My February Gardening and Farming News Roundup

My February Gardening and Farming News Roundup

After a flurry of conferences in November, December and January, I have now updated my Events page.

Events where I will be presenting workshops, that are still to come:

Pasa Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Lancaster, PA, Feb 8-11, https://pasafarming.org/conference/

Organic Growers School Spring Conference, Mars Hill, NC, Feb 24-26 https://organicgrowersschool.org/conferences/spring/

Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC, March 26-April 1 2023 www.folkschool.org

Mother Earth News Fair, Lawrence, Kansas, April 29-30, 2023.  (Sat-Sun)

Mother Earth News Fair,  Erie, Pennsylvania, July 15-16, 2023

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Daylight Savings Time

Have you ever wondered if farmers really did want DST? The answer is probably not. Read the interesting article in The Modern Farmer

https://modernfarmer.com/2022/03/daylight-saving-time-farmers/

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Millet is Having a Moment. Is the Ancient Grain Ready for a Resurgence?

Also see this article in the Modern Farmer, about 2023 as the UN Year of Millets. This drought-tolerant grain deserves more attention.

https://modernfarmer.com/2022/12/year-of-millet/

Jean Hediger grows Proso millet on her Nunn, Colorado farm
Photography courtesy of Jean Hediger

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Jumping Worms are also Having a Moment

Invasive Jumping Worm
Matt Bert, Piedmont Master Gardeners

The January newsletter of the Piedmont Master Gardeners (The Garden Shed) has this sobering article about Invasive Jumping Worms by Cathy Caldwell. The article includes the all-important information on how to distinguish an invasive jumping worm from any other kind of earthworm (it’s not hard!), and what to do if you find one.

https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/invasive-jumping-worms/

WSLS.com/Destructive jumping worms spotted throughout Virginia

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Climate-Resilient (Heat-tolerant) Vegetable Varieties

by Jon Braunfeld

Heatmaster tomatoes.
Jon Braunfeld, Piedmont Master Gardeners

Another article in the January Garden Shed has helpful information on heat-tolerant vegetable varieties. In good time for us to order seeds and try some tomato varieties alongside our usual ones

https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/climate-resilient-vegetable-varieties/

Book Review Farming on the Wild Side, The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery, Nancy and John Hayden

Farming On The Wild Side book cover. Chelsea Green.
Book Review Farming on the Wild Side, The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery, Nancy and John Hayden, Chelsea Green, 2019. 258 pages, $29.95.

This is a lovely, thoughtful, well-illustrated book, telling how Nancy and John Hayden changed their farm (formerly a conventional dairy farm) over three decades into a regenerative farm, now specializing in perennial fruit trees. Their focus has been on stewarding the land mindfully, restoring and increasing biodiversity. In these uncertain times, there is much we can’t do alone, and we worry if enough people will make enough of the necessary changes. We can, instead, focus on positive changes we can make to improve our world. Growing and nurturing plants will benefit you, the plants and the planet.

The Haydens have an 18-acre farm in northern Vermont with undulating land, and a wide range of soil types. Very different from central Virginia, where I live! Both moved to Syracuse, NY to study biology and ecology, and after meeting at university, they worked in the Peace Corps on opposite sides of the African continent. Nancy worked in Kenya, supporting small farmers installing fishponds. John was in Mali, helping market gardeners and farmers, especially in dealing with millet pests. They both grew intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, with broader worldviews, awareness of white privilege, and deeper understanding of solitude and loneliness.

After Peace Corps, they reunited, married and began graduate school at Michigan State U, studying entomology (John) and environmental engineering (Nancy). John hankered to start a farm, so when Nancy was offered a post at the University of Vermont, they packed up the family and moved. A few months later, they bought their farm. It was a well-manicured conventional dairy farm with a cathedral-like barn built in 1900. The lawns are now orchards, and the stream banks host fruit bushes and small trees. The focus these days is on biodiversity and a regenerative food system, not on “pretty”. You can see before and after photos, and sketch maps of their farm (The Farm Between).

The book includes a valuable chart summarizing their practices and events during each of the three decades of their farm life so far. This shows how changes can be made as interests and focus shift. Long-term sustainability for aging farmers!

In the initial years their goals were to feed their family high quality food (hard to find to buy in the 1990’s), treat livestock humanely, regenerate the land for long-term health, and generate income from farming. They grew organic annual vegetables and raised grass-fed poultry, rabbits, sheep and pigs for a meat CSA. They also raised young children, and a family cow. The farm hosted field trips from local elementary schools, and Nancy became an associate professor.

John and Nancy got inspiration from Holistic Resource Management, as well as many small-farming pioneers. HRM led them to learn and practice management intensive grazing. This involves carefully matching stocking density with the health of the pastures, leading to continuous improvement. Paddocks just large enough, and no bigger, encourage livestock to graze all the plants down, leading to lush and nutritious regrowth. Initially their pastures were overrun with reed canary grass, and just one year of intensive grazing management with sheep started to bring improvements.

They also raised chickens and rabbits in moveable pens (chicken tractors), and quickly devised improvements to the pen design and the choice of breed. They trained all their livestock to come running when they heard grain shaken in a bucket. This good habit saved them from problems when livestock got loose onto the busy state road.

In the middle decade (roughly the 2000’s), the children grew up and left home, John became a lecturer on Plant and Soil Science, the field trips included special needs children and summer camps for middle-schoolers. They became more focused on resilience, biodiversity and pollinators. Keeping livestock makes it hard for a farming couple or family to vacation at the same time, and well-trained farm sitters are worth a lot!

Raising animals in confined spaces, feeding mostly corn and soy and antibiotics, while exploiting workers and degrading the environment is a disgrace to our society. Slaughtering animals is tough, and where possible, the Haydens opted for on-farm slaughter, as less stressful and more humane. The Haydens cut back on meat production and expanded perennial and annual food crops.

After 20 years of learning and practicing with draft horses during visits to working horse farms, and after 10 years at The Farm Between, John bought his own team of two Clydesdales. This helped them successfully expand their vegetable and small fruit production. From 2004-2011, they put up five hoophouses, initially for tomatoes and other valuable vegetables. They could pay for the structures and the wages in one year by growing cherry tomatoes in each new hoophouse. This increased their resilience in the face of extreme weather of various kinds, and in 2009, they planted a few rows of fall raspberries in one of the hoophouses. These did so well that the next year they planted one whole hoophouse full.

The third decade (after serious flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011) brought a forceful introduction to the reality of climate change. Their focus on improving the soil has included a major composting operation. The Haydens have succeeded in doubling the organic matter in their soils from 2.5 to 6% over the years. Initially John collected food scraps to feed their chickens and then compost. But the heavy lifting and the rats got to him.

It takes 500 years or more to grow an inch of soil, which is all too easily lost to wind and water erosion. Growing cover crops holds the soil in place while adding organic matter. While they grew mostly annual vegetables, the Haydens used at least one-third of their land for growing cover crops, usually including legumes, to add nitrogen to the soil. Growing annual vegetables is stressful. Everything is urgent and important, all season! Perennials allow more flexibility, for example in the timing of weeding and pruning.

They committed more to perennial polyculture, retired the horses and bought a tractor. Fruit planting had expanded every year, with perennial vegetables and annual hemp in the alleys between the rows. Other alleys are left unmowed to encourage milkweed (selling seeds and floss). All the while, the edges and hedges have provided biological diversity for insects, birds and other creatures.

Nancy Hayden, author of Farming on the Wild Side

They repurposed all their hoophouses to grow fruit, protected from the elements as well as pests and diseases. They have dwarf apple trees (blemish-free no-spray organic apples!), cherries, peaches, plums, apricots and raspberries. Outdoors they grow hazelberts, elderberries, aronia, honeyberry, gooseberries, blackcurrants, red and white currents, and many blueberries. The increased fruit production led them to work with cider producers and market other fruit products including selling at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. They started a retail nursey of fruit trees on the farm, alongside fruit sales. Operating a fruit tree nursey at the farm enables the farmers to attract customers who are very interested in what they are doing, and will encourage and support them in growing their own fruit. Nancy retired from UVM. They expanded on-farm workshops, field trips and classes for all ages.

They were able to provide free housing for their employees and pay them above minimum wage. Despite the obvious success of their farm stand, farmers’ market, meat and produce CSAs, restaurant and grocery accounts, they were not quite satisfied. The family were eating well, and Nancy’s off-farm income kept them afloat and allowed them to build up the farm infrastructure. John was working 60-80 hours a week on the farm, but not producing much net income for the four-child family they were now raising. John calculated he was earning half minimum wage, and the only way that was being “successful” was that the 80 hour weeks made two half-minimum wages! Their aging bodies had also become a factor to consider. Also, Nancy and John developed interests that vied for their attention, much as they were still committed to the farm.

They had noticed their soil structure was deteriorating, even though the organic matter content was increasing. They studied approaches to deal with soil loss and degradation, climate disruption, water and air pollution, declining food quality and loss of biodiversity. The book includes a valuable chart listing stressors in the categories of environmental, social, economic and personal stresses, and resilience strategies to tackle each.

The Haydens committed to be more proactive in benefiting the land, and becoming more economically resilient. Their approach was a synthesis of:

  • resilience (ability to bounce back from stresses and shocks),
  • organic farming (nurture healthy soil to grow healthy crops and healthy people: it’s about the soil, not about the certificate),
  • regenerative organic (rebuild soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, improve water quality and slow the pace of climate change),
  • agroecology (approaching agriculture by combining ecology, biology, agronomy, plant physiology and more, improving soils and water, biodiversity, species conservation, carbon sequestration),
  • permaculture (“permanent agriculture”, integrative perennial-based systems, working with the natural environment, providing for the needs of people locally),
  • agroforestry (intentionally incorporating trees and shrubs into farming systems for the benefit of the environment, the community and the farm,)
  • biodynamics (considering each farm as a unique integrated organism, raising crops and livestock synergistically)
  • wabi sabi (finding beauty and value in the impermanent, the natural cycles of growth, death and decay.)
  • rewilding (letting banks, ditches, shrubs and trees grow back, providing shelter and food for many more insects and birds; planting orchards in place of lawns,
  • personal spiritual traditions (focusing on nature and natural cycles)

As a result of considering all these approaches, Nancy and John found themselves drawn to wholesaling fruit, particularly to local wineries. They wanted no-spray organic fruit, pointing out that organic fungicides and broad-spectrum insecticides are toxic to pollinators and other beneficial insects, as well as the pest species.

