Where in the world?

Feeling “back-endish” as we used to say in England about the lowering of energy farmers feel as the growing season slows down, I spent a bit of time in the cozy office this morning, reading the statistics on my blog. I’m only mildly embarrassed. It is rather chilly outside and I spent a chunk of time outdoors yesterday afternoon sorting potatoes. I reckon I’m due for some indoors time.

I was curious to see where in the world readers of my blog come from. 71 different countries so far. Naturally the biggest number of people looking at this website are here in the US: 2444 of those. And naturally enough, the other main English-speaking countries are next on the list: 156 in Canada, 79 in the UK, 50 in Australia, 37 in India. Indian readers just leaped from 28 a few days ago. Who knows why? If you’re one of them, please leave a comment on what sparked interest there.

There have so far been 18 readers in Kenya, 9 in Ukraine, 3 in the British Virgin Islands, 2 in Peru and one in each of 23 countries including Qatar, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Moldova and Estonia. I’m curious as to how those people found this site before anyone else in their country. Do tell. . .

Most fun was finding a link to my recent post on winter radish and planting garlic via a translation service that rendered it into Slovenian! Welcome, whoever you are in Slovenia!

Unsurprising to those who love Facebook is the fact that more people view my posts via my page on Facebook than any other way.

And yesterday the site got more visitors than ever before. It’s all a bit of a mystery why this should be. I look at the stats. Some weeks more people look at the site on weekends. Other weeks some random day like Thursday attracts readers.

OK, enough navel-gazing! I’ve got workshops to prepare for, and winter planning to do for our gardens. I’m probably speaking at an event in the Charlottesville, Virginia area in March. More on that soon.

Make Shuttles, Wind up and Re-use Your Drip Tape

Pam and Calvin unreel drip-irrigation hose over a garden bed.
Photo credit Luke Stovall

We are hesitant to fully embrace the use of agricultural plastics because of decreasing world stocks of oil, increasing air pollution, global warming, and problems of how to dispose of plastics responsibly. But sometimes plastics are so useful they’re irresistible! So our policy is to use plastics if they offer a significant advantage; to make them last as long as possible; to find uses for the scrap plastics where possible, and to find somewhere to recycle the final mess. Drip tape is a good example: drip irrigation reduces water use and decreases foliar diseases compared with over-head irrigation; and it enables larger areas to be irrigated well with a given amount of water, which is increasingly important as droughts become more common. We buy the thickest drip tape, 15mil, so that it will last as long as possible (10 years?). We have various tricks to get the longest life out of our drip tape, which I might write about some other time. What’s on my mind at this time of year is pulling up the drip tape and storing it, which I guess quite a few other growers are doing right now too.

We use shuttles to store the tape, and garden carts as a base to hold the shuttles while winding and unwinding. Winter is a great time to make yourself a set of shuttles. Or you could cut a set of parts and make them up on rainy days in the spring. 

At a Virginia Association of Biological Farmers field day at Glen Eco Farm some years ago, we saw a shuttle system with an A-frame shuttle holder, developed by Marlin Burkholder. Marlin’s system of raising beds, laying drip tape and plastic mulch is tractor based and involved some impressive tractor gymnastics on Marlin’s part. I got together later with another grower at the field day, Melissa Wender of Shannon Farm, to modify Marlin’s system for use without tractors. Here’s our original rough drawing of how to make a shuttle: 

Our shuttles rotate on lengths of rebar resting on the top of a garden cart. The rebar is held in place on each side of the cart by two large spring clamps. Visegrips would work, if you have enough. Or you could make permanent wood or metal additions to the sides of your cart to hold the rebar. We have 6 carts, and they stray a lot, so we could never be sure of finding the cart with the axle set-up, so it’s easier for us to find 4 spring clamps each time.

Our shuttles are made from scrap white oak stretcher bars from our hammocks business. The dimensions are 1.25” x  0.75”, but I’m sure anything similar would work. We have the larger style of garden cart (Carts Vermont, Johnny’s have them). We found that a 28” height of shuttle was the tallest workable. Melissa has the smaller style of cart, and I think she decided to go with 24” shuttles. Here’s a parts list for one large shuttle:

1.5” x 1” lumber: 2 pieces 28” long

2 pieces 13 & 5 eighths inches

2 pieces 12” long

16 screws approx  1.5” long

Drill a hole in the center of each of the 28” lengths through the flat side, wide enough to easily fit your rebar axle. Screw the 12” pieces between the 28” pieces, about 5” in from the ends of the long pieces. Screw the other pieces across the shuttle offset from each other, a little above and below the axle holes. These cross-braces strengthen the shuttles and give a handy place to tuck the starting end of the drip tape. One shuttle this size can hold 400’ of tape, maybe more. We generally wrap two lengths at once onto one shuttle.

