Spring hoophouse harvests and greenhouse seedlings

Pink stemmed mizuna in our March hoophouse Pam Dawling

Sorry for the delay in posting this. Apparently a driver hit an all-important cable and the whole county is without internet. Rural living can’t be beat!

Here we are in March. Nothing new to harvest outdoors yet, although the garlic scallions are getting close. But the hoophouse is serving us well. Every day we harvest 5 or 10 gallons of salad mix and either some cooking greens, radishes or scallions. The photo above is a new delight: Pink Stemmed Mizuna from Osborne Seeds

We’ve finished the hoophouse turnips, and are now making serious headway on the kale. We grow both Red Russian and White Russian kales.

White Russian kale from Fedco Seeds in our hoophouse in March.
Photo Pam Dawling

Red Russian kale from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in our hoophouse in March.
Pam Dawling

We use orange flags to denote where to harvest next, as we have a large hoophouse (30 x 96 ft) and many different crops. It is often obvious as we get closer. Here’s three different ways we are harvesting right now:

Baby lettuce mix after and before harvesting.
Photo Pam Dawling

As you can see we harvest baby lettuce mix by cropping it about an inch above the soil. I think this is the third cutting of this patch. I like to make our salad mixes about one third lettuce, one third brassicas of some kind and one third spinach. The brassica mix below is now bolting, so I pulled it up as I harvested. All brassica flowers are edible, and the buds are just like tiny broccoli.

Brassica (mustard) salad mix after and before harvesting.
Photo Pam Dawling

The spinach I’m harvesting today is our third sowing, and we are cutting outer leaves and chopping them into the salad mix.

Spinach after and before harvesting.
Photo Pam Dawling

For those wondering what the silver stuff is: these three crops are all in our narrow north edge bed. We have 24″ (60cm) bubblefoil insulation stapled onto the hipboard. It reflects back both light (in short supply low on the north wall) and heat.

In the greenhouse we have reached Peak Broccoli Flats season. We have 16 flats for our first planting in the coldframe, 16 of the second and four of the (backup plan) third sowing in the greenhouse.

Some of the many flats of broccoli in our greenhouse in mid-March.
Photo Pam Dawling

We use open wood flats for these kinds of hardy seedlings. We sow 4 rows into 12 x 24 x 3″ flats and then spot out into 12 x 24 x 4″ flats (40 plants each) to grow to final transplant size.

Broccoli in an open seed flat, and seedlings spotted into deeper open transplant flats.
Photo Pam Dawling

That’s it for this week! Hope to see some of you tomorrow at the Virginia Festival of the Book! 

My panel is the Land Use and Foodsheds in the Mid-Atlantic,

Thu. March 21, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

New Dominion Bookshop

404 E Main St, Charlottesville, VA 22902

Sustainable Farming Practices slideshow, Mother Earth News blogposts, Modern Farmer

Greenhouse interior with early spring seedling flats.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

I just got home from the Organic Growers’ School Spring Conference near Asheville, NC. On Friday, I gave an all-day workshop with Ira Wallace, on Year-Round Growing on the Farm and Garden. The classroom at Creekside Farm, Arden was packed. This farm also has an educational center, which made a great setting for our workshop. The weather was awful, so we didn’t explore the very wet farm much. We had plenty of indoor teaching material including show-and-tell. The funniest part was my Julia Child chicken-on-the-floor moment when I dropped a freshly -made soil block on the nice wood floor.

On Saturday and Sunday, I gave  my Sustainable Farming Practices presentation, which is now on www.SlideShare.net, and posted here for convenient viewing. Just click the diagonal arrow icon to see it full screen.

Now I have a couple of lovely days at home, working in the hoophouse and greenhouse. The crew is steadily composting more beds, sowing peas and transplanting endless spinach beds (our spring is short and then heats up, so to get a longer spring spinach season, we do all transplants.)

Summer Lettuce Nursery Seedbed with Concept, De Morges Braun, New Red Fire and Loma lettuces.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

My post 20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather was #8 in the top blogposts for 2018. My newest post on Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog is

We transplant all our spring spinach, to maximize the length of the harvest period
Photo Denny Ray McElyea

The Pros and Cons of Direct Sowing and Transplanting

One of the pages in our Field Manual, which we revise each winter.
Photo VABF

In early January I posted 13 Steps to Planning your Vegetable Garden

Elsewhere for interesting gardening and farming reading, I am enjoying The Modern Farmer an online and digital subscription magazine with lots of thought-provoking and useful articles. Some recent ones I really like include

Can Hydroponic Farming Be Organic? The Battle Over The Future Of Organic Is Getting Heated.

Does Milk Actually Make Kids Grow Taller?

