Winding down, 41 bags of carrots in!

Washing and sorting carrots at Twin Oaks
Washing and sorting carrots at Twin Oaks

Yesterday was our last garden crew shift of the year. It was a chilly day, so I was glad we had finished harvesting all our carrots while the weather was warmer. Washing carrots in cold water is tough! Our carrots totaled 41 bags, plus several buckets of culled Use First quality. I think that’s the most we’ve ever got for fall carrots. Part of our success has been the realization that we can grow 5 rows per bed rather than 4, and get more carrots from the same space. Last fall we failed to finish our initial thinning, mowed off part of the patch, and abandoned them. In spring we were surprised to find them still alive. I wrote about this in a post “Risking Zombie Carrots: weeding tiny carrots versus weeding broccoli” . This year we got through all the first thinning (to 1″), but didn’t finish the second (to 3″). We found that we got much the same tonnage from the once-thinned section as the twice-thinned. But yield is not the whole story. Our cooks prefer the bigger carrots, from the area that got properly thinned.

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November
Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

So, for our last shift, we liberated some of our garlic shoots from under over-thick hay mulch. This year we planted up to week later than we usually do, and the colder weather meant the shoots hadn’t emerged in time to be liberated before we stopped having shifts with the crew. The picture above shows where we’d ideally be at before the end of shifts. Yesterday we were able to work on two of the beds, but the shoots were quite small and hard to find. The third bed was even further behind (it was planted a day or two later). We roll the hay bales out over the patch immediately after planting, and the thickness does vary. It’s important to walk through and rescue any shoots trapped under thick clods of hay, or they can smother and die. So the last part of the patch remains for those of us year-round Full Crew to tackle on our own. In the winter we have one of us each day responsible for taking care of the hoophouse, putting blown-open rowcovers back and harvesting outdoor kale, spinach, leeks, and as long as they last, lettuce, celery, senposai and Yukina Savoy. This winter we still have some broccoli and cabbage too. Fiesta has been a good late maturing broccoli for us this year.

My book is fast approaching press-time. Kathryn finished her index and sent it in. I wrote “About the author” and sent in another photo to substitute for one that wasn’t high enough resolution. I’ll probably spend this weekend reading a pdf of the whole book, before it goes to press. And then I take off for a few days with friends, to rest and celebrate.

Here’s a photo Ethan just took last week of our hoophouse and its bounty.

DSC00106

12/4/12 Progress update on my book

Image front cover

Since my last update on November 13, we’ve continued to make progress and yet the press date has had to be postponed until December 10. The publication date remains February 1st, even though the off-press date is now more like mid-late January. I still hope to have some books to sign and sell at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference.

The photos for the color section, the extra photos for some of the chapter ends and the late additions to the drawings for heading the crop chapters are all being incorporated by the design and layout people at New Society Publishers.

Kathryn is busy on the index – I looked through that this morning and made some suggestions. She’s a very good indexer and a very good gardener. Sadly, we have to shrink down the index to make up for the extra-long text. The whole book has a maximum number of pages, so some things had to give way. I already wrote about pulling out a few chapters and editing down some of the others. This is a big book – 436 pages last time I looked.

The other task I had this morning was to reconfigure two charts and graphs that had got corrupted by the computer gremlins. It’s been a while since I worked with Excel charts, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find out how to fix it. But after a search and some experimenting, they came out OK, apart from an issue I had with the format of the dates. As an ex-pat Brit, I prefer the Day/Month approach, which is the opposite way round to the American Month/Day system. I also believe that written out month-names are easier to grasp than an endless stream of numerals. So my copy-editor and I agreed on a convention of “April 16”, which is in the normal US order of information, and still keeps the words in. But Excel hasn’t heard of that system. . .

This past week or so I also reviewed the text for the back cover, fixed a crop rotation diagram that had gone awry and read the foreword written by Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market magazine.

Some of my endorsers, the people writing advance praise based on reading an electronic uncorrected proof, have sent me copies of what they’re sending in. That’s a nice gift to receive, enthusiastic approval. I’ve also had helpful suggestions: Mark Schonbeck, one of my beady-eyed endorsers, spotted some errors and confusions remaining. I checked what he wrote, and fixed the previously unspotted ones without messing up the page flow, as it’s too late for that, now the index is underway.

