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.
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Together we’ll get through this difficult time and reach better days again.
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!
Be on the lookout for these egg clusters on your property and you may even get lucky and witness the birth of an assassin!
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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. “
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:
Weed the hay-mulched broccoli and cabbage beds next to the garlic
Weed the garlic
Carefully lift out the hay-mulch-and-weeds combo from the garlic beds, into wheelbarrows
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?
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.
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.
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 deficiencystarts 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:
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 Marketis 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.
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
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!)
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:
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.)
Gather crates. We store our potatoes in open plastic crates on plastic pallets, which allow ventilation but not rotting or holding of fungal spores.
Like most root vegetables, potatoes store better if they are not washed before storage.
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.
Store in a moist, completely dark cellar, avoiding excess moisture.
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).
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.)
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:
Air in the daytime if nights are too cold and days are mild;
Air at night if nights are mild and days too warm.
Try hard to avoid having the cellar cool down, then warm up. This causes the potatoes to sprout.
Ventilate more if it is damp in there.
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.
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.
Restack the crates in the cellar, remembering to leave an airspace between crates and walls.
For weeks 2-4, the temperature goal is 50°F (10C), ventilation is needed about once a week.
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.)
Avoid wildly fluctuating temperatures, as the stress can cause “physiological aging” which among other things, inclines the potatoes towards sprouting.
Continue to ventilate as needed during times of cool temperatures, to maintain the cellar in the ideal temperature range.
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.
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.
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.
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 CompleteKnow and Grow Vegetables by Bleasdale, Slater and others.
I also wrote about root cellars for potatoes and other vegetables in Sustainable Market Farming and forGrowing for Marketmagazine 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Starting Seeds in Hot Weather
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.
If you are looking for a reliable source of tried and tested information on Sustainable Agriculture of any sort, try ATTRA Tutorials
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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.
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 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).
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.
Lastly I have more on hydroponics and Organic Certification.
Last weekI 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.
The February Growing for Market issue is out, including my article on drip irrigation, which will help people new to drip get started. I was a reluctant adopter myself, maybe 10 years ago, and I’ve become a big convert. I explain the basics and include the options on tape width, wall thickness, emitter spacing and flow rate, to help everyone get the options that’s best for them. I have a worked example of the calculation and links to more information. I show how to figure how long to run the system for each week, and the pieces of equipment you’ll need. I talk about maintenance and repair too.
Other articles in this issue include Chris Blanchard on the Food Safety Modernization Act (pronounced Fizma). Of course none of us want to make anyone sick from eating crops we grow, but if you are a farm with average sales of more than $25,000 worth of produce a year , this new rule applies to you. All the details of exceptions and compliance are in the article.
Sam Knapp writes from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan about tackling quackgrass (Elymus repens) without chemicals. We know this as couch grass, a cool weather wandering perennial with long sturdy white roots. It’s not the same as wiregrass, a bigger problem in the South. That’s Cynodon dactylon, also known as Bermuda grass and scutch grass. It’s a fine-leafed wandering perennial that dies back in the winter. If your problem grass is brown in winter, suspect wiregrass; if it’s green, suspect couch grass. Sam Knapp advises on how to deplete the rhizomes of couchgrass/quackgrass with repeated tillage going into the winter and mowing in summer.
Ricky Baruc writes from Orange, Massachusetts, about mulching with cardboard (topped with hay or manure)and silage covers to control weeds and replace the need to till. The editor adds a note that some organic certifiers prohibit cardboard that has ink in colors other than black. Check with your certifier if you are certified organic. Ricky Baruc also uses cover crops, which he crimps and plants into. He is able to manage several acres of intensively planted crops on his own.
If you’ve ever coveted those Bumble Bee tomatoes in the Johnny’s catalog, you’ll enjoy the interview with Fred Hempel, their breeder.
The last article is about winter cut flower planning, and is by Gretel Adams who regularly writes about cut flowers for GfM.
February 23 is CSA Day. CSAs will be promoting their work and signing up new members. Data gathered by Small Farm Central showed that the most popular day for CSA signups was Fri Feb 28. And so CSA Day is celebrated on the last Friday of February to encourage more signups and to publicize the whole idea of community-supported agriculture. CSA is a way for farmers to sell directly their customers. In the original CSA model, people pay for a season’s worth of produce (a membership), at the beginning of the season. The members then receive a box of produce every week throughout the harvesting season. The members are supporting their farmer by paying up front, when the farmers most need the income to get ready for the growing season. Today there are variations on this theme, so look around and see what’s available near you.
The Organic Farm School Spring Conference is Friday–Sunday, March 9–11, 2018, at UNC Asheville, NC. Click the link to read more and to get to registration. Pre-conference workshops are on Friday March 9, with the main conference 90-minute sessions on Saturday and Sunday. I’m offering two workshops on Saturday, which I’ll repeat on Sunday. This conference tends to offer workshops twice, so people who can only come on one day can choose which is best for them, and fewer people have to miss a topic they are interested in. My workshops are Sustainable Farming Practices and Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish.
