Hoophouse slideshow, Ruminant podcast, potatoes planted

Here’s my updated Spring and Summer Hoophouse slideshow, that I promised all the people at my Organic Growers School workshops. I rearranged the slides in what I think is a better order and revised the resources section.


The Farmers Aren’t All Right.
Podcast from the Ruminant

I also took part in an interview with Jordan Marr for a podcast with The Ruminant: Audio Candy for Farmers, Gardeners and Food Lovers. It’s about farmers’ struggles with mental health problems, trying to cope with the many and varied stresses, while the public wants farmers to appear competent and blissful with all that time in the Inspiring and Nurturing Outdoors.

“Farming is tough work. The unpredictability of the job and the pressure to present a curated, bucolic version of the work can easily lead to various kinds of mental health problems: despair, feeling overwhelmed or like a failure, or even depression. In this episode, co-produced with Jessica Gale of Sweet Gale Gardens, we discuss the prevalence of mental health problems among farmers, and how to address them.” Jordan Marr

As well as Jessica Gale, the episode includes discussion of Professor Andria Jones-Bitton’s work and interviews with Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener and Curtis Stone of The Urban Farmer.


The March issue of Growing for Market is out. Nothing from me this month (I have articles for May and June/July coming up). In this issue. There are articles about No-till vegetable farming (Conor Crickmore at Neversink Farm, in the Catskill Mountains of New York), and Bio-integrated farm design by Shawn Jadrnicek, co-author with Stephanie Jadrnicek, of The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Revolutionary Permaculture-Based System Using Greenhouses, Ponds, Compost Piles, Aquaponics, Chickens and More. Lots of water in this book, and very practical. There’s an article on A DIY mobile cooler for moving and storing perishable foods  – an insulated trailer using Cool-Bot technology by Cary Rivard, Kansas State Research & Extension Horticulture & Forestry & Extension Vegetable & Fruit Crop Specialist. Karin Tifft has written The “other” reasons to grow in a greenhouse: climate, light, good use of space, reduced wastage of produce, energy conservation and more. Andrew Mefferd, the editor has written on growing cucumbers umbrella style under cover. Finally, Debra Prinzing writes on Making your mark with local branding.


Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Folger

And here at Twin Oaks, we planted our spring potatoes yesterday, after pre-sprouting (chitting) the seed potatoes for a couple of weeks. Soon we hope to see the potato shoots emerging from the soil.

Potatoes emerging in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Lettuce in February, Growing for Market, open seed flats

Baby lettuce mix in our winter hoophouse.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We still have plenty of lettuce to eat, although our first sowing of baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse has come to its bitter end, and the second sowing isn’t quite ready (I think we sowed it a bit later than intended). We are still harvesting leaves from the large lettuce we transplanted in October.  Soon we’ll have the second and third baby lettuce mix sowings to bring a welcome change. We are about ready to transplant our first outdoor lettuce, to feed us mid-late April.

Here is a month-by-month planting and harvesting narrative for our hoophouse lettuce in Zone 7, from September to April:

September: Sow cold-hardy varieties in the second and third weeks (outdoors or in your greenhouse) to transplant into the hoophouse at 4 weeks old .

October: 4 weeks after sowing, transplant those lettuces at 8” spacing to harvest leaves from mid-November to early March, rather than heads. In late October, sow the first baby lettuce mix, for up to 8 cuts from early December to late February, and sow a small patch of “filler lettuces” to replace casualties in the main plantings up until the end of December.

November: 11/9 sow more filler lettuce, to be planted out in the hoophouse during January. Transplant the first “filler lettuce” to replace casualties. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce.

December: Use the “filler lettuce #1” to replace casualties or fill other hoophouse space, for lettuce leaves in January and February, or heads in February. At the end of December, make a second sowing of baby lettuce mix, to harvest from late February to the end of March. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix.

January: Use the “filler lettuce #2” to fill gaps in the lettuce beds up until January 25. After that is too late here for hoophouse lettuce planting, and we use spinach to fill all the gaps, regardless of the surrounding crop. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches the right size.

February: 2/1 sow the third baby lettuce mix, to provide up to three cuts, from mid-March to late April. In mid-February, consider a fourth sowing of baby lettuce mix, if outdoor conditions look likely to delay outdoor harvests. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Harvest the first baby lettuce mix, clearing it at the end of February before it gets bitter.