To wind up used drip tape from the field, first open the ends of the drip tape. Then bring your cart with a shuttle on the axle and line it up between two runs of drip tape. If there is any slope at all, it will be drier work if you are at the high end of the field and the drip tape is draining as you wrap it.  Disconnect the drip tape from the supply pipe, and tug at the end of the tape nearest the cart. Sometimes it will just pull through any accumulated crop debris and weeds, sometimes it won’t. If it won’t, walk back down the line tugging the tape and looking for what is snagging it. Free it up and go back to the cart. If you have two people to work on each shuttle, two lines can be wrapped at once. Tuck the starting ends of  the drip tape around the shuttle and under one of the cross-braces. Then steadily turn the shuttle end over end, wrapping the tape around the shuttle. If you’re rolling two lengths at once, obviously the two people will need to co-operate, and stop if one length gets snagged up. When you get to the final end of the drip tape, write the length on the tape with a white china marker (grease pencil) and tuck the loose end under a couple of rounds of wrapped tape. We also write the contents of the shuttle on the side with a permanent marker, eg “ 2 @ 150’ ”. We store our shuttles of drip tape in a barn, tied by rope thrown over a beam, as if storing food safe from bears when backpacking. Another shuttle balances the weight of the first. This keeps the drip tape fairly inaccessible to mice.

To reuse the drip tape next season, use the cart and the rebar axle again. Unrolling is much quicker than wrapping it up, especially if you have two lengths of drip tape on one shuttle. Two shuttles can be put on one axle side by side, and two people can walk out with two runs of drip tape each, one in each hand.

Grasshoppers and hoophouses

This week I did some research into grasshoppers, as we have have been losing lots of new seedlings (kale, spinach, beets and turnips), and the beds are leaping with little jumping critters. Definitely bigger than flea beetles, I think they are baby grasshoppers. usually we get them in mid-August, not the first part of September, but climate change is here, so things are not “as usual” any more.

I learned that we had inadvertently been providing ideal grasshopper habitat by two things we have been doing. Or rather, two things we have not been doing. Grasshoppers like tall unmowed grass, and yes, we have been very slack about mowing around the edges of the gardens this year.Next I read that if you want to keep grasshoppers away from your vegetables you could sow a small patch of grains nearby, but not too close. The light-bulb lit up! We use a lot of buckwheat and soy as summer cover crops in our raised beds and for one reason and another, some of them got over-mature and the buckwheat set seed. No doubt the grasshoppers were having a feeding frenzy there! We paid in other ways too – the self-sown buckwheat has come up in our fall crops, and been a challenge to remove before it swamps the crops. Next year, more timely mowing and tilling. (We have a mantra not to repeat the same mistake two years running.)

I read up about Nosema Locustae bait. It’s a parasite of grasshoppers that you can spray in the spring when there is a growing population of young grasshoppers. Some of them eat the bait and incubate the parasite, then other grasshoppers eat those ones, and the disease spreads. It’s an organic answer, and doesn’t give an instant result. Some people say it’s the following year after applying it, that you’ll see a diminished horde. Sounds worthwhile, to me.

ImageMeanwhile, our main task this week has been replacing the plastic and doing major renovations to our 30′ x 96′ hoophouse (high tunnel). We scheduled this last week, but got too much rain and wind. It’s time to replace the plastic, and we also need to replace the baseboards and shore up the west wall, which has been leaning in for some time. The two layers of plastic came off fairly easily, but it’s been tough going since. All the screws and bolts are rusted up, of course.

In order to stabilize the framework, we decided to put a screw in each connector where the purlins join the bows. That’s 25 x 6! And to prop the west wall up, we got some steel tubing to make diagonal braces. Dim-wittedly, I bought connectors that only work on two pieces of tubing at right angles to each other, not on a diagonal. So I had to do some hasty shopping. We had hoped to finish before rain and before Tuesday, but I think we’ll be there longer than that. Every little thing that doesn’t go according to plan sets us back a bit more. I’ll tell you how it’s gone next weekend.

It’ll be a joy when it’s all done and cozy in there for the winter, and we have lots of salads and cooking greens. Can’t wait!

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Winter Hardiness

It can be hard to find out just how cold a temperature various vegetable plants can survive. Reading books written in different parts of the country can be confusing: “survives all winter” is one thing in the Pacific Northwest and another in Montana. So for some years I have been collecting data and exchanging information with my friend and neighbor Ken Bezilla at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Each winter I try to record what dies at what temperature. Below is my current list, which should be treated as a work in progress.

Your own experience with your soils, microclimates and rain levels may lead you to use different temperatures. If you have data from your garden, please leave a comment. Likewise if you have found particular varieties to be especially cold-tolerant, I’d love to learn more. Central Virginia isn’t the coldest spot in the US, but if I can grow something without rowcover, I’m happy to hear it!

