We have learned a lot in three seasons, but this year we figure out irrigation. The black dirt has very high water retention capability – just a bit of rain usually suffices. But this year, a combination of no rain and no weed cover makes apparent just how dry a season we have. Unlike what you see in the video, our lanes were full of crabgrass and weeds in the past.
Dan is driving the tractor and trying not to run over any vegetables. Milo is sitting on top of the back mower monitoring the water in the barrel. I walk behind and direct water right to the roots of watermelon and cantaloupes. We pumped water out of the well, put it into the rain barrel, hook up a portable pump and connect hoses. How hard can it be right? Well, First Law of Plumbing states that one will not find the correctly sized part on the first try. Let’s just say there was a lot of finagling.
The black dirt heats up very quickly, and the shades actually provide a respite by shading the ground and preventing evaporation during the day and aiding dew point conversion at night. Unfortunately, they also usually grow quicker than crops. The detritus is from hand-weeding – I am determined to get some watermelons this year!
Rainbow chard in situ – the brilliant colors on the stems are amazing.
Red russian and Siberian kale. Our first serious kale growing season started off badly, and we had to do-over a few times.
When to pull garlic is a question for the sages. Too early and the bulbs are not at the maximum size. Too late and the cloves begins to split, reducing its storage capability over the winter. I’ll be aiming to pull them up about mid-July.
Oh boy will there be sugar snap peas next week! Each year I begin the harvest of sugar snap peas by jealously guarding the skinny peas and warning Milo not to pick the flat ones. Just seven days later, it’s pea season. Time for a pick-your-own event!
As summer solstice approaches, all seeds for the summer season are in the ground, biding time, The chance for do-over rows or replanting diminish. Now it’s a test of stamina against the weeds. This season I have taken a no weeds approach between the rows of plants, logging tractor time and tilling very close to the seedlings. But it is not an optimal solution as it leaves soil bare and wind erosion is a real problem. I haven’t yet found a solution – although I am seriously thinking of driving the pickup truck with the door open, and bolt a cultivator to the undercarriage.
I counted 6 sugar snap peas, and looking forward to the first small bag next week. Then there will be at least 6 weeks of 50lb crates coming home every week. It’s a popular pick-your-own veggie and I will need all hands on deck.
Nibbled, but not too bad
Uninvited visitors helped themselves to these sweet tasting pea tendrils. I tried some of the garnish pea leaves and can’t say I blame the critter. This morning, I watched a family of three deftly time traffic on our road. The “mom” stood up, looked around, probably feeling for vibrations of cars on the road. When it was all clear, she crossed the road and two “teenagers” followed shortly after. Then they began to feast on some wild weeds (good) and started toward our fields (bad).
Alas no picture this time, but we did a mobile irrigation exercise by putting a water barrel on top of a tractor implement, hooking up a gas-powered pump, and me walking behind with a garden hose to spray at the roots of plants. It worked well enough, maybe we can do it again next week!
Actually it was a very productive weekend, planting the remaining pumpkin seeds, soybeans, hot peppers, and new rows of veggies. But literally, my t-shirt was blowing up the back and I have a lumbar sunburn to show for this weekend’s work.
Some surprise notes from a dry season – flowers. I scattered a pollinator flower mix and they are making their way up through the tall grasses. Duly noted to plant in rows so it can be weeded, then mow the weed grasses in between.
The borage plants are growing into huge masses of prickly oddball plants. I knew they spread and will self-sow liberally, but did not account for the spread. Somewhere below the leaves are hapless strawberry transplants that need a new home.
Next up, chamomile tea. They took forever to germinate, then went through a sudden growth spurt. In the background, you can see wild purslane with red stems cropping up.
Peas without trellis support. This is a garnish pea that puts out a lot of tendrils and I’m trying it without trellis support.
Sugar snap peas with trellis support. Normally by mid Jun the plants are about 4 feet tall, but we have at least 3 more weeks to go. Setting up a trellis is a time-consuming task. Weeding the base of it is even harder. I don’t particularly like plastic netting, but its weight and the 250 foot length is why I keep buying it each season.
Finally the piece de resistance, the garlic scape. When garlic sends up a flower stalk, we remove it and wait a few weeks for the bulb to size up. About 2-3 weeks after cutting the scapes, the top 2 leaves yellow and die back, and then it’s garlic harvest! Hardneck garlic planst send up a single stalk, which curls upon itself once or twice. As it matures, the fibers in the stalk get tough and it straightens out. This is the first time I’ve seen a multi-stalk garlic.
To plant tomatoes, we put down a black plastic, called mulch, and space the plants far apart. We have colorful cherry tomatoes, grape and plum tomatoes. In our situation, anything bigger is really asking for trouble in picking, transporting and storing.
