Drip Lines and Humble Pie

Last week we planted out a row of Italian eggplant and two rows of tomatoes – an heirloom variety and a paste/canning tomato. Because it’s still a bit nippy out for these warm weather crops, we have our rows covered in black fabric (reusable, unlike most black plastic) and row cover (also called re-may). The fabric keeps the weeds suppressed and retains heat in the soil. However, putting fabric or plastic down means that overhead watering won’t penetrate to the plants very well. So instead of moving around pipes and sprinklers through these rows, we set up a drip-line. Drip-lines are simply hoses with holes punched in them so water can seep out into the soil. They are stapled to the ground in a (sort of) straight line underneath the fabric, which is also stapled to the soil. While the stapling was easy as pie, it was torn up with one gust of wind the first day, so we doubled our staples. Maybe it will hold this time. When farmers use plastic, they usually bury the edges into the ground so there’s no chance of blowing away. While that system is great if you have a plastic layer, it wastes a lot of plastic by the end of the year, and pulling it out of each row is a real pain come fall.

It being our first year running on our own, Margaret and I have a lot to learn. We’re only just starting to supplement our seedlings with a kelp concentrate about once a week. The greenhouse attached to the farmhouse is small and has no light from the roof and our plants don’t quite get the sunlight they need. We also have an aphid problem this year. All of those factors are individually significant, and when you heap them together, the difference between plants in our greenhouse and in the greenhouse run by our friends (the much more experienced and skilled Harlequin Farm duo) is dramatic.

This month has seen us go from nothing in the fields (except garlic, which is looking extraordinary!) to about 1/4 of them planted. Onions and potatoes, squashes, greens, and the beginnings of the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos. Asparagus season has ended, and we’ve have finally taken down all of the hoops and row cover from the asparagus for use in the solanacious field and the melons. From here, the asparagus will grow into huge ferns that nourish the root stock and ensure a healthy stand next year.

Farming in Montana means taking advantage of every warm spell, every rain, and every locational edge. We’ve been told that this farm is in the banana belt of western Montana and because of it we can successfully grow melons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and other long and hot season crops. Our melons, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, however, are still two weeks behind the curve. Not knowing how to time our seeding, we started a little late and with too little light in March. While our farm friends planted their thousands of peppers this week, we’ll have to wait until ours can withstand the traumatic transplant and the great outdoors. When we tell people where we’re farming they say “oh yeah that’s such a great spot – you must be about two weeks ahead of the rest of the valley.” While our weather is, indeed, about two weeks ahead of the rest, we’re lucky to be keeping up with the pack.

The beginning of the drip line, running under the black fabric.

The holes on the drip hose are set certain distances apart. When planting, we try to get our transplants as close to those holes as possible, that way they get the water instead of the empty dirt next to them.

Some of the fabric has holes already established (on the right). Other pieces we cut holes according to the spacing we need and what lines up with the drip.

This traviata eggplant is an Italian variety and will produce large egg-shaped fruits.

Tomatoes! These are the ruby gold heirlooms. They’ll produce a medium sized yellow tomato with red streaks marbled through the flesh inside. A gorgeous variety, but prone to cracking, they taste as good as they look.

What a difference X Y and Z make! The tomato on the left came from Kaly and Brian’s greenhouse (with sufficient light, extra nutriants, and bug-free), while the tomato on the right was in our hoophouse. Same variety, seeded and transplanted the same day.