Lastly I want to mention an alert I received from the Homesteaders of America at the end of January. (Note theirs is not a secure webpage)
House Bill 825 (HB 825), introduced by Virginia House of Delegates Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), would require herd share dairies to register with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, be open to premises and paperwork inspections, and adhere to stipulations put forward by VDACS.
“While the sale of raw milk is illegal in Virginia, raw milk advocates have used the concept of herd sharing to obtain the revered, nutrient-dense food for decades. In a herd share agreement, consumers pay a farmer a fee for boarding their animal (or share of the animal), caring for the animal, and milking the animal. The herd share owners then collect the milk from their own animal. No sales occur, the animals are taken care of, and everyone gets to enjoy the magical elixir that is raw milk. Herd share agreements have been in use in Virginia since the mid-1970s” Christine Solem, Virginia Independent Consumers & Farmers Association (VICFA).
On 2/5/18 The Subcommittee #1 recommended striking this bill from the docket. On 2/13/18 the House left this with the ANCR (Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources) Committee.
At last I got the photos from my Jamaica trip from my camera to the computer. I didn’t take many photos – as I said in my other Jamaica post, it rained most of the time. As you see in the photo above, bananas grow well, the land at Source Farm is hilly, the office is a repurposed and repainted shipping container
At the beginning of June the BBC visited Source Farm and made a podcast as part of the On Your Farm series, and called it Jamaica’s Organic Revolution.
You can listen to all 22 minutes of it for free, and hear the people I stayed with at Source Farm as well as Mr Brown, one of the farmers I met with. I can only link to the program, not embed it, so click the link below
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the voices of my new friends, and being reminded of the farm and the countryside.
Viewing my photos reminded me also of the “domestic wildlife.” First the friendly ones:
Then the creepy crawlies, the two inch millipedes that were everywhere. You have to be careful not to crush them, because the liquid inside them can cause burns. I never had that problem, and scooped them up by the handful to throw outside each night, only to find them back inside by morning. I concluded that each house had its allotment of millipedes and it was best to ignore them!
Things I noticed and learned from the farmers about growing crops in the tropics have led me to think more about how plants respond to temperature and day-length, and I want to learn more about this when I have time. As I said in my Asian Greens for June post:
“Last month I was in Jamaica and saw how they can grow kale in very hot weather. “
I had a comment from a reader about successfully growing Joy Choi in hot summers as well as Tokyo bekana. It’s revelation to me that at least some brassicas can grow in hot weather as long as the temperature never drops below 50°F (10°C), which triggers bolting.
Swiss chard I take for granted as a summer leafy green – it’s a biennial and usually won’t bolt until the second year. The Ruby chard seems the most prone to bolting. We’ve given up that one in favor of Bright Lights, as well as Fordhook Giant green chard. Chard is popular in Jamaica too.
A green which is not common here in the US, but is very popular in Jamaica is callaloo, which is a type of amaranth. I enjoyed eating it at Source Farm. I tried growing it in Virginia one year, when I was researching summer cooking greens in spring 2015 for an article in Growing for Market. Here’s what I said then (when I maybe misspelled callaloo):
Vegetable amaranth, Amaranthus species.
In spring use the young leaves for salad. Larger leaves make tender and nutritious cooked greens. Calaloo is an amaranth (but sometimes other crops have this name), used to make a green Caribbean stew. Joseph’s Coat, Amaranthus tricolor, is an eye-catching plant with red, green, and yellow leaves that may also include patches of pink, bronze, purple and brown. This tropical plant thrives in really hot weather. It is a huge plant, 4-6’ tall. Carol Deppe in The Tao of Vegetable Gardening recommends All Red for a spectacularly colorful leaf, especially for salads, and Green Calaloo and Burgundy for fast-growing greens. She reports they all taste the same to her raw, and all taste the same when cooked. So choose by preferred color and rate of growth.
Seeds should be started indoors in spring, and transplanted once all chance of frost has passed, when it is time to plant corn. Alternatively, broadcast with aim of getting plants 4” apart. Each time the plants reach 12” tall, harvest the top 8”. Pinch back often to push out new leaves and prevent reseeding (it can become a weed problem). If your farm has lots of amaranth weeds, you won’t want to risk adding another. Also, if weed amaranths are eaten by the striped fleabeetles, your cultivated amaranths will also suffer. (Those are the two reasons we gave up on them.)
