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.

 

 

Challenges with hoophouse squash

 

Gentry yellow squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

We grow one bed (90 ft or so) of yellow squash in our hoophouse, to extend the season earlier. This year it is a dismal failure. We have had splendid success some years, with good harvests for several weeks before our outdoor squash are ready. What has changed?

One aspect is climate change including more variable temperatures in spring. This makes it harder to get frost-tender crops started in our greenhouse, and causes us to delay transplanting into our hoophouse, to avoid a wipe-out. We do have good thick rowcover to put over the hoophouse crops, but rowcover can only do so much. Also, it’s not simply a matter of life or death. Extended cold can permanently stunt tender plants.

Striped cucumber beetle in squash flower.
Photo Pam Dawling

Striped Cucumber Beetles

Our second biggest problem is striped cucumber beetles. We reckon if we can deal with the cucumber beetles in the hoophouse, we’ll be dealing with the mothers of that year’s population, and things won’t get so bad outdoors. Or, rather, if we don’t deal with them in the hoophouse, they’ll get really bad outdoors (we’ve seen that happen on nearby watermelons and squash).

Our approach is to nip the beetles in the squash flowers first thing each morning, with tweezers. It’s important to tackle them early in the morning, because as the day warms, so do they, and they take off flying around, making them hard to catch. We ignore the more numerous, smaller, cucumber flowers, because the beetles prefer squash flowers, and we’re only prepared to spend a limited amount of time on this task.

The hunting season for cucumber beetles here is on average about a month long. In 2017 it was early and only 8 days 4/25 to 5/3. This year we didn’t start till 5/4 and we’re still finding some 6/5.

One year we tried trapping the beetles using pheromone lures from Johnny’s. We hung the pheromone with a yellow sticky card from the wire hoops that previously held up the rowcover. I thought they were successful, but others on the crew didn’t want to use that method again.

One year we sprayed with Spinosad, which is organic and was very effective, but we try to avoid any spraying if we can. Recently we revisited the decision, and re-committed to hand picking.

Yarn-wrapped tweezers intended to kill cucumber beetles and pollinate squash at the same time (with prey).
Photo Pam Dawling

To attempt to deal with our third problem while addressing the second, I just tried wrapping yarn round the tweezer arms, thinking they might do some pollinating for no extra effort, while I hunted beetles. It wasn’t very successful. The tweezers we’re using are very pointed and the yarn slides off. Too much yarn prevents the tweezers closing aggressively enough.

Unpollinated squash
Photo Pam Dawling

Unpollinated squash

Our third problem is unpollinated squash. The baby squash are hollow, and sometimes rot at the ends. We spend too much time removing the unpollinated ones to encourage the plants to try harder producing new squash, and to prevent the spread of molds which sometimes grow on the hopeless squash.

We look for bush varieties, as we don’t want sprawling vines in the hoophouse. In order to get harvests as early as possible we choose varieties that are fast-maturing. Since 2008 we have usually grown Gentry, a hybrid yellow crookneck squash with a bush habit, that mature in just 43 days from sowing in normal temperatures.

Early in the season some varieties of squash produce a lot of female flowers, which can’t get pollinated until some male flowers appear. Low temperatures and high light intensity promote this female sex expression, ie female flowers rather than male flowers. But our problems went on beyond the arrival of male flowers.

In 2006 we grew Zephyr, a beautiful bi-color hybrid yellow squash with green ends, which is our favorite for outdoor crops. It takes 54 days to maturity. In 2007 we grew Zephyr and a few Supersett, a 50-day hybrid crookneck yellow squash. We didn’t choose Supersett again, so I suppose we didn’t prefer it. What did we grow in the first few years 2004-2005? We didn’t keep good records.

In 2015 we tried Slick Pik YS 26, a 49 day hybrid, attracted by the claim to spinelessness. It didn’t do well for us, and we came to call it Slim Pickins. Some of the plants were weird. About 4 out of about 45 plants had darker green leaves and no female flowers. The male flowers were abnormal, halfway to being leaves. The petals were thick and greenish, and the flowers were small. Then the flowers dropped off, producing no fruit, so we didn’t grow that variety again.

