Conferences, Growing for Market articles and books

What with the pandemic, snowstorms, power and internet outages and related travel limitations, you might be forgiven for thinking I’d faded away or something! Except for my regular weekly blogposts, which I have kept up, come whatever!

This week’s blogpost is a reminder about other aspects of my work. Conferences, magazine articles, and my books. First the conferences. I do have an Events Page, in case you haven’t discovered that yet, and one with videos and podcasts I’m in. I’m also including a list of other Organic virtual conferences

Virginia Association for Biological Farming

2022 Virginia Biological Farming Conference,

January 22-24 (Saturday to Monday)

Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center

 Conference website

Saturday 1/22 will be half-day and full-day pre-conference sessions. The general conference is on Sunday and Monday.

Lodging and Travel

Workshops

The three-day Conference includes: Pre-Conference intensive workshops, 48 concurrent sessions of workshops, presentations, and panel discussions, 50 tradeshow exhibitors, locally sourced farm meals and book sales with author signings. The Conference highlights include a Youth Program, a Silent Auction and networking opportunities including regional meetings and fireside chats, morning yoga for farmers and the Taste of Virginia Expo & Social. 

Update:

I had planned to give a half-day pre-conference intensive on Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables, and two 90 minute workshops on Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish and Lettuce Year-Round. But then it all looked too risky for me, and I had to cancel. Very sorry.

———————————————————–

February 10-12, 2022 (Wednesday to Saturday 2.30pm)

PASA

Lancaster Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 25 S Queen St, Lancaster, PA

PASA is taking great care to make the in-person conference as covid-safe as possible. See the website. https://web.cvent.com/event/495529cf-5f11-41ed-9a1d-c9e55d151c6a/summary?RefId=home

I am giving three 60 min workshops:

Optimize Your Asian Greens Production Thursday 2/10 9-10 am

Beauty in a tatsoi plant.
Photo Wren Vile

This workshop covers production of Asian greens, outdoors and in the hoop house, for both market and home growers. Learn to grow many types of tasty, nutritious greens easily and quickly for fast returns. This workshop includes tips on selection of over 20 types of Asian greens, the timing of succession planting, crop rotation in the hoop house, pest and disease management, fertility, and weed management throughout the year.

Winter Vegetable Production Methods from the Field to the Hoophouse, Fri 2/11 9-10am

Harvested turnips ready for storage.
Photo Pam Dawling

Grow cold-hardy vegetables in the open and with protection varying from rowcovers to hoop houses (high tunnels). Learn about tables of cold-hardiness, details of crops to keep growing into winter, crops for all-winter harvests, overwintering crops for spring harvests, and winter hoop house crops. We’ll also discuss how to plan harvesting and planting dates, and how to maximize production with succession planting, follow-on cropping, and with stored vegetables.

Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish, Saturday 2/12 11am-12.00 noon

Sweet potatoes on a plate.
Photo Brittany Lewis

At this workshop you will learn how to grow your own sweet potato slips, plant them, grow healthy crops, harvest good yields, and select suitable roots for growing next year’s slips. You will also learn how to cure and store roots for top quality and minimal losses. This workshop will be useful to beginners and experienced growers alike.

Handouts

Booksigning Thursday 2/10 4.30-5.30 pm at the Book Nook

Book sales at the Book Nook

The is also a virtual conference in January and early February.

———————————————————–

MOFFA

Maryland Organic Food and Farm Association (MOFFA)

Virtual Conference February 26, 2022

https://www.marylandorganic.org

I am giving a 45 minute recorded workshop on Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables.

There will also be a pdf handout.

———————————————————–

Seven Springs Fair

Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania

September 16-18, 2022. Early Bird discounts are available already!

Hours

Friday Sept 16: 12:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Saturday Sept 17: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday Sept 18: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Location

Seven Springs Mountain Resort
777 Waterwheel Dr.
Seven Springs, Pa. 15622

http://maps.google.com/?q=Seven%20Springs%20Mountain%20Resort

The Fair at Seven Springs is unique, as speakers, staff and attendees co-mingle throughout the weekend at this beautiful four-season resort. Take advantage of complete lodging and ticket packages, which can be booked directly through the resort. Packages are available including rooms or condos. For more information and to make a reservation online click here, or please call 1-800-452-2223.

I am presenting two 60 minute workshops at outdoor stages:

Cool Season Hoophouse Crops

Hoophouse winter greens.
Photo Kathleen Slattery

How to fill your hoophouse with productive food crops in the cool seasons. Suitable crops; cold-hardiness; selecting crops; calculating how much to harvest, how much to plant; crop rotation; mapping; scheduling; seasonal transitions; succession planting and follow-on cropping.

Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish

Sweet potatoes in storage. An ideal crop for winter meals, as they store at room temperature for a long time, maybe seven or eight months.
Photo Pam Dawling

At this workshop you will learn how to grow your own sweet potato slips; plant them, grow healthy crops and harvest good yields, selecting suitable roots for growing next year’s slips. You will also learn how to cure and store roots for top quality and minimal losses. This workshop will be useful to beginners and experienced growers alike.

My books will be on sale in the Mother Earth Bookshop

———————————————————–

I have presented at several Mother Earth Fairs Online. 

Online: Food Independence Course Part Two

was released on 3/26/21.

Yukina Savoy
Photo Ethan Hirsh

It consists of eight video presentations, most of which come with pdf handouts. My contribution is Growing Asian Greens, and pairs nicely with Guide to Asian Vegetables by Wendy Kiang-Spray, author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden: Growing Techniques and Family Recipes from a Classic Cuisine. Other topics include Dandelion Wine, Homemade Teas, Food Conversations, Passive Solar Greenhouse Design, Productive Growing from Home, and Growing Your Own Spices.

Part One of the Food Independence Course includes seven videos, most with handouts, and there is a free preview of DIY Sourdough Basics with Jessica Moody. other topics include Your Edible Yard, the Chinese Greenhouse, Community Meat Buying Club and Mindful Meat Eating, Practical Yogurt and Emma’s Cool crops.

You can subscribe to the All-Access Bundle for $2.99/month (or $35 for a year).

  • Once you register for All-Access, you will receive access to all 47 current video workshops and prerecorded webinars plus anything new that is added.
  • All the workshop videos are pre-recorded and can be viewed whenever you like and however many times you like.
  • Because the videos can be viewed at your convenience, you can watch them on your own schedule!
  • At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, all of the content, including these workshops, are designed to empower you to become less dependent on systemic products or services. What does that mean? This is an opportunity learn how to save a lot of money on things such as groceries, expensive health products, energy, and more!
  • Unlike at the physical FAIRS, where workshops take place simultaneously, you don’t have to pick and choose which workshops to watch! Most folks can enjoy only 10 to 12 workshops maximum at a physical FAIR. Now you can see them all!
  • No additional travel expenses, such as hotel rooms, airfare, gas, pet care, dining out, etc.
  • All dogs are allowed!!!

I have also contributed an 8-part Garden Planning Course

Garden Planning Course

Before that, I did a workshop on

Winter Cover Crops for Gardeners

as part of the Winter Gardening Course.

Fall broccoli undersown with a mixed clover winter cover crop.
Photo Nina Gentle.

All these and many more videos and handouts are available as part of the All-Access Bundle

—————————————–

Podcasts and Videos

Check out my page for Podcasts and Videos!

—————————————————–

More Virtual Organic Conferences in January and February

Here’s a useful list from eOrganic. I’ll be at PASA, but not the others.

eOrganic is the organic agriculture community of practice with eXtension. Theirr mission is to foster a research and outreach community, engage farmers and ag professionals through trainings and publications, and support research and outreach projects.


Growing for Market magazine

Growing for Market articles

January 2022 Growing for Market magazine cover

 

 

The January 2022 issue has my article on Greensprouting and planting potatoes. The November/December issue has my article on Planning  an asparagus patch.

 

 

 

———————————————————–

Heads up on Sustainable Market Farming price increase elsewhere but not through my website.

After nine years at a cover price of $34.95, it is going for another reprint, and will be $39.99 as of February 25, 2022. Fortunately I have plenty of copies on hand for direct sale.

Dealing with winter weather in your hoophouse

December lettuce in our hoophouse after snowfall. Photo Pam Dawling

Dealing with winter weather in your hoophouse

We’ve just had Winter Storm Frida bring us a foot of heavy wet snow and, along with most of Virginia, several days without electricity. Six days in our case. Much longer, colder and snowier than I expected. I know, climate chaos makes predictions and expectations chancy! We are in zone 7a, with an average annual minimum temperature of 0-5°F (-18°C to -15°C) until recently.

In November 2018, I wrote a post for Mother Earth News entitled Dealing with Snow on your Hoophouse.

When the power goes out, close the air intake

Hoophouse air intake with a very useful flap to reduce or close the opening. Photo Kathryn Simmons

The first thing an operator of a double layer hoophouse should do when the power goes out (especially in winter) is to rush out and close the air intake. Without electricity to run the little blower, the air intake hole becomes an air outflow. Closing the flap on the blower stops the air escaping. In summer you might not mind, but in winter, the air between the layers of plastic maintains about 8F/5C warmer at night inside than outside, and plants can survive 14F/8C colder than they can outside, without extra rowcover; at least 21F/12C colder than outside with thick rowcover.

The “air bubble” also gives strength to the structure in withstanding loads caused by high winds or heavy snow. Soon after the power cut out on Monday morning, I set out towards the hoophouse. Then I remembered that when we changed the end wall plastic in the fall, we did not fit a cover flap. Worse yet, the air tubing projected out of the wall, making a hasty retrofitting impossible. I briefly considered “putting a sock in it” literally, but then pictured what would happen when the power came back on and sucked the sock into the motor, overheating it and starting a blaze. So, learn from our mistake – always fit a flap over the air intake!

Rolls of rowcover in our hoophouse ready to pull over the beds on very cold nights. Photo Wren Vile

We keep rolls of thick Typar rowcover at the ready and cover the individual beds if we expect the outdoor air temperature to be 8°F (-13°C) or lower. Otherwise we don’t use any inner rowcovers in our hoophouse. Without the insulating effect of the air bubble during the power outage, we decided to use the rowcovers when the outdoor temperature was going to be less than 16°F (-9°C). Several nights like that!