March: Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches size. Cut the third baby lettuce mix when it sizes up.

April: In the first half of the month, harvest the last of the transplanted lettuce as heads . Continue to cut the third baby lettuce mix until it gets bitter. Cut the fourth baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Outdoor lettuce heads are usually ready for harvest mid-April. Plan to have enough hoophouse harvests until the outdoor harvests can take over.

Lettuce transplants in soil blocks, on our custom-made cart. We don’t use soil blocks for lettuce any more (too time-consuming!) but I love this photo. Photo Pam Dawling


The February issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article How to decide which crops to grow which I previewed some of here last August. I also included some of the material in my slideshow Diversify Your Vegetable Crops. Click the link to see the slideshow. This past winter we used this kind of process to reduce the amount of garden work for 2017. I’m retiring from garden management and the new managers  want to stay sane and not be exhausted all the time. We have fewer workers this year (the past few years actually), so we needed to slim down the garden and not go crazy trying to do everything we’ve done in the past. I’ll still be working in the hoophouse, the greenhouse, and doing some outdoor work, as well as being available to answer questions and provide some training when asked.

Back to Growing for Market. There’s a great article for new small-scale growers, from Katherine Cresswell in northern Idaho, Year One Decision Making, about starting a farm with only one implement. Careful planning lead Katherine and her partner Spencer to focus on fall, winter and spring vegetables, as no-one else around them provided these, and they had experience of winter growing from working on other farms. Clearly a high tunnel (hoophouse) needed to be in the plan. It was essential that they hit the ground running and have saleable produce within six months. The expense budget was very tight. They bought a BCS 739 walk-behind tractor (which they both had experience of) and a rotary plow. A very down-to-earth article to encourage any new grower with limited means.

There are reviews of three new books by GfM writers: Compact Farms by Josh Volk, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden and The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Growers Handbook by Andrew Mefferd, the editor of GfM. Brett Grohsgal has written a valuable article about his 15 years experience with on-farm breeding of winter-hardy vegetables, both in the field and under protection of hoophouses. Informative and inspiring. Erin Benzakein has written about rudbeckias, the unsung heroes of summer bouquets, and Gretel Adams has written on new flower varieties to try in 2017.


I have a new post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings Easily – How to make reusable wood flats (seed trays) for seedlings, and use them to grow sturdy vegetable starts to transplant into your garden. This is a way to avoid contributing to the problem of agricultural plastic trash and be self-reliant in gardening equipment. You can also grow stronger plants by giving them a larger compost volume than plug flats or cell packs provide.

Open flat of broccoli seedlings.
Photo Wren Vile

I heard that my MEN blogpost Green Potato Myths and 10 Steps to Safe Potato Eating was very popular in January, coming sixth in their table of most-viewed posts on all topics. This has been out there in the blog-iverse for almost 18 months, so clearly there is a lot of concern about eating healthy food and not wasting what we’ve grown.

Sorting potatoes two weeks after harvest to remove problem potatoes before rot spreads.
Photo Wren Vile


The false spring has been barreling along. Last week I reported that we’ve seen a flowering crocus (2/17). Since then, we’ve seen daffodils and dandelions flowering, heard spring peppers and already the maple is flowering (2/25). These are all markers on our phenology list. The maple flowers on average 3/12, with a range (before this year) of 2/28 in 2012 to 4/2 in 2014. A 9-year record broken!

Cover crops slideshow, Hoophouse style and design article

Last week I went to the annual conference of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, held at Hot Springs Resort, Virginia. There were about 430 attendees, a big increase from last year. I gave two presentations, Spring and Summer Hoophouses, and Cover Crops. Here’s the Cover Crops slideshow.

In case you were there and missed the handouts, here they are:

Spring and Summer Hoophouses Handout

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers 4pg Handout 2016

Crimson clover is a beautiful and useful cover crop.
Photo Kathryn Simmons


My next two events are

Jan 25-28, 2017 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference Location: Hyatt Regency Hotel and Convention Center, 401 West High St, Lexington, KY 40507. 888 421 1442, 800 233 1234. Registration: http://www.ssawg.org/registration

I’m presenting two brand new 90 minute workshops: Diversify your Vegetable Crops (Friday 2-3.30pm) and Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales (Saturday 8.15-9.45 am). Workshops will be recorded. Book signing (Thursday 5pm) and sales.

