Busy events time

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I spent the weekend of January 31/February 1 at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in Richmond. You can read about it on their website. You can also access at least 16 of the presentations made at the conference, and you can find out about the Farm Tours program for 2014 on their website.

Luckily I was not making a presentation this year – luckily, because I was sick, and would have found it difficult. I did three sessions of book signing, and attended some workshops myself. I also met up with a lot of old friends.

I particularly enjoyed the workshop by Jean-Martin Fortier about Les Jardins de la Grelinette in Quebec. Those of you who can read French can check out their website. Jean-Martin has written a book, published in 2012 in French (http://lejardiniermaraicher.com/), and freshly published in English by New Society. It’s called The Market Gardener. Here’s the info from New Society:

“Les Jardins de la Grelinette is a micro-farm located in Eastern Quebec, just north of the American border. Growing on just 1.5 acres, owners Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene feed more than 200 families through their thriving CSA and seasonal market stands and supply their signature mesclun salad mix to dozens of local establishments. The secret of their success is the low-tech, high-yield production methods they’ve developed by focusing on growing better rather than growing bigger, making their operation more lucrative and viable in the process.”

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This past weekend, February 6-9, I was at the PASA Conference in State College, PA. This was my first time at this large 2000 person conference. I presented two workshops, Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (attended by 135 people) and Producing Asian Greens (attended by about 60 people). Both went well, and generated interesting questions. You can view my presentations on SlideShare.net. Also Rhino Technologies recorded the workshops and will have CDs and MP3s for sale soon. Watch the PAS site for info.

I also did some book-signing, and attended some workshops by other farmers and researchers. I was particularly inspired by the PASAbilities Address by Miguel Altieri  on Why is agroecology the solution to hunger and food security?  You can experience it on YouTube here. A very well researched, outspoken and inspiring person, with a global perspective.

Next Saturday (2/15) I will be at Lynchburg College, Virginia teaching an all-day program with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I’m speaking on Feeding the Soil. We would have done more publicity, but the event is sold out! Next week I’ll get my slideshow up on SlideShare.net.

Ira, Cindy and Pam working on their presentations for Lynchburg College 2014
Ira, Cindy and Pam working on their presentations for Lynchburg College 2014

Conference Season!

This weekend (Friday and Saturday) is the Virginia Biofarming Conference, in Richmond, VA. You can see the program here. If you’re going, come by the authors’ table and chat. I’ll be there (James River Foyer) signing books Friday 2.30-3pm and 4.30-5pm. On Saturday, I’ll be there 10-10.30 am. There are lots of great workshops!

cropped-website-header-2013-12The following weekend, Feb 7 & 8, I’ll be speaking (and signing books) at the PASA Conference. On Friday at 1.15-2.35 I will be presenting Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables. Then from 4.10 to 5.30 I will be presenting Producing Asian Greens for Market or at Home.

2014-ART-SLIDEThe following Saturday, Feb 15, I’m presenting a day workshop with Ira Wallace and Cindy Conner at Lynchburg College: Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round! It is already sold out, and there is a waiting list, so no point in me doing much promotion for that! The workshop description is: “Learn about Virginia-specific garden planning, season extension, crop rotation, compost, cover crops and how to interpret seed catalogs”.

Vegetable Crop Spacing Resources

For the February issue of Growing for Market, I’ve written an article about crop spacing. Because there wasn’t space to print it in the magazine, I’m posting the resource list here. The magazine will be out in mid-February.

The Southwest Florida Research and Education Center did a lot of work on growing transplants, but it is closing as a research establishment, and I am still seeking the web location of their wonderful resource covering age of transplants, container size, biological control for pests, diseases, hardening off, plant size, planting depth and temperature. Charles S. Vavrina  wrote several of the articles, including

Bigger Is Actually Better:A Study of Transplant Container Cell Size edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs107

An Introduction to the Production of Containerized Vegetable Transplants edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs126

Chapter 5 Transplant production from the 2011 Vegetable Production Handbook for Florida, by Bielinski M. Santos is at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/CV/CV10400.pdf

ATTRA has a good 2005 publication on Plugs and Transplant Production for Organic Systems: attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=55

John Jeavons How to Grow More Vegetables

Steve Solomon Gardening When it Counts. Steve lists his preferred “semi-intensive raised bed”spacings, those of John Jeavons, and adaptations for areas with little irrigation or rainfall (on the flat, no raised beds) and extensive cultivation with adequate water.

