Tomato triage

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We have already had our first tomato crisis of the year.  A few days after planting our high tunnel tomatoes, nearly two-thirds of them were dead.  I came to discover that roly poly’s … that’s right, those cute little bugs your kids love to play with … were to blame.

With nothing else around the to eat, they were chewing through the stems of every tomato plant they could find.  And we had HUNDREDS of roly polys.

Not good.

We replaced the dead plants and when planting our new ones, we put cans or buckets around them to hopefully make a barrier and keep the little suckers out.  I think I’ve heard of other people doing this.  Hope it works.

Oh, and we are heavily using diatomaceous earth around the plants , which roly polys hate.  That seems to be working so far.

Last weekend we discovered that even the plants that lived had been damaged.  We are trying to save them by adding cuffs around those plants and building up the soil inside.

First tomato crisis of the season.  Probably won’t be the last.

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Planting Time

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We had planned to plant our high tunnel tomatoes this past weekend, but with the forecast for Sunday night a measly 23 degrees, we decided it was too risky.  (And it did indeed get down to 23 last night.)

So tonight was the night.  We got three of the four rows planted …. Whew!  That was some quick planting!

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Okay, so it looks darker in this picture than it really was, but we were out there at sunset.

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We got the black mulch down on Saturday, and our jugs filled with water, so we were just all ready to plant.  Now, just pray for warm nights!!

The Last Few Months

At the end of last year, I posted this on our family blog, mainly because I didn’t do a great job of regularly blogging throughout the summer.  Well, it has happened again, what with children, and farm and LIFE, looks like I fell off the blogging wagon again.  So, here is a summary of what happened this summer that DIDN’T get blogged about:

The overarching theme of the summer was … again … TOMATOES.  We love growing tomatoes, and with the high tunnel this year, we grew a lot – and I mean a LOT – of tomatoes.  Thankfully, our customers at farmers market love tomatoes as much as we do.  🙂

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Turns out, heirloom tomatoes don’t so much like the rain.  We had a lot of great early heirlooms, but when that wet July weather hit, they all but disintegrated.  Split like CRAZY.  It was hard to find one good heirloom for every 15 on the vine.

Another anomaly this summer – 12 foot tall tomato vines.  Yes, our high tunnel was quite literally a jungle.  We contemplated installing speakers to pipe ambient jungle animal sounds through the tunnel and charge admission.  It was quite the adventure every time we picked tomatoes.

This is a new location for tomatoes for us, so perhaps the soil was too rich?  We didn’t fertilize, so that can’t be it.  We are thinking the weird summer weather just made the plants extra vegetative instead of generative (lots of vines, and not as much fruit).  We aren’t quite sure, but are looking forward to seeing what happens next year.  Already planning how to tweak the high tunnel set-up, to make it easier to pick.

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Look out for jungle animals!  Or at least garden spiders – those suckers are HUGE!

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Tomato Man!  My husband has a weird sense of humor.  🙂

Speaking of all of the rain we had this summer, here is a picture of Timber Creek in late July.  This is unsettling.  We have seen the creek get this high in April, maybe May … but never July.  Weird weather this year.

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Flood waters getting dangerously close to our blackberry trellises.  Luckily, the water went back down quickly.

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This summer was a strange one for me with farmers market.  I helped out with market right up until Willa was born in July, but after that Gage did all the heavy lifting … literally.  I sure missed Saturday mornings at market and am already looking forward to next year!

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We had great vegetable crops this year.  Usually, we struggle with at least one type of vegetable, but this year we had plenty of tomatoes, peppers, okra, summer squash, winter squash, and a smattering of other items.  Next year we are REALLY simplifying our operation, and only growing the items we are really good at.  More on that later.

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Our raspberry plants really came on strong this summer.  Wish we could sell raspberries at market, but they just seem to be too fragile.  Instead, we froze most of these (okay, we ate a fair amount, too) and will make jam with them this winter.

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We had great luck with blackberries however.  As you can see, we grow berries as big as FEET!  Well, as big as baby feet, anyway, but that’s still pretty big.  🙂  We thought this picture would be really cool, but instead it just turned out kinda weird.  But, before we could get another picture, this happened …

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Oh well.  I’m sure it tasted good.  🙂

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Someone enjoying her favorite mode of transportation around the farm.  🙂

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We are also making some changes to our livestock.  After working to hatch chicks this summer, we have decided not to keep chickens right now.  We relocated all of our chickens to my father-in-law Roger’s house.  Our chicken coop was just not great, and we were feeling badly about the conditions our chickens were living in.  I’m sure they are much happier at their new home.

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Our feeder pigs grew to mammoth proportions this year.  I SO wish I had gotten a picture of them before we took them to butcher in September.  These pictures were from MAY, so you can imagine how big they were by the fall.

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Our little pet pig, Ruby, is doing great, and we are getting ready to breed her for the first time.  I think.  Not sure we are ready to add baby pigs to our list of things to take care of, but Gage is sure we can handle it.  Here she is in May.  New pictures of Ruby coming soon, too.

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Last of all, I finally need to post about losing our cat Milo this summer.  I took these pictures of Dusty and Milo lounging together in the backyard in early July.  When I went to the hospital to have Willa was the last time we saw him.  When I came home, Milo was gone.  😦

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Rest in peace, good friend.

High Tunnel Experiments

It kind of feels like this whole season with the high tunnel has been an experiment.  Most of them have been scary, but most of them have also worked.  Here is the latest experiment:

Removing the plastic.

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Is this normally done?  We have no idea.  Are other people in our area doing it?  Don’t know.  If anyone DOES know, we could sure use some input.

But in any case, we decided this was necessary for three reasons:

#1 The plastic makes it hotter.  That’s kind of the point.  But with summers like we have had the past two years, we certainly won’t need it any hotter than that.  In fact, there have already been days, with as mild as it has been outside, it is almost too warm in the high tunnel.  Too warm means tomatoes won’t set, and the ones that have set won’t ripen.

#2  Salt Build up.  In our research, we have learned that, over time, salt build up in high tunnels can be a problem.  We recognize that this could be an extra big problem for us, as our well-water is extra high in salt content.  By removing the plastic and exposing the plants to a little rain water, it will help keep the salt build-up to a minimum.

We hope.

#3  Kansas Storms.  Hail, strong winds, you name it, we’ve got it.  We would like to keep our plastic in tact for as long as possible, thank you.  And keeping it protected from Kansas thunderstorms is the best way we can do that.

Like I said, it is all an experiment.  Hopefully it was the right decision to remove the plastic.

Time will tell.

Trial and Error in the Werner High Tunnels

It never fails.  No matter how much we read, study, talk to other farmers, attend workshops … when we finally get into a new venture, I ALWAYS feel like we have no idea what we are doing.  Thankfully, luck is usually on our side, and we tend to muddle through at least semi-successfully.

We planted our first crop in the high tunnel.  96 tomato plants.  The forecast for the next two weeks was clear and warm.  We thought we were golden.

And then it snowed.

And the temperature dropped to 20 degrees.

And we panicked.

But somehow, those hardly little suckers survived!

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Of course it didn’t hurt that my industrious husband and father-in-law spent and entire day rigging up row covers with jugs of warm water underneath.

There is always SOME experiment going on at our place.