Heritage Harvest Festival, Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc Conference, Succession Planting Podcast

After a couple of summer months off from speaking at events, I am gearing up for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, near Charlottesville. This two day festival has a day of ticketed workshops on Friday September 8 and a field day on Saturday September 9. Saturday workshops, demonstrations, tours and kids events are all included with the price of admission.

Never been to Monticello’s annual Heritage Harvest Festival? What exactly is it? Get your tickets now to join in 9/8-9/9. You’ll find a variety of interesting events and workshops focused on all things related to gardening, cooking and food. You can learn everything from how to make cider, how to keep your garden alive throughout the winter, or even how to become a chicken whisperer.  There is something for everyone! See the schedule of events here.

Sweet potato harvest
Photo Nina Gentle

This year I am presenting my workshop Growing Sweet Potatoes on Friday at 3.30 pm, followed by book-signing at the Bookshop at 4.45 pm. Bring your grubby well-thumbed old copy of Sustainable Market Farming for me to sign, or buy a fresh new one for yourself, or as a gift, at the Bookshop.

Come and participate in the 11th Annual Old Timey Seed Swap at Monticello’s Heritage
Harvest Festival  and learn more from Ira Wallace, one of the founders of HHF and worker/owner of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Seed savers of all levels are welcome! #HHF2017.

Seed Swap jars at Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Tour Monticello’s 1,000-foot-long vegetable garden: an “Ellis Island of edible curiosities” at this year’s Heritage Harvest Festival .

Peter Hatch giving a tour of the Monticello vegetable garden.
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Come and sample more than 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, heirloom peppers and melons in the Tasting Tent.

Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at the Heritage Harvest Festival Tomato Tasting.
Photo courtesy of Monticello


My next event after that will be the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference.  November 3-5, 2017 in Durham, NC. I will be talking about hoophouse growing, both in the Friday morning pre-conference and on Sunday. See my Events page (tab) for more.

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse.
Photo Nina Gentle

I’m doing fewer speaking events this fall/winter/spring season. I’m writing my second book, on year round vegetable production in hoophouses. I need to stay home and write, take photos, write some more, edit, draw diagrams, write more, make charts, etc.


In June, at the Vermont Mother Earth News Fair in Burlington, I took part in a podcast on Succession Planting. I thought I could embed it right here, but the closest I can manage today is this link: https://www.podbean.com/media/player/9s7a3-6cafa3?from=yiiadmin&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=1&download=1&rtl=0

https://motherearthnewsandfriends.podbean.com/e/ep-13-succession-gardening/



Debbie Roos of Chatham County, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, steward of the very useful Growing Small Farms website, sent a heads up about a special feature of this week:

The week of August 6-12 has been declared National Farmers’ Market Week by the Farmers’ Market Coalition. It’s a great time to reflect on the importance of farmers’ markets to our communities and pledge to support our local markets, farmers, and vendors.

As demand for local food continues to grow, so too have the opportunities for America’s farmers to market fresh food directly to the consumer. The number of markets listed in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers’ Market Directory has grown from 2,863 in 2000 to 8,675 in 2016.
According to statistics recently released by the USDA, farmers’ markets and farm stands account for roughly $2 billion of the $3 billion that Americans spend annually on direct-to-consumer farm product sales. This revenue, in turn, supports the livelihoods of more than 165,000 mostly small and mid-sized farms and ranches.

Farmers’ markets strengthen rural economies. According to the Farmers’ Market Coalition, farmers selling locally create 13 full-time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned, compared to three jobs created by farmers who don’t sell locally. Farmers’ markets provide a low-barrier entry point for farmers and food entrepreneurs who are just starting out and/or want to test new products by getting feedback directly from customers.

Farmers’ markets support healthy communities by increasing access to fresh, nutritious, and flavorful food. Markets also provide important opportunities for social interactions and vendors help educate the non-farming public about agriculture and local foods.

So, support your local Farmers Market, unless you grow all your own food! You can probably find something to buy, or some way to offer help. Or buy a farmer a cup of tea!

Growing for Market, Sweet potato propagation and yields

The April issue of Growing for Market is out! For those of you growing sweet potatoes, Andrew Schwerin from NW Arkansas has written an interesting article. I’ve written about starting sweet potato slips before and I have a slideshow that includes three methods of  starting your own slips.  He and his wife Madeleine grow 1500 feet of sweet potatoes each year, a third of their growing area.