In August 1995, a few years after John and Nancy moved to the farm, the summer drought was broken by three days of rain upstream of the farm. The river overflowed, flooding the low fields and the barn three feet deep. The water level receded the next day, leaving a big mess, including dead chicks and destroyed equipment. The house was on higher ground, and was not affected.

In 2011, they got a 500-year flood in April and a repeat with Hurricane Irene in August.  They lost their potato and corn crops, and noticed that the perennial fruit bushes and conservation shrubs recovered just fine when the water receded. They decided not to grow annual crops in the low-lying Field Six any more, but instead plant elderberries and aronia, which tolerate some flooding.

As they transitioned to growing mostly perennials, they also stopped tilling. They sheet mulch around newly planted fruit trees and berry bushes, with either cardboard and woodchips, or with landscape fabric rolls with “seam-lines” along the planting rows. This means they can open the overlapping pieces in spring or fall to add soil amendments. They’ve also used this technique to grow pumpkins, sunflowers and CBD hemp in the alleys between young fruit trees. They also employ a “grow, mow and blow” in the alleys to deposit home-grown mulch around the trees.

Transitioning to more perennials in polyculture orchards led them to incorporate agroforestry practices such as hedges, biomass trees, and riparian forest zones (next to streams). Hedgerows act as windbreaks, as well as enhancing biodiversity, and reducing soil erosion and offering sanctuary to many kinds of wildlife.

The apple orchards provide scion wood for selling and for grafting to make new trees. Between new fruit trees, in the rows, they plant blackcurrants and other fruit bushes, nitrogen-fixing small trees and perennial wildflowers. These infill plants will be chopped or lopped for mulch when the apple trees need the space.

Perennial vegetables also have a place on the farm. Asparagus and rhubarb have been there for over 20 years. Sea kale and Jerusalem artichokes are more recent additions, in the alleys between apple trees. Remember this book is written in Vermont, where rhubarb ripens in June, blueberries in July and elderberries in late summer. Follow the concepts, not the details, if you are in a very different climate zone.

Climate change in Vermont has, so far, meant warmer, earlier springs, which can cause trees to break bud, risking crop death by frosts in May. Using hoophouses for fruit can reduce risk. Leave the hoophouse open all winter, but if a spring frost threatens during or after bloom, close the house up for the night. “Fruit trees can break your heart,” the authors warn.

John Hayden, Author of Farming on the Wild Side

The section on rootstocks, scion wood and grafting explains how to propagate trees. Growing polycultural orchards reduces dependency on any particular variety or type, and makes organic production much more viable, as pest or disease outbreaks are rarer and other crops compensate for whichever is taken down. There’s a nice list of the ten best apple varieties at the farm, and one of stone fruit cultivars. Again, remember this is Vermont, zone 4a.

The farm also grows many less common cold-hardy berries. Blackcurrants do well in Vermont, but I know from experience that they do poorly in the South. The yield is plentiful, but the harvest slow. Their target rate is ten pounds an hour. The variety Tatania is their highest-yielding, at 4.7 pounds per bush. A useful tip is to stand still and move the branches towards you, rather than moving yourself a lot. There are tips on good varieties of berries too.

Elderberries and Aronia have already been mentioned as flood-tolerant. Both also require full sun. they are high in anti-oxidants, and attract wildlife, unfortunately including Spotted Wing Drosophila, which cause the berries to drop before the whole panicle is ripe. The solution is to pick every few days, removing the ripe parts of the clusters. Note that American elderberries need to be cooked or fermented before eating, as they contain cyanide-inducing compounds.

The farm has an area of boxed propagation beds where they raise hardwood cuttings to grow bushes for sale. They have a space where customers can see full-size plants in a natural setting. This area supports many pollinators, as does their willow labyrinth. There is a mowed walking path around the pollinator sanctuary, where visitors love to observe plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife. The riparian zone is part of a contiguous wildlife corridor connecting the woods and the farm, and providing edges with meadows and cropland. Common milkweed in the orchard alleys is promoted by mowing the grass early, before the milkweed emerges.

The chapter on pests and diseases invites us to rethink these life-forms. Weed management is necessary. Birds can be “pests” on fruit crops during the harvest period. Netting the berries at this time and then removing the nets to let the birds in to clean up the dropped berries helps reduce other pest problems, such as SWD. At the time the book was written, their way of dealing with the SWD was to net individual panicles of elderberries using nylon “footies.” Crop diversity reduces potential crop losses and pest outbreaks.

The Haydens dispute the myth that pests on a plant show the plant is unhealthy or that the soil conditions are wrong. Having a diversity of insects shows a natural balance. If the number of pests increases to the point of causing economic damage, that’s a pest outbreak, and needs action. Having a low level of pest insects keeps predators and parasites provided for! Always look for parasites, such as the white fly eggs on the thorax of the Japanese beetles. Everything may be being taken care of! Wiping everyone out with pesticides causes imbalance, and the pest populations can come back faster than their predators. The true parasites are the pesticide companies, say the authors!

Attention is also paid to pollinators, providing nesting habitat as well as pollen and nectar sources. Native bees are perhaps in greater peril than (imported) honeybees. They just don’t have as good PR, despite flying earlier in the year and in colder, rainier, windier weather! There are 275 native bee species in Vermont (4,000 in the US). Most of us didn’t know that! There is a table of when various pollinator flowers start blooming in Vermont, to help anyone seeking to provide bee forage more of the season.

As Nancy and John produced more value-added fruit products for sale, they noticed an interesting thing: people would pay for the jam or syrup-topped snow cones, but balk at the price of the actual fruit! It’s time to move away from our expectation of cheap food (which likely derives from the history of enslaved people doing most of the farm-work in the US in the past).

Another change for the farm is to selling fruit wholesale, to wineries, breweries, cideries and soda makers. They like the big “over-and-done” sales, although selling retail direct from the farm is important for staying in touch with the public and diversifying income streams. Nancy and John point out that they could not have done all they’ve done without off-the-farm income. This is the reality for most farmers, particularly small-scale farmers. Nancy and John were fortunate in finding off the farm work that they enjoyed.

The book wraps up with an appendix of common and scientific names of plants and arthropods mentioned in the book, and an impressive twelve-page, triple-columned index. This is a book by people who really want to help us navigate our path through farming for the long haul.

Fruit for the Month: January (Grapes)

Two rows of grapes in spring after weeding, fertilizing and mulching. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We are in the dormant period for most fruits, meaning few-to-none to harvest, none to plant, but plenty to prune and care for, and new plantings to plan for the new season.

Grapes are the focus fruit for January

Frosty grape vines.
Bridget Aleshire

Grapes also featured as the focus fruit in August. Then I said:

“We grow Labrusca grapes, mainly Concord, with a few Allred, with a selection of other varieties that we are trialing, including the Planets (Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, Venus) and Edelweiss, Fredonia, Marquis, Niagara, Reliance, Sheridan, Steuben, Vanessa. All these are suitable for juice, jam and jelly. Fredonia, Marquis, Mars, Niagara, Reliance, Steuben, Vanessa and Venus are dessert quality, but mostly they have thick skins, big seeds, and a sour taste. Some of these varieties are susceptible to Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew and/or Black Rot, and I wouldn’t buy those again. Likewise, I would not buy grafted vines, such as the Cynthiana and Niagara, as we are not good at remembering to cover and uncover the graft unions when the seasons change.”

In that post I talk about planting and trellising (Geneva Double Curtain)

Trellis arm construction for Geneva Double Curtain grape support system

In January, we check and repair the drip irrigation, update maps and logs. We kept good records for a number of years after we planted the new trial varieties (2008, I think).

Our grape drip irrigation tubing, showing an emitter and a clip holding the tubing to the (rusty) wire.
Pam Dawling

It is possible to take dormant wood cuttings, 6-9” (15-23cm) long, cut at the top 1” (2.5cm) above a bud at a slope. Heel them in, and label clearly.

Weed the rows, particularly around new vines, as soon as weeds start to grow. Finish cardboard and sawdust mulch if not done in December.

Grape planting and pruning doesn’t happen here till early March. Avoid pruning grapes in a spell of cold weather, as it can cause vines to die back from the pruning cuts. Vines pruned after the buds start to swell will leaf out a little later, and may avoid late frosts. If the first set of flower buds get frosted, the grapes will produce a second set. Harvest will then be about three weeks later than it might have been.

A grape vine budding out in spring.
Kathryn Simmons

If your grape rows have developed gaps, layering branches of neighboring vines is a very effective gap-filling method. Lay a vine lateral with several buds down into a 5” (12cm) deep trench. Cover the vine with 3” (7.5cm) of soil, leaving the tip above the surface. When new growth starts to appear, fill the trench and pack firmly. Separate the plants the following fall. Layering can also be done in the fall.

Special Topic for January:     Grape Varieties for Organic Production in the Southeast

GRAPE VARIETIES

The Cornell  2022 Organic Production and IPM Guide for Grapes 2022-org-grapes-NYSIPM.pdf  is a great resource. It covers site selection, variety selection, nutrient requirements, soil health, pre-planting and under-vine cover crops, integrated pest management, and more in its 90 pages. Be aware that it is written with the Northeast in mind. For a more general approach, see Grapes: Organic Production. ATTRA, Rex Dufour.

Other small fruits still available in January

You may have dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves, or even stored apples and pears. Pawpaws can be eaten frozen like ice cream. Don’t eat the skins, and don’t eat cooked pawpaws.

I wrote about fruit storage in December.

Wintergreen berries persist on the plants in the wild all winter, and become sweeter after some cold weather. They don’t taste good at the end of the winter, though, so harvest while they are good eating. If you are allergic to aspirin, avoid wintergreen because all parts of the plant contain methyl salicylate, an aspirin-like compound.

Medlars are a peculiar ancient old-world fruit, with not much modern-day interest. The fruits are not edible until “bletted” by a hard frost or by waiting beyond normal ripeness, when they get very close to rotting. The small trees have beautiful spring blossoms, and if you don’t harvest the fruit, they remain on the twigs during the winter, giving added interest then. They can also be eaten frozen during winter walks through the orchard.

Other fruit care in January in the mid-Atlantic

Summer-fruiting raspberries: Weed and mulch. Give compost now or in February.

Drip irrigation works well for raspberries, such as these fall-fruiting Carolines. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Fall raspberries: cut canes to ground and dig up canes from aisles. Weed.

Strawberry beds in their second year. Rowcover at the ready for frosty nights during flowering. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Strawberries: In colder areas, you may have covered them with hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Weight down the edges with sticks, rocks or sandbags.