Here’s our temperature list at which various crops die:

 35°F (2°C):  Basil.

32°F (0°C):  Bush beans, cauliflower curds, corn, cowpeas, cucumbers, eggplant, limas, melons, okra, some Pak Choy, peanuts, peppers, potato vines, squash vines, sweet potato vines, tomatoes.

27°F (-3°C): Most cabbage, Sugarloaf chicory (takes only light frosts), radicchio.

 25°F (-4°C): Broccoli heads, chervil, chicory roots for chicons, and hearts, probably Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), dill, endive (hardier than lettuce, Escarole more frost-hardy than Frisée), annual fennel, large leaves of lettuce (protected hearts and small plants will survive even colder temperatures), some mustards and oriental greens (Maruba Santoh, mizuna, most pak choy, Tokyo Bekana), onion scallions, radicchio. Also white mustard cover crop.

22°F (-6°C): Arugula, Tatsoi. (both may survive colder than this.) Possibly Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), Maruba Santoh, Mizuna, Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana with rowcover.

20°F (-7°C): Some beets, cabbage heads (the insides may still be good even if the outer leaves are damaged), celeriac, celtuce (stem lettuce), some corn salad, perhaps fennel, some unprotected lettuce – some OK to 16°F (-16 °C), some mustards/oriental greens (Tendergreen, Tyfon Holland greens), radishes, turnips with mulch to protect them, (Noir d’Hiver is the most cold-tolerant variety).

17°F (-8°C): Barley (cover crop)

15°F (-9.5°C): Some beets (Albina Verduna, Lutz Winterkeeper), beet leaves, broccoli leaves, young cabbage, celery (Ventura) with rowcover (some inner leaves may survive at lower than this), cilantro, endive, fava beans (Aquadulce Claudia), garlic tops may be damaged but not killed, Russian kales, kohlrabi, perhaps Komatsuna, some covered lettuce, especially small and medium-sized plants (Marvel of  Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density), curly leaf parsley, flat leaf parsley, oriental winter radish with mulch for protection (including daikon), large leaves of broad leaf sorrel, turnip leaves, winter cress.

12°F (-11°C): Some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), carrots (Danvers, Oxheart), multi-colored chard, most collards, some fava beans (not the best flavored ones), garlic tops if fairly large, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln, King Richard), most covered lettuce (Freckles, Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Parris Island, Tango) , large tops of potato onions, Senposai, some turnips (Purple Top).

10°F (-12°C): Beets with rowcover, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest, Brussels sprouts, chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), mature cabbage, some collards (Morris Heading), Belle Isle upland cress, some endive (Perfect, President), young stalks of Bronze fennel, perhaps Komatsuna, some  leeks (American Flag), Oriental winter radish, (including daikon), rutabagas, (if mulched), tops of shallots, large leaves of savoyed spinach (more hardy than flat leafed varieties), tatsoi, Yukina Savoy. Also oats cover crop.

5°F (-15°C): Garlic tops if still small, some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), some leeks (Bulgarian Giant, Laura, Tadorna), some bulb onions (Walla Walla), potato onions and other multiplier onions, smaller leaves of savoyed spinach and broad leaf sorrel.

0°F (-18°C): Chives, some collards (Blue Max, Winner), corn salad, garlic, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, Vates kale (although some leaves may be too damaged to use), Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf  kale, a few leeks (Alaska, Durabel); some onion scallions (Evergreen Winter Hardy White, White Lisbon), parsnips, salad burnet, salsify, some spinach (Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia, Tyee). Also small-seeded cover crop fava beans.

Even Colder: Overwintering varieties of cauliflower are hardy down to -5°F (-19°C).

Many of the Even Star Ice Bred varieties are hardy down to -6°F (-20°C).

Walla Walla onions sown in late summer are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Winter Field Peas and Crimson clover (used as cover crop) are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Hairy vetch and white Dutch clover cover crops are hardy to -30°F (-34°C)

Sorrel and some cabbage (January King) are said to be hardy in zone 3, -30 to-40°F (-34 to -40°C)

Winter wheat and winter rye (cover crops) are hardy to -40°F (-40°C).

Twin Oaks August Garden Calendar

(MONTH OF TOMATOES)

Here’s the list of what we plan to do in our garden this month. We’re in central Virginia. Our average first frost is October 14

 During the month:

Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce every 5 to 3 days. Switch to cold-tolerant varieties after 20th. Transplant sowings #22, 23, 24, 25, 26.Set out 120 plants every 6-5 days (1/3 bed). Store seed in fridge.

Sort potatoes 2 weeks after storing. Ventilate root cellar every few nights when coolest. Gradually get temperature down to 65°F by the end of the month. Try not to have temperature reversals.

String weave tomatoes once a week until plants reach top of posts.

Onions: move from basement to walk-in cooler as soon as space allows.

Monitor for grasshoppers on brassicas, carrots, beets.