I’ve been thinking about how many bookmarks I want as give-aways, and exactly how many books I’ll buy on my initial order (probably 200-300, depending how many fit in a carton).

Once the index and all the fix-its are done, I’ll get the whole thing as a pdf for 24 hours, to look through, hoping not to find any big troubles.

Meanwhile I’m working on my next article for Growing for Market , and planning slideshows for my presentations in the New Year. I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market (I’ve been gathering photos for that one);

An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh
An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh

one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve also agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming. Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

The slide show from my workshop on growing garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference is on www.slideshare.net. It is tagged by cfsa12, cfsa 12, growing garlic, for anyone who wants to look at that.

Climate Change, or just Weather?

We just had a cold night of 17F, considerably colder than our previous coldest this year (22F). Several people remarked how cold this November has been. Perhaps even colder than any month last winter? I decided to find out.

November 2011 had a low of 22F on 11/12, 11/18 and 11/19. The highest low was  56F on 11/21. The average low was 35.3F. December 2011 had a lowpoint of 18F on 12/12, a warmest night at 60F on 12/7, and the average low was 29.2F. January 2012 had a low point of 9F on 1/25, a “warmest” night of 39F just two days later on 1/27, and an average night low of 22.5F. February 2012 had a coldest night (10F) on 2/13, a warmest night (49F) on 2/2, and an average low of 29.3F.

Young blueberry bush in snow.Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Young blueberry bush in snow.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

So how does this November compare? Our coldest night has been 17F on 11/29, our warmest night 44F on 11/19, with an average of 27.5F. So, November 2012 has had colder nights than Nov 2011 and Dec 2011, but not January 2012.

What about the daytime? Has it been chillier than usual? This November has had a max of  78F on 11/11, a coldest day on 11/27 (46F) and an average of 58.4F, not counting today. November 2011 had a 78F day too (11/14) and much warmer days, the lowest was 50F on 11/17 and 11/18. The average daytime high was 65.9F. Positively balmy! Dec 2011 had a high of 68F on 12/15 and a coldest day at 44F just two days later. The average daytime high was 55.2F. Colder than this November. January 2012 had a high point of 72F on 1/31, a coldest day of 34F on 1/21 and an average daytime temperature of 53F. Also colder than this November.

Overwintered Vates kale.Photo credit Twin Oaks Community
Overwintered Vates kale.
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

We record our daily max and min temperatures and rainfall, enabling us to compile the weather data from the past several years into some interesting graphs. Each year around this time we write up a report for the community about how our gardening year has gone, which crops were successful, which not. We also include an appendix about the weather that year and previous years. The appendix gets longer with each added year, so we shorten the reports from the oldest years, so as to give prominence to weather most people can remember. Here I’ll include just the past four years.

