Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Black Cow loves Sunbursts, too!

My favorite cow is not a dairy or beef cow.  She is my pet cow who loves tomatoes!  I named her the original name of "Black Cow" when she was just a calf about 16 years ago.  She's not exactly black anymore.  Through the years, the sun has naturally reddened her.  She's more of an auburn cow now.

She's extremely intelligent.  When I call out for her, "Black Cow, I've got tomatoes", she will hustle over to the fence, pushing all the other cows out of the way, to be hand-fed tomatoes.  She'll even sprint clear across the pasture when she hears my voice calling to her.

While feeding her today, she dropped one of her treats in the water trough and pushed it around, much like bobbing for apples.  The tomato sunk to the bottom, so she looked for me to retrieve it.  I stuck my arm in clean up to my pits and got her tomato.  Smart, huh?!?   Not me.......HER!

A fact that most of you may not know about cows is how clean they are.  They will not do any eating of anything near or in manure, so I'm careful when pouring out tomatoes (to all of Black Cow's family and friends) not to get any in the poop.  Black Cow doesn't care to eat tomatoes from the ground at all, she prefers to be fed by hand.

I could go on about how Black Cow and the others have their own tomato garden growing throughout the pasture, but I don't think most of you would believe that one. They've actually pooped so many tomato seeds that tomato plants are scattered across about 8 acres of pasture land.

If you come to shop at our little self-service store and want to see the cows, take a look out that back window.  On a good day, the cows may already be looking in the window at you. 

Sweet face!

In case you're wondering, cow tongue feels like sandpaper!

Chewing while smiling

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New planting at someone else's farm.....

After months of preparation, we finally have some new plants to talk about.  That's a portion of them up above taking the 6 mile ride (in the back of my car) to their new home, a vacant greenhouse that was once set up to grow tomatoes and then sweet potato plants.

The borrowed greenhouse belongs to a fellow farmer, Andrew Tyson, who grows tobacco, sweet potatoes, soybeans, wheat, and cotton.  Andrew rents our farmland and a number of other farms in Nash and Edgecombe Counties.  During the fall, Tim drives a cotton picker for Andrew.  Tim spends about 12 to 15 hours a day sitting in (and/or working on) a cotton picker and calls that time of year his vacation.  (I don't get it....he's working....oh, it's a vacation from me and tomatoes!)

When we started the project, Jonathan and Daniel were sent over to clean and take down the unnecessary pieces and parts, move poles and supports and anything else that Tim saw necessary to do.  There were lots of trips to the dumpster and an ongoing battle with "fire ants".  They aren't necessarily attracted to the tomato plants (we hope), but who wants to share an enclosed space with fire ants? 

After what seemed like weeks of cleaning, the blank slate was left for the coconut fiber bags, the water lines and drippers, and then the new plastic cover.  We waited to put the cover on after most of the work was done inside.  The reason for that is that with the winter and early spring were so warm that the temperature would have soared inside the space causing the fans to run unnecessarily to cool the area.  For Jonathan and Daniel, being exposed to sustained winds and gusts on some of those blustery cool days, made them especially thankful for the comfort of our near tropical climate inside our existing covered structures back here on our farm.
Jonathan running a weed eater inside the greenshouse, trying not to disturb the ants
Bare bones greenhouse 
Daniel handling trash and more trash
New cover is finally on, plants set inside the bags and......
Lights inside the greenhouse so we can work at night....woohoo!

Tiny little baby plants

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The honeybees are back in the "Warnup Tree"

That's great news!  We have a nice old "black walnut tree" in our yard with a natural hollow in it about 20 feet up.  It's perfect for wild honeybees.  In fact we've had wild hives in that hollow for at least seven years.  About two times a spring, a swarm will leave the comfort of that tree with their new queen and look for a new home.  (I'm definitely not an expert on anything, particularly honeybee swarms, so go to this link, for some really fascinating reading.)
The pictures we took with our "point and shoot" camera do not show how
 truly magnificent this phenomenon truly is.
A queen and her workers always remain back in the hive year after year.  This fall and winter, we noticed no activity outside the hive and were a bit concerned.  We had no idea as to whether or not there were any bees left in the warnup tree.