Feb 1-4 2017 PASA Farming for the Future Conference 2000 people Location: Penn Stater Convention Center, State College, PA Registration: http://conference.pasafarming.org/

I’m presenting three 80 minute Workshops: Sweet Potatoes, (Friday Feb 2 12.50pm), Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops,  (Saturday 8.30am), and Succession Planting, (Sat 3.40pm). Workshops will be recorded. Book-signings and sales.

Sweet potato harvest 2014
Photo Nina Gentle


The January 2017 issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on Hoophouse style and design. As well as the Gothic/Quonset
decision and that on whether to choose  roll-up, drop-down or no sidewalls, this article discusses roads, utilities, irrigation, in-ground insulation, end-wall design, inflation, airflow fans, and bed layout to match your chosen method of cultivation.

Other articles include Barbara Damrosch on flower production on a small vegetable farm (beautiful photos!), Emily Oakley on planning to  grow only what you can sell (words of wisdom), Eric and Joanna Reuter with part two of their series online weather tools for farmers, Jed Beach on how to avoid and fix common financial mistakes we farmers make, and Jane Tanner on local food hubs. Plenty of good reading!

The first issue of Growing for Market that I ever picked up (years ago) had an article about flame-weeding carrots. I realized that that one article was going to save us more than the price of a subscription. Just one good idea, clearly explained, can save so much wasted time!

We won’t starve or get scurvy! Plenty of food in the winter hoophouse!
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Climate change and pest control

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I recently learned some more about online weather tools for farmers from Eric and Joanna Reuter in Growing for Market. The National Weather Center Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has a wealth of useful info. From the “WPC 7-day QPF” map above (Weather Prediction Center 7 day quantitative precipitation forecast) I see we could get up to an inch of rain over the coming week in central Virginia. Other maps on the site show we can expect above normal temperatures and rainfall for the first week of January. (I’m saying rain, because with above normal temperatures, the precipitation won’t be snow.)

There are maps with forecast conditions for the next month, the next three months and even the whole of 2018, although of course the more intervening time means more chance of things changing before we get there.There is a detailed discussion explaining “La Niña conditions are present, with a transition to ENSO-neutral favored during January-March 2017.” The report was written in November, predicting weak La Nina conditions continuing through March 2017.

Winter offers a good opportunity to explore these tools and get familiar with them (the abbreviations and technical language do take a bit of getting used to). If I were to open this site in mid-summer when already very busy, I think I would struggle to sit still long enough to absorb the information. By figuring it out at the slow time of year, I’ll be more ready to dip in and take advantage of timely info in the main growing season.

If the embedding has worked out right, here is a “Climograph” for Louisa County, Virginia:

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And if it didn’t embed, here’s the link: http://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/louisa/virginia/united-states/usva0445/2015/2

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Outdoors in December – rowcover everywhere! Photo by Wren Vile

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse! Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse!
Photo Wren Vile


This week I also read an interesting article by Rebekah L Fraser in Growing magazine on the Push-Pull Method of pest control, which was developed in Kenya. In Kenya this method is used to protect crops from both invasive weeds and insect pests. Some plants can suppress others by selective allelopathy. Tick-trefoil not only suppresses some weeds but also repels pests, while conserving the soil in the process, and providing stock feed or green manure when cut. Plus, as a legume, the tick-trefoil fixes atmospheric nitrogen (which feeds the next crop) and reduces greenhouse gases (which helps save us all). This is the “push” half of the combination. Tick-trefoil interplanted with corn repels weeds and pests.

Push-pull pest control

Push-pull pest control

The “pull” half involves Napier grass as an attractive trap crop for corn borers. This trap crop is planted as a border around the corn patch. The female stem-borers are repelled by the tick-trefoil out of the corn to the border where they lay eggs on the Napier grass. It’s sticky exudates and sharp silica hairs kill the stem borer larvae when they hatch. Read more on www.push-pull.net .

It’s so heartening to read about organic sustainable ways farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are working to end hunger and poverty. And these principles can surely be applied to other crops in other regions.

Sweet potato slideshow, phenology article, Ira Wallace awarded

I’ve just got back from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC. There were about 1200 people, five workshop slots, 12 tracks, lots of good, locally grown food, a whole pre-conference day of bus tours and intensive workshops, a courageous and inspiring keynote address from Clara Coleman on the joys and challenges of family and farm life. She and her two young sons are now living and working alongside Eliot Coleman (her dad) and Barbara Damrosch at Four Seasons Farm in Maine.