 

New year, new Growing for Market, new slideshow- Providing vegetables for the full eating season

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/providing-vegetables-for-the-full-eating-season-2013-pam-dawling” title=”Providing vegetables for the full eating season 2013 Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Providing vegetables for the full eating season 2013 Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

This is the presentation (Providing Vegetables for the Full Eating Season) that I gave to the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville in December. It’s a combination of Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests and Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables. I have got all my powerpoints re-instated on Slideshare.net. If you go to their site and search for Pam Dawling you’ll see many choices. Down the right side of the screen you’ll see other people’s slideshows with related content. This can be a great way to learn more. (Is it raining hard where you are too?)

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The January Growing for Market is out, along with my article Planning Your Harvest Schedule. As anyone who plans any kind of garden knows, planning is circular and no item is planned in isolation. So I discuss the sequence of planning steps and where the harvest dates, quantities and diversity of crops will fit into all that. I give leads to lots of good resources and look at some of the valuable lessons that can be learned from the experiences of those farmer-teachers. I look at how much you might want to harvest, and therefore how much you’ll need to set out to grow. The next step is deciding the sowing dates to meet those harvest dates. Some people use web-based planning systems, others (like us) use spreadsheets, while some prefer worksheets in notebooks. No one method is right for every farm!

Also, there’s an article by Chris Blanchard, on growing fresh cut herbs for market, one by Darlene Wolnik to update farmers about accepting SNAP at farmers’ markets. The last article is by Gretel Adams, about scaling up a flower farm. Much is relevant to vegetable farms too. The photo of the four EarthWay seeders bolted together is useful to anyone growing four rows of anything!

The editor of GfM, Lynn Byczynski, has written a great article on taking good photos of your farm – many lessons for me in there! Nowadays, farmers need photos. Even if you aren’t writing a book, you probably have a website, blog or Facebook page for the farm, and showing customers what life is really like (or sorta really like!) on the farm helps develop their interest and understanding of what’s involved in food or cut flower production. Lynn’s new book Wedding Flowers, Fresh from the Field, is at the printers. In creating the book, she gathered four photo essays of different types of flower arrangement, four videos and dozens of other photos about producing beautiful flowers.158_full

The Arctic Vortex gave us two nights at 4F

Next post I’ll update “What’s still alive. . . ”

Ice on the pond. Credit Ezra Freeman
Ice on the pond.
Credit Ezra Freeman

Book Report: Cindy Conner’s Grow a Sustainable Diet

79656b7348504867374d52494a3839696d6d77-400x400-0-0Book Report

Cindy Conner: Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth. New Society Publishers 2014.

 

“This book will help you learn how to calculate how much food you need and how much space you need to grow it, ” proclaims Cindy Conner. It  is written for the backyarder or homesteader who takes food self-sufficiency and ecology seriously. To grow food crops without depleting the soil or bringing in outside inputs, for instance, you will need to dedicate 60% of your land to growing compost crops or cover crops. This challenge is not for the faint-hearted. But here you have the leader-in-a-book, you are not going it alone.

Cindy explains what she means by a sustainable diet and includes a fascinating exercise “What if the Trucks Stopped Coming?” – where would you go to get all your food within 100 miles from home? Within 50? 25? What foods would you be eating and what would disappear from your life? Would the existing farmers be able to supply everyone’s needs locally, or would you need to provide more for yourself and your household? What would your priorities need to be? Your first thought might be that you’d need to make secret stashes of food, and get guns to keep away your hungry neighbors. Cindy says she doesn’t believe guns will keep hungry people away and the better answer is to act from compassion, and work with your neighbors to meet whatever the future brings. None of us can survive without community, so let’s make sure our community is strong enough to meet the challenges.

In the Garden Maps chapter, Cindy explains how to divide the available garden space up into smaller plots or sets of beds, increasing your ease of access without losing a high percentage of potential growing space to paths. Beds curved along the contours will reduce rainwater runoff and erosion. On the other hand, straight lines are easier to hoe quickly. Design your garden to suit the ways you use the space – how you get to the chicken pen, or the compost pile. Permaculture design principles have influenced Cindy’s choices.

