Young greens in the hoophouse, nematodes, upcoming events

Young senposai transplant in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

After the set-backs with our winter hoophouse greens  transplants that I wrote about last week, we worked really hard and got the whole house planted up. Most of the transplants have recovered from their transplant shock (wilting each day), during the cloudy weather we had.

The new seedlings are coming up fast and calling on us to thin them. We ended up not needing so many of the Plan D plug flat plants, but we’ve kept them for now “in case” .

Young Tokyo bekana transplant in our hoophouse .
Photo Pam Dawling

Ultimately if we don’t need them, they’ll go in a salad mix. I wrote about making salad mix last year. The past two days I have been able to harvest a mix in the hoophouse. The ingredient we are shortest of is lettuce. My first mix was spinach, Bulls Blood beet leaves, a few leaves of Tokyo Bekana, Bright Lights chard, Scarlet Frills, Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills, and a handful of lettuce leaves. Red Tinged Winter is growing fastest, of all the varieties we planted this year.

Ruby Streaks transplant in our hoophouse. Compare with Scarlet Frills below.
Photo Pam Dawling

Golden Frills mustard transplant in our hoophouse. I harvested a leaf for salad mix yesterday.
Photo Pam Dawling

Scarlet frills mustard in our hoophouse. Notice that this crop is frillier than Ruby Streaks.
Photo Pam Dawling

The mix I made today had fewer ingredients. I left the frilly mustards, the lettuces and the Tokyo bekana alone to grow some more. I used Bulls Blood beets, spinach, tatsoi outer leaves and a few Bright Lights chard leaves and stems.

Cucumber roots with nematodes (see circles).
Photo Pam Dawling

I have a new Mother Earth News blogpost, about the nematodes in our hoophouse. And I’m preparing a new slide show for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference. See my Events page for details

For those of you on other social media, here are their handles and links (use the hashtag #CFSAC2018).

This week we will be popping garlic for planting and having our Annual Garden Crop Review meeting. Next week I’ll tell you more about garlic planting as part of the Alliums for November post.

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

Hoophouse fall bed prep Plans A-D and spider-webs

Spiderweb glistening with dew, October hoophouse. Happy Halloween!
Photo by Bell Oaks

One of my colleagues noticed this beautiful web, like a crystal chandelier with dew drops. A few days ago I noticed lots of baby wolf spiders scurrying about. Next day they had started “ballooning” when they carry themselves on the breeze to a new place, spinning out a length of spider silk.

We’ve pulled our peppers, the last of the summer crop to remain in our hoophouse. This dislodged lots of spiders, both the zipper spiders and wolf spiders. We like to keep as many zipper spider egg-cases as possible in the hoophouse over the winter, so we have plenty of pest control next year. We move them off the plants onto the framework of the hoophouse or the hipboard “windowsill”.

Zipper spider egg cases hanging from the hoophouse plastic.
Photo Wren Vile

This fall we have kept up with our vigorous bed prep schedule, and tomorrow we will finish. Some years it’s a strain to keep up, but we’ve now set a one week-per-bed schedule in place, to reduce stress. This year our problem has been with getting transplants germinated and thriving. We’re now on Plan D! Plan A starts with making sowings on 9/15: ten varieties of leaf lettuce and romaines, chard, pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy, in an outdoor bed to be transplanted into the hoophouse in a few weeks. See  Sowing hoophouse winter crops  9/19/2017.

Hoophouse seedlings growing outdoors under insect netting.
Photo Pam Dawling

On 9/24 we sowed ten more varieties of lettuce, Red Russian klae, White Russian kale, Senposai, Yukina Savoy #2, and several frilly mustards (Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills, Scarlet Frills). We also resow anything that didn’t come up well in the 9/15 sowings (Plan B). This year, many crops did not come up well, or at all. Some seed was too old (mistakenly kept at inventory time last November). Some plants were eaten by cutworms.

On 9/30 we resow anything from the 9/24 sowings that didn’t come up well. This is Plan C. We resowed a lot this year. 9/30 is actually a bit too soon to tell if 9/24 lettuce will come up or not, if the soil temperature has cooled down a fair bit already.

Filling the greenhouse beds by barrowing compost along a gangplank.
Photo Wren Vile

We have some spare lettuce plants from the sowings made for our unheated greenhouse beds.They will help us out, as the outdoor seed bed only has half enough plants, and the numbers are going down daily as the cutworms feed!

Lettuce growing in our greenhouse in a previous November.
Photo Wren Vile

Given the situation, we moved to Plan D. This involved sowing plug flats of crops we were still hoping for, setting the flats on one of the empty hoophouse beds, shading them and watering whenever they looked at all dry. The idea is that there are no cutworms here, and the temperature inside the hoophouse is warmer and now more suitable for faster seedling growth. (In September it is often too hot in the hoophouse to germinate lettuce, spinach and some other crops, which is one reason we sow them outdoors).

Plan D: seed flats in our hoophouse on Oct 16, a late attempt to catch up!
Photo Pam Dawling

Usually we would have been busy every late afternoon transplanting all these crops, but because of our rounds of crop failures, we have had more time to devote to the bed prep.

