The January newsletter of the Piedmont Master Gardeners (The Garden Shed) has this sobering article about Invasive Jumping Worms by Cathy Caldwell. The article includes the all-important information on how to distinguish an invasive jumping worm from any other kind of earthworm (it’s not hard!), and what to do if you find one.
Book Review Farming on the Wild Side, The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery, Nancy and John Hayden, Chelsea Green, 2019. 258 pages, $29.95.
This is a lovely, thoughtful, well-illustrated book, telling how Nancy and John Hayden changed their farm (formerly a conventional dairy farm) over three decades into a regenerative farm, now specializing in perennial fruit trees. Their focus has been on stewarding the land mindfully, restoring and increasing biodiversity. In these uncertain times, there is much we can’t do alone, and we worry if enough people will make enough of the necessary changes. We can, instead, focus on positive changes we can make to improve our world. Growing and nurturing plants will benefit you, the plants and the planet.
The Haydens have an 18-acre farm in northern Vermont with undulating land, and a wide range of soil types. Very different from central Virginia, where I live! Both moved to Syracuse, NY to study biology and ecology, and after meeting at university, they worked in the Peace Corps on opposite sides of the African continent. Nancy worked in Kenya, supporting small farmers installing fishponds. John was in Mali, helping market gardeners and farmers, especially in dealing with millet pests. They both grew intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, with broader worldviews, awareness of white privilege, and deeper understanding of solitude and loneliness.
After Peace Corps, they reunited, married and began graduate school at Michigan State U, studying entomology (John) and environmental engineering (Nancy). John hankered to start a farm, so when Nancy was offered a post at the University of Vermont, they packed up the family and moved. A few months later, they bought their farm. It was a well-manicured conventional dairy farm with a cathedral-like barn built in 1900. The lawns are now orchards, and the stream banks host fruit bushes and small trees. The focus these days is on biodiversity and a regenerative food system, not on “pretty”. You can see before and after photos, and sketch maps of their farm (The Farm Between).
The book includes a valuable chart summarizing their practices and events during each of the three decades of their farm life so far. This shows how changes can be made as interests and focus shift. Long-term sustainability for aging farmers!
In the initial years their goals were to feed their family high quality food (hard to find to buy in the 1990’s), treat livestock humanely, regenerate the land for long-term health, and generate income from farming. They grew organic annual vegetables and raised grass-fed poultry, rabbits, sheep and pigs for a meat CSA. They also raised young children, and a family cow. The farm hosted field trips from local elementary schools, and Nancy became an associate professor.
John and Nancy got inspiration from Holistic Resource Management, as well as many small-farming pioneers. HRM led them to learn and practice management intensive grazing. This involves carefully matching stocking density with the health of the pastures, leading to continuous improvement. Paddocks just large enough, and no bigger, encourage livestock to graze all the plants down, leading to lush and nutritious regrowth. Initially their pastures were overrun with reed canary grass, and just one year of intensive grazing management with sheep started to bring improvements.
They also raised chickens and rabbits in moveable pens (chicken tractors), and quickly devised improvements to the pen design and the choice of breed. They trained all their livestock to come running when they heard grain shaken in a bucket. This good habit saved them from problems when livestock got loose onto the busy state road.
In the middle decade (roughly the 2000’s), the children grew up and left home, John became a lecturer on Plant and Soil Science, the field trips included special needs children and summer camps for middle-schoolers. They became more focused on resilience, biodiversity and pollinators. Keeping livestock makes it hard for a farming couple or family to vacation at the same time, and well-trained farm sitters are worth a lot!
Raising animals in confined spaces, feeding mostly corn and soy and antibiotics, while exploiting workers and degrading the environment is a disgrace to our society. Slaughtering animals is tough, and where possible, the Haydens opted for on-farm slaughter, as less stressful and more humane. The Haydens cut back on meat production and expanded perennial and annual food crops.
After 20 years of learning and practicing with draft horses during visits to working horse farms, and after 10 years at The Farm Between, John bought his own team of two Clydesdales. This helped them successfully expand their vegetable and small fruit production. From 2004-2011, they put up five hoophouses, initially for tomatoes and other valuable vegetables. They could pay for the structures and the wages in one year by growing cherry tomatoes in each new hoophouse. This increased their resilience in the face of extreme weather of various kinds, and in 2009, they planted a few rows of fall raspberries in one of the hoophouses. These did so well that the next year they planted one whole hoophouse full.
The third decade (after serious flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011) brought a forceful introduction to the reality of climate change. Their focus on improving the soil has included a major composting operation. The Haydens have succeeded in doubling the organic matter in their soils from 2.5 to 6% over the years. Initially John collected food scraps to feed their chickens and then compost. But the heavy lifting and the rats got to him.
It takes 500 years or more to grow an inch of soil, which is all too easily lost to wind and water erosion. Growing cover crops holds the soil in place while adding organic matter. While they grew mostly annual vegetables, the Haydens used at least one-third of their land for growing cover crops, usually including legumes, to add nitrogen to the soil. Growing annual vegetables is stressful. Everything is urgent and important, all season! Perennials allow more flexibility, for example in the timing of weeding and pruning.
They committed more to perennial polyculture, retired the horses and bought a tractor. Fruit planting had expanded every year, with perennial vegetables and annual hemp in the alleys between the rows. Other alleys are left unmowed to encourage milkweed (selling seeds and floss). All the while, the edges and hedges have provided biological diversity for insects, birds and other creatures.
They repurposed all their hoophouses to grow fruit, protected from the elements as well as pests and diseases. They have dwarf apple trees (blemish-free no-spray organic apples!), cherries, peaches, plums, apricots and raspberries. Outdoors they grow hazelberts, elderberries, aronia, honeyberry, gooseberries, blackcurrants, red and white currents, and many blueberries. The increased fruit production led them to work with cider producers and market other fruit products including selling at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. They started a retail nursey of fruit trees on the farm, alongside fruit sales. Operating a fruit tree nursey at the farm enables the farmers to attract customers who are very interested in what they are doing, and will encourage and support them in growing their own fruit. Nancy retired from UVM. They expanded on-farm workshops, field trips and classes for all ages.
They were able to provide free housing for their employees and pay them above minimum wage. Despite the obvious success of their farm stand, farmers’ market, meat and produce CSAs, restaurant and grocery accounts, they were not quite satisfied. The family were eating well, and Nancy’s off-farm income kept them afloat and allowed them to build up the farm infrastructure. John was working 60-80 hours a week on the farm, but not producing much net income for the four-child family they were now raising. John calculated he was earning half minimum wage, and the only way that was being “successful” was that the 80 hour weeks made two half-minimum wages! Their aging bodies had also become a factor to consider. Also, Nancy and John developed interests that vied for their attention, much as they were still committed to the farm.
They had noticed their soil structure was deteriorating, even though the organic matter content was increasing. They studied approaches to deal with soil loss and degradation, climate disruption, water and air pollution, declining food quality and loss of biodiversity. The book includes a valuable chart listing stressors in the categories of environmental, social, economic and personal stresses, and resilience strategies to tackle each.
