On behalf of Seed2Need, I would like to thank you for the generous donation you made year to help us grow fresh produce for the food pantries in our community. Thanks to your support, we had enough funding to purchase the seed, fertilizer and other gardening supplies necessary to plant the 2017 gardens.
This year, our primary crops were green chile, tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage. In September, we also gleaned apples and pears from orchards in Corrales and the North Valley. All of this produce was donated to Roadrunner Food Bank and to five food pantries in Sandoval and Bernalillo Counties – St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho, Casa Rosa Food Pantry in Placitas, The Storehouse in Albuquerque, Rio Grande Food Project in Albuquerque and St. John Episcopal Food Pantry in Albuquerque. Produce was also donated to Haven House, a domestic violence shelter for women and children.
As of November 2, our harvest total was 61,548 pounds. However, we still have broccoli and cabbage to harvest and that will not be ready until late November. I estimate that our total 2017 harvest will be approximately 65,000 pounds.
- In 2016, we had a poor tomato harvest because it was hot and tomatoes do not set fruit once the temperature exceeds 85 degrees. We addressed this problem in 2017 by planting twelve tomato varieties that were developed to withstand high heat. These varieties set fruit despite the high temperature and we harvested 18,988 pounds in 2017 compared to 15,898 pounds in 2016. However, the tomatoes were slow to ripen. When we had our first hard frost in October, the vines were still covered with large, green tomatoes.
When I researched this problem, I found an article published by Cornell University that said tomatoes are slow to ripen when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees or when the temperature falls below 50 degrees. At these temperatures, lycopene and carotene, the pigments responsible for giving tomatoes their typical orange to red color cannot be produced. To test this, I downloaded the Corrales weather history from 2014 through 2017 and graphed the number of days that the temperature stayed between 50-85 degrees. When I compared this graph to our harvest history, I found a very strong relationship. The greater the number of days that the temperature stayed between 50-85 degrees, the larger the harvest.
- We will limit our tomato varieties to the 4-5 heat tolerant varieties that performed the best in 2017. We will also focus on determinate varieties that produce tomatoes earlier in the season. Examples include Legend, Celebrity, Florida 91, Phoenix and Heatmaster. We will also plant a winter cover crop of winter wheat, winter rye, Austrian peas, hairy vetch and crimson clover to improve the soil.
- This year’s chile crop was the best we have ever grown. The plants were large and productive. The chile was hot and meaty. Green chile, a staple in our local diet, is very high in vitamin C and it is one of our most popular crops.
- We had a heavy apple crop this year. During the first three weeks of September, we harvested apples five days a week from orchards in Corrales and the north valley. Volunteers included church groups, schools, local businesses and the general public. This year we harvested 29,100 pounds of fruit, compared to 20,500 pounds of fruit in 2016.
- This year, we harvested fruit in the evenings as well as on the weekends. However, because there were fewer hours of daylight during evening work sessions, large orchards tended to require multiple harvest sessions and multiple volunteer groups. In addition, Roadrunner Food Bank was unable to pick up the fruit after 5 pm. In 2018, we will make better use of our time by focusing on the large orchards and scheduling two harvest sessions each Saturday in September, one from 8-12 and the other from 1-5 pm.
- Each year, Mother Nature hands us a few new challenges. This year our primary challenge was a heavy infestation of squash bugs. Squash bugs do a tremendous amount of damage, not only to squash plants, but also to other cucurbit crops such as cucumbers and melons. Squash bugs over-winter, they reproduce at an amazing rate and they are difficult to control.
Our 2017 cucumber and squash crop was planted in mid-May. By July 1, we were harvesting squash and cucumbers. Thirty days later, squash bugs had killed most of the plants. This reduced our cucumber and squash harvest from 17,000 pounds in 2016 to 4,700 pounds in 2017. Squash bugs produce one to two new generations each year. In 2018 we will address this problem by planting our squash much later to give the 1st and 2nd generations of squash bugs time to die. We will also plant a trap crop of blue hubbard squash. The trap crop will be sprayed to reduce the squash bug population. The trap crop will not be harvested or donated.
Thank you again for helping us provide fresh fruits and vegetables to families in our community facing food insecurity. We couldn’t do this without your support.
Penny Davis, the Board of Directors and the volunteers of Seed2Need