Events I’ll be speaking at, error found in SMF, book update

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse. Photo Nina Gentle

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse.
Photo Nina Gentle

First of all, I’ll get my confession off my chest. A savvy reader spotted an error in my book Sustainable Market Farming: Take a red pen and correct your copy!

In Chapter 20, Sustainable Disease Management, on page 135 I said “Pathogens can infect the seed via several routes . . . Insects that feed on the plant can transfer the disease (striped cucumber beetles vector bacterial wilt, which is caused by Erwinia tracheiphila)”
It is true that striped cucumber beetles vector bacterial wilt, which is caused by Erwinia tracheiphila. It isn’t true that this disease is seed-borne. I don’t know where I got the wrong information from. I don’t yet know of an example of a disease spread by insects that can become seed-borne (that I feel confident about!).
I’ve asked my publishers, New Society, to correct that mistake next time they reprint. I wrote to the attentive reader, thanked her, and asked her for leads on where to find  information about seed-borne diseases brought in initially by insects.

Meanwhile, I can recommend two books on seed growing (that weren’t out when I wrote my book), that contain good information about which diseases are seed-borne. I reviewed the impressive The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio a while back..

Newer is The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving from Seed Savers Exchange and the Organic Seed Alliance. Including “advice for the home gardener and the more seasoned horticulturist alike”, this is also a book from people who work growing seeds, and know their stuff. I plan to review it one week soon (when the work pace slows a little!)
If you’re a seed grower, you might want to add one of these to your wish list. Both are beautiful books, as well as clearly written ones.
This year I am not doing quite as much seed growing as some years. For sale, we are growing Carolina Crowder cowpeas in our hoophouse. Click the link to see photos.
For ourselves, we are selecting and saving seed from our Roma tomatoes and Crimson Sweet watermelon, as well as West Indian Gherkins. We are also saving garlic and shallots for replanting.

It’s that time of year when I line up events I’ll be speaking at in the fall and winter (and to some extent, into spring). Here’s my plan so far:

2012-festival-slideshow Friday and Saturday September 11-12 2015
Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello, Charlottesville, VA.
On Friday, 1.30-2.30pm I will be offering one of the Premium Workshops, Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.
That’s at the Woodland Pavilion, Visitor Center.
Then I will be doing book signing at the tent called The Shop at Monticello (at the Visitor Center), 2.45-3.13pm.
On Saturday I will be offering another premium workshop, Producing Asian Greens. This one is at the Vegetable Garden Tent at the Mountaintop (where most of the Saturday events are). It’s immediately followed by another book-signing, 5.30-6.0pm. The Festival ends at 6pm. All day Saturday is packed with events, and a General Admission ticket will be all you need apart from tickets for premium Workshops.

MENFairLogoThe following weekend, September 18-20, I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The schedule is not yet firm, but I will be presenting The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter probably on Friday September 18 4-5pm at the Mother Earth News Stage, and The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer on Saturday September 19 10-11am at the GRIT stage.

I will also be signing books at the Mother Earth News Bookstore at some point and doing some scale demonstrations of string-weaving for tomatoes at the New Society Publishers booth.


Hoophouse greens in November. Credit Ethan Hirsh

Hoophouse greens in November.
Credit Ethan Hirsh

The weekend of October 24-25 I plan to be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas with the two Hoophouse workshops. In February 2016, Mother Earth News is running their first fair in Belton, TexasToo soon for detailed information yet, but watch the site, if you live in Texas.


CFSA

November 6-8 I will be at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference, in Durham, North Carolina. Click here for the Conference page. I’m doing two workshops, Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables – on Saturday November7, 8.30-10am, and Succession Plantings for Continuous Harvests – on Sunday November 8, 10.45am-12.15pm. I will also do book signing at the BookSignAGanza, Saturday 5-6pm.


