Our Growing Season
Hello dear friends, we hope that this finds you well! In this growing season, we’ve been very busy at work continuing to seed new plants, preparing our beds and planting new crops...and just enjoying the new blooms on our hillside. To start off,—here are some of the seasonal crops being prepared at the farm this month:
|Heat tolerant greens||Marigold|
We have also been planning and building a new workstation further up the hillside, where we grow our plants. It will be the first legitimately flat space up on the farm! We are excited to streamline our processes (which means we’ll be able to save loads of time and energy walking up and down the hillside less), and making plans to conduct future workshops and classes in this space. We can’t wait! Till then, here are some other things that's been inspiring us:
- Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries by Katie S Martin
- This Ezra Klein podcast about the Climate
- Jess Nizar: Shuffle videos!
Plant Highlight: Tomatoes!
With Spring, comes the tending and preparing of tomatoes. Our carefully selected varieties started off by growing indoors with regulated air temperature and moisture levels until night time temperatures were consistently above 45 degrees, then they were moved outside and covered at night to keep them cozy. It’s always an exciting time to transplant them into our hillside beds!
To start off,— a bit of tomato history. Tomatoes are very special fruits with a long history that can be tracked by the European colonization of the Americas. It has numerous names across the world: Golden Apple, Wolf Peach, Love Apple, Tomatl, Pomodoro, 西红柿, etc. and have become an important food infused into our day to day meals and dishes (condiments too!) in many forms and varieties. It’s almost hard to imagine a time when this bulbous fruit was not part of life.
The word tomato comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl, which means “the swelling fruit.” The Aztecs and Mesoamerican people first domesticated the fruit, and began to use it in their cooking. With the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the tomato was distributed through Europe & Asia in the 16th century and found its way to the United States through the Caribbean in the 18th century.
(Botanical tomato illustration below: [right image] Johann Weinmann 1737-45 [left image] Abraham Munting 1696)
In some European countries, tomatoes were feared. It had a reputation for being poisonous, bringing bad omen, etc. In the Smithsonian Magazine, it states, “A nickname for the fruit was the ‘poison apple’ because it was thought that aristocrats got sick and died after eating them, but the truth of the matter was that wealthy Europeans used power plants, which were high in lead content. Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on this particular tableware, the fruit would leach lead from the plate, resulting in many deaths from lead poisoning…”
The fear and suspicion of tomatoes persisted for a long time in the United States, and though it became a common ingredient in Creole gumbos and jambalayas in the South, it was not till the early 19th century that it slowly became familiarized in the United States. In those days, farmers still had limited information on how to obtain, cultivate, and prepare tomatoes. We’ve come a long way in understanding these unusual and beautiful plants.
For those interested in growing tomatoes this season. Here are some good foundational information we gathered to help you get started on your tomato journey:
- Determinate vs Indeterminate - Determinate tomatoes reach a certain size and age and set a bunch of fruit that ripens in a short window. If you want to can or preserve tomatoes this can be a good option since you will get a lot of fruit at one time. Indeterminate grow, fruit, and ripen continuously over a long period, especially here in Los Angeles. Here are Avenue 33 Farms, we only grow indeterminate varieties.
- Heirloom vs Hybrid. Heirloom varieties are varieties that have not been cross bred for a long time, usually 40 or more years. Hybrid varieties are usually a specific cross of two varieties to get certain traits, could be disease resistance, plant vigor, fruit size, flavor, or any other characteristics. That can be good or bad. You often hear that heirloom varieties are better because the newer varieties aren’t bred for flavor. Lucky for us, that is no longer the case and a lot of the varieties we grow are actually hybrids of heirloom varieties, giving the tomato the best qualities of its parents. We find it useful to remember that heirloom varieties were once hybrids, and they were carefully selected over time. Some of the hybrid varieties we like that have heirloom parents are Perfect Flame, Cherokee Carbon, and Genuwine.
- Trellising & Management: For tomato trellising and management we use a QLIPR system to lower and lean our tomatoes. It looks cool and is a great way to grow a lot of tomatoes. If we were growing a handful of tomatoes rather than hundreds we would make large tomato cages (link for some videos on how here and here). Using the cages we would space the tomatoes pretty far, maybe 3 to 4 feet apart, and make the cages have a 2 foot diameter.
- Weekly foliar spray: That is right WEEKLY! This is a mix of fish and seaweed hydrolysate (we use Neptune’s Harvest), an organic calcium source (we use Biomin Calcium), and compost tea. This is a preventative health approach. Foliar application is a really efficient way of providing nutrients to the tomatoes and ensuring that the foliage is really healthy. Adding a calcium source ensures we don’t have blossom end rot.
- Root drench: The same mixture we use for foliar applications we will apply to the soil to give an extra boost to the plants. Typically we are looking at fruit set to determine when to apply, it typically is every 2 to 3 weeks. We want fruit on every flower cluster. If you are a little less concerned with yield you could do this once a month.
- Pruning: The main reasons for pruning are to keep the plants off the ground to prevent disease, increase airflow, and focus the plant on fruit production. We train our tomatoes to one leader so we prune off all of the suckers (see the image provided below for reference). It’s important to be careful while doing this to make sure to not prune your growing tip or the leaves. We also pick off the flowers until the plant reaches about 2-3 feet, this helps establish a strong plant before it starts to put energy into setting and ripening fruit.
Mother's Day is coming up this weekend, and our farm is also blooming with vibrant, flowers that color our hillside farm. We plant many different varieties,— larkspurs, columbine, passion flowers, agrostemma, anenomes, etc.—each has its own unique elegance and delicate features we love to observe as it unfurls into a full bloom. Each flower is freshly harvested, carefully tended and arranged by us. Our bouquets are for sale in our shop. Make sure you get them before they run out!
Thank you for reading through and enjoy Mother's Day weekend coming up! Here’s the link you can use to see what’s available and order for the week at all times. We also hope this newsletter gets you started on your own tomato journey! We'll be providing more information on how to to grow tomatoes regularly on our instagram, so make you sure you check often for updates.
As alway, we happy to hear your thoughts, suggestions on what you’d like for us to share, and what questions you might want to have answered. Happy May to you all!
Avenue 33 Farms