Asian Greens Slide Show, Crops in our Hoophouse

I’ve started my year of monthly posts about Asian greens with one about senposai and at the Mother Earth News Fair in Vermont this past weekend, I presented my slide show on Asian Greens, which is here for those who missed it. Click the diagonal arrow symbol to get the full screen version.

Today, back on the farm, I spent the morning in the hoophouse. I harvested 4 buckets of cucumbers from one 90′ bed of Spacemaster bush cucumbers. We harvested 2 buckets two days ago, and today they have really taken off!

Flowering cucumbers in our hoophouse May 25. Photo by Alexis Yamashita

I also harvested 3 gallons of green beans – we planted Strike, a very upright variety. We find that bush beans tend to sprawl in the hoophouse, and the varieties that do well for us outside (Provider and Bush Blue Lake, from Fedco Seeds), grow straggly inside and the beans curve. It’s probably because the shadecloth on the hoophouse is too dark for beans.

Strike beans in our hoophouse. See the big shade cloth over the hoophouse.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

The Gentry yellow squash are doing very well. I’ll harvest those tomorrow (we’re alternating cucumber and squash harvest days currently)

Gentry yellow squash in our hooophouse.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

The other crops in our hoophouse now are peppers (we’ve had a handful of green bells). two beds of tomatoes that have been struggling with aphids and sooty mold, and some Iron and Clay cowpeas as cover crops. See this sad picture of the aphids and sooty mold:

Tomato plant with aphids and sooty mold.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

Aphids excrete a sweet liquid called honeydew. In warm moist conditions this sugary substance grows a black mold on every deposit. This is called sooty mold. We have been dealing with it by jet-washing some of the tomatoes every sunny day, and we are winning. The photo above was specially chosen to demonstrate the problem – it’s not a crop to be proud of at this point! We use a brass jet-spray nozzle on a hose and wash them in the middle of the day, so the leaves can dry quickly – we don’t want any more fungal tomato diseases moving in!

Upcoming events, Growing for Market article, Organic Broadcaster

Harvesting Zephyr yellow squash.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Starting with what’s being harvested now – squash and zucchini are coming in nicely. The hoophouse Gentry yellow squash (chosen for being fast-maturing) is coming in by the bucketload, and the outdoor yellow squash and zucchini have started producing.


I’m off to Burlington, Vermont this weekend, for the Mother Earth News Fair. I’m giving two workshops:

Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables,on Saturday 6/10 at 11 am on the Yanmar Sustainability Stage, immediately followed by book-signing at the Mother Earth News Bookstore noon- 12.30.

Producing Asian Greens on Sunday  6/11 at 3.30 pm on the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

I’m also doing demonstrations of tomato string-weaving at the New Society Publishers booth 2611, near the Mother Earth News Stage (not the Bookstore this time), at 10 – 10.30 am and 3-3.30 pm on Saturday and 10 -10.30 am, 11- 11.30 am and 2- 2.30 pm on Sunday. Check out my Events page to see the pink sparkly tinsel tomato plant models I use!


At the Heritage Harvest Festival near Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday September 8 (the Premium Workshops before the main Festival), I’m presenting on Growing Sweet Potatoes at 3.30-4.30 in classroom 7, followed by book-signing at the Monticello Bookshop.


The June/July summer issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, and includes my article on Hoophouse soil salt buildup. This is an issue we have been dealing with – we see white deposits on the soil. I did a lot of research and found ways to water the salts back down deep in the soil profile. I also gathered information on how to measure and monitor salinity, and how to understand the test results and their different testing methods and different units of measure. I learned about salt tolerance of different crops, the plant symptoms of excess salinity, and how to prevent the problem in future. This topic is rising in importance as more people use hoophouses with drip irrigation systems. We were blithely ignorant for our first several years of hoophopuse use, as salinity takes a few years to really develop, and there wasn’t much information available.

I’m also looking forward to reading the other articles, especially Summer lettuce lessons from Southern growers by Jesse Frost. There are some great photos of beds covered with hoops and shade-cloth, which show a good system. I always appreciate articles written for southern growers, which can be in short supply.

