Preparing for Spring Transplants

Seed flats in the greenhouse in early spring. See the large lettuces growing in the beds, between flats of seedlings balanced on the bed walls.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Preparing for Spring Transplants

We have winter to enjoy/experience/endure before we start spring seedlings, but there are some steps you can take to make spring start-up easier and more successful. Of course, there is the usual list of tidying your workspace, preparing to order seeds and repairing tools.

Replacement tool handles

House Handle Company   Telephone: (800) 260-6455 has a wide selection of good quality wood handles online. They specialize in hickory, white oak and ash. Be careful making your selection, and get the handle that’s just right for the tool you are repairing. You can see a lot of their handles in our photos. During the winter we usually have a “Santa’s workshop” day when we repair tools.

There are YouTube videos showing how to make sturdy repairs. Just be sure to shape the handle for a good fit before drilling any holes for rivets. And learn how to make rivets from large nails if none are supplied with your replacement handle. Sharp edges on poking-out badly finished rivets, or nuts and bolts can cause injuries. Sweat we might need. Blood and tears we can do without.

Screening a large pile of compost for the greenhouse beds. Photo Wren Vile

Seed Compost

Today I’m thinking about seed and potting compost.

We use 100% home-made compost for sowing seeds, and for potting-up transplants. We don’t mix in any other ingredients. Our seed compost is our regular good-quality compost, screened to remove large particles, and matured over the winter into a very mellow combination of nutrients and micro-organisms. We make great compost and it grows big strong plants.

We screen a big pile of compost in September, and fill the cinder-block beds in our solar-heated greenhouse. See this post: Screening compost to make our own seed compost for spring. If you are making your own screens, you can use hardware cloth (rat-wire), or do as reader Jim Poole suggested and try stucco lathing instead. “It is quite a bit sturdier. (But watch out for the cut ends when installing it- it can give you a nasty gash.)”

We need a lot of compost, but the idea works fine on a smaller scale too. Find an indoor place near where you will use the compost in the spring, and some tubs to put the screened compost into. If you want the full tub to be on a bench in spring, put the empty one on the bench and screen into it! If you want to grow lettuces in the compost, put the tubs near a window.

Just storing the compost inside over the winter will mean you are not dealing with frozen stuff when you want to sow. But better yet, see Starting Seedlings and Preparing for spring, sowing seeds, for more about how we grow lettuces in the stored compost over the winter in our greenhouse, then use that compost in spring for seedlings.

Greenhouse beds filled with screened compost.
Photo Wren Vile
Lettuce growing in screened home-made compost in our greenhouse in November.
Photo Wren Vile

We transplant lettuce at 10″ spacing into the beds in mid-September or early October. By harvesting only the outer leaves, we keep those lettuces alive and growing all winter to give us salad from November to February. Because we water the lettuces, the compost organisms stay alive and active. If you don’t grow a crop overwinter, water the compost from time to time to keep it slightly damp.

This system provides us with a large quantity of mellow screened compost for seed flats, indoors and not frozen. The micro-organisms have had plenty of time to colonize the compost, so it is full of life. In spring, as we need space in the greenhouse, we pull the lettuce. We can then scoop out the compost to fill the flats for seedlings.

Aphids

The only issue we sometimes have is aphids in early spring. This winter we are experimenting with some plants we hope will flower in early spring and attract beneficial insects who also eat aphids. I’ll report on this project when we see the results.

Here’s what we currently do to deal with early spring greenhouse aphids:

  1. jet the plants with water to project the aphids into outer space (OK I’m exaggerating),
  2. gather up lady bugs, or
  3. if numbers of aphids are really high, we use a soap spray.

We start our first seedlings in mid-January, although we only sow a few things the first week (cabbage and lettuce for outdoors and tomatoes for our hoophouse), and harvesting just one or two lettuces would provide enough compost for those few flats.

Lettuce transplants in soil blocks. Photo Pam Dawling

Soil blocks

We used to make soil blocks for our more delicate transplants (melons, early cucumbers and squash) because there is no transplant shock when you plant them out. We even used them for lettuces at one time. We developed a very simple recipe, which we seem to have lost, but it was something like 1.5 parts by volume of our home-made compost, 1 part of soaked coconut coir and as much water as needed to make a wet slumpy, but not soupy, mix.

I use coir rather than peat moss, because I believe the extraction rate of peat moss is not sustainable, and as a carbon sink, it’s better to leave it in the ground. Coir is a tropical food by-product. I’m sure it’s better returned to the soil where the coconuts are grown.

The mix is compressed into a special block-maker, which is then scraped across an edge of the container of mix, to create a flat base, and then the block is ejected using the spring-loaded handle into a tray or open flat. We line our flats with a sheet of plastic to reduce drying out. It’s important to dunk the block maker in water between fillings to wash off the old remnants and enable the new blocks to slip out smoothly.

The blocks are surprisingly stable – they can be picked up and moved, like brownies. Or you can move several at once on a kitchen spatula. As the plants grow, the roots get air-pruned. Even if you pack the blocks shoulder to shoulder in the tray, the roots from one block do not grow into the others. There is no root damage at all when the complete block is transplanted. Do make sure you press the surrounding soil down and inwards to make good contact with the block.

Okra seedlings in a Winstrip tray in the greenhouse. Note the vented cell sides.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Winstrip trays

More recently we have come to love Winstrip trays, very durable plug flats with cubic cells that are vented down the sides, so the plants get air-pruned. The bottoms of the cells have finger-sized holes so you can easily pop a full-grown transplant out of the tray. The Winstrip 50 cell tray has cells almost the size of soil blocks. These flats have all the advantages of soil blocks except price. They are expensive. We got ours used. Winstrips have two additional advantages: they are much quicker to use than soil blocks, and they work with all-compost. We don’t add any coir. One less input to buy. I haven’t calculated how many plugs-worth of coir pay for one Winstrip tray. . .

See this post on using Winstrip trays and transplanting plugs from them

For more about soil blocks, and Winstrip and other plug flats, see my book Sustainable Market Farming

Workhorse Crops for November

Planting garlic

Here’s another episode in my monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops: asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards/kale, garlic, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, winter squash, zucchini/summer squash. These crops are reliable under a wide range of conditions. We’re half-way through the year for this series, and entering the colder half.

I hope this focused series will help you become more productive and profitable (if selling) as you go into winter. Maybe you gardened for the first time this year, or expanded production in spring (orders to seed companies suggest many people did!) Maybe you have less time at home than you expected when you started planting in spring. Winter brings a natural opportunity to reconsider the size of your garden, your crops, and your methods.

You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as October.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in November

November in central Virginia is the time to plant garlic, but not much else outdoors. We could also plant garlic scallions and medium-sized potato onions.

In the hoophouse we are working to get all the space fully planted. We intend to do this by November 20. The really busy hoophouse planting month of October is successfully behind us. This year we are trying some carrots (we sowed those in September). We have plenty of other crops that don’t qualify as workhorses too!

Garlic

When to plant garlic

  • Fall-planting is best. Garlic emerges quickly in the fall
  • 9 am soil temperature 50°F (10°C) at 4” (10 cm) deep. We plant in early November. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week.
  • Roots grow whenever the ground is not frozen
  • Tops grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).

I have written a lot about garlic. Here are links to the most timely ones.

14-16 days after planting, when we can see a lot of emerged shoots, we go back to the garlic beds and free any shoots trapped under particularly thick clumps of mulch. We do this by exploring the spots where there should be a plant but isn’t. If we find garlic tops, we simply leave part of them exposed to the light. They will sort themselves out. We don’t leave any soil exposed.

Garlic scallions ready for harvest in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

Garlic scallions

Garlic scallions are immature garlic plants, mostly leaves, pulled up before they make bulbs. They are the garlic equivalent of onion scallions (bunching onions, spring onions, escallions).

We plant the culled tiny cloves from the bulbs we save for outdoor garlic planting in early November. Tiny cloves will never produce big bulbs, so growing garlic scallions makes very good use of them! Planting garlic scallions is simplicity itself! Plant the small cloves close together in closely-spaced furrows, simply dropping the cloves in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw. See October’s post for more information about planting garlic scallions (baby garlic plants).

Since last month’s post, I remembered learning that you can also grow garlic scallions from surplus or culled bulbs, simply planting the whole bulbs and growing ready-made bunches of scallions! This could be useful if you have small bulbs that no one wants to deal with, or you have some that have started sprouting in storage.

Some growers find they make more money from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic, partly because they don’t have the costs of curing and drying the bulbs! Plus you have a tasty crop to eat and sell in spring, when choices are often restricted to overwintered leafy greens and stored roots. Maybe you have already eaten or sold all your bulb garlic by then.

Some people are working to extend the garlic scallion season. By planting later it is possible to stretch the harvest period out later. Softneck garlic varieties can make worthwhile growth for scallions even if planted after the start of January. See Plant garlic scallions from softneck varieties (Alliums for February). Planting in a hoophouse in November could possibly provide earlier garlic scallions (growing faster in warmer conditions). By planting in a hoophouse, more of the year opens up as a planting season.

I encourage you to experiment with planting a few cloves at different times of year and record your results. Because you do not need to work with the right times for bulbing and drying down, all sorts of dates are possible!

For information about harvesting garlic scallions, see my post Alliums for March. With a last frost date of 20–30 April, we harvest garlic scallions March 10 to April 30 in central Virginia, or even into May, if our supply lasts out, and we don’t need the space for something else.

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

Potato onions

I’m cheating here, as these aren’t on the Workhorse list, but November is a good time to plant medium-sized potato onions (a type of multiplier onions). See Alliums for November and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide.

Spinach, the Racehorse

I didn’t include spinach in my Workhorse Crops list, because it’s more of a Racehorse. It does grow quickly, but in spring it bolts quickly. And in September, when we want to sow spinach, we are challenged by soil temperatures that are too hot. It’s a valuable crop under the right conditions. For more, search “spinach”.

Hoophouse workhorse crops to plant in November

We only have a few small areas of crops to plant in November, and none of those crops qualify as Workhorses. Once we have our hoophouse fully planted, we try to keep it that way. I don’t mean we treat it as a museum and touch nothing! I mean we replace any crop we harvest. In some cases, this is part of our plan, with Follow-On crops, as soon as one crop is over.

Filler greens: short rows of Tokyo bekana, Yukina Savoy and senposai used to fill gaps in the winter hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

In other cases it is by using our Filler Greens, short rows of greens that we sow in October in anticipation of some unexpected spaces opening up. You could have plug flats of seedlings for this, but we prefer bare-root transplants, as they are easier to take care of (roots go deep into the soil, and no special watering is needed. If it happens that we don’t transplant them all, we can simply harvest the overgrown seedlings to eat as salad.

A misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse Follow On Crops

A sequence of different crops occupying the same space over time.