Perhaps this will be your first hoophouse winter. Some others will be remembering last winter, and hoping to find a better way of dealing with snow. Snow can be heavy stuff, so removing it is worthwhile. This can be done from the outside, pulling the snow down to ground level, and from the inside, bouncing the snow off the plastic. It isn’t necessary to remove all the snow. Once you have removed what you can, the daytime temperature inside the hoophouse will rise and help melt the rest of the snow. We have never needed to get out of bed in the night to tackle snow, but you might.

The Snobrum tool we use on the outside of our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

First we tackle the outside, or if snow is still falling or it’s frozen onto the plastic, we start with the inside. Either way, start with the south side, to get as much advantage from solar gain as possible. The important rule of snow removal is “First, do no harm.” Don’t make holes in the plastic in your efforts to remove snow! A hoophouse is most stable when the snow is evenly distributed. Since houses are stronger at the ends where they have end walls for support, it makes sense to start at the weaker middle and work in both directions if removing heavy snow.

Hoophouse snow scraping tool on a telescoping painter’s pole. (No snow in sight!) Photo Pam Dawling

For outside we use a tool (SnoBrūm™) which is sold for scraping snow off cars. It’s a foam board about 6″ × 18″ (15 × 45 cm) with a threaded insert that takes a telescoping pole. It is sold with a short pole, but a painter’s pole will give a much longer reach. If you haven’t yet got one of these handy tools, carefully use the back of a rake (wrapped in thick cloth). Pull the snow down between the bows, avoiding pulling the tool over the framework as much as possible, as that can easily make holes. Alternate with shoveling the snow away from the base of the hoophouse if the snow is deep (piles of snow pressing against the lower walls can do damage). Be careful not to hit the plastic with any metal tools. Don’t attempt to use the relatively fragile foam-board tool for pushing snow along the ground; keep it free of grit and use it only on the plastic.

Removing snow from a hoophouse at Dripping Springs Garden. Photo Mark Cain

Inside, don a visor (to keep blobs of icy water from landing on your face) and grab an old broom with its head covered in a cloth or bubble plastic, taped on. Make sure there are no sharp protrusions from the broom head. First walk along the paths nearest the walls banging the broom against the plastic. We find a double bouncing action works best, and we can get in a rhythm. This can be a long and tiring job! Start at waist height because if the lower snow falls down, sometimes the higher stuff will follow it down, saving you work. When you need to reach higher, tie or tape the broom to a longer stick. Or find something that screws onto your painter’s pole, such as a paint roller (!) and cover that with bubble plastic. Balance applying your energy with being gentle with the plastic. Do not use the foam-board scraper for bouncing snow — it will crack.

When you’re tired and no more snow is easy to move, wait and try again later. The warming effect of incoming daylight will help melt the snow next to the plastic, so that it is easier to start it sliding off next time you do the rounds.

Sometimes ice accumulates on the plastic. If you get freezing rain that sticks on the plastic, it creates a rough surface that keeps any snow that settles on top from sliding off until the ice thaws. The best way to remove ice is to melt it using warmth from inside. If you have double plastic and it is not windy, switch off the inflation blower — the heat from inside will reach the ice sooner. I recommend against breaking the ice free mechanically, as there is a big risk of the sharp edges of the ice cutting the plastic. You also risk abrasion every time you use a device on the outside of the plastic to pull snow or ice off the tunnel. This makes the plastic rough, and snow won’t slide off as well in the future.

Prevent Hoophouse Frame Collapse

Snow comes in various consistencies and weights. A foot (30 cm) of light fluffy snow may only contain as much water as 1″ (2.5 cm) of rain. But heavy wet snow can equal 1″ (2.5 cm) of rain in only 3″–4″ (8–10 cm) of snow. Each inch (2.5 cm) of rainwater-equivalent will load a structure with 5.2 lbs/ft2 (25 kg/m2). This is about 6.5 tons (5.9 metric tons) on a 25′ × 96′ (7.6 × 29.2 m) hoophouse! Uneven snow loads make a frame more likely to collapse because there are points of higher pressure. This happens if snow is thicker on one side of the hoophouse or if adjacent hoophouses are too close and snow piles up between them when it slides off the roof. The weight of snow can buckle the side of the frame.

Some growers have wood posts ready to wedge under the trusses for extra strength. It sounds like a good plan. Our hoophouse doesn’t have any crosswise trusses, just lengthwise purlins. It’s still standing after 18 years.

When heavy snow is predicted, turn a heater on a couple hours before the storm begins, with the thermostat at 70°F (21°C) or higher. The cost of the fuel is less than a new hoophouse. A portable propane heater (non-electric!) is a good thing to have on hand for unheated tunnels or if a furnace fails or if the power goes out. If you have a very heavy snowfall and it is not possible to remove the snow, then cut the plastic and let the snow fall into the hoophouse to relieve the pressure and save the frame.

“If this, do that”

We have an “If this, do that” card at the front of our hoophouse log book, to help with decisions. It divides snow events into three types.

  1. If the night temperature will be higher than 25°F (−4°C) and you expect less than 6″ (15 cm) of wet snow, leave the inflation blower on, go to bed and hope the snow will slide off.
  2. If the night temperature will be lower than 25°F (−4°C), or there will be more than 6″ (15 cm) of snow and no wind, turn off the blower until the morning, letting the interior heat do its best to melt the snow. If it’s going to be extremely cold, you’ll have to balance this with your need to keep your crops alive.
  3. If there is hard sleet or freezing rain, cycle the inflation off for three hours, on for three hours, with the goal of letting the interior heat melt some of the accumulation, and then using the inflation to push the slush off (give it some help in the morning). Repeat this cycle as needed.

Two great resources are Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension, Prevent Greenhouse Collapse and the Rimol Greenhouses Blog How to Reduce Storm Damage to Your Greenhouse and High Tunnel.

In November 2020 I wrote Winter Preparations for Vegetable Gardens

Winter-Kill Temperatures

My annual blogpost of Winter-Kill Temperatures for Cold-Hardy Vegetables is always very popular. Usually searches for this info increase in October and peak in early November, when growers are deciding when to harvest each crop as the cold increases. In mid-winter you might consult the table to determine which crops to prioritize for extra rowcover if a bad thing happens.

I have learned that there is more damage when the weather switches suddenly from warm to cold. And that the forecaster in Raleigh, NC says it needs 3 hours at the critical temperature to do damage. Also note that repeated cold temperatures can kill off crops that can survive a single dip to a low temperature, and that cold winds, or cold wet weather can destroy plants quicker than simple cold.

Workhorse Crops for January

Our hoophouse with a December snowfall. Pam Dawling

We’re solidly in the darker and colder half the year for our monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops (asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards/kale, garlic, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, winter squash, zucchini/summer squash). These crops are reliable and productive under a range of conditions. You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as December.

Winter is a natural opportunity to reconsider the size of your garden, which crops to grow, and your growing methods. Perhaps this will be your first gardening year? If so, welcome! Use the search box to find specific info, or click the blog category to find some further reading. Hopefully, we all have our garden plans made and our seeds ordered. Maybe we are already looking at a planting schedule.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in January

Potato Onions

Yellow Potato Onions.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

In January, we can plant small small potato onions outdoors.  We prepare the bed in the late fall and mulch it with hay, to plant in January. We rake off the mulch, plant the onion bulbs and then lay the mulch back on the bed, to control weeds and somewhat to insulate the little onion bulbs. These smallest potato onions are very cold-hardy, and will grow up to produce a single 3” (7.5 cm) large onion. A few will grow and subdivide to produce more small onions. Click the link to read the details.

Indoor sowings for later transplanting outside or in the hoophouse

In our greenhouse we fire up our germinator cabinets and sow our first lettuce and early cabbage (Early Jersey Wakefield and Faroa) and scallions in mid-January. The following week we sow our tomatoes to plant out in the hoophouse, and at the end of the month, spinach if we have not got enough sown in our hoophouse to transplant as bare-root transplants.

Flats of cabbage seedlings in our greenhouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Hoophouse workhorse crops to plant in January

In the hoophouse we are sowing a second or third round of crops, mostly successions of greens and radishes. We have already pulled our first and second radishes, and some of the Asian greens.

This March we will be using a half-bed in the hoophouse for some early green bush beans. Like our other warm weather crops, these can be planted in the hoophouse a month earlier than outdoors. Two cautions with green beans in the hoophouse: buy a very upright variety, as the plants will be more sprawling than they are outdoors. Outdoors we grow Provider and Bush Blue Lake (both very reliable and productive), and in the hoophouse we like Strike. The second bean caution is that we have found the edge beds too cold for beans when we need to sow them, in March. Don’t plant them now, but order seeds of an upright variety and plan a non-edge bed. I’ll say more in March.

We have also planned our next round of early warm-weather crops, which we will transplant in late March and early April. Tomatoes and zucchini/summer squash are on our Workhorse list

Young spinach seedlings.
Photo Pam Dawling

We stop filling gaps in most of the Asian greens at the end of December, because they will start to bolt in January and/or because they are mature and we will be clearing the space to sow something else. Tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana, Pac Choi, Chinese Cabbage, Yukina Savoy, all need to be eaten during January.  We sow spinach (the Racehorse Crop) in mid-January, to transplant in the hoophouse and outdoors.

Vates kale seedlings for bare-root transplanting.
Photo Pam Dawling

On January 24 we sow Vates kale and Morris Heading collards in the ground in the hoophouse, in the space recently freed up by the Chinese cabbage. For 1080ft outdoors, we need 108ft of seedling rows. We can fit 14 rows of seedlings across a 4ft (1.2 m) bed.

See November’s information on Follow-On Crops, and Filler Greens (short rows of greens sown in October to fill unexpected spaces).

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in January

We still have workhorse crops to harvest outdoors: chard, kale and collards, and perhaps cabbages. We’re down to three of our 14 workhorse crops to harvest outdoors in January, but we have the Racehorse Crop, spinach, too, and also luscious hoophouse greens.

Deadon (105d winter cabbage) is extremely cold hardy – we leave it outdoors until nights threaten to hit 10°F (-12°C), the lowest temperature I’ve seen it survive. We just had one night at that temperature, much colder than anything else so far this winter.

Chard can still be harvested outdoors if we covered it with hoops and rowcover. The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C). We have succeeded in keeping chard alive outdoors right through the winter, if we cover it.

Collards and Kale can be lightly harvested in January. Our mnemonic for sustainable harvesting of leafy greens is “8 for later”, meaning we leave at least eight inner leaves when harvesting the outer ones, to ensure the plants have enough strength to regrow. In October, November, February and March, we can harvest leaves from these plants once a week. In December and January, once each month is more like what we can hope for. Chard and senposai do OK with only 6 leaves left.