Rotting unpollinated squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

Another option we once tried is a parthenocarpic variety. Parthenocarpic crops can set fruit without pollination. Some squash varieties, like Sure Thing (48d), Partenon (48d), Cavili (48d), and Easypick Gold (50d), are sold on the strength of being very good at setting fruit without any pollinators. See this article for all the details.

It’s not an all-or-nothing attribute – a number of squash varieties have some level of parthenocarpic capability.

In one study of zucchini (see the article link above), fruit set without pollination varied from zero to 42%, depending on the variety. In the 1992 study, 33 varieties of yellow summer squash were compared. Follow-up studies in the next few years. Chefini (51d  Breeder: Petoseed Co (SQ 28) Seems not to be commercially available any more), Gold Strike (a yellow straight-neck squash, likewise seems unavailable), Black Beauty (50d) and Black Magic (50d)  all did well. In a study including yellow squash and zucchini, most of the high-parthenocarpic producers were zucchini rather than yellow squash. Of yellow squash, Gold Strike seems unavailable, but Gold Rush (52d), Golden Glory (50d) look promising

See also Steve Reiners’ paper Producing summer squash without pollination – Ranking varieties

In that study Golden Glory (50d) is the big winner. Runners up are mostly zucchini: Dunja (47d), Noche (48d), Partenon (48d), Costata Romanesco (52d semi- bush variety), Safari (50d), Multipik (50d yellow squash). After that there are several that scored 29% down to 6% in the trial, and then a bunch of zeroes. Our much-beloved Zephyr scores zero in that trial!  I read that the retail demand for yellow squash is less than for zucchini, so most of the research goes into zucchini.

Next year, I’ll propose we try Golden Glory and Noche (a zucchini that does well for us in hot weather). Or perhaps Dunja, which scores higher.

A bee pollinating squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

Encourage pollinators

This is something else we could pay more attention to next year. We have now got honeybees again, after several years without. We could also plant a succession of flowers that attract pollinators, timed to flower the same time as the squashes. If we plant them in big pots we can cycle them in and out of the hoophouse for their “work shifts” and retire them when they stop flowering. See this blog post from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: 10 tips for Attracting Bees and other Pollinators and Harvesting Great Cucumbers, Squash and Melons. Carolina Farm Stewardship Association also has some useful info about native squash bees. I’ll need to study up before next spring!

Import pollinators

We could buy boxes of bumblebees from Koppert. But that gets pricey. I prefer attracting existing pollinators.

Squash bugs making more squash bugs.
Photo Pam Dawling

Minor Problems; Squash bugs

We also have squash bugs, but they aren’t such a big problem for us.

Squash bug eggs.
Photo Pam Dawling

Time to watch for pests

The season is warming up and insect pests are jumping into action. Here’s some old foes and some new ones to watch out for, and some friends too.

Gray garden slugs, Deroceras reticulatum, with chewing damage and slime trails on leaves.
Photo UC IPM

Slugs and Snails

We have very few snails, and compared to some other places I’ve lived, few slugs. But the slugs we do have really like the hoophouse. I found two this morning on the cucumber plants. (It was an overcast morning – they don’t like high temperatures.) My reaction was to flip them onto the path and stomp on them. We rarely have to take stronger action. If we do, we sink shallow plastic dishes into the soil, with the rim at soil level and fill the dishes with a dilute version of beer or soda, or sugary water. I don’t know if it has to be fermenting to be attractive to slugs, but any sugary liquid in our hoophouse warmth is going to start fermenting after a day. If numbers are really high and damage is extensive, we need to hunt the slugs down. Do this at dusk or later, with a headlamp and either a pair of scissors or a bucket of soapy water.

There is a good blog post by Joe Kemble on the Alabama Commercial Horticulture website:

Slugs or Snails in Your Greenhouse or High Tunnel? What Do I Do?

