Artificial Autumn?

A funny thing happened around here about 6 weeks ago.  After starting off in May with a bang and continuing along at full tilt in June, our Tomato field basically, uh, went on strike.’

We don’t just have one tomato field at Terra Firma.  We usually have four plantings, spaced about three weeks apart.  They tend to follow each other pretty closely, although sometimes in hot weather harvest overlaps a bit more than we would like.  Last year the final planting finished too early, leaving us without many tomatoes in September.  With the warm spring this year we expected a similar outcome so we added an extra planting.

It’s fairly common for us to have a heat wave in early July that speeds up the ripening and pushes two or even three weeks worth of tomatoes out of the field in just a week.  A gap tends to follow.

The gap this year lasted until today — over a month and a half.  After six weeks of checking the fields every two or three days to see if the green tomatoes hanging on the vines had ripened yet, I think just about everyone gave up believing they actually would.  So everyone was a bit shocked that it took most of the day today just to pick tomatoes.

There’s nothing good about tomatoes taking six weeks to ripen.  Every extra day they hang on the vines is another day that a stinkbug can pierce their skin and cause an ugly blemish, the hot sun can burn them, or that a heavy dew can cause them to split open.  The longer they hang, the fewer we actually harvest.

As is often the case in farming, our tomatoes were not the only ones to exhibit this behavior.  Most farms in the area that we have talked to who grow fresh market tomatoes saw a similar pattern.  The current theory blames the dense smoke from the fires in early August caused an artificial Autumn.  The smoke partially or completely blocked the sun for many days, delaying sunrise, hastening sunset, and in general reducing the amount of light and heat falling on the plants during the day.  Put another way, it caused an artificial Autumn, triggering summer crops to slow their growth and ripening.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had smokey weather in the summer, but it is the first time I can remember it lasting for so long.  The smoke didn’t completely clear until late last week, and within a few days the tomatoes were flying off the plants.

The effect on our other crops is mixed.  Our earliest Green Beans and Carrots, planted in mid-July, are actually much nicer than usual — but they prefer fall to weather to the intense heat of summer.  Melons seem to have taken it quite hard, as they do not like autumn much:  this might be the first week in August that we have ever harvested zero melons.

Beginning this week and going forward into September you’ll see the amounts of tomatoes in your boxes increase.  And there’s a chance that the season could last another full month or more not withstanding any unforeseen fires, floods or other extreme weather.  Unfortunately extreme weather seems to be the new norm.  2015 will go down as the year of Summer in Winter and Fall in August.  Can’t wait to see what the next three months have in store for us.

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