Daisy Fair in Utah’s zone 5 has written about moveable tunnels with in-ground hydronic heat. So there’s information for cold climates too. Sam Hitchcock Tilton has an article with tips learned from Dutch and Swiss farmers. Robert Hadad advises on careful monitoring of costs of production in order to actually make a living from farming. The flower growing article in this issue is from Debra Prinzing and is about American Flowers Week, a chance to highlight American-grown flowers with some light-hearted fun photos.


The May/June Organic Broadcaster just arrived in its paper format – I’ve had the digital one for a while. Good thing I’ve got that long car ride to Vermont this weekend to catch up on my farming reading!

The front page story this time is about Kansas farmers, Tim and Michael Raile, transitioning thousands of dryland (non-irrigated) acres to Organic steadily over the next 5 or 6 years. Dryland farming focuses on moisture retention. The Railes grow a wheat/corn/
sunflower/milo (grain sorghum)/fallow rotation. They are also trialing some ancient grains.

Organic production in the US is not meeting demand, and organic imports are increasing, including organic soy and feed corn, not just bananas and coffee. More farmers want to produce Organic poultry, eggs, milk and meat. And so they are looking for Organic feed at an affordable price. This is often imported, which raises issues about how Organic Standards vary from one country to another, and the bigger issue of sustainability – not always the same as Organic! Does it really make sense to ship in grains to feed livestock?

Harriet Behar writes about the true meaning of Organic and overall methods of production. It’s not just about following rules on allowed inputs and materials – it’s a whole approach to how we treat the soil, our plants and livestock.

Hannah Philips and Brad Heins share research on how cover crop choices can influence the fatty acids and meat of dairy steers. Jody Padgham writes about CSAs responding to competition and decreasing membership by offering more options on shares and delivery. Gone are the days of “One box, one day, one price” CSAs. Numerous modifications of the basic CSA model have sprung up to better fit the diverse needs of customers (members). Kristen McPhee writes about the Vermont Herb Growers  Cooperative, which buys from various small-scale growers and aggregates orders to larger buyers. Other topics covered include lessons learned from Hawaii’s GMO controversy, paying for end-of-life care without losing your farm, and many short items and classified ads. As always, a newspaper packed with information.


And by the way, we’re also picking blueberries – ah! heaven!

Blueberries.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Asian Greens in May: Senposai outdoors

A bed of senposai outdoors in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

This is the first of what will be a year of monthly posts about different Asian greens.

Most Asian greens are chancy outdoors in the spring here in central Virginia, because our springs are short, escalating from cold weather to hot in not much time, and most Asian greens bolt as soon as it heats up. Senposai is the only one that is worthwhile for us to plant outdoors in spring. It grows quickly into a big plant producing large, round, mid-green leaves. Senposai is cold tolerant down to 12°F (-11°C) once hardened off, and also warm-tolerant (I won’t say heat-tolerant).

Senposai, which translates as Thousand Wonder Vegetable, is a cross between komatsuna and regular cabbage.

Spotting senposai seedlings in the greenhouse in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

We start the seedlings in the greenhouse, sowing senposai February 7, the same date as our main spring cabbages. We spot out the seedlings into 4″ deep flats, 40 in a 12 x 24″ flat, as shown in the photo above. When the transplants reach a good size, we harden them off in the cold frame for two weeks, ready to plant out March 18 (at five to six weeks old).

We transplant senposai in 3 rows per 4 ft bed, with plants 18″ apart in the rows. Yes, they will grow into big plants.You could transplant at anywhere between 12″–18″ (30–45 cm) spacing, using the closer spacing if you will harvest often and prefer smaller leaves. When transplanting we use rowcover, but only keep it on the senposai until early April, when we take it away to use it on the newly planted broccoli instead.

Senposai is very fast growing. In the fall, senposai takes only 40 days to mature, but this early spring sowing takes 57 days. We can start harvesting senposai April 5 (almost as soon as we remove the rowcovers!) and continue till late May, when it starts bolting a week or two before the spring kale and collards.