The post helps us understand our foe:

“Slugs are very sensitive to ambient temperature and can detect temperature changes as gradual as 2°F per hour. Slugs prefer to remain at 62 to 64°F although they lay eggs and develop normally (but slower) at lower temperatures. Development ceases below 41°F. Slugs can withstand slight freezing temperatures although their tendency to take shelter in cold weather protects them from freezing. Slugs try to escape from temperatures higher than 70°F. “

Joe Kemble offers  4 approaches to dealing with them: trapping, hunting, iron phosphate (Sluggo) and metaldehyde bait. Metaldehyde works very quickly, but it can poison and even kill dogs, cats and other mammals that might feed on it. So I don’t recommend that! Iron phosphate is much safer but also much slower – snails can take up to seven days to die. Neither should be used near waterways. Use of Sluggo has been allowed if conditions leave no less toxic option, under the National Organic Standards since 2006

Another good resource is the UC IPM site which takes the IPM steps one at a time and applies them to slugs. How to Manage Pests/ Pests in Gardens and Landscapes/ Snails and Slugs which has good photos.

Grow Smart Grow Safe  looks at many options. See their Table of Molluscicides. It explains all the current options.

Jumping Worms

Invasive Jumping Worm
Photo Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

A new troublesome  invasive earthworm has arrived from East Asia. Here is a handy ID card

“Jumping worms (Amynthas spp.) dwell on the soil surface and eat leaf litter.  They can turn up almost anywhere from urban parks, to suburban backyards, to rural forests. Because they reproduce on their own, a single worm can start a new population. You can help prevent jumping worms from spreading to new areas by knowing what to look for.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has good information, including photos.

These worms eat up all the leaf litter under trees, causing desert-like conditions. The surface soil becomes grainy, with a texture like dry coffee grounds, and no longer supports the growth of under-story plants.The 1.5″-8″ worms thrash around if picked up. Visually they can be distinguished from other earthworms with a clitellum (saddle), because theirs is cloudy white and smooth.

Use the jumping worm identification card [PDF] and brochure [PDF] and watch for this pest. Report finds to the DNR or your Extension Office.

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Spotted Lanternfly.
Photo from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Spotted Lanternfly

Another invasive alien is the Spotted Lanternfly, a pretty hopper. Lycorma delicatula (White), an invasive plant hopper, has been discovered in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It is native to China, India, Vietnam, and introduced to Korea where it has become a major pest.  As well as Eastern Pennsylvania, the pest has been found in Virginia, Maryland and New York.

The red bands on the hind wings are not visible when the insect is at rest with the wings folded up over the back. It can easily blend in on tree bark. Note that the earlier stages of this pest look very different. The first nymphs are black and white, later ones, red, black and white. All stages are spotted.

Adult Spotted Lanternfly (pinned). Photo USDA Aphis

This insect has the potential to greatly impact almonds, apples, apricots, cherries, grapes, hops, nectarines, peaches, plums and walnuts, as well as these trees: maples, oaks, pines, poplars, sycamores and willows.

The signs and symptoms of a possible infestation include

  • Plants that ooze or weep and have a fermented smell
  • Buildup of sticky fluid (honeydew) on plants and on the ground underneath infested plants
  • Sooty mold on the infested plants

If you find a spotted lanternfly, report it to your Extension Office.

Click here to learn more from Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and here to read more from USDA APHIS.

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A zipper spider on a tomato plant, catching anything that lands on its web. Photo Wren Vile

We mostly have good bugs. While working in the hoophouse this morning, harvesting scallions out of the way of advancing enlarging cucumber plants, I also found many tiny zipper spiders and their tiny webs. These will get impressively huge. We made a point of saving their egg-cases on the bows of our hoophouse over the winter.

Zipper spider egg cases overwintering in our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

I also saw a tiny praying mantis, another creature whose egg-cases we make a point of storing in the hoophouse over the winter.

And I saw a tattered Monarch butterfly. I had to check the Monarch or Viceroy? Page to be sure.

Asian Greens for April: Mizuna and ferny mustards

Green mizuna in its prime in our hoophouse in November. Photo Pam Dawling

In April, sadly, our last mizuna and ferny mustards will come to an end. In our hoophouse we do three plantings of these frilly leaved greens, which we use for salads all winter and early spring.

Mizuna (also known as kyona  and shui cai) is a Brassica rapa var. japonica, meaning it’s in the turnip family. The other frilly mustards, such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills, Red Rain are Chinese Mustards, B. juncea. We tend to treat them as if they are all types of mizuna. True mizuna is available in green or purple (but Ruby Streaks and Scarlet Frills mustards are much better colors than Purple Mizuna.)