My sweet potato slideshow from my first workshop at CFSA is viewable above. Just click on the forward arrow. To see it full screen, click on the link below the image and then click the diagonal arrows when the new page opens. About 70 very engaged people attended that workshop. My other workshop was Sustainable Farming Practices for Vegetable Growers, which I’ll include next week.

I have also recently written a blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog  called Saving Sweet Potato Roots for Growing Your Own Slips.

I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new friends, learning some good tips about different drip irrigation parts, how to sharpen and use a scythe, how many years half the henbit seeds are viable for (23 years!!), and picking up literature from the trade booths to digest later.

sac-16-banner-960x330Save the date: 2017’s CFSA SAC will be November 3-5 (Fri-Sun)


nov-dec-2016-gfm-cover-300The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about phenology. Phenology is the study of recurring animal and plant life cycle changes in relation to the weather. Some changes are temperature-dependent, rather than (daylength-) calendar-dependent. The opening of some buds and the emergence of some
insects from the ground are related to the accumulated warmth of that season. Observations of certain changes can be used to help growers decide when to expect outbreaks of certain insect pests and when to plant certain crops. For instance, we look to the leaves of the white oaks to decide when it is warm enough to plant sweet corn. The oak leaves should be as big as squirrel’s ears. We have plenty of squirrels! Phenology is especially useful when the weather is extremely variable, which we can expect more of as climate change gets us further in its grip.

Also in this bumper edition of Growing for Market are articles on growing heading chicories (Josh Volk), milling your own logs on your farm (Mark Lieberth), online weather tools for farmers (Eric and Joanna Reuter), image-front-cover_coverbookpagea review of The Farmers Market Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal (Andrew Mefferd), and favorite perennials for flower growers (Jane Tanner). There are also two pages of cameos of books available from GfM. A seasonal tip about gift giving, I think.

I am working on a review of Soil Sisters by Lisa Kivirist, which I will tidy up and post soon.


Ira Wallace receives SFA award

Ira Wallace receives SFA award. Photo by Sara Wood

Ira Wallace, my long time friend and one of the members of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has recently been awarded the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sara Wood took photos at SESE and at Twin Oaks while preparing the SFA oral history interview with Ira Wallace. You can watch the video clip, read the transcript and ass the photos at the link. Well done Ira!

Preparing for the Heritage Harvest Festival, winter hoophouse harvests

The Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Virginia, September 9 and 10, 2016

Now, at the height of summer, I am looking ahead to speaking events this fall, winter and next spring. (I have been in the habit of turning down presentations from May-August, so i can focus on our gardens). My first booking is the fun and local Heritage Harvest Festival at Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Click the link above to plan your visit.

Heritage harvest Festival Speakers include Joel Salatin, Ira Wallace, Michael Twitty and many more. Photo Southern Exposure

Heritage harvest Festival Speakers include Joel Salatin, Ira Wallace, Michael Twitty and many more.
Photo Southern Exposure

Friday is devoted to classroom workshops and walking tours. I will be giving my presentation on Fall Vegetable Gardening on Friday 2-3 pm. It’s a ticketed event, limited to the 32 people who can fit in the classroom. After the workshop I will be signing copies of my book from 3.15-3.45 pm at the Shop at Monticello, and chatting to whoever comes by. There are  30 other workshops on Friday,  and 3 workshops on Sunday.

Monticello Garden Tour with Peter Hatch Photo courtesy of Monticello

Monticello Garden Tour with Peter Hatch
Photo courtesy of Monticello

The main event is on Saturday,  with general admission from 9 am to 6 pm. Attend some of the 16 free workshops, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Tomato Tasting, the Chef demos, Seed swap, Monticello Shop tent and Kids activities. Spend your hard-earned cash in the Beer garden, at the Food concessions, and at 36 Premium Workshops (with pre-paid tickets).

OX_WoQaSw3pW03jzq16xGxrQ12fEY0vnBsBSMIKZcU8I’ll be talking about Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops at the Woodland Pavilion (50 seats) from 1.45 – 2.15 pm, followed by book signing at the Shop again.