  • Nov 17: We follow our 1st radishes with 3rd scallions
  • Dec 23: 1st baby brassica salad mix with 5th radishes
  • Dec 31: Some of our 1st spinach with our 2nd baby lettuce mix
  • Jan 15: Our 1st tatsoi with our 4th spinach
  • Jan 16: Our Tokyo Bekana with spinach for planting outdoors
  • Jan 24: Our pak choy & Chinese cabbage with kale & collards for outdoors
  • Feb 1: Our 2nd radishes with our 2nd baby brassica salad mix
  • Feb 1: Our 1st Yukina Savoy with our 3rd mizuna/frilly mustards
  • Feb 1: Some of our 1st turnips with our 3rd baby lettuce mix
  • Feb 1: More of our 1st spinach with dwarf snap peas
Carrot harvest cart
Photo Mari Korsbrekke

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in November

As I write this, we have not yet had a frost. Four of our 14 workhorse crops can be harvested in November.

Cabbage We harvest fall planted cabbage from September 25 until November 30.

Deadon (105d winter cabbage) is extremely cold hardy – we leave it outdoors until nights threaten to hit 10°F (-12°C).

Carrots: In November we harvest our huge patch of fall carrots, sown at the beginning of August. Some years we have 30 bags of 50 pounds to feed 100 people! But we have had to downsize the garden due to a shortage of workers. I have written about carrot harvest here. We are not particularly fast at carrot prepping. We don’t have a drum root washer. It takes us about 5-6 people hours to get a big (Garden Way) cartful of harvested carrots trimmed, washed, sorted and bagged.

Bucket lid with holes for sorting root vegetables for storage.
Photo Wren Vile

In November it is generally too late for us to sow cover crops, and we don’t want to leave the carrot beds bare all winter. To avoid erosion, we protect the soil by taking the carrot tops back and spreading them out over the beds.

Chard can still be harvested. The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C). To keep chard alive outdoors over the winter, you can use hoops and rowcover in climates of winter-hardiness zone 6 or warmer. In colder zones, once the temperatures get down near the killing numbers mentioned, make one last harvest, cutting all the leaves just above the growing point. Then pile up mulch over the plants until spring. You could cover the whole heap with rowcover for extra protection. We can soon start harvesting our hoophouse Bright Lights chard in small amounts.

Collards can be harvested in November.

Kale can also be lightly harvested.

Hoophouse Workhorse Harvests

Our first planting of chard in the hoophouse is ready to start harvesting in mid-November, 61 days after sowing. The Russian kales are not usually ready until early December. We have plenty of other greens to eat.

Sweet potatoes on a plate.
Photo Brittany Lewis

From storage: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, and perhaps garlic.

Store garlic above 60°F (15.5°C) or 32°F-40°F (0°C-4.5°C). Never 40°F -56°F (4.5°C-13°C). Last week I said it was OK to store garlic at 32°F -50°F, but newer info says 32°F -40°F (0°C-4.5°C). is better. I’ll edit the previous post. Also avoid reversals of temperature (warm conditions after cooler ones)

Softneck garlic can store for up to 7 months. Hardneck only for 4-6 months.

Sorting potatoes two weeks after harvest, to remove problems.
Photo Wren Vile

With winter squash, use the ones with the shortest storage life first. Pepo types (Acorn) of winter squash store for 1-4 months; Maximas such as Cha Cha, Jarrahdale and Kabochas store for 3-5 months; Moschatas such as Butternuts and Cheese pumpkins will store for 8 months or even more. Seminole (which has a very hard shell) can easily store for a whole year at room temperature.

Our white potatoes will need sorting two weeks after the harvest. This one sorting makes a lot of difference to the quality and quantity of potatoes we will be able to eat. After two weeks, very little further rotting starts up. We also need to cool the root cellar down to 50F after the first month, then to 40F, airing once a week (or less if cooling is not needed).

Workhorse Crops Special Topics for November:

Crop Review, Research, Conferences

Popping garlic at our Crop Review meeting.
Photo Bell Oaks

Crop Review

Every November our garden crew gathers to review how the year went, and what might be done differently next year. See my posts on Crop Review Meetings and here. We usually pop our garlic bulbs apart for planting we sit around talking.

If we have had a particularly difficult year we might look at reducing the number of crops grown. We do this using a points system. See this post. Inevitably, we also have some ideas of new crops we’d like to try, or new varieties of familiar crops. Or new growing methods. This is a good time of year to note down all the suggestions, before the actual plans are made and seeds ordered. See my post How to decide which vegetable crops to grow.

Research

This is also a good time of year to research and evaluate new ideas. Perhaps you made some notes during the year, on your planting schedule.

Conferences

Winter conferences used to be more of a Thing, when we traveled to meet up regionally, browse bookstalls, listen to speakers, meet old friends, make new ones, swap stories, and get re-inspired for another year of hard work. Perhaps we’ll be able to enjoy in-person conferences again in a few months. Meanwhile see my Events Page for presentations I am offering virtually and in the mid-Atlantic. Currently there are more virtual online conferences. These don’t satisfy the itch to talk with other live growers, but many are recorded and they are easier to fit into our schedules. And they do save money. And as Mother Earth News says of their Online Workshops, you can bring your dog!

 

 

More About Winter Vegetable Storage

 

Bucket of freshly harvested Detroit Dark Red beets for storage.
Photo Pam Dawling

 See my previous posts

Here I will tell you more about storage of various crops.

  • Storing crops maximizes their season of availability
  • Many crops can be stored without electricity, perhaps in buildings that serve other uses at the height of the growing season.
  • The Washington State University Extension publication, Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home, is a good introduction to alternatives to refrigerated storage, using pits, clamps and root cellars. Drawings below are from WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home
  • There is also good information in old versions of the USDA Agriculture Handbook 66.
  • Some vegetables need to cure before storage in different conditions from those needed for storage. Curing allows skins to harden and some of the starches to convert to sugars.
A storage cabbage, with curled-back leaf on the head, showing maturity.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Four Sets of Vegetable Storage Conditions

See the chart in my book Sustainable Market Farming, for more details.

By providing storage spaces with just 4 types of conditions, at least 25 crops can be stored.

A= Cold and Moist: 32°F–40°F (0°C–5°C), 80%–95% humidity — refrigerator or winter root cellar conditions. Most roots, greens, leeks. Use ventilated crates, or perforated plastic bags (or mesh net bags for cabbages) indoors. If above 45°F (7°C), roots will start to sprout. Greens benefit from light. See more about root cellars below. Roots can be stored in clamps or pits outdoors – more on those options below.

B= Cool and Fairly Moist: 40°F–50°F (5°C–10°C), 85%–90% humidity — root cellar. Potatoes. Use ventilated crates. Keep in darkness to prevent greening. See the links to my potato storage info.

Trimming garlic stems prior to long-term storage.
Photo by Brittany Lewis

C= Cool and Dry: 32°F–50°F (0°C–10°C), 60%–70% humidity — cooler basements and barns. Garlic and onions. Use net bags or shallow racks. Avoid temperatures of 40°F-56°F (4°C-13°C), or they will sprout. Also avoid reversals of temperature (warm conditions after cold ones). Newer info says 32°F-40°F (0°C-4.5°C). is best for garlic.

Sweet potatoes stored in off-duty wood seed flats.
Credit Nina Gentle

D= Warm and Dry to Fairly Moist: 50°F–60°F (10°C–15°C), 60%–70% humidity — basements. Sweet potatoes and winter squash. Use shallow racks or perforated trays. Sweet potatoes need curing at higher temperatures and humidity before storing.

The entrance to our root cellar.Photo Twin Oaks Community

Root Cellars

  • Potatoes can be stored for five to eight months with a good in-ground root cellar.
  • Potatoes are best stored in a moist, completely dark cellar, at 40°F (5°C) to 50°F (10°C). Ventilate as needed for air exchange and to keep the cellar in the ideal temperature range.
  • Also for apples, cabbage, or root vegetables, but be careful what you mix, because ethylene from the apples, for example, will cause potatoes to sprout!
  • Some people pack unwashed vegetables in boxes of sand, wood ash, sawdust or wood chips. Perforated plastic bags are a modern alternative.
  • Cabbages or pepper plants can be hung upside down in the cellar to ripen, or simply to store.
  • Celery and leeks can be replanted side by side in tubs of soil.
  • See Nancy and Mike Bubel’s book Root Cellaring to learn how to design, build and use a root cellar.
Using a sturdy digging fork to harvest leeks in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

In-Ground Storage

  • Depending on your winter temperatures, some cold-hardy root crops (such as turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and horseradish) and also leeks can be left in place in the ground, with about a foot (30 cm) of insulation (such as straw, dry leaves, chopped corn stalks, or wood shavings) added after the soil temperature drops to “refrigerator temperatures.”
  • Hooped rowcovers or polyethylene low tunnels can keep the worst of the weather off.
  • There could be some losses to rodents, so experiment on a small scale the first winter to see what works for you.
  • Besides being used as a method for storage of hardy crops deep into winter, this can be a useful method of season extension into early winter for less hardy crops such as beets, celery and cabbage, which would not survive all-winter storage this way.
  • In colder regions plan to remove the crops before the soil becomes frozen, or else wait for a thaw.

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

Harvested turnips ready for storage.
Photo Pam Dawling

Storage Clamps (Mounds)

  • Cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, salsify and winter radishes can be stored with no electricity use at all, by making temporary insulated outdoor storage mounds (clamps).
  • Mark out a circular or oval pad of soil, lay down some straw or other insulation, pile the roots up in a rounded cone or ridge shape, and cover them with straw and then with soil, making a drainage ditch round the pile. As a chimney for ventilation, leave a tuft of straw poking out the center. Slap the soil in place to protect the straw and shed rainwater.
  • For the back-yarder, various roots can be mixed, or sections of the clamp can be for different crops. Those growing on a large scale would probably want a separate clamp for each crop. It is possible to open one end of a clamp or pit, remove some vegetables, then reseal it, although it takes some care for it to be successful.
  • There is a balance to be found between the thermal buffering of one large clamp and the reduced risk of rot that numerous smaller clamps provide.

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

 Pits and Trenches

  • Dig a hole in the ground, line it with straw, lay in the vegetables, then cover with more straw and soil.
  • To deter rodents, bury large bins such as metal trash cans, layer the vegetables inside with straw, and cover the lid with a mound of more insulation and soil.
  • Trenches can have sidewalls made with boards to extend the height.
  • You can bury insulated boxes in the ground inside a dirt-floored shed or breezeway. Insulated boxes stored in unheated areas need six to eight inches (15–20 cm) of insulation on the bottom, sides and top.

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Don’t store ripening tomatoes with your potatoes!
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Ethylene

  • Ethylene is associated with ripening, sprouting and rotting.
  • Some crops produce ethylene in storage — apples, cantaloupes, ripening tomatoes all produce higher than average amounts.
  • Chilling, wounding and pathogen attack can all cause damaged crops to produce ethylene.
  • Some crops, including most cut greens, are not sensitive to ethylene and can be stored in the same space as ethylene-producing crops.
  • Other crops are very sensitive and will deteriorate in a high-ethylene environment. Potatoes will sprout, ripe fruits will go over the top, carrots lose their sweetness and become bitter.

