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 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!