I was interested to note their reasons for growing so many sweet potatoes (apart from the obvious fact that they can sell that many). Sweet potatoes are not a big moneymaker in terms of the space occupied. Here at Twin Oaks we pondered similar issues this winter when deciding which crops to grow.  We worked down a list of 25 factors, deciding which were important to use. We chose our top handful of factors and then worked down a list of crops we might grow, awarding points (or not!) for each factor for each crop. This helped us narrow down what to focus on this year. And yes, we are growing sweet potatoes! I wrote about this in Growing for Market in February 2017.

These growers listed the following factors as their reasons to grow sweet potatoes:

  • Sweet potatoes produce well in our soil

  • They aren’t troubled by intense summer heat

  • Extensive vines will smother most weeds

  • Few pest or disease issues

  • Most of the labor is in early October, between intensive harvests of summer and fall crops

  • They store long-term for steady sales through the winter

Sweet Potato harvest at Twin Oaks. Photo McCune Porter

They like Beauregard, and wanted to try using the single node cutting method, as advocated by Anthony and Caroline Boutard – see my Sweet Potato slideshow for details. Initially they were excited about the single node cutting process, as their roots produced exponentially more growing shoots each week. OK, maybe exponential is a bit of an exaggeration, but it gives the sense of it. Because they had so much propagation material, they started making 5-node slips, rooting clusters of cuttings in pots of compost, 3 nodes in the soil for roots, 2 nodes above ground.

Some of their single node cuttings failed to thrive, both in the trays and in the field, so they developed a 2-node cutting system instead, and also used their five-node slips. And so they had a trial of three sweet potato cutting methods, with plants in different 100 ft beds. In the past (using the regular slips method) they have averaged yields of 500-600 lbs of sweet potatoes per 100 ft bed, with a range from a poor 250 lbs to a few successes with 1000 lbs/bed. Of course, yield is not the only important feature of a market crop, although understandably it has a high profile for those growing 1500 row feet for sale.

At harvest, they found that their single-node sweet potato plants were producing a couple of hundred pounds per 100 ft bed. The 2-node beds produced about 500 pounds per bed, of relatively few, very large (6 – 20 lb) sweet potatoes. The plants with 3+ nodes in the soil gave more reasonable sized potatoes. They tend to get jumbos, so they have started planting closer (10″) to tackle this – not many customers want jumbos.

In his article in Growing for Market,  Anthony Boutard pointed out that single-node cuttings do produce fewer tubers which are larger and better formed. This is a big advantage for growers in the north, but less so in the south. The Arkansas growers have found that the 2-node cuttings are even better at this tendency in their location, which is much further south than Anthony Boutard’s farm.

Beauregard sweet potatoes saved for seed stock.
Photo Nina Gentle

Other articles in this month’s Growing for Market include Managing a cash crisis
How to climb out of the hole by Julia Shanks, the author of The Farmer’s
Office. Farmers deal with a very seasonal cash flow, and may well have gone into farming with good farming skills but not good business skills. Julia writes about four rules for getting out of a financial hole.

  1. Quit digging (don’t incur any more inessential expenses).
  2. Keep the dogs at bay (communicate with your creditors about how you plan to pay, and how you plan to keep producing the goods).
  3. Climb out (increase revenue in as many ways as possible).
  4. Get your head out of the sand (don’t panic, face realities, be proactive).

She goes on to list 10 ways to protect yourself from getting in such a hole again.

Sam Hitchcock Tilton has an article about cultivating with walk-behind tractors, ie, weeding and hoeing with special attachments. There are some amazing walk-behind
weeding machines (manufactured and homemade) throughout the world. There
is an entire style of vegetable farming and scale of tools that have been forgotten, in between tractor work and hand growing – the scale of the walk-behind tractor. The author explains how commercially available tools can be adapted to work with a BCS or a carefully used antique walk-behind tractor.

Mike Appel and Emily Oakley contributed Every farm is unique, define success your own way. Money is not the only measure. Quality of life, family time, and personal well-being are up there too, as are wider community achievements. Farming is equal parts job and lifestyle, and the authors recommend having a strategic plan for yourself and the farm, which you update every couple of years to pinpoint goals and the steps you need to take to reach them.

Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Liz Martin writes about husk cherries (ground cherries) and how to improve production of them, to make a commercial crop viable. Who would have guessed that hillling the beds before planting can make harvest so much easier, because the fruits roll down the sides?

