Like almost everyone else, I’m at home, under the Virginia Governor’s Stay-At-Home order. Our farm is closed to anybody coming in, except for pre-arranged deliveries.
More people with more time at home might need more sources of information, I thought. Of course, growing food never stops, and gardening and farming are so satisfying. Fresh air is good for our health.
I made up a new page (see menu tabs at the top of each page) with things that I have done for you to watch and listen to. Here’s the newest out:
Oliver Goshey, Abundant Edge, March 2020
How to produce fresh food year-round, even in cold climates! With Pam Dawling, author of “The Year-Round Hoop House”
Spring Update: You can now download any of our technical materials for FREE!
ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture Program
“ATTRA is a program developed and managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). The majority of funding for ATTRA is through a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service. We are also partially funded through sales and subscriptions of a portion of ATTRA materials and through contributions from friends and supporters. We are committed to providing high value information and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, Extension agents, educators, and others involved in sustainable agriculture in the United States.
NCAT strives to make our information available to everyone who needs it. If you are a limited-access or low-income farmer and find that one of our publications is just not in your budget, please call 800-346-9140.”
The information from ATTRA is reliable, thorough and farmable! Way back before the internet, they operated by phone and mailed out publications free of charge. Technology has changed, but ATTRA’s commitment to getting information and technical help in the hands of people producing our food has not wavered.
Their sustainable agriculture information is organized under these topic areas:
At the Organic Growers School Spring Conference I gave my presentation The Seed Garden, about combining growing some seed crops alongside lots of vegetable crops – a way for vegetable growers to diversify and grow seed of a few special crops either for themselves or to sell for some extra income and to keep a chosen variety available. I included information on selecting desirable characteristics and making an improved strain of that variety.
You can watch the slideshow here, by clicking on the diagonal arrow to increase the screen size and then the right pointing triangular arrow:
I also took the opportunity to add a few more of my slideshows to my collection on SlideShare.
Meanwhile I’ve been sorting out more photos from my Cuba trip, and I want to tell you about a bean seed bank at Finca Hoyo Bonito I visited during our day traveling from Havana, west for three hours to the Viñales Valley in the province of Pinar del Rio.
The seed farm has a bank containing 250 varieties of bean seed. It’s a hobby for the retired woman growing and saving the beans. Her goal is to get a hundred pounds of each variety. She gives bean seed to any farmer who asks, with no requirement to return the investment. (this is different from some seed banks, which require growers to repay the “loan”)
Here is a short video about Finca Hoyo Bonito. It’s in Spanish, naturally!
“I have actually been thinking of building a tiny house and putting it inside a big hoophouse, creating a living area that would include a yard, trees, and gardens – allowing me to snowbird in place in northern New England – but I’m concerned about outgassing, since I’d be there almost 24-7 most days (I work out of my home). Have you done any research on outgassing of hoophouses?”
A Tiny House is generally a residential structure under 400 sq. ft
First off, No I haven’t done any research about hoophouse off-gassing, but I wouldn’t worry about out-gassing from the polyethylene of the hoophouse. Other products are much closer to your nose: All the materials used to construct, preserve and decorate the house and all the products within the house, such as furniture, fabrics, soaps, appliances etc.
There are some other things I’d wonder about:
1.Temperature. When the sun shines, the interior of the hoophouse warms up. When the sun doesn’t shine, it doesn’t. Would you heat the tiny house? You’d have to avoid heating systems that could damage the plants.
2.Snowfall. When it snows, you need to remove the snow from the roof of the hoophouse. Some snow can be carefully pulled down from the outside. Usually we also walk around inside the hoophouse bouncing a broom on the inside of the plastic to move the snow off. You can’t do that if you have a house in the way.
3.Humidity. In the winter we grow cold-tolerant hoophouse crops. We are aiming for 65 F (18C). We need fresh air for the plants and to deter fungal diseases. It doesn’t work to keep the hoophouse sealed up and “cozy”!
4.Strong winds. In hurricanes and gales, hoophouses sometimes collapse or get destroyed. You don’t want to be inside when that happens.
5.Height. Our hoophouse is less than 14 ft (4 m) at the apex.