This Easter Sunday, as I walked out of the packhouse, I noticed the familiar sound of the buzz that seems to echo across the yard.  I yelled out to Tim, and then we saw the cloud of bees across the yard.  It is amazing to see this phenomenom!  Seeing a few thousand bees leaving the tree with a new queen to start their own hive is quite a day at a living science museum.  Better still, we then noticed that the bees were not swarming to leave, but returning to the vacated tree!  About that time, Jonathan, Joy and the boys drove up just in time to see the bees going into their new home, the "warnup tree".   We are so excited to once again have a natural hive of bees in our yard, just feet away from our back door.

Since you're wondering why I keep calling the tree a "warnup" not "walnut" tree, it's because that's what Tim's late father called it.  Precious!  We always affectionately refer to it as that.  It's a cultural thing. You never correct your elders.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Not only do we have to leave home before daylight.....

......but it's still dark when we arrive at our markets!  Tim has the privilege of driving an hour away to Morrisville, NC to the Western Wake Farmers Market.  When he arrives, it's a bit before 7:00 a.m.  He finds his pre-assigned parking space, backs his truck in, drags out his tent, then his tables, his scales and bags, and begins setting up.  After his space is beautified (complete with the table cloths I make him use), he begins to place our lovely, delicious tomatoes out on the table.  When everything is in place, he pulls out his chair and waits for the cowbell to ring at 8:00 sharp.  Let the sales begin!  Not so fast, Cary does not get up that early on Saturdays.  He continues to wait and relax while catching up with the other growers and bakers.

Let's go east.  I'm Nancy, and I have the privilege of driving less than 30 minutes away to my hometown of Rocky Mount.  Leaving home at 6:00 a.m. seems like a crazy time for a 8:00 opening so just bear with me.  I arrive at 6:30 and back into my permanent spot at the Nash County Farmers Market.  My tables, complete with table cloths, are already sitting there waiting for me.  I unload my boxes of tomatoes and begin to put the closed boxes on the table.  I set up two scales and ponder as to when I might put out my bags for use by the customers. 

Since the Nash County market really rocks, it's necessary to have two people work.  At 7:00, Jonathan arrives with biscuits in hand.  I don't eat that early, so I set mine aside.  I try to politely ignore the customers who are milling around my table at 7:00 a.m. (I don't make eye contact.)  It's 7:15 and we have another 45 minutes until we open. We can no longer ignore the folks, so we open the boxes, put out the bags, and start selling tomatoes.  I don't even know if  our market manager has a cowbell to ring at the start.  I cannot hear anything but customer chatter around my table.  Suddenly, it's 10:00 a.m.  I'm starving and we're nearly out of tomatoes. 

Over at the Western Wake Market, Tim is having a different kind of day.  The Cary folks arrive much later than 7, 8, or 9 am.  Tim's day doesn't pick up at around 10:00 a.m.  The market closes at 12 noon sharp (when the cowbell rings).  He starts taking down his display while customers are still getting out of their cars and running over to shop with whomever may have product left on their tables. 

Back in Rocky Mount, we don't close until 1:00 p.m. even though the crowd always disperses between 11 and 11:30. At that point, I have to apologize about having sold out of tomatoes and promise to bring more next week.

We enjoy serving the folks at Cary and Rocky Mount.  The difference in the two places is that RM has a building and Cary does not.  Just wait until next year when Cary gets its permanent structure!

I said all that to let anyone who's interested  know that both markets open this Saturday, April 7.  We'd love to see you at either place. 

P.S.  If you come to Rocky Mount at 7 a.m. and I don't make eye contact with you, call me out on it!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Cheez-Its" or "Little Debbie Cakes"

Our associates discussing which is better,
 "Cheezits" or "Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes".

The past two weeks of tomatoes have been less than typical.  Ordinarily, we begin picking in mid-February to early March.  We pick a consistent quantity of tomatoes from week to week with some weeks being slightly better than others. When the spring arrives, the quantities pick up and continue being consistent until the end of the season when the numbers drop way off.  By the end of the season, we are almost thankful for the low numbers. 

This year we started our season so early that we began picking in mid-January.  We started the seeds in October and were quite happy for the early pick.  With that early start came a fruit load of about 8-9 clusters of fruit throughout the winter months.  Wonderful, right?  Not so fast!  That fruit load on a winter plant (less daylight, and many cloudy days) apparently caused clusters 10 and 11 to be pathetic and either not set fruit (blanks), or give us small rough fruit.  Yikes!!!  In other words, for the past two weeks, we have picked less than half of what we have needed to keep all of our customers happy. 