 

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

Book Review: Building Your Permaculture Property

Building Your Permaculture Property book cover

Book Review: Building Your Permaculture Property, A Five Step Process to Design and Develop Land

Rob Avis, Michelle Avis and Takota Coen

New Society Publishers, 2021, 222 pages, $49.99, color photos and illustrations throughout

Thank goodness for this book! I had already admired some of the work of Michelle and Rob Avis in Adaptive Habitat (ecological design and sustainable technology), so I knew them to be committed and practical. I am one of those put off from permaculture by the worshipful jargon of some followers, and the peculiarly male-dominated field. This book restores my faith in being able to benefit from and use the good ideas in permaculture without abandoning independent thought or the all-important holistic approach.

This book is a valuable and realistic resource from authors who have “earned their share of cuts and bruises”; a guide to clarifying your goals, attitudes and approaches to holistic land management; a step-by-step guide to get from today to a future aligned with your dreams.

This is not an introduction to permaculture, or a quick-fix for your garden, woodlot, home energy source, flooded land, compacted soil, or back aching from rototilling! There is a common misperception that permaculture is about a set of trendy vegetable gardening techniques. Here is a careful Five Step Permaculture Process, with exercises, templates, workflow tools and thoughtful questions. It addresses real challenges.

The book is introduced by the quote from Bill Mollison (one of the cofounders of Permaculture), defining Permaculture: “Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

When Rob and Michelle were teaching, Rob was often ashamed to mention the word “permaculture”. Despite the elegant practical solutions for solving systemic problems with food, water, housing and energy systems offered by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Permaculture One, most people publicizing permaculture talk about zones, guilds, keyhole and spiral planting beds. “Putting a herb spiral in your backyard while you still source the majority of your basic needs from the degenerative food, water and energy systems is simply permaculture tourism.” Thank you! Straightening the deckchairs on the Titanic! Society’s big messes will not be helped by a herb spiral!

The authors believe that the root cause of people becoming disenchanted in permaculture is a lack of a clearly defined process. They ask the question “What is the biggest problem you are struggling with right now putting permaculture into practice?” and have found that answers fall into five categories.

  1. I don’t know what I should do. (Unclear goals.)
  2. I don’t know where to look. (Inadequate information.)
  3. I don’t know how it all fits. (Confusion.)
  4. I don’t know where to start or what’s next. (Being overwhelmed.)
  5. I don’t know when it will end. (Burnout)

All indicate a lack of something important. The authors decided that instead of teaching students what to do, they would teach them how to solve their problems. We benefit from focusing less on specific practices (those herb spirals!) and more on making a clear step-by-step process for how to design, develop, and manage a property to provide all the food, water, shelter and energy needs in harmony with the ecosystem.

The Five Step Permaculture Process logo

In the Five-Step Permaculture Process, each step addresses one of the five Biggest Struggles:

  • Clarify vision, values, resources
  • Assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats in your resources
  • Design your use of resources to meet vision and values
  • Implement the design that most improves your weakest resource
  • Monitor for well-being or suffering

Buy the book, check out their website, I’m not going to spell it all out here! It’s easy to forget that hours of learning and practicing a skill come before becoming an expert! Persistence and process are both needed.

The illustrations from Jarett Sitter throughout the book look like those from children’s picture books, although examination reveals symbols of the permaculture journey. Each chapter includes sidebars with enlightening segments from Takota Coen’s Story developing regenerative agriculture as a fourth generation farmer.

The heart of the book addresses the five steps and the initial foundation (Step 0) to guide you through design and management. Approach the steps in the order given, and be open to the possibility that you will need to tackle several aspects at once. Like learning to play guitar by learning to read music, keeping time, strumming a rhythm and making a chord, you will need to practice many skills and pull them all together as you go. Find an independent Accountability Partner, who is tackling a similar permaculture challenge, but is not invested in the same one as you. You will gain support and motivation.

The foundation chapter (Step 0) is about inspecting our conscious and unconscious beliefs about reality, which determine our vision, our actions and our responses to other people. We look for hindrances such as confirmation biases (remembering information that supports our existing preconceptions); endowment effects (demanding more to give up something than we would pay to acquire it); the IKEA effect (giving higher value to things we have assembled ourselves, regardless of actual quality!)

The authors define two predominant downward spiraling paradigms: ‘degenerative’ and ‘sustainable’, in contrast to the upward spiraling ‘regenerative’ paradigm. The degenerative paradigm cycles through arrogance, extraction, combat and suffering, creating an increasingly fragile system. The ‘sustainable’ paradigm seeks to maintain the status quo, cycling through guilt, conserving, controlling and surviving, creating a resilient system. The ‘regenerative’ system is anti-fragile, getting stronger, cycling up through reverence, co-creation, designing, thriving.

I dislike this definition of “sustainable” – people in survivalist mode, delaying on their own land the effects of societal collapse. As the author of a book with the S word in the title, I feel a bit defensive. I am not the guilt-ridden, masochistic, fearful, self-hating type portrayed. How does this stereotype help the authors make converts? I share with permaculturists feelings of reverence, awe, co-operation, justice, humility, compassion and being part of nature. But I am not a permaculturist. I use the definition of sustainable in the 1987 Brundtland Report: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I do agree with the authors that ableness to sustain or maintain is not a guarantee that sustaining will happen.

From the perspective of word meanings, regenerative suggests being able to or tending to regenerate, renew or restore, especially after injury, or damage. It includes the sense that something has gone wrong and we are going to ride in and fix it, returning things to a previous state. Yes, corporations and individuals do co-opt the word sustainable, for industrial agriculture, as happened previously with the words organic, biological, ecological. And will happen with the word regenerative. In a few years, this word too, will be seen as having shortcomings, meaning retro-farming, or something unfortunate like that.

Step 1 is to clarify vision, resources and values. The large number of options can be reduced to those that answer all three questions, What do you want? What resources do you have? and What matches your values? The overlap of the first two filters out the impossible. The permaculture movement has developed helpful tools: the Needs and Yields Analysis, when applied to ourselves, will help answer the first two questions, and the Three Permaculture Ethics of earth care, people care and future care gives guidance on clarifying values.

Make an inventory of your resources, starting with money and material resources, and moving into natural, social, spiritual, experiential, intellectual and cultural resources. Your personal resource inventory should include debts (negative resources) and resources you have access to without ownership. Step 1 also includes thought experiments on increasing wellbeing for all, and the creation of a Vision and Values One-pager. Because most of us want to share our lives with others, we need to resolve interpersonal conflicts, to build shared vision and value statements. The process of writing down your desires in broad daylight helps with inspection and reflection.

The most common design mistakes when clarifying visions and values are focusing on the what rather than the why; using language traps like the future tense which let you off the hook for actually doing anything today; identifying yourself as outside the ecosystem looking in, and being paralyzed by perfection. The authors sell a toolkit of the  templates for the exercises  and provide practice tips at the end of each chapter.

Jared Diamond, in Collapse, his study of collapsed societies, notes: “Two types of choices seem to me to have been crucial in tipping the outcomes towards success or failure: long-term planning and willingness to reconsider core values.”

Step 2: Diagnose Your Resources for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, opens with encouragement to search out any information that could make or break your plans.

Jarett Sitter’s illustration of 11 categories of resources

You can organize your property resources into 11 categories: geography, climate, water, access, structures, fencing, flora, fauna, business, technology and soil. There’s another helpful chart. Use a pattern found in nature to gather, store, organize and retrieve your info, based on these categories. This functions to help create an ordered workflow (order of operations) for design and implementation.

Diagnosis has two stages, firstly making observations about your resources using the four variables of patterns (form, timing, placement, scale). There’s a chart about this, with descriptors that fit each mode. Secondly SWOT analysis, where you make value-based judgements about each resource. Strengths and weaknesses are attributes within your project. Opportunities and threats are outside your project but close enough to have an impact. There is a big chart with examples for each of the 11 categories.

Takota Coen

Be warned that every property seems to have a hidden piece of information that, if discovered, can change everything for the better. Takota Coen describes discovering he had (at big expense) had a pond dug in the wrong place. He thought he knew the land so well he didn’t need to put his design on paper. After learning to use Google Earth Pro (it’s free!), he discovered a much better pond site. The website has tools to help you make effective use of GIS programs.

Step 3: Design Your Resources to Meet Your Vision and Values. When you draw out a design in detail on paper, you gain insights into how to create it in real life and reduce silly mistakes. There are three misconceptions about what design is. Designs are not fixed in stone – if you become aware of ways to improve your design, you do it! Design is not just aesthetics, but is structural, functional, and also beautiful. The best way to improve something is not always to add to it – many improvements come with removing something, or taking a very different approach.

Regularly ask yourself what you are aiming to achieve, and what other options would also provide the same outcome. Don’t decide you need a swale, or a solar greenhouse until you identify a goal and weigh up the options for reaching the goal, and come out with the answer that best satisfies the goal.

Two useful method of design that can be tweaked for this job are the needs and yields analysis and the sector analysis. Both are carefully explained. They examine if every need of every element is fully met within your system; if every yield is fully used; if every element serves multiple functions; if every function is served by multiple elements; and if all is functioning ethically.

Rob Avis

Consider each of the energy sources and sinks on your farm, whether you want that energy and how you will make best use of it if you do want it. There are suggestions of what sources and sinks to consider, as well as ways to reduce losses. There’s an engaging list of tips, including “When you are working, work; when you are chilling, chill. Make it a binary.” Also, reduce clutter, distractions (social media), and set up a ritual for starting deep work on your design. Use your accountability partner. Gather all your worksheets in one place.

Step 4: Implement the Right Design That Will Most Improve Your Weakest Resource, opens with a note that “the dirty little secret of permaculture is that design is the easy part, it is the implementation that kills you.” When one of your resources fails, it will no longer be helping you thrive, it will start to cannibalize the farm. This can happen if you made a poor decision earlier. This chapter helps you organize workflow, make weekly plans, make good decisions, and not rush to get to your goal in what looks like the fastest way.

Problems can arise if you tackle tasks in a poor order. Go back to the 11 categories of resources. Geography comes first, because once chosen, it cannot be changed easily or quickly. The categories that are listed higher impact all those below them. Don’t abandon the list because soil is last! Soil is very important, of course, but there is no value in getting into the detail of the best cover crops, if you have not dealt with water supply and drainage to prevent runoff, or dealt with wind erosion.

Look for weakest links (biggest gaps between vision and resources), turn this gap into a Wildly Important Goal (achievable and exciting), and focus with the formula “from X to Y by when?”. Each week commit to one or more actions that will lead in the right direction, schedule them weekly, and check them off when done. The book has an extensive chart of examples.

Michelle Avis

Revisit Step 3 (Design) with its description of good, bad and ugly designs, and transfer the descriptions to decisions. What is your process for making good decisions? Many people are not consciously aware of how they make decisions. Intuition alone is not enough. Use the Good Decision Worksheet.

After writing down your decision, check its alignment with your values; any possibly ruinous outcome; whether it actually addresses the problem; whether it’s your best use of your resources; the risk/reward ratio; then sleep on it and repeat the process; pass the idea by your accountability partner; flip a coin to check if your emotions align with your decision; write down what needs to be done, and early indications of whether you have made the best decision.

