Monday July 25
As with most Mondays this time of the year, we started the day cutting flowers. As a result of the dry weather we have a somewhat narrower selection of cut flowers available, but what we have looks very good. Two orders were cut and delivered by 10:00AM. A pallet of tomatoes were then loaded on the truck and delivered to Burwinkles. That emptied the packing shed just about the time Pat and Jess, who started picking tomatoes around 9:00AM were ready to bring in their first load. This is the second week of picking the main crop field and the tomatoes are ripening up fast. By evening they were only about half done and the packing shed was full. Sorting and packing will have to take place before more tomatoes are picked tomorrow.
The afternoon was spent doing general chores around the place – irrigating, some minor repair and maintenance tasks, and straightening up the packing materials storage area. We are constantly putting cardboard boxes together, checking returns to see if they can be reused, and washing flower buckets, and so on. We use a lot of packaging in a season, and like most things it takes time and attention.
All the crops were checked today for disease and insect problems. Pat noticed a few tomatoes with what appeared to be a white mold on them – not uncommon when a bird or tomato worm damages a tomato. I will double check tomorrow to see if it is some other issue that we need to spray for.
I ran drip irrigation on the next variety of peaches – they are well colored but still a bit firm. I’ll check them daily and start picking when they are at the right stage, hopefully for this weekend. Picking peaches is almost an art – too soon and they will not be as sweet and flavorful they should be, too late and they bruise in the boxes/in handling.
Tuesday July 26
The day started catching up on paperwork and some phone calls. At 8:30AM I participated in a 45 minute training session on the Women’s and Infant Care (WIC) Farm and Farmer’s Market Program. Oxford Farmers Market Uptown where we sell at does not currently have a Butler County farmer authorized to accept the WIC Coupons. We will now be able to take them.
Most of the rest of the day was focused on tomatoes. The tomatoes picked yesterday were packed this morning and picking resumed mid-day. It took the entire afternoon and most of the evening to get them into the packing shed. The tomato crop is ripening quickly, in part due to the daily temperatures in the 90’s, and we are now at main season daily picking rates. In between helping with packing tomatoes I irrigated most of the vegetables and some of the flowers.
While Pat and Jess finished up the tomato picking I switched to picking other vegetables for delivery tomorrow morning. Just before sundown I sprayed the tomatoes for disease. The products I used are very people and environmentally friendly; we can pick immediately after spraying. We always use the “softest” controls possible.
Wednesday July 27
I had breakfast with a good friend at the Millville Restaurant at around 7:00 AM. I’m generally doing something on the farm by then but didn’t want to miss a chance to see Gerry, who I’ve known from high school. Even though technically we are both “retired” our schedules make it hard to get together, especially this time of the year. After breakfast I picked peppers and eggplant, and loaded the truck for a delivery to Burwinkels. As usual they were busy with sweet corn, putting produce on the stand and sending some of their “satellite” market trucks out to various locations. Despite all that, I had plenty of help unloading my truck load of produce – what nice people to deal with.
Back at home we unloaded the truck, sorted baskets and boxes, and got ready for the next round of picking and packing. We have about 200 boxes of tomatoes sitting in the cool of the pack-shed for delivery tomorrow and Saturday. We will pick again tomorrow, so it will get a bit tight in there for a day or so – as all farmers know, when you build a building, you never build it big enough.
I continue to run irrigation on a daily basis. Even with enough water some plants wilt during the heat of mid-afternoon. We have a late planting of several flowers to set in the field but are afraid to do so with so little ground moisture and the extreme heat. Hopefully it will break soon and we’ll get a bit of rain and a cloudy day.A flower customer stopped this afternoon to select some special colors for a wedding from our cut flower assortment. The order will be filled on Friday morning. More than ever, we like to cut in the cool of the morning and deliver immediately.
