Alliums for October: plant perennial alliums; harvest fall leeks, eat onions and garlic from storage, choose bulb onion varieties

Fall leek varieties have yellower-green foliage than winter leeks and reach size in less time. We eat ours in October and November. Photo Bridget Aleshire

This is the sixth in my monthly series of Alliums for the Month posts, which run from May to April.

Plant various perennial alliums in October

Plant shallot bulbs between October and November, if your winters aren’t too cold. Mulch them well. We tried to over-winter replanted shallot bulbs, but we got lots of winter-kill. To save bulbs for replanting in early spring, refrigerate them. You can alternatively start shallots from seed in late January in zone 7 and plant in spring.

Divide & replant Egyptian onions & perennial leeks September-November. Plant perennial leeks from dry bulbs a month earlier than divisions: August-October. Perennial leeks take 9-12 months to grow to a good size.


Harvested leeks.
Photo Small Farm Central

Harvest fall leeks in October (and November)

Common leeks are Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum. Leeks come in two main types: the less cold-hardy, faster-growing fall varieties, often with lighter green leaves, which are not winter-hardy north of Zone 8, and the blue-green hardier winter leeks. In the first category, we like Lincoln (50 days to slender bunching leeks, 75 days to mature leeks), King Richard (75 days, fast-growing) and Giant Bulgarian. American Flag has not worked well for us. Giant Musselburgh (105 days) is bolt-resistant, for overwintering in milder climates. For winter leeks we like Tadorna (100 days), Jaune du Poiteau, King Sieg (84 days, a cross between King Richard and the winter-hardy Siegfried, from Fedco) and Bleu de Solaize (105 days, very hardy).

Leeks can be harvested whenever they seem big enough. To feed a hundred people, we like to have one bed of 1080 leeks for harvesting each month, from October to February. We grow two beds of fall leeks and three of winter-hardy ones. About ten leeks each, each month.

When harvesting leeks, remember how deep you planted them and try to avoid spearing them. Put the tines of a digging fork (spading fork) vertically down in the ground 2″–3″ (5–8 cm) away from the leeks. I try to dig up two at once for efficiency. Step on the fork and lever back until the leeks move. Impatient pulling of unloosened leeks leads to broken ones. Remove one leek, chop off the roots, invert the plant and cut the leaves in a V shape, so that the tougher outer leaves are shortest and the younger inner leaves are longest. Clean up any obviously inedible outer layers, then put the leek in a bucket. We put an inch (2.5 cm) of water in the bottom of the bucket (to keep the leeks hydrated) before taking the leeks to the cooler. If the ground is frozen too deep to pierce the crust with the fork, you may be able to harvest a few leeks for immediate use by pouring boiling water along the row at the base of the plants. This does not seem to damage the leaves.

Read about the early summer task of planting leeks here.

Other October allium harvests

Harvest and eat large perennial leeks, and leaves of Egyptian onions and smaller perennial leeks September –April, whenever they are large enough.


Australian Brown onions.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Eat onions and garlic from storage

Eat the non-storing onions and the hardneck garlic first. Sort through your bulb onions once a week or so, removing any that are having troubles, before the trouble spreads to other bulbs. Then work your way through the non-storing varieties such as Ailsa Craig, Walla Walla, etc.

Silverskin softneck garlic varieties store up to 12 months under the best conditions. Most softneck garlic stores for longer than the 4-6 months that most hardnecks will. (Music and Chesnok Red can keep 7 months or more here in central Virginia.)

Read more about garlic and onion storage in the September Allium of the Month 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

Other resources on harvesting, curing and storing alliums

Garlic Harvest, Curing and Storage https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/garlic-harvest-curing-storage

Onion Harvest and Storage https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/onions-harvest-curing

Alliums, Post Harvest and Storage Diseases https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/alliums-post-harvest-storage-diseases

Special Allium Topic for October: Choosing bulb onion varieties

Regular bulb onions are a biennial crop grown as an annual (A. cepa var. cepa). This botanical group includes bulb onions, scallions (spring onions, salad onions or escallions), and the small pickling onions (cipollini).

A fine bed of onions in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

In our location the best time to sow bulbing onion seed is early November in our hoophouse. After over-wintering, we transplant them outdoors at the very beginning of March. (More on sowing onions next month.) If you want to sow in November as we do, now is the time to choose varieties. Factors include latitude, temperature, flavor preference and whether or not you hope to store onions or only grow for fairly immediate eating.

Latitude

Onions have three separate phases of growth — vegetative, bulbing and blooming — and the switch from one phase to the next is triggered by environmental factors, mostly day-length and temperature. To grow large bulb onions it is important to produce large healthy plants before the vegetative stage gives way to the bulbing stage. If plants are small when bulbing starts, only small bulbs can result.

Be sure to choose varieties suited to your latitude, because onions are daylength sensitive. Varieties are classified as short day, intermediate day, or long day types, depending on the daylight length at which they start forming bulbs (assuming suitable temperatures): 10-12 hours, 12-14 hours, 14-16 hours. Onions bulb earlier at warm temperatures than at colder temperatures. More catalogs are now including the information on the latitude adaptation of their varieties.

The further north you are, the more hours of daylight you have in summer. Here, our longest day (summer solstice) has 14 hours and 46 minutes of daylight. We have 14 hours of daylight six weeks earlier, on May 6. A few varieties of long-day onions can be grown here, but those requiring 15 or 16 hours of daylight will never form bulbs at this latitude. South of their ideal growing region, long-day onions don’t start bulbing until triggered by the very longest days (near summer solstice) and the bulbs get too hot in July as they mature.

Short-day onions start to bulb at 10–12 hours of daylight, provided temperatures are warm enough. If short-day onions are grown too far north (where it is too cold to overwinter them, and they must be started in spring) they will bulb before much leaf growth has occurred, and so the bulbs will be small. At our latitude (38°N) neither long-day nor short-day onions are ideal.

Temperature – avoiding bolting onions

The trigger for the transition from bulbing to flowering (bolting) is temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for three to four weeks, after the plants have six leaves or more (pencil size). This is especially true when rapid growth is followed by a period of cool weather. The chilling effect appears to be cumulative over time. Hence you can see that to avoid bolting it’s important your seedlings don’t get too big too early in the winter. And that you give them extra protection if there is a long cold spell in spring before you plant them out. Daylength does not affect bolting.

For us to succeed with bulbing onions we need to produce transplants the thickness of thin pencils (⅜” or 1 cm) on March 1, our earliest possible date for planting outdoors. This gives the plants time to grow large before bulbing is triggered. Starting from seed in January didn’t give us time to grow big vegetative plants, therefore not big bulbs either. Starting plants in the fall and keeping them in coldframes or outdoors under rowcover gave us too much winter-kill. Once we discovered the method of using our hoophouse to keep little onions alive over the winter we were very happy.

We have sown bulbing onions for growing to maturity in the hoophouse, and, more often, we have grown onion seedlings for planting outdoors.

Other factors in choosing onion varieties

“Days to maturity” numbers in catalogs are generally for spring planting once conditions have warmed to the usual range for that crop. When growing late into the fall, add about 14 days for the slowdown in growth, and when growing over the winter, precise calculations go out the window!

Beware of white onions, which can get sun-scald, if growing them to maturity in a hoophouse.