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Tomato medley. Photo courtesy of Monticello


If your tomatoes don’t look as wonderful as those in the Monticello  photo above, you might be casting around for descriptions and photos of problems. Margaret Roach in her blog A Way to Garden, recently posted an interview with Dr Meg McGrath about tomato diseases, with photos. If you are worrying about Late Blight, you can sign up for alerts, although when I tried, my computer warned me the link  to www.usablight.org was not secure. Margaret Roach’s Tomato Troubles FAQs has some good descriptions and many helpful links. One of the links is to Tom Stearn’s “tomato hygiene” management method.

We had trouble with our paste tomatoes, and got excellent help from the Plant Disease Clinic of the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Sadly, some of our plants seem to have been victim of some herbicide drift or cross-contamination, despite our best efforts to run our garden organically. We don’t control what falls out of the air. Happily, the plants recovered from the stunted curling in of the leaves, and are starting to pump out good yields. I hate the thought that we will be eating slightly poisoned tomatoes, even though they are still much better than commercially grown non-organic produce.


August2016 cover 300pxThe August issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, along with my article about planning winter and early spring hoophouse harvests.

Here’s our month-by-month alphabetical list of what we plan to harvest:

November
Brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood
Beet greens, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, spinach, tatsoi, thinnings of chard, baby turnips and greens for salad mix. We still have leaf lettuce outdoors, and only harvest from the hoophouse lettuce if the weather is bad outdoors.
December
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard for salad, Chinese cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, maruba santoh, mizuna and frilly mustards, pak choy, radishes, salad mix, scallions, senposai, nspinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.

Hoophouse mizuna and lettuce mix. Photo by Kathleen Slattery

Hoophouse mizuna and lettuce mix.
Photo by Kathleen Slattery

January
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, Chinese cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, maruba santoh, mizuna and frilly mustards, pak choy, radishes,
salad mix, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
February
Arugula, brassica salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce (we cut the whole heads from 2/21), baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix,
scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
March
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce, lettuce heads, baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
April
Brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce (may end in early April), lettuce heads (until late April, then lettuce from outdoors), baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, scallions, spinach.

Other great articles include one by Eric and Joanna Reuter about growing chestnuts, one by Gretel Adams about growing flowers without plastic, including the wonderfully simple idea of fastening C-clamps on the bottom of the hood over the tiller to mark rows in the soil. There are reviews of two farming phone apps, one for CSA farmers and one called BeetClock, based of Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook.

Growing for Market, Organic Broadcaster, using rainy days

June2016_cover_300 pxThe summer issue of Growing for Market (June/July) has been out for a couple of weeks. We’re having a very rainy Fourth of July, so that pushed my mind towards good reading material. Assuming you stayed home and didn’t join the millions on the roads.

This issue has an interesting article by Amy Halloran about sustainably grown food grains as an addition to the crop portfolio for vegetable and flower producers. Sometimes we’re looking to diversify our crops to help the rotation (thwart the usual pests and diseases), or to even out the workload over the year. Local artisanal bakers and brewers might be looking for locally grown grain, or you can sell small bags alongside your vegetables. One advantage of grains is that they have a good shelf-life, so you can bring them out to your CSA or you market when you wan to add something new and different. Heirloom grains and dry beans have appeal for those who want to return to their roots.

Eric and Joanna Reuter wrote a helpful farmers’ guide to applying for a SARE grant. They give a clear overview explanation, then a step-by-step guide to how to apply. They talk about how to design a suitable project, how to set it up, run it, evaluate and fit with the deadlines. They include an example of a SARE farmer-directed research project that changed their farm management. It was Kevin Cooley’s pilot project using supermarket baskets (factory seconds) to harvest, wash and store vegetables. The vegetables stay in the basket they’re picked into. It saves a lot of time and reduced handling.

Wendy Carpenter wrote a very useful article reviewing use of moveable high tunnels. Five years have passed since this idea really took off, and they are no longer “flavor of the month.” Unsurprisingly, there are pros and cons to using a moveable tunnel, and many cautionary tales. If you are thinking of buying a slideable/dragable tunnel, and especially if you are thinking of designing and building your own hardware, read this article first! Save money and tears! Like many people, I was intrigued by the idea of having a hoophouse that could have a summer home and a winter home. But after some reading and reflection, I’ve come down on the side of staying put, for us. We value a draft-free winter hoophouse (moveable ones can be hard to close up well.) I have been nervous enough when we have high winds – I don’t want to add to that uncertainty. And we have a crop rotation worked out that suits us. We gradually replace the winter and early spring greens with early tomatoes, peppers, squash. Our climate is warm enough that we don’t need it to grow these crops in the hoophouse in the height of summer – they do fine outside. Growers in colder climate zones like to use their tunnels for nightshades and cucurbits all summer, which can make crop rotation difficult. I can see the benefit they get from a moveable house. In high summer we grow a bean seed crop, which helps our rotation, improves the soil and pays its way. We do use a big sheet of shade cloth over the top when it’s hot.