Propagate blueberries by layering a low branch, as you see here with Chandler variety. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Blueberries: Weed and spread compost around the bushes, out to the dripline.  Give soil amendments in line with soil test results – blueberries thrive on acid soil, so you may need to add sulfur pellets.  After adding all amendments, renew cardboard and sawdust/other mulch if not done in fall. In late January, we prune and propagate by layering, which is the easiest way to successfully propagate blueberries.

Rhubarb in early spring, not yet ready to harvest.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rhubarb: Weed, compost around the plants, or where you think the plants are! Mulch if not already done in the fall

Read books: See my reviews of Levy and Serrano Cold-hardy fruit and nuts, and Blake Cothron’s Berry Grower. The RHS recommends Harvesting and storing garden fruit by Raymond Bush (Faber and Faber 1947, ISBN 54053000473672). Plan more fruit and place orders for delivery after the coldest part of winter. In milder areas, start planting at the end of January

 

Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables slideshow, VABF Handouts

Tatsoi in the mist, November.
Photo Wren Vile

Busy Conference Season is here!

I just got back from the Virginia Association for Biological Farming conference in Roanoke. There I gave a half-day presentation on Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables, which you can watch here:

Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables 240m

The conference was very well-attended, and not everyone at my workshop on Friday, or the Alliums Year-Round 90 minute workshop on Sunday morning got a handout. I promised to post them here, and now I’m making good. I’m also posting the handout for the third workshop I gave, Asian Greens in the Winter Hoophouse. This rounds out the set, and gives a chance to those who went to a different workshop at that time to get a look in.

Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables 8 pg handout 2023
Alliums Year-Round
Asian Greens in the Winter Hoophouse 2023

This coming weekend I will be venturing north to NOFA-Mass and giving a presentation on Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production.

To those who are wondering what happened to my monthly post Fruit for the Month, I postponed it. There isn’t so much fruit in January, is there?

Book Review From The Ground Up, by John D Wilson

Front cover of From the Ground Up

Book Review From The Ground Up, Columns from the Princess Anne Independent News, John D Wilson, Pungo Publishing, 2022. 124 pages, $15.00.

This slim volume is a treasure trove of short writings (600 words each, says John), from his first five years writing a farming column for a Virginia Beach local newspaper. Local newspapers and local farmers are all to be valued and supported. This collection of about 40 articles has been chosen and reorganized by topic, rather than date, to follow a path, making for a pleasant and thoughtful stroll through topics such as sustainability, healthy soils, gardening, nutritious plants and small-scale chicken-keeping.

John’s writing is concise, encompassing political and lifestyle passions, cheery humor, and poetic turns. It makes for easy ingestion, but not like marshmallows. We’ll be jolted into considering “heck, we do waste a lot of food in the US, and we really need to change that.” We need to do better in promoting and increasing every kind of organic, regenerative and sustainable farming practice, building up our soils, and being part of providing better food for everyone. That’s serious work. And then, it’s not every farmer-writer who thanks their washing machine!

John Wilson serves his community as a farmer, a consultant, a writer, and a volunteer board member on a couple of foodie and farming organizations. He describes his stories as “mostly personal with some science added.” That seems about right. John’s fascination with soil science, microbiology, soil food web, microbes, is infectious. We can have a voice in the world, and we need to stand up for what we believe in, even when we must step outside our comfort zone, as John has done by putting his thoughts into print.

The book starts out with a column setting out the benefits of a local food system, in terms of fresh food, support for local farmers, food security, and enjoyment of local chocolate cakes at the Fayette County Free Fair. There is a discussion about the travesty that is Industrial Organic Ag, and if you didn’t understand the “input switching” game, you soon will. This is where a farm simply replaces their old herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and all the other cides with Organic ones, but continues their same-old extractive, soil-destroying practices. Far better is to regard the soil as the valuable resource it is, and learn how to farm the soil in ways that help crops grow, by providing the right conditions and nutrients.

And if your appetite for science is small, right now you’ll appreciate John’s observation that “When you mow grass or anything, the smell you get is the nutrients going back into the atmosphere.” Your reminder to capture those nutrients for your next crop. We need to conserve our soil, our greatest national treasure.

John hastens to point out that he has the utmost respect for all farmers, even those making choices different from his. Farming is hard work, physically, mentally and emotionally, and it’s undervalued. We’ll need to tap into the vast experience of all farmers to manage the necessary transition to a sustainable system.

We all do wasteful things, we could all do better at recycling, making compost, not buying stuff we end up not using. Look to the soil, and see how everything eats and gets eaten, absorbs water and nutrients and then passes them on. Apparently we throw away 40% of the food we get. Considering how hard farming work is, how few Americans want to do it, and how our governments try to keep out immigrants who would willingly do the work, it’s clear this needs to change. “Farmland needs to be re-peopled” as Wendell Berry says. We need to help those who want to farm, and make farming attractive to more people.

Perhaps understanding the soil food web biology, and some history of farming (such as production of terra preta in the Amazon), and some back-yard experimentation making biochar, could lead more people to farming. You can read more about these things in this book.

John frequently points out the soil-saving (planet-saving) advantages of sustainable and regenerative farming, such as how it can prevent water run-off, soil loss and soil erosion. I was interested to read that the collapse of societies is related to soil erosion – when desperate farmers try to get more food from the land by using chemical fertilizers that don’t add organic matter, or fail to use cover crops or put organic material into the soil. See David Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization. Let’s appreciate steps such as the cost share program for growing cover crops. And the increase in research into sustainable farming practices. And, of course, the implementation of those practices by more farmers.

John tells us that the influences that formed his views include desire for optimum health and wellness for all; the hard work ethic from his childhood; soil science from recent research; joy in eating good food and appreciation of the beauty of a well-tended farm.

The author learned about gardening from his Grandpa, but took a detour while studying energy-efficient building and carpentry. By chance he was hired by Alan Chadwick’s horticulture program, and chose to trade his work for participation in the program. Later, after raising a family as a carpenter, he met George Leidig who sold compost turners and spading machines, and signed up for workshops, which inspired him to start a farm.

His first farm was a lease on 25 acres, for which he needed to borrow money and keep his day job as a carpenter for several years. He invested in farm equipment, and also in improving the soil, which was compacted and inactive (“grows too many buttercups”) when he started out. He saw positive changes even after simply sowing one round of buckwheat cover crop on 10 acres. Pollinators came back, and all manner of life-forms. And the water-holding capacity of the soil improved rapidly – no runoff.

John has become a worm farmer, with four home-made worm bins at the time of writing, producing enough worm castings and worms for sale. His other job in a micro-brewery provides his worms with a portion of the barley mash. Red wiggler worms consume food waste, and paper scraps, and John has no doubt we will make ourselves a worm bin after reading his article!

The days of cheap food are over. We need to reduce the damage we have been inflicting on the environment, and people’s health. The idea that farmers should “get big or get out” has cost us too much. Food systems need to be local and operated by people who understand the big picture of energy and global sustainability. Farmers need to earn a fair living for their work. Currently only 7 cents of the price of a loaf of bread goes to the farmer.

The injustices of cheap food affect African Americans particularly strongly. John refers us to Leah Penniman’s inspiring book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land. He heard her keynote address at a conference of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. John says “We need to hear her messages about farming, society, justice and our future.” We owe it to Black farmers to give them credit for their work in sustainable agriculture (CSAs, raised beds, cover-cropping, pick-your-own farms, and growing hot weather crops). And we must recognize that the US food system is based on exploitation, on stolen land, stolen people and enforced labor. That’s why food is cheap. And why there are food deserts and diet-related illnesses mostly where People of Color live.

The author is also a beekeeper, and a couple of the articles reflect this. Beekeeping these days is complicated by the parasites and diseases honeybees are dealing with, as well as loss of habitat and forage plants, and deadly assaults from pesticides. France has become the first country to ban all five pesticides that kill bees. We need to care for pollinators, native and imported (as honeybees are). We can plant bee-friendly plants, plant only unsprayed shrubs, trees and annuals.

Regenerative agriculture includes steadily building up soil organic matter, maintaining plenty of soil microbes, getting the right bacteria:fungi ratio for your crops, increasing biodiversity above and below ground, improving water filtration and water-holding capacity, producing nutrient-dense food, and bringing in a good profit. John recommends Gabe Brown’s book, Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture. The Brown family farm 5000 acres in North Dakota, with diverse crops, no synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, fungicides or pesticides. They use minimal herbicides and no glyphosate (RoundUp). They also raise livestock.

This brings us to the topic of managing livestock in a healthy regional food system. Some people believe that eliminating all animal farming is the best way to feed the planet. We can probably all agree that confined animal feedlots with cattle raised on corn and soy, and no grass, is not healthy or sustainable at all. The global percentage of greenhouse gases from livestock farming is 14.5%, although the figure is less in the US (maybe only because we produce higher percentages of emissions from other sources!). Some people have shown that holistic management practices used to raise livestock, especially ruminants in a responsible way, on integrated farms, can benefit the environment, the farm, and the diners. Soil organic matter can increase dramatically on well-integrated farms. White Oaks Pastures in Georgia, has succeeded in off-setting at least 100% of their beef cattle’s emissions, by using Holistic Management grazing practices.

Meanwhile, in the home garden, we can care for the soil by keeping it covered with crops or mulch as much of the time as possible. Never leave the soil bare over the winter, as used to be recommended before we understood the importance of soil organic matter and feeding the soil food web. John’s system for beds with no overwintering crop, involves pulling up or cutting down weeds and crop residues, spreading them over the soil, adding ½-2 inches of compost along with any needed amendments such as trace minerals. Top this with tree leaves, straw or hay. In spring, you can ease apart the mulch to pop transplants in without turning over the soil, which disrupts fungal hyphae, microbes and worms. This method also solves the problem of soils that are too wet to till or dig over in early spring.

John is making compost at the rate of 60 cubic yards per windrow on his farm. This qualifies as a “mid-size” compost operation. He uses a hot composting method, and pays close attention. Compost feeds the soil and its inhabitants, adding micro- and macro-nutrients for the plants. Soil microbes create pores in the soil, improving the structure, and welcoming larger soil-dwellers such as worms.

Food security is a frequently heard phrase. It means having access to enough nutritious food at a price we can afford. During World War Two, many people grew Victory Gardens and were able to get a lot of their diet from their own garden, or trade with a neighbor. After the war, Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs) became more widespread. People could see the sense in supporting people to grow their food right nearby.