In conclusion I’d say it’s better to have a small patio seating area within your hoophouse for suitable sunny days, rather than plan to live inside all the time.
Do you value crop rotation in your hoophouse?
A reader in the Pacific Northwest wrote: “This winter I have been re-thinking my crop rotation plan after having some issues (with flea beetle larvae in the soil outsmarting my diligent insect netting of my brassica salad crops). These days I see intensive market gardeners seeming to not worry so much about rotation (i.e. Neversink farm, etc), and yet I’ve always been taught that it is such an important principle to follow. I reviewed your slideshows on crop rotation and also cool crop planning in the greenhouse (which briefly addresses salad brassica rotation with other crops). With how much space I have and the high demand I have for brassicas, for salad mix (mustards) and also the more mainstay cole crops, I had settled on a 2.5 yr between brassica crop rotation (but planting two successions of mustards in the same bed within one year, in the year the bed was in mustards, with a lettuce or other crop breaking up the successions, with the idea that they were very short day and also light feeder crops). Wondering if you think this just doesn’t sound cautious enough, or if this sounds like a reasonable compromise with not having more space to work with (and wanting to satisfy the market demand for brassicas).”
I replied: “Yes, I do think crop rotation is important. I do know some farms seem to have given it up. I think what you are seeing shows one reason why rotation is important. In our hoophouse, we do as you do, allocating brassicas to a space for that winter season and perhaps doing more than one round of brassica crops. Then moving away from brassicas for the next two winters. If doing that doesn’t get rid of the flea beetle problem, and you are being thorough about netting with small-enough mesh netting (sounds like you are, but maybe check the mesh size), then my next step would be spinosad when the flea beetles appear. You can spray the inside of the netting too, and close it quickly. It’s that or a longer rotation, which it sounds like is not financially viable. You could also try farmscaping and/or importing predatory insects (not sure if there are any), Are there beneficial nematodes that attack flea beetle larvae? These are things I don’t know about, but might be worth looking into.”
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute and the National Taiwan University found that when sweet potato plants are attacked by insects, they emit a bouquet of odors and start production of a protein called sporamin that makes them unappetizing. Neighboring sweet potatoes sense the odors and start their own production of sporamin.
Insect damage cause stress-response production of anti-oxidants
In a related piece of news, Agrilife Today from Texas A&M AgriLife Research has found some evidence that wounded plants produce anti-oxidants as a stress response, which may make them healthier for human consumption. Read the report here.
A reader wrote in that the European Fire Ant is now found in Toronto.
“There were two nests of these in my allotment garden 2018.
They actually moved the nest in order to be closer to the zucchini
plants. Hand on heart: I never had any cucumber beetles develop past
the instar stage. The ants did not eat the eggs but they ate the larvae
as soon as they hatched. Same for potato beetle. My neighbours had
the best cucumber harvest in history. What I’ve read is these Fire Ants kill colonies of native ants. Summer 2019 I had a Pavement Ant war that went on for days. Clearly the Fire Ants did not wipe them out. There are black ants and other smaller red ants
in my garden. The Fire Ants appear to have moved on for some reason known
only to themselves. Perhaps they too have enemies.”“There’s a guy with a Youtube channel who keeps ant colonies. AntsCanada although he is in the Philippines. What happened was the feral Pharaoh Ants invaded his colony of Fire ants and killed them. Pharaoh Ants are much smaller but perhaps that’s what gave them the advantage. We have Pharaoh ants in Toronto also. I spend a lot of my time looking at the little critters in my garden. Like red velvet mites: there were many in 2016. Have not seen a single one in two years now. “
I saved this post on Origami Weevils to share. It transitions us from the ridiculous (funny animal videos) to the sublime.
Charley Eiseman describes himself this way: “I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.” He is an exceptional photographer, an exceptional entomologist, and one of those people who pays exquisite attention to what he does. These factors make his blog a special treat.
