BCS Berta Plow, Proofreading The Year-Round Hoophouse, Tomato Foliage Diseases

Our new equipment – a Berta rotary plow.
Photo Pam Dawling

In recent years we have mostly hand-shoveled the paths between our 90ft x 4ft raised beds. If we have two neighboring beds ready to prepare at the same time, we might use the hiller-furrower on our BCS 732 walk-behind tiller. But frankly that didn’t do as good a job as the old Troybilt hiller-furrower we used to have, and if you went off-course, there was no chance of a re-run to fix it. With the Troybilt you could fix a wiggle by steering hard on a re-run, but the BCS wouldn’t co-operate on that. So there was less incentive to use the BCS. We would measure and flag the bed, and have a person with a shovel at each end of each path, shoveling towards each other. Then we raked the bed, breaking up the big shovel-dollops.

Using the Berta rotary plow to make paths between our raised beds.
Photo Pam Dawling

Now we have a Berta Rotary Plow from Earth Tools BCS, and we are hopping with joy. It is easy to fit and unfit on our BCS, easy to use and does a lovely job. We flag the midline of the path, plow up one side of the path and back down the other. We get straighter paths, beds almost ready to use (no shovel-dollops!), and we save a lot of time, and don’t feel so tired!

A raised bed prepared with our Berta Rotary Plow, with some lettuce transplants under shadecloth.
Photo Pam Dawling


This week I am proofreading the Advance Proof of The Year-Round Hoophouse. A professional proofreader is also working through the advance proof at the same time, and the foreword and the endorsements are being written (or more likely, being thought about!).

So far, I have found a few inconsistencies to align. I guess I thought one thing when I wrote one chapter and something else a few months later when I wrote another chapter! I found a few tiny typos, even after so much careful checking here and during the professional copy-editing process. I found a few unclear bits, which I hope will now be clearer!

I relearned a few things I’d figured out for the book and then forgotten about! I impressed myself with seeing again all the information packed in there, from helpful tips to expansive over-views. I’m very much looking forward to having the book in my hands. Several more months yet. Publication date is November 20. New Society is taking pre-orders. When I’ve got some actual boxes of books I’ll update the Buy Now button here on my website and you can support-an-author and buy direct. I’ll sign the book for you!

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Pam Dawling has been farming and providing training in sustainable vegetable production in a large variety of climates for over 40 years, 14 of which have been hoophouse growing. Pam’s first book is the best-selling Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres.

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Pre-order at www.newsociety.com before November 1 and receive a 20% discount.


Striped German tomato in our hoophouse. Note the lower leaves have been removed to reduce diseases.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

At the end of July or the first week of August we will pull up our hoophouse tomatoes and sow some soy as a cover crop until we are ready to prep the beds for winter greens. Our outdoor tomatoes are producing now, and as their yields increase, we’ll have no regrets about pulling up the aging hoophouse plants. We like to grow some heirlooms in there, and they are (in general) notorious for foliar diseases. I know some are disease-resistant, but we don’t only grow those ones! We did better this year at removing any lower leaves touching the ground, to dissuade any transfer of diseases from the soil.

Early in the season we had aphids and sooty mold, but ladybugs sorted out that problem. More recently we have had a little Early Blight, some Septoria leaf spot, and a sporadic issue that has concentrations of leaves with small silvery spots (dead leaf tissue). These are mostly located below webs of zipper spiders. Is it a disease, or the result of spider poop or dead prey detritus?

Zipper spider on a hoophouse tomato.
Photo Pam Dawling

Alliums for July: harvest minor alliums, finish harvesting bulb onions, snip and sort garlic and bulb onions.

Siberian garlic.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Allium planting in July

In Virginia, July is not a big month for planting alliums. If you have perennial leeks or Egyptian onions you could if necessary divide clumps and replant them. But I would postpone doing this if I could and replant dry bulbs in August, or divide newly re-sprouting clumps in September.

Allium harvesting in July

In June I listed dates of our usual allium harvests for that month. Some of the minor allium crops (shallots, leaves of perennial alliums) can be harvested in July, but some, like the tiny, purple shallot-like L’itoi perennial onion (Allium cepa var. aggregatum ) die back in June and are sending up new green shoots by early July, so you’ll have to wait for those to be big enough to harvest. During dormancy you could divide the clumps and replant. Harvests of full-sized bulb onions and cipollini (small bulb onions) continue through July.

Bulb onions

I discovered our bulb onion (A. cepa var. cepa) harvest dates had ranged more widely than the 6/15-6/30 I reported last month. In the years 2008-2012, we harvested bulb onions 6/4–7/26, depending on the variety and the weather. In October I’ll write more about choosing onion varieties for your area.

Bulb onions curing on a rack.
Photo Wren Vile

Curing bulb onions

Some books recommend curing in the outdoor sun. These books are written further north or further south! This doesn’t work in our climate, where we need to provide partial shade, moderate temperatures, and good air flow (and no rain). Further north, temperatures are lower, and onions do not bake during outdoor curing. Further south (in Georgia for instance) onions mature much earlier in the year (they have been growing over the winter). The sun is not yet too intense or the humidity too high, and they can cure onions in the field there.

Handle onions gently – many rots are the result of poor handling post-harvest. Spread in a single layer in a warm dry place, and check every few days. The ideal conditions are 85ºF-90ºF (27ºC-32ºC) with constant air movement, no direct strong sunlight. We use racks in a barn, with fans to keep the air moving.