Trump Administration Rolls Back School Nutrition Standards

Ten Great Farming Podcasts to Listen to Now

America’s First Cash Crop: Tobacco

Urban Gardening 101: How to Deal with Contaminated Soil

My next speaking event is the Virginia Festival of the Book,and then the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. There I’m presenting Lettuce Year Round and Cool Season Hoophouse Crops. Here’s the probable schedule. This is a change from what I posted earlier. I”m replacing Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables with a new one, Cool Season Hoophouse Crops.

Hoophouse beds in November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

 

Alliums for March: transplant bulb onions, harvest garlic scallions, ramps, minimize onion bolting

Flats of March-sown leek seedlings in our coldframe in early April.
Photo Pam Dawling

Allium Planting in March

  • Divide and replant Egyptian onions and perennial leeks, during March or April
  • Sow leeks in flats, coldframes, or raised beds. See below
  • Transplant fall-sown bulb onions early in the month. see Alliums for November and February. More info below
  • Transplant cipollini seedlings. Cipollini, also known as pearl or boiling onions, are varieties of short day onions sown in spring, planted at high density, which form small bulbs and mature in a couple of months.
  • Plant shallots Jan-Feb.
  • Plant softneck garlic cloves or bulbs for garlic scallions. See Alliums for February

Garlic scallions ready for harvest.
Photo Wren Vile

Allium Harvests in March

  • Start harvesting garlic scallions (3/10 to 4/30 in central Virginia). See below for more details
  • Harvest hoophouse scallions (our 10/20 sowing Feb 20- mid-Mar and our 11/18 sowing from mid-March.)
  • Harvest leaves of Egyptian onions & perennial leeks, Sept- April
  • Harvest winter leeks Dec- March. See Alliums for January and Alliums for November
  • Harvest ramps, sustainably for one month, from when tree buds appear (late March or early April in the Appalachians). Ramps are a spring ephemeral of deciduous forests. By late May, the leaves die back and a flower stem emerges. Wild ramps are being over-harvested, and it is important to make sure that not all these wild culinary delights vanish and they are still able to find their way onto plates in a sustainable fashion. See

Harvested ramps.
Photo Small Farm Central

Alliums to Eat from Storage in March

  • Eat softneck garlic from storage once all the hardneck has been used (softneck stores longer)
  • Eat bulb onions from storage, including bulbils from Egyptian onions if you stored those.

Alliums to Weed in March

All overwintered alliums will need weeding in March and once a month after that until harvest. Mulched crops can be weeded during wet weather, if necessary, and the pulled weeds can be discarded on top of the mulch, where they stand a much better chance of dying then weeds discarded on bare soil! It is helpful to have a list of tasks that can be done when the soil is wet, in case of a wet spring (or any season really). Perennial crops and annuals with mulch are the main jobs for this list (along with tool repair and sharpening).

Newly planted alliums in bare soil will benefit from hoeing during dry weather before the weeds get very big at all. Hoe every 1-4 weeks as needed until harvest. Because of their vertical tubular or strap-like leaves, alliums do not compete well with broadleaf weeds and can easily become stunted in high weeds. We learned the hard way one year when our leek beds grew very big weeds. Even though we did pull the weeds, the leeks never grew very big. As well as the competition for light, we think our huge weeds pulled too many nutrients from the soil. After that, we acknowledged the wisdom of growing fewer leeks and taking care of them better, rather than over-extending ourselves.

A fine bed of onions in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Special Allium Topics for March: Sowing leeks, transplanting onions, harvesting garlic scallions, onion bolting factors

Sowing leeks

Calculate how many leeks of each variety you want to harvest, add a margin. Each of our 90 ft (27.5 m) raised beds takes 4 rows of leeks, with plants 6″ (15 cm) apart. That’s 720 plants per bed. We sow in 24″ (60 cm) long flats, aiming for 3 seeds per inch (<1 cm apart). With 6 rows per flat, we need 1.67 flats/bed with no extras. We’ll call that 2 flats per bed.

We don’t need heat to start the leek seedlings, only time, so we put the flats directly into the coldframe. The minimum temperature for leek germination is 35F (), the optimum 65-85F () and they take 8-16 days just to germinate, even at the ideal temperature. Alliums are so slow! I always allow at least 10 days.

Leeks take 10-12 weeks to grow to transplant size. We sow ours March 21 for June 1 transplanting, which is only 10 weeks. When we grew them in a raised bed, it took 12 weeks. We like Lincoln and King Richard for leeks to eat in October and November and Tadorna for over-wintering, to eat December-February.