Golden Frills and Ruby Streaks in our hoophouse in February.
Photo Pam Dawling

All are very easy to grow, can be transplanted or direct-sown, and tolerate cold wet soil. They are ready to be harvested for baby salads only 21 days after sowing in the fall (longer in winter). They grow to maturity in 40 days. They are easy-going vegetables, fairly heat tolerant (well, warm tolerant) and cold-tolerant to 25°F (-4°C).  All regrow vigorously after cutting. The ferny leaves add color and loft in salad mixes, as well as an attractive leaf shape.

Mizuna is very mild-flavored. The ferny mustards vary in pungency, but most only become markedly spicy when they start bolting.

Like all Asian greens, they need similar care to other brassicas, doing best in very fertile soils. They are shallow-rooted – pay extra attention to providing enough water during hot weather to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency, especially with the B. juncea ones. Provide 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week, 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather.

Do close monitoring of pests, which can build up large populations during the summer. Growing these over the winter, as we do, we have not had many pest problems. Flea beetles sometimes, once the weather starts to warm.

Young Ruby Streaks (our second planting) in our hoophouse in early February. We thin for salads until the plants are at final spacing.
Photo Pam Dawling

Our mizuna schedule

On September 24 we sow these little crops in our outdoor nursery seedbed, which is covered with insect netting on hoops. We sow 7.5′, with roughly equal amounts of Green Mizuna, Golden Frills, and Ruby Streaks or Scarlet Frills. Red Rain is another we like. We are aiming for about 75 transplants on October 20. We transplant them 8″ apart with 6 rows in a 4′ bed. This takes 8′ length of a bed. This first planting will feed us from November 27 to January 25, with light harvests possible from November 5, and flowers and sprouting shoots as late as February 10.

Our second planting is direct sown in the hoophouse on November 9. We sow 6 rows about 6′ long (depending on available space). We thin these into salad mixes several times as they grow, increasing the spacing until they are about 6-10″ apart. After that we harvest by cutting off the larger leaves, sometimes individually, sometimes by “buzz-cutting” (snipping off leaves on one half of the plant an inch (25 mm) above the ground). Leaving half of the leaves growing seems to help the new leaves grow faster. Next time we harvest, we cut the other side. This planting provides harvests from February 26 to March 24 – just one month, although we get the thinnings from January 20, and the flowers and bolting shoots until mid-April.

Our third planting, green mizuna and Scarlet Frills, in our hoophouse in mid April. The mizuna is bolting, but the Scarlet Frills is hanging in there.
Photo Pam Dawling

A couple of years ago we added in a third planting, because we had some open space in the hoophouse. It follows the first Yukina Savoy. I wrote about some differences between the OP Yukina Savoy and the hybrid Koji. Perhaps Koji is less bolt-resistant than the OP. Late January brings it to an end.

We sow this third planting on February 1 and harvest it for a month from March 24 to April 23. This year this third planting is bolting April 15. (We have had a lot of temperature reversals this spring, which encourage bolting in brassicas.) Scarlet Frills and Golden Frills bolt later than Ruby Streaks and Green Mizuna. The timing of harvest fits perfectly with the second planting. We have sown it as late as March 3 and harvested April 10-April 30 (only 3 weeks when we sow that late).

Seed sources

Kitazawa Seeds sell 18 baby leaf mustards, including four red, purple or streaked mizunas. The other 14 are B. juncea, although a few don’t say. Most are frilly or ferny, a few merely wavy. Something for everyone.

Johnnys lists their selection under “Greens” along with arugula, large Asian greens, mixes. I counted about 15 mustards that fit the loose category I’m talking about here.

Fedco lists theirs under “Asian greens”. Scroll down past Mizuna to Mustards to find several interesting gene pool offerings such as Pink Lettucy Mustard (Variations of greens with pink or purple pigments in midribs) for those seeking milder flavors; and the medium hot Purple Rapa Mix Gene Pool (sold out as I write this): Very vigorous tall serrated green leaves with purple veins and shading.

