Mary’s 8-year-old son James spent part of the day with us when his school was out of session for the Easter holiday. He’s a smart kid, and Mary usually makes sure he doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time playing thumb games on his little portable device thingy (a DS, I think, or DL…or D-something-or-other). She’d rather he play in a more creative way, or work on his homework or read a book — because, well, she’s a good mom — but since she was busy working the farm rather than at home where she could be with him, she set James up at a table with his game.

After I passed by him on my way to get my tomato-shaking gloves, I came back to take a peek at what he was doing. He gave me a brief synopsis of the action, pointing out that the new guy on the screen, the one with wings, was pretty cool. He could fly, after all. Seems the old guy could only inflate himself (how lame!) and would occasionally even “show his booty.”

At that, James shook his head in disgust and muttered, “Sometimes that guy can be just plain inappropriate.”

A wise observation, James. A wise observation. An appropriately timed one, as well, considering the rather inappropriate thing I was headed out to do.

Maybe “inappropriate” isn’t the right word. “Unnatural” might be better, although that sounds a bit harsh. Especially considering it has to do with our early tomatoes, and how can anything having to do with tomatoes be anything but good?

Our early tomatoes are sequestered inside plastic hoop houses.

We planted them back in mid-February, a crazy early time of year to plant tomatoes, when you think about how cold it can get at our farm in this low valley. Most years this risk pays off, however, purely due to the measures we take to protect this all-important crop. Not only do we count on the daytime heating the plastic provides, but we also keep fabric row cover at the ready inside the structures for those particularly cold nights.

There’s a disadvantage to enclosing tomato plants like this, in that they can’t germinate without some help. Tomato flowers are self-pollinating — there are no strictly male flowers or strictly female flowers. Each bloom is equipped with both the necessary “parts” and a slight breeze is all it takes to scoot the pollen from the top of the flower to the bottom. Trouble is, not enough wind makes it through a 200-foot hoop house to do the job.

That’s where we humans come in. Every morning I go straight to the hoop houses and walk along the aisles inside, wiggling each and every caged tomato plant. I’m their artificial breeze, unnatural as all get-out. Still, as inappropriate as that may sound, it does the trick.

I even give the bell peppers inside the far hoop house little love taps as I walk by. Their pollination happens exactly like the tomatoes and they obviously appreciate the effort.

We won’t be harvesting these peppers until they mature and turn a deep orangish-yellow color. This variety is called Flavorburst, and it couldn’t have a more appropriate name. Once these peppers reach their prime, they’re the sweetest bells on the farm.

They desperately need to be staked and tied, these poor future sweeties, yet we have to wait until we’re absolutely positively convinced that a freak late cold front isn’t planning to barrel down on us before we dare remove the hoop house plastic. Out here, we don’t feel entirely safe from frost until mid to late April. Only then can we be confident enough to set the early peppers and tomatoes free.

Meanwhile, the Flavorbursts have begun trying to break out on their own.

While most of the pepper plants remain orderly and upright for the time being, more and more of them are giving in to the inappropriateness of the situation (and the added weight of new peppers) by leaning farther, and farther, and farther outward until they rest directly upon the plastic barrier. I fear that when we take that plastic down, many plants will simply tumble right to the ground.

As much as we’d love to stake and secure them while they’re still inside, that’s a tough assignment. It’s hot in there. And really, really humid. Already, by the time I’m finished wiggling tomato plants and tap-tap-tapping peppers every morning, I’m drenched with sweat. It isn’t very ladylike, even when that lady is a farmer. Imagine going back inside then, even later in the day, and the time it would take to tie these plants up.

That wouldn’t be at all appropriate for a lady. In fact, it’d be just plain inappropriate. Fortunately, it appears the weather is going to cooperate so we’ll be disassembling the hoop houses real soon. In the interim, however, I’m going to have to continue with my sweaty assignment. And until that plastic comes down, promise me one thing:

Please don’t tell James.

* * *

Appropriate or not, it’s beginning to look like summer at the farm! Here’s what we’re bringing to the stand this week:

Loads of summer squash! We’ll have Zephyr, zucchini and yellow squash, plus lots of lettuce mix; Euro salad mix; Red Leaf lettuce; Butter Head hearts; some Romaine; spring onions; green garlic; leeks; bunches of chard; bulk purple beets and golden beets; gorgeous fennel; escarole; bulk sweet white turnips; finally (we’ve been waiting so long!) the return of arugula; and the first bunches from the new crop of pink radishes.

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)