New and Upcoming Online Events 2020-2021

I’m making this extra mid-week post because I haven’t offered many events this year, and you may have stopped looking on my Events Page!

Click here Make the most of the offseason by getting a step up on planning next year’s garden with this informative and enlightening course from author and Fair speaker Pam Dawling. Workshops include setting your garden goals (how to plan and which crops to grow), mapping, crop rotations, growing transplants, scheduling seedlings, interplanting, contingency plans, and so much more! (Note: If you’ve registered for the All-Access bundle, you now have access to this course!)

Mother Earth News Fair Online

My new contribution to the Mother Earth Fair Online has just arrived – a Garden Planning Course of eight workshops, with handouts, and a resource list.

Workshops include setting your garden goals (how to plan and which crops to grow), mapping, crop rotations, figuring out how much to grow of what, growing transplants, scheduling seedlings, interplanting, contingency plans, and so much more!

Click here to read more and sign up. You can get my Garden Planning course for $20 or the 2021 All-Access Package at $2.99/month or $35/year – the complete collection of online courses (currently 39) and recorded webinars – with more than a dozen new courses in the works! Each online course includes 6-8 video workshops of about 30 minutes each and supporting materials (called “handouts” in the days of physical in-person events).

I also have a workshop on Winter Cover Crops in the Winter Gardening course. There is a link to that course just below my photo on the page I linked to.

This can give you an inspiring way to invest some time this winter. We know lots of new gardens were started in 2020, and maybe you are dreaming of a bigger and/or better garden in 2021. Turn your dreams into plans and get off to a smooth start! 

This big Online Fair also makes a nice gift! (Scroll to the end of the View All Courses second page, for the All-Access Gift icon, 39 courses for $75. It includes a half-price offer on all courses that will be added during 2021.

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Organic Growers School 28th Annual Spring Conference

Online, March 13-21, 2021

The Organic Growers School Spring Conference 2021 is all virtual this time! Attendees will learn how to farm, garden and live organically through 12 tracks and more than 30 workshops.   You won’t have to choose between two or more great workshops that are on at the same time. This year you’ll be able to “attend” every one. In your pajamas if you want.

Kick-off Live Event on March 13, 2021  

  • Three live Keynote Talks
  • Teaser videos for our 12 Themed Tracks
  • Lunchtime Entertainment
  • A live Q&A with our Keynote speakers
  • A video social with other attendees
  • Access to our Exhibit Hall

March 14-19, 2021 – Themed Track Workshops

View 3 pre-recorded hour-long workshops in each of 12 Themed Tracks:

    • Keynote
    • Cherokee Foods
    • Cooking
    • Farming
    • Food Systems
    • Gardening
    • Herbs
    • Livestock
    • Mushrooms
    • Permaculture
    • Soils
    • Sustainable Living

March 20-21, 2021 – Live Track Closing Panel Discussion Sessions

  • Join a live Panel Discussion with each speaker from the Track workshops
  • Interact directly with panelists during the live Q & A portion

In the Gardening Track, Ira Wallace and I will be presenting The Seed Garden. Details to come, as we iron them out.

Garden cart with supplies for watermelon seed collection.
Photo Pam Dawling

I have been slow to join in the world of online events for a few reasons.

One is that in my rural county, we have poor internet connections and slow speed. I cannot reliably participate in a video conference where I’m one of the speakers. The service could just drop my connection at any time. This is a reality of many parts of rural America. We need something like the Rural Electrification Act to bring us into the 21st century. 2017 marked the 80th anniversary of that piece of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

A second reason is that I live as a member of Twin Oaks, an intentional community, where we share values of cooperation, sharing, nonviolence, equality, and ecology. We also share our resources. That includes our bandwidth. We have chosen not to spend a lot of our income on funding fast internet (it could be a deep black hole).

A third reason is that we have chosen to stay home as much as possible, to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection in our large household. Our group includes people who are more

vulnerable, due to age or health. We chose to self-quarantine, and think of ourselves as in a big bubble. It’s wonderful not to need masks or distancing at home. Anyone who goes off the farm has to be careful about masking and distancing, and about sanitizing on return, even quarantining alone for two weeks if the risk seems high. Going into a city to do video-conferencing is just not something I’m willing to do!

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Articles in Growing for Market

I’ve started a new run of writing articles in Growing for Market, a magazine. Upcoming is an article about collards. In recent months I’ve written about both wet and dry seed processing, planning garlic planting, and methods of growing sweet potato slips.

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Articles in Mother Earth News

I have an article coming up in the Mother Earth News magazine, about making and using open wood flats for seedlings and transplants. I also contribute to their blog, in the Organic Gardening section.

Vegetable harvests, articles on seed saving and garlic planting, workshop on cover crops.

 

Close up of Cow Horn okra pods.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

There are several aspects of vegetable harvesting. In this post I will look first at maturity indicators, then at four ranges of cold-hardy crops for harvest at various stages of winter, followed by a reminder of the order for harvesting storable crops, according to the coldest temperature they can take. After that I have links to a couple of other websites with great information on these topics, a mention of two articles on seed saving  and one on garlic planting I have in Growing for Market magazine. And a link to a Mother Earth News Fair Online workshop on establishing winter cover crops.

Harvest and Maturity Indicators

Don’t harvest too soon or too late. How do you know when it’s ready to harvest? Different factors are important for different crops. Use all your senses.

  • Size: Cow Horn okra at 5”/13 cm (others shorter), green beans a bit thinner than a pencil, carrots at whatever size you like, 7”/18 cm asparagus, 6”/15 cm zucchini
  • Color: Garden Peach tomatoes with a pink flush. The “ground spot” of a watermelon turns from greenish white to buttery yellow at maturity, and the curly tendrils where the stem meets the melon to turn brown and dry. For market you may harvest “fruit” crops a bit under-ripe
  • Shape: cucumbers that are rounded out, not triangular in cross-section, but not blimps. Sugar Ann snap peas get completely round before they reach peak sweetness.
  • Softness or texture: eggplants that “bounce back” when lightly squeezed, snap beans that are crisp with pliable tips. Harvest most muskmelons when the stem separates easily from the fruit (“Full slip”).
  • Skin toughness: storage potatoes when the skins don’t rub off, usually two weeks after the tops die, whether naturally or because of mowing.
  • Sound: watermelons sound like your chest not your head or your belly when thumped. Try the “Scrunch Test” – press down firmly on the melon and listen and feel for the separation of the ripe flesh inside the melon.