Transplanting onions

Transplant fall-sown onions as early in spring as possible, and those sown after New Year once they have at least three leaves (four or five is better). The final bulb size is affected by the size of the transplant as well as the maturity date of that variety. The ideal transplant is slightly slimmer than a pencil, but bigger than a pencil lead. Onion seedlings are slow-growing: even in spring they can take ten weeks to reach a size suitable for transplanting. Overly large transplants are more likely to bolt. If seedlings are becoming thicker than a pencil before you can set them out, undercut two inches (5 cm) below the surface to reduce the growth rate. Or use them as scallions.

Some books recommend trimming the tops at transplanting time, but I used to avoid this because I believed it reduces the yield. I forced myself to test out this idea one year, and found I got the same yield from trimmed and untrimmed onions. Trimmed ones are easier to plant. Transplant 4″ (10 cm) apart for single seedlings or 12″ (30 cm) for clumps of three or four (not more than four). Set plants with the base (stem plate) 1/2″–1″ (1.3–2.5 cm) below the soil surface. Some books recommend as deep as two inches (5 cm). Don’t plant too shallowly. Give plenty of water to the young transplants: keep the top 3″–4″ (8–10 cm) of the soil damp for the first few weeks to prevent the stem plate from drying out.

Onion bed in late April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Harvesting garlic scallions

With a last frost date of 20–30 April, we harvest garlic scallions from early March until May, if our supply lasts out, and we don’t need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done!

Some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply lift the whole plant once it reaches about 7″–8″ (18–20 cm). The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of three to six depending on size. If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto for sale later in the year.

Onion bolting factors

Onions are cool-season plants. They have three distinct phases of growthvegetative, bulbing and blooming (bolting), and the switch from one phase to the next is triggered by environmental factors. It does not work to plant onions at a random date in the year without taking account of these environmental factors. Success depends on understanding what this crop needs during each of the three phases. To get a full understanding of the three phases and the factors that cause plants to switch to the next phase, see the Bulb Onions chapter of my book, Sustainable Market Farming.

Continue reading

Succession Planting Slideshow, Organic Growers School, Virginia Festival of the Book

Here’s an updated version of my slideshow Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvest, which I presented at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference a couple of weeks ago. The website lists the 2020 conference now, which will also be at the Lancaster Convention Center.

My next speaking event is the Organic Growers School at Mars Hill University, Asheville, NC on Friday–Sunday, March 8–10, 2019. It’s their 26th Annual Spring Conference. On Friday I’m giving an all-day workshop with Ira Wallace:

Year Round Growing on Farm & Garden

Pam Dawling & Ira Wallace

Join experienced vegetable, herb, and seed growers Pam Dawling & Ira Wallace for a step-by-step approach to growing year-round. Learn the tools to manage space effectively, grow the quantities of crops when you want them, and efficiently meet your growing goals.

Where: Creekside Farms Education Center, 339 Avery Creek Road, Arden, NC 28704

When: Friday, March 8, 2019, 9:30 to 4:30

Cost: $55 with Saturday and/or Sunday conference registration, $70 without.

Register here.

Here are more details about what we hope to cover during the day:

  • Defining your Market: Are you growing for yourself or for others? When and how much do you need to harvest? Learn about yields of common crops and begin to create a growing plan.
  • Season Extension: From transplants and row cover in the spring, to hoop houses in the winter, learn to keep crops alive through the seasons. Calculate the last worthwhile planting date in your area, and choose a suitable combination of warm weather crops, cool weather crops, storage crops and cold-hardy crops appropriate for your scale.
  • Temperature Resilience: Discover tips to deal with extreme hot and cold temperature ranges including getting seeds germinated, identifying crops that do well in both extremes, and the importance of crop diversification. Climate change necessitates adaptive growing practices. We will incorporate soil building and water management, as well as the importance of seed saving and variety trials.
  • Crop Rotation: Keep roots in the ground at all times! Learn the art of crop rotation using planting calendars, observation, and garden planning. Discover relay planting, cover cropping, isolation distances, plants to attract pollinators, as well as tricks for fitting minor crops into available spaces.

On Saturday and Sunday at 9.00-10.30 am I will be teaching Sustainable Farming Practices, with a primary audience of beginner farmers. (Everyone is welcome!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An intro to year-round vegetable production; crop planning; record-keeping; rotations; cover crops; compost; and mulch. Also direct sowing and transplanting; crop spacing; succession scheduling for continuous harvests; efficient production strategies; season extension; pests, diseases and weeds; determining crop maturity and harvest methods.

