Sowing hoophouse winter crops

New spinach seedlings in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

We are on our way with our late fall, winter and early spring crops in the hoophouse. On September 6 and 7 we sowed five crops in our first bed – spinach, tatsoi, Bulls Blood beet greens, radishes and scallions. On September 15 we sowed 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.

Broadfork from Way Cool Tools.
Photo Way Cool Tools

To prepare hoophouse beds for winter crops, we first remove the summer crops to the compost pile, then spread a generous layer of compost over the surface. We use about five wheelbarrowsful for one bed 4’ x 90’. Next we move the three lengths of drip tape off to one side or the other, and broadfork the whole area. We have an all-steel broadfork from Way Cool Tools that we really like. To use a broadfork, work backwards either going the length of the bed or the width. Stab the tines into the soil and step on the crossbar, holding the long handles. Step from foot to foot until the bar 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” back from the first bite. Step on the bar and repeat. We’ve found it’s important to 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. 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.

7″ stirrup hoe.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

Sometimes we use a wide stirrup hoe very energetically. This isn’t the job scuffle hoes were designed for (that’s very shallow hoeing, and hence why we call them scuffle hoes), but the sharp hoe blade does a good job of breaking up clumpy soil. We’ve also 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.

Once the bed is prepared, we measure out the areas for different crops and mark them with flags. Next we use our row-marker rake (bed prep rake) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Johnny’s Bed Prep rake with row marker pegs.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

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, compacting the soil. 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 sometimes), hence the once-a-year broadforking. We found out how valuable the soil loosening is, because one year before we started broadforking, we decided to loosen the edges with a digging fork to make up for several years of accidental steps. The edge rows of spinach grew much bigger than the inner rows, and we realized that the whole bed needed loosening.

After the rowmarking, we deepen the furrows if needed (often it’s not needed), using a pointed hoe, then sow the seeds. We pre-sprout our spinach for a week in a jar in the fridge. Just 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. This year the seeds were a bit wet when I came to sow them, and clumped together. I poured them out on a cloth to dry a bit before I sowed. This year we are growing two varieties (Avon and Reflect) side by side, still seeking a replacement for our much loved Tyee, which was pulled from the market, because it was prone to a disease prevalent in the West.

Easter Egg radish seedlings in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

The spinach, tatsoi and radishes came up very quickly, with the beets a day or two behind. The scallions came up in a week, which is quicker than at other times of year.

One week after the sowings, I thinned the spinach and radishes to 1” apart in the row. We are growing Easter Egg, Cherry Belle and White Icicle radishes. The Cherry Belle will be ready first, Easter Egg next (they mature relatively gradually, giving us a nice harvest period). Icicle are unusual long white radishes which are slower to mature, and slow to get woody.

Buckley One-cut (Eazileaf) lettuce.
Photo High Mowing Seeds

Meanwhile, outdoors on September 15 we sowed the first half of the crops that we transplant bare-rooted into the hoophouse. Our planned schedule called for 10 varieties of lettuce, but I ended up sowing 12, partly because we are trying three new Vitalis one-cut lettuce varieties from High Mowing Seeds: Ezrilla, Hampton and Buckley.  These are bred to provide lots of similar-sized leaves from cutting. They can be cut and mixed for baby salad mix or cut as whole heads for easy-to-prepare salads, or harvested by the leaf (or layers of leaves) once the plant has grown to full size. This is how we use them. They were previously called Eazileaf varieties, and are now called One-cut lettuces. They are only available as pelleted seed, so I regard them as too pricey to grow for baby salad mix, and best used for multiple harvests.

Johnny’s Green Sweet Crisp Salanova lettuce.
Photo Johnnys Seeds

Osborne’s Multigreen 3 lettuce.
Photo Osborne Seeds

You can click here to read the New Head Lettuces article Andrew Mefferd wrote about this new type of lettuce in Growing for Market magazine. We have previously grown Johnny’s Salanova and Osborne’s Multileaf varieties and I wrote about them here and here. This year we are trying the High Mowing ones. We did a small trial of them outdoors in spring, knowing that in our climate (very different from High Mowing’s in Vermont) they might well bolt. They grew into handsome plants, but clearly they are more suited to fall than spring in our quickly-heating-up climate.

Other lettuces we sow for our winter hoophouse crops include Oscarde, Panisse, Tango which have a similar shape of lots of same-sized leaves, and Green Forest (romaine), Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Merlot, Revolution, Salad Bowl and Red Salad Bowl. I would have sown Red Tinged Winter but we seem to be out of seed.

Red Salad Bowl lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Komatsuna: Asian greens for September, plus Chinese Kitchen Garden book

Komatsuna Asian green.
Photo Fothergill Seeds

Komatsuna is a large, upright, hardy, leafy green, also known as mustard spinach (so is Pak Choy!), and Summer Fest (a popular hybrid). It’s available in green,  or red (purple) from Kitazawa. it grows into a large plant 18″ (45 cm) tall, with tender deep green leaves, sturdy petioles and a flavor that is mildly peppery, not pungent. You can pick and bunch individual leaves, or harvest the whole plant. You can instead harvest at baby salad size 21 days from sowing. It reaches full size in only 35 days. The days to maturity lengthen as the weather cools.