Next you can chose your crops. If all your nutrients are to come from your garden, you will need to pay attention to growing enough calories. otherwise you’ll lack the energy to get to the end of the season! Cindy reports that potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, salsify, leeks and garlic are on the list of calories/area. Personally I can’t imagine getting a lot of calories from garlic. Besides the overwhelming flavor there is the issue of the work involved – garlic is labor intensive at certain times of year. Leeks similarly don’t seem a good source of calories per pound, even if they are good per square foot. And winter squash are easy to grow and surely full of calories. They do take space to grow, but I wouldn’t rule them out for that reason alone.

If you grow a lot of the calorie crops already mentioned, you will also be growing a lot of protein. Legumes produce more protein, at the cost of needing more space than the high calorie crops above. Beans, peanuts, peas can be interplanted with other crops to get that protein in the most space-saving way possible. Grains provide amino acids that are complementary to those in legumes, and the straw of grain crops is valuable for mulch or compost-making. Calcium is vital for bone health and there is plenty to be found in leafy cooking greens. A little oil or butter on the greens will help assimilate vitamin D, which is as important as calcium.

Oils and sweeteners are the two space-hogging challenges when it comes to food self-reliance. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds and peanuts, whether eaten whole or pressed, supply oil, as can some tree nuts. The home-grown vegan diet would be short on oils. Those who drink milk and eat eggs get some fats that way, easier by far. Some fruits store for out of season use. Honey, maple syrup and sorghum syrup can be home-produced, although you’ll be shocked the first time you see how much land and how much work goes into the vegan options. (Honey is made by small furry animals, it isn’t vegan.)

The question of  How Much to Grow is important, if time, effort and land are not to be wasted. Locally-adapted varieties and your personal culinary preferences, as well as potential yields per area will influence your planning. After your first year, your record-keeping will be your guide to making improvements.

To keep your garden productive year after year, you will need to feed the soil. You can do this by bringing in organic materials as mulch or to contribute to your compost. If you worry about the reliability of the supply from outside, or whether it is contaminated with herbicides or car exhaust, or whether its production is truly sustainable, you’ll want to be as self-relaint in that department as in the rest of your enterprise. You could grow mulch crops (straw or hay) as part of a bigger farm, in rotation with grazing animals. Or you could grow all your compost and mulch crops within the boundaries of your garden.

Compost is a priceless soil amendment, adding not just organic matter and the basic nutrients but also a fine collection of microbes. There are almost as many ways of making compost as there are compost-makers. Cindy prefers the cool, slow method (using a relatively high proportion of carbon materials to nitrogen materials), in order to “farm” the particular mix of microbes that result that way. The annual pile is part of her garden rotation, built on top of one of the beds, starting in the fall. The next fall, after that compost is spread on the garden, winter rye is sown.Next spring this is cut and left as mulch. The rye has scavanged any compost left from the pile and returns the nutrients to the soil as it decomposes around the corn seed (sown into the mulch).

Earlier, I said you need to plant 60% of your garden in compost crops or mulch, to have a sustainable system. Two thirds of that space would be in carbon crops and one third in nitrogen crops. Happily, some of the compost materials will be grown as a by-product of a food crop (corn stalks are a good example). The book leads you through the process of identifying suitable crops, and best of all, provides a worksheet to help you determine Bed Crop Months. For each bed, from your plan you determine how many months that bed has food crops and how many months compost crops (remember that one crop can be both!) Winter cover crops really help achieve the goal! After considering each bed, you tally up and see if you need to find more niches for compost crops.

All the work in Cindy’s garden is done by hand, including cutting down cover crops, and this is carefully explained. The space is used very intensively, often planting several crops in the same bed to get best use of the space, and so that one can take over from another later.

Scheduling so your crops mature when you want them is the next big task, followed by planning a good crop rotation,and fitting everything into the space you’ve got. “Lay out your intentions, stay flexible and keep learning.” More worksheets are provided to help you.

Sections on looking after your seeds, on including animals, on food storage and preservation and on sheds, fences and other support systems follow. About animals: “You can plan a diet of only plants, but you would be hard pressed to fill all your nutritional needs without taking supplements, which are not part of a sustainable diet.” Hear, hear!

Cindy’s book will set you on the path to providing healthy food for your household without depleting the Earth in the process. Her conversational style will give you confidence as she breaks complex ideas into manageable steps. Beginners are talked through the process step by step. Cindy’s years of teaching college shine through. One reframing exercise I liked was this “if you have thought of weeding as drudgery, something you have to endure [b]egin to think of weeding as a harvest of materials for the compost pile.”

