Books, blogs, conferences and seed-starting

Sustainable Market Farming on display. Credit Ken Bezilla
Sustainable Market Farming on display.
Credit Ken Bezilla

Sales of my book peaked during the holiday season (as also happened last December), so I conclude quite a few growers got a copy as a gift. I hope you are all happy with it! I also noticed that my reviews of Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes and Jean-Martin Fortier’s Market Gardener have had a lot of visits, so many gardeners and growers will be curled up with a book, making plans for the next growing season.

I’ve also been catching up on reading, although if I had more time, I could give in to that urge even more! Last week I wrote a post for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, on Winter Vegetables in Your Hoop House and I firmed up a booking to present 3 workshops at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference February 26-28. On the Friday I’ll be presenting two new workshops back-to-back: winter hoophouse growing and summer hoophouse growing. Of course, I have mentioned these topics in other workshops I’ve presented. The winter crops feature in Cold Hardy Winter Vegetables (click the link to watch the slideshow). I won’t be presenting that workshop at Charleston (the WVSFC site) despite what I said a couple of weeks ago!

The summer crops featured in a presentation I gave at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group ConferencePractical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms.” This year it’s January 14-17, 2015, in Mobile, Alabama. I wish I was going, but I decided it was too far away this year. I intend to go in 2016, when I hope it will be nearer Virginia. My summer hoophouse crops workshop for SSAWG was way back in 2009, before I really got to grips with slideshows! And now I have a lot more photos than I did then! And at WVSFC my Saturday workshop will be the ever-popular Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests.

A bed of overwintered leeks Photo credit Twin Oaks Community
A bed of overwintered leeks
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Meanwhile, this week in the garden, I have been taking my turn with the other crew members to harvest for our 100 community members. It takes about 3 hours each day to haul in enough fresh veggies for the masses. Outdoors we have kale, spinach, collards, leeks, cabbage and still some senposai, and the last dregs of celery and lettuce. The chard and the scallions have given up for now. Not dead, just resting. In the hoophouse we are harvesting salad mix, which includes some combination of baby lettuce mix, spinach, mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Bulls Blood beets, Tokyo bekana, Bright Lights chard and arugula). Each harvester gets to customize the mix as they like, so we don’t get the same thing every day.

We are also harvesting pak choy and Napa Chinese cabbage as well as baby turnips and turnip greens, radishes, tatsoi, Yukina savoy, and spinach for cooking. We are leaving the kale and the lettuce heads for later, when we have fewer other crops available (or if we are under snow). the hoophouse is a delightful place to work!

Yukina Savoy Credit Ethan Hirsh
Yukina Savoy
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Pretty soon we will be dusting off our heat mat, plugging in the germination chambers, tipping the spiders out of the pots and flats and starting our first seedlings of 2015. We usually start with some early cabbage, lettuce, and mini-onions Red Marble in mid January, and follow up with early tomatoes (to plant in the hoophouse) the week after that. At that time we also start kale and spinach, although nowadays we start those in the ground in the hoophouse and move them out to the garden as bare-root transplants.

Why we grow foods organically

Ice on the pond. Credit Ezra Freeman
Ice on the pond.
Credit Ezra Freeman
Hoophouse greens in November. Credit Ethan Hirsh
Hoophouse greens in November.
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Here we have a second day of cold grey drizzle. The day length is as short as it gets. I have little enthusiasm for working outdoors. But this is a good time of year to remind myself why I value growing good food in a sustainable way. I want people to live healthy happy lives, and I want us to leave a planet worth inheriting.

I’ve just been reading Can organic crops compete with industrial agriculture? by Sarah Yang from Media Relations at UC Berkeley. There is a common belief that while organic farming is better in terms of doing less damage to the environment than chemical agriculture, it cannot ever feed the world. Sarah Yang says “A systematic overview of more than 100 studies comparing organic and conventional farming finds that the crop yields of organic agriculture are higher than previously thought.” And the productivity gap could be shrunk from 19.2% to an 8-9% difference in direct yield by sustainable organic farmers adopting or improving on certain practices.

The full study, entitled Diversification practices reduce organic to conventional yield gap, by , Claire Kremen was published on 12/10/14 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Global food needs will likely increase enormously in the next 50 years, and even if we were prepared to accept hugely increased environmental degradation from chemical farming, the fact remains that chemical fertilizers cannot increase yields by much above current levels.

The researchers did a meta-analysis of 115 studies (three times more than any previously published study) comparing organic and currently-conventional agriculture in 38 countries and 52 crops over a period of 35 years. Yields from organic farms are on average 19.2% lower, although this may be an over-estimate. The various studies incorporated here show a very wide range. In some developing countries with few resources, adopting good sustainability practices increased yields 180% over the previous systems in place.

I doubt the recorded yields take into account the land lost by erosion, or that used for mining minerals for fertilizers or growing corn for bio-diesel for the extensive farm machinery used in currently-conventional farming.

Shifting away from environmentally damaging agriculture would be a good step. Increasing the land farmed organically from the current 0.9% and “Broad adoption of sustainable agricultural methods is unlikely, however, unless such methods are similarly productive and/or cost-effective, such that they improve livelihoods.”