Walla Walla onions
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Varieties for storage and fresh eating

We have to accept that hard storing onions cannot be grown in the south. At 38°N, some varieties that worked well for 6 month storage for us include: Gunnison, Frontier, Copra as the best three, then Patterson (Hybrid. High yield potential. 38°–55° latitude) and Prince. Prince has since been replaced by Pontiac, a large onion with strong skin, thin necks, suitable for 36°–50° latitude. We had only 50% success with Red Wethersfield and Cabernet. Some non-storing good ones for us include Ailsa Craig (OP aka Exhibition. High yield. Large. 33°–40° latitude), Walla Walla, Olympic, Bridger (Hybrid. Replaces Olympic. 35°–50° latitude), Expression. Varieties come and got. Australian Brown is one that sounds good, but I have not tried it.

More info on bulb onions

See Sustainable Market Farming for more on onions in general, including diseases.

See the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension publication Onion, by Joe Masabni. I don’t endorse the chemical pesticides mentioned, but the information on growing onions is very sound.

Feeding the Soil Slideshow, Hoophouse Crop Rotations, Growing for Market Magazine

Tall sweet pepper plants in our hoophouse in early October. Photo Pam Dawling

First a photo of a couple of sweet pepper plants in our hoophouse. They are looking a bit “back-end-ish”, but are still producing fruit. We plan our rotation so that the bed which had peppers during the summer is the last to get planted to greens. This lets us get the most peppers possible. Plus, preparing the other beds keeps us fully occupied.

This week’s post is a catch up on various topics. I have been busy with speaking events (see my Events page at the tab on this site), and the busiest time of the year in the hoophouse, preparing to plant the winter greens.

On the topic of hoophouse vegetable crop rotations, I have just posted something on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. There are two lovely pairs of photos, winter and summer, demonstrating crop rotations.

Hoophouse beds in November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh


Heritage Harvest Festival

At the Heritage Harvest Festival I spoke on Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slideshow on that. Click the diagonal arrow icon to view it full screen.

Last weekend I presented Season Extension for the Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health, and I will be presenting that topic again this weekend at the Center for Rural Culture, Goochland, VA 23063.

I will include that slideshow in a couple of weeks. Next week is my Alliums for October post.


I haven’t found much reading time lately, so a magazine is just the thing! I’ve finished the September Growing for Market and am just moving on to the newly published October issue.

The September issue starts with an article on profitable bouquet making (something I’ve never tried to do) by Erin Benzakein. She gives ingredients for each season, “recipes”, and systems for ergonomic working. Spencer Nietmann writes on managing seasonal farm income using a cash projection spreadsheet. If you see yourself heading for disaster, you delay buying equipment and move that expense later in your projection. Simple and effective. No bad surprises! He also advocates for using zero interest credit cards short-term to pay for an expense you are confident you can pay for before the end of the free period. His example is paying for a hoophouse until the NRCS EQIP grant money came through.

Ellen Polishuk’s Farmer-to-Farmer profile is Blue House Farm in California. Franklin Egan writes on strategies to grow organic matter levels and reduce tillage at the same time. This is to help answer the challenges of some farmers on new land that was previously in continuous industrial corn production. The farmers were growing impressive bulky cover crops in sequence, but needed intensive tillage to get those covers incorporated. This tillage knocked back the organic matter levels each time. They used a farm walk to invite other farmers to suggest improved methods to bring their land into good heart.

Sam Hitchcock Hilton wrote about an urban farm in New Orleans using events and farm meals to develop interest in their vegetable sales. It is written in the voice of the farm goat, which adds an entertaining touch.

The October issue starts with an Introduction to Korean Natural Farming, which was a new topic to me, and may well be new to most of you. The method includes indigenous microorganisms, or “bugs in a jug” (a fermentation process is used). You can learn how to try this for yourself.

Jed Beach writes about his top crops for profitable wholesaling. His hypothesis is that “there are four factors that predict which crops can be competitively profitable for small farms to grow, even at close to distributor prices.” Perishability, matching planting to sales, gross sales per square foot and gross per harvest-and-pack hour. He provides a chart of his seven most profitable seven least profitable crops assessed on these factors. Thought-provoking stuff.

Ellen Polishuk’s Farmer-to-Farmer profile this month is Sassafras Creek Farm in Maryland, with 6 acres of vegetables and 17 acres of grains. The farmers there have a clear system of employment expectations and benefits, and instructions. Half of farm sales come from a farmers market and the other half come from wholesaling to restaurants, natural food stores, caterers and other farms’ CSAs. They decided early on that running their own CSA was not for them.

I was startled by the next article: “You don’t need a high tunnel to grow ginger” from three growers in the Midwest. (“Surely you do”, I thought). They used grant money to test out growing ginger in low tunnels, some with in-ground heating coils, some with in-ground foam insulation. Soil temperature is key (60-85F). But, personally, I’d still rather have a high tunnel!

Doug Trott wrote about planning and ordering now for next year’s flower crops – useful tips for flower growers everywhere.

Book Review: Start Your Farm, by Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk

Start Your Farm: The Authoritative Guide to Becoming a Sustainable 21st Century Farmer.  Essentials for Growing and Raising Vegetables, Fruits, Livestock, Grains for Market. Forrest Pritchard and Ellen Polishuk, The Experiment, New York. ISBN 978-1-61519-489-6

This is a book for new farmers, from two Virginia farmers. It is not an instruction manual on growing crops or raising livestock, nor on accounting and marketing. It is a book of suggestions on what aspiring sustainable farmers need to ponder, reflect on, take a cold hard look at before starting a farm of their own. It is a hybrid of insights, self-help wisdom, business savvy, and experience at the pointy end. The book addresses the huge problem of finding affordable land, and coming up with retirement plans that let you pass the farm down to the next generation, rather than selling it so you have a retirement fund. Their goal is to inspire as many new farmers as possible, so the focus is on small-scale manageable operations, which can provide success, and a very satisfying, joyful experience, along with the long hours of hard work.

The last chapter of the book, “Go!” can stand alone as a wonderful encouragement to new or beginning farmers – or actually old and retiring farmers too! The chapter is beautifully poetic. It leads us step by step through Your First Day, Your First Harvest, Your First Sale, imagining what that will be like. Next follows the caution: “It’s not rainbows and sweet breezes all the time.” Here’s encouragement to be prepared, to do what you have to, to respect the forces of nature, and be ready for the amazement, the unexpected awe and respect for nature. “The only thing we know for sure is that when we pour our passion into what we love, we end up with more than we give.”

Forrest Pritchard

Forrest is a seventh-generation farmer, raised on a 2000 acre farm that has provided corn, soybeans, apples, cherries, cattle, pigs, chickens. When his turn at the helm came, he transitioned the farm to sustainable livestock. Ellen is a first-generation farmer, growing vegetables since she was a teenager. She was hired in the 1990’s to manage one arm of Potomac Vegetable Farms, and went on to own this much admired and successful operation. This book provides different sorts of wisdom from each author. Hence each writes the chapters they have most expertise in, with some cross-fertilization of ideas. Both are very engaging writers.

Ellen Polishuk

As recently as 100 years ago, almost 40% of Americans were full-time farmers. Today it is less than 2%. The responsibility for feeding our society rests on the independent, altruistic farmers who devote their efforts to produce food for everyone else. Forrest calls them volunteers.

The authors caution that farming is for pragmatists, not perfectionists. Getting something 100% right in farming is not only rarely possible, it’s also rarely necessary. It’s better to be able to hoe beans quickly, with a few casualties, than to spend forever hoeing perfectly. There’s just too much to get done in a timely way. Good enough is better than perfect. Time is as valuable as money. In the short-term, you may be able to use off-farm income to help you get your farm up and running. Long-term (or sooner!) you’ll need to make enough for the farm to pay for all work done, and also make a profit (for retirement, kids’ college fund, a new tractor, another hoophouse).

