One of the single most frustrating things about growing fruits and vegetables is waiting for them to ripen, size up, or otherwise come to fruition.
Vegetables are always listed in seed catalogs with their “Days to Maturity” — the number of days after seeding or transplanting them until they are ready to harvest. But these numbers are generally relative, and not at all reliable. If one variety of sweet corn or broccoli has a DTM of 77 days and another 85, it’s a safe bet that the first one will be ready before the second one. But geography, weather and farming techniques can all add or subtract from those numbers. Fruit tree varieties don’t come with the same type of exact dates for when they will mature
In the winter, it’s often anyone’s guess how long it will take broccoli on our farm to start making heads, but it’s usually at least twice as long as the seed catalog claims. After all, it’s colder in December than it is in June and there’s 50% less daylight.
Summer crops can be just as unpredictable. A cold spring like the one we just had slows the growth of heat-loving plants. Hot weather speeds them up, unless it gets too hot, in which case they go into a type of shock.
Greenhouses and other infrastructure can help farmers exert some control over the climate and get their crops to market faster. But there is absolutely nothing you can do to speed up the ripening of a particular crop if it’s growing outside. This is especially infuriating when you have a very specific deadline, for example, a CSA box that is delivered on a particular day, or a farmers market.
Such was the case with our sweet corn this week, which we were optimistic would size up and fill by Tuesday morning, when we need to pick it for your Wednesday CSA delivery. In case you’re wondering, the “DTM” of the corn is 74 days. It was planted on April 22, and it “should” have been ready on Saturday. Yet on when we went out to pick it Tuesday morning, there very few ripe ears. No corn for your boxes.
The melons in your boxes today were even later in arriving — we’ve been checking them every day or two for almost two weeks now. On Saturday we finally found a few ripe ones, and picked them yesterday morning.
It’s very rare that every ear of corn or piece of fruit in a field is ready to harvest on the same day — we pick each field for anywhere from a week to two months. And ready-to-harvest doesn’t necessarily mean ready-to-eat, as crops like tomatoes and melons picked in the summer will continue to ripen after harvest. Our crew members are trained to know these details, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to get right. It’s best not to send a harvest crew into a field if there’s only a small amount of produce ready to pick, as trial-and-error can make a big dent in the crop.
What is eternally amazing about growing these crops is how they continue to surprise us every year, doing their darndest to keep us guessing and swearing and smacking our heads in disbelief. We make predictions among ourselves, guessing when the tomatoes or carrots will finally be ready to harvest, but the game would be more fun if we didn’t have hundreds of people expecting to see them in their boxes.