Farmer John isn’t exactly a hoarder…but man, he’s close. I tend to want to throw out anything that gets in my way — or just looks at me funny — so my perspective is rather skewed, yet when someone insists there’s no reason to get rid of a “perfectly good” shirt like this,

he might be on the verge of having a teensy case of separation issues.

Out in the farm, you simply must be able to say goodbye. For folks who aren’t used to it, the sight of dead vegetables tossed aside and strewn between the rows is a tough one to overlook. We’ve had new employees in the past who, on their first or second day at the farm, wanted to go back and scoop up all the worm-ridden, aphid-infested rejects to lug home and salvage somehow. We convince them there’s plenty of produce tucked away in containers in our walk-in cooler ready for the taking by everyone who works here — imperfect “uglies” not nice enough for market, yet not nearly so disgusting as the stuff out in the rows.

Worse still is when visitors come. John and I have turned to find people gathering half-rotted tomatoes, fruit that had been discarded a day or two prior. It’s hard to understand, I suppose, how we could possibly throw so many tomatoes to the ground that would be “perfectly good” once the scalded/wormy/insect-sucked portions were cut off.

Time is the reason. Unlike carrying in a dozen perfect and not so perfect tomatoes from a backyard plot, we deal in cartfuls. Time is of the essence and we never seem to have enough of it. Certainly not enough to carve off the bad spots, so we’re forever pitching tomatoes, eggplants, squashes…you name it.

Time is also a big consideration when the first major cold front of the fall is bearing down on the farm. November is the most prolific autumn month for us — cool weather crops are abundant, while we’re still enjoying great harvests from plants that prefer warmer temps. So when faced with the prospect of weather cold enough to kill those heat-loving crops and possibly damage the others, we must decide which ones have to be sacrificed.

Early last week, we were once again forced to choose. After some discussion and a good deal of hand wringing, it was agreed the eggplants had to go.

What a shame. This had been the best late-season eggplant crop, probably ever. And because the fall peppers were right beside them, and because the tall t-posts we use to support the plants make it so difficult to cover, our red and yellow bells were scheduled to be placed on the chopping block too.

John completed what would be the last fall harvest of “summer” squash that afternoon,

and come the following morning, they were goners.

We had planned to sacrifice what was left of the fall tomato crop, as well. In keeping with this commitment, we asked everyone to stay late the afternoon before the freeze in order to harvest every pick-able tomato they could find. The great folks who work here are nothing if not thorough, and by early evening they’d filled 15 crates — double-stacked — with red, pink and slightly pink tomatoes.

[Mr. Rooster is seen here, guarding them with his life.]

That proved to be too much for Farmer Hoarder…er, John. Even after this harvest, our small crop of fall tomato plants remained fairly loaded with green fruit. He couldn’t stand the thought of leaving them exposed to the elements. That night, after almost three straight hours spent covering nearly the entire farm (most of it in pitch dark), he draped the tomato rows. He did the same with the peppers after recognizing he couldn’t bear to part with those either.

Once he’d protected all he could protect, he came inside and collapsed on his chair, exhausted. He wasn’t much perkier the next night when he had to do it all over again after daytime breezes blew most of the covers off. He set his alarm for 3 a.m. so he could go back out and start irrigation running under the tomatoes and peppers as an extra buffer against the cold, only to discover it was still 49 degrees. Clouds held fast overhead and we didn’t freeze.

He hadn’t needed to cover anything that night. He could have relaxed all evening instead. This is what Farmer John does, though. He may have a little trouble sacrificing some of the crops, but he hasn’t a second thought about sacrificing himself.

Maybe I should surprise him with a new shirt or two, to replace the “perfectly good” ones he sometimes wears now. And if he wants to keep the ones riddled with holes, I won’t argue.

I’m thinking he deserves it.

* * *

We have oodles for your Thanksgiving holiday! For the Wednesday stand this week, we’ll be bringing:

Lots of fall tomatoes (I know that doesn’t scream “Thanksgiving” but they’ll be great on those leftover turkey sandwiches)! Plus: Red butterhead lettuce, Red leaf lettuce, butternut squash, kabocha squash (great in savory or sweet dishes), spaghetti & acorn squash, cauliflower, green onions, sweet white turnips, bulk purple and golden beets, bunches of chard, Dinosaur kale, some curly kale, Brussels greens, bags of arugula, yellow bell peppers, Cubanelle peppers, kohlrabi, pink radishes and watermelon radishes, fennel, salad mixes, cilantro, 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)


[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)

As much as I’d love to take credit for the title of this post, I must pass that honor on to Stephen. He came up with it during a recent marathon tomato harvest when a few of us were within earshot of each other. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Oh this is the greatest thing! It looks like we’ll finally have oodles of tomatoes for the stands.

