There’s something missing in your boxes today, something you’ve gotten from us every week since mid-June. That’s right, for the first time in 18 weeks, there are no tomatoes in any Terra Firma CSA box.
Some years, our tomato season ends with a bang. That bang most often comes with an early fall rainstorm that saturates the soil and soaks the plants, causing all of the fruit — even the unripe ones — to explode and then quickly rot. If the rain comes in September, which is rare, the plants may sometimes recover from and even benefit from it. They have a growth surge and put out a bunch of new fruit, and if it stays warm and dry after the rain, that fruit might actually ripen.
If the rainstorm comes after September 30th, though, it essentially ends tomato season. The plants can sense the arrival of winter and don’t even bother trying to make more fruit.
Very occasionally, an early frost will end tomato season. But we’ve never had a frost before Halloween, and hardly ever before mid-November. It’s pretty rare that we are still harvesting tomatoes by then.
Most years, tomato season goes out with a whimper. The final of our 5 plantings goes in the ground in early June, so by mid-October the plants are sad and tired. They are summer plants that have lived their entire lives in warm to very hot temperatures, and they basically go into shock when nighttime temperatures start to dip into the low 40s. Heavy dew causes the fruit to split — not as badly as rain does, but enough to greatly reduce the usable harvest. This year, almost three weeks of very chilly nights with heavy dew were the final straw.
We keep picking the tomatoes as long as it makes sense. The amount we reap from the field generally drops dramatically after mid-September, but is still worth the effort. Then, at some point in October, it’s just not worth it anymore. Meanwhile, we have more and more new, abundant fall crops to harvest and fill up your CSA boxes. That’s where we are at this week.
Tomatoes might appear in your boxes for only four or five months each year, but tomato production is essentially a year-round activity for us. We have to deconstruct miles of tomato trellis now — 25 miles of drip tape, hundreds of miles of tying twine and tens of thousands of T-posts must be removed from the field before we can mow the plants and till them into the soil. Some years we are still working on that in January, at the same time that the new year’s tomato plants are being seeded in the greenhouse. Occasionally we are still cleaning up last year’s tomato field when it’s time to plant the new crop in March.
Right now, we can only dream that things go as well with the tomatoes as they did in 2019, which was one of our biggest and best tomato crops ever.