I just got home from the Organic Growers’ School Spring Conference near Asheville, NC. On Friday, I gave an all-day workshop with Ira Wallace, on Year-Round Growing on the Farm and Garden. The classroom at Creekside Farm, Arden was packed. This farm also has an educational center, which made a great setting for our workshop. The weather was awful, so we didn’t explore the very wet farm much. We had plenty of indoor teaching material including show-and-tell. The funniest part was my Julia Child chicken-on-the-floor moment when I dropped a freshly -made soil block on the nice wood floor.
On Saturday and Sunday, I gave my Sustainable Farming Practices presentation, which is now on www.SlideShare.net, and posted here for convenient viewing. Just click the diagonal arrow icon to see it full screen.
Now I have a couple of lovely days at home, working in the hoophouse and greenhouse. The crew is steadily composting more beds, sowing peas and transplanting endless spinach beds (our spring is short and then heats up, so to get a longer spring spinach season, we do all transplants.)
Elsewhere for interesting gardening and farming reading, I am enjoying The Modern Farmer an online and digital subscription magazine with lots of thought-provoking and useful articles. Some recent ones I really like include
My next speaking event is the Organic Growers School at Mars Hill University, Asheville, NC on Friday–Sunday, March 8–10, 2019. It’s their 26th Annual Spring Conference. On Friday I’m giving an all-day workshop with Ira Wallace:
Join experienced vegetable, herb, and seed growers Pam Dawling & Ira Wallace for a step-by-step approach to growing year-round. Learn the tools to manage space effectively, grow the quantities of crops when you want them, and efficiently meet your growing goals.
Where: Creekside Farms Education Center, 339 Avery Creek Road, Arden, NC 28704
When: Friday, March 8, 2019, 9:30 to 4:30
Cost: $55 with Saturday and/or Sunday conference registration, $70 without.
Here are more details about what we hope to cover during the day:
Defining your Market: Are you growing for yourself or for others? When and how much do you need to harvest? Learn about yields of common crops and begin to create a growing plan.
Season Extension: From transplants and row cover in the spring, to hoop houses in the winter, learn to keep crops alive through the seasons. Calculate the last worthwhile planting date in your area, and choose a suitable combination of warm weather crops, cool weather crops, storage crops and cold-hardy crops appropriate for your scale.
Temperature Resilience: Discover tips to deal with extreme hot and cold temperature ranges including getting seeds germinated, identifying crops that do well in both extremes, and the importance of crop diversification. Climate change necessitates adaptive growing practices. We will incorporate soil building and water management, as well as the importance of seed saving and variety trials.
Crop Rotation: Keep roots in the ground at all times! Learn the art of crop rotation using planting calendars, observation, and garden planning. Discover relay planting, cover cropping, isolation distances, plants to attract pollinators, as well as tricks for fitting minor crops into available spaces.
On Saturday and Sunday at 9.00-10.30 am I will be teaching Sustainable Farming Practices, with a primary audience of beginner farmers. (Everyone is welcome!).
An intro to year-round vegetable production; crop planning; record-keeping; rotations; cover crops; compost; and mulch. Also direct sowing and transplanting; crop spacing; succession scheduling for continuous harvests; efficient production strategies; season extension; pests, diseases and weeds; determining crop maturity and harvest methods.
The Organic Growers School Spring Conference is for farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and sustainability seekers.The Spring Conference offers practical, region-specific workshops on farming, gardening, permaculture, urban growing, and rural living and includes a trade show, a seed exchange,special guest speakers, and a Saturday evening social. More than 150 classes—both 90-minute sessions and half-day workshops—are offered on Saturday and Sunday in 17 learning tracks:
“The Spring Conference features a trade show on Saturday and Sunday that showcases a wide array of exhibitors and products from local farms, gardening suppliers, and cottage industries that specialize in organic products and resources. Also featured on Saturday and Sunday is the annual Seed and Plant Exchange booth which offers the opportunity to preserve genetic diversity and protect regionally adapted varieties. Attendees may bring excess seeds and small plants to share, barter, or trade.For 25 years, the Spring Conference has allowed OGS to reinforce Western NC’s role as a regional leader in sustainable food and farming. Attendees come from 18 states and Canada and have described the event as the kick-start to the growing season. The event has grown exponentially—from a small gathering of 100 growing enthusiasts in 1993 to a regionally recognized conference drawing over 2,500 attendees, exhibitors and speakers.“The 25th Anniversary of the OGS Spring Conference is really a celebration of our regional wisdom and commitment to land stewardship, sustainable food systems, and local farming,”says OGS Executive Director, Lee Warren.“The conference is a gathering place, a source of inspiration, and a reminder of the richness of our community,”
The 25th annual Virginia Festival of the Book will take place Wednesday, March 20 through Sunday, March 24, 2019 in venues across Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia. For more, click Virginia Festival of the Book 2019 Schedule.