Step 5: Monitor Your Resources for Indicators of Well-being or Suffering. You can only manage what you measure (but you can measure more things than you can manage!) Precision is not the same as accuracy! Knowing exactly how many beetles are on your plants does not provide the whole answer on what to do.  Rather than focus entirely on numbers, monitor for suffering and well-being. “The one thing never found in a healthy ecosystem is excessive suffering.” There will always be some suffering – it is feedback on the situation and the design that led to it. Determine what actions you can take to improve things.

There are two categories of resources, personal resources and the 11 categories of property resources. Look at your Vision and Values Sheet and use your Indicators of early signs of success or failure to see if you are heading towards well-being or suffering. Takota tells the story of figuring out when and why his cows got mastitis, and making a small change he had resisted, increasing well-being, and preventing mastitis from then on.

Increase awareness of your own state of being: if you feel patient, grateful, relaxed and enthusiastic, you are in a state of well-being. If you are sleepy, angry, resentful, jealous and prone to procrastination, you are suffering. Do you hum as you work, or curse? Your coworkers will know your signs of distress, if you can’t tell for yourself.

Keeping a journal can help monitor your well-being. Write down the answers to 3 questions in the morning. What are you most excited about today? What are you most grateful for? What is one thing you could do to make today great? In the evening, ask: What is the most amazing thing that happened today? What could I have done better? What was my biggest insight today?

At the end of each month, review your weekly planner sheets, and your daily reflections. Answer questions on a range of 0-10, and compare your answers the previous month. How clear are you on what your weakest link is? How confident are you that what you are doing is addressing this weakest link and moving you towards your goal? Have you seen signs that you are increasing well-being (or suffering)? What has been this month’s most valuable insight?

Monitor your 11 property resources yearly, looking for signs of increased well-being. There is a template! Shockingly, cropland globally is often bare for 30-50% of the year, wasting the potential photosynthesis, and degrading the soil. Soil carbon can (on average) hold four times its weight in water. Another source of potential wastage or potential improvement. When the solar cycle, the water cycle and the soil nutrient cycle interact well, the flora and fauna spiral towards the climax ecosystem for that region.

Monitor, reflect, record, compare results with your vision and values statement, monitor your ecosystems. Make a paper planner and use it for a full year before reviewing. There are templates and suggestions for designing your own planner.

A lot of the ideas in this book make a great deal of sense even for those of us who don’t identify as permaculturists! Careful design and planning, checklists, worksheets – these can save all of us wasted effort or heartache. This thoughtful book can be useful to every farmer or landowner. As I’ve often noted, any gardener or farmer paying close attention and recording their results, has something valuable to teach us, whatever they call the style of their farming.

Fall and Winter Vegetable Growing, Harvest and Storage

 

China Rose Winter Radish.
Photo Seed Savers Exchange

You can find a wealth of information on my website about growing, harvesting and storing winter vegetables. There are many links here in this post (all should open in a new tab, so you won’t go down a rabbit hole), and you can also use the search box in the upper right to enter whatever vegetable you are wondering about, and “grow” “harvest” or “store”, Remember I also have several annual series of posts, on Asian greens, root vegetables, workhorse crops, alliums, cooking greens, and lettuce. Just don’t look for “Storage lettuce” until April 1st.

I’ve also included some good blogs that I sometimes consult.

  1. Fall and Winter Vegetable Growing

Season extension into cold weather

Prepare your garden for colder weather: plant winter crops if there is still time, use rowcover on hoops to protect crops from wind and cold weather, plant up every little bit of space in your greenhouse or hoophouse.

See my posts

Spinach over-wintered in our cold frame
Photo wren Vile

And here’s a post by Shannon Cowan, the blog editor at Eartheasy.com:

Winter Gardening: Best Crops to Extend Your Harvest

Shannon suggests using a variety of strategies. “Plant some vegetables that will mature quickly, others that will hold well in your garden beds, and still others that will overwinter and begin growing again when the days lengthen.”

This is also my approach. See my posts

Fall-grown senposai.
Photo Pam Dawling

Good late season vegetables: salad greens, Swiss chard, beans, peas (in climates milder than 7), carrots, radishes, senposai, spinach, pak choy, cabbage and winter lettuces.

Good cold hardy vegetables: Plant in late summer and fall to harvest throughout the winter. These late-sown crops reach full maturity before seriously cold weather, and hold so you can harvest them when the rest of your crops have been eaten. They don’t usually grow much during the winter, but they do stay fresh. Grow enough to supply your needs without depending on any further growth. This category includes Asian greens, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, leeks, scallions, spinach, turnips and other root vegetables,

Good crop protection so you can grow some crops through the winter. If your winter temperatures routinely drop below 25 F (- 4 C), crops need protection, from simple rowcover to hoophouses or greenhouses. This improves the temperatures, but it’s hard to address the reduced amount of daylight or sunlight. The increased warmth, plus the protection from winds, can be enough for some, such as spinach, kale and lettuce, to make some growth whenever their temperature is greater than 40F (5C).

Using a sturdy digging fork to harvest leeks in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

Good slow growing crops to harvest outdoors in late winter or early spring. In this category are crops that go into the winter less than fully grown. After the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen, crops start growing again, making them usually ready for harvest very early, much earlier than any crops planted after the solstice. They don’t usually need winter protection and include beets, some types of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, onions, garlic, garlic scallions, spinach, kale and collards.

See my post Winter radishes, planting garlic.

Good crops to grow in hoophouses include arugula, beets, chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, mustards, pak choy, parsley, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and Yukina Savoy

Hoophouse Bright Lights chard in winter.
Photo Wren Vile

See my posts

  1. Fall and Winter Vegetable Harvest

See my posts

Harvested Purple Top Milan and White Egg turnips.
Photo Pam Dawling

Here are some links to a couple of good sources for more harvest information:

Piedmont Master Gardeners Garden Shed Newsletter

Guidelines for Harvesting Vegetables by Pat Chadwick

A list of seven basic principles of harvesting, followed by a crop-by-crop list of almost 50 individual crops and a resource list of 18 publications (focused on the mid-Atlantic and Southeast)

Roxbury Farm Harvest Manual (Roxbury Agriculture Institute at Philia Farm)

October Tips from Harvest to Table, by Steve Albert covers all climate zones and comes complete with a USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Links to other posts by Steve Albert

  1. Fall and Winter Vegetable Storage

I already have posts on root cellar potato storage, onion storage (alliums for August), Garlic storage, Storage vegetables slide show, Root Crops April, Feb, Jan, Dec, Nov.

See my posts

Sweet potatoes in storage. An ideal crop for winter meals, as they store at room temperature for a long time, maybe seven or eight months. Photo Pam Dawling

Workhorse Crops for October

 

The crew working on the sweet potato harvest.
Photo McCune Porter

This is another episode in my monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops. These crops are reliable under a wide range of conditions. We’re several months into this series, so here’s the complete list: asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards/kale, garlic, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, winter squash, zucchini/summer squash.

I hope to help you become more efficient, productive and profitable (if selling) as you deal with another strange year. Maybe you are not at home as much as last year, or maybe your helpers have gone back to school, but you deeply appreciate sustainably grown food.  You still want to garden, even with less time at home. You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as September.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in October

In October in central Virginia we only have enough remaining good growing conditions outdoors to plant 3 of our 14 Workhorse crops – we can still transplant chard, collards and kale. A big step down from last month’s 8. We could also plant some garlic scallions (the soil is still too warm for us to plant garlic, but if you are in a colder zone than us, you’ll want to see this post.)

In October here, outdoor gardening is more focused on harvesting and less on planting. In contrast, October is our busiest planting month in the hoophouse! In September we direct sowed our first hoophouse bed, and sowed other crops in an outdoor nursery seedbed. Two to four weeks later, in October, we transplant them in the hoophouse. Workhorse crops getting transplanted into our hoophouse in October include Red and White Russian Kales, Bright Lights chard, and Napa Chinese cabbage. This year we are trying some carrots (actually we sowed those in September). We have plenty of other crops that don’t qualify as workhorses too!

Chard:

Swiss chard can be sown outdoors here in September, and transplanted early in October for an early winter harvest, with the option of overwintering under rowcover to provide harvests during the winter. We could direct sow chard in September and protect it for the winter, for a late winter and early spring harvest. Remember that red chard is more cold-hardy than the multi-colored types, and green chards tend to be even more hardy.

Hoophouse Bright Lights chard in winter.
Photo Wren Vile

For hoophouse winter harvest, we sow Bright Lights chard in our nursery seedbed September 15 and transplant it October 16. We love the beauty of the multi-colored chard mixes, both growing and after harvest, and we have found that the hoophouse protects the crop well enough that it does not die, even without inner rowcover (unless the outdoor temperature is forecast to be below 8°F (-13°C).

Collards

This is rather late for us to transplant collards outdoors, but if we need to, and we have some good thick rowcover, we’ll do it. The extra warmth of the rowcover will help it make up for lost time.

Kale

Our last date for sowing Vates kale outdoors is 10/30. We can still transplant August-sown kale to fill gaps if we need to – see August’s post. Because kale makes some growth whenever the temperature is above about 40°F (5°C), it is a valuable winter crop. Our sunnier winter days are often warm enough for kale (and spinach!) to make some growth. We will sow more kale in late January, to give us a spring crop.

Red Russian kale in our hoophouse
Photo Pam Dawling

In the hoophouse we grow both the White Russian and the slightly smaller Red Russian kale. See the explanation about the merits of Oleracea and Napus kales. We make sure to transplant the shorter red kale on the south side of the bed, so it gets adequate light, with the white kale on the north. You may have noticed that red and purple-leaved vegetables grow slower and tend to be smaller than their green cousins. This is because they have less green! Green leaves are needed for photosynthesis, which enables plants to grow. Green plants also contain the reds and purples, but the green dominates. This is similar to the conundrum of red and orange fall leaves – where do those colors come from? They are there all along, but are masked by the green. In preparation for leaf fall, the trees absorb all the green chlorophyll, leaving the fall colors visible.

White Russian kale (napus type) gives us good yields in our hoophouse in winter.
Photo Pam Dawling

Garlic scallions

Garlic scallions are immature garlic plants, mostly leaves, pulled up before they make bulbs. They are the garlic equivalent of onion scallions (bunching onions, spring onions, escallions). Great for omelets, stir-fries, pesto, soups, and many other dishes.

We plant ours using the culled tiny cloves from the bulbs we save for outdoor garlic planting in early November. Tiny cloves will never produce big bulbs, so growing garlic scallions makes very good use of them! Planting garlic scallions is simplicity itself! Plant the small cloves close together in closely-spaced furrows, simply dropping the cloves in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw.

You could plant these next to your main garlic patch, or in a part of the garden that’s easily accessible for harvest in spring. We plant our small cloves for scallions at one edge of the garden, and as we harvest, we use the weed-free area revealed to sow the lettuce seedlings for that week.

