The weather is chilly and grey, so I’m happy not to have to spend long outdoors. The hoophouse is bursting with greens, and I’ll harvest in there after lunch, to avoid nitrate accumulation in the leaves, which is highest first thing in the morning..
We’ve been working on our seed orders. We start by weighing and making an inventory of the seeds we have left over. We check the dates on the packets too, and write off the ones too old to be vigorous next year. We throw our discarded seeds into an Old Seeds Bucket, and we have several ways of using old seeds. For instance, if we have a short-term space in the hoophouse in winter, we make a mix of brassica seeds and sow a baby salad mix. We have also made mixes of old seeds to use for cover crops outdoors. And we’ve retrieved seeds when we’ve had a germination issue with a sowing. We sow the old seeds alongside the poorly germinated ones, and order some new seed. When the new seed arrives, we might sow that, or if the old seed has come up OK, we’ll save the new seed for next time.
We use spreadsheets for our seed inventory and seed order, and we use the seed inventory to make the seed order, so we can see at a glance how much we need to order. It helps us buy enough seed, but not too much. buying too much either leads to wasting money (if we throw it away) or wasting time and money (if we sow old seed that doesn’t come up well, then have a crop failure). We do the seed ordering as a small group exercise, with the perk that each crew member who participates gets to choose an “impulse-grow”! It could be a couple of tomato plants of a new variety or 120 feet of a direct sown crop. I’m hoping to try individual serving sized melons.
I championed the idea of growing some Babybeats in the hoophouse. I had to trade away a sowing of radishes, but it will be worth it! Babybeat takes only 40 days to grow (a little bit longer than radishes), and produces a small round or top-shaped beet as well as nice small beet greens. This year radishes have gone out of favor, and we don’t have many beets in winter storage, so early spring beets will be appreciated.
We also make some group decisions on new crops. We decided to try Royal Burgundy beans in our hoophouse, where we do an early sowing, and want a variety that is easy to pick.We noted “Grows well even in cold conditions. Light brown seed ” in the description. White-seeded beans don’t germinate as well in cold conditions.
Next year we are trying a couple of rows of Boldor golden beets. Unusual color vegetables are not always liked by our cooks – we’ll see how it goes.
We are also trying some carrots other than orange: Yellowstone and Atomic Red. Our dissatisfaction with the cabbage varieties we have tried for winter storage is leading us to try Storage No. 4 again. Because our long-time favorite Ventura celery isn’t available, we are planning to try Redventure celery next year.
And we are trying Red Malabar Spinach next year, on a tall trellis next to the asparagus beans. We freed up the space by deciding not to grow parsnips, which we have lost to weeds at least two years running, now.
We were dismayed to learn from our Fedco catalog that two of our three favorite sweet corn varieties, Kandy Korn and Silver Queen are from Bayer or Syngenta, manufacturers of neonicotinoids – these pesticides have been connected with poor health of honeybees, perhaps with Colony Collapse Disorder. Fedco does a great job providing information about the farmers and companies providing the seed they sell. It leads us to many interesting discussions, weighing up the relative importance of organically grown seed, price, the presumed agricultural and ecological values of the supplier, the workplace structure of the seed company, and of course the suitability of the variety for our climate and our needs. So we will be growing Incredible sweet corn (85 days to maturity) alongside Kandy Korn (89 days), and Tuxana (90 days) for comparison next year. While scrutinizing the sweet corn varieties offered, we became enchanted with the notion of Early Sunglow, only 64 days to maturity. We are very happy with Bodacious 77 day corn, but an even earlier one. . . !!!Sweet corn with undersown soybean cover crop. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Meanwhile, the catalog from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has arrived. They have some interesting new varieties and crops. Alabama Blue collards look beautiful: plum-colored veins in blue-green leaves.
And a crop I’ve never seen before : Jewels of Opar, a salad green (and ornamental) related to purslane.
All this talk of varieties new -to-us doesn’t give you any ideas about our tried-and-true favorites, but if you look in the catalogs from Fedco Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, you’ll find most of them.
And I haven’t much time left today to tell you about my workshop presentations next year. More on that next time. So far:
Virginia Biological Farming Conference JANUARY 29-31 2015
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015
West Virginia Small Farms Conference February 26-28, 2015
Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015