Hoophouse Workhorse harvests in January

We are harvesting leaves from our hoophouse Bright Lights chard at an adolescent size, cutting them into ribbons, and chopping the colorful stems, for salad mixes. Later, when the days lengthen, we’ll be able to harvest leaves for cooking.

Red Russian kale in our hoophouse
Photo Pam Dawling

The Red Russian and White Russian kales are ready to harvest now (we were a bit late with getting a successful sowing in September). Russian kales belong to the napus group of kales, which are better able to make growth in low light levels than oleracea types like the Vates we grow outdoors. Vates is our star outdoors, because it is more cold-hardy than any other kale I’ve found. The Russian kales have a tendency to wilt after harvesting, so we move fast and stand the leaves up in the buckets. We add some water to the buckets before rushing them to the walk-in cooler. (We do this with chard, turnip greens and Tokyo bekana too.)

The hoophouse senposai is on its third round of harvests, just two weeks after the second, which was one week after the first. This clearly demonstrated the slower rate of growth as temperatures and daylight decrease. The short days do cause plant growth to slow down, but this is not the only factor. Soil temperature is another. In our hoophouse, the soil temperature is still 50F (10C) in early January.

But hey! The length of daylight is now increasing! On the shortest day, December 21, we have 9 hours and 34 minutes of daylight, from 7.21 am to 4.55 pm. The mornings continue to get darker by a few minutes, taking a month to get back to 7.21, from a latest of 7.25 am. Meanwhile the evenings are getting lighter, gaining us 6 minutes by January 5. I’m typing this on my laptop onto a USB stick, as we are in day 3 of a power outage. I appreciate the lighter evenings! By January 21 we will be up to 10 hours of daylight!

Workhorse Crops from storage in January

Storage crops come into their own in December and January, once outdoor growth has slowed down. The flavor of stored sweet potatoes reaches its peak in late January! Besides the Workhorse Crops of carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and garlic, there are many other root crops. See my posts Root Crops for the Month. Use hardneck garlic first, as it stores for only for 4-6 months. Softneck garlic can store for up to 7 months.

Eat up your acorn and other pepo types of winter squash, as they store for only 1-4 months. Maximas such as Cha Cha, Jarrahdale and Kabochas store for 3-5 months; Moschatas such as Butternuts and Cheese pumpkins will store for 8 months or even more. Seminole pumpkin can easily store for a whole year at room temperature. They do have hard shells and need a hefty cleaver to cut them open.

Our white potatoes are keeping well in the root cellar down at 40F-50F (5C-10C). We air it about once a week. We open the door on mild nights or chilly overcast days, depending what we get and what we need. Potatoes in storage after their first month are no longer respiring much at all. They should be dormant, and not in need of many air changes.

Sweet potatoes on a plate.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Our sweet potatoes are very delicious. We are eating about 40-50lbs (19-23 kilos) a week.

Stored cabbage can also be a boon, and this is also a good time to explore all the pickles and canned and frozen produce you put up earlier.

Workhorse Crops Special Topics for January: Making Schedules.

Screenshot Crop Planning Cycle

We continue our Garden Planning, ordering seeds and planning schedules of field planting and greenhouse seedling starting. In January we start sowing seeds indoors, and need our schedule figured out for that. We also need to pay attention to germination temps for various crops, so that we get them off to a good start, matched with crops needing similar temperatures in each germination cabinet.

Book Review: The New Farmer’s Almanac, Vol V

 

The New Farmer’s Almanac from the Greenhorns

The New Farmer’s Almanac, Vol V 2021, Grand Land Plan, by the Greenhorns, Feb 2021, 400 pages, softcover, $25, illustrated with B&W photos and drawings. Distributed by Chelsea Green.

This is a great winter treasure trove to dip into by the woodstove after darkness brings you in from the fields. Or to absorb you on snowy days. Or to leave by a frequently visited seat (!) for browsing. It’s a compilation of pictures and writings as an antidote to helplessness. Here you will find reports from the fields, shores, woods, beehives, kitchens, watersheds, and compost piles.

There are historic pieces, such as The Diggers’ Song by Gerrard Winstanley written in 1649, and very current writing on living in a time of racism, Covid, hate crimes, climate disaster and white nationalist surges. This Grand Land Plan is a vision of the future of food systems and land use, put together by farmers, gardeners, poets, activists, grocers, nature-lovers and agitators. Here are solutions to give us hope and ideas on what to do to recover from the challenges, dismantle inequity, restore our chances of a beautiful world. You can browse for what you need each day: poetry, maps, comics, portraits, lessons from honeybees, campaigns for local food, reports of successes, thoughtful prose on the principles and practice for fair and responsive land use for everyone, or a design for a seaweed commons.

The Greenhorns are a group working to promote, recruit and support the next generation of farmers, through publications and events. Covid has led them to use more digital productions, including EARTHLIFE, initially centered in Downeast Maine, along the Pennamaquan River, where the Greenhorns are based in the old Pembroke Iron Works. The group has several ventures in the town, including carpentry, a boat shop, mycological lab, agrarian library, art spaces and living spaces. They offer monthly naturalist trainings.

The contents are divided into monthly sections with a theme. January’s theme is Resistance and Recovery. Small-scale farmers producing healthy food for local eating, have become the envy of many of those in the big cities. The difficulties of 2020 (and 2021) have thrown home food production and working together into a better light, and shown the deep importance of friends and companions. Vegetable seeds sold out, as did CSA shares. Security is in the potato patch, in knowing how to feed your household with what you have on hand, fix things, organize, be a leader – things that truly matter. Not money in the bank, flashy clothes, having a large office.

People have become aware of the fragility of industrial supply chains and the value of local small businesses and the people who work in them. Mutual aid and support, community-based economies, revolving savings and loans, shared healthcare funding groups – all help people get through hard times and thrive. Doing small things that make a difference can empower us to persist and make more differences. As one pioneering farmer says “When we started, we wanted a revolution! . . . Then we realized, it’s the incremental changes that affect a revolution. And then you realize you have had a revolution. You just didn’t see it coming.” The Black communities have long used mutual aid strategies to survive and uplift each other. Black farmer cooperatives have a long history.

We can get hope from reading about reforestation. By the late 1900s, forest area in Denmark had almost rippled since 1800. Swiss forestation had increased from 19% in the 1860s to 32% in the 1980s. Japan, New Zealand, Cuba and Scotland have all undertaken large scale reforestation. An article describes New Zealand’s One Billion Trees Programme, part of a range of initiatives to build a sustainable economy for the people while also meeting their international climate change commitments.

The articles move from political to poetic to practical, and round again. Should farms set aside areas to encourage species diversity, while “sacrificing” the fields with edge-to-edge plowing and cultivation? Or would we do better to incorporate the diversity into the whole of the farm? Here we can probe this question by considering soil life; soil cover; water, nest and shelter functions; flowering plants (food for insects, birds and mammals); native plants; plant structure and composition (diversity); habitat patches and corridors. This leads to thinking about the effects on humans of time in nature. The Japanese have “forest-bathing” therapy. Perhaps it’s time to recognize the value of “farm-bathing” too.

There’s a Hawaiian glossary of terms related to land and water use. You may not need the actual words, but the concepts are such valuable food for thought! There are wise quotes from Kalaninuiliholiho Kamehameha, Ursula Le Guin and Janene Yazzie. There is material to read on pesticide spraying, fishing, pruning, shopping during Covid, cottonwood tree decline and propagation, trapping fish, spruce bark beetles, farming seaweed. Did you know it takes 11-16 years for a 4ft tall rockweed to recover from being cut back 16ins from the holdfast?

Read about capitalism, cooperation, Medieval European land enclosure, colonization, and other forms of land tenure. Elinor Ostrom, who won a Nobel Prize in economics, researched global commons-based resource management systems. She found that each represents a unique set of ways in which people work together to ensure the longevity and health of the resources they depend on. It isn’t the land or the resources that causes commons to succeed, but the process by which people relying on those resources engage with them and with their fellow commoners. Ostrom lists 8 general principles used.

Garrett Hardin’s 1968 infamous essay The Tragedy of the Commons suggests that individuals will destroy the commons by prioritizing their own needs until the system collapses. The assumption is that financial gain is always more important than social networks, or sense of fairness, integrity, or desire to be well-thought-of. Hardin’s theory was not based on research of actual commons-based management systems. Sadly, he is better-known than Ostrom, and the myth that personal ownership is the most effective and logical way to divide resources, is often spoken of as fact.

Sixty miles east of Alaska, the Gwich’in community of Old Crow had to deal during the pandemic with two uninvited visitors from the city of Quebec, seeking refuge, but bringing no gloves, no tools and a risk that they had the virus with them. The community had limited access to healthcare, many vulnerable elders and a bad history of white people bringing in diseases. Members of the Tribal government met them at the airport, isolated them and sent them back.

Many writers thread their politics through their observations. Sheltering in place, working from home, learning to bake sourdough bread and grow kale are not too hard for the privileged, with spacious comfortable housing, outdoor space, computers, desk jobs, and garden space. “By actively and consciously cashing in on my privilege, I have placed myself in an environment in which feeling relief is possible.” (Quinn Riesenman). Others ponder how to shelter in place when unable to earn money to pay for shelter.

I discovered the work of George Washington Carver maybe 10 years ago, when gathering information about growing sweet potatoes. In the Almanac you can read his instructions for growing peanuts, and how to build up worn out soils. Makshya Tolbert has written a eulogy to her late grandmother, who came from Cameroon, in the form of an ode to peanuts. There are photos of recipe cards from Black women in domestic service. A way of establishing an identity.

The Indigenous Corn Keepers Conference of Uchben Kah in January 2020 brought together indigenous farmers to share experience and cultural attitudes about corn. Did you know corn is one of the few plants that can coexist with black walnut?

I loved Ang Roeli’s essay Radicalize the Hive, on what honeybees can teach us about social change. There is proof in Spanish cave paintings that people gathered honey from bee colonies 8,000 years ago. There is evidence of honey-gathering 15,000 years ago, long before farming. The author followed the ritual of “telling the bees” when the Covid pandemic started. “If we come together now, we could get sick, and many of us could die.” Their response was “If we were apart, and could not hold each other, even for a short while, we would most certainly die.” You can read this metaphorically if you prefer. I was taken aback to see the chapter illustrated with a photo of paper wasps, but then, many people are afraid of stinging insects, and don’t look long enough to distinguish one from the other.