Bye bye mizuna! Bolting mizuna (our third planting) in our hoophouse in mid-April.
Photo Pam Dawling

This is my twelfth and last Asian Greens of the Month series. You can see the others here:

May Senposai outdoors

June Tokyo Bekana

July Maruba Santoh

August Fall Senposai, winter Yukina Savoy

September Komatsuna outdoors

October Yukina Savoy outdoors, Tatsoi

November Daikon and other winter radish

December Pak Choy

January Chinese cabbage

February Tatsoi

March Yukina savoy in the hoophouse

Next month I’ll start another year-long series Allium of the Month

Spinach Trials Update, National Ginger & Turmeric Conference, FLAG Organic Farmers in Disasters, Organic Broadcaster

Hoophouse spinach trial 3 April. Avon, Acadia, Escalade, Renegade just harvested.
Photo Pam Dawling

Spinach Trials Update

The spinach trials in our hoophouse continue, with a lot of harvesting! I’m always amazed to see how many stumps of cut leaf stems there are on each plant, showing just how prolific the spinach is being when we harvest it one leaf at a time like this. When I say one leaf at a time, I mean by cutting individual leaves and leaving the plant to continue to produce more. Our rule is “Leave 8 for later” – cut off large outer leaves close to the base of the plant, being sure to keep at least 8 of the inner leaves growing on each plant. Over-harvesting leads to decline. Our goal is sustainable harvesting. In the photo above, the area shown has just been harvested. In the second photo the section further down the bed from the labels has not been harvested for maybe a week. Reading from left to right, the varieties are Avon, Acadia, Escalade, and Renegade.

Close up of hoophouse spinach trials 3 April before harvest.
Photo Pam Dawling

The plants have not changed much in the last month, although in comparison with the February photo below, you can see the leaves are starting to become pointed in shape. We are waiting to see which of the varieties bolts first. The smoother-leaved Renegade definitely has thinner leaves now, and would yield lower weight (if we were weighing them). There was a stage at which it had the largest leaves, so its advantage in central Virginia hoophouses is probably as a faster-growing type.

The same spinach plants as in the top photo on February 5.
Photo Pam Dawling


National Ginger & Turmeric Conference, October 17-19, 2018, Richmond, Virginia will focus on the production, marketing and health benefits of ginger and turmeric. Click the link to see beautiful photos of Virginia farmers and their ginger and turmeric. Save the date!

With growing interest in ginger and turmeric, many health professionals, researchers, farmers, and food and beverage professionals are turning their attention toward these healthy spices. In order to cultivate new ideas and further grow the industry, Virginia State University is hosting the first National Ginger & Turmeric Conference in Richmond, Virginia this fall. The three-day conference is targeted at the agricultural, health, and culinary professionals who work or are considering working with ginger and turmeric. It will showcase the latest science and technology related to production, product development and health, as well as feature success stories and marketing strategies.

The organizers (Virginia State University and  Virginia Co-operative Extension Service) are sending out a Call for Abstracts at this point, to all individuals and organizations that may have information to share on the medicinal and nutritional, sustainable production methods and/or sales side of the industry. Abstracts are now being accepted for oral and poster presentation Submit your abstract now.

Ginger growing in our hoophouse.
Photo Kathryn Simmons


FLAG Farmers’ Legal Action Group

Farmers’ Legal Action Group is a nonprofit law center dedicated to providing legal services and support to family farmers and their communities in order to help keep family farmers on the land.

FLAG has produced a new resource that is intended to assist organic farmers in time of disaster. It looks at two important issues. First, the extremely challenging effects of a flood on an organic farm. Secondly,  a relatively new form of crop insurance —Whole-Farm Revenue — that could benefit organic producers going forward.

Download FLAG’s  Organic Farmers in Disasters – Flooding and Whole Farm Revenue Crop Insurance

 


Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

The March/April Organic Broadcaster is out.

There’s a great article by Matt Leavitt on planting spring cover crops. An article by Kelli Boylen advocates for integrating livestock into cropping systems to improve soil health, spread farm risks (eggs in more baskets) and improve efficiency by reducing waste and other losses. Bailey Webster writes about the Food Safety Modernization Act, fondly known as FSMA (Fizma).

