Flying Tomato Year in Review


…everyone else is doin’ it!

The year started out with a decision to scale back on the farm enterprise and have a research and development season with only one CSA member.  This allowed me to focus some time on grant and paper work for the farmers market, helping us to become the first market in the state to accept EBT and debit collectively.

I had a little help in the gardens early in the season, and we really rocked those work days.  There’s nothing like having a helper show up toward the end of the day to squeeze a couple extra productive hours out of my own self.

So, while earnings were down overall this year, the crops did really well–I had fewer insect and disease problems and fewer crop failures, too.  Adding the sixth garden on the hilltop across the farm from the main gardens meant a much longer summer squash season (all the way to frost!) and the best winter squash crop ever.

I spent more time planning crop rotations and planting times this year with better success on those crops I waited on–cucumbers especially.  While mine were about a week or two later than most, I had a lot less problems with pests because I waited until it really warmed up and the cuke beetles had emerged and wandered off.  It might’ve helped too that I planted the seedlings between rotting cabbage stumps to disguise the smell of tender cuke seedlings.

After losing several of the black raspberry plants we put in the year before (only one survived), I put in twelve more this past spring, and I’m looking forward to a decent crop in 2010.  Some of the asparagus that also got stuck in better-late-than-never did manage to survive, but the rhubarb was a bust.

New crops this year: pole shell beans (a hit!), celeriac (finicky but tasty), parsnips (dug too early, but still delicious). I also tried a new variety of pointy-headed cabbage with great success, and purple heirloom Brussels sprouts with not as much success (it’d help to have a root cellar).

A couple new tomato varieties as well: Coyote cherry (a new favorite), Ananas Noire (succumbed early to blight, but the few I got were good), and finally success with Red Currant (which ended up not being that great after all). I also tried Cuore di Bue–a purse-shaped red tomato, and I think I might like it as much as Zapotec.

It was a hard year for tomatoes, though–with all the rain there was a lot of disease–mostly Septoria leaf spot, and some late blight as well.  Luckily, most of the potatoes came through–French Fingerlings were the only ones that got diseased and there was a bumper crop of Austrian Crescents to make up for that.

All that rain was great for greens–the salad mix held on longer than usual, and the spinach did well, too.  Arugula stuck around a couple weeks longer without bolting.  The broccoli raab and bok choi were also great, but the weeds got ahead of me in that row and by the end of the season I’d lost the row entirely and had to simply mow it.

Speaking of mowing–we kept up pretty well in the beginning of the season, but as seems inevitable, machinery broke down and in mid-season the guy who comes to mow the larger grassy areas of the farm simply quit showing up.

By the time he did, grasshoppers were out of control, and the loss of the tall seed-headed grass caused them to migrate into the gardens.  Luckily (I guess), there were plenty of weeds for them there as well, and they didn’t do too much damage to most of the crops.

Rabbits were another menace–we certainly had a bumper crop of them, and it seemed they were having litters under every leaf.  It wasn’t pretty, but we managed to get them mostly under control by late in the season, and then only had to worry about our resident woodchuck, who didn’t do too much damage, and the deer, who did more.

We made some progress on the perimeter deer fence, but other projects (including a new roof on a house in town) took precedence, so we continued with the “web of pain” system of wires throughout the gardens.  Not sure if it caused me or the deer more trouble.

I sold mostly at the Vermillion market this year, but I also wandered over to Elk Point a few times.  The experience of selling at a new market was interesting to say the least–and it led me to realize that different sales techniques might be needed at different markets.

When I wasn’t teaching or farming or selling, I was canning, and I managed to put by quite a bit this year.  I tried a couple new recipes: corn relish with salsa spices and the Putting Food By tomato soup recipe with a couple modifications.  That is flying of the shelf fast!

Other than the tomato soup, pantry stocks are still holding up well, and I discovered a new favorite storage onion variety: Talon.  The Neck Pumpkins I grew are still holding up well in the basement, as is the volunteer buttercup that sprouted along the side of the house in town.

In illness and infestation news, the dog got tapeworms, I got swine flu, and we got a cat who had fleas and gave them to the dog.  I also got some sort of fungal thing that was probably ringworm, but the doctor tried to convince me I’d somehow burned myself without noticing.  So much for health insurance–I cured it myself.

We managed to get a couple of long-standing and expensive projects done around the house–exterior painting and replacing the ancient energy-hogging furnace as well.  I’ll be paying for that furnace into the first few months of the coming year, but the tax rebates and utility refunds are helping–not to mention the much lower gas bills.

The gardens at home were neglected during the painting project and didn’t really get much attention until the fall–when I was finally able to clean up most of the paint scraping mess and put in a few “rescue perennials” from the Jones’ garden center.

We got out to the river a couple of times, but not nearly enough this summer–it was so cool and rainy so much of the time.  My poor pink kayak has been badly neglected, but I hope to make up for it next summer by getting it out on the water twice as much.

But I did get to do some traveling this year–not very far afield for the most part, but I gave presentations on EBT at the Brookings farmers market workshop and at the Dakota Rural Action Local Food Summit (with Deborah Madison!) in Rapid City.

I also finally made it to the MOSES Organic Conference in Lacrosse, Wisconsin–an event I’d been planning on attending for about a decade.  I made some new friends there and re-connected with my old friends from Vermont Valley Farm.  And I drooled over the walking tractors and got some great new seed samples to try, as well as soaking up great information on winter greenhouses, biodynamics, and native pollinator conservation techniques.

In late August, I took a pleasure trip to Seattle to see my dear friend Matt.  We made and ate great food, and I hit two farmers markets there (one quite by accident after getting ridiculously lost) and relaxed before the fall semester kicked into gear.

M grew four inches, turned seven, started second grade, and got a Wii.  I filed in court for a change of custody in the hopes that we can finally work out and actually sign an agreement for him to come and live here, but it will be some time getting through the paperwork and evaluation process.

H kep himself busy with employing his daughters on roofing projects and tearing down the old pole barn to start the perimeter deer fence.  Then there were machines to fix and conversations to be had and other projects to supervise or simply let happen as they would. We celebrated his granddaughter’s first birthday.

Then there was the all-school reunion and re-connecting with old friends, a visit from his California daughter and his German exchange student daughter, and the bright red motorcycle that he finally just couldn’t resist.  He had his first bumper crop of grapes, setting off what will likely be many great wine-making adventures.

Wow!  Just writing all this down has made me realize that we’ve come a long way in 2009–much further than I would have thought.  There’s so much more to share about the season, but this post is getting long.  It’s getting about time to put 2009 away and start planning for 2010!

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