Cabbages are fully mature when the head is firm and the outer leaf on the head is curling back. Ignore the separate “wrapper leaves” when making this judgment. If you need to keep mature cabbage in the ground a few days longer, twist the heads to break off some of the feeder roots and limit water uptake, and they will be less likely to split.

Mature cabbage showing curled leaf on the head.
This educational photo of a split cabbage is provided by Firesign Farm

Broccoli
Select blue-green broccoli heads and harvest them before the flower buds open, but after they’ve enlarged. We press down with finger-tips and spread our fingers to see if the head is starting to loosen.

Young immature broccoli head after rain
Photo Wren Vile

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn will be ready to harvest about three weeks after the first silks appear. Corn is ready when the ears fill to the end with kernels and the silks become brown and dry. An opaque, milky juice will seep out of punctured kernels. You can use your thumbnails to cur through the husk on the side and view the kernels. Don’t make your cut on top of the ear, or the dew and rain will get in and rot the corn.

Sweet corn ears are mature when the silks die and turn brown. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Mature Sweet corn ear.

Garlic

Garlic is ready to harvest when the sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50% of the crop. See Ron Engeland’s Growing Great Garlic. Harvesting too early means smaller bulbs (harvesting way too early means an undifferentiated bulb and lots of wrappers that then shrivel up). Harvesting too late means the bulbs may “shatter” or have an exploded look, and not store well.

Cut across hardneck garlic – airspaces around the stem show maturity

Music garlic cut open showing gaps around stem – a sign of maturity.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Garlic bulb cut horizontally to check maturity (good now or soon).
Photo Wren Vile

Onions

Wait until the tops fall over to harvest, then gently dig up the whole plant and dry. Leave the dry, papery outer skin on the onion for protection.

Onions curing and drying in strings. Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Four Ranges of Cold-Hardy Crops for Harvest at Various Stages of Winter

  1. Crops to keep alive into winter to 22°-15°F (-6°C to -9°C), then harvest. Harvest and use soon: Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, chard, lettuce, radishes. Harvest and store: beets, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, kohlrabi, winter radish (including daikon), rutabagas, turnips. Many greens and roots can survive some freezing, so it is worth experimenting to find how late you can keep crops outdoors.
  2. Hardy winter-harvest crops: cabbage (Deadon), carrots, collards, kale, leeks, parsnips, scallions, spinach. We grow our winter-harvest crops in our raised bed area, which is more accessible in winter and more suited to small quantities.
  3. Overwinter crops for spring harvests before the main season. Some crops, if kept alive through the winter, will start to grow again with the least hint of spring weather and be harvestable earlier than spring plantings. Depending on your climate, the list can include carrots, chard, chicories such as radicchio and sugarloaf, chives, collards, garlic, garlic scallions, kale, lettuce, multiplier onions (potato onions), scallions, spinach. In mild areas, peas can be fall sown for a spring crop. Sow 1″ (2.5 cm) apart to allow for extra losses.
  4. Winter hoophouse crops: The rate of growth of cold-weather crops is much faster inside a hoophouse than outdoors. The crop quality, especially with leafy greens, is superb. Plants can tolerate lower temperatures than outdoors; they have warmer soil around their roots, and the pleasant daytime conditions in which to recover. Salad greens in a hoophouse can survive nights with outdoor lows of 14°F (–10°C) without inner rowcover.

In my post Root Crops in October, I gave this list of storable crops in the order for harvesting, related to how cold they can survive.

Clear and store (in this order):

  • Sweet potatoes 50°F (10°C)
  • “White” Peruvian potatoes 32°F (0°C) approximately
  • Celeriac 20°F (°C)
  • Turnips 20°F (°C)
  • Winter radish 20°F (°C)
  • Beets 15-20°F (°C)
  • Kohlrabi, 15°F (°C)
  • Carrots 12° F (°C)
  • Parsnips 0°F (°C)

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Here are some links to a couple of good sources for more harvest information:

  1. Piedmont Master Gardeners Garden Shed Newsletter

Guidelines for Harvesting Vegetables by Pat Chadwick

A list of seven basic principles of harvesting, followed by a crop-by-crop list of almost 50 individual crops and a resource list of 18 publications (focused on the mid-Atlantic and Southeast)

  1. October Tips from Harvest to Table, by Steve Albert covers all climate zones and comes complete with a USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Prepare your garden for colder weather, plant winter crops where there is still time, harvest crops that will suffer from cold, construct low tunnels with rowcover or clear plastic to keep crops somewhat protected from wind and cold temperatures

Links to other posts by Steve Albert

How to Prepare a Winter Vegetable Garden

Predicting Frost in the Garden

Garden Tips for October


Growing for Market articles

Harvesting seeds this fall?

I have written articles for Growing for Market magazine about growing and saving seeds (August and September issues), and planting garlic (October issue).

Given the shortages of some varieties this spring, it wouldn’t surprise us if more people tried producing seeds of vegetable or flower varieties this year. Here are links to articles from the August and September magazines, covering wet and dry seed processing.

Roma tomatoes cut in half for seed extraction.
Photo Pam Dawling

Wet seed processing and saving

Wet seeds are embedded in fruit. Wet processing has four steps: scooping out the seeds or mashing the fruit, fermenting the seed pulp for several days, washing the seeds and removing the pulp and then drying the washed seeds.

