Archive for the ‘Tomatoes’ Category

Of spring and the return of tomatoes

DSC_0053Spring is a beautiful time to live on a fruit farm.  After months of trudging through feet of snow, even our dogs are exuberant to welcome spring.  The peaches are about done blooming, and the apples are about to start blooming.  Here is a view of the orchard on Thursday.




DSC_0038We feel fortunate that it looks like the peaches didn’t get frozen.  Dave was just out in the apples, and it appears that some of the apple varieties got thinned pretty hard with frost.  Dave thinks there will still be a full crop, though.  Usually Dave thins many of the apples, so this year he will have to be little more frugal with the thinning.

DSC_0055These are the apples showing their pink tips.  It won’t be long until they are in full bloom as well.

prunersDave just got done pruning the peaches.  He’s never pruned peaches when they were in bloom before, but because of the nature of this cold, cold winter, it just didn’t get done.  There was much celebration when Dave was done pruning.  We took a celebratory trip to the hardware store to buy swings for our tree and out to eat.


Dave spent the last two days in the greenhouse which has been neglected because of the push to get pruning done.

Speaking of greenhouses and tomatoes…Dave is planning on coming to Clark Park this Saturday with tomatoes.  Hooray!  Come on out and get yourself the first delicious tomatoes of the year.


Icy on the outside, green on the inside

Well, this has certainly been a winter to remember, hasn’t it?  While the bitter winds howl, the snow falls, and the forecasters scramble to predict the next big storm, the tomato plants in our greenhouse merrily push out new growth with dreams of red tomatoes dancing in their heads.  Below is a picture of our greenhouse yesterday.

greenhouse outside

The contents of  the greenhouse…

tomatos in greenhouse

It’s amazing how fast plants grow.  Just a month ago, they looked like this.

tomato starts

Dave keeps things heated with a woodstove that sets about 25 feet away from the greenhouse.

heating the greenhouse

     Dave has been desperate to go out to prune the apple and peach trees, but with the low temperatures and the snow, it just isn’t good for the trees.

dog in peaches

Jack standing amongst the very dormant peach trees.


And here are the apple trees.

frosty apple

Stay warm and cozy in this weather.  And know this…the tomatoes cometh….as will the spring.  Let’s go spring!

The long-awaited Spring

Things are starting to look promising around here.  After a cold and cloudy spring, blooms and the promise of the harvest to come makes us hopeful and grateful.  All of these pictures were taken a little more than a week ago, and I’ll to my best to update before the week is out.

cherry trees

If you would come driving up the west side of our orchard, you would see our sour cherry trees.  Last year the young cherry trees didn’t  give a whole lot of fruit, but we’re hopeful that this year’s crop will be much better.

peach blossomThe peach trees, while once clothed in glorious pink blossoms, are starting to lose their petals to reveal the tiny peach fruit beneath.

baby peachOnce the peach is revealed, we wait a couple weeks to make sure that the peach doesn’t drop and then start the long process of hand thinning the peaches.  (More on this once the thinning starts.)

blooms on treeApples bloom later than peaches, so the apples are in full bloom right now.

apple blossomApple blooms, unlike peach blooms, do not leave a baby apple within the blossom.  Instead, the blossom will stay with the apple for the remainder of its life.  The little bump you see behind the blossom will continue swelling and is the actual apple.  If you turn an apple over and look at the bottom, that is the blossom end.

bee hivesApples, unlike peaches, also require pollination to form.  While we probably have enough wild bees buzzing around the orchard for pollination, Dave always likes to ensure that we do have enough of the busy little pollinators.  This year we borrowed our neighbor’s bees.  During pollination we always hope for sunny and warm weather.  Bees are a little like humans in the aspect that cold, cloudy weather makes them want to stay inside the hive.

blueberry bushes

Our blueberry bushes in this picture are just about ready to start blooming.  We only planted these guys last year, but we’re hoping to bring some juicy blue fruit to market this year.

greenhouse aisle

And to the greenhouse.  This perpetually cloudy spring has our tomato plants expending all of their energy desperately stretching towards the sky, searching for sunlight.  At times Dave was pretty depressed at the lack of the color red in our greenhouse, but now…at last…

red tomatoes… some fruit that we can eat!   Happily Dave has collected enough tomatoes to come to market this Saturday.  Hooray!  Wahoo!  The first juicy bite of tomato after a long, dreary winter without them is one of the highlights of our spring.  The plan is that we will come to Rittenhouse with tomatoes this Saturday and then will come to Clark Park with tomatoes the following week.

