We’re a week away from the Fall Equinox, and despite all the hot weather we’ve been having, summer is wrapping up on our farm. It’s true that it can stay plenty hot in the Sacramento Valley this time of year — the record high temperature for today is 106. And in the Bay Area, you may be just getting your first taste of “summer weather” that can often last through October.
But the summer crops we grow are extremely sensitive to the length of the day. With fewer and fewer hours of light, they start to slow down or stop producing fruit. And the longer nights are generally colder here — it was 49 Monday night — so the fruit takes longer to ripen. Then there are the bugs, which have had all summer to build up their populations. They start to take a major toll on the plants while doing more damage to the fruit. And that is if the weather is favorable.
Rain, however, can easily and instantly ruin a late crop of summer vegetables. Even in a warm, dry fall it’s not uncommon for us to get at least one storm in September and two or more in October. We have learned the hard way that trying to extend our summer season into fall is a big waste of time and energy.
So we put most of our resources into growing our cool season crops — broccoli, carrots, leafy greens — and getting our fall storage crops of winter squash and sweet potatoes harvested before it gets too cold. That’s not to say that we plow under all our summer crops on the Equinox. We leave our old tomato and pepper fields — the ones that have been producing for a month or two — alone to see what they will do.
Some years the tomatoes peter out fairly quickly after mid-September. Others, they get second or third wind and put out a nice late crop of fruit. If the weather stays warm, those may ripen up nicely. But we’ve had plenty of years where the almost-ripe fruit gets hit by a heavy rain and gets moldy or rots on the vine. If we get a late crop, it’s a bonus item — the field had already produced a crop in the summer and paid its keep. If not, it’s a bit of a bummer but there’s no loss to us.
The first summer vegetable to disappear from your boxes this year is Zucchini. Cucumbers may hang on or another week or possibly two. Both these crops are very susceptible to insects this time of year.
As the weeks pass, you will start to see some “fall” crops in your boxes. There are some Delicata Squash this week. Next week you might see the first leafy greens. Our first Carrots will be ready in early October.
Meanwhile, we will continue to harvest Tomatoes and Peppers for as long as they keep producing. But if I had to guess now, I would predict that they won’t hold on much longer. So enjoy them while they last.