Read the article “Wet seed processing and saving”

Dry seed processing and saving

Dry seeds develop in pods, husks or ears, and dry on the plant rather than inside a fruit. While you obviously want to get seeds into the hands of growers before they need to plant, and into seed catalogs before they get printed, often there is no urgency to extract the dry-seeded crops from their pods. You can wait for a slower time, or use seed cleaning as a rainy-day job.

Read the article “Dry seed processing and saving”

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Mother Earth News Fair

I have a workshop on Winter Cover Crops for Gardeners as part of the Mother Earth News Fair Online Winter Gardening Course. The Winter Gardening Course features 7 videos, each 21-44 minutes long. Mine’s 32 minutes on cover crops.

You can enroll for the 8-course Winter Gardening Course for $20.

Or choose the 2020 all-access course bundle of 21 courses (over 100 videos) for $150.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My recent work in Growing for Market, Mother Earth News and pepper research

Seed saving and processing

August 2020 Growing for Market magazine

Heads up everyone saving seed from their tomatoes, melons, or squash this year, in anticipation of possible seed shortages next spring! Or because you have the time at home to figure out how to do it, and you’re around to stir the bucket three times a day! I have an article on wet seed processing in the August issue of Growing for Market magazine.

Roma tomatoes cut in half for seed extraction.
Photo Pam Dawling

Also see my post on washing and drying tomato seeds, with lots of photos.

The next issue will have my article on dry seed processing (think beans, peas, okra, lettuce).

The current issue also has a couple of interesting articles on how to move step-by-step towards no-till growing, or at least minimum-till. Many gardeners and farmers have floundered while making this transition, so learn from the experienced! And there’s an article by Julia Shanks on balance sheets, for those intending to make a living farming.


Winter Cover Crops for Gardeners

A no-till cover crop mix of winter rye, hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas and crimson clover.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I have a workshop on Winter Cover Crops for Gardeners as part of the Mother Earth News Fair Online Winter Gardening Course. The Winter Gardening Course features 7 videos, each 21-44 minutes long. Mine’s 32 minutes on cover crops.

You can enroll for the 8-course Winter Gardening Course for $20.

Or choose the 2020 all-access course bundle of 21 courses (over 100 videos) for $150.

Or before summer is over, go for the $120, 8 course (56 videos) Summer Bundle.

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What went wrong with our hoophouse peppers in 2020?

Diseased hoophouse pepper plant.
Photo Pam Dawling

Our 2020 hoophouse peppers were stunted, crinkled, yellowing and failed to thrive.

Possibilities:

  1. Too cold in edge bed A (drafts under baseboard)?
  2. Too wet in bed A (rainwater under baseboard, not much drying out due to shade of tomatoes)?
  3. Nutsedge poisoning: roots exude something that inhibits other plants?
  4. Soil too salty?
  5. Soil nutrients poor?
  6. Aphids
  7. Aphids spread a virus? (plants were crinkled)
  8. Are we sowing hoophouse peppers too early? In cells that are too big?
  9. Are we transplanting hoophouse peppers too early? Keeping them in in cells that are too small?

Possible solutions

  1. Be sure to block drafts all winter. Try not to plant peppers in cold edge beds.
  2. Close one row of driptape if soil in edge bed A seems excessively wet compared to other beds. Re-dig outside moat to keep soil water out.
  3. Do better about weeding out nutsedge. Investigate soil properties that encourage nutsedge.
  4. Use beds C and E instead of middle bed D when doing salt water wash down. Poke out holes in sprinkler, ensure all are working. Get a better sprinkler.
  5. Do soil tests in October and remediate soil as needed.
  6. We could monitor for pests and act promptly
  7. Deal with aphids and avoid viral diseases
  8. Sow later, in smaller cells.
  9. Transplant later, after potting up to bigger cells or pots.

Summary of ideas after our meeting and reading 2020 records:

  • Use fresh seed
  • Go back to deep 6 cells for sowing, (smaller than R38)
  • Use more appropriately warm growing conditions. Peppers don’t recover well from setbacks. They remain stunted long term.
  • Test soil and act accordingly.
  • Ensure salt wash-down reaches the edge beds.
  • If planting in chilly edge beds, ensure the baseboards are not drafty.
  • Don’t overwater.
  • Remove nutsedge whenever we see it
  • Monitor for pests; deal with aphids to avoid long-term virus diseases.
Pepper plant with aphids. Photo Pam Dawling

Hoophouse Pepper Records Research

  • We have been sowing 2/3 for a 4/7 transplant date. That’s maybe too long. 9 weeks.
  • 2/3/20 Hphs peppers sown as scheduled. Used R38s rather than usual deep 6s. It’s recommended not to sow peppers in large cells – they are slow growing, and it’s hard to get the watering right in large cells.
  • 2/11 -2/14 Peppers germinated. We had some trouble with keeping the germinating chambers up to temperature because we didn’t have the right lightbulbs.
  • 2/15 – 2/17 Heat mats not all plugged in or working right.
  • 2/21 resowed Gilboa. PeaceWork was old seed, poor vigor? Or low germ rate?
  • 2/28 Gilboa resows had been in tent but weren’t actually germinated. Back in fridge.
  • 3/4 – 3/9 Potted up. Is this true? R38s don’t normally get potted up. Maybe due to patchy germination?
  • 3/16 In ghs drafty zone
  • 4/5 Ghs door left open all night
  • 4/12 Ghs door left open all night again.
Hoophouse peppers in a better year!
Photo Pam Dawling