Workshops, weather and slideshow tribulations

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

Yesterday I gave my three hour presentation “Providing for the Full Eating Season” to the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville,VA. I’d guess there were 50 people there, and 11 of them bought copies of my book!

A question came up that I don’t know the answer to, and now it has me curious. Do leave a comment if you have an answer. Some professional growers need to know how to allow for the slowing rate of crop maturity going into winter, when deciding how much of a crop to grow. Because we at Twin Oaks don’t sell our food, we can simply provide a transition from warm (or cool) weather crops to cold weather crops, without worrying exactly on the quantity of each. Those selling at farmers’ markets or CSAs could possibly do similarly. But those selling wholesale need a certain amount of a crop – either a box or no box – but not half a box. Naturally, all growers need to look at what is worthwhile.

I think in our gardens we have simply made our decisions based on experience, without a numerical base. I can say that 7 x 4 x 90ft of kale will provide 10 gallons of leaves at least three times a week in November, December, February, March. Not January maybe. I’ve never actually counted. And five outdoor beds of spinach (each 4 rows X 90ft) under thick rowcover, combined with about 700 row feet in the hoophouse will be plenty for 100 people for the winter. And we can eat more than 700 leeks per month from October to February. But’s that’s about all I know. Per person, that’s about 25 feet of kale, 20 feet of spinach and maybe 20 feet of leeks for winter in Virginia.

A bed of overwintered leeks Photo credit Twin Oaks Community
A bed of overwintered leeks
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

In my last post I said we’d had an overnight low of 10F, but in reality it only dropped to 14F. We were lucky with the last winter storm. We didn’t get snow, only got a thinnish build up of ice from freezing rain, and din’t lose power except for 15 minutes on Monday, presumably due to our supplier switching off while reconnecting those who had lost power. Now it looks like we’re in for more cold winter-storm weather.

I have in the past uploaded my slideshow presentations to SlideShare.net, but they closed down my account saying I was guilty of “violating SlideShare’s Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines.” I can’t imagine what I can have done wrong, so I’ve appealed. The wheels of progress grind slowly. Meanwhile you can find my June 2013 presentation on Planning Fall Crops at Virginia State University; my Growing Great Garlic presentation at CFSA, uploaded by Fred Broadbent. VABF has my Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops presentation.

If anyone knows other ways I can upload slideshows, please speak up.

Upcoming workshops, winter weather, preparing seed orders

First up, note this change of location for my workshop on December 11th. Adrianna Vargo from the Local Food Hub sent this notice of a change of location:

“Due to overwhelming demand (and a few grumpy farmers!) we have moved the location of next week’s workshop with Pam Dawling to accommodate more people.

The new location is:
Albemarle County Office Building
Room A
1600 5th Street Extended
Charlottesville VA 22902
Other details remain the same:

Providing for the Full Eating Season: Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests of Summer Vegetables, and Growing and Storing Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables

Date: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 6:00 pm
Location: Albemarle County Office Building, Room A (1600 5th Street, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22902)
Cost: $25 (free for Local Food Hub Partner Producers)
Questions: farmservices@localfoodhub.org

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Secondly, I am planning a workshop with Cindy Connor, author of Grow a Sustainable Diet and Ira Wallace, author of the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. It’s at Lynchburg College, in SW Virginia, on Saturday February 15. I’ll give more details once we have them sorted out.

Cindy has written a blog post about Ira Wallace’s new book, Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. See http://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/

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The weather here has turned wintry. We are bracing for the big ice storm expected Saturday night and Sunday, likely followed by power outages, during which the electric lines-people struggle to restore power over a big area, as this storm looks (on the radar) like it covers a big swath. Here’s the regional radar from Weather Underground this afternoon

Weather Underground regional radar for December 7 2013
Weather Underground regional radar for December 7 2013

In case you couldn’t tell from my slack blogging recently, I’ve been on vacation. My fellow communard, Ezra Freeman, has been tracking the weather here, and reported in his blog on a low of 10F on Saturday 23 November. The previous low had been 18F on November 13, reported to me by Ken Bezilla at Acorn Community and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Here are some seasonal photos of our gardens taken by Ezra:

East Garden with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman
East Garden with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman
Raised beds November 2013 Credit Ezra freeman
Raised beds November 2013
Credit Ezra Freeman
Ice on the pond. Credit Ezra Freeman
Ice on the pond.
Credit Ezra Freeman
Blackberry leaf with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman
Blackberry leaf with frost.
Credit Ezra Freeman