The author includes a three-part series on starting a garden, which is a masterpiece of economy with words. As in many of his articles, he takes the opportunity to give a shout-out to creators of other resources. Here he mentions John Jeavons’s How to Grow More Vegetables, and Eliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower. He adds three points from his own experience: improve the soil, boost the organic matter, encourage biodiversity. In part two he covers deciding what to grow and how much of it. Choose the size, method and plant selection so that you will enjoy it. Plan energy-saving methods (like mulching). Consider extending the seasons with shade cloth or rowcover, so you can enjoy the products of your labor for longer. Feed the soil, let the soil feed the plants. In part three he addresses pest control and choosing suitable varieties for the local area. Healthy soil grows healthier plants, that grow healthier people. Create a healthy ecosystem, learn about pest lifecycles. If you run into pest problems, look for organic pest controls in Peaceful Valley, Arbico, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Seven Springs Farm in Floyd, Virginia. For locally adapted vegetable varieties, buy from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (good friends of mine). He does provide names of some of his favorites – get the book!

Plant trees on your land. Look for cost share programs from the local branch of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and look for young trees at the Virginia Department of Forestry nursery. Consider trees that provide fruit, nuts, flowers and nectar for pollinators. Grow yourself a windbreak. Trees sequester carbon, clean the air, hold water in the soil, and benefit bugs, birds, shade and anyone needing a rest.

Another article is about collards, a southern vegetable coming into new fame. Plant in the fall, eat them all winter. Plant some more in the spring, but don’t let them get big and bitter. You can eat collards from December to June. Season extension in the fall can provide a lot of extra food (not only collards), for not much more effort. Plan in August. Keep the summer crops as long as productive, by covering them with rowcover when it gets cold. After the first cold spell of fall, there is usually a few weeks of warmer weather.

Climate change is a hard-work topic.  John suggests we focus on working for the change we want, rather than protesting loudly about the things we don’t want. Find ways to address specific issues. Plant trees, grow a garden, travel less. Go to City Hall with constructive requests: ask for an ordinance permitting backyard chickens, or a local composting program for food and paper waste, or an urban farm.

And talking of backyard chickens, John has a couple of articles about those. He started 20 years ago with 30 birds, primarily for eggs, and for their benefits on the farm. He still raises hens for eggs and also breeds them to supply others with small flocks. He recommends chicken tractors, coops on wheels, to move around the farm, to spread their benefits. Go into chicken-keeping with your eyes open. The responsibility is bigger than that of growing vegetables. Chickens need food and water; they need adequate housing; they need shutting in at night to protect them from marauders. You, or someone, needs to be home every night and morning to care for them. John recommends Harvey Ussery’s book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.

John has a thoughtful piece on the wisdom of real experience. Keep an open mind, look deep and wide. He talks about a period in his 20s “following self-created trouble” when he lived alone in the mountains for a while. Contemplation of nature, and focusing on daily needs left him time to think. He also took seriously the maxim “Don’t believe everything you think.”!

And then, as recently as January 2022, John had a stroke. He got help from loved ones, friends and professionals, and learned more about gratitude. He took several months away from writing his column, and found two people to keep his farm going. He learned to accept help. He eventually sold New Earth Farm to Kevin Jamison, who grows ingredients for his oceanfront restaurant in Virginia Beach – Commune. The restaurant has a big commitment to using local ingredients as much as possible. 90-100% of their ingredients are farm-sourced at any one time. John has helped nourish the local food system.

Farmer John Wilson, the author.

Winter lettuce and other salad crops

Salad Mix freshly harvested. Lettuce-free mix!
Photo Pam Dawling

We are feasting on our winter salad mixes now, so I decided to write a post to encourage more people to grow winter salads.

Just how viable this is for you depends on your winter climate zone and your facilities. In the coldest of places with nowhere except your kitchen or a windowsill, you can grow sprouts and microgreens.

To grow sprouts, get some organic seeds, soak them in a jar, then fit a straining lid, which can simply be a piece of fabric held in place over the open mouth of the jar with a strong rubber band, or, if using a Mason jar, the metal ring part of the lid. Drain off the extra water, then set the jar on its side, with the seeds distributed evenly along the side. Rinse and drain twice a day, until the sprouts are the size you want. Here’s a couple of websites.

See How to Grow Sprouts at Home, by Beth, or Growing Sprouts at Home, by The SproutPeople

You don’t need to follow these directions word by word, but if you do, it will work. Other methods can also work. Just be sure to rinse and to drain!

The enthusiastic author of How to Grow Microgreens, Sylvia Fountaine, lays out a 6-step process and provides a video. Microgreens are basically seedlings, with stems and green seed leaves. Sprouts are mostly root and stem, as you may have noticed.

For those wanting to grow microgreens professionally, I recommend Andrew Mefferd’s chapter in his Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook.  

I wrote about our Fall Lettuce Transition in my post Preparing your Hoophouse for Fall and Winter 9/28/22 – This post includes days to germination of lettuce at various soil temperatures. Here are dates when we sow lettuce for growing in various places (not just our hoophouse).

·        For outdoor lettuce I stop sowing August 29, transplant those 9/22 and expect to harvest them 12/10 – 12/31. I add hoops and thick rowcover when it gets cold to keep it growing.

Buttercrunch Bibb lettuce in December. Photo Kathleen Slattery

·        For winter growing in coldframes, I sow 9/1, 9/3, 9/5, 9/7, 9/9 and transplant 9/25 -10/8. Leaves from those plants can be harvested all winter until we need the cold frames to harden off spring transplants in mid-late February. We cover the coldframes with rowcover when it starts to get cold, then plastic-glazed lids as it gets colder, and quilts for really cold spells. These days we are more likely to direct sow spinach in the frames than transplant lettuce. It’s hardier and faster growing.

·        From September 11-17 we sow lettuce every other day in our outdoor nursery bed, to transplant in our unheated greenhouse (double glass windows, solid north wall, rarely freezes in there). We harvest those lettuces by the leaf all winter until we need to dig out the compost they are growing in to fill our seed flats in early February.

Lettuce growing in our greenhouse in November.
Photo Wren Vile

·        On September 15 and 24 we sow lettuce outdoors in a nursery bed, to transplant in our hoophouse 10/15 and 10/24. Those lettuces will feed us all winter, 11/16-3/1, if we simply harvest the outer leaves, rather than cut the head.

Green Panisse and red Revolution lettuce in our hoophouse in November.
Photo Pam Dawling

·        On October 23 we start sowing lettuce mix in the hoophouse. We sow successions of baby lettuce mix directly in the soil 10/24, 12/31, 2/1, 2/15. The last one, on 15 February, will be for harvest starting mid-March, and ending in May when it gets too hot. By then we should be happily harvesting juicy lettuce heads outdoors and will have lost interest in the lettuce mix. We like Fedco’s 2981LO Lettuce Mix OG or Johnny’s Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix #2301. For those with challenging growing conditions, both companies offer other specialized selected mixes. 1 oz (28gm) of seed sows about 600 ft, (200m) 

Baby lettuce mix in our hoophouse in winter.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

·        We sow “filler leaf lettuces” in our hoophouse 10/23, and 11/9, to use for gap filling (replacing casualties). 1/25 is our last date for filling any gaps in the hoophouse beds with lettuce plants. After that, we fill all gaps with spinach plants.

Short rows of filler greens in the north edge bed of our hoophouse in December.
Photo Kathleen Slattery

·        So, we have different “stop-dates” for the different types and locations, but no complete Lettuce Stop-date.

o   8/29 Last date for sowing for outdoor row-covered lettuce

o   9/9 last date for sowing to transplant in coldframes

o   9/21 last date for sowing for planting in an unheated greenhouse.

o   9/24 last date for sowing for planting into a double-layered hoophouse

o   11/9 last date for sowing “filler leaf lettuces”

o   2/15 last date for sowing baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse.

How should people not in central Virginia calculate their own stop dates? Using the same numbers as above for the various types and locations:

  1. ​Figure out how late in the year it’s worth having lettuces outdoors. When does the temperature drop to 20°F (-7°C)? Stop sowing for outdoors 3-4 months before then. (Our 8/29 sowing is harvested by 12/31, but our 8/20 sowing is harvested by 11/25). It’s worth experimenting to find which date works best. Outdoors, I have found that lettuce may survive an occasional dip to 10°F (-12°C) with good rowcover. Consult your Extension Service and the website WeatherSpark.com. Fill in your location and look at pages of useful info about the weather where you are.
  2. Figure when your coldframes get down to say 15°F (-9°C). This might be when the outdoor night-time low is 10°F (-12°C), lower if you have a well-insulated coldframe. We have some old quilts to roll on top of our coldframe on nights below 15°F (-9°C). Perhaps lettuce won’t make it all the way through winter in a coldframe in your climate. If so, be prepared to clear the plants when it gets too cold. Calculate back to figure when to sow – allow 4 months to get full sized lettuces.
  3. Figure when your solar double-paned-glass and masonry wall greenhouse gets down to ° (-9°C), or add a small heater with a thermostat to keep it warmer than that. Calculate back to the sowing date, allowing for the fact that plants grow quicker in a greenhouse than outdoors or in coldframes. Maybe allow 3 months.

    Our greenhouse with young lettuce transplants in early October.
    Photo Bridget Aleshire
  4. As far as daylight goes, on 9/24 everyone everywhere is pretty much getting the same amount wherever we live. With a hoophouse, the goal is to grow plants to harvestable size by the time you no longer have lettuce from outdoors (refer to #1). It probably only takes 2 months to grow a lettuce big enough for leaf harvest in a double layer hoophouse. Just be sure not to over-harvest in the winter. We have had lettuce survive a double layer hoophouse temperature of 10.4°F (-12°C) without any rowcover (sometimes called an inner tunnel), and -2.2°F (-19°C) with.
  5. At this point calculations switch to what happens after the Winter Solstice. When do you plan to start harvesting your first outdoor lettuce again? Aim for a two-week overlap with both hoophouse and outdoor lettuce available in the spring. Work back from your hoophouse harvest end date to find the last worthwhile sowing date for filler lettuces. Because lettuce bolts easily when it gets warm in spring, play it cautious. We plan to start outdoors 4/15. We stop transplanting lettuce in the hoophouse 1/25, 2 1/2 months before then. Sowing filler lettuce too late is not really a problem – you can cut it as baby lettuce. But avoid transplanting it just to have it bolt.
  6. If your climate is cold, or you don’t mind only getting one or two cuts from baby lettuce mix, you can carry on sowing it until the soil temperature reaches 86°F/30°C (max temp for lettuce germination). If it is warm, do be sure to water often, so the lettuce doesn’t turn bitter. Otherwise look to you first outdoor lettuce and clear the baby mix when the outdoor crop is ready.
Beautiful baby lettuce mix in our hoophouse in February.
Photo Wren Vile

See my post Lettuce All Year in a Changing Climate 8/31/21. It includes links to all my Lettuce of the Month series, and includes my slideshow Lettuce Year Round and our 2022 Lettuce Varieties List, to help you choose varieties we recommend for different times of year.

