In the March 22nd newsletter, I told you how we had been forced by the endless wet weather that month to hand-plant our entire first planting of tomatoes. The first of those tomatoes make their appearance in your boxes today…taaaadaaa.
Looking back now at that newsletter, I realize how many important details I left out that illustrate how desperate we were to get the tomatoes planted. Of course both of the days we were able to plant were Sunday, which we almost never work. No matter, everyone knew how important the task was to the farm — and plus, we hadn’t hardly worked at all that month because it was raining so much.
Each of those days, it started out so wet that it was difficult to walk in the field. The beds were covered with plastic mulch — the only reason we were able to plant at all. But as a result the furrows — the pathways between the beds, were completely saturated. There were even spots where they had standing water in them.
But perhaps the most absurd aspect of the story was the sprinkler pipe. Of course, the tomatoes did not need any irrigation after we planted them. The soil was soaking wet and it was raining nearly every day. But it was still early March, which means there is always a chance of a frost that could kill the tiny plants — and destroy everyone’s hard work. If and when that frost comes, we use sprinklers to keep the cold from settling.
Like everything else we do around here, we normally use a tractor or pickup truck to move the pipe — in this case about half a mile’s worth of it — into the field. Instead we had to carry the pipe, which is light but cumbersome, into the field by hand as well. The irrigators looked at me like I was crazy when I told them.
I was very much hoping not to have to turn the water on. After all, the field was already too wet. But lo and behold, by the end of the second Sunday we planted, the sky was clear and the temperature dropped quickly at sunset: a recipe for a freezing night.
I waited as long as possible before turning the water on that evening. Flooding can kill tomato plants just as surely as freezing. With the soil already saturated — and more rain in the forecast — it was important not to add any more water to the field than we absolutely needed to.
At 1:30 a.m it was 35 degrees and time to turn the pump on. The thermometer dropped to 31 degrees during the night, and it stayed below freezing until almost 9 the next morning when we turned the sprinklers off. Most of the field was underwater, but thankfully the tops of our planting beds and the tomatoes were not.
Alas, the rain started again later that day. By the time it stopped, parts of the field were completely submerged — drowning the tomatoes in those areas. And the plants on the lower side of the field remain slightly stunted even now, due to the excessive soil moisture they experienced.
After all we put our tomatoes through this year, we tempered our expectations for how they would perform. In other cold, wet springs, we have had very disappointing early tomato crops. But while the plants grew very slowly, they look quite healthy now and they have set fruit abundantly.
As I discuss further below, the tomatoes in your boxes are an extremely early ripening, cold-tolerant variety of cherry tomato called Gold Nugget. Other varieties — particularly the heirloom varieties — will be quite a bit later in maturing. But when they do come, we should have a heavy crop.