Info from Sustainable Market Farming  and The Year-Round Hoophouse

  • Sow 8-10 weeks before you intend to transplant.
  • We used to sow our hoophouse peppers 1/17, then 1/24, then 1/31, then 2/3.
  • Minimum temperature for germination is 60F, optimum 68-95F.
  • Peppers seem to produce stockier plants if soil temperatures are 65-68F, max 80F daytime, min 60F at night after germination. Use a soil thermometer.
  • Transplants getting slightly cooler nights will grow sturdier plants that flower later and have more potential for big yields. Rowcover at night if 40F or below.
  • After third true leaf, can reduce night temp to 54F. May increase yields.
  • But, permanently stunted by conditions that are too cold.
  • Keeping them in pots or cells that are too small will set them back. If transplanting is delayed, pot up to larger size, eg tomato pots.
  • Pot up when a few true leaves appear. After that no heat mat needed.
  • We moved our transplanting date from 4/1 to 4/7 (one week after tomatoes is usual)
  • Transplant at 6-9 weeks, with 4 or 5 true leaves, not yet flowering. OK if they are big.
  • Soil for transplanting should be at least 60F, ideally 68F
  • Avoid transplant shock. Soil needs to be damp before, during and after transplanting. Avoid root damage or bending. Shade if hot, sunny or breezy.
  • For the first week after transplanting, keep warm.
  • Established peppers benefit from 70-75F days, 64-68F nights
  • Maintain sufficient levels of boron, calcium, phosphorus.
  • Monitor and control aphids and thrips to prevent the diseases they vector.
  • An inch of water per week is about right.
  • Foliar feeding with fish or seaweed emulsion once a week after fruit set.
  • 65-80 days from transplant to full-size immature fruits, and another 2-4 weeks to ripe fruit.
  • Yields should be 5-18 lbs/10ft.

Ideas after rereading those sources

  • We might do better to set the sowing date a week later (2/10), keep the transplant date at 4/7 and aim for an 8 week-old transplant? (Avoid colder conditions)
  • We need to pay more attention to temperatures of germination, seedlings and potted transplants. Write the goal temperatures on the Seedlings Schedule
  • We need to pay more attention to not overwatering seedlings. Write that on the Seedlings Schedule too.

Everything You Need to Know About Garlic; Money and More

 

Softneck garlic ready to harvest
Photo Pam Dawling

We started harvesting our hardneck garlic on May 26 this year. One of the earliest harvests we have on record.

I’ve written lots on garlic in this blog, it’s one of the most sought-out topics. To cut to the chase, here’s my Garlic Recap.

Many of these are posts in my Alliums for the Month Series:

Harvesting garlic scapes
Photo Wren Vile

For a second opinion, see Margaret Roach (who grows in Massachusetts) in A Way to Garden

Music garlic cut open showing gaps around stem – a sign of maturity.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Of the many other posts I’ve written on garlic, that are not mentioned already, starting with harvest and moving round the calendar, there are:

Harvest

Garlic Harvest step by Step

Harvesting Garlic

Garlic Harvest

Garlic harvest, Intercropping, Summer lettuce,

Garlic harvest finished, fall crop planning, tomato bug heads-up

In September 2020, a reader asked:

In this blogpost https://www.sustainablemarketfarming.com/2013/07/05/snipping-sorting-and-storing-garlic/ you discuss that if a garlic bulb is larger or smaller than 2-2.5″, it should not be used for planting.  I’m wondering if you could discuss this in a blogpost perhaps.  I grow Polish White softneck and Turban hardneck, and I’ve been using the largest bulbs I can find for planting both.    I sort the Polish first though, and use only the biggest cloves from each softneck bulb (culls I dry or pickle).  I feel that with the Polish, over time I’ve been increasing my size, and people really like that to purchase.  I would be so very interested to read your reasons for the sizing.  I’m currently sorting for fall planting and was mulling this today and thought I would just ask to see if you might enlighten your readers.  Thanks.

My reply is:

Ah, the hazards of writing a brief article! You can plant any size garlic! Using large cloves from large bulbs usually gives the highest yields, and will, if repeated every year, steer your crop towards bigger bulbs. However, there is a limit: the very largest bulbs are often irregular, and have got large by growing lots of cloves, some of which are very small. As this is probably not what you want to steer towards, don’t use very large irregular bulbs as planting stock.
Yes, I totally agree that if your bulbs are now generally 2.5″ or larger, you are doing the right thing.
Garlic hanging in netting to dry and cure.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Drying and Curing, Snipping, Sorting and Storing

Garlic drying and curing methods

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic 

Planting garlic

Sustainable Farming Practices slideshow, garlic planting, annual crop review

Garlic Planting and Freeing Trapped Shoots

Winter radishes, planting garlic.

Garlic scallions in March
Photo Pam Dawling

Garlic scallions

Harbinger weeds of spring, and early garlic scallions

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest!

Too much rain! But garlic scapes to cheer us up.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

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My DONATE button

I’ve added a donate button, for those who’d like to use it (via PayPal or credit card). We’re all staying home, not going to conferences or fairs. This is reducing my opportunities to collect speaker fees or sell books face to face.

More people are reading my blog (thank you!). There are thousands of new or returning gardeners across the country, aiming to get fresh air and exercise while usefully putting their time into providing food for their households. There are experienced professional growers trying hard to make their farming more efficient, and pivot to find ways to still earn a living and not lose the farm, due to loss of markets.

I put a lot of energy into providing useful info and practical details, and so if you are finding my posts helpful, and you can afford to, please consider clicking the pay-what-you-can button.

Together we’ll get through this difficult time and reach better days again.

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Birth of Assassin Bugs

Debbie Roos, an Agricultural Extension Agent at Chatham County Center, North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the founder of www.growingsmallfarms.org is a wonderful photographer,. She recently reposted this.

A couple of years ago I posted a series of photos on my Growing Small Farms website showing assassin bug nymphs emerging from their eggs. It was an amazing thing to witness and not something you see every day. Folks really enjoyed seeing the photos back then and since it’s spring and time for more to emerge I thought it would be fun to share the photos again now that so many people are spending so much time at home!

Adult wheel bug feeding on a Japanese beetle. Photo by Debbie Roos. Click here to visit NC Cooperative Extension’s Growing Small Farms website to view the photos.

Be on the lookout for these egg clusters on your property and you may even get lucky and witness the birth of an assassin!

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Quick-Growing Vegetable Crops

Steve Albert has an informative website, Harvest to Table, and this post on quick-growing vegetables includes some warm weather crops like bush green beans and sweet corn. It includes names of fast-maturing varieties.