“Pam Dawling (The Year-Round Hoophouse) and co-authors Claudia Kousoulas and Ellen Letourneau (Bread & Beauty) discuss their personal approaches to preserving, cultivating, and enjoying land responsibly in the Mid-Atlantic region. Book sales and signing will follow. FREE to attend and open to the public.”
The panel will be moderated by local author Tanya Denckla-Cobb
I’ve feeding in a flurry of slideshows I’ve been presenting at conferences this winter. You’ll notice a lot of them have a hoophouse theme, although not all. Here’s one from the four hour course I gave at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming conference.
To view the slideshow full screen, click the diagonal arrow icon. You can then hop, skip and jump through it, choosing the bits you are interested in.
My other main topic this week is choosing when to transplant and when to direct sow. I am a big fan of transplanting, so I’ll start with that.
Advantages of transplanting:
You can start earlier in the year than you can outside, and so get earlier harvests
By starting seed in more ideal conditions in a greenhouse, (or on a kitchen windowsill), you’ll get better growth, more satisfaction!
It is easier to care for new seedlings indoors – major weather events stay outdoors!
You can fit more crops into each bed throughout the season, because each crop is occupying the bed for less time than if direct-sown.
Transplanting. can help you grow more successions of summer crops, as each one needs less time in the garden or field. This helps you always have good quality fresh produce for harvest.
If you don’t want or need to plant more food crops, you can use those time windows for quick cover crops, such as buckwheat in warm weather, mustards in cold weather.
You will save on seed costs, because you’ll be sowing and spotting or potting up, then transplanting, not sowing long rows and thinning most of the plants out.
Using transplants fits (better than direct sowing does) with using plastic (or paper) mulches, which can help with weed control and soil warming (or cooling).
Using transplants fits well with no-till cover crops. Mow or roll-and-crimp the cover crops, transplant into it, and the dead mulch keeps the weeds away for 6-8 weeks in our climate, longer in cooler and drier climates.
Transplanting works well for crops where you want several varieties, such as tomatoes and peppers.
You have more flexibility if the weather turns bad, for example if spring is cold and/or wet. You can delay transplanting. Your plants still grow, provided the roots have enough space. If you know they won’t, you can pot them up to provide more root space.
At transplanting time, you can select the sturdiest plants, and compost the rest, meaning you have the best chance of good yields.
Disadvantages of transplanting:
If you extend the season and start earlier, you will have more work. . .
You’ll need to spend extra time caring for the starts indoors, as they won’t get water if you don’t provide it.
Transplant shock can delay harvest, so be sure to learn and practice good techniques
More attention is needed to watering new plants after transplanting, (compared to direct seedling) as some root damage is almost inevitable. (Plug flats and soil blocks minimize root damage)
If you don’t have a good irrigation system or water supply, growing many transplants will be a challenge.
Likewise you do need a good greenhouse set-up to grow many transplants.
Advantages of direct seeding:
See the disadvantages of transplanting.
Direct seeding is less work than transplanting. Put the seed in the ground, water as needed and stand back!
You do not need a greenhouse or special transplanting equipment
Compared to buying starts, direct sowing has lower costs
Direct sown crops have better drought tolerance – the roots grow without damage
Some crops just don’t transplant easily: melons which have fragile stems and roots for instance, or carrots which get distorted roots if transplanted.
Some crops have millions of plants and you couldn’t possibly transplant enough: (Carrots)
Disadvantages ofdirect sowing:
See the advantages of transplanting.
Direct sowing uses more seed than transplanting.
