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August 22nd, 2011

Tomato-Palooza


It’s been quite a star turn for tomatoes on the farm this season.  No blight, no gummy end rot, just loose, far-reaching tangles of sweet fruit splattered across the fencerow in the orchard.  Their indeterminate sprawl has been almost unseemly, shaming the rest of the farm with an insatiable appetite for sun and sweetness.
Seasonal intern Maren Rothkegel, from Munich, Germany, harvests cherry tomatoes before the Saturday a.m. CSA pick-up.
Tomatoes can make or break a farm season. When you’re left without, like we were two years ago when late blight was early and pernicious, you almost want to strike the set and start a tree farm.  Your CSA members, faced with a bleak, tomato-less Summer, solemnly collect their kale and cole crops, like martyrs.
How many ways can you prepare kale?  Let me count the ways.
But this season, the weather and varietal choices have conspired to deliver a bumper crop of both tomatoes and eggplant, which are in the solanaceae family.  After last season’s exasperating battle with flea beetles, we shrouded the eggplant with Agribon this year, a light, spun fabric made of recycled materials. It foils the beasties by physically blocking their voracious appetites.  It seems to have worked.  Just when I thought things on FussPot Farm couldn’t get tidier, I resorted to actually tucking in my beds, minus the hospital corners.

Sweet cherries in gumball orange, yellow and red.

Of course, all the Tuscan kale has been nibbled down to ungainly stumps by a wily and determined woodchuck, powdery mildew did away with my French cucumbers with one mouldering puff, and a flock of ravenous starlings ate an entire hedgerow of aronia melanocarpa berries that were just about to be harvested.  Sisyphus, you had it easy!
If I were half the farmer I’d like to be, I would be keeping an eye on the heirlooms that are thriving and putting out and would be saving their seeds to be planted next year. In theory, Darwinian adaptation can be accelerated a few generations by my meddlesome intervention. If I were to put theory into practice, the plants that do well on my parcel would be unnaturally selected, pandered to, and replanted.  Next year.
So small farming continues its metronomic give and take, it’s shock and awe. There’s never a dull moment, or a bland vegetable.  It’s both exasperating and exhilarating and, in the end, entirely worth doing.  And given one season of magical tomatoes, like this one, and the memory of all the blighted, forsaken fruit that came and went before disappears.  - Mb

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