Trimming, sorting & storing bulb onions

Trimming should begin about two weeks after you hung the onions to cure. Test them by feeling maybe a dozen necks to see if they are ready. Pinch the necks gently just above the bulb, and then rub your thumb and forefinger together. They are ready for trimming if the majority of the necks feel dry and papery. The necks should not feel slippery or moist. If more than one or two still feel damp, but not slippery, wait a couple of days before testing again. Do not wait more than three weeks after harvest to get the onions in storage. The longer you leave the onions hanging, the more rot you will have to deal with.

To trim get a good pair of scissors, and a glove on your scissor hand to prevent blisters. Trim the necks off about ½” (1 cm) from the bulb, and trim all the roots off.

When trimming, sort the onions into three categories. Onions with wet necks or soft spots are for immediate use at home. Bulbs that feel firm and have dry necks are storage bulbs, and should be trimmed and put into mesh bags, which we store lying flat on shelves in our basement. Most onions store reasona­bly well if spread in a layer less than 4″ deep or hung from the ceiling in small mesh bags. Avoid large bags where the weight of the onions will crush the ones at the bottom. Ensure good air circulation.

The third category is for bulbs that aren’t obviously use first, but for some reason might not store for months. Maybe the necks have a spongy feeling, or the skin is split, or the necks slip a little bit. Label these onions “Use Soon,” trim them into mesh bags and put them in the basement like the storage onions.

Onions can be stored at 60ºF-90°F (16ºC-32°C) if they have never been refrigerated. It is important to avoid the 45ºF-55°F (7ºC-13°C) range, because that’s when they sprout. We have limited refrigerated storage, so we keep alliums in the warmer storage range until room temperatures drop into the danger zone, by which time there is space in the cooler. More about onion storage in August.

Onion harvest
Photo by Raddysh Acorn

Here’s information from the Roxbury Farm Harvest Manual (upstate New York) – a quite different story from Virginia:

Storage onions

Pull the onions out of the ground, clean off some damaged leaf parts, taking care not to remove too many of the outer layers. Cut off the tops immediately, 2-4″ (5-10 cm) above the crown.  If for long-term storage, bring the onions to the greenhouse for curing. Cover the greenhouse with 80% shade cloth to protect onions from sunscald.

As soon as the necks are sufficiently dried up (you can no longer roll any stems between your fingers and the stem tissue feels like paper), and the leaves easily crumble off, give them a superficial cleaning, and move the onions into the barn (and not in the cooler due to high moisture levels). Store at 32ºF-41°F (0-5°C) 65-70% humidity.

Green bulb onions, harvest and cleaning

Pull the 3-4″ diameter onions out, before any leaves die, by grabbing the plants as low as possible on the stem to avoid crushing the green stems. Place the onions on the top of the bed all facing the same way. Clean off the outer leaves around the bulb to leave a clean white bulb. Bunch 2-4 onions together with twisties. Cut the excess length off the leaves so the bunch fits lengthwise in the box. Pick up the finished bunches, and place them in the box.

Washing onions would shorten their storage life. Remove most of the dirt in the field. Bunched fresh onions look much nicer when clean. Spray off the onions with a hose but do not dump them into a washing tub. Pack in closed containers for storage longer than a week. Store at 32-41°F (0-5°C), 95-100% humidity.

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Harvest minor alliums

Cipollini (A. cepa var. cepa) will be ready to harvest from spring transplants here in the first half of July, if they weren’t ready in late June. We sow those in plug flats 1/25 and transplant 3/21. Read more about cipollini in the June post. We love Red Marble, which stores really well. Purplette disappointed us – it doesn’t store well.

French Red shallots.
Photo Raddysh Acorn

Shallots (A. cepa var. aggregatum) grown from seed started in late January and transplanted in March will mature here 7/4 -7/30, 4-8 weeks later than those grown from replanted bulbs (planted in October). We started with a packet of seeds, replanting all we grew for several years. We got lots of winter-kill trying to over-winter the bulbs in the ground. To save bulbs for replanting in early spring, refrigerate them. And accept a later harvest than the 6/10 of fall-planted bulbs.

Top-setting onions (aka Egyptian onions, tree onions, walking onions) produce tiny red-purple bulbs in the umbel instead of flowers, maturing in September. They were previously named Allium cepa var. proliferum. According to Wikipedia, they are now known to be a hybrid of A. cepa and A. fistulosum. The larger bulbils can be harvested in July, and used to make mixed pickles.

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Other Allium tasks for July

Trimming garlic stems (blue nail polish optional!).
Photo by Brittany Lewis

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic – see the link to my previous blogpost, where I spelled out these tasks, including setting up, snipping and sorting into three categories for replanting, for storing and for using soon. Garlic can be stored in the same high temperature range as bulb onions, provided it has never dropped into the sprouting temperature range of 40-55°F (5-13°C)

Sort potato onions – see the first step of this process described in my June post and the harvesting described in my May post. We made slatted racks 5′ by 2.5′ (150 x 75 cm) which stack on each other leaving space for air. Curing is important for quality and long-term storage. Space the bulbs loosely on the racks to provide good air circulation. If humidity is high, use fans, dehumidifiers or an air conditioned room, to improve drying. Curing takes 2 to 4 weeks.

I aim to sort through our potato onions once a month, starting a few weeks after harvest.