For ideas on mixing various crops in winter salads, see Making Salad Mix 10/31/17 and Fast Growing Vegetables 3/24/20. Winter salad mix is also known as mesclun or spring mix (even though we are growing it in the winter). Spinach and many brassicas grow faster than lettuce in cold weather, and make delicious salads.

Bulls Blood Beet leaves
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Also, check my Asian Greens of the Month posts. This post from April 2018, includes at the end links to each of the series. Many Asian Greens make great salad crops. The frilly mustards featured in this post are a good example.

For information on the temperatures that many crops will die at from cold, see Winter Kill Temperatures 2021. I was updating this list each spring. 2022 seems to have slipped by. I don’t think I had any new information, as the winter wasn’t extreme (although we had a long and memorable power outage!).

 

Fruit for the Month: December – Quince

 

Quince fruits
Photo Emilian Robert Vicol from Com. Balanesti, Romania
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

We’re back in my monthly series about small fruits that can be grown sustainably in the Mid-Atlantic and other places with a similar climate. We are in the dormant period for most fruits, meaning fewer to harvest, none to plant, but still plenty to prune and care for, and new plantings to plan for next year. I give links to some useful publications. We have a focus fruit, and then more about others that need attention during the month.

Quinces are the focus fruit for December

Quinces are large yellow aromatic fruits like fuzzy apples, growing on large shrubs. They are ripe when the fruit are golden-yellow and have a good smell. I was taught to wait until they develop a split from top to bottom. They are usually cooked, rarely eaten raw. The easiest way I know to cook them is to bake them whole, until the flesh is soft. This does take a while, but is almost no work. They make delicious jellies and fruit butters.

The Harvest to Table website has a lot of good information on How to Plant, Grow, Prune, and Harvest Quince.

The UK Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has great info. This thorough website includes a monthly calendar of activities, written for the United Kingdom, where quinces are harvested from September. For comparison when reading British websites, the UK fits in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 through 9. (Remember this scale refers to winter temperatures only, not summers!) The coastal areas are zone 9, most of southern England is zone 8, northern England zone 7 and the central Scottish Highlands are zone 6.

Reasons to grow quince

Quince trees are easy-care, not prone to many peat or disease problems. As well as being productive, they have attractive blossoms in late spring. There are options for spaces of all sizes, and can even be grown in large pots if necessary.

Harvesting quinces

Start harvesting quince fruits in October or November, when they have turned from light yellow to golden yellow and are very aromatic. Leave them on the tree as long as possible to develop their flavor, provided there is no danger of frost. Use pruners to cut fruit from the tree with an inch or two (2-5 centimeters) of stem attached. Handle ripe quinces gently – they are hard but do bruise easily.

Storage of quinces

Only store undamaged fruits. Store quinces in a cool, dry, dark place in shallow trays. Make sure the fruits don’t touch, and don’t wrap them at all. Allow the quinces to mature for 6-8 weeks before cooking. You may want to keep quinces away from apples and pears as the aroma can spread to other fruits. See the Special Topic for December below.

Quince fruit storage problems

Fruit in storage needs to be monitored for rots and disorders. Fungal diseases usually attack damaged fruit and are worse in poor ventilation. Clean your storage spaces and containers thoroughly each summer to reduce the risk of brown rot.

Discoloration is not always caused by rots; some disorders appear in storage too.

  • Scald: Dark blotches resulting from gases emitted from the fruit.
  • Bitter pit: dry, brown sunken spots which appear during storage. Like water core, it is related to insufficient calcium during growth.
  • Core flush (pink or brown flesh around the core): usually the result of carbon dioxide build-up, if ventilation is poor (common in apples stored in plastic bags).
  • Water core: a disorder giving flesh a glassy appearance. It is caused by sap accumulating in the gaps between the fruit cells. It may disappear during storage, or it may get worse, leading to browning and the breakdown of flesh.
  • Internal browning: Pears and quinces are prone to this disorder that is found at harvest time or may develop during storage. It can be caused by environmental conditions during fruit development, poor storage conditions or internal rots.
  • Shriveling: caused by high temperatures or a lack of humidity, or both. If necessary, damp down the floor occasionally to maintain a moist atmosphere, or lay damp burlap over the fruit.

Choosing quince trees

Quince trees (Cydonia oblonga) come in many shapes and sizes, to suit all gardens. You can buy large spreading trees for attractive specimen trees in an open space, or half standards that suit smaller gardens. Compact forms grow well in large containers. An 18in (45cm) container is the smallest feasible, and 2ft (60cm) would be best. To keep quince bushes small, prune the top and roots each winter.

Quince trees reach a height and spread of 12–16ft (3.75–5m), depending on the rootstock, site, and soil type. Quince trees can be bought as grafted plants, on ‘Quince A’ (semi-dwarfing) or ‘Quince C’ (dwarfing) rootstock, or on their own roots, and are best bought as two-year-old trees with the first branches already formed.

Quince trees do not need a second tree to pollinate them. They are self-fertile and usually start bearing fruit when 3-6 years old.

  • Serbian Gold is a very good cropping quince with a good resistance to leaf blight. The fruits can be large and often apple shaped.
  • Champion is greenish-yellow, with tender flesh and a delicate flavor.
  • Cooke’s Jumbo is a large, yellowish-green fruit with white flesh, 6-8” (15-20cm) in diameter.
  • Orange, and Apple both have orange-yellow flesh, smooth golden skin and rich flavor, with high aroma.
  • Pineapple has white flesh and smooth yellow skin and a slight pineapple flavor.
  • Smyrna has large fruit with light yellow flesh and tender lemon-yellow skin.

Consult your Extension Service and local plant nurseries for which kinds do best in your area. Prices can vary widely, and quality may vary too. The Harvest to Table site has good variety descriptions.

Quinces are often confused with the shrub Chaenomeles (Japanese quince), the fruit of which is also edible (but small).

Where to plant quinces

Quinces tolerate a range of soils, but do best in a deep, fertile, moisture-retaining soil. They grow well when near ponds and streams, but will not do well if waterlogged. Add plenty of organic matter to light or shallow chalky soils before planting and mulch well afterwards.

Although hardy, quinces need a warm, sunny, sheltered spot, as the flowers open early and are susceptible to frost, and also, good sun exposure is needed for the fruit to ripen. Avoid planting in frost-pockets. In zones 8-9 they can be grown in the open. But further north or in colder or exposed sites, they are best planted in a sheltered spot, such as against a south- or south-west-facing wall.

How to plant quinces

Plant quince trees between November and March, while they are dormant. If planting more than one, bush trees should be spaced about 12ft (3.5m) apart, and half-standards about 15ft (4.5m) apart.  Stake the trees for the first 3-4 years. See the RHS step-by-step guides for full planting details.

Care of quince trees

Quinces flower early in the year, so if frost is forecast during bloom, protect the blossom on smaller trees with rowcover or burlap, removing it during the day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers.

Feed quinces in early spring before growth starts. Avoid overfeeding if fire blight can be a problem in your area, as lush new leafy growth is susceptible to this bacterial disease, Erwinia amylovora.

Propagation of quince trees

There are several methods of propagating quince, including budding (chip and T-budding), grafting, hardwood cuttings and layering of low branches, and by removing suckers. Root cuttings are also possible for ungrafted trees.

Pruning quince trees

Quinces fruit mostly on the tips of the shoots that grew the previous year, with few fruiting spurs. Prune quinces in winter during dormancy. Remove dead, diseased, dying or damaged branches, and any congested or spindly ones. Maintain well-spaced branches on a single stem, removing surplus branches as they grow. Once established, only light pruning is needed, apart from the removal of any crowded or low branches. The branch framework should be along the same lines as for tip-bearing apple trees.

For good crops, prune every winter, thinning out to improve light and air reaching the center. Remove no more than a quarter of the oldest branches, cutting back to the point of origin or to a shoot that is one-third of the diameter of the branch being removed. Prune out crowded branches, very vigorous shoots and spindly branches. If side shoots are less than 9” (23 cm) long, they can be left unpruned to bear flowers and fruit at the end of the growth the next season. Longer side shoots should be pruned back to about 6” (15 cm) long. Head back drooping and leggy branches. Remove any suckers around the base, and prune off any unwanted shoots on the main stem.

Black knots on branches and trunks are natural and should not be removed.

Quince fruits are not usually thinned unless there is an over-heavy crop that threatens to break the branches.

Common problems of quince trees

Codling moth can do extensive damage.
Photo UK RHS
  • Many of the insect pests that attack apples and pears, including codling moth and winter moth caterpillars, also attack quinces, but rarely cause serious problems.

    The caterpillar of the codling moth can burrow into quinces in summer, leaving fruit ridden with tunnels and frass. You can hang pheromone traps in the branches of trees in May to lure and trap the male moths, disrupting mating. You can spray a biological control on the fruit and the soil around the trees in the fall to kill caterpillars leaving the fruit.

  • Fire blight is a serious bacterial disease that infects plants through their flowers. It is spread by splashing of rain or irrigation water. Cut out infected shoots (with a margin for safety) and burn them or put them in the trash.
  • Brown rot (shown here on apples) . Photo UK RHS
  • Brown rot is a fungal disease causing fruit to brown and rot in patches. Attacks are worse in wet weather. Remove and destroy all infected fruit, and prune out branches that have become infected.
  • Powdery mildew is another fungal disease. It shows as a white powdery coating on the leaves. Remove and destroy infected leaves. Milk sprays can be effective.
      • Quince Leaf Blight. Photo UK RHS

    Quince leaf blight is a fungal leaf spot disease, showing as red-brown spots on leaves which then wither and die. Fruit may be spotted and distorted. Prune out affected leaves and stems and destroy them.

    Rake up and dispose of affected leaves in the fall to prevent the disease overwintering. Prune out any dead shoots in the dormant season. Feed and water plants well to encourage more leaf growth.