Learn about the history of land tenure in Puerto Rico. It is indeed tragic that the lands of the sugar lords were, in many cases, sold to the multi-national seed magnates. 122 years after sugar plantations, the land is still not in the hands of the local people.

Read the September 19, 1942 front page of the Poston Chronicle, published in the Poston, Arizona concentration camp for Japanese-Americans, which was located on the lands of the Colorado River Indian Reservation, against the objections of the Tribal Council. The editorial proposes changes to the co-operative farm management system, with five year leases on a sharecropping basis. Clearly the prisoners didn’t expect to return to their homes in California any time soon.

History is interwoven with memoirs. A Farm Hand’s Perspective explores the challenges and benefits of working on an organic vegetable farm in the Sierra Nevada foothills. “I have no idea how to quantify right livelihood, proximity to nature’s beauty, and the slow pace of seasonal, rural living. The downsides are much easier to count – long hours, low wages, no healthcare – and due to our socialization in a capitalist society, these are easy to fixate upon.”

For a different slant on life, read about developing native plant materials for roadside dust mitigation in southern New Mexico. Yes, people are researching this, and have promising plants that are drought-tolerant, perennial, quick to establish and able to deal with high salt levels.

Michael McMillan writes about a serendipitous meeting on the road with a mycologist and botanist, who taught him to identify wildflowers, cactuses, shrubs and trees, by first identifying the plant family and noting what types grow where. This practice of reading the landscape informed Michael’s career as an ecological landscape designer.

Colleen Perria writes about restoring oak savanna in the southern Great Lakes bioregion. Oaks are fire-resistant and the Native peoples used fire, producing the savanna, with oaks, grasses, flowers and shrubs. But later the land was cleared by settlers to grow field crops. When abandoned, dense young forests grew up. Concrete came later. We falsely “remember” that deep primeval forests occupied the land before the white settlers, when in fact, that land had been a savanna for ages.

Catherine Bennett writes about composting those glossy political candidate flyers, along with dead lambs and reed canary grass. Will the microbes be able to break down the inks and other chemicals, some probably toxic? Journalist Bill Moyer got tested and found he was home to 84 health hazards. Why do we produce so much waste that isn’t safe to be around?

Back to land reform – this time in Scotland. The public has the Right to Roam across private land, provided they do no damage. Between 2003 and 2016, a set of land reform acts established a diversity of alternative land tenure arrangements, intending to reach 100,000,000 acres of community land ownership by 2020. They only managed just over half a million. Parliament reported that 432 individuals in 2013 owned 50% of the private land. But there has been good progress. The entire 5,000-acre island of Ulva was bought by the residents. The Scottish government has supported these transfers, with the message that if you hold title to land, you also have the responsibility to ensure that its use balances your private profit with public good.

How about this for a $64,000 question: “Is fixing trophobiosis the key to beating everything from Coronavirus to locust swarms to climate change?” Trophobiosis is a symbiotic association between organisms where food is obtained or provided. Locust swarms are one symptom of land degradation and poor land management, where trophobiosis has gone awry. Land degradation leads to chronic drought and flooding, followed by soil erosion and loss of organic matter and nutrients, then pest invasions and increased disease levels in crops, livestock and humans. Covid-19 crossed over to humans from wildlife, where the contact was closer than was wise. Synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers cause imbalances that lead to pest and disease outbreaks. Francis Chaboussou writes about this theory in Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution. It leads to a unified theory of earth repair.

A traditional Hopi dryland farmer in Arizona describes his heritage crops including corn, beans, melons, squash and gourds. He is in a line of 250 generations of farmers, and knows how to grow food when nature provides 6-10 inches of rain each year. As a youth he worked with his grandfather and studied agriculture at Cornell University. He often wondered at the recommendations in his course. He could not see a need for a 14-row planter. An agricultural economics class explained that American farmers are locked into a cycle that demands high yields (because food prices are low). They are trapped by the financial costs, and the devastating psychological dependence, to need extreme efficiency. Hopi farming is not to make money but to survive and continue their culture. Agriculture and spirituality are closely linked.  Despite more than 2,000 years of these methods of crop production, these methods are often called primitive! Hopi plant corn anywhere from 6-18ins deep, depending on the soil moisture availability. Rows are 6ft apart, with 10-20 kernels in each hole.

I have picked out some articles and left others unmentioned. I’ve no idea how to review poetry, for instance. You, too, can pick and choose what to read in this book. Different subjects speak to us at different times. I have named some people and left many unnamed. A review can only say so much – you need to see the whole book to get the whole benefit. The Greenhorns have done an outstanding job compiling this almanac. You will eventually reach the back cover, and appreciate what you have learned, been uplifted by, and been spurred to act on. (Of course, you might start at the back of the book, nothing to stop you.)

There are four pages of careful image credits and five pages of the 99 contributors’ names, locations and occupations. Sadly, no index.

To submit something for the February 2023 edition of the New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume VI Adjustments and Accommodations, send  to [email protected] by March 2022. Perhaps you have something on building, planting, community land ownership, transformative finance, citizen science, rotational strategies, wildcrafting, rooftop gardens, seed migration, or the art of the possible.

Greenhorns logo

Garden Planning

Our planning clipboards in action. Photo Pam Dawling

Garden Planning

This is the easiest time of year for many of us to plan next year’s garden. If you are in a hot climate zone, or the southern hemisphere, come back to this in six months!

The advantages of good planning are:

  • Make the most productive use of your land.
  • Use the growing season to do the planting and harvesting, without stopping to do calculations
  • Pace yourself, enjoy your life!
  • Reduce stress and confusion
  • Become a better farmer – keep good records, learn from the experience.
  • Invest in your future – Planning gets easier each year – just tweak last year’s plan.
  • For commercial growers, good planning helps you earn a good income.

Design a planning and recordkeeping system you like, so you’ll use it. There are web-based tools, spreadsheets, worksheets and notebooks. Do you prefer clipboards, computers, or photos? Build in the ability to adapt the plan if conditions change.

Web-based systems like AgSquared, COG-Pro and the smaller-scale Gardenplanner.southernexposure.com and  phone apps store a lot of information and let you make changes, which automatically transfer to other pages. But how good is your broadband service?  Could you reliably enter and retrieve information when you need it? We often have outages, and this would be just too frustrating.

We use a lot of spreadsheets. You can make your own, or copy others. During the year we follow printed sheets on clipboards – we don’t often need the computer. The program does all the calculations. You can quickly sort out selected parts of the information and rearrange it. You can print out the sheets and hang them on clipboards for daily use.

Some people use worksheets – printed pages to provide the plan and for you to enter what you do. For the computer-averse, these are good, but leave you to do the arithmetic.

Screenshot Crop Planning Cycle

The farming or gardening year is a cycle, with no beginning and no end. You can start doing better planning at any time of year, busting into the circle diagram below at any point, although I do recommend clarifying your goals before making any big changes. But the slowest season does offer the most time, and a natural break in the crops. Gather your records and notes, your seed catalogs, your maps, and all the schedules and spreadsheets you used this past year.

0. First, clarify your goals. Don’t plan a garden that is designed for someone else.

  1. The Money: If you are growing vegetables to earn a living, calculate how much money you need to support your household, and your farm.
  2. Markets: Figure how best to do that with the land and labor you have available. A CSA? Farmer’s market? Roadside stand? Restaurant sales? You’ll need an idea of prices, so do some research!
  3. Crops: Then decide which crops to grow. Choose vegetables based on demand balanced with the financial value of those crops and the practicalities of growing in your climate, with the land you have use of. I have written before about our process for deciding which crops to grow. Consider ease of growing, suitability for your farm, productivity, profitability, popularity. Provide critical mass for the whole season and a diversity of crops. Honor your crop rotation!
  4. Harvest Schedule: You might be surprised that it is recommended to next determine how much of which crop you want to harvest when. In other words, plan your Harvest Schedule before planning any planting schedules. List how much of each crop to have ready for harvest each week
  5. Planting quantities: Also calculate (from yield tables such as in Sustainable Market Farming) how much you need to plant to achieve your harvest goals. The average person eats 160-200 pounds of fresh vegetables per year (USDA); the average CSA share feeds 2 or 3 people; an annual share will need to include about 500 pounds of 40-50 different vegetables, distributed, say, once a week for 8 months and once a month for 4 months.

Add about 10%, perhaps, to allow for things not going as planned. This could lead to a surplus of some crops, which you might be able to substitute for the shortages. Consider crop spacings, as these will determine how much space each crop needs.

6. Field Planting Schedule: Next, calculate the planting dates that will lead to harvests on your desired dates. Pause to look at the work flow and reconsider if you have too much work in any given week, and if you could make a change to avoid that problem. Take into account Days to Maturity of the varieties you plan to grow, any slowing down or speeding up because of temperatures very different from the ideal spring temperatures the catalog writers had in mind when they came up with those numbers. Draw up your list of outdoor planting dates, along with varieties, row feet, spacing, notes and space to write down what you actually do.OPS

7. Seedlings Schedule: Decide which crops to direct sow and which to transplant. For all the crops you will transplant, prepare a schedule for growing the seedlings. Pause to make sure your growing space can accommodate the numbers of flats and pots you hope to grow.Seedlings Schedule

    1. Pros of direct seeding
      • Less work than transplanting
      • Less money compared to buying starts
      • No need for a greenhouse and equipment
      • Better drought tolerance – roots grow without damage
      • Some crops don’t transplant easily
      • Some crops have millions of plants! (Carrots)
    2. Cons of direct seeding
      • Uses more seed
      • Uses more time thinning
      • Occupies the land longer
      • Maybe harder to get started in cold (or hot) conditions
    3. Pros of transplanting
      • Start earlier than outside, get earlier harvests
      • Start seed in more ideal conditions in greenhouse, better germination, more fun!
      • Easier to care for new seedlings in a greenhouse
      • Protected plants grow quicker
      • Select sturdiest plants, compost the rest
      • More flexibility if weather turns bad. Plants still grow!
      • Fit more crops into the season
      • Use time windows for quick cover crops
      • Save on seed costs
    4. Cons of transplanting
      1. Extra time caring for the starts
      2. Transplant shock can delay harvest

More attention needed to watering new plants

8. Maps: Make scale maps and fill in the main crops to grow in each section, in keeping with your crop rotation. Fit the lesser crops in the spaces left.Map

9. Packing more in: If you want more than your space allows for, (including wanting to pack your crops in a smaller space, so you can grow more cover crops), then consider succession plantings, intercropping, relay planting and follow-on crops (removing an old crop and flipping the space for another crop in the remainder of the growing season). If you have plenty of growing space, including for cover crops, then you might go for an EXtensive rather than INtensive garden, and use equipment to deal with weeds.

