After two straight Wednesdays of early starts to cover the Big Tops I am finally back on schedule with the news from the farm. It’s hot and getting dry, dry, dry and we are working to get enough water on everything but the newly transplanted small seedlings would really like a rain to get them established. Our standard spring planting procedure is to plant on days just before a rain is due to arrive so everything gets a good drink of water. The past few weeks the weather has not cooperated in that way so we move to our summer dry weather system of preparing the planting bed and then burying a drip irrigation line right down the middle of the bed. We then plant the bed and drag a hose along to water the little plants in well and then let the buried irrigation take over. This irrigation line is buried just a few inches deep so we can weed over it but it also makes it so the water, that slowly drips out of its openings, moves out through the soil soaking the bed and the plants roots. That’s the theory and generally it works. When the top few inches of the soil is as dry as it is now and a hot dry wind blows it is almost impossible to get the whole bed wet with the irrigation line. We would have to run it for hours and hours to wet it completely and then the established plants in neighboring beds would be too wet. So the next move, if the rains don’t come and the little plants are drying out, is to roll out the micro-sprinklers to artificially rain on them. These little sprinklers run on low pressure like the drip irrigation lines do but can throw a fine spray up to ten feet but then we irrigate up the all the weeds too. No easy solution other than a little rain, maybe tomorrow?
For the second year in a row we are working with NC State on an interesting research project with grafted tomatoes. In other parts of the world with limited agricultural land and intensive plantings it can be very easy to begin to have problems with soil-borne diseases from planting the same kinds of crops in the same place year after year. One solution is to use a disease resistant rootstock and graft the variety of vegetable you want on top of it. Just like fruit trees where they use rootstocks to control the size of the tree and then put say a Golden Delicious on top. In places like Korea and Japan and Israel a large percentage of their tomatoes, melons and other fruiting vegetable crops are now grafted. Last year we/they tested two rows of tomatoes here on our farm, just out in the field, testing three different rootstocks just to see the growth and yield differences. This year they wanted to have the research plot under the Big Tops just like the rest of our tomatoes and to use one of our usual varieties. So we decided on testing our favorite tomato, Cherokee Purple. We grow more Cherokee Purples than red tomatoes and so it is a very important crop for us. Just in case they had trouble producing the grafted transplants in the lab at NC State we started a whole set ourselves so we wouldn’t be without our favorite kind, assuming we would just give those plants away if the graduate student ended up with enough plants. Then we got nervous and decided to plant those plants anyway just in case there was other difficulties with the grafted plants, this is research after all, things can happen. So now we have twice as many Cherokee Purples than ever before! It could make for a very tasty July!