Fall hoophouse bed prep and shadecloth removal

Our hoophouse is covered mid-May to early-September with a large shadecloth.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Today we’re removing the giant piece of shadecloth that has been over the top of our hoophouse since mid-May. We’ll unclip the ropes, roll them up, then pull the shadecloth off onto the ground, roll and bundle it up. It’s important to store it so mice can’t get into the bundle and make holes. We already have a few of those!

The shadecloth is held on by ropes zig-zagging between snap grommets on the shadecloth and large hooks on the baseboard.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We’ve just finished preparing the first of our 7 hoophouse beds for the winter greens. Crops grow so fast in the hoophouse, and the organic matter in the soil is consumed at a rapid rate. Every new crop requires a fertility boost. In the fall, we prepare our beds by removing all the summer crops, and spreading four or five wheel­barrows of compost per 4′ × 96′ (1.2 × 29 m) bed. This is a generous 46 gals/100 ft2 (or 680 L/36 m2 bed)or more. A full wheelbarrow generally holds six cubic feet (44 gallons or 170 liters). 1 ft3 = 7.5 US gals. An inch of compost is about 8 ft3/100 ft2, or 60 gals/100 ft2; 20 gals/100 ft2 is 15 tons/acre (8.6 L/m2). Other professional growers use any­where from 12–40 gals/100 ft2 (5–17 L/m2). Some use much more.

There are 3 concerns about using too much compost: high phosphorus levels, raised salt levels and nitrate accumulation. Some growers like to do two years of high compost rates (40 gals/100 ft2, 17 L/m2 or more), then reduce the rate to half that and add fish or kelp, at only 5 oz–8 oz/100 ft2 (15–24 gm/m2) per year. Sustainable alternatives to compost in­clude organic pelleted chicken manure, alfalfa meal, etc.

Broadfork from Way Cool Tools.
Photo Way Cool Tools

A few years after we put up our hoophouse,  we noticed that despite our best efforts, we were walking on the edges of the beds and compact­ing them. Initially we simply loosened the edges of the beds with a digging fork. We then noticed that the plants on the edges grew better, and we realized the whole bed width needed loosening. If you have designed your hoophouse to use trac­tor equipment there, that will deal with soil com­paction. We wanted our hoophouse to be free of internal combustion engines and fossil fuels, and the broadfork has provided the solution. Ours is an all-steel broadfork from Way Cool Tools. We do an annual broadforking each fall, before planting our winter greens.

We set nylon twine to mark the bed edges, holding it in place using sod staples. The string alone has not been enough to stop us walking on the bed edges. Loose soil is important because our winter crops grow all the way to the edges of the beds. After spreading compost, we broadfork the beds, then vigorously work the compost into the top of the soil with scuffle hoes and rakes. We learned the hard way the importance of raking the soil to a fine tilth immediately after broadforking — you don’t want to let the broadforked clumps dry out into bricks before you rake! See the photo below and imagine what could happen!

Hoophouse bed broadforked to aerate the soil without inverting.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote about our bed prep method and tools, and also our outdoor sowings for transplanting into the hoophouse, with a special focus on suitable lettuce varieties in my post Sowing hoophouse winter crops here in Sept 2017.

We have just started planting our late fall, winter and early spring crops in the hoophouse. We are  pre-sprouting our spinach for a week in a jar in the fridge. Soak the seed overnight, drain it in the morning, fit a mesh lid on the jar, and lay it on its side in the fridge. Once a day, give the jar a quarter turn to tumble the seeds and even out the moisture. If the seeds are a bit wet when you need to sow them, and clumped together, pour them out on a cloth to dry a bit before sowing.

We will sow five crops in our first bed on September 6 and 7– spinach, tatsoi, Bulls Blood beet greens, radishes and scallions. On September 15 we sow lettuces, chard, pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy, in an outdoor bed to be transplanted into the hoophouse in a few weeks, after we’ve prepared another bed.