The Weather Appendix

As always, the weather changes –

  • Our 2012 earthquakes numbers 61-82 were recorded between January and July 31. No more aftershocks of the Aug 23 2011 big quake have been recorded since, although I felt two in August. It’s nice to have that piece of history behind us after a year of nervousness. Our last frost was on 4/24, a very patchy light frost. The previous frosts were 4/11-4/14. This fall we had a patchy frost on 10/13, but no serious one till 11/1. January was cold and dryish with freezing rain on 1/20. February was mild and wet, with one 5″ snowfall. March and April were warm. May was twice as wet as average (7.4″), and warm. We had four days of 90F or more from 5/25. June heated up, with temperatures of 99F on 6/20, and 105F on 6/29. Seven days of 92F or more. July was brutally hot, with 17 or 18 days at 95F or hotter, nine of them 100F or more. The hottest was 107F. Slightly more rain than normal. And of course, the impressive/oppressive humidity. August had “only” six days above 95F, September was milder and rainier, with 5.5″, and no major hurricanes for us. October was warm, with daytime temperatures of 70-86F until the last week (the Hurricane Sandy week). We were extremely lucky with that, only getting about 3″ of rain. In my memory, there were long drought periods when the need to irrigate was relentless, but the data don’t support this memory. Funny, that. We actually had 2-7.4″ every month and the longest dry spell was the first two weeks of April.
  • 2011 was often too rainy. January 1st had a high of 62°F, then the month cooled, with several nights of 10°F, one at 4°F, and two snowfalls. February included 6 days with highs over 68°F, (80°F on 2/18), a dusting of snow, a few nights in the teens and a normal amount of rain (1.9”). March was wet with 6.7” rain (twice normal), 7 days at 70°F or more, 6 nights below 25°F. April had 7 very hot days (90°F or more), average rain, and a patchy last frost on 4/14. May was very wet (6.6”), and warm, ending with a string of days above 90°F. June was also wet (6.2”, including one deluge of 4.1”), hot at each end , two days at 100°F, and milder in the middle. July had a brutal two week drought at the end, and a string of 14 days (including 8/1-8/2) with temperatures above 95°F. The highest was 104°F. August continued with high temperatures, but only 7 days over 95°F. We got too much rain (7.7”), including Hurricane Irene, which gave us 2.8” but could have been so much worse. And there was the 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered a few miles from us on 8/23, and the 59 aftershocks registering 1.8 or higher between then and the last for the year on December 24 (mag 2.4) . November gave us a 17 day gap in aftershocks, up until the 5 in 48 hours 11/19-20. September brought another huge 7.7” rain, including Tropical Storm Lee. Temperatures were nice, although it was often hard to work with the soil getting saturated so often. October was pleasant, if still wet (5.5”), delaying harvest of our potatoes and rotting our winter squash. The first frosts came decisively at 25°F on 10/30 and 10/31. November had 3.9″ of rain, December 5.4″.
  • The winter of 2009-2010 was remarkable for heavy snowfalls. The lowest temperature of the winter was –5°F (1/30). There was a series of 22 Nor’easter storms December to March. The last frost was 5/9, long after the first days above 95°F (4/6 &4/7). 2010 had a brutally hot summer. The days above 95°F were 13 in June, 19 in July, 14 in August, 10 in September. Days above 100°F were 2, 11, 2, 2 for those months. The hottest day was 107°F on 7/24. No major hurricanes affected us, although Nicole gave us 2.5” rain 9/29. Statistically speaking, the rain was a normal amount, but when temperatures are so hot, much more evaporates. On 10/2 there was a magnitude 3.0 earthquake with an epicenter between Mechanicsville and Fredericksburg, and another at Ashland, magnitude 2.4 on 10/30. First frost was 10/23. November was mild, but the cold weather kicked in 12/4/10.
  • 2009 started mild then got extremely cold in mid-January, with temperatures below  –5°F.  We had the first significant snowfall in a few years, and the pond froze over for the first time in at least 3 years. Last frost 4/18. We had average precipitation overall, but it was flood or drought, which isn’t good for the garden. We lost the new Ag Well pump and tank in the Tobacco Barn fire, and had difficulties with irrigation. The hottest day was 98°F.  We had a heat wave in early June, but only eight days of 95°F or higher all year. In early November it rained for about four days straight.  First frost was 10/18.

Harvesting carrots, covering spinach

Hope those of you in the US had a good Thanksgiving holiday. We had a lovely meal here at Twin Oaks, and followed our tradition of going round the room giving each person a few minutes to say what they feel thankful for or appreciative of this year. Naturally, with about 90-100 people in the dining room, that takes a while! Many people appreciated the efforts of the garden crew and other food producers.

Since then, back to work! We stop having garden shifts for the year on December 6, so we are focusing on the tasks we really want to get to done by then. One big one is harvesting all our fall carrots.

One of our long carrot beds earlier in the year.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

So far we have dug 15 bags (about 50 pounds each), and are about a third of the way up the plot. We reckon we need at least 30 bags for the winter, so we are in very good shape, looking at getting maybe 45 bags, if we keep moving. The carrots have a great flavor, thanks to the cold nights we’ve been having. And they are in good shape. Not many voles in evidence this fall, or tunneling bugs.