William Woys Weaver (Saladings, Warm Weather, Mother Earth News) is a fan of ‘Bliton’ or ‘Horsetooth Amaranth’, Amaranthus lividus (Amaranthus viridis). He reports that it is the easiest and most prolific of summer greens. Seed should be started indoors, except in the South. Transplant seedlings when it’s warm enough to plant beans (Frequent advice for many of these hot weather greens). Alternatively, broadcast where it is to grow after all danger of frost is past. Thin the seedlings for salads or harvest plants about 12” tall and cook like spinach. When the plant is older, the stems get too tough, and then only the leaves and new shoots should be used. In parts of the South, it has become a weed – “Grow responsibly,” as Barbara Pleasant says in her Mother Earth News blogpostWarm WeatherSpinach Alternatives.
Starting with what’s being harvested now – squash and zucchini are coming in nicely. The hoophouse Gentry yellow squash (chosen for being fast-maturing) is coming in by the bucketload, and the outdoor yellow squash and zucchini have started producing.
Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables,on Saturday 6/10 at 11 am on the Yanmar Sustainability Stage, immediately followed by book-signing at the Mother Earth News Bookstore noon- 12.30.
Producing Asian Greens on Sunday 6/11 at 3.30 pm on the Heirloom Gardener Stage.
I’m also doing demonstrations of tomato string-weaving at the New Society Publishers booth 2611, near the Mother Earth News Stage (not the Bookstore this time), at 10 – 10.30 am and 3-3.30 pm on Saturday and 10 -10.30 am, 11- 11.30 am and 2- 2.30 pm on Sunday. Check out my Events page to see the pink sparkly tinsel tomato plant models I use!
At the Heritage Harvest Festival near Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday September 8 (the Premium Workshops before the main Festival), I’m presenting on Growing Sweet Potatoes at 3.30-4.30 in classroom 7, followed by book-signing at the Monticello Bookshop.
The June/July summer issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, and includes my article on Hoophouse soil salt buildup. This is an issue we have been dealing with – we see white deposits on the soil. I did a lot of research and found ways to water the salts back down deep in the soil profile. I also gathered information on how to measure and monitor salinity, and how to understand the test results and their different testing methods and different units of measure. I learned about salt tolerance of different crops, the plant symptoms of excess salinity, and how to prevent the problem in future. This topic is rising in importance as more people use hoophouses with drip irrigation systems. We were blithely ignorant for our first several years of hoophopuse use, as salinity takes a few years to really develop, and there wasn’t much information available.
I’m also looking forward to reading the other articles, especially Summer lettuce lessons from Southern growers by Jesse Frost. There are some great photos of beds covered with hoops and shade-cloth, which show a good system. I always appreciate articles written for southern growers, which can be in short supply.
Daisy Fair in Utah’s zone 5 has written about moveable tunnels with in-ground hydronic heat. So there’s information for cold climates too. Sam Hitchcock Tilton has an article with tips learned from Dutch and Swiss farmers. Robert Hadad advises on careful monitoring of costs of production in order to actually make a living from farming. The flower growing article in this issue is from Debra Prinzing and is about American Flowers Week, a chance to highlight American-grown flowers with some light-hearted fun photos.
The May/June Organic Broadcaster just arrived in its paper format – I’ve had the digital one for a while. Good thing I’ve got that long car ride to Vermont this weekend to catch up on my farming reading!
The front page story this time is about Kansas farmers, Tim and Michael Raile, transitioning thousands of dryland (non-irrigated) acres to Organic steadily over the next 5 or 6 years. Dryland farming focuses on moisture retention. The Railes grow a wheat/corn/
sunflower/milo (grain sorghum)/fallow rotation. They are also trialing some ancient grains.
Organic production in the US is not meeting demand, and organic imports are increasing, including organic soy and feed corn, not just bananas and coffee. More farmers want to produce Organic poultry, eggs, milk and meat. And so they are looking for Organic feed at an affordable price. This is often imported, which raises issues about how Organic Standards vary from one country to another, and the bigger issue of sustainability – not always the same as Organic! Does it really make sense to ship in grains to feed livestock?
Harriet Behar writes about the true meaning of Organic and overall methods of production. It’s not just about following rules on allowed inputs and materials – it’s a whole approach to how we treat the soil, our plants and livestock.
Hannah Philips and Brad Heins share research on how cover crop choices can influence the fatty acids and meat of dairy steers. Jody Padgham writes about CSAs responding to competition and decreasing membership by offering more options on shares and delivery. Gone are the days of “One box, one day, one price” CSAs. Numerous modifications of the basic CSA model have sprung up to better fit the diverse needs of customers (members). Kristen McPhee writes about the Vermont Herb Growers Cooperative, which buys from various small-scale growers and aggregates orders to larger buyers. Other topics covered include lessons learned from Hawaii’s GMO controversy, paying for end-of-life care without losing your farm, and many short items and classified ads. As always, a newspaper packed with information.
And by the way, we’re also picking blueberries – ah! heaven!