Each chapter ends with a few searching questions, to help you get the most out of what you just read. Questions to help you assess your strengths and weaknesses, explore things you were ignoring and generally prepare yourself for the exciting huge task ahead. They also caution against biting off more than you can chew initially. Don’t grow every vegetable and flower and raise every possible kind of livestock! Start simpler and build up to your ideal level of diversity.

Don’t assume you should start by buying land. Life will be easier if you find land to farm that you don’t have to buy. The key is access to land, not acquisition, and the authors provide many models of how this can come about. There is a whole generation of farmers who want to retire, help a new generation of farmers start farming and see their land continue in agriculture. Debt-financed land purchasing is their least-recommended route. If that’s what you have to do, bypass conventional banks, go to the Farm Services Agency, which offers farm-friendly financing options, or look around for companies specializing in loans to farmers.

Forrest explains the blind-spot many of us have about compensating for the value of the land. The land, as an investment, needs to provide a financial return, in the same way that you’d expect from a pile of cash equal in value to the land. You wouldn’t leave the pile of cash under the mattress – you’d invest it so it would grow in value at least as much as annual inflation. And yet it can be hard to see that if we don’t get a similar return from a piece of land, it becomes an asset that steadily loses value that we are subsidizing with our time.

Forrest explains how the nation came to expect cheap food, and the consequences this has for farmers, and farming land. He explains how, from the sixteenth century onwards, land in North America was given free (we know who they took it from) to those favored by the people in power; to soldiers returning from the Revolutionary War; to those willing to farm in Florida (by Spain), or California (by Mexico); and then under the 1862 Homestead Act 270 million acres were given to 1.6 million farmers, a practice that continued as late as 1986 in Alaska. This lead generation after generation to not account for the value of the land properly. And so, cheap lettuce, cheap hamburgers, and a big challenge for farmers today to make a living and buy land.

Ellen writes an important introduction to soil physical composition, chemistry, biology, and explains replacing nutrients removed in crops. When visiting potential farms, give the soil good attention. This topic comes up again when Forrest writes about the importance of “putting things back” whether that’s tools or soil nutrients.

Ideas of complete independence and creative freedom as farmers can be a figment of our imaginations. We get a clear explanation of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and how this is going to have effects (which we have no control over) on our costs and our income. Your hard-striven-for crop might end up losing in the competition with an imported bumper crop being sold at rock-bottom prices. I’m also thinking about this year’s US soybean farmers whose markets in China have been strongly damaged by tariffs. For maximum independence from uncontrollable factors, look for sustainable markets that are less dependent on mainstream commodity system supplies or outlets. Identify a need, find the angle that is the best fit between your local customer and your strengths, foster your relationships.

Ellen’s chapter on Tai Chi Economics suggests methods to deal with uncontrollable outside economic forces, such as regional competition, government policies, national drought, international competition. What we can charge for tomatoes in Oregon is impacted by the price of natural gas in Pennsylvania, or the wages of underpaid farm workers in Florida. In Tai Chi, use grace to meet incoming force, engage that force until it wears itself out, and learn from your opponent. “The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and the strong” (Lao-tzu). Develop holistic skills to make a profit while growing nutritious food for the world. “Those who say it can’t be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

“Profit” is not a dirty word – profit allows the farm to grow and develop, pay decent wages, and provide security in case of disaster, and generally fund your life. The Tai Chi opportunity: make a profit while achieving the triple bottom line of a sustainable business: ecological stewardship, social justice, and economic viability.

Veggie Compass is a free farm management tool for diversified fresh market vegetable growers. It uses a spreadsheet to help farmers compute the real costs of growing a hundred crops and several different marketing channels. This tool can help farmers find which crops are their most successful, and which are the losers. The choices become clearer. If you are selling eggs at $6 a dozen, but they cost you $7 to produce, you’d do better just handing out dollar bills and not keep the hens at all. Let the antiquated notion of cheap food flow right past you! No other business apologizes for supplying a high quality product at a fair price. Record-keeping (noticing and writing down what happens and how well it worked) enables you to make improvements, rather than random changes.

Forrest introduces the Money Triangle. Financial stability depends on your potential to earn money, save money, and give money, in a balanced way. Savings are the catalyst for financial success. He suggests the 10% Plan. Make at least 10% net profit, save at least 10% of the profits (invested at 10% interest), give away 10% of what your investments make for you. It’s also a good rule for debt: never borrow more than 10% of your gross annual income, or pay more than 10% interest, preferably not more than 5%.

Three rules for beating the odds in farming: 1. If it’s broken, stop and fix it (relationships as well as tools); 2. Put it back where you found it (soil nutrients as well as tools); 3. Do what you say you are going to do (your customers’ trust, as well as faith in yourself.)

Forrest points out the wisdom of accepting that you won’t be able to function as a superior producer, an excellent bookkeeper and an all-star salesperson for more than a couple of years – you will need to get some help. Perhaps temporarily hire a professional salesperson who seems a good match, to identify good sales channels for you.

Ellen writes on Love, Work and Harmony. Grumpiness should be reserved for the time working alone! Build up relationship skills, you’ll need them with workers, friends and customers. To earn an annual income of $40,000 to $50,000, you would need to grow, harvest and market $125,000 worth of agricultural products. This is very difficult for one human alone. You need a workforce, and for that, you need good communication. Interns are students, not unpaid workers. The farmer has an obligation to educate, coach, encourage, and train any interns. This takes time away from production. Communication dramas can be the hardest part of farming. Learn early on how to speak your truth without criticism or blame and learn how to listen without taking offense. Keep time for the important people in your life, learn to leave the stresses outside your house, stick to daily finishing times. And don’t expect too much of yourself. “If you think you can farm and parent small children at the exact same time, you are doing neither activity well.” (Jean-Martin Fortier). If you have more than six people working for you, then keeping them, happy and productive is a full-time management job (Chris Blanchard). Don’t expect to cope with farming on your own in a place where you don’t know anybody – make a priority of finding folks to connect with.

Forrest writes on the Beautiful Paradox of Failure. No two seasons are the same. “Sustainable farming is built around the expectation that things change, that adaptability and innovation remain paramount, and that failure, when it occurs, is a critical teaching tool.” Failure arrives in many forms, despite all efforts to prevent it. And yet, without failure, we are less likely to improve. Forrest also discusses failures of faith, periods of despondency (mostly during droughts). He invites us, in the end-of-chapter questions, to think back to our biggest failures, how they shaped us, what we learned, and whether it still feels like a failure, in hindsight. Mine was the year I left the sweet potatoes in the ground too late, hoping for more growth to make up for a late start. Fall turned wet and cold and the sweet potatoes rotted or got chilling injury. It was a big mess. I learned a lot more about sweet potatoes as a result. It does still feel like a failure, although one of understandable ignorance. No-one around me knew any better at that time. I think it lead to me doing more research and record-keeping, perhaps even helped shape my path as a writer.

Ellen writes about how to appreciate the beauty around us, the daily moments of wonder, and our healthy lifestyle, although perhaps not the midnight struggles in the rain to set some emergency to rights. We do learn that it doesn’t matter if we have a headache, or feel lazy or sad, somethings just have to be done. Ellen calls this the priority of biology over attitude. We can call upon the grounding resources of clean air, vibrant plants, as remedies for our off days. We know producing food is a good and noble cause. If you read the final chapter first, read it again now!