We plant crops closer in the hoophouse than outdoors, and closer to the edges of the beds. We don’t have many weeds in the hoophouse, and the paths are marked off with twine, to keep us from stepping on the beds. We find that the soil does slump and compact some of its own accord, even if we don’t step on the edges (and of course, some feet do find themselves on the bed edges), hence the once-a-year broadforking.

Young spinach plants (and henbit!) in our hoophouse in December. This is our second sowing, not the early September one.
Photo Pam Dawling

Step-by-step guide to hoophouse fall bed prep:

  1. Remove the summer crops to the compost pile,
  2. Spread a generous layer of compost over the whole bed surface.
  3. Gather the soil staples and move the drip tape off to one side or the other,
  4. Broadfork the whole bed, but not all at once. Only broadfork the amount of space you have time to rake immediately, otherwise the warm hoophouse conditions dry out the soil and make it harder to cultivate into a fine tilth, which is the next task. We tackle 1/3 bed each day.
  5. To use a broadfork, go backwards working the width of the bed. Stab the tines into the soil and step on the crossbar, holding the long handles. Step from foot to foot until the crossbar touches the soil, with the tines all the way in, then step off backwards, pulling the handles towards you. This loosens a big area of soil, which hopefully crumbles into chunks. Lift the broadfork and set it back in the soil about 6” (15 cm) back from the first bite. Note: you are not inverting the soil – this is not a “digging over” process. Step on the bar and repeat.
  6. Sometimes we use a rake, breaking the clumps up with the back of the rake, then raking the soil to break up the smaller lumps, and reshape the bed. More often we use a wide stirrup hoe very energetically. This isn’t the job stirrup hoes were designed for (that’s very shallow hoeing), but the sharp hoe blade does a really good job of breaking up clumpy soil.
  7. We’ve found it important to lay the drip tapes back in place in between each day’s work, so that the soil gets irrigated when we run the system and stays damp. We don’t want dead, baked soil.
  8. When the bed is prepared, we measure out the areas for different crops and mark them with flags.
  9. Next we use our row-marker rake (bed prep rake) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
  10. After the rowmarking, we deepen the furrows if needed (often it’s not needed), using a pointed hoe, then sow the seeds.

For more on winter hoophouse crops, see

Planning winter hoophouse crops for our step-by-step process for hoophouse crop planning

Cold-tolerant lettuce and the rest, our January 2018 assessment of the varieties we grew that winter and which survived the unusually cold spell we had.

Summer pests and diseases

Hornworm on a tomato plant.
Photo Pam Dawling

It’s August, which for us is the peak time for pest insects as well as for fungal diseases.

This year, we have been collecting Japanese beetles from our okra plants, to prevent the leaves getting stripped off. It seems to be working. Many plants can take 30% defoliation without a loss of yield, but some years, our okra plants end up as just a bunch of stalks, and you know that means almost no photosynthesis can happen. Japanese beetles are one of the insects that have an aggregation pheromone, so those commercial traps are not only gathering up your own Japanese beetles, but also attracting neighbors’ beetles. Sometimes this means no net improvement, as the newcomers eat crops before going into the trap.

Another bad summer pest here is the Harlequin bug, a brightly colored stink bug. We try to have July be “No Visible Brassicas Month” aiming to disrupt their lifecycle. We use insect netting over the fall brassica seedlings we sow in June, and we clear our spring brassicas before the end of June. In July and July we use netting over any new brassica transplants, and sowings of turnips. During August we remove netting from older transplants and sowings, on to newer ones, such as kale and collards.

Leaf-footed bug, one of the stink bugs. Photo Kati Falger

Here’s a link to an article on Stink Bug Identification and Management in Vegetables, from the Alabama IPN Communicator Newsletter. Read More

I wrote about squash bugs and cucumber beetles on our hoophouse squash in June.

Squash bug nymphs and eggs
Photo Pam Dawling

Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden has a good post on distinguishing between the tobacco and the tomato hornworm.

The tobacco hornworms, Manduca sexta, is close cousins with the tomato hornworm,

Both species eat Solanaceous crops (nightshades) such as tobacco, tomato, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. The differences are in the stripes and the horns.