“I always get excited when I encounter the work of leaf-rolling weevils (Attelabidae), even though they are by no means uncommon. I just find it fascinating that these insects have learned to fold leaves into neat little cylindrical packets for their larvae to live inside, without the use of silk or any other adhesive. The […] Read more of this post
Now we might be ready to move off the holiday couch, at least enough to get pencil and paper and start some planning. Here is an EssentialRainwater Harvesting Spreadsheet Toolkit from Verge Permaculture: https://vergepermaculture.ca/product/spreadsheet-tool/ $29.00 CAD (Canadian dollars)
TheEssential Rainwater Harvesting Tool is a spreadsheet tool for analyzingthe feasibility of a rainwater storage system on your farm. It contains tables, formulas and logic from the Verge Essential Rainwater Harvesting book, pre-programmed and ready-to-go, plus a substantial number of extra features.
They are also offering a FREE WEBINAR on Jan 14, 6:30 pm MT: IS RAINWATER SAFE? with pioneering Australian hydrology engineer, economist, policy analyst, educator, UN adviser and researcher Peter Coombes
The National Farmers Union in the United Kingdom has announced in this 12-page report their ambitious goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040. This is farming’s contribution to the UK’s ambition of net zero by 2050. In the UK, agriculture’s contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions is 10% of the nation’s whole. (27% is from transportation)
No-Till Growers and Josh Sattin collaborated to post this Hoophouse Tips video interview of me talking about our hoophouse:
After a Best Ever day on November 7, 2019, when 876 people viewed my website (4,855 that week), December has been quiet. It’s not a big gardening month for most of us, and the month is full of holidays. And then there’s the urge to hibernate.
Nonetheless, I have been reliably posting every week, and you might have accidentally missed something, while entertaining the visiting aunts and uncles, or rushing to get the carrots harvested, or something involving food and drink. Here’s a chance to find the lost treasures!
Soil Tests and High Phosphorus Levels close behind at 9,503. High phosphorus is a worry for organic growers, especially those using lots of compost, as it can build up each year.
How to Deal with Green Potatoes at 8,613, with sustained interest through August, September and November. Obviously we are not the only growers with this problem, caused by light getting to the tubers.
Josh Sattin has another video from my interview in November. Creative Ways to Maximize the Winter Greenhouse is about 11 minutes long and includes our greenhouse planted with leaf lettuce for the winter and Dave Henderson of Red’s Quality Acre in his hoophouse with kale growing in pots on upside down tables.
Too often I hear new gardeners mistakenly call a digging fork a pitchfork, for reasons I have not grasped. So I set out to learn more about the names of forks.
Americans are familiar with pitchforks from the famous American Gothic painting. The pitchfork has a long handle (often longer than the 4 ft one in the painting). It has curved slender round-section tines (prongs). Sometimes three, often only two. You couldn’t dig your garden with this tool! It is made for pitching hay up onto wagons, originally for loose hay (or straw), but also for small square bales. I used pitchforks in England when I was in my twenties. The trick is to vigorously stab the fork down into the middle of a bale on the ground. The next step is to lift the bale up vertically on the fork (hence the need for a long handle!) This trick is achieved by holding the pitchfork with one hand near the tines and the other as far back up the handle as you can comfortably reach. Then you quickly pivot the pitchfork so the bale is up in the air, still impaled on the pitchfork. If you have to wait for the wagon, set the other end of the handle on the ground. This is less work than supporting the whole weight of the bale. When the wagon is alongside, (carefully) “offer up” the bale to the person on the wagon stacking the bales. Sometimes you have to walk to the wagon a short distance. Keep the bale up in the air for this!
Manure or compost forks are long-handled forks similar to pitchforks but with more, thicker tines, maybe 5 or 6 tines. They are for lifting manure, woodchips, or compost from a pile and setting it down again not far away. Or for mucking out stables and cow byres. They excel at separating layers of wet sticky materials. Stick the tines into the pile horizontally, not too far down the pile. Lift up a flake of whatever it is. Don’t dig the garden with those either. And don’t use them for pitching hay, as the tines are too close together to do a good job of stabbing hay bales.
The Garden Tool Companydistinguishes manure forks from compost forks, which they say are the same as pitchforks usually with four or more long slender, pointed tines that are turned up slightly for scooping or moving loose material without bending. Great for turning your compost pile or moving loose materials. Pitchforks are too lightweight to handle the heavy weight of compost, so many gardeners opt to use the heavier duty garden fork…also, manure forks look very similar, but are not for lifting heavy loads.