By 3:30 I was in the house doing some paper work and computer work. I think the heat is beginning to wear on me. We were invited to dinner at a friend’s home – a very good meal with some very wonderful people. The guest of honor was a friend of the family who is a priest in India. It was a very enjoyable time – it was Father’s first time eating sweet corn and peach pie– both got a resounding thumbs up! I always find it fascinating talking to people who live in different parts of the world and different cultures.We returned home about 45 minutes before dark to find some cousins sitting on our deck – they came visiting from Cincinnati. They had toured the farm and were enjoying the sunset when we arrived. I grabbed some ½ peck baskets and we did a quick pass of the peach orchard – it’s not unusual for us to get drop in visitors during peach season!
Thursday July 28
After making a delivery of tomatoes, I picked the “test patch” tomatoes. We are testing two new varieties alongside two of our standard main-crop varieties. Both of the test varieties look good in terms of yield and fruit quality, but one is showing some disease pressure – probably not one we’ll want to plant on a larger scale in the future. Our favorite, standard big red tomato variety, Celebrity Supreme, looks great, with wonderful fruit (fabulous taste), and good disease and crack resistance. Pat and Jessica started picking the market tomato field at about 7AM trying to get ahead of the heat. They picked until early afternoon and then worked sorting and boxing the tomatoes in the air-conditioned pack shed. They will finish picking and packing tomorrow.
The crop continues to look great quality wise. We have completed picking most of the first cluster of tomatoes on the plants and the second cluster continues to have good size. We will probably fertilize soon, with a very light dose of nitrogen, in order to maintain good size as we continue to move up the plants over the next few weeks.I picked cherry tomatoes and “boxed” them up in pint cups with 12 pints in a flat. The mix of red, golden yellow, pink and black (actually a dark purple) continues to look and taste great. The day was finished digging potatoes for Farmers Market. We are now digging red, white and yellow potatoes. Potatoes taste so good when freshly dug. My favorite is when Judy fries thinly cut new potatoes and onions together – good eating.Tomorrow is Friday already – Farmers Market prep day. Judy’s dad was taken the hospital earlier today, she is staying overnight with him. I think I’ll be a one person show tomorrow. I’ll be up early, in an effort to get everything done.
Friday July 29
I cut a flower order first thing this morning, left it for the customer to pick up and then headed to Mercy Fairfield Hospital. Judy’s dad was stable and they were going to run more tests. I was back home by 9:30 and started picking peaches. Some are smaller than I’d like but the dry weather has made them very sweet. Pat and Jessica were in the tomato field when I arrived trying to finish picking before the afternoon heat set in. Their father, Dennis came over to assist – he hauled tomatoes from the field to the pack shed, which was a big help.
Judy spent the day with her dad. Consequently I was on my own for lunch. I fixed myself a cold meat loaf sandwich, with a nice ripe tomato cut up and doused with Marzetti’s dressing on the side. Fresh peaches and a bit of vanilla ice cream rounded out my menu.
Following lunch I returned some phone calls (a customer order and friends asking about Dad’s condition) and then finished the peach picking. Today’s yield was sixteen half bushels in total – just about right for farmers market tomorrow. Late afternoon was spent harvesting a variety of vegetables for Market and moving them quickly into the pack shed – getting them down to a 70 degree temperature really helps maintain quality when it’s this hot. One of Judy’s brothers relieved her at the hospital. Dad’s condition is unchanged.
After a quick meal we cut flowers for market and pulled, bunched and washed red beets. Although they are not a big dollar item, the beets are very popular and we have a very dedicated customer group who look for them. The produce and flowers were loaded on to the truck after dark – ready for market in the morning.Today is Judy’s birthday. With her dad in the hospital and not doing well we were not in a very celebratory mood. Birthday cards and phone calls from our children, the grand kids, and friends, cheered her up a bit. The two of us will have to do something special later.
Saturday July 30
I was up at 5:50AM, fixed myself coffee, three sunny side up farm eggs and toast. By 6:20 I was on my way to Oxford. My brother Barry and niece Katie showed up at 7:30 to help sell at market. Selling a full truck load of fruit, veggies, and flowers by 12 noon kept us quite busy. Our customers and the other vendors missed Judy and expressed their concern and well wishes regarding dad.
