Thursday, August 11, 2011

Life, Death and the Seasons, part 2

I'm still working through July with the photos here. Notice my one lonely tomato in the picture below:
If you've seen the facebook posts, you'll know that there are now more tomatoes. The big mama Striped German tomato I was waiting for was taken by a tomato hornworm, but there is another perfect one that should be ready tomorrow! Speaking of hornworms, here's one:
Actually, that's two different bugs. The hornworm is the big green guy (notice the "horn" on the butt end there) and the little white ovals are actually the pupae of the parasitoid wasp, Cotesia congregata (sorry, I cheated with google on the scientific name). The wasp larvae feed on the caterpillar's insides and then emerge to spin their little cocoons before flying away. In the process they prevent the hornworm from completing its life cycle and it dies before becoming a moth. I was told as a younger farmer to leave these guys alone if they are being parasitized, but then again, those caterpillars start out a lot smaller and they have to eat something to get that big...
Not much to say here. I like peppers. Peppers like me. Fin.
Below: a steamy July morning in the beans. They are still going strong and I am starting to move into my second succession. I don't think I regret my decision to plant so many beans. My back on the other hand, begs to differ...

So about that whole late July/August thing. Now is the time when we begin to transition from the height of the season to the end of the season. Even though we are hauling in the beans, squash and tomatoes, I've got one eye on that all important first frost date. Earlier in the season, if you were late with a planting or if your plants didn't survive for some reason, for the most part, you could replant with abandon and the most that happens is you have to wait a little longer for your harvest. On this end of the season, however, if you don't get in your crops by a certain date, you're out of luck for the rest of the year. If they are not killed by the frost, the plants just kind of hang out in suspended animation once the daylight hours start to dwindle. Even so, most farmers try anyways, replanting those fall carrots, last succession of beans, replacement broccoli for ones the groundhog ate (ahem). We also try to stretch the boundaries, sneaking in that one last harvest of lettuce. Every season, the stress builds in August as the harvests reach a frantic pace, the weeding is a lost cause, the seeding and planting has a tight schedule and all of a sudden you are surrounded by death and disease. Even the hardiest of squash plantings ultimately succumbs to too many bugs/droughts/floods and now is the time when some of your longer season plants just naturally begin to give up the ghost. Again, earlier in the season, most of the crops are harvested when the plant is in prime condition and then the rest of the plant is tilled in/pulled up for compost (think lettuce, radishes, spinach). For a lot of the longer season plants (think onions, tomatoes, potatoes and squash) you either wait for the plant to die back before you harvest, or you keep harvesting from the plant until it gives up, either by disease or by frost. So this time of the year, you can't help but be aware of the beginning of the end. It's a bit overwhelming - its a common sight to see farmers acting a little punchy in August, but it is also quite grounding and I personally think it makes the whole act of growing complete. To come to terms with the fragile beginnings, the exuberant growing phase and the sometimes painfully slow death every year, it kind of gives you pause. Ha, what am I's only August!

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