How can organic farmers increase yields? The report suggests big yield improvements can come from giving more attention to crop rotations and multi-cropping (growing several crops together on the same field), two basic tenets of organic farming. (We can always aim to do these things better!) Other suggestions include increasing ecological diversity and harnessing ecological interactions by intercropping or cover-cropping with legumes to gain their nitrogen-fixing benefits.

More investment in research into organic management systems and breeding varieties (especially of cereals) suited to organic growing could (can!) reduce or in some cases eliminate the gap. Organic farming has been historically underfunded compared to agriculture which uses lots of products from Agribusiness, and crop varieties designed to work well with those synthetic inputs.

The senior author of the study, Claire Kremen, makes these important points: “It’s important to remember that our current agricultural system produces far more food than is needed to provide for everyone on the planet. Eradicating world hunger requires increasing the access to food, not simply the production. Also, increasing the proportion of agriculture that uses sustainable, organic methods of farming is not a choice, it’s a necessity. We simply can’t continue to produce food far into the future without taking care of our soils, water and biodiversity.”


Another interesting piece of recent farming news is the 12/2/14 report by Ken Olson from ACES Cover crops can sequester soil organic carbon. This 12 year study at the University of Illinois showed that cover crops do not increase crop yields, but do increase the amount of sequestered carbon in the soil. This benefit accrues in no-till, chisel-plowed and moldboard plow methods. the no-till system including cover crops, sequestered the most carbon. Ken Olson said that soil organic carbon losses caused by tillage, water erosion, soil disturbance, aeration, nitrogen injection and mineralization were less than  soil organic carbon gained from cover-crops.

The complete study Long-Term Effects of Cover Crops on Crop Yields, Soil Organic Carbon Stocks and Sequestration can be read here.

A cover crop mix of winter rye, hairy vetch and crimson clover. Credit Kathryn Simmons
A cover crop mix of winter rye, hairy vetch and crimson clover.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Ordering seeds, new varieties, planning future speaking events

Our hoophouse bursting with winter greens. Credit Twin Oaks Community
Our hoophouse bursting with winter greens.
Credit Twin Oaks Community

The weather is chilly and grey, so I’m happy not to have to spend long outdoors. The hoophouse is bursting with greens, and I’ll harvest in there after lunch, to avoid nitrate accumulation in the leaves, which is highest first thing in the morning..

We’ve been working on our seed orders. We start by weighing and making an inventory of the seeds we have left over. We check the dates on the packets too, and write off the ones too old to be vigorous next year. We throw our discarded seeds into an Old Seeds Bucket, and we have several ways of using old seeds. For instance, if we have a short-term space in the hoophouse in winter, we make a mix of brassica seeds and sow a baby salad mix. We have also made mixes of old seeds to use for cover crops outdoors. And we’ve retrieved seeds when we’ve had a germination issue with a sowing. We sow the old seeds alongside the poorly germinated ones, and order some new seed. When the new seed arrives, we might sow that, or if the old seed has come up OK, we’ll save the new seed for next time.

We use spreadsheets for our seed inventory and seed order, and we use the seed inventory to make the seed order, so we can see at a glance how much we need to order. It helps us buy enough seed, but not too much. buying too much either leads to wasting money (if we throw it away) or wasting time and money (if we sow old seed that doesn’t come up well, then have a crop failure). We do the seed ordering as a small group exercise, with the perk that each crew member who participates gets to choose an “impulse-grow”! It could be a couple of tomato plants of a new variety or 120 feet of a direct sown crop. I’m hoping to try individual serving sized melons.

I championed the idea of growing some Babybeats in the hoophouse. I had to trade away a sowing of radishes, but it will be worth it! Babybeat takes only 40 days to grow (a little bit longer than radishes), and produces a small round or top-shaped beet as well as nice small beet greens. This year radishes have gone out of favor, and we don’t have many beets in winter storage, so early spring beets will be appreciated.

Royal Burgundy beans. Credit Fedco Seeds
Royal Burgundy beans.
Credit Fedco Seeds

We also make some group decisions on new crops. We decided to try Royal Burgundy beans in our hoophouse, where we do an early sowing, and want a variety that is easy to pick.We noted  “Grows well even in cold conditions. Light brown seed ” in the description. White-seeded beans don’t germinate as well in cold conditions.

Boldor beets. Credit Johnnys  Seeds
Boldor beets.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

Next year we are trying a couple of rows of Boldor golden beets.  Unusual color vegetables are not always liked by our cooks – we’ll see how it goes.

Yellowstone Carrots. Credit Fedco Seeds
Yellowstone Carrots.
Credit Fedco Seeds

We are also trying some carrots other than orange: Yellowstone and Atomic Red.  Our dissatisfaction with the cabbage varieties we have tried for winter storage is leading us to try Storage No. 4 again. Because our long-time favorite Ventura celery isn’t available, we are planning to try Redventure celery next year.

malabar Spinach, a summer green leafy crop. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
Malabar Spinach, a summer green leafy crop.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

And we are trying Red Malabar Spinach next year, on a tall trellis next to the asparagus beans. We freed up the space by deciding not to grow parsnips, which we have lost to weeds at least two years running, now.