I wrote Fast Growing Vegetables in March, focusing on early spring crops. If you are still racing to catch up, or in need of more crops that yield quickly, see Harvest to Table.

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How to Fight Hornworms

On the Mother Earth News blog, my post How to Fight Hornworms has been very popular, and has led me to make an article for the Mother Earth Gardener magazine

This magazine is “a quarterly publication committed to giving you in-depth expertise to bolster your organic garden each and every season. Roll up your sleeves and learn soil-boosting strategies, permaculture practices, and more! Formerly known as Heirloom Gardener.”

Tobacco hornworm on tomato leaf
Photo Pam Dawling


16 things I know about growing tomatoes

From Margaret Roach at A WAY TO GARDEN

Margaret writes about home-grown seedlings, finding flavor, choosing between hybrids and open-pollinated varieties, saving seed, good tomato-hygiene, monitoring for pests and diseases, pruning, staking or otherwise supporting the plants, and dealing with the weather.

Jubilee tomato in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

 

Hoophouse Musings, Bugs, Okra, Edible Landscaping Workshops in Maryland

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse!
Photo Wren Vile

Winter hoophouse posts in Mother Earth News newsletter

Sowing and Transplanting Winter Crops in a Hoophouse

Grow Great Lettuce in Winter

Winter hoophouse lettuce
Photo Kathryn Simmons

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A photo of a Tiny House from Wikipedia

Would you live in a hoophouse?

A reader wrote in:

“I have actually been thinking of building a tiny house and putting it inside a big hoophouse, creating a living area that would include a yard, trees, and gardens – allowing me to snowbird in place in northern New England – but I’m concerned about outgassing, since I’d be there almost 24-7 most days (I work out of my home). Have you done any research on outgassing of hoophouses?”

A Tiny House is generally a residential structure under 400 sq. ft

First off, No I haven’t done any research about hoophouse off-gassing, but I wouldn’t worry about out-gassing from the polyethylene of the hoophouse. Other products  are much closer to your nose: All the materials used to construct, preserve and decorate the house and all the products within the house, such as furniture,  fabrics, soaps, appliances etc.

There are some other things I’d wonder about:

1.      Temperature. When the sun shines, the interior of the hoophouse warms up. When the sun doesn’t shine, it doesn’t. Would you heat the tiny house? You’d have to avoid heating systems that could damage the plants.

2.      Snowfall. When it snows, you need to remove the snow from the roof of the hoophouse. Some snow can be carefully pulled down from the outside. Usually we also walk around inside the hoophouse bouncing a broom on the inside of the plastic to move the snow off. You can’t do that if you have a house in the way.

3.      Humidity. In the winter we grow cold-tolerant hoophouse crops. We are aiming for 65 F (18C). We need fresh air for the plants and to deter fungal diseases. It doesn’t work to keep the hoophouse sealed up and “cozy”!

4.      Strong winds. In hurricanes and gales, hoophouses sometimes collapse or get destroyed. You don’t want to be inside when that happens.

5.      Height. Our hoophouse is less than 14 ft (4 m) at the apex.

In conclusion I’d say it’s better to have a small patio seating area within your hoophouse for suitable sunny days, rather than plan to live inside all the time.
Brassicas in a nematode-fighting hoophouse crop rotation in Hawaii.
Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa’a Farms

Do you value crop rotation in your hoophouse?

A reader in the Pacific Northwest wrote: “This winter I have been re-thinking my crop rotation plan after having some issues (with flea beetle larvae in the soil outsmarting my diligent insect netting of my brassica salad crops). These days I see intensive market gardeners seeming to not worry so much about rotation (i.e. Neversink farm, etc), and yet I’ve always been taught that it is such an important principle to follow. I reviewed your slideshows on crop rotation and also cool crop planning in the greenhouse (which briefly addresses salad brassica rotation with other crops). With how much space I have and the high demand I have for brassicas, for salad mix (mustards) and also the more mainstay cole crops, I had settled on a 2.5 yr between brassica crop rotation (but planting two successions of mustards in the same bed within one year, in the year the bed was in mustards, with a lettuce or other crop breaking up the successions, with the idea that they were very short day and also light feeder crops). Wondering if you think this just doesn’t sound cautious enough, or if this sounds like a reasonable compromise with not having more space to work with (and wanting to satisfy the market demand for brassicas).”

I replied: “Yes, I do think crop rotation is important. I do know some farms seem to have given it up. I think what you are seeing shows one reason why rotation is important. In our hoophouse, we do as you do, allocating brassicas to a space for that winter season and perhaps doing more than one round of brassica crops. Then moving away from brassicas for the next two winters. If doing that doesn’t get rid of the flea beetle problem, and you are being thorough about netting with small-enough mesh netting (sounds like you are, but maybe check the mesh size), then my next step would be spinosad when the flea beetles appear. You can spray the inside of the netting too, and close it quickly. It’s that or a longer rotation, which it sounds like is not financially viable. You could also try farmscaping and/or importing predatory insects (not sure if there are any), Are there beneficial nematodes that attack flea beetle larvae? These are things I don’t know about, but might be worth looking into.”

 

Late sweet corn and sweet potatoes
Credit Ezra Freeman

Sweet Potato fends off bugs

Modern Farmer has this fascinating article about sweet potato plants alerting their neighbors to pest attacks.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute and the National Taiwan University found that when sweet potato plants are attacked by insects, they emit a bouquet of odors and start production of a protein called sporamin that makes them unappetizing. Neighboring sweet potatoes sense the odors and start their own production of sporamin.


 

A new Tokyo bekana transplant attacked by vegetable weevil larvae October 10
Photo Pam Dawling

Insect damage cause stress-response production of anti-oxidants

In a related piece of news, Agrilife Today from Texas A&M AgriLife Research has found some evidence that wounded plants produce anti-oxidants as a stress response, which may make them healthier for human consumption. Read the report here.

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist Spring Series

Michael Judd in cooperation with Common Market CO+OP is presenting a combination of hands-on workshops at Long Creek Homestead and evening talks at the Common Market, Frederick Maryland.