Long-handled potato fork
See below for information on short-handled potato forks. Less common is a long-handled type of potato fork with up to 9 slender tines, like a manure fork but with blunt ends so as not to damage the root crops. This type of potato fork is for lifting the crops up off the ground, not digging.
The short-handled forks always have four tines. These forks may have a D or a T handle. These days more people prefer a D handle.
There’s also the newer Radius PRO Stainless Digging Forkwith a circular handle. The handle design is ergonomic, and looks odd, but actually works well. We bought these because we wanted to try a stainless steel fork (less mud, rust and additional weight).
also known as garden forks or spading forks, have sharp, pointed, square-section tines, usually 7”-9” (18-23 cm) long. Wikipedia also gives these tools the name “graip.” The best garden forks are forged from a single piece of strong carbon steel and have either a long riveted socket or strapped handle connection. They are used for loosening, lifting and turning over the soil. They are good at penetrating hard soil, digging to incorporate compost or cover crops, and double digging (if you do that). They can also be used to dig up root crops, or shrubs. It is much easier to get a digging fork into the ground at depth than a shovel or a spade (no, they’re not the same thing), and the tines can work their way between rocks and large roots.
Border forks are smaller digging forks, narrower and shorter. (Hard on tall people that want to dig out weeds in their close-packed flower borders!) I think there’s an assumption that it will be the shorter people (women, mostly) working in the flower borders. But any company that makes tools sized for women gets my vote.
Potato forks have flat-fronted triangular-section tines. They are not so good for digging over the soil. They are for gentle diagonal probing and lifting of root crops and tubers from relatively loose soil. They do less damage than the same person with a digging fork. They can be used as digging forks in loose soil if you have nothing better.
In Choosing a Garden Fork, the Garden Tool Companydistinguishes between Digging, Spading, Garden (English), Manure, Compost, Potato, Broadfork and Border forks. Their distinctions are not entirely the same as mine. They distinguish garden forks from digging and spading forks (lighter weight flat-bladed types good for loose soil). This leads to confusion when trying to distinguish potato forks from digging forks. I prefer to think of square-tined forks as for digging and flat-tined forks as for lifting potatoes. Good potato forks should also be of strong steel. “Nobendium” as I’ve heard it called!
Although very different in appearance from a traditional garden fork, the two handled broadfork does a lot of the same chores, but on a bigger scale. With two steel or hardwood handles fitted about shoulder width on a steel horizontal bar and 4, 5, 6 or more long tines; the broadfork is a large, heavy tool made to cultivate and aerate soil without fossil fuels. Hold the handles upright, stab the tines into the soil, step up onto the crossbar with both feet, pushing the long tines into the ground. Step off backwards and pull the handles towards you, causing the tines to lift and loosen the soil, opening up air channels. A broadfork can replace tilling in ground that has been worked before. After broadforking, rake the surface to get a fine tilth for sowing. Those with small gardens can do the same thing with a spading fork, which is what I always did before our gardens got to be so big we needed a rototiller. A broadfork might well be the right scale for those gardens too big to dig with a spading fork and small enough to manage without a tiller.
Barbara and I are alike in wanting to reduce fork confusion, and mostly agree on terminology, As with everything agricultural, there are some differences. She uses the name Spading Fork for what I call Digging/Spading/Garden Forks, and the name Digging fork for flat-tined forks that I call Potato Forks. Here’s her helpful distinction between manure forks and pitchforks:
“A manure fork . . . is more rugged than a pitchfork, it is nevertheless a lifting-and-pitching tool. Confusingly, the name is often used interchangeably with bedding fork, ensilage fork, scoop fork, stall materials that have not decomposed much, can be moved with a few tines, widely spaced. More-crumbly compost, and mulches such as shredded bark and wood chips, require the type with many tines, spaced close together, so the material does not fall through. (The manure fork was designed to scoop lumps of solid manure from even finer material such as wood shavings, letting that bedding fall back into the stall.)”
If you are above average height, buy tools with longer handles than standard.