If you want to have Garlic Scallions to eat or sell in early spring, when new fresh vegetables are in short supply, and homesteaders may be running out of stored bulb onions, see my post Alliums for March. With a last frost date of 20–30 April, we harvest garlic scallions March 10 to April 30 in central Virginia, or even into May, if our supply lasts out, and we don’t need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done!

A colorful salad of rainbow chard, onion scallions and garlic scallions.
Photo (and salad) by Bridget Aleshire.

Rather than dig up whole garlic scallion plants, some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply lift the whole plant once it reaches about 7″–8″ (18–20 cm). The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of three to six depending on size. A little goes a long way! If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto for sale later in the year.

You can plant garlic scallions at other times of year, if you have planting material. See Plant garlic scallions from softneck varieties (Alliums for February). If you plant in a hoophouse, more of the year opens up as a planting season. You can plant whole bulbs (the small cull ones you can’t sell, or don’t want to peel) and grow your garlic scallions already in a clump, rather than in rows of plants.

Some growers find they make more money from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic, partly because they don’t have the costs of curing and drying the bulbs! I encourage you to experiment with planting a few cloves at different times of year and record your results. Because you do not need to work with the right times for bulbing and drying down, all sorts of dates are possible!

Napa Chinese cabbage

Maybe you think I’m stretching things to classify Napa Chinese cabbage as a workhorse, but in my defense, I’ll say firstly that success in farming involves creativity and flexibility, and secondly that the Asian greens as a category are genuine Hoophouse Workhorses, as they grow so well in cool temperatures and short days. It is a cabbage! We sow Blues (53d from transplanting in mild weather) in a nursery seedbed on September 15 and transplant in the hoophouse October 2, at only two weeks old (very fast-growing in September). Because this is a heading vegetable, we leave it to grow to full size before harvesting. That will be in January. Many of the Asian Greens are harvested by the leaf, but Napa cabbage and pak choy are more often cut as a head.

Young Chinese cabbage transplants in our hoophouse.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in October

Eleven of our 14 workhorse crops can be harvested in October (also true in September and August, but with substitutions!) No asparagus, no garlic, no more watermelon. Depending when the frost bites, there will be several fewer harvest options by the end of October.

Beans­ can be harvested until the weather gets too cold. We have covered the beds with rowcover to keep the plants warmer and growing faster. It’s true that pollinating insects can’t get at the flowers to perform their pollination services and make more beans, etc. But that doesn’t matter. We are more interested in fattening up the already pollinated beans! It’s also true that the yields are now way down, so we need to balance the benefits against the costs. Sometimes it is better to clear the crop (and its pests and diseases) and sow a cover crop.

Cabbage We harvest fall planted cabbage from September 25. We like Early Jersey Wakefield (45 days from transplanting) and Farao (64d) for fast-maturing cabbage; Melissa Savoy 85d; Early Flat Dutch 85d, Kaitlin 94d, for storage cabbage which are slower-growing. We have also liked huge Tribute 103d, Tendersweet (71d) for immediate fall use, and Wakamine (70d). Deadon (105d winter cabbage) is extremely cold hardy – we leave it outdoors until nights threaten to hit 10°F (-12°C) . Double-check those days to maturity, I may have mixed days from transplanting with days from sowing.

Deadon cabbage
Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

Carrots: If we sowed carrots in July, we will be harvesting in October.

Chard can be harvested whenever you want some. This year our chard did extremely well all summer and we are bored silly with it! We wish we had had stored cabbage, or some fall broccoli. We are relishing our fall senposai!

The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C).

Collards can be harvested in October.

Kale can be lightly harvested, if our early August sowings came through.

Potatoes: We can plant potatoes between mid-March and mid-June, leading to harvests in July-October. Protect potatoes from frost when harvesting. Read more about potato harvest here.

Our March-planted potatoes are in the root cellar. We’ve been eating those since July. We often plan to grow more in the June planting than the March planting, as root cellar storage over the summer is more challenging for us than having them in the ground.

Sweet Corn harvest is still going, thanks to our sixth sowing on July 16.

Sweet Potato harvest at Twin Oaks. Photo McCune Porter

Sweet potatoes need harvesting in October here, before it gets too cold. Usually sweet potatoes are harvested the week the first frost typically occurs. I wrote a lot about this topic here. I wrote all the harvesting details in another post, 10/12/20.

Contrary to myth, there is no toxin that moves from frozen leaves down into the roots. On the other hand, below 55°F (13°C), they’ll get chilling injury, which can ruin the crop. Roots without leaf cover after a frost are exposed to cold air temperatures, and have lost their method of pulling water up out of the soil. I remember one awful year when we left the sweet potatoes in the ground too late, hoping they’d fatten up a bit to make up for a poor growing season. Instead, the weather got cold and wet, and the sweet potatoes were rotting in the ground (it was November by then), and those that didn’t rot got chilling damage that prevented them ever softening in cooking. Sweet potatoes that stay hard are no fun to eat!

Tomatoes are winding down. If a frost threatens we will harvest them all, including the green ones. I prefer to store them on egg trays or in shallow crates, to gradually ripen indoors. But other people prefer fried green tomatoes. To my taste buds, it could be cardboard inside the batter! I don’t know the nutrient content of fried green tomatoes, but I feel certain ripened tomatoes without batter are more nutritious!

Winter Squash harvest continues once a week throughout September and October. Stored winter squash can provide meals all winter and also in early spring when other crops are scarce. We used to harvest as late as possible in the fall, but now we prioritize getting a good cover crop established, to replenish and protect the soil, so we have a Grand Finale harvest just before Halloween, when we harvest all the large interesting almost-ripe squash, and give them away for lantern carving. Some go to the chickens too. Harvest before the fruits get frosted, which is shown by a water-soaked appearance of the skin.

Zucchini and summer squash are now being harvested every other day. Our last sowing was August 5. We harvest beyond the first fall frost, by covering that last planting with rowcover on chilly nights. But once it gets cooler, they grow slower, and are not worth checking every day.

From storage: spring cabbage, carrots, garlic and potatoes, winter squash.

Food processing is still busy.

Workhorse Crops Special Topic

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop
Photo by McCune Porter

Cover Crops

September 17 is our last chance to sow oats as a cover crop. If sown later they will not reach a good size before they are killed by cold temperatures. The soil would not be held together well. It would be better in those circumstances to mow the weeds and leave their roots to hold the soil together over the winter.

Oats winter-kill in most of zone 7 or colder, and survive in zone 8 or warmer. The end for oats is around 10°F (-12°C), depending on their size and the frequency of cold temperatures. Large oat plants winter-kill after 3 days at 20°F (-7°C) or colder. Young oats are tolerant to temperatures down to 12°F (-11°C), until the 5 leaf stage, as the growing point is still underground. Once the plant starts to make noticeable vertical growth and form nodes (22-36 days after planting, depending on variety, sowing date, and water), oats can die at 24°F (-4°C).

Dead oats leave an easy-to-work surface for early spring vegetables.

Clovers can be sown here throughout September, as can winter wheat and winter barley. Winter rye can be sown here in September (not August – it could head up!). Hardy Austrian winter peas can be sown in late September with rye.

For more details, see my post Planning Winter Cover Crops

Getting ready for frost and colder weather

 

Eat-All Greens rows with frost in December. October and part of November are still productive growing weeks in central Virginia. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Gardening does not end with the first frost! We will work our way from clearing the least hardy crops to those we can leave outside all winter. See our table Winter Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables. We will harvest or cover all the frost-tender crops, make a last harvest of rhubarb (the stems are hardy to 22°F (-6°C)) and hoop and rowcover the last outdoor lettuce. Our June-planted potatoes will be our last big harvest for the year.

We pull up the biggest Purple Top turnips and Cylindra beets, leaving the others a bit more room to size up before their killing temperature of 12°F (-11°C). Any day now, we’ll start harvesting fall leeks (King Richard and Lincoln), keeping the winter-hardy ones (Tadorna) for the winter.

DIY weather-forecasting

I recommend learning your local weather patterns by keeping records and watching what happens. Here’s what I’ve learned about ours:

Our mid-Atlantic climate is controlled by three weather systems,

  • mainly by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico,
  • the Bermuda High Pressure area in summer,
  • and recurrent waves of cold Canadian air in winter.
Beds after rain, Photo Wren Vile

Rain (statistically fairly evenly distributed throughout the year in our county) has slight peaks in January, February and March, and again in early June and August.

Some parts of our area can experience long periods of drought. September-November is the drier season but it’s also the hurricane season, so the net result is very variable.

We use Wunderground.com  but subtract 5F° from their forecast night lows for our nearest town, and mentally downgrade the chance of rain by 10%, as rain often passes us by as it scoots along the river valley north of us.

Blackberry leaf with frost.
Photo by Ezra Freeman

Our average first frost date is October 14. Actually from our own records it has averaged 10/20 (13 years of our own records). So it’s time to start thinking about frost. It’s good to be prepared.

According to Dave’s Garden in Louisa County where I live, the threshold of 36°F (2°C) has a 50% likelihood on Oct 3; the 32°F (0°C) threshold has a 50% likelihood by Oct 13 and the 28°F (-2°C) threshold is as likely as unlikely by Oct 27. The 90% chances occur by Oct 14, Oct 28 and Nov 12 respectively.

Another great website for local weather info is WeatherSpark.

Now that climate change is here, it pays to be ready for weather different from what we have experienced previously. Keeping records helps, as does having good thermometers for air and soil.

Four Ranges of Cold-Hardy Crops for Harvest at Various Stages of Winter

This simple model helps reduce confusion and set priorities

1. Crops to harvest before cold fall weather (32°-25°F) and store indoors:

Michihili Chinese Cabbage. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Chicory for chicons or heads; crosnes/Chinese artichokes, dry beans,  Chinese cabbage, peanuts, “White” Peruvian potatoes at 32°F (0°C) approximately, pumpkins, seed crops, sweet potatoes at 50°F (10°C), winter squash.

2. Crops to keep alive in the ground into winter to 22°-15°F (-6°C to -9°C), then harvest.

Bucket of freshly harvested Detroit Dark Red beets for storage.
Photo Pam Dawling

Store: Beets before 15-20°F (-9.5 to -7°C), cabbage, carrots before 12° F (-11°C), celeriac before 20°F (-7°C), kohlrabi before 15°F (-9.5°C), winter radish including daikon before 20°F (-7°C), rutabagas, turnips before 20°F (-7°C).

Use soon: Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, chard, lettuce, radishes

3. Hardy crops to store in the ground and harvest during the winter.

Using a sturdy digging fork to harvest leeks in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

In zone 7, such crops need to be hardy to 0°-10°F (-17.8°C to -12.3°C): Collards, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, parsnips, scallions, spinach.

4. Overwinter crops for spring harvests before the main season.

A stormy winter day, garlic, rowcovered spinach beds and our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

In zone 7, they need to be hardy to 0°-10°F (-17.8°C to -12.3°C): Cabbage, carrots, chard, collards, garlic and garlic scallions, kale, multiplier onions (potato onions), scallions, spinach.

