[I’m sending this out a day early to let everyone know our Jollyville Road farm stand WILL be open July 4th — same time, same place!]

I have a confession to make: I was never, ever rooting for Tropical Storm Debby to come our way. It turned out to be even more of a drencher than I think anyone would ultimately want — nobody is happy about a flooded house — yet a slow-moving storm is exactly what’s needed to fill the area lakes back up.

Although I like to consider myself a person who cares about the greater good, it’s true that when it comes to the farm, I’m utterly selfish. All I could think about as they tracked Debby early on was that if she were to swing over this way and dump “only,” say, six or eight inches, our summer season could be kaput. At the very least, she’d ruin our melons.

It’s happened to us before. We’ve watched entire crops of cantaloupes and Mideast melons split open and rot in the field due to too much rain. What a melon really needs is dry weather. And heat. Lots of rain dilutes the sweetness with too much water; heat concentrates the sugars in the fruit. Last summer’s melons were outstanding and so far, it appears the same will be true this year.

On those afternoons when the temperature approaches 100 degrees, the foliage surrounding the melons curl in protestation. Who can blame it? And while we don’t want several inches of rain to turn the fruit into mush, we worry when such intense heat causes the otherwise protective leaves to shrivel, leaving melons exposed to the piercing sun and vulnerable to scalding. But the melon patch is too big to try to protect the entire area. It’s a shame we can’t retrofit every fruit with its own shade, like maybe by using a whole bunch of these.

Individual melon umbrella hats would indeed be a solution — and a colorful one at that! — yet it could get a tad expensive (and silly). Instead, Farmer John harvests melons every single day in order to rescue them before the relentless sunshine can do its dirty work.

For other crops susceptible to sun scald, like tomatoes and peppers, we rely on the aid of yards and yards and yards of shade cloth. All of the tomato beds designated for July harvests have been covered with the stuff,

and recently, John and the gang rigged up a wall of shade along the western side of our sweetest of sweet peppers, the Corno di Toro.

Or as we like to call this variety of pepper, the Benecio del Toro.

I can’t imagine he’s as sweet as a Corno di Toro, but Beno (as his friends call him, ahem) seems pretty cool, doesn’t he? And during the heat of a Texas summer, a cool, crisp pepper is mighty satisfying.

Though we’re managing to keep most of the crops as cool and crisp as possible, accomplishing the same for ourselves is a bit more of a challenge. There’s no avoiding working outside in dreadful heat, otherwise how could we bring anything to market? So we try to work smart and limit our time in the sun as much as we can.

On tomato harvest days, once the cart is filled with buckets, the harvesters (known locally as the Tomato Mod Squad) take them to the packing shed.

Transferring the fruit from buckets to tomato crates in the relative comfort of our converted detached garage — complete with ceiling fans — provides some necessary respite from the sun. At least for a little while, until it’s time to go out for more.

Besides picking tomatoes, which often takes an entire day, we try to do all the other harvesting during morning hours and attend to under-cover jobs in the afternoons, most recently cleaning, sorting and boxing the truckload of hard squashes we received from Sand Creek Farm in Cameron.

I save my colored bell pepper harvest for later in the day since those beds are sequestered underneath a shade cloth-covered hoop house,

yet there’s no denying, when it hovers around 100 degrees it’s plenty hot under there, just as it is in the garage-cum-packing-shed. Still, we fool ourselves into thinking we’re indeed pretty darned smart, figuring out ways to beat the the worst of the heat like this.

Then we walk into the air-conditioned house and happen upon the smartest one of all.

Yep, this is one cool cat. Beno would undoubtedly approve.

* * *

We’ll have all sorts of goodies for you on the 4th! Here’s what we’ll bring to the stand this Wednesday:

OODLES of melons! — two types of icebox watermelons, cantaloupes and Mideast melons — plus tomatoes; three kinds of cherry tomatoes; loads of beautiful red and yellow bell peppers; zucchini, Zephyr and yellow squash; three varieties of eggplant; Asian cucumbers; okra; bunches of basil; sweet Yellow Granex onions; Cubanelle peppers; Benecio del Toro peppers; butternut squash, acorn squash and spaghetti squash from Sand Creek Farm; and some of this and 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)