The hybrid variety Green Boy is preferred by Japanese growers because of its cold tolerance, meaning it can be grown year round in mild areas.  Green Boy is good for hoophouse production in winter. The hybrid variety Summer Fest is best for growing in late spring into summer, rather than in fall and winter. Open-pollinated komatsuna is available from Evergreen Seeds. These two Asian seed companies sell the dark green glossy type. Some other companies have paler green unglossy vegetables called komatsuna that look different to me: Baker Creek, (who call it Tendergreen, which is sometimes considered a separate vegetable), StokesHudson Valley.

Komatsuna is cold-tolerant to 15°F (-9.5°C), perhaps 10°F (-12°C). For seed-savers and botanical Latin geeks, it’s Brassica rapa var. perviridis (Kitazawa) or Brassica rapa var. komatsuna (sources vary in their classification.) Komatsuna is one of the parents of my all-time favorite Asian green, senposai.

Komatsuna transplants.
Photo Gardening Know-How

Amy Grant writes about komatsuna on the Gardening Know-How site

Like all Asian greens, komatsuna has similar care requirements to other brassicas. Very fertile soils grow the best Asian greens, and they are shallow rooted, so pay extra attention to providing enough water during hot weather to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency. Sowing in the fall will mean most of us won’t have to worry about too much hot weather. For central Virginia we would sow 8/20-9/15 for outdoors, 9/15-10/15 outdoors to transplant into a hoophouse. It could be sown later in the hoophouse for filling gaps as they appear during the winter. Or sow indoors in early spring to grow in a hoophouse or greenhouse. Komatsuna is relatively bolt resistant, but don’t wait for hot conditions to harvest, or you could end up with a bunch of yellow flowers instead of tasty leaves.

Cover the sowing with insect net or rowcover if you have a lot of late summer brassica pests (harlequin bugs, I’m talking about you!). If direct sowing, you can thin to 4″ (10 cm) apart for adolescent leaves to use like spinach. Thin to 8″ (20 cm) for mature plants, which can be cut as “heads” to be  stir-fried or steamed. Komatsuna does not form true heads, so don’t wait for that!

If you are sowing to transplant, do that when the plants are 3-4 weeks old (in spring they would need 5-6 weeks). Give the plants 8″ (20 cm) of space all round, or as much as 12″ (30 cm) if you plan to harvest after the plants reach full size. Water well, depending on rainfall. Aim for an inch a week.


At the Heritage Harvest Festival this past weekend, I went to a great workshop by Wendy Kiang-Spray, with show-and-tell vegetables. She has a book, The Chinese Kitchen Garden, published by Timber Press, who say:

“she beautifully blends the story of her family’s cultural heritage with growing information for 38 Chinese vegetables—like lotus root, garlic, chives, and eggplant—and 25 traditional recipes, like congee, dumplings, and bok choy stir-fry. Organized by season, you’ll learn what to grow in spring and what to cook in winter.”

I haven’t read it yet, and I’ve no idea if she mentions komatsuna, but for lovers of Asian vegetables this book is a valuable new addition, and I appreciate that it is seasonal and combines growing with cooking.

Saving watermelon seed, rainy day reading, Heritage Harvest Festival

Scooping watermelon seed.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote recently about saving tomato seed, and here I’ll write about extracting watermelon seed. We grow Crimson Sweet Virginia Select, which we sell to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I walk through the patch with a grease pencil (china marker) in July when the melons are forming and write numbers on 40 nice-looking big melons. I’m selecting for earliness, size, disease resistance and flavor.

Selected watermelon with an identifying number.
Photo Nina Gentle

Once the melons start to ripen, I go out to the plot once a week with my trusty garden cart and a collection of clean buckets, a notebook and pen, a big knife, a large slotted spoon, a couple of damp rags, a bottle of water and a big straw hat. I start testing the numbered ones for ripeness. If they are ripe I decide if they are seed-worthy, demoting any with dead vines (not disease-resistant!) or too small. I find promising replacements for any I decide not to save seed from, and number those.

Garden cart with supplies for watermelon seed collection.
Photo Pam Dawling

When I have a good one, I cut it in half and scoop the heart out into a very clean bucket. I taste a piece (that’s the “good flavor” test). These days they all seem to taste good, but the first few years of seed selection, I had some I didn’t like much, so I didn’t save seed from those. See the first photo for the scooping task. Once the heart is scooped out, there is a layer of flesh with seeds in, which I scoop out into a moderately clean bucket. Then a layer of flesh without seeds for the food bucket.