This year we didn’t manage to finish the second thinning, so we started the harvest at the unthinned end of the plot. They are a surprisingly decent size for carrots that only got one thinning. After sowing, we flameweed the carrots before they emerge, then as soon as we can see them we hoe between the rows. It really helps to have evenly spaced parallel rows. Next we weed and thin to one inch, taking away the weeds to the compost pile. Leaving broken carrot leaves and roots can attract the carrot rust fly (root fly), and we don’t want those! After a while we hoe again, including using our Valley Oak wheel hoes in the paths. Then we weed again and thin to 3 inches, saving the bigger thinnings for salad carrots. After that we leave them to size up. It takes about 3 months from sowing to final harvest, with carrots.

Young carrots after their first thinning.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Another of our main jobs now is weeding the seven spinach beds and covering them with wire hoops and rowcover. I do like to weed first, as weeds under rowcover grow so well, hidden from sight. We use double hoops for our overwintering spinach. The inner hoop is thick wire with an eye made at each side at ground level. the rowcover goes on top of this, then the thinner wire hoops which hook into the eyes of the inner hoops. (I have a drawing in my book, but I can’t seem to copy it here.) The hoops hold the rowcover in place when it gets windy, and the rowcover can be pushed up between the hoops while we harvest. In our climate (USDA winter hardiness zone 7a), spinach not only survives the winter; it grows whenever the temperature is above about 40F, which happens quite often under the rowcover. So, provided we don’t over-pick, we can keep the plants going all winter into spring. The hoops also hold the rowcover away from the leaves, preventing abrasion damage.

Where in the world?

Feeling “back-endish” as we used to say in England about the lowering of energy farmers feel as the growing season slows down, I spent a bit of time in the cozy office this morning, reading the statistics on my blog. I’m only mildly embarrassed. It is rather chilly outside and I spent a chunk of time outdoors yesterday afternoon sorting potatoes. I reckon I’m due for some indoors time.

I was curious to see where in the world readers of my blog come from. 71 different countries so far. Naturally the biggest number of people looking at this website are here in the US: 2444 of those. And naturally enough, the other main English-speaking countries are next on the list: 156 in Canada, 79 in the UK, 50 in Australia, 37 in India. Indian readers just leaped from 28 a few days ago. Who knows why? If you’re one of them, please leave a comment on what sparked interest there.

There have so far been 18 readers in Kenya, 9 in Ukraine, 3 in the British Virgin Islands, 2 in Peru and one in each of 23 countries including Qatar, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Moldova and Estonia. I’m curious as to how those people found this site before anyone else in their country. Do tell. . .

Most fun was finding a link to my recent post on winter radish and planting garlic via a translation service that rendered it into Slovenian! Welcome, whoever you are in Slovenia!

Unsurprising to those who love Facebook is the fact that more people view my posts via my page on Facebook than any other way.

And yesterday the site got more visitors than ever before. It’s all a bit of a mystery why this should be. I look at the stats. Some weeks more people look at the site on weekends. Other weeks some random day like Thursday attracts readers.

OK, enough navel-gazing! I’ve got workshops to prepare for, and winter planning to do for our gardens. I’m probably speaking at an event in the Charlottesville, Virginia area in March. More on that soon.

Winter radishes, planting garlic.

Our main task this week has been planting garlic, both hardneck and softneck. As we separated the cloves for planting, we put all the tiny cloves (which wouldn’t grow big bulbs) into small buckets. We use these to grow garlic scallions. Planting them is next on our list.

Garlic scallions are small whole garlic plants, pulled and bunched in the spring like onion scallions. They are chopped and cooked in stir-fries and other dishes. They are mostly green leaves at that point, although the remains of the clove can also be eaten. Hard-core garlic lovers eat them raw like onion scallions. They provide an attractive early spring crop.

To grow garlic scallions,  plant small cloves close together in furrows, simply dropping them in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. (If you’ve just finished a large planting of main-crop garlic, you’ll probably be too tired to fuss with them anyway!) Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw.