7/10-7/15: This could be the second sorting for fall-planted potato onions, the first sorting for late winter planted ones. Keep the clusters together, as breaking them apart stimulates sprouting. Wait till the third sorting, in early August, to snip off tops, separate the clusters, sort by size and decide how many to save for replanting. I’ll tell you about that next month.

Remove any rotting onions for immediate use or composting. Start sorting with the largest ones, in case you run out of time. Remove all that are bigger than 2″ (5 cm), bag, weigh, record and label. If you are on a fast track to increase your crop, refrigerate all the large onions at this time, carefully labeled so they don’t get eaten, to plant in September. Refrigerate or plant them, or eat them, the large ones won’t keep long.

Potato onions in early spring, after they have divided into a cluster.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Harvesting squash and cucumbers, Starting Seeds in Hot Weather, ATTRA tutorials

Gentry squash in our hoophouse.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

 Harvesting squash and cucumbers

The weather has heated up, the squash and cucumbers are growing well, and the combination leads to irritation from prickly leaves on sweaty skin. Some people get quite a rash from harvesting these crops, others just get a short-term itchiness that is cured by rinsing arms and hands in cool water. We’ve come up with a few helpful techniques.

Harvesting Zephyr summer squash, wearing a long-sleeved shirt.
Photo by Brittany Lewis

The first is fairly obvious: wear long sleeves for this task. Keep a suitable cotton shirt handy (near the harvest knives) to slip on before you start. But sometimes it just feels too hot. Gauntlets are another option. We have two pairs of these white plastic sleeves with elasticated ends. We keep one in the hoophouse, clothes-pinned to the rack by the logbook

Using plastic gauntlets or protective sleeves avoids getting skin irritations while harvesting squash.
Photo by Pam Dawling

I don’t know where we got these. It’s very quick to slip them on and off again, keeping the “enclosed” time to a minimum. They are just tubes, they don’t have gloves attached like the ones I used to wear when I kept bees. They are sold as “protective sleeves”, and they look like these or these (see the photo above).

Probably cutting sleeves off an old shirt and hemming and threading elastic in the top end would work.

For cucumbers, we have introduced the use of a pole to rummage in the vines, seeking mature cukes. This is a surprising improvement over using hands or feet to find the fruits. It does little damage, and you can easily feel when you hit a cucumber. The small amount of  time it takes to pop the cucumber off the vine is not long enough for skin to get irritated (for most of us). Also, cucumber vines are closer to the ground than squash vines and leaves, and so your arms don’t get scratched.

Using a pole to locate cucumbers among the vines.
Photo Pam Dawling


Starting Seeds in Hot Weather

A well-germinated bed of young carrots.
photo by Kathryn Simmons

My blogpost on this topic has been published on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. You can see it here. It is based on material in Sustainable Market Farming and in my new book The Year-Round Hoophouse. The post covers germination temperatures, soaking and pre-sprouting seeds.


 

ATTRA tutorials

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Sowing fall brassicas, thoughts on Organic certification and organic farming

Brassica seedlings under insect netting.
Photo Pam Dawling

Sowing fall brassicas

We sow our fall broccoli and cabbage in mid-late June, followed by our outdoor Asian greens and collards. These will all get transplanted from nursery seedbeds covered with insect netting, to growing beds covered with insect netting. In the summer we try to have a No Visible Brassicas Month to break the lifecycle of the harlequin bugs. Once our spring kale is finished, the spring cabbage gathered in and the spring broccoli mowed down, the only brassicas are hidden under netting. Our hope is to starve out the harlequin bugs or at least deter them from making too many more.

Brassica transplants under ProtekNet.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I wrote a short piece about sowing our fall broccoli and cabbage in 2014 here

I wrote about our long evenings of transplanting in July and August in 2015 here:

Fall broccoli rows.
Photo Kati Falger

This year we have a simplified plan: one broccoli variety, one cabbage variety, Morris Heading collards, Koji (a hybrid Asian green a bit like Yukina Savoy) and Senposai.

The broccoli is an OP variety, Umpqua. It takes 96 days to maturity, has dark green 5-6″ heads and makes lots of side shoots. That’s a long wait compared to 54d Tendergreen and 60d Green Magic, so I hope it’s good! It’s certainly highly rated compared to other OP types.

The cabbage is Storage #4 a 4-8 lb 90-95d hybrid, for fresh use and storage.

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Zipper spider catching pest bugs on our hoophouse squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

After worrying about the challenges with our early squash in the hoophouse, I realized today that at least half of the plants are still producing, while the younger first outdoor planting has given up, before the second planting is ready to take over.

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Is Buying Organic Worth It?

An interesting blog post cones from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, exploring the meanings of “organic”, and I will summarize it here. Paying the higher price for organic products is always a personal decision, and whether buying USDA Organic food is “worth it” depends on the relative value that the consumer puts on food The Real Organic Projectbeing produced in accordance with USDA Organic standards.

The word “organic” is used to mean different things:

Formally: When used to advertise and sell a farm product, the word “organic” is regulated by federal law—the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the related USDA Organic regulations. This legal meaning of the word “organic” as defined by Congress and the USDA has only been around since 1990 (when OFPA was signed into law). USDA Organic standards are the same from state to state and from store to store. Because the USDA tracks the sales of certified Organic products, buying USDA Organic food is a great way to vote with your dollar.  The core principles of organic agriculture were initially developed by organic farmers, not the USDA.