The Haydens committed to be more proactive in benefiting the land, and becoming more economically resilient. Their approach was a synthesis of:
resilience (ability to bounce back from stresses and shocks),
organic farming (nurture healthy soil to grow healthy crops and healthy people: it’s about the soil, not about the certificate),
regenerative organic (rebuild soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, improve water quality and slow the pace of climate change),
agroecology (approaching agriculture by combining ecology, biology, agronomy, plant physiology and more, improving soils and water, biodiversity, species conservation, carbon sequestration),
permaculture (“permanent agriculture”, integrative perennial-based systems, working with the natural environment, providing for the needs of people locally),
agroforestry (intentionally incorporating trees and shrubs into farming systems for the benefit of the environment, the community and the farm,)
biodynamics (considering each farm as a unique integrated organism, raising crops and livestock synergistically)
wabi sabi (finding beauty and value in the impermanent, the natural cycles of growth, death and decay.)
rewilding (letting banks, ditches, shrubs and trees grow back, providing shelter and food for many more insects and birds; planting orchards in place of lawns,
personal spiritual traditions (focusing on nature and natural cycles)
As a result of considering all these approaches, Nancy and John found themselves drawn to wholesaling fruit, particularly to local wineries. They wanted no-spray organic fruit, pointing out that organic fungicides and broad-spectrum insecticides are toxic to pollinators and other beneficial insects, as well as the pest species.
In August 1995, a few years after John and Nancy moved to the farm, the summer drought was broken by three days of rain upstream of the farm. The river overflowed, flooding the low fields and the barn three feet deep. The water level receded the next day, leaving a big mess, including dead chicks and destroyed equipment. The house was on higher ground, and was not affected.
In 2011, they got a 500-year flood in April and a repeat with Hurricane Irene in August. They lost their potato and corn crops, and noticed that the perennial fruit bushes and conservation shrubs recovered just fine when the water receded. They decided not to grow annual crops in the low-lying Field Six any more, but instead plant elderberries and aronia, which tolerate some flooding.
As they transitioned to growing mostly perennials, they also stopped tilling. They sheet mulch around newly planted fruit trees and berry bushes, with either cardboard and woodchips, or with landscape fabric rolls with “seam-lines” along the planting rows. This means they can open the overlapping pieces in spring or fall to add soil amendments. They’ve also used this technique to grow pumpkins, sunflowers and CBD hemp in the alleys between young fruit trees. They also employ a “grow, mow and blow” in the alleys to deposit home-grown mulch around the trees.
Transitioning to more perennials in polyculture orchards led them to incorporate agroforestry practices such as hedges, biomass trees, and riparian forest zones (next to streams). Hedgerows act as windbreaks, as well as enhancing biodiversity, and reducing soil erosion and offering sanctuary to many kinds of wildlife.
The apple orchards provide scion wood for selling and for grafting to make new trees. Between new fruit trees, in the rows, they plant blackcurrants and other fruit bushes, nitrogen-fixing small trees and perennial wildflowers. These infill plants will be chopped or lopped for mulch when the apple trees need the space.
Perennial vegetables also have a place on the farm. Asparagus and rhubarb have been there for over 20 years. Sea kale and Jerusalem artichokes are more recent additions, in the alleys between apple trees. Remember this book is written in Vermont, where rhubarb ripens in June, blueberries in July and elderberries in late summer. Follow the concepts, not the details, if you are in a very different climate zone.
Climate change in Vermont has, so far, meant warmer, earlier springs, which can cause trees to break bud, risking crop death by frosts in May. Using hoophouses for fruit can reduce risk. Leave the hoophouse open all winter, but if a spring frost threatens during or after bloom, close the house up for the night. “Fruit trees can break your heart,” the authors warn.
The section on rootstocks, scion wood and grafting explains how to propagate trees. Growing polycultural orchards reduces dependency on any particular variety or type, and makes organic production much more viable, as pest or disease outbreaks are rarer and other crops compensate for whichever is taken down. There’s a nice list of the ten best apple varieties at the farm, and one of stone fruit cultivars. Again, remember this is Vermont, zone 4a.
The farm also grows many less common cold-hardy berries. Blackcurrants do well in Vermont, but I know from experience that they do poorly in the South. The yield is plentiful, but the harvest slow. Their target rate is ten pounds an hour. The variety Tatania is their highest-yielding, at 4.7 pounds per bush. A useful tip is to stand still and move the branches towards you, rather than moving yourself a lot. There are tips on good varieties of berries too.
Elderberries and Aronia have already been mentioned as flood-tolerant. Both also require full sun. they are high in anti-oxidants, and attract wildlife, unfortunately including Spotted Wing Drosophila, which cause the berries to drop before the whole panicle is ripe. The solution is to pick every few days, removing the ripe parts of the clusters. Note that American elderberries need to be cooked or fermented before eating, as they contain cyanide-inducing compounds.
The farm has an area of boxed propagation beds where they raise hardwood cuttings to grow bushes for sale. They have a space where customers can see full-size plants in a natural setting. This area supports many pollinators, as does their willow labyrinth. There is a mowed walking path around the pollinator sanctuary, where visitors love to observe plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife. The riparian zone is part of a contiguous wildlife corridor connecting the woods and the farm, and providing edges with meadows and cropland. Common milkweed in the orchard alleys is promoted by mowing the grass early, before the milkweed emerges.
The chapter on pests and diseases invites us to rethink these life-forms. Weed management is necessary. Birds can be “pests” on fruit crops during the harvest period. Netting the berries at this time and then removing the nets to let the birds in to clean up the dropped berries helps reduce other pest problems, such as SWD. At the time the book was written, their way of dealing with the SWD was to net individual panicles of elderberries using nylon “footies.” Crop diversity reduces potential crop losses and pest outbreaks.
The Haydens dispute the myth that pests on a plant show the plant is unhealthy or that the soil conditions are wrong. Having a diversity of insects shows a natural balance. If the number of pests increases to the point of causing economic damage, that’s a pest outbreak, and needs action. Having a low level of pest insects keeps predators and parasites provided for! Always look for parasites, such as the white fly eggs on the thorax of the Japanese beetles. Everything may be being taken care of! Wiping everyone out with pesticides causes imbalance, and the pest populations can come back faster than their predators. The true parasites are the pesticide companies, say the authors!
Attention is also paid to pollinators, providing nesting habitat as well as pollen and nectar sources. Native bees are perhaps in greater peril than (imported) honeybees. They just don’t have as good PR, despite flying earlier in the year and in colder, rainier, windier weather! There are 275 native bee species in Vermont (4,000 in the US). Most of us didn’t know that! There is a table of when various pollinator flowers start blooming in Vermont, to help anyone seeking to provide bee forage more of the season.
As Nancy and John produced more value-added fruit products for sale, they noticed an interesting thing: people would pay for the jam or syrup-topped snow cones, but balk at the price of the actual fruit! It’s time to move away from our expectation of cheap food (which likely derives from the history of enslaved people doing most of the farm-work in the US in the past).
Another change for the farm is to selling fruit wholesale, to wineries, breweries, cideries and soda makers. They like the big “over-and-done” sales, although selling retail direct from the farm is important for staying in touch with the public and diversifying income streams. Nancy and John point out that they could not have done all they’ve done without off-the-farm income. This is the reality for most farmers, particularly small-scale farmers. Nancy and John were fortunate in finding off the farm work that they enjoyed.
The book wraps up with an appendix of common and scientific names of plants and arthropods mentioned in the book, and an impressive twelve-page, triple-columned index. This is a book by people who really want to help us navigate our path through farming for the long haul.