The Organic Growers School Spring Conference is for farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and sustainability seekers.The Spring Conference offers practical, region-specific workshops on farming, gardening, permaculture, urban growing, and rural living and includes a trade show, a seed exchange,special guest speakers, and a Saturday evening social. More than 150 classes—both 90-minute sessions and half-day workshops—are offered on Saturday and Sunday in 17 learning tracks:

1.Community Food

2.Cooking

3.Earth Skills

4.Farmers: Beginning

5.Farmers: Experienced

6.Gardening

7.Herbs

8.Homesteading

9.Livestock

10.Mushrooms

11.Permaculture

12.Pollinators

13.Poultry

14.Soils

15.Sustainable Forestry

16.Sustainable Living

17.Thinking Big

“The Spring Conference features a trade show on Saturday and Sunday that showcases a wide array of exhibitors and products from local farms, gardening suppliers, and cottage industries that specialize in organic products and resources. Also featured on Saturday and Sunday is the annual Seed and Plant Exchange booth which offers the opportunity to preserve genetic diversity and protect regionally adapted varieties. Attendees may bring excess seeds and small plants to share, barter, or trade.For 25 years, the Spring Conference has allowed OGS to reinforce Western NC’s role as a regional leader in sustainable food and farming. Attendees come from 18 states and Canada and have described the event as the kick-start to the growing season. The event has grown exponentially—from a small gathering of 100 growing enthusiasts in 1993 to a regionally recognized conference drawing over 2,500 attendees, exhibitors and speakers.“The 25th Anniversary of the OGS Spring Conference is really a celebration of our regional wisdom and commitment to land stewardship, sustainable food systems, and local farming,”says OGS Executive Director, Lee Warren.“The conference is a gathering place, a source of inspiration, and a reminder of the richness of our community,”

The 25th annual Virginia Festival of the Book will take place Wednesday, March 20 through Sunday, March 24, 2019 in venues across Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia. For more, click Virginia Festival of the Book 2019 Schedule.

I have two talks:

“Pam Dawling (The Year-Round Hoophouse) and co-authors Claudia Kousoulas and Ellen Letourneau (Bread & Beauty) discuss their personal approaches to preserving, cultivating, and enjoying land responsibly in the Mid-Atlantic region. Book sales and signing will follow. FREE to attend and open to the public.”

The panel will be moderated by local author Tanya Denckla-Cobb

 

 

 

 

Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables slide show, and the decision between transplanting and direct sowing

I’ve feeding in a flurry of slideshows I’ve been presenting at conferences this winter. You’ll notice a lot of them have a hoophouse theme, although not all. Here’s one from the four hour course I gave at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming conference.

To view the slideshow full screen, click the diagonal arrow icon. You can then hop, skip and jump through it, choosing the bits you are interested in.

My other main topic this week is choosing when to transplant and when to direct sow. I am a big fan of transplanting, so I’ll start with that.

Watermelon transplants in a Winstrip plug flat. Watermelons give earlier harvests from transplants, and plants in plug flats transplant easier than from open flats.
Photo Pam Dawling

Advantages of transplanting:

  • You can start earlier in the year than you can outside, and so get earlier harvests
  • By starting seed in more ideal conditions in a greenhouse, (or on a kitchen windowsill), you’ll get better growth, more satisfaction!
  • It is easier to care for new seedlings indoors – major weather events stay outdoors!
  • You can fit more crops into each bed throughout the season, because each crop is occupying the bed for less time than if direct-sown.
  • Transplanting. can help you grow more successions of summer crops, as each one needs less time in the garden or field. This helps you always have good quality fresh produce for harvest.
  • If you don’t want or need to plant more food crops, you can use those time windows for quick cover crops, such as buckwheat in warm weather, mustards in cold weather.
  • You will save on seed costs, because you’ll be sowing and spotting or potting up, then transplanting, not sowing long rows and thinning most of the plants out.
  • Using transplants fits (better than direct sowing does) with using plastic (or paper) mulches, which can help with weed control and soil warming (or cooling).
  • Using transplants fits well with no-till cover crops. Mow or roll-and-crimp the cover crops, transplant into it, and the dead mulch keeps the weeds away for 6-8 weeks in our climate, longer in cooler and drier climates.
  • Transplanting works well for crops where you want several varieties, such as tomatoes and peppers.

    Amy’s Apricot tomato from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Transplanting works well for crops where you want a few plants each of several varieties.
    Photo Pam Dawling

  • You have more flexibility if the weather turns bad, for example if spring is cold and/or wet. You can delay transplanting. Your plants still grow, provided the roots have enough space. If you know they won’t, you can pot them up to provide more root space.
  • At transplanting time, you can select the sturdiest plants, and compost the rest, meaning you have the best chance of good yields.

Disadvantages of transplanting:

  • If you extend the season and start earlier, you will have more work. . .
  • You’ll need to spend extra time caring for the starts indoors, as they won’t get water if you don’t provide it.
  • Transplant shock can delay harvest, so be sure to learn and practice good techniques
  • More attention is needed to watering new plants after transplanting, (compared to direct seedling) as some root damage is almost inevitable. (Plug flats and soil blocks minimize root damage)
  • If you don’t have a good irrigation system or water supply, growing many transplants will be a challenge.
  • Likewise you do need a good greenhouse set-up to grow many transplants.