    Rots may develop where fruit cracks or splits if a drought period is followed by heavy rain.

  • This information comes from Harvest to Table and the UK RHS, who have  good photos of quince problems and suggestions on what to do.

Other small fruits still available in December

Persimmons ripening on a tray. We have many this year, that will feed us into December. Pam Dawling

Persimmons – we have a banner year!

Dried and frozen fruits, jams, jellies, chutneys, other preserves.

Stored apples and pears.

Wintergreen is a frequently overlooked native wild fruit. The tiny berries often persist through the winter (I guess they’re not too popular with wildlife. . .)

Frozen medlars can be eaten when picked from the tree

Other fruit care in December in the mid-Atlantic

Drip irrigation works well for raspberries, such as these fall-fruiting Caroline. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cut fall raspberry canes to the ground after the leaves have dropped. Weed raspberries.

In colder areas, you may cover strawberries with hoops, polypropylene rowcover or slitted plastic and clips. Weight down the edges with sticks, rocks or sandbags.

Read books: See my reviews of Levy and Serrano Cold-hardy fruit and nuts, and Blake Cothron’s Berry Grower. The RHS recommends Harvesting and storing garden fruit by Raymond Bush (Faber and Faber 1947, ISBN 54053000473672). Plan more fruit and place orders for delivery after the coldest part of winter.

Special Topic for December: Fruit storage

If handled carefully and stored in suitable conditions, fruit from your garden will store for weeks, or even months.

 For comparison with other stored fruits:

  • Quinces will keep for 2-3 months, after maturing.
  • Mid-season apples keep for 4-8 weeks
  • Late season apples need to mature for 4-5 weeks and can then last several months
  • Pears will store between 2 weeks and 3 months, depending on storage conditions

For example, varieties that store well includes:

  • Dessert apples: Cameo, Crispin, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Goldrush, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Idared, Jonagold, Macintosh, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Rome, Winston. There is a long list of other less well-known storing apples here.
  • Cooking apples: Bramley’s Seedling, Cortland, Lane’s Prince Albert. Also see the Washington State Extension list here.
  • Dessert pears: Bartlett, Conference (needs maturing after picking) and Doyenne du Comice (also needs after-ripening)
  • Cooking pear: Catillac

Suitable storage places include basements, garages, or sheds, if they are:

  • cool, with a temperature of 37-45°F (2.8-7°C) for apples and, if possible, cooler for pears (pears can be stored in a fridge salad compartment).
  • frost free
  • well-ventilated
  • dark
  • slightly humid
  • free from rodents

Five steps to storing fruit (from the RHS)

  1. Gather containers such as crates, slatted shelves, papier-mâché trays or shallow wooden or cardboard boxes. Ideal containers allow good air movement through the sides and over the top.
  2. Select undamaged, medium-sized fruits, ideally with their stalk intact. Those picked just under-ripe usually store best
  3. Lay the fruit in a single layer not touching each other. Place fruit gently to avoid bruising. If necessary, apples can be stacked on top of each other.
  4. Keep different cultivars (varieties) separate as they ripen at different rates. Ideally, keep mid-season cultivars away from late-season ones so that they do not speed up ripening. Likewise, do not store fruit planned to keep a long time near any produce that is sprouting or rotting. They emit ethylene which speeds up ripening.
  5. Label the boxes. Keep fruit away from strong scents that may taint them such as paint, and onions. Quince have a very pungent smell and are best kept away from other fruit

Check stored fruit regularly: 

  • Pears can ripen and pass their best quickly so check daily. In warm conditions they will soften slightly when ripe but, in cooler storage, ripeness will be indicated by a subtle change in color and they’ll then be ready to bring into the kitchen for a day or two to soften before eating
  • When one tray of fruit is reaching optimum ripeness, remove it from storage promptly as the ethylene released may speed up the ripening of the remaining fruit in storage
  • Discard any fruit that show signs of rot to prevent disease spreading

Prolonging storage

Wrapping apples individually in newspaper or tissue paper can help them keep longer but will slow down the task of regular inspection.

If no suitable storage conditions are available, small quantities of apples can be put in plastic bags in the fridge to store for a few weeks. Fill a bag with 4.5-7lb (2-3kg) of fruit, pierce several holes in it and fold the top loosely to allow air circulation.

Storing some pears loose in the salad compartment of the fridge can help to delay ripening until after those in storage have been used.

 

Flowers Against Aphids – The Research Continues

I missed Giving Tuesday, but I do have a donation button for anyone who is able to support my work! I appreciate the help, as blogposts don’t exactly pay for themselves.

September-sown Borage flowering in our hoophouse in January. Photo Pam Dawling

It’s late November as I write this. Starting last fall (2021) we sowed a range of flowers to attract beneficial insects, to plant in our hoophouse in hopes of reducing the early spring aphids. Aphids can get out of control in early spring in our greenhouse and hoophouse, as they become active before their native predators, such as ladybugs, emerge from hibernation. In January we get bad aphids on the lettuce and, of the flowers we planted to attract beneficials, borage was the only one flowering. It was not enough. We did three sprays of soapy water at 5 day intervals to kill the aphids. We also have a particular problem in our hoophouse and in our greenhouse on the eggplant, pepper and tomato transplants from mid-April to mid- to late- May depending when we manage to get them under control.

Young eggplant struggling against lots of aphids.
Photo Pam Dawling

Most flowers in our trials were annuals, and they flowered and died. We still have four yarrow plants and one bushy shungiku. Shungiku is Glebionis coronaria, (formerly called Chrysanthemum coronarium, Ismelia coronaria, Xanmthophthalmum coronarium, or Pinardia coronaria), and commonly called Crown Daisy. Most chrysanthemums are perennial with poisonous leaves, but shungiku is an annual. Our plant seems not to know this.

September-sown shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Shungiku is the eastern Japanese name for the edible chrysanthemum, also known as “garland chrysanthemum” or “chop suey greens” in English. It is known as “Kikuna” in western Japan, “tong hao” in Chinese, ssukgat in Korean and cải cúc or tần ô in Vietnamese. There are various colors of flowers. Ours are yellow, not banded with other colors. We bought seed from Small House Farm. Bevin Cohen says it does attract bees, butterflies and predatory insects, and would probably do well in the winter hoophouse, and could be provoked into bolting early in the spring.

After our research and trials, we decided it isn’t worthwhile growing the annuals, as they didn’t flower when we needed them (except this shungiku!). We might try borage again, as it was quick to flower last year, and other people have done well with borage. Ours died. We also decided (as recommended by a reader) to leave some overwintered brassicas to flower. We are starting to find bolting mizuna, so that may be perfect.

Bolting mizuna in our hoophouse
Photo Pam Dawling

Two of the four yarrow plants have flowers (in November) and we will keep them. Having perennials seems a good way to get flowers in early spring. These plants were too young to flower last spring. We still have some seeds of the perennial phacelia, so we could try that again, although perhaps it isn’t cold-hardy enough.

Anti-aphid yarrow flowering in our hoophouse in late November, 13 months after sowing. Photo Pam Dawling

If you want to read the trials and research that led us to this point, see two posts from February 2022: More on Insectary Flowers. It was too cold for predators in early February, even with enticing flowers. Ladybugs showed up in late February and we had borage flowers for them, but no other flowers. We had sowed at the very beginning of September and the very end of October. After that, we started more flowers in our greenhouse on February 1. We noticed that plants in pots dry out very fast in the hoophouse, and they have to be hand-watered, as the drip tape doesn’t do it. It’s probably better to get the flowers in the ground in the hoophouse and greenhouse as soon as they are big enough.

Earlier in February, I posted Growing flowers to attract aphid predators in early spring

I listed aphid predatory insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, aphid parasites, damsel bugs, braconid wasps, rove beetles, syrphid flies, and spined soldier beetles, as are attracted to plants with small flat open flowers, like alyssum, dill, yarrow, buckwheat, sunflowers, and cosmos.

On a big scale this is known as Farmscaping, and you can read about it in a publication from ATTRA; Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control . You can use this publication to make a specific plan to tackle particular pests. Ladybugs are a good general help because they eat the eggs of many different pest species.

A ladybug on the leaf stem of a sunflower planted to attract beneficials. Photo Pam Dawling

Organic Integrated Pest Management involves tackling pest problems one step at a time with ecologically-based practices, starting with actions chosen to reduce the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops. You can find various listings of steps online and in print. They are all in basic agreement – start with prevention, follow with avoidance, and finish with pest-killing if needed. I recommend the ATTRA Organic IPM Field Guide. Each of the 22 pages is a poster, complete with good photos and concise clear info.

eOrganic has many articles on Insect Management in Organic Farming Systems that explain ways to tackle pest problems with ecologically-based practices, starting with actions chosen to reduce the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops.

A pepper leaf with tiny aphids.
photo Pam Dawling

That post describes the lifecycle of aphids, starting in spring with eggs hatching into wingless females that give birth via parthenogenesis to more females. Within a week, one female can produce 100 clones, which can repeat the process at the age of one week.  This continues until adverse weather or predators trigger production of a generation of winged female aphids that moves to new plants. Later in summer male aphids are born and females lay fertilized eggs that overwinter on host plants, to hatch the following spring.

There is a chart in the post, giving details of the flowers we chose, where we found the seed, and which months we decided to plant them in.

Our first sowing, in September, was of borage and shungiku (Chrysanthemum greens) only. We thought having some flowering plants in large pots would enable us to move them to the trouble spots, but plants in pots dry out too fast. The borage flowered with pompom-like clusters, much more compact than spring outdoor borage does.

Anti-aphid flowers yarrow in pots in January (October sown)
Photo Pam Dawling

The second sowing, in late October, included Meadowfoam, Tidy Tips, Phacelia and Yarrow. Those plants were still small at the beginning of February. No flowers, no help against January lettuce aphids.

The third sowing was February 1, and included borage, shungiku, Meadowfoam, Phacelia, Tidy Tips and yarrow.

The September-sown borage and shungiku both had trouble with cold temperatures during January – three non-consecutive nights at 10F (-12C). Some of each got cold-damaged.

By February, no beneficial insects had been seen on the borage flowers, and no aphids had been killed as a result.

Shungiku in November with a bee.
Pam Dawling
Shungiku with spider, in November. Pam Dawling
Shungiku with a fly in November. Pam Dawling
This looks like a leaf-footed bug on the shungiku in November. Not good news to have this pest around! Pam Dawling

—————————————–

The background to these 2022 trials included a lot of research. In July 2021 I posted Controlling Aphids in Early Spring

Climate change is making the problem worse: for every 1degree Celsius rise in average temperature (about 2 F degrees), aphids become active two weeks earlier.

