March 26, 2012

Tomato Plants, Welcome to the Farm

From the Fields - Farm News, March 26th

Tomato Seedling

It is a big day, maybe the biggest of the year. This day, our little tomato plants begin their life on the farm. Throughout the morning, we have been introducing them to their new home in the field across the canal from my house. We already prepared their beds with hidden drip irrigation lines and a mulch to discourage weeds. Each plant gets a drink of water before we carefully embed it into the field and leave it to become acquainted with our Yolo silt/loam soil and mild, overcast sky.

Tomato Seedling Trays from Nursery

These young seedlings are fragile things. Their tender, delicate leaves were formed in the luxurious growing conditions of the greenhouse, and in these early days, I play the role of the over-anxious mother. The first two weeks are the most trying. A gust of wind that threatens to develop into a gale also threatens to form a knot in my stomach.

If I am forced to put on a wool cap to guard against a cold wind, I feel for all those tomato babies who lack the resources to don a wool cap of their own. The weather forecast is closely analyzed and frequently refreshed on my phone. Historically, the last week in March marks the end of the frost threat in our part of the Capay Valley, but just last week we had some 35-degree nights, so I reserve a small amount of anxiety for cold weather.

Rain on the horizon is greeted kindly because it brings moderate temperatures and free irrigation. It’s true that an extended rain that saturates the soil for an extended period of time could enable disease in the tomato roots, but those types of unrelenting rains are rare out here.

On the other hand, anxiety aside, the tomato planting is extremely exciting. This is the beginning of the busy season on the farm, and I feel that we have another chance to do everything right this time. Farming is nice like that; each year the challenge is roughly the same. We have grown tomatoes on this part of the Capay Valley every summer for over 35 years, and I am appreciative of the fact that for the most part, this year we will face the same conditions as last year and the years before.

We have learned from decades of mistakes and successes how to do this, and this season I am eager to employ our best and most developed methods. Wish us luck!