Asian Greens for April: Mizuna and ferny mustards

Green mizuna in its prime in our hoophouse in November. Photo Pam Dawling

In April, sadly, our last mizuna and ferny mustards will come to an end. In our hoophouse we do three plantings of these frilly leaved greens, which we use for salads all winter and early spring.

Mizuna (also known as kyona  and shui cai) is a Brassica rapa var. japonica, meaning it’s in the turnip family. The other frilly mustards, such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills, Red Rain are Chinese Mustards, B. juncea. We tend to treat them as if they are all types of mizuna. True mizuna is available in green or purple (but Ruby Streaks and Scarlet Frills mustards are much better colors than Purple Mizuna.)

Golden Frills and Ruby Streaks in our hoophouse in February.
Photo Pam Dawling

All are very easy to grow, can be transplanted or direct-sown, and tolerate cold wet soil. They are ready to be harvested for baby salads only 21 days after sowing in the fall (longer in winter). They grow to maturity in 40 days. They are easy-going vegetables, fairly heat tolerant (well, warm tolerant) and cold-tolerant to 25°F (-4°C).  All regrow vigorously after cutting. The ferny leaves add color and loft in salad mixes, as well as an attractive leaf shape.

Mizuna is very mild-flavored. The ferny mustards vary in pungency, but most only become markedly spicy when they start bolting.

Like all Asian greens, they need similar care to other brassicas, doing best in very fertile soils. They are shallow-rooted – pay extra attention to providing enough water during hot weather to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency, especially with the B. juncea ones. Provide 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week, 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather.

Do close monitoring of pests, which can build up large populations during the summer. Growing these over the winter, as we do, we have not had many pest problems. Flea beetles sometimes, once the weather starts to warm.

Young Ruby Streaks (our second planting) in our hoophouse in early February. We thin for salads until the plants are at final spacing.
Photo Pam Dawling

Our mizuna schedule

On September 24 we sow these little crops in our outdoor nursery seedbed, which is covered with insect netting on hoops. We sow 7.5′, with roughly equal amounts of Green Mizuna, Golden Frills, and Ruby Streaks or Scarlet Frills. Red Rain is another we like. We are aiming for about 75 transplants on October 20. We transplant them 8″ apart with 6 rows in a 4′ bed. This takes 8′ length of a bed. This first planting will feed us from November 27 to January 25, with light harvests possible from November 5, and flowers and sprouting shoots as late as February 10.

Our second planting is direct sown in the hoophouse on November 9. We sow 6 rows about 6′ long (depending on available space). We thin these into salad mixes several times as they grow, increasing the spacing until they are about 6-10″ apart. After that we harvest by cutting off the larger leaves, sometimes individually, sometimes by “buzz-cutting” (snipping off leaves on one half of the plant an inch (25 mm) above the ground). Leaving half of the leaves growing seems to help the new leaves grow faster. Next time we harvest, we cut the other side. This planting provides harvests from February 26 to March 24 – just one month, although we get the thinnings from January 20, and the flowers and bolting shoots until mid-April.

Our third planting, green mizuna and Scarlet Frills, in our hoophouse in mid April. The mizuna is bolting, but the Scarlet Frills is hanging in there.
Photo Pam Dawling

A couple of years ago we added in a third planting, because we had some open space in the hoophouse. It follows the first Yukina Savoy. I wrote about some differences between the OP Yukina Savoy and the hybrid Koji. Perhaps Koji is less bolt-resistant than the OP. Late January brings it to an end.

We sow this third planting on February 1 and harvest it for a month from March 24 to April 23. This year this third planting is bolting April 15. (We have had a lot of temperature reversals this spring, which encourage bolting in brassicas.) Scarlet Frills and Golden Frills bolt later than Ruby Streaks and Green Mizuna. The timing of harvest fits perfectly with the second planting. We have sown it as late as March 3 and harvested April 10-April 30 (only 3 weeks when we sow that late).

Seed sources

Kitazawa Seeds sell 18 baby leaf mustards, including four red, purple or streaked mizunas. The other 14 are B. juncea, although a few don’t say. Most are frilly or ferny, a few merely wavy. Something for everyone.

Johnnys lists their selection under “Greens” along with arugula, large Asian greens, mixes. I counted about 15 mustards that fit the loose category I’m talking about here.

Fedco lists theirs under “Asian greens”. Scroll down past Mizuna to Mustards to find several interesting gene pool offerings such as Pink Lettucy Mustard (Variations of greens with pink or purple pigments in midribs) for those seeking milder flavors; and the medium hot Purple Rapa Mix Gene Pool (sold out as I write this): Very vigorous tall serrated green leaves with purple veins and shading.

