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Farm Update, July 18, 2016

This week got hot and humid.  I noticed a thin layer of mist blanketing the fields on my way to work in the morning with a mugginess in the air and a red sun on the rise.  I can hear Eddie Murphy’s voice and the phrase “Africa Hot” for some reason as my internal dialog for today’s weather forecast.   As I pull into the farm I see a series of vacant hammocks we’ve hung beneath a row of mulberry trees, recently pruned and cleared around to serve as our shade haven for afternoon siesta.  You need that break in the middle of the day.  Although I have spent my years working outside for nearly thirty summers in the DC area and can recall the most extreme heat waves from memory by year.  I now realize that there is a difference between running a stand and operating a farm.  Whereas at the produce stands the name of the game is to keep our product shaded and cool, so we benefit from that shade as well.  At the farm it is opposite.  The plants love the sun and our job is to tend to the plants.  There is no shade.  Whether picking, staking, or trellising you are out in it.  When travelling abroad I remember contemplating how the notion of the afternoon siesta originated.  Now I get it.  Definitely an agrarian thing.  You need that break when the sun is at its peak and makes every second feel like a minute and a minute an hour.  At noon or so the crew breaks for lunch.  Cooking fresh vegetables from the farm, and chicken over a small fire along with some excellent El Salvadoran tortillas.  Resting in the hammocks until about three listening to bird calls and the steady metronome heartbeat of the injector pump.

In the morning I walked the rows of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. I couldn’t help but notice how healthy everything was looking and loaded with fruit.  There is a beauty in the bounty of sheen and roundness found on each plant.  I love the textural contrast between the foliage and fruit especially the inky black eggplant and the radiant green tomatoes hanging low like heavy ornaments.  This is our first year growing determinant varieties of tomatoes, which stay much lower to the ground. Unlike the heirlooms and cherry varieties that kick off fruit for up to eight weeks, the determinants live fast and die young.  We will pick them heavy for several weeks then move onto the next planting.

With a nice pat on the back followed by a chaser of accomplishment I head back to my office to plan the week.  Godofredo drops by for supplies and I say something about how many tomatoes there are on each plant and then I anticipate by the look on his face what he is going to say next.  There are too many.
Jeff and Godofredo are concerned about how our first planting is sizing up.  Although at first glance I’m seeing plenty of large tomatoes but then notice they are right and there are a good many small ones as well.  We get varying advice from the different farmers who we have purchased quality tomatoes from in the past.  One shares a trick they learned from a large commercial operation of thinning the plants a bit by picking off the smallest tomatoes so the plant can focus its energy into fewer channels.  We also need to increase our watering.  We thought that you want to cut back your watering once fruit sets, however its not until they break color, that you cut back.  I like this twofold approach of watering and thinning and start brainstorming on a market for our baby green tomatoes.  I like the notion of benefiting our plants by pruning away the undersized fruit however I begin contemplating ideas to use the undersized fruit.  Is there a market for them?  I had a chance to stop in for a visit with my friend Chef Gene Sohn at Suma Restaurant in Bethesda to brainstorm on what to do with baby green tomatoes. They have an excellent version of fried green tomatoes on the menu but I’m not sure the size and shape would be ideal.  My thought is pickling them.  So this week I am going to drop by with a couple cases and am hoping to do some pickling with Chef Gene.  If anyone has any creative recipe ideas for baby green tomatoes, I’d love to hear them.  Have a great week everyone.

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