We are in the dormant period for most fruits, meaning few-to-none to harvest, none to plant, but plenty to prune and care for, and new plantings to plan for the new season.
Grapes are the focus fruit for January
Grapes also featured as the focus fruit in August. Then I said:
“We grow Labrusca grapes, mainly Concord, with a few Allred, with a selection of other varieties that we are trialing, including the Planets (Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, Venus) and Edelweiss, Fredonia, Marquis, Niagara, Reliance, Sheridan, Steuben, Vanessa. All these are suitable for juice, jam and jelly. Fredonia, Marquis, Mars, Niagara, Reliance, Steuben, Vanessa and Venus are dessert quality, but mostly they have thick skins, big seeds, and a sour taste. Some of these varieties are susceptible to Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew and/or Black Rot, and I wouldn’t buy those again. Likewise, I would not buy grafted vines, such as the Cynthiana and Niagara, as we are not good at remembering to cover and uncover the graft unions when the seasons change.”
In January, we check and repair the drip irrigation, update maps and logs. We kept good records for a number of years after we planted the new trial varieties (2008, I think).
It is possible to take dormant wood cuttings, 6-9” (15-23cm) long, cut at the top 1” (2.5cm) above a bud at a slope. Heel them in, and label clearly.
Weed the rows, particularly around new vines, as soon as weeds start to grow. Finish cardboard and sawdust mulch if not done in December.
Grape planting and pruning doesn’t happen here till early March. Avoid pruning grapes in a spell of cold weather, as it can cause vines to die back from the pruning cuts. Vines pruned after the buds start to swell will leaf out a little later, and may avoid late frosts. If the first set of flower buds get frosted, the grapes will produce a second set. Harvest will then be about three weeks later than it might have been.
If your grape rows have developed gaps, layering branches of neighboring vines is a very effective gap-filling method. Lay a vine lateral with several buds down into a 5” (12cm) deep trench. Cover the vine with 3” (7.5cm) of soil, leaving the tip above the surface. When new growth starts to appear, fill the trench and pack firmly. Separate the plants the following fall. Layering can also be done in the fall.
Special Topic for January:Grape Varieties for Organic Production in the Southeast
The Cornell 2022 Organic Production and IPM Guide for Grapes2022-org-grapes-NYSIPM.pdf is a great resource. It covers site selection, variety selection, nutrient requirements, soil health, pre-planting and under-vine cover crops, integrated pest management, and more in its 90 pages. Be aware that it is written with the Northeast in mind. For a more general approach, see Grapes: Organic Production. ATTRA, Rex Dufour.
Other small fruits still available in January
You may have dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves, or even stored apples and pears. Pawpaws can be eaten frozen like ice cream. Don’t eat the skins, and don’t eat cooked pawpaws.
Wintergreen berries persist on the plants in the wild all winter, and become sweeter after some cold weather. They don’t taste good at the end of the winter, though, so harvest while they are good eating. If you are allergic to aspirin, avoid wintergreen because all parts of the plant contain methyl salicylate, an aspirin-like compound.
Medlars are a peculiar ancient old-world fruit, with not much modern-day interest. The fruits are not edible until “bletted” by a hard frost or by waiting beyond normal ripeness, when they get very close to rotting. The small trees have beautiful spring blossoms, and if you don’t harvest the fruit, they remain on the twigs during the winter, giving added interest then. They can also be eaten frozen during winter walks through the orchard.
Other fruit care in January in the mid-Atlantic
Summer-fruiting raspberries: Weed and mulch. Give compost now or in February.
Fall raspberries: cut canes to ground and dig up canes from aisles. Weed.
Strawberries: In colder areas, you may have covered them with hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Weight down the edges with sticks, rocks or sandbags.
Blueberries: Weed and spread compost around the bushes, out to the dripline. Give soil amendments in line with soil test results – blueberries thrive on acid soil, so you may need to add sulfur pellets. After adding all amendments, renew cardboard and sawdust/other mulch if not done in fall. In late January, we prune and propagate by layering, which is the easiest way to successfully propagate blueberries.
Rhubarb: Weed, compost around the plants, or where you think the plants are! Mulch if not already done in the fall
Read books: See my reviews of Levy and Serrano Cold-hardy fruit and nuts, and Blake Cothron’s Berry Grower. The RHS recommends Harvesting and storing garden fruitby Raymond Bush (Faber and Faber 1947, ISBN 54053000473672). Plan more fruit and place orders for delivery after the coldest part of winter. In milder areas, start planting at the end of January
The conference was very well-attended, and not everyone at my workshop on Friday, or the Alliums Year-Round 90 minute workshop on Sunday morning got a handout. I promised to post them here, and now I’m making good. I’m also posting the handout for the third workshop I gave, Asian Greens in the Winter Hoophouse. This rounds out the set, and gives a chance to those who went to a different workshop at that time to get a look in.
The 23rd annualVirginia Biological Farming Conference is Virginia’s premier organic and sustainable agricultural conference! The Conference brings together farmers, gardeners, eaters, educators and advocates of biological and organic farming and gardening. The Conference will be held in person January 6-8, 2023 at The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center.
The three-day Conference includes: Full and Half Day Pre-Conference intensive workshops, 50+ sessions and workshops, presentations and panel discussions, 40+ tradeshow exhibitors, locally sourced farm meals and book signings. The Conference features a Silent Auction and networking opportunities including regional networking meetings, and the Taste of Virginia Expo & Social!
Dr. Elaine Ingham, Soil Food Web School
Leah Penniman, Founding Co-director Soul Fire Farm
I will be presenting a half-day workshop 8am-noon on Friday Jan 6, on Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables
90 minute workshop Sunday January 8, 8.30 am – 10 am Alliums Year Round
90 minute workshopSunday January 8, 10.30 am – noon, Asian Greens in the Winter Hoophouse
Included in the Conference Registration and free and open to the public is the Taste of Virginia Expo & Market on Saturday, January 7, 2 – 9 PM in the Crystal Ballroom at Hotel Roanoke. Featuring sampling and sales of Virginia-crafted foods, local libations, handicrafts, and herbals. Complete the evening with music, dancing, and socializing from 8-10 PM.
Locally Sourced Meals
VABF and LEAP Local Food Hub are working together to procure the majority of our Conference food from local member farms. We look forward to supporting our member farms and enjoying delicious, fresh, local food from the farms below! All Conference Registrations include lunch and dinner on Saturday, lunch on Sunday and morning coffee and tea.
The Conference will be held at Worcester State University on Saturday January 14 and online Sunday January 15. We encourage you to make the most of the range of possibilities – i.e. tastings in person, international discussions over Zoom, tool modifications, storytelling. Creativity is welcome!
An organic lunch on Saturday is sandwiched by over 40 educational workshops for a full day of learning and socializing.
This is a valuable opportunity for farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, educators, and environmentalists to share resources and ideas to grow our vibrant organic community. We are excited to come together around this winter’s theme, “Cooperative Foodways: Building Our Future Together.”
The conference hosts 40+ workshops and draws hundreds of attendees from throughout the Northeast.
I will be giving a workshop on Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production
Cold damage update
I reported very little damage to our hoophouse crops last week when it was 2F (-17C) outdoors. Since then, no plants keeled over, but some leaves are showing tan patches of dead cells, either where the leaves touched the rowcover. or where they were not properly covered. So, we have lost some leaves of senposai, a few of spinach, some on the yarrow we planted for beneficial insects. But, overall, I’m extremely happy with the good condition of our crops.