Informally: In daily life, many people use the word “organic” for agricultural products that were grown using methods that are similar to or even completely consistent with the USDA Organic standards but are grown by uncertified farms.  The cultural practice of farming using organic methods has been around for a at least a hundred years. Many outstanding organic farmers were growing organically before 1990 and either have never bothered to become USDA certified Organic or have given up their certification since then. However, after 1990, they could no longer market their products as organic. 

What exactly does USDA Organic certification mean? Continue reading

Alliums for June: planting leeks, harvesting garlic and bulb onions

Dibbling holes for planting leeks.
Photo Wren Vile

This month is a big harvest time for alliums, and it’s also leek planting time in Virginia.

Transplanting leeks

We do this job in early June. I have written about leek planting in 2015 and in 2014 (from flats), and from a nursery seedbed in 2013 . Initially we liked the nursery seedbed method of growing transplants because it freed up space in our greenhouse and coldframes for the crops that really needed protection from the cold, which leeks really don’t. But leek seedlings are skinny, and easily lost to weeds, which we had a lot of in some beds. While planning to really clean up our act with the weed seed-banks in the beds (and plan to use only the cleanest bed for our leek nursery), we tried sowing in flats, and that’s the method we now use. We put the flats directly in the coldframes – we still save the greenhouse space. We found we got better seedling survival in the flats, so we didn’t need to plant as many as we did with the old method. We were able to cut back to 50% of what we had planted. Also the seedlings grew faster and we have been able to transplant 2-3 weeks earlier than with our outdoor seedbed method, from the same sowing dates.

Leek seedlings in flats in April.
Photo Pam Dawling

We also learned that weeding leeks is really, really important, and that it can be worthwhile to side-dress leeks part-way through their very long growing season. We made the mistake one year of letting weeds get big before we pulled them up (it was a wet year, not conducive to successful hoeing). We got miserable leeks that year, not just from the smothering effect of the weeds, but we now think that the weeds removed a lot of the soil fertility. We decided to plant fewer leeks and focus on taking better care of them! That has paid off.

Garlic harvest underway.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Allium harvests in June

We are still happily harvesting scallions (see Alliums for May)

Our June allium harvests have generally occurred in this order:

5/31–6/14 hardneck garlic,

6/10–6/25 Spring-planted potato onions. By “spring”, I mean Jan-late Feb here.

6/11–6/18 Softneck garlic

6/15–6/30 bulb onions. See the SESE Onion Growing Guide for more info:

“When most of the tops have fallen over, pull onions, cure in partial shade for 2-3 weeks until necks have thoroughly dried. Clip tops to within 1″ of the bulb. Breaking over the tops by hand to accelerate harvest harms the keeping quality of some varieties and helps the keeping quality of other varieties.”

Elephant garlic will also be ready in June, but we stopped growing it when so much winter-killed that we harvested less than we’d planted! Elephant garlic is botanically a leek (A. ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum).

The small Cipollini bulbs (aka cocktail onions, boiling onions, pickling onions) may also mature this month. The larger ones can be used as fresh bunching onions. All may be cured. Some of those store well (Red Marble for instance). Others such as the flat Gold Coin do not at our latitude, as the necks don’t dry tight, so those should be used soon or pickled. Cipollini naturally have more sugar than most onions, which makes them ideal for caramelizing in butter or oil or roasting whole.

Hanging garlic in netting to cure.
Photo Nina Gentle

Harvesting garlic

As I noted last month, hot weather above 91°F (33°C) ends bulb growth and starts the drying down process. I wrote Garlic Harvest step by Step and Drying and Curing Garlic Step by Step here in 2016, along with some ponderings about whether a ground floor shed or an upstairs barn offers the better airflow, and whether better airflow is worth hauling all the garlic upstairs and down again. We didn’t come to a conclusion, but we didn’t find time to build our new barn. So once again, we are hauling the garlic upstairs to cure and down again after it’s trimmed and sorted next month.

Hopefully you will have removed any mulch when you got the scape-appearing signal, and the soil will have had a chance to dry to a workable level. We were doing quite well until we got 3.5″ of rain in one day. Now it’s all much wetter than ideal.

Hang your garlic to cure for 3-6 weeks or even longer, with fans if the humidity is high. Don’t set the fans too close to the garlic, your goal is to improve the air flow, not blast the bulbs and shrivel them up. I’ll come back to the question of how to tell when the garlic is cured and what to do then next month. If your garlic is ahead of ours, see my book Sustainable Market Farming, and know that the key is dry necks.

Garlic bulb cut horizontally to check maturity (good now or soon).
Photo Wren Vile

Signs of garlic maturity

If you live in a cooler climate than us, you might be puzzling over when to harvest your garlic. Margaret Roach in the Hudson Valley, New York, has a great article on determining garlic maturity on her blog A Way to Garden. Harvest there happens 7–8 weeks after ours. Margaret has a good collection of articles on growing, harvesting and curing garlic.

Watch the color of your garlic patch for a general “fading” and also count how many fully green inner leaves there are on a dozen random sample plants. Green leaves represent intact “wrappers” on the bulb, and having at least 4 will help your bulbs store well.  Six is better, five is enough, if your garlic doesn’t have to travel to distant markets. If you wait too long, the wrappers will rot in the soil.