These tomatoes are worth the trip!

A Farmer’s Work is Never Done

While Dave no longer is going to market, this doesn’t mean that he’s sitting around twiddling his thumbs.  (Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dave twiddling his thumbs.)

Traditionally, the day after Christmas is tomato planting day.

planting seedsDave staples some paper together to make a little sling for the seeds, then using the tip of a pencil, puts one seed in each hole.

display of seeds

These are the tomato seeds.  He said that this was a couple hundred dollars worth of seeds.

seed packetHe orders a very specific kind of seed which produces the tomatoes that you have come to know and love.  They are called Trust.

I have been a neglectful blogger, and didn’t take pictures for about a month.  I’ll try to describe what happens next.

When he is done he sprinkles a slight amount of potting soil on top and  pours water into the bottom of the tray where these brown seed plugs are.  The seeds plugs absorb the water and make a nice moist environment for the seed to germinate.  The trays are placed on a heat mat, covered with a special plastic, and placed under grow lights.  Once he sees about an inch of the plant, he will transplant it to a larger pot.

Today Dave took some pictures of the greenhouse for me.  This is what the plants look like right now.

rows of tomatoesHe has special grow lights on the tomatoes to artificially lengthen their time of daylight.

our years' supply of tomato plantsThese 6.5 tables of tomato plants will fill our greenhouse and keep you supplied with tomatoes from spring until summer.  It’s kind of hard to believe.

tomatoes like it hotTomatoes like it hot.  This leads me to the next set of pictures.

enclosure for tomatoesDave heats the greenhouse with a wood furnace.  He does most of the tree-chopping-down and likes to conserve as much heat as possible.  This little enclosure currently holds all the tomatoes and is the only part of the greenhouse being heated right now.  The black bags you see outside the enclosure have a mixture of top soil and potting soil and will eventually hold the tomato plants once they get a little bigger.

Dave spent the last few weeks putting in a curtain “ceiling” to conserve more heat once he is heating the entire greenhouse.  The greenhouse is only heated at night time.  During the day the wood furnace doesn’t need to burn wood since the sun efficiently heats the greenhouse all by its lonesome.

partially open

This curtain will ensure that at nighttime Dave will only be heating the bottom part of the greenhouse where the plants are, not the eaves of the greenhouse where the plants aren’t.  You  can see in the above picture that the curtain is halfway open (or closed…I’m an optimist).  During the daytime the curtain will be completely open to allow the sun’s heat to heat the greenhouse and at nighttime it is closed to conserve heat.

closedThis shows the curtain in its nighttime position — completely closed.

top of curtainHere you can see the curtains from above in the fully open position.  These curtains will eventually be on a timer.  Currently Dave manually opens and closes them.

Dave was so ready for this greenhouse curtain job to be done.  You may find this hard to believe, but he was positively giddy the day that the curtain was finished and he could start working outdoors pruning apples.

pruning 1This may not look like a dream job to you, but right now Dave is just loving his work.  He is pruning apple trees, cutting off any unnecessary branches to promote good apple production.  He was trying to explain his methods to me over lunch the other day.  The main jist is that you have to identify the central leader — the main trunk, and make sure that the other branches aren’t growing larger than the main trunk.  Also, pruning, counter-intuitive to what you may think, promotes growth.  A pruned tree will grow much more vigorously than an unpruned tree.

pruning 2

Dave works with a small hand pruner and a large lopper to get some of the bigger branches.  It’s cold work, but he’s loving it.

Peach season…so close we can almost smell it

The peaches…they are a-coming.  Dave was excited to show me the Rich May peaches which are looking like they are almost ready to be plucked from the trees.

We went for a leisurely walk through the orchard on Sunday to see the progress. It’s amazing how this orchard changes from day to day. The dogs, of course, were delighted that we decided to take a walk.