Mistake about potato yields
Yes made a mistake back in 2012, when I wrote Sustainable Market Farming, which I hope has been corrected in reprints since I was first notified of this in August 2019. If you have an older edition of my book, it might still have the error. In yield numbers on page 376, it says about potatoes, “Yields are likely to be 150 lbs/ac (168 kg/ha); 200 lbs/ac (224 kg/ha) is a good yield”.
“Yes, my mistake indeed! On page 45, I have the (better!) info that potatoes can yield at least 110 pounds/100 feet, or 49.9 kg/30m. I think I probably meant to write on page 376, that a low yield could be 150 pounds/100ft, which is equivalent to 11 tons/acre. In the metric system, that’s 223 kg/100m, or 24.4 tons/ha. Other sources suggest average yields could be almost twice this. And good yields, even 4 times the low numbers.
So it should say
“Yields are likely to be 11 tons/ac (24.4 tons/ha); 22 tons/ac (48.8 tons/ha) is a good yield”
That’s US tons of 2000 pounds, metric tons of 1000 kg. Or for a smaller scale, probably closer to what most of us are growing,
“Yields are likely to be 150 lbs/100ft (223 kg/100m); 200 lbs/100 ft (300 kg/100m) is a good yield”
We were luckier with the weather than many people over the weekend (12/23-12/26/2022). And so were our vegetable crops. On Friday 12/23 we prepared for a suddenly very cold night. It was very windy as we battled to stop the hoophouse windows from blowing open. We finally got some shims, a hammer and a stepladder, and wedged them closed. They stayed that way until Tuesday 12/27. We were fortunate in getting no precipitation (I hate ice!) and no power outage.
We fortified the doors with our rock collecting buckets, and prevented most of the under-door drafts with our pool noodle draft excluders. They have a rope running through them, which is hooked onto small cup-hooks on the door frame. We repurposed noodles that had been used as props at a party or some other kind of event. They had been covered in tube socks and had glued-on googly eyes.
It was a bit unnerving being in the hoophouse as it creaked and groaned in the wind. In the winter we keep rolls of rowcover ready for any night we think will be below 8F (-13C). We unrolled the rowcovers by lunchtime and laid tools on the ends nearest the doors. I was worried that if we lost power, and therefore the inflation, it would get very cold indeed in the hoophouse.
Since we last changed the plastic we haven’t managed to get the recommended 1/3” (8.5mm) pressure difference in the “bubble” between the plastic layers, compared to our normal air pressure. Mostly we don’t even get ¼” (6.5mm). The “bubble” provides thermal insulation as well as physical strength against snow or ice buildup, and strong winds.
It got down to 2F (-17C) outdoors Friday night, and Saturday didn’t warm up much. I don’t actually know what the night temperature was in the hoophouse as our recorded low temperatures don’t make sense: 14F (-10C) for four consecutive nights (Fri to Mon). I suspect we didn’t reset the thermometer correctly. Usually the hoophouse can hold 8 F (4.5 C) degrees warmer than outdoors, but not 12 F (7 C). It looks like it did, perhaps because we didn’t open it all day!
The soil is still nice and warm in there: 59F (15C). That really helps. The rowcovers are usually removed in the daytime, either pulled aside if we expect to need them again the next night, or rolled up out of the way. Most of the time they stay rolled up at the east end of the hoophouse. We appreciate not needing to deal with rowcovers most of the time! On Saturday 24th, the temperature maximum for the day outdoors was 24F (-4.5C), and we kept the rowcovers in place over the crops. On Sunday the high outdoors was 28F (-2C) so we pulled the rowcovers aside until the night. On Monday 26th the night-time forecast was benign enough that we rolled the rowcovers up. And now we get a milder spell.
How did the crops fare? It’s not always obvious at first if a crop has been killed by cold or not, But I can now say with confidence that nothing died. The edge beds are always the coldest. The south edge bed had Hakurei turnips, delicious and notoriously the least cold-hardy turnip variety. Most of the globe of the turnip sits on the surface of the soil. You can see in the photo that some of the leaves, the ones right by the wall plastic, have been killed and turned yellow. But the roots themselves (with rowcover over them) seem fine.
Over the other side, in the north bed, we have some Bright Lights chard, among other things. Multi-colored chards are less cold-hardy than red ones, which in turn are less cold-hardy than green ones. We know we take a risk in growing Bright Lights through the winter, but we so enjoy the sight of the short pieces of colored stems in our salad mixes that we take the risk. Some of the stems have curled over, probably on their way to dying, but the plants live on, to provide many more salads this winter! And some cooked greens too.
Some of the giant senposai leaves, where not fully protected by the relatively narrow rowcover, have developed tan dead spots, so those leaves can just continue as the plants’ solar panels until we get tired of looking at them and decide they are no longer needed.
Each winter I update my Winter-Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables list, except this past spring I had nothing new to add. Outdoors, I noticed today that the tatsoi has definitely died, the Vates kale and the spinach have survived (uncovered) and the small garlic leaves don’t seem troubled. The leftover lettuce transplants have been damaged, if not killed.
Book Review From The Ground Up, Columns from the Princess Anne Independent News, John D Wilson, Pungo Publishing, 2022. 124 pages, $15.00.
This slim volume is a treasure trove of short writings (600 words each, says John), from his first five years writing a farming column for a Virginia Beach local newspaper. Local newspapers and local farmers are all to be valued and supported. This collection of about 40 articles has been chosen and reorganized by topic, rather than date, to follow a path, making for a pleasant and thoughtful stroll through topics such as sustainability, healthy soils, gardening, nutritious plants and small-scale chicken-keeping.
John’s writing is concise, encompassing political and lifestyle passions, cheery humor, and poetic turns. It makes for easy ingestion, but not like marshmallows. We’ll be jolted into considering “heck, we do waste a lot of food in the US, and we really need to change that.” We need to do better in promoting and increasing every kind of organic, regenerative and sustainable farming practice, building up our soils, and being part of providing better food for everyone. That’s serious work. And then, it’s not every farmer-writer who thanks their washing machine!
John Wilson serves his community as a farmer, a consultant, a writer, and a volunteer board member on a couple of foodie and farming organizations. He describes his stories as “mostly personal with some science added.” That seems about right. John’s fascination with soil science, microbiology, soil food web, microbes, is infectious. We can have a voice in the world, and we need to stand up for what we believe in, even when we must step outside our comfort zone, as John has done by putting his thoughts into print.
The book starts out with a column setting out the benefits of a local food system, in terms of fresh food, support for local farmers, food security, and enjoyment of local chocolate cakes at the Fayette County Free Fair. There is a discussion about the travesty that is Industrial Organic Ag, and if you didn’t understand the “input switching” game, you soon will. This is where a farm simply replaces their old herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and all the other cides with Organic ones, but continues their same-old extractive, soil-destroying practices. Far better is to regard the soil as the valuable resource it is, and learn how to farm the soil in ways that help crops grow, by providing the right conditions and nutrients.
And if your appetite for science is small, right now you’ll appreciate John’s observation that “When you mow grass or anything, the smell you get is the nutrients going back into the atmosphere.” Your reminder to capture those nutrients for your next crop. We need to conserve our soil, our greatest national treasure.