Organic Integrated Pest Management

I have a blog post about our organic integrated pest management, a 7 step method of pest management which starts with actions least harmful to the ecosystem, only employing biological controls such as botanical sprays and selective pesticides if necessary after all other steps have been insufficient.

Pepper plant with aphids and ants farming them.
Photo Pam Dawling

Applying these principles to dealing with early spring aphids

  1. Prevent infestation Control ants (which farm aphids for their sweet excretions). Try repellents, or trap crops of nasturtiums.
  2. Cover or protect physically with fine mesh netting.
  3. Provide habitat for natural enemies. Plant for a continuous supply of insect-attracting blooms, that flower early in the year and attract predators such as ladybugs, lacewings, syrphid flies (hoverflies), damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs, and spiders. Grow early flowers with pollen and nectar they can use as alternative foods. Sow seed in fall for earliest bloom.
  4. Monitor crops at least once a week
  5. Introduce natural enemies: We do have an aphid parasite in the hoophouse as we do find mummies, but not enough to control an aphid outbreak in spring. Parasitic wasps for aphids include Aphidus colemani from Arbico Organics; Aphidus ervi from Arbico; a predatory gall-midge, Aphidoletes aphidomyza, (cost $125 including shipping per week, perhaps $375 total); Green Lacewings (more affordable); Ladybugs, notorious for flying away.
  6. Hand pick and kill. Handpicking aphids is likely impossible, so blast them off the plants with a water jet from a hose.
  7. Use biological controls. Failing success with the methods above, a soap spray can be effective, although aphid predators will also be harmed. We use 3 Tablespoons (15 ml) per gallon (3.8 l) of biodegradable Murphy’s Oil Soap, in a sequence of 3 sprayings 5 days apart.

Also see that post for details about Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa), a spring flowering wild annual in the aster (sunflower) family; Meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), a fast-growing bushy annual commonly known as poached egg plant and Douglas’ Meadowfoam; Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), a low spreading, shrub-like annual; Borage, a warm-season annual, taking only about 8 weeks to flower from sowing; Sweet Alyssum, a small annual; Shungiku, described above. We considered, but did not plant two biennials: Dill and Angelica, as they sound quite large. The perennials we chose, are also large (30” tall, or much more, and might need staking), but the advantages of having permanent working plants won us over. Yarrow is hardy to zone 5. Common Yarrow (with flowers that range from white to red) is hardy down to zone 3. It attracts an array of beneficial insects. Phacelia is particularly useful in early spring if it has overwintered as it is an early pollen source for bees coming out of hibernation. Sow in the fall for early spring blooms But it winter-kills at approximately 18˚F (-8˚C), and I think that’s what happened to ours. We also considered Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare (common fennel) but it blooms from mid-summer to frost. Too late and too tall for our goal of attracting spring aphid predators in the hoophouse. Coyote bush, (Baccharis pilularis), also called chaparral broom, is a native shrub related to sunflowers, that sounds way too much of a space hog. And Dandelions – I just couldn’t bring myself to risk planted this sturdy weed in the hoophouse!

That post also includes details of natural enemies you can buy, and how to make a soap spray if none of those efforts work. Also there you will find the approach we decided on as the Best Options for our Hoophouse and Greenhouse in April and May

November photo of shungiku flowering in our hoophouse alongside Yukina Savoy, senposai and Hakurei turnips. Pam Dawling

———————————————————–

Way back in July 2016, I posted  Insectary Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects

This post covers insectary flowers outdoors and in, at various times of year. At the end of April we sow several plug flats of different flowers to plant out in Insectary Circles at the ends of our outdoor raised beds.

See my July 2017 Mother Earth News post Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects In late May or early June, we transplant IPM

flowers in our outdoor Insectary Circles in the vegetable garden to attract pollinators and pest predators. We use circles cut from plastic buckets to surround these clusters of flowers so that inexperienced helpers don’t pull them out as weeds.  We use a combination of sunflowers, dill, borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia (Mexican sunflowers), zinnias.

Cindy Conner suggested leaving parsley and celery plants to overwinter and flower early.

Book Review Resilient Agriculture, second edition, Laura Lengnick

 

The front cover of Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture, second edition

Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, expanded and updated second edition, Laura Lengnick, New Society Publishers, May 2022. 352 pages, $34.99.

With climate change, we are facing horrible challenges and hard work with high stakes. We can feel hopeless at times, but Laura Lengnick helps us understand hope, and how it spurs us to search for solutions. Hope is an action word, meaning “to cherish a desire with anticipation.” Grounded hope includes the knowledge that to achieve the results you want you have to work with others. Grounded hope leads to feelings of personal agency, empowerment and acceptance of reality.

Laura Lengnick has rewritten her 2015 book, updating the science and adding new farmer interviews. Laura has been walking the talk, biking, carpooling, calculating her carbon footprint and helping craft an energy descent action plan for her local community. In her work writing a report with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), exploring agricultural adaptation to climate change, the author became familiar with the language of resilience, including terms such as vulnerability, exposure, sensitivity, adaptive capacity, climate risk and climate equity.

Part 1 of this book explores specific examples of the unprecedented climate challenges across the US, how the weather has been changing, and what is likely to happen in the next 30 years, along with ideas of adaptation strategies to manage climate risk. We must come to grips with the fact that climate change adaptation is not about figuring how to adjust to a “new normal.” It’s about figuring out how to manage the risks created by more variable weather patterns that are likely to change at a faster pace and grow more intense through at least mid-century.

For ten years we have been warned that food production faces unique challenges due to climate disruption. But most people have failed to make any changes as a result of this information. Naturally it is hard to adjust to the reality that record-breaking weather is already becoming common. How do we design and implement systemic changes so that we can thrive as big changes hit us frequently? This is the field of resilience science.

Our hoophouse with shadecloth for growing summer crops. Photo Pam Dawling

Part 2 considers the principles and practices of resilience thinking in agriculture; the four kinds of resilience science and which is most useful when considering food supplies; resilient agriculture design principles; and some tools for cultivating resilience in food and farming systems. The concept of Vulnerability involves identifying damaging threats and choosing effective responses. Adaptive Strategy is aligning intentions and effects for increasing our resilience. Response, Recovery and Transformation Capacity is a concept to help us move forward, rather than expecting to return to a prior state.

Part 3 explores how resilience thinking can transform the global food system, and which actions we can take to contribute to resilient agriculture. The Rules of Resilience guide us to design, assess and manage resilient social-ecological systems. Rebuilding to previous standards (even “building back better”) could simply repeat the same mistakes we made before.

Part 4 provides the real-life stories from over 40 sustainable farmers and ranchers across the US, over about 100 pages. (I am one of the farmers interviewed for this book, just sayin’.) Some readers will go straight to this last third of the book, skipping the theoretical framework, learning from the specific towards the general. There are livestock farmers and ranchers, growers of perennial fruits and nuts, cut flowers, and vegetables on areas from 2 to 1000 acres, up to 3,200 acres when grain growers are added in. There are fourth-generation farmers, first generation farmers, those on farms they bought, those on rented land, those in intentional communities, urban, suburban and rural farmers. They farm across the continent.

Climate scientists observed a big change in the rate of climate change in 2000 and another in 2010. In 2021, we suffered historic winter storms in the northwest, central and eastern states, with temperatures as much as 40 F degrees below (what used to be) normal. With hindsight it turns out that the last 10,000 years (since our ancestors switched from being hunter-gatherers) was a period of very stable temperatures.

Garlic beds next to rowcovered broccoli beds, under a stormy sky.
Photo Wren Vile

In the past few years in the US we have had record-breaking numbers of very destructive hurricanes, wildfires, winter storms, deadly summer temperatures and water shortages. 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have had mandatory reductions in water use because the Colorado River could not supply what everyone wanted.  In southern Wisconsin, Richard DeWilde suffered not one, but two, one-thousand-year floods in 2007 and 2008. Less dramatic events such as hotter nighttime temperatures quietly disrupt successful farming.

Growing and raising food is a tricky, skilled business. Farmers have never controlled all the variables. Managing weather-related risks (one of the highest risk factors), is now much harder. The author interviewed farmers who had been farming in the same location since at least 1990, who were most likely to have observed weather changes. All have noticed changes in the weather that they have never experienced previously, although opinions vary about the causes. Farmers everywhere tell of challenges with too much or too little water, temperatures too high and too low, at all times of year. Their descriptions fit into climate science, and offer insights into the consequences of our failure to act in time on climate change.

But the changing climate is not the only disruption. Social forces are a threat to sustainability. Industrialization and globalization of the food supply, sweeping health, safety, environmental and labor regulations that disregard other aspects of a good life. The farmers on these pages recognize the value of healthy soils, diverse operations and high-value marketing.

Resilience thinking involves major shifts in at least six design principles. Listing from least to most challenging they are:

  1. Abandoning myths of creating perfect conditions for production and consumption.
  2. Moving away from the idea of maximum industrial efficiency, which ignores societal costs (pollution, public subsidies of unsustainable practices, some work undervalued).
  3. Valuing local knowledge more than distant experts. Local conditions such as water supply and needs vary, and may vary more in future.
  4. Shifting to working with local ecological design with the capacity to produce and recycle needed energy and materials.
  5. Pivoting from imported to local resources, removing the need for large-scale networks which are vulnerable to collapse.
  6. Moving towards a regenerative economy and away from an extractive one; no longer ignoring the real costs of industrial systems on human rights, the environments, and society as a whole.
Spreading hay and newspaper as mulch over a new strawberry bed. Local resources provide more resilience than bought in manufactured ones. Photo Luke Stovall

Vulnerability

Climate change vulnerability includes both the potential impact of a particular change and our adaptive capacity.

Impact depends on both our farm’s exposure to that impact and the farm’s sensitivity to that particular change. This is the part we are more used to dealing with. Assessing specific threats and reducing the worst of them as best we are able. This may include changes such as soil drainage or planting a shelterbelt, and also changes such as deciding to replace no-longer productive apricot trees (that break dormancy earlier and get frozen buds) with a different crop.

Adaptive Capacity covers not just our individual wits and wisdom, but also knowledge and what options are open to us; and the operating context: reducing damage by making changes. This moves us on from reducing risk to looking for better opportunities – this is cultivating resilience.

