Friday, September 11, 2009

Harvest in Central New York

I spent a cool, early fall morning hustling to harvest our research fruit before the inevitable first frost. It was a great day for some outdoor manual labor among the wooded hills of rural New York. The farm was littered with the pickups of scientists and the sky overhead was repeatedly pierced by small flocks of southbound geese, happily gorging themselves on our freshly-mowed grain fields. The field corn of the neighboring dairymen will stay green for another few weeks while the ears dry, but everything else needs to come out of the ground as soon as possible.

There are plenty of extra fruit at the moment. The tomatoes and tomatillos in this picture will be salsa before the weekend's over. The bowl contains Ailsa Craig, a go-to lab rat originally bred in Scotland (and still a favorite heriloom variety in the U.K.). The rest, from left to right, are Banana Legs, Hank, tomatillos, husk cherries and Black Plum. Each of these heirloom tomatoes is excellent, but if I had to pick one, I'd probably pick Hank, which produces heavy yields of little, pink, lobey fruit. If I'm feeling ambitious this weekend, I also might try making jam from our sunberries or garden huckleberries. A number of our more tropical varieties (notably peppers and eggplants) have failed to produce ripe fruit during our short, cool summer and will be transplanted to the greenhouse as a last-ditch effort.

All of our fruit are in family Solanaceae, which includes potatoes, peppers, eggplant and numerous nightshades. The tomatillos and husk cherries are covered by a papery calyx, resembling their close relative, the Chinese Lantern.

Some of our fruit are still dusty with recent pesticide sprays (as our farm managers have been waging a valiant battle against late blight). Today was well after the 12-hour [safe field] re-entry period and luckily New York's pesticide regulations don't require a longer wait period before sale than they do before re-entry - so the fruit are safe to eat today, though I'll definitely wash them extra-well!

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