Bye bye mizuna! Bolting mizuna (our third planting) in our hoophouse in mid-April.
Photo Pam Dawling

This is my twelfth and last Asian Greens of the Month series. You can see the others here:

May Senposai outdoors

June Tokyo Bekana

July Maruba Santoh

August Fall Senposai, winter Yukina Savoy

September Komatsuna outdoors

October Yukina Savoy outdoors, Tatsoi

November Daikon and other winter radish

December Pak Choy

January Chinese cabbage

February Tatsoi

March Yukina savoy in the hoophouse

Next month I’ll start another year-long series Allium of the Month

Spinach Trials Update, National Ginger & Turmeric Conference, FLAG Organic Farmers in Disasters, Organic Broadcaster

Hoophouse spinach trial 3 April. Avon, Acadia, Escalade, Renegade just harvested.
Photo Pam Dawling

Spinach Trials Update

The spinach trials in our hoophouse continue, with a lot of harvesting! I’m always amazed to see how many stumps of cut leaf stems there are on each plant, showing just how prolific the spinach is being when we harvest it one leaf at a time like this. When I say one leaf at a time, I mean by cutting individual leaves and leaving the plant to continue to produce more. Our rule is “Leave 8 for later” – cut off large outer leaves close to the base of the plant, being sure to keep at least 8 of the inner leaves growing on each plant. Over-harvesting leads to decline. Our goal is sustainable harvesting. In the photo above, the area shown has just been harvested. In the second photo the section further down the bed from the labels has not been harvested for maybe a week. Reading from left to right, the varieties are Avon, Acadia, Escalade, and Renegade.

Close up of hoophouse spinach trials 3 April before harvest.
Photo Pam Dawling

The plants have not changed much in the last month, although in comparison with the February photo below, you can see the leaves are starting to become pointed in shape. We are waiting to see which of the varieties bolts first. The smoother-leaved Renegade definitely has thinner leaves now, and would yield lower weight (if we were weighing them). There was a stage at which it had the largest leaves, so its advantage in central Virginia hoophouses is probably as a faster-growing type.

The same spinach plants as in the top photo on February 5.
Photo Pam Dawling


National Ginger & Turmeric Conference, October 17-19, 2018, Richmond, Virginia will focus on the production, marketing and health benefits of ginger and turmeric. Click the link to see beautiful photos of Virginia farmers and their ginger and turmeric. Save the date!

With growing interest in ginger and turmeric, many health professionals, researchers, farmers, and food and beverage professionals are turning their attention toward these healthy spices. In order to cultivate new ideas and further grow the industry, Virginia State University is hosting the first National Ginger & Turmeric Conference in Richmond, Virginia this fall. The three-day conference is targeted at the agricultural, health, and culinary professionals who work or are considering working with ginger and turmeric. It will showcase the latest science and technology related to production, product development and health, as well as feature success stories and marketing strategies.

The organizers (Virginia State University and  Virginia Co-operative Extension Service) are sending out a Call for Abstracts at this point, to all individuals and organizations that may have information to share on the medicinal and nutritional, sustainable production methods and/or sales side of the industry. Abstracts are now being accepted for oral and poster presentation Submit your abstract now.

Ginger growing in our hoophouse.
Photo Kathryn Simmons


FLAG Farmers’ Legal Action Group

Farmers’ Legal Action Group is a nonprofit law center dedicated to providing legal services and support to family farmers and their communities in order to help keep family farmers on the land.

FLAG has produced a new resource that is intended to assist organic farmers in time of disaster. It looks at two important issues. First, the extremely challenging effects of a flood on an organic farm. Secondly,  a relatively new form of crop insurance —Whole-Farm Revenue — that could benefit organic producers going forward.

Download FLAG’s  Organic Farmers in Disasters – Flooding and Whole Farm Revenue Crop Insurance

 


Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

The March/April Organic Broadcaster is out.

There’s a great article by Matt Leavitt on planting spring cover crops. An article by Kelli Boylen advocates for integrating livestock into cropping systems to improve soil health, spread farm risks (eggs in more baskets) and improve efficiency by reducing waste and other losses. Bailey Webster writes about the Food Safety Modernization Act, fondly known as FSMA (Fizma).

There’s an article on conducting on-farm variety trials by the Organic Seed Alliance, who have published a 55 page Grower’s Guide to Conducting On-farm Variety Trials which can be downloaded at the link. Working together to discover which varieties work best under organic cultivation can help us all.

There’s much more besides: news, events, politics, items for sale, employment opportunities

My Forthcoming Book, Hoophouse Squash and Cucumbers, Growing for Market magazine

Here’s the photo of our hoophouse that we used on the cover of my forthcoming book The Year Round Hoophouse. You can read about it here.

Yes, exciting news! I’ve been writing my second book, the Year Round Hoophouse, I finished the manuscript at the end of February, and New Society Publishers have accepted it. Next steps include copy-editing and marketing. It will be published November 20, and  I’ll give you more details as things become apparent. It will likely be 288 information-dense pages for $29.99 (worth every penny at 10 cents a page).

Growing in hoophouses reduces the impact of the increasingly unpredictable climate on crops, mitigates soil erosion, extends growing seasons, and enables growers to supply more regional foods. In one of the only books of its kind, The Year-Round Hoophouse teaches how to design/build a hoophouse and make a success of growing abundant produce all year, for various climates and land sizes.