Lettuce slideshow, Mother Earth News Fair, FaceBook Live, Top summer blogposts, upcoming events

We drove home seven hours from the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair yesterday through the rain. The remnants of Hurricane Florence. We were among the lucky people. Earlier forecasts for Florence had the hurricane raging across central Virginia.

At the Fair, I gave two workshops: Fall and Winter Hoophouses and my new Lettuce Year Round, which you can view right here. Click the diagonal arrows icon to get a full screen view.

I had a bit too much material for a one-hour time-slot, so those of you who were there and felt disappointed at what I had to leave out, you can see it here.

While I as at the Fair I did a FaceBook Live Interview about gardening in hoophouses, with another author, Deborah Niemann. Look on Facebook for Deborah Niemann-Boehle or click the topic link above. She has several books: Raising Goats Naturally, Homegrown & Handmade, and Ecothrifty.

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer.
Photo Nina Gentle

Meanwhile, Mother Earth News tells me that my post 20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather is in third place for most popular posts this summer.

The winner  An Effective and Non-Toxic Solution for Getting Rid of Yellow Jackets’ Nests by Miriam Landman got 43,328 views in 3 months!

Weeding rowcovered spinach in winter.
Photo Wren Vile

Looking at my own website statistics, I find that for this week, the most popular posts are

  1. Winter Kill Temperatures of Winter-Hardy Vegetables 2016
  2. Soil tests and high phosphorus levels
  3. How to deal with green potatoes
  4. .Winter-Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables 2018
  5. Alliums for September

For all-time, the bias is naturally on posts that have been around longest,

  1. Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest! Is most popular, followed closely by
  2. Winter Kill Temperatures of Winter-Hardy Vegetables 2016.
  3. How to deal with green potatoes is still #3.
  4.  The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month,
  5. Harvesting Melons
  6. Book Review, Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier
  7. Wnter Hardiness
  8. Book Review: The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman and
  9. Setting out biodegradable plastic mulch by hand

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

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I’ve updated my Events page again, now that the September- April  “Events Season” has hotted up. I’ve added in a couple of new ones and updated some others. Click the Events tab to find conferences and fairs near you, and be sure to come and introduce yourself!

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

The Heritage Harvest Festival  is September 21-22 Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia

I’m giving a Premium Workshop on Friday Sept 21, 3-4 pm Classroom 7. Click the link HERE to book for that.

Feeding the Soil

In this workshop I will introduce ways to grow and maintain healthy soils: how to develop a permanent crop rotation in seven steps, and why your soil will benefit from this; how to choose appropriate cover crops; how to make compost and how to benefit from using organic mulches to feed the soil. Handouts.

Book-signing Friday 4.15 – 4.45 pm.

On Saturday there are events all day from 10am to 5pm. $26 general admission.

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Saturday September 29, 2018  Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health,  Fishersville, VA 22939. 9 am – noon

I’m giving a two-hour Class on Season Extension, followed by one-hour Q&A teaching tour of the hoophouse and greenhouse.

Alliums for September: plant potato onions, sow ramps, eat Welsh onions, move stored garlic

Potato onion plant with young shoots.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Alliums to Plant in September

Divide and replant Egyptian onions and perennial leeks

Divide and replant perennial alliums in September (August-October) to increase the size of the patch and get more next year.

Plant large potato onions (2-2½”, 5-6 cm)

  • It’s better not to try to store very large potato onions over 2½” (6cm) for planting, just eat them (they sprout easily).
  • All large potato onions store poorly, so keep planting stock in the refrigerator until planting in late September or early October. Jeff McCormack does not recommend planting before September.
  • For 360′ (110m) @ 8″ (20cm) you need 540 bulbs plus 30%-40% spare. Approximately 760 bulbs. 150 large bulbs weigh about 25# (11kg)
  • Plant them at 8″ (20cm). If there are not enough large onions available, increase spacing or fill out with medium onions.
  • Cover with ½-1″ (1-2cm) soil, and add 4″-8″ (10-20cm) mulch.
  • Refrigerate any leftovers for November planting with the medium-sized onions, or eat or sell now.
  • Yields can be 3 to 8 times the weight of the seed stock, depending on growing conditions.
  • Individual bulbs can be grown indoors in a pot to produce a steady supply of green onions during the winter.

Sow ramp seeds in woodlands

Mature harvested ramp plants.
Photo Small Farm Central

In zones 3-7, sow ramps seed during August and September (see August blogpost)

Ramps (also known as Wood Leeks or Wild Leeks) are a native woodland perennial, and can be found throughout the eastern-half of the United States, as far west as Oklahoma and as far north as the central and eastern provinces of Canada.

Ramps, (Allium tricoccum) have some of the flavor components of leeks, onions, and garlic. There are projects to re-establish ramps in a number of regions in the Eastern United States.  Carriage House Farm is one such attempt by Grow Appalachia, which is a program of Berea College in Kentucky, Grow Appalachia works with farmers, gardeners, ranchers, and conservationists across a five state area to reintroduce old native and heirloom species of plants.  Ramps is/was one plant in this program. It takes two years for ramp seeds to germinate and another 2-3 years till they hit harvestable levels.

Having Your Ramps and Eating Them Too is a book by Glen Facemire

Alliums to harvest in September

Harvest Egyptian walking onions (topset onions, tree onions) for pickling, leaves of Egyptian onions and perennial leeks (September-April for cutting those)

Egyptian onions produce tiny red-purple bulbs in the umbel instead of flowers, and were previously named Allium cepa var. proliferum. According to Wikipedia, they are now known to be a hybrid of A. cepa and A. fistulosum.

Japanese bunching onion and Welsh onion (native to China, not Wales) are Allium fistulosum. They are sometimes used as scallions, as are some A. cepa bulbing onions. Young plants of A. fistulosum and A. cepa look very similar, but may be distinguished by their leaves, which are circular in cross-section in A. fistulosum rather than flattened on one side.  A. fistulosum has hollow leaves (fistulosum means “hollow”), scapes and does not develop bulbs – the leaves are the part that is eaten. Welsh onions are also known as cibol, chibbles (in Cornwall), escallion (in Jamaica), negi (in Japan), pa (in Korea), as well as green onions, salad onions, spring onions,. These general last names are also used for other kinds of onions where the leaves are the part eaten.

Perennial leeks are Allium Ampeloprasum. Common leeks are Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum (more about leeks in October and March). Elephant garlic is botanically a leek (A. ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum).

Other Allium Tasks for September

See Alliums for August for more on all of the following jobs which continue into September:

  • Snipping and sorting garlic and potato onions
  • Trimming, sorting and storing bulb onions
  • Eating onions and garlic from storage
  • Inspect onions and garlic at least once a month. Remove bulbs which are sprouting or rotting or else the whole batch may spoil.
  • At the end of September I make the decision about how many potato onions to keep back for planting (see August for our calculations).
  • We also move garlic from warm storage to cool storage (more info below)

Potato onions store very well through the winter so long as they are well-cured, dry, well-ventilated, and not packed over 4″ deep. Ideal conditions are a temperature between either 32–41°F (0–5°C) or 50–70°F (10–21°C) with 60-70% humidity.

Polish White – our softneck garlic variety.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Special Allium Topic for September: Garlic Storage

Before trimming your garlic, I hope you were sure it was fully cured, and you set aside any non-storing bulbs, such as those with damaged cloves, or any over-mature, springing-open bulbs. It usually works to select your seed-stock bulbs at the same time.