Stephen: How many tomatoes constitute oodles?

Me: When we have all our green crates double-stacked full and need to start using the black crates as well.

Matt: Wow, that’s a lot!

Me: It sure is, and this year it’s taken us a whole lot longer to get there.

Stephen: We’re shooting for oodles now!

I’m paraphrasing like crazy. In fact, I think it might have actually been in the middle of a marathon green bean harvest when we had the tomato conversation. The only thing I know for certain is I liked the phrase so much, I announced then and there that “shooting for oodles” would be the next blog title.

Thanks Stephen.

Truth is, an oodle can sometimes be elusive. Our goal is always to attain oodles, of course, but occasionally Mother Nature has other plans. She definitely did a number to our early, early tomatoes this year. The problems began in March when rains and all-around humidity took their toll on the plants right at the time they should have been setting fruit. The ones deep within the 200’ hoop houses were stricken with blight and consequently either didn’t put on any blooms at all, or dropped most of the blossoms they’d managed to set before they could form tomatoes.

Despite that setback, however, once we removed the plastic from the hoop houses and the plants were able to dry out, they pushed up an entirely new flush of green foliage and flowered like mad. Miraculously, the very plants that had once been knocking on death’s door were suddenly covered with tiny green tomatoes. We were elated.

Then it rained over 5” in less than a week. Now, we know better than to gripe about rain…but this is what it did to those early tomato plants that had so valiantly attempted a comeback.

As much as we tried to keep a stiff upper lip, a few groans and whimpers did sneak out.

Fortunately, just a few yards away we had rows and rows of healthy tomato plants waiting in the wings.

Were we to give that part of the farm a name, we might have called it Hope. Yet being eternal pessimists (when we’re not busy being eternal optimists), we still worried that our aspiration for oodles might evade us this season.

It was kind of telling when, after a meager harvest of only eight green crates of tomatoes a couple weeks ago, young Matt proclaimed we were “swimming in tomatoes.” It’s not his fault. He’s new to the farm and thus had never experienced the overabundance that usually comes from the initial two hoop houses. He didn’t realize that a measly eight crates in mid-May is nowhere near swimming.

Eight crates of tomatoes is actually more like this.

Just as Farmer John and I were beginning to think oodles might indeed be beyond our grasp, it happened. The second succession of tomatoes started ripening, and ripening fast. Dana worked an entire day harvesting only the heirloom varieties,

while Matt picked Early Girls and Stephen spent hours diving into the Bella Rosas.

As evidenced by their postures, the first tomatoes to ripen are at the bottom of the plants. Which means there are more up top that have yet to turn red. Which also means, Mother Nature willing, we can continue shooting for oodles for a good while to come.

The only sure thing about farming, though, is that there are no sure things. Because ol’ Mom Nature is the temperamental sort, we can’t absolutely promise the continuance of the oodle. Yet for now, it’s looking good.

And really, as painful as the experience of losing our first succession of tomatoes has been for us, it’s still early in the season. It’s not like we lost our entire summer crop. They simply came on later than usual for us, and considering our later than usual is actually right on time for a lot of growers, we shouldn’t complain. Because ultimately our goal has been met. As that famous quote goes:

“Houston, we have oodles.”

* * *

Here’s what we’ll be bringing to the farm stand this Wednesday:

TOMATOES (you know how many!)** — large slicing tomatoes, juicy salad tomatoes, pink tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and heirlooms (get your heirlooms while the gettin’s good…they won’t be around a whole lot longer!) — plus of LOADS of zucchini, Zephyr and yellow squash; new Red Lasoda potatoes; bunches of basil; sweet Yellow Granex and Red Creole onions; elephant garlic; at least two kinds of beautiful eggplant; bags of arugula; the last “Rattlesnake” green beans; and the first of various types of peppers.

**If you’re looking for tomatoes, don’t fret if you’re running late to the farm stand. Last week the customers who arrived later were shocked that we still had so many for them to choose from, and we’ll have just as much — if not more — this week too!