For more about fall hoophouse planting, see these earlier posts:

Fall hoophouse bed prep and shadecloth removal 9/4/18

Hoophouse Bed Prep for Fall Plantings in my Mother Earth News blogpost in August along with step-by-step instructions on using a broadfork, a scuffle hoe and a rake to produce a well-prepared bed with good tilth.

Hoophouse vegetable rotations in my September Mother Earth News blogpost

Planning winter hoophouse crops for our step-by-step process for hoophouse crop planning

What’s growing in the hoophouse 10/10/17

Feeding the Soil Slideshow, Hoophouse Crop Rotations, Growing for Market Magazine

Tall sweet pepper plants in our hoophouse in early October. Photo Pam Dawling

First a photo of a couple of sweet pepper plants in our hoophouse. They are looking a bit “back-end-ish”, but are still producing fruit. We plan our rotation so that the bed which had peppers during the summer is the last to get planted to greens. This lets us get the most peppers possible. Plus, preparing the other beds keeps us fully occupied.

This week’s post is a catch up on various topics. I have been busy with speaking events (see my Events page at the tab on this site), and the busiest time of the year in the hoophouse, preparing to plant the winter greens.

On the topic of hoophouse vegetable crop rotations, I have just posted something on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. There are two lovely pairs of photos, winter and summer, demonstrating crop rotations.

Hoophouse beds in November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh


Heritage Harvest Festival

At the Heritage Harvest Festival I spoke on Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slideshow on that. Click the diagonal arrow icon to view it full screen.

Last weekend I presented Season Extension for the Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health, and I will be presenting that topic again this weekend at the Center for Rural Culture, Goochland, VA 23063.

I will include that slideshow in a couple of weeks. Next week is my Alliums for October post.


I haven’t found much reading time lately, so a magazine is just the thing! I’ve finished the September Growing for Market and am just moving on to the newly published October issue.

The September issue starts with an article on profitable bouquet making (something I’ve never tried to do) by Erin Benzakein. She gives ingredients for each season, “recipes”, and systems for ergonomic working. Spencer Nietmann writes on managing seasonal farm income using a cash projection spreadsheet. If you see yourself heading for disaster, you delay buying equipment and move that expense later in your projection. Simple and effective. No bad surprises! He also advocates for using zero interest credit cards short-term to pay for an expense you are confident you can pay for before the end of the free period. His example is paying for a hoophouse until the NRCS EQIP grant money came through.

Ellen Polishuk’s Farmer-to-Farmer profile is Blue House Farm in California. Franklin Egan writes on strategies to grow organic matter levels and reduce tillage at the same time. This is to help answer the challenges of some farmers on new land that was previously in continuous industrial corn production. The farmers were growing impressive bulky cover crops in sequence, but needed intensive tillage to get those covers incorporated. This tillage knocked back the organic matter levels each time. They used a farm walk to invite other farmers to suggest improved methods to bring their land into good heart.

Sam Hitchcock Hilton wrote about an urban farm in New Orleans using events and farm meals to develop interest in their vegetable sales. It is written in the voice of the farm goat, which adds an entertaining touch.

The October issue starts with an Introduction to Korean Natural Farming, which was a new topic to me, and may well be new to most of you. The method includes indigenous microorganisms, or “bugs in a jug” (a fermentation process is used). You can learn how to try this for yourself.

Jed Beach writes about his top crops for profitable wholesaling. His hypothesis is that “there are four factors that predict which crops can be competitively profitable for small farms to grow, even at close to distributor prices.” Perishability, matching planting to sales, gross sales per square foot and gross per harvest-and-pack hour. He provides a chart of his seven most profitable seven least profitable crops assessed on these factors. Thought-provoking stuff.

Ellen Polishuk’s Farmer-to-Farmer profile this month is Sassafras Creek Farm in Maryland, with 6 acres of vegetables and 17 acres of grains. The farmers there have a clear system of employment expectations and benefits, and instructions. Half of farm sales come from a farmers market and the other half come from wholesaling to restaurants, natural food stores, caterers and other farms’ CSAs. They decided early on that running their own CSA was not for them.

I was startled by the next article: “You don’t need a high tunnel to grow ginger” from three growers in the Midwest. (“Surely you do”, I thought). They used grant money to test out growing ginger in low tunnels, some with in-ground heating coils, some with in-ground foam insulation. Soil temperature is key (60-85F). But, personally, I’d still rather have a high tunnel!

Doug Trott wrote about planning and ordering now for next year’s flower crops – useful tips for flower growers everywhere.

Lettuce slideshow, Mother Earth News Fair, FaceBook Live, Top summer blogposts, upcoming events

We drove home seven hours from the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair yesterday through the rain. The remnants of Hurricane Florence. We were among the lucky people. Earlier forecasts for Florence had the hurricane raging across central Virginia.

At the Fair, I gave two workshops: Fall and Winter Hoophouses and my new Lettuce Year Round, which you can view right here. Click the diagonal arrows icon to get a full screen view.

I had a bit too much material for a one-hour time-slot, so those of you who were there and felt disappointed at what I had to leave out, you can see it here.

