Flowers Against Aphids – The Research Continues

I missed Giving Tuesday, but I do have a donation button for anyone who is able to support my work! I appreciate the help, as blogposts don’t exactly pay for themselves.

September-sown Borage flowering in our hoophouse in January. Photo Pam Dawling

It’s late November as I write this. Starting last fall (2021) we sowed a range of flowers to attract beneficial insects, to plant in our hoophouse in hopes of reducing the early spring aphids. Aphids can get out of control in early spring in our greenhouse and hoophouse, as they become active before their native predators, such as ladybugs, emerge from hibernation. In January we get bad aphids on the lettuce and, of the flowers we planted to attract beneficials, borage was the only one flowering. It was not enough. We did three sprays of soapy water at 5 day intervals to kill the aphids. We also have a particular problem in our hoophouse and in our greenhouse on the eggplant, pepper and tomato transplants from mid-April to mid- to late- May depending when we manage to get them under control.

Young eggplant struggling against lots of aphids.
Photo Pam Dawling

Most flowers in our trials were annuals, and they flowered and died. We still have four yarrow plants and one bushy shungiku. Shungiku is Glebionis coronaria, (formerly called Chrysanthemum coronarium, Ismelia coronaria, Xanmthophthalmum coronarium, or Pinardia coronaria), and commonly called Crown Daisy. Most chrysanthemums are perennial with poisonous leaves, but shungiku is an annual. Our plant seems not to know this.

September-sown shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Shungiku is the eastern Japanese name for the edible chrysanthemum, also known as “garland chrysanthemum” or “chop suey greens” in English. It is known as “Kikuna” in western Japan, “tong hao” in Chinese, ssukgat in Korean and cải cúc or tần ô in Vietnamese. There are various colors of flowers. Ours are yellow, not banded with other colors. We bought seed from Small House Farm. Bevin Cohen says it does attract bees, butterflies and predatory insects, and would probably do well in the winter hoophouse, and could be provoked into bolting early in the spring.

After our research and trials, we decided it isn’t worthwhile growing the annuals, as they didn’t flower when we needed them (except this shungiku!). We might try borage again, as it was quick to flower last year, and other people have done well with borage. Ours died. We also decided (as recommended by a reader) to leave some overwintered brassicas to flower. We are starting to find bolting mizuna, so that may be perfect.

Bolting mizuna in our hoophouse
Photo Pam Dawling

Two of the four yarrow plants have flowers (in November) and we will keep them. Having perennials seems a good way to get flowers in early spring. These plants were too young to flower last spring. We still have some seeds of the perennial phacelia, so we could try that again, although perhaps it isn’t cold-hardy enough.

Anti-aphid yarrow flowering in our hoophouse in late November, 13 months after sowing. Photo Pam Dawling

If you want to read the trials and research that led us to this point, see two posts from February 2022: More on Insectary Flowers. It was too cold for predators in early February, even with enticing flowers. Ladybugs showed up in late February and we had borage flowers for them, but no other flowers. We had sowed at the very beginning of September and the very end of October. After that, we started more flowers in our greenhouse on February 1. We noticed that plants in pots dry out very fast in the hoophouse, and they have to be hand-watered, as the drip tape doesn’t do it. It’s probably better to get the flowers in the ground in the hoophouse and greenhouse as soon as they are big enough.

Earlier in February, I posted Growing flowers to attract aphid predators in early spring

I listed aphid predatory insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, aphid parasites, damsel bugs, braconid wasps, rove beetles, syrphid flies, and spined soldier beetles, as are attracted to plants with small flat open flowers, like alyssum, dill, yarrow, buckwheat, sunflowers, and cosmos.

On a big scale this is known as Farmscaping, and you can read about it in a publication from ATTRA; Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control . You can use this publication to make a specific plan to tackle particular pests. Ladybugs are a good general help because they eat the eggs of many different pest species.

A ladybug on the leaf stem of a sunflower planted to attract beneficials. Photo Pam Dawling

Organic Integrated Pest Management involves tackling pest problems one step at a time with ecologically-based practices, starting with actions chosen to reduce the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops. You can find various listings of steps online and in print. They are all in basic agreement – start with prevention, follow with avoidance, and finish with pest-killing if needed. I recommend the ATTRA Organic IPM Field Guide. Each of the 22 pages is a poster, complete with good photos and concise clear info.

eOrganic has many articles on Insect Management in Organic Farming Systems that explain ways to tackle pest problems with ecologically-based practices, starting with actions chosen to reduce the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops.

A pepper leaf with tiny aphids.
photo Pam Dawling

That post describes the lifecycle of aphids, starting in spring with eggs hatching into wingless females that give birth via parthenogenesis to more females. Within a week, one female can produce 100 clones, which can repeat the process at the age of one week.  This continues until adverse weather or predators trigger production of a generation of winged female aphids that moves to new plants. Later in summer male aphids are born and females lay fertilized eggs that overwinter on host plants, to hatch the following spring.

There is a chart in the post, giving details of the flowers we chose, where we found the seed, and which months we decided to plant them in.

Our first sowing, in September, was of borage and shungiku (Chrysanthemum greens) only. We thought having some flowering plants in large pots would enable us to move them to the trouble spots, but plants in pots dry out too fast. The borage flowered with pompom-like clusters, much more compact than spring outdoor borage does.

Anti-aphid flowers yarrow in pots in January (October sown)
Photo Pam Dawling

The second sowing, in late October, included Meadowfoam, Tidy Tips, Phacelia and Yarrow. Those plants were still small at the beginning of February. No flowers, no help against January lettuce aphids.

The third sowing was February 1, and included borage, shungiku, Meadowfoam, Phacelia, Tidy Tips and yarrow.

The September-sown borage and shungiku both had trouble with cold temperatures during January – three non-consecutive nights at 10F (-12C). Some of each got cold-damaged.

By February, no beneficial insects had been seen on the borage flowers, and no aphids had been killed as a result.

Shungiku in November with a bee.
Pam Dawling
Shungiku with spider, in November. Pam Dawling
Shungiku with a fly in November. Pam Dawling
This looks like a leaf-footed bug on the shungiku in November. Not good news to have this pest around! Pam Dawling

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The background to these 2022 trials included a lot of research. In July 2021 I posted Controlling Aphids in Early Spring

Climate change is making the problem worse: for every 1degree Celsius rise in average temperature (about 2 F degrees), aphids become active two weeks earlier.

Organic Integrated Pest Management

I have a blog post about our organic integrated pest management, a 7 step method of pest management which starts with actions least harmful to the ecosystem, only employing biological controls such as botanical sprays and selective pesticides if necessary after all other steps have been insufficient.

Pepper plant with aphids and ants farming them.
Photo Pam Dawling

Applying these principles to dealing with early spring aphids

  1. Prevent infestation Control ants (which farm aphids for their sweet excretions). Try repellents, or trap crops of nasturtiums.
  2. Cover or protect physically with fine mesh netting.
  3. Provide habitat for natural enemies. Plant for a continuous supply of insect-attracting blooms, that flower early in the year and attract predators such as ladybugs, lacewings, syrphid flies (hoverflies), damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs, and spiders. Grow early flowers with pollen and nectar they can use as alternative foods. Sow seed in fall for earliest bloom.
  4. Monitor crops at least once a week
  5. Introduce natural enemies: We do have an aphid parasite in the hoophouse as we do find mummies, but not enough to control an aphid outbreak in spring. Parasitic wasps for aphids include Aphidus colemani from Arbico Organics; Aphidus ervi from Arbico; a predatory gall-midge, Aphidoletes aphidomyza, (cost $125 including shipping per week, perhaps $375 total); Green Lacewings (more affordable); Ladybugs, notorious for flying away.
  6. Hand pick and kill. Handpicking aphids is likely impossible, so blast them off the plants with a water jet from a hose.
  7. Use biological controls. Failing success with the methods above, a soap spray can be effective, although aphid predators will also be harmed. We use 3 Tablespoons (15 ml) per gallon (3.8 l) of biodegradable Murphy’s Oil Soap, in a sequence of 3 sprayings 5 days apart.