This is one the Rich May peaches. Dave was originally predicting that we would be picking them this week, but the weather is predicted to be fairly cool. That will slow their ripening.

A Rich May tree

Of course, not all the peaches look like the Rich May.  I went to a tree directly across the row from the Rich May and took a picture of a green fuzzy orb patiently waiting for the dead of summer .  Its time will come.  Just not yet.

Here is a little glimpse at the Honeycrisp.

This is a cluster of Honeycrisp.  You can see their little pink cheeks.

Earlier this week, Dave ordered a whole truckload of bark mulch for the blueberry bushes.  He considered putting down plastic like at our other farm, but he was concerned that the voles would find the warm plastic a little too homey and would destroy the blueberry bushes by chewing off all their bark.  This mulch is great for acid-loving plants like blueberries and we hope isn’t as inviting for voles.

Caleb and Benny had a great time playing in the mulch. They dug in it, slid down it, and got terrifically dirty.

Dave commanded the boys to temporarily stand against the greenhouse so they wouldn’t be traipsing through the mulch making a mess while he finished.

There are a few precious blueberries on these young plants. They won’t be coming to market, though. The farthest distance they’ll travel is from the bush directly into our watering mouths.

One last thing…Dave wanted to post a picture of a tomato plant in the greenhouse for those of you confused by the last post.  Each plant is supported by a string.  It is clipped onto that string at approximately 12 inch intervals the whole way up.  This is the string that is lowered and moved, taking the plant with it.

Stilts in the Greenhouse

This week Dave finally got the dreaded task of lowering tomatoes knocked out.  It’s a relief for him to get this done so he can start doing the job that he really wants to do…thin peaches.  When walking through the orchard we are confronted with branches loaded with gumball size peaches begging…pleading to  be thinned.

Doesn’t this look like a whole lot of work? Do you hear the branch? It’s speaking…”thin me….thin me…”

Ah…much better.

This is the ground underneath a tree after it has been thinned.

While I’m in the orchard, I’ll show you the progress of the peaches and apples.

This is actually a nectarine. Note the smooth skin instead of the fuzzy peach skin.

And here are the baby apples.

Dave called me one afternoon and told me to come and and take some pictures of him.  This is the first time that he has used the stilts to lower the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are clipped to this string and lowered a foot or two by letting out the string.

This is a view from Dave’s vantage point.

Dave is relieved that this big job is over.  His calves were also pretty sore from the whole experience.  The next time that he lowers the tomatoes will be right before peach season starts.  And that, my friends, is not so far away.

Picking Tomatoes

Since we are just starting tomato season, I thought I would give a glimpse into tomato picking and tomato pollination.

Tomato pollination needs to be done in the greenhouse since there is no wind or bees to shake the pollen from the anther part of the blossom to the stigma of the same blossom.

Dave uses what I think is a retrofitted “doodle pen”.  (I had one of these said pens sometime in the late 80s.   I remember it well.)  There is a counterweight on the end that spins, causing the long plastic stick on the end to vibrate, thus loosening the pollen when it is touched to the blossom.

If Dave wouldn’t pollinate, there would be no tomatoes.  He goes through the greenhouse once a week, briefly touching the end of the pollinator with each blossom.

Tomato picking comes two or three times a week once we get into warm weather.  Dave picks the tomatoes and places them carefully into white crates.  They typically have a little green on them, and are ripened as they sit in trays in a cool (but not too cold) location.  We wouldn’t want to pick them dead ripe because they would be overripe by the time we got them to market.

You can see how close the rows are together. The tomato rows are not great places for four year old Caleb to have a race.

When Dave has the white crate full, he transfers the tomatoes to the trays which display tomatoes at market.

This picture captured the five seconds that Caleb helped to transfer tomatoes. Some day this will be his job. Today, Dave was glad when he stopped being so helpful.

In other news, this is the progress that our peaches are making.  Thinning will be happening very, very soon.

The apples are coming along as well.  They have all lost their bloom and are working on swelling to be real apples.  This cluster will be pruned down to one apple at some point, but not until it grows a bit more.

We are also excited to introduce you to our new puppies (!).  Jack and Sarah arrived last Monday night and will eventually keep deer and other varmints out of the orchard.  For now, they are just a whole lot of fun.