We were dismayed to learn from our Fedco catalog that two of our three favorite sweet corn varieties, Kandy Korn and Silver Queen are from Bayer or Syngenta, manufacturers of neonicotinoids – these pesticides have been connected with  poor health of honeybees, perhaps with Colony Collapse Disorder. Fedco does a great job providing information about the farmers and companies providing the seed they sell. It leads us to many interesting discussions, weighing up the relative importance of organically grown seed, price, the presumed agricultural and ecological values of the supplier, the workplace structure of the seed company, and of course the suitability of the variety for our climate and our needs. So we will be growing Incredible sweet corn (85 days to maturity) alongside Kandy Korn (89 days), and Tuxana (90 days) for comparison next year. While scrutinizing the sweet corn varieties offered, we became enchanted with the notion of Early Sunglow, only 64 days to maturity. We are very happy with Bodacious 77 day corn, but an even earlier one. . . !!!Sweet corn with undersown soybean  cover crop. Photo Kathryn SimmonsSweet corn with undersown soybean cover crop. Photo Kathryn Simmons         

Alabama Blue collards. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Alabama Blue collards.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Meanwhile, the catalog from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has arrived. They have some interesting new varieties and crops. Alabama Blue collards look beautiful: plum-colored veins in blue-green leaves.

And a crop I’ve never seen before : Jewels of Opar,  a salad green (and ornamental) related to purslane.

Jewels of Opar. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Jewels of Opar.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

 

All this talk of varieties new -to-us doesn’t give you any ideas about our tried-and-true favorites, but if you look in the catalogs from Fedco Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, you’ll find most of them.

And I haven’t much time left today to tell you about my workshop presentations next year. More on that next time. So far:

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  JANUARY 29-31 2015

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015

West Virginia Small Farms Conference February 26-28, 2015

Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015

How to deal with green potatoes

Green skinned potatoes.  Credit Wikipedia File:Groene_aardappels_'Doré'_(Solanum_tuberosum_'Doré').jpg
Green skinned potatoes.
Credit Wikipedia File:Groene_aardappels_’Doré’_(Solanum_tuberosum_’Doré’).jpg

For a few years, we have had trouble with too many of our June-planted, October-harvested potatoes having green patches. We’ve been discussing what to do, and trying to separate myth from reality. How can we minimize the amount of green patches on our potatoes? How should we deal with them when they happen? How poisonous are green potatoes?

Here’s what seem to be the facts:

  • The green is chlorophyll, caused by the tubers being exposed to light. Chlorophyll is not poisonous. But the same conditions that promote chlorophyll formation also increase the production of solanine, which is poisonous.
  • It’s also possible for potatoes to have increased levels of solanine without being green, for example, if diseased or damaged or stored under warm temperatures or after experiencing spring frost (and making stunted growth as a result). Potato sprouts are also high in solanine. An unpleasant bitter taste indicates an increased level of solanine.
  • The Lenape potato was developed in the 1960’s to make beautiful golden potato chips (it’s challenging to to reliably make good chips without burning them.) It was pulled from the market in 1974 after studies showed that Lenape produced an extraordinarily high level of solanine.
  • Simply removing all green-skinned potatoes won’t remove all solanine from our diets. Solanine is a glycoalkaloid found to some extent in all nightshades. Other commonly-consumed alkaloids include caffeine, nicotine and cocaine.
  • Solanine is one of the plant’s natural defenses against pests and diseases, such as late blight.
  • The amount of solanine in an average portion of potatoes is easily broken down by the body and excreted. “[S]olanine levels in the blood are low after ingestion due to poor absorption by the gastrointestinal tract. Second, it is removed from the body fairly rapidly in both the urine and the feces, usually within 12 hours, preventing accumulation in the tissues. Third, intestinal bacteria aids in the detoxification by hydrolyzing the glycoside into solanidine(aglycone), which is less toxic than solanine and also poorly absorbed.” Andrew Montario, Cornell University
  • “Solanine levels above 14mg/100g are bitter in taste. Cultivar[s] with greater than 20mg/100g cause a burning sensation in the throat and mouth.” Andrew Montario, Cornell University
  • 2-5 mg of solanine per kilogram of body weight can cause toxic symptoms. 3-6 mg per kilogram of body weight can cause death.
  • A normal potato can contain 8 mg of solanine or 12-20 mg of total glycalkaloids per kilogram of potato.
  • So to get 2 mg per kg of body weight, a 100 lb (45.35 kg) person would have to eat about 90 mg of solanine, or at least 11.25 kgm (about 25 lbs) of regular potatoes.
  • Green tubers contain 250-280 mg/kg of total glycoalkaloids. The make-you-sick dose of 90 mg of solanine for the 100 lb person could be found in 0.6 kg (about 1.25 lbs) of green tubers. That’s green-all-over potatoes.
  • Alexander Pavlista at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln says that a 100 lb person would have to eat about one pound of fully green potatoes to get sick. That is equivalent to one pretty large baked potato. His report recommends cutting away the green parts.
  • Green skins contain 1500-2200 mg/kg total glycolkaloids.
  • booksPotato shoots can contain 2000-4000 mg/kg of glyclakaloids. These figures are from  Is It Safe to Eat?: Enjoy Eating and Minimize Food Risks, by Ian Shaw
  • The toxic dose seems to depend on the individual’s tolerance as well as the ratio of solanine consumed to the rest of the potato. 30-50 mg/100 gm; 24 mg/100 gm, 40 gm/100 gm seems to be the range in green-skinned potatoes, from various reports. See, for example, The Smithsonian article of October 21 2013 by K Annabelle Smith.
  • The symptoms of solanine poisoning include gastro-intestinal problems, and, more worryingly, neurological disorders.
  • Most victims of solanine poisoning make a full recovery.
  • Fatalities are generally restricted to people who don’t get treatment, or were undernourished to start with.
  • According to the British Medical Journal 8 December 1979, there is normally a high concentration-gradient between the peel and the flesh, but this is lost when potatoes are exposed to light or stored in adverse conditions.
Potatoes being harvested. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Potatoes being harvested.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Here’s what’s disputed:

  • Some studies have shown correlation between pregnant women eating potatoes suffering from Late Blight (which increases levels of solanine and other glycoalkaloids) and spina bifida in the fetus. But other studies have found no correlation between birth defects and consumption of potatoes.
  • The US National Institutes of Health says never to eat potatoes that are green under the skin.This has been variously interpreted to mean: throw out all potatoes with any green or cut off the green bits and eat the rest or cut off the green skin and also any green flesh under the skin. Most people seem to cut off the green bits and use the rest.
  • “Solanine is fat-soluble, so deep-frying reduces the danger.” The Department of Animal Science at Cornell University says that solanum-type glycoalkaloids are not destroyed by cooking.
  • “Solanine is water-soluble, so boiling lowers the levels.” An infamous 1979 case of 78 London schoolboys getting very sick after eating boiled potatoes that had been stored improperly for several months, seems to prove this belief not true. (All made a full recovery.) Results of a study by Takagi, Toyoda, Fujiyama and Saito “confirmed the relatively high stability of CHA [alpha-chaconine, the other main alkaloid in potatoes] and SOL [solanine] in potatoes under normal home cooking conditions.”
  • “Eating nightshades makes arthritis worse.” This seems to be an entirely different issue, as no source lists arthritis as a symptom of solanine poisoning.
Mulched June-planted potatoes. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Mulched June-planted potatoes.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Here’s what seems wise:

  • When growing potatoes, try to cover them adequately with soil and/or mulch, so that they are not exposed to light. Give enough space between plants so that tubers are not crowded and pushed up above the soil surface.
  • When mowing to reduce weeds before mechanical harvest, keep to a minimum the length of time between mowing and harvest. Likewise time between removing mulch and mechanical harvest. Manual harvesting can be done without removing weeds or mulch first, but there is a limit on how big of an area one person can hand-harvest well.
  • When harvesting, minimize damage.
  • When preparing for storage, do not gather all the potatoes showing any green into one container. Leave the green ones distributed among the others, so that no-one gets a higher level than normal. There is apparently no reason to use green potatoes sooner than others. Nor is there apparently any advantage to keeping them in hopes of de-toxifying them.
  • When storing, keep potatoes in the dark, and cool. Don’t store them for longer than necessary. Generations of potato growers have provided for their family needs for a whole year from one planting, so there seems no need to worry about storage up to one year or so.
  • When preparing potatoes for eating, cut off the green bits. Don’t use all the greened potatoes in the same meal. Reduce the risk by reducing the ratio of greened to non-greened potatoes.
  • When eating, spit out any potato that tastes bitter.
  • Enjoy eating your potatoes fried, boiled, mashed, chipped, baked, roasted. .

 

Our root cellar. Credit McCune Porter
Our root cellar.
Credit McCune Porter

Cold-hardy vegetables, carrot harvest, maybe snow on the way.

 

Wintry garden beds. Credit Ezra Freeman
Wintry garden beds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

For some years, I have been keeping a list of temperatures at which various crops get killed by cold weather. I update it each winter, and with two nights in the past week below the 14F we experienced on Saturday 11/15, I’ve started on this year’s update.

You can download a pdf here: Winter-kill temperatures 2014

See my 2013 posts about what survived when:

What’s still standing after two nights below 0F?

What’s alive at 14F?

Cylindra beet. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Cylindra beet.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

After the night at 14F (10F degrees colder than any previous night this season), the Cylindra beets were still OK, the Danvers carrots too. Our Tribute and Kaitlin cabbage were OK. All our broccoli shoots were rubbery, and knowing colder weather was coming soon, we went ahead and did one last harvest. We also harvested all the beets (we didn’t have many this year).

On the night of Tuesday/Wednesday 11/18-11/19 we got a brutal 10F. As often happens, our cold-weather low was 5F degrees colder than our nearest weather forecast station at Louisa Northside. After the 10F, there was a lot of damage. Some of the Tribute and Kaitlin cabbage had freeze damage. We made a big batch of kimchee from the cold-damaged cabbage. The Melissa savoy and the Deadon cabbage looked OK.Some of the senposai leaves have frost-killed patches, and most of the bigger chard stems got frozen. None of the plants are dead though.The Ventura celery under thick rowcover sustained quite a bit of damage. The Morris Heading collards are fine.

China Rose winter radish. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
China Rose winter radish.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The winter radish (daikon, China Rose and Shunkyo Semi-long red-skinned radishes) were all OK, and we decided it was time to harvest them anyway, rather than risk forgetting them.