Also see that post for details about Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa), a spring flowering wild annual in the aster (sunflower) family; Meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), a fast-growing bushy annual commonly known as poached egg plant and Douglas’ Meadowfoam; Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), a low spreading, shrub-like annual; Borage, a warm-season annual, taking only about 8 weeks to flower from sowing; Sweet Alyssum, a small annual; Shungiku, described above. We considered, but did not plant two biennials: Dill and Angelica, as they sound quite large. The perennials we chose, are also large (30” tall, or much more, and might need staking), but the advantages of having permanent working plants won us over. Yarrow is hardy to zone 5. Common Yarrow (with flowers that range from white to red) is hardy down to zone 3. It attracts an array of beneficial insects. Phacelia is particularly useful in early spring if it has overwintered as it is an early pollen source for bees coming out of hibernation. Sow in the fall for early spring blooms But it winter-kills at approximately 18˚F (-8˚C), and I think that’s what happened to ours. We also considered Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare (common fennel) but it blooms from mid-summer to frost. Too late and too tall for our goal of attracting spring aphid predators in the hoophouse. Coyote bush, (Baccharis pilularis), also called chaparral broom, is a native shrub related to sunflowers, that sounds way too much of a space hog. And Dandelions – I just couldn’t bring myself to risk planted this sturdy weed in the hoophouse!

That post also includes details of natural enemies you can buy, and how to make a soap spray if none of those efforts work. Also there you will find the approach we decided on as the Best Options for our Hoophouse and Greenhouse in April and May

November photo of shungiku flowering in our hoophouse alongside Yukina Savoy, senposai and Hakurei turnips. Pam Dawling

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Way back in July 2016, I posted  Insectary Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects

This post covers insectary flowers outdoors and in, at various times of year. At the end of April we sow several plug flats of different flowers to plant out in Insectary Circles at the ends of our outdoor raised beds.

See my July 2017 Mother Earth News post Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects In late May or early June, we transplant IPM

flowers in our outdoor Insectary Circles in the vegetable garden to attract pollinators and pest predators. We use circles cut from plastic buckets to surround these clusters of flowers so that inexperienced helpers don’t pull them out as weeds.  We use a combination of sunflowers, dill, borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia (Mexican sunflowers), zinnias.

Cindy Conner suggested leaving parsley and celery plants to overwinter and flower early.

Book Review Resilient Agriculture, second edition, Laura Lengnick

 

The front cover of Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture, second edition

Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, expanded and updated second edition, Laura Lengnick, New Society Publishers, May 2022. 352 pages, $34.99.

With climate change, we are facing horrible challenges and hard work with high stakes. We can feel hopeless at times, but Laura Lengnick helps us understand hope, and how it spurs us to search for solutions. Hope is an action word, meaning “to cherish a desire with anticipation.” Grounded hope includes the knowledge that to achieve the results you want you have to work with others. Grounded hope leads to feelings of personal agency, empowerment and acceptance of reality.

Laura Lengnick has rewritten her 2015 book, updating the science and adding new farmer interviews. Laura has been walking the talk, biking, carpooling, calculating her carbon footprint and helping craft an energy descent action plan for her local community. In her work writing a report with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), exploring agricultural adaptation to climate change, the author became familiar with the language of resilience, including terms such as vulnerability, exposure, sensitivity, adaptive capacity, climate risk and climate equity.

Part 1 of this book explores specific examples of the unprecedented climate challenges across the US, how the weather has been changing, and what is likely to happen in the next 30 years, along with ideas of adaptation strategies to manage climate risk. We must come to grips with the fact that climate change adaptation is not about figuring how to adjust to a “new normal.” It’s about figuring out how to manage the risks created by more variable weather patterns that are likely to change at a faster pace and grow more intense through at least mid-century.

For ten years we have been warned that food production faces unique challenges due to climate disruption. But most people have failed to make any changes as a result of this information. Naturally it is hard to adjust to the reality that record-breaking weather is already becoming common. How do we design and implement systemic changes so that we can thrive as big changes hit us frequently? This is the field of resilience science.

Our hoophouse with shadecloth for growing summer crops. Photo Pam Dawling

Part 2 considers the principles and practices of resilience thinking in agriculture; the four kinds of resilience science and which is most useful when considering food supplies; resilient agriculture design principles; and some tools for cultivating resilience in food and farming systems. The concept of Vulnerability involves identifying damaging threats and choosing effective responses. Adaptive Strategy is aligning intentions and effects for increasing our resilience. Response, Recovery and Transformation Capacity is a concept to help us move forward, rather than expecting to return to a prior state.

Part 3 explores how resilience thinking can transform the global food system, and which actions we can take to contribute to resilient agriculture. The Rules of Resilience guide us to design, assess and manage resilient social-ecological systems. Rebuilding to previous standards (even “building back better”) could simply repeat the same mistakes we made before.

Part 4 provides the real-life stories from over 40 sustainable farmers and ranchers across the US, over about 100 pages. (I am one of the farmers interviewed for this book, just sayin’.) Some readers will go straight to this last third of the book, skipping the theoretical framework, learning from the specific towards the general. There are livestock farmers and ranchers, growers of perennial fruits and nuts, cut flowers, and vegetables on areas from 2 to 1000 acres, up to 3,200 acres when grain growers are added in. There are fourth-generation farmers, first generation farmers, those on farms they bought, those on rented land, those in intentional communities, urban, suburban and rural farmers. They farm across the continent.

Climate scientists observed a big change in the rate of climate change in 2000 and another in 2010. In 2021, we suffered historic winter storms in the northwest, central and eastern states, with temperatures as much as 40 F degrees below (what used to be) normal. With hindsight it turns out that the last 10,000 years (since our ancestors switched from being hunter-gatherers) was a period of very stable temperatures.

Garlic beds next to rowcovered broccoli beds, under a stormy sky.
Photo Wren Vile

In the past few years in the US we have had record-breaking numbers of very destructive hurricanes, wildfires, winter storms, deadly summer temperatures and water shortages. 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have had mandatory reductions in water use because the Colorado River could not supply what everyone wanted.  In southern Wisconsin, Richard DeWilde suffered not one, but two, one-thousand-year floods in 2007 and 2008. Less dramatic events such as hotter nighttime temperatures quietly disrupt successful farming.

Growing and raising food is a tricky, skilled business. Farmers have never controlled all the variables. Managing weather-related risks (one of the highest risk factors), is now much harder. The author interviewed farmers who had been farming in the same location since at least 1990, who were most likely to have observed weather changes. All have noticed changes in the weather that they have never experienced previously, although opinions vary about the causes. Farmers everywhere tell of challenges with too much or too little water, temperatures too high and too low, at all times of year. Their descriptions fit into climate science, and offer insights into the consequences of our failure to act in time on climate change.

But the changing climate is not the only disruption. Social forces are a threat to sustainability. Industrialization and globalization of the food supply, sweeping health, safety, environmental and labor regulations that disregard other aspects of a good life. The farmers on these pages recognize the value of healthy soils, diverse operations and high-value marketing.

Resilience thinking involves major shifts in at least six design principles. Listing from least to most challenging they are:

  1. Abandoning myths of creating perfect conditions for production and consumption.
  2. Moving away from the idea of maximum industrial efficiency, which ignores societal costs (pollution, public subsidies of unsustainable practices, some work undervalued).
  3. Valuing local knowledge more than distant experts. Local conditions such as water supply and needs vary, and may vary more in future.
  4. Shifting to working with local ecological design with the capacity to produce and recycle needed energy and materials.
  5. Pivoting from imported to local resources, removing the need for large-scale networks which are vulnerable to collapse.
  6. Moving towards a regenerative economy and away from an extractive one; no longer ignoring the real costs of industrial systems on human rights, the environments, and society as a whole.
Spreading hay and newspaper as mulch over a new strawberry bed. Local resources provide more resilience than bought in manufactured ones. Photo Luke Stovall

Vulnerability

Climate change vulnerability includes both the potential impact of a particular change and our adaptive capacity.

Impact depends on both our farm’s exposure to that impact and the farm’s sensitivity to that particular change. This is the part we are more used to dealing with. Assessing specific threats and reducing the worst of them as best we are able. This may include changes such as soil drainage or planting a shelterbelt, and also changes such as deciding to replace no-longer productive apricot trees (that break dormancy earlier and get frozen buds) with a different crop.