Commercially, garlic is stored in the dark at about 32°F (0°C) and 65% humidity, and depending on the species and variety, it may keep six months or more. I have heard that garlic can be stored for up to nine months at 27°F (-2.7°C), but I have not tried that myself. It does not freeze until 21°F (-6°C). Do not store peeled garlic in oil, as garlic is low in acidity and the botulin toxin could grow.

For storage, garlic (like onions) does best with a humidity of 60%–70%. Refrigerators are usually more humid than ideal.

Garlic will sprout if kept in a temperature range of 40–56°F (4.4–13°C), or if it is allowed to get cold then warm. So long as temperatures remain over 56°F (13°C) you can store garlic almost anywhere. You can use an unheated room in your house, a root cellar, garage, etc. Maintain good air circulation. Most varieties store reasona­bly well in a cool room if hung from the ceiling in mesh bags, or spread on shelves in a layer less than 4″ deep.

In our climate, with a long period in the danger zone temperatures of 40–56°F (4.4–13°C), we keep alliums in the warmer storage range (60-70°F (15.5-21°C) or hotter) in a basement until late September or sometime in October when ambient temperatures in the basement drop close to 56ºF (13°C). We then move our eating garlic from the basement to the walk-in refrigerated cooler at 32–41°F (0–5°C), 95–100%. The low shelves in the cooler near the compressor are damper and do not work well. We use the high and dry shelves.

Juggling space for various crops, moving the garlic out of the basement makes space available for the winter squash harvests in September and October. By this time most of the apples from the walk-in cooler have been eaten, and space is available there. Also there is no longer the problem of ethylene emitted by the apples, which causes garlic to sprout. Ideally ripe fruits and garlic would never be in the same storage space.

Softneck garlics store longest. Silverskins store up to 12 months under the best conditions. Most hardnecks last 4-6 months but Music and Chesnok Red can keep 7 months or more here in central Virginia.

Storage of Seed Garlic

We store our seed garlic on a high shelf in the garden shed, at quite variable ambient temperatures, where it does fine until late October or early November when we plant it. Seed garlic does not require long-term storage conditions! The ideal storage conditions for seed garlic are 50-65°F (10-18°C) and 65-70% relative humidity. Storing in a refrigerator is not a good option for seed garlic, as prolonged cool storage results in “witches-brooming” (strange growth shapes), and early maturity (along with lower yields). Storage above 65°F (18°C) results in delayed sprouting and late maturity.

Siberian garlic.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Fall hoophouse bed prep and shadecloth removal

Our hoophouse is covered mid-May to early-September with a large shadecloth.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Today we’re removing the giant piece of shadecloth that has been over the top of our hoophouse since mid-May. We’ll unclip the ropes, roll them up, then pull the shadecloth off onto the ground, roll and bundle it up. It’s important to store it so mice can’t get into the bundle and make holes. We already have a few of those!

The shadecloth is held on by ropes zig-zagging between snap grommets on the shadecloth and large hooks on the baseboard.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We’ve just finished preparing the first of our 7 hoophouse beds for the winter greens. Crops grow so fast in the hoophouse, and the organic matter in the soil is consumed at a rapid rate. Every new crop requires a fertility boost. In the fall, we prepare our beds by removing all the summer crops, and spreading four or five wheel­barrows of compost per 4′ × 96′ (1.2 × 29 m) bed. This is a generous 46 gals/100 ft2 (or 680 L/36 m2 bed)or more. A full wheelbarrow generally holds six cubic feet (44 gallons or 170 liters). 1 ft3 = 7.5 US gals. An inch of compost is about 8 ft3/100 ft2, or 60 gals/100 ft2; 20 gals/100 ft2 is 15 tons/acre (8.6 L/m2). Other professional growers use any­where from 12–40 gals/100 ft2 (5–17 L/m2). Some use much more.

There are 3 concerns about using too much compost: high phosphorus levels, raised salt levels and nitrate accumulation. Some growers like to do two years of high compost rates (40 gals/100 ft2, 17 L/m2 or more), then reduce the rate to half that and add fish or kelp, at only 5 oz–8 oz/100 ft2 (15–24 gm/m2) per year. Sustainable alternatives to compost in­clude organic pelleted chicken manure, alfalfa meal, etc.

Broadfork from Way Cool Tools.
Photo Way Cool Tools

A few years after we put up our hoophouse,  we noticed that despite our best efforts, we were walking on the edges of the beds and compact­ing them. Initially we simply loosened the edges of the beds with a digging fork. We then noticed that the plants on the edges grew better, and we realized the whole bed width needed loosening. If you have designed your hoophouse to use trac­tor equipment there, that will deal with soil com­paction. We wanted our hoophouse to be free of internal combustion engines and fossil fuels, and the broadfork has provided the solution. Ours is an all-steel broadfork from Way Cool Tools. We do an annual broadforking each fall, before planting our winter greens.

We set nylon twine to mark the bed edges, holding it in place using sod staples. The string alone has not been enough to stop us walking on the bed edges. Loose soil is important because our winter crops grow all the way to the edges of the beds. After spreading compost, we broadfork the beds, then vigorously work the compost into the top of the soil with scuffle hoes and rakes. We learned the hard way the importance of raking the soil to a fine tilth immediately after broadforking — you don’t want to let the broadforked clumps dry out into bricks before you rake! See the photo below and imagine what could happen!

Hoophouse bed broadforked to aerate the soil without inverting.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote about our bed prep method and tools, and also our outdoor sowings for transplanting into the hoophouse, with a special focus on suitable lettuce varieties in my post Sowing hoophouse winter crops here in Sept 2017.

We have just started planting our late fall, winter and early spring crops in the hoophouse. We are  pre-sprouting our spinach for a week in a jar in the fridge. Soak the seed overnight, drain it in the morning, fit a mesh lid on the jar, and lay it on its side in the fridge. Once a day, give the jar a quarter turn to tumble the seeds and even out the moisture. If the seeds are a bit wet when you need to sow them, and clumped together, pour them out on a cloth to dry a bit before sowing.

We will sow five crops in our first bed on September 6 and 7– spinach, tatsoi, Bulls Blood beet greens, radishes and scallions. On September 15 we sow lettuces, chard, pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy, in an outdoor bed to be transplanted into the hoophouse in a few weeks, after we’ve prepared another bed.

We plant crops closer in the hoophouse than outdoors, and closer to the edges of the beds. We don’t have many weeds in the hoophouse, and the paths are marked off with twine, to keep us from stepping on the beds. We find that the soil does slump and compact some of its own accord, even if we don’t step on the edges (and of course, some feet do find themselves on the bed edges), hence the once-a-year broadforking.