We have one bed of outdoor lettuce left, with thick rowcover. The Outredgeous was a slimy mess, the Olga romaine damaged but good inside. Still looking good were Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Red Cross, Winter marvel, Sylvesta and Pirat. Add those to your list of cold-hardy lettuce varieties.

Rouge d'hiver lettuce. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Rouge d’hiver lettuce.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Various patches of oats sown in August and the first half of September as winter cover crops have all suffered some damage. Not a complete kill, but some bleached downed stems. For many years, I mistakenly believed 20F was the kill temperature for oats, and repeatedly forgot to track what actually happened.  Now I’ll think of 10F as the beginning of the end for oats.

Our biggest worry was the carrots.We had 5 beds 180′ long with 5 rows in each. 4500 row feet of carrots, with one every 3″ – 18,000 carrots to dig by hand. We considered what to do during the day on Tuesday, before the cold night. We had cancelled the shift on Monday due to rain, and Tuesday was very cold and windy. If we harvested some on Tuesday, it could only be a small percentage of the total. and then we’d have to deal with them on Wednesday. We considered putting a load in the truck and driving the truck into the garage for the night, where there is a woodstove. (Meanwhile we were part-way through planting garlic). I didn’t want people to be outdoors for longer than necessary on Tuesday. The forecast was calling for 17F, meaning 12F was likely here. That’s the temperature I expect carrots to die at. But rowcovering them all in windy weather didn’t seem like an option. Overhead irrigation was almost unthinkable, as we’d stored away all the hoses and sprinklers. I watched the forecast. It crept up one degree. I decided to do nothing except cross our fingers, hoping the foliage would protect them for one night, and that the forecast might be “warming” slightly. But by 7pm the forecast was for 16F. I felt quite stressed. Losing all our winter carrots was an awful possibility.

Were the carrots frozen? After the 10F night, the leaves were very flopped over. I pulled a few carrots and sliced them. It was hard to tell. They did have a glassy margin around the edges. It takes a bit of time for frozen plants to “declare themselves”, so I looked again on Thursday. Many leaf stems showed bleaching caused by the cold temperature, and the leaves remained flopped over. I consulted with two of our main crew people, and we decided to wait till Monday, by when it should be obvious. We considered and discounted various versions of trying to harvest them in a hurry and finding a use for so many frozen carrots before they started to rot.

Meanwhile I went to the fridge and got some carrots we’d had in storage since the summer. When I sliced them, they looked just the same as the ones outdoors – translucent edges are normal!! So we decided to start harvesting as soon as possible (Friday). We’ve had crews on the job for three afternoons now, and we have harvested about three-quarters of them. They look great! Very little bug damage. (For some years we’ve been wondering whether we have carrot rust fly). No rodent damage. And happiest news yet – our soil has improved enough that we rarely needed to dig them. Mostly we could pull them, which is so much faster.

We’ve been debating the relative efficiency of several methods. My favorite is to pull the carrots, put the handfuls straight into carts, haul them to the washing area. Then snip the tops off with scissors and wash the carrots. Others favor laying the pulled carrots in piles in the field, cutting the tops off there, and bringing the trimmed carrots to the washing station. We have been timing ourselves. It’s a question or reducing how many times we handle them versus hauling the carrot tops away then bringing them back. (We spread the tops thinly over the beds to protect the soil from heavy rains, as it’s too late to sow cover crops now).

danvers-carrotNext, we may get snow tomorrow night. But I’m not worrying. A cover of snow won’t hurt any remaining carrots. I’m done worrying for this week!

Potato and tomato yields, VABF Conference, weather extremes.

Potato harvest 2014 croppedPotato harvest October 2014. Credit Nina Gentle.

We got our June-planted potato harvest finished last week, and I counted the crates – 122. That makes 3660 pounds, a pretty good amount for the space we used. The Red Pontiac seem to have done a whole lot better than the Kennebec – the same result we got from our March-planted crop. One thought is that maybe the Kennebec seed pieces were cut too small, although I’d be surprised if the whole crew managed to do the same thing twice.

Potatoes into crates croppedWe use discarded plastic crates for our potatoes. They are lightweight, stack easily and don’t grow mold. We store our crop in our root cellar, which is built into the ground, a kind of constructed cave. Nice, fossil-fuel free and low-tech. And, like natural caves, it is prone to damp. It’s prone to mice too, but we have our organic solution to that problem: a black snake lives in there. We have been known to commandeer a snake, if none has chosen to move in. It’s a good winter home for snakes

Our organic pest mouse  remover. Credit Nina Gentle
Our organic pest mouse control expert.
Credit Nina Gentle

We also tallied our Roma paste tomato harvests for the year. We gathered 313 5-gallon buckets. If we’d had more workers we could have harvested more. Our plan was to harvest the whole patch of 530 plants twice a week, but during the peak of the season we were lucky if we could get one half harvested each time.The plants stayed in good health throughout the season, and the fruit stayed a good size. This is thanks to the selection work I have been doing when we save our seed (Roma Virginia Select). Also thanks to drip irrigation we have reduced water splashing on the leaves, which can spread fungal spores.

Geek Special: See our harvest data here:Roma Harvests

Roma is a determinate variety, meaning the number of trusses (branches) of fruit is genetically predetermined, but as with many crops, the more you pick, the more you get. Leaving mature fruit delays development of immature fruit. I have not found anyone to tell me how many trusses of fruit Roma has, and despite growing 530 plants each year for over 20 years, I have never taken the time to count them. Maybe next year. . .