Here is the list of chapters

Section 1: Design, Siting and Construction

  1. Hoophouse Siting and Planning
  2. Style and Design
  3. Shopping Checklist
  4. Preparing the Site and the Base
  5. Utilities
  6. Frame Assembly, Baseboards and Hipboards
  7. End Walls
  8. Roof  Plastic
  9. Drip Irrigation and Outfitting Your Hoophouse

 Section 2: Growing Crops

  1. Lettuce
  2. Other Salad Greens
  3. Cooking Greens
  4. Root Crops
  5. Alliums
  6. Legumes
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Peppers and Eggplants
  9. Cucurbits
  10. Crops for High Summer
  11. Bare-Root Transplants
  12. Seed Crops

Section 3: Keeping Everything Working Well

  1. Planning and Record-Keeping
  2. Cold Weather Care
  3. Hot Weather Care
  4. Succession Crops
  5. Crop Rotations and Sequences
  6. Pests and Diseases
  7. Salt Build-Up
  8. Feeding the Soil
  9. Replacing the Plastic
  10. Preparing for and Coping with Disasters

Amys Apricot tomato transplanted a week ago, looking happy in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Meanwhile, we have finished transplanting about 90 tomatoes into two beds in our hoophouse and have been rewarded by seeing how much they have grown in just one week. They were really struggling in the greenhouse, where the light wasn’t so good, and it was hard to keep them warm through those cold nights. Two weeks ago I included a photo of a cleared space waiting for a tomato plant. Now we’re there!

Gentry yellow squash newly transplanted into our hoophouse, with a friendly wood sorrel!
Photo Pam Dawling

A few days ago we transplanted one bed of yellow squash (Gentry), chosen for being fast-maturing, productive and having a good flavor. Also a bed of Spacemaster bush-type slicing cucumbers, among the spinach, peas and baby lettuce mix.

New Spacemaster bush cucumber transplant in our hoophouse in a bed with old winter spinach, young snap peas and baby lettuce mix.
Photo Pam Dawling

Next will be the peppers. We have flagged the bed at spots 2 feet apart. Today I’ll harvest that lettuce mix around each flag, clearing the way to digging holes and adding compost.

North edge bed in our hoophouse flagged up for digging holes to plant peppers.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the photo above you can also see the bubble-foil insulation we have on the north wall. It improves the light back there, as well as keeping in some heat. It’s only the lowest 2 feet of the north wall, and very little direct light comes in there, so we gain much more than we lose. Also see the diagonal tubing we added to strengthen the frame at the west end, which is the direction most of the wind comes from.

At last the lettuce has started to grow! We have been struggling to find enough leafy crops to harvest  a 5 gallon bucket each day. Today I had no trouble finding plenty of baby lettuce, tender young spinach and baby brassica greens for a salad for a hundred people.


The April Growing for Market is out. The lead article, by Josh Volk, gives ideas for upgrading your packing shed or crop clean-up area. It includes a slatted spray table you can build and some natty clip-on fittings (K-ball nozzles) you can install on PVC pipe to give an easy-to-use sprayer wherever you want one. See below – I haven’t tried them myself.Sam Hitchcock Tilton has a profile of Nature’s Pace Organics in Michigan, and their switch from intensive cultivation to permanent cover crops and strip tillage. Liz Martin has written about the advantages of growing pole beans instead of bush beans. She has trialled different kinds to find varieties that have smaller smoother pods (more like bush beans) and likes Emerita, Blue Lake, Matilda and Cobra. Their trellis uses tall T-posts and two pieces of Hortanova netting. They also grow bean seed using this method. I gather they don’t have Mexican bean beetles or many bean diseases, two of the three reasons we gave up on pole beans. The third is our dislike of installing trellises, which only become worthwhile if your plants will stay healthy for the whole season. Thorsten Arnold writes about their co-op rural online farmers market in Ontario, Canada. Todd Coleman describes how to build and install an in-ground greenhouse heating system, and lastly Gretel Adams in Ohio discusses the many decisions behind building a cut flower greenhouse . They chose a tall-wall three-bay gutter-connected plastic structure installed by Yoder’s Produce Supply. This greenhouse has increased production so much that they are moving into shipping nationally through an online store.

Drill a 9/16″ hole and attach to pipe. No threading or nipples required, grips the pipe and the body fits in the 9/16″ hole. Spray is fan-shaped with spray angle of 65° at 40 psi and spray density tapers off toward the outside to permit overlapping of spray patterns.

  • Fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene
  • EPDM O-ring seal & SS spring clip
  • Pressure rating: 100 psi at 175°F
  • Swivel ball allows for 52° total angle of adjustment

Enjoy your spring!

 

Good gardening blogs, spring transplants and potato planting

Sweet Potatoes growing slips in our germination chamber.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

My blogpost on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog is up. It’s Grow Your Own Sweet Potato Slips, and you can click the link to read it there.

There are many advantages of home-grown sweet potato slips over purchased ones: you can produce as many slips as you want, when you want them, and have spares in case of casualties. The post describes our straight-forward system for growing sturdy slips.

Our sweet potatoes are in our germinating chamber, this old glass-door fridge which no longer works. The heat and light are provided by an incandescent light bulb. Soon we will start cutting slips each day.


This Sustainable Market Farming blog is on the Top 75 Vegetable Gardening blogs, consequently I get to display their medallion on my website. Check out the list (actually 78 this week – data are refreshed every week). There are some other very good ones, including some I have mentioned before such as my Virginia neighbors  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange,  and Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden which covers vegetables and flowers and landscaping. There are also a couple more I really like: Steve Albert’s Harvest to Table  from California (always good solid information), and Joe Lamp’l’s Joe Gardener. You may know him from the 26-episode TV series, Fresh From the Garden or the 200 episodes of Growing a Greener World®, or one of his books. So, if the weather is awful and your plants are struggling, seek solace and inspiration in a good blog. It won’t take long to read one post and you’ll feel fortified afterwards!