SSAWG

January 27-30 I will be at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. On the website you can sign up for the e-newsletter and around October 15, you can do Early Bird Registration. I hope to be a speaker, but it’s too soon to say. . .


logoFebruary 3-6, 2016 I will be at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference  at the Penn Stater Conference Center, State College, PA. Save the date.

 

Busy week: Asian Greens slideshow, Growing for Market, packing for PASA Conference

Here’s the updated version of the Producing Asian Greens presentation I gave last weekend at the Virginia Biofarming Conference for those who want to watch again, or those who missed it:

I thoroughly enjoyed the VBF conference. I think about 60 people came to that workshop, and 80 to my other presentation, Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests. I enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new fellow vegetable growers.

Now, almost without a break, I am packing for the PASA Conference.

There I will also do two workshops, Growing Great Garlic and Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, and some book signing. Hope to meet some of you there – do come and introduce yourself as one of my blog readers!


Transplanting bare-root spinach. Drawing by Jessie Doyle

Transplanting bare-root spinach.
Drawing by Jessie Doyle

The February issue of Growing for Market magazine has just come out. It includes my article about bare-root transplants, where I hope to encourage more people to try this technique. Bare-root transplants are plants dug up from a nursery seedbed outdoors or in a hoophouse and transplanted elsewhere. Plants grown this way have a lot of space to grow big sturdy roots, which to some extent drought-proofs them, compared to those in plug flats, which need watering multiple times a day in sunny weather. This can save valuable greenhouse bench space for more delicate plants. Starts grown in outdoor seedbeds are already acclimated to outdoor weather. We grow bare-root transplants in the ground in our hoophouse during the winter, to plant outdoors in spring. In spring and summer we grow transplants in an outdoor seed-bed to plant out with more space elsewhere later. In the fall we sow crops in an outdoor seed-bed to move into our hoophouse later, when the summer crops are over, and the conditions inside have cooled down a bit. Additionally, bare-root transplants have more flexibility about exactly when you move them out to their field space, because the open ground is not going to run out of nutrients if you need to wait an extra week. So – have a go! And let me know how it goes.

GFM-February2015-web-cover-300pxRichard Wiswall (of the Organic Farmers Business Handbook fame) has written an article on how to make your CSA more profitable. Lynn Byczynski has analyzed the current state of farmers’ markets across the US. Andrew Mefford has an a article about high-yielding greenhouse peppers, especially good for those in cold climates. Lynn Byczynski has an article about a newly fashionable crop, celtuce, or stem lettuce. Anyone who has grown Cracoviensis has probably noticed how it can bolt without getting bitter. Stems from varieties such as this are served as a vegetable in their own right. Gretel Adams has a useful article on the top cut flowers for supermarket sales and florists. Something for everyone!

Cracoviensis lettuce, or "red celtuce" Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Cracoviensis lettuce, or “red celtuce”
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

2015 Events Calendar and pawpaws

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmond

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors.

Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder

Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder

Speaking of tools, I hope to sell our (long-unused) Cole Planet Junior push seeder at the conference. They are $760 new. Ours is in working order with all the seed plates and an attached bag to keep them in. I’ll sell it for $350 cash or check. Should you ever need them, spare parts are readily available, for instance from Woodward Crossings. It’s not a museum piece or lawn ornament, it’s a working piece of equipment.

At the VBF Conference, there are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops. Friday at 3pm: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages  and on Saturday at 10.30 am, Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting. I’ll also be signing and selling books during Saturday lunchtime.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.


 

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I will also be doing book-signing and sales.


 

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. My workshops will be Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Saturday 2/28 at 9.30 am and two new ones on Friday 2/27, Hoophouse Summer Crops at 9.30 am and Hoophouse Winter Crops at 10.30 am. They are currently listed as High Tunnel workshops. Some say that researchers and Extension agents call them High Tunnels and growers call them Hoophouses, but whatever you call them, high tunnels and hoophouses are the same thing.