Young spinach plants (and henbit!) in our hoophouse in December. This is our second sowing, not the early September one.
Photo Pam Dawling

Step-by-step guide to hoophouse fall bed prep:

  1. Remove the summer crops to the compost pile,
  2. Spread a generous layer of compost over the whole bed surface.
  3. Gather the soil staples and move the drip tape off to one side or the other,
  4. Broadfork the whole bed, but not all at once. Only broadfork the amount of space you have time to rake immediately, otherwise the warm hoophouse conditions dry out the soil and make it harder to cultivate into a fine tilth, which is the next task. We tackle 1/3 bed each day.
  5. To use a broadfork, go backwards working the width of the bed. Stab the tines into the soil and step on the crossbar, holding the long handles. Step from foot to foot until the crossbar touches the soil, with the tines all the way in, then step off backwards, pulling the handles towards you. This loosens a big area of soil, which hopefully crumbles into chunks. Lift the broadfork and set it back in the soil about 6” (15 cm) back from the first bite. Note: you are not inverting the soil – this is not a “digging over” process. Step on the bar and repeat.
  6. Sometimes we use a rake, breaking the clumps up with the back of the rake, then raking the soil to break up the smaller lumps, and reshape the bed. More often we use a wide stirrup hoe very energetically. This isn’t the job stirrup hoes were designed for (that’s very shallow hoeing), but the sharp hoe blade does a really good job of breaking up clumpy soil.
  7. We’ve found it important to lay the drip tapes back in place in between each day’s work, so that the soil gets irrigated when we run the system and stays damp. We don’t want dead, baked soil.
  8. When the bed is prepared, we measure out the areas for different crops and mark them with flags.
  9. Next we use our row-marker rake (bed prep rake) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
  10. After the rowmarking, we deepen the furrows if needed (often it’s not needed), using a pointed hoe, then sow the seeds.

For more on winter hoophouse crops, see

Planning winter hoophouse crops for our step-by-step process for hoophouse crop planning

Cold-tolerant lettuce and the rest, our January 2018 assessment of the varieties we grew that winter and which survived the unusually cold spell we had.

Mother Earth News Fair PA, Heritage Harvest Festival, Ginger Field Day, Future Harvest CASA Beginning Farmer Training

I’ve updated my Events Page, so check there for events I hope to be speaking at between now and the end of March.

Coming right up:

September 14-16, 2018 Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, PA

I’m presenting two workshops:

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Friday 5-6 pm at the Heirloom Gardener Stage

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

Lettuce Year Round (NEW!) Sunday 2-3 pm at the Heirloom Gardener Stage

This presentation includes techniques to extend the lettuce season using rowcover, coldframes and hoophouses to provide lettuce harvests in every month of the year. The workshop will include a look at varieties for spring, summer, fall and winter. We will consider the pros and cons of head lettuce, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix and the newer multileaf types. Information will also be provided on scheduling and growing conditions, including how to persuade lettuce to germinate when it’s too hot.

Handouts

Book-signing

Demonstrations of tomato string-weaving and use of wigglewire to fasten hoophouse plastic to frames, at the New Society Publishers booth. Fri 12.30-1.30pm, 3.30-4.30pm; Sat 11.30-12.30, 5-6 pm; Sun 9.30-10 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm.

Wigglewire is reusable every time you change the plastic on your hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile


September 21-22 Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Premium Workshop on Friday Sept 21, 3-4 pm Classroom 7

Feeding the Soil

In this workshop I will introduce ways to grow and maintain healthy soils: how to develop a permanent crop rotation in seven steps, and why your soil will benefit from this; how to choose appropriate cover crops; how to make compost and how to benefit from using organic mulches to feed the soil. Handouts.

Book-signing Friday 4.15 – 4.45 pm

Heritage Harvest Festival


I’m sadly not attending the Virginia State University Ginger and Turmeric Field Day, but I recommend it!

GINGER/TURMERIC FIELD DAY

OCTOBER 18, 2018

REGISTRATION WILL OPEN SOON AT EXT.VSU.EDU

  • Thursday, October 18, 2018, 8:00 AM 4:00 PM
  • VSU Randolph Farm 4415 River Road Petersburg, VA (map)
  • Ginger and turmeric have been used widely throughout history in many different types of cuisines for their spice and flavor, and these spices may also provide a number of health benefits.
  • Learn more about the production and marketing of ginger and turmeric and see how to harvest, clean and package these spice crops.
  • This educational event will include presentations, demonstrations and a field visit.
  • More details on the Field Day Agenda will be available soon.
  • If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact the Horticulture Program office at [email protected] or call (804) 524-5960 / TDD (800) 828-1120 during business hours of 8 am. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations five days prior to the event.


Conferences, field days and workshops are great ways to expand our farming and gardening knowledge and fill the gaps. Perhaps you are a Beginning Farmer (defined as farmers with less than 10 years’ experience). There are many great regional associations for training new and beginning farmers and ranchers, and one of those I know best is the Future harvest CASA BFTP. This is a region-wide program, open to beginning farmers in  MD, VA, DE—including the Delmarva Peninsula—and DC, WV, and PA.

A free, year-long program with 3 levels from entry-level to advanced.

Applications for the 2019 season are now OPEN!

The BFTP offers a year-long immersive training experience that combines a comprehensive classroom curriculum with hands-on learning at Chesapeake region farms that employ practices that are profitable, protect land and water, and build healthy communities.

The BFTP offers 3 training levels, designed to meet the specific needs of beginning farmers at different stages in their careers.   We offer farmer-to-farmer training opportunities throughout the Chesapeake region, and classroom requirements may be completed in-person or online. We offer training in diverse operation types, including vegetables, fruit, cut flowers, herbs, and livestock at urban, peri-urban, and rural farm settings. The program is also designed with built-in scheduling flexibility to allow new farmers to further their training while maintaining their own farms or other work.

All 3 levels of the program are FREE and trainees receive a host of additional benefits:

  • Free admission to our popular winter conference
  • Free admission to our year-round field days at innovative farms
  • Access to a supportive network of new and experienced farmers
  • FHCASA membership
  • and more!

The final submission deadline is October 15, 2018.

Detailed program information and instructions on how to apply are on our website HERE.  Questions?  Please contact Sarah Sohn, BFTP Director: [email protected].

More on Summer Pests, August Growing for Market, Year-Round Hoophouse Book Update, Mother Earth News Post on Repairing Hoses

Hornworm on tomato leaf.
Photo Pam Dawling

More on Summer Pests

Last week I wrote about hornworms. The Alabama IPM Newsletter has a good compilation of articles on tomato worms and various other insect pests. Hopefully you don’t need to read up about all of these!

Worms on My Tomatoes!

Horse fly: pest behavior and control strategies

Grape Root Borer

Spotted Wing Drosophila and African Fig Fly Detected in Monitoring Traps

Slug Management in Vegetables

Scout Soybeans Closely for Stink Bugs in August

Hang in there! Be careful what you wish for in terms of early frosts!


The August issue of Growing for Market is out. The lead article is Serving the Underserved by Jane Tanner. It’s about small farms connecting with people who are struggling financially and cannot easily feed their families good food. Examples include people working for food, gleaning finished crops, farms donating to shelters and other organizations, accepting SNAP cards at farmers markets, and an incentive program to encourage people to use SNAP entitlements to buy produce. Posting a photo of a SNAP card at your booth can help people using the cards feel welcome. The author encourages farmers to take flyers to distribute in the waiting rooms of agencies where people enroll for SNAP, WIC and other benefits. A approach used in central Texas is to post photos of available produce on popular Facebook groups for Spanish speakers that otherwise feature cars and jewelry for sale. The article is packed with ideas.

Tumbling Shoals Farm in mid-March
Photo Ellen Polishuk

Ellen Polishuk’s Farmer to farmer Profile this issue features Shiloh Avery and Jason Roehrig of  Tumbling Shoals Farm in NC. Here’s the very short version:

Tumbling Shoals Farm

3 acres certified organic

7 high tunnels ( one heated)

1 Haygrove tunnel

66 % FM, 26% C SA, 8 % wholesale

2018 is year 1 1 for this farm.