***And if you REALLY want lots of tomatoes for canning, freezing or just eating and might be interested in a 20-lb. box of red, non-heirloom varieties at a reduced price, let me know in a reply to this email and we can put a box together for you to pick up at the stand.

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)

I’m not much of a sports fan. I’ll occasionally park myself in front of the TV during Wimbledon — only during the last tier of matches, mind you — and some Olympic sports can hold my attention for a little while, but that’s really it. John, on the other hand, is mesmerized by sports games. I’ve even caught him sitting rapt in front of televised bowling.

Now, I do realize that most of the population disagrees with my disregard for organized sporting events. Even so, I’ve been known to be callously outspoken about my opinion. Recently I chided Stephen about his favorite sport, lacrosse, and realized almost instantly that I’d stepped over the line. It’s bad enough that I have only the most rudimentary understanding of the game in the first place, but to add insult to injury (or vice versa), Stephen was a lacrosse player in high school and I know from experience how the memory of a beloved high school sport can affect a man.

See, Farmer John was a wrestler in high school.

No, no, no. Not that kind. John wrestled like school wrestling teams are supposed to do it.

Which, honestly, to me looks just as weird. The lingo used in the sport is even more bizarre. Half Nelson is probably the most famous wrestling term, but then there’s Pick Up An Ankle, High Leg Over, Underhook, Undercup, Crossface, the expanded and ever-popular Crossface Him Towards You, plus many many more of that ilk.

Not that I’m making fun. No, no, no. I’ve learned over the years what a soft spot John has in his heart for this sport, and I need to show some respect. Especially considering how I’ve had to hone my own wrestling skills lately here at the farm. And I’m not talking about wrestling with John. He’d be able to Crossface me in a matter of seconds, without even bothering to Underhook.

No, I’m talking about wrestling tomato plants.

At least two-thirds of the total number of tomatoes we grow throughout the season are determinate varieties. When they reach a reasonable height, one that’s easily restrained within our heavy wire cages, they set a whole slew of tomatoes in a short period of time. Once we harvest all the fruit, the plants are mostly finished. Sometimes they’ll gift us with a second set of blooms, which is a real bonus, yet there’s never a need for additional bracing to keep the plants upright.

Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, continue growing and growing while they set fruit more sporadically. The advantage to these varieties is that they supply us with tomatoes for a longer period of time. The disadvantage is their unruliness. If we don’t keep tying them up on a regular basis, they become a tangled mess.

We try so hard to avoid that problem. Still, every year there comes a point when they get away from us. This year it happened just last week, because of all the rain. You shouldn’t touch tomato plants when they’re wet — they’re far too susceptible to diseases. Consequently, by the time we were able to work on our ever-growing indeterminates, some were this close to having gone too far.

Normally, a well-attended, routinely cinched-up indeterminate tomato plant looks like this.

Trying to tame a row of plants whose vines have grown far too long between ties becomes a wrestling match to beat all wrestling matches. It ain’t no high school tournament, that’s for sure. It’s the Big Time.

All you can do is attack and hope for the best. And if you’re lucky enough to win, after your opponent takes a beating like that, he’s most definitely the worse for wear.

In my case, after wrestling a couple particularly wild beds of tomatoes — which, as a matter of fact, were lying on the ground in a similar fashion to the white-masked mystery man above — they weren’t pleased.

Yet unlike the bald aggressor in the previous photo, my goal wasn’t to obliterate my foe. If I have my way, these tomato plants won’t need a slab of raw meat pressed against blackening eyes; no stitches will be required. I suppose I should be a little embarrassed to admit that, since the whole point of wrestling is about beating down the other guy.

I think that’s what I dislike most about many sports. Some can be so humiliating for the loser, especially those involving physical contact. I should practice positive reinforcement whenever John watches a less violent sport, to show my support. The next time I catch him tuning in to a gentler sports game, I’ll try not to be so quick to tease him for it.

Oh who am I kidding. Bowling with sunglasses on? I’m sorry, but like the indeterminate tomatoes out in the farm, restraint sometimes doesn’t come easy.

