Tomato Time: August 2021 Newsletter

Something in the air changes this time of year, maybe it’s the sunlight, or maybe it’s the panic as our school bound employees begin to leave us for bookbags and far-flung destinations? August marks the midway point for Hutchins’ sales season, and as usual, a changing of the crews – we bid farewell to our college and high school staff, and welcome in new faces for the next leg of this journey. We are thankful for their work as they head out, and thankful for our season-long crew members still with us who are looking forward to some hopefully less hot and humid days ahead.

Having survived the disease and drought of 2020 mostly sane and intact, we were sure that 2021 would mark a return to something like the humdrum normal that we missed and craved. Unsure now that there ever was such a thing as “normal”, we’re fairly certain that 2021 (at least thus far) ain’t it. Twin heatwaves in June isn’t a common occurrence, and eleven inches of rain in July isn’t remotely normal (average is more like 3 ½). I’ve been loafing around here for about 16 years now, not nearly long enough to get a grasp of what might be “normal”, but this is the first time I’ve seen the river spill over its banks into the fields in July, and the ruts, gullies and washouts that accompanied the record rains were likewise not something I’d experienced: “normally”, the only time that much water is running down the hills, the soil is still frozen enough to resist running off. I imagine I’d be even more flummoxed if we had suffered the extreme temperatures they had in the Pacific Northwest, but I feel as though I’ve seen plenty of anomalous and deleterious weather so far, thank you very much.

And don’t even get me started on the Delta variant.

So we’ve given up hope on “normal” for the present, shooting for something more like “bearable”, “able to be survived”, or “not totally devastating and catastrophic”, as these seem like more realistic aspirations. The good news is that the fruits and vegetables that we cultivate are, at least in their totality, more resilient and adaptable perhaps than we are.

Which is not to say that they don’t suffer from adverse circumstances. Even heat lovers like eggplant and peppers tend to drop their flowers (meaning no fruit) when temps soar into the 90s, while the crops that prefer cooler temperatures (hello lettuce) can experience premature bolting, unusual pest pressure, even sudden death. Hot, humid weather with frequent rainfall also promotes a wide range of plant diseases, and saturated soils make it all but impossible to control weeds, which seem to thrive under a wide range of conditions.

Along with our weather-related challenges, vertebrate pests have become more and more problematic over the years, with large gangs of turkeys and geese squaring off like feuding gangs in our production fields, stout, alert woodchucks keeping our crops neatly mowed in the areas close to their hidey-holes, and handsome, statuesque deer in their dozens, running amok where they will, eating what they like (kale and cilantro are recent cervine culinary trends, lettuce and beets are old favorites), trampling underhoof what they don’t (basically just onions and their relatives).

The distress of watching carefully tended crops succumb to conditions outside our control can be acute and demoralizing. But ultimately, our production systems are designed with an expectation of some losses and failures.  Those peppers and eggplants that dropped their flowers in June are loaded with new blossoms and the promise of bumper crops in September. The lettuce seedlings that fried in a greenhouse power outage during a heat wave were just a part of one planting out of almost two dozen—even if the weeds overcome a different one, and the deer graze another, we still have lots of lettuce to come. Our experience of setbacks and challenges has refined our approach to crop planning, with an emphasis on redundancy and resiliency. Even a mythical “normal” year will have its disappointments and failures, while an extraordinarily difficult year like this one will, nonetheless, have its share of successes and triumphs.

And so we continue, cultivating our garden in what is perhaps not the best of all possible worlds, but the one through which we are passing and the only one we know.

As to particular crops, our sweet corn has had a good run thus far, but we may experience some shortages and quality issues as we move into plantings that were young and impressionable during the deluges of July—about half of our corn plantings have yet to mature, and with luck, most of them will pull through, providing us with corn at least periodically through late September.

Tomatoes have proven surprisingly resilient, but we fear that the prolonged wet periods and the accompanying early onset of foliar diseases will result in a shorter than usual season—let’s enjoy them while we can — those who like to make sauce to put up for winter please don’t delay this year.

Many of our greens have had good runs – the celery loved the wet weather of July. Kale and chard have been abundant, and subsequent plantings look like that trend will continue. Hot peppers are starting to make more frequent appearances in the stand, and melons will hopefully continue to be left alone by the coyotes.

We have high hopes for storage crops like carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes (which we didn’t have at all last year, long story), but we fear that extended wet weather may have been particularly hard on winter squash and pumpkins—we plan to begin harvesting as soon as next week, so stay tuned.

Another crop we had virtually none of last year, or really any even-numbered year in recent memory, is apples. This year (being odd-numbered) has ushered in a bumper crop of apples, and though fungal diseases have disfigured or destroyed a good proportion of them, we have enough disease resistant varieties that we expect a pretty good harvest this season.

Judging from our full parking lot and crowded farmer’s market tent, none of the escalating enormities of the current crazy season has dampened our customers’ enthusiasm for fresh, local produce, picked with loving care, and presented with pride for your consideration and enjoyment. All of us are mindful of and grateful for your continued patronage, patience, and loyalty.

With gratitude, -Brian Cramer (and Liza Bemis) and the rest of the Hutchins Farm Team
Evening in the fields: August 17th, 2021
So many varieties of tomatoes: August 3rd, 2021

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