Watermelon seed bucket and food bucket.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the blue bucket is my “dry zone” with my notebook. I write down which melons I harvested, any I discarded, any new ones I added, and how many are left to find in the coming weeks. Generally I harvest 7-10 watermelons per week, generating two buckets of fruit and two half-buckets of seeds. The watermelon seeds are fermented for four or five days, then washed – just like processing tomato seeds I wrote about last week.

Dried watermelon seeds in a paper bag.
Photo Pam Dawling

I harvest 5 or 6 times, from Late July to early September. I don’t want to be selecting for late-ripening melons so I stop harvesting seed long before the fruits are over.


My most recent blog post for Mother Earth News is about repairing garden hoses, most of which you already read about here. It’s in the DIY blog this time (most of my posts go in the Organic Gardening blog). I just heard some numbers for how various of my Mother Earth News blogposts this year are doing, and the big favorite topic is Growing Lettuce Year Round: Succession Planting for a Continuous Supply: 10,924 views! Growing Winter Lettuce: 4,620 views, is second favorite. people sure do love lettuce! Other popular topics this year have been Winter Hoop House Harvest Schedule, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings EasilyHeat-Tolerant Eggplant Varieties, and Planting Leeks. 

How to harvest garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

When I look to see which posts on this blog people visit most often, I see that garlic harvesting and garlic scapes are very popular, as are posts about sweet potatoes.


Sometimes I post links to my slideshows, but here’s a You Tube I’ve been meaning to tell you about. This is my presentation of Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests at New Country Organics.


The September Growing for Market is out. The cover article, by Carolina Lees, advocating a Farmer Retreat. This is a wintertime regional gathering of farmers, with scheduled time for discussion and also for casual hanging-out. No imported speakers! The author is in Oregon, and envy-inducing photos of the beach-side retreat are included. But, what a good idea!

David Ross writes about grower relationships with wholesalers. Shawn Jadrnicek, author of The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Reveolutionary Permaculture-Based System . . .  writes about mulching and crimping techniques for no-till vegetables, including how to have weed-free cover crops, and get the right machinery to roll and crimp them. he uses a manure spreader to spread tree leaf mulch, and shows photos of a very tidy farm.

Rowan Steele writes about obtaining used silage tarps (as advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier) for covering beds to control weeds organically. Rowan writes about how to use the tarps and suggests coordinating a used silage tarp delivery for your small farm community. Contact Travis Quirk at the nonprofit Simply Agriculture Solutions Inc. in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ([email protected]).  The tarps may be delivered for the cost of shipping. Canadian farmers are required to recycle their “grain bags”, but it’s hard for them to find a recycling facility in Canada, so the plastics are sent to the US. They are happy to be able to divert the material for a second use. Sounds great to me!

Jane Tanner writes about William’s WIldflowers, a floral design business run by two sisters, using lots of native flowers, especially perennials, for weddings and other formal occasions.


See you at the Heritage Harvest Festival on Friday September 8 (my premium workshop on growing sweet potatoes from start to finish) or Saturday (strolling around). Last time I looked there were still tickets available for my workshop ($20)

Heritage Harvest Festival

Washing tomato seeds, Heritage Harvest Festival, Organic Broadcaster

Wet Roma tomato seeds set to dry with a fan.
Photo Pam Dawling

Last week I wrote about saving tomato seeds and eating the tomatoes too. We left the extracted tomato seed in a bucket to ferment for three days. On Friday I washed the seeds. They look quite unappetizing at first, with a thin layer of mold on the surface of the liquid.

Roma tomato seed ferment on day 3, ready for washing.
Photo Pam Dawling

The process of washing the seeds and pouring off the detritus is almost magical. The fermentation kills some disease spores, and also dissolves the gel that coats the seeds. If you dry tomato seeds without fermenting, they all stick together.

Tomato seed processing: adding water from a hose and stirring the mix.
Photo Pam Dawling

With each successive wash, more of the tomato flesh floats off, along with poor quality seeds. I add water using a hose and stir. Here I’m stirring with a short length of green plastic pipe that was conveniently nearby. When the bucket is about two-thirds full I turn off the hose and stop stirring. Good seed sinks to the bottom of the bucket. When I think it has settled, I pour the liquid along with lumps of tomato flesh into another bucket. This is a safety precaution to ensure I don’t throw away good seed. If I just poured it on the ground I could slip and dump the lot.

Roma tomato seed ferment after first pour.
Photo Pam Dawling

I repeat the wash and pour a few more times. Even after the second pour the seeds are plainly visible.

Roma tomato seed ferment after the second pour.
Photo Pam Dawling

The seeds which float and get poured away are very light and are either very thin or they show a black spot in the center. So it’s counter-productive to try to catch every single seed.Let the useless seeds float away!

Tomato seed extraction after the third pour.
Photo Pam Dawling

After four or five washes the water I pour off is clear, so then I add more water, stir and pour the swirling stuff through a sieve balanced on a bucket.