While I as at the Fair I did a FaceBook Live Interview about gardening in hoophouses, with another author, Deborah Niemann. Look on Facebook for Deborah Niemann-Boehle or click the topic link above. She has several books: Raising Goats Naturally, Homegrown & Handmade, and Ecothrifty.

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer.
Photo Nina Gentle

Meanwhile, Mother Earth News tells me that my post 20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather is in third place for most popular posts this summer.

The winner  An Effective and Non-Toxic Solution for Getting Rid of Yellow Jackets’ Nests by Miriam Landman got 43,328 views in 3 months!

Weeding rowcovered spinach in winter.
Photo Wren Vile

Looking at my own website statistics, I find that for this week, the most popular posts are

  1. Winter Kill Temperatures of Winter-Hardy Vegetables 2016
  2. Soil tests and high phosphorus levels
  3. How to deal with green potatoes
  4. .Winter-Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables 2018
  5. Alliums for September

For all-time, the bias is naturally on posts that have been around longest,

  1. Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest! Is most popular, followed closely by
  2. Winter Kill Temperatures of Winter-Hardy Vegetables 2016.
  3. How to deal with green potatoes is still #3.
  4.  The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month,
  5. Harvesting Melons
  6. Book Review, Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier
  7. Wnter Hardiness
  8. Book Review: The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman and
  9. Setting out biodegradable plastic mulch by hand

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

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I’ve updated my Events page again, now that the September- April  “Events Season” has hotted up. I’ve added in a couple of new ones and updated some others. Click the Events tab to find conferences and fairs near you, and be sure to come and introduce yourself!

Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at the Heritage Harvest Festival Tomato Tasting.
Photo courtesy of Monticello

The Heritage Harvest Festival  is September 21-22 Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia

I’m giving a Premium Workshop on Friday Sept 21, 3-4 pm Classroom 7. Click the link HERE to book for that.

Feeding the Soil

In this workshop I will introduce ways to grow and maintain healthy soils: how to develop a permanent crop rotation in seven steps, and why your soil will benefit from this; how to choose appropriate cover crops; how to make compost and how to benefit from using organic mulches to feed the soil. Handouts.

Book-signing Friday 4.15 – 4.45 pm.

On Saturday there are events all day from 10am to 5pm. $26 general admission.

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Saturday September 29, 2018  Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health,  Fishersville, VA 22939. 9 am – noon

I’m giving a two-hour Class on Season Extension, followed by one-hour Q&A teaching tour of the hoophouse and greenhouse.

Fall hoophouse bed prep and shadecloth removal

Our hoophouse is covered mid-May to early-September with a large shadecloth.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Today we’re removing the giant piece of shadecloth that has been over the top of our hoophouse since mid-May. We’ll unclip the ropes, roll them up, then pull the shadecloth off onto the ground, roll and bundle it up. It’s important to store it so mice can’t get into the bundle and make holes. We already have a few of those!

The shadecloth is held on by ropes zig-zagging between snap grommets on the shadecloth and large hooks on the baseboard.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We’ve just finished preparing the first of our 7 hoophouse beds for the winter greens. Crops grow so fast in the hoophouse, and the organic matter in the soil is consumed at a rapid rate. Every new crop requires a fertility boost. In the fall, we prepare our beds by removing all the summer crops, and spreading four or five wheel­barrows of compost per 4′ × 96′ (1.2 × 29 m) bed. This is a generous 46 gals/100 ft2 (or 680 L/36 m2 bed)or more. A full wheelbarrow generally holds six cubic feet (44 gallons or 170 liters). 1 ft3 = 7.5 US gals. An inch of compost is about 8 ft3/100 ft2, or 60 gals/100 ft2; 20 gals/100 ft2 is 15 tons/acre (8.6 L/m2). Other professional growers use any­where from 12–40 gals/100 ft2 (5–17 L/m2). Some use much more.

There are 3 concerns about using too much compost: high phosphorus levels, raised salt levels and nitrate accumulation. Some growers like to do two years of high compost rates (40 gals/100 ft2, 17 L/m2 or more), then reduce the rate to half that and add fish or kelp, at only 5 oz–8 oz/100 ft2 (15–24 gm/m2) per year. Sustainable alternatives to compost in­clude organic pelleted chicken manure, alfalfa meal, etc.

Broadfork from Way Cool Tools.
Photo Way Cool Tools

A few years after we put up our hoophouse,  we noticed that despite our best efforts, we were walking on the edges of the beds and compact­ing them. Initially we simply loosened the edges of the beds with a digging fork. We then noticed that the plants on the edges grew better, and we realized the whole bed width needed loosening. If you have designed your hoophouse to use trac­tor equipment there, that will deal with soil com­paction. We wanted our hoophouse to be free of internal combustion engines and fossil fuels, and the broadfork has provided the solution. Ours is an all-steel broadfork from Way Cool Tools. We do an annual broadforking each fall, before planting our winter greens.