Historically, we plant the Old Greenhouse so that the fruit will be ready before the farmers markets open.  Last year we chose to plant that house at the same time as the New Greenhouse.  We did not begin picking that Old House until about 2 to 3 weeks later than the New House.  Everything worked out beautifully.....no lulls in picking or selling. 

This year, we chose to plant that house much later and wouldn't you know it, when we needed that fruit to take up the slack of the other house, the fruit would not ripen!   Talk about poor planning! 

While in the process of writing this blog and reading it back to Tim, he just said, "I still don't know what I'm doing".   As a typical wife, I have to disagree with my husband.  He does know what he's doing!   This season has been anything but typical for growing.  We definitely enjoyed the warm winter, but with that came the trade off of more obnoxious bugs and a great deal of cloudy days throughout the winter months.  (Yes, more clouds than we'd care to see....we document the daily weather.)

We are already working on next year's plan so that there will not be a repeat of the scenario we've just been through.  Out with the old, in with the new.  (Hint....the Old Greenhouse may finally be retired.) 
I know you're wondering about the aphids and the war that we have waged against them with the Aphidius ervi and Aphidoletes aphidimyza.  We are actually winning that war against the aphids.  In the hotspots in the house, we are finding more and more dead and parasitized aphids.  Aphids that have been parasitized will swell and harden into a leathery, grey or brown colored mummy. The adult parasite emerges through a round hole at the rear of the mummy.  The first mummies can be seen in the crop approximately 2 weeks after the first introduction.  They continue to reproduce and keep the aphid population manageable. 
Son, Jonathan

If you haven't noticed already, the title has nothing to do with the blog posting.  I just had to come up with something to pull you all in. 

Leaf pull time....done every week.  The plants add about 3 new leaves a week.  Three leaves on the bottom of the plant are removed because they are taking more away from the plant than they are adding, so we remove them. 
Nephew, Daniel
Guest Worker, David

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

In my Mother's blood runs a bit of Ireland.  Yes, her great grandfather, Docton Brown, was born in Ireland.  He then migrated to America and grew up in the Colerain, Bertie County, NC area.  Did you know there was a Colerain in Northern Ireland.....hmmmmm? 

The ancestors had always told that story of how "we came from Ireland".  Just recently, I found the 1920 census where the proof was written down.

One of the sons of Docton Brown answered the question as to where was your father born?........
Ireland, he states.   What is the mother tongue?..........Irish, he states.

That's proof enough for me.  Happy Saint Patrick's Day from an Irish girl!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

So much talk about bugs that I caught one....

I've got nothing but a bit of a bug this week.  No, not an insect, but a slight fever and I've felt miserable.  I took three naps on Monday, and still had not a bit of trouble sleeping that night.  I'm better today, but I've still got nothing to write about.  If you want to see some cool pictures of our little Home Store, go to our Sunburst facebook page. 

One more thing, the weather is warm and beautiful, but apparently 6 or 7 weeks ago when the fruit was set, it's bound to have been a nasty, cloudy week because the picking is way off this week.  Have no fear, things will pick back up.  There's a nice fruit load up above this poor cluster and lots more to come.  The Old Greenhouse is about to start up!  Yes:)

Which one costs $700.00? 

You guessed it, and those bugs are fabulous!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No, We're not obsessed with bugs

When I think about the beneficial insects, I used to think of how the good bug must fly from the sky swooping down to snatch up its lunch, much like a bird of prey on a smaller bird.  Well, it's not quite that way with insects.

The heralded Aphidoletes aphidimyza is my new favorite aphid eater.  When Tim told me how these little fellows worked, I thought he was making it up. 

Aphidoletes aphidimyza is a tiny midge whose larvae are known to attack at least 60 different species of aphids.  Adults live an average of 10 days, and lay 70-100 eggs close to aphid colonies.  The eggs hatch after 3-4 days into orange, legless larvae that feed on aphids. 


The larvae can kill from 4-65 aphids in the 3-5 days they take to mature.  Then they spin cocoons and pupate for 2 weeks. 

We do not have an obsession with bugs, but they are a vital part of the health of our tomatoes.  If there was a better balance of beneficials insects to the bad insects, I wouldn't have much to write about, now would I?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Got to love those BUMBLEBEES!

