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.
Everything is getting big at the farm including the weeds. It’s amazing what a few long hot days can do to the growth of a plant. The popcorn is up to my elbows, when only a month ago it was merely a few inches tall.
The pumpkins and winter squash have been able to keep their leaves above the flood that is the weeds. On the other hand the beans are somewhere below the surface of the sea of weeds. I have it on my schedule to save them from drowning sometime next week.
But currently on the agenda, is to finish getting those weeds away from the tomato plants. I think I might be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with only three rows left from the original twelve.
Even though the weeds have gotten big, like three feet big, the tomato plants have been growing tall and sturdy with beautiful yellow flowers and lots of green fruit. The cherry tomatoes have jumped into the ripening game with a few tasty ripe tomatoes per plant. Before long it won’t be the flood of weeds that I’m complaining about, but the relentless tsunami of tomatoes ready to harvest.
The tomato field is starting to shape up. I have weeded six of the twelve tomato rows and so far I have been able to trellis four rows. The plants are pretty big covered in yellow flowers and many have green fruit.
Black Cherry tomato variety
I even found a few random ripe, Esterina cherry tomatoes, these tiny golden tomatoes are sweet even this early in the season. So yeah I’m a bit behind but since this happens every year, I’m not stressing … too much.
As I have been spending lots of time up close and personal with the tomato plants I have not only been happy with the health and vigor of the plants but also really pleased with the pollination. That’s in thanks to the bumblebees that have been buzzing and hanging on the tomato flowers. Although tomato plants are self-fertile, the flowers must be vibrated by wind or bees in order to release pollen for fertilization. Because of the shape of the tomato flower honey bees cannot get the pollen, so it’s up to the mighty bumblebee to get the job done.
Bumblebees move too fast to be easily captured in a photo
Every farmer has a style, so every farm has a different look. Farmers don’t just layout their fields differently but they maintain their crops differently. I for one ignore weeding, for as long as I can. It is not just because weeding is very boring, which it is. But I start the season by focusing my energy on getting everything planted. Once all the crops are in the ground I switch gears to maintaining the crops. Which of course means the crops that were planted earlier are typically thickly covered with weeds by this time.
After weeding the two tomato rows on the right
This week I was in my cherry tomato rows, which were the first crops to get planted in the field, removing two foot tall weeds. The cherry tomato plants seems to breathe a sigh of relief once the weeds were gone, they are getting big and need the space to continue growing.
Popcorn after cultivation
My farmer friend even let me borrow her tractor to cultivate the popcorn field. This removed the weeds on the sides of the cornstalk but I will still have to go in with hand tools to weed close between each plant.
The field is almost completely planted. The corn is about six-inches tall.
Most of the dried beans have sent up stalks with two bright green leaves. The pumpkins should be germinating soon. And the tomatoes still need to be staked. The last few beds will be seeded with winter squash, this year I will be growing six different varieties. I’m also planning to do a late planting of tomatoes which I will probably start harvesting at the same time as the winter squash.
A heirloom bean variety known as Saturday Night Special
The greenhouse has been staying pretty full as I’ve been seeding fall and winter crops like brussel sprouts and broccoli. But don’t stress there is still time to get your favorite summer seedlings like basil, cucumbers, and melons. I’ve been busy in the cool mornings potting up lots of seedlings perfect for filling backyard gardens in June.
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