We set nylon twine to mark the bed edges, holding it in place using sod staples. The string alone has not been enough to stop us walking on the bed edges. Loose soil is important because our winter crops grow all the way to the edges of the beds. After spreading compost, we broadfork the beds, then vigorously work the compost into the top of the soil with scuffle hoes and rakes. We learned the hard way the importance of raking the soil to a fine tilth immediately after broadforking — you don’t want to let the broadforked clumps dry out into bricks before you rake! See the photo below and imagine what could happen!

Hoophouse bed broadforked to aerate the soil without inverting.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote about our bed prep method and tools, and also our outdoor sowings for transplanting into the hoophouse, with a special focus on suitable lettuce varieties in my post Sowing hoophouse winter crops here in Sept 2017.

We have just started planting our late fall, winter and early spring crops in the hoophouse. We are  pre-sprouting our spinach for a week in a jar in the fridge. Soak the seed overnight, drain it in the morning, fit a mesh lid on the jar, and lay it on its side in the fridge. Once a day, give the jar a quarter turn to tumble the seeds and even out the moisture. If the seeds are a bit wet when you need to sow them, and clumped together, pour them out on a cloth to dry a bit before sowing.

We will sow five crops in our first bed on September 6 and 7– spinach, tatsoi, Bulls Blood beet greens, radishes and scallions. On September 15 we sow lettuces, chard, pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy, in an outdoor bed to be transplanted into the hoophouse in a few weeks, after we’ve prepared another bed.

We plant crops closer in the hoophouse than outdoors, and closer to the edges of the beds. We don’t have many weeds in the hoophouse, and the paths are marked off with twine, to keep us from stepping on the beds. We find that the soil does slump and compact some of its own accord, even if we don’t step on the edges (and of course, some feet do find themselves on the bed edges), hence the once-a-year broadforking.

Young spinach plants (and henbit!) in our hoophouse in December. This is our second sowing, not the early September one.
Photo Pam Dawling

Step-by-step guide to hoophouse fall bed prep:

  1. Remove the summer crops to the compost pile,
  2. Spread a generous layer of compost over the whole bed surface.
  3. Gather the soil staples and move the drip tape off to one side or the other,
  4. Broadfork the whole bed, but not all at once. Only broadfork the amount of space you have time to rake immediately, otherwise the warm hoophouse conditions dry out the soil and make it harder to cultivate into a fine tilth, which is the next task. We tackle 1/3 bed each day.
  5. To use a broadfork, go backwards working the width of the bed. Stab the tines into the soil and step on the crossbar, holding the long handles. Step from foot to foot until the crossbar touches the soil, with the tines all the way in, then step off backwards, pulling the handles towards you. This loosens a big area of soil, which hopefully crumbles into chunks. Lift the broadfork and set it back in the soil about 6” (15 cm) back from the first bite. Note: you are not inverting the soil – this is not a “digging over” process. Step on the bar and repeat.
  6. Sometimes we use a rake, breaking the clumps up with the back of the rake, then raking the soil to break up the smaller lumps, and reshape the bed. More often we use a wide stirrup hoe very energetically. This isn’t the job stirrup hoes were designed for (that’s very shallow hoeing), but the sharp hoe blade does a really good job of breaking up clumpy soil.
  7. We’ve found it important to lay the drip tapes back in place in between each day’s work, so that the soil gets irrigated when we run the system and stays damp. We don’t want dead, baked soil.
  8. When the bed is prepared, we measure out the areas for different crops and mark them with flags.
  9. Next we use our row-marker rake (bed prep rake) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
  10. After the rowmarking, we deepen the furrows if needed (often it’s not needed), using a pointed hoe, then sow the seeds.

For more on winter hoophouse crops, see

Planning winter hoophouse crops for our step-by-step process for hoophouse crop planning

Cold-tolerant lettuce and the rest, our January 2018 assessment of the varieties we grew that winter and which survived the unusually cold spell we had.

Summer pests and diseases

Hornworm on a tomato plant.
Photo Pam Dawling

It’s August, which for us is the peak time for pest insects as well as for fungal diseases.

This year, we have been collecting Japanese beetles from our okra plants, to prevent the leaves getting stripped off. It seems to be working. Many plants can take 30% defoliation without a loss of yield, but some years, our okra plants end up as just a bunch of stalks, and you know that means almost no photosynthesis can happen. Japanese beetles are one of the insects that have an aggregation pheromone, so those commercial traps are not only gathering up your own Japanese beetles, but also attracting neighbors’ beetles. Sometimes this means no net improvement, as the newcomers eat crops before going into the trap.

Another bad summer pest here is the Harlequin bug, a brightly colored stink bug. We try to have July be “No Visible Brassicas Month” aiming to disrupt their lifecycle. We use insect netting over the fall brassica seedlings we sow in June, and we clear our spring brassicas before the end of June. In July and July we use netting over any new brassica transplants, and sowings of turnips. During August we remove netting from older transplants and sowings, on to newer ones, such as kale and collards.

Leaf-footed bug, one of the stink bugs. Photo Kati Falger

Here’s a link to an article on Stink Bug Identification and Management in Vegetables, from the Alabama IPN Communicator Newsletter. Read More

I wrote about squash bugs and cucumber beetles on our hoophouse squash in June.