 

MENFairLogoMy next booking is at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina, April 11-12, 2015. I haven’t firmed up my workshops and book signings yet, but I might do the hoophouse workshops again (from WVSFC)


HHF Save the Date_2015The next booking after that that I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic. Maybe Crop Rotations and Asian Greens. And I expect to be doing book signings at the Monticello Bookshop.

 


 

As far as future events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015.


Now then, about pawpaws. Neal Peterson has worked for years developing superior flavored pawpaw varieties, and he wants to go global! That is, he wants to secure contracts to sell plants of his varieties worldwide. To do this, he has to have trademarked varieties. So he has set up a Peterson Pawpaws Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $20,000 by . If you’ve tasted pawpaws and if you support fruit diversity, consider if you can back up your support with some hard cash.

You can watch his video here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1750376414/peterson-pawpaws-go-global?ref=card

photo-1024x768

 

Books, blogs, conferences and seed-starting

Sustainable Market Farming on display. Credit Ken Bezilla

Sustainable Market Farming on display.
Credit Ken Bezilla

Sales of my book peaked during the holiday season (as also happened last December), so I conclude quite a few growers got a copy as a gift. I hope you are all happy with it! I also noticed that my reviews of Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes and Jean-Martin Fortier’s Market Gardener have had a lot of visits, so many gardeners and growers will be curled up with a book, making plans for the next growing season.

I’ve also been catching up on reading, although if I had more time, I could give in to that urge even more! Last week I wrote a post for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, on Winter Vegetables in Your Hoop House and I firmed up a booking to present 3 workshops at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference February 26-28. On the Friday I’ll be presenting two new workshops back-to-back: winter hoophouse growing and summer hoophouse growing. Of course, I have mentioned these topics in other workshops I’ve presented. The winter crops feature in Cold Hardy Winter Vegetables (click the link to watch the slideshow). I won’t be presenting that workshop at Charleston (the WVSFC site) despite what I said a couple of weeks ago!

The summer crops featured in a presentation I gave at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group ConferencePractical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms.” This year it’s January 14-17, 2015, in Mobile, Alabama. I wish I was going, but I decided it was too far away this year. I intend to go in 2016, when I hope it will be nearer Virginia. My summer hoophouse crops workshop for SSAWG was way back in 2009, before I really got to grips with slideshows! And now I have a lot more photos than I did then! And at WVSFC my Saturday workshop will be the ever-popular Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests.

A bed of overwintered leeks Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

A bed of overwintered leeks
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Meanwhile, this week in the garden, I have been taking my turn with the other crew members to harvest for our 100 community members. It takes about 3 hours each day to haul in enough fresh veggies for the masses. Outdoors we have kale, spinach, collards, leeks, cabbage and still some senposai, and the last dregs of celery and lettuce. The chard and the scallions have given up for now. Not dead, just resting. In the hoophouse we are harvesting salad mix, which includes some combination of baby lettuce mix, spinach, mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Bulls Blood beets, Tokyo bekana, Bright Lights chard and arugula). Each harvester gets to customize the mix as they like, so we don’t get the same thing every day.

We are also harvesting pak choy and Napa Chinese cabbage as well as baby turnips and turnip greens, radishes, tatsoi, Yukina savoy, and spinach for cooking. We are leaving the kale and the lettuce heads for later, when we have fewer other crops available (or if we are under snow). the hoophouse is a delightful place to work!

Yukina Savoy Credit Ethan Hirsh

Yukina Savoy
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Pretty soon we will be dusting off our heat mat, plugging in the germination chambers, tipping the spiders out of the pots and flats and starting our first seedlings of 2015. We usually start with some early cabbage, lettuce, and mini-onions Red Marble in mid January, and follow up with early tomatoes (to plant in the hoophouse) the week after that. At that time we also start kale and spinach, although nowadays we start those in the ground in the hoophouse and move them out to the garden as bare-root transplants.

