The weather is here and it's time to enjoy it! We know that a lot of you, like us, look forward to getting out to plant new, colorful life in your yards and gardens. Before you get going, here are a few gardening tips that we've learned along the way. If you have additional tips to add or questions to ask, please do so in the comment form below, we'd love to hear from you!
Tomatoes have different maturity dates so by picking varieties that will ripen at different times you can have tomatoes all season long. Some tomatoes grow entirely indoors and some start in the heated greenhouse before they are planted in the fields. Multiple plantings of multiple varieties extends the season from June through October and also prevents the loss of the entire crop should the blight come around.
We seeded the first of 3 plantings for the greenhouse crop on February 21, 2013. The tomatoes germinated in our house next to the woodstove because the greenhouses were not up and running. On March 4th, when the greenhouses were up and running, the plants were transplanted into 4" pots. On April 5th, 12 cherry, 12 plum and 460 Big Beef, Trust and Panzer tomatoes were taken out of the 4" pots and planted in bags filled with soil, two plants per bag. Round plastic clips attached to strings that hang from the greenhouse raters were placed on each the plants. As the plants continue to grow this string supports the plant’s weight. An automated watering system waters the tomatoes for 5 minutes, two times daily. The greenhouse temperature (65 degrees) is regulated by thermostats, which, turn on fans when it is too hot or turn on heat when it's too cool. The first blossoms are in bloom and will be ripe for picking starting in June.
The earliest field tomatoes (600 plants of Royal Mountie and Polbig) were seeded March 7th, transplanted into 4" pots on March 25, and were placed on wagons outdoors to acclimate to the weather on April 29th. These tomatoes already have blossoms. We use these varieties because they are 61 and 67 days from original transplant to harvest.
The main season crop, 1850 plants of cherry, chocolate cherry, yellow cherry, grape, plum, low acid, heirlooms and 12 varieties of big, red eating and sauce varieties like Mt Spring, Better Boy, Mt Fresh Plus, Supersonic and Jet Star, was seeded April 2 and will go out to the field around May 15th. These varieties are 70-76 days to harvest. Then our final planting of tomatoes (700 plants) will be seeded in early May, transplanted into trays 3 weeks later and ripe for a fall harvest.
When several of these plantings overlap in production it is a great time to make sauce and salsa because with large quantities coming in from field, we are likely to have great deals. I hope everyone loves tomatoes!
Tom and his crew were out this morning planting the first section of yellow corn. Allison, Colin, Jacob, Jax and the rest of the team members from the greenhouse seeded this section, 150 trays with 105 plugs per tray, on March 26th. 2 week and 4 days later the trays of corn were removed from the greenhouse to acclimate to the weather. The trays were placed on the back of a trailer and were left out in the field. During the 5 day acclimation period the trailer had to be moved into greenhouse a couple times because of a frost. Today, Tom used a water wheel planter to transplant the corn plugs.
As you can see from the pictures, a water wheel planter is a tractor attachment that has two yellow jugs of water, shelving for the trays of plants, a wheel with spikes to poke holes into the plastic, a hose to water the soil, and two seats for the field workers to sit. Today, Tom used a single wheel for 1 row planting that plants the plugs 8" apart but if he were planting peppers or another crop he may have used a different wheel that allowed for different spacing. Since he was seeding in single rows he had to go down each row twice.
Back at the greenhouse 150 more trays of Butter & Sugar corn, 2 varieties, are waiting to go out for acclimation. When people ask about corn one of the first questions that tends to come up is, "Was this corn seeded from GMO seeds." You'll be happy to know that we DO NOT use GMO seeds.
Some variables in farming, such as the weather, can do some serious crop damage. Unfortunately, that type of variable is out of our control. Other elements elements of farming, such as preventing deer from entering our fields, we can mange well enough to prevent losing crops.
We have been fighting the deer and the damage that they do to our crops for many years. In the past, we tried a number of methods to keep the deer out of our fields. We've tried tying bags of human hair onto our fruit trees. We've also tried tying small bars of bath soap onto fruit trees. We've installed electric fences around the bean patch and corn fields (and as soon as a branch or even grass contacted the wire, the wire shorted out.) Any of these ideas work for a little while.
For the past 10 years we have used plastic fencing that can be taken down at the end of each season. This option worked well, especially on the fields that we lease, but with the increase in the amount of deer trying to break in, this method is no longer working. The deer pressure is so high that they keep pushing down the fence, brushing the straw cover off of the plants, and eating the plants.
The last couple of days, Tom and his workers replaced the plastic fence on the other side of the strawberry field that backs up against the woods with metal box wire 8 feet tall. We installed 8 miles of fencing. The fencing cost about $100,000 to surround our fields and orchards. It's the only way to go to protect our livelihood.
Tom's crew had a busy weekend splitting wood and pruning apple trees. The guys split 6 chords of wood to feed the furnaces that heat our 3 greenhouses. Depending on the weather and temperatures set in the greenhouses (2 are set at 60 degrees, one is set at 65 degrees), this much wood should fuel the fire for 2 or 3 weeks.
Usually Tom saves the apple tree pruning project for summer but we didn't prune all of the apple trees last year and those that weren't pruned need pruning now. Here are a few tips from Tom on pruning apple trees:
How many can you fit in a 4240?
Do not start pruning new apple trees until the branches are as thick as your thumb (a fat thumb)
Pruning in the spring promotes tree growth
Pruning in the summer helps control the size of the tree and provides you with a good estimate of how many apples you will harvest in the fall
Trim the trees to a central leader, leave 3 branches on the bottom, 3 branches in the middle, and one branch in the top center
Clip enough branches so that sun shines through the tree
Tom's crew spent yesterday planting cole crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale along with beets, swiss chard both red and green as well as assorted lettuce varieties. In the past we have always laid black plastic on the prepared field and then transplanted into the plastic, but there has been some concern that the black plastic creates too much heat from the sun and bakes the plants. This year Tom is trying an experiment. He laid the black plastic to suppress the growth of weeds, then laid a layer of white plastic over the black to protect the plants from overheating. The plants were then planted through small holes into the two layers by hand.
In the photo above Tom prepared the field with a one row zone tiller. In the photo to the right two of Tom's crew members transplanted plants by hand.