A young senposai transplant.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Because senposai grows fast, it is very productive. It is usually harvested leaf by leaf,simply snapping off the bigger leaves.  “8 for later” is our mantra to prevent over-harvesting of leafy greens – we encourage new people to count the leaves from the center out and take those in excess of 8 (or we might take fewer). After a while of counting, it becomes second nature to recognize what is a sustainable number of leaves to save for future harvests.

Senposai is tender, easy and quick to cook, much quicker than collards. It has a delicious sweet cabbagey flavor, and tender texture. It can be stir-fried, stir-braised, steamed and even eaten raw, by the fairly dedicated salad-lover.

Because it is fast-growing, senposai can be a good Plan B vegetable, to plant as a fast-growing substitute for cabbage or kale if something goes wrong with your original planting plans. We did this one spring when we got poor germination of cabbage.

Senposai also does well planted outdoors in the fall, and over the winter in our hoophouse, so it might reappear later in the year in this series of blogposts.

We buy seed from Fedco Seeds (who recommend it for okonamiyaki  savory pancakes). “Customers buy it once because it looks absolutely stunning, then they buy it again because it is extremely delicious. Absurdly productive and easy to grow,” raves John Eisenstein of Port Royal, PA, in the Fedco catalog.

Seed is also available from Kitazawa Seeds in California who say: “This is an excellent vegetable for soup, salad, pickling, stir-fry, ohitashi, sukiyaki, and yosenabe,” and Evergreen Seeds. 

 

Year Round Lettuce

I’ve now completed 12 monthly posts about suitable lettuce varieties and growing techniques. You can see these by clicking the Lettuce Varieties Category tab, but you can also get the overview here. They run from May to April because that’s how I wrote them. Click the name of the month to view the original post.

Sword Leaf Lettuce
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

May: Sword leaf lettuce

Star Fighter lettuce.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June: Starfighter: Lettuce Variety of the Month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bed of young Green Forest lettuce.
Photo by Wren Vile

July: Green Forest – Lettuce variety for early July

Pablo Batavian lettuce
Photo Nina Gentle

August:Batavian lettuces for August

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

September: Lettuce in September,

Young lettuce plants in greenhouse beds in October. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

October: Lettuce growing in October

Starfighter and Red Salad Bowl lettuce in our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

November: Lettuce in November

Rouge d’Hiver hardy romaine lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

December: Lettuce in December

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newly germinated lettuce seedlings.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

January: Lettuce varieties for January, new year, fresh start

Reliable Red Salad Bowl lettuce, one of our standbys.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Extra: Lettuce Varieties for 2017

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

February: Lettuce in February

Bronze Arrow lettuce is a beautiful and tasty early spring variety.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

March: Lettuce for March and all year

April: Lettuce in April

Spring lettuce bed.
Photo Wren Vile

Our Vegetable Gardens in May, Year Round Lettuce, Sprouts and Salads

Spring cabbage planted in hay mulch, a few weeks after transplanting.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our broccoli and cabbage transplants enjoyed the cool rainy weather and got through the dry hot weather. Yes, it’s been very changeable. Last night the temperature dropped to 33F (0.5C).  We’re harvesting rhubarb, kale, spinach, collards, senposai and garlic scallions outdoors, and are deep into our garlic scape harvest.

Pulling garlic scapes in May
Photo by Wren Vile

How to harvest garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

The above photo shows our preferred garlic scape harvest method: grasp the scape firmly below the head and pull steadily directly upwards. There will be a popping sound when the stem breaks. This method gets us the largest amount of the scape, and more importantly, the lower part is the most tender, and we don’t want to leave it behind.

Flowering squash plants with a row of snap peas in our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

In our hoophouse we are harvesting the last of the winter scallions, some snap peas and today, May 9, the first yellow squash (Gentry). You can see in this photo taken last week, that the squash are flowering and have tiny fruits developing.

Our first bed of outdoor lettuce (and weeds!) Photo Wren Vile

My Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blogpost about Growing Lettuce Year Round: Succession Planting for a Continuous Supply is up. This acts as a follow up to one of my workshops at the Asheville MEN Fair last weekend on Succession Planting for a Continuous Supply of Vegetables.