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Linda Hepler Beaty writes about adding a “WOW factor” to farmers market booths. Gretel Adams provides new information about growing lisianthus, a popular topic she has covered before. Theirs are grown in a hoophouse, using horizontal netting to keep the stems upright.


The Organic Broadcaster for May/June has been out (but I’ve been too busy to read it. . . ) it includes articles about industrial hemp farming, sprouted fodder grains, working on the National Organic Standards Board, transitioning to Organic, assessing the financial wisdom of buying machinery, the impact of warm season grasses on organic dairy cows, farming for wildlife with hedgerows (including elderberry and currants), a review of Lisa Kivirist’s book about women farmers Soil Sisters, farm safety for children, and there is the usual round up  of organic field days and events, news briefs, and classified ads. The 20 pages are packed!

Lisa Kivirist and her newest book. See this site for details of an August Soil Sisters event in Wisconsin.

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Insect mesh, shadecloth, crimson clover, sowing corn, too much rain

May2016_cover_300pxThe May issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about protecting crops in the summer, using shadecloth and insect mesh (netting).

If you want to grow lots of summer crops in buggy places, net houses (hoophouses covered with insect mesh rather than poly) may be your answer. If the bugs are not tiny, small mesh shade cloth may be an even better choice than insect mesh, because it cools while keeping the critters out. Search for project FS13-275 at http://www.southernsare.org. The document High Tunnel Pest Exclusion System: A novel strategy for organic crop production in the south is available from a link in that report.

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer. Photo Nina Gentle

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer.
Photo Nina Gentle

I write about using shade cloth for cool weather crops like lettuce during the summer, and also about research into the improvements to yields of peppers when using shadecloth. 30% shade cloth can increase pepper yields by 100% (yes, double the yield!). See the University of Georgia paper Shading helps south Georgia pepper farmers beat the heat. For hot weather lettuce, we use 45-60% shade cloth on spring hoops 6-8 feet apart, with a plastic clothespin to attach it at each hoop.  Shadecloth lets air through better than row cover does, so it’s less likely to blow away. We don’t use any weight to hold the edges down. We keep the shade cloth on for 2-3 weeks after transplanting, then move it on to the next planting, in a single operation. 2 or 3 people pull up the hoops with the shade cloth still attached, and parade it like a Chinese dragon procession.We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rowcover (white polypro or polyester non-woven fabric) is often used by growers in cold weather to extend the season. There are also lightweight rowcovers for insect exclusion. These can be fragile, and holey row cover doesn’t keep insects out! We switched to only buying thick rowcover and use it  for some crops even in summer. It doesn’t heat up as much as people fear. Johnnys Seeds has a helpful row cover comparison chart

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

But even better for protecting plants against bugs in summer is ProtekNet, a translucent polyamide (nylon) fabric which comes in different mesh sizes. it allows better airflow than rowcover, and better light permeability (from the plants’ perspective) – visibility from the human perspective. Dubois offers free shipping on online orders over $200. ProtekNet is also available from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland, and  Johnnys Seeds in Maine.


Also in this issue of Growing for Market Jane Tanner writes about the benefits of no-till farming, in building topsoil, encouraging soil micro-organisms and reducing weed pressure.  She writes about several farms, all following the model of small acreage, intensively farmed, mostly with manual tools. This system, advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier in The Market Gardener, includes “occultation”, the practice of covering damp soil with heavy black plastic for several weeks to kill weeds. This article includes photos of occultation and a clear explanation. Cover crops are another important feature of this system. I found this a particularly information-packed article, one I will return to.

9221576_origKarin Tifft writes about IPM tools (Integrated Pest Management) for small and organic farms, making the topic accessible to those of us with only a short amount of reading time! We can read enough now to make some actual differences to our pest levels. Later we’ll want to read more, as results pile up.