John hastens to point out that he has the utmost respect for all farmers, even those making choices different from his. Farming is hard work, physically, mentally and emotionally, and it’s undervalued. We’ll need to tap into the vast experience of all farmers to manage the necessary transition to a sustainable system.
We all do wasteful things, we could all do better at recycling, making compost, not buying stuff we end up not using. Look to the soil, and see how everything eats and gets eaten, absorbs water and nutrients and then passes them on. Apparently we throw away 40% of the food we get. Considering how hard farming work is, how few Americans want to do it, and how our governments try to keep out immigrants who would willingly do the work, it’s clear this needs to change. “Farmland needs to be re-peopled” as Wendell Berry says. We need to help those who want to farm, and make farming attractive to more people.
Perhaps understanding the soil food web biology, and some history of farming (such as production of terra preta in the Amazon), and some back-yard experimentation making biochar, could lead more people to farming. You can read more about these things in this book.
John frequently points out the soil-saving (planet-saving) advantages of sustainable and regenerative farming, such as how it can prevent water run-off, soil loss and soil erosion. I was interested to read that the collapse of societies is related to soil erosion – when desperate farmers try to get more food from the land by using chemical fertilizers that don’t add organic matter, or fail to use cover crops or put organic material into the soil. See David Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization. Let’s appreciate steps such as the cost share program for growing cover crops. And the increase in research into sustainable farming practices. And, of course, the implementation of those practices by more farmers.
John tells us that the influences that formed his views include desire for optimum health and wellness for all; the hard work ethic from his childhood; soil science from recent research; joy in eating good food and appreciation of the beauty of a well-tended farm.
The author learned about gardening from his Grandpa, but took a detour while studying energy-efficient building and carpentry. By chance he was hired by Alan Chadwick’s horticulture program, and chose to trade his work for participation in the program. Later, after raising a family as a carpenter, he met George Leidig who sold compost turners and spading machines, and signed up for workshops, which inspired him to start a farm.
His first farm was a lease on 25 acres, for which he needed to borrow money and keep his day job as a carpenter for several years. He invested in farm equipment, and also in improving the soil, which was compacted and inactive (“grows too many buttercups”) when he started out. He saw positive changes even after simply sowing one round of buckwheat cover crop on 10 acres. Pollinators came back, and all manner of life-forms. And the water-holding capacity of the soil improved rapidly – no runoff.
John has become a worm farmer, with four home-made worm bins at the time of writing, producing enough worm castings and worms for sale. His other job in a micro-brewery provides his worms with a portion of the barley mash. Red wiggler worms consume food waste, and paper scraps, and John has no doubt we will make ourselves a worm bin after reading his article!
The days of cheap food are over. We need to reduce the damage we have been inflicting on the environment, and people’s health. The idea that farmers should “get big or get out” has cost us too much. Food systems need to be local and operated by people who understand the big picture of energy and global sustainability. Farmers need to earn a fair living for their work. Currently only 7 cents of the price of a loaf of bread goes to the farmer.
The injustices of cheap food affect African Americans particularly strongly. John refers us to Leah Penniman’s inspiring book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land. He heard her keynote address at a conference of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. John says “We need to hear her messages about farming, society, justice and our future.” We owe it to Black farmers to give them credit for their work in sustainable agriculture (CSAs, raised beds, cover-cropping, pick-your-own farms, and growing hot weather crops). And we must recognize that the US food system is based on exploitation, on stolen land, stolen people and enforced labor. That’s why food is cheap. And why there are food deserts and diet-related illnesses mostly where People of Color live.
The author is also a beekeeper, and a couple of the articles reflect this. Beekeeping these days is complicated by the parasites and diseases honeybees are dealing with, as well as loss of habitat and forage plants, and deadly assaults from pesticides. France has become the first country to ban all five pesticides that kill bees. We need to care for pollinators, native and imported (as honeybees are). We can plant bee-friendly plants, plant only unsprayed shrubs, trees and annuals.
Regenerative agriculture includes steadily building up soil organic matter, maintaining plenty of soil microbes, getting the right bacteria:fungi ratio for your crops, increasing biodiversity above and below ground, improving water filtration and water-holding capacity, producing nutrient-dense food, and bringing in a good profit. John recommends Gabe Brown’s book, Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture. The Brown family farm 5000 acres in North Dakota, with diverse crops, no synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, fungicides or pesticides. They use minimal herbicides and no glyphosate (RoundUp). They also raise livestock.
This brings us to the topic of managing livestock in a healthy regional food system. Some people believe that eliminating all animal farming is the best way to feed the planet. We can probably all agree that confined animal feedlots with cattle raised on corn and soy, and no grass, is not healthy or sustainable at all. The global percentage of greenhouse gases from livestock farming is 14.5%, although the figure is less in the US (maybe only because we produce higher percentages of emissions from other sources!). Some people have shown that holistic management practices used to raise livestock, especially ruminants in a responsible way, on integrated farms, can benefit the environment, the farm, and the diners. Soil organic matter can increase dramatically on well-integrated farms. White Oaks Pastures in Georgia, has succeeded in off-setting at least 100% of their beef cattle’s emissions, by using Holistic Management grazing practices.
Meanwhile, in the home garden, we can care for the soil by keeping it covered with crops or mulch as much of the time as possible. Never leave the soil bare over the winter, as used to be recommended before we understood the importance of soil organic matter and feeding the soil food web. John’s system for beds with no overwintering crop, involves pulling up or cutting down weeds and crop residues, spreading them over the soil, adding ½-2 inches of compost along with any needed amendments such as trace minerals. Top this with tree leaves, straw or hay. In spring, you can ease apart the mulch to pop transplants in without turning over the soil, which disrupts fungal hyphae, microbes and worms. This method also solves the problem of soils that are too wet to till or dig over in early spring.
John is making compost at the rate of 60 cubic yards per windrow on his farm. This qualifies as a “mid-size” compost operation. He uses a hot composting method, and pays close attention. Compost feeds the soil and its inhabitants, adding micro- and macro-nutrients for the plants. Soil microbes create pores in the soil, improving the structure, and welcoming larger soil-dwellers such as worms.
Food security is a frequently heard phrase. It means having access to enough nutritious food at a price we can afford. During World War Two, many people grew Victory Gardens and were able to get a lot of their diet from their own garden, or trade with a neighbor. After the war, Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs) became more widespread. People could see the sense in supporting people to grow their food right nearby.
The author includes a three-part series on starting a garden, which is a masterpiece of economy with words. As in many of his articles, he takes the opportunity to give a shout-out to creators of other resources. Here he mentions John Jeavons’s How to Grow More Vegetables, and Eliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower. He adds three points from his own experience: improve the soil, boost the organic matter, encourage biodiversity. In part two he covers deciding what to grow and how much of it. Choose the size, method and plant selection so that you will enjoy it. Plan energy-saving methods (like mulching). Consider extending the seasons with shade cloth or rowcover, so you can enjoy the products of your labor for longer. Feed the soil, let the soil feed the plants. In part three he addresses pest control and choosing suitable varieties for the local area. Healthy soil grows healthier plants, that grow healthier people. Create a healthy ecosystem, learn about pest lifecycles. If you run into pest problems, look for organic pest controls in Peaceful Valley, Arbico, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Seven Springs Farm in Floyd, Virginia. For locally adapted vegetable varieties, buy from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (good friends of mine). He does provide names of some of his favorites – get the book!