Frost is more likely at Twin Oaks if:

  • The date is after 10/14 (or before 4/30).
  • The daytime high temperature was less than 70°F (21°C).
  • The sky is clear.
  • The temperature at sunset is less than 50°F (10°C).
  • The dew point forecast is low, close to freezing. Frost is unlikely if the dew point is 43°F or more.
  • The Wunderground 3.30pm forecast low for Louisa Northside is 37°F (3°C) or less.
  • The soil is dry and cool.
  • The moon is full or new.
  • There is little or no breeze, although if temperatures are falling fast, the wind is from NW and the sky is clear, then polar air may be moving in, and we’ll get a hard freeze.
Ice on the pond.
Credit Ezra Freeman

Frost Alert Card

For just this time of year, we keep a Frost Alert Card reminding us which crops to pay attention to if a frost threatens. We check the forecast online at 3.30 pm (we find that’s late enough to be fairly accurate about night temperatures and early enough to give us time to get vulnerable crops covered).

The big decision is the triage of harvest/cover/let go. Our list is not just crops that will die with the first frost but also ones that will soon need covering as temperatures decrease.

  • Cover lettuce, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, beans, Chinese cabbage, pak choy, lettuce and celery.
  • Harvest crops listed above that can’t or won’t be covered.
  • Harvest all ripe tomatoes, eggplant, corn, limas, cowpeas, okra, melons.
  • Harvest peppers facing the open sky, regardless of color. (Often only the top of the plant will get frosted).
  • Check winter squash and harvest any very exposed squash.
  • Set up sprinklers for the night, on tomatoes, peppers and a cluster of beds with high value crops.
Peppers that are protected by leaves can survive a light frost. Photo Pam Dawling

We really like this pepper strategy we have developed: by picking just the peppers exposed to the sky, we reduce the immediate workload (and the immediate pile up of peppers in the cooler!) and we often get a couple of milder weeks after the first frost before the next. By then the top layer of leaves that got frosted the first time will have died and a whole new layer of peppers will be exposed and need harvesting. This way we get fewer peppers at once, and a higher percentage of ripe peppers, which have so much more flavor.

Our overhead sprinkler strategy is useful if a frost is coming early when we still have many tomatoes we’d like to vine-ripen. Keep the sprinkler running until the sun is shining on the plant sin the morning, or the sir temperature is above freezing again. The constant supply of water during the night does two things. First water gives off heat as it freezes. Yes, really. It’s easier to understand ice taking in heat to melt, but the flip side is that water gives off heat as it freezes. This latent heat of freezing helps warm the crops. And if ice does form, the shell of ice around the plants stops more cold damage happening.

Frost Alert List

Task

Crop

Notes

 

Harvest all edible

Asparagus beans

 

Harvest all edible

Eggplant

 

Harvest all edible

Okra

 

Harvest all edible

Tomatoes

Including green ones

Harvest all edible

Peppers exposed to the sky

 

Harvest all edible

West Indian gherkins

 

Harvest all edible

Pickling cucumbers

 

Harvest all edible

Corn

 

Harvest all edible

Beans #4, 5, 6, then cover

Uncover once mild again

 

 

 

Thick row cover

Squash

Spring hoops or none. Ditto

Thick row cover

Slicing cucumbers

Spring hoops or none. Ditto

Thick row cover

Celery

Double hoops – leave covered

Thick row cover

Last lettuce bed

Double hoops – leave covered

Set sprinklers

Slicer tomatoes

Overnight from before 32F till after sun shines on plants

Set sprinklers

Roma paste tomatoes and peppers

Ditto

Set sprinklers

Other vulnerable raised bed crops

Ditto

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Pick the green and the ripe ones before a frost.
Photo Pan Dawling

Cold Weather Crop Protection

  1. Rowcover – thick 1.25 oz rowcover gives about 6F (3.3C) degrees of frost protection. Use hoops.
  2. Low tunnels and Quick Hoops are wider version of using rowcover. They need the edges weighting down. Best for climates where the crops are being stored in the ground until spring, when they start growing again. Less useful in climates like ours which have very variable winter temperatures, and are warm enough that we realistically expect to harvest during the winter, not just before and after.
  3. Caterpillar tunnels – 2 beds plus 1 path, tall enough to walk in. Rope holds cover in place, no sandbags.
  4. High tunnels (= hoophouses), single or double layer. Double layer gives 8F (4.5C) degrees of protection, plus plants can survive 14F/8C colder than they can outside, without extra rowcover; at least 21F/12C colder than outside with thick rowcover. Leafy crops are not weather-beaten. We strongly believe in two layers of plastic and no inner tunnels (rowcovers) unless the night will be 8°F (-13°C) or colder outdoors.

Hoophouse Notes

Salad greens in a hoophouse in zone 7 can survive nights with outdoor lows of 14°F (-10°C). A test year: Lettuce, Mizuna, Turnips, Russian kales, Senposai, Tyee spinach, Tatsoi, Yukina Savoy survived a hoophouse temperature of 10.4°F (-12°C) without rowcover, -2.2°F (-19°C) with. Brite Lights chard got frozen leaf stems.

Rolls of rowcover in our hoophouse ready to pull over the beds on very cold nights.
Photo Wren Vile

Other Posts on These Topics

10/18/16 Getting Ready for Frost

10/21/19 Preparing for Frost and Cold Weather

10/19/20 Harvest and Maturity Indicators in Vegetable Harvests.

10/16/18 Season Extension and Frost Preparations

Book Review: Vicki Hird, Rebugging the Planet

Vicki Hird, Rebugging the Planet:

The Remarkable Things that Insects (and Other Invertebrates) Do – And Why We Need to Love Them More

Chelsea Green Publishing, September 2021, 224 pages, $17.95

Vicki Hird has a passion for insects, and this book brings home to us how much depends on the well-being of invertebrates in the world. Insects are a cornerstone in our ecosystem, and we must reverse the current dangerous decline in bug populations (40% of insect species are at risk of extinction and 33% more are endangered). We are heading towards “Insectageddon.” After reading this book, I found myself being much more careful about gathering up insects inside the house and taking them outside, where I imagine they will thrive better. Did you know that spiders rest calmly in your gently closed hand? They do not wriggle and tickle!

We need to overcome any aversion or indifference to creepy-crawlies, and change our attitudes to respect, appreciation, and some humility if possible. Insects pollinate plants, recycle waste into nutrients, control pest species, add air channels in the soil, and ultimately return themselves to the soil food web.

Fall spiderweb photo from Ezra Freeman

Vicki explains how to rebug our city green spaces, grow gardens without pesticides and weedkiller, teach children to appreciate small creatures, make choices that support insect-friendly (planet-friendly) production of food and fiber, and make wider choices that affirm human dignity and equal rights.

This book has charming insect drawings, and delightful anecdotes: “I was never going to get the pony I wanted, so I settled for an ant farm at an early age.” Studying biology at school led Vicki to a summer job observing bees at a research station. A later job investigating cockroaches led her to respect them and realize that it is humans that need better control, more than roaches do.

Vicki has been an environmental campaigner, lobbyist and researcher for about 30 years, and is the mother of two children. Vicki is also head of the Sustainable Farming Campaign for Sustain: The Alliance for Better Food and Farming, a UK alliance of organizations and communities advocating for healthy food, people and environment, and equity in society. She has a website for Rebugging.

Those over 50 (and maybe 40) will have noticed that long car drives no longer lead to cars covered in smashed bugs. There are fewer butterflies. More than twice as many insect species as vertebrate species are at risk of extinction. I noticed on a trip to England after an absence of a couple of years, that the number of sparrows has plummeted. We are more likely to get distressed about the charismatic mega-fauna, but less so about formerly ubiquitous sparrows, and even less about insects. There may be 4 million unidentified species of insects (as well as the million we know). In the UK 23 bee and wasp species have become extinct since 1850.

So, what is ‘rebugging’? It is a form of rewilding (the introduction of similar-to-natural ecosystems and missing species into an area and then waiting to see if the species can settle in). It is somewhat controversial, and alone is insufficient to cause all the changes we seek. We also need changes in policy, lifestyle, and civic involvement. This book provides information, encouragement and tools to act.

Sunflower bee and bug.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

What would the world be like without bugs? “A great image that has been doing the rounds is a picture of a bee saying, “If we die, we’re taking you with us.” It’s not an empty threat, but a fact – we would not last long without insects. Our flowering plants would die off; all the species that dine on insects would be lost, followed by the next ones up the chain; dead animals would pile up undigested; trees would cease growing in the compacted airless soil.

But this is not our inevitable future. We can step back, as we have done when the dangers of DDT, CFCs, and nuclear weapons became blindingly clear. We can work to restore habitat, reduce damage and make political and economic structural changes at all levels in society. We can start by “rebugging our attitudes.”

How can we protect and nurture invertebrates? We can help research what’s out there. We can encourage others to be concerned and take action to protect invertebrates. We can teach others about the value of insects for human well-being. We can make havens for wildlife, convert every city street into a biocorridor, share designs for pollinator-friendly gardens, encourage conservation of water and other natural resources, make urban farms and community gardens.

The book is studded with sidebars on aspects of the value of insects, such as “How much is a bee worth?” (The answer is over $3,000 per hectare in pollination services, for wild bees) That’s more than 651 million GBP to the British economy.

Insects are food for many animals such as poultry, fish and pigs. And some insects could be food for humans. I ate a 17-year cicada last time they were in our area (2013). I was partly inspired by Jackson Landers’ book Eating Aliens. And really, if you can eat shrimp, you can eat meaty insects. But Rebugging isn’t mostly about eating insects, but rather preserving their lives, and benefiting from their contributions.

If you are still unsure what bugs do for us, the second chapter spells it out. We would be knee-deep in manure, leaf litter and dead animals within weeks, if there were no bugs eating it all, and enriching the soil. Tardigrades (water bears or moss piglets) are the most resilient animals known, able to survive extreme temperatures, pressures, dehydration, oxygen deprivation, starvation and radiation. They can remain in suspended animation for years until conditions improve. They have already survived all five mass extinction events, and some have been revived from a hundred-year-old sample of moss in a museum. Respect, please!

A ladybug on the leaf stem of a sunflower planted to attract beneficials.
Photo Pam Dawling

Avoid spraying wasps with pesticides-in-a-spray-can. They are as useful as bees and ladybugs, and are the best pest control we have for hauling away cabbage caterpillars. If you are more motivated to provide accommodation for ladybugs than wasps, keep moist dark places like old hollow stems, bark pieces and logs where the adults can overwinter. I could really use some early-spring-wakening ladybugs in our hoophouse to tackle the aphids!

Carefully introduced biological bug control can reduce the amount of pesticides used. A scientific risk assessment is an important first step, though. The 1930’s introduction of cane toads in Australia for pest control was a terrible mistake. The toad was a worse pest than the bugs had been. There are many more success stories than disasters!

Vicki Hird, Author of Rebugging the Planet

Rewilding can be complicated – looking at a huge overgrowth of creeping thistle is alarming. Happily, the biggest migration of painted lady butterflies came over and laid eggs on the thistles. The resulting spiny black caterpillars ate the thistles down to the ground. UK organizations have been creating maps of “insect superhighways” they are calling B-Lines, that will be filled with wildflowers so that insects and other wildlife have continuous corridors to travel from one area to another. There’s a two-page spread of possible actions to help the rebugging process, starting with publicity and education, and moving onto helping build bug-friendly habitat in public places and workplaces and private gardens.