Click here for info on Spring Workshops/Talks/Tours

·        Inoculating Mushrooms

·        Fruit Tree Grafting

·        Herb Spirals

·        Creating Growing Beds- Swales and Hugelkultur

·        Edible Landscaping & Straw Bale Home Tour

·  For the Love of PawPaws


 

Fire Ants have reached Toronto

A reader wrote in that the European Fire Ant is now found in Toronto.


“There were two nests of these in my allotment garden 2018.
They actually moved the nest in order to be closer to the zucchini
plants.  Hand on heart: I never had  any cucumber beetles develop past
the instar stage.  The ants did not eat the eggs but they ate the larvae
as soon as they hatched.  Same for potato beetle.  My neighbours had
the best cucumber harvest in history. 
What I’ve read is these Fire Ants kill colonies of native ants.  Summer 2019 I had a Pavement Ant war that went on for days.  Clearly the Fire Ants did not wipe them out.  There are black ants and other smaller red ants
in my garden.  The Fire Ants appear to have moved on for some reason known
only to themselves.   Perhaps they too have enemies.”
“There’s a guy with a Youtube channel who keeps ant colonies.   AntsCanada although he is in the Philippines.  What happened was the feral Pharaoh Ants invaded his colony of Fire ants and killed them.  Pharaoh Ants are much smaller but perhaps that’s what gave them the advantage.   We have Pharaoh ants in Toronto also.   I spend a lot of my time looking at the little critters in my garden.  Like red velvet mites:  there were many in 2016.  Have not seen a single one in two years now. “

Video of Okra Taste Testing

Chris Smith, author of The Whole Okra

Chris Smith, author of  The Whole Okra: Chris has a video of
the taste testing on  Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAy0pouxlME

Garlic scapes, yellow spinach, and listen-while-you-work

 

Garlic scape harvest. Photo Wren Vile

The seasons are changing, and I notice fewer people are searching my website for Winter-kill temperatures and more are searching for garlic scapes, and (sadly) sprouting green potatoes!

We’ve been harvesting scapes from our hardneck garlic for over a week now and have been tackling the sequence of tasks that scapes act as a prompt for:

  1. Weed the hay-mulched broccoli and cabbage beds next to the garlic
  2. Weed the garlic
  3. Carefully lift out the hay-mulch-and-weeds combo from the garlic beds, into wheelbarrows
  4. Take it to the broccoli and cabbage beds and use it to top up the mulch there.

This gives the garlic good airflow and helps it dry down (our scapes arrive 3 weeks before we need to harvest). I notice it’s earlier this year. We may be harvesting at the end of May, rather than in the first week of June. We need to clean and prepare the barn where we hang the garlic to cure, and service the box fans we use to help that process (our climate is too humid to cure alliums without fans). For a lot more about garlic throughout the year, see the “alliums” category of posts.

What causes spinach leaves to turn yellow?

A bed of healthy green Reflect spinach on May 3
Photo Pam Dawling
A bed of sad yellow Reflect spinach only 10 ft away.
Photo Pam Dawling

On a less happy topic, we have been puzzling over the difference between one bed of spinach (green) and another about 10 ft away (yellow)

We had two beds of transplanted Reflect spinach from the same planting that came out very differently this spring. One developed yellow older leaves, the other stayed green. Seizing an opportunity, we transplanted the troubled one (30W) directly after tilling, on 3/2, without allowing the turned-under weeds to decompose. We did spread compost before tilling. Although initially healthy, later the older leaves developed all-over yellowing (not just between the veins). The other bed (27W), transplanted 3/18, about 10 feet away, has stayed healthy and green, up until May 14. We’ve lost track of when it was tilled relative to planting. Or, because we had such wet weather, we might have broadforked rather than tilled. Both beds now have pointy leaves and are getting ready to bolt. No difference in that. Our other beds of spring spinach, transplanted 3/5 and 3/13 are between the two mentioned in color. Is the problem entirely to do with the decomposing weeds (and the micro-organisms they are feeding) tying up the nitrogen? It looks like that.

In an effort to save the yellow spinach, 30W was weeded around 5/2 and the bed was sprayed in the evening 5/3 with seaweed extract. It rained 0.1″ the night of 5/4 and again 5/5, then no more rain before the second set of photos 5/9 – could the seaweed have washed off before it could be absorbed? We did not add a spreader/sticker (soap) to the seaweed spray. There might have been overhead irrigation, which could have washed it off. We don’t remember when it was irrigated relative to the seaweed spraying.

We also don’t know if there were differences in transplanting techniques between the beds, but as both beds were transplanted by several people working together, we can probably rule this out.

The bed of green spinach on May 9 – note how the leaves are pointy – the spinach is preparing to bolt.
Photo Pam Dawling
In 2016 both beds had spring spinach (three year rotation).

30W (yellow) then had buckwheat, compost and late squash 7/18/16, followed by winter wheat.

In 2017 it had compost, tomatoes 5/2 and winter wheat.

In 2018 it had buckwheat and soy, compost and late bush beans 8/3, leaving weeds over winter.

Total about 14 months food crops.

27W (green) had buckwheat and soy followed by oats in August 2016.

In 2017 it had compost, spring turnips, buckwheat and soy, compost and lettuce in August, followed by weeds over the winter.

In 2018 it had compost, carrots 3/27, compost, turnips 8/6 and weeds over the winter.

Total about 11 months of food crops.