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Meanwhile, our garden work turns towards planning for next year. We have done an inventory of our remaining seeds and decided what to keep and what to throw out. Opinions vary a bit about how many years seeds of different vegetables are good for. The fuller story is that storage conditions make a big difference. You can make your own decisions, weighing up the information supplied, your knowledge of how carefully you stored the seeds, the information on each packet about percentage germination when you bought it, and the economic importance to you of that particular crop. If you always transplant lettuce, as I do, you can risk one of your four varieties in that sowing coming up poorly, and just plant out more of the other three if it fails. Many seed catalogs include information about seed longevity, and so does Nancy Bubel in The Seed Starters Handbook. Frank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.

A simplified version of how long to keep seeds is as follows:

Year of purchase only: Parsnips, Parsley, Salsify, and the even rarer Sea Kale, Scorzonera

2 years: Corn, Peas and Beans of all kinds, Onions, Chives, Okra, Dandelion, Martynia,

3 years: Carrots, Leeks, Asparagus, Turnips, Rutabagas

4 years: Spinach, Peppers, Chard, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, Basil, Artichokes and Cardoons

5 years: most Brassicas, Beets, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Cucumbers, Muskmelons, Celery, Celeriac, Lettuce, Endive, Chicory

Rather than deteriorating with age, some very fresh seed has a dormancy that needs to be overcome by chilling (lettuce).

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We are working towards ordering seeds. The catalogs are starting to appear in my mail box. The early bird catches the preferred varieties! The main companies we order from are Fedco, Johnny’s and of course, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We like SESE for regionally adapted varieties, Fedco for great prices on bulk sizes, and Johnny’s for some varieties we really like that aren’t available from the other two. If you are ordering from Fedco and don’t yet have my book, they are now selling it at a very decent price (cheaper than signed copies direct from me). If you need to economize, but don’t want to buy from the big online company that doesn’t pay its workers much, try Fedco, who are a co-operative.

Review of Lynn Byczynski’s Market Farming Success

648Book Review of Market Farming Success: The Business of Growing and Selling Local Food by Lynn Byczynski. Published by Chelsea Green, October 2013

7” x 10”, 276 page paperback, full color photos throughout, $29.95.

A thorough revision and updating of a book originally written in 2006.

I write about the planning and crop production aspects of market farming. I leave the equally important marketing side to be covered by those who know more. Lynn Byczynski is an extremely knowledgeable mentor. Her overview of the business of market farming is a survival kit for new and aspiring vegetable farmers. It can save you from many pratfalls on the learning curve. Lynn explains each challenge of professional small-scale vegetable production (including some you never even realized you needed to know) in a calm, clear, confidence-boosting voice. She writes from her own experience seasoned with sifted information gleaned from the many growers she knows as editor of Growing for Market magazine.

There are eight chapters identifying and explaining aspects of market farming that new growers need to tackle. The book covers getting started, finding markets, choosing crops to grow, tools and equipment, planning, crop production, post-harvest handling and business management. Lynn gives useful information on resources and helps growers work towards success.

Should you quit your day job to start market farming? Lynn’s advice is to work towards that without jumping into the deep end. Learn as much as you can about farming while your income still reliably comes from another source. Teach yourself, learn from other farmers, practice with a big garden. If possible, keep some other part-time job going even while you start to earn a living from farming. Balance the inspiration and the perspiration!

Lynn explains the naming of small farms: less than 3 acres is generally called market gardening (or micro-farming). One person full time can handle one acre of intensive vegetable production, earning $20,000-35,000 per acre with a margin of 50-60%. Equipment consists of basic manual tools. Working between 3 and 12 acres is generally called market farming. Hand labor is not enough, therefore there are more capital costs. Income varies widely – finding enough markets to sell all the crops at retail prices can be a challenge. Vegetable farms cropping more than 12 acres need mechanization. Production is less intensive, and so the income/acre is less – up to $10,000/acre. Earning a good income relies on using more land, with a smaller profit margin – 10-50%. Of the gross income, one third each may go to paid labor, non-labor expenses and net income for the farmers.

When buying a farm, look for good soil: check the Web Soil Survey and talk with NRCS. Get help from programs for new farmers and Start2Farm.gov, a single site which collects all the free resources. Johnny’s has a free manual on building moveable caterpillar tunnels. Study drainage, texture and slope. Fertility can be improved, but rockiness will damage machinery and joint cartilage. Know how you will irrigate – never assume enough water will drop from the sky.