A healthy patch of garlic scallions in spring
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

You could plant these next to your main garlic patch, or in a part of the garden that’s easily accessible for harvest in spring. Or you could plant your regular garlic patch with cloves at half the usual spacing and pull out every other one early. Think about quantities, though. If we double planted, we’d have over 7000 scallions, far more than we could use. The danger with double planting is stunting the size of your main crop by not thinning out the ones intended for scallions soon enough. We plant our small cloves for scallions at one edge of the garden, and as we harvest, we use the weed-free area revealed to sow the lettuce seedlings for that week.

With a last frost date of 20-30 April, we harvest garlic scallions from early March until May,  depending on how long our supply lasts out, and when we need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done! Some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall, and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply pull the whole plant once it reaches about 7-8″ (18-20 cm) tall. The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of 3-6 depending on size. If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto, for sale later in the year.

Misato Rose winter radish
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This week we also harvested our winter storage radishes, which we sowed in July. Winter radish varieties have large roots that may be round or long, with white, red, pink, green or black skin. They can be eaten raw, pickled, mixed in stir-fries or cooked like turnips. Our favorites are:

  • Shunkyo Semi-long  (32 days, OP), 4-5″ (10-12 cm), smooth, cylindrical, attractive rose-pink roots with crisp white flesh. The flavor is hot and sweetly nutty. The pink-stemmed leaves can also be eaten. This slow bolting variety can be sown throughout the year in mild climates.

The other varieties in this list are all day-length sensitive, for summer to fall sowing only. They bolt if sown in spring.

  • China Rose (55 days, OP). AKA Rose Colored Chinese, Scarlet China Winter. About 5″ (12 cm) in diameter. Round, with white flesh, pink skin. Cosmetically, this variety is more variable and less beautiful than Shunkyo.
  • Red Meat (50 days, OP). AKA Watermelon. Large round roots, 2-4″ (5-10 cm), depending on how long you let them grow. Green and white skin, with sweet dark pink flesh. Large leaves.
  • Misato Rose (60 days, OP). AKA Chinese Red Heart. Green and white skin, rose and white “starburst” flesh. Beautiful when sliced for salads. Unlike many radishes, this one will still bulb properly if crowded, according to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Attractive, spicy, not sharp, with “a rich sweet vegetable undertone.” Can grow as large as a big beet if given sufficient space. A good keeper.
  • Shinden Risoh Daikon (65 days F-1 hybrid). Daikon (pronounced “dye-kon”) is the Japanese word for radish. Daikon are huge long white roots which store very well and stay crisp for months under refrigeration. They can be grated or sliced thin for salads, pickled, or sliced and chopped for stir-fries. Kim Chee is a traditional Korean pickle made with daikon and napa Chinese cabbage. Daikon can also be harvested small.
  • Miyashige Daikon (50 days, OP). 16-18″ (40-45 cm) long by 2.5-3″ (6-8 cm) in diameter. These “stump-rooted” cylindrical white radishes are pale green near the crown. Very crisp and tender for pickling and storage.
China Rose winter radish
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This year we grew 45′ each of Shunkyo Semi-Long, China Rose, Red Meat and Shindin Risoh Daikon. In terms of yield, the China Rose is the clear winner: 54 lbs from 45′.

And they look very smooth and attractive. Next best in yield was the other pink one, Shunkyo Semi-Long at 25 lbs. The daikon came in at 21 lbs, lower than I expected. Maybe we should have thinned more drastically. A big disappointment was the Red Meat at only 15 lbs. Mind you, this one sells itself on its impressive looks. See the picture above.

Miyashige White Daikon,
Picture credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

11/13/12 Progress update on my book


Since my last update in mid-late October, I’ve chosen the photos for the eight-page section of color photos, and also rounded up and sent in over 30 more photos to use in the spaces at the ends of chapters, where they finish high up the page. By this point I’ve pored through our photo collections so many times I no longer knew which ones were in the text, which were in the color section and which remained available, so I had to scroll through the proof to check each one. That took a while.

The book goes to press in just over two weeks, on November 28, and that will be a great day. – Not as great as publication day will be, but a very significant day in its own right!