Just like any other plant, greenhouse tomato plants require pollination to set fruit.   In the wild, this is done by bees, wasps, wind and other natural sources.   Some growers manually, or with a small “buzz” device, shake or vibrate the flowers or blossoms.   Rather than use manual devices, we use BUMBLEBEES from commercially produced beeshives that are designed exclusively for crop pollination.  We've been getting our bees from Koppert for 17 of the 18 years that we've been growing.  If you've ever pollinated tomato blossoms on 400 plants, for an entire season, with an electric toothbrush,  you'll find out why bees cost so much.  It's work!  The bees are worth every penny!  With the number of plants we have now, there's NO WAY we could do it manually.   Since a bumblebee only lives about 6 to 8 weeks, we continue to replace the hives throughout our growing season.

Most tomato growers are well aware of the efficiency of bumblebees for pollination.  Bumblebees are capable of ‘buzz pollination’.  The bumblebee places its upper body close to the pollen bearing structure of a flower, and vibrates its flight muscles. This vibration enables efficient pollination of tomatoes.  (More on the Buzz About Bees)

We receive our first hive of  bumblebees shortly after the first flowers appear.   Our greenhouse conditions seem to be perfect for supporting the hives.  In the wild, bumblebees don't work as well in the extreme high heat or in temperatures below 41 degrees.   But, in the winter months, we maintain an average temperature (trade secret) that is well within the comfort zone of our bumblebees.  With the bumblebees, the high and low temps may slow them down, but they do not stop working until day's end.

Quite often we are asked about our bees and as to why we don't use honeybees?  Have you ever been around a honeybee that didn't act a little pissed off angry?  Imagine yourself trying to work in an environment where a gang of bees were constantly daring you to get near the flowers they are about to have relations with?  All you'll want to do is get the heck out of there! 

Tim wanted to add this about honeybees......"Why wouldn't a worker bee be mad?  All they do is work themselves to death to support a queen who just sits around eating and laying eggs?  (By the way, Tim is not speaking from personal experience.  His wife is no queen bee!)  Let's stay on topic here.
The bumblebees are polite and go about their duties quietly and without an ounce of agression. They go about visiting the flowers one by one, then to the next plant, and so on. I call their method a "bee line". I'm sure that the term refers to something else, but that's my take on the bumblebee's work ethic.

Oh yes, they will sting you!   But, in the 17 seasons of  using bees, we've had less than 17 reported stings!   Yes, that's right, less than one a year.  Bumblebees are solitary bees are usually very docile, and stinging is rare.   Bees are not menaces, but they are is an extremely vital part of growing our food.    

This past week went pretty well. The daylight hours are increasing so the pounds per plant seem to be increasing as well. As usual we picked, packed, and delivered.   Jonathan and Daniel were sent to another location to continue the preparations for a later planting.  More pictures later!  We did the weekly plant maintenance in both houses; however, the tasks were not completed until today. (Monday)  It's already time to do it all over again for this week.

Hoping everyone has a sunny week! 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dream Job and Bad Bugs

Our son, Jonathan, is a 2004 graduate of NC State University and has worked in the so-called "real world" since that time. He has enjoyed jobs in Silver Spring, Maryland; then Cary, Raleigh, and Greensboro. He has been bossed around, and has been the boss.  His last job was such a nightmare that he doesn't even mind working for his work-aholic parents.

Not so much each individual task, but overall, Jonathan calls working here on our tomato farm his "DREAM JOB".  SWEET!!!! 

Being a little obsessive (like his mother),  Jonathan not only does the job at hand, but also grooms the plant of anything else that needs attention.   During the weekly leaf pull, we average pulling off 2 to 3 leaves per plant, per week.  This occurs at the bottom of the plant where the oldest leaves are. This time consuming job is not glamorous, but must be done for the overall health of the plant. We must be careful to break leaves off without breaking the plant and leave clean breaks so no disease will begin on the plant scar. 

While Jonathan is pulling leaves, he has started noticing tiny fruit that needs to be pruned off the plant, so he does that.  In addition, he notices plant scars that haven't healed properly, so he carries his trusty paring knife and scrapes the area clean.  He also sees plants that haven't slipped and broken (nearly half into without breaking completely) and repairs the damage with duct tape. (What else?)  He has an eye for details about the plant and will multi-task until he is satisfied with each plant's appearance and health.  That's a good thing unless you are dealing with 3,500 plants and must complete the leaf pull task by day's end.  (Thankfully we have Jeremy and Daniel pulling leaves with Jonathan and are able to finish one house in under a day.)