We have tobacco hornworms (this land was a tobacco farm before Twin Oaks bought it 51 years ago. This year, for the first time, we haven’t had any hornworms in the hoophouse. We’ve pulled up our tomato plants in there – we only grow the earlies in there, as it’s plenty warm enough to grow tomatoes outdoors here from May to October. I might be celebrating too soon – we still have a bed of peppers in the hoophouse and I think I might have seen evidence of a hornworm at work, although I could not find the culprit yesterday.

Tomato plant badly damaged by hornworm
Photo Pam Dawling

Pictures of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus and other tomato diseases

We’re always a bit anxious that TSWV might show up one day, but luckily it hasn’t. Meanwhile we forget what it looks like. Here’s a few photos on the Cornell Vegetable MD Online site.

And here’s a good collection of tomato disease photos on the You Should grow site.

Spotty tomato leaves. I think this is Septoria Leaf Spot.
Photo Pam Dawling

All the news is not bad! Here’s a satisfying photo:

Hornworm mother Hawk Moth trapped by a zipper spider.
Photo Pam Dawling

Zipper spider.
Photo Wren Vile

 

Root cellar potato storage, Mother Earth News post on hot weather seed germination tips

Potato harvest.
Photo Nina Gentle

We harvested our March-planted potatoes 21 days ago, and we are in the process of sorting them and managing conditions in our root cellar to cure the potatoes and help them store well.

Here are our “Root Cellar Warden” instructions:

  1. Before the potato harvest, leave the cellar open for a couple of days to warm up to the temperature of the potatoes (to reduce condensation and rot.)
  2. Gather crates. We store our potatoes in open plastic crates on plastic pallets, which allow ventilation but not rotting or holding of fungal spores.
  3. Like most root vegetables, potatoes store better if they are not washed before storage.
  4. In summer we stack the crates of harvested potatoes under tree near the cellar the first night, to lose some heat. At dusk, we cover them with a tarp to keep dew off and keep them dry. At 6 or 7 am next day, we put the crates in the cellar and close the door.
  5. Store in a moist, completely dark cellar, avoiding excess moisture.
  6. After the harvest, the potatoes need a surprisingly warm temperature, 60-75°F (15-25C) with good ventilation, for two weeks of curing. This allows the skins to toughen up, cut surfaces to heal over, and some of the sugars to convert to the more storable starches. Wounds do not heal below 50F (10C).
  7. In June/July, after harvesting the March-planted potatoes, we leave the door open at night almost every night for a week, then every other night, and close it early in the morning. After the Oct/Nov harvest of the June-planted potatoes, we leave the door open on mild nights or days every 2 or 3 days, and close it later. (It’s easier to cool the cellar in the fall.)
  8. As well as cooling to a good storage temperature, for the two weeks between harvest and sorting, the root cellar needs 6-9 hours of ventilation every two or three days. The potatoes are still “alive” and respiring, and will heat up if left closed in. If not ventilated, the potatoes get Black Heart. This is a dark hard black nodule of dead cells in the middle of the potato. Ventilate when the temperature is 0-20 Fahrenheit degrees (0-11 Celsius degrees) cooler than the goal:
  9. Air in the daytime if nights are too cold and days are mild;
  10. Air at night if nights are mild and days too warm.
  11. Try hard to avoid having the cellar cool down, then warm up. This causes the potatoes to sprout.
  12. Ventilate more if it is damp in there.

    Sorting potatoes .
    Photo Wren Vile

  13. After two weeks, the potatoes need sorting to remove Use First and Compost ones, keeping the varieties separate. Usually we bring the crates out to the top of the cellar steps in rotation. We gather buckets, rags, gloves. It’s important to do this 14-21days after harvest, and not leave it longer, to minimize the spread of rot.
  14. We find that if we do this one sorting after two weeks, we don’t need to check them any more after that – pretty much anything that was going to rot has already done so. Very little additional rotting occurs after a two week curing and sorting. If left unsorted for longer, rot does spread. If we sort too soon, we miss some potatoes with tiny bad spots, and need a second sorting.
  15. Restack the crates in the cellar, remembering to leave an airspace between crates and walls.