Various kind and knowledgeable gardeners, researchers and teachers of organic gardening and farming have read the electronic proofs and written some encouraging praise about my book, for the cover, and Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market, is writing the foreword.

My workshop on growing garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference went well, and the slide show is on www.slideshare.net. It is tagged by cfsa12, cfsa 12, growing garlic, for people to search.

I’ve got several more powerpoint presentations to prepare for. I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market; one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve just agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming

Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

The book will get printed in during December and the publication date is February 1, 2013. I’m excited! And tired!

Hard at work on the book earlier this year

Crop review, harvesting roots

Large Smooth Prague Celeriac
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This week in the garden we have started fall clean-up. We packed away the rowcovers preserving the last rows of green beans, squash and cucumbers, and harvested the last of those crops. Two nights with lows of 22F made it clear it was time. We removed the okra and eggplant “trees”, and pulled up the t-posts from the tomato rows and the asparagus beans. We bundled the asparagus bean trellis netting, along with the bean vines, and tied it up in the rafters of our greenhouse. It will stay there till spring when we will dance on the bundle in the parking lot and shake out the dried bits of vine, so we can use the netting for the 2013 crop.

We discovered we can use our power-washer to clean the t-posts before storing them. This saves a lot of time, and converts the job from a tedious chore with knives and wire brushes into a “power rangers” opportunity. We like to get the posts really clean before storing them to reduce the chance of carrying over soil-borne tomato diseases to next season.

White Egg turnip
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We have started clearing crops which are less cold-tolerant. This week we are working on the vegetables that get killed at temperatures of 25°F and 20°F. Fall weather in our part of Virginia doesn’t usually get this cold this early, but there’s no arguing with it. We’ve got the Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage) in and we’re going for the small bit of bulb fennel soon (both 25°F crops). We’re picking the broccoli twice a week as long as it lasts, although yields are right down now. Next we’re after the celeriac, turnips (no rutabagas this year), and winter radishes. Sadly our fall beets all failed, so we don’t need to dig those. We still have some from the spring crop in good condition in perforated plastic bags in the fridge.  Kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots and parsnips are more cold-tolerant, so they can wait to get harvested in a few weeks. We still have lettuce and celery outdoors under rowcover and hoops. And some of the greens and hardier leeks will feed us all through the winter. Twin Oaks is now in Climate Zone 7a. This means the range of the average annual minimum temperature is 0°F to 5°F.

Popping garlic cloves in preparation for planting
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exhcange

We’re getting ready to plant garlic. The soil has certainly cooled down enough this year! We decided to cut back our total amount of garlic planted this year for two or three reasons. One is that we think we’ll still have enough if we plant 16% less, and maybe we’ll be less wasteful. Another is that we hope the time we’ll save at harvest and curing will enable us to take better care of what we have got, and less will get wasted that way. Another is that it will help our crop rotation in the raised beds, where we grow a lot of alliums – garlic and potato onions over the winter, onions in spring, shallots and scallions in the mix, and leeks from mid-summer to late winter. Sometimes doing a smaller amount well is more productive than over-extending ourselves  with a big crop.

Yesterday we started separating the garlic cloves (“popping” the cloves) at our annual Crop Review meeting. This is when the crew gathers to work through an alphabetical list of crops we grew and talk about what worked and what didn’t and what we want to do differently next year. We plan to try a small amount of West Indian gherkins as an alternative to pickling cucumbers, which seemed plagued by disease. (I saw some very robust gherkins growing at Monticello in September.) We’re looking for a heat-tolerant eggplant variety to trial alongside our well-liked Nadia, which shut down during the early summer heat. We intend to make smaller plantings of edamame next year, and harvest smaller amounts more often, so less goes to waste. We want to try Sugar Flash snap peas and another dwarf early-yielding type of snow peas. (Dwarf Grey works for us, but Oregon Giant didn’t). We’re going to try some purple bush beans to see if that helps us get harvests of nice small beans and fewer ugly giants in the buckets. We debated the harvest size of okra and asparagus too. We vowed to grow fewer different varieties of broccoli and try to find a decent red cabbage. This year we tried Integro, Ruby Perfection and Mammoth Red, but none produced a good amount of nice sized heads. We used to be happy with Super Red 80, but gave it up after two bad years. next year we’ll try Red Express. We strategised about to get red sweet peppers as early as possible.