Direct sowing requires more time thinning
Direct sown crops occupy the land longer than the same crop transplanted.
Some direct-sown crops may be harder to get started in cold (or hot) conditions.
There are probably others, do let me know!
For those wanting to sow large-seeded crops through plastic mulch, see below for how we planted beans.
Here’s one of the slideshows form my three workshops at the PASA Conference last weekend. I’ll add the others over the next few weeks. To see all my slideshows, see the Slideshows category in the sidebar of this page, or go to the link at SlideShare.net
I’ve just been on an intensive conference hopping jaunt, three weekends in a row with not much time at home mid-week. One notion I heard discussed is the “Actionable Nugget”. It’s an idea you learn from someone else that inspires you as a possible solution to a problem or challenge you’ve noticed. I’m going to share some I picked up this month.
First I’m going to share my half-day presentation on Hoophouse Production of Cool Season Crops. To view it full screen, click on the diagonal arrows icon. Use the forward pointing triangle to move to the next slide. There are a lot! It was a full afternoon!
Asparagus Beans (Asian Long Beans, Yard-Long Beans) as a summer hoophouse crop.
I got this idea from a Year-Round Organic Vegetable Production workshop at the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers Conference. It was presented by Rick Felker of Mattawoman Creek Farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Rick said that Asian long beans are a star crop for them, and produce extremely high yields compared to outdoors. Yes, they need trellising, and yes, they need frequent harvesting. On the plus side they are a legume, so they are adding nitrogen to the soil the whole time they are growing. At Mattawoman Farm, they harvest these from June to October. In recent years we have not been growing bean seed crops in the summer hoophouse as we used to do. Last summer we grew Iron and Clay cowpeas as a cover crop, but were disappointed to need to cut them back every 6 days, because we’d decided not to stake them in any way.
Sulfur: The Forgotten Nutrient, Secret Ingredient for Healthy Soils and Crops.
At the Future Harvest Chesapeake Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference, I much appreciated this workshop by Ray Weil. A whole workshop on one element! When deficient, the plant has symptoms resembling nitrogen shortage. It caused me to wonder how often I have made this mistake. Brassicas and legumes are the crops to pay closest attention to. I learned that the standard soil test for sulfur is fairly meaningless – I have been putting my faith in a poor source of information. The key piece of information from Ray Weil is that with a S shortage, the yellowing starts on the younger leaves, which is opposite to nitrogen shortages, when the yellowing begins on the older leaves.
S-deficient plants will be thin, spindly and slow-growing. The leaves will be high in nitrates, because the poor plant can’t use all the N it has absorbed from the soil. I already know from winter hoophouse growing that high levels of nitrate are not healthy. Legumes cannot do a good job of fixing nitrogen if S is too low. Sulfur shortages can affect the nutrient density of the crops, the protein level in beans. Now I know what to look for and what to do if I find the problem. Add 5-10 pounds per acre of S if plants seem deficient.
Cucurbit Blossom End Rot
At the same FHCASA conference, I learned about cucurbit BER in a workshop by Emily Zobel. I had not known cucurbits could suffer from blossom end rot, which is a problem caused by limited calcium uptake, often in cold weather and when water supplies are too variable. I do see a little BER on our first hoophouse tomatoes to ripen, but the plants quickly grow out of it as the weather warms up. The photos of young yellow squash Emily Zobel showed looked just like what I have been thinking was lack of pollination!! Now I will need to see if encouraging the plants to take up more calcium can solve the problem. This “actionable nugget” arrives in good time for this growing season!
I also learned that duct tape can be used to remove squash bug eggs. (I’d given up trying)
Yellow Shoulders on Hoophouse Tomatoes
From a workshop on Organic Soil Management for High Tunnels at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference, presented by Krista Jacobsen, I learned some valuable tips about dealing with salt build-up in hoophouse soils. – she referred to hoophouses as “irrigated deserts”!
I also learned about yellow shoulders on tomatoes. Previously I had read that the green/yellow shoulders were (unfortunately) genetically linked to good flavor in some varieties. At this workshop I learned that yellow shoulders (as opposed to green), can be a sign of potassium deficiency. Temperatures above 90F can also be a factor. The determinant hybrids have less of a problem than other varieties. Excess magnesium can be a factor, as can the choice of variety, a virus infection, pH over 6.7. Our pH isn’t over 6.7. Ideally, the grower would increase the magnesium to calcium ratio to 1:6 or 1:4, and/or increase the potassium. Perhaps we are short of magnesium. I will need to study our soil tests more carefully.