There’s an article on conducting on-farm variety trials by the Organic Seed Alliance, who have published a 55 page Grower’s Guide to Conducting On-farm Variety Trials which can be downloaded at the link. Working together to discover which varieties work best under organic cultivation can help us all.

There’s much more besides: news, events, politics, items for sale, employment opportunities

My Forthcoming Book, Hoophouse Squash and Cucumbers, Growing for Market magazine

Here’s the photo of our hoophouse that we used on the cover of my forthcoming book The Year Round Hoophouse. You can read about it here.

Yes, exciting news! I’ve been writing my second book, the Year Round Hoophouse, I finished the manuscript at the end of February, and New Society Publishers have accepted it. Next steps include copy-editing and marketing. It will be published November 20, and  I’ll give you more details as things become apparent. It will likely be 288 information-dense pages for $29.99 (worth every penny at 10 cents a page).

Growing in hoophouses reduces the impact of the increasingly unpredictable climate on crops, mitigates soil erosion, extends growing seasons, and enables growers to supply more regional foods. In one of the only books of its kind, The Year-Round Hoophouse teaches how to design/build a hoophouse and make a success of growing abundant produce all year, for various climates and land sizes.

Here is the list of chapters

Section 1: Design, Siting and Construction

  1. Hoophouse Siting and Planning
  2. Style and Design
  3. Shopping Checklist
  4. Preparing the Site and the Base
  5. Utilities
  6. Frame Assembly, Baseboards and Hipboards
  7. End Walls
  8. Roof  Plastic
  9. Drip Irrigation and Outfitting Your Hoophouse

 Section 2: Growing Crops

  1. Lettuce
  2. Other Salad Greens
  3. Cooking Greens
  4. Root Crops
  5. Alliums
  6. Legumes
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Peppers and Eggplants
  9. Cucurbits
  10. Crops for High Summer
  11. Bare-Root Transplants
  12. Seed Crops

Section 3: Keeping Everything Working Well

  1. Planning and Record-Keeping
  2. Cold Weather Care
  3. Hot Weather Care
  4. Succession Crops
  5. Crop Rotations and Sequences
  6. Pests and Diseases
  7. Salt Build-Up
  8. Feeding the Soil
  9. Replacing the Plastic
  10. Preparing for and Coping with Disasters

Amys Apricot tomato transplanted a week ago, looking happy in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Meanwhile, we have finished transplanting about 90 tomatoes into two beds in our hoophouse and have been rewarded by seeing how much they have grown in just one week. They were really struggling in the greenhouse, where the light wasn’t so good, and it was hard to keep them warm through those cold nights. Two weeks ago I included a photo of a cleared space waiting for a tomato plant. Now we’re there!

Gentry yellow squash newly transplanted into our hoophouse, with a friendly wood sorrel!
Photo Pam Dawling

A few days ago we transplanted one bed of yellow squash (Gentry), chosen for being fast-maturing, productive and having a good flavor. Also a bed of Spacemaster bush-type slicing cucumbers, among the spinach, peas and baby lettuce mix.

New Spacemaster bush cucumber transplant in our hoophouse in a bed with old winter spinach, young snap peas and baby lettuce mix.
Photo Pam Dawling

Next will be the peppers. We have flagged the bed at spots 2 feet apart. Today I’ll harvest that lettuce mix around each flag, clearing the way to digging holes and adding compost.

North edge bed in our hoophouse flagged up for digging holes to plant peppers.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the photo above you can also see the bubble-foil insulation we have on the north wall. It improves the light back there, as well as keeping in some heat. It’s only the lowest 2 feet of the north wall, and very little direct light comes in there, so we gain much more than we lose. Also see the diagonal tubing we added to strengthen the frame at the west end, which is the direction most of the wind comes from.

At last the lettuce has started to grow! We have been struggling to find enough leafy crops to harvest  a 5 gallon bucket each day. Today I had no trouble finding plenty of baby lettuce, tender young spinach and baby brassica greens for a salad for a hundred people.