Adaptive Capacity covers not just our individual wits and wisdom, but also knowledge and what options are open to us; and the operating context: reducing damage by making changes. This moves us on from reducing risk to looking for better opportunities – this is cultivating resilience.

Using these approaches to think about climate change risks can help us find better solutions, nimbler responses. Learning more about expected changes helps us be prepared with plans for change. Here’s more about each of these aspects.

Exposure to Impact

A farm’s exposure to impact from a specific change can be obvious, or can be masked by, for instance, looking at averages. An average of 12” of rain from July-September could mean 4” per month, or a single storm dropping 12” in early July, followed by a drought until the end of September. Over the last 100 years, average temperatures in the US have increased, but not consistently across the country. Regional geographical and land use differences create regional patterns. The Southwest has severe droughts; the northeast has damaging floods. Global average temperatures have increased 2F degrees since 1900, due to human activities. This rise has led to a cascade of other changes, such as declines in polar sea ice and glaciers, and rising sea levels, and such changes will become worse, unless we reduce the level of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere. We must adapt to a moving target.

Raised beds will drain and be ready to plant sooner after rain.
Photo Ezra Freeman

I live and farm in the southeast. Sea level rises and heavy downpours in our region are already obvious. Dangerously high temperatures, higher humidity, new pests and diseases, are on moving in. Hot nights have increased more than hot days; the growing season is ten days longer than it was in the 1960s. We can expect a rapid pace of increasing temperatures, day and night; another 20 days’ increase in the length of the frost-free growing season; more rain in the fall; and water and heat stress leading to decreased yields. There are details of both observed changes and expected changes of each of seven regions in the US.

Sensitivity to Impact

A farm’s sensitivity to a particular change is the magnitude of the effect of that change. To assess sensitivity, look at increasing resource costs to succeed with a given crop, and the frequency of failure. Does continuing with a certain crop force you to buy expensive new equipment such as wind machines to reduce frosts in orchards, or does it require you to spend relatively little switching to varieties or breeds better suited to the evolving conditions? If you supply other farmers with plants, a switch to hardier types, or heat-tolerant types, might set yourself on a better path. Heritage breeds, heirloom varieties and landraces hold lots of valuable genetics.

Adaptive Capacity

A farm’s adaptive capacity is its ability to cope with the challenging consequences of changing conditions and to take advantage of new opportunities that arise as a result. This requires thinking about the farm as a whole and the interactions of the components in order to increase the adaptive capacity and reduce the vulnerability and risk from climate change. If your farm has managed 10, 20, 30 years of good yields, this shows you have a good degree of resilience. Healthy soils are a key to buffering variable temperatures and rainfall, and thus, climate risk.

Three characteristics combine to determine your adaptive capacity. The operating context is the name for the sum of the ecological and social resources that shape your options. The individual capability to act describes your ability to manage the changing conditions. Existing knowledge and options limit or inform your ideas on how to manage change. There’s a diagram to illustrate this, with a farmer puzzling the options in the center.

As Jamie Ager in North Carolina points out, weather variability has always been a normal part of farming. “Part of being a successful farmer is probably just your head space. . .” Constant worry is taxing on the spirit, so look for things to act on, rather than things to worry about.” Ultimately the success of farming across the world will depend on the willingness and ability of farmers to take action to minimize climate risk.

 Adaptation Stories

All the farmers interviewed come from a perspective of sustaining the soil, the crops, the workforce. They are not primarily motivated by profit, or achieving the highest yield at any cost. This chapter introduces the farmers one region at a time. Fuller stories are in Part 4 of the book.

Unrolling irrigation drip tape from shuttles, using a garden cart as support.
Photo Luke Stovall

Some farmers have purchased different machinery to cope with different conditions. Some have purchased more, so two tractor operators can go out at once and get the crop tended to quicker. Some have shifted to higher-value direct markets, certified organic production (with its premiums), adding annual vegetable crops in the mix with their perennial fruits. Some have changed to different cover crops, mulches and irrigation systems. Some have shifted to shorter season crops to give themselves a second chance each year, if weather conditions prevent planting on their previously-usual date.

Several emphasize the importance of building up healthy soils. Some have made a specific change, such as introducing more frost protection; others have made many smaller changes, such as faster-maturing crops, or ones more adapted to heat, cold or dry weather. Some have found value in a Holistic Planning approach, and a willingness to make big changes quickly, such as selling 70% of the herd for that season. Some have even sold their farm and moved to a farm on higher ground. Some have switched their work to a different time of year. Some have installed solar power to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Some have installed contour swales to capture rainfall.

Some have found high tunnels, shade houses and other forms of protected growing to give them better results and more peace of mind. Some have planted more shade trees and hedgerows. The use of tarps to reduce weed infestations has helped several. Livestock farmers have improved their rotation systems and some have added a mix of annual forages into their permanent pastures. Making value-added products and adding some agritourism events have helped others.

The approach of sustainable farmers is quite different from the large “get big or get out” farms that rely on bank loans, government subsidies, imported soil amendments and fertilizers, more and bigger machines, and whatever it takes to continue “farming as usual” in the face of a completely new situation. The inventiveness of these farmers and their willingness to pioneer new approaches and consider abandoning long-held principles (such as no plastic), will cheer us all, and provide much inspiring food for thought.

Laura Lengnick, author of Resilient Agriculture

Challenges in Vegetable Production

 

Harlequin bugs.
Photo University of Maryland Extension Service

 At the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference, in Durham, North Carolina, November 5-7, I facilitated a Farmer Round Table on Working Through Production Challenges. I started the event by providing stickers and asking participants to fix them on a chart, which had a circle divided into 16 segments, labeled Land & Space; Weather; Capital, Infrastructure & Equipment; Time Use & Planning; Quantities; Prioritizing; Labor; Crops & Varieties; Planting; Weeds & Pests; Harvest, Wash & Pack; Contingency Plans; Learning; Resources; Support; and Other Stuff.

Production Challenges chart from my workshop at CFSA

 

I asked people to use red or pink stickers for their three worst production challenges, orange or yellow for their next worst, and green or blue for topics where they had once had a problem, and have since found a solution. (The reason for the varying colors is that I didn’t know how many people would be there, and used stickers I had on hand!)

Honestly, we could have made a full-day workshop, trying to cover all the challenges! Apologies to the people whose problems never got mentioned out loud.

We started with the category of Weeds and Pests as that had the most red and pink stickers, and spent a bit of time towards the end on labor challenges and a tiny bit of time on solutions that people had found to various problems. In fact, we spent most of the workshop talking about insect pests, from nematodes up by size, through flea beetles to potato beetles, Japanese beetles and harlequin bugs.

To make up for weed and pest management topics we didn’t get to, here are some updated resources from my first book, Sustainable Market Farming. This will also be useful to owners of my book, (as the links are now 9 years old), and anyone else looking for pest, weed and disease biological management.

Golden Glory zucchini. Open, disease-resistant plants
Photo Pam Dawling

Resources on Plant Diseases

Why Things Bite Back, Edward Tenner. See the chapter on vegetable pests, accidentally introduced weeds and deliberately introduced exotics to better understand the “revenge of unintended consequences.”

Identifying Diseases of Vegetables, Pennsylvania State University. Good photos and symptom lists.

ATTRA Sustainable Management of Soil-borne Plant Diseases

Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web

Dr. Elaine’s Soil Food Web video: How it Works, is on her website.

eOrganic Disease Management in Organic Farming Systems

Biopesticides for Plant Disease Management in Organic Farming Systems:

Ohio State Biopesticide Controls of Plant Diseases: Resources and Products for Organic Farmers in Ohio

University of Massachusetts Vegetable IPM Guidelines

Purdue University Disease Management Strategies for Horticultural Crops Using Organic Fungicides

Debbie Roos has a wealth of searchable information on her Growing Small Farms site, including Disease management links

Environmental Protection Agency Biopesticides Page

Damping Off Diseases Tom Clothier (not organic)

Cornell, Treatments for Managing Bacterial Pathogens in Vegetable Seed

University of Illinois Extension, Vegetable Seed Treatment. The first two pages describe hot water treatment for killing diseases on seeds. After page 3, it’s not organic.