Drip irrigation can work with low water pressure, save water and money, reduce foliar diseases, as well as weed growth between the rows. It can be intimidating for beginners. Lynn gives step-by-step instructions to set up a basic drip system (I wish I’d had this when I was first venturing into the mysteries of drip irrigation!) Once you have the basics, you’ll learn whatever you need to upgrade. “Once you see how easy it is, you’ll be thrilled.” Such plain-spoken encouragement lightens up the book, as do the instances of novel solutions like wearing a Mardi-Gras necklace to remind you the irrigation is running.

You’ll need a diversity of crops, not just a couple of profitable items. You’ll need critical mass for the whole of your chosen season, not just early crops. Of course, grow what yields well for least labor at your farm, grow what sells best at the highest price, but also grow what fills gaps between your major crops. Keep records! “The only way to benefit from your experience is to keep records of everything you do. You may think that you will remember when you planted which variety, and when you started to harvest it. And there may be a few geniuses out there who really can remember the details on their crops. But when you are growing five, six, seven varieties of 20 different crops, you are not going to remember it all.” Lynn backs up these words of wisdom with example record sheets.

When deciding which equipment to buy first, start with machinery for tasks you can’t easily hire out. For example, secondary tillage, because this needs to be done in a timely way. It is easier to hire out primary tillage, such as plowing or disking, which needs big tractors. Tips like this can save you from tying up your limited capital in poor-choice gear, and can even save you from going under. Be sure to make a cash-flow projection so you don’t spend more than you have, or will have when you go shopping.

There are four types of seeder: the cheap plate seeders such as the EarthWay, which does a great job for the price, and leaves your crew to do the thinning; drills such as the Planet Junior; pinpoint seeders used for precision seeding of small seeds, closely sown; and precision planters which space seeds accurately, for a price. Start cheap, don’t rush to spend money. If you are growing many different crops, you might not benefit from hard-to-adjust precision seeders, so don’t spend money unless it will pay you back.

“Having great produce is essential to your success as a market gardener, but growing is only half the job. As a market farmer, you still have the selling ahead of you, but even that is not the end of the work. You still have five additional skills to master: food safety; post-harvest handling; value-added processing; pricing and presentation.” Lynn provides this clear list and then suggests you can and will master these skills and that you can measure your progress. Never sell cheap – you won’t earn a living and you might alienate people who could be your mentors.

On-Farm Food Safety Assessment helps you figure out how to handle produce safely on your farm. “Many market gardeners get into the business by gradually transitioning from home gardening to commercial gardening. If you are somewhere on that continuum, stop right now and decide that from this day forward you will act like you are in business.” Deal with taxes, legal structures, hiring, insurance. Get professional advice.

Here’s the reward: “When your business is also an activity that you enjoy, your pleasures become tax-deductible . . .  Maybe you would like to grow 50 varieties of lilies in your garden just because you love the look and fragrance of lilies. When you are in the cut-flower business, you can grow all the lilies you want and deduct the cost.” Her exuberance lightens this somber subject.

It is a general rule that one person working full-time can handle only one acre of production. Then you’ll need to hire workers from one of the four possible pools:

  • your kids (good tax benefits, as well as teaching them skills and responsibility);
  • interns or apprentices (low cost, involves training and wider education);
  • H-2A program workers (temporary immigrants);
  • local workers.

Insurance is a minefield. Beware of not expecting to get sued ever. Some people’s insurance may require them to sue you to compensate for receiving insurance payments or claims. “it is important to understand. . . you cannot depend on the fact you deal with your friends, to assume they won’t sue you if something goes wrong. In most cases they will not be making this decision, the insurance company will, and insurance companies are not interested in friendships.”

Lynn explain the possible relative costs and benefits of paying workers’ comp insurance for your employees versus adding employees to your farm liability policy. This could save you $400/person/year.”

Lynn is committed to helping new farmers meet success. She plans to put the whole “Where to Learn More” chapter on the Growing for Market website so that we get one handy access point with live links to all the sites mentioned. Go to www.growingformarket.com click the button for Market Farming Success.

I started out recommending this book for all new market farmers. As I read it, I see that this book is so dense with helpful tips that any market grower could quickly save the cover price many times over, just learning and applying one new trick.