Tomato seed extraction, fourth wash water. almost clear.
Photo Pam Dawling

In my case I have a small sieve balanced in a bigger one, which sits more safely on the bucket, but has a mesh too big for tomato seeds. This sieve contains seed from 10 gallons of Roma tomatoes.

Roma tomato seeds strained in a sieve.
Photo Pam Dawling

From here, I take the seed sieve indoors and empty it on sturdy paper towels on a tray by a small fan. See the first photo. After a few hours I come by and crumble the clumps of seeds to help even out the drying. For two days I turn the seeds over a few times a day. Once they are dry I put them in a labelled paper bag, and ready the space for the next batch of seeds to dry. Watermelon in this case. I alternate tomato and watermelon seeds, processing one batch of each every week through late July to early September.


Heritage Harvest Festival

I mentioned the Heritage Harvest Festival a few weeks ago. I’m presenting one of the Premium Workshops on Friday, about growing sweet potatoes. See my Events Page for more about this. Pictures of sweet potatoes at this time of year are a monotonous swath of green leaves (now we have got a double electric fence to stop the deer eating the leaves off.) Last year we didn’t do a good job of keeping deer off our sweet potatoes and we got low yields. One of our gardening mantras is “Never make the same mistake two years running!” so you can be sure we are working hard to keep the pesky deer from eating our winter food.

On Saturday September 9, I’ll be out and about at the Festival, and hope to see many old friends and make some new ones.

If you live in North Carolina and can’t make it all the way to Virginia for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, you could go to the Organic Growers School Harvest Conference that same weekend September 8-9. I’ve been to their Spring Conference several times, but never the Harvest Conference because it’s always the same weekend as the Heritage Harvest Festival.


Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

The July/August issue of Organic Broadcaster has been on my desk for a few weeks waiting for time to read it. This newspaper is free online, with a new issue every two months. It covers more aspects of Organic Farming than simply vegetable production. There are good articles about cover crops, including roller-crimping no-till rye. Also an article on weed control for market farmers by Bailey Webster, who interviewed farmers and researchers. Harriet Behar, the senior organic specialist at MOSES, write about the thorny issues of falsely labeled Organic foods: imported livestock feedstuffs, milk from cows with no pasture access and algal oil in Organic milk. Now that 68% of Americans bought organic foods of some kind (Pew), more Organic suppliers are needed to meet the demand (or else the unscrupulous rush in with false labels.) There are further articles about cash flow for farmers, winter bale grazing for cattle, the 2018 Farm Bill, and transferring the farm to new owners.

Now we are getting some rain from Cyclone 10, which might have become Tropical Storm Irma, but now looks less likely to qualify for a name. But, enough rain to want to stay indoors, so maybe I can read for a while.

 

Saving Tomato Seeds and the Tomatoes too

Roma paste tomatoes in mid-August, with stakes flagged for seed collection.
Photo Pam Dawling

August is my busy month for seed harvesting. I alternate tomato seeds and watermelon seeds, getting one batch of each done each week. Today (Tuesday) I packed away a dried batch of Roma tomato seeds and washed and set to dry a batch of Crimson Sweet watermelon seeds. These are both the Virginia Select strains which I sell to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I harvested two buckets of Romas on Thursday and left them to fully ripen until today (day 5 for those not counting).

Each year since 2001, I’ve been selecting the Romas for earliness, productivity and resistance or tolerance to Septoria leaf spot disease. In the photo above you can see pink flagging tape on two of the T-posts and yellow on the nearer one. Pink flagging tape marks the plants that had large early yields and OK foliage. Yellow tape marks the plants that have healthier foliage and at least average early yield.

Roma tomatoes getting washed ready for seed extraction.
Photo Pam Dawling

Today I processed the two bucketfuls of Romas from Thursday for seed. I like to do this task on the porch steps as this gives me various heights for the different buckets, and reduces bending double. The next step is to cut each tomato in half lengthwise, pitching any rotten ones in a compost bucket, and putting the good halves in a clean bucket.

Roma tomatoes cut in half for seed extraction.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the photo above, the compost bucket is on the right and the food bucket on the left is getting any edible parts that I don’t want to save seed from for one reason or another. For instance, if the end of the fruit was bad, I don’t want seed from it in case the disease is also in the seeds, but the rest of the fruit is perfectly edible. For the cutting I like a small serrated knife, as shown in the picture.

Roma tomatoes with the seeds removed, all ready for making sauce or salsa.
Photo Pam Dawling

Next I use a soup spoon to scoop out the seeds into a smaller bucket and I put the scooped out halves (“shells”) into another clean bucket. I’ve trained myself to keep moving on this task and only scoop once in each half tomato. I don’t go back for one odd seed that got away!

The “shells” are then all ready for cooking into sauce, or chopping and making into salsa. The seeds bucket gets a loose lid and is put in a cool dark corner of the shed for three days (until Friday). The goal is to ferment the tomato seeds, which kills the spores of some of the diseases, and makes it easier to remove the gel around the seeds and the bits of tomato flesh. I stir once to three times a day to let the carbon dioxide escape, and to break up any surface mold that develops. After three days I wash and dry the seeds.