Ellen visited in mid-March, on the farm crew’s first work day of the year, when there was snow on the ground. The farmers made a thoughtful review of their first ten years, and a plan for the future. They decided to expand in 2017 to increase net farm income and quality of life. This involves hiring one more full-time worker for the season, for a total of five; building a heated  high tunnel (for early tomatoes); and providing a four-day-weekend paid vacation for each employee during the dog days of August. Not everything went according to plan. Terrible wet spring weather led them to the somewhat desperate decision to also work a winter season too, to meet their income goal. This didn’t meet their quality of life goal, as you can imagine! The original investor for the heated hoophouse fell through, but they were able to finance it themselves. Everyone benefitted enormously from the little August break. For 2018 they are going to focus on their most profitable crops (they dropped strawberries, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, winter squash and cut flowers.) Ellen commended them for their bravery in taking the difficult decision to drop “loser crops”. I know what that’s like. As Ellen says

” There is history to battle, habits to break, customer wishes to deny, and maybe even some ego to wrestle with.”

The article continues with info on addressing soil fertility outside and in the tunnels, buying selected machinery, and running a Lean packing shed. For more photos from Ellen’s visit, go to tinyurl.com/y7r8vr5a.

Start Your Farm book front cover

For more information go to Ellen Polishuk’s website. (Her new book Start Your Farm will be out soon, and I will review it on my blog.)

The next article is on when to call in a book-keeper and when a CPA, by Morgan Houk. “Why are we asking ourselves to be our own financial advisors too?” We have many other hats, we don’t need this one. Rowan Steele writes “Working Together: Oregon multi-agency farmer development program grows farmers.” This is about providing opportunities for the next generation of farmers, and lowering the average age of Oregon farmers below 60, ensuring that food production continues, and that the land is well cared for. Doug Trott writes about protected culture flower planning, from am exposed hillside in west-central Minnesota. Flower growers everywhere will get encouragement from this careful farm research and practice.

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Hose repair tools: repair piece, sharp knife, Philips screwdriver, “wooden finger,” dish soap and unbreakable insulated mug.
Photo Pam Dawling

Mother Earth News DIY Skills and Projects blog is giving more coverage to my Step-by-Step Garden Hose Repairs post.  I also wrote about hose repairs here.

Anyone who is looking at a broken hose can read this and gather what’s needed to get that hose back into service.  Next hot sunny day (when hoses are more flexible) find half-an-hour to solve your hose problems


The Year-Round Hoophouse front cover.
New Society Publishers.

Year-Round Hoophouse Book Update

 The Twin Oaks Indexing Crew has finished indexing my new book. Very thoroughly, I’m happy to say – what farmer has time to deal with a poor index when they are in a hurry?

All the typesetting is done. Next stop is at the printers. This will take five to six weeks. From the printers it goes to the warehouses, then out to the stores. I should have copies for sale at the beginning of November! I sign all the copies I sell direct through my website and at sustainable agriculture conferences and similar events I attend. Yes, it is possible to buy the book for less money, but you don’t get a signed copy, and you won’t have the warm heart that comes from knowing you helped support a small scale farmer and author. The amount that an author gets for a copy of the book sold depends on the price the buyer paid and the price the supplier paid. And there’s also the library for those with not enough money to buy.

 

Summer pests and diseases

Hornworm on a tomato plant.
Photo Pam Dawling

It’s August, which for us is the peak time for pest insects as well as for fungal diseases.

This year, we have been collecting Japanese beetles from our okra plants, to prevent the leaves getting stripped off. It seems to be working. Many plants can take 30% defoliation without a loss of yield, but some years, our okra plants end up as just a bunch of stalks, and you know that means almost no photosynthesis can happen. Japanese beetles are one of the insects that have an aggregation pheromone, so those commercial traps are not only gathering up your own Japanese beetles, but also attracting neighbors’ beetles. Sometimes this means no net improvement, as the newcomers eat crops before going into the trap.

Another bad summer pest here is the Harlequin bug, a brightly colored stink bug. We try to have July be “No Visible Brassicas Month” aiming to disrupt their lifecycle. We use insect netting over the fall brassica seedlings we sow in June, and we clear our spring brassicas before the end of June. In July and July we use netting over any new brassica transplants, and sowings of turnips. During August we remove netting from older transplants and sowings, on to newer ones, such as kale and collards.

Leaf-footed bug, one of the stink bugs. Photo Kati Falger

Here’s a link to an article on Stink Bug Identification and Management in Vegetables, from the Alabama IPN Communicator Newsletter. Read More

I wrote about squash bugs and cucumber beetles on our hoophouse squash in June.

Squash bug nymphs and eggs
Photo Pam Dawling

Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden has a good post on distinguishing between the tobacco and the tomato hornworm.

The tobacco hornworms, Manduca sexta, is close cousins with the tomato hornworm,

Both species eat Solanaceous crops (nightshades) such as tobacco, tomato, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. The differences are in the stripes and the horns.

We have tobacco hornworms (this land was a tobacco farm before Twin Oaks bought it 51 years ago. This year, for the first time, we haven’t had any hornworms in the hoophouse. We’ve pulled up our tomato plants in there – we only grow the earlies in there, as it’s plenty warm enough to grow tomatoes outdoors here from May to October. I might be celebrating too soon – we still have a bed of peppers in the hoophouse and I think I might have seen evidence of a hornworm at work, although I could not find the culprit yesterday.

Tomato plant badly damaged by hornworm
Photo Pam Dawling

Pictures of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus and other tomato diseases

We’re always a bit anxious that TSWV might show up one day, but luckily it hasn’t. Meanwhile we forget what it looks like. Here’s a few photos on the Cornell Vegetable MD Online site.

And here’s a good collection of tomato disease photos on the You Should grow site.

Spotty tomato leaves. I think this is Septoria Leaf Spot.
Photo Pam Dawling

All the news is not bad! Here’s a satisfying photo:

Hornworm mother Hawk Moth trapped by a zipper spider.
Photo Pam Dawling

Zipper spider.
Photo Wren Vile

 

Root cellar potato storage, Mother Earth News post on hot weather seed germination tips

Potato harvest.
Photo Nina Gentle

We harvested our March-planted potatoes 21 days ago, and we are in the process of sorting them and managing conditions in our root cellar to cure the potatoes and help them store well.

Here are our “Root Cellar Warden” instructions:

  1. Before the potato harvest, leave the cellar open for a couple of days to warm up to the temperature of the potatoes (to reduce condensation and rot.)
  2. Gather crates. We store our potatoes in open plastic crates on plastic pallets, which allow ventilation but not rotting or holding of fungal spores.
  3. Like most root vegetables, potatoes store better if they are not washed before storage.
  4. In summer we stack the crates of harvested potatoes under tree near the cellar the first night, to lose some heat. At dusk, we cover them with a tarp to keep dew off and keep them dry. At 6 or 7 am next day, we put the crates in the cellar and close the door.
  5. Store in a moist, completely dark cellar, avoiding excess moisture.
  6. After the harvest, the potatoes need a surprisingly warm temperature, 60-75°F (15-25C) with good ventilation, for two weeks of curing. This allows the skins to toughen up, cut surfaces to heal over, and some of the sugars to convert to the more storable starches. Wounds do not heal below 50F (10C).
  7. In June/July, after harvesting the March-planted potatoes, we leave the door open at night almost every night for a week, then every other night, and close it early in the morning. After the Oct/Nov harvest of the June-planted potatoes, we leave the door open on mild nights or days every 2 or 3 days, and close it later. (It’s easier to cool the cellar in the fall.)
  8. As well as cooling to a good storage temperature, for the two weeks between harvest and sorting, the root cellar needs 6-9 hours of ventilation every two or three days. The potatoes are still “alive” and respiring, and will heat up if left closed in. If not ventilated, the potatoes get Black Heart. This is a dark hard black nodule of dead cells in the middle of the potato. Ventilate when the temperature is 0-20 Fahrenheit degrees (0-11 Celsius degrees) cooler than the goal:
  9. Air in the daytime if nights are too cold and days are mild;
  10. Air at night if nights are mild and days too warm.
  11. Try hard to avoid having the cellar cool down, then warm up. This causes the potatoes to sprout.
  12. Ventilate more if it is damp in there.