By 1:00PM I was back home and with help from Pat and Jessica loaded 140 boxes of tomatoes on the truck and made a delivery to Burwinkles. When I returned to the farm I ate lunch (warmed up left overs) and started picking peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and cherry tomatoes for the second delivery of the day to Burwinkles. As I drove down Layhigh road I realized that it had rained earlier in the afternoon west of our place. I must admit I was a bit envious.
Judy returned from the hospital around 6PM and we scurried off to the annual steak fry at our church. It’s now 10:30 and I’m ready to call it a day. I’m looking forward to tomorrow – a day of at least some rest for us.
Sunday July 31
It was already hot as we walked out of Mass this morning. Weather continues to be the “hot topic” (no pun intended) for most of us who farm. I really feel sorry for many of the other folks in our area who, like us, have not received a good rain in many weeks. Field crops like corn and soybeans are at the stage where having sufficient moisture is critical to pollination, ear and pod fill. For those with livestock, pastures are burning up and some are starting to feed hay or grain to supplement the sparse grass. We count ourselves blessed that our most important crops can be irrigated.
After breakfast Judy left for the hospital to spend the day with her dad. I tended to the chores that had to be done – irrigate everything I could. Keeping ahead is no longer possible – just keeping even is the goal. A farmer friend, Mike Bushelman who we buy straw from, stopped by for some peaches and tomatoes. Back in early July when we were hauling straw I told him we’d have some peaches for him as a “bonus” – I’m sure he will enjoy them.One more quick delivery of canning tomatoes was made to Burwinkles around noon. People who still preserve fruit and vegetables are starting to look for canning tomatoes. When we pack tomatoes, any with even the slightest blemish or imperfect shape are sorted out. They are still very good and wholesome – just not pretty. They are packed in half bushel containers as canners. We price them so they are very reasonable – so people can afford to buy them for sauce, ketchup, juice and canned whole tomatoes. We just like to see them not wasted. If we have an excess of canners, or of any produce for that matter, we donate it to local Food Banks/Pantries. Produce left after Farmers Market on Saturdays is generally donated to the Oxford Choice Food Pantry. They have a volunteer who picks it up at Market.
Judy’s Dad seemed a bit better today. Nutrition is a big issue with him right now and he will probably need to have a feeding tube inserted. His attitude amazes me. Through all this he has been cooperative, pleasant to be around, and responsive to the hospital staff who work with him. I pray that I’ll be as good a patient should I ever be in his situation. Judy made a big pot of vegetable and beef soup before she left – it tasted delicious for lunch today and there is plenty left for my lunches this week. It is full of homegrown veggies and good Butler county beef. All I need is bread and butter and I’m set. Sometimes I forget how wholesome the food we eat is, how fortunate we are. Speaking of food, just before supper time Drew and Ashley Johnson stopped by with a scrumptious pot roast and all the fixings. They sell terrific beef on Oxford Farmers Market, right next to us, and are a wonderful young couple. They are the proud new parents of a beautiful baby girl, Isabel. They had Isabel with them – it’s a shame that Judy couldn’t be here.
After enjoying the pot roast and some sweet corn and fresh tomatoes I spent the evening moving the irrigation around again. In some ways every day is very much the same and in other ways, so very different. This has been a July that I will long remember. Tomorrow will start a new week and a new month. As my daily diary draws to an end, I am reminded how optimistic farmers are in general. Sure they whine and complain about the weather, the corn prices, the cost of seed and fertilizer and so on. But, for the most part they just quietly go about what they do – they feed us, they cloth us, and they do it very well and inexpensively. I’m very happy being a farmer. I enjoy working with the people we buy from and sell to. I love working out in the open air, getting my hands in the rich soil and seeing things grow. The farm was a good place to raise our children and a wonderful place for our grandchildren to visit. I’m glad to have had the chance to share a bit of our daily life with you. I can’t say that I’m sad to no longer have to do this diary every evening – I’m more comfortable with a tractor or a hoe than I am with a computer, but I’ve learned a lot by doing it and I hope you’ve learned a little about me. Come see us at Farmers Market in Uptown Oxford – I’ll give you a sample of the sweetest, juiciest peach, you’ve ever eaten.