Monday, July 30, 2012

Week of July 30 2012 : Thumper's Thumb

One of the stressful aspects of growing is harvesting the fruits and vegetables. Growing is hard work, but all the work could be for naught if harvesting is too early or too late.

Determining the ripeness of some vegetables, like tomatoes, is rather easy. Others, like watermelons, are not as easy.

Watermelons are often purchased to be enjoyed as a dessert after a special family meal. The moment when that watermelon is first cut in half is a very deciding moment. Will the family enjoy a crunchy, juicy melon bursting with flavor? Or let out a collective moan?

That is why deciding when to take a fruit or vegetable can be stressful. The stakes are high as no grower wants to sell a watermelon with the 2" thick rind and pale pink interior.

Conventional wisdom says to thump a watermelon and listen for a hollow sound to determine if it is ripe.

However, "hollow" is not a precise measure. There are many tones of hollow, and not all indicate that perfect combination of crunch and flavor. The thump test may be accurate enough for watermelons that ripen as they are long-haul shipped.

But more accuracy is expected from farm market watermelons purchased directly from the growers. So how do we determine the perfectly ripe melon?

Vine condition is a good indicator. The little shoot (formally called a tendril) directly opposite the stem, will begin to whither. When the tendril is completely withered to the healthy vine then the watermelon is well on it's way to ripeness.

Bottom color is another good indicator. The surface that contacts the ground should be yellow.

Perhaps the most accurate indicator are worms! When worms cozy up to that yellow spot, that watermelon is ready to be enjoyed!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Week of July 23 2012 : Odds

Here is a photo of an Elmo-spotted toddler not-so-quietly sneaking through the rows of sweet corn. The most loveable of all critters, she is also one of the most destructive. But once I hear her joyous giggles as she runs up and down the rows discovering her foods of choice, I just dont want to stop her. Go, free range Francie, GO!

Agriculture departments at many universities publish research documents that classify certain events as likely to occur every year or possible to occur some years, or rare. This classification is useful to estimate the probability that an event will occur, and therefore, estimate the likelihood that a solution is necessary.

For example, powdery mildew on winter squash is an event that is likely to occur every year.

However, this year's hot and dry weather has certainly disrupted the typical events, for both better and worse.

One of the better disruptions has been the apparent impact on Japanese beetles.

These beetles have usually appear during the first week of July and made a disgusting nuisance of themselves for at least 6 weeks.

This year I scouted the first beetle on June 15, nearly 3 three weeks early, and I braced for the swarms that were sure to come. Several weeks later, the swarms still have not arrived. The ultimate Japanese beetle magnets, edamame plants, had only one leaf skeletonized and few nibbles on other leaves.

I am savoring this small victory and not at all wondering the effects on next year's generation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Week of July 16 2012 : Orange

Here is a photo of Nathaniel harvesting the first cherry tomatoes of the season.  The irony is he rarely eats tomatoes.  But he eagerly gathers the tomatoes for Francie who gobbles them down.

We have to be careful what we say at the dinner table.  Anytime the word "tomato" is uttered, regardless of context, Nathaniel now yells "turtle speed!" and runs out to the tomatoes and picks a few more for his sister.

She likes to pick her own, too, but at first was somewhat confused.  It took a few moments with the toddler-to-parent translator, but I finally realized she was asking "these apples, where tomatoes?"

She thought the towering tomato plants were actually apple trees.  Oh to be so innocent.  Once she realized they were in fact tomatoes, and learned where to find the ripe fruits, she can clear a cluster like a hornworm!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Week of July 9 2012 : Blossoms

Here is a photo of a pumpkin blossom. Squash generally have large, delicate and beautiful blossoms but these pumpkin blossoms are gorgeous! They measure over 6" in diameter and have a deep yellow almost orange color.  Restaurants have offered as much as 40 cents per blossom ... maybe that is why they are so beautiful!

Flowering and pollination has always been a mesmerizing aspect of growing. Walking through any large field or orchard during active pollination is certainly a memorable experience. Bees buzz, no doubt, but thousands of bees buzzing almost shake the ground.

This year I approached pollination from another perspective though, because I needed to pollinate seedless watermelons. The challenge is that seedless watermelons cannot pollinate themselves. Typically special pollinator varieties are inter planted with the seedless varieties. The pollinators do not produce marketable watermelons but produce a lot of pollen for an extended period of time.

Being small scale growers we need to maximize our growing space and decided against the pollinators. Instead we chose to inter plant the seedless with seeded watermelons and time the plantings such that the flowering periods would overlap.

The theory has been proven viable although the timings were a few days off. The seeded reached peak blossom about five days before the seedless. Even so there was sufficient overlap to get good set on the seedless.

Another oddity of seedless watermelons is the vines grow continuously throughout the season. Seeded watermelons have vegetative and reproductive phases; vines stop growing during the reproductive phase. But seedless have a vegetative phase only.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Weef of July 2 2012 : Lost

Here is a photo of Nathaniel inspecting the portable greenhouse and looking for his cabbage.  As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for because you may get it.  Everybody I know was wishing for rain.

We sure got it, and with it came the complimentary high winds.

Anytime the forecast calls for winds greater than 30 mph I simply roll the greenhouse into the garage.  On this fateful day the weather forecast called for sustained winds between 15 - 20 mph.

After the storm rolled through I instinctively went outside to estimate how much rain fell.  Soon I noticed the tell tale signs of high winds then noticed the street lights were not casting the usual shadows across the driveway.  But the street lights were on.  So what was missing?

Uh Oh.  It took me a few moments to remember the greenhouse and all it's transplants growing for the fall.

Greenhouses don't just disappear but they can blow a long distance.

Although we lost the first wave of all the fall transplants, the second wave has been sowed and is off to a good start.