Roma tomato seeds just after extraction from the tomatoes.
Photo Pam Dawling

I like seed crops where the food part is also harvested (or most of it). Peppers and melons are that way too, but not crops that we eat botanically immature, such as eggplant and cucumber. And obviously not crops where the seed is the food crop, such as peas, beans and corn.

Asian Greens for August: fall senposai, winter Yukina Savoy

 

Brassica seedlings under insect netting.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

In late June and early July, we sow nursery beds of brassicas for transplanting outdoors. In the photo above, the plants at this end of the bed are cabbages, but in the same bed there are also Asian greens for fall and early winter harvests. We cover the beds with ProtekNet, which I already told you about in my Asian Greens for July post.

We sow the seeds about 3/inch, sowing about a foot of nursery bed row for each 12-15 feet of final crop row we want. And we sow twice, a week apart, to cover contingencies like poor germination or needing to replace casualties a week later. We transplant them three weeks after sowing, at the end of July or in early August.

Brassica beds covered with ProtekNet insect netting.
Photo Wren Vile

We cover the beds of transplants with more ProtekNet, for the first month. This is part of our strategy for dealing with harlequin bugs. We try to have August be “No Visible Brassicas Month” – we remove the old spring brassicas, or till them under, and we keep all new brassicas under cover. We hope that a month or more with no food (except cleomes) will stymie the harlequin bugs lifecycle.

We grow Yukina Savoy for harvests from mid-October to mid-November (more on that in November), and senposai for harvests from August 20 to November. Any day now we can start harvesting senposai! Both these crops get followed by a supply from the hoophouse (more on that in late winter).

Senposai transplants
Photo Wren Vile

I know it’s only three months since I last wrote about senposai, and here it is again! If you ran out of seeds in the spring, or this is a new vegetable for you, hurry and order from Fedco Seeds in Maine. Their order deadline is October 31 for this year. Also available from Kitazawa Seeds or Evergreen Seeds

For fall harvests, sensposai is ready a mere 40 days from sowing, or 10 days longer if you disturbed it and transplanted, as we do. Depending on your winter climate zone, you may have time to sow for growing in a hoophouse (zone 6 or warmer), or outdoors (zone 8?). If you had a cabbage disaster, try fast-growing senposai.

An outdoor bed of young Senposai.
Photo by Wren Vile

Senposai is an F1 hybrid, so don’t try saving your own seed, if you want reliable production. It was developed in Japan, and is a cross between Japanese Mustard Spinach (Komatsuna Brassica rapa – more on this next month) and regular cabbage. Senposai has big round medium-green leaves, and an open growth habit. It needs a generous 12″–18″ spacing, unless for some reason you want to limit the generous size of the leaves. The flavor is sweet and the texture is tender. Photo by Fedco Seeds. As a Fedco customer reports:

“Customers buy it once because it looks absolutely stunning, then they buy it again because it is extremely delicious. Absurdly productive and easy to grow”

Senposai leaves are cold-tolerant down to 12F (-11C), and the core of the plant may survive 10F (-12C). Young plants can be used for salads.

Heritage Harvest Festival, Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc Conference, Succession Planting Podcast

After a couple of summer months off from speaking at events, I am gearing up for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, near Charlottesville. This two day festival has a day of ticketed workshops on Friday September 8 and a field day on Saturday September 9. Saturday workshops, demonstrations, tours and kids events are all included with the price of admission.

Never been to Monticello’s annual Heritage Harvest Festival? What exactly is it? Get your tickets now to join in 9/8-9/9. You’ll find a variety of interesting events and workshops focused on all things related to gardening, cooking and food. You can learn everything from how to make cider, how to keep your garden alive throughout the winter, or even how to become a chicken whisperer.  There is something for everyone! See the schedule of events here.

Sweet potato harvest
Photo Nina Gentle

This year I am presenting my workshop Growing Sweet Potatoes on Friday at 3.30 pm, followed by book-signing at the Bookshop at 4.45 pm. Bring your grubby well-thumbed old copy of Sustainable Market Farming for me to sign, or buy a fresh new one for yourself, or as a gift, at the Bookshop.

Come and participate in the 11th Annual Old Timey Seed Swap at Monticello’s Heritage
Harvest Festival  and learn more from Ira Wallace, one of the founders of HHF and worker/owner of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Seed savers of all levels are welcome! #HHF2017.

Seed Swap jars at Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Tour Monticello’s 1,000-foot-long vegetable garden: an “Ellis Island of edible curiosities” at this year’s Heritage Harvest Festival .

Peter Hatch giving a tour of the Monticello vegetable garden.
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Come and sample more than 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, heirloom peppers and melons in the Tasting Tent.

Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at the Heritage Harvest Festival Tomato Tasting.
Photo courtesy of Monticello


My next event after that will be the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference.  November 3-5, 2017 in Durham, NC. I will be talking about hoophouse growing, both in the Friday morning pre-conference and on Sunday. See my Events page (tab) for more.

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse.
Photo Nina Gentle

I’m doing fewer speaking events this fall/winter/spring season. I’m writing my second book, on year round vegetable production in hoophouses. I need to stay home and write, take photos, write some more, edit, draw diagrams, write more, make charts, etc.


In June, at the Vermont Mother Earth News Fair in Burlington, I took part in a podcast on Succession Planting. I thought I could embed it right here, but the closest I can manage today is this link: https://www.podbean.com/media/player/9s7a3-6cafa3?from=yiiadmin&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=1&download=1&rtl=0

https://motherearthnewsandfriends.podbean.com/e/ep-13-succession-gardening/



Debbie Roos of Chatham County, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, steward of the very useful Growing Small Farms website, sent a heads up about a special feature of this week:

The week of August 6-12 has been declared National Farmers’ Market Week by the Farmers’ Market Coalition. It’s a great time to reflect on the importance of farmers’ markets to our communities and pledge to support our local markets, farmers, and vendors.

As demand for local food continues to grow, so too have the opportunities for America’s farmers to market fresh food directly to the consumer. The number of markets listed in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers’ Market Directory has grown from 2,863 in 2000 to 8,675 in 2016.
According to statistics recently released by the USDA, farmers’ markets and farm stands account for roughly $2 billion of the $3 billion that Americans spend annually on direct-to-consumer farm product sales. This revenue, in turn, supports the livelihoods of more than 165,000 mostly small and mid-sized farms and ranches.

Farmers’ markets strengthen rural economies. According to the Farmers’ Market Coalition, farmers selling locally create 13 full-time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned, compared to three jobs created by farmers who don’t sell locally. Farmers’ markets provide a low-barrier entry point for farmers and food entrepreneurs who are just starting out and/or want to test new products by getting feedback directly from customers.

Farmers’ markets support healthy communities by increasing access to fresh, nutritious, and flavorful food. Markets also provide important opportunities for social interactions and vendors help educate the non-farming public about agriculture and local foods.

So, support your local Farmers Market, unless you grow all your own food! You can probably find something to buy, or some way to offer help. Or buy a farmer a cup of tea!

Tomato Herbicide Injury, August Growing for Market

Roma tomatoes with damage from Triclopyr herbicide July 2016.
Photo Puck Tupelo

This time last year, we were suffering from a herbicide problem which stunted our Roma paste tomatoes. No, we didn’t spray herbicide on them. Someone else sprayed Triclopyr growth regulator herbicide (Ortho Poison Ivy Killer)  on poison ivy down the road, behind some trees. He sprayed on  5/23, and made repeat sprays twice, about two weeks apart (approx. June 4th and 18th). As the crow flies, it might be 600 ft or so from the tomatoes.

Some other brand names of Triclopyr include Grandstand, Alligare, Garlon and Horsepower. Other growth regulator herbicides include 2,4-D, Aminopyralid, Dicamba, Diflufenzopyr, Picloram, Quinclorac, as well as Triclopyr.

On June 18 2016, we noticed some of the younger leaves on our plants were curling inwards and buckling an odd way. There were no obvious spots or mottling, but the sick plants were stunted. Most of the damaged plants were in groups in low areas.

I thought it was a virus. We decided not to handle the plants until we had a diagnosis, for fear of spreading disease. We got help from the wonderful Virginia Tech Plant Diseases Clinic, who said the plants did not have any of the viruses they could test for, or that they knew, and the damage closely resembled growth regulator herbicide damage. But we don’t use herbicides, we protested.

On 6/30 we found out about the initial Triclopyr spraying, but the Plant Disease Clinic at that point agreed that drift was unlikely, given the distance and trees in between our tomatoes and the poison ivy, and the pattern of damage. Triclopyr damage usually appears within one week, not 25 days later (we didn’t find out about the second and third spraying until later). On the other hand, we did not know of any other use of growth regulator herbicide nearby. Their final report, at the end of July, named herbicide drift as the probable cause.

Roma paste tomatoes with oddly curled leaves due to growth regulator herbicide vapor drift.
Photo Puck Tupelo

I researched some more and found information about volatilization on a herbicide website.

High temperatures and low humidity favor herbicide volatilization, which can lead to vapor drift.

We now think that the herbicide sprayed on the poison ivy evaporated or volatilized on that very hot day, formed a little cloud that dropped down in the middle of our tomato patch and did its damage. Tomatoes are very sensitive to herbicides. 68 of our 246 plants showed some damage – about 25%. The Plant Diseases Clinic said:

Symptoms were consistent with chemical injury from a growth regulator type herbicide . . .  Herbicide residue in straw mulch from herbicide-treated pasture or manure from animals fed on herbicide-treated pasture can cause similar symptoms. Since your tomatoes are growing out of the problem it is very unlikely that the problem was caused by herbicide residue in compost/manure/straw used to amend the soil.