Advantages of direct seeding:

  • See the disadvantages of transplanting.
  • Direct seeding is less work than transplanting. Put the seed in the ground, water as needed and stand back!
  • You do not need a greenhouse or special transplanting equipment
  • Compared to buying starts, direct sowing has lower costs
  • Direct sown crops have better drought tolerance – the roots grow without damage
  • Some crops just don’t transplant easily: melons which have fragile stems and roots for instance, or carrots which get distorted roots if transplanted.
  • Some crops have millions of plants and you couldn’t possibly transplant enough:  (Carrots)

    Carrot rows thinned to 1 inch. Carrots are too numerous to transplant and transplanting stunts and distorts the roots, so they are best direct sown.
    Photo Kathryn Simmons

Disadvantages of direct sowing:

  • See the advantages of transplanting.
  • Direct sowing uses more seed than transplanting.
  • Direct sowing requires more time thinning
  • Direct sown crops occupy the land longer than the same crop transplanted.
  • Some direct-sown crops may be harder to get started in cold (or hot) conditions.

There are probably others, do let me know!

For those wanting to sow large-seeded crops through plastic mulch, see below for how we planted beans.

To sow beans through biodegradable plastic mulch, we made this dibble from bamboo, dowels, a culled hammock stretcher bar and plumbing strapping. Photo Nina Gentle

Using the bean dibble to punch holes through the plastic mulch (the soil is holding down the edges of the mulch).
Photo Brittany Lewis

Sowing beans through holes we made in the biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Nina Gentle

Beans growing on biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Nina Gentle

Sequential Planting slideshow, seedlings and garlic scallions

Here’s one of the slideshows form my three workshops at the PASA Conference last weekend. I’ll add the others over the next few weeks. To see all my slideshows, see the Slideshows category in the sidebar of this page, or go to the link at SlideShare.net

Meanwhile at home, we’ve been starting seedlings. We have a plastic tent with a heat mat for the tomato and peppers plants destined for the hoophouse.

Our heat mat and tent for tender seedlings in our greenhouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

February photo of tomato and pepper seedlings with heat mat and plastic tent.
Photo Pam Dawling

The hardier seedlings are in the greenhouse without any other protection, except for a back-up heater set to 45F, and rowcover at night if it gets exceptionally cold..

Open flats of brassica seedlings. The nearer flat is a 3″ deep seed flat with four rows of seedlings. The back ones are transplant flats with 40 bigger seedlings spotted out.
Photo Pam Dawling

And outdoors the ground is saturated, with standing water. Not much gardening is happening! But our garlic scallions are growing just fine.

Our garlic scallions in February. we usually space the rows much closer than this. We’ll start harvesting when they reach 7″ in height.
Photo Pam Dawling

Alliums for February: garlic scallions, digging leeks from frozen soil

September-planted (left) and November-planted (right) beds of potato onions in April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

  • Plant small potato onions (less than 1.5″ (4 cm) diameter) in early Feb, if not Jan. See Alliums for January
  • Sow shallot seed. See Alliums for January
  • Sow scallions for transplant See Alliums for January
  • Transplant fall-sown bulb onions late in the month. see Alliums for November
  • Plant shallot bulbs Jan-Feb. See Alliums for January
  • Plant soft neck garlic cloves or bulbs for garlic scallions. See Alliums for November and learn a new trick. Some growers are finding they can get a better income from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic, and so they are working to extend the garlic scallion season. We have only ever planted small cloves for garlic scallions in early November immediately after planting our maincrop garlic. By planting later it is possible to stretch the harvest period out later. Softneck garlic varieties can make worthwhile growth for scallions even if planted after the start of January. Some growers have experimented with replanting small bulbs of garlic, not even dividing the bulbs into separate cloves. This could be a good way to salvage value from a poorly-sized garlic harvest.

Allium Harvests in February

An October 20 sowing of scallions in the hoophouse in January. Maybe they’ll be ready mid-February?
Photo Pam Dawling

  • Harvest the last hoophouse scallions 9/6 at the beginning of Feb; harvest the 10/20 sowing later in Feb (and the 11/18 sowing from mid-March.)
  • Harvest perennial leeks as leeks (see Jan or Dec) Sept-Feb last month. See Alliums for December
  • Harvest leaves of Egyptian onions & perennial leeks, Sept- April
  • Harvest winter leeks Dec- March. See Alliums for January and Alliums for November

A colorful salad of rainbow chard, onion scallions and garlic scallions.
Photo (and salad) by Bridget Aleshire.

