After lugging a couple buckets of tomatoes to the salad station one afternoon, I noticed one of the awaiting unmarked crates held only four tomatoes, all of them really large. Everyone except me was harvesting Early Girls at the time, which typically range in size right now from medium to small. I was the only one working on the big Bella Rosa variety. Since no one else was in the room, I left that crate alone and stacked my Bellas in a separate crate altogether.

During the course of the morning, I came across Farmer John in the field (not exactly two strangers passing in the night, but our daily encounters can sometimes be fairly random) and mentioned the four mystery tomatoes. Turned out, he’d heard about the beautiful behemoths from that day’s harvesters: In the middle of the rows of Early Girls, there are a couple exceptionally large, rogue tomato bushes that are producing equally exceptionally-sized fruit.

When I carried the next two buckets filled with Bella Rosas to the stacks of tomato crates, I gave the huge Early Girls a closer look. Even though they dwarfed the other Girls already in crates, I decided to add the two smallest of the bigs to them. The bigger of the bigs, I snuck into a crate with my Bellas.

It was a deceitful move, I know. Downright dishonest, really. Yet because the two varieties are so close in flavor, and because the Early Girls can double as either salad tomatoes or slicers for sandwiches, I reasoned that it was a victimless crime.

Little did I know that by doing this, I’d ruined both Dana’s and Mary’s chances at becoming millionaires.

See, they had purposely set those four giant tomatoes aside in the unmarked crate, knowing I’d see them there the next time I toted tomatoes from the field to the tables.

Then they made a bet: If I were to put those tomatoes into the Early Girl crates, Dana would have to pony up a cool million dollars to Mary. Conversely, if I added all four to the Bella Rosas, Dana would win the dough.

Neither of them considered I might split the group up.

As sorry as I am that I blew it for them – especially since I would have felt it only fair to get a cut of the payoff myself – I couldn’t be happier with our tomato season so far. Because of the current bounty, we spend many hours every week working on getting the fruit from the field, and stacking it all into crates for market (and I promise that 99.9% of the time the different varieties are properly segregated, an occasional wager notwithstanding).

If only we were spending that much time harvesting cucumbers. With almost no rain this season (less than an inch in April and May combined) all of our crops are stressed. Although we have nice deep soil at our farm – an anomaly in our area – and a deep well, both the soil and water are highly alkaline because of all the limestone around here. Adding insult to injury, our well water is overloaded with sodium, to boot. We count on water from the sky to mitigate these issues. When that doesn’t happen, we face some serious complications.

This season, our biggest problem is root knot nematodes. We adopted these destructive microscopic critters when we purchased this property 15 years ago. No matter where we plant on our land, even if it’s in “virgin” soil that’s never before been grown in a vegetable crop, we find signs of root knot damage.

Crops in the cucurbit family are particularly susceptible. Root knot has already taken out our entire first planting of cucumbers, and is working on killing our second succession of squash.

We’ll get a little something from this squash crop before it expires altogether, and to prove we’re optimistic deep down in our psyche (though at times it’s not so easy to find) we planted a third succession of squash late last week.

As for what was once our cucumber crop, a photo of which is too sad to include, we were hoping some farmer friends in Webberville would be able to help us out. It appears all bets are off on that one, however – I heard from the farmer this morning that after only two weeks of harvest, their cucumber plants are dying, as well.

Even before our cucurbit situation looked quite so dire, Dana said she’d bet this will turn out to be a nightshade year. Considering how well the tomatoes have come along, as have the potatoes and bell peppers, that’s sounding almost like a sure thing…although I wouldn’t call it a slam dunk yet. The eggplant is lagging behind a bit and is only now thinking about setting fruit.

Still, the plants are indeed impressive. Usually our eggplant struggles at the beginning of the season, so this is at least hopeful. I’m not confident enough to put a million bucks on the line for it (mainly because I don’t have a million bucks), and after what happened with the unrealized bet Dana and Mary made over those four big tomatoes, I’m thinking they might not be so eager to get in on the action either. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed on this one.

We do have another round of cucumber plants popping through the ground now, and could still hope for some late season cucumber success if the weather should turn around in June. Odds are, that won’t happen…but no one can really say for certain.

Care to make a little wager?

* * *
Here’s what we’ll be bringing to the stand this Wednesday (you can bet on it!):

Loads of tomatoes – big slicer Bella Rosa, juicy Early Girls, and the first of the Bolseno, Marmande, Defiant and heirloom Cherokee Purple varieties, plus some green tomatoes; cherry tomatoes; freshly dug new potatoes – Yukon Gold and Red Lasoda (the red taters are coming out of the ground a little crazy-looking…but they’re still scrumptious!); super sweet Yellow Granex onions; bunches of basil; fresh elephant garlic; sweet yellow bell peppers; purple and golden beets (“topless,” and probably not a lot); bags of chard; the first bags of arugula from the new crop; a bit of squash (boohoo!); some Rattlesnake green beans (another casualty of no rain); and whatever else we might be able to scrounge up.

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)

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