Mid-August marks the midpoint of our season: halfway from the strawberry stained days of June when we try to make the newly opened, mostly empty farmstand look a little less barren; halfway to the dwindling days of October when we try to find enough space in the crowded farmstand for all the produce still pouring in from the fields. So far the season has been a generous one. Despite the heat, humidity and extended periods without rain, our crops have been thriving. Our corn has been abundant, reasonably worm-free, and generally very good-we may have short interruptions in supply, but hope to harvest more or less continuously through the end of September. Our tomatoes are especially prolific and delicious this year, though we live in fear that late blight, which has already destroyed crops on several local farms, will bring tomato season to a crashing halt. Another disease has recently laid low the basil, and until a breeder develops a basil variety that can tolerate downy mildew, it looks like basil season will henceforth extend from early June through mid-August-meaning there will be very little overlap in season with basil’s finest complement, the tomato.
The insect I mentioned with hushed dread in my last message-the Spotted Wing Drosophila-has certainly arrived, but didn’t arrive early enough to damage our blueberries, now long gone for the season. Other pests have been more problematic, with squash and cucumber plantings succumbing in record time to Bacterial Wilt brought on by Striped Cucumber Beetle feeding, and early plantings of arugula, broccoli, and kale devoured or delayed by voracious throngs of shiny black flea beetles. Over the years, we have learned to expect certain pests and diseases at certain times, and found that, for most crops, the best way to keep the veggies coming is to keep planting, pests and conditions be damned. Even as our third and fourth plantings of squash begin to shut down, our fifth planting is up and growing lustily, fertilized by our unflagging, occasionally misplaced, optimism. One marginal bean planting is succeeded by a lush one; one heat stressed, weedy lettuce planting is followed by a beautiful one that experienced moderate temperatures at the right time. Our experience tells us that our successes will far outnumber our failures, and that the pleasure (and profit) of harvesting a successful crop goes a long way in erasing the pain and heartbreak (and expense) of harvesting a marginal crop, or worse, leaving a failed crop in the field.
Currently, we’re harvesting a fine crop of melons and watermelons, a record-breaking crop of eggplant (whose uneven performance from year to year remains a profound mystery to me), and ample peppers and hot peppers. Abundant, delicious corn returns this weekend, and we hope it will be accompanied by plentiful beans and lettuce, both of which have been somewhat scarce recently. Summer squash and cucumbers are soldiering on, and, with luck, we may be picking well into September. Celery has made its first appearance and should continue for a month or more. Broccoli in varying quantities should continue through the end of the season, and cauliflower should be joining the roster quite soon. Our usual offerings of kale, scallions, leeks, chard, arugula, radishes, beets and carrots should continue unabated, while cilantro and dill are expected back from their vacation shortly. Garlic and onions have all been harvested and we have a good supply of both, but they typically sell out weeks or even a month before we close. Look for edamame (green soybeans) for a limited time starting this week, along with a slowly expanding selection of potato varieties, and some extra early winter squash whose maturity was hastened by the heat. Delicious, tender white Japanese turnips will begin what we hope will be a continuous presence through the end of the season, and lots of other crops (Chinese cabbage, rutabaga, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, daikon etc.) will appear over the next weeks-most available every day, some making sporadic appearances, until the variety and volume of produce overwhelms the farmstand, spilling out the doors (actually, we’ve already had to send a large, unruly gang of watermelons outside to sell themselves).
This message will close on a somber note, as John gives an update on the status of this year’s apple crop:
HUTCHINS FARM ORGANIC APPLES -2012
We’re lucky. We will have a crop this year. With the exceptionally early Spring many growers in New York State and Michigan were completely frozen out. Trees budded out two to three weeks earlier than normal and were then subject to typically timed cold April temperatures. Growers in Eastern Washington were subject to strong summer storms bringing hail damage, uprooting trees and blowing off large numbers of apples.
Our crop is meager. In the orchard to the right of our large Oak there are no apples below chest height, a result of cold temperatures in low ground. Fruit set was light and inconsistent even on higher ground with cold unevenly affecting pollen viability. In an attempt to deal with winter moth – the moth that is all over your porch lights during late November and early December – we ran a trial for ourselves with our certified organic spray materials. Winter moth larvae emerge in late winter, entering buds just as they start to swell. The larvae are small and only vulnerable to elimination with organic materials for a short time before the caterpillars are inside buds, destroying the flowers in their pre-emerging state. We know now what to do though timing spraying will remain a challenge.
A light fruit set generates two problems. First the trees are inclined to produce more vegetative growth – leaves – as they have less fruit to consume their energy. Organic spray materials to control disease rely on excellent coverage, much more difficult with lots of leaves. Second, the insect populations we can only partially control concentrate themselves on the fewer number of apples. The percentage of fruit unaffected by disease and insects is therefore less, the number of apples to be sold even further reduced. Fewer apples also mean bigger apples. That sounds good on one hand, but big apples are inclined to have more physiological issues as they have more nutrient demands.
The final challenge this year has been the heat. Developing two weeks early, McIntosh for example is almost not worth harvesting. In heat they are just mush. Sugars and flavor don’t develop as well in heat as cold. When drought accompanies heat, apples just plain drop. Conventional growers spray materials to keep the apples on the tree. We can’t do that.
We would love to have the bountiful crop we had in 2010. We won’t . Hopefully we will next year again. Still we will have our own certified organic apples and we are proud considering the challenges New England always provides, this year in spades.
Look for them soon.
We hope all of you on this mailing list have had an opportunity to stop by already this season. We do our best to provide diverse and flavorful sustenance to our customers, recognizing that the support of faithful customers, both long term and new, is what sustains us and gives meaning to our efforts. For most of you, Hutchins doesn’t represent a stop on the way home, but a destination you have to decide to visit. We appreciate that and feel responsible for making that decision an easy one.