    Sorting potatoes .
    Photo Wren Vile

  13. After two weeks, the potatoes need sorting to remove Use First and Compost ones, keeping the varieties separate. Usually we bring the crates out to the top of the cellar steps in rotation. We gather buckets, rags, gloves. It’s important to do this 14-21days after harvest, and not leave it longer, to minimize the spread of rot.
  14. We find that if we do this one sorting after two weeks, we don’t need to check them any more after that – pretty much anything that was going to rot has already done so. Very little additional rotting occurs after a two week curing and sorting. If left unsorted for longer, rot does spread. If we sort too soon, we miss some potatoes with tiny bad spots, and need a second sorting.
  15. Restack the crates in the cellar, remembering to leave an airspace between crates and walls.

    Crates of potatoes in our root cellar.
    Photo Nina Gentle

  16. For weeks 2-4, the temperature goal is 50°F (10C), ventilation is needed about once a week.
  17. After week 4, ventilation for air exchange is no longer needed, as the potatoes are now dormant. We want to cool the cellar whenever a cool, mild night or chilly day is forecast, to 40-45F (5-7 C) if possible in late fall, and as close to that as we can get, in summer. (In summer, potatoes can be stored at 60-75F (15-25C) for up to six weeks – but at higher temperatures they will sprout.)
  18. Avoid wildly fluctuating temperatures, as the stress can cause “physiological aging” which among other things, inclines the potatoes towards sprouting.
  19. Continue to ventilate as needed during times of cool temperatures, to maintain the cellar in the ideal temperature range.
  20. Avoid storage much below 40F (5C), as these low temperatures will cause some of the starches in the potatoes to turn to sugars. This gives the potatoes a strange taste, and will cause them to blacken if fried. Potatoes which have become sweet can be brought back to normal flavor by holding them at about 70F/21C for a week or two before using.
  21. With a good in-ground root cellar, potatoes can be stored for 5-8 months. As a sustainable alternative to refrigerated or electrically cooled storage for crops needing cool damp conditions, traditional root cellars are a good option.

    Potato crates in our cellar.
    Photo Nina Gentle

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Dormancy Requirements of Potatoes

We are researching the dormancy requirements of potatoes in an effort to store ours so they don’t sprout when we don’t want them to! So if you have information on that, please leave a comment

What I know so far about dormancy is that potatoes need a dormancy period of 4-8 weeks after harvest before they will sprout. So if you plan to dig up an early crop and immediately replant some of the potatoes for a later crop, take this into account. Get around this problem by refrigerating them for 16 days, then chitting them in the light for 2 weeks. The company of apples, bananas or onions will help them sprout by emitting ethylene.

To avoid sprouting, keep the potatoes below 50F (10C) once they are more than a month from harvest, avoid excess moisture, and avoid “physiological aging” of the potatoes, caused by stressing them with fluctuating temperatures, among other things.

Potato Sprouting Conditions

The rate of growth of sprouts on potatoes is directly related to the degree-days above 40F/5C, so storing potatoes above 40F (5C) (for best flavor), clearly runs the risk that at some point they will start sprouting. If eating potatoes do start to develop sprouts, it’s a good idea to rub off the sprouts as soon as possible, because the sprouting process affects the flavor, making them sweet in the same way that low temperatures do.

Seed potato pieces after pre-sprouting for planting.
Photo Kati Falger

If you are storing potatoes for seed, and have good control over the temperature of your cellar, you can manipulate the conditions somewhat to help get best yields. The “physiological age” of the seed tubers affects both the early yield and the final yield. Cold storage conditions – below 40F (5C) keep the seed “young”, which leads to a crop that takes longer to mature. Avoid planting physiologically “young” seed potatoes unless you are prepared to harvest later than usual (or have a lower yield when you bring the crop to an end by mowing). “Old” seed gives an earlier harvest, but perhaps a lower final yield. If you will be planting in spring for an early finishing crop, “age” your seed potatoes by storing them at 50F (10C) until two weeks before planting, then harden off at a lower temperature to reduce thermal shock when they reach the soil. “Middle-aged” tubers stored at 40-50F (5-10C) give the highest maincrop yields. When we buy seed potatoes we have no control over the storage conditions before we get them, and probably no information either. The physiological age can be estimated by the length of the longest sprouts on the tubers. The best information I have found about potato storage and sprouting is in a book from the UK: The Complete Know and Grow Vegetables by Bleasdale, Slater and others.

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I wrote an article about growing potatoes for Growing for Market magazine.

I also wrote about root cellars for potatoes and other vegetables in Sustainable Market Farming and forGrowing for Market magazine in November 2008.

Storage is not a one-solution-fits-all project. Produce for storage might need to be frozen, refrigerated, cool, warm, moist or dry. Refrigerators and the ingenious CoolBot have their place. Mike and Nancy Bubel, in their excellent book Root Cellaring identified five different sets of storage requirements. Since their book was published, more evidence suggests that potatoes are better stored at 40-50F (5-10C) than 32-40F (0-5C), and that cucumbers and eggplant, like peppers, are better above 45F (7C).

Ethylene. Ripe fruits and actively growing plants (such as sprouting potatoes), emit ethylene, which then promotes more ripening or sprouting. Ethylene-producing crops need to be stored separately from those sensitive to ethylene – vegetables you don’t want to sprout, such as onions and potatoes.

Other Vegetables in Cellars. Most other root crops can also be stored in a root cellar. Some people pack the unwashed vegetables in boxes of sand, wood-ash, sawdust or wood chips. Perforated plastic bags are a modern alternative. Whole pepper plants can be hung upside down in the cellar, as can headed greens, like cabbage. Or cabbage can be replanted side by side in boxes or tubs of soil. Celery and leeks can also be stored by replanting in the same way. I’m more of a fan of choosing hardy varieties of leeks and leaving them out in the garden for the winter, but this is zone 7 and people in places with really deep snow or very cold winters might laugh ruefully at that suggestion.

Root Cellar Construction

Mike and Nancy Bubel Root Cellaring contains great designs and instructions for excavated root cellars, including a two-room version for keeping different crops at different temperatures and humidities. Excavated root cellars are not the only possibility, but they have advantages because the earth insulates the cellar. Because soil is heavy, in-ground cellars must be strongly built, and well drained, so that water does not pool, freeze in winter and crack the walls. The book has details about laying out the site, working with concrete blocks, mixing concrete, making a supported roof, and drainage.

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20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather

This is the title of my newest post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog. In my previous post I wrote general themes for starting seeds in hot weather. This time I listed 20 specific tricks under categories such as Seed Storage, Sowing Seeds Indoors, Sowing Seeds Outdoors, Watering, Soaking Seeds, Pre-sprouting and Fluid Sowing.

Good irrigation is important for successful carrot growing in hot weather.
Photo Bridget Aleshire