Blackberry winter is what my father always called these times in late spring when we get abnormally cool periods. Not really abnormal as it seems to happen every year, and it is when the blackberries are blooming along the roadsides. We were in the high 30’s on Monday morning and all of the crops, except for the lettuce maybe, are looking skyward wondering when the heat will come and make them bust out in profusion. Another Mother’s Day and graduation upon us and Betsy is wondering just when all those flowers will start to bloom too. There is a bloom here and there just teasing her and the plants are looking really good and full of buds. This is the story the beginning of each May when the big question from Weaver Street, graduates, parents of graduates, brides and others is “When will you have more flowers?”, we just shrug and say probably the week after Mothers Day. It does seem to be exaggerated this year due to the tremendous cold snap at Easter, it really made a lot of crops just stop and it has taken some time for them to get rolling again.
The last big hurdle is in front of us this week. Pepper planting. Now that the tomatoes are in and looking really great, the last of the large plantings is upon us. From here on we only plant a few beds a week and never are they as important to the whole farm as the big pepper array is. Twenty two varieties this year including a few new ones. The best part is we are in one of the best fields we have. Great soil and sun, the last time we had peppers here (2002) it was a superb crop. The plants look as good as they ever have too. Good germination and they have grown well and look very uniform. Sometimes, especially with the hot peppers, germination can be poor and then they can take forever to get going. The last few years we have gotten into the pattern of planting the peppers in two stages. The first half go into raised beds covered with black landscape fabric which warms up the soil a bit faster. We put the hot peppers and some of the finicky sweet ones into these beds, I think they need the additional boost the warmer soil gives them. In the second planting stage, all of the red bells, and half of the yellow and orange bells, we plant “no-till” into the remains of a huge cover crop of rye and hairy vetch. There are many reasons why we do it this way but better long term soil management and less disease on the peppers are the main ones. We have been experimenting/working with this system since 1995 and each year we refine it. This year is exciting as we have new tractor implements that we hope will make it really easy to plant into the thick residue from the cover crops. Again this spring we may have to wait another week to get them in the ground because it is impossible to kill the cover crop organically until the hairy vetch is really blooming. Like everything else, it is delayed from all of the cool weather. Once the rye has sent out its seed heads and the hairy vetch is in full bloom we can just roll down this mass of plant material which crimps the stems and they give up the ghost and die. If they are not blooming then, even with the rolling, they have a will to live and make a seed that allows them to re grow which then makes them a pesky weed in the peppers. Patience is the key, they began blooming nicely this week so next week will be just fine.