Special Allium Topic for February:: Harvesting Leeks from Frozen Soil.

When the soil is frozen there are two risks with trying to pry leeks out of the ground. One is breaking the frozen leek. The other is breaking your digging fork. If you only need a few leeks, there is a less risky method. (It’s still less risky for larger quantities, but also less practical.) Gather your digging fork, trimming knife and a container for the liberated leeks. Boil a kettle or two of water and pour the water on the soil around the leeks. If you still can’t dig the leeks up, go boil more water. If two trips with boiling water doesn’t work, I’d give up at that point! Obviously this isn’t going to work in climates with solidly frozen ground, until warmer weather arrives. But at some point it will get warm enough to use this trick and enjoy the leeks you’ve been craving.

This long view of our winter leeks was taken in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

Alliums to Eat from Storage in February

  • Eat softneck garlic from storage once all the hardneck has been used (softneck stores longer)
  • Eat bulb onions from storage, including bulbils from Egyptian onions if you stored those. Read more about garlic and onion storage in the Alliums for September post. Here’s the headlines:

Not too dry, not too damp.

Above 60–70°F (15.5–21°C) or below 40°F (4.4°C) for garlic; 60–90°F (16–32°C) or below 41°F (5°C) for bulb onions. Do not freeze. (Chilling injury at 31°F)

Avoid 40–56°F (4.4–13°C) for garlic, avoid 45–55°F (7–13°C) for bulb onions

Garlic and Onions drying.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Excahnge

Farming Conference Tips, Hoophouse Cool Season Crops slideshow.

I’ve just been on an intensive conference hopping jaunt, three weekends in a row with not much time at home mid-week. One notion I heard discussed is the “Actionable Nugget”. It’s an idea you learn from someone else that inspires you as a possible solution to a problem or challenge you’ve noticed. I’m going to share some I picked up this month.

First I’m going to share my half-day presentation on Hoophouse Production of Cool Season Crops. To view it full screen, click on the diagonal arrows icon. Use the forward pointing triangle to move to the next slide. There are a lot! It was a full afternoon!

Here are some of the Actionable Nuggets:

Asparagus Beans (Asian Long Beans, Yard-Long Beans) as a summer hoophouse crop.

Purple-podded asparagus bean.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I got this idea from a Year-Round Organic Vegetable Production workshop at the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers Conference. It was presented by Rick Felker of Mattawoman Creek Farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Rick said that Asian long beans are a star crop for them, and  produce extremely high yields compared to outdoors. Yes, they need trellising, and yes, they need frequent harvesting.  On the plus side they are a legume, so they are adding nitrogen to the soil the whole time they are growing. At Mattawoman Farm, they harvest these from June to October.  In recent years we have not been growing bean seed crops in the summer hoophouse as we used to do. Last summer we grew Iron and Clay cowpeas as a cover crop, but were disappointed to need to cut them back every 6 days, because we’d decided not to stake them in any way.

Trellised Liana asparagus bean.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Sulfur: The Forgotten Nutrient, Secret Ingredient for Healthy Soils and Crops.

At the Future Harvest Chesapeake Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference, I much appreciated this workshop by Ray Weil. A whole workshop on one element! When deficient, the plant has symptoms resembling nitrogen shortage. It caused me to wonder how often I have made this mistake. Brassicas and legumes are the crops to pay closest attention to. I learned that the standard soil test for sulfur is fairly meaningless – I have been putting my faith in a poor source of information. The key piece of information from Ray Weil is that with a S shortage, the yellowing starts on the younger leaves, which is opposite to nitrogen shortages, when the yellowing begins on the older leaves.

S-deficient plants will be thin, spindly and slow-growing. The leaves will be high in nitrates, because the poor plant can’t use all the N it has absorbed from the soil. I already know from winter hoophouse growing that high levels of nitrate are not healthy. Legumes cannot do a good job of fixing nitrogen if S is too low. Sulfur shortages can affect the nutrient density of the crops, the protein level in beans. Now I know what to look for and what to do if I find the problem. Add 5-10 pounds per acre of S if plants seem deficient.

Cucurbit Blossom End Rot

Is this an unpollinated squash or one with Blossom End Rot?
Photo Pam Dawling

At the same FHCASA conference, I learned about cucurbit BER in a workshop by Emily Zobel. I had not known cucurbits could suffer from blossom end rot, which is a problem caused by limited calcium uptake, often in cold weather and when water supplies are too variable. I do see a little BER on our first hoophouse tomatoes to ripen, but the plants quickly grow out of it as the weather warms up.  The photos of young yellow squash Emily Zobel showed  looked just like what I have been thinking was lack of pollination!! Now I will need to see if encouraging the plants to take up more calcium can solve the problem. This “actionable nugget” arrives in good time for this growing season!