Organic Weed Management
In this SSAWGworkshop by Daniel Parson, I learned a technique for training newbies on weed control: Make them get down on the knees and point to and touch the crop plants before hoeing or pulling weeds. He says : “If you can see the weeds without getting down on the ground, you’ve waited too long! ” Weeds should be dealt with while tiny. Bring your trainees back in a week to to see the results of their hoeing. I like this idea! Too often it is hard for new workers to learn from their experience because they don’t study and critique their work as they learn!
Lean Farm Ideas
Ellen Polishuk gave this workshop, and I went because I had both enjoyed and been challenged by Ben Hartman’s Lean Farm book. I wanted to hear someone else’s perspective and remind myself of the best bits. To my surprise, one idea that stuck out was to work in 90 minute chunks, with short breaks (or longer meal breaks). I’m not sure I fully embrace this idea, but I’m mulling it over.
Here’s my updated Crop Planning slideshow, which I presented last weekend at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference. To view it full screen, click the diagonal arrow in the lower right.
I will upload my other presentations bit by bit. January and early February are choc-a-bloc with conferences and slideshows, so there will be plenty to see in the next couple of months!
Spring starts in January in Virginia! On January 17 we make our first sowings in the greenhouse. We sow some early cabbage, the first lettuce, and some scallions. The week after that we sow our hoophouse tomatoes! Ah! Signs of spring! Even if we did manufacture them, so to speak!
Our germinator cabinet is made from a broken fridge, warmed by an incandescent light-bulb. We’ve got maybe one more year before we run out of incandescent light-bulbs. Then we’ll have to get a different form of heating. But we’re shelving that problem for now. We check twice a day to make sure the light-bulb is still working and the temperature in the germination chamber is still OK.
By the end of February, we’ll have sown tomatoes and peppers for growing in our hoophouse, and spinach, kale, collards, cabbage, lettuce, scallions, broccoli and senposai for planting outdoors.
When the cabbages emerge, we’ll need to make space for the flat in the greenhouse near the window. When the hoophouse tomatoes have germinated, they will go in a plastic tent on a seed heating mat by the greenhouse windows. We have the 48″ x 20″ size mat, and we extend the plastic tent and graduate the older seedlings off the mat, but still under the tent for extra protection.
Our system for seed compost is to screen a big pile of our homemade compost in September, and fill the cinder-block beds in the greenhouse. Then we pop lettuce transplants at 10″ spacing into the beds. Those lettuces give us salad from November to February. As we need space in the greenhouse, we pull the lettuce. We can then scoop out the compost to fill the flats for seedlings. This system works well time-wise –we benefit from this lettuce supply in the winter. It also works well in providing us with a large quantity of mellow screened compost for seed flats, indoors and not frozen. The soil organisms have had time to colonize the compost, so it is full of life.
As the seedlings grow, we spot them out into bigger flats, with about 2.5″ between plants. My favorite tool for this job is a butter knife! For lettuce we use 3″ deep flats, but for most crops we use 4″ deep flats, so the roots have plenty of space. We use a dibble board to make the evenly spaced holes in the compost in the bigger flats, to move the tiny seedlings into. It’s a piece of plywood with fat dowel pegs glued into holes at the right spacing, 40 in a 12″ x 24″ flat. On the other side of the board are two small wood handles to make it easy to use.
There is a great website on Vegetable Transplant Production from the University of Florida Vegetable horticulture Program. It has a collection of excellent articles developed by Charles Vavrina in the late nineties. Plants still grow the same way! Check out the site for lots of useful tips about growing and using transplants. This is a good time of year to make plans to do something in a different way, to avoid repeating last year’s less successful episodes!
Scaling Up: Maximizing High Tunnel Production Gena Moore, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community
High tunnels provide high-value space for growing various crops throughout the year, but maximizing production comes with challenges. In this workshop, Gena and Pam will discuss how to effectively use high tunnels to maximize potential. Topics include monocropping for wholesale production, diversified high tunnel production, and effective management throughout the year.
