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Charlotte Amalie
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June's View … From the Farm

‘Tis The Season

Tomatoes with bottle drop A couple of years ago after a catastrophic illness changed my life irrevocably, I turned to the earth for therapy. I sowed a few seeds of yellow pear or yellow teardrop heirloom tomatoes and waited to see whether they would sprout. After a few days they popped up above the soil, and that began an amazing journey.
Each morning as I awoke I couldn’t wait to see what was new with my few fledgling seedlings. After several weeks I had so many tomatoes after sharing with friends and family that a dear friend suggested I sell my heirlooms.
Sell??? That single suggestion turned my life around and began my journey as a farmer.
This year has been particularly challenging for farmers. November marks the beginning of the tourist season in the Virgin Islands, but it also marks the beginning of a season of harvest for farmers who have toiled for months perusing a myriad of beautiful seed catalogs, purchasing seeds and seedlings, preparing beds for sowing, planting and transplanting. The rains have been scarce and the dry period lasted longer than in previous years.
Farmers listen to weather reports very differently from other folks. The prospect of rain brings great joy, as water is the one commodity that can make the difference between a successful crop harvest and dismal failure.
A regular delivery of water to roots is key to happy plants. Happy plants produce good yields. Many farmers use elaborate drip irrigation systems with interconnected hoses with emitters punched in the tubing to deliver water directly to the roots of their crops. This is a very efficient and effective system.
As an alternative to a purchased drip system using tubing, I developed a simple system of recycling gallon-sized water bottles. The bottles are placed at the base of each plant and a small puncture is made with a pin at the bottom of each bottle. The small hole delivers water to the roots very slowly, much like the more elaborate commercial drip systems. This is preferable to overhead watering with a hose, which scatters water over a wide area, creating waste, as so much of it evaporates before reaching the plant.
Plants do much better when they receive small amounts of water over a long period of time.
To keep the moisture in the soil and to reduce evaporation, plants are mulched with organic matter covering around the base of each plant. As the organic matter breaks down it adds nutrients to the soil.
Plants also need regular infusions of nutrients to help them develop strong roots, stems and produce great yields. There are a variety of products on the market. However, since I choose to follow organic practices, I developed my own fish fertilizer, which I feed to my plants by adding to their water bottles once a week.
The recipe for fish fertilizer is very simple. Fish parts are added to molasses and allowed to marinate for a couple of weeks before decanting into bottles for storage. The finished product is so rich that only 2 tablespoons are added to each gallon of water. And contrary to belief, there is no unpleasant odor, particularly if the concoction is kept in an airtight container. As the fertilizer develops it is necessary to “burp” the containers every so often to allow the gases that build up to escape.
For the past couple of years I have grown green zebra heirloom tomatoes, with disappointing results. This year is very different. The plants are vibrant, and the fruiting is vigorous. The application of regular doses of fish fertilizer is the one element that is different this year, and so I attribute this to the apparent increase in yields. I’m excitedly looking forward to my first harvest of this season. Through this column I will share my successes and challenges as well as those of other farms and farmers in the V.I..

June Archibald, owner of Precious Produce Farms in St. Thomas, grows specialty produce and is developing a line of sweet and savory fruit preserves and syrups using local fruit. Get samples of June’s offerings Sunday, Nov. 15 at the Yacht Haven Grande farmers’ market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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