I had a good time at the Fair. My Saturday workshop on Sweet Potatoes was addressed to a full tent of extremely hardy sweet potato lovers. The weather was cold and windy, especially hard on speakers – at least the audience sat shoulder-to-shoulder for warmth. I was glad to get indoors for the book-signing afterwards. My Sunday workshop on Succession Planting was the last session of the Fair, but even so, there was good attendance.

My fellow Twin Oaker Winnie has written about using our seasonal vegetables in her blog

sustainexistence. Check out her Beet, Spinach, & Garlic Scape Salad

Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

Garlic Scapes
Photo courtesy of Small Farm Central

I always know when garlic growers in slightly warmer or more southern climates are starting to find scapes (the edible firm flower stems of hardneck garlic) because my posts about scapes suddenly become popular! My posts “Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest,”  and “Garlic scapes to cheer us up” have been reread a lot recently, and Harvesting garlic is due for attention any time now. My Growing Great Garlic slideshow is here. Click the diagonal arrows to view it full screen.

And sure enough, our own scapes are ready too, even though this is a week earlier than usual.We harvest two or three times a week until there are no more. I love garlic scapes as one of the first outdoor crops of the spring, and a flavor different from leafy greens and stored roots, the staples of early spring.

Our tulip poplars are flowering now too, also early. Our average date for those is 5/1, and we’re a few days ahead of that. When I was a beekeeper it was important to be ready for the tulip poplar flowers, because that was our big nectar flow of the year, and I had to dash out to the beeyard and stack up 5 supers on each hive. I had to give up on the beekeeping because the combination of lifting heavy boxes and twisting was hurting my back too much. Oh, and those heavy boxes were full of thousands of stinging insects, but I didn’t mind that bit as much. The flowering of tulip poplars and the germination of ragweed are both phenology signs that signify that the Growing Degree Days have reached 200 (on a base of 50F) and that conditions are warm enough to sow sweet corn. Myself, I watch the young leaves on the white oaks and when they are the size of a squirrel’s ear, I decide it’s warm enough for corn.


This weekend I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Click the link to see the location, the workshop schedule and the list of vendors who’ll be there. I’m presenting two workshops, Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish on Saturday 5/6 at 12.30on the Yanmar Sustainable Agriculture Stage, followed by book-signing and chatting at the Mother Earth News Bookstore; and Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Sunday 5/7 at the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

Of course, you’ll need to be there and  hear me speak to get the most out of it. I’m also doing short demonstrations of How to String Weave Tomatoes at booth 2800, New Society Publishers (near the Bookstore) on Saturday at 10 am, 11 am and 5 pm, and on Sunday at 10 am and 11 am. They’re half-hour time slots. My table top demo kit uses #2 pencils and pink tinsel.

At the New Society Publishers booth at the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, demonstrating how to string weave tomatoes.
Photo Ingrid Witvoet/New Society

The May issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, including my article about growing seed crops in hoophouses. I interviewed Clif Slade, founder of the 43560 Project at Virginia State University, about several creative sequences of food crops and seed crops he has grown in a high tunnel. (Collards, okra) as well as plant starts (sweet potatoes, onions). He farms in Surry County, Virginia.

Also in this GfM, Simon Huntley of Small Farm Central encourages small farmers to set aside two hours a week for a quick and efficient bit of online marketing “One Photo,
One Paragraph”. His goal is to help farmers stay in the spotlight with their products, without having to spend a great deal of time on it in the busy season.

Conor Crickmore has an article about preparing and laying out no-till permanent raised beds very precisely in a hoophouse. He uses the Quick Cut Greens Harvester to mow off over-size baby salad crops to clear the bed prior to broadforking and adding needed soil amendments.

Spencer Nietmann writes about what it really costs to start a farm. Jesse Frost discusses various types of plastic to cover hoophouses  (high tunnels), and lastly, Jane Tanner writes about native perennials for flower farms

Lettuce in April

Spring lettuce bed.
Photo Wren Vile

We’re on the brink of starting to harvest our first outdoor lettuce, switching over from the last of the baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse. Our goal for this transition is April 15, but naturally the exact date will depend on the weather in the spring, the coldness of the late winter, the rate at which we are eating lettuce and other factors beyond the grower’s control.