We use some tomato cages, but our plants will quickly overtake the cage and spill out everywhere. Last year I tried to tie sisal as support, but didn’t use enough. The vines spilled out everywhere, and the more I trimmed, the faster they grew.
We don’t usually irrigate, the soil retains moisture well. But with transplants, you have to water it well. We’re trying to pull water from the ditches, but the pump is struggling, the hose is collapsing, and once water makes it into the rain barrels, I’m not quite sure how it’ll make it out to the field. Makes a strong case for bringing electricity to the farm in my opinion, Dan doesn’t think so.
And just like that nature turns on the heat at Memorial Day. The humidity never fails to surprise me and sap the energy out of walking the fields. It means summer is here for good, no more light frosts at night, and the hot weather seeds need to go in.
The spinach is now full sized with beautiful leaves the size of Texas. With another row coming up, I decided to pull up the 200 ft row. The thing about leaf vegetable is they are fragile and wilt immediately in the heat. The trick is to process immediately, and have a walk-in refrigerator. In our case, once you get it home, soak it in cold water for 30 minutes. The plants will be happy and the leaves crisp up! Try this next time you find sad-looking lettuce.
Most radishes are of decent size, between a gumball and a golf ball. It dawned on me that since they are over 60 days old (due to an unusually dry April) they should be pulled soon. Two days after the humidity swept in, I saw white radish “Ping Pong” bolt overnight. Whatever is left after this week will come out next week and the row will be cleared.
The irony of last weekend’s abundance of beautiful waving spinach leaves. No rain equals slow growth. This season was much drier than last year. Once it rains, all weed seeds grow at such amazing rate where the entire field will turn green in a week. Usually by this time the sugar snap peas are about 3 feet tall, but this year, they are a measly 6 inches.
A few seedlings are emerging.
Hakurei turnips are one of my newfound favorite root vegetables. Sized at just bigger than a golfball, they are snow white and are quite different from the huge turnips that get no love at the supermarket. These are meant to be eaten young, not for storage. I quarter the root, and sautee in olive oil and garlic with the lid on until one side browns. That’s it! I also use the leaves – remove the stem and sautee.
Beet leaves making their way out of the ground. They are in the same family as spinach and chard and the wild amanranth weed – vegetables that have a colorful tinge at the base of stems.
I am so excited the shallots sprouted. They are so small that you almost require an inspector gadget magnifying glass to spot them. You can see competition in nature right here – the weeds flourish, the crops are trying to make their way up. Yet the crops will most definitely fail without human intervention. Very soon it will be an all knees on ground weeding operation.
Brussels Sprouts Seedling
Brussels sprouts with Hyssop
Brussels sprouts are a long-season vegetable. They grow to about 3 feet across and fall over in all sorts of directions without support. Last time I noticed bugs at harvest that hide in the branching of leaves. I am still trying to figure what it’s called, possibly whitefly. This year, they are interplanted with hyssop. They are backed against a row of nasturtiums, into which I’ve seeded cabbage. Certain plants attract other predatory insects, or give off scents to repel unwanted pests.
It is always exciting and reassuring when the first vegetables become harvestable. It means the seedlot was good, seeding machine worked, planting time was right, temperature/rain combination was right, seedlings preservered over the weeds, planting rows properly marked, tractor wheels did not flatten the rows, and groundhogs have not found their meal. When growing as we do, I’m always astounded by the initial leap of faith required to kick-off the season.
A small shallow ditch
Lies in wait abiding time
For its tractor friend
Everyone is safe, but the tractor operator (Dan) learned a valuable lesson that has been passed down through the farming community for eons – stay far away from the ditches. We threw lots of things at the problem – cinder blocks under the wheels, long wood boards, wood stakes, heavy duty chains hitched to the SUV. But it would only sink deeper into the rain-drenched soil.
The garage sent a tow truck initially, then came back with this 40 ton boom to try to lift the front. The farmer (see previous ditch lesson) came rumbling to the farm and shook his head at the whole situation – the location of the tractor, the operator of the tow truck, the boom and the hook.
No one got hurt. That’s the important part. But it was definitely embarrassing.
These fall-planted scallions survived the winter and are forming flowers. Since there weren’t too many, I pulled them for food. Normally the first harvest are chives from the prior season, but I didn’t maintain the herb row and the weeds got the better of them.
Not much here, but enough for some scallion pancakes!
I had very high hopes of starting early and making the first delivery on Memorial Day Weekend. Though the sun shone brightly and the soil was easy to work with, there was very little rain. All those seeds that went into the ground did not have enough moisture to sprout. Wooden stakes are growing impressively on the farm, lining up neatly and stretching deep into midfield, yet, no hints of green.
Here’s to hoping showers come in May, but I have to be careful what I wish for. It has to come in light stretches, and not the torrential thunderstorming kind, especially not on the weekends.