Mushroom Mountain, information and mycorrhizal fungi granules for plant roots:

Resources on Sustainable Weed Management

Cover of Manage Weeds on Your Farm
SARE

 

Manage Weeds on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies, Charles Mohler, John Teasdale and Antonio DiTommaso, published by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Includes profiles of many, many weeds. $24 or free (large) download

 

eOrganic Weed Management Topics

 eOrganic, Manage the Weed Seedbank – Minimize Deposits and Maximize Withdrawals

ATTRA Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms

The University of Maine Quackgrass Management on Organic Farms

CEFS logo.

Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), Weed Management on Organic Farms

University of Illinois, Managing Weed Seedbanks in Organic Farming Systems,

I’ve lost track of a wonderful document based on pictures and charts (see the earthworm snag the weed seed on page 52!): here’s an old link: www.mosesorganic.org/attachments/research/10forum_weeds.pdf

Oregon State: Biological Control of Weeds

MDPI: Bioherbicides: An Eco-Friendly Tool for Sustainable Weed Management

SARE logo

SARE, Vinegar as an Organic Herbicide in Garlic Production, Fred Forsburg, 2004 project

Resources on Sustainable Pest Management

Garden Insects of North America, by Whitney Cranshaw.   Stock Image

Garden Insects of North America, Whitney Cranshaw

Farmscaping Techniques for Managing Insect Pests, Brinkley Benson, Richard McDonald and Ronald Morse

eOrganic Farmscaping: Making Use of Nature’s Pest Management Services

Farmscaping with Dr McBug, Richard McDonald

ATTRA Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control

Cornell Organic IPM

eOrganic Insect Management in Organic Farming Systems has many useful short articles on specific facets.

ATTRA Organic IPM Field Guide an attractive 9 page poster format introductory document.

ATTRA Biointensive Integrated Pest Management

Cornell University New York State Vegetable IPM Resources

NRCS Conservation Practice Standard 595 – 1 Integrated Pest Management

SARE Handbook, Manage Insects on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies:

Building Soils for Better Crops, book from SARE

SARE Handbook Building Soils for Better Crops

Cornell University Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management

Cornell University Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America

Growing Small Farms: Organic Pest Management

ATTRA Greenhouse IPM: Sustainable Aphid Control

Root-knot nematode—Meloidogyne brevicauda Loos
Photo: Jonathan D. Eisenback, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

ATTRA Nematodes: Alternative Controls

Beneficial insects and other IPM resources, BioControl Network, TN

Arbico Beneficial Insects

University of Kentucky listing Vendors of Beneficial Organisms in North America

Resilience: Survive, thrive and farm another season!

 

A willow tree behind out herb garden.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

“The willow which bends to the tempest, often escapes better than the oak which resists it.” Sir Walter Scott

I’m reading Laura Lengnick’s book Resilient Agriculture, (review coming soon) and thinking about how growers thrive under varying situations, some of which we have no control over. To adjust to changing weather conditions, to continue after challenges and get the best possible outcome whatever happens, we need to be alert, adaptable and quick on our feet, a bit like a Ju-Jitsu practitioner.

Being ready to tackle whatever happens includes recognizing and building in many options, keeping all options open until the future is clearer, and knowing when and which way to jump. It involves being prepared with needed equipment (or at least phone numbers), and having our filing systems be accessible all year, not in a big heap!

It includes getting good at understanding current conditions and predicting the future, getting to grips with radar maps and how to use Growing Degree Days. It involves keeping records of when certain flowers bloom (phenology), and soil temperatures. This information helps us figure out when to plant according to actual conditions, rather than simply by the calendar, a method which is not useful as climate change takes hold.

A honeybee on deadnettle weeds. Fall deadnettle germination shows that conditions are cool enough to sow spinach. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Making good assessments of conditions is the first step in cultivating adaptability. The second necessary skill-set is the ability to know how to make a swift and effective decision and locate the resources to put that decision into practice. This includes information about soil temperatures and how long various crops take to emerge. Also, knowing how summer crops will respond to extra high temperatures. And how winter crops will respond to horrifying low temperatures. When is it time to cut your losses on a struggling crop and till it in? I do a weekly tour of the gardens and re-prioritize tasks. Growing food is an organic process, non-linear!

These two skills are followed by a review process, so we can learn from what went wrong, as well as what went right! Usually this involves record-keeping, (dates, actions and results) to inform next season. You can list other possible responses to fine-tune your choices next time. Record-keeping can include photos, audio recording, video clips. Whatever works. You may only need to tweak your response in future, or you may want a completely different approach. One of our garden mantras is “Never repeat the same mistake two years running.”

Get Ready for Farming After Anything

Carol Deppe in The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times recommends building in slack, rather than planning to work flat out every day. When something unexpected happens, you’ll have a bit of extra time available to tackle the problem. Personal troubles like injury, health challenges, or family emergencies; or household events like financial problems can require time focused elsewhere; or disastrous weather that affects everyone around you. On her website, Carol has an interview called Food in Uncertain Times: How to Grow and Store the Five Crops You Need to Survive. She says: “The resilient garden is designed and managed so that when things go wrong, they have less impact.” Grow food requiring minimal external inputs, know how to grow staple crops and save seeds. Some years you won’t need to employ these skills, but you’ll be ready when you do.

Being Flexible About Growing Food

Our kale beds after heavy rain. Photo Wren Vile

We have a Garden Shift Honchos Guide to help whoever is leading the crew. It includes general guidelines: “Try to at least get the harvesting done, whatever the weather, (unless torrential rain, tornado, ice storm, thunder and lightning).” It suggests how to choose jobs from our posted task list. My priority sequence is harvest, plant, mulch, prepare beds for planting, hoe, hand weed. The Honchos Guide has hints for contingencies:

  • If the day is likely to be very hot, get the physically taxing tasks done first (especially anything involving shovels).
  • If the morning starts out with a heavy dew, postpone harvesting cucurbits, nightshades, strawberries and legumes until the leaves dry, to reduce the spread of disease.
  • After heavy rain: mulched perennials (fruit and asparagus) are the easiest places to work. Don’t work in sinking mud, it compacts the soil, which means the plants go short on air, and the soil will be slower to drain after future rains. Standing on long boards is an option for harvesting or planting.
  • If heavy rain is expected and you might have to stop in a hurry, do weeding, not planting. It’s a waste of time to hoe if it’s about to rain, or that crop is due for overhead irrigation. Don’t leave pulled weeds on the beds before rain or irrigation. They’ll re-root.
  • If you feel frazzled: choose a big simple task lots of people can do, like weeding strawberries, or hoeing corn. Or choose two tasks geographically close, so it’s easy to keep an eye on everything happening.
  • Choreographing the crew can be hard. It’s handy if everyone finishes harvesting around the same time. Perhaps spread out at first for miscellaneous harvesting, and then end up together on the crop that takes a long time.

Building in Options on the Farm

Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, advocates for constructing buildings that are easy to modify later, in gradual or drastic ways to meet the changing needs of the people inside. Farms can be looked at similarly. Keep as many options as possible (for crops, cover crops, crop layout) open for as long as possible.

It can be helpful to do some scenario planning, which I learned about in The Art of the Long View, by Peter Schwartz. Scenario Planning is a method of making flexible long-term plans, using stories (scenarios) to help us visualize different possible futures that include not only factors we don’t control, like the weather or the market’s enthusiasm for bulb fennel, but also intangibles such as our hopes and fears, beliefs and dreams. Different combinations of uncertainties and possibilities, including interactions of some major variables in plausible but uncomfortable as well as hoped-for combinations are used to create each scenario.

Sometimes the easiest way to compare scenarios is to set options out in a grid. For instance, in choosing which cover crop to sow following a spring crop that we clear in August-October in zone 7, we can say that the main variables are whether the season is dry or wet, and whether we are early or late planting. We can sow oats from mid-August to early September, to winter-kill, or winter rye once we reach September 1 (before that we risk the rye heading up before winter and self-seeding).