Squash bug nymphs and eggs
Photo Pam Dawling

Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden has a good post on distinguishing between the tobacco and the tomato hornworm.

The tobacco hornworms, Manduca sexta, is close cousins with the tomato hornworm,

Both species eat Solanaceous crops (nightshades) such as tobacco, tomato, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. The differences are in the stripes and the horns.

We have tobacco hornworms (this land was a tobacco farm before Twin Oaks bought it 51 years ago. This year, for the first time, we haven’t had any hornworms in the hoophouse. We’ve pulled up our tomato plants in there – we only grow the earlies in there, as it’s plenty warm enough to grow tomatoes outdoors here from May to October. I might be celebrating too soon – we still have a bed of peppers in the hoophouse and I think I might have seen evidence of a hornworm at work, although I could not find the culprit yesterday.

Tomato plant badly damaged by hornworm
Photo Pam Dawling

Pictures of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus and other tomato diseases

We’re always a bit anxious that TSWV might show up one day, but luckily it hasn’t. Meanwhile we forget what it looks like. Here’s a few photos on the Cornell Vegetable MD Online site.

And here’s a good collection of tomato disease photos on the You Should grow site.

Spotty tomato leaves. I think this is Septoria Leaf Spot.
Photo Pam Dawling

All the news is not bad! Here’s a satisfying photo:

Hornworm mother Hawk Moth trapped by a zipper spider.
Photo Pam Dawling

Zipper spider.
Photo Wren Vile

 

Year-Round Hoophouse book update, Nematodes in hoophouse cucumbers, Organic Broadcaster.

Removing old hoophouse plastic. Photo Wren Vile

I just completed another step on the way to getting my new book, The Year-Round Hoophouse, published. I proofread aver 300 pages of text over the course of five very intensive focused days. In the next four days I checked all the photos, including the color section. I replaced a few photos that didn’t come out clearly, fixed a couple of glitches (that’s what proofreading is for!) And I added up to 17 more photos wherever there was enough space at the ends of chapters. The index is being prepared, and another proofreader is also carefully working through the text.

Then the corrected pre-press proof will be prepared by early August, and we’ll be on track for the November 20 publication date, with the books coming off-press in mid-October and heading to the stores. ISBN 978-0-86571-863-0.

The finished paperback book will be 288 pages, 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25 cm) for $29.99 (US or Canadian). It will also be available in digital formats.


Cucumber roots with nematodes (see circles).
Photo Pam Dawling

When we were clearing our early bush cucumbers from the hoophouse a couple of weeks ago, I found four plants at the east end of the bed with nematodes. I’ve written before about our struggles with root knot nematodes in our hoophouse, and indeed, you can read everything I know about nematodes in the Year-Round Hoophouse.

Here is another photo of the lumpy roots, with circles outlining the nematode lumps.

A different cucumber root with nematode lumps (see circles).
Photo Pam Dawling


The July/August Organic Broadcaster is out. The first article is about a poultry system compatible with regenerative agriculture. Regenerative Agriculture is one of the sustainable agriculture movements that are springing up as an alternative to USDA Organic, which now allows CAFOs, hydroponics and other unhealthy, non-sustainable methods. The regenerative poultry system includes trees for shade, ranging paddocks where the poultry are rotated, and night shelter. The aim of the author, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, is a fully regenerative supply chain, starting with what kinds of grains they feed the poultry and how they are grown. Farmers can reach the organizers of Regeneration Midwest by emailing [email protected].

The second article explains the consequences of USDA halting the Organic check-off as part of their program. The editorial introduces Organic 2051, a one-day conference (Feb 21, 2019) prior to the MOSES Conference, “to bring together leaders in the organic and sustainable farming community to chart the path forward for truly sustainable farming by the year 2050 and beyond, demonstrating our capacity to feed the world.”

Another article (by Matthew Kleinhenz) discusses biofertilizers and explores differences between an average yield increase which is sustained and throughout the field, and one that might lead to a similar average yield increase, but with a result that is widely fluctuating between one plant and the next, producing a few start yielders but fewer plants with an actual yield increase.

Bailey Webster writes about industrial hemp, an up and coming crop with mostly non-food uses, although the seeds are finding favor, touted as a “superfood”. Brittany Olsen writes about the MOSES farm mentorship program, Teresa Wiemerslage writes about the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Regulation and Laura Jessee Livingston writes about a new apprenticeship program training farm managers.