With all that observation and a "case of  tomato plant OCD", Jonathan has also found nasty little aphids!  He marks the spot where he has found them and Tim does his microscopic study of the little boogers and tells us that they are potato aphids.  Do those aphids not know that ours is a TOMATO, not potato, house?!?

Although we have already been putting our friends, "aphidius ervi", in the house, it seems that these GOOD bugs cannot keep up with the new outbreak of  BAD aphids.  The kind of aphid explosion we have witnessed this week was more and likely brought on by the lack of a good, cold winter.  Yes, we fight aphids, spider mites, and white flies every year, but this year, the aphids seem to be fighting back.  Since the really warm weather isn't even here yet, we have to step up our plan of attack.    We need more aphidius ervi to the tune of $700.00 this week.  Yes, $700.00 is an outrageous amount of money to spend on bugs that are practically invisible, but they are such a necessary part of our working paradise. 
Aphidius Ervi - aphid destroyer, magnified a jillion times
So we all continue to work and wage war against our enemies, the aphids, white flies, and spider mites.  Coming soon, a special treat the spider mite cannot resist.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Smokeless Heat"

By beginning our tomato crop in October, you may wonder how we are able to heat the space (and I do mean space....12,000 plus square feet of area enclosed by a two thin layers of plastic).  We are burning woodchips in a “wood gasification boiler” which is also know as an "automated wood waste combustion unit".  

With mostly our own funds, and a little cost share assistance from Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund through RAFI we were able to purchase and put our boiler into operation in the 2010/2011 season.

Ours is a “Goliath 300” and was purchased from “New Horizons Corporation”.   The wood burns inside the firebox at approximately 2,000 degrees.   The woodchips are automatically fed into the firebox by a controller when heat is needed.  The Goliath unit will heat water to about 190 degrees.  This hot water is then pumped into the greenhouse into four 200,000 Btu heat exchangers.  The heat exchangers act similar to radiators by re-circulating the water from the boiler to the greenhouse.  Fans blow the greenhouse air across the hot coils inside the heat exchangers to extract the heat out of the water.  This system keeps the greenhouse space an average of 65 degrees. 

This one million Btu, woodchip burning boiler, with automatic feed, when combined with the proper water storage,  is capable of heating groups of houses, agricultural greenhouses, tobacco barns, chicken houses, workshops, etc.   For us, this heater is large enough for future greenhouse expansion.  For fuel, we are using ground-up wood waste (woodchips) from Elkin Sawmill, a central NC lumber yard.  The woodchips are a waste product from wood processing.

Research done by Dr. Mike Boyette of North Carolina State University has proven that this technology can heat greenhouses, chicken houses, and tobacco barns using woodchips. According to Dr. Boyette’s research, converting to wood boilers requires upfront capital costs, but this initial investment is quickly offset by the cost of wood energy.  Estimates are that the simple payback period of the wood boiler system is in the range of 4 to 5 years.  Our analysis reveals that we can recover the capital costs of converting to a wood energy system in about 3 years.  This is based on today’s price of woodchips relative to LP gas. 

I know this all sounds technical, scientific, and like way too much information, but our operation is now so much more cost effective by using wood waste instead of traditional fuel.   It's a great feeling not having to write out a check for LP gas at the end of the season.
Not your typical flames, it's roaring sideways from the other box.  Within this box, the water in the pipe system is heated and then the heated water is pumped into the greenhouse heat exchangers.

Within 30 seconds of the picture of the fire, here's what the exhaust looks like.
That's how much smoke we get with a full burn. 
The boiler burns the wood and exhaust gases so HOT and thoroughly that we RARELY see smoke.

The clean, woodchip pile also serves as a great play area for our 3 yr. old grandson.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Tough Couple of Days

The week started out pretty nice with a good picking on Monday.  While our associates were picking, Tim decides to get on one of our working carts and begin working the tops.  (Clips, suckers, etc.)  I, Nancy, who is rarely pictured because I am the photographer, was on the other cart doing the same job.  In fact, that is my main job to go along with grading and packing of tomatoes for delivery. 

Not the large cart, I was on that one, but you get the picture.