Dry and Early: Sow cowpeas or soybeans with oats, for a winter-killed cover crop. Dry and Late: Sow winter rye or wheat alone.
Wet and Early: Sow a clover mix in August, or hairy vetch with winter rye, 9/1-10/10 Wet and Late: Sow Austrian winter peas with winter rye

Often there are more variables, such as weediness. We might undersow our fall broccoli with a clover mix in August, intending the clovers to become a Green Fallow plot for the following season. The next summer, we assess the situation. If the weeds are bad in July, we disk in the clovers and sow sorghum-sudan hybrid mixed with soy, as a winter-killed cover crop. If all looks well in July, but the weeds are gaining the upper hand in August, we have the option of tilling it in, and sowing oats mixed with soy. If the clover is growing well, and the weeds are not bad, we over-winter the patch, and disk it in February.

Broccoli undersown with clover.
Photo Nina Gentle

Vegetable Crop Options

We have a few options recorded in our calendar:

  • If spring is cold and wet, grow transplants for the second planting of cucumbers and summer squash.
  • If the winter squash patch is too wet to disk, grow transplants, but don’t sow later-maturing varieties.
  • If the soil is to wet to hill the spring potatoes, flame weed instead.

Abundance Options

What to do if your yields are higher than planned: increase sales by giving out samples and recipes, and feature the item on your website. Find sales to new customers (restaurants), process the crop for future out-of-season sale (if you have time), or donate it to a local food bank.

Shortage Options

With a CSA you can keep a list of who gets Sun Gold tomatoes each week, until everyone has had some. This method has the advantage of keeping the time spent picking cherry tomatoes down to a reasonable level. The sharers get some as a treat a few times in the summer, but not every week.

You can mix leaves of several greens in an attractive bunch and call it braising mix, or add unusual crops to bagged salad mix, or make up stir-fry or ratatouille packages. If a crop is really poor, it is often best to till it in and plant something else. For me, this eases the soul and lets me move on. We keep a running list of crops looking for a home, so we can replace failures with fast-growing crops such as radishes, arugula, mizuna, Tokyo bekana, or salad mix. One year when our fall cabbage didn’t fill the area intended, we used senposai, a tasty, fast-growing leaf green. If rutabagas don’t come up, sow turnips – there are very fast-growing turnips, and a small turnip is a delicacy, but a small rutabaga is a sad thing.

Hakurei turnips harvested late January.
Photo Pam Dawling

It helps to have a clear and simple rotation. Our raised bed plan is ad-hoc. We make use of the flexibility: one August we were a bit late getting some tilling done, and we sowed the last cucumbers in the bed which was to have been squash. Cucumbers take a bit longer than squash to reach maturity, and I wanted to get them in the ground as soon as possible. The squash had to wait two more days. Two days can make a lot of difference when planting for fall.

Finding Resilient Crop Varieties

We always read the information about disease resistance when choosing varieties, because mid-Atlantic humidity is so conducive to fungal diseases. Depending on your climate you might pay more attention to the cold-tolerance, or the number of days to maturity. Every year we trial small quantities of one or two new varieties of important crops alongside our workhorses.

Fruit for the Month: November – Persimmons

Our San Pedro Asian persimmon November 1
Photo Pam Dawling

This is part of my monthly series about small fruits that can be grown sustainably in a mid-Atlantic climate or similar. We are entering the dormant period for most fruits, meaning fewer to harvest, none to plant, but still plenty to prune and care for, and new plantings to plan for next year. I give links to some useful publications. We have a focus fruit, and then more about others that need attention during the month.

Persimmons are the focus fruit for November

Hachiya Asian persimmon
Photo Stark Bros Nursery

The Harvest to Table website has a lot of good information. The GrowVeg Guide   has a handy quick checklist. Stark Brothers Nursery has a series of 9 very short articles on growing persimmons.

Reasons to grow persimmons

Young persimmon trees produce fruit only a few years after planting, maybe the very year after you plant them. The trees are easy-care, with few pests (maybe aphids) or diseases, and can be grown as espaliers or cordons or in a large container. Persimmons tolerate a wide range of soil types, as long as the drainage is OK. Asian persimmons have leaves that turn yellow or bright orange in fall. The leaves of American persimmons are yellow in the fall. The ripe fruits on the bare branches of either type make an attractive fall display.

Persimmon harvest

Fuyu Asian persimmon.
Photo Willis Orchards

Late fall and early winter is the harvest season, and you can lay tarps or old carpets under you trees to catch the falling fruit. Or you can clip ripe fruits with pruners, including a short piece of stem. Exercise patience, although you can after-ripen the fruit off the tree if needed. Expect 1-2 bushels (15-40 lbs/7-18kg) from a mature 10-year-old Asian persimmon tree and 2-3 (30-60 lbs/14-27kg) from a mature American persimmon.

Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are generally sweeter and less astringent than the native American varieties, and the fruits are larger, up to small peach size. They are ripe when they are fully colored, slightly firm, slightly soft.

American persimmon
Photo Willis Orchards

American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are the ones that grow wild in the Eastern half of the US. They are notorious for making your mouth pucker up. This is, if you eat them before they’re very soft and ripe. This can be anywhere between September and February. They may have wrinkled, they may have had a frost. Despite rural myth, they do not need a frost to ripen, although a frost can help. If you wait for the fruit to fall, it will be ripe. Or wait for the fruit to become soft and the skin translucent before you pick them. Some astringent varieties have fruit that will hang on the tree into the winter.

Under-ripe fruit can be ripened after harvest in paper bags, perhaps with a banana peel or some other ripe fruit.

Ripe fruit can be eaten out-of-hand, or dried or frozen. The fruits store a couple of months in the fridge if necessary. They can be mashed to include in puddings, ice cream, pies, smoothies and baked goods such as cookies, cakes or bread.

Propagation of persimmons

While eating persimmons, you can save the seeds. Stratify them (a chilling method that encourages seed germination) by storing them in the fridge for two months. After planting, it will take up to six years before your seedling trees will bear fruit. There are two hybrid persimmons, Russian Beauty and Nikita’s Gift. Don’t grow from seeds of these as they will not grow true to type.

The other method of propagation is to take cuttings. You can graft Asian persimmons on to native persimmon root stock at bud emergence.

Choosing persimmon varieties

Choose varieties suited to your location. Asian persimmons need mild winters. Fuyu grows in zones 7-11, tolerating temperatures down to 0°F (-18°C). Other Asian varieties can tolerate 10°F (-12°C) and will grow in zones 8-10. The hybrid Asian/American Russiyanka and most American persimmons, on the other hand, can tolerate temperatures as low as -25°F (-32°C) and will grow in zones 5-9.

Let the winter-hardiness zone decide what type to grow. In Zones 9-10 grow non-astringent Asian persimmons; in Zones 7-8, astringent Asian persimmons may be better suited for colder winter temperatures and milder summer temperatures. In zone 6 and colder, grow American persimmons or the hardy hybrids.

Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro Asian persimmon, a shorter tree.
Photo Stark Bros

Most American persimmons require both male and female trees to get a good fruit set. Most Asian persimmons are self-fertile, but yield more and bigger fruit when several compatible trees are grown together.

Consult your Extension Service and local plant nurseries for which kinds do best in your area. Prices can vary widely, and quality may vary too. The Harvest to Table site has variety descriptions of 3 American persimmons and 8 Asian types.

Siting persimmons

Asian persimmons do best in full sun, while American persimmons can grow in partial shade, on forest edges. Choose a site with enough sunlight for the final height of the trees. Asian persimmons grow to be 25-30 ft (7.6-9m) tall and almost as wide. American persimmon trees grow taller – 30-40 ft (9-12m).

Plant the trees about 20ft (6m) apart in all directions, in late winter or early spring. Dig holes deep enough for the long taproots. Stake the tree for the first couple of years, then de-stake.

A bowl of ripe persimmons.
Photo Pam Dawling

Care of persimmon trees

Do not over-fertilize with nitrogen, or the fruit may drop early. In backyards, plant them in the lawn (if you have one) and the grass growth and mowing will provide enough nutrients.

Prune in winter when the tree is dormant, being aware that persimmons fruit on last year’s wood. (Don’t cut everything back the same year.) train young trees to an open center (goblet style) or to a central leader. Tape or burlap the trunks of young trees to prevent sunscald injury.

