There’s nothing like an exceptional drought coupled with daily temperatures in the 100’s to get the ole creative juices flowing. (Other juices flow, too, while working outside in these conditions…but I’ll spare that detail.) Lately, that means coming up with ways to soften the blows Mother Nature is throwing at our otherwise defenseless crops.

Were we to do nothing and leave tomatoes and peppers exposed to relentless sun like this, they’d fry on the plants long before they ever made it to the stovetop.

People sometimes wonder why colored peppers are more expensive. This is the answer. Had we plucked this pepper from the plant in its green stage, it would have been fine. This poor thing, however (and many more like it), was ruined beyond redemption by the sun’s piercing rays — there wasn’t nearly enough time for it to change hues prior to its demise. I routinely cut these burned peppers from the plants and toss them on the ground.

Tomatoes exposed to hours and hours of blaring sun suffer the same fate. Because of that, we’ve amassed a pretty good supply of shade cloth over the years. We even have pieces large enough to cover the frames of the hoop houses we’d erected over our early-early tomatoes back in February. After removing the plastic in late April then allowing the hoops to remain naked through most of May, it became apparent that shade was the next step.

The plants underneath have produced hundreds of pounds of fruit and are now nearly dead, yet the tomatoes still clinging to the vines are perfectly good. These girls – Early Girls, that is – have worked hard, and are deserving of some comfort in the twilight of their (yummy) lives.

As an added plus, the people who harvest these tomatoes are treated to a bit of shaded relief themselves. (Though don’t think the harvesters have it too cushy. While 100 degrees in the shade is decidedly less torturous than 100 degrees in the sun, it isn’t exactly a dip in Barton Creek either.)

In addition to the hoop house shade, every row of determinate tomato plants large enough to have set fruit has been draped with lengths of narrower cloth.

We normally use this size shade cloth on leafy greens and such in the late summer/early fall, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Obviously, the cloth isn’t wide enough to reach all the way over tomato plants, so we position it to protect primarily the west side of the rows. Morning sun does less damage than the searing rays of the afternoon.

With the peppers, we’ve taken another tack. Fortunately, the majority of our pepper plants are safely tucked underneath one of the shaded hoop houses, but the Cubanelle and Corno di Toro varieties are right out in the open. Because these plants are tall (and because we’ve now used up every stitch of shade cloth we own), John fashioned some farmer-made shade out of old row cover.

Again, only the west sun is blocked,

but we’re counting on the a.m. sunshine being a bit kinder and gentler.

What we’re doing with the plants is pretty similar to what we do to ourselves, really. Not only must we protect the crops; we need to consider how to keep the sun from burning us up beyond recognition as well. Big hats are a must, like the one Farmer John is wearing here.

I wear a hat out in the fields, too, but as is illustrated by these remarkable Lego interpretations – artfully created by Mary’s husband Daniel – I’m dressed for the farm stand. In perpetuity, it seems, as we’ve found out Lego stocks no farm clothes or farm hats for women. (And truthfully, the chapeau on miniature Farmer John’s head looks to be more dapper than functional, so perhaps there are no Lego farm hats for men either.)

It’s a very cool thing, we now realize, to have a plastic replica of yourself. The morning Mary brought these two to work, I immediately put them on the windowsill above the kitchen sink beside the tiny hen given to us by Dana.

A couple days later, tragedy struck. I was at the sink cleaning peppers for dinner, when I suddenly noticed something was amiss.

“We’re gone!” I shouted.

“What?!” John asked, as he ran to my side.

Pointing with a trembling finger, I repeated, “We’re gone!”

As we stood staring at the empty space, John’s calming hand on my shoulder, we reasoned that Mary must have taken us away for some higher purpose. Daniel hadn’t been happy about my lack of eyewear (apparently, in addition to a dearth of farm clothes for women, Lego also stocks no bespectacled females)…yet I’d assured Mary that since I wasn’t born with glasses, and in fact didn’t start wearing them until my late 40’s, I can live with my plastic double’s eyes going au naturale.

That wasn’t it, though. Daniel’s real problem with mini-John and me was our tiny environment. We’re farmers, after all, and farmers should be surrounded by a farm. While the original version of ourselves is truly more realistic for a year practically devoid of greenery like this one, he felt it more appropriate that we stand on verdant terrain. With a chicken.

The apple I’m holding is a nice touch too.

This happy little scene must surely be a harbinger of good things to come. The horrific drought will end one day – probably with a flood, but we’ll worry about that when the time comes – and this Lego version of the farm will be even more lifelike.

I can’t wait. That apple looks delicious.

* * *

For Wednesday’s farm stand, we’ll have:

Lots of tomatoes again! – Bella Rosa slicing tomatoes, Early Girls, Italian Bolseno, high-acid Defiant, yellow Lemon Boy, and quite a lot of heirloom Cherokee Purple & Cherokee Green; three varieties of cherry tomatoes; four varieties of eggplant; super sweet Yellow Granex onions; bunches of basil; fresh elephant garlic; the first of the squash from the latest crop; Cubanelle peppers; a few bags of arugula (just planted more, so hopefully we’ll have a good supply before too long!); Mideast cucumbers from our friends at Tecolote Farm; and a little of this or that.

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)