. The dull roar of the trucks going down the road. The quail signalling to each other from the bushes. The screech of the red-tail hawk soaring overhead. The rustle of leaves as a lizard runs away.
A dragonfly resting on a tomato stake
I delight in being aware of my surroundings, present in what is going on. I find that I need this time and space to get away from noise. To eliminate the digital audio distractions that fill most of my day from car radio, to my smart phone, the videos on my computer, or the movies watched at night. Just being outside, in the world unconnected is important for me.
Have I mention how much I like tomatoes, well I guess love is a better word. As a farmer I truly believe you must enjoy what you grow both in the field and in the kitchen.
I feel a connection with tomatoes, like I get what they want and need as a plant. From seed to harvest I understand how to make them happy allowing them to do what I want, which is abundant fruit production. Now you may think that because I’m a farmer and a “green thumb” that I connect with any crop and all plants produce for me … that’s not true, I don’t know what salad greens want and most flowers don’t grow for me.
So with tomatoes I feel a synergy, in the field I know the plant just wants to grow big and leafy. So I space out the tomatoes’ deep watering stressing the plant to focus its energy on root development. Then when the fruits begin to ripen I turn off the irrigation to encourage more ripe tomatoes. Well the plants have received that message because the field is bursting with tomatoes waiting to be picked. I’ve been harvesting as much as I possibly can, taking loads to the farmers markets and dropping off flats upon flats to the wholesaler. And of course many tomatoes end up in my kitchen. I think my favorite way to serve tomatoes is via a simple tomato sandwich; just toast, mayo, and thickly sliced tomatoes. But I’m also cooking them up in every form I can think of sauce, curry, pasta, pico de gallo, everything’s better with tomatoes.
I’m at the farm almost every single day just harvesting, and harvesting and harvesting tomatoes. Big ones, small ones, red ones, yellow ones, pink ones, purple ones, and multi-colored ones. The plants are healthy and happy so they are just constantly loaded with tomatoes.
To keep myself engaged in the harvest I try to make it, a bit of a game. With cherry tomatoes depending on the size I can fill a flat which is 12 baskets in about 20 minutes. The heirloom tomatoes are so big this year that I can fill a flat which weights about 10 pounds, just from one plant. So that takes like five minutes, if I don’t get tangled in the weeds that seem to be protecting the tomatoes.
After I fill a certain amount of flats I let myself sit in the shade, drink water, and sometimes enjoy a cookie or two. When working for yourself, you occasionally have to figure out ways to trick yourself into being more productive than you actually feel like being. Even with all this harvesting I’m so excited to have an endless supply of tomatoes because that means I can eat as many tomato sandwiches as my heart desires.
Thursday as I began harvesting for Friday’s farmers market my focus was on cherry tomatoes. I had my day planned out; spend the morning harvesting cherry tomatoes, box up cherry tomatoes for the wholesaler, prep cherry tomatoes for the farmers market. Then in the afternoon get the truck loaded with seedlings and drop off the cherry tomato wholesale order on the way home.
Well as I finished harvesting all the cherry tomatoes I needed for the wholesaler, I was getting ready to harvest more cherry tomatoes for the farmers market when I spotted something big and bright pink a few rows over in the sprawling vine-y jungle that is the heirloom tomato patch. I walked over thinking I had found a lone heirloom tomato ripe before the rest. But as I picked up that big beautiful pink tomato I saw that the vines were covered with ripe tomatoes. And these tomatoes are huge, most of them are a solid pound with many leaning towards two pounds.
That puppy weights 1.5 pounds
So I ditched the pint baskets for big boxes and started harvesting heirloom tomatoes. They were so big they quickly filled the boxes and I started to realize I might not have enough room in the truck for everything now that I had heirloom tomatoes in the mix. With limited truck space and time speeding by, I opted to only harvest a few cherry tomatoes for the farmers market because the heirloom tomatoes have arrived and they are large and in charge.
Tomatoes at the market
The workload is transitioning once again. I still have lots to weed, sorry winter squash, I’ll get to you soon, I hope. It is mid-July and the harvest season is now starting for Quarter Acre. The cherry tomatoes are ripening steadily.
Sometimes I make cherry tomatoes dance
Everyday I go to farm with plans to weed and do other maintenance work but the ripe tomatoes beacon to be picked. It is still early in the tomato season so I figure I’ll walk through the tomato rows quickly to get whatever random tomatoes have ripen overnight. But the hours seems to fly by as I fill multiple boxes. So basically very little weeding is getting done.
The cherry tomato plants are still not in full production and the large heirlooms have not even started to ripe yet, so it’s looking like this year we will have a very bountiful tomato harvest. Hopefully this farmer can keep up.
The cherry tomatoes have begun to ripen, just a few on this plant and that plant. I have to walk up and down many rows to fill a flat of pint baskets. The extra early heirloom tomato variety glacier has started ripening too. It makes for a tasty tomato sandwich, which I have been enjoying for breakfast each day. So it is clear that summer has arrived! I can’t wait for more heirlooms to ripen, as I like to diversify my daily tomato sandwich intake.
In other news the Dakota black popcorn has begun to tassel out and it is still growing taller than the weeds. Every time I walk by the corn field I cheer on the popcorn in its race to beat the weeds, I’m really hoping the popcorn wins because that field is not getting weeded, I just don’t have time.