10. Tweak Your Plan: look at the overview of your planning so far and especially look for ways to improve. Do you want to extend your season in either direction? It’s easier to get extra harvests for a month or two in fall from mature plants you already have, than it is to get harvests a week earlier in the spring. Keep your highest priorities in mind: crops for your best markets, the signature crops you are famous for, and food for your household. Perhaps an old crop is not worth keeping, if pulling it helps you establish a new crop in a timely way. Use all available space for food crops or cover crops. Be sure to transfer any changes made in one spreadsheet to the related ones.

11. Plan B: Write some notes on what you might do if something goes wrong. Keep lists of fast-growing crops, phone numbers of neighbors, articles about dealing with floods, etc. If something does go wrong, write down what happened and why, what you did and whether it was successful, and any ideas that might have worked better, so you are better prepared next year.

12. Record-keeping: be sure to keep good records so that in a year you can tweak your plan to make it better for next year. Make recording easy to do. Minimize the paperwork. Record your planting dates and harvest start and finish dates right on your planting schedule. Have a daily practice of writing down what was done that day: Planting dates, harvest start and end dates for each planting of each crop; the amount of work done on each crop; the amount harvested. Allow time to do that, without losing your lunch break! At the beginning of the winter, have a Crop Review Meeting, discuss and write up what worked and what didn’t, to learn from the experience and do better next year. If your records suggest adjusting a date next year, adjust it to halfway between last year’s plan and what seems ideal – gradually zero in on the likely date without wild pendulum swings based on variable weather.

Garden planning manual

 

Using all the space in the winter hoophouse

Mid-October photo of September-sown tatsoi and August-sown Tokyo bekana. Fast-growing crops make good use of small windows of time throughout the year.
Photo Pam Dawling

Quick crops to fill hoophouse space Oct 1-Nov 29

This fall we had unused space in a bed where we planted Oct 1 radishes and Tokyo bekana (transplanted), Oct 2 brassica salad mix and Chinese cabbage and Oct 3 pak choy. On Oct 4 we had planted only 44ft, half the bed.

On Oct 10 we made a tiny 1.5ft sowing of brassica gap-filler plants. Oct 20 and 23 we did a bit more planting: scallions, radishes and more filler greens and lettuces (12.5ft), leaving 30ft still empty after Oct 23.

The next plantings were more fillers on Nov 9 (5ft), tatsoi on Nov 15 (7ft), radishes on Nov 29 (2ft), total 14ft more, leaving 16ft still empty. Then came lettuce mix on Dec 7 (12ft), leaving 4ft for brassica salad mix #2 on 12/18. Weeks of bare soil – ugh!

Then we start clearing the first round of crops (clearing radish #2 for Dec 8 brassica salad mix #1.5, 2ft) and Dec 18, clearing 4ft of radish #2.5 south side only,  for more brassica salad mix #2, Dec 23 (clearing brassica salad mix #1 for radish #5, 4ft).

If we have a similar crop arrangement next winter, or small empty patches in various beds, what can we plant in space that is still empty after Oct 10, and especially the spaces that don’t get planted until mid-November onwards? We could try different crops, for the various crops that follow.

Qualities of possible crops:

  • Ready to eat 19-83 days from sowing or transplanting. Most spaces 30-60 days.
  • Cold weather crops, not warm weather crops
  • Something we’ll want to eat then, that we don’t already have lots of.
  • Or something that could be processed for later (we generally have enough greens in winter)
  • Maybe not spinach, as it’s a challenge with pests in the fall.
  • (Preferably not brassicas as we grow so many and stretch the crop rotation.)

Ready to eat 21-60 days from sowing

In order of earliness:

Pea shoots make a delightful salad ingredient.
Photo Pam Dawling

Tips (based on Johnny’s Key Growing Info):

  • Grow when the weather is warm 65°F (18°C). Hmmm?
  • Soak seeds for 8 hours (do not re-use water).
  • Sow seeds thickly and lightly press seeds into soil. Shade?
  • Keep moist.
  • Shoots should be at an edible size (3–6″) within 7–21 days.
  • HARVEST: Using a sharp harvest knife or scissors, cut the shoots just above the soil line. Place in plastic bags or sealed containers and refrigerate. [Could use up leftover pea seed that won’t be any good next spring]
Our outdoor Eat-All greens in October. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Eat-All Greens (35 days from sowing). Invented by Carol Deppe, as a method of growing cooking greens quickly with little work, direct sown and cut at 12″ tall, leaving the tough-stemmed lower 3”, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil. She recommends 7 greens in particular: Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes, Groninger Blue collard-kale, Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana, and Red Aztec huazontle. We tried this outdoors one fall, and I wrote 3 blog posts about it. The crops that did best for us were fava beans, peas, radish greens, Maruba Santoh and Tokyo bekana, frills, turnip greens, Siberian kales. The ones that didn’t work outdoors were kohlrabi, beets, and chard. (We sowed old seeds we had, didn’t buy the recommended ones)

  • Earlier turnips (45d)
  • Beets and their greens (easier than spinach and a double crop) (50-60d)

Ready to eat 30-60 d from transplanting

(in order of earliness):

 

  • Earlier Senposai – but we have outdoor senposai to harvest in Oct and Nov (40d from emergence after sowing; 20 days from transplant)
  • Komatsuna (45 days from emergence after sowing; 25 days from transplant)
  • Kohlrabi (45-60d from 25-40d from transplants)
  • Earlier Napa cabbage (Blues) (52 days from emergence after sowing; 32 days from transplant).
  • Fedco Red Dragon Chinese cabbage (60 days from emergence after sowing; 40 days from transplant)
  • Small early cabbage like Farao, Golden Acre and EJW are all about 62 days from emergence after sowing; 42 days from transplant
  • Broccoli Tendergreen is 67 days from emergence after sowing; 47 days from transplant

Ready to eat 90 days from planting

Garlic scallions outdoors in late March. Think what might work in a hoophouse! Photo Pam Dawling
  • Garlic scallions. We normally plant these in early November and eat in early March (120 days). But if we plant them earlier, in a warmer place, they’ll be ready sooner. Normally you don’t want to plant garlic until the soil cools to 50F (10C), because it would grow too fast and not survive the winter. But if it’s just the scallions you want, the rules change. . .

Clif Slade, who farms in a slightly warmer climate zone in Surry, Virginia, tells me they plant garlic for scallions outdoors in every month except August, and in the hoophouse until January (from September?). December plantings are ready indoors in March, outdoors in April. He generally reckons 90 days from planting to harvest, in warm conditions. Any garlic is suitable. Hardneck, softneck, small cloves, large cloves, whole small bulbs. Best return is on small garlic, although bulbs with lots of small cloves can be tiresome to pull apart!

When to sow crops to transplant?

And how would this fit into our schedule?

  • We’d need to sow 3-4 weeks before a transplant date of Oct 1, thst’s Sept 1-7.
  • We could sow Sept 15 with our first round of hoophouse transplants. Transplant Oct 7-15 approx
  • Start the hoophouse nursery bed two weeks earlier?
  • Or sow in the lettuce nursery seedbed which is already in use in early September?
Bull’s Blood beet greens are the most beautiful addition for salads or can be cooked.
Photo Pam Dawling

It looks like we might have 30ft total available for fast crops. Here’s what fits:

  1. Oct 1-Oct 20, 12.5ft. 19 days. Pea shoots, small transplanted senposai.
  2. Oct 1-Nov 9, 5ft. 39 days. Eat-All Greens, transplanted senposai, komatsuna, or kohlrabi, or pea shoots. Maybe garlic scallions.
  3. Oct 1-Nov 15, 7 ft. 45 days. Turnips, transplanted Blues, Red Dragon, small cabbages, or as in B.
  4. Oct 1-Nov 29, 2ft. 59 days. Beets and beet greens, or transplanted Tendergreen broccoli, or as in C.
  5. Oct 1-Dec 7, 12 ft. 67 days. Any of the above
  6. Oct 1-Dec 23, 4 ft. 83 days. Any of the above.

Caution about slow growth

Growing slows down in November and December, so maybe we should be cautious the first time and add 10-14 days to the days to maturity??

Radishes

Cherry Belle radishes in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Some years ago I figured out a sequence of sowing dates that would give us an even radish supply, without gaps or gluts. For various reasons, we drifted away from those dates, and I’d like to get back to them again. Sept 6 is the earliest we can sow in the hoophouse. Jan 25 is the latest date that will give us a worthwhile harvest, starting Jan 27. Skipping that last one would be OK.

#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6
Suggested Sept 6 Sept 30 Oct 27 Nov 23 Dec 20 Jan 25
Sowing interval 24 days 27 days 27 days 27 days 36 days
Harvest start Oct 1 Nov 4 Dec 8 Jan 11 Feb 14 Mar 20
Harvest interval 34 days 34 days 34 days 34 days 34 days

Workhorse Crops for December

Multicolored chard from our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

We’ve entered the colder half the year for this monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops: asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards/kale, garlic, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, winter squash, zucchini/summer squash. These crops are reliable under a wide range of conditions.

I hope this blogpost series will help you become more productive and profitable (if selling) as you go into winter. Maybe you gardened for the first time this year, or expanded production in spring (orders to seed companies suggest many people did!) Maybe you have less time at home than you expected when you started planting in spring. Winter brings a natural opportunity to reconsider the size of your garden, your crops, and your methods.

You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as November.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in December

If you are in a warmer climate than our zone 7a, you may still have the chance to plant garlic.  See Workhorse Crops for November.

Garlic scallions prepared for sale. Typepad.com

Garlic scallions

We could still plant garlic scallions in December. See Garlic Scallions and  October’s Workhorse Crops  post for information about planting garlic scallions (baby garlic plants).

Garlic scallions can be grown at many times of year. This is news to many of us! By planting later it is possible to extend the garlic scallion harvest period out later. It is important to plant them in conditions where they can grow some good roots before getting too cold. Roots can grow whenever the soil is not frozen. Tops grow whenever the air is above 40°F (4.5°C) Planting in a hoophouse in November or December could possibly provide earlier garlic scallions then planting outdoors in early November. Because the plants are growing faster in warmer conditions. I have not tried this myself yet.

