We’re mid-way through our summer season at Terra Firma, and yet it still feels like we’re just getting started. All the summer crops are planted, and several fields have already finished. For a few short weeks, we can focus almost entirely on harvesting before fall planting begins.
Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of time to enjoy tomatoes, peaches and all the other summer crops. But there is nothing we can do to extend summer and the long days that make it such a productive season for growing certain vegetables and fruit.
Almost exactly a month past the Summer Solstice, the days are now the same length they were in late May. And by the end of August, the sun shines only as long as it did back in April.
Summer’s heat can compensate for a certain amount of lost daylight in terms of ripening fruit that is hanging on a plant, tree or vine. But the vegetation of most summer crops slows dramatically as the days get shorter. Smaller plants are weaker, with less ability to fight off diseases and pests. Their root systems have less access to the resources in the soil needed to produce large, tasty fruit.
Melons are one example: they are at their peak in mid-summer, when the plants are large and healthy thanks to the hot, dry air and long days. A big canopy of leaves allows the fruit to ripen slowly in the shade, “baking” in nature’s oven. As daylight hours shorten, the nights get cooler too. Not only do the plants not grow as large, but heavy dew settles on the leaves each morning, creating perfect conditions for mildew that causes them to wilt and shrivel. The fruit gets exposed to direct sunlight, which makes it ripen more quickly and less uniformly. The melons aren’t as sweet and flavorful, and many of them get sunburned.
Sweet Corn is another crop that declines in late summer. Temperatures over 100 degrees during pollination leads to gaps in the kernels and even aborted ears (there’s a good chance you have already seen this in your TFF corn this year due to the extreme heat). And shorter days mean the ears take longer to ripen, which allows insects and fungus more time to damage them. If we plant corn much after mid-May, the combination of factors can make it completely unmarketable.
The takeaway? Enjoy the summer crops in your CSA boxes this week, because they won’t be here forever. But there’s still plenty of time.