Nikki Warner writes with advice for managing a farmers market, and Ralph Thurston and Jeriann Sabin write about starting a flower farm (Excerpted  from their book Deadhead: The Bindweed Way to Grow Flowers with their permission.)


We sowed our first corn on Thursday. the soil temperature was 60F, so we were OK on that score. But then it rained and rained. The soil is saturated. I wonder if the corn seed will rot in the ground? Also the bean we sowed last week. Was I too hasty? We’ll see.


Meanwhile, a cheery sight has been the flowering crimson clover cover crop

Crimson clover cover crop Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

This patch is where our fall broccoli was last year. We under-sowed with a mix of crimson clover, Ladino white clover and medium red clover. If you look closely you can see the white patterned leaves of the red clover and the tiny leaves of the white clover in the understory. Also the seeding chickweed, which will disappear as soon as we bush hog the patch. Our goal here is to maintain the clovers all year, adding nitrogen to the soil for next year’s food crop and swamping the weeds. We’ll mow every time it looks weedy.

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop Photo by McCune Porter

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop
Photo by McCune Porter

In this second picture, you can see a patch where we sowed winter rye mixed with crimson clover in late October as a winter cover crop. In most places the rye is taller than the clover, so it’s not as overwhelmingly pretty as the first patch, but it’s packing a lot of biomass to feed the soil. It will get disked in soon (when the soil dries enough!), in preparation for later sweet corn sowings.

Not much gardening happening; videos, events, articles

A Chandler blueberry layered in a pot. Photo Kathryn Simmons

A Chandler blueberry layered in a pot.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Not much gardening has been happening here. The soil is still saturated, so we can’t till or plant. We have spread a lot of compost on lots of raised beds. We have finished our blueberry pruning and are looking at filling the gaps before the buds break. We have 44 old blueberry bushes in one planting and 20 younger ones in another spot. All the 20 younger ones are alive, but there are about 8 gaps in the older patch. We propagate our own blueberry plants for gap-filling, by layering.

This involves taking a healthy low-lying branch and pinning it down into some soil. Before pinning it, we scrape the lower bark off where it touches the soil, to help the branch grow roots from that point. We used to pin the branches down into pots of soil, as in the photo above, but for the past few years we have simply been pinning them into the ground. This has the advantage of reducing the chance of the roots drying out (they are in a much larger volume of soil). But it has the disadvantage of being harder to see and so more likely to get damaged, mulched over or uprooted by our visitor-helpers. We use 6″ sod staples, those wire staples sometimes sold to hold down geotextiles or row cover or drip tape. We tie a long piece of bright colored plastic flagging tape around the top of the staple to make it easier to see. If the branch tries to spring out of the soil, we use rocks to hold the staple down. With the pot system, we would cut the new plant from the mother once it seemed to have life of its own. Now we grow them in the soil and we have simplified our system so we pin down new layers while we are doing the pruning, and leave them for a whole year.

After the pruning we dig up the previous year’s layers and replant them. We label and flag them, and even put wire netting cages round them for protection. And then water twice a week if nature doesn’t, for a few weeks, then once a week for the summer.

Young blueberry plant protected with wire netting. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Young blueberry plant protected with wire netting.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We keep maps of which blueberry varieties are where in our patches and during the harvest season we flag the most tasty ones, so we know where to go to propagate more.


The Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition is starting a video series with five participating farms. The first video, from Bellair Farm, 11 miles south of Charlottesville, can be seen here:

A different farm will release a YouTube video each week. The other four farms are
Porcello Farm (Charlottesville)
Agriberry Farm (Hanover)
Amy’s Garden (Charles City)
Browntown Farms (Warfield)

The farms address how they got started, where they sell their products, how they organize their labor, and lots more. The conversations were recorded to create these videos to help people learn more about Virginia’s farmers as well as gather practical information to use on your own farm. The goal of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition is to support new farmers at any scale, particularly historically under-served groups.


culpeperimage-front-coverComing right up is my talk at Culpeper County Library next Sunday 2/28 from 2-4pm in their meeting room. I’ll be chatting about writing my book, answering gardening questions, discussing the importance of local sustainably grown food, and selling and signing copies of my book.


The Virginia Berry Production and Marketing Conference
(North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association’s Annual Conference) will be in
Williamsburg, VA – March 1-4, 2016. I haven’t yet got any info I can paste in, but click on the link and find details and registration form.