Judson Reid and Cordelia Machanoff wrotea short piece: Fertility tips and foliar testing to maximize high tunnel crops, and Gretel Adams wrote about  Scaling up the flower farm. Many of the ideas also apply to vegetable farms.

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

Getting ready for frost, harvesting sweet potatoes

Sweet potato harvest. Photo Nina Gentle

Sweet potato harvest.
Photo Nina Gentle

Our average first frost date is October 14. Actually from our own records it has averaged 10/22 over the last 11 years. So any time now, we could get a frost. We had a very light patchy frost 10/10 with a recorded overnight low of 36F, but now we are having a warm spell (very nice). It’s good to be prepared. We harvested our sweet potatoes (not a good yield, too many deer). We are getting ready to harvest our white potatoes.

DIY weather-forecasting

I recommend learning the local weather patterns by keeping records and watching what happens. Here’s what I’ve learned about ours:

  • Our mid-Atlantic climate is controlled by three weather systems,
    • mainly by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico,
    • the Bermuda High Pressure area in summer,
    • recurrent waves of cold Canadian air in winter.
  • Rain (fairly evenly distributed throughout the year in our county)
    • has slight peaks in January, February and March
    • and again in early June and August.
  • Some parts of our area can experience long periods of drought.
    • September-November is the drier season but it’s also the hurricane season, so the net result is very variable.
  • We use Wunderground.com but subtract 5F° from their forecast night lows for our nearest town, and mentally downgrade the chance of rain by 10%, as rain often passes us by as it scoots along the river valley north of us.

Local Information

According to  a Freeze / Frost Occurrence Data pdf for Virginia which I have, in Louisa County the threshold of 36F has a 50% likelihood on Oct 3; the 32 F threshold has a 50% likelihood by Oct 13 and the 28F threshold is as likely as unlikely by Oct 27. The 90% chances occur by Oct 14, Oct 28 and Nov 13 respectively. The data for spring are available here. probably the site has the fall info too, but I’m out of time to look, due to three hours without internet this afternoon.

Frosty daikon leaves. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Frosty daikon leaves.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Help predicting frost

We keep this reminder list handy at this time of year, when trying to make our own frost forecasts:

Frost is more likely at Twin Oaks if:

  • The date is after 10/14 or before 4/30.
  • The daytime high temperature was less than 70°F (21°C).
  • The sky is clear.
  • The temperature at sunset is less than 50°F (10°C).
  • The dew point forecast is low, close to freezing. Frost is unlikely if the dew point is 43°F or more.
  • The Wunderground 3.30pm forecast low for Louisa Northside is 37°F (3°C) or less.
  • The soil is dry and cool.
  • The moon is full or new.
  • There is little or no breeze, although if temperatures are falling fast, the wind is from NW and the sky is clear, then polar air may be moving in, and we’ll get a hard freeze.

We also make for ourselves a Frost Alert Card, so we can quickly know which beds we need to attend to if we decide a frost is likely. (RBs means raised beds)

Task Crop Notes
Harvest all edible Asparagus beans
Harvest all edible Eggplant
Harvest all edible Okra
Harvest all edible Tomatoes Incl green
Harvest all edible Peppers exposed to the sky
Harvest all edible West Indian gherkins
Harvest all edible Pickling cucumbers
Harvest all edible Corn
Harvest all edible Beans #4, 5 Uncover once mild again
Thick row cover Beans #5,6 Ditto
Thick row cover Squash Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover Slicing Cucumbers Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover Celery
Thick row cover Last Lettuce bed Double hoops – leave covered
Set sprinklers Slicer tomatoes Overnight from before 32F till after sun shines on plants
Set sprinklers Romas and peppers Ditto
Set sprinklers Other vulnerable RBs Ditto

FrostProtectionFundamentalsPracticeandEconomicsFAO.pdf

is a 126 page book which includes explanations of freezes and frosts (both radiation frosts and advection frosts), and a chapter on recommended methods of frost protection for food crops. probably none of us will need the information on wind machines and helicopters (maybe little drones work for small scale growers?). The publication includes frost forecasting and frost damage physiology (for growers not in a panic about immediate frosts, who want to understand what the plants are going through).