On A Way to Garden, Margaret Loach has her “When to Start Seed: My Garden Planting Calculator” Simply enter your average last spring frost date and right there in front of your eyes will appear the indoor sowing dates and outdoor transplant or sowing dates for 32 vegetables, several herbs and a list of flowers.

Another blog I like which hasn’t made it onto the top 75 yet is Garden Betty. Her wide-ranging posts include The No-Brainer Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors, instructions for caring for house plants in late winter and information on drip irrigation systems.


March hoophouse bed prepared for tomato transplants – holes dug, compost added.
Photo Wren Vile

Meanwhile, here on the farm, I’m pondering whether to start planting the hoophouse tomatoes today. Our “usual” date for planting them in March 15, but cold weather has delayed the growth of the transplants and also the warming of the soil in the hoophouse. We’re almost two weeks later than usual, but the plants are still not huge. On the other hand we are now getting a break in the cold weather, which would help them get  established before the cold weather forecast from April 6 onwards.

This is what I’m looking forward to:

Young tomato transplants in the hoophouse. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors we finished transplanting spinach, worked on transplanting a couple of beds of kale, and transplanted collards and early cabbage. Today is potato planting day. Yesterday the crew cut the chitted (pre-sprouted) seed potatoes into planting pieces.

Cutting pre-sprouted seed potato pieces.
Photo Kati Falger

 

Spring delayed, Organic Trade Assoc suing government

Hoophouse chard with spots cleared for planting tomatoes. Photo Pam Dawling

We normally (or do I mean “used to”?) transplant our hoophouse tomatoes on March 15 here in central Virginia. But this year spring is late and cold. Our starts have been struggling in our greenhouse, not helped by our heat mat deciding to give up the ghost. Plus a spot of learning curve errors in not noticing this quickly, or that our germination chamber wasn’t as toasty as it needed to be. Yesterday I decided it was time to adapt to reality, and turned our greenhouse heater up from 45F to 50F. Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are not going to do well at only 45F. We’re not getting any solar gain lately because it’s been cloudy. In fact, we’re bracing for snow tonight and tomorrow.

We have measured out spots 2ft apart down the middles of the two tomato beds in the hoophouse, cleared the winter crops from those spots (see the photo above), dug holes, added a shovelful of compost to each hole, and now we’re waiting for the plants to reach a sensible size to transplant.

Bare-root Vates kale transplants to go outdoors from our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Meanwhile outdoors, we have finished transplanting spinach as bare-root transplants from our hoophouse, and next up are the kale and collards. I wrote about bare-root transplants in January 2017.

In the hoophouse we are encouraged by watching our snap peas grow.We planted these February 1, a month earlier than we plant outdoors. That “month earlier then outdoors” is our general guideline for hoophouse sowings after the winter solstice.

Sugar Ann snap peas in our hoophouse March 7, 5 weeks after sowing. Photo by Pam Dawling

Our lettuce suffered a big setback/death knell in the New Year cold snap, and it’s a challenge to come up with 5-10 gallons of salad mix each day. Happily we have lots of spinach, several patches of baby lettuce mix and several of brassica salad mix (mustards). For cooking greens, our Red Russian and White Russian kales are doing very well.

Red Russian kale in our hoophouse March 7
Photo Pam Dawling


The Organic Trade Association is suing the US Department of Agriculture to defend Organic standards for handling of livestock and poultry. On September 13, 2017, the OTA filed a lawsuit against USDA over their failure to implement the new Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices regulation. These regulations would protect Organic integrity, advance animal welfare, and safeguard the process for developing Organic standards. USDA unlawfully delayed the effective date to implement the final livestock standards, several times over. The USDA violated the Administration Procedure Act, because the delays were issued without public process. They ignored the overwhelming public record in support of these Organic standards.

The Organic Welfare Rule is the result of 14 years of transparent public work within the process established by Congress. It addresses four areas of practice: living conditions, animal healthcare, transport and slaughter.

The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule was published on Jan. 19, 2017, in the Federal Register, and the government has now attempted to delay the implementation of the rule 6 times – either through the rule-making process or through court filings.

It was delayed to May 19, 2017 (because there was a regulatory freeze on new rules). In May it was further delayed to November 14, 2017 and the USDA opened a 30-day period for comment including options to go forward or to withdraw the Rule. There were 47,000 comments, of which 99% supported the rule as written becoming effective as soon as possible. There were only 28 comments to withdraw the rule. On December 15 USDA announced its plan to withdraw the regulation, giving 30 days for comment. Not that this 30 days included 3 Federal holidays.

USDA received roughly 72,000 comments (in this short comment period during the holiday season) with an overwhelming majority supporting OLPP. USDA also recognizes that of those comments, only approximately 50 supported the withdrawal – another clear disregard of the record by USDA in its attempts to kill the final rule.

Organic producers (the people directly impacted by the rule) overwhelmingly support the rule. Most of the (tiny amount) of opposition is from outside the organic sector. See the Washington Post of January 16, 2018 from 29 Organic organizations demanding a return to honoring the public process previously in place.

On March 12, The Washington Post (search for Ag Department kills animal welfare rule for organic meat) announced that the Trump administration, via USDA, has withdrawn the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published in January 2017 by Barack Obama’s government.

The regulation would have ensured that organically grown livestock and poultry had enough space to stand up, turn around, fully stretch, lie down, and had ventilation and access to fresh air.

So frustrating!