Events I’ll be speaking at in 2015, more new varieties

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmondLast week I listed four events I’m booked for for next year. I’ll fill you in a bit and tell you about some more I hope to be at. My first is

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. Early registration (hurry! ends 12/20) is $130 for members, $190 for non-members. So why not become a member if you aren’t already? You’ll get news all year. Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch;

There are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages (3pm Friday); and  Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting (10.30 am Saturday). I’ll also be signing and selling books.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I also hope to be doing book-signing and sales.

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. That workshop will either be Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, or Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests.

2012-festival-slideshowThe fourth booking I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic.

MENFairLogoAs far as events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Asheville, NC April 11-12, 2015, Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015


 

Carioca Batavian lettuce. Credit Johnnys Seeds

Carioca Batavian lettuce.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

And meanwhile, this week on the farm we finished our seed ordering and started some shopping for tools and supplies. In 2015 we will repeat our variety trials to try to find a heat-tolerant eggplant variety. We were happy to find another Batavian heat-tolerant lettuce to try: Carioca from Johnny’s. With the addition of a few exceptions, we rely on Batavian lettuce varieties once the weather gets hot, to grow without bolting or getting (very) bitter. the exceptions are Jericho green romaine, De Morges Braun and New Red Fire, a looseleaf red lettuce which nearby grower Gary Scott told me about.

We are also growing some Eden Gem melons alongside our Kansas and Sun Jewel melons (and the individual-serving size Tasty Bites that I mentioned in my last post.

Peacework sweet pepper. Credit fedco Seeds

Peacework sweet pepper.
Credit fedco Seeds

We have high hopes for Peacework sweet pepper from Fedco, a very early (65 day) OP medium-thick-walled pepper “with good flavor and full-bodied sweetness.” We are always on the look-out for fast-ripening bell peppers. Because of the seed-growing business at Twin Oaks, at the end of the season we have tons of ripe peppers, but if you are growing a seed crop, there is no incentive to try to push the planting date early. So our main pepper-focus in the vegetable garden is on earliness and flavor – never forget the importance of flavor!

We are also trying Donkey spinach this year. For years we have been very happy with the reliable performance and productivity of Tyee, but Fedco tell us the producer of Tyee is a Multinational engaged in genetic engineering. If Donkey can replace Tyee we’ll be very happy!

 

Getting ready for Kansas Mother Earth News Fair

One of our garden carts, tastefully decorated by guests Susie Anne and Jessie. Credit McCune Porter

One of our garden carts, tastefully decorated by guests Susie Anne and Jessie.
Credit McCune Porter

This week’s blog post is a cartful of odds and ends. Talking of garden carts, we like the larger kind, with the loop-shaped legs in line with the length of the cart. This makes it easier to straddle rows of crops, and also means we don’t bash our ankles while pulling them. The smaller models often have a single loop “leg” right across the cart. We used to have some of these. We called them the “Ankle-Snappers”. I recommend making sure any cart you buy is made from exterior-grade plywood, not particle-board, or other kind of pressed together scraps of wood. They have a hard life!

 

Garden carts loaded with Romas tomatoes. Photo Wren Vile

Garden carts loaded with Roma tomatoes.
Photo Wren Vile

The crew working on the sweet potato harvest. Photo McCune Porter

We did tally our sweet potato harvest – about 6600 pounds! Here’s the crew at work.
Photo McCune Porter

 

West Indian gherkin. Photo Nina Gentle

West Indian gherkin. Photo Nina Gentle



Recently I wrote on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog about West Indian Gherkins. I wrote about them on this blog. Here’s a new photo, which gives the impression of acres of the little things.

On Thursday I leave for Kansas for the Mother Earth News Fair there. The Program Guide is now out. I’m doing three workshops, a book signing and an interview. My workshops are Fall Vegetable Production, Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and Crop Rotations. Hope to meet some of you there – do introduce yourself to me!