Another sign of maturity that we use with our hardneck garlic is to dig a few sample bulbs, and cut them in half horizontally. If there are small air spaces open between the remains of the stem and the cloves, the bulbs are ready. If the cloves have not even differentiated, and you are viewing a single mass of garlic, you are too early by quite a bit. Test once a week. If your cloves are already springing apart from each other, you are late. Your delicious garlic will not store for long. You might need to mince and freeze it in ice cube trays, if you want to preserve some for a while.

Softneck garlic

We grow Polish White. Softneck garlics tend to store for longer than hardnecks, so we always save ours till we’ve eaten the hardneck garlic. The big reason we don’t grow only or mostly softneck garlic is that the bulbs have lots of tiny cloves in the center, and these are tedious to peel, when you are cooking for a hundred. According to Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, most hardnecks store 4-6 months, although Music and Chesnok Red can keep 7 months or more in central Virginia. Softnecks such as Italian Softneck, Inchelium Red and Silverskins can store for up to 12 months under good conditions. 

Potato onions.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Harvesting spring-planted potato onions

The harvesting process is the same as for fall-planted potato onions. Lift them gently when the tops have died down, and put them to cure on racks with fans. If any of your spring-planted bulbs have produced bulbs larger than 2.5″ (about 6 cm), go ahead and eat those, or refrigerate them till September and replant. Those giants do not store well.

Sorting potato onions

Potato onions need sorting about once a month to remove any that are rotting. If it is already a month since you harvested your fall-planted multipliers, do the first sorting now. Timely sorting will minimize waste, because you will stop rot spreading. And you might get to some that are still “good in parts”.

Onion bed in late April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Harvesting bulb onions

There are many different onion varieties and the ones for your area will depend on your latitude. I wrote about this in my book Sustainable Market Farming, and for now, I’ll skip that complex issue. I’ll come back to it in the fall. Assuming you have grown some bulb onions, it’s now time to harvest, as they mature.

If the varieties you grew are not storing types, simply pull them up when you want to eat them, or when the tops fall over. Most kinds will keep for a few weeks, but some not much longer than that. Be realistic! If you have lots of non-storing ones, you can sell, trade or give them away. Or you can chop and freeze them. Or use them in salsa.

The tops of the onions start flopping over here in mid- to late-June; this is the sign that they are ready to harvest. It’s best to harvest during drier weather, but sometimes you have to harvest wet just to get them out of the ground. Hot, wet weather is the worst, so it is best not to let the onions sit around in wet soil during very hot days.

Start to harvest a variety when about 50% or more of the tops have flopped over. Gently lift the onions out of the soil—harvest only the onions with floppy tops, leaving the upright onions in the ground to harvest another day. Harvest each bed twice—once to get just the floppy ones, and then the second time to get all the rest.

Storable varieties should be cured on racks for best airflow, until the necks are dry – about two weeks after hanging the onions. Rub the necks between finger and thumb to determine if they are dry and strawy, or still damp. Trim tops and roots of dry bulbs.

No matter what, do not wait more than three weeks after harvest to clear a rack and get the onions in storage. The longer you leave the onions to hang, the more rot you will have to deal with. After three weeks they start to get worse, not better.

Bulb onions curing on a rack.
Photo Wren Vile

Challenges with hoophouse squash

 

Gentry yellow squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

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

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

Striped cucumber beetle in squash flower.
Photo Pam Dawling

Striped Cucumber Beetles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpollinated squash
Photo Pam Dawling

Unpollinated squash

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

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

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

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

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

Rotting unpollinated squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bee pollinating squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

Encourage pollinators

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

Import pollinators

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

Squash bugs making more squash bugs.
Photo Pam Dawling

Minor Problems; Squash bugs

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

Squash bug eggs.
Photo Pam Dawling

Update on my new book, and how to garden when it rains a lot

Update on the progress of my new book, The Year-Round Hoophouse.

My upcoming book has reached its next stage: copy editing. My publisher, New Society, pays a professional copy editor, who has just sent me his edits. My job this week is to look through them, approve or reject the proposed changes and fix anything only I can do (reformatting the dates in the tables is one of those things). I used many more commas than necessary, and had some clumsy phrases, which will all be swept away before you see the final book.

You’ve already seen the cover (above) and the table of contents. The book can be pre-ordered from New Society, for a 20% discount off the cover price of $29.99 ($23.99). Buying from NSP supports publishers and writers like me. You can also pre-order from Amazon, where the price today is $27.40. Publication date is 11/20/18.

Once the copy edits are finished, NSP’s designer will work on the interior layout of the book for a couple of weeks, then advance proof copies go to a professional proofreader and me again, and also to the person writing the foreword and those writing the endorsements on the back cover and inside.

When the corrections are made and all the contributions gathered, the book comes back to Twin Oaks for indexing, by the Twin Oaks Indexing crew for about a month (July/Aug). After that, it goes to the printers for about 5 weeks, then to the warehouse. If all goes well, I’ll have a copy in my eager hands in late October. I’ll be signing and selling copies at events I attend after that date. See my Events Page.


Our kale beds after heavy rain. Photo Wren Vile

How to garden when it rains a lot.

We’ve been getting a lot of heavy rain in the past two weeks, and sometimes it’s a challenge to find garden work we can do. Of course, it’s very tempting to take some time off, and sometimes that is the very best thing. But the danger is of falling too far behind, so that the next couple of weeks become impossible. Here’s my list of tasks to consider before, during and after rain.