Plant trees on your land. Look for cost share programs from the local branch of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and look for young trees at the Virginia Department of Forestry nursery. Consider trees that provide fruit, nuts, flowers and nectar for pollinators. Grow yourself a windbreak. Trees sequester carbon, clean the air, hold water in the soil, and benefit bugs, birds, shade and anyone needing a rest.
Another article is about collards, a southern vegetable coming into new fame. Plant in the fall, eat them all winter. Plant some more in the spring, but don’t let them get big and bitter. You can eat collards from December to June. Season extension in the fall can provide a lot of extra food (not only collards), for not much more effort. Plan in August. Keep the summer crops as long as productive, by covering them with rowcover when it gets cold. After the first cold spell of fall, there is usually a few weeks of warmer weather.
Climate change is a hard-work topic. John suggests we focus on working for the change we want, rather than protesting loudly about the things we don’t want. Find ways to address specific issues. Plant trees, grow a garden, travel less. Go to City Hall with constructive requests: ask for an ordinance permitting backyard chickens, or a local composting program for food and paper waste, or an urban farm.
And talking of backyard chickens, John has a couple of articles about those. He started 20 years ago with 30 birds, primarily for eggs, and for their benefits on the farm. He still raises hens for eggs and also breeds them to supply others with small flocks. He recommends chicken tractors, coops on wheels, to move around the farm, to spread their benefits. Go into chicken-keeping with your eyes open. The responsibility is bigger than that of growing vegetables. Chickens need food and water; they need adequate housing; they need shutting in at night to protect them from marauders. You, or someone, needs to be home every night and morning to care for them. John recommends Harvey Ussery’s book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.
John has a thoughtful piece on the wisdom of real experience. Keep an open mind, look deep and wide. He talks about a period in his 20s “following self-created trouble” when he lived alone in the mountains for a while. Contemplation of nature, and focusing on daily needs left him time to think. He also took seriously the maxim “Don’t believe everything you think.”!
And then, as recently as January 2022, John had a stroke. He got help from loved ones, friends and professionals, and learned more about gratitude. He took several months away from writing his column, and found two people to keep his farm going. He learned to accept help. He eventually sold New Earth Farm to Kevin Jamison, who grows ingredients for his oceanfront restaurant in Virginia Beach – Commune. The restaurant has a big commitment to using local ingredients as much as possible. 90-100% of their ingredients are farm-sourced at any one time. John has helped nourish the local food system.
We are feasting on our winter salad mixes now, so I decided to write a post to encourage more people to grow winter salads.
Just how viable this is for you depends on your winter climate zone and your facilities. In the coldest of places with nowhere except your kitchen or a windowsill, you can grow sprouts and microgreens.
To grow sprouts, get some organic seeds, soak them in a jar, then fit a straining lid, which can simply be a piece of fabric held in place over the open mouth of the jar with a strong rubber band, or, if using a Mason jar, the metal ring part of the lid. Drain off the extra water, then set the jar on its side, with the seeds distributed evenly along the side. Rinse and drain twice a day, until the sprouts are the size you want. Here’s a couple of websites.
You don’t need to follow these directions word by word, but if you do, it will work. Other methods can also work. Just be sure to rinse and to drain!
The enthusiastic author of How to Grow Microgreens, Sylvia Fountaine, lays out a 6-step process and provides a video. Microgreens are basically seedlings, with stems and green seed leaves. Sprouts are mostly root and stem, as you may have noticed.
·For outdoor lettuce I stop sowing August 29, transplant those 9/22 and expect to harvest them 12/10 – 12/31. I add hoops and thick rowcover when it gets cold to keep it growing.
·For winter growing in coldframes, I sow 9/1, 9/3, 9/5, 9/7, 9/9 and transplant 9/25 -10/8. Leaves from those plants can be harvested all winter until we need the cold frames to harden off spring transplants in mid-late February. We cover the coldframes with rowcover when it starts to get cold, then plastic-glazed lids as it gets colder, and quilts for really cold spells. These days we are more likely to direct sow spinach in the frames than transplant lettuce. It’s hardier and faster growing.
·From September 11-17 we sow lettuce every other day in our outdoor nursery bed, to transplant in our unheated greenhouse (double glass windows, solid north wall, rarely freezes in there). We harvest those lettuces by the leaf all winter until we need to dig out the compost they are growing in to fill our seed flats in early February.
·On September 15 and 24 we sow lettuce outdoors in a nursery bed, to transplant in our hoophouse10/15 and 10/24. Those lettuces will feed us all winter, 11/16-3/1, if we simply harvest the outer leaves, rather than cut the head.
·On October 23 we start sowing lettuce mix in the hoophouse. We sow successions of baby lettuce mix directly in the soil 10/24, 12/31, 2/1, 2/15. The last one, on 15 February, will be 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.We like Fedco’s 2981LO Lettuce Mix OG or Johnny’s Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix #2301. For those with challenging growing conditions, both companies offer other specialized selected mixes. 1 oz (28gm) of seed sows about 600 ft, (200m)
·We sow “filler leaf lettuces” in our hoophouse 10/23, and 11/9, to use for gap filling (replacing casualties). 1/25 is our last date for filling any gaps in the hoophouse beds with lettuce plants. After that, we fill all gaps with spinach plants.
·So, we have different “stop-dates” for the different types and locations, but no complete Lettuce Stop-date.
o8/29 Last date for sowing for outdoor row-covered lettuce
o9/9 last date for sowing to transplant in coldframes
o9/21 last date for sowing for planting in an unheated greenhouse.
o9/24 last date for sowing for planting into a double-layered hoophouse
o11/9 last date for sowing “filler leaf lettuces”
o2/15 last date for sowing baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse.
How should people not in central Virginia calculate their own stop dates? Using the same numbers as above for the various types and locations:
Figure out how late in the year it’s worth having lettuces outdoors. When does the temperature drop to 20°F (-7°C)? Stop sowing for outdoors 3-4 months before then. (Our 8/29 sowing is harvested by 12/31, but our 8/20 sowing is harvested by 11/25). It’s worth experimenting to find which date works best. Outdoors, I have found that lettuce may survive an occasional dip to 10°F (-12°C) with good rowcover. Consult your Extension Service and the website WeatherSpark.com. Fill in your location and look at pages of useful info about the weather where you are.
Figure when yourcoldframes get down to say 15°F (-9°C). This might be when the outdoor night-time low is 10°F (-12°C), lower if you have a well-insulated coldframe. We have some old quilts to roll on top of our coldframe on nights below 15°F (-9°C). Perhaps lettuce won’t make it all the way through winter in a coldframe in your climate. If so, be prepared to clear the plants when it gets too cold. Calculate back to figure when to sow – allow 4 months to get full sized lettuces.
Figure when your solar double-paned-glass and masonry wall greenhouse gets down to ° (-9°C), or add a small heater with a thermostat to keep it warmer than that. Calculate back to the sowing date, allowing for the fact that plants grow quicker in a greenhouse than outdoors or in coldframes. Maybe allow 3 months.