I was looking up a recent reference in the work of the Organic farming Research Foundation about organic farming storing more carbon in the soil than other types of farming. I couldn’t find the exact link but I did find that as far back as 2012, OFRF was already pointing out that cover cropping  “Enhances soil quality, reduces erosion, sequesters carbon and provides nitrogen, prevents dust (protects air quality), improves soil nutrients, contributes to productivity”

My other piece of organic vegetable growing news is that Biodegradable Biobased Mulch Now Allowed for Organic Production
“The USDA National Organic Program has amended the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances to allow the use of biodegradable biobased mulch film with restrictive annotations. This action also adds to the organic standards a new definition for biodegradable biobased mulch film that includes criteria and third-party standards for compostability, biodegradability, and biobased content. The rule is effective October 30, 2014.” It’s a lot of technical reading, but for certified organic growers it will be worthwhile. Biodegradable plastic mulch is such a saver of time, temperature and weed germination! “Bio-based” means the product is made from biological materials. See my blog post and the one after that for details on the difference.

Photo Yale Press

Photo Yale Press

I’m reading a few good books at the moment. More about them in the future. John Reader’s Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.

Photo Barnes and Noble

Photo Barnes and Noble

and Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of all Time, to be published December 2014

 

Fall Vegetable Production slideshow, Kansas Mother Earth News Fair, hoophouse end walls

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Well, it took me longer than I expected to get my Fall Vegetable Production slideshow up on SlideShare.net after the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, but here it is.

Now I am starting to plan for the October 25-26 Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas. I’ll be doing three workshops: Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables on Saturday 10 am on the Seed Stage, Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops on Saturday at 5.30 pm on the Seed Stage, and Fall Vegetable Production on Sunday at 11.30 am on the Grit Stage. As of today, they are not yet listed on the website, but soon they will be. A chance for me to meet some non-East Coast people!

MENFairLogo


At home, we have been plugging away at replacing the end wall plastic on our hoophouse. No action pictures yet, but lots of progress. I always over-estimate how much we can get done in the time available. I forget we have a lot of new people, who work part-time. I’m busy compiling a list of tips for replacing hoophouse end wall plastic next time. We bought a roll of plastic 24′ x 100′, and our gothic-style hoophouse is 12′ at the apex. What was I thinking? There’s no spare between 24′ and 2 sides at 12′ each! We learned by accident that the plastic was not evenly folded, so our “midline” cut wasn’t and we got one “half” bigger than the other. This turned out to be a stroke of luck! We used the bigger half outside and the shorter half inside. We solved the shortage by having the top triangle indoors be covered by a separate piece of plastic, letting the big piece of plastic start just above the end wall window, (which is above the double doors).

We learned to mark the center-point of each piece of plastic, to help with lining up from side-to-side. We learned to put the edge with the big printing up high, where most of it gets cut off anyway, so we don’t have to stare at it for the next 7 years or so. We learned to keep the surfaces that had touched the ground facing outward, so we don’t trap dirt between the two layers of new plastic. We learned that it’s best to get both layers of plastic up on the same day, or else the inside of a single layer is coated with condensation next morning, and you have to mop it dry to avoid trapping water in the space. We learned that it really doesn’t take many 100′ lengths of old drip tape to batten two hoophouse ends. We learned that all staple guns are temperamental. We learned that having only one roll of duct tape on the job is a false economy, as it creates a bottleneck when only one person can be covering all the protruding metal bits the plastic will touch. And, once again, I appreciated how nice it is to have someone else cooking lunch for us, so we can work on the project up till the last minute. Hooray for community!

The 30' x 96' gothic-style hoophouse at Twin Oaks Community

The 30′ x 96′ gothic-style hoophouse at Twin Oaks Community

 

Home from Asheville, potatoes planted, more rain and cold weather.

Last night I got home from a very successful Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. This location was new one for Mother Earth News, and attendance was higher than expected. On Sunday evening one of the staff told me there had been 7000-8000 people. That’s not official. The weather was perfect, and the setting beautifully backed by the mountains. I gave two presentations: Cold-hardy winter vegetables, and Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops, which I revised for the occasion to be clearer, I hope! Tomorrow I’ll upload it to Slideshare.net, so attendees can watch again, and people who didn’t go can see it for the first time. I did a book-signing, and had a marketing talk with my publishers.