Carlos Valencia and his dog, Paco, live on a farm in rural Kansas. He has faced numerous issues with officials and vandals that have prevented him from achieving his farming goals. Photo submitted

Another article by Bailey Webster explores a shocking case that looks like racism in rural Kansas (although of course it could be almost anywhere). Kansas farmer Carlos Valencia, who is is black and Hispanic, began managing a farm in Norton, Kansas that was owned by Golden Duck LLC in 2007. He was working for equity in the farm, rather than for wages, with the goal of owning it himself one day. He planned to raise poultry, and had submitted documents to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to get farm operating permits to raise geese on a commercial scale. The paperwork was taking a long time, and if he was to raise geese that year and earn his living, he needed to get goslings on the farm while they were available. Geese do not produce young year-round, only February-June. Fully expecting to get his permits (the previous farmers there had an industrial hog unit), he bought 20,000 goslings. This sounds like a huge number to me, but I understand from the article that this is a modest start. In June, disaster struck in the form of an unusually strong hail storm that killed 800 of Valencia’s young geese. He chose a common practice on poultry farms: incinerating them. The local authorities caught wind of it, and worried that the poultry had died of disease. The USDA and the state biopsied the dead birds to check for disease, and found that there was no disease present. Continue reading

BCS Berta Plow, Proofreading The Year-Round Hoophouse, Tomato Foliage Diseases

Our new equipment – a Berta rotary plow.
Photo Pam Dawling

In recent years we have mostly hand-shoveled the paths between our 90ft x 4ft raised beds. If we have two neighboring beds ready to prepare at the same time, we might use the hiller-furrower on our BCS 732 walk-behind tiller. But frankly that didn’t do as good a job as the old Troybilt hiller-furrower we used to have, and if you went off-course, there was no chance of a re-run to fix it. With the Troybilt you could fix a wiggle by steering hard on a re-run, but the BCS wouldn’t co-operate on that. So there was less incentive to use the BCS. We would measure and flag the bed, and have a person with a shovel at each end of each path, shoveling towards each other. Then we raked the bed, breaking up the big shovel-dollops.

Using the Berta rotary plow to make paths between our raised beds.
Photo Pam Dawling

Now we have a Berta Rotary Plow from Earth Tools BCS, and we are hopping with joy. It is easy to fit and unfit on our BCS, easy to use and does a lovely job. We flag the midline of the path, plow up one side of the path and back down the other. We get straighter paths, beds almost ready to use (no shovel-dollops!), and we save a lot of time, and don’t feel so tired!

A raised bed prepared with our Berta Rotary Plow, with some lettuce transplants under shadecloth.
Photo Pam Dawling


This week I am proofreading the Advance Proof of The Year-Round Hoophouse. A professional proofreader is also working through the advance proof at the same time, and the foreword and the endorsements are being written (or more likely, being thought about!).

So far, I have found a few inconsistencies to align. I guess I thought one thing when I wrote one chapter and something else a few months later when I wrote another chapter! I found a few tiny typos, even after so much careful checking here and during the professional copy-editing process. I found a few unclear bits, which I hope will now be clearer!

I relearned a few things I’d figured out for the book and then forgotten about! I impressed myself with seeing again all the information packed in there, from helpful tips to expansive over-views. I’m very much looking forward to having the book in my hands. Several more months yet. Publication date is November 20. New Society is taking pre-orders. When I’ve got some actual boxes of books I’ll update the Buy Now button here on my website and you can support-an-author and buy direct. I’ll sign the book for you!

Grow abundant produce year-round in any climate

Growing in hoophouses reduces the impact of increasingly unpredictable climate on crops, mitigates soil erosion, extends growing seasons, and strengthens regional food supply. The Year-Round Hoophouse teaches how to site, design, and build a hoophouse and successfully grow abundant produce all year in a range of climates.

Pam Dawling has been farming and providing training in sustainable vegetable production in a large variety of climates for over 40 years, 14 of which have been hoophouse growing. Pam’s first book is the best-selling Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres.

PB 9780-086571863-0/ 8 x 10”/ 288 pages/$ 29.99/Available November 2018

Pre-order at www.newsociety.com before November 1 and receive a 20% discount.


Striped German tomato in our hoophouse. Note the lower leaves have been removed to reduce diseases.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

At the end of July or the first week of August we will pull up our hoophouse tomatoes and sow some soy as a cover crop until we are ready to prep the beds for winter greens. Our outdoor tomatoes are producing now, and as their yields increase, we’ll have no regrets about pulling up the aging hoophouse plants. We like to grow some heirlooms in there, and they are (in general) notorious for foliar diseases. I know some are disease-resistant, but we don’t only grow those ones! We did better this year at removing any lower leaves touching the ground, to dissuade any transfer of diseases from the soil.

Early in the season we had aphids and sooty mold, but ladybugs sorted out that problem. More recently we have had a little Early Blight, some Septoria leaf spot, and a sporadic issue that has concentrations of leaves with small silvery spots (dead leaf tissue). These are mostly located below webs of zipper spiders. Is it a disease, or the result of spider poop or dead prey detritus?

Zipper spider on a hoophouse tomato.
Photo Pam Dawling

Sowing fall brassicas, thoughts on Organic certification and organic farming

Brassica seedlings under insect netting.
Photo Pam Dawling

Sowing fall brassicas

We sow our fall broccoli and cabbage in mid-late June, followed by our outdoor Asian greens and collards. These will all get transplanted from nursery seedbeds covered with insect netting, to growing beds covered with insect netting. In the summer we try to have a No Visible Brassicas Month to break the lifecycle of the harlequin bugs. Once our spring kale is finished, the spring cabbage gathered in and the spring broccoli mowed down, the only brassicas are hidden under netting. Our hope is to starve out the harlequin bugs or at least deter them from making too many more.