I also learned that duct tape can be used to remove squash bug eggs. (I’d given up trying)

Yellow Shoulders on Hoophouse Tomatoes

Hoophouse tomatoes with yellow shoulders. Glacier or Stupice.
Photo Pam Dawling

From a workshop on Organic Soil Management for High Tunnels at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference, presented by Krista Jacobsen, I learned some valuable tips about dealing with salt build-up in hoophouse soils. – she referred to hoophouses as “irrigated deserts”!

I also learned  about yellow shoulders on tomatoes. Previously I had read that the green/yellow shoulders were (unfortunately) genetically linked to good flavor in some varieties. At this workshop I learned that yellow shoulders (as opposed to green), can be a sign of potassium deficiency. Temperatures above 90F can also be a factor. The determinant hybrids have less of a problem than other varieties. Excess magnesium can be a factor, as can the choice of variety, a virus infection, pH over 6.7. Our pH isn’t over 6.7. Ideally, the grower would increase the magnesium to calcium ratio to 1:6 or 1:4, and/or increase the potassium. Perhaps we are short of magnesium. I will need to study our soil tests more carefully.

Organic Weed Management

A carpet of weeds, but the crop is easily seen!
Photo Bridget Aleshire

In this SSAWG workshop by Daniel Parson, I learned a technique for training newbies on weed control: Make them get down on the knees and point to and touch the crop plants before hoeing or pulling weeds. He says : “If you can see the weeds without getting down on the ground, you’ve waited too long! ” Weeds should be dealt with while tiny. Bring your trainees back in a week to to see the results of their hoeing. I like this idea! Too often it is hard for new workers to learn from their experience because they don’t study and critique their work as they learn!

Lean Farm Ideas

Ellen Polishuk gave this workshop, and I went because I had both enjoyed and been challenged by Ben Hartman’s Lean Farm book. I wanted to hear someone else’s perspective and remind myself of the best bits. To my surprise, one idea that stuck out was to work in 90 minute chunks, with short breaks (or longer meal breaks). I’m not sure I fully embrace this idea, but I’m mulling it over.

Book Review: The New Organic Grower, 30th Anniversary Edition, Eliot Coleman

Cover photo of Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower from Chelsea Green

The New Organic Grower, 30th Anniversary Edition, Eliot Coleman, Chelsea Green, published October 2018.  ISBN 978-1-60358-817-1, 304 pages, $29.95 Full color photos and illustrations throughout.

This anniversary edition comes almost 30 years since the first edition in 1989. There was also a 1995 edition, which I’m guessing is the one on the bookshelves of most people farming today. Given that carrots grow the same way they did 30 years ago you may be wondering if you need the new edition. Eliot Coleman’s wisdom was good in 1989 – how much better can it get?

The first thing I noticed is that the new book is half the thickness of the old one. That’s mostly because the quality of recycled paper has made vast improvements! This book is 304 pages, the old one was 340. Most of the reduction is in the Recommended Tools and Suppliers section. Eliot recommends using the internet. Of course the internet doesn’t say which work well for Eliot, but he can be seen talking about which tools he likes on videos and in Johnny’s seed catalog.

Much of the text remains just the same. The new preface is the same as that of the 1995 edition, with a bit more travel and research trips. The drawings have gone, to make way for the photos by Barbara Damrosch. The addition of color photos is the second most obvious change, and mouth-watering they are! I do regret the loss of a few specific drawings, especially the crop spacing ones and related chart. With hindsight, I realize the previous editions contained several crop spacing charts. To my relief, these have not disappeared, but have been consolidated and rationalized in the chapter about setting out transplants. The newer chart is more functional if less characterful.

The other main kind of change is the introduction to newer tools and equipment: Jang seeder, 4-row and 6-row seeders, Quick-Cut greens Harvester, Cool-Bot, screen pyramids, and Quick Hoops.  Coldframes have ceded to low tunnels; large soil blocks have been replaced by 6″ pots. The 15-page historical progress of moveable hoophouses has gone, to focus 6 pages on the current preferred type/method, but no diagrams. The Season Extension chapter has lots new.

As I started reading I was disappointed at so little new. But then I started to find information I had forgotten, or not registered on previous readings! If, like me, you have not opened this book for 10 years, you’ll probably find useful tips. And Eliot only writes about things that have been tested out on his farm. Naturally, for those of us in different climate zones, this brings limitations. We’ll have to look elsewhere for more regionally appropriate details, but we can rely on the truth of what Eliot says works in Maine, and extrapolate from that.