Other small fruits still available in November

 

Quince fruits
Photo Emilian Robert Vicol from Com. Balanesti, Romania
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Quinces look like large fuzzy yellow apples, growing on large shrubs. They are ripe when the fruit have a good smell and develop a split from top to bottom. They are usually cooked, rarely eaten raw. The easiest way I know to cook them is to bake them whole, until the flesh is soft. This does take a while. They make delicious jelly.

 Wintergreen is another native, frequently overlooked. The tiny berries often persist through the winter (I guess they’re not too popular with wildlife. . .)

Jujube (Chinese dates, red dates) ripen mid to late fall.

Other fruit care in November in the mid-Atlantic

Weed and fertilize rhubarb, blueberries, summer-fruiting raspberries, spread cardboard and sawdust mulch. Weed grapes, take any cuttings wanted. Cover unions of grafted grapes until the spring to protect from cold damage. Plant new blueberries if needed. Weed strawberries and top up the sawdust paths. In colder areas, you may cover strawberries with hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Weight down the edges with sticks, rocks or sandbags.

My Cuban Agroecology Tour Summarized

January 2020 OGS Cuba Trip Group

In January 2020 I was part of a group tour of Cuban farming organized by the Organic Growers School. In 9 days we visited 9 farms, had several speakers address aspects of life (and particularly farming and environmental issues) in Cuba, had a couple of walking tours, ate many delicious farm-to-table type dinners and still had time for a salsa lesson.

When I got home I planned to follow up with a public slideshow, but instead we got the Covid pandemic. I made a series of blogposts, which you can revisit:

My Cuba farming trip. 1/20/20

A Cuban Bean Seed Bank 3/17/20

Finca Marta Agroecological Farm, Cuba 4/28/20

Cuban AgroEcology Tour: La Palma Farm, Pinar del Rio Province 8/4/20

Cuban Agriculture: Finca L’Armonia (Permaculture Farm), Viñales 9/29/20

Cuban Agroecology Tour: Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso, Viñales 10/27/20

Cuba Agroecology: Patio Pelegrin organoponico in Pinar del Rio, Cuba 12/15/20

Cuban Agriculture, Las Terrazas Ecovillage, Artemisa 1/13/21

Cuban Agriculture, French coffee plantation Cafetal Buenavista 3/03/21

Cuban Agroecology: FANJ and La Felicidad Permaculture Garden 3/31/21

Cuban Agriculture, Dinner at the Garden of Miracles restaurant with Rafael Betancourt 4/28/21

The roof garden at the Garden of Miracles Restaurant.
Pam Dawling

And now at last I have completed my slideshow, after begging photos from a couple of my tour group, to cover the gaps in my collection.

You can view the slideshow here:

Cuba Agroecology Tour 2020

Your Chance to go to Cuba

And now I hope I’ve inspired you to consider going on one of the Organic Growers School Cuba Trips in early 2023

https://organicgrowersschool.org/events/travel-cuba/ This link includes a YouTube of testimonials

January 3-12, 2023

April 4-13, 2023

“This 9-day tour of Cuba’s sustainable farms, community gardens, and historical centers provides a rare opportunity to learn about the Cuban food system and learn about alternatives to corporatized agriculture. Participants will have the chance to:

  • Learn from farmers and food activists about Cuba’s transition to agroecological farming practices and its national policies that prioritize sustainable farming and hunger remediation.

  • Connect with farmers, consumers, activists, NGOs, policymakers, and experts working to transform the global food system.

  • Acquire the knowledge and strategies to create just, sustainable, local, and healthy food systems in your own communities.”

Check out the linked presentation for a summary of the January 2022 tour and for a sneak peek of the types of activities involved in the tour. OGS successfully operated a tour group in January 2022. No-one got Covid. OGS brought the first educational trip from the United States to Cuba since the beginning of COVID

Finca Paraiso, Vinales, Cuba. Lettuce bed. Photo Pam Dawling

Please see the OGS website for more information.

On the website you can get your most likely questions answered: legal, financial and health requirements, sample itinerary, reasons to visit Cuba, reasons to go with OGS, reasons to value agroecology, and a one-hour Info session video. The trip includes bus transportation within Cuba, a minimum of 2 meals each day, 9 nights in casas particulares accommodation, a very good ag-knowledgeable tour guide and tour manager, and entry fees to various sight-seeing exhibitions.

Farmer Fernando Funes Monzote showing us the vegetable beds, terraced on contour, at Finca Marta, Artemisa, Cuba
Photo by Pam Dawling

Events I’m speaking at this fall and winter

 

At CAFF (The Center for Arkansas Farms and Food) in September I presented High Tunnel Season Extension

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CAFF - Extend Your Growing Season into Colder Weather with High Tunnels
I’m spending October home on the farm, preparing and planting the hoophouse with winter crops. Meanwhile I’m applying to speak at quite a few sustainable agriculture conferences and preparing slideshows, handouts and talks. I’m going back to in-person conferences. We have very limited Wi-Fi in this part of rural Virginia and video-conferencing is just not possible. I managed to make some recorded narrated slideshows during the pandemic and I picked up more writing work. But there is an undeniable something I get from in-person conferences!

In the past year I’ve been at two in-person events: The very safely and carefully orchestrated PASA conference back in February, and the September CAFF presentation, half of which was outside touring the farm and half in a large airy lecture room. Now I’m lining up quite a few conferences. Go to my Events page on this website to get all the details, including links to register. Hope to see you at one of these:

I will be facilitating the Farmer Roundtable: Working Through Production Challenges on Saturday, November 5, from 1:30 – 2:45 pm with time to linger afterwards.

CFSA 2022 Conference banner

I will be presenting a 75-minute workshop on Spring and Summer Hoophouse Use, especially how to manage extreme heat and diseases in hot and humid climates.

Tennessee Local Food Summit logo
  • January 6-8 (Fri-Sun), 2023, Virginia Association for Biological Farming is hosting the Virginia Biological Farming Conference, Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center. Conference INFO Home Page

I hope to be presenting a half-day pre-conference session on Friday January 6, on Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables. Also maybe a regular length session during the main conference.

VABF 2023 Conference banner
  • January 14, 2023 (Saturday), NOFA-MASS Annual Winter Conference. Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter. https://www.nofamass.org/conferences/ Worcester State University on Saturday January 14 and online Sunday January 15. I hope to give a presentation on Saturday.
  • February 8-11, 2023 (Weds to Sat 2.30pm), PASA 2023 Sustainable Agriculture Conference. Lancaster Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 25 S Queen St, Lancaster, PA. https://pasafarming.org/conference/

I will be presenting two 60 min or 75 min workshops:

Alliums Year-Round (Brand New!)

Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production.

Virtual Conference: January 17–19

Feb 25-26, 2023, Organic Growers School Spring Conference, Mars Hill University, Asheville, North Carolina

Along with Ira Wallace, I will be presenting a half-day (3 ½ hours) workshop Year-Round Gardening 

The workshop will be on Saturday and repeated on Sunday

Organic Growers School logo

One Folk School Road, Brasstown, NC 28902

I will be teaching a week-long course, Growing Vegetables Year Round

Campbell Folk School logo

I will be presenting two 60 minute workshops, one each day

I will be presenting two 60 minute workshops, one each day. Different workshops from the Kansas Fair.

Check back on my Events page often, as events and details are firming up

Hoophouse Winter Schedule Tweaks and Improvements

I’m always on the lookout for ways to pack more crops in, get higher yields, reduce or at least spread the workload. All while nurturing healthy soil and organic food that people enjoy.

Tweaking the Salt Wash-Down Dates

Using a lawn sprinkler to wash down the salt build up in our hoophouse. Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote about Preparing your Hoophouse for Fall and Winter on September 28. I belatedly realized that in my hurry to publish the post I let some out-of-date info slip in. We don’t do our fall salt wash-down in November any more – we prefer early October, while it is still warm enough for the plants to be improved by extra water, rather than drowned and miserable. We have switched from two days in the spring to three, as we think two days wasn’t quite enough water to get all the salt back deep in the soil profile. We had ambitions of doing three days in the fall as well, but I can tell you now, from experience, that we can fit in two days but no more.

