Posted 7/14/2012 8:18pm by Chris.
We've all just been through a week we hope not to see again for a long, long time. You know how it felt when you were outside even briefly in the 100 degree heat--you can just imagine what it's like for crops and seedlings, which can't escape into the air conditioning but rely on us to keep them cool enough to survive. I'll spare you all the details, but suffice it to say that between the record-breaking heat and the accompanying drought, it's taken a fair amount of energy (both people-powered and electrical) to keep seedlings watered and irrigation pipes moved around as needed.
Speaking of electricity, we're sure to join you in sticker shock when the electric bill comes: irrigation pipes are driven by a 5 horsepower pump that has been running 15-20 hours per day; our large new cooler also has a huge 5 horsepower motor; and we're running our old smaller cooler, though not as cold as the new one, for crops like tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. Finally, I ran the air conditioner in the house for the majority of that hot spell for a modicum of comfort when we came
Garlic curing after harvest
in from the fields. It was too hot to work full days in the heat, so we started very early and knocked off by early afternoon. Some of the crew spent afternoons cooling off in the nearby Sugar River. We prefer to use that kind of nature's cooling when we can.
The silver lining in the weather we've just experienced is that it was ideal for stretching new plastic over the hoop houses that were damaged by the wind storms we had in May. For best results we need a period of still, dry air and the extreme heat helps by contracting the plastic to give it a snug fit over the metal arches. We had three hoops to cover and were able to finish up two of them.
Sowing seeds and producing transplants for the field--which we're still doing to supply the plantings for fall that will replace the current crops--is particularly challenging in the weather we've had. Most seeds go dormant and won't germinate when temperatures get above 85-90 degrees, especially those of cool weather crops like lettuce, broccoli, and chard. And once they've germinated they do very poorly in these high temps. So we've been chasing the shade--moving tables of seedlings several times a day to keep them out of direct sun, and watering them even more than necessary simply to cool them down. At one point we took all the flats of germinating seeds into the house, which worked great. But when the seeds began to emerge, we had to take them outside as they need light after germination. As luck would have it, this happened in the evening, and it was so warm out (still in the 90's at sunset) that the seedlings responded by stretching and elongating nearly an inch. So we've got thousands of tall, stretched out seedlings that we'll have to work extra hard to toughen up before getting them out of the flats and into the ground.
Despite all of the challenges presented by the weather, we've put together a nice box of vegetables--and more than we anticipated when we put the Sneak Peek together on Friday. Tomatoes tend to suffer from "blossom drop" in the heat, but we've got enough experience to have kept ahead of it or at least minimized it by using some reflective white ground cover. Tomato harvest is still in its infancy, but we've got some in most of the boxes today, including a slicer or two (Big Beef or Early Girl) in the Medium shares. New this week are small heads of cabbage and the first of the beautiful garlic. The onions this week are the "torpedo" variety; they're excellent for grilling. Carrots, broccoli, kale, and a few sprigs of thyme round out the box.