Bulb formation and drying down of bulb garlic is controlled by daylength, but because you do not need bulbing and drying down, all sorts of dates are possible!

Yellow potato onions.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Potato Onions

We could plant small and medium-sized potato onions outdoors in December.  We have usually also prepared a bed and mulched it with hay, to plant the small potato onions in January. Click the links to get the details.

Hoophouse workhorse crops to plant in December

In the hoophouse we now have all the space fully planted. We intend to do this by November 20 each year, or earlier. We are starting to plant a second round of crops, mostly successions of greens and radishes. We have already pulled our first radishes (which sound like they are sneaking their way into being classified as a workhorse crop!)

Unusually, this fall, we found ourselves with some open space during October and November. I am pulling together information on fast crops we could grow in future years, before the late November and early December crops.

Once we have our hoophouse fully planted, we replace any crop we harvest, keeping all the space fully used. See November’s information on Follow-On Crops, and Filler Greens (short rows of greens sown in October to fill unexpected spaces.

Vates kale – our winter outdoor favorite.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in December

We can still have plentiful quantities of workhorse crops to harvest outdoors: cabbage, carrots, chard, kale and collards, and also luscious hoophouse greens. Only four of our 14 workhorse crops can be harvested outdoors in December, but the quantities are good, and we have the Racehorse Crop, spinach, too

We had our first frost of 2021 on November 3 – our latest first frost in the past fifteen years (approximately) has been November 15 2019.

Cabbage We harvest fall-planted cabbage from September 25 until November 30, or perhaps early December in milder years. Deadon (105d winter cabbage) is extremely cold hardy – we leave it outdoors until nights threaten to hit 10°F (-12°C), the lowest temperature I’ve seen it survive.

Carrots can be harvested in December, if we didn’t finish the job in November and we don’t want to risk feeding voles by leaving the carrots in the ground over the winter.

Chard can still be harvested outdoors if we covered it with hoops and rowcover. The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C). We have succeeded in keeping chard alive outdoors right through the winter, if we cover it. This year, we have abandoned it, as we ate so much chard through the summer and got tired of it! The chard did very well, and we lacked other summer greens like stored spring cabbages, and fall broccoli.

Alabama Blue collards.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Collards and Kale can be lightly harvested in December. Our mnemonic for sustainable harvesting of leafy greens is “8 for later”, meaning we leave at least eight inner leaves when harvesting the outer ones, to ensure the plants have enough strength to regrow. Chard and senposai do OK with only 6 leaves left.

Hoophouse chard in December.
Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse Workhorse harvests in December

We have started harvesting our hoophouse Bright Lights chard in small amounts, cutting the leaves into ribbons, and chopping the colorful stems, for salad mixes.

The Red Russian and White Russian kales are usually ready from early December. This year we suffered from poor germination (old seed!) and the later resows are still too small. We have plenty of other greens to eat, from outdoors, and the hoophouse senposai is on its second round of harvests, just one week after the first.

Workhorse Crops from storage in December

Storage crops start to come into their own in December as outdoor growth slows down. Besides the Workhorse Crops of carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and garlic, there are many root crops. See my posts Root Crops for the Month. Use hardneck garlic first, as it stores for only for 4-6 months. Softneck garlic can store for up to 7 months.

Know your winter squash! Use the ones with the shortest storage life first (and any damaged squash that won’t store longer). Acorn and other pepo types of winter squash store for 1-4 months; Maximas such as Cha Cha, Jarrahdale and Kabochas store for 3-5 months; Moschatas such as Butternuts and Cheese pumpkins will store for 8 months or even more. Seminole pumpkin can easily store for a whole year at room temperature.

Our white potatoes were sorted two weeks after the harvest. This one sorting makes a lot of difference to the quality and quantity of potatoes we will be able to eat. After two weeks, very little further rotting starts up. We cool the root cellar down to 50F after the first month, then to 40F, airing once a week (or less if cooling is not needed).

Sweet potatoes stored in off-duty wood seed flats.
Credit Nina Gentle

Our sweet potatoes are fully cured and delicious. We grow 4 kinds: Georgia Jet and Beauregard in roughly equal amounts, to hedge our bets; and two unnamed varieties we call Bill Shane’s White and Jubilee, in small quantities simply to preserve the genetic diversity. Georgia Jet is a bit faster (90 days compared to 100 days) and usually yields a little better for us than Beauregard.  Some New York growers report problems with Georgia Jet due to soft rots and malformed roots. Most growers really like this variety. Beauregard has light rose, red-orange or copper skin, dark orange flesh, uniformly shaped roots. Georgia Jet has a skin that is red-purple. I sometimes find the roots hard to tell apart when we have accidentally mixed them.

Garlic shoots poking through the mulch.
Photo Pam Dawling

Workhorse Crops Special Topics for December

One task for us this month is to Free Trapped Garlic Shoots

14-16 days after planting, when we can see that more than half of the shoots have emerged, we free any garlic shoots trapped under particularly thick clumps of mulch. We investigate the spots where there should be a plant but isn’t. Ours are planted 5” (13 cm) apart. If we find garlic tops, we simply leave part of them exposed to the light. They will sort themselves out. We don’t leave any soil exposed, because we don’t want weeds to grow. This needs to be a fast-moving, efficient task, as there are thousands of plants. It’s also important to be patient and optimistic, and not start this job too early. The goal is to free the shoots that wouldn’t make it out unaided. Not to prematurely expose them all.

In December we continue Planning, including insurance crops. We calculate how much seed to buy, browse the catalogs, balancing trying different varieties on a small scale, and largely sticking to known successful varieties. See my recent post Reading Between the Lines in the Seed Catalogs. We hope to get our seed orders placed before the end of December. Since the Covid pandemic, lots more people have started growing food. This has led to some seed shortages. So if your heart is set on certain crops or certain varieties, order early to avoid disappointment. And to spread out the massive workload that the people working packing and shipping your seeds are dealing with. Appreciate them!

Reading between the lines in the seed catalogs

 

Having fun popping garlic and talking about next year’s planned crops.
Photo Bell Oaks

 Understanding Seed Catalogs

 Are you already snuggling by your woodstove browsing seed catalogs?  Remember the huge demand for seeds the past two years, and get your orders in early. The seed companies are doing their part by getting their catalogs out earlier. This winter don’t get sucked in by catalog superlatives! Reading between the lines of the variety descriptions will ensure you don’t miss some basic fact that would tell you this variety is not for your farm. I last wrote about this in detail in October 2013. Here are 24 phrases to watch for:

  1. Who are you buying from? See the Safe Seed Pledge list for companies that do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants. You may want to buy from local small seed companies who specialize in locally adapted varieties. Crops that overwinter in zone 7 could die in zone 5.
  2. “Adaptable” “easy to grow” are good phrases to look for. Naturally, your climate will affect what grows well. Here it’s too hot for us to grow runner beans, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower. We don’t buy our okra seed from companies in the north – they are focused on varieties which will produce a decent crop in their climates. Our worries are different.

    Cow Horn okra flower and pod. What works in our climate might not work in yours.
    Photo Pam Dawling
  3. “Requires an attentive grower” is a helpful warning. The size and skill of your labor force matter.
  4. “Best for organic production” means it doesn’t require lots of pesticides to keep it producing. It can also mean that results are variable, less suited to the kind of production where everything needs to ready on the same day, at about the same size.
  5. “Early zucchini, 47 days from direct sowing” sounds impressive. But even the slow Costata Romanesco is only 52 days. How important is it to have zucchini 5 days earlier? And after your first sowing, is it still important to have a 47-day variety? “Early maturing” isn’t so useful if the seed rots in cold soil, so check both points.
  6. Save $8 on slow and spiny? Spineless Perfection zucchini (45 days) and Tigress (50 days) offer the same disease-resistance package. Both are medium green, high yielding, cylindrical. Spineless Perfection has an open plant, Tigress is also an open plant, but has moderate spines. Would you trade a five-day delay and spines to save 8 dollars on 1000 seeds?
  7. Disease resistance and tolerance. Do read the codes about disease tolerance. Don’t be a vegetable hypochondriac– your plants won’t get everything listed. Raven zucchini has no listed disease-resistance, while Dunja withstands four diseases. Both have open plants with high yields of dark green zucchini. Dunja has only small spines. Raven’s spines are “moderate”. Dunja is organically grown, Raven is not. Dunja costs twice as much as Raven at the 100 or 250 seeds level! What price organic seed, disease-resistance and short spines?

    Golden Glory zucchini. Open, disease-resistant plants
    Photo Pam Dawling
  8. Is “mild” flavor better than “rich” or “robust”, or not? Your call.
  9. “Heirlooms taste best” But some old varieties are rare for a reason! People didn’t like them much! Others are fantastic and easy to grow in quantity. Finding which are which is the challenge. The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit by Amy Goldman is not just a beautiful book, but a very useful one. The author spills the beans on which varieties are worth growing. She has books on squash and melons too, but I haven’t had the joy of reading those yet.
  10. “Attractive purple pods” – Do they turn green when cooked? Purple carrots, striped eggplant, white beets – will they sell easily or will it be an uphill struggle?
  11. “Compact”, “Mini” = small. Do you want small or full-size crops? It can be hard to compare weights with measurements. (Small cabbage = 2-4lbs, 4-6”.) “Mini-broccolis” Santee, De Cicco won’t produce a big head, ever, just florets. Mache (corn salad) is a very small vegetable. Even if the variety description says “long leaves” it’s all relative – maybe they’ll be 4” rather than 3”. At the other end of the Rampancy Rating are these key phrases: “needs room to roam,” “vigorous vines”. You can’t sell vines! Is the yield and flavor worth the extra space? “Needs sturdy trellis”: is it worth the time?