There is a new little chapter The Self-Fed Farm, on combining vegetable and small-livestock farming, which I welcome, for its plain common sense on how to be resilient and get the best food supply from a small farm.

There’s a 2-page section by Barbara Damrosch on cut flowers, which can often be a way to bring in higher income to balance the national expectation for cheap food (yes, it would be good if we could change this expectation, but meanwhile we need to survive to tackle that challenge over the long haul.)

Much has gone from the 1995 28-page Winter Harvest Project chapter, which is now a slimmer 7 pages. Perhaps the extra material is covered in the Winter Harvest Handbook.

The annotated bibliography has only a few additions. The notes that used to be in the margins are now collected up at the end of the book. The metric conversions are now in place in the text, everywhere needed. No longer do we need to make our own conversions, using charts. I’m happy about that, and it will make the book easier to use in the large metric part of the world.

The chapter A Final Question – Why Farm? has been replaced by The Adventure of Organic Farming, which is Eliot’s answer to his earlier question. It’s a potted memoir of how rock-climbing led him to organic farming, along with his perspective (which is a long one, remember) on the Organic Farming movement. He quotes Eric Hoffer “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” We now have “organic” dairies of thousands of cows, and “organic hydroponic” vegetables grown without benefit of soil. Only by buying direct from the farmers can people be sure of good quality and care for the environment and the planet’s long-term future. Or by growing your own, of course. Have at it!

If you haven’t opened any of Eliot’s books for ten years, it’s time you did. If you haven’t got the 1995 edition or the 1989 edition, buy this. If beautiful photos will help inspire you or your crew, buy this.

Preparing for spring, sowing seeds, Crop Planning slide show

 

Here’s my updated Crop Planning slideshow, which I presented last weekend at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference. To view it full screen, click the diagonal arrow in the lower right.

I will upload my other presentations bit by bit. January and early February are choc-a-bloc with conferences and slideshows, so there will be plenty to see in the next couple of months!

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Seed flats in the greenhouse in early spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Spring starts in January in Virginia! On January 17 we make our first sowings in the greenhouse. We sow some early cabbage, the first lettuce, and some scallions. The week after that we sow our hoophouse tomatoes! Ah! Signs of spring! Even if we did manufacture them, so to speak!

Our germinator cabinet is made from a broken fridge, warmed by an incandescent light-bulb. We’ve got maybe one more year before we run out of incandescent light-bulbs. Then we’ll have to get a different form of heating. But we’re shelving that problem for now. We check twice a day to make sure the light-bulb is still working and the temperature in the germination chamber is still OK.

By the end of February, we’ll have sown tomatoes and peppers for growing in our hoophouse, and spinach, kale, collards, cabbage, lettuce, scallions, broccoli and senposai for planting outdoors.

When the cabbages emerge, we’ll need to make space for the flat in the greenhouse near the window. When the hoophouse tomatoes have germinated, they will go in a plastic tent on a seed heating mat by the greenhouse windows. We have the 48″ x 20″ size mat, and we extend the plastic tent and graduate the older seedlings off the mat, but still under the tent for extra protection.

Screening compost to fill our greenhouse beds in September.
Photo Wren Vile

Our system for seed compost is to screen a big pile of our homemade compost in September, and fill the cinder-block beds in the greenhouse. Then we pop lettuce transplants at 10″ spacing into the beds. Those lettuces give us salad from November to February. As we need space in the greenhouse, we pull the lettuce. We can then scoop out the compost to fill the flats for seedlings. This system works well time-wise –we benefit from this lettuce supply in the winter. It also works well in providing us with a large quantity of mellow screened compost for seed flats, indoors and not frozen. The soil organisms have had time to colonize the compost, so it is full of life.

Walking the gangplank to fill greenhouse beds with compost in September. Photo Wren Vile

As the seedlings grow, we spot them out into bigger flats, with about 2.5″ between plants. My favorite tool for this job is a butter knife! For lettuce we use 3″ deep flats, but for most crops we use 4″ deep flats, so the roots have plenty of space. We use a dibble board to make the evenly spaced holes in the compost in the bigger flats, to move the tiny seedlings into. It’s a piece of plywood with fat dowel pegs glued into holes at the right spacing, 40 in a 12″ x 24″ flat. On the other side of the board are two small wood handles to make it easy to use.

A flat of scallions to transplant in April.
Photo Pam Dawling

There is a great website on Vegetable Transplant Production from the University of Florida Vegetable horticulture Program. It has a collection of excellent articles developed by Charles Vavrina in the late nineties. Plants still grow the same way! Check out the site for lots of useful tips about growing and using transplants. This is a good time of year to make plans to do something in a different way, to avoid repeating last year’s less successful episodes!

You can see our Twin Oaks Month-by-month Garden Task List here on my website.