Believe it or not, we’re more than halfway done with planting our summer crops at Terra Firma! The majority of our warm-season crops get planted in March and April, especially tomatoes and sweet corn. Our first tomatoes already have green fruit on them and the corn is waist-high. Both will be ready for harvest in just over a month. Our first Zucchini, planted in late March, is almost ready to pick.
Over the last several years, we have really cut back on our plantings for August harvest. One factor is you, our subscribers: it seems that a significant portion of you take vacations during that month. And you’re not alone. Our retail and even restaurant customers report the same phenomenon. Then there is the trend in recent years towards extremely hot weather and incidence of wildfires and smoke, which not only stress our crops but cause dangerous working conditions for our staff. We’re not taking the month off, by any means, but we’ve programmed a slowdown into our schedule.
That leaves us with a fairly short time period to really focus on summer. We can only plant a small amount of cold-sensitive crops in late winter, because we are limited in our ability to protect more than a few acres from freezing. And even then, there is no guarantee that planting sooner will result in an earlier harvest. Summer crops, not surprisingly, grow best and fastest when it’s warm. If it’s hot in May, we sometimes start harvesting tomatoes around Memorial Day, but most years it’s mid-June.
This year, the tomatoes and corn we planted in early March actually benefited from bizarrely warm — hot, really — temperatures shortly afterwards. Despite a few close calls with freezing nights, the daytime temperatures were actually in the 80s. Those fields now look much nicer than the crops we planted in April, which is not usually the case.
Our decreased emphasis on summer crops means that our annual schedule is much more balanced than it used to be. We’re busier in the winter — sometimes too busy, frankly — than we are in August. We have fewer seasonal demands for workers, and offer more stable year-round employment than most farms in our area.
But while we’ll be wrapping our planting for summer in the next few weeks, it’s already time to start planting for fall. Late May into June is when we plant our winter squash and leeks. Those crops will grow through the summer heat and mature in late September into October.
Still, we always end up with a significant amount of fallow acreage in late spring. If we’re harvesting crops like lettuce or spinach in a field in late March, April or May we can’t be planting summer vegetables in them. Those fields won’t get planted again until late August or September. That gives us an opportunity to grow a fast-growing summer cover crop like cowpeas, which builds our soil and gives it a rest before it hosts another round of winter crops.
Summer is coming soon,