Grit Blogs > Living Small In New Mexico

Turkeys And Tomatoes

Virginia HawthornAnother month, another posting – and this was intended to be weekly!? I must have been delusional because it certainly has been a busy month.

We had a beautiful, but rather short fall, and now winter has entered with a roar, thanks to the Polar Vortex. This morning there was a dusting of snow on the mountains around us, and that wind is COLD! Record low temperatures are being set all over the state. The farm animals are hunkering down, our hummingbirds and other migrants are long gone, and the Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese and Snow Geese are back at the nearby wildlife refuges. I’ll have to dedicate an entire posting to those wonderful places sometime soon.

Millie's Tree

Meanwhile …

The Great Tomato Mystery

This year’s meager gardening efforts have all been cleaned up, which brings me to the topic of our Mystery Tomato. Last spring we started a number of different tomatoes varieties, carefully labeling them with permanent (we thought) markers on plastic tabs. Unfortunately, most of the labels faded away almost immediately (what happened to the “indelible” part?) so most of our seedlings were strangers to us. Nevertheless, we planted them in rows at each end of our baby orchard, where the violent spring winds and then an early blazing hot spell did them no good at all. I’m happy to report that starting in late June the weather finally moderated, and we had some modest success, especially with the sweetest cherry tomatoes I have ever tasted – but we don’t even know the variety!

When we had filled the rows with our tomato seedlings, there were two anonymous leftovers that I could not bear to dump in the compost. So I took them over to a small space next to the tractor shelter and planted them with good intentions but not a lot of hope. Sure enough, the spring winds promptly broke one off right to the ground, and she ended up as compost after all. But in spite of all odds, the other one immediately took hold and proceeded to grow, and grow, and grow – mostly outward rather than upward.

Thanks to the blast of heat in May and June, it took a long time for any fruit to set, but once the weather calmed down, my lone plant really got going! I nipped and snipped bushels of stray branches and suckers to give the young tomatoes more air and sunlight, but more just sprouted seemingly overnight. Our roving chickens started nipping off low-hanging fruit so I wrapped the plant in bird netting to discourage them, and on we went!

Tomatoes on the vine

August arrived, with lots of green tomatoes – some of them quite large, but still green. In September, some light shades of yellowish orange blush appeared, slowly working its way from bottom to top of the fruit and gradually turning more orange. Finally my daughter had the good sense to reach in under the bird netting to test one, and in spite of its lingering green hue, it was soft and seemingly dead ripe. We took a couple in and sliced them, finding them soft and juicy with the inside in the same color scheme as the outside. They are very mild flavored and low in acid. They also seem to ripen quite slowly and in varying sizes, one of the largest weighing 9 ounces, while other ripe fruit weighed half that. When you turn a large orange one upside down it looks exactly like a ripe Fuyu Persimmon, both in color and shape.

Various colors 

These are fully ripe, in spite of their colors.

big orange and ripe

And here is the colorful inside, still showing some green, but sweet and mellow.

Big orange and heavy Big Boy still slightly green

This big boy (left) weighs 9-plus ounces.

Hmmm, so what is it? When I planted them we speculated they might be our only two surviving Black Krim seedlings, but while the size and shape are similar, the color is all wrong and so is the taste. We have searched seed catalogs and the web and can’t find anything that fits the description.

I was watching a segment of “Growing A Greener World” a few days ago, which featured a tour of a large farmers' market in New England. The camera panned across a table covered with wonderful produce, including some tomatoes that looked very much like these, but unfortunately they didn’t stop to identify them.

This mystery is a bit frustrating, but more of a curiosity than anything, since the flavor is fairly bland, but I have saved some seeds to try next year just to see what happens. They certainly are easy to grow and quite prolific – I still have some ripening on my kitchen counter and it’s almost Thanksgiving! Meanwhile, if anyone out there recognizes our Tomato Surprise, please post your opinions, wild guesses, or ancient wisdom. All information will be greatly appreciated.

Speaking of Thanksgiving …

Curious turkeyDid someone say Thanksgiving??!

Midget White Turkeys

As new farmers, one of our major objectives has been to experiment with various types of livestock to find what seems to work the best for us, given the small size of the farm with less than 4 working acres, our climate and geography, the amount of work three not-so-young people can accomplish, potential profit, and our own personal preferences.

My daughter is officially The Farmer, aka The Boss, and she is very knowledgeable about nearly all phases of small family farming and always researching more. But there is really no way to find out for sure about almost anything unless you get hands-on, boots-in-the-dirt experience. Which is what we are doing all the time! There is simply no end to the work, trying this, experimenting with that, sometimes hitting dead ends and sometimes having remarkable successes.

We build fences and then take them down to rebuild in another way or place. We plant things here, then decide it would be better to have the garden over there. But overall, things seem to be coming together, and it is very fortunate that we all love what we are doing. One encouraging discovery is that we seem to be able to sell every bit of everything we produce, with folks asking for more.

In the livestock department we have, so far, tried chickens, ducks, geese, two remarkable pigs named Oscar and Meyer who will certainly be the topic of a future chapter, and this year a dozen Midget White Turkeys.

From the outset, we were warned by the seller as well as in Internet and book research that the mortality rate among the newly hatched Midgets is high, but after that the survivors grow up to be tough as nails. Sure enough, these predictions were accurate: We almost immediately lost four babies in spite of our best efforts. Then the survivors grew like weeds in the rainy season.

Turkeys looking around

The babies grew quickly.

Strutting males 

Our two strutting boys show off.

They also began flying fairly soon and fairly often, and since our small farm has a road along one side, irrigation ditches and fields on two others, and other private properties to the south, we had to devise a flight-proof pen. This we did by converting our ever-useful and versatile carport shelter, but the gang became quite restless.

So began our twice daily “Turkey Walks” in the back pasture, where the turkeys did a fine job of gobbling up grasshoppers. But the walks were also a big time drain on our already over-crowded days, so if we try turkeys again we will have to devise a better system or find a breed that is not inclined to fly.

Turkey walk

A Turkey Walk in the back pasture.

Meanwhile, our chatty and curious turkey friends were recently taken to a local processor and are now in the freezers of various friends and neighbors – and us. As I said, we can sell anything we produce; we just have to continue the process of deciding what works the best.

Only four more months 'til spring!