    Crates of potatoes in our root cellar.
    Photo Nina Gentle

  16. For weeks 2-4, the temperature goal is 50°F (10C), ventilation is needed about once a week.
  17. After week 4, ventilation for air exchange is no longer needed, as the potatoes are now dormant. We want to cool the cellar whenever a cool, mild night or chilly day is forecast, to 40-45F (5-7 C) if possible in late fall, and as close to that as we can get, in summer. (In summer, potatoes can be stored at 60-75F (15-25C) for up to six weeks – but at higher temperatures they will sprout.)
  18. Avoid wildly fluctuating temperatures, as the stress can cause “physiological aging” which among other things, inclines the potatoes towards sprouting.
  19. Continue to ventilate as needed during times of cool temperatures, to maintain the cellar in the ideal temperature range.
  20. Avoid storage much below 40F (5C), as these low temperatures will cause some of the starches in the potatoes to turn to sugars. This gives the potatoes a strange taste, and will cause them to blacken if fried. Potatoes which have become sweet can be brought back to normal flavor by holding them at about 70F/21C for a week or two before using.
  21. With a good in-ground root cellar, potatoes can be stored for 5-8 months. As a sustainable alternative to refrigerated or electrically cooled storage for crops needing cool damp conditions, traditional root cellars are a good option.

    Potato crates in our cellar.
    Photo Nina Gentle

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Dormancy Requirements of Potatoes

We are researching the dormancy requirements of potatoes in an effort to store ours so they don’t sprout when we don’t want them to! So if you have information on that, please leave a comment

What I know so far about dormancy is that potatoes need a dormancy period of 4-8 weeks after harvest before they will sprout. So if you plan to dig up an early crop and immediately replant some of the potatoes for a later crop, take this into account. Get around this problem by refrigerating them for 16 days, then chitting them in the light for 2 weeks. The company of apples, bananas or onions will help them sprout by emitting ethylene.

To avoid sprouting, keep the potatoes below 50F (10C) once they are more than a month from harvest, avoid excess moisture, and avoid “physiological aging” of the potatoes, caused by stressing them with fluctuating temperatures, among other things.

Potato Sprouting Conditions

The rate of growth of sprouts on potatoes is directly related to the degree-days above 40F/5C, so storing potatoes above 40F (5C) (for best flavor), clearly runs the risk that at some point they will start sprouting. If eating potatoes do start to develop sprouts, it’s a good idea to rub off the sprouts as soon as possible, because the sprouting process affects the flavor, making them sweet in the same way that low temperatures do.

Seed potato pieces after pre-sprouting for planting.
Photo Kati Falger

If you are storing potatoes for seed, and have good control over the temperature of your cellar, you can manipulate the conditions somewhat to help get best yields. The “physiological age” of the seed tubers affects both the early yield and the final yield. Cold storage conditions – below 40F (5C) keep the seed “young”, which leads to a crop that takes longer to mature. Avoid planting physiologically “young” seed potatoes unless you are prepared to harvest later than usual (or have a lower yield when you bring the crop to an end by mowing). “Old” seed gives an earlier harvest, but perhaps a lower final yield. If you will be planting in spring for an early finishing crop, “age” your seed potatoes by storing them at 50F (10C) until two weeks before planting, then harden off at a lower temperature to reduce thermal shock when they reach the soil. “Middle-aged” tubers stored at 40-50F (5-10C) give the highest maincrop yields. When we buy seed potatoes we have no control over the storage conditions before we get them, and probably no information either. The physiological age can be estimated by the length of the longest sprouts on the tubers. The best information I have found about potato storage and sprouting is in a book from the UK: The Complete Know and Grow Vegetables by Bleasdale, Slater and others.

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I wrote an article about growing potatoes for Growing for Market magazine.

I also wrote about root cellars for potatoes and other vegetables in Sustainable Market Farming and forGrowing for Market magazine in November 2008.