Image

I got home to find our garden crew had managed to seize the moment with dry enough soil and get the potatoes planted. It did involve an evening shift covering them. The beds had been prepared for planting broccoli and cabbage, but time ran out. Just as well, maybe. We now have the possibility of a night-time low temperature of 25F tonight and 26F tomorrow. The transplants are better off in the coldframe under several layers of covers.

I spent a lot of the day setting rooted sweet potato slips into flats.The link takes you to last spring’s blog post telling more about how we do it.  Ten days ago I was behind on my goal for the number of slips in flats. Today I am two weeks ahead, suddenly!

Cut sweet potato slips put in water to grow roots. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Cut sweet potato slips put in water to grow roots.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Growing sweet potato slips in a germinating cabinet. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Growing sweet potato slips in a germinating cabinet. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Another piece of good news is that the glitch that sometimes made my website repeatedly unavailable has been solved!

 

 

 

What’s still standing after two nights below 0F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?  We’ve now had the Polar Vortex, which brought us two nights at 4F, on 1/6 and 1/7. Then it got even colder.We got the Big Round 0F 1/22-1/23, then a few nights at 5F or 6F, and then the big insult: -4F on the night of 1/29-30.

What’s still standing?

The Tyee spinach under thick rowcover has sustained big damage, showing as patches of beige dead cells. It will recover. Meanwhile we can eat from the more-protected spinach in the coldframes and the hoophouse.

The Vates  kale without rowcover is still alive, but badly damaged. The big leaves are crunchy and brown round the edges, and some of the inner leaves are dead. I hope it will grow back, but we won’t be able to pick that for a while. The Beedy’s Camden kale looks worse – the big leaves have died and flopped over. Not sure if it will recover.

Many of our strawberry plants look dead – very disappointing!

Our hardneck garlic and Polish White softneck tops are killed back to about one inch up from the mulch. Equally hardy, it seems. 

We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. After the 4F assault we still had life in the centers of the Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest. Now only the Winter Marvel shows any signs of life. So that variety gets the prize for cold-tolerance here!

Red Round Turnip. Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Red Round Turnip.
Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover every night it looked like dropping below 10F inside. Almost everything survived – we only got some minor stem freezing on some turnips and Asian greens. We have been eating Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana, Yukina Savoy, various turnips and their greens (Hakurei, White Egg, Oasis, Red Round), also plenty of lettuce leaves, radishes, scallions, and some spinach. We lost our second sowing of spinach in there to over watering and flooding, and we are really noticing the lack right now. We’re short on spinach. We have small amounts of mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Bright Lights chard, Bulls Blood beets to add to salad mixes, and Red Russian and White Russian kale growing slowly.

In January we have taken to sowing spinach, kale and collards in a hoophouse bed to transplant outdoors in early spring. We back this up with sowing some in flats if we don’t get good emergence for some reason. This year emergence is late. Is it just late, or is there a problem? We’re holding our breath for a few more days. . .

GFM_February2014_cover_300pxWe are not the only people tracking the effects of the unusually cold weather. The February Growing for Market magazine opens with an article by Ben Hartman “Testing the Limits of Cold Tolerance”. He farms in Goshen, Indiana, using two double-layer plastic greenhouses heated to 30F (yes. I said heated!) and two unheated. They planted kale, carrots, spinach, salad greens and arugula in their greenhouses for winter harvest. Their outdoor temperatures fell to -16F on 1/6 and 1/7. I imagine they’ve had worse since. They used mid-weight rowcover over their beds. Ben reports that baby greens and young spinach survived, as did their rosemary and their 3 fig trees (all farmers deserve some thrills!). They lost baby salad greens that had already been cut previously (all those cut edges didn’t do well). Crops in the outer beds were lost. The tips of full-grown kale leaves froze, but the plants survived.