Cindy Conner’s Grow a Sustainable Diet, and results from the poll about my blog 2 weeks ago

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Endorsement for Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and growing to feed ourselves and the Earth, by Cindy Conner, which is being published by New Society Publishers early next year. Fun cover!

Cindy’s book will set you on the path to providing healthy food for your household without depleting the Earth in the process. Her conversational style will give you confidence as she breaks complex ideas into manageable steps. You can learn from the outset how to replenish what you take from the soil, by cropping intensively, growing cover crops (to till in) and crops to cut and compost. She advocates growing compost materials on 60% of your land, and she explains her Bed Month concept to help you do this easily. You can also read what Cindy has to say about it on her blog 

When I put out a short poll two weeks ago I wondered what the response would be. Here’s the answers so far

Mini-articles on a particular crop 5 45%
This week in the garden 3 27%
Other: 3 27%
Book reviews 0 0%
Other Answer Votes
small farm equipment reviews and suggestions 1
All of the above. 1
All of the above – love your VA gardening info 🙂 1

Well, no one spoke up for book reviews. Too bad, I’ve got some good ones!

But I’ll definitely try to focus on the things you do want!

Growing for Market articles

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The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, and

Roma Virginia Select, grown at Twin Oaks. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Roma Virginia Select, grown at Twin Oaks.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

with it my article on No-Till Cover Crops. We use an organic no-till winter cover crop mix of winter rye, Austrian winter peas and hairy vetch before our paste tomatoes (our home-grown Roma Virginia Select available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange). We sow the cover crops in mid-September (zone 7 here, average first frost Oct 14). In early May the vetch is starting to flower and the rye shedding pollen, and we are itching to transplant our paste tomatoes. We mow down the cover crops with our hay cutting machine, which cuts closer than a bush-hog and leaves the straw in long strands. Then we set out stakes and ropes and transplant, pushing aside the cover crop as needed. The vetch provides all the extra nutrients the tomatoes need, and the resulting mulch keeps the weeds away for 8-10 weeks. By then we have installed T-posts and started string weaving.

String weaving tomatoes (these aren't Romas). Credit Kathryn Simmons
String weaving tomatoes (these aren’t Romas).
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We mow between the rows if there is much regrowth from the cover crop, or weeds getting big, then we roll out spoiled hay to deter weeds for the rest of the season, add some more organic matter and keep the cooler temperatures and the moisture in the soil over the high summer. We plan for this and make our rows 5.5ft apart, so we can unroll the big round bales to carpet the aisles.

In my article I talk about the pros and cons of no-till, and give examples of other suitable food crops and other suitable cover crops for no-till.

Also in this issue is an article about the honeybee crisis and what we can do, such as growing pollinator habitat and encouraging or importing other pollinators. A follow-up article discusses the big problem of neonicotinoid insecticides, which are very long-lasting and may even cause more insect deaths the year following spraying. This is a major problem for organic farmers and for everyone who eats vegetables and fruits. Yes, all of us.

There is also a timely article on preparing hoophouses to deal with snow-loading,and one on growing lisianthus for splendid cut flower sales.

Chris Blanchard tackles flaws in the proposed produce safety rules, which seem in places to be based on a nonsensical idea of growing food in a sterile environment. The comment period for the Proposed Produce Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule closes on November 15. If you read this before that date, click here for information and instructions on how to comment on the rules. Chris (who has written a series of very practical recent GfM articles on food safety) also writes in this issue about water (for irrigation and for washing produce) from a food safety point of view. Those who use any surface water (ponds, creeks) have a particular responsibility to check their water supplies frequently and work to keep them sanitary.

I have been writing an article for the January issue of Growing for Market, so that I can take a break at the end of the year. I am writing about Planning Your Harvest Schedule, and I’m including links here to our Twin Oaks Harvest Calendar, which lists which vegetables we expect to have when (if all goes well!). We have the list sorted alphabetically by crop, and also by starting date.

Twin Oaks Harvest Calendar by Crop

Twin Oaks Harvest Calendar by Date

You can see what you could be eating if you lived at Twin Oaks and helped us grow it all. Actually, of course, you wouldn’t have to work in the garden yourself, to get this good food. We share all our work, and you could instead be doing some tasks I’d hate to do, like repairing cars, making tofu or tackling accounting.

November sunset Credit Ezra Freeman
November sunset
Credit Ezra Freeman