Chickens and a guinea hen.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Asian Greens for March: Yukina Savoy in the Hoophouse

Koji Yukina Savoy in late December.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote about outdoor Yukina Savoy going into the winter, in my October post. Re-read that to get details of days to maturity, cold-tolerance (10F/-12C outdoors) and the differences between the open-pollinated Yukina Savoy and hybrids such as Koji. Five months after that posting we are harvesting the last of the over-wintered Yukina Savoy in the hoophouse. For us, this is a cooking green, not a salad crop. It’s delicious and easy to cook. A little robust for salads, for most people.

Young Yukina Savoy plants in our hooophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

In March we are starting our hoophouse crop transition to early summer crops (tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers) and meanwhile we are enjoying harvests of arugula, brassica salad mix, Bulls Blood beet greens, chard for salad and cooking greens, Russian kales, leaf lettuce, lettuce heads, baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens and yukina savoy.

We do two hoophouse plantings of Yukina Savoy: the first transplanted from outdoors on October 6, feeds us from December 5 to January 31. The second, transplanted from outdoors on October 24, feeds us from January 8 to early March, sometimes to mid-March. This spring several crops are bolting earlier than hoped-for! We have had some back-and-forth temperatures, which can trigger bolting. Among brassicas, Yukina Savoy is relatively heat-tolerant. This is part of why we do the second planting – it helps us extend the brassica season until we can harvest more outdoor kale.

We transplant Yukina Savoy at 12″ (30 cm) apart in the row, with 4 rows to a 4′ (1.2 m) bed. For a hundred people with lots of other vegetables available, we plant 60 in the first planting and 40 in the second. There are too many other crops competing for space in late October for us to plant more than 40.

Harvesting Yukina Savoy leaves in late November.
Photo Wren Vile.

Initially we harvest this crop by the leaf, until we see the stems start to elongate prior to bolting, when we cut the whole plant. (It is a loose head type of crop, so don’t wait for a firm head to form!)  Actually we pull first, then cut off the head, then bang two roots together to shed the soil, and put the pulled root stumps on the bed to dry out and die. This is easier than cutting first and pulling later. If they do bolt before we get round to pulling them, I have added the pretty yellow flowers to the salad mix. Like all other brassica flowers, these are edible.

Kitazawa Seeds tells us that Yukina Savoy is a Brassica rapa Pekinensis group, for those with a love of brassica botany and those saving seeds. Also those, like us, looking for nematode-resistant vegetables. Brassica juncea are the most resistant brassicas. Kitazawa classifies it as a loose head type of Chinese cabbage.

Yukina Savoy in the early morning mist.
Photo Wren Vile

Twin Oaks Garden blog, rainy day reading, more on hydroponics.

Y-Star Pattypan squash, one of the varieties for the Twin Oaks Garden this year.

Wren, one of the Twin Oaks Garden Managers, has started a blog about the Twin Oaks Garden. This is a great place to check what’s happening in our garden, especially if you also garden in Virginia or some other winter-hardiness zone 7 area.

The new post this week is about What’s New in Spring 2018. There are photos of people at work and also of the new varieties we’re growing this year: Southern Giant Curled Mustard, Purple Peacock broccoli/kale, Canary melon, Flavorburst yellow bell pepper, Y-Star pattypan squash, Royal Burgundy beans (not new to us, but back again), Granny Cantrell’s tomato and Persimmon tomato.

The March issue of Growing for Market is out. Nothing from me this time, but plenty of good stuff from other farmer-writers. Diane Szukovathy writes about starting a 12-member flower producer’s co-op in Seattle. They started with a part-time employee and a simple leased space, working on an indoor farmer’s market model where each farm conducted its own business under a shared roof. They were able to get some USDA funding, and increased their income immediately. Their shared setting was attractive to customers, and a good way to mentor newer growers.

Jesse Frost has written on Understanding Early Blight, with a lot of solid information from Meg McGrath at Cornell (home of the Vegetable MD Online site). Carolina Lees writes about Healthcare beyond hospitals: farm-hospital connections. Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms offers a Farmer to farmer profile of Richard Wiswall (author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook and designer of many labor-saving devices.) Morgan Houk writes about only collecting useful information when record-keeping, not piles of data you’ll never use. John Hendrickson brings us the latest news on the paper pot transplanter (still not certifiable for USDA Organic farms).

Paper pot transplanter,
Photo Small Farm Works

The Spring 2018 Heirloom Gardener magazine has an article from me about Intercropping (planting two crops side by side in the space normally reserved for just one. In early spring we often sow snap peas down the center of a spinach bed (either an overwinterred spinach bed, or a spring-planted one). The same piece of rowcover warms both (until we whisk away the rowcover to a later crop. The peas grow upwards, not competing with the spinach. When the spinach bolts, the next crop is in place with no further work.

In the summer we have sown peanuts down the center of a bed of lettuce, and transplanted okra into a bed of early cabbage. It’s all about timing and about choosing compatible crops. Okra grows tall, while cabbages stay close to the ground. peanuts grow slowly while lettuce grows quickly.

Overwintered spinach with spring-sown Sugar Ann snap peas.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Lastly I have more on hydroponics and Organic Certification.