To definitively rule out herbicide residue in compost or the soil, I did a bioassay using snap bean seeds planted in numbered pots with tomato plot soil, compost like we’d used, and other garden soil. Beans emerge and grow quickly and can show up herbicide damage.  Most of my bean seed in the bio-assay got dug up and eaten by something. . . such is agriculture! Only one bean came up (out of 48). The bean plant looked fine. It was in a pot of soil from one of the worst tomato plants. This indicated that it was not a problem in the soil (eg from compost or other soil amendments).

The fact that the plants grew out of the problem, making normal leaves later, also suggested it was not a problem in the soil, but an incident after planting. Unfortunately though, after not string weaving for over a month, the plants were a (stunted) jungle and enthusiasm for string-weaving them had plummeted. We got very poor yields that year. Even after all the investigations, my thoughts were:

Drift still seems rather unlikely to me – the pattern of damage, the tiny ready-to-spray bottle so far away. . . It’s sobering how damaging those herbicides can be!

Since then I have acknowledged it most likely was  vapor drift.

I’ve now found a Herbicide Injury Image Database from the University of Arkansas Extension Service. It covers 18 herbicide groups and you can search not just by herbicide group, but by brand name of herbicide, by crop and even a paired search of crop and herbicide. Sadly it doesn’t include the very pairing (tomatoes and Triclopyr) that we were most interested in, but it does have many, many good photos of other combinations.


Recently a friend was showing me her damaged greenhouse tomatoes, which were growing out (recovering) after suffering some damage which caused the stems to make stubby shortened branches. She thought she’d caused the problem by using horse manure after stacking it for “only” 6 months. She thought she was looking at a type of “burning” from manure that was too fresh. I thought it might be damage from one of the “killer compost” herbicides which survive in hay or straw from sprayed fields, survive through composting, survive through livestock digestive systems, and wreak havoc on vegetables.

I looked through the Tomato section of the Herbicide Injury Image Database but I didn’t see exactly what my friend’s plants had. It most resembled the Quinclorac (Facet, Quinstar) damage but I really don’t know.

Tomato damaged by Quinclorac herbicide.
Source (www.uaex.edu) (Dr. Cal Shumway, Dr. Bob Scott, and Dr. John Boyd)

Unmarketable tomatoes ripen on vines affected by contaminated mulch at Waterpenny Farm. (By Margaret Thomas For The Washington Post)

Waterpenny Farm, Sperryville, Virginia suffered herbicide in hay mulch in 2007. The hay they bought had been sprayed with Grazon. They lost 12,000 plants with a harvest worth $80,000. Grazon is another of the growth regulator herbicides like the Triclopyr we were blighted by.

You can read more about “Killer Compost” in these articles by Cindy Conner, Mother Earth News (several samples of off-the-shelf Purina horse feed were contaminated with clopyralid) and Joe Lampl Growing a Greener World TV

Chert Hollow Farm suffered fungicide spray and wrote about pesticide drift part 1 in three episodes, part 2 and part 3. 

Don’t let this happen to you (if you have any control over it) and if it does, seek help.


On a happier note, the August Growing for Market magazine is out. There is a long article about Triage Farming: How to choose what to do when there’s too much to do by Matt S. An important topic and just the time of year when this massive problem hits us. Matt has a sense of humor, which really helps in hard times. There’s also an article European cultivation tools by Sam Hitchcock Tilton. This is followed by Farmers market metrics: Collecting data has many benefits for vendors by Darlene Wolnik. Then a very appetizing article about berries by Michael Brown and a dramatic article on big floral installations for weddings and other events, by Gretel Adams, which includes some very eye-catching and original ideas.

How to Repair Hoses

 

Using hose repair clamps to fix broken hoses.
Photo Pam Dawling

Inevitably, hoses spring leaks or get run over and sliced up by the bushhog. When this happens to us, we put the broken hose next to the cold-frames by the greenhouse as a signal that it needs attention. Then we wait for the right combination of desperation (need for another good hose), spare time and “ideal hose-mending weather.” When it is disgustingly hot, the hoses become more flexible and easier to repair. We gather the kit.

Hose repair tools: repair fitting, sharp knife, Philips screwdriver, wooden dowel, dish soap and unbreakable insulated mug.
Photo Pam Dawling

We always buy the heavy duty all-metal repair fittings now. If they last longer then the hose, we simply remove them onto another hose needing repair. We find that the threads on the plastic repair ends wear out, leading to leaks, and the ends sometimes just break off. The metal ones save frustration and are well worth the extra cost.