The November/December issue of Growing for Marketis out, including my article on Hoophouse Squash and Cucumbers for Crop Rotation.
We transplant one bed each of summer squash and bush cucumbers in our hoophouse on April 1st. This gives us harvests a month earlier than the outdoor crops. It also helps us have a crop rotation (compared to tomatoes and peppers in all the beds every year.) We find that people really enjoy early squash and cucumbers, as a welcome change from winter crops, and a harbinger of what is to come. We end the squash and cucumber sin July, once the outdoor plantings are bearing well, and use the hoophouse space for cowpeas or edamame, usually. Summer cover crops would be another fine option.
Lots of interesting article, including the good news for certified Organic growers that the paperpot system is now accepted under Organic regulations. See
Machine Makes Planting a Breeze https://youtu.be/J_ia4KpVLKs via @YouTube
There are sections on animals, how-to, politics, videos, environment, lifestyle, recipes, food & drink, plants and technology. You can sign up to receive their weekly newsletter.
While at teh CFSA Conference I participated in the High Tunnels Bus Tour, and saw a whole hoophouse planted wall-to-wall with lettuces at 6″ spacing using one of these. For next week, I’ll sort out my photos from that event and also my visit to Potomac Vegetable Farms where Zach Lester is focusing on protected crops using hoophouses and caterpillar tunnels.
Lastly (how can I forget), my publisher, New Society, is doing a Book Giveaway on Facebook this week (starting Nov 15) with my new book The Year-Round Hoophouse. It’s on their Facebook page and Instagram. Enter a question, I answer it, and someone wins a copy of the book at the end of the week (very soon!)
Alliums are more cold-tolerant than most people believe. Here are my observations of killing temperatures for outdoor crops. Note that crops often survive night-time lows in the hoophouse that would have killed them outdoors.
12°F (−11°C): garlic tops if fairly large, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln,King Richard), large tops of potato onions
10°F (−12°C) some leeks (American Flag aka Musselburgh and Scottish Flag, Jaune du Poiteau)
5°F (−15°C): garlic tops if still small, some leeks (Bulgarian Giant, Laura, Tadorna, Bandit), some bulb onions, potato onions and other multiplier onions
0°F (−18°C): chives, garlic, a few leeks (Alaska, Durabel); some bulb onions, yellowpotato onions, some onion scallions (Evergreen Hardy White, White Lisbon), Walla Walla onions sown in late summer (with rowcover for winter)
You can see my garlic slideshow for more info. I was surprised to find I haven’t written much in my blog about planting garlic, so here goes! See the alliums chapter in Sustainable Market Farming for more on types, varieties, and garlic genetics. The information here comes form that chapter.
When to Plant Garlic
Plant when the soil temperature at 4″ (10 cm) deep is 50°F (10°C) at 9 am. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week. Instructions from Texas A&M say less than 85°F (29°C) at 2″ (5 cm) deep. We plant in early November. In New Hampshire, mid-October is the time. The guideline for areas with cold winters is 2-3 weeks after the first frost but before the ground freezes solid for the winter. In Michigan, planting time is 6 weeks prior to the ground freezing, giving enough time for root growth only, to avoid freezing the leaves. In California, garlic can be planted in January or February.
Both hardneck and softneck garlic do best when planted in the fall, though softneck garlic may also be planted in the very early spring if you have to (with reduced yields). If you miss the window for fall planting, ensure that your seed garlic gets 40 days at or below 40°F (4.5°C) in storage before spring planting, or the lack of vernalization will mean the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves).
Garlic roots will grow whenever the ground is not frozen, and the tops will grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C). In colder areas the goal is to get the garlic to grow roots before the big freeze-up arrives, but not to make top growth until after the worst of the weather. In warmer areas, the goal is to get enough top growth in fall to get off to a roaring start in the spring, but not so much top growth that the leaves cannot endure the winter. If garlic gets frozen back to the ground in the winter, it can regrow and be fine. If it dies back twice in the winter, the yield will be lower than it might have been if you had been luckier with the weather. When properly planted, it can withstand winter lows of –30°F (–35°C). If planted too early, too much tender top growth happens before winter. If planted too late, there will be inadequate root growth before the winter, and a lower survival rate as well as smaller bulbs.