Potato harvest November 2015 Photo Lori Katz

Potato harvest November 2015
Photo Lori Katz

Seed Garden slideshow, eggplants in September, sweet potato harvest

Here’s  my slideshow on growing seed crops alongside vegetable production. This is a new workshop topic for me. I shared the presentation with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at Lynchburg College on Saturday 10/1. We also did some Show-and-Tell. My favorite bit was swirling my glass jar of tomato seed ferment, convincing everyone it wasn’t a canning project gone wrong, pouring off the pulpy water, and washing the contents to reveal the seeds as if by magic.

I’m currently working on a slideshow about sweet potatoes for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference Nov 4-6, 2016 in Durham, NC.


Eggplant row. Bridget Aleshire

Eggplant row.
Bridget Aleshire

About a month ago, I reported on our eggplant variety trials, seeking heat tolerant eggplant varieties. I wrote a longer piece for  the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. Our harvest records from July 18 on through August showed Epic clearly ahead of Nadia and Traviata. I’ll do a fuller report after the frost. That could be soon. We had a low of 36F last night, including a few patches of light frost.

Now I’ve looked at September’s harvests too. During September, Traviata produced the largest number of saleable fruits (145) compared to 138 Nadia and 135 Epic. Probably not statistically different from each other. As I’ve noted before, the eggplants are all a similar size, and so it’s no surprise that Traviata’s 145 fruits totaled the highest weight (112.5 pounds), with Nadia at 98 pounds and Epic at 95.5. Nadia had an 8% cull rate, Traviata 9% and Epic only 6.8%. Clearly, all three are good varieties.

Adding September to the figures for August and July, Epic is still the winning eggplant in terms of total yield, saleable yield, low cull ratio, and weight per fruit. That impressive leap off the starting blocks that Epic made is still holding it ahead of the pack.

The ripe fruits have got a little smaller, and there has been a noticeable drop-off in yield since the equinox.Their days are numbered.


Sweet potato harvest and seed selection crate. Photo Nina Gentle

Sweet potato harvest and seed selection crate.
Photo Nina Gentle

Out with the old, in with the new! Yesterday we started harvesting our sweet potatoes. Yields look OK but not fantastic. We had a lot of problems with deer eating our sweet potatoes this year. We did have a temporary electric fence, but we often didn’t pay it good attention and it grounded out. Next year the rotation brings the sweet potatoes to a more traveled location. I can’t believe I’m already doing that “Gardener Survival Strategy” of thinking “Next Year Everything Will Be Perfect”!!

 

Sweet potato harvest, new hoophouse plastic, see you in Kansas!

Our sweet potatoes curing in boxes in the basement. Photo Nina Gentle

Our sweet potatoes curing in boxes in the basement.
Photo Nina Gentle

We got our sweet potatoes all dug and safely indoors before Saturday night’s 27F and Sunday night’s 26F. Whew! Another Garden Year Milestone passed. We got about 223 boxes this year. The boxes contain about 23lbs each, so that’s 5129 lbs, plenty to feed 100 hungry people for six or seven months. Last year we had a huge harvest, and sold some for a Farm-to-School program and gave some to our local Food Bank. Our average harvest for this size patch (about 700 plants) is 4035lbs. This year we got a yield of a little over 7lbs of sweet potatoes per plant. Last year’s record crop was 11lbs per plant.


No sooner had we finished the sweet potato harvest than we put new outer roof plastic on our hoophouse (yesterday). We decided to just replace the outer layer as we thought it must have big holes, as the inflation blower wasn’t keeping the air bubble between the two layers inflated.

Pulling hoophouse plastic. Photo McCune Porter

Pulling hoophouse plastic.
Photo McCune Porter

We’ve always replaced both layers at once previously, but October is getting late in the year for this job and it’s so much easier to replace just the outer layer! We think we got some holes from a surprise hailstorm (rare here), and we knew we’d made some when we replaced the plastic a couple of years ago. We’d pulled the outer layer too tight, trimmed it, then tried to let out a bit more slack from the margins. The result was lots of holes from the wigglewire’s old positions.

But we didn’t find any huge holes in the old plastic when we got it down, and this morning the house is still not inflated, so our problem is not solved. The next suspect is the inflation blower, which has a theoretically a large enough output, but maybe it’s not working well any more. It sounds OK. Maybe some warmer days will help. . . Not sure of the science there – maybe wishful thinking.  We need a well-inflated hoophouse (high tunnel) to provide winter insulation as well as keep the house sturdy in the face of winter weather.