Stainless or carbon steel
Carbon steel is usually stronger than stainless, but stainless is easier to look after, slides through the soil smoothly and won’t weigh you down with accumulations of mud. For digging forks, I have become a fan of stainless.
has a wide selection of good quality wood handles online. They specialize in hickory, white oak and ash. Be careful making your selection, and get the handle that’s just right for the tool you are repairing. You can see a lot of their handles in our photos. During the winter we usually have a “Santa’s workshop” day when we repair tools.
There are YouTube videos showing how to make sturdy repairs. Just be sure to shape the handle for a good fit before drilling any holes for rivets. And learn how to make rivets from large nails if none are supplied with your replacement handle. Sharp edges on poking-out badly finished rivets, or nuts and bolts can cause injuries. Sweat we might need. Blood and tears we can do without.
A 10 pound purple ube grown in North Carolina by Yanna Fishman.
Here’s an ube, a true yam/Dioscorea alata. This amazing photo is from Yanna Fishman in Union Mills, NC. She grew this in her garden. It’s all one root, one season’s growth from a small section of a root. She has also had success growing both the white and purple yam from aerial tubers.
Grower Jim in Florida has more information on ubes.
Yanna’s second photo shows a selection of unusual roots she grew. She is launching herself on a ‘tropical perennials as temperate annuals’ trial
Clockwise from top root with green stem:
Taro (2 types) Colocasia esculenta
Arrowroot Maranta arundinacea
Malanga Xanthosoma sagittifolium
White yam Dioscorea alata
Purple ube yam Dioscorea alata
Jicama Pachyrhizus erosus
Yuca/cassava Manihot esculenta
Groundnut Apios americana
Ginger Zingiber officinale
Yacon Smallanthus sonchifolius
Achira Canna edulis
Water chestnut Eleocharis dulcis
Turmeric (3 types) Curcuma longa
A video and a podcast
Josh Sattin of Sattin Hill Farm came out to our farm to film me talking about farming and Twin Oaks Community and you can see that here. Not sure if I’ve been around long enough to be a legend, but Twin Oaks has.
And a blog reader, Andy Montague, has passed along the info that his cauliflower was damaged by temperature around 19F (-7C), while his broccoli, cabbage, collards, and Brussels sprouts were unharmed. This illustrates that cauliflower is the cole crop most susceptible to cold.
Growing for Market Newsletter
Growing for Market magazine has launched a free monthly newsletter. The current issue includes articles on How to Improve CSA Retention Rates, and growing garlic (I wrote that one), and a special offer on a bundle of two no-till books. I see you can even get the newsletter translated instantly into a wide range of languages!
Key Perennial Crops information sheets (info from ATTRA)
The Savanna Institute has produced a new series of free “Key Perennial Crop” information sheets in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the USDA-SARE program. The information sheets offer descriptions of 12 key Midwestern agroforestry crops: Aronia, Asian Pear, Black Currant, Black Walnut, Chinese Chestnut, Cider Apple, Elderberry, Hazelnut, Honeyberry, Northern Pecan, Pawpaw, and Serviceberry. They are available free online. Related ATTRA Publication: Fruit Trees, Bushes, and Vines for Natural Growing in the Ozarks
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University say thatforest farming could provide a model for the future of forest botanical supply chains. They say that transitioning from wild collection to forest farming as a source of medicinal herbs such as ginseng would create a sustainable supply chain, not only in terms of the environment, but also in terms of social justice for people who harvest the plants. The researchers point out that forest farming would allow more transparency in the supply chain, which could lead not only to better-quality herbal products, but also to a reliable and stable income for forest farmers.
Wondering where to dig post holes or construct a pond or building on your property? Want help determining the production capability of your land? You can answer those questions and many more with SoilWeb, a free app that gives you quick access to Soil Survey data through your mobile device
The Southern SAWG Annual Conference is well-known for providing the practical tools and solutions you need at our annual conference. It is the must-attend event for those serious about sustainable and organic farming and creating more vibrant community food systems! This popular event attracts farmers and local food advocates from across the nation each year. This year, we have 101 “field-tested” presenters, a full slate of hot-topic conference sessions and pre-conference courses, five field trips, a forum, a poster display and a trade show. New this year! 2020 Special Topic: Agricultural Resilience in a Changing Climate.