* * *

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

The first of the “Rattlesnake” green beans; LOADS of Asian cucumbers (two varieties); various types of tomatoes (we’re experiencing a bit of a “tomato lull” right now so we won’t have oodles this week, but more will be coming soon!); new potatoes (Red Lasoda and the last of the Yukon Golds); bunches of basil; zucchini, Zephyr and yellow squash; sweet Yellow Granex and Red Creole onions; lots of purple and golden beets; bunches of basil; yellow bell peppers; and fresh elephant garlic.

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)

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)

Most years, we shut down both our farm stands in January and February yet, happily, that won’t be the case in 2012. The farm is still producing, and as long as it does, we’ll keep one market open — the Wednesday farm stand in Northwest Austin, to be exact, for at least the next two weeks. Longer, if we can pull it off.

The Jonestown stand, however, is closed for the season and we won’t reopen that one until March. The official story we initially gave our Saturday customers for not opening a time or two in January was because we have a “skeleton crew” during the winter months and can only manage one market per week.

Now, I’m not saying our story wasn’t true — it just wasn’t completely true. And as the guilt of our little white lie started laying more heavily on our psyches, Farmer John and I started ‘fessing up to the Saturday folks at our last 2011 market on Christmas Eve. Thing is, during the eight months of the year our Jonestown farm stand is open, the only day we have “off” is Sunday. A winter break allows us to have Saturdays for a little while, too.

Don’t get me wrong — we don’t resent working Saturdays. We greatly enjoy both farm stands and wouldn’t want to sell our produce any other way. It’s just that, sometimes, a two-day weekend sounds so…decadent. Like having two Sundays in a row.

Imagine our giddiness, then, at the prospect of the days we’d be taking off between Christmas and January 1st. An entire week of Sundays! Our co-farmers Dana, Mary and Zac don’t come to work during that time — they have their own holiday plans — which leaves John and me here to relax by ourselves. Alhough, truthfully, I’m a far better relaxer than John. Hand me a book or a couple of crossword puzzles and I’m content for hours. John, on the other hand, sits still only when there are exciting televised sports games blaring at him. Which games, of course, usually broadcast on Sundays.

That’s the only glitch when your week of Sundays isn’t technically a week of Sundays: Television programmers don’t abide by the same schedule as vacationing farmers. So by the time Tuesday rolled around and the only choices on TV were daytime talk shows or old movies, Farmer John had had enough. He got antsy.

Besides, it was time to start seeding early tomatoes. And before the first seed flat could be placed into one of the greenhouses, some preparation was in order. We have two greenhouses, both of them small yet too big to adequately heat the entire space this time of year for only a dozen or so flats of tomatoes. To reduce the area needed to a minimum so that a couple small electric heaters could do the job, John constructed a makeshift greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse using hoops and row covers.

This is a very temporary set-up that will have to suffice until he does some major work on our old greenhouse (work to be done any day except Sunday) when we start getting serious about filling both these structures with starts for spring and summer crops.

Once the mini-greenhouse was ready to go, John began the seeding process by cleaning several plastic flats.

[Doesn’t he look sharp in his crazy shirt circa 1980-something? It’s always interesting, what a person might find in old forgotten dresser drawers.]

With the aid of his miniature cement mixer,

Farmer John combined all the secret ingredients he uses for his potting soil. After filling the flats with blocks formed from this concoction, he distributed the Early Girl tomato seeds — a somewhat neck-breaking chore when bifocals are perched upon one’s nose — and laid them side-by-side in their interim hothouse to germinate.

Seems to me an awful lot of work for a Sunday, even when Sunday falls on Tuesday. Which is why, while John toiled, I spent the afternoon reading and working crosswords, interrupted only by the occasional forays to the greenhouse and garage to take these pictures.

Unlike John, I know how to treat a Sunday.

* * *

Happy New Year! Here’s to loads of lovely Sundays in 2012. For this week’s Jollyville Road stand, we’ll have:

Romanesco cauliflower and some white cauliflower; lots of spinach; various head lettuces; pink and purple radishes; Watermelon radishes; green “storage” cabbage; Brussels greens; chard; kale; bags of arugula; golden beets; white “Tokyo Market” turnips; bulk Asian greens; heads of escarole; some lettuce mix; and broccoli.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light [closed until March]; 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)

It’s rarely static here. Obviously the four seasons vary the appearance of the farm in four distinctive ways, yet even within each of those seasons we experience almost constant change. During one summer season alone, we typically work our way through three separate successions of squash, two successions of cucumbers, and four plantings of tomatoes. (Sadly, this year two of our squash successions all but failed and the cucumbers were a total disaster…but I’m talking generalities here. Theory. Wishful thinking.)