The April Growing for Market is out. The lead article, by Josh Volk, gives ideas for upgrading your packing shed or crop clean-up area. It includes a slatted spray table you can build and some natty clip-on fittings (K-ball nozzles) you can install on PVC pipe to give an easy-to-use sprayer wherever you want one. See below – I haven’t tried them myself.Sam Hitchcock Tilton has a profile of Nature’s Pace Organics in Michigan, and their switch from intensive cultivation to permanent cover crops and strip tillage. Liz Martin has written about the advantages of growing pole beans instead of bush beans. She has trialled different kinds to find varieties that have smaller smoother pods (more like bush beans) and likes Emerita, Blue Lake, Matilda and Cobra. Their trellis uses tall T-posts and two pieces of Hortanova netting. They also grow bean seed using this method. I gather they don’t have Mexican bean beetles or many bean diseases, two of the three reasons we gave up on pole beans. The third is our dislike of installing trellises, which only become worthwhile if your plants will stay healthy for the whole season. Thorsten Arnold writes about their co-op rural online farmers market in Ontario, Canada. Todd Coleman describes how to build and install an in-ground greenhouse heating system, and lastly Gretel Adams in Ohio discusses the many decisions behind building a cut flower greenhouse . They chose a tall-wall three-bay gutter-connected plastic structure installed by Yoder’s Produce Supply. This greenhouse has increased production so much that they are moving into shipping nationally through an online store.

Drill a 9/16″ hole and attach to pipe. No threading or nipples required, grips the pipe and the body fits in the 9/16″ hole. Spray is fan-shaped with spray angle of 65° at 40 psi and spray density tapers off toward the outside to permit overlapping of spray patterns.

  • Fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene
  • EPDM O-ring seal & SS spring clip
  • Pressure rating: 100 psi at 175°F
  • Swivel ball allows for 52° total angle of adjustment

Enjoy your spring!

 

Good gardening blogs, spring transplants and potato planting

Sweet Potatoes growing slips in our germination chamber.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

My blogpost on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog is up. It’s Grow Your Own Sweet Potato Slips, and you can click the link to read it there.

There are many advantages of home-grown sweet potato slips over purchased ones: you can produce as many slips as you want, when you want them, and have spares in case of casualties. The post describes our straight-forward system for growing sturdy slips.

Our sweet potatoes are in our germinating chamber, this old glass-door fridge which no longer works. The heat and light are provided by an incandescent light bulb. Soon we will start cutting slips each day.


This Sustainable Market Farming blog is on the Top 75 Vegetable Gardening blogs, consequently I get to display their medallion on my website. Check out the list (actually 78 this week – data are refreshed every week). There are some other very good ones, including some I have mentioned before such as my Virginia neighbors  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange,  and Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden which covers vegetables and flowers and landscaping. There are also a couple more I really like: Steve Albert’s Harvest to Table  from California (always good solid information), and Joe Lamp’l’s Joe Gardener. You may know him from the 26-episode TV series, Fresh From the Garden or the 200 episodes of Growing a Greener World®, or one of his books. So, if the weather is awful and your plants are struggling, seek solace and inspiration in a good blog. It won’t take long to read one post and you’ll feel fortified afterwards!

On A Way to Garden, Margaret Loach has her “When to Start Seed: My Garden Planting Calculator” Simply enter your average last spring frost date and right there in front of your eyes will appear the indoor sowing dates and outdoor transplant or sowing dates for 32 vegetables, several herbs and a list of flowers.

Another blog I like which hasn’t made it onto the top 75 yet is Garden Betty. Her wide-ranging posts include The No-Brainer Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors, instructions for caring for house plants in late winter and information on drip irrigation systems.


March hoophouse bed prepared for tomato transplants – holes dug, compost added.
Photo Wren Vile

Meanwhile, here on the farm, I’m pondering whether to start planting the hoophouse tomatoes today. Our “usual” date for planting them in March 15, but cold weather has delayed the growth of the transplants and also the warming of the soil in the hoophouse. We’re almost two weeks later than usual, but the plants are still not huge. On the other hand we are now getting a break in the cold weather, which would help them get  established before the cold weather forecast from April 6 onwards.

This is what I’m looking forward to:

Young tomato transplants in the hoophouse. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors we finished transplanting spinach, worked on transplanting a couple of beds of kale, and transplanted collards and early cabbage. Today is potato planting day. Yesterday the crew cut the chitted (pre-sprouted) seed potatoes into planting pieces.