Green public spaces can include a wide variety of invertebrate species. Look on derelict land, in cemeteries, along grass verges, and even on golf courses. Many companies and local authorities are now wanting to manage their land in ways that support more wildlife, and with encouragement might move another step in that direction. Tiny public orchards and forests are being planted in some places. There is a sidebar of actions to reduce deliberate, accidental, and thoughtless damage to insects.

After starting small and local, you might be ready to expand your ambitions and commitment. The overall total mass of insects is estimated to be falling by 2.5% every year. One big factor pushing species towards disaster is climate change. This is a big one to tackle, and yet we must. Overwintering numbers of monarch butterflies (the celebrities of the insect world) have dropped to less than 1% of their 1980’s population. Yes, compared with 40 years ago, the population is now just 1/100 of what it was. When food species arrive, peak, or leave earlier in the year due to changed temperatures, the predator species goes undernourished. Pesticide contamination gets a lot of blame too.

A bee pollinating squash. Photo Pam Dawling

Water pollution also harms diversity. Leached fertilizers in estuaries have created ocean dead zones. Combating climate change might not be what you expected to read about when picking up a book on rebugging the planet, but it is vitally connected. We can learn from bugs about climate management. Honeybees have learned how to mob an invading Asian giant hornet and cook it to death. In Brazil, scientists discovered an area of 200 million termite mounds each spaced 60 feet from its neighbors. This is all one colony, connected underground. Some of the mounds are over 4,000 years old. They have created a stable environment for millennia. The methods of ventilation and gas exchange could be copied for human habitation.

Are 5G phones heating insects 370% above normal levels and cooking them in the electromagnetic fields they generate? It could be true, based on research on models. The action list at the end of this chapter urges us to avoid 5G phones if we can, and not to use them outdoors if we must have one.

The chapter on why our farming, food and shopping all need bugs opens with a discussion on almond milk. The “dark reality” is that huge almond plantations need millions of bees brought in every year for pollination. Thousands of colonies are moved in to California’s Central Valley, for example. 30% of these bees die, because the environment is hostile, devoid of crops other than almond trees. Local wildlife cannot survive either.

It is a mistake to think that all vegan milk-substitutes are environmentally better than all dairy milk. It takes roughly 4 gallons of water for every gallon of milk a cow produces. Almond milk is much more intensive on water use: it can take up to 101 gallons of water to grow 1 cup of almonds, plus another 3 or 4 cups of water to manufacture almond milk. In fact, many commercial almond milks only have about 2% of almonds in them – the rest is water!

Bugs and other small animals can thrive in pastures if the livestock management is done well. The stock numbers and types are important.

Did you know that more than 70% of the world’s fish stocks are over-fished, depleted or collapsed?

We could also consider the impact of our decisions about textiles, timber and metals, on wildlife and ecology. The average person in the UK now buys over four clothing items a month! Less than 1% of clothing textiles is recycled. The waste mounts up. Forests are destroyed to make way for cotton plantations. Even if organically grown, cotton monocultures destroy habitat of thousands of species of butterflies, moths, termites, wasps, bees, and other bugs. Ironically, the cotton crop is then a sitting target for the bollworm moth. Genetically modified cotton was developed to overcome bollworm problems. A few countries resisted the siren call of GM cotton, and use integrated pest management (IPM) instead. They have lowered costs and increased yields.

While worrying about cotton, let us not forget synthetics and the huge problem of microplastics. In 2016, for example, 65 million tons of plastic textile fibers were produced. They do not decay. They are found everywhere on the planet, from the Arctic to the ocean depths. Ingestion of microplastics causes problems for marine life. The dyes cause disease, and can kill corals.

The action list for this chapter focuses on reducing waste. Think before you buy, think before you throw away. If you can, switch to consumption of locally sustainably produced goods.

Front and back covers of Rebugging the Planet

The action lists that close each chapter get longer, the connections get wider. Politics and the economy might not be the direction you expected from this book, but these topics are all part of the connected system, and all need consideration and action. Termites and corals co-operate within their colonies to create and maintain large healthy populations: we can do it too. (Corals are symbiotic associations of bugs (coral polyps, which form the exoskeleton) with several thousand species of animals and plants living within. Algae provide oxygen and carbohydrates.)

Big investors own shares in seed companies, just to make money. They have no interest or incentive to protect bugs or any aspect of the ecology. “It’s as if some beetles decided to take all the ants’ food supplies even though they cannot eat or use them. Money accumulation is hard to eat.”

Frustratingly, vested interests have too much power in decisions that affect large groups of people. We tend to avoid tackling entrenched societal problems. Vicki suggests three big areas to understand and deal with: poor governance and politics; inequality and poverty; runaway consumerism and waste. If you only wanted to read about saving beetles, you might be tempted to put the book down at this point. However, in order to save beetles, we need to look at the underlying causes of beetle die-offs.

Decisions on land use are often made by corporations and investors less focused on protecting biodiversity, and more on profits. We need to show them that enlightened self-interest can protect their financial success for the long haul. Some corporations are seeing this now that climate chaos is biting hard. Pushing humans to get three-quarters of their calories from just four crops (soy, wheat, rice and maize) may bring in fast bucks, but gives little resilience against climate change and extreme weather conditions, and is bad news for biodiversity.

Research has shown that as social inequality grows, so does harm to biodiversity, which leads to more inequality. Financial pressure from profit-seekers drives down wages, leading to a demand for ever cheaper food, spiraling to lower costs of production. They wring out higher short-term yields. Sustainability of food production goes to the wall. Desperate people take desperate measures to cover their basic survival needs. In 2020, the UN announced: “to bend the curve of biodiversity loss, we need to bend the curve of inequality.”

The action list for this chapter is over 5 pages, demonstrating the broadening of the goals. Campaigning, lobbying and voting; pushing governments and economists to balance social and environmental concerns and work for sustainable outcomes; requiring corporations to show much stronger accountability for all the results of their activity; supporting companies that are taking steps to lower their environmental damage and increase co-operation with others, strengthen international treaties and hold nations to their commitments on biodiversity and limiting climate change.

This probably sounds overwhelming, but “You don’t have to rebug alone”! You can join (or start) local organizations working on an issue you feel strongly about. The book contains a directory of some organizations (mostly in the UK). There is some help on starting lobbying, which most of us have not done before. The resources include guides on campaigning and influencing people. You can reduce your own carbon footprint and encourage others to do so. Big change is needed, but some days it’s restorative to “clean our own house” rather than go out lobbying.

 

Harvesting and Storing Winter Squash

Sweet Meat winter squash, a Maxima type.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

There are four main types of winter squash, and some hybrid crosses. Refer back to your catalogs or websites if you are unsure which type your varieties belong to, as this helps determine when to harvest. If you haven;t grown any winter squash this year, use these photos and descriptions to help you plan for next year. Most of our photos are from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We tend to get caught up in the excitement of harvest, and forget to take photos!

Leave the squash on the vine until fully mature. Once the vine is dead, the squash can’t get bigger, but can ripen, change color and convert starches to sugars, (tasting better). In general, squash are fully mature and storable when the skin cannot be pierced by fingernails, but testing each one would leave ugly scars and reduce shelf life, so learn the other signs of ripeness. Yield could be 3¼ lbs per row foot (about 5 kg per meter.)

Not all the squash on one plant will be ripe at the same time, but they come to no harm sitting in the field (provided there is neither frost nor groundhogs). We harvest once a week, using pruners. We cut them with fairly long stems, which helps them store best. Those who need to pack squash in crates remove the stems so that they do not injure their neighboring squash. If you do this, you need to cure the open ends before crating. Handle squash as if they were eggs, not footballs. Bruising leads to rot in storage. Look for black rot infestations (concentric circles on butternut) and either compost those, or salvage the good parts for immediate use.

Pepo Squashes are ready soonest

Candystick Dessert Delicata winter squash. These are Pepo types.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The first squash ready to harvest (in early September) are the Pepo “winter” squash species (more properly called fall squash), including acorn squash, delicata, dumplings, spaghetti squash, and most orange pumpkins. If you want to start harvesting these in August next year, sow earlier than late May! Pepo squash are fast maturing, short-storing, mild flavored. They have prickly leaves and stems. They are susceptible to vine borers, and perhaps a little more susceptible to viruses than other types. Pepos have hard, five sided stems, and the fruits are often ribbed.

When they are ripe, the “ground-spot” of Pepos usually becomes the color of pumpkin pie filling after the cinnamon is stirred in, or else bright orange. The stem will still be bright green. Wait till at least 45 days after pollination. Harvesting too early will disappoint: the squash will be watery and fibrous, without sweetness. Pepos can store up to 4 months, so check them every week and eat them up before New Year.

Maxima Squash

Maxima squash plants have huge hairy leaves. Fruits have thick round stems, different from the angular stems of the other species. This group includes buttercups/kabochas, hubbards, bananas, the Big Max giant pumpkin, Jarrahdale, Candy Roaster, Galeux d’Eysines and Rouge Vif d’Etampes. They are very susceptible to wilts, borers and squash bug damage. We have found Jarrahdale to have relatively high resistance to squash bugs compared to other Maximas. The hybrid Kabocha, Cha-Cha, is reliable. Kabocha may be harvested slightly under-ripe, as they continue to mature after harvest.

North Georgia Candy Roaster winter squash, a tasty Maxima variety. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Maxima squash are ripe when at least 75% of the stem looks dry and corky (tan, pocked, wrinkled). They have fine-textured good-flavored flesh They will store 3-5 months, sometimes longer.

The weakness of maxima compared to the others is susceptibility to downy mildew. There may be other fungal pathogens that maxima is more susceptible to.

In central Virginia, maximas are almost always a loss, due to squash vine borers. Ken Bezilla at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has watched the plants live for about 70-80 days, the fruits get nice and big and then the plants die all of a sudden. The safest way to grow them is under rowcover or netting, and keep them covered for the first 60 days (briefly uncovering for weeding and pollination).

Moschata squash

South Anna Butternut winter squash, a Moschata bred by Edmund Frost to resist Downy Mildew. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Moschata squash plants have large hairy leaves, and fruits have flared angular stems. This species is the most trouble-free, with no damage from borers and cucumber beetles. The tougher stems repel invaders. They need warm growing temperatures above 60°F (16°C). Butternuts and similar tan-colored squash, such as Seminole, Cheese, and the large Tahitian Butternut and Lunga di Napoli are in this group.

Mrs Amerson’s Winter Squash, a large and beautiful Moschata.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The Moschata species usually have bright orange, sweet, tasty flesh. These squash are ready when the skin is an even tan peanut-butter color, with no pale streaks or blotches. Many have green lines radiating down the squash from the edges of the stem. In some varieties, these green lines disappear when the squash is ripe, but not in all kinds. If in doubt, cook one and see. Or try a slice raw. These squash also have angular stems, but unlike the stems of pepo squashes, moschata stems flare out where they join the fruit. Moschatas can store 4-8 months or even longer. Seminole is a Moschata that will keep on the shelf for a whole year after harvest. It has a hard shell!