MENFairLogoIn a couple of days I’m off to Topeka, Kansas, for the October 24-25 Mother Earth News Fair. Here are the details repeated from last week’s post:

I will be giving Fall and Winter Hoophouses  as a keynote presentation on Saturday 10-11 am on the Mother Earth news stage and Spring and Summer Hoophouses
on Saturday at 1-2pm on the Organic Gardening Stage. I’ll be signing books at 11 am Saturday in the MEN Bookstore. I’ll be demonstrating How to String Weave Tomatoes using my sparkly-pink-tinsel and pencil model at the New Society booth 2055 on Saturday at 4pm, and Sunday at 10 am and 2 pm.

If you want the pdfs of the handouts, click these links:

Hoophouse in Fall and Winter Handout

Hoophouse in Spring and Summer Handout


I’ve been enjoying the Connection bimonthly newsletter from the USA National Phenology Network. They monitor the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes. “Phenology is nature’s calendar—when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall. ” They have a lively newsletter and a participatory project called Nature’s Notebook, where everyday people are encouraged to collect data in back yards, nearby parks or as part of a field study. They have a few other newsletters too, for different audiences.


Margaret Roach, author of the blog A Way to Garden, has a great post about the connections between high numbers of acorns, white-footed mice, and ticks. And acorns, chipmunks, mice and Gypsy moths. And acorns, mice and song birds.

pr_2014_03_mouse

Patchy Frost, Sweet Potato Harvest, Upcoming Events,

Jalapeno hot pepper plant with a fruit changing from green to red via black. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Jalapeno hot pepper plant with fruit changing from green to red via black.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We had a very light touch of frost in the wee hours of Sunday October 11. The thermometer in the weather box recorded a low of 36F, but some of the pepper plants “recorded” something chillier. At this time of year we start our special frost season pepper harvesting technique. Instead of just harvesting fully colored peppers (and removing damaged ones), we harvest all peppers exposed to the sky, regardless of color or size. We’ve noticed that the first few frosts usually just nip the tops of the plants. So by harvesting exposed fruits we give the ones lower on the plant a bit longer to ripen, with the protection of the upper leaves. Next time there is a frost, another layer of leaves will get nipped and we’ll harvest another layer of peppers. This also has the advantage that we don’t have to deal with too many peppers at once. Eventually, of course, we’ll either harvest everything or give up. Often there are nice periods of mild weather in between the first few frosts. looks like next weekend will bring some more definite frosts.

Sweet potatoes and our last corn of the year. Photo from September, by Ezra Freeman

Sweet potatoes and our last corn of the year. Photo from September, by Ezra Freeman

We are on the point of harvesting our sweet potatoes. After all the rain we had recently, we were waiting for the soil to dry enough to walk on. Then we were waiting for several key crew members to come back from helping harvest sorghum for syrup at Sandhill Farm in Missouri. Sandhill, like Twin Oaks, is an egalitarian intentional community. We have a labor exchange program between our communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities so that each community can ask for help from the other communities when they most need it and pay it back at another time. Work for a sister community counts as work for the home community. Sandhill asks for help at sorghum harvest. naturally enough this job appeals to members who do agricultural work at home. So we been short-handed in the garden for the past ten days.

I was worried for a couple of days that the weather would stay cold and the sweet potatoes might rot in the cold wet soil. One year when I was fairly new to Virginia I caused us to leave the sweet potatoes in the ground till early November (hoping they would grow a bit more) and then it rained hard and we ended up with a load of sweet potatoes that either rotted directly or else went through a transition to a hard uncookable state. I learned the hard way to harvest sweet potatoes before soil drops to 55F. This week I studied the soil thermometer and the max and min thermometer and was reassured by the warm sunny days. The soil has been drying out nicely. Tomorrow we start digging. It usually takes us three afternoons. Everything looks auspicious. No rain or horribly cold weather, enough people. . .

Sweet potato harvest Photo Nina Gentle

Sweet potato harvest Photo Nina Gentle

Meanwhile we have been working around a Big Ditch, which will soon connect our new grid-linked solar array to the main service panel. Life has been difficult, and the job is lingering because the Big Ditch filled with the heavy rains we had, then we found some unexpected old phone lines (and accidentally cut them). And then the supplies didn’t arrive when they should have. And so on. Everyone is probably familiar with projects which take a lot longer to complete than intended. Soon it will all be done, we’ll be able to disk and prepare the future garlic area take carts along the path again. And we’ll be using more of the sunlight to make electricity!!

