7.12.2014 Early July on the Farm

Summer has settled over the farm. It’s hot. It’s dry. (Less than half an inch of rain in the last 30 days.) The garden that looked so incredible just a few weeks ago, seems so idle and empty. The garlic and onions are drying in the barn. The Red Russian kale has been eaten up by cabbage worms, and the Scotch Blue Curled kale is melting in the heat. The row of tomatoes planted weeks ago amongst mature heads of lettuce, didn’t do anything until all the lettuce was gone. Only now, that they have the whole bed to themselves, are those tomatoes starting to grow, but those tomatoes are a long way off yet.

The tomatoes in the hoop house seem to have overcome early blight and are now producing enough tomatoes to keep my market customers entertained and to force me to get out the canning pot. But the peppers in the hoop house, just really don’t care for life. They are not dying. They are just not growing. It’s probably too hot in the hoop house, even for peppers.

I had an absolutely beautiful row of summer squash and zucchini and I do get a bit of veg from there, but last week, a Zephyr squash just went toes up. A post-mortem revealed absolutely nothing. I have been diligently squashing squash bugs and scraping their eggs off my squash (stink bugs too). I have been regularly checking for signs of forced entry into the stems by vine borers, but haven’t seen a thing. But when the Zephyrs started dying, I suspect the borers had gotten past me. But no. No borers in the stems. They’re just dead. Probably heat exhaustion.

The cucumbers are really beginning to put out, but each afternoon, the vines wilt. I suspect they won’t last much longer. I’ve replanted the failures, but it will be a while before replacements come on line. And my genius plan to grow the summer lettuce in the shade of the cucumbers and the melons was foiled by bad timing on my part and an absolute refusal to grow on the part of the melons. The cukes provide the afternoon shade, but without the intended wall of melon vines, the lettuce gets way too much sun and heat. It’s a real struggle now to keep the lettuce going. I’ve resorted to growing half of each week’s lettuce allotment in pots on our north facing front porch. It’s working, but slowly.

But the problems with the lettuce really start in the seed room. During the day it gets up around 90 in there and lettuce seed doesn’t germinate well at that temperature. Root growth, when it does germinate, is very poor. I’ve tried running a red neck air conditioner (blowing a fan over blocks of ice), but it hasn’t been very effective.

And then there’s the ridiculous story about the corn, which actually begins with beans. You see, a while back I planted some flat Italian bush green beans in the hoop house on a whim, because I had the space. Well a lot of people think, like me, that Italian beans are better beans than your regular Kentucky Wonder type round beans. Bush beans have a short half-life though, and the hoop house flat beans have run their course. But you know, I am trying to be flexible and listen to my customers. So even though, I hadn’t planned on growing beans at all this year, I will squeeze them into the schedule.

Now beans and corn grow well together and it just so happened that I had planted a few corn plants in a vacant row (just a few for the family) and I had Italian bean seed in pole bean form. (No more stooping and bending to pick every other day.) All I had to do was plant the rest of the row in corn, wait a couple of weeks and plant my pole beans. The corn would hold up the bean vines, and I’d be harvesting two crops from one space.

Now here’s where it gets ridiculous. The day after I planted the corn transplants for the rest of the row, the first 8 plants started to form their tassels. The plants weren’t even three feet tall. . . I’d gone and done something clever and then forgotten I’d been clever.

You see, my farm tends to be a windy place. The last time I grew corn with any success, it got blown over. So I ordered 270A, a non-GMO, hybrid, bi-color sweet corn, that matures at about 4 to 4.5 feet. . . Palm. Head. Palm Head. Doh!. Four foot corn. 7 to 8 foot beans. Not working. Not no how. Not no way.

So it seems I’m going to have to find a new place to plant my pole beans and build a trellis for them. If I get them in the ground this week, I might have flat beans again by the end of September, about two weeks ahead of the first frost. Ridiculous indeed.

The tomatoes just started rolling in about 10 days ago. Most of them are terrific. The oxhearts (from Italian Seed and Tool) are the best of all so far, but they are hard to come by and suffer from intermittent blossom end rot. But the Martins, an F1 hybrid designed for hoop house production . . ., well they taste good, but the skins are really tough and the seeds more prominent than they ought to be. Eating a Martin tomato is not pleasant. I don’t take them to market.

Last night and today, I made vegetable soup with them, after I’d peeled and deseeded them. It’s really good stuff and that’s a good thing. I made a lot. Canned 7 quarts with another quart and a half ready for dinner tomorrow.

Big lesson: if you do any pressure canning at all, you would be wise to always have a spare gasket and lift pin for your pressure cooker, or a really good friend with a really big pressure canner with a functioning gasket who stays up late and doesn’t mind midnight visits.

Finally, there’s Ophelia. She’s a 16 year old gray mare and she’s had a few small tumors in her mouth and on her tail for a few years. But in the last couple of months, new tumors are popping up everywhere and the old ones are getting bigger. They don’t seem to trouble her yet, but I wonder. I just see the tumors on the surface. What is going on inside or her? It is worry, I believe, that has caused this uptick in tumor activity. Ophelia worries about everything. She’s now the alpha mare and she’s finding her new leadership role surprisingly stressful.

To sum up, the first half of July has been very dry and hot, although not extremely so. Other than the lack of rain, it’s been pretty pleasant for a July.

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