Heavy duty all-metal hose end mender. Photo Pam Dawling

If you are replacing an end fitting, be sure to get the right kind, so-called female or male fitting (with the threads on the inside or the outside.) If you are splicing in the middle of a length of hose, get a connector with two clamp pieces and a double-ended insert. You can of course, permanently join two previously separate hoses to make one good hose, using a connector, or divide one broken hose into two shorter hoses using end menders. We sometimes do this if we are running short of spare repair fittings, just to get back in business. Also note that short lengths that fasten onto faucets are a handy thing to have, for filling buckets and cans, so if the break is near the female end, you might just make one very short hose and one almost-full-length hose.

The next task is to make clean cut ends on the hose with a utility knife, to ensure the fitting will be snug and not leaky. Boil some water and fill an unbreakable insulated mug. Stick the hose ends in the hot water to soften. While that’s happening, loosen the clamp screws on the fitting. You don’t have to take the screws all the way out. You can just loosen them enough to slide the clamp on the hose and up beyond the end you are working on.

Push the wooden dowel into the heated end of the hose to stretch it out.
Photo Pam Dawling

While the hose is softening in the water, lubricate the end of the repair fitting with dish soap. Honest, this makes a lot of difference. Take the hose end out of the water and push the wooden dowel in the hose end to widen it. Some hoses are more flexible than others and don’t need this step. Pull out the dowel and push in the soaped-up fitting, Push firmly until the fitting is fully seated. If it helps, fasten another fitting into the one you are pushing on.

Push the hose end firmly onto the fitting.
Photo Pam Dawling

Next, fasten the screws up tight (see top photo). You might test the hose next, to look for any other problems, than drain and coil it. or you might just coil it. We always loosely fasten our hose ends on coiled hoses, to stop mud-dauber wasps from setting up home, and to prevent the washer dropping out.

Hose repair complete. Coil the hose and fasten the ends.
Photo Pam Dawling

Hunting Hornworms on Tomato Plants

Tobacco Hornworm eating a tomato plant
Photo Pam Dawling

Perhaps you also have hornworms eating your tomato plants? The upper leaves stripped to stems, the fruit munched, and big fat caterpillars getting bigger and fatter? Ours are tobacco hornworms, not tomato hornworms, but both are bad news. Fifty years ago, the Twin Oaks land was a tobacco farm. Tobacco hornworms have a red (not black) horn, and diagonal white lines, not arrowhead vees.

Outdoors our hornworms often get parasitized by a tiny braconid wasp whose larvae develop white rice-grain-like cocoons sticking out of the back of the hornworm. But the parasitic wasps don’t usually fly into the hoophouse, so we have to provide the pest control ourselves. We could prevent the night-flying hornworm-mother Carolina sphinx moth or  Tobacco hawk moth from entering our hoophuse by closing it up every night, but we don’t want to do that, as it means we have to reliably open it every morning before it gets too hot.

Hornworms strip the upper tomato leaves until only stems remain.
Photo Pam Dawling

When I find these beasties, I pull them off the plants (it can take quite a tug, their legs are strong), drop them on the ground and stomp on them. They can grow to be 4″ caterpillars. One day when I’d finished my safari along the first tomato bed and was working my way along the back of the second bed, I saw a cardinal fly in twice and fly off with a dead hornworm in its beak. I guess they can’t tackle live ones. (If only . . .)  I’m intrigued by how they knew I had provided dinner. Did they smell the hornworms? Or see the dead ones on the path? Sight seems more likely to me than smell.

So, why are these big caterpillars hard to find? You might imagine such big worms with such vivid stripes would be easy to see, but not so. They are, of course, the exact same shade of green as tomato leaves. Curled tomato leaves can look remarkably similar to hornworms. The stripes mimic the veins on the undersides of the leaves.

Tomato plant badly damaged by hornworms
Photo Pam Dawling

I do my hornworm hunting when it’s warm but not too hot, on the theory that then the caterpillars are more likely to be active, rather than snoozing in a sheltered spot. I walk along the row looking for damaged leaves. When I find some, I gaze at the area, looking for discrepancies in the pattern – bare stems with lumps on them. Usually the caterpillars are on the underside of a chewed stem, and often (but not always) they have their heads raised as in my second photo.

If I’m looking at damaged young leaves I’m pretty confidant that there’s a hornworm somewhere in the vicinity. If there are newer leaves that are intact, it might mean there was a hornworm, but it’s been removed already. Another sign that a hornworm is nearby is what safari hunters call fresh spoor – caterpillar poop. Hornworm poop looks like miniature brown pineapples or grenades (use whichever comparison you are more familiar with.)

Hornworm poop on tomato leaf.
Out-of-focus photo Pam Dawling

If I see damaged fruit, I redouble my efforts to find the culprit.

Tomato fruit damaged by hornworm
Photo Pam Dawling

If I still can’t see the worm, I sway a bit from side to side, viewing the plants from various perspectives. Sometimes I scrunch down a bit, so that the top of the plant is back-lit – that helps. Hunt frequently, every day or two. Knowing the signs of hornworm presence can save you time looking high and low. Instead you focus your attention on where you are most likely to find them.