If you are expecting rain, get your transplanting done!
Photo Denny Ray McElyea

Gardening before heavy rain:

  • Transplant anything even remotely big enough, where you have the beds or rows prepared.
  • Sow anything due to be sown that week.
  • Prepare rows and beds (especially raised beds), so that you can plant as soon as possible, and won’t have to wait for the soil to dry enough to till.
  • Harvest enough to tide you over the rainy spell.
  • If you have 4 hours of good sunshine before the rain is expected, hoe small weeds and let them die.

While it’s raining you can catch up on work in your hoophouse or greenhouse. Photo Wren Vile

Garden activities while it’s raining hard:

  • Catch up on planning, organizing, record-keeping and bill-paying.
  • Prepare some spare blog posts, newsletters or Instagrams.
  • Give careful consideration to contingency plans – perhaps you will need to drop a planting if too much time passes before the soil is workable again.
  • Update your task list and mark the priority tasks, so you can hit the ground running!
  • Repair equipment, sharpen tools.
  • Wash and sort gloves.
  • Order supplies.
  • Watch inspiring farming videos or webinars, or listen to podcasts. Include the crew, and follow with a discussion. The Twin Oaks Garden blog has a new post!
  • Research those burning questions you didn’t have time for before the rain. Exactly what does a spined soldier beetle look like?
  • If you have a hoophouse or greenhouse, get all caught up with tasks under cover.
  • Spring clean your packing shed.
  • If heavy rain is expected any minute, and you might have to stop in a hurry, do weeding, not planting. Bring only the minimal number of tools and supplies. Be ready to leave as soon as it thunders! Don’t hoe if it’s about to rain, it’s a waste of time. Likewise don’t leave pulled weeds on the beds before rain. They’ll re-root.

Dreary raised bed scene. Photo Ezra Freeman

Gardening after heavy rain:

  • Work on mulched areas and perennial crops first, where you won’t get bogged down in mud. Weed asparagus, rhubarb and garlic. If no more rain is expected, you may be able to lay the weeds on top of the mulch (whether organic or plastic) and let the weeds bake. The mulch will stop them re-rooting. But if more rain is expected, haul the weeds off to the compost pile.
  • If you have very wet soil, where your boot-prints have depth, don’t go there! Sinking mud compacts the soil, which means the plants go short on air, which will stunt their growth and the soil will be slower to drain after future rains. Standing on boards is an option for harvesting or planting. Take two boards about as long as you are tall (or a little more), and set them end-to-end in the path or aisle. Work your way along the plants to the far end of the second board, go back and pick up the first board, and set it down on the mud ahead of you. The helps distribute your weight over a much bigger area, so there’s less compaction, and the boards leave a smoother surface for next time. You may have to backtrack one board at a time to extricate yourself from the mess, but this can often be worth doing.
  • Use a rain gauge to see how bad it was.
    Photo Nina Gentle

    Some crops are best not picked while the leaves are wet: cucurbits (squash, melons and cucumbers) nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants) strawberries and legumes (peas and beans) until the leaves dry, to reduce the spread of disease.

  • Mowing or weed-whacking will be possible before the soil dries enough to till. These are valuable weed control strategies.
  • Flame-weeding is another way to control weeds in some crops if the soil is too wet. One spring we could not hill our potatoes because of all the rain. Although it took a long time, we flamed the weeds in the potato patch, which left it clean enough to hill when the soil water soaked down enough.

Flaming (pre-emergent)
Photo Brittany Lewis

Time to watch for pests

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

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

Slugs and Snails

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

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

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

The post helps us understand our foe:

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

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

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

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

Jumping Worms

Invasive Jumping Worm
Photo Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotted Lanternfly.
Photo from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Spotted Lanternfly

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

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

Adult Spotted Lanternfly (pinned). Photo USDA Aphis

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

The signs and symptoms of a possible infestation include

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alliums for May: harvesting garlic scapes, scallions and fall-planted potato onions

Pickled garlic scapes, okra and beets.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

This is the first of a new monthly series of blog-posts on Alliums for the Month, which, like my previous series on lettuce and Asian greens, I plan to run for a year. Alliums are the onion family. With this series, I’m going to talk about which alliums to harvest each month, which to plant, and which need other kinds of attention.

Weeding alliums

I haven’t thought of any alliums to plant in May (at least, not here in central Virginia), but there’s plenty to harvest, and don’t forget to weed! Because alliums don’t have big spreading leaves, they are not good at shading out weeds, so we have to take care of the weeds for them! Particularly bulb onions and garlic this month, as they are only a few weeks away from harvest and will benefit from removing weeds and mulch to let in fresh air to help the bulbs dry down (rather than get fungal diseases!)

Harvesting garlic scapes

Starting any day now, we will begin harvesting garlic scapes (the firm, edible flower stems of hardneck garlic). My previous posts about scapes are some of my most popular ones.

Pulling garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

See last year’s Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops, posted on May 2, 2017. There I noted that in 2017, scapes came early, as did Tulip Poplar flowers, at the end of April. We harvest scapes two or three times a week for about three weeks, until no more appear. Garlic scapes are one of the first outdoor crops of the year, apart from rhubarb and asparagus, and their flavor is refreshingly different from leafy greens (the staple hoophouse crops of early spring) and stored winter roots.

I posted Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest on May 11, 2015. That year scapes were later than average. This post is a very popular one, and I’m still wondering if I was over-confident in predicting 3 weeks to bulb harvest everywhere in the US! Please do leave a comment if you have records for how long you get between scapes and garlic bulb harvest.