I’ve described how we broadfork and rake all the beds in the fall, and the amount I can do in one day (along with all the other tasks) is 1/3 of a 96ft x 4ft (29m x1.2m) bed. That human limitation, and the logistics of crop rotation and planting dates, leaves a small window between preparing the first three beds to get planted (9/6-10/6), and the remaining four (10/10-10/24). It really doesn’t work well to broadfork and rake saturated soil! It’s better to have a few days for the water to soak in. So, we are satisfied with two days of salt wash-down in fall, for the time being.

Catch Crops

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

Last fall I noticed that some areas of some of our beds were idle between being prepped and planting dates in November and December.  I hate to waste prime real estate like hoophouse bed space, So this year when we planned our bed layout, we herded all the little late sowings into one bed with the intention of finding some fast-growing crops to put in that space first. We also managed a more rational layout in each bed, planting the various crops in chronological order from the east end to the west.

Next, I researched what we might grow ahead of the main crop. There are some unknowns here. We have numbers of days to maturity for crops in ideal conditions (nice warm spring temperatures), but we are heading into colder temperatures and shorter days. So it might not work out as we hope. However, given our fondness for salad mixes, anything we have to pull up immature will still be eaten and enjoyed!

Salad Mix freshly harvested.
Photo Pam Dawling

The bed in question was all ready to plant on September 30. The areas I could see for catch crops included 11/9 “filler” spinach and filler lettuce, 11/15 tatsoi #2, 12/7 lettuce mix #2, 12/18 mustard salad mix, and 12/20 radish #5.

I decided to put the 16ft (5m) of areas for November 9-15 sowings (39-45 days to go) into 45day Tokyo bekana and the 18ft (5.5m) of areas for sowings after December 7 (79 days available at that point) into 60day Cylindra beets. The Tokyo bekana came up very quickly, and I expect it will be destined for salad greens, which will be very useful as our outdoor lettuce is waning and we’ve just had a patchy frost (early for here) – the colder weather will slow crops down.

Young Cylindra beets.
Photo Wren VIle

The beets have still not come up 9 days later, and the soil is 60F (15.5C). I’ll check again tomorrow. 10 days should be long enough with soil at that temperature. My niggling worry is that the salt wash-down has drowned the seeds. See Root Crops in August. If they are not up at 10 days, I think I will hoe the area and resow with something quicker – perhaps tatsoi (45 days). I was disregarding tatsoi because it will bolt in January. Umm, but this is a catch crop, that we’ll need to pull up in early December – January isn’t even on its calendar!

Carrots out! Cress in!

Belle Isle Upland Cress from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Last winter we grew a small patch of carrots because one of the crew really wanted to try them in the hoophouse. I wasn’t a fan because carrots are so slow-growing and provide only one harvest (usually). But I am a fan of democracy and participation, so we grew carrots. We could have harvested them sooner than we did and planted something else (in my opinion), but there they sat all winter.

Oh yes, about that “usually”: you can eat carrot tops and I have used finely chopped carrot leaves as a garnish. A major brand of crackers has carrot tops as one the herbs in their Herb Crackers. Read the small print!

This fall, as we planned our crops, I said I’d prefer not to grow carrots again, but I was out-voted, and hence we sowed carrots. Now those crew members have left, and I gave the evil eye to the carrots. I’d just read an interesting article about nutrient-dense vegetables, and learned that The 5 Most Nutrient-Dense Vegetables Based on Science are watercress, Chinese (Napa) cabbage, Swiss chard, beet greens, and spinach. We’re growing all the others, but no watercress. For the next-best thing, I wanted to try land cress/Upland Cress in our winter hoophouse.  So I hoed off the little carrots and sowed Creasy Greens Upland Cress and Belle Isle Upland Cress from Southern Exposure. They take 50 days to maturity (in spring) and I note:

“The yellow blossoms help nourish ladybugs, syrphids, and other beneficial insects”

So I plan to let some flower in spring for the beneficial insects.

Creasy Greens Upland Cress from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Flowers for beneficial insects

September-sown shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Last year, one of our trials was a collection of annual flowers to attract more pollinators into the hoophouse. None of the ones we tried seemed to do much, except for one shingiku (chrysanthemum greens) which is still flowering! Readers suggested I’d do better to just let some winter brassicas flower instead of growing special flowers. So upland cress might become part of our solution for that! We’re also growing a perennial, yarrow, to attract beneficials.

Shungiku chrysanthemum greens.
Photo Small House Farm

The other hoophouse tweaks on my list are more for spring and summer, so I’ll leave those for another post.

Fruit for the Month: October (fall raspberries)

 

Caroline fall raspberries.
Photo Nourse Farms

This is part of my monthly series about small fruits that can be grown sustainably in a  mid-Atlantic climate or similar. I cover planting, pruning, harvesting and care of the plants, according to the season. I’ll give links to useful publications. We have a focus fruit, and then more about others that need attention during the month.

Fall Raspberries are the focus fruit for October

Fall-fruiting raspberries have the advantage that you won’t need to worry about spring frosts killing the blossoms, so this is a good crop for colder spots in your garden. We used a frost pocket we called the “Arctic Circle”.  Avoid areas that have recently grown tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or other nightshades, or strawberries or raspberries, because of the risk of soil-borne diseases.

To get an abundant fall harvest, you can have an easy life, pruning all the canes to the ground in winter or early spring. I used to do this by removing the ropes holding the canes into their corral and then mowing the canes down (very quick work!). I left the pairs of T-posts in place and mowed between them.

After raking out and composting the canes, I could get in and weed thoroughly before the canes started growing. As they grow, thin them out to a two inches (5cm) apart. Over-crowded canes will not grow strong or produce good harvests. Once they reach 3 ft (1m) tall, add ropes to the T-posts, making a corral.

I recommend Caroline red fall raspberries. They are large and flavorful, very productive, and tolerant to yellow rust and root rot. The golden ones, Anne, also sound good, but more people like traditional red raspberries, so we went with those. We planted beds 9 ft (3m) apart, with our purchased plants 28” (about 70cm) apart. (They soon filled out the space). You can grow a perennial clover crop in the aisles, or if you have perennial weeds to conquer, an annual winter rye cover crop, followed by a summer cover crop. Hopefully you will have got rid of perennial weeds before planting raspberries!

Drip irrigation works well for raspberries. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Because raspberries don’t do well if it’s hot and dry, pay attention to watering. Drip irrigation works well for raspberries, because once it’s in place for the season, very little work is needed to ensure your plants get enough water. Plus, water is not landing on the leaves, where it could encourage fungal diseases.

Nourse farms supply an online Planting Guide. They say “If you read it, they will grow”. I recommend it. Also see Harvest to Table for concise, experienced information on this and many other crops.

Josephine fall raspberries.
Photo ATTRA

Calendar of fall raspberry care

Starting now, for those who have fall raspberry varieties, and proceeding through the winter into next year.

September, October: Weed shallowly. Harvest and enjoy. Water well.

November, December, January: Cut all canes to the ground after the leaves drop. Weed, compost and mulch the beds. (We have used the tops from our November–harvest storage carrots.) Dig up rogue canes from the aisles, maintaining a 12-15” (30-35cm) bed width. Order new plants if needed.

February, March: Prepare future new beds. Plant new canes with compost (not artificial fertilizer, which is too fast-acting), keeping the roots damp as you work. Make the planting holes big enough to allow the roots to spread out. Set the canes an inch (2.5cm) lower in the soil than they were in the nursery or pots. Firm the soil thoroughly around the roots, by stepping on it. Roots will die if they are in air pockets. Water in well. Spread organic mulch around the planted canes to keep the soil damp and deter weeds. Set 5 ft (1.5m) T-posts in pairs across the bed, every 20-25 ft (6-7.5m). Water 2” (5cm) per week as needed. There may be no visible new growth for 4-6 weeks. Existing beds: Weed shallowly. Water. Mow aisles.

April: Weed shallowly. Water. Mow aisles. Set up ropes at heights of 3ft (1m) and 5ft (1.5m). Thin fall raspberry canes to 2” (5cm) apart.

May, June, July, August: Weed shallowly. Water. Mow aisles

Raspberry varieties labelled as “fall-fruiting” are capable of providing two crops each year: a summer crop and then a smaller fall crop. To achieve this, you need to prune them the same way you prune summer-fruiting-only varieties, leaving the newer canes that have not yet fruited, removing only the old fruited canes in late winter or very early spring.