Cutting pre-sprouted seed potato pieces.
Photo Kati Falger

 

Spring delayed, Organic Trade Assoc suing government

Hoophouse chard with spots cleared for planting tomatoes. Photo Pam Dawling

We normally (or do I mean “used to”?) transplant our hoophouse tomatoes on March 15 here in central Virginia. But this year spring is late and cold. Our starts have been struggling in our greenhouse, not helped by our heat mat deciding to give up the ghost. Plus a spot of learning curve errors in not noticing this quickly, or that our germination chamber wasn’t as toasty as it needed to be. Yesterday I decided it was time to adapt to reality, and turned our greenhouse heater up from 45F to 50F. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are not going to do well at only 45F. We’re not getting any solar gain lately because it’s been cloudy. In fact, we’re bracing for snow tonight and tomorrow.

We have measured out spots 2ft apart down the middles of the two tomato beds in the hoophouse, cleared the winter crops from those spots (see the photo above), dug holes, added a shovelful of compost to each hole, and now we’re waiting for the plants to reach a sensible size to transplant.

Bare-root Vates kale transplants to go outdoors from our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Meanwhile outdoors, we have finished transplanting spinach as bare-root transplants from our hoophouse, and next up are the kale and collards. I wrote about bare-root transplants in January 2017.

In the hoophouse we are encouraged by watching our snap peas grow.We planted these February 1, a month earlier than we plant outdoors. That “month earlier then outdoors” is our general guideline for hoophouse sowings after the winter solstice.

Sugar Ann snap peas in our hoophouse March 7, 5 weeks after sowing. Photo by Pam Dawling

Our lettuce suffered a big setback/death knell in the New Year cold snap, and it’s a challenge to come up with 5-10 gallons of salad mix each day. Happily we have lots of spinach, several patches of baby lettuce mix and several of brassica salad mix (mustards). For cooking greens, our Red Russian and White Russian kales are doing very well.

Red Russian kale in our hoophouse March 7
Photo Pam Dawling


The Organic Trade Association is suing the US Department of Agriculture to defend Organic standards for handling of livestock and poultry. On September 13, 2017, the OTA filed a lawsuit against USDA over their failure to implement the new Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulation. These regulations would protect Organic integrity, advance animal welfare, and safeguard the process for developing Organic standards. USDA unlawfully delayed the effective date to implement the final livestock standards, several times over. The USDA violated the Administration Procedure Act, because the delays were issued without public process. They ignored the overwhelming public record in support of these Organic standards.

The Organic Welfare Rule is the result of 14 years of transparent public work within the process established by Congress. It addresses four areas of practice: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport and slaughter.

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, in the Federal Register, and the government has now attempted to delay the implementation of the rule 6 times – either through the rule-making process or through court filings.

It was delayed to May 19, 2017 (because there was a regulatory freeze on new rules). In May it was further delayed to November 14, 2017 and the USDA opened a 30-day period for comment including options to go forward or to withdraw the Rule. There were 47,000 comments, of which 99% supported the rule as written becoming effective as soon as possible. There were only 28 comments to withdraw the rule. On December 15 USDA announced its plan to withdraw the regulation, giving 30 days for comment. Not that this 30 days included 3 Federal holidays.

USDA received roughly 72,000 comments (in this short comment period during the holiday season) with an overwhelming majority supporting OLPP. USDA also recognizes that of those comments, only approximately 50 supported the withdrawal – another clear disregard of the record by USDA in its attempts to kill the final rule.

Organic producers (the people directly impacted by the rule) overwhelmingly support the rule. Most of the (tiny amount) of opposition is from outside the organic sector. See the Washington Post of January 16, 2018 from 29 Organic organizations demanding a return to honoring the public process previously in place.

On March 12, The Washington Post (search for Ag Department kills animal welfare rule for organic meat) announced that the Trump administration, via USDA, has withdrawn the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published in January 2017 by Barack Obama’s government.

The regulation would have ensured that organically grown livestock and poultry had enough space to stand up, turn around, fully stretch, lie down, and had ventilation and access to fresh air.

So frustrating!

Chickens and a guinea hen.
Photo Twin Oaks Community