The yellow spinach (no greener) on May 9.
Photo Pam Dawling
  • Possible causes of yellow spinach leaves include poor drainage, soil compaction, damaged roots/poor root growth, high soil pH, too much or too little water, too low or too high a temperature, or perhaps cold temperatures followed abruptly by very warm temperatures, 80°F or greater; nutrient deficiencies or disease. In our case, the beds are close together, receiving identical weather. Perhaps 30W is a bit drier.
  • Nutrient deficiencies may occur due to insufficient amount in the soil or because the nutrients are unavailable due to high soil pH, or nutrients may not be absorbed due to injured roots or poor root growth. Our roots grew OK, we don’t tend towards alkaline soil
  • The most common nutrient problem associated with chlorosis is lack of iron, but yellowing may also be caused by manganese, magnesium, boron, zinc, or nitrogen deficiencies.
  • Iron deficiency starts on young leaves and may later work towards the older leaves (which initially had enough iron, as a transplant). Can occur in water-logged soil. The veins can remain green. Not the problem we have – our older leaves are yellower.
  • Deficiencies in manganese, zinc or nitrogen develop on older leaves first and then progress upward.
  • Within older leaves, magnesium is transported from the leaf’s interstitial areas to the veins, resulting in yellowing of the areas between leaf veins. This creates a marbled appearance, a typical symptom of magnesium deficiency. Our leaves were yellow all over.
  • Nitrogen deficiency. Overall yellowing (including veins). The lower, older leaves appear yellow first as the plant moves the available nitrogen to the more important newer leaves. Spinach is sensitive to inadequate nitrogen. Our main suspect.
  • Boron deficiency also yellows the leaves and stunts spinach plants. We do tend to run short of boron, and my approach was to add boron before brassicas. We haven’t added any for several years and the only brassicas in these beds were turnips in 27W in spring 2017 and fall 2018. Did we add boron in 2016/2017?
  • Spinach is a heavy feeder. Feed with compost tea, manure tea, or fish emulsion when plants have four true leaves. Side dress with compost tea every 10 to 15 days. Mix 1 tablespoon of fish emulsion and 2 tablespoons of kelp extract per gallon of water; use about one cup per one-foot of row on a weekly basis until plants are about 4″ (10 cm) tall; then feed two more times before harvest. Add mature compost to planting beds twice each year.
  • Fusarium wilt or fusarium yellows (also called spinach yellows) is a fungal disease which infects plant vascular tissues. Fungal spores live in the soil and can be carried by cucumber beetles. We certainly have lots of striped cucumber beetles! But these plants did not wilt. See the photos here:
  • Harvest to Table is a great website with lots of reliable growing information.
  • Identifying nutrient deficiency in plants
  • Guide to Symptoms of Plant Nutrient Deficiencies
Listen While You Work

Harold Thornbro of The Small Town Homestead interviewed me about hoophouses and you can listen to the interview here. It’s about 50 minutes.

I also gave an interview for the Yale Climate Connections

This one is short (1 min 30 sec) and more about Twin Oaks Community than farming in particular.Play it directly above, or See the webpage here

There is also a link to a longer CNN story about Twin Oaks

Hoophouse Many Crops slideshow, Hoophouse Squash article in Growing for Market, Modern Farmer

Here’s my Many Crops, Many Plantings slideshow from my shared Friday morning pre-conference intensive workshop at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference.

Scaling Up: Maximizing High Tunnel Production
Gena Moore, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community

High tunnels provide high-value space for growing various crops throughout the year, but maximizing production comes with challenges. In this workshop, Gena and Pam will discuss how to effectively use high tunnels to maximize potential. Topics include monocropping for wholesale production, diversified high tunnel production, and effective management throughout the year.


The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article on Hoophouse Squash and Cucumbers for Crop Rotation.

We transplant one bed each of summer squash and bush cucumbers in our hoophouse on April 1st. This gives us harvests a month earlier than the outdoor crops. It also helps us have a crop rotation (compared to tomatoes and peppers in all the beds every year.) We find that people really enjoy early squash and cucumbers, as a welcome change from winter crops, and a harbinger of what is to come. We end the squash and cucumber sin July, once the outdoor plantings are bearing well, and use the hoophouse space for cowpeas or edamame, usually. Summer cover crops would be another fine option.

Hoophouse squash between beds of tomatoes in July.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

A great resource I discovered quite recently is Modern Farmer. 

Lots of interesting article, including the good news for certified Organic growers that the paperpot system is now accepted under Organic regulations. See

Machine Makes Planting a Breeze https://youtu.be/J_ia4KpVLKs via @YouTube

Paperpot transplanter.
Photo Johnny’s Seeds

There are sections on animals, how-to, politics, videos, environment, lifestyle, recipes, food & drink, plants and technology. You can sign up to receive their weekly newsletter.

While at teh CFSA Conference I participated in the High Tunnels Bus Tour, and saw a whole hoophouse planted wall-to-wall with lettuces at 6″ spacing using one of these. For next week, I’ll sort out my photos from that event and also my visit to Potomac Vegetable Farms where Zach Lester is focusing on protected crops using hoophouses and caterpillar tunnels.


Lastly (how can I forget), my publisher, New Society, is doing a Book Giveaway on Facebook this week (starting Nov 15) with my new book The Year-Round Hoophouse. It’s on their Facebook page and Instagram. Enter a question, I answer it, and someone wins a copy of the book at the end of the week (very soon!)

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

Potato harvest.
Photo Nina Gentle

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

Here are our “Root Cellar Warden” instructions:

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

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

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

    Potato crates in our cellar.
    Photo Nina Gentle

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Dormancy Requirements of Potatoes

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

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

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

Potato Sprouting Conditions

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

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

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

——————————————————————————————————————–

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

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

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

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

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

Root Cellar Construction

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

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20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather

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

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

Harvesting squash and cucumbers, Starting Seeds in Hot Weather, ATTRA tutorials

Gentry squash in our hoophouse.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

 Harvesting squash and cucumbers

The weather has heated up, the squash and cucumbers are growing well, and the combination leads to irritation from prickly leaves on sweaty skin. Some people get quite a rash from harvesting these crops, others just get a short-term itchiness that is cured by rinsing arms and hands in cool water. We’ve come up with a few helpful techniques.