Other small fruits still available in October

Rhubarb can be harvested lightly in September and October.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Watermelons, Asian melons, Asian pears (must ripen on the tree), blackberries, kiwi berries (Actinidia arguta, aka hardy kiwi, Chinese kiwi), muskmelons, muscadine grapes, rhubarb (light harvest). In some areas, Asian Persimmons, elderberries, Figs, and pawpaws may still be available.

Annual fruits such as Asian melons and muskmelons will only be available if you made a second sowing in early July!

Other small fruits becoming available in October

American persimmons are the ones that grow wild in the Eastern half of the US. They are notorious for making your mouth pucker up. This is, if you eat them before they’re soft and ripe. This can be anywhere between September and February. They may be wrinkled, they may have had a frost. Despite rural myth, they do not need a frost to ripen.

American persimmon..
Photo gardening Know-how

Wintergreen is another native, frequently overlooked. The tiny berries often persist through the winter (I guess they’re not too popular with wildlife. . .)

Himalayan Chocolate Berry has small berries that ripen sporadically in early fall.

Jujube (Chinese dates, red dates) ripen mid to late fall.

Other fruit care in October

Mow aisles for one more time, weed and water all fruit Start fertilizing and mulching blueberries, grapes, raspberries, rhubarb. Weed blueberries and raspberries shallowly, so as not to damage roots.

Renovate strawberries if not already finished: weed, remove surplus runners; Compost if not done in August.

Preparing your hoophouse for fall and winter

December lettuce and spinach in our hoophouse. Photo Wren Vile

Recently I traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas to give my presentation Extend Your Growing Season into Colder Weather with High Tunnels. Run the mouse over the slide and click on the lower left.

CAFF - Extend Your Growing Season into Colder Weather with High Tunnels

We are getting ready for fall and starting to plant our winter crops in the hoophouse.

I have written about transition to winter crops here: Planning and Growing Winter Hoophouse Vegetables (August 16, 2022). This post includes a bed plan, and links to lots of related posts, such as selecting and planning winter crops, bed prep, direct sowing and transplanting, and then caring for the crops, optimizing use of the space, harvesting, and what to do if something goes wrong,

Fall Lettuce Transition

From September 11-17 we sow to transplant in our greenhouse, and on September 15 and 24 to transplant in our hoophouse. This is our fall transition and I’ll write about that when the time comes.

On September 15 and 24, we sow leaf lettuces and romaines in an outdoor nursery bed. We transplant these into our hoophouse at 10” (25 cm) spacing. This is a bit closer than the 12” (30 cm) spacing we use outdoors. We will harvest outer leaves from the hoophouse lettuce all winter, so the plants won’t get as big as they do outdoors.

Beautiful baby lettuce mix in our hoophouse in February.
Photo Wren Vile

On October 23 we start sowing lettuce mix in the hoophouse. Baby lettuce mix can be ready in as little as 21 days from mid-spring to mid-fall, longer in colder weather. Our first sowing will be harvestable form 4 December to 15 May if we’re lucky, although if it gets too hot, this planting will get bitter and we’ll need to pull it up.

Baby lettuce mix is a direct-sown cut-and-come-again crop, the plants regrow and can be harvested more than once in cool seasons. We sow 10 rows in a 4’ (1.2m) bed, 4.5” (11cm) apart. Weed and thin to 1″ (2.5 cm). When 3″–4″ (7.5–10 cm) tall, cut 1” (2.5 cm) above the soil. Gather a small handful in one hand and cut with using large scissors. Immediately after harvesting, weed the just-cut area so the next cut won’t include weeds. Rake after harvest with a fine leaf rake to remove outer leaves and cut scraps. If you want to make more than one cut, you will need to remove anything that isn’t top quality salad while you can see it. Larger scale operations have harvesting machines.

We make four or five sowings of baby lettuce mix, sowing our last one on 15 February, for harvest starting mid-March, and ending in May when it gets too hot. By then we should be happily harvesting juicy lettuce heads outdoors and will have lost interest in the lettuce mix.

The soil temperature range for germination of lettuce seeds is 35-85°F (2-29°C), with 40-80°F (4-27°C) being the optimum range and 75°F (24°C) the ideal. At 41°F (5°C) lettuce takes 15 days to germinate; at 50°F (10°C) it takes 7 days; at 59°F (15°C) 4 days; at 68°F (20°C) only 2.5 days; at 77°F (25°C) 2.2 days. Then time to germination increases: 2.6 days at 86°F (30°C); after that it’s too hot.

Removing Shadecloth from our Hoophouse

We are now removing our shadecloth. Normally we would have removed the shade cloth in mid-September, or at least by the Equinox, but this year we are delayed a week. After 15 years with our initial piece of shadecloth we ordered a new piece. Well, we ordered two new pieces, because we mistakenly ordered a piece only half long enough. We bought a matching piece for the other half, and this winter we are going to sew the two pieces together with nylon twine, because the ends of each piece roll back, leaving a central gap about 6 feet long by September. Measure twice, order once!

Our hoophouse with two pieces of shadecloth (by mistake). Photo Pam Dawling

Before next spring we need to replace quite a lot of the hooks the shadecloth ropes attach to. Next time we replace the big plastic we also need to replace the baseboards, as they are rotting and not holding the hooks well.

My post Fall hoophouse bed prep and shadecloth removal includes spreading compost, broadforking, and a step-by-step guide to hoophouse fall bed prep.

Also see September in the Hoophouse for more about removing shadecloth

A reader passed on this tip:When I ordered shadecloth for my hoophouse, I overshot each end by ten or twelve feet. We stake that out on either end, using six-foot T-posts, to give us a shaded area where air moving into the hoophouse’s open ends can be cooled before entering the structure. Every year in July and August, I’m grateful we did.”

Washing Down the Salts in the Hoophouse

Effects of excess soil salt levels on crop foliage.
Photo Rose Ogutu, Horticulture Specialist, Delaware State University

Next week we will leach the salts that have risen to the surface of the soil and dried out there. My book The Year-Round Hoophouse has a whole chapter on recognizing, monitoring and reducing salts that have built-up in the hoophouse, and reducing the likelihood of problems in the future. There is also a chart of salt tolerance of various vegetables, so you can choose what to grow while you remediate your soil. Here I’ll just give a very short intro, in three slides. Click in the lower left of the first slide to move to the next one.

Salt Build-up

Closing Hoophouse Doors and Windows at Night

We are starting to close the doors at night when the temperature looks likely to drop below 50°F (10°C) outside. We had to trim down the grass to be able to push the doors to. We had to re-drill the holes the door-bolts (“cane bolts”) go down into. The doors have been wide open all summer.

View through the hoophouse doors in December.
Photo Kathleen Slattery

In fall/winter/spring, if night time outdoor low temperatures will be below 40°F (4.5°C) here, we close the windows as well as the doors.

See my post Hoophouse Sliding Doors if you might want to replace your doors with sliding ones.

One of the sliding doors on our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Be Ready for Winter

See my post Dealing with winter weather in your hoophouse (Jan 2022). Be ready to deal with snow and strong winds, extra cold temperatures, and holes in the plastic letting cold air in. If you have a double layer hoophouse, the air inflated between the layers adds strength to the structure, as well as thermal insulation. Holes are bad news.

Hoophouse snow scraping tool on a telescoping painter’s pole. Photo Pam Dawling

Winter Kit

  • SnoBrum and telescoping painter’s pole
  • Hat with visor
  • Long-handled broom with bristles covered with a towel or some bubblewrap
  • Rowcover or inner tunnels
  • Some spare plants, back-up plans or a list of fast-growing crops to replace disasters with successes.
  • PolyPatch tape for fixing holes in the plastic
  • Gorilla tape for fixing many problems
  • Pond noodles or other draft-excluding sausages if your doors let air under them
  • Perhaps some sturdy poles or 2x4s to help support the roof in case of very heavy snow.
  • Hot chocolate/tea/coffee for when you get back indoors.
Plan D: seed flats in our hoophouse on Oct 16, a late attempt to make up for things that went wrong!
Photo Pam Dawling