As far as daylight goes, on 9/24 everyone everywhere is pretty much getting the same amount wherever we live. With a hoophouse, the goal is to grow plants to harvestable size by the time you no longer have lettuce from outdoors (refer to #1). It probably only takes 2 months to grow a lettuce big enough for leaf harvest in a double layer hoophouse. Just be sure not to over-harvest in the winter. We have had lettuce survive a double layer hoophouse temperature of 10.4°F (-12°C) without any rowcover (sometimes called an inner tunnel), and -2.2°F (-19°C) with.
At this point calculations switch to what happens after the Winter Solstice. When do you plan to start harvesting your first outdoor lettuce again? Aim for a two-week overlap with both hoophouse and outdoor lettuce available in the spring. Work back from your hoophouse harvest end date to find the last worthwhile sowing date for filler lettuces. Because lettuce bolts easily when it gets warm in spring, play it cautious. We plan to start outdoors 4/15. We stop transplanting lettuce in the hoophouse 1/25, 2 1/2 months before then. Sowing filler lettuce too late is not really a problem – you can cut it as baby lettuce. But avoid transplanting it just to have it bolt.
If your climate is cold, or you don’t mind only getting one or two cuts from baby lettuce mix, you can carry on sowing it until the soil temperature reaches 86°F/30°C (max temp for lettuce germination). If it is warm, do be sure to water often, so the lettuce doesn’t turn bitter. Otherwise look to you first outdoor lettuce and clear the baby mix when the outdoor crop is ready.
See my post Lettuce All Year in a Changing Climate 8/31/21. It includes links to all my Lettuce of the Month series, and includes my slideshow Lettuce Year Round and our 2022 Lettuce Varieties List, to help you choose varieties we recommend for different times of year.
For ideas on mixing various crops in winter salads, see Making Salad Mix 10/31/17 and Fast Growing Vegetables3/24/20. Winter salad mix is also known as mesclun or spring mix (even though we are growing it in the winter). Spinach and many brassicas grow faster than lettuce in cold weather, and make delicious salads.
Also, check my Asian Greens of the Month posts. This post from April 2018, includes at the end links to each of the series. Many Asian Greens make great salad crops. The frilly mustards featured in this post are a good example.
For information on the temperatures that many crops will die at from cold, see Winter Kill Temperatures2021. I was updating this list each spring. 2022 seems to have slipped by. I don’t think I had any new information, as the winter wasn’t extreme (although we had a long and memorable power outage!).
We’re back in my monthly series about small fruits that can be grown sustainably in the Mid-Atlantic and other places with a similar climate. We are in 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.
Quinces are the focus fruit for December
Quinces are large yellow aromatic fruits like fuzzy apples, growing on large shrubs. They are ripe when the fruit are golden-yellow and have a good smell. I was taught to wait until they 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, but is almost no work. They make delicious jellies and fruit butters.
The UK Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has great info. This thorough website includes a monthly calendar of activities, written for the United Kingdom, where quinces are harvested from September. For comparison when reading British websites, the UK fits in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 through 9. (Remember this scale refers to winter temperatures only, not summers!) The coastal areas are zone 9, most of southern England is zone 8, northern England zone 7 and the central Scottish Highlands are zone 6.
Reasons to grow quince
Quince trees are easy-care, not prone to many peat or disease problems. As well as being productive, they have attractive blossoms in late spring. There are options for spaces of all sizes, and can even be grown in large pots if necessary.
Start harvesting quince fruits in October or November, when they have turned from light yellow to golden yellow and are very aromatic. Leave them on the tree as long as possible to develop their flavor, provided there is no danger of frost. Use pruners to cut fruit from the tree with an inch or two (2-5 centimeters) of stem attached. Handle ripe quinces gently – they are hard but do bruise easily.
Storage of quinces
Only store undamaged fruits. Store quinces in a cool, dry, dark place in shallow trays. Make sure the fruits don’t touch, and don’t wrap them at all. Allow the quinces to mature for 6-8 weeks before cooking. You may want to keep quinces away from apples and pears as the aroma can spread to other fruits. See the Special Topic for December below.
Quince fruit storage problems
Fruit in storage needs to be monitored for rots and disorders. Fungal diseases usually attack damaged fruit and are worse in poor ventilation. Clean your storage spaces and containers thoroughly each summer to reduce the risk of brown rot.
Discoloration is not always caused by rots; some disorders appear in storage too.
Scald: Dark blotches resulting from gases emitted from the fruit.
Bitter pit: dry, brown sunken spots which appear during storage. Like water core, it is related to insufficient calcium during growth.
Core flush (pink or brown flesh around the core): usually the result of carbon dioxide build-up, if ventilation is poor (common in apples stored in plastic bags).
Water core: a disorder giving flesh a glassy appearance. It is caused by sap accumulating in the gaps between the fruit cells. It may disappear during storage, or it may get worse, leading to browning and the breakdown of flesh.
Internal browning: Pears and quinces are prone to this disorder that is found at harvest time or may develop during storage. It can be caused by environmental conditions during fruit development, poor storage conditions or internal rots.
Shriveling: caused by high temperatures or a lack of humidity, or both. If necessary, damp down the floor occasionally to maintain a moist atmosphere, or lay damp burlap over the fruit.
Choosing quince trees
Quince trees (Cydonia oblonga) come in many shapes and sizes, to suit all gardens. You can buy large spreading trees for attractive specimen trees in an open space, or half standards that suit smaller gardens. Compact forms grow well in large containers. An 18in (45cm) container is the smallest feasible, and 2ft (60cm) would be best. To keep quince bushes small, prune the top and roots each winter.
Quince trees reach a height and spread of 12–16ft (3.75–5m), depending on the rootstock, site, and soil type. Quince trees can be bought as grafted plants, on ‘Quince A’ (semi-dwarfing) or ‘Quince C’ (dwarfing) rootstock, or on their own roots, and are best bought as two-year-old trees with the first branches already formed.
Quince trees do not need a second tree to pollinate them. They are self-fertile and usually start bearing fruit when 3-6 years old.
Serbian Gold is a very good cropping quince with a good resistance to leaf blight. The fruits can be large and often apple shaped.
Champion is greenish-yellow, with tender flesh and a delicate flavor.
Cooke’s Jumbo is a large, yellowish-green fruit with white flesh, 6-8” (15-20cm) in diameter.
Orange, and Apple both have orange-yellow flesh, smooth golden skin and rich flavor, with high aroma.
Pineapple has white flesh and smooth yellow skin and a slight pineapple flavor.
Smyrna has large fruit with light yellow flesh and tender lemon-yellow skin.
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 good variety descriptions.
Quinces are often confused with the shrub Chaenomeles (Japanese quince), the fruit of which is also edible (but small).
Where to plant quinces
Quinces tolerate a range of soils, but do best in a deep, fertile, moisture-retaining soil. They grow well when near ponds and streams, but will not do well if waterlogged. Add plenty of organic matter to light or shallow chalky soils before planting and mulch well afterwards.
Although hardy, quinces need a warm, sunny, sheltered spot, as the flowers open early and are susceptible to frost, and also, good sun exposure is needed for the fruit to ripen. Avoid planting in frost-pockets. In zones 8-9 they can be grown in the open. But further north or in colder or exposed sites, they are best planted in a sheltered spot, such as against a south- or south-west-facing wall.