Growing magazine has just arrived and I’m interested to see they have several articles about carrots. Good carrot production, how to produce consistent carrots twice a year (in central California), insect-infested carrots and weeds in carrots. Why carrots only twice a year? We plant carrots in February, March, April, May and August. Sometimes even in June and July if we need to. There’s also an article about soils and climate change. Growing is not an organic magazine, so I pick and choose from their advice. It is what I’d call open-minded about organics: they recognize some growers use organic methods and they want their magazine to be read by those farmers too. Some articles are online. Subscription to the magazine is free (I imagine the advertisers cover the costs)

Carrot photo from Small Farm Central

Carrot photo from Small Farm Central

SSAWG Conference, Mother Earth News and Eat-All Greens, Growing for Market

I’m home from a very successful Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington Kentucky. It was the biggest so far, with 1400-1500 participants. My workshop Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale ran out even of standing room, so I was asked to repeat it in the afternoon. I did that and the new room was half full. I gave out over 230 handouts. The impossibly broad topic was a challenge for a 75 minute workshop, but I did my best. Last week I blogged the info on Bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management that I had to drop from the slideshow.

I love the SSAWG conference. I learned so many useful tips that will improve my farming this year and in the future. Such as another way to tell a ripe watermelon: stroke it and feel the texture of the skin. If it’s slick the melon isn’t ready. When it becomes a little rough, it is. Such as, yes a 60cfm inflation blower really should be adequate for a 30′ x 96′ hoophouse, so we almost certainly have holes in the plastic. Such as ways to deal with tomato diseases in the Southeast (thanks Joe Kemble of Auburn University).

If you are now wishing you’d been there, go to SlideShare.net and search for SSAWG. There are so many valuable presentations from conferences over the years. Also the audio of this year’s presentations (and last) are available from Rhino Technologies. Wait a few days for them to get home and load everything on their website.


Eat-All Greens on October 19 Photo Bridget Aleshire

Eat-All Greens on October 19
Photo Bridget Aleshire

And while the soil outside is waterlogged and you can’t do much gardening or farming, what better than more veggie-reading? Mother Earth News Feb/March issue has an article by Carol Deppe,  on How to Easily Grow High-Yielding Greens. Carol is the inventor/discoverer of Eat-All Greens, which I have been writing about on this blog. Her 20 years of trialing this method of growing cooking greens quickly with very little work has led her to now recommend seven greens as particularly suitable. Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes (I was interested to read that Carol also harvested the radish roots as we did with ours in December), Groninger Blue collard-kale (must get that this year), Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana (check!), and Red Aztec huazontle. No mention this time of peas. Peas provided our earliest harvests this fall. Keeping them tender was a challenge though. The article includes information on where to buy the varieties she recommends. Carol also has her own seed company Fertile Valley Seeds, selling varieties and strains that she has developed.


Potato harvest in November Photo by Lori Katz

Potato harvest in November with our Checchi and Magli harvester
Photo by Lori Katz

In the same issue of Mother Earth News is some of what I have written about dealing safely with green potatoes.


GFM_February2016_cover_300pxLastly for this week, the February Growing for Market is out. This is the first issue from the new editor, Andrew Mefferd. He tackles the thorny topic of hydroponics and whether it can ever be considered Organic. (Many organic and biological growers believe it is important to Keep the Soil in Organic)  As well as the Organic status of hydroponics, he describes the various types of hydroponic production for those that want to grow food that way, and for the rest of us to understand what we are talking about.

There is an article by Nick Burton about his hydroponic system and developing a trust-based sales system in a gym for people on a “paleo diet”, who eat lots of vegetables. Then a salad mix kit. He had moved from running a plant nursery to selling produce to selling convenience for people short of time and enthusiasm for shopping and preparing food. I admit to being skeptical about the paleo diet. Didn’t those paleo people spend all day scavenging for food?

Gretel Adams writes about running a bouquet business efficiently. (I’d be no good, I would dither for too long!)

My own article this issue is very down-to-earth: growing oats as a cover crop. They are easy-care and in climates in zone 7 or colder, they reliably die in the winter, making for easy early spring cultivation. We like to undersow oats and soy in our last sweet corn patch. This saves us from having to disk up the patch to establish a winter cover crop (it’s already there!), and means we can follow the late sweet corn with an early spring crop the next year. In our case it is the March potatoes.

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy Photo Kathryn Simmons

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy
Photo Kathryn Simmons