The idea is, as one succession falls to disease – or outright exhaustion – the next one is beginning to come of its own just as we’re tearing the old crop out. We anticipate this loss along the way, which is the very reason for our staggered planting schedule. The last thing we want is to be up to our eyeballs in overabundance one day, only to find ourselves with nothing the next. [Cue the lonesome whistle of wind blowing through bare branches, tumbleweed rolling by.]

So we plan. Or try to. Like our failed cucumbers and slow-to-realize squash, sometimes things doesn’t work out too well. In other cases we’re pleasantly surprised, as with the prolonged harvest of this year’s early tomatoes. They turned out to be the happiest unanticipated event of the season, by far.

We set out the first three rows of Early Girl tomato starts back in February and immediately built a plastic-covered hoop house over top of them for protection.

Over time – including many nights protecting them from freeze – the plants grew lush.

With the onset of record-breaking heat beginning as early as March, these plants loaded themselves down with tomatoes and we started harvesting for market the last week of April. As the heat was wreaking havoc on most all the other spring crops on the farm, it enhanced the flavor of these early-earlies. They were delicious from the start.

Normally, by the time our second (and much larger) succession of tomatoes – our “main crop” as we call them – start production, we’ve removed the plastic covering over our early-early-Early-Girls and they soon peter out. But because with the heat came little rain (thus no rain-induced disease problems) these three humble rows of plants flushed out with another thick set of fruit. We re-covered the hoop house, this time with shade cloth. And we continued the Early Girl harvest along with all the rest of the varieties.

Alas, after two full months and hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of pounds of tomatoes, these three rows finally grew tired. Everyone made one last harvest pass through them earlier in the week, and the process of removing the cages and carrying away the plants has begun.

I doubt Mary, Nikki and Dana bid any tearful farewells as they ripped cages off dead branches, but hey, that’s some pretty dreadful work in 100-degree heat Still, we owe these plants a sincere thank-you.

If only everything had been half as serendipitous as the first Early Girls. This has been a trying season – a trying year, really. It was rough having to tear out hundreds of feet of unproductive cucumber and squash plants; heartbreaking to watch the first planting of green beans fizzle after a mere three harvests, only to lose the second planting altogether.

Yet now we find ourselves in another period of transition, and while the chances are good it’ll be a brief one, so far it’s garnering no complaints. For one thing, we finally have squash.

Not tons of it, after losing a solid quarter of this succession, but better than any other time since summer began…back in April.

And in addition to the last tomatoes yet to ripen in our main crop, our latest long row of Bella Rosa has set fruit,

as have our last three rows of Early Girls. So while we won’t be bringing crates upon crates upon crates of tomatoes to the farm stands for however much longer our season might last, we do hope for the possibility of another flush of red ripes – albeit a smaller quantity – in the near future.

We’ve begun to fill one of the greenhouses with future, as well. Right now we’re working on a hard squash crop for the fall.

Nothing remains stagnate on the farm, nothing stays the same for long. As proof, we need look no further than the ducks.

Nah, they’re not ours. We’re just housing them temporarily for a friend. So far they haven’t intermingled with our chickens, and I’m doubtful our spoiled hens would be terribly happy about such an arrangement if this were to become permanent. There might be a bit of a rebellion if we were to replace these visiting ducks with ducks of our own.

Still, they are pretty darned cute, the way they walk around softly muttering “kwaa kwaa kwaa.” And as we all know, things do change around here.

* * *

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

Lots of melons! A happy circumstance of the heat and drought is how it’s made the melons swoon-worthy sweet. We’ll be bringing loads of cantaloupes, plus Mideast melons, the first super-sweet Sharyln variety, and green-fleshed Tropical melons; lots of summer squash – Zephyr, zucchini & some Cousa squash from our farm, plus hopefully more white pattypan squash from Tecolote Farm (we’re still waiting to find out for sure); red bell peppers and sweet red Corno di Toro peppers; tomatoes (whatever we find ready for harvest…there won’t be oodles this week – we’re waiting for the last succession to ripen — but perhaps we’ll have some of Tecolote Farm’s tomatoes to supplement our supply); four varieties of eggplant; super sweet Yellow Granex onions; elephant garlic; bunches of basil; 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)