Mixta (Agyrosperma) Squash

Green Striped Cushaw Winter Squash, a Mixta variety, also known as Striped Crookneck.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The fourth species, Argyrosperma, or Mixta, includes many old-time varieties from the south. Flesh is often yellow rather than orange, and these squash are often cooked with sweeteners. Plants are rampant; leaves are large and hairy. Fruit stems are slightly flared, slightly angular, and hairy. This group has the best drought-resistance and also good resistance to borers and beetles. Cushaws are Mixta species. They are not all great storers.

Curing and Storing

Butternut and buttercup squash need to be cured at 80-85°F (27-29°C) for 7-10 days to be sweet tasting. Other varieties do not need to be cured, unless the stems have been removed, You can cure squash in a greenhouse with 80% shadecloth, or simply in a warm storage room.

Curing conditions for winter squash can be quite far from the ideals. Many people simply put the squash straight into storage Just don’t eat uncured butternut or buttercup squash, ie within two weeks of harvest, to avoid disappointment.

Our winter squash storage cage. Photo Twin Oaks Community

Store winter squash in relatively warm and dry conditions: 50-60°F (10-15°C) and 50-75% humidity. Check through stored squash once a week, removing any that are rotting. Squash have a medium demand for ventilation, similar to carrots, more than potatoes. Temperatures below 50°F (10°C) can cause chilling injury, which reduces shelf life. Do not store squash with potatoes or onions; like most ripe fruit crops, squash exhales ethylene, which increases sprouting in potatoes and onions (and other roots and bulbs).

More Information:

Roxbury Harvest Manual 2012

ATTRA Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Marketing and Production

Workhorse Crops for September

Burpee’s Butterbush Winter Squash.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Here we are with my monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops (including two pairs). These crops are reliable under a wide range of conditions. My goal with this series is to help you become more efficient, productive and profitable (if selling) as you deal with another strange year. Maybe you are not at home as much as last year, or maybe your helpers have gone back to school, but you deeply appreciate growing your own food.  You want less time-consuming crops and growing methods. You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as August.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in September

In September in central Virginia, the heat is less oppressive, especially since Tropical Depression Ida washed by. The day-length is definitely shorter, soon we will be at the equinox with only 12 hours of daylight. Gardening is more focused on harvesting and less on planting. Food processing is at its busiest.

This month we will put our fall and winter garden plan into action. Plants take longer to mature from September onwards, so don’t delay any plantings. Try a few different dates, and keep good records, especially if you’re a new farmer or gardener, and improve your plan for next year.

In September we only have enough good growing conditions to plant 5 of our 14 Workhorse crops in central Virginia. Down from last month’s 8. We can still transplant cabbage, collards and kale, and sow carrots, and chard (or transplant the chard.)

Cabbage and Collards:

September is much too late for us to start cabbage, but we could still transplant early in the month, if we have transplants with four true leaves (3-4 weeks after sowing). If you only have bigger transplants, remove some of the older leaves until four leaves remain. This will help the plants survive by reducing evaporation (transpiration) losses. Collards can be sown here until September 15.

If insect pests are a problem, cover the transplants for four weeks, until they are big enough to survive. Nets are better than rowcover in hot weather, as airflow is better and heating is less. I wrote last month about ProtekNet Insect Exclusion Netting from Dubois Agrinovation.  

Another advantage of nets over rowcover is that you can see what’s growing! Back before ProtekNet I found one year that I had been studiously watering a covered bed that was mostly galinsoga! It was quite big, and I had assumed it was greens!

Two weeks after transplanting, till or hoe around the plants. Four weeks after transplanting, remove the netting entirely, and hoe and till again. At that point you could undersow with a mix of clovers to be a long-term cover crop, unless you plan to plant an early spring crop in that bed.

Young carrot plants, thinned to one inch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Carrots

This is actually late for carrots but if you failed to establish them in August, hurry out and sow some early in September. You won’t get big carrots, but you’ll still get carrots!  Hoe between the rows as soon as you can see them, because carrots grow slowly and fall weeds grow fast!

Once the carrots are 1” (2.5 cm) tall, hand weed, cultivate with claws (to kill weeds that haven’t even emerged yet) and thin to 1” (2.5 cm) apart. Simply pulling the weeds is not as good as also lightly disturbing the surface of the soil. Heavy rains can cause crusting, which makes it hard for seedlings to grow. Breaking up the crust lets air and water in. I have noticed that crops make a growth spurt after hoeing. If you think you might have carrot rust flies in your area, collect up all the carrot thinnings and take them to the compost pile, so that the pests won’t be attracted by the smell of carrot leaves, and move in to eat your carrots.

Later thin your carrots to 3” (7.5 cm) and weed again. That’s a September task, if you sowed in August. The tiny ones you pull out may be big enough to wash and throw in a salad. Before they develop the orange color they don’t have much flavor, but they are a treat for the eyes anyway!

Kale:

We grow Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale, the most cold-hardy variety I’ve found. I’ve tried every type of kale I could get my hands on, including some imported from Europe. Vates isn’t huge – we plant 4 rows 10″ (25 cm) apart in each bed. We want 6 beds of kale to over-winter, and there isn’t time to transplant it all. We direct sow, two beds at a time, every 6 days. We water the two newly sown beds, daily as needed, until the seedlings emerge.

Often we get patchy emergence in those hot August days, so we use carefully dug thinnings to fill gaps. Our goal is one plant every foot (30 cm). Our mixed direct-sow/transplant method requires less watering than if direct sown all at once and gives us a solution if we get patchy germination. September 15 is our last sowing date for kale for harvests in late fall and through the winter. We cover the beds with netting, until the plants are large, or the weather gets too cold for pests.

Kale makes some growth whenever the temperature is above about 40°F (5°C), which happens in our winters on many days, making this a valuable winter crop. We will also sow more kale in late January, to give us a spring crop.

An outdoor bed of young Vates kale Photo Kathryn Simmons

Chard: Swiss chard can be sown here in August, and transplanted in September for a good fall harvest, with the option of overwintering under rowcover. It grows small leaves after only 35 days, and full-size leaves after 50 days. Chard is our poster-child insurance crop! So easy! So productive! It is not eaten by bugs, and does not have problems germinating in hot weather like spinach does.

You could direct sow chard in September and protect it for the winter, for a late winter and early spring harvest.

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in September

Eleven of our 14 workhorse crops can be harvested in September (also true in August, but now with one substitution!)

Beans­ can be harvested until the first frost (or later if we cover the beds with rowcover when a frost threatens). We also cover the bean beds (and squash, cucumbers, zucchini and other tender crops) whenever there is a chilly spell. This keeps the plants warmer and growing faster. Vegetable crops begin to take longer to ripen in September. It’s certainly true that pollinating insects can’t get at the flowers to perform their pollination services and make more beans, etc. But that doesn’t matter. We are more interested in fattening up the already pollinated beans!

Plenty of beans to eat in September.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cabbage We eat about 50lbs (25 k) a week. Fall planted cabbage will be ready from September 25. We like Early Jersey Wakefield and Farao for fast-maturing cabbage.

Carrots: We generally hope not to need to sow carrots between June and the beginning of August, because carrots grown in hot weather don’t taste sweet and can even be soapy. If we did not grow enough carrots in the spring, we sow in June, or July and harvest those carrots about 2-3 months later (less time in warm weather, longer as the weather starts to cool in the fall). So, some years we harvest carrots in September.

Chard can be harvested whenever you want some. Snap or cut off some outer leaves and refrigerate them promptly. We use our Leafy Greens Mantra “8 for later” meaning that we make sure to leave at least eight of the inner leaves on each plant, as we harvest the outer leaves. With chard, we can take a couple more than this, but we do want to harvest at sustainable levels.

To overwinter chard in our climate, we cover the bed with rowcover on hoops. We can continue to make harvests into early winter. The mulch and rowcover help keep warmth in the soil, which keeps the crop growing.

Another method of over-wintering chard in reliably cooler climates, is to make a big harvest of all the sizeable leaves, just before the daytime temperatures are around freezing, then pile tree leaves, straw or hay over the bed for the winter. Covering the whole stack with rowcover is even better. Our winter conditions are too variable for this – we get cold spells interspersed with warm spells in almost every month, causing the plants to make some growth among the mulch.

The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C).

Alabama Blue collards.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Collards can be lightly harvested in September, if you started them early enough. What’s more likely true for us, is being able to harvest leaves of senposai. No, not the same as collards! But it fills the same spot on the dinner-plate – fresh leafy greens. It’s been a long summer with only chard, this year, as we were short of spring cabbage, and don’t have any fall cabbage or broccoli yet.

Potatoes: We can plant potatoes between mid-March and mid-June, leading to harvests in July-October. It’s as important not to leave potatoes baking in the sun as it is to protect them from frost, both when planting and when harvesting. Read more about potato harvest here.

Our March-planted potatoes are in the root cellar. By mid-September, we need to cool the cellar to 60°F (16°C)

Our root cellar for potatoes. Photo McCune Porter

Sweet Corn harvest is still going strong. Sweet corn is ready to harvest about three weeks after the first silks appear. Some growers say you should harvest daily, but we find that 3 days a week is often enough, and gives us a nice amount from our 1050-1325 ft (320-400 m) plantings to feed our community. We sow sweet corn six times, for continuous harvests from early July to mid-October.

Corn is ready when the silks are brown, not before! If they are brown, and the ears are plump and filled to the end with kernels, take a closer look. Mature ears stand away from the stalks. If you are still learning, slit the husks at the side of the ear with your thumb nails and look at the kernels. (Don’t puncture the husks on the topside of the ear as the dew and a million tiny beetles will get in and make a mess.) The kernels should be a bit square and fairly tight-packed, not round and pearly with rounded diamond-shaped spaces between them. An opaque, milky juice will seep out of punctured kernels. If your sample ear wasn’t ready, push the husks closed over the ear and wait a few days.

Be sure to shade your corn after harvest and get it cooled as soon as possible, as the flavor deteriorates if it sits around.

Amy’s Apricot tomato from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
Photo Pam Dawling

Tomatoes are cranking out their fruit but starting to look “back-endish” – spotty, and smaller. To minimize the spread of fungal diseases, wait for the leaves to dry in the morning, before harvesting. We plant maincrop tomatoes (sown in mid-March) and late tomatoes (sown in mid-May). This way the late ones peak after the maincrop, and keep the plentiful supply going longer. This year our late bed includes a few Black Cherry and Sun Gold cherry tomatoes as well as lots of our standards: Tropic, a heat-tolerant, disease-resistant round red one, and Jubilee, a lovely flavorful orange that is also a feast for the eyes. This year I have been particularly impressed with its healthiness – the fruits are reliably unblemished and do not readily split. Truly a workhorse variety!

Watermelon harvest is peaking. They don’t ripen further after harvest, so get good at determining watermelon ripeness. I wrote about that in my August post. An unripe watermelon is a sