Crops Surrender to the Sun


Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

The end of a crop is almost as much work as planting it. Sometimes we wish we had a burro or two to help!

The heirloom tomatoes have been over for a few weeks now, and, in fact, even the cherry tomatoes, which usually produce into October, have succumbed to the horror of the deadly duo: drought and heat. Fruitless and desiccated, the huge plants present a very bulky image in their final moments.

Tomatoes like hot weather, but not ceaseless, record-breaking heat. And while we appreciate rain as the plants are vigorously growing, in their maturity we'd be happy to be in control of the watering via irrigation. Unfortunately, this summer we had all the control we could handle, and sometimes we didn't handle it well.

The tomatoes will return this winter as compost to feed the soil and enhance the prospects of the cool-season crops.

Leave the water running too long when the fruit is ripening and you get the same effect as that produced by a fierce downpour of rain--the thin skins will split like the opening of a zipper. Nothing worse than pulling a fine Pruden's Purple from the vine and finding it rendered un-sellable due to the life lines it suddenly developed. Just too much water coursing up from the soil, through the roots, then the stems and finally arriving at the fruit. Finding no way out, somehow the water convinces the fruit's skin to open up and let it pass into the atmosphere.

Well, another tomato for freezing, and that's ok. They are great for soups and sauces, stews and sautés in the winter.

But this year, despite the threat of an overdose of well water, the plants tired of the endless August, which began at the first of June. They were not impressed with the hottest summer in 150 years. And sensing that August would continue for another two months at least, they have thrown their final sun-burnt fruits to the ground and shriveled up. Of course, they shriveled faster than is natural as I rationally terminated their water life line. Why run the aquifer even drier succoring a crop that is doomed?

To help in their disintegration, we cut the vines off at the soil line, leaving the roots and their accumulation of minerals in the soil to decompose. The stems, cut here and there, sagged on the fences and the farm hands pulled them down as soon as they dried. With pitch forks, most of the volume was loaded into wheelbarrows and carts and trundled to the compost area. The tomatoes will return this winter as compost to feed the soil and enhance the prospects of the cool-season crops--the broccoli, lettuce, peas, and carrots--and for winter, the forecast calls for more rain than usual. Hmmm, we shall see. It may be likelier that a burro or two comes trotting up our drive...

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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