I’ve done some research into what triggers flowering in garlic, but haven’t found much solid info yet.  In general, plant flowering is triggered by some combination of enough vernalization (chilling hours during the winter and early spring – maybe 10 weeks below 40F), plant maturity, temperature and photo-period (the relative length of day and night). In cold weather the plants suppress the flowering signal. The leaves perceive the amount of daylight, and when the temperature is also right, they trigger flowering by sending a signal (called Florigen) to the shoot tips. Florigen may be an actual compound, or may be some combination or ratio of several plant hormones, produced by one or more genes in the plant. Almost all these factors are outside our control, once the plant is in the ground, so the best we can do is pay attention and be ready to act.

There is a bit more information about the triggers for bulb initiation and for drying down. Garlic bulb initiation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by daylight increasing above13 hours in length (April 10 here at 38°N). Soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) and air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) are secondary triggers. When I was in Jamaica last May, I researched growing garlic in the tropics, and it may be that temperature is a bigger trigger and daylength is less important in tropical latitudes where daylength does not vary much. Certainly some growers had produced garlic when I didn’t expect it to be possible.

Hot weather above 91°F (33°C) ends bulb growth and starts the drying down process. I don’t yet know how many hours over that temperature the garlic needs before drying down is triggered. We had a few very hot days last week.

It is important to get plenty of good rapid growth before conditions prevent any more growth. Garlic can double in size in its last month of growth, and removing the scapes (the hard central stem) of hardneck garlic can increase the bulb size 25%.

In the 2015 post I described how we pull our garlic scapes, to get the most out–we love this crop! We also appreciate a late-morning task that’s done standing up! In that post I described the value of mulch and when to remove it.

Garlic scapes to cheer us up posted on May 10, 2013 has been reread a lot–whether that’s because readers love garlic scapes, or seek cheering up, I can’t say.

Pulling garlic scapes – the long view.
Photo Wren Vile

Our harvest process

Here’s the short version. Those looking for more detail can go to my 2015 post.

  1. When scapes arrive, plan some late morning or early afternoon time two or three times a week to harvest them.
  2. As soon as the pointed cap of the scape has emerged above the plant center, firmly grasp the stem just below the cap and pull slowly and steadily straight up. The scape pops as it leaves the plant and you have the whole length of the scape, including the tender lower part.
  3. Gather them into buckets, with the scapes upright, so they are easy to bunch or cut up.
  4. Put a little water in the bucket.
  5. They store well in a refrigerator for months if you don’t use them sooner.
  6. In a few days, more scapes will have grown tall enough to pull, and you can have a second chance on any that broke at your earlier attempt.

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Clumps of scallion transplants in a Speedling flat, ready to transplant earlier in spring.
Photo Pam Dawling

Harvesting scallions

In May our outdoor planted scallions start. For outdoors, we use transplants, started in January and February, and transplanted in March and April. We sow in Speedling plug flats, a small pinch of seed in each cell, and transplant the undivided clump/plug. We can get a lot of scallions in a small space. Around May 10, the first ones are big enough to harvest (just as the hoophouse ones finish up – what planning!)

To harvest, we loosen the soil with a digging fork, then lift out a clump. We shake the plants, keeping them in a cluster, and trim off the roots and the ragged tops. Holding the bunch in one hand, we pass the scallions one at a time to the other hand, pulling off a single outer leaf and giving the base of the plant a wipe with our spare hand. Next we set the scallions in a small bucket in water. When the bucket is full enough, we dunk the scallions up and down, and transfer them to a clean bucket with a small amount of water to keep them fresh.

Scallions planted in bunches, ready-to-harvest.
Photo Pam Dawling

It’s good to develop an efficient method with little scallions or the harvest takes way too long. Deal with scallions in bunches as much as possible (digging up, trimming), rather than one at a time. Pass them from hand to hand when cleaning rather than set them down on the ground and pick them up again one at a time. Set them into water so they are cleaning themselves while you work on the rest. Don’t fuss with them too much – pull off a single outer leaf, not more. Don’t pick at little bits of skin, unless quite gross. If you are going to band them, start out with a bunch of rubber bands around three fingers on the hand that holds the bunches (leaving the forefinger free for tasks demanding dexterity). When you’re ready to band them, use the other hand to pull a rubber band into position.

Roxbury Farm in New York State has a wonderful Harvest Manual. Page 45 on scallions says they harvest 50 bunches an hour, including trimming tops as needed, but not roots. They wash 100 bunches an hour on a bench, in bunches, with a power spray.

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A potato onion plant in early spring, showing the cluster that has developed.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Harvesting fall-planted potato onions

Potato onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) are a type of hardy, perennial multiplier onion–once you have them you are self-sufficient. You don’t need to buy seed each year, but select the best bulbs from the ones you grew to replant for the next crop. Also known as Hill Onions, Mother Onions and Pregnant Onions, they produce a cluster of tasty (but not too pungent) bulbs from a single planted bulb, or a large bulb from a small one.

Potato onions have good drought resistance, pink root resistance, onion fly resistance and are widely adapted for different growing regions (not Florida or southern Texas). When properly planted they can withstand sub-freezing temperatures in every area of the continental U.S.

You can order potato onions from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and other suppliers to be shipped in the fall. See SESE’s Perennial Onion Growing Guide and Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide for growing information.