Last week I wrote about the November 2017 vote at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on hydroponics. Since then I’ve read more information, and realized that the view I presented last time is not the whole picture. It is more complex. Audrey Alwell wrote in the Organic Broadcaster for Jan/Feb 2018, reminding us that the 8:7 vote at the NOSB is not a clear stamp of approval for “organic” hydroponics and aquaponics. The NOSB rules require a “decisive vote” (10:5) for a decision. They did not get a decisive vote to prohibit hydroponics from Organic Certification. This means the situation continues for now as it has been. That is, Organic certifiers can certify hydroponic operations of growers using only approved inputs for fertility and pest management, and if they are protecting natural resources and fostering biodiversity.

The Organic label does not cover all the important aspects of ethical and sustainable farming. Not all Organic practices are sustainable. (Think about removing and trashing plastic mulch!) Social justice and fair trade are not addressed. Some hydroponic  growers use renewable energy, some see hydroponics as more sustainable than Organic. In California, during the 6 year drought, hydroponics helped some farmers survive and produce food. Adaptability is important.

One USDA-accredited certifier, CCOF, says all producers should be pushed towards using renewable energy, in order to reduce impact on natural resources. CCOF submitted a 12-page comment.

You can see the USDA Hydroponics Package slideshow.

Continue reading

Real Organic Project, Mother of a Hubbard, Twin Oaks Garden Calendar

The Real Organic Project is taking off where the Keep The Soil in Organic Project is stopping, after several USDA decisions that disregard what organic farmers have to say (allowing hydroponics, setting aside animal welfare, and reducing the role of the National Organic Standards Board.) The hard-working campaigners for genuine organic standards are  disappointed, but are not giving up. Dave Chapman, a leading light of Keep the Soil in Organic, has this report:

“The Past

It has not been a good year for the National Organic Program. Since the November NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) meeting in Jacksonville failed to prohibit HYDRO, the organic community has gone through a period of questioning and searching. We are wrestling with the basic question, “Can we trust the USDA to protect organic integrity?”

Following a series of devastating articles about the NOP (National Organic Program) in the Washington Post last year, all the news from the USDA has been bad. In September, the USDA exonerated the enormous Aurora Dairy CAFO (Confinement Animal Feeding Operation) of any wrongdoing at their Colorado “farm.” This dairy operation was described in detail in one WaPo article, along with compelling test results to prove the cattle weren’t on pasture. The government approval set the stage for Aurora to build several new CAFOs that will dwarf the current 15,000-cow operation.

Then the USDA abandoned the animal welfare reforms (called OLPP) which had finally been approved under Obama. This rejection by the USDA was the result of intense lobbying from such groups as the Coalition For Sustainable Organics (in their Senate testimony), American Farm Bureau, and the National Pork Producers Council. They were championed by the ranking members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, protecting enormous “organic” egg CAFOs in their home states. The USDA thus cleared the way for CAFOs to continue receiving “organic” certification.

Then in January, the USDA announced that “Certification of hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic operations is allowed under the USDA organic regulations, and has been since the National Organic Program began.” This was an interesting rewriting of history, but who cares about the facts?

Finally, the USDA recently told the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that, going forward, they will be severely limited in the scope of their work. They will not address big questions about organic integrity. They will not set their own agenda. They will limit their focus to defining what substances will be permitted in organic certification.

These outcomes (allowing hydro, setting aside animal welfare, and reducing the role of the NOSB) are exactly what Theo Crisantes of the Coalition For Sustainable Organics called for when he testified before the Senate Ag Committee last year.

It would appear that the USDA is no longer even bothering to woo the organic community with sweet talk. They are bluntly speaking their truth, which is that “Certified Organic” means whatever they want it to mean, and to hell with the organic community. And apparently, to hell with OFPA as well. Organic is all about marketing, isn’t it?

For the many people who have spent years working hard to build the integrity of the NOP, this is a dismal moment. We have lost the helm, and the New Organic will not have much to do with the ideals of such pioneers as Albert Howard and Eve Balfour. It will have to do with money. Money will decide what is called “certified organic” and what isn’t.

And so, if we still care about those ideals, we must move on. The National Organic Program will continue to flourish. Many people will still turn to it to find safer food. Many good people will still work hard to make the NOP as honest and positive as possible. But the NOP will be controlled by politicians and lobbyists who have no belief in the mission of the organic farming movement.

What happens now?

This winter, a growing group of farmers and eaters have formed the Real Organic Project. The Real Organic Project will work to support real organic farming.

This will involve a number of efforts, starting with the creation of a new “Add-On” label to represent the organic farming that we have always cared about. It will use USDA certification as a base, but it will have a small number of critical additional requirements. These will differentiate it from the CAFOs, HYDROs, and import cheaters that are currently USDA certified.

This group grew out of several meetings of Vermont farmers who believed that the USDA label was no longer something that could represent us. Starting a new label is not a small task, but we can no longer find an alternative. That small group of Vermonters has grown quickly into a national group. This amazing group of organic advocates has gathered to build something new.

Standards Board // We now have a 15-member Standards Board, based on the model of the NOSB, but with much greater representation from the organic community. The 15 volunteers have a wealth of experience in both farming and regulation. There are 9 farmer members, as well as representatives from NGOs, stores, consumers, scientists, and certifiers.

The group includes 5 former NOSB members, as well as leading farmers and advocates from across the country. They will meet in March to set the first standards. They will continue to meet once a year after that to review and update. This first year there will be a pilot project with a small number of farms to test the certifying process and work out the details.

Advisory Board // There is also a distinguished Advisory Board that currently has 18 members, including 4 former NOSB members and 3 current NOSB members. It also includes many well known organic pioneers such as Eliot Coleman and Fred Kirschenmann.