Hoophouse baby lettuce mix. Photo Kathleen Slattery

We make three sowings of baby lettuce mix: 10/24 to harvest early December to early March (after we’ve cut it several times, and it is starting to tun bitter); 12/31 to harvest from late February till the end of March Later if it doesn’t get bitter from hot weather); and 2/1 to harvest mid March to the end of April. This year the #2 sowing is still edible in mid April, so we have two patches feeding us for a little longer.

Our winter salad mixes are very popular, but we can only continue with those as long as the spinach and the salad brassicas hold up. Part of me is always sad to stop eating salad mix, but the other part welcomes the juicier, crunchier, tastier head lettuce. Baby lettuce mix is very pretty, but honestly I find it a bit short on flavor and texture! It’s the other ingredients in the salad that make it interesting for me, especially spinach.

The first outdoor lettuce were sown 1/17, planted out 3/9, to feed us 4/15 to 5/8, when the second sowing should be ready. We cover these with rowcover on hoops when we transplant, for about a month, or until the weather seems settled at a reasonable temperature.

Our raised beds outdoors are 4 ft wide, with 1 ft paths. we plant four rows of lettuce, spaced 12″ apart, and plant about 120 from each sowing. That usually fills a third of a 90 ft long bed, so we have 3 different plantings in each bed of lettuce. We continue at this pace until our last outdoor plantings around the fall equinox.

This spring we are going to continue the salad mixes a bit longer by harvesting the outdoor lettuce by the leaf. We have lots of really good looking spinach to mix in, and the last few mizuna and ferny mustards. We used to only sow these twice, 9/24 to transplant in the hoophouse, and 11/9, which feeds us until late March. We added in a third sowing of mizuna and ferny mustards 2/1 which we harvest 3/24 to 4/23 approximately. That extra month is really worth having!

We also have a short row of Sugar Ann snap peas in the hoophouse (sowed 2/1) that we like to snip into thirds and add to salad mix. This makes for a nice little surprise for everyone. We couldn’t feed a hundred on 50 ft of snap peas! These are an incentive to keep the salad mixes going while the peas are being harvested.

Sugar Ann snap peas in our hoophouse, a month earlier than outdoor peas.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

 

Transplanting into hay or straw mulch, organic myth-busting, keep soil in Organic

Hopefully the really cold nights are behind us. We had 20F last Wednesday night/Thursday morning 3/23. We are getting ready to transplant spring cabbage and broccoli. I wrote a bit about broccoli planting last spring (mostly about varieties and planting alyssum to attract beneficial insects) and in spring 2015. 

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our greenhouse in early March.
Photo Wren Vile

Here I’ll say more about transplanting into hay or straw mulch, which I have also written about for Mother Earth News. Transplanting into rolled out or pre-spread straw or hay from small square bales is quicker, easier and more effective than fitting the mulch around the transplants after you’ve planted them.

We bale hay into big round bales, and move them around with the tractor and forks or a rear bale spike (spear). We plan our beds to be 5′ apart on centers and our rows to be 5-5½’ apart (tomatoes, for example) . We prepare our beds and get the mulch dropped off at the uphill end (even a small slope is helpful!).

When we plant garlic in November, as soon as we’ve planted and covered the cloves with soil, we unroll the bales over the top of the beds.

Using mulch helps control weeds, and reduces the weed seed bank, which is the name for the store of weed seeds already in the soil, that will otherwise grow in the future. “One year’s seeding, seven years weeding,” is a wise and rueful gardener’s saying. Only perennial grasses and a few other “running” perennials will come up through a thick layer of hay. Plastic mulches, while they do deal with weeds, actually raise soil temperature. This is an advantage for warm weather crops, but not for brassicas! If using organic mulches for warm weather crops, it is often best to wait four weeks after transplanting, cultivate to remove one round of weeds, then roll out the mulch. This avoids cooling the soil which would slow growth down and delay harvests. If you’re waiting for watermelons, this is too sad! All kinds of mulch also reduce rain splash, helping prevent fungal leaf diseases.