If you read descriptions of determinate tomato varieties, you would think they are all tiny plants with a three-week harvest window. Roma is a large determinate, at least 4ft tall, and our harvest period lasts from mid-July until frost (usually late October here). Our peak period is about a month (early August to early September). Here’s a general description from www.seedaholic.com: “Determinate varieties are generally smaller and more compact than indeterminate tomatoes. . .”


 

The Twin Oaks Garden Crew is getting ready to have our annual Crop Review meeting. We work our way down an alphabetical list of crops, noting what worked and what didn’t. And at the same time, we pop our garlic bulbs into separate cloves for planting.


My next speaking engagement is at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference January 30 and 31 2015, with pre-conference sessions on Thursday January 29. Online registration is now open. I’ll be presenting my workshops  on Asian Greens and Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests. Lots of other great workshops too, including from Jean-Martin Fortier. Follow the link to get to my book review of The Market Gardener.


If you looking for a chatty online group of homesteaders, try Earthineer or, of course, the Mother Earth News blogs (I write for the Organic Gardening Blog)


Guess which was our hottest day this year: September 2? July 2? June 18? May 26? I recorded 97F, 98F, 98F and 90F. August didn’t get a look in! June 18 tied with July 2. And our wettest day was April 29, with 3″. Hurricane season didn’t bring us anything to blog about. I’m not complaining!

 

Home from Mother Earth News Fair; Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables Slideshow; potato harvest

Lynn, Pam, Jean-Martin MEN Oct 14Here’s a photo from the Mother Earth News Fair at Topeka, Kansas. I’m at the Friday barbecue dinner at Bryan Welch’s farm, Rancho Cappuccino. Bryan is the publisher of Mother Earth News. I’m sitting with Lynn Byczynski, editor of Growing for Market magazine, and Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener.  I reviewed his wonderful book here. Despite writing for Growing for Market magazine for many years, this was the first time Lynn Byczynski and I had met. We had a couple of near-misses at conferences that one of us was at, but not the other. It felt like we were old friends – which, thanks to email, in some sense we are.

The Kansas Mother Earth News Fair was smaller than the reputed 20,000 person event at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania in September. There were, I think, about 12,000 people this weekend. This was the second year in Kansas, the first in Topeka.  The next MEN Fair is April 11 & 12 in Asheville, NC. Hope to see you there!

This past weekend I gave my Fall Vegetable Production presentation, my Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops presentation, and my Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables slideshow. All are on SlideShare.net. You can see Cold-hardy Winter vegetables here:

http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/coldhardy-winter-vegetables-pam-dawling-2013?qid=d647b9bb-97b3-4055-ad18-dc494dea2e20&v=qf1&b=&from_search=1

Meanwhile at home, the crew have been harvesting potatoes, ahead of the brutal weather switch coming this weekend.

October potato harvest. Credit Twin Oaks.
October potato harvest. Credit Twin Oaks.
Potatoes waiting to be picked up.  Credit Twin Oaks
Potatoes waiting to be picked up.
Credit Twin Oaks

 

 

Getting ready for Kansas Mother Earth News Fair

One of our garden carts, tastefully decorated by guests Susie Anne and Jessie. Credit McCune Porter
One of our garden carts, tastefully decorated by guests Susie Anne and Jessie.
Credit McCune Porter

This week’s blog post is a cartful of odds and ends. Talking of garden carts, we like the larger kind, with the loop-shaped legs in line with the length of the cart. This makes it easier to straddle rows of crops, and also means we don’t bash our ankles while pulling them. The smaller models often have a single loop “leg” right across the cart. We used to have some of these. We called them the “Ankle-Snappers”. I recommend making sure any cart you buy is made from exterior-grade plywood, not particle-board, or other kind of pressed together scraps of wood. They have a hard life!

 

Garden carts loaded with Romas tomatoes. Photo Wren Vile
Garden carts loaded with Roma tomatoes.
Photo Wren Vile
The crew working on the sweet potato harvest. Photo McCune Porter
We did tally our sweet potato harvest – about 6600 pounds! Here’s the crew at work.
Photo McCune Porter

 

West Indian gherkin. Photo Nina Gentle
West Indian gherkin. Photo Nina Gentle


Recently I wrote on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog about West Indian Gherkins. I wrote about them on this blog. Here’s a new photo, which gives the impression of acres of the little things.

On Thursday I leave for Kansas for the Mother Earth News Fair there. The Program Guide is now out. I’m doing three workshops, a book signing and an interview. My workshops are Fall Vegetable Production, Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and Crop Rotations. Hope to meet some of you there – do introduce yourself to me!