Executive Board // And finally, there is an Executive Board of 5 people that includes one current NOSB member.

These boards will work together to reconnect and unite our community. Our intent is transformational. We will create a label that we can trust again.

We can only succeed with your support. Go to realorganicproject.org to become a member. Make a donation to help make this new label into a reality. We are only supported by our sweat and your generosity. We can reclaim the meaning of the organic label together.

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Mother of a Hubbard Cathy Rehmeyer ran a wonderful blog in 2012-2015, with great tips for serious food gardening. Her work Garden Under Cover: Winter Vegetable Production in Low Tunnels is on SlideShare. So far, I don’t think it has appeared as a book. (But it should!)


A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings
Photo Kathryn Simmons

And here’s a seasonal reminder about the Twin Oaks Garden Calendarour month-by-month task list for our 3.5 acre, central Virginia winter-hardiness zone 7a vegetable garden that feeds 100 people year round. At the link you will find a photo from each month, which you can click to get to the list for that month. A new season, a new opportunity, using lessons learned last year, along with fresh ideas, inspiration and plain old hard work!

Rhubarb is on its way! So far just clusters of leaves near the ground, but the promise is there! And next week I’ll tell you more about my upcoming book, The Year Round Hoophouse.

Rhubarb in early spring, not yet ready to harvest.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Growing for Market article, CSA Day, Organic Growers School, VA raw milk threatened

Our hoophouse hydrant with drip irrigation supply equipment.
Photo Pam Dawling

The February Growing for Market issue is out, including my article on drip irrigation, which will help people new to drip get started. I was a reluctant adopter myself, maybe 10 years ago, and I’ve become a big convert. I explain the basics and include the options on tape width, wall thickness, emitter spacing and flow rate, to help everyone get the options that’s best for them.  I have a worked example of the calculation and links to more information. I show how to figure how long to run the system for each week, and the pieces of equipment you’ll need. I talk about maintenance and repair too.

Other articles in this issue include Chris Blanchard on the Food Safety Modernization Act (pronounced Fizma). Of course none of us want to make anyone sick from eating crops we grow, but if you are a farm with average sales of more than $25,000 worth of produce a year , this new rule applies to you. All the details of exceptions and compliance are in the article.

Sam Knapp writes from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan about tackling quackgrass (Elymus repens) without chemicals. We know this as couch grass, a cool weather wandering perennial with long sturdy white roots. It’s not the same as wiregrass, a bigger problem in the South. That’s Cynodon dactylon, also known as Bermuda grass and scutch grass. It’s a fine-leafed wandering perennial that dies back in the winter. If your problem grass is brown in winter, suspect wiregrass; if it’s green, suspect couch grass. Sam Knapp advises on how to deplete the rhizomes of couchgrass/quackgrass with repeated tillage going into the winter and mowing in summer.

Ricky Baruc writes from Orange, Massachusetts, about mulching with cardboard (topped with hay or manure)and silage covers to control weeds and replace the need to till. The editor adds a note that some organic certifiers prohibit cardboard that has ink in colors other than black. Check with your certifier if you are certified organic. Ricky Baruc also uses cover crops, which he crimps and plants into. He is able to manage several acres of intensively planted crops on his own.

If you’ve ever coveted those Bumble Bee tomatoes in the Johnny’s catalog, you’ll enjoy the interview with Fred Hempel, their breeder.

The last article is about winter cut flower planning, and is by Gretel Adams who regularly writes about cut flowers for GfM.

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February 23 is CSA Day. CSAs will be promoting their work and signing up new members. Data gathered by Small Farm Central  showed that the most popular day for CSA signups was  Fri Feb 28. And so CSA Day is celebrated on the last Friday of February to encourage more signups and to publicize the whole idea of community-supported agriculture. CSA is a way for farmers to sell directly their customers. In the original CSA model, people pay for a season’s worth of produce (a membership), at the beginning of the season. The members then receive a box of produce every week throughout the harvesting season. The members are supporting their farmer by paying up front, when the farmers most need the income to get ready for the growing season. Today there are variations on this theme, so look around and see what’s available near you.

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The Organic Farm School Spring Conference is Friday–Sunday, March 9–11, 2018, at UNC Asheville, NC. Click the link to read more and to get to registration. Pre-conference workshops are on Friday March 9, with the main conference 90-minute sessions on Saturday and Sunday. I’m offering two workshops on Saturday, which I’ll repeat on Sunday. This conference tends to offer workshops twice, so people who can only come on one day can choose which is best for them, and fewer people have to miss a topic they are interested in. My workshops are Sustainable Farming Practices and Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish.

Sweet potatoes on a plate.
Photo Brittany Lewis

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Lastly I want to mention an alert I received from the Homesteaders of America at the end of January. (Note theirs is not a secure webpage)

House Bill 825 (HB 825), introduced by Virginia House of Delegates Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), would require herd share dairies to register with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, be open to premises and paperwork inspections, and adhere to stipulations put forward by VDACS.

“While the sale of raw milk is illegal in Virginia, raw milk advocates have used the concept of herd sharing to obtain the revered, nutrient-dense food for decades. In a herd share agreement, consumers pay a farmer a fee for boarding their animal (or share of the animal), caring for the animal, and milking the animal. The herd share owners then collect the milk from their own animal. No sales occur, the animals are taken care of, and everyone gets to enjoy the magical elixir that is raw milk. Herd share agreements have been in use in Virginia since the mid-1970s” Christine Solem, Virginia Independent Consumers & Farmers Association (VICFA).