Organic mulches have some advantages over plastic mulches. They keep the soil damper, which can mean higher yields and less need to water. They also keep temperatures lower in summer, an advantage for cool-weather crops, like broccoli and cabbage. Organic mulches improve the soil structure and increase the organic matter. The number of earthworms in the soil at the end of the season can be twice as high as under plastic mulch.

Rolling hay over newspaper for a new strawberry bed.
Photo Luke Stovall

There is a myth that organic mulches lock-up nitrogen from the soil. This could happen with soils which are very short on organic matter and micro-organisms. It does happen if fresh high-carbon sources, such as straw or hay, are incorporated into the soil. In my experience, surface mulches have not caused nitrogen shortages to the crops they mulch. Our soil is very fertile, and we do what we can to encourage soil micro-organisms to multiply, so that they can readily digest what we add to the soil. The longer-term effect of high-carbon mulches can be to increase the soil nitrogen. The micro-organisms feeding on the carbon die and decompose, and they are a high-N source!

If you are buying in straw or hay and need to watch costs, you could spread the organic mulch over a double layer of newspaper. You’ll only need half as much hay or straw compared to mulching with the straw or hay alone. The final result is only half as deep, which is an advantage when transplanting small plants, which could get lost in deep organic mulch. I believe the inks used on regular newsprint are not toxic. We avoid using glossy paper with colored inks, because of concerns about toxicity of the coating on the paper as well as the inks.

Spring cabbage planted in hay mulch, a few weeks after transplanting.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We grow our own hay, so we know it is unsprayed – there is a danger from pyridine carboxylic acids, a class of broadleaf herbicides which persist through composting and even through the digestive systems of livestock, and can kill or seriously damage food crops and flowers. Grazon is one brand; picloram is the plant growth regulator it contains.

Our hay is not the perfect mulch, as it does have some weed seeds, and sometimes mold. (Our garden gets the hay which is not good enough for the cows to eat.) If you have the choice, unsprayed straw is better than hay, as it won’t have many weeds. We don’t live in a grain-growing area, so there is no local straw for sale.

We remove the twine (if it hasn’t already rotted and fallen off) and study the end of the bale to figure out which way it will unroll. This can be surprisingly unclear. If we have to turn the bale, or maneuver it to line up, we might have three people do that. Once it’s rolling, two people can manage to unroll a round bale of hay. We spend some time at the end using wheelbarrows to move hay from the thick places to the thinner spots.

For transplants we do what we call “making nests” in the hay. Two people work opposite each other, across a bed, as we plant two rows of broccoli or cabbage. One of the people has an 18″ stick to measure the  center-to-center plant spacing. The second person doesn’t measure, but staggers their row compared to the first person’s row, making a zig-zag to match the pattern. Both people aim to stay about 16″ from the edge of the bed, so the rows are evenly spaced across the bed. Using two hands, they pull open the hay, down to soil level. The “nest” needs a diameter of about 4″, for easy transplanting. We either make all the nests before we start planting, or we have two pairs of people, with the nesters moving faster than the planters. We want to get the plants in the ground quickly, and minimize the time they are out in the field wilting in the flat.

Each planter works along a row, transplanting into the exposed soil in the nests, firming the plants in and watering from a can every 10-20 plants (depending how hot or windy it is). Another crew member pulls the hose and wand along the aisles and gives all the plants a generous second watering. After the hose watering, someone pulls the hay around the stems at ground level.We call this ” tucking the plants in”. If plants are  “untucked”, this is the signal to the Hose Waterer that the plants need water.  When they are all tucked in along a section of a bed, it is the signal to those unrolling row cover to go ahead and cover. Our system is almost disaster-proof, as it includes indicators about the next task needed.

To have a long broccoli harvest period, we use several varieties with different days-to-maturity, and two sowing dates. This gives us the longest possible harvest period before it just gets too hot for pleasant-tasting broccoli.

A bed of early spring cabbage, planted into hay mulch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons


The Organic Trade Association has published a set of 33 little posters putting solid information out there, and busting some myths about organic agriculture . Here’s one with a photo on our cabbage theme.

The items are free to download, for any healthy food related events you might be organizing. Or just go and read them, so that next time someone asks you a question about organic farming, you’ll have the answers at your fingertips.