As the tasks to do outdoors start to wind down, we’re upping the pace of our winter planning season. Our next tasks include doing an inventory of the seeds we still have and figuring out our garden plan, so that we can work towards ordering the seeds we want in sensible quantities.

Book Review: The Seed Underground: Growing a Revolution to Save Seeds by Janisse Ray

The Seed Underground: Growing a Revolution to Save Seeds
by Janisse Ray, published by Chelsea Green, June 2012

A few years ago, I read and enjoyed Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, so I was already primed for excitement when I heard of The Seed Underground. That, plus also being a believer in keeping the genetic diversity of vegetable varieties alive and in the hands of growers.

I found this book inspiring, validating, enthusiastic, thoughtful and entertaining. It has the power to pull us out of any inclination to wallow in hopelessness about our food supply, by providing many ideas, many examples of what we can do to improve the state of agriculture by acting locally to help and support people developing and preserving regionally adapted vegetable varieties.

Janisse exudes a sense of wonder, of fun and of appreciation for those who have been leading the way. And she recognizes that it is her turn to step forward and teach and encourage others. Her central message is to save seeds and not let the big acquisitive corporations control our food supply and therefore the length and quality of our lives.

The book contains stories from her life and stories of farmers, gardeners and organizations who have saved certain seeds: the conch cowpea, preacher beans, keener corn, various sweet potato and tomato varieties, mustaprovince pumpkins, Stanley corn.

Our seed supply is in crisis – when we do not control our own seed supply, we do not control food supply. There is a corporate robbery of the commons (publicly owned, publicly used resources). As the first verse 17th century English protest poem against common land enclosure, The Goose and the Common, goes:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
The last verse is:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.
In other words, we need to cultivate a working system for propagating, preserving and distributing seeds, so that corporately “owned” seed varieties become irrelevant.

The rate of loss of vegetable and grain varieties is very worrying – 43% of all food eaten everywhere across the world consists of just three grains, wheat, maize and rice. A dearth of crops leads to vulnerability, both in the fields and in the body. A crop disease can wipe out an entire variety – think of the Lumper potato in Ireland, the Cavendish banana. Modern wheat is associated with a sharp rise in gluten intolerance and obesity – it isn’t well suited to our needs. My favorite chapter title is “A rind is a terrible thing to waste.” Janisse points out that if we have to peel our apples to reduce the pesticide level before we eat them, it’s bad news.

This book tells tales of the author’s travels to meet various seed growers, breeders and savers as well as seed swap groups. The cast of characters is variously passionate, inspiring, quirky, nerdy and eccentric. New varieties are being breed to grow under organic conditions in particular regions. What are the ethics of profits in this situation? There are stories of seed banks and vaults, with discussion of public access and ownership.

There’s also basic information on how to select good plants, isolate from other varieties, hand pollinate and save seeds. And examples of farmers who banded together to get legislation passed to protect their property rights over their land, plants and seeds. Of course Monsanto should be responsible for their genetic drift when GMO pollen pollutes other plants! The book includes a list of “What you can do” and an eight-page small-print collection of resources.

Hope is valuable, but not essential before action is taken – no-one feeds a child because of what kind of future they hope that child will have. Love leads to determination to strive for what we value, and gives us courage. Don’t use lack of hope as an excuse for lack of action.

Her closing words are “Look around, so many people have put their shoulders into the load. You. Find a place to push. Pick up a tool.” Become a local hero, increase your circle of influence. Claim food sovereignty, preserve local seeds. “Have the courage to live the life you dream. There is nothing greater than this.”

Twin Oaks November Calendar (and December)

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

November -The End is in Sight

During the month

Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce in hoophouse, for January transplants.

