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Harvesting Crops with a Broadfork

Posted by David Grau on

7 Tine Harvest Broadfork

Originally Posted on July 06, 2013

We've been having quite a heat wave in our area. Highs have been over 100 degrees for about a week and a half. The tomato plants in the garden are ripening fruit quickly, and we are harvesting them, sharing our harvest, and enjoying the taste of vine-ripened tomatoes.

Harvesting Crops with a Broadfork

The broadfork is such a versatile tool on the farm or in the garden. They make for great soil preparation, or course, aerating the soil, and for mixing in amendments and compost.

The 7 Tine Harvest Broadfork is also an extremely useful tool for harvesting crops like potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, and beets. The 12" tines let you get the fork deep under the crops and loosen the soil so you can easily harvest your crops.

We recommend using the fork parallel to the rows and working the crops, starting about 12 inches away for potatoes and onions, and closer (about 6 inches) for garlic and carrots. The deep tines of the broadfork allow you to get under the crops and lift them for easier harvesting.

When to Harvest Potatoes

David visited the GRUB CSA farm, and asked Lee Callender: "When it is time to harvest potatoes?" Lee told David that you can start harvesting some new potatoes (small and very flavorful) when the plants are flowering. Lee harvests his main crop after flowering, when the vines start looking yellow and a bit tattered.

In some soils and conditions, Lee said that when you cut the tops, the skins on the potatoes harden. This wasn't necessary last year when they were farming on heavier clay soil, but on the beautiful sandy loam they now farm, it helps quite a bit.

Tomatoes and Fruit Set

staked tomatoesDavid and Lee also discussed that frustrating situation when you have beautiful large vigorous tomato vines and not much fruit set. In David's experience, tomato plants won't bother setting fruit if conditions are too easy. They seem to need a little stress. Lee thought one of his patches got a good dose of nitrogen from the fava bean cover crop.

David's advice for getting those lush tomato plants to set fruit is to start under-watering them. Then when you get a nice flush of blossoms, step up the watering again so that the flowers aren't stressed when they are being pollinated. Fruit set is best when daytime high temperatures are below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Right now we just had a long spell of 100+ degree weather every day, so that's not so great.

One farmer David knows combats hot afternoons by planting tall beans, like scarlet runner beans to the west of his tomato rows so they have afternoon shade. This particular farmer also prunes his tomato vines, something David doesn't do. But he swears by it, and he is an excellent farmer.

Supporting Tomato Plants

caged tomatoesMost tomato plants require some type of support. Unless you are planting determinate bush type plants, you'll need something to keep the plants from sprawling on the ground. David uses a stake-and-string method, where he spaces stakes within the rows and creates support by tying twine between the stakes.

As the tomato plants grow up, he adds another line of twine, until he has a tall rows of plants, with the fruit easily accessible for harvesting. This is a very good method for people growing tomatoes in rows, and for people who are growing a lot of tomato plants. David said, "I am realizing that the stakes and string are a holdover from my farming days, when we had as many as 15 thousand plants in the field (3 acres of tomatoes).

On that scale, cages are not feasible. But a dozen plants in your back yard, cages are most likely the way to go." In Carla's garden she uses wire cages. Not those little things that you'll find stacked up in the garden section of the hardware store. These are seven-foot tall cages, about two and a half feed in diameter, made from concrete reinforcing wire, with 6" by 6" openings, so you can easily reach in and pick ripe fruit. The cages allow the plants to grow up, with plenty of support, and sometimes a branch or two might need to be tucked back into the cage.

Getting Ready for Fall Planting

Now is the time to start working your ground for fall crops. You want the ground amended, loosened, and with a nice seedbed for planting in mid August. Start planning which beds you want to plant and what you want in them. Order seeds and seed potatoes now. With all this hot weather, and more to come, you might not be thinking about growing fall crops, but it is essential to get the crops up to a fairly good size before the day length grow short.

It is not just temperature, it is solar energy for photosynthesis that foils so many attempts at cool season gardening in our climate. You can grow great carrots (plant a Nantes type variety for best flavor for eating raw from mid November to sometime in April. It is best to direct seed in mid August, not in late September. September 15 is the cutoff in our climate. The dates may be different in other climates, but the concept is the same. You get the fall garden underway in late summer, so the plants are maturing throughout the fall.

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