Here it is in mid-October and I find myself online looking at all the many of varieties of tomatoes that are available for sale. I quickly became frustrated and literally had to walk away from the computer and get myself a cup of coffee. I did get back to it eventually after giving some thought to what I had learned this year about all the different things we did successfully and also the challenges we faced whilst growing our tomatoes and other crops.
First I will list some of the expectations I had for the tomatoes that we grew and what actually ended up happening to that particular concern or area of focus. I must tell you that it was a difficult summer for our family as your patriarch and author had some difficult health challenges to deal with. That in itself was a challenge and was definitely unexpected but thankfully my beautiful bride stepped in to save the day again. (She always does) The reason I point this out is for a gentle reminder to all that “We plan and God laughs.”
Weeding and Watering
— Last year we recognized quite early that most of our disappointment came from two main areas that we did not focus on in particular. Watering. This was not just with our tomatoes but with all of our plants, mostly vegetables but some landscape perennials as well. Weeding was the other. How we dealt with it was not that extraordinary. We created an infrastructure plan to provide water to our newly built greenhouse and growing area with plans to enhance it later on by drilling a well out in the growth area as we expect to grow and thrive in the future. For the weeding, we dedicated time to actually get out there and pull some weeds. Also we learned of multiple efforts of some like Curtis Stone to grow in such a manner as to prohibit weeds from overtaking areas by methods I call “gang-cropping.”
The results while initially seeming unspectacular were actually quite good. We had such a blessed abundance of items for consumption and even managed to sell some to our close friends. The water project is not totally completed but is well on it’s way to making next year more successful. We laid a polyethylene pipe from our surface well into a trench that runs to the greenhouse. Both ends need to be plumbed, one with a shallow well jet pump and the other with a pressure tank and piping needed for greenhouse and field.
— In the greenhouse we utilized boxes constructed of 2″ x 12″ lumber to grow in. We bought 2 of these that were 12 feet long and cut off a 4 foot piece for the ends resulting in a 4′ x 8′ box. We filled each with our special soil mixture of peat moss, decomposed double-ground hardwood bark mulch, and composted horse manure. However, in the box where the cucumbers were grown we put too many plants in one area and it quickly became overwhelming. We pruned back the plants significantly but they may have made them grow even faster. In the end we generated quite a large harvest but our technique is not recommended. In the field the spacing seemed to work to our advantage as the close proximity of the plants blocked the sun so that weeds could not overtake the area.
A note about spacing as well in the greenhouse is worth mentioning here. We haven’t had the greenhouse that long. We are still learning how to best utilize the space in that resource as well. We also added a heat source being a “Warm Morning” coal heater that we found for sale cheaply. We haven’t decided if we will heat the greenhouse all winter or just extend the shoulder seasons. Stay tuned to see how it works out for us.
–Another challenge we faced was my personal ambition to do too much all the time. I wanted to grow a large variety of plants to have available for our own use as well as to sell to others. Unfortunately, our learning curve reminded us that we are not that experienced with growing certain varieties. This year some of our crops did very well and we learned how to grow them successfully. For example, our tomatoes came our very well and we put up about 100 pints of tomatoes in a variety of forms such as pizza sauce. I think our sauce came out much better than last year mostly because of the way we processed it and secondly because of the variety we selected. It is very satisfying to put food away for use later. It gives me a great sense of independence. We did have to deal with the cursed “tomato hornworm.”
By focusing on a smaller variety and learning them well we did much better with those particular plants like red beets, carrots, spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts. To think all that our grandparents knew how to do that we forgot in a mere two generations.
One other note on variety selection is that we were very successful with some tomato varieties. I have gathered many seeds from the tomatoes that we successfully grew this year for use in our operation next year. It doesn’t take much effort and your cost savings can end up being significant if you maintain your own varieties. Eventually we may do some experimentation with plant genetics.
As we approach our downtime and off season now in the winter that is usually our planning time, I am thinking more about what needs to be done and how we should do it next year. I remain very humbled knowing I am blessed with all the gifts that God has given to us. Working on our farm is a priceless treasure that I would not trade for any item or any amount of money.
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