Using these approaches to think about climate change risks can help us find better solutions, nimbler responses. Learning more about expected changes helps us be prepared with plans for change. Here’s more about each of these aspects.

Exposure to Impact

A farm’s exposure to impact from a specific change can be obvious, or can be masked by, for instance, looking at averages. An average of 12” of rain from July-September could mean 4” per month, or a single storm dropping 12” in early July, followed by a drought until the end of September. Over the last 100 years, average temperatures in the US have increased, but not consistently across the country. Regional geographical and land use differences create regional patterns. The Southwest has severe droughts; the northeast has damaging floods. Global average temperatures have increased 2F degrees since 1900, due to human activities. This rise has led to a cascade of other changes, such as declines in polar sea ice and glaciers, and rising sea levels, and such changes will become worse, unless we reduce the level of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere. We must adapt to a moving target.

Raised beds will drain and be ready to plant sooner after rain.
Photo Ezra Freeman

I live and farm in the southeast. Sea level rises and heavy downpours in our region are already obvious. Dangerously high temperatures, higher humidity, new pests and diseases, are on moving in. Hot nights have increased more than hot days; the growing season is ten days longer than it was in the 1960s. We can expect a rapid pace of increasing temperatures, day and night; another 20 days’ increase in the length of the frost-free growing season; more rain in the fall; and water and heat stress leading to decreased yields. There are details of both observed changes and expected changes of each of seven regions in the US.

Sensitivity to Impact

A farm’s sensitivity to a particular change is the magnitude of the effect of that change. To assess sensitivity, look at increasing resource costs to succeed with a given crop, and the frequency of failure. Does continuing with a certain crop force you to buy expensive new equipment such as wind machines to reduce frosts in orchards, or does it require you to spend relatively little switching to varieties or breeds better suited to the evolving conditions? If you supply other farmers with plants, a switch to hardier types, or heat-tolerant types, might set yourself on a better path. Heritage breeds, heirloom varieties and landraces hold lots of valuable genetics.

Adaptive Capacity

A farm’s adaptive capacity is its ability to cope with the challenging consequences of changing conditions and to take advantage of new opportunities that arise as a result. This requires thinking about the farm as a whole and the interactions of the components in order to increase the adaptive capacity and reduce the vulnerability and risk from climate change. If your farm has managed 10, 20, 30 years of good yields, this shows you have a good degree of resilience. Healthy soils are a key to buffering variable temperatures and rainfall, and thus, climate risk.

Three characteristics combine to determine your adaptive capacity. The operating context is the name for the sum of the ecological and social resources that shape your options. The individual capability to act describes your ability to manage the changing conditions. Existing knowledge and options limit or inform your ideas on how to manage change. There’s a diagram to illustrate this, with a farmer puzzling the options in the center.

As Jamie Ager in North Carolina points out, weather variability has always been a normal part of farming. “Part of being a successful farmer is probably just your head space. . .” Constant worry is taxing on the spirit, so look for things to act on, rather than things to worry about.” Ultimately the success of farming across the world will depend on the willingness and ability of farmers to take action to minimize climate risk.

 Adaptation Stories

All the farmers interviewed come from a perspective of sustaining the soil, the crops, the workforce. They are not primarily motivated by profit, or achieving the highest yield at any cost. This chapter introduces the farmers one region at a time. Fuller stories are in Part 4 of the book.

Unrolling irrigation drip tape from shuttles, using a garden cart as support.
Photo Luke Stovall

Some farmers have purchased different machinery to cope with different conditions. Some have purchased more, so two tractor operators can go out at once and get the crop tended to quicker. Some have shifted to higher-value direct markets, certified organic production (with its premiums), adding annual vegetable crops in the mix with their perennial fruits. Some have changed to different cover crops, mulches and irrigation systems. Some have shifted to shorter season crops to give themselves a second chance each year, if weather conditions prevent planting on their previously-usual date.

Several emphasize the importance of building up healthy soils. Some have made a specific change, such as introducing more frost protection; others have made many smaller changes, such as faster-maturing crops, or ones more adapted to heat, cold or dry weather. Some have found value in a Holistic Planning approach, and a willingness to make big changes quickly, such as selling 70% of the herd for that season. Some have even sold their farm and moved to a farm on higher ground. Some have switched their work to a different time of year. Some have installed solar power to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Some have installed contour swales to capture rainfall.

Some have found high tunnels, shade houses and other forms of protected growing to give them better results and more peace of mind. Some have planted more shade trees and hedgerows. The use of tarps to reduce weed infestations has helped several. Livestock farmers have improved their rotation systems and some have added a mix of annual forages into their permanent pastures. Making value-added products and adding some agritourism events have helped others.

The approach of sustainable farmers is quite different from the large “get big or get out” farms that rely on bank loans, government subsidies, imported soil amendments and fertilizers, more and bigger machines, and whatever it takes to continue “farming as usual” in the face of a completely new situation. The inventiveness of these farmers and their willingness to pioneer new approaches and consider abandoning long-held principles (such as no plastic), will cheer us all, and provide much inspiring food for thought.

Laura Lengnick, author of Resilient Agriculture

Challenges in Vegetable Production

 

Harlequin bugs.
Photo University of Maryland Extension Service

 At the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference, in Durham, North Carolina, November 5-7, I facilitated a Farmer Round Table on Working Through Production Challenges. I started the event by providing stickers and asking participants to fix them on a chart, which had a circle divided into 16 segments, labeled Land & Space; Weather; Capital, Infrastructure & Equipment; Time Use & Planning; Quantities; Prioritizing; Labor; Crops & Varieties; Planting; Weeds & Pests; Harvest, Wash & Pack; Contingency Plans; Learning; Resources; Support; and Other Stuff.

Production Challenges chart from my workshop at CFSA

 

I asked people to use red or pink stickers for their three worst production challenges, orange or yellow for their next worst, and green or blue for topics where they had once had a problem, and have since found a solution. (The reason for the varying colors is that I didn’t know how many people would be there, and used stickers I had on hand!)

Honestly, we could have made a full-day workshop, trying to cover all the challenges! Apologies to the people whose problems never got mentioned out loud.

We started with the category of Weeds and Pests as that had the most red and pink stickers, and spent a bit of time towards the end on labor challenges and a tiny bit of time on solutions that people had found to various problems. In fact, we spent most of the workshop talking about insect pests, from nematodes up by size, through flea beetles to potato beetles, Japanese beetles and harlequin bugs.

To make up for weed and pest management topics we didn’t get to, here are some updated resources from my first book, Sustainable Market Farming. This will also be useful to owners of my book, (as the links are now 9 years old), and anyone else looking for pest, weed and disease biological management.

Golden Glory zucchini. Open, disease-resistant plants
Photo Pam Dawling

Resources on Plant Diseases

Why Things Bite Back, Edward Tenner. See the chapter on vegetable pests, accidentally introduced weeds and deliberately introduced exotics to better understand the “revenge of unintended consequences.”

Identifying Diseases of Vegetables, Pennsylvania State University. Good photos and symptom lists.

ATTRA Sustainable Management of Soil-borne Plant Diseases

Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web

Dr. Elaine’s Soil Food Web video: How it Works, is on her website.

eOrganic Disease Management in Organic Farming Systems

Biopesticides for Plant Disease Management in Organic Farming Systems:

Ohio State Biopesticide Controls of Plant Diseases: Resources and Products for Organic Farmers in Ohio

University of Massachusetts Vegetable IPM Guidelines

Purdue University Disease Management Strategies for Horticultural Crops Using Organic Fungicides

Debbie Roos has a wealth of searchable information on her Growing Small Farms site, including Disease management links

Environmental Protection Agency Biopesticides Page

Damping Off Diseases Tom Clothier (not organic)

Cornell, Treatments for Managing Bacterial Pathogens in Vegetable Seed

University of Illinois Extension, Vegetable Seed Treatment. The first two pages describe hot water treatment for killing diseases on seeds. After page 3, it’s not organic.

Mushroom Mountain, information and mycorrhizal fungi granules for plant roots:

Resources on Sustainable Weed Management

Cover of Manage Weeds on Your Farm
SARE

 

Manage Weeds on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies, Charles Mohler, John Teasdale and Antonio DiTommaso, published by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Includes profiles of many, many weeds. $24 or free (large) download

 

eOrganic Weed Management Topics

 eOrganic, Manage the Weed Seedbank – Minimize Deposits and Maximize Withdrawals

ATTRA Sustainable Weed Management for Small and Medium-Scale Farms

The University of Maine Quackgrass Management on Organic Farms

CEFS logo.

Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), Weed Management on Organic Farms

University of Illinois, Managing Weed Seedbanks in Organic Farming Systems,

I’ve lost track of a wonderful document based on pictures and charts (see the earthworm snag the weed seed on page 52!): here’s an old link: www.mosesorganic.org/attachments/research/10forum_weeds.pdf

Oregon State: Biological Control of Weeds

MDPI: Bioherbicides: An Eco-Friendly Tool for Sustainable Weed Management

SARE logo

SARE, Vinegar as an Organic Herbicide in Garlic Production, Fred Forsburg, 2004 project

Resources on Sustainable Pest Management

Garden Insects of North America, by Whitney Cranshaw.   Stock Image

Garden Insects of North America, Whitney Cranshaw

Farmscaping Techniques for Managing Insect Pests, Brinkley Benson, Richard McDonald and Ronald Morse

eOrganic Farmscaping: Making Use of Nature’s Pest Management Services

Farmscaping with Dr McBug, Richard McDonald

ATTRA Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control

Cornell Organic IPM

eOrganic Insect Management in Organic Farming Systems has many useful short articles on specific facets.

ATTRA Organic IPM Field Guide an attractive 9 page poster format introductory document.

ATTRA Biointensive Integrated Pest Management

Cornell University New York State Vegetable IPM Resources

NRCS Conservation Practice Standard 595 – 1 Integrated Pest Management

SARE Handbook, Manage Insects on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies:

Building Soils for Better Crops, book from SARE

SARE Handbook Building Soils for Better Crops

Cornell University Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management

Cornell University Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America

Growing Small Farms: Organic Pest Management

ATTRA Greenhouse IPM: Sustainable Aphid Control

Root-knot nematode—Meloidogyne brevicauda Loos
Photo: Jonathan D. Eisenback, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

ATTRA Nematodes: Alternative Controls

Beneficial insects and other IPM resources, BioControl Network, TN

Arbico Beneficial Insects

University of Kentucky listing Vendors of Beneficial Organisms in North America