Brassica transplants under ProtekNet.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I wrote a short piece about sowing our fall broccoli and cabbage in 2014 here

I wrote about our long evenings of transplanting in July and August in 2015 here:

Fall broccoli rows.
Photo Kati Falger

This year we have a simplified plan: one broccoli variety, one cabbage variety, Morris Heading collards, Koji (a hybrid Asian green a bit like Yukina Savoy) and Senposai.

The broccoli is an OP variety, Umpqua. It takes 96 days to maturity, has dark green 5-6″ heads and makes lots of side shoots. That’s a long wait compared to 54d Tendergreen and 60d Green Magic, so I hope it’s good! It’s certainly highly rated compared to other OP types.

The cabbage is Storage #4 a 4-8 lb 90-95d hybrid, for fresh use and storage.

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Zipper spider catching pest bugs on our hoophouse squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

After worrying about the challenges with our early squash in the hoophouse, I realized today that at least half of the plants are still producing, while the younger first outdoor planting has given up, before the second planting is ready to take over.

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Is Buying Organic Worth It?

An interesting blog post cones from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, exploring the meanings of “organic”, and I will summarize it here. Paying the higher price for organic products is always a personal decision, and whether buying USDA Organic food is “worth it” depends on the relative value that the consumer puts on food The Real Organic Projectbeing produced in accordance with USDA Organic standards.

The word “organic” is used to mean different things:

Formally: When used to advertise and sell a farm product, the word “organic” is regulated by federal law—the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the related USDA Organic regulations. This legal meaning of the word “organic” as defined by Congress and the USDA has only been around since 1990 (when OFPA was signed into law). USDA Organic standards are the same from state to state and from store to store. Because the USDA tracks the sales of certified Organic products, buying USDA Organic food is a great way to vote with your dollar.  The core principles of organic agriculture were initially developed by organic farmers, not the USDA.

Informally: In daily life, many people use the word “organic” for agricultural products that were grown using methods that are similar to or even completely consistent with the USDA Organic standards but are grown by uncertified farms.  The cultural practice of farming using organic methods has been around for a at least a hundred years. Many outstanding organic farmers were growing organically before 1990 and either have never bothered to become USDA certified Organic or have given up their certification since then. However, after 1990, they could no longer market their products as organic. 

What exactly does USDA Organic certification mean? Continue reading

Permaculture questioned, Growing for Market, Mother Earth News blogpost, Longhorn tick.

I’ve long had some misgivings about the almost religious fervor of some permaculturists, while at the same time appreciating their seriousness about sustainable land use. (In fact I have written for Permaculture North America, and I have friends who are Permaculturists.) My first impressions of Permaculture were that it was a combination of common sense farming practices gussied up with new labels, other ideas that seemed to me very impractical, and ideas that might work fine in the tropics but not so well in the rest of the world. But it seemed rude to say so publicly. Like picking a fight with allies when there are so many more important campaigns. And more recently I have met some gardeners and even farmers who apply the Permaculture ideas that work in their context, without becoming evangelical about it. I would love to read a practical book written by someone farming commercially, explaining how they apply some of the Permaculture ideas, and make a living.

Curtis Stone (author of The Urban Farmer) has given all this consideration and has written an interesting, thoughtful article in his blog From the Field Friday.

It’s titled What Permaculture got Wrong – Dispelling Five Common Myths

Curtis describes how many people new to farming are a bit starry-eyed, and are (as he was) inspired by Permaculture ideas. In his experience, many of the promises of Permaculture don’t pan out, especially if you try to make them work on a commercial scale as opposed to a hobby, when it doesn’t matter how long a method takes, or how much money it costs.

He has identified five slogans of Permaculture he believes should disappear. He wants to save farmers from burning out while holding these unrealistic tenets. At the same time, he is not disrespecting any individual Permaculture teachers or students, authors or farmers. He just wants everyone to have realistic expectations and for commercial growers to use viable methods.

Permaculture aims to keep the topsoil in place, along with all its biodiversity, and grow food, following patterns in nature. This is a great approach. The problems come with some of the specific prescriptions. Curtis Stone labels five problematic cultural memes The Self-Sustaining Farm; The Lazy Gardener; Mulch Everything; Swale Everything; and No Pests!

The Self-Sustaining Farm

The Forest Garden can work for someone with enough land, providing food for just a few people. There are fruits and nuts, some perennial vegetables, and annual vegetables between the trees. But in order for a food system to feed lots of people, we invented agriculture (which is not natural) to dependably produce quantities of food in an efficient (affordable) way. Most vegetables are annuals, not perennials, and that where the work is, and the bulk of our food. A lot of food can be produced efficiently from a relatively small area of land using annual crops. A Forest Garden is not going to feed the world, and it’s unfair to new farmers to tell them it will. It’s also untrue to suggest that forest, orchard and vineyard crops require almost no work once they are established. Growing food for lots of people is hard work, even when you apply smart methods.