I was looking up a recent reference in the work of the Organic farming Research Foundation about organic farming storing more carbon in the soil than other types of farming. I couldn’t find the exact link but I did find that as far back as 2012, OFRF was already pointing out that cover cropping  “Enhances soil quality, reduces erosion, sequesters carbon and provides nitrogen, prevents dust (protects air quality), improves soil nutrients, contributes to productivity”

My other piece of organic vegetable growing news is that Biodegradable Biobased Mulch Now Allowed for Organic Production
“The USDA National Organic Program has amended the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances to allow the use of biodegradable biobased mulch film with restrictive annotations. This action also adds to the organic standards a new definition for biodegradable biobased mulch film that includes criteria and third-party standards for compostability, biodegradability, and biobased content. The rule is effective October 30, 2014.” It’s a lot of technical reading, but for certified organic growers it will be worthwhile. Biodegradable plastic mulch is such a saver of time, temperature and weed germination! “Bio-based” means the product is made from biological materials. See my blog post and the one after that for details on the difference.

Photo Yale Press
Photo Yale Press

I’m reading a few good books at the moment. More about them in the future. John Reader’s Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.

Photo Barnes and Noble
Photo Barnes and Noble

and Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of all Time, to be published December 2014

 

Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, PA, and the Heritage Harvest Festival

Photo: 12-year-old FAIR Presenter Eleanor Wilkinson receives a signed copy of SUSTAINABLE MARKET FARMING by Pam Dawling, her favorite author and inspiration to start her own market farming business! They're both very special people. #MENFair

“12-year-old FAIR Presenter Eleanor Wilkinson receives a signed copy of SUSTAINABLE MARKET FARMING by Pam Dawling, her favorite author and inspiration to start her own market farming business! They’re both very special people. #MENFair”

I just got home from the Mother Earth News fair in Seven Springs, PA and found this already up on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR Facebook page. 

I think Eleanor is 13 now. You might remember I mentioned her last year after I met her at the MEN Fair. She succeeded in clearing $6000 in her first year, when she was 11. She now sells at two farmers’ markets. Her talk, Lemonade to Lettuce,  with help from her dad Matt Wilkinson, was clear, informative and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed making the surprise presentation of my book at the end of her talk. Despite the shock, Eleanor was quickly professional in dealing with all the photographers and the public. A “growing farmer” to watch!


Myself, I gave two presentations twice each. Here’s Crop Rotations, in case you missed it, from SlideShare.net

<iframe src=”//www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/16456412″ width=”427″ height=”356″ frameborder=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ scrolling=”no” style=”border:1px solid #CCC; border-width:1px; margin-bottom:5px; max-width: 100%;” allowfullscreen> </iframe> <div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/crop-rotations” title=”VBF 2013 – Crop rotations – Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>VBF 2013 – Crop rotations – Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

I gave out 300 handouts for this one, and some couples shared a copy.

For Fall Vegetable Production, I revised my presentation from last year’s (which can still be found on SlideShare). I’ll be putting the new one up in a few days. I gave out 360 handouts on that one.

I had a very busy day Saturday, two workshops, one booksigning, one interview, one book presentation, one MEN Bloggers’ lunch, one promoter’s dinner with many speeches. Lots of walking from A to B. And it was raining in the morning, so I was schlepping handouts and posters in several shifts through the rain to the tent where my morning presentation was. I’ll say this for MEN readers – they don’t let bad weather put them off! Sunday I had a lighter day and managed to get to workshops by others. Doug Stevenson lives at the Farm Community in Tennessee. Here’s the blurb from the MEN Fair website:

Creating a Permaculture Ecovillage: My 40 Years at The Farm Community
Douglas Stevenson – The Farm Community
Douglas Stevenson has two books out this year: In one, he describes The Farm’s colorful story and its evolution from world’s largest hippie commune to modern ecovillage. In the second work, he digs deeper and examines the building blocks of community and sustainability. In this workshop, he’ll cover both in a fascinating and inspiring presentation.Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/workshops-and-speakers-pennsylvania.aspx#ixzz3DULQBK3R

and I shared a dinner table with Ros Creasy and later traveled home with her (and Ira Wallace and Gordon Sproule). Long ago, when I was looking for a publisher for my book, Ros advised me that writing a book was going to be a lot of hard work. Her advice was good: she was right, and she didn’t dissuade me!

Edible Landscaping: The why and how
Rosalind Creasy – Freelance writer/ landscape designer
Join Rosalind Creasy, a pioneer in the field of edible landscaping, as she gives a PowerPoint presentation on the whys and hows of designing a beautiful landscape with edible plants. Among the topics she covers is an A to Z of her recommended beautiful edible plants for home gardens, the positive effects of edibles on the environment, an overview of the wide variety of individual edible landscapes, and styles as well as principles of landscape design particular to edibles.Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/workshops-and-speakers-pennsylvania.aspx#ixzz3DUKpuV8Y


And on Friday I was at the Heritage Harvest Festival, closer to home, in Virginia. I gave my Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables presentation. And I signed books in their bookstore Gift Shop. Sadly, this year HHF and MEN Fair PA were on the same weekend, and I had to leave not long after my workshop, to drive to Pennsylvania. Next year they won’t be on the same dates. In case you too, are planning a year ahead, here are the dates:

Heritage Harvest Festival September 11-12 2015

Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015


 

And meanwhile in the garden, the spinach seedlings are battling with faster-growing buckwheat seedlings, because we didn’t till the preceding cover crop of buckwheat in time. The weather is cooling down, and remaining dry. An advantage as far as hoeing goes. I just have to remember to keep switching irrigation on and off.

My next speaking event is the Mother Earth News Fair at Topeka, Kansas, Oct 25-26.

