You win some, you lose some.
I have been muttering this to myself and grumbling as I survey the fields and plan the harvests for the week. It must be late summer. Many crops have not yet matured such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, but most of our summer crops are already harvested and in storage (such as the potatoes, onions, and garlic) or the plants are fully grown and continuing to bear fruit (such as summer squash, tomatoes, and peppers). By late August we have a pretty good sense of what we have won and what we have lost this season. Its a time to celebrate our successes and assess how we can improve in the season ahead. Here's how the summer season is wrapping up at Bending Bridge Farm:
The biggest success of 2016 has been the shallots. This sweet flavorful cousin to onion is notoriously difficult to grow because of a host of fungal and bacterial pathogens that can attack the bulbs right before harvest. Dry weather in June helped to alleviate some of this disease pressure and we harvested a beautiful crop of exceptionally large shallots.
We were also quite pleased with the performance of our first two plantings of tomatoes. For several weeks we harvested hundreds more pounds of cherry tomatoes than expected and Tuscarora Organic Growers eagerly bought them up for distribution to restaurants and grocers in the region. We also had some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes such as Cherokee purple and my new favorite, a golden-yellow variety called Pork Chop (I'm guessing the strange name is a riff on beefsteak)
While our crop of summer squash has done just fine, the successful production of other crops from the cucurbit family (cucumbers, cantaloupes, and watermelons) continues to elude us. We've tried everything in the book to control pests including weekly sprays of organic insecticide and the application of incredibly expensive insect netting to exclude cucumber beetles. Still, these pesky little bugs got the best of our plants before they could set an abundant crop of fruit. This winter we'll have to talk to growers in our cooperative and hopefully learn some of their secrets.
After a good initial month of harvests, our eggplant crop has taken a turn for the worse. We plant three successions to ensure a steady supply of large Italian and small Fairytale eggplant from June until frost in October. By the looks of the second two plantings, we won't have much eggplant for the rest of the season--the plants simply don't have flowers and aren't producing fruit. The cause is a mystery because soil samples we sent to a testing lab reassure us that the soil in which they are growing contains nutrients in sufficient quantities. This leads us to suspect that a pathogen, or perhaps a parasite called nematodes, has infected the roots of our plants and is preventing them from taking up the nutrients that are available in the soil. While its nice to figure out what went wrong, oftentimes we can't do much to turn a crop around this late in the season. Over the course of eight years growing we've learned that soil drainage and quality is the most important factor in crop success. Since we've only been at our current farm location for three seasons, we are still very much learning our land and what types of crops do well at particular times of year in particular fields. Our eggplant thrived to overabundance last season and we thought we did everything just right to repeat last year's success. All we can do is try again next season. The broccoli crop is looking fantastic so far. And I just need to mutter to myself more:
Patience is a virtue
Our pepper and eggplant field isn't nearly as stellar as it was last year. But our shallots and cherry tomatoes were gangbusters!