How to plant quinces
Plant quince trees between November and March, while they are dormant. If planting more than one, bush trees should be spaced about 12ft (3.5m) apart, and half-standards about 15ft (4.5m) apart. Stake the trees for the first 3-4 years. See the RHS step-by-step guides for full planting details.
Care of quince trees
Quinces flower early in the year, so if frost is forecast during bloom, protect the blossom on smaller trees with rowcover or burlap, removing it during the day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers.
Feed quinces in early spring before growth starts. Avoid overfeeding if fire blight can be a problem in your area, as lush new leafy growth is susceptible to this bacterial disease, Erwinia amylovora.
Propagation of quince trees
There are several methods of propagating quince, including budding (chip and T-budding), grafting, hardwood cuttings and layering of low branches, and by removing suckers. Root cuttings are also possible for ungrafted trees.
Pruning quince trees
Quinces fruit mostly on the tips of the shoots that grew the previous year, with few fruiting spurs. Prune quinces in winter during dormancy. Remove dead, diseased, dying or damaged branches, and any congested or spindly ones. Maintain well-spaced branches on a single stem, removing surplus branches as they grow. Once established, only light pruning is needed, apart from the removal of any crowded or low branches. The branch framework should be along the same lines as for tip-bearing apple trees.
For good crops, prune every winter, thinning out to improve light and air reaching the center. Remove no more than a quarter of the oldest branches, cutting back to the point of origin or to a shoot that is one-third of the diameter of the branch being removed. Prune out crowded branches, very vigorous shoots and spindly branches. If side shoots are less than 9” (23 cm) long, they can be left unpruned to bear flowers and fruit at the end of the growth the next season. Longer side shoots should be pruned back to about 6” (15 cm) long. Head back drooping and leggy branches. Remove any suckers around the base, and prune off any unwanted shoots on the main stem.
Black knots on branches and trunks are natural and should not be removed.
Quince fruits are not usually thinned unless there is an over-heavy crop that threatens to break the branches.
Common problems of quince trees
Many of the insect pests that attack apples and pears, including codling moth and winter moth caterpillars, also attack quinces, but rarely cause serious problems.
The caterpillar of the codling moth can burrow into quinces in summer, leaving fruit ridden with tunnels and frass. You can hang pheromone traps in the branches of trees in May to lure and trap the male moths, disrupting mating. You can spray a biological control on the fruit and the soil around the trees in the fall to kill caterpillars leaving the fruit.
Fire blight is a serious bacterial disease that infects plants through their flowers. It is spread by splashing of rain or irrigation water. Cut out infected shoots (with a margin for safety) and burn them or put them in the trash.
Brown rot is a fungal disease causing fruit to brown and rot in patches. Attacks are worse in wet weather. Remove and destroy all infected fruit, and prune out branches that have become infected.
Powdery mildew is another fungal disease. It shows as a white powdery coating on the leaves. Remove and destroy infected leaves. Milk sprays can be effective.
Quince Leaf Blight. Photo UK RHS
Quince leaf blight is a fungal leaf spot disease, showing as red-brown spots on leaves which then wither and die. Fruit may be spotted and distorted. Prune out affected leaves and stems and destroy them.
Rake up and dispose of affected leaves in the fall to prevent the disease overwintering. Prune out any dead shoots in the dormant season. Feed and water plants well to encourage more leaf growth.
Rots may develop where fruit cracks or splits if a drought period is followed by heavy rain.
This information comes from Harvest to Table and the UK RHS, who have good photos of quince problems and suggestions on what to do.
Other small fruits still available in December
Persimmons – we have a banner year!
Dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves.
Stored apples and pears.
Wintergreen is a frequently overlooked native wild fruit. The tiny berries often persist through the winter (I guess they’re not too popular with wildlife. . .)
Frozen medlars can be eaten when picked from the tree
Other fruit care in December in the mid-Atlantic
Cut fall raspberry canes to the ground after the leaves have dropped. Weed raspberries.
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.
Read books: See my reviews of Levy and Serrano Cold-hardy fruit and nuts, and Blake Cothron’s Berry Grower. The RHS recommends Harvesting and storing garden fruit by Raymond Bush (Faber and Faber 1947, ISBN 54053000473672). Plan more fruit and place orders for delivery after the coldest part of winter.
Special Topic for December: Fruit storage
If handled carefully and stored in suitable conditions, fruit from your garden will store for weeks, or even months.
For comparison with other stored fruits:
Quinces will keep for 2-3 months, after maturing.
Mid-season apples keep for 4-8 weeks
Late season apples need to mature for 4-5 weeks and can then last several months
Pears will store between 2 weeks and 3 months, depending on storage conditions
For example, varieties that store well includes:
Dessert apples: Cameo, Crispin, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Goldrush, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Idared, Jonagold, Macintosh, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Rome, Winston. There is a long list of other less well-known storing apples here.
Cooking apples: Bramley’s Seedling, Cortland, Lane’s Prince Albert. Also see the Washington State Extension list here.
Dessert pears: Bartlett, Conference (needs maturing after picking) and Doyenne du Comice (also needs after-ripening)
Cooking pear: Catillac
Suitable storage places include basements, garages, or sheds, if they are:
cool, with a temperature of 37-45°F (2.8-7°C) for apples and, if possible, cooler for pears (pears can be stored in a fridge salad compartment).
free from rodents
Five steps to storing fruit (from the RHS)
Gather containers such as crates, slatted shelves, papier-mâché trays or shallow wooden or cardboard boxes. Ideal containers allow good air movement through the sides and over the top.
Select undamaged, medium-sized fruits, ideally with their stalk intact. Those picked just under-ripe usually store best
Lay the fruit in a single layer not touching each other. Place fruit gently to avoid bruising. If necessary, apples can be stacked on top of each other.
Keep different cultivars (varieties) separate as they ripen at different rates. Ideally, keep mid-season cultivars away from late-season ones so that they do not speed up ripening. Likewise, do not store fruit planned to keep a long time near any produce that is sprouting or rotting. They emit ethylene which speeds up ripening.
Label the boxes. Keep fruit away from strong scents that may taint them such as paint, and onions. Quince have a very pungent smell and are best kept away from other fruit
Check stored fruit regularly:
Pears can ripen and pass their best quickly so check daily. In warm conditions they will soften slightly when ripe but, in cooler storage, ripeness will be indicated by a subtle change in color and they’ll then be ready to bring into the kitchen for a day or two to soften before eating
When one tray of fruit is reaching optimum ripeness, remove it from storage promptly as the ethylene released may speed up the ripening of the remaining fruit in storage
Discard any fruit that show signs of rot to prevent disease spreading
Wrapping apples individually in newspaper or tissue paper can help them keep longer but will slow down the task of regular inspection.
If no suitable storage conditions are available, small quantities of apples can be put in plastic bags in the fridge to store for a few weeks. Fill a bag with 4.5-7lb (2-3kg) of fruit, pierce several holes in it and fold the top loosely to allow air circulation.
Storing some pears loose in the salad compartment of the fridge can help to delay ripening until after those in storage have been used.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Applying these principles to dealing with early spring aphids
Prevent infestation Control ants (which farm aphids for their sweet excretions). Try repellents, or trap crops of nasturtiums.
Cover or protect physically with fine mesh netting.
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.
Monitor crops at least once a week
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.
Hand pick and kill. Handpicking aphids is likely impossible, so blast them off the plants with a water jet from a hose.
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
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.
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.