    Pablo Batavian lettuce. The Batavians are our most bolt-resistant heat-tolerant non-bitter lettuces. Photo Nina Gentle
  12. “Will be bitter in hot weather.” “Prefers warm days and nights – expect reduced yields in cooler areas” – you have been warned! If your spring heats up quickly, as ours does, you’ll want greens that are bolt-resistant as well as cold-tolerant, so you can set them out early.
  13. Packet sizes: grams, ounces and seed counts. Seeds are measured out in many ways. Take a steady look at seed specs (seeds/ounce or seeds/gram). Alas, this country has not yet fully metricated. Print yourself some conversion tables, or use the online calculators. Or just type “Convert 4” to cm” into the search box and get the answer right away.
  14. “Concentrated fruit set” versus “long harvest season”: length of harvest season is best viewed as potential rather than promised. If Mexican bean beetles or downy mildew are likely to take down your crops, you might do better to sow successions more frequently and not worry about long harvest periods. “Uniform maturity” is definitely a plus if you are growing a drying bean, popcorn, edamame or other single harvest crop. Otherwise you might prefer to harvest from the same row for a while.
  15. “Easiest for hand harvest” (E-Z Pick beans) means they come off the vine easily; but “better for hand harvest” can mean unsuitable for machine harvest (plants sprawl). “Intended to be picked very slender” means tough when big, so be sure you get a high enough price to justify the lower yield and extra harvest time. And be sure you can harvest every 36-48 hours, or you won’t have anything edible.
  16. “Short-term storage only” – we usually read this as “not for storage.” Tendersweet is a fine cabbage for fresh use – its leaves are thin and sweet. Thin leaves dry out fast, so it’s not good for storage. Look for “Retains flavor when frozen or canned,” “Best for sauerkraut,” “Good for kimchee,” “Easy to shell”.

    Storage #4 green cabbage. The name says it all. Fedco Seeds
  17. “Good side-shoot production” (Gypsy, Amadeus, Belstar broccoli). If side-shoots aren’t mentioned, it’s likely that variety was bred for crown cuts.
  18. Onions and latitude Latitude makes a difference with onions. Happily, more catalogs now state which latitudes each variety is adapted for. We’re at 38°N. No use us growing Red Bull (43°-65°), as the days never get long enough to initiate bulbing. Nor do we have much hope for Desert Sunrise (30°-36°) – because after the spring equinox, our hours of daylight are more than further south – Desert Sunrise will start bulbing before having a chance to grow very big. A few small leaves cannot produce a big bulb.
  19. Pumpkins or squash? Some vegetables commonly thought of as winter squash are in catalogs as pumpkins. Many cans of pumpkin pie filling are not made from round orange-skinned pumpkins, but from squash. Choose squash varieties that grow well in your area and make all the pies you want. Or make no pies and serve the squash baked, or in soups. Research at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange showed that many Moschata squash varieties, the kind most resistant to bugs, are also tasty at the immature stage as “summer squash”. So ignore what you’re “supposed to do” and do what works!

    Gentry summer squash in our hoophouse.
    Photo Alexis Yamashita
  20. Incompatible sweet corn types. Don’t plant any Super Sweet varieties unless you isolate them from other kinds, or you make sure they don’t flower within 10 days of each other. Mistakes will lead to horrible starchy kernels in all your corn. Think about this also if you are growing popcorn, dent corn, flint corn. Those dry corns also need to be separated from all sweet corns. Ignore the small print on this at your peril.
  21. “Parthenocarpic” Plants can set fruit without pollination, so these are good for hoophouse growing or production under rowcover or insect netting. Some new varieties of cucumbers and squash are parthenocarpic, and higher-priced, but some old favorites also happen to be parthenocarpic, Little Leaf pickling cucumber, for example.
  22. “Gynoecious” Plants have only female flowers, so the yield can be higher. These plants still require pollination to set fruit, unless they are also parthenocarpic, so some seeds of another (pollinizer) variety are included in the packet. You’ll need to grow some of these, even though they won’t themselves give you the fruit you want. Sometimes the pollinizer seeds are colored, so you can be sure to sow some.
  23. “Monogerm” beets produce only one seedling from each seedball/fruit. Other varieties will need singling. Trade-off price versus time singling.

    Young Cylindra beets in early May. Single promptly!
    Photo Pam Dawling
  24. Too good to be true? New fancy types are often riskier. They don’t have all the problems resolved. Romanesco broccoli – I don’t know anyone in Virginia who has successfully grown it. Flower Sprouts and Kalettes – hmmm, novel, but slow to grow and not a massive yield. Try brand new things on a small scale first. All the fanfare over Indigo Rose tomato, the excitingly evil Deadly Nightshade color of the immature fruit, and then – blah flavor when ripe. “Good” flavor in a catalog may be the lowest rating.

So, enjoy reading your catalogs and highlighting varieties that appeal to you. Mark the phrases that give you pause as well, so that when you compile your orders, you’ll do it with all the info you need to have a bountiful next season!

If you want step-by-step ideas to help you plan your order see Preparing to Order Seeds here.

Book Review: Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys

Book Review: Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, techniques and traditions from around the world, by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Chelsea Green, 2021, 252 pages, hardcover, $35, color photos throughout.

This brand new book will make an amazing gift for your friend who is very enthused about all kinds of fermented foods and drinks. Sandor Katz is the world’s most well-known and respected advocate of all things fermented, and the author of four previous books on the subject. This book includes directions and recipes for over 60 fermented foods from across the world. Sandor traveled the globe learning, teaching and tasting every day. And this time, Sandor had a camera, and the pictures are fascinating. This is his first book in almost ten years, so you can be sure there are many foods you haven’t met before.

To his credit, Sandor shows deep respect for the cultures (human, fungal and bacterial) that he encounters, and invites us to do so too. He describes the traditional techniques as well as the customs and ceremonies attached to the ferments. Here are some well-known fermented foods, such as sauerkraut (in a chocolate cake), tempeh, cheeses, and breads, and also much less well-known ones like pickled tea leaves, Dan Chang egg sausages, Alaskan stinkheads (salmon), and Peruvian Chicha de jora. Sandor reminds us how much work sustenance takes, and what a wide range of skills and knowledge are involved.

After youthful discoveries of palm wine and millet beer in Niger, Sandor found books for home brewers technical and off-putting, with their emphasis on chemistry and sanitation. Global alcohol makers had other traditions, as had the fermenters of other foods, to preserve the food and add flavor and safety by preventing pathogens. Some ferments, consumed raw, may provide beneficial bacteria.

Fermentation varies across the world, depending on climate, which foods are abundant, and what storage facilities are available. Ideas and techniques have spread from people to people, although sadly, sometimes extinguished by colonization.

The book is organized by fermentation substrate (sugars, vegetables, grains, starchy tubers, mold cultures, beans, seeds, milk, meat, and fish). Due to his fame and fermentation friends, Sandor was able to visit many small villages. Fortunately for us, when Sandor had to hurry home from Tasmania (wearing a gift of a home-made mask) after Covid-19 struck, he realized he suddenly had time to write a book!

The simplest ferments are sugary fruits and plant saps, including the recent excitements: “drinking enzymes” (young fruit wine) and “cleaning enzymes” made from vegetable and fruit scraps for killing mold and general wet cleaning. Fermenting vegetables is recommended as a gateway into fermentation, because it is simple and safe, and yields results fairly quickly. Also, fermented vegetables are delicious, nutritious and rich in probiotic bacteria. It seems likely that China is where fermenting vegetables with salt started. Sandor has eight short videos of his travels in China, each highlighting one realm of fermentation. You can find them on YouTube by searching for “People’s Republic of Fermentation.”

Pao Cai is a Chinese fermentation method using a perpetual brine. New batches of vegetables can be pickled in sequence, adding salt, sugar and spices as needed to restore the flavor of the brine, which can live for years. Sometimes the vegetables are sundried for a day before immersion in the brine, to keep the pickles crunchy. There are recipes for both methods.

I mentioned the sauerkraut chocolate cake earlier. This recipe intrigued me, because I usually am not a fan of vegan cakes, finding them flat-tasting and dull (or over-sugared). But I know a good vegan chocolate cake that includes a little cider vinegar. I’m not usually a fan of vinegar either. This cake is moist and tasty, so I expect the sauerkraut chocolate cake to also be tasty. Sandor explains that the sourness of the kraut is mostly neutralized by the alkaline baking soda, and the reaction between them causes the cake to rise. Inspiring!

Pickle soup is a thing. Previously my standby for making soup when there seems to be nothing in the house, and the garden is covered in snow, was garlic soup. The recipe started: “Gird up your loins, take your courage in both hands and peel 6 whole bulbs of garlic”. It’s delicious, the flavor mellows in the cooking. The source of the pickle soup recipe, Coppa Restaurant in Juneau, Alaska, uses curried kelp pickles.

Grains and starchy tubers are dietary staples, and fermenting them can unlock nutrients, pep up their mild flavors, and even convert them into alcohol. Salt-rising bread is a traditional Appalachian food with a unique fermentation process. The simple recipe is in the book. The raising agent is not yeast, but the bacterium Clostridium perfringens. The name may give you pause, but microbiologists have studied salt-rising bread and found no dangerous bacteria present. A fresh starter is made for each batch, from a little baking soda, fermented with milk, cornmeal and flour, for about 12 hours. The hot liquids kill most of the yeast and unwanted bacteria.

The author clearly enjoys meeting community millers and fermenters, who provide a service for their neighbors. Oat “milk” is gaining fans in the global north. Here’s how to make your own, soaking and then fermenting oats in water for up to 5 days.

Starchy tubers have mostly come a long way from their toxic predecessors. Read the history of the potato, if you are in any doubt! The original cassava varieties were similarly bitter and toxic. South America has many other starchy tubers, consumed both fermented and unfermented locally, but little known outside their bioregion. Included is a recipe for Chicha de Yuca y Camote, using yucca (cassava) and sweet potato. You can make it just with sweet potato if you lack cassava.

In many places, Indigenous practices have been lost because of suppression and worse. This book includes a short section on North American Indigenous fermentation, such as Cherokee cornbread with a small amount of wood ash mixed into the dough. Ancestral practices can be revived and celebrated. Chef Sean Sherman of the Oglala Lakota Sioux has started an organization called the Indigenous Food Lab, working together with others to restore their food cultures.

Mold Cultures is the title of the next chapter. These cultures also use starches, but rather than spontaneous fermentation (as in the previous chapter), here we are looking at cultivated filamentous fungi (such as koji, Aspergillus oryzae) on grains and legumes. These molds do have more precise growing requirements than the spontaneous fermentations do. Start with small batches and take notes and photos! Find ways to keep the right temperature (oven with the pilot on? insulated boxes with incandescent lightbulbs? heating pads?) There are detailed instructions on growing koji on rice, barley and other grains, seeds, beans and starchy tubers. Koji is used in brewing sake, making miso and other foods. From Switzerland comes garum, a fermented fish sauce. Vegetable garums, usually made from food scraps (which can include coffee grounds), are also explained.