In their unheated, single-skin plastic hoophouses, the soil froze down to 4″. They used two layers of mid-weight rowcover suspended over the crops. Despite this cold,  tiny salad greens less than 1″ tall survived. Spinach survived under just one layer of rowcover. The carrot tops froze and the roots may or may not be marketable. The (uncovered) fully mature kale looks dead. The mature salad with two layers of rowcover didn’t survive.

From this experience, Ben points out that salad greens and spinach less than 1″ tall are very cold-tolerant. Spinach and kale once larger, benefit from more protection than they got this time. Beware the outer beds!

My own article in this issue is about matching crop spacing with desired goals, such as maximum yield, optimum size, or convenience for cultivation.

Andrew Mefford has written some greenhouse tips for hoophouse growers, including tomato grafting, trellising. Chris Blanchard has written the second part of his piece on growing herbs – this is about harvest and maintenance. Erin Benzakain has undertaken a 59-variety trial of celosia.

 

What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. We’ve now had the Arctic Vortex, which in our part of central Virginia, meant two nights at 4F, last Monday 1/6 and Tuesday 1/7 nights. How did it go?

Before the Prelude to the Big Chill, when we got 9F, I harvested the odds and ends of small cabbages left in our main patch. Quite worthwhile, I got two 5-gallon buckets. Between the 9F and the 4F nights, I decided to gather the Deadon cabbage, which we grew with January harvests in mind. There was some freeze damage, so in future I’ll say that Deadon is good down to 10F, but not lower. I got two full net bags and two more buckets of small ones. I left one smaller and one larger cabbage as sacrificial victims in the cause of better information for next year. When we got 4F, the smaller one died and the larger survived.

Deadon cabbage Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

Deadon cabbage
Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

One of the other gardeners harvested the last of the outdoor senposai. Another couple of buckets of tasty food.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I took another walk round the frozen garden after the Big Chill, to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates and Beedy’s Camden kale without rowcover. They are all still alive! There’s some freeze damage in spots on the spinach leaves, but plenty of good meals still to come!

Our hardneck garlic tops suffered some damage but didn’t get killed back to the mulch level. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and they too are still alive. They will grow back if they have died. 

Garlic planting in November. Credit Brittany Lewis

Garlic planting in November.
Credit Brittany Lewis

We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. A good chance to see which ones are hardiest! Here’s the scoop:

Still alive in the centers – Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest.                  No longer alive – Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Winter Wonder, Red Tinged Winter, Merlot, Red Sails, Outredgeous, Roman Emperor, Revolution.

At nearby Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, they had some young but mature heads of cabbage outdoors. The Late Flat Dutch, Early Flat Dutch and Chieftain Savoy all survived one night at 6F. (It’s usually two degrees warmer there than at Twin Oaks on winter nights).

Meanwhile I’m tracking the Blue Ridge kale grown by Clif Slade in his 43560 project at Randolph Farm, VSU. The Blue Ridge survived. It got down to 9F there. Not as cold as Louisa County! Blue Ridge is taller than the Vates we grow, and I’d like to try it here, if it can survive our winters. Otherwise not!

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover on Monday afternoon, and didn’t roll it up till Thursday, after the warmer weather returned. There was a tiny bit of freeze injury on some turnip greens that poked out the side of the rowcover, and some on some stems of Tokyo Bekana. I think the rowcover saved the crops! Also, a bad thing happened. it was very windy Monday night and the west window blew open. Argh! Of all the nights to have an open window. Memo: fix the latch to make it stronger.

I didn’t enjoy the really cold weather. I was anxious about the crops and the plumbing! But I can see two silver linings: I now have more information about cold-hardiness of various crops, and hopefully some pests will have died. Now we’re getting ready for another two cold nights, tomorrow and Wednesday.

When we placed our seed orders we gave up for this year on our quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less). We’re having a red-cabbageless year. We’re still open to recommendations (OP or hybrid) – please leave a comment.