Storage is not a one-solution-fits-all project. Produce for storage might need to be frozen, refrigerated, cool, warm, moist or dry. Refrigerators and the ingenious CoolBot have their place. Mike and Nancy Bubel, in their excellent book Root Cellaring identified five different sets of storage requirements. Since their book was published, more evidence suggests that potatoes are better stored at 40-50F (5-10C) than 32-40F (0-5C), and that cucumbers and eggplant, like peppers, are better above 45F (7C).

Ethylene. Ripe fruits and actively growing plants (such as sprouting potatoes), emit ethylene, which then promotes more ripening or sprouting. Ethylene-producing crops need to be stored separately from those sensitive to ethylene – vegetables you don’t want to sprout, such as onions and potatoes.

Other Vegetables in Cellars. Most other root crops can also be stored in a root cellar. Some people pack the unwashed vegetables in boxes of sand, wood-ash, sawdust or wood chips. Perforated plastic bags are a modern alternative. Whole pepper plants can be hung upside down in the cellar, as can headed greens, like cabbage. Or cabbage can be replanted side by side in boxes or tubs of soil. Celery and leeks can also be stored by replanting in the same way. I’m more of a fan of choosing hardy varieties of leeks and leaving them out in the garden for the winter, but this is zone 7 and people in places with really deep snow or very cold winters might laugh ruefully at that suggestion.

Root Cellar Construction

Mike and Nancy Bubel Root Cellaring contains great designs and instructions for excavated root cellars, including a two-room version for keeping different crops at different temperatures and humidities. Excavated root cellars are not the only possibility, but they have advantages because the earth insulates the cellar. Because soil is heavy, in-ground cellars must be strongly built, and well drained, so that water does not pool, freeze in winter and crack the walls. The book has details about laying out the site, working with concrete blocks, mixing concrete, making a supported roof, and drainage.

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20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather

This is the title of my newest post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog. In my previous post I wrote general themes for starting seeds in hot weather. This time I listed 20 specific tricks under categories such as Seed Storage, Sowing Seeds Indoors, Sowing Seeds Outdoors, Watering, Soaking Seeds, Pre-sprouting and Fluid Sowing.

Good irrigation is important for successful carrot growing in hot weather.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Alliums for August: plant perennial leeks, eat onion greens, sort potato onions again, move bulb onions into cooler storage

 

Perennial leeks.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Plant perennial leeks (Oepri, Perlzwiebel)

These will be dry bulbs at this point of the year and can be re-spaced between August and October into a larger planting for next year.

August onion harvests

In cooler climates (if the quality is still good) the tops/greens/leaves of Egyptian onions and perennial leeks can be cut and used fresh. The larger bulbils of Egyptian onions and perennial leeks can be used in mixed pickles. Garlic and bulb onions can be eaten from storage.

Egyptian walking onions.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Sort potato onions twice in August

Early August: at the third sorting of the potato onions, I separate the clusters, trim the tops and sort by size. Sorting by size is not essential, but I do it to help me figure out what to save for planting and what to eat or use as seed (for planting). We sort smalls (<1.5”), larges (1.5-2.0”) and eaters (>2.0”). And compost material. The rack space required after this stage is only a third of what it was before that.

At the end of August I sort through again, and make initial plans about what to do with surplus planting stock (sell, give to friends). At the end of September I make the decision about how much to keep back for planting. I used to put the onions into net bags for storage, but I found I get better results if I just leave them in a single layer on the racks. The small ones stay there till late January, through freezing conditions (or more accurately, alternating freezing and thawing conditions). They can appear to be frozen solid, but are in fine condition. Ideal conditions are 32-40F, 60-70% humidity, with good ventilation. Layers should not be more than 4” deep.