 


 

Heritage Harvest Festival, Mother Earth News Fair and plenty of watermelons

HHF_20141I’m gearing up for my Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables presentation on Friday September 12 at 9 am at Monticello (near Charlottesville, VA) as one of the Premium Workshops of the Heritage Harvest Festival. After my presentation  I will be signing copies of my book Sustainable Market Farming (see the tab About Pam’s Book) at 10.15 am at the Monticello bookstore. Come by for a chat, even if you’re not buying a book that day. Image-front-cover_coverbookpage

Jeanine Davis, author of  Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal, and Other Woodland Medicinals will be signing copies of her book at the same time.

Last time I looked there were still some tickets available for each of the premium workshops except Peter Hatch’s tour of the vegetable garden.

The Heritage Harvest Festival is a lovely event, promoting and celebrating gardening, sustainability, local food, crafts and the preservation of heritage plant varieties. This is the 8th Annual HHF, hosted by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in partnership with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. There are food booths, music, a beer garden, events for children (last year they were splitting fence-posts and making split rail fences). There is also a seed swap, so bring what you have to offer and take home something different.

This year there is also a Special Thursday event on Edible Landscaping with Rosalind Creasy and our own Ira Wallace. 1-4 pm, $45. On Friday there is also a special Harvest to Hearth event where you can watch a demonstration of cooking on a fire in the Monticello kitchen. 9-11 am, $55. If you are making a special occasion of the weekend there is the Chefs’ Harvest Dinner  6:30 – 9 p.m Friday. It’s $125 and it’s bound to be good. Outside my price range, by quite a bit.

If you can only come for one day, come for the main event on Saturday, with booths where you can watch crafters, buy seeds, plants, tools; taste more varieties of tomatoes than you knew existed; attend various free workshops and tours of the Monticello vegetable garden and woodland walks. Adult general admission for Saturday is $10 until September 11, $15 At the Gate. Child tickets and family tickets are also available. It’s a fun day at a fair price. Lots to see and do, and a beautiful setting.

Ken Bezilla of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is offering his workshop Fall & Winter Veggies: Zero Degree Gardening for free at noon on Saturday at the Vegetable Gardening Tent. So if all the $10 tickets for my workshops are sold out, or you can’t make it on Friday, go to his workshop on Saturday! Or just to hear a second opinion!


MENFairLogoOn Friday, after my book signing and hers, I’m zooming off with Cindy Conner of Grow a Sustainable Diet fame, up to Pennsylvania for the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs. No, it wasn’t our idea to have both events on the same weekend, but we’ll make it work!

A weekend pass is only $25 (and you’ll need to find accommodation). It’s only $15 if you hurry up and pre-order! Food is available at the Fair, but bring something in case the lines are long. The Fair website has links to hotels and campsites, and there are some rooms at the Seven Springs resort itself. It’s a huge event, with row upon row of vendor and exhibit booths, and 12 workshop locations offering a series of 4 workshops on Friday afternoon, 6 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday. That’s 180 workshops for grown-ups. And there’s a kids’ program too.

The complete list of speakers is here. And the schedule is here. Keep reading. (ignore the funny gap which I can’t seem to get rid of)

I’m presenting Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops. I’m doing this one twice, 10 – 11 am on Saturday at the Seed Stage and 11.30 am -12.30 pm on Sunday at the New Society Publishers stage. The blurb says: “We will provide ideas to help you design a sequence of vegetable crops that maximizes the chance to grow good cover crops as well as reduce pest and disease likelihood. We will discuss formal rotations as well as ad hoc systems for shoehorning minor crops into available spaces. The workshop will discuss cover crops suitable at various times of year, particularly winter cover crops between vegetable crops in successive years. We will include examples of undersowing of cover crops in vegetable crops and of no-till options”

I’m presenting Fall Vegetable Production on  Saturday 1-2 pm at the New Society Publishers stage and again on Sunday 4-5 pm at the Storey stage. “Learn how to optimize production by choosing a suitable combination of warm weather crops, cool weather crops and cold-hardy crops. Hear seasonal tips on dealing with hot weather, followed by information on dealing with cold weather, as well as advice on scheduling late summer and fall plantings, thoughts about season extension and an introduction to winter hoophouse growing.”

I’m also doing a book signing on Saturday 2-2.30 pm at the MEN bookstore.

and
Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/workshops-and-speakers-pennsylvania.aspx#ixzz3C5xXb3Rz

and for those nearer Kansas than Pennsylvania, I’ll be at

Topeka, Kan. | Kansas Expocentre | Oct. 25-26, 2014


Meanwhile we are getting a sudden spell of hot weather and have started catching up on tilling raised beds for fall crops, and in some cases, oats as a winter cover crop. We have decided to stop harvesting watermelons for eating at 531. I wrote about our decisions about how many watermelon to plant and to harvest in 2012. We’ve had a banner year! We had the biggest melons ever – some were hard to lift! And the flavor has been delicious! And the foliage is still in good shape, not diseased. A big success. We harvested about 40 so far for seed, and will do one big bulk seed harvest round on Wednesday. Next year you can grow our Virginia Select Crimson Sweet watermelon! Buy the seed from Southern Exposure.

Crimson Sweet Virginia Select watermelon. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Crimson Sweet Virginia Select watermelon.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange