Tomatoes

After a very strong start, our tomatoes have rather suddenly bitten the proverbial dust. The German Johnsons growing outside have nearly all succumbed to blight and it looks like the three varieties in the hoop house are soon to follow.

Blight is airborne and might have floated into the hoop house on its own, but I suspect the vector was me. Before I realized the significance of what I was doing, I would sometimes pick the tomatoes growing outside, then go into the hoop house and pick those. Big mistake. I think it likely that I carried the blight into the hoop house on my arms and clothes. Once I realized the risk, I always picked in the hoop house first and never went into the hoop house after working with the outside tomatoes, without first showering and changing clothes. Chalk it up as an important lesson learned.

But, in any event, I’ve eaten a lot of tomato sandwiches.

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And of course we’ve enjoyed them plenty of other ways too, and the cupboard is fully stocked with sauce and salsa.

And even as the vines die, there’s still plenty of tomatoes to keep us happy for a while yet.

August, continued.

Our cup continues to overflow.

Even as the squash and tomatoes are biting the dust, the okra is coming in beautifully.

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The purple hull peas and sweet potatoes are maturing.

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And we’ve had a nice flush of shiitake mushrooms.

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August

Yesterday I harvested the spaghetti and butternut squash.

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A little sooner than I preferred, but if I waited much longer the groundhogs wouldn’t have left us any.

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I was pleased to discover this beautiful offering at the base of an old red oak.

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Chicken of the Woods

And pleased to welcome these new arrivals.

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It’s a great time of year.

No People Necessary

Even in this age of industrialized agriculture, vegetable farming still requires lots of human labor. But maybe not for long.

Once again the most recent issue of Vegetable Farmer magazine devotes its front page story to the “labor crisis.” Even after the severe labor shortages of last year, this year’s labor force is smaller still. Estimates are that growers will only have 80% of the workers they need, despite $15-20/hour wages (and free housing).

While some operations are considering abandoning the most labor-intensive crops (like strawberries), robotics and automation appear to be the fast-approaching solution. Innovation and development of automated harvesting machines is occurring at an unprecedented pace. “We are getting factories in the fields,” says Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics Philip Martin of the University of California, Davis.

Not only do these new machines pick the crops, they also wrap and package them, and log when and where they’re harvested, eliminating the need for humans to fill out the traceability paperwork.

Although it wasn’t discussed in the articles, no doubt scientists are also continuing to design vegetable varieties that don’t bruise easily–facilitating mechanical harvesting.

It’s probably just a matter of time until the vegetables in the grocery stores arrive there without having ever been touched by a human hand.

I suppose agribusiness will be relieved that it no longer has to rely on a shrinking labor force. Many will see this as progress. But to me it seems be yet another reason to keep a garden and shop at the farmer’s market.

 

The Wait is Over

Now maybe we can have our garage back.

Earlier this year a pair of barn swallows built a nest in it before we realized what was happening. After that we couldn’t shut the doors (as they needed access to their nest). Then when the eggs hatched we could no longer park our vehicles in the garage, because last year the cat used them as a platform from which to leap toward the nest and swat it down with his evil murderous catarm.

Finally the little swallows fledged. We waited till we were sure they were no longer using the nest before re-taking possession of our garage. But, alas, we waited too long and Mama Swallow (Ethel, to her friends) laid more eggs and started the process over again.

We’ve been watching the four babies grow, seeing the nest becoming almost absurdly crowded.

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Then yesterday they finally screwed up the courage to fly. In our a garage, a barn swallow party followed. At one point there were six or seven swooping in and out of the garage.

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Three of the fledglings, resting.

Today, doggone it, I’m parking in the garage.

Easy Snacks

There are a lot of things to love about this time of year. Here’s one: it’s easy to grab a quick snack when working outside.

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The Verdict on the Experiment

I’m ready to pronounce a verdict on one of this years gardening experiments.

As part of our scaling down this year, I wanted to plant a garden that would require very little attention. So I needed something that deer don’t eat and that wouldn’t require irrigation or much weeding. Deer eat almost everything these days, so my options were limited. The plan I settled on was to plant a large garden that was one half eggplant and one half acorn squash. Then I would tend it using an almost-STUN method (Sheer Total Utter Neglect).

Unfortunately, the experiment was a fail.

The acorn squash that survived the squash bugs (which were particularly bad this year) were choked out by weeds. Winter squash is a vining plant, making cultivation nearly impossible.

The eggplant, on the other hand, are producing abundantly. Still, I pronounce that part of the garden a fail too. Why? Because it’s generating way more eggplant than we can use, and way more than we can sell. Eggplant isn’t part of our traditional food culture here and the market for it is very limited. We’ve been giving lots of it to the local food bank (probably generating lots of groans from patrons) but it makes no sense to grow it on that scale, just to give it away. Deer don’t eat it, but neither do chickens or pigs.

So next year I won’t have the eggplant/acorn squash garden.

On the other hand our expanded onion garden was a success. We have our best onion crop ever. So maybe next year I’ll grow even more. Deer don’t eat them, but people in these parts definitely do.