Prevent nutsedge tuber formation by weekly cultivation in Aug and Sept.

Seed saving: Roma tomatoes – select plants, based on yield and septoria resistance. Mark & harvest seeds (usually 1 bucket each time) on days before bulk harvests. Don’t use diseased fruit or fruit from plants in decline. Keep 4-5 days till dead ripe, scoop seeds on Food Processing shift days. Ferment at 70°F for 3 days. Stir 3x/day. Wash, dry. Eg: Harvest Mon, scoop Friday, wash and dry Monday. Save 4 buckets tomatoes for 130gm seed.

Crimson Sweet Watermelon Seed: Overmature 10 days, harvest, scoop seeds, ferment 4 days at 70°F. Stir 3x/day. Wash, dry. Eg: Harvest and scoop Tuesday, wash Saturday. 1 melon = 22 g seed. 22 melons = 1 lb seed.

Perennials: Make new strawberry beds: Compost, till, raise, drip tape, newspaper and hay mulch. Chip or sawdust paths. One new patch follows corn #3, other follows part of the Green Fallow area. Plantnew strawberries using plugs, rooted potted runners or plants carefully thinned from last year’s beds. Water strawberry plants for next year’s crop, weed, and give compost. Mow aisles for fall raspberries, grapes. Remove blueberry roof netting if not done in July. Mow, weed, water in general. Grapes:visit, log progress, tie in, once in early August, once in late August.

Cover crops: Sow spring oats and soy for winter-killed cover in empty beds. (Not rye – may head up before winter.) Can sow buckwheat, soy, sorghum sudan, clovers; possibly winter barley, Miami peas; or Lana woolypod vetch at 2-3 oz /100 sq. ft. with oats

Early Aug:

Sow beans #6 (8/3, 15 days after #5), cukes #5 (slicing, by 8/5, latest) & zucchini and summer squash #5 (by 8/9), winter & fall radishes, turnips (by 8/15 if possible, by 9/15 latest), Swiss chard, 6 beds kale (2 each on 8/4, 8/10, 8/16, 8/24 until enough is established. Use rowcover against fleabeetles), beets (can sow dry or presoak 12 hours; sow 1/2″-1″ deep, tamp soil, keep damp, use shadecloth?). Sow all the fall carrots if not sown in late July & flame weed. Sow fall brassicas. Consider sowing sunflowers in kale beds to encourage grasshopper-predator birds.

Put spinach seeds in freezer now, two weeks before sowing, to improve germination .

Till between rows of corn #5, undersow with soy.

Transplant lettuce #22, 23. Finish transplanting all brassicas. Hoe and wheel-hoe the brassica patch, one section each morning. Re-cover or take covers from earlier plantings.

Water sweet potatoes when vines fully extended, (critical period for water).

Potato Onions, third sorting 8/5-10: check through, snip tops, separate clusters, sort by size, and weigh or estimate yield. Save 6 racks (150#) large (2-2½”), 5 racks (100#) medium (1½-2”), 4 racks (80#) small (<1½”) per 360 row foot bed wanted. Sell spare.

Plan and map next year’s main garden so best cover crops can be planted. Order winter cover crop seed.

Mid Aug: DON’T sow carrots or kale w/o cover (grasshoppers).

Till or wheel-hoe between broccoli rows (uncover), and undersow with mammoth red clover, white clover and crimson clover mix. Till between rows of corn #6 and undersow with oats & soy

Transplant lettuce #24

Sow kale #2, 3 (2 beds each time), fall radishes #2. Thin rutabagas to 10”, by 4 weeks-old.

Order seeds if needed: winter lettuce, early cabbage, other salads, kale, spinach, beets, onions, peppers, hoophouse tomatoes, winter hoophouse greens.

Late Aug: Sow kale as needed, scallions #5.

Finish fall carrot sowing if unable to get it done by early August – Flame weed.

Really finish transplanting brassicas, including kale from #1 beds. Transplant lettuce #25, 26

1st Fall disking: Disk corn #1 (future garlic), maybe form beds, sow buckwheat, soy (and Sorghum Sudan?) Disk corn #2 patch, sow oats & soy (future spring broccoli & cabbage). Or sow corn #1&2 in oats & soy and make garlic beds in October.

Disk old spring broccoli (may be already in summer cover crops), in time to sow rye and vetch 9/7.

August Harvests: Asian melons, asparagus beans, beans, cantaloupes, carrots, celery, chard, corn, cow peas, crabapples, cukes, edamame, eggplant, grapes (early or late Aug), komatsuna, lettuce, limas, maruba santoh, okra, pak choy, peppers, hot peppers, fall raspberries, Romas, senposai,  summer squash, Tokyo bekana, tomatoes, turnip thinnings, watermelons, winter squash (acorn & cha cha ), yukina savoy, zucchini.