Ditch for cables to connect up solar array. Raised beds on the right. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Ditch for cables to connect up solar array. Raised beds on the right.
Photo Bridget Aleshire


 

Upcoming Events I’ll be speaking at

MENFairLogoThe weekend of October 24-25 I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas with my two Hoophouse workshops:

I will be giving Fall and Winter Hoophouses  as a keynote presentation on Saturday 10-11 am on the Mother Earth news stage and Spring and Summer Hoophouses
on Saturday at 1-2pm on the Organic Gardening Stage. I’ll be signing books at 11 am Saturday in the MEN Bookstore. I’ll be demonstrating How to String Weave Tomatoes using my sparkly-pink-tinsel and pencil model at the New Society booth 2055 on Saturday at 4pm, and Sunday at 10 am and 2 pm. If you want the pdfs of the handouts, click these links:

Hoophouse in Fall and Winter Handout

Hoophouse in Spring and Summer Handout


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 will be doing book signing on the Thursday evening Jan 28 from 7 – 8 pm, following the 25 Years in the Field  talks by several people with a long history of contributing to the growth in sustainable and organic agriculture and local foods . I will be giving a 75 minute presentation on Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale on Friday  Jan 29, 9.45 -11 am. There are about 8 conference tracks (simultaneous workshops), and the conference ends on Saturday evening with a fantastic Taste of Kentucky Banquet and live music at the bar.

MENFairLogoI hope to be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. Too soon to say for sure.

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

 

Sweet potato harvest and eggplant varieties.

Bountiful sweet potato harvest Credit Twin Oaks Community

Bountiful sweet potato harvest
Credit Nina Gentle

Our sweet potato harvest is huge this year! We mostly managed to keep the deer out of the plot, by luck and a scarecrow and things that fluttered in the breeze. We’ve filled all our usual boxes and then scrambled twice to find more! There are about 20 plants we didn’t have time to dig up yesterday (our fourth harvest day). Hopefully we’ll get those out of the ground before the rain moves in. A big storm system is approaching from the south west. We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had any very cold weather since that first light frost on 10/5. I remember one awful year when we left the sweet potatoes in the ground too late, hoping they’d fatten up a bit to make up for a poor growing season. Instead, the weather got cold and wet, and the sweet potatoes were rotting in the ground (it was November by then), and those that didn’t rot got chilling damage that prevented them ever softening in cooking. Sweet potatoes that stay hard are no fun to eat! I wrote the harvesting details in an earlier post.

Boxes of sweet potatoes curing in our basement. Credit Twin Oaks Community

Boxes of Beauregard sweet potatoes curing in our basement.
Credit Nina Gentle

Anyway, back to this year’s good news – I counted the equivalent of 273 normal-sized boxes in the basement this morning. At 23 pounds for our standard box, that’s about 6280 pounds. We might be up to 6500 pounds by the time we’re done. This will be our record! I think our local food pantry will be getting some sweet potatoes this winter and next spring!

Last year I compared sweet potato yields for different years. We usually have about 600 plants in 800 row feet (16″ spacing). Yield is about 11 pounds/sweet potato plant this year. But as they say “your results may vary.”  Ours certainly have. Working back from 2012, we harvested 4070 lbs, 2208 lbs, 1860 lbs, “lots” (poor record-keeping!), 5590 lbs, 3820 lbs and 4050 lbs in 2007.


Nadia eggplant. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Nadia eggplant.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

This year we did variety trials of four eggplant varieties, to find one better than Nadia, which is a lovely variety, but didn’t do so well in the hot summer of 2012. Last year we ran the trial and we didn’t get a hot summer. So we tried again. Again, no hot summer! But we did good record-keeping! Here’s our table for this year:

Eggplant Harvest 2

What can we conclude? All four varieties have similar-sized fruit. We deliberately chose purple-black tear-drop shaped eggplant because that’s what our cooks want. We didn’t include any green, striped, long skinny, orange, fluted or other unusual kinds. No judgment about people who like those!

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

The four varieties, Nadia, Epic, Traviata and Florida Highbush (the only open-pollinated eggplant we included) all have similar-sized fruit, about 0.6 lbs each. Nadia yielded best per plant, at 13.4 fruits over the season. Epic was next at 12.5 fruits, then Traviata with 11.7 fruits. Any statisticians reading this? Are these numbers significantly different?

