In your box:
–Garlic, “Purple Glazer”
–Kale, “Red Russian”
–Summer squash or extra cucumber
It’s been four years now since we received a research grant from the USDA toward the purchase of a high tunnel for growing tomatoes. If you’re not familiar with these, it’s basically a monster greenhouse designed not for starting plants, but completing their growth. Our 20′ x 128′ structure is devoted entirely to tomatoes, and we grow 192 plants in it as well as 100 more “outside” in the field. The hoophouse provides the ideal environment for prima donna tomatoes: no rain to spread vegetative diseases on the leaves, extreme heat in the day and cool temperatures at night. Our indoor tomatoes regularly out-produce those in the field to the extent that when I analyzed the difference in yield per square foot, I calculated that the structure would pay for itself in three years!
The only downside is the learning curve of getting these beasts set up in the first place. It took practically the whole first summer to get the plastic properly attached, and even then it still tends to rip in high winds. It took the tornado in relative stride, surprisingly—only a ten-foot section on the north end ripped off in all that wind.
It is also unbelievably hot and humid in our tomato house once the sun hits it. As soon as it is in full sun, temperatures inside soar to 120 degrees or above. This means that I have just a two-hour window in the morning to pick them all. I have to begin picking as soon as there’s enough daylight, roughly 6am, so that I can have all the ripe tomatoes picked before the full sun hits at 8am.
On top of that, our population of Yellow Garden spiders in the hoophouse has gone from one last year to about 25 this year! If you’ve never seen these, they are massive beasts about the size of the top half of your thumb. They make multi-layered webs in which the core threads are nearly as tough as dental floss. And as soon as they sense the presence of anything as large as a person, they vibrate their bodies so strongly that they entire web starts shaking like a bellows. They’ve made such a maze of webs across the walkways in the tomato house that I can’t harvest tomatoes without weaving my way through the rows and trying desperately to not end up walking straight into one. I’ve read that Yellow Garden Spiders only bite when forcibly provoked, and even then it’s only as painful as a bee sting. But still, a hot, humid tunnel full of monstrous spiders and thick sticky webs that dance when I walk by is less an idyllic farm scene than a disaster from the Lord of the Rings! But I should mention that their webs are full of prostrate pests, and that I can now pick tomatoes without a single pesky mosquito.
This week we finally present carrots! These have been ready for harvest for the past few weeks, but I haven’t had enough room in the boxes or time enough on harvest days to get them to you. It’s great to have carrots back again this year after our carrot disaster of 2014: last year our spring was so wet that the seeds rotted in the soil. Only ten seeds out of the 30,000 I planted last year germinated! This year the carrots are back to their fine form. I hope to have them in every other box for the rest of the season.
It looks like we will finally be back with head lettuce next week after a few weeks’ worth of heads were shredded by the tornadic winds. We have our second and final planting of endive as a substitute this week before we starting providing 2/3 of a B.L.T. again next week.
Coming soon: Celery, sage, and head lettuce.