Yellow potato onions.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Save seed-stock potato onions

Seed saving is a natural part of growing potato onions. We started in 2000 with 0.5 pound of seed stock, planted late in the spring. We harvested only 1.5#, but we continued, adding in more seed-stock, and planted 46# for 2003, (90’ large, 180’ small). At that point I was dividing into 3 planting sizes: small (<1”, 30-60 bulbs/pound); medium (1-1.5”, 16-22 bulbs/pound); and larges (>1.5”, 7-8 bulbs/pound). For 2004, I planned to plant large:small in a 1:2 ratio by area, to get enough small and medium onions to plant the same area the next year, and to get lots to eat as well. But the 2003 harvest had a high amount of large onions, and I decided to plant them all, increasing to 540’. We expanded to plant 720’, in a large:small ratio of 1:3 by area (i.e. 180’ large, 540’ small). This gives us enough smalls to plant for the next year, and plenty of larges and eaters. Someone growing for maximum seed-stock would probably want to plant a higher ratio of large ones, in order to get more smalls.

Instead of weighing all the onions, I now know I need to save 3 racks (probably 65#, 450 bulbs) of larges (1.5-2.0”) and 5 racks (probably 75#, 2100 bulbs) of smalls (<1.5”) for planting next year’s crop. This allows a margin for decay. The small ones really are very stable, it’s the larger ones that are more prone to sprouting, so I pull those out whenever I pass by.

Australian Brown storage onion.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Move bulb onions into cooler storage

  • In July I mentioned that bulb onions can safely be stored at 60°F-90°F (16°C-32°C) if they have not been refrigerated at all. This applies only to fully cured onions with dry necks. (Green onions need refrigeration at 32°F-41°F (0-5°C), 95-100% humidity.)
  • For cured dormant onions it is very important to avoid the 45°F-55°F (7°C-13°C) range, because that’s when they sprout.
  • For storage, onions and garlic do best with a humidity of 60%-70%. Refrigerators are usually more humid than ideal. If you have a barn with the right temperatures, that will work better for long-term storage.
  • In our climate, with a long period in the danger zone temperatures, we keep alliums in the warmer storage range in a barn, shed or basement until ambient temperatures drop close to 55ºF, and then move them to a refrigerated cooler at 32°F -41°F (0-5°C) 95-100% humidity.
  • Do not freeze: onions get chill injury at 31°F (-0.5°C)
  • If at all possible, do not store onions with fruits, including squash, as these exude ethylene which promotes sprouting.

More reading

Other southern onion growers might like to read this publication by Dr Joe Masabni of Texas AgriLife Extension, called simply Onion

Walla Walla large non-storage onion.
photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Collect ramp seeds

If you have been wild-crafting ramps (more on that in March), this is time to pay the piper. Collect seed and scatter it over the patches you dug from. Or collect seed to grow in woodlands at home – without of course, taking too many away from a place they could grow naturally. See the article in Modern Farmer. The seeds scattered in zones 3-7 in early fall, take 6 to 18 months to germinate, and the plants take 5-7 years to grow to harvestable size. Thus it’s easy to see how wild ramps have been seriously over-harvested.

Buy seeds year-round and bulblets in late winter at rampfarm.com and mountaingardensherbs.com.

Read more in Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals by W. Scott Person and Jeanine Davis of North Carolina.

Year-Round Hoophouse book update, Nematodes in hoophouse cucumbers, Organic Broadcaster.

Removing old hoophouse plastic. Photo Wren Vile

I just completed another step on the way to getting my new book, The Year-Round Hoophouse, published. I proofread aver 300 pages of text over the course of five very intensive focused days. In the next four days I checked all the photos, including the color section. I replaced a few photos that didn’t come out clearly, fixed a couple of glitches (that’s what proofreading is for!) And I added up to 17 more photos wherever there was enough space at the ends of chapters. The index is being prepared, and another proofreader is also carefully working through the text.

Then the corrected pre-press proof will be prepared by early August, and we’ll be on track for the November 20 publication date, with the books coming off-press in mid-October and heading to the stores. ISBN 978-0-86571-863-0.

The finished paperback book will be 288 pages, 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25 cm) for $29.99 (US or Canadian). It will also be available in digital formats.


Cucumber roots with nematodes (see circles).
Photo Pam Dawling

When we were clearing our early bush cucumbers from the hoophouse a couple of weeks ago, I found four plants at the east end of the bed with nematodes. I’ve written before about our struggles with root knot nematodes in our hoophouse, and indeed, you can read everything I know about nematodes in the Year-Round Hoophouse.