How Much Garlic to Plant
A yield ratio of 1:6 or 7 seems typical, and makes complete sense when you consider you are planting one clove to get a bulb of 6–7 cloves. Divide the amount you intend to produce by six to figure out how much to plant. For large areas 750–1,000 lbs/ac (842–1,122 kg/ha) are needed for plantings in double rows, 3″–4″ in-row (7.5–10 cm), beds 39″ (1 m) apart. For single rows, 8 lbs (3.6 kg) of hardneck or 4 lbs (1.8 kg) of softneck plants about 100′ (30 m). In the US, one person eats 3–9 lbs (1.4–4.2 kg) per year.
Popping Garlic Cloves for Planting
The garlic for planting should be taken apart into separate cloves 0–7 days before planting. We are doing this on November 7, along with our crop review meeting when the crew meets to make notes on the past season. This task is a good group activity. Twist off the outer skins and pull the bulb apart, trying not to break the basal plate of the cloves (the part the roots grow from), as that makes them unusable for planting. With hardneck garlic, the remainder of the stem acts as a handy lever for separating the cloves. We sort as we go, putting good size cloves in big buckets, damaged cloves in kitchen buckets, tiny cloves in tiny buckets and outer skins and reject cloves in compost buckets. The tiny cloves get planted for garlic scallions. Don’t worry if some skin comes off the cloves — they will still grow successfully. Cloves for planting should be from large (but not giant) bulbs and be in good condition.
Pre-plant Seed Garlic Treatments
Many of us do nothing special with the cloves before planting, but if you have pest and disease problems, use pre-plant soaking treatments, usually done the night before planting. Some growers find they get better yields from treated cloves even if no problem was obvious.
To eradicate stem and bulb (bloat) nematode (Ditylenchus dipsaci), soak the separated cloves for thirty minutes in 100°F (37.7°C) water containing 0.1% surfactant (soap). Or soak for twenty minutes in the same strength solution at 120°F (48.5°C), then cool in plain water for 10-20 minutes.
Allow to dry for 2 hours at 100°F (37.7°C) or plant immediately. Anytime your garlic grows poorly and you can’t tell why, send a sample with the soil it’s growing in to your Extension Service to be tested for nematodes. Mites can eat the skins of the cloves, survive the winter and multiply all spring long, seriously damaging or even killing your crop. To kill mites (which hide between the wrappers) before planting, separate the bulbs into cloves and soak them overnight (up to 16 hours) in water.
Possible additions to the water include one heaping tablespoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of liquid seaweed per gallon (around 8 ml baking soda and 4 ml liquid seaweed per liter). Just before planting, drain the cloves and cover them in rubbing alcohol for three to five minutes, long enough for the alcohol to penetrate the clove covers and kill any mites inside. Then plant immediately. The long soaking will loosen the clove skins so that the alcohol can penetrate. Mite-infested garlic soaked like this does much better than unsoaked infested garlic. The solution used to kill mites can also be used to kill various fungal infections. The cloves need only fifteen to thirty minutes soaking.
In trials comparing treated and untreated cloves, treated cloves were larger and healthier than untreated ones. Fusarium levels can be kept down by adding wood ashes when planting and then possibly dusting the beds with more ashes over the winter (use moderation — don’t add so much that you make the soil alkaline). Or you could soak the cloves in a 10% bleach solution, then roll them in wood ash (wear gloves for handling ashy cloves). The wood ash soaks up the dampness of the bleach and provides a source of potassium. This information came from the Garlic Seed Foundation. Join GSF to find out all the details!
Special Allium Topic forNovember: Sow Bulbing Onions in the Hoophouse
We developed a system of growing onion starts in our hoophouse over the winter and transplanting them bare-root outdoors in very early March. I wrote about choosing onion varieties for your latitude last month. There I explained that to grow big onions we need to have large transplants on March 1, so we can have big vegetative plants before bulbing is triggered by the daylength.