Because of my familiarity with tofu and tempeh making, I was especially interested to read those sections. Tempeh is a fermentation of filamentous fungi on cooked soybeans, creating a delicious protein food. I enjoyed seeing the photos of the small-scale commercial production in Indonesia. A surprise for me were the tempeh bowls served at a café in Amsterdam. Edible soup bowls, which are briefly baked before serving. To get bowls of the right size to eat as well as hold a serving of soup, they use Puy lentils and crushed lupine seeds as substrate, and plastic bowls as forms for the shape.

Tempeh can also be grown on whole or chunked boiled potatoes. I read that fried potato tempeh is especially delicious, nutty like chestnuts. That’s a recipe I want to try!

Mao Dofu is moldy tofu, which might not sound appetizing, but has a creamy texture, and is widely enjoyed in China. You can use tempeh starter to make mao dofu, if you can’t find the real mao dofu starter.

There is also fermented tofu, called furu or dofuru. Until refrigeration, there was no way to keep tofu fresh, except by using a fermentation method, after making mao dofu. The initial fungal ferment keeps the product safe from harmful bacteria. Do not shortcut by fermenting tofu in plastic wrap, or you risk cultivating the very harmful Clostridium botulinum.

Some fermented foods have been sensationalized with offensive words like weird and bizarre. You may not like all fermented foods, but there is no call for rudeness towards the people who enjoy a food you don’t like. Sensationalizing foods from other cultures to get laughs, shudders, fame or to make money is unkind and chauvinistic. Rather, we can celebrate the diversity of foods and the ingenuity of the people who create them.

Fermentation used to be considered a mistake in coffee production. Clean and sweet flavors were preferred. Fermentation, which facilitates removing the pulp from the coffee seed, had been a useful tradition. As yeast and bacteria consume the mucilage, they create flavored by-products, which add “mouth-feel” or viscosity to the beverage. This natural process works best at 50-60% humidity. At higher humidity, molds can grow. Below 50%, the beans dry without much fermentation happening. A product we think we know well has a fermentation back story too.

The part about fermentation removing the slime coating from the coffee seeds reminds me that we use the same process when wet-processing saved tomato, cucumber and melon seeds. After a few days, the clean seeds emerge from their slimy coating and it is easy to wash and dry the seeds.

Sadly, in the global north, fermented foods have moved from traditional village food preservation skills to become niche foods for well-off, mostly white, people. “The fermentation industry, like any other, has a whiteness problem” as Miin Chan wrote on the Eater website. The people making money from copying indigenous cultures are almost all white. Sandor Katz acknowledges his privilege in the world, leading to this wonderful book, and seeks to understand the perspectives of the food creators who do not have the same privileges.

Fermented milk products include naturally occurring clabbered milk, and deliberately cultured yogurt, kefir and others. Ah! Now I know what SCOBYs (such as kefir grains) are: Symbiotic Communities of Bacteria and Yeast!

Yogurt starters have been made from inner tree bark, unripe fruits, St John’s wort, sorrel, white stonecrop, ants, clarified butter, buttermilk and rain-water. Most yogurt-makers save back a portion of each batch to be the starter for the next. This practice, known as “back-slopping”, is common in fermented foods. A technique for immigrants was (is?) to saturate a cloth with the culture, dry it and pack it among clothes. Sandor has done this successfully, keeping the resulting culture alive and productive for years.

My most appetizing chapter was the one on cheeses! I, too, love blue cheeses and very ripe soft cheeses, and strong-flavored mature hard cheeses. Dr Johnny Drain is quoted saying “The perception of rancidity and oxidation in foods and fats are culturally elastic and context-dependent.” Mild rancidity adds richness and complexity.

Only in the far North are meat and fish fermented without combining with other preservation methods –  the cold temperatures provide some preservation. Meanwhile, in Australia, Bruce Kemp is making salamis of possum, wallaby, horse, hare, goat and boar, on a mission to increase consumption of these animals which damage agricultural crops and the environment.

One way to ferment meat and fish is to add a carbohydrate source to feed the lactic acid fermentation. Traditionally in Japan, sushi consumed beyond the coastal areas where the fish is caught and can be consumed immediately, the fish is fermented in rice. Nowadays we see refrigerated raw fish served with vinegar on rice, in imitation of the traditional flavor. This fermented fish is known as narezushi.

The book’s epilogue “A Whole World in a Jar,” reminds us that across the whole world, fermentation is practiced in some form. Fermentation traditions vary, but the basis is that people ferment what id abundant, to save it for later. This reduces food waste, and keeps people fed and healthy. May your next year include more fermented local abundance!

For more information, go to Sandor’s website www.wildfermentation.com. For an inscribed, signed copy of Fermentation Journeys, order from Sandor’s friends at Short Mountain Cultures at.

The Chelsea Green Publishers website includes a video about the Fermentation Journeys book.

Growing Turmeric

Freshly dug turmeric roots.
Photo Pam Dawling

Our Crop Goals – Does Turmeric Fit?

I have never grown turmeric before, so this article is really my research and plan-making for next spring!

We have grown ginger in our hoophouse, and I’ve written about that in my book The Year-Round Hoophouse. In our zone 7a climate, ginger has to be started with heat in mid-March, and transplanted into our hoophouse in May, when the soil is 55°F (13°C) and rising. It then occupies the space for five months until October, when we harvest it before it gets too cold (it has no frost tolerance). Ultimately we decided to stop growing ginger. It is delicious, and if we were selling our crops, we might have made good money. But we are not selling; we grow food for direct use in our intentional community (Twin Oaks). Our goal is a wide range of healthy organic crops year-round to comprise as much of pour diet as possible. We need crops that provide a lot of nutrients over the time. Hoophouse crops are occupying valuable land, and fast-growing crops are more valuable than slow-growing ones. Cindy Conner’s “Bed Crop Months” is a concept more useful to us than $/sq ft. Crops that fill bellies and provide vitamins and fiber are more valuable than ones that provide only a little food. So, why turmeric?

A hoophouse with turmeric and carrots.
Photo Pam Dawling

About Turmeric

I was given two “hands” of turmeric roots by a farmer who was my guest. Turmeric has medicinal value, and (for me) novelty value, so I asked my hoophouse crew colleagues if I could grow a couple of plants next year. We have a tradition of accommodating small special projects of the crew. This winter we are growing some carrots in the hoophouse for the first time. I know lots of other growers produce carrots in hoophouses. We can grow perfectly good carrots outdoors in the fall, to store and feed us all winter. What do we gain by growing a few in the hoophouse? We’re about to find out.

Turmeric, if grown to maturity, will need from late April to October in our hoophouse, longer than ginger does. Both crops finish in time to plant those vital winter greens in late October.

Turmeric roots look like ginger but are more orange. Turmeric is easier to grow than ginger, but the market is smaller. Turmeric needs less feeding than ginger and as the rhizomes grow out and slightly downwards, it only needs slight hilling if the roots appear above the soil as it grows. Turmeric plants go dormant after 8–10 months of growth, at which point the roots are fully mature and can be saved to regrow next season.

A healthy hoophouse bed of turmeric.
Photo Pam Dawling

Using Fresh Turmeric

Turmeric doesn’t have to be dried and powdered before using—the flavor of the fresh root, whether grated or sliced, is earthy and slightly zingy. You can eat it raw like a carrot. You can grate it and make tea.

If you want to dry it, slice it thinly with a mandolin or a powered kitchen slicing machine. Having the pieces all of the same thickness will make for more even drying. Dry pieces may be ground with a coffee grinder. The distinctive yellow spice powder is used to flavor many Asian-inspired dishes. Turmeric contains curcumins which have valuable medicinal properties (reducing inflammation). The powder may be put in capsules to be taken medicinally.

Buying Turmeric Roots

Hawaiian Clean Seed, Puna Organics and Biker Dude sell turmeric roots shipped from Hawaii. Fool’s Paradise Farm, formerly Qualla Berry Farm, in North Carolina, sells both ginger and turmeric plants and sometimes galangal, another tropical root. They are now harvesting four varieties of fresh turmeric, available from now into December: Hawaiian Red, Indira Yellow, BKK, and Black.

If necessary, you can try growing turmeric from fresh grocery store roots, although they may have been treated with a sprouting inhibitor. When you buy turmeric rhizomes (if you are face-to-face with them) choose sturdy firm roots with many knobby leaf buds. If the knobs are slightly green, that’s a sign that they’re ready to sprout.

A quonset style hoophouse filled with turmeric in North Carolina
Photo Pam Dawling

How to Grow Turmeric

Late winter and early spring is the best time to plant turmeric. Snap the rhizomes into 2″ (5 cm) pieces, and keep them at room temperature for a few days to cure. Seed pieces weigh 1–2 oz (30–60 gm) each. Before planting, soak the root pieces in lukewarm water for a few hours. Cover the rhizomes with 2″–3″ (5–7.5 cm) of potting soil and water lightly. Set the crates of planted roots on a seedling heat mat in a plastic tent or in a germination chamber to sprout. Water the crates when the soil dries out, but do not over-water. It takes 2–4 weeks for the roots to sprout. When this happens, take them off the heat mat.

Grow your turmeric plants in your greenhouse until the danger of frost has passed, then plant them out into the hoophouse. The plant spacing is 6″ (15 cm) between seed pieces. Before planting, add some compost to the soil to improve the fertility. Afternoon shade is helpful. Feed the turmeric plants every few weeks during the growing season. Water daily in summer, with about 1″ (2.5 cm) of water each week. The plant will grow to 2’–3′ (60–90 cm). Turmeric plants may produce flower stems in late summer.

Turmeric growing outdoors in North Carolina. Hoophouse growing is recommended.
Photo Pam Dawling

Harvesting Your Turmeric

Because the plants are frost-tender, plan to harvest before your first expected frost. The plants will probably have begun to die back. Wear gloves when harvesting as the roots can stain your hands bright yellow! Dig up the plants, brush off excess soil and cut off the leaves just above the roots. Snap the roots apart as needed.

Once you grow your first crop you can build up seed stock of your own. Save pieces for replanting but don’t replant them right away. Store these roots unwashed in a plastic bag or box in a refrigerator until late winter. Turmeric is hardier than ginger, although frost-tender, and one grower in North Carolina reported overwintering plants outside in milder years, although the recommendation is to bring them in for the winter.