A view from the top of the cart.  Note the narrow work space.  Falls sometimes occur.
When one set (two rows) is completed, those large, heavy carts need to be moved to the next set.  As Tim was moving the cart, he somehow had his RIGHT HAND in the wrong position and smashed the top of it pretty thoroughly.  He said he heard it go "crunch!!!"    There was a little blood and a bit of swelling. (Graphic)  He wrapped it in cloth and duct tape (what else) and came home so I could clean it and be grossed out.  I cannot stand the sight of spit, so how can I bear to look at blood.  (I know, much too graphic.)  After the discussion of how he should be more careful, we agreed that getting hurt with the work cart was just a fluke.  Heck we fall off all the time, but usually land on our feet.  After all, we've done this for 18 years.

The next day, Tim managed to smash his LEFT THUMB while using a hammer.  There was lots of throbbing going on, but nothing too gross. 
Within an hour of that, he went into an old shed looking for some type of wooden strips.  He hasn't been near that shed for ten years and just walks in like he had been there yesterday and steps on some hundred year old nail with his RIGHT FOOT.  The antique nail went through his boot, sock, and foot!  I can only imagine how he must have cried like a baby this time.

As he hobbled into the house, he said, "out of my four appendages, I only have one that ain't hurt, my left foot"!!!  (Tears)  Poor Tim.  I always almost afraid to look.  Nasty.  No other description is necessary.

This was late in the day so the tetanus shot was going to have to wait until the next day.  After a day of hobbling and moaning, he finally was able to see the doctor after 4:00 p.m.   While examining his foot, they saw his bandaged hand and asked what had happened.  Upon futher examination of the hand the nurse discovered the infection there. Not only did he get his tetanus shot, but a prescription to go with it. 

And to boot, while he was doing all that to get hurt, he missed a dental appointment.  He cannot tell the difference between Tuesday and Thursday.  Why can't this man just slow down and smell the tomato blossums?

Monday, February 6, 2012

 Being tomato growers, we learned quickly that on cold, cloudy, and rainy days, we do not "work the plants" for fear of breaks, leaf damage, and causing plant wounds that will not heal.  Overall, there are only a few tasks that we will do in the tomato houses on cloudy days. Once in awhile, when those nasty, raw days come around, we'll drive an hour and fifteen minutes east and have lunch at the Cypress Grill. 

Sometime around the second week of January, The Cypress Grill opens up for its short season. (Mid-January through early April)  What's the specialty.....fried (cremated) herring, an Eastern NC favorite. We try to go 2 to 3 times a year, and usually for lunch.

So far this year we've had with plenty of cloudy days, but we've not had the time to travel to Jamesville, NC....so when Saturday night rolled around, we needed to go out for a nice supper.  Yes, I'm an Eastern North Carolina southerner and will always call my evening meal supper.  Dinner is the big meal on Sunday after church, as well as all the big meals on my favorite holidays. 

Back to the Cypress Grill.   It's a wonderful place to be, with ambience like none other.  For goodness sake, it's a fish shack ON the Roanoke River that transports you back in time.  The owners are not even trying, it's just that quaint.   We love it!

My plate Saturday night.  Two herring, stewed potatoes,
 coleslaw, and hushpuppies.  All for only $7.95.
   All I added was the vinegar and salt on the herring.  Delicious!

So as not to disturb the other patrons, while we were there (the building is tiny), I only took pictures of my plate.  To get the full visual, go to the following blog.  You'll enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Old Greenhouse

The pine trees are east of the house.  That means a good bit of shade for the morning.
Whenever we display images from our little piece of heaven on earth, it seems we only show the beauty of the plants growing in what call "the new greenhouse".  With that in mind, I bet you're wondering if there's a new one, there must be an old one.  Well there is!!!!
When asked how did you meet Tim, I always say, "he came with the house".  He did, and in addition to Tim coming with the house, the old greenhouse came with the farm.  IT'S OLD!  (1980's)  When Tim built the old greenhouse, it was actually two hoop houses that housed tobacco plants on a float bed.  When the tomato idea came to mind, we used one of the old houses for the first 400 plants.  Success!!!  Tim then had the bright idea of joining the two structures together.  For some reason, he felt this would be more efficient.  I don't know about that, but it is a big awkward looking house.
Greenhouses are aluminum structures with 2 layers of plastic covering it.  Between the layers of plastic is a pocket of air blown up like a balloon.  That is the only insulation from the outside elements.  Ours is riddled with tiny holes from past storms and so it will not hold air and allows water to pool on the top when it rains. Yes, we should have already replaced it.  In addition, it faces the wrong direction, east/west instead of north/ south.   It has a nice pine forest behind it.  That's not good, tomato plants need full sun, not shade half the day. 
Other than all that's wrong with the house, it actually grows some darn good tomatoes. Because it's so shady, the tomatoes won't ripen in a timely manner. They just hang on the vine about a week past their due dates and get huge! Sometimes two clusters of tomatoes per plant come off all within one week's times and then there's nothing else to pick until a week later. That's our feast to famine.
We manage the old greenhouse the same way we manage the new greenhouse.  In fact, without the Old Greenhouse, there would be no New Greenhouse and no Sunburst Tomatoes.  We are just as particular with the plant nutrition and care and use the same beneficial insects.  We find that it is so unpredictable that it's actually a lot of fun.  It's a nice bonus to go into that greenhouse and feel no pressure because whatever you do, that house has plans of its own.    We love you, Old Greenhouse:)
Tim on top dipping out water after an inch of rain the night before.