Here is another photo of the lumpy roots, with circles outlining the nematode lumps.

A different cucumber root with nematode lumps (see circles).
Photo Pam Dawling


The July/August Organic Broadcaster is out. The first article is about a poultry system compatible with regenerative agriculture. Regenerative Agriculture is one of the sustainable agriculture movements that are springing up as an alternative to USDA Organic, which now allows CAFOs, hydroponics and other unhealthy, non-sustainable methods. The regenerative poultry system includes trees for shade, ranging paddocks where the poultry are rotated, and night shelter. The aim of the author, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, is a fully regenerative supply chain, starting with what kinds of grains they feed the poultry and how they are grown. Farmers can reach the organizers of Regeneration Midwest by emailing [email protected].

The second article explains the consequences of USDA halting the Organic check-off as part of their program. The editorial introduces Organic 2051, a one-day conference (Feb 21, 2019) prior to the MOSES Conference, “to bring together leaders in the organic and sustainable farming community to chart the path forward for truly sustainable farming by the year 2050 and beyond, demonstrating our capacity to feed the world.”

Another article (by Matthew Kleinhenz) discusses biofertilizers and explores differences between an average yield increase which is sustained and throughout the field, and one that might lead to a similar average yield increase, but with a result that is widely fluctuating between one plant and the next, producing a few start yielders but fewer plants with an actual yield increase.

Bailey Webster writes about industrial hemp, an up and coming crop with mostly non-food uses, although the seeds are finding favor, touted as a “superfood”. Brittany Olsen writes about the MOSES farm mentorship program, Teresa Wiemerslage writes about the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Regulation and Laura Jessee Livingston writes about a new apprenticeship program training farm managers.

Carlos Valencia and his dog, Paco, live on a farm in rural Kansas. He has faced numerous issues with officials and vandals that have prevented him from achieving his farming goals. Photo submitted

Another article by Bailey Webster explores a shocking case that looks like racism in rural Kansas (although of course it could be almost anywhere). Kansas farmer Carlos Valencia, who is is black and Hispanic, began managing a farm in Norton, Kansas that was owned by Golden Duck LLC in 2007. He was working for equity in the farm, rather than for wages, with the goal of owning it himself one day. He planned to raise poultry, and had submitted documents to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to get farm operating permits to raise geese on a commercial scale. The paperwork was taking a long time, and if he was to raise geese that year and earn his living, he needed to get goslings on the farm while they were available. Geese do not produce young year-round, only February-June. Fully expecting to get his permits (the previous farmers there had an industrial hog unit), he bought 20,000 goslings. This sounds like a huge number to me, but I understand from the article that this is a modest start. In June, disaster struck in the form of an unusually strong hail storm that killed 800 of Valencia’s young geese. He chose a common practice on poultry farms: incinerating them. The local authorities caught wind of it, and worried that the poultry had died of disease. The USDA and the state biopsied the dead birds to check for disease, and found that there was no disease present. Continue reading

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!

Grow abundant produce year-round in any climate

Growing in hoophouses reduces the impact of increasingly unpredictable climate on crops, mitigates soil erosion, extends growing seasons, and strengthens regional food supply. The Year-Round Hoophouse teaches how to site, design, and build a hoophouse and successfully grow abundant produce all year in a range of climates.

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.

PB 9780-086571863-0/ 8 x 10”/ 288 pages/$ 29.99/Available November 2018

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

If you are looking for a reliable source of tried and tested information on Sustainable Agriculture of any sort, try ATTRA Tutorials

“Two new courses outlining Farm Energy Efficiency and Scaling Up for Regional Markets are now available from NCAT/ATTRA. And we’ve added a new quiz feature to each of our tutorials. Each lesson includes a quiz that will test what you learned in that specific lesson. If you successfully pass all quizzes, you’ll get a certificate demonstrating your knowledge!”

Other topics include Food Safety, Soil Health, Managed Grazing, Sustainable Irrigation, Ecological Pest Management, Farm Business Planning & Marketing for Beginners, and Getting Started in Farming.

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