The method involves making two sowings of bulbing onions, each enough for the whole planting. This provides insurance in case one date turns out better than the other. Then we follow this up with a partial third sowing to make up numbers of any varieties that didn’t germinate well. We make our first sowing November 10, our second November 20, and a third on December 5 as a back-up in case of problems. Our formula is: divide the number of onion plants wanted by 20, to give minimum length of row to sow, in feet. And sow this amount twice, 10 days apart. The onions will be planted out at 4″ (10 cm) apart. We add 20% to provide some slack. For a final row of 100′ (30.5 m), we’d need 100′ × 3 per foot × 1.2 (adding 20%) plants. 360 plants. We sow 3 seeds per inch (approx. 1 cm apart), 36 per foot (30 cm). At this sowing rate, we need 120″, or 10′ (3 m).
See TheYear-Round Hoophouse for more on growing onions this way. If we find ourselves with extra onion plants in March, we usually re-categorize them as scallions. But we have also transplanted them in early March in a single row along the south edge of hoophouse beds, for an early crop. We got good onions but they dwarfed the pepper plants behind them. Maybe planting them on the north side of the bed is better?
I wrote about how to dig up leeks last month. In zone 7 we leave our leeks in the ground till we need them, being sure to harvest the less hardy Lincoln and King Richard first. We use a walk-in cooler for short term storage (up to a week) and keep the root ends in water. Leeks are best stored at 33°F (0.5°C) and 65% relative humidity. In colder zones, leeks can be harvested and stored in a root cellar or basement. This is helpful in areas where the ground freezes solid for weeks on end. You can store leeks with the roots packed in soil, shoulder to shoulder in a crate or box in a root cellar, where they will keep for six weeks. They can be stored in plastic bags for two to three months at the right temperature, or frozen. Another possibility is to leave them in the garden, mulched with a foot (30 cm) of straw or hay as well as rowcover, if temperatures are below 10°F (–12°C). Our winter temperatures fluctuate a lot, so covering in-ground crops with mulch doesn’t work well for us.
Here’s my new Season Extension slideshow that I presented recently for the Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health and the Center for Rural Culture in Goochland. Click the diagonal arrow icon to see it full screen.
Since Hurricane Michael passed by, temperatures have plummeted. I dusted off our Frost Alert List. First is the “Grab and Run” list of what to do. Then follows a list of factors to consider to help you forecast whether or not you are likely to get a frost. We take the night-time low temperature for our nearest town (7 miles away) and subtract 5F to predict what temperature we’ll get.
Frost Alert List
Harvest all edible
Harvest all edible
Harvest all edible
Harvest all edible
Harvest all edible
Peppers exposed to the sky
Harvest all edible
West Indian gherkins
Harvest all edible
Harvest all edible
Harvest all edible
Green bean plantings past their prime
Thick row cover
Late Beans #5,6
Uncover once mild again
Thick row cover
Summer squash and zucchini
Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover
Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover
Double hoops -leave covered
Thick row cover
Last lettuce bed
Double hoops – leave covered
Overnight from before 32F till after sun shines on plants
Roma paste tomatoes and peppers
Other vulnerable crops
Frost is more likely on our farm if. . .
Date is after 10/14
Daytime high temperature is less than 70F (21C)
Sky is clear
Sunset temperature is less than 50F (10C)
Dewpoint forecast (Louisa minus 5) is less than 43F (6C).
Wunderground 3.30pm forecast for Louisa low temp is less than 38F (3.5C)
Little or no breeze (But see last point in list)
Soil is cool and dry
If temps are falling fast, the sky is clear, and it’s windy (esp from NW), it may be polar air moving in and we could get a hard freeze.
If you want to understand frost much more than you do, see
126 page resource on methods of frost protection, frost damage physiology, frost forecasting, passive and active protection methods, appropriate technologies, and reference material.
If you are pondering hoop systems for rowcover, here are our winter double hoops. The inner hoop is from 9 or 10 gauge wire, bent round a jig to make eyes. The outer hoop is 22 gauge wire and has the ends bent into hooks. We set the inner hoops every 6′ (2 m) along the bed, fit the rowcover, and roll its edges around wood stakes. then we add the outer hoops, hooking them into the ground-level eyes of the inner hoops. Lastly we tension the rowcover lengthwise. The outer hoops stop the rowcover from blowing away, and hole it in place when we push the edges up to harvest.
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.
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.