And talking about what’s allowed in Organic certification, one controversial practice is hydroponics, where plants grow without soil, in a liquid including nutrients (the nutrients people are aware the plants need). Another is aquaponics where plants grow without soil, in a liquid where farmed fish have been growing.

There is a “Keep the Soil in Organic” movement, which advocates for Organic certification requiring plants to be grown in soil, not water-plus-some-nutrients. Dave Chapman sent me this message asking for support for the National Organic Standards Board on 3/27/17:

“The NOSB needs our help.

The NOSB meets in Denver in three weeks to debate whether a healthy soil is the foundation of organic farming.

We have champions on the NOSB fighting for us, but they need to hear from you. They are facing tremendous pressure from professional lobbyists in this battle. Lee Frankel, one of the chief lobbyists for the hydroponic coalition, stated in an editorial last week that organic hydro is now a billion dollar a year industry. This explosive growth happened in just 7 years since the NOSB recommended that hydroponics has no place in organic certification. That recommendation was opposed by the USDA, and hydro has been welcomed into organic certification. The hydro industry sees organic as their economic gold rush. And they are only getting started.

Please submit a comment to the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) letting them know that organic must be based on the fertility of a healthy soil ecosystem. Don’t let organic be destroyed.

Comments are due by this Thursday 3/30 at midnight. Do it now.

Click Comment Now!  “

No time to lose on that one! Big hydroponic “organic” industries have lobbied and got included as certifiably Organic, when most of us realize that growing food without soil is the opposite of Organic, with or without a capital O.

Pennsylvania farmer Tom Beddard speaks out on the soil in organic at the Rally In The Valley. “You can tell it was grown in the soil because it tastes better!”

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

Hoophouse seasonal transition to tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers

This past weekend I was at the Organic Growers School spring conference in Asheville, NC. I presented my workshop on Spring and Summer Hoophouses twice. This link will take you to a blog post where you can get the handout. An older version of the slideshow is at this SlideShare link. Later this week I will tweak the presentation a little and upload the revised version. It wasn’t very spring-like in Asheville. We got 3″ snow, but gardeners and farmers are a hardy lot, and attendance was still good. My workshops were packed (the room was quite small).


Young tomato plant in our hoophouse.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Now I’m home and we had snow in the forecast for Monday night, but got ice pellets instead. The worst of the weather passed us by. It’s still very cold though, and so we are delaying transplanting our early tomatoes in our hoophouse, which we had scheduled for 3/15 and 3/16. The photo above shows where we’re headed: sturdy transplants in the middle of the bed, with wire hoops to hold rowcover on cold nights. Here’s where we are now:

March hoophouse bed prepared for tomato planting.
Photo Wren Vile

When we make the transition from hoophouse winter crops to early spring crops, we don’t clear the whole bed. First we harvest out the greens down the middle of the bed, then measure and dig holes every two feet and put a shovelful of compost in each hole. Within a couple of weeks after transplanting the tomatoes, we harvest the greens on the south side of the bed, as they will block light from the new crop. After that we harvest the greens on the north side. This allows us to keep the greens later, which covers the time (the Hungry Gap) until the new spring plantings of outdoor greens start to produce.

Tomato transplants in March, ready to plant in our hoophouse in milder weather.
Photo Wren Vile

Meanwhile the tomato transplants are in pots in our greenhouse, where we can keep them warmer at night with rowcover. Our greenhouse stays warmer at night than our double-poly hoophouse. It has a solid north wall and double-pane glass windows (old patio doors).

We use the same method for our peppers, cucumbers and yellow squash, transplanted 4/1. In the photo below you can see the winter crop of Bulls Blood beets, which we grow for leaves for salad mixes, discarded beet stems, young squash plants and one of the wire hoops that hold rowcover on freezing nights.

Young summer squash plants in the hoophouse, surrounded by Bulls Blood beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

In the hoophouse we have three crop seasons:

  1. winter crops planted in the fall, harvested November to April (some spinach to May)
  2. early warm weather crops planted in March and April, harvested June and July (peppers to November)
  3. high summer crops planted in July and harvested August to October.