On 2/5/18 The Subcommittee #1 recommended striking this bill from the docket. On 2/13/18 the House left this with the ANCR (Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources) Committee.

Asian Green for February: Tatsoi

A large tatsoi plant in our hoophouse in December. Photo Kathleen Slattery

Tatsoi is a very cold-hardy green (down to 10°F, –12°C), one of the ones we grow in our hoophouse to feed us after the winter solstice, when the crops have started to be fewer in number and each is less abundant in production rate.  We have also grown this one outdoors in the fall for early winter eating, but no longer do this as the rate of growth inside the hoophouse is much better. In the fall tatsoi will not bolt, but in late winter/early spring it will.

I have been writing about a particular Asian green once a month since last May. To find the other articles, click the category “Asian Greens”.

Like Asian greens in general, tatsoi is a great crop for filling out winter CSA bags or market booths, and ultimately, dinner tables. Because the Asian greens are so varied in color, texture, shape and spiciness, you can add a lot of diversity to your crops by growing a selection that is easy to grow and can all be treated the same way. They are as easy to grow as kale. They germinate at a wide range of temperatures and make fast growth (much faster than lettuce in cold weather!)

Botanically, tatsoi is Brassica rapa var. narinosa, cousin of other turnip family greens such as Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana, pak choy, mizuna and komatsuna. It is a more distant cousin of the Brassica oleracea greens such as Vates kale, Chinese kale and kai-lan, and of crops in the Chinese Mustard family, Brassica juncea (the frilly mustards like Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills).

Tatsoi is a relatively small plant with shiny, dark green spoon-shaped leaves and green-white stems. If given plenty of space it grows as a flat rosette, but if crowded it takes on a flowerpot shape. For sale, the whole plants are cut and the leaves banded together, so crowding them does not at all make them less marketable. It has a pleasant mild flavor.

Young tatsoi plants in our hoophouse.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Growing Tatsoi

We direct sow and then thin into salad mixes, leaving some to mature at 10″ (25 cm) across for cooking greens.  You can also transplant at 3-4 weeks of age in the fall, at 6″ (15 cm) apart. Although we transplant most of our brassicas, to allow the beds more time without this crop family (which we grow lots of), we direct sow this one, which will have many plants in a small space.

Tatsoi has similar care requirements to other brassicas. Very fertile soils grow the best Asian greens, so turn in leguminous cover crops or compost to provide adequate nutrition. Asian greens are shallow rooted – Pay extra attention to providing enough water to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency. Expect to provide 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week in cooler weather, 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather.

Do close monitoring for pests, which can build up large populations during late summer. We do nothing special for our tatsoi, but if you have a lot of brassica flea beetles or uncontrolled caterpillars, cover the sowings or new transplants with insect netting such as ProtekNet.

If you are growing tatsoi outdoors in late fall, you could use rowcover to keep your plants alive longer into the winter.

For our hoophouse, we make a first sowing of tatsoi in the very first bed we prepare for winter crops, on 9/6. We make a second sowing in mid-November. The first sowing will feed us for two months, November and December.  The second sowing will feed us for a much shorter period of time: the second half of February, first week of March. It would bolt if we tried to keep it any longer.

It is entirely possible to make sowings between 9/6 and 11/15, and get harvests that last longer than our 11/15 sowing. The only reason we don’t is that we have so many other crops we love.

Kitazawa Seeds have a Red Violet tatsoi/pak choy hybrid, with an upright habit. They classify tatsoi as a type of pak choy/bok choy/pak choi, so if you are perusing their interesting site, this is how to find tatsoi.

Tatsoi ready for harvesting of whole plants.
Photo Pam Dawling

Harvesting Tatsoi

Tatsoi takes 21 days to be big enough for baby salads; 45 days for cooking size.

To harvest, initially we thin the rows to 1″ (2.5 cm), using baby plants in salad mix. Our first sowing provides thinnings from 10/8, one month after sowing. Next we thin to 3″ (7.5 cm), using these also for salad. Our next thinning, to 6″ (15 cm) gives us small plants for cooking. After this, we harvest individual leaves for salad or cooking. The second sowing provides thinnings 12/27-1/21 approximately.

Once we get close to the time the plants would bolt, we pull up whole plants and use them for cooking. We pull the most crowded plants first, giving the others time to grow bigger – they can grow as big as 12″ (30 cm) across. Overcrowding can lead to early bolting.

Overview of Winter Hoophouse Greens

In the big scheme of things, we harvest Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh for heads in December, along with our first tatsoi; our first Yukina Savoy, our Chinese cabbage and Pak Choy in January, our second tatsoi and Yukina Savoy in February and early March.

Non-heading leafy greens such as Senposai, spinach and chard feed us all winter until mid-March when we need the hoophouse space for spring crops. (Read more about Yukina Savoy here in March.)

After Tatsoi

We clear our first tatsoi by 1/14, and use the space to sow our fifth spinach on 1/15. This planting of spinach is to be used as bare root transplants outdoors in March. Our second tatsoi is cleared 3/12 to prepare the space for early summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and cucumbers.

Beauty in a tatsoi plant.
Photo Wren Vile