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Attack of the Endless Tomatoes

September 14, 2023
There are less than two weeks left of summer, but you’d never know it out in the fields. The tomatoes, eggplant, and squash are going bonkers, and every time we think they'll taper off, they do the opposite. This could be nature’s way of making up for last summer, when drought and meager harvests ruled the day. We’re grateful for the bounty, but it’s also possible to have too much of a good thing. If you don’t have enough hands to pick—or customers to consume—the abundance, you become a victim of your own success. Our CSA members are doing a commendable job of keeping up, but our crew is starting to show harvest fatigue. September is when our focus usually shifts from summer to winter crops, but we’re stuck on the summer treadmill. If we miss just one harvest, we end up with baseball-bat zucchini, thousands of cracked tomatoes, and eggplant branches felled by the weight of their unclaimed fruit. Tomato harvest is particularly taxing. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the crew spends hours upon hours picking, counting, and packing. When Dan arrived at lunch last Tuesday with a crate of tomatoes he’d overlooked the day before, it started to feel like a sci-fi horror—Attack of the Endless Tomatoes. Fortunately, there's cool weather in store for the end of the week, and we’re looking forward to it. As spectacular as the summer harvests have been, we’re ready for the closing credits.
Despite the summer crops, we have been making headway with the storage crops. The big news is that the potato harvests have been outstanding! This is another welcome contrast to last year, when yields were down—way, way down—due to the drought. We started chipping away at the job in mid-August, digging several beds a week and piling as much as we could fit into the “potato morgue,” an air-conditioned room now stacked floor-to-ceiling with burlap bags. When the morgue was full, we stashed bushels wherever we could find shelves in the Tin House. When the shelves ran out, we switched gears once again and shifted to the next item on the agenda—the winter squash.

This year’s squash harvest is shaping up to be notably different from last year’s. For starters, we didn’t plant any spaghetti, delicata, or dumpling, early varieties that herald the beginning of fall. They were originally bound for Old Pond Field, but we traded that field away in our deer fence negotiations with Nassau
County. Not wanting to short-change our CSA members, we called Chris Kaplan-Walbrecht of Garden of Eve, a certified-organic farm in Aquebogue, to see if he could grow the varieties for us. He kindly agreed. Neither of us could anticipate, back in April, what a tough year it would be for squash. Persistent downpours throughout the summer favored weeds and rot, and the delicata and dumpling didn’t make it. But the spaghetti pulled through, so in late-August I rented a van and road-tripped out east with Kobi to collect the haul. I’ll admit, bribery was involved—in exchange for surrendering his phone and agreeing to record the squash weights, he was allowed to buy whatever he wanted at the Briermere farm stand for the ride home.
Back in Nassau, I’ve been watching our own squash field carefully, where acorn, butternut, and cheese pumpkins hide under vegetation that is suspiciously green for this time of year. Like the tomatoes, the plants don't want to stop! But we need the fruits to cure more than we need the plants to grow. Last year, everything cured beautifully in the bone-dry field, but with all the rain we’ve had, we’re not counting on a repeat performance. Instead, we’ve been entering the field tentatively, harvesting the fruits with just the right color, and taking care to wipe away all the mud. Rodent pressure at the farm means we can’t cure the squash in the greenhouses (the next-best thing to curing in the field), so we’re making do with our satellite storage units—rodent-proof, but cut off from the sun. In the case of the cheese pumpkins, however, we make the extra effort of driving them back home to Amityville, where our cats, Alice and Rudy, keep the rodents completely in check. It’s a lot of extra hauling, but in a year where squash prospects are touch-and-go, we’re motivated to go this extra mile.

Winter shares are now on sale, and we’re excited to get folks enrolled. As for CSA renewals, Dan and I are taking longer than usual to announce next year’s program. This season was filled with so many new elements—new deer fence, new field configuration, new staff—that we need extra time to reflect and confer before we can commit to a specific path forward. Yet despite all that challenged us this season, we continue to be awed and grounded by the constants—by the tenacity of our staff, by the loyalty of our CSA members and farm stand customers, by the generosity of the land. Even when the future is daunting, unclear, or both, as long as we have the support of our people and our soil, we’re confident we can figure it out.

Thanks for reading, and see you at the farm.


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