Yellow potato onions.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The potato onions which were planted earliest (September for us) will be ready to harvest first, at the end of May or early in June in our central Virginia climate. Once you see the tops start to fall over, stop watering the onions and let them dry down.

Potato onions are ready to harvest when the tops die. Not all will be ready the same day. Because onions easily get sunscald if left exposed after they are mature, it’s best to harvest the mature ones every few days. Don’t break over the tops in hopes of a single harvest–it really reduces the storage life. The potato onions sit on the surface and are easily picked up without tools. Handle them gently, to prevent bruising and scratching. Put them into crates or buckets, without pulling off any leaves.

The September planted potato onions were the largest bulbs when planted, and they will usually have divided and produced clusters of small onions. Do not break up the clusters as you harvest, because this triggers sprouting. Set the clusters in a barn or shed, on an airy bench or horizontal rack. The tops break easily, so you cannot hang them as you might hang garlic. Potato onions need good ventilation: we use box fans continuously.

If you find any bulbs larger than 2.5″ (about 6 cm), go ahead and eat those. The giants do not store well. Alternatively, refrigerate them till September and replant. The small and medium-sized bulbs keep 8-12 months under good conditions, and are the best to replant to grow more onions.

Potato onions need sorting about once a month to remove any that are rotting. We plant our large ones in September or early October, our medium-sized ones in late November and our small ones in late January. I’ll tell you more about those when the time comes.

Two beds of potato onions in spring, of different planting dates.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Year-Round Hoophouse Book update, Growing for Market, Mother Earth News post

 My upcoming book The Year-Round Hoophouse is being copy-edited this month. I was lucky enough to get the same copy-editor who I worked with on Sustainable Market Farming. Meanwhile the designer is working on the layout design, and a bookmark. I already have the pre-publication postcards to give away at events I attend. See my Events Page for that information.

My hoophouse book will be published November 20, which means it will come off-press (all being well) on October 12. Between now and then, we will finish the copy-edits, proofread for errors, then go back to the designer to enter the corrections (in June). In July the index gets made, by one of the Twin Oaks Indexing crew. That can take three weeks. Then there’s a last check (August) before the book goes off to the printers. The press needs five weeks to turn the book around (September and some of October). Meanwhile the electronic version (Ebook) is prepared.

The foreword will get written, as will those endorsements you see on book covers from well-known people who have been given a copy of the advance page proofs to read. Also happening is a lot of attention to marketing–sending information to the sorts of people who will be interested in the book.


The May issue of Growing for Market is out. The cover article is about wholesaling, by Jed Beach. His purpose is to encourage growers who are dissatisfied with the stiff competition in retail, to look carefully at comparative costs of selling wholesale. Receiving a lower price (wholesale) will not lead to lower income if you costs are considerably lower.

High Mowing Seeds is sponsoring farmer emeritus Ellen Polishuk to travel the country interviewing farmers for a Farmer to Farmer Profile series, which will be featured in Growing for Market each month.  This month her profile is of High Ground Organics in California, just two miles from the ocean. As well as the climate, Ellen tells us about the state laws that require overtime to be paid at 1.5 times the regular wage, and the requirement for wages for agricultural work to line up with other employment and achieve a minimum wage of $15 in six years’ time. This is causing big increases to labor costs. In addition, the national political situation is causing fewer immigrants to reach the farms. Hence, some farmers are selling up. The farmers at High Ground are selling one of their two farms in order to focus on farming one well. Eco-stewardship is an important value.  They are excited about improving at managing people and weeds, transitioning to only organic seeds, and growing strawberries with anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD).

Photos of all the  farms featured in Profiles are here.

Ellen has written an upcoming book, with Forrest Pritchard, called Start Your Farm.It will be published in September 2018.

Morgan Houk compares a trip to the accountant very favorably with a trip to have teeth pulled. She encourages all farmers to learn from an accountant:

“the financial success of my business is critical in order for me to continue building community and growing healthy food”

 

Kai Hoffman-Krull writes about two no-till methods: tilling with chicken tractors, and occultation (the cumbersome name of a system using impermeable plastic silage covers to kill weeds and cover crops and leave the soil ready-to-use). The main purpose of using no-till methods for Kai is to keep the carbon in the soil, as both social and environmental activism.

Gretel Adams closes this issue with her usual solid information on growing cut flowers, This issue the topics are ranunculus and anemones. As always, the flower photos are mouth-watering.


A hose with pinholes repaired using bicycle inner tube and old repair clamps. Photo Pam Dawling

I have a new blog post on Mother Earth News This one is a tip for repairing pin-holes in garden hoses. Cheap hoses don’t spring pin holes, they just crack up. But if you invest in good quality hoses, eventually they start to develop pin holes. Cutting the hose and inserting a repair connector is unnecessary. You just need a leftover clamp from a repair coupling (I found I had a whole boxful!) and a square of inner tube. Mark the hole before turning off the water. Wrap the rubber inner tube over the hole, then assemble the old clamp over that.


Meanwhile in the garden this week, we have transplanted tomatoes outdoors, as well as the first cucumbers. The first lettuces are almost ready to harvest, just as the last hoophouse lettuce mix is getting less desirable – milky sap, slightly bitter flavor. We’ve planted out six sowings of lettuce so far. We’ve hilled the potatoes and disked lots of areas for sweet corn and  sweet potatoes.

Lettuce bed in May.
Photo Wren Vile