Harvesting Zephyr summer squash, wearing a long-sleeved shirt.
Photo by Brittany Lewis

The first is fairly obvious: wear long sleeves for this task. Keep a suitable cotton shirt handy (near the harvest knives) to slip on before you start. But sometimes it just feels too hot. Gauntlets are another option. We have two pairs of these white plastic sleeves with elasticated ends. We keep one in the hoophouse, clothes-pinned to the rack by the logbook

Using plastic gauntlets or protective sleeves avoids getting skin irritations while harvesting squash.
Photo by Pam Dawling

I don’t know where we got these. It’s very quick to slip them on and off again, keeping the “enclosed” time to a minimum. They are just tubes, they don’t have gloves attached like the ones I used to wear when I kept bees. They are sold as “protective sleeves”, and they look like these or these (see the photo above).

Probably cutting sleeves off an old shirt and hemming and threading elastic in the top end would work.

For cucumbers, we have introduced the use of a pole to rummage in the vines, seeking mature cukes. This is a surprising improvement over using hands or feet to find the fruits. It does little damage, and you can easily feel when you hit a cucumber. The small amount of  time it takes to pop the cucumber off the vine is not long enough for skin to get irritated (for most of us). Also, cucumber vines are closer to the ground than squash vines and leaves, and so your arms don’t get scratched.

Using a pole to locate cucumbers among the vines.
Photo Pam Dawling

Starting Seeds in Hot Weather

A well-germinated bed of young carrots.
photo by Kathryn Simmons

My blogpost on this topic has been published on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. You can see it here. It is based on material in Sustainable Market Farming and in my new book The Year-Round Hoophouse. The post covers germination temperatures, soaking and pre-sprouting seeds.


 

ATTRA tutorials

If you are looking for a reliable source of tried and tested information on Sustainable Agriculture of any sort, try ATTRA Tutorials

“Two new courses outlining Farm Energy Efficiency and Scaling Up for Regional Markets are now available from NCAT/ATTRA. And we’ve added a new quiz feature to each of our tutorials. Each lesson includes a quiz that will test what you learned in that specific lesson. If you successfully pass all quizzes, you’ll get a certificate demonstrating your knowledge!”

Other topics include Food Safety, Soil Health, Managed Grazing, Sustainable Irrigation, Ecological Pest Management, Farm Business Planning & Marketing for Beginners, and Getting Started in Farming.

Twin Oaks Garden blog, rainy day reading, more on hydroponics.

Y-Star Pattypan squash, one of the varieties for the Twin Oaks Garden this year.

Wren, one of the Twin Oaks Garden Managers, has started a blog about the Twin Oaks Garden. This is a great place to check what’s happening in our garden, especially if you also garden in Virginia or some other winter-hardiness zone 7 area.

The new post this week is about What’s New in Spring 2018. There are photos of people at work and also of the new varieties we’re growing this year: Southern Giant Curled Mustard, Purple Peacock broccoli/kale, Canary melon, Flavorburst yellow bell pepper, Y-Star pattypan squash, Royal Burgundy beans (not new to us, but back again), Granny Cantrell’s tomato and Persimmon tomato.

The March issue of Growing for Market is out. Nothing from me this time, but plenty of good stuff from other farmer-writers. Diane Szukovathy writes about starting a 12-member flower producer’s co-op in Seattle. They started with a part-time employee and a simple leased space, working on an indoor farmer’s market model where each farm conducted its own business under a shared roof. They were able to get some USDA funding, and increased their income immediately. Their shared setting was attractive to customers, and a good way to mentor newer growers.

Jesse Frost has written on Understanding Early Blight, with a lot of solid information from Meg McGrath at Cornell (home of the Vegetable MD Online site). Carolina Lees writes about Healthcare beyond hospitals: farm-hospital connections. Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms offers a Farmer to farmer profile of Richard Wiswall (author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook and designer of many labor-saving devices.) Morgan Houk writes about only collecting useful information when record-keeping, not piles of data you’ll never use. John Hendrickson brings us the latest news on the paper pot transplanter (still not certifiable for USDA Organic farms).

Paper pot transplanter,
Photo Small Farm Works

The Spring 2018 Heirloom Gardener magazine has an article from me about Intercropping (planting two crops side by side in the space normally reserved for just one. In early spring we often sow snap peas down the center of a spinach bed (either an overwinterred spinach bed, or a spring-planted one). The same piece of rowcover warms both (until we whisk away the rowcover to a later crop. The peas grow upwards, not competing with the spinach. When the spinach bolts, the next crop is in place with no further work.

In the summer we have sown peanuts down the center of a bed of lettuce, and transplanted okra into a bed of early cabbage. It’s all about timing and about choosing compatible crops. Okra grows tall, while cabbages stay close to the ground. peanuts grow slowly while lettuce grows quickly.

Overwintered spinach with spring-sown Sugar Ann snap peas.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Lastly I have more on hydroponics and Organic Certification.

Last week I wrote about the November 2017 vote at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on hydroponics. Since then I’ve read more information, and realized that the view I presented last time is not the whole picture. It is more complex. Audrey Alwell wrote in the Organic Broadcaster for Jan/Feb 2018, reminding us that the 8:7 vote at the NOSB is not a clear stamp of approval for “organic” hydroponics and aquaponics. The NOSB rules require a “decisive vote” (10:5) for a decision. They did not get a decisive vote to prohibit hydroponics from Organic Certification. This means the situation continues for now as it has been. That is, Organic certifiers can certify hydroponic operations of growers using only approved inputs for fertility and pest management, and if they are protecting natural resources and fostering biodiversity.

The Organic label does not cover all the important aspects of ethical and sustainable farming. Not all Organic practices are sustainable. (Think about removing and trashing plastic mulch!) Social justice and fair trade are not addressed. Some hydroponic  growers use renewable energy, some see hydroponics as more sustainable than Organic. In California, during the 6 year drought, hydroponics helped some farmers survive and produce food. Adaptability is important.

One USDA-accredited certifier, CCOF, says all producers should be pushed towards using renewable energy, in order to reduce impact on natural resources. CCOF submitted a 12-page comment.

You can see the USDA Hydroponics Package slideshow.

Continue reading “Twin Oaks Garden blog, rainy day reading, more on hydroponics.”