Write Thank You Letter to Paracrew (part-time workers)

Early November: Finish up sowing cover crops in Nov. Can sow winter wheat in early November (won’t winter-kill). Sow wheat or rye in carrot beds by 11/30(?), or if too late for cover crops, just spread carrot tops on beds.

Sow onions to overwinter in hoophouse.

Plant hard-neck garlic when soil temp at 4″ deep is 50°F, and mulch immediately, not too thickly.

Plant soft-neck garlic.

Plant leftover small garlic cloves for garlic scallions and garlic greens.

Potato onions: till beds.  11/1-12/1: Plant medium-size (1½-2” diameter) potato onions, at 6”, or wider if supply is limited.  Cover with ½-1” soil, then mulch. If planning a January planting of small potato onions, prep bed and roll mulch now.

Sow spinach (for spring harvesting) in early November if not done already.

Mid November: Free trapped garlic shoots from over-thick mulch, when 50% emerged.

Cover lettuce, spinach (“burns” below 10°F), celery, zukes & cukes and Chinese cabbage. Use double hoops for the spinach, celery, and the last lettuce bed.

Harvest: celeriac (hardy to 20°F), beets (15-20°F), turnips(20°F), kohlrabi (15°F), winter radish (20°F), rutabagas (OK to 20°F), carrots (12°F), parsnips (0°F) in that order. Wash and store in perforated plastic bags in walk-in cooler. Record yields.

After curing, store boxes of sweet potatoes in basement cage (55-60°F, 80-90% humidity).

Sort white potatoes in storage 2 weeks after harvest.

Spread lime or gypsum as needed, referring to soil analysis results.

Potato Onions: sell small ones (<1½”) or store on racks until January. Ideal conditions 32-40°F, 60-70% humidity, good ventilation, layers < 4” deep. Do not seem to suffer from freezing.

Winterize the rototillers and BCS mower.

Planning:

Week 1: Check the accounts and prepare Budget Requests for economic planning. Write Informant. Revise Seed Inventory spreadsheet.

Week 2: Inventory seeds

Week 3: Inventory seeds

Week 4: Seed Inventory: proof reading, etc. File notes.

Perennials: Cut dead asparagus tops with weed whackers or machetes, and remove all ferns. Weed strawberries and spread sawdust in aisles. Weed and fertilize rhubarb, blueberries, asparagus, and spread cardboard and sawdust, (hay for asparagus if possible). Weed grapes, take vine cuttings. Transplant new blueberries if needed.

November Harvests: last outdoor lettuce (hardy to 15°F with rowcover), beets (15-20°F), broccoli (25°F), cabbage (12°F), cauliflower, celeriac (20°F), celery (15°F with rowcover), chard (10°F), fall greens, collards (5°F), fennel (25°F), kale (0°F), kohlrabi (15°F), komatsuna (15°F), leeks (fall leeks hardy to 12-20°F, winter ones to 5°F or lower), parsnips (0°F), scallions (25°F), senposai (12°F), spinach (0°F), tatsoi (10°F), turnips (20°F), yukina savoy (10°F).

December – Time to Rest

Perennials: see November. Cut fall raspberry canes (after leaves have dropped) with pruners, to the ground. Weed raspberries. Hang blueberry drip tape in the branches. Dig docks from asparagus patch.

Plant medium potato onions, if not done in November.

Drain and store the hoses and irrigation. Clean up stakes, labels.

Planning:

Week 1: Prepare seed order spreadsheet. Decide seed order.

Week 2: Revise Lettuce List, lettuce Log. Spend last of money. Check expenditures and spend remaining budget. File the year’s accumulated notes.

Week 3: Put your feet up and read seed catalogs and inspiring gardening books

Week 4: Put your feet up and read seed catalogs and inspiring gardening books

December Harvests: cold frame spinach or lettuce, cabbage (hardy to12°F), celery (15°F with rowcover), chard (10°F), collards (5°F), kale (0°F), komatsuna, leeks (fall leeks hardy to 12-20°F, winter ones to 10°F or lower), parsnips (0°F), senposai (12°F), spinach (0°F), yukina savoy (10°F).

Winter Squash in storage at Twin Oaks potato onion planting, potato onion storage,