The Lazy Gardener

This idea comes from Bill Mollison, suggesting you can plant crops and ignore them, and get good harvests. Planting potatoes by covering them with mulch rather than soil is one suggestion. Most of these “Lazy Gardener” ideas are not workable on a commercial scale. You can ignore weeds and use “lazy” methods if you are not earning your living from farming, or expecting to feed many people. It’s a lifestyle choice, not a career.

Mulch Everything

Straw mulch is very popular with some Permaculturists. It is used in thick layers to smother weeds. It also adds organic matter to the soil. Straw is the stems of small grains. It’s not bio-regional where I live, or where most of us live. If you don’t see fields of wheat, barley, oats, rye in your area, straw would have to be shipped in. It won’t be cheap. It’ll be more expensive if it’s organic. Curtis Stone points out that it is not really sustainable on a commercial scale to cover all the soil with straw. It also doesn’t work well for fast turn-over crops, where you want to plant a follow-on crop (to get most use of your land). Plus, it keeps the soil cool, which is not what you need for warm-season crops. While it can work for home gardeners to push aside mulch to plant two squash plants, it’s not practical for a 200 foot row of squash. (I always enjoyed Ruth Stout’s little books, but I wondered how she could afford all the straw.)

Swale Everything

Swales are shallow ditches running along the contours, to catch and hold water – a lovely idea to conserve water resources. Constructing these on a farm scale is time-consuming. Navigating swales while growing rows or beds of annual crops is not very practical. Not all soils or all crops benefit from water retention. Curtis Stone claims he has heard of permaculture consultants putting in swales which led to too much water retention and then landslides! Nowadays Key-line plowing has made water-retention far more practical. But we shouldn’t all install water retention everywhere. The need will depend on the soil, the climate and the crop.

No Pests!

This slogan I have also taken issue with, myself. It’s the mistaken belief that if you garden or farm well, you won’t have any pests. It’s a “Blame the Victim” thing – if you have pests, you must be doing something wrong. I’m all for planting flowers to attract beneficial insects, and encouraging bees, good bugs and birds. But pests and diseases do still happen to good people! It’s important to work to prevent and avoid pests and diseases – but still, keep on scouting! You can’t safely assume you won’t get pests.

Curtis says that for him the oddest irony is the people in Permaculture who critique other farmers as if one problem is the root cause of all that goes wrong, while themselves believing that a particular permaculture idea applies always and everywhere, rather than being dependent on the wider context. This he calls “a monoculture of thinking”. Truly there is no one sustainable solution for all farming situations. It’s easier to have simple beliefs, but it doesn’t work. Every permaculture method is not going to work on every farm. We need to stay adaptable and flexible in our thinking, and respect and look for diversity in our approach.


The June/July issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. The lead article, by Carolina Lees, is for farmers who are venturing into hiring employees. How to benefit from the help, absorb their enthusiasm, and also reduce confusion of crops, tools, harvest specs? How to balance teaching and doing? How to balance the desire for competence and success with compassion for learners? How to change from an idiosyncratic, spur of the moment decision-making to something that’s easier for others to predict and understand? As Carolina Lees says:

“You can get away with a lot less training if you can make the task easier to learn in the first place.”

Her suggestions include reducing the number of different varieties, labelling all beds clearly, having clear standards and measurements, having only one kind of watering wand and timer, only a few sizes and types of harvest container, having clear places where information is written and stored, using checklists, so workers can be more independent.

Jesse Frost writes about making effective use of social media to increase farm sales. You Tube and email might do better than Facebook. Paying to advertise on Facebook can be more effective than merely posting something. And remember that people want a personal connection, not a hard sell.

Jenny Quiner writes about her urban farmstand’s struggle with changing county regulations. This will be useful to anyone in a similar situation.

Anne and Eric Nordell, well-known long-established horse-powered vegetable farmers from Pennsylvania, have been re-thinking plant spacings, after surveying seven other teamsters’ cropping methods. They compare the plant densities used by horse farmers with tow common tractor-farming spacings and two intensive bed densities. Food for thought.

Ellen Polishuk has interviewed Joanna Letz of Bluma Flower Farm for this issue.


A misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

I have a post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog: 20 Benefits of Having a Hoophouse

If you have been wondering whether a hoophouse (high tunnel) would be worthwhile, this list of twenty reasons to have one can help you decide. The benefits include more and better crops, extended seasons, food self-reliance and a very pleasant work environment.


Longhorn tick.
Photo West Virginia State Department of Agriculture

Don’t think of this as ending with bad news, think of it as saving your health. There is a new tick. The Longhorn Tick has now been found in West Virginia and Virginia, as well as New Jersey.

The longhorn tick is small and difficult to detect.  It is known to carry several diseases that can affect humans, as well as livestock, including some diseases that are not prevalent in the United States, but have affected people in Asia.

This species was first identified by the Animal and Plant Inspection Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in New Jersey in November 2017. The West Virginia State Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of the tick in West Virginia. The longhorn ticks were identified by samples collected from two separate farms in Hardy County WV, both of which are near the Virginia border.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed the presence of the tick in Warren County in northern Virginia (on horses), and in Albemarle County on a calf. A list of common ticks found in Virginia can be found here.