Interior view of that large pool

Look at the water pooled overhead
Sweeping out water (plus suckers)
Rain clouds building on the horizon.  Get the bailing buckets ready.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The weekend was beautiful with sunshine and clear skies.  The days were bright and sunny with low humidity, and the nights were clear and cold.  That's perfect tomato growing weather.  Those cloudy, dreary days that we've been having lately are not desirable growing conditions.

This week should be an awesome pick week for a winter crop.  Take a look at the pictures.  They are turning nicely and should be ripe enough to pick and eat soon.

We have not opened our little store here at the farm yet.  It's a little too early to have the quantity that we need to supply so many, so that one will have to wait to open in late February to early March. 

We are selling to Smith's Red & White in Dortches.  (Their sausage is great!)  In addition to the red, ripe tomatoes, Smith's is carrying our green tomatoes for frying. 

If you happen to be in the Triangle or Triad area, contact easterncarolinaorganics.com for availability.  There delivery details are listed on their website. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Today was a pick day and we enjoyed quite a nice picking.  Jonathan and Nancy picked all morning while Tim chose another chore.  Last time he was seen,  he was puttering around on a tractor. 

On a dreaded note, the bills must be paid today.  One of the most unusual and unseen purchases we make is for beneficial insects.  We shop with www.koppert.com and www.hydrogarden.com/. When the "bugs" arrive, they are in tiny little packets or bottles and are invisible to the naked eye.  The invisible eggs will eventually hatch and begin to seek and destroy the specific bugs that are their food supply. 

 The beneficials are quite often packed in an unidentifiable medium that makes it appear you are actually purchasing something.  If not for the medium, I'd swear we were buying air except for the fact that they do hatch and prey on the unsuspecting evil bugs that have already shown up uninvited.  Today's purchase was a total amount of $622.08.  For that we received two bumblebee hives (highly visible), Ervipar (for aphids), and Spical (for spider mites)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Today was not a pick day, but it was a work day.  We clipped, suckered, and lowered some of the plants.  It was nice to see the sunshine appear after a 3 day absence.  When we left the greenhouse, the tomato plants were standing up straight and tall, sucker-free, and smiling.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Today is one of those dreary Mondays with a foggy, cloudy, damp, coolness that makes you want to sit by the wood heater and drink coffee all day. Fortunately for us, we picked tomatoes today by the warmth of heat blown into the greenhouse from the Goliath 300 boiler. We had a pretty good picking of tomatoes for a winter crop. This is the earliest we've had tomatoes since we've been in the business. Ideally, we would love to have (and sell) tomatoes 12 months of the year, but we have to clean out and start over sometime. Although we just started picking, we seeded the plants in early October. Our cleanout was in August/September. Tim went on to pick cotton, so let's give Jonathan and Nancy the credit for this early crop. (True, but Tim did micro-manage us from the comfort of a cotton picker with his cellphone.) The bumblebees are working, the beneficial insects are hunting and all is well in our little, green world. We are not at all at full capacity, but the fun has begun.....whoopee!

What we've been waiting for!

We began picking towards the first of March. With that happy task comes packing for delivery and (of course) delivery. We still have to maintain the plants (i.e. suckering, clipping up, leaf pulling, fruit pruning, and lowering the plants). The fruit is delicious and beautiful. The best I can do right now is just to post a few pictures when I remember the camera.