 

Florida Highbush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida Highbush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida Highbush was a poor fourth with an average of only 6.8 fruits per plant. Maybe we’ll drop that one from our experiments. On the other hand, with a name like that, perhaps it would do better than the others in a really hot summer!

Nadia eggplant from Johnnys Seeds

Nadia eggplant from Johnnys Seeds

The records are also helpful in seeing the flow of the harvest. We started harvesting 7/7. Nadia wasn’t ready. They peaked 8/6. We peaked 9/27 (“Almost over”!), after doing a drastic over-harvesting 9/24. We’re farmers not scientists!

 

 

 

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

On that theme, notice that one bed had thicker rowcover than the other, when transplanted. The two beds were next to each other. One was all Nadia, the other, the three contenders. The row cover could have skewed the results. Onward and upward! Maybe next year we’ll get some results we can bank on.

Sweet potatoes, statistics and inspiration

A bumper crop of sweet potatoes. Credit McCune Porter

A bumper crop of sweet potatoes.
Credit McCune Porter

After a week of drizzle, it finally eased up and we started harvesting our sweet potatoes. I wrote a lot about this topic last year, so I won’t go into many details here. As usual, we set the dug roots in clusters, so we could see which plants yielded most and chose medium-sized roots from those to grow our slips next year. In the picture above, we are crating the sweet potatoes after someone has gone through selecting the seed roots. In the right background you can see our grid-linked solar array. In the left background is our hoophouse, and to the left is our dying last sweet corn planting. We have one last picking today, from the Silver Queen at the far end. We used a low electric fence around this patch to keep the raccoons out, and either it worked, or the beasts didn’t notice this planting. We didn’t get any visits from tigers or elephants either! Also visible in the photo above are remaining bits of the bioplastic biodegradable mulch we used. It’s made from non-GMO corn, and is great for warm-weather loving vining crops.

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they save a lot of time. Credit McCune Porter

This year, the Georgia Jet seem more productive than the Beauregard – I think that’s usual. We dug about a third of the crop the first day and got 86 boxes. The second day we had a lot of other harvesting (beans and broccoli being the most time-consuming), so we only dug another 36 boxes. We’re still only 45% of the way down the patch, so we could end up with 250 or more boxes. Probably the yield will taper off closer to the end of the field as the deer were browsing on the vines all summer.

Friday update: Well, we finished harvesting yesterday, and the yield dropped off a lot where the deer had been browsing (memo: fence out the deer in future!) We got a total of 177 boxes of various sizes, perhaps about 3939 pounds, almost two tons. That’s not a record-breaker, but is second best in the past ten years.

Our yearly harvest of sweet potatoes has varied a lot, from 31 boxes (a sad year) to 243 in 2009. An average over ten years of 112 boxes, each weighing perhaps 23 pounds. We grow about 800 row feet. We always hope to have enough to last till the beginning of May, when people start to lose interest in sweet potatoes, and start hoping for tomatoes.

Now I’ve glided smoothly into the statistics section of this post, so I’ll tell you some figures for my book sales while I’m at it. New Society has sold 3320 to mid-September, from a 5000 print run. They say the book is selling well, not many returns. At Twin Oaks we’ve sold 150 of the 250 we bought in February when it came out. I’ve just set up an Author Page at Amazon, so I can tell you they have sold 940 print copies up till 10/6. They also provide me with ranking info (this could get addictive if I let it!) and my book was #40,116 when I looked. That sounds pathetic till you realize that’s out of 8 million titles. Anyway, enough vanity! As far as its usefulness to readers, having an Author Page means that if you go to Amazon, to my book page, and then click on my name, you can read my bio, and see my upcoming events, and get back to this blog.

Getting perspective on the bookselling world, I was encouraged to learn that there is being a resurgence of small booksellers, despite the Big Online One. Here’s a link to the story in the Christian Science Monitor in March this year. I learned about it from Wendy Welch of the Little Bookstore at Big Stone Gap, who I met at the Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. She has written a memoir about her bookstore, called The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, which you can buy via her website, or, I’m sure, at her store.

And now on to this Inspiring story: At the Mother Earth News Fair I met a young woman of 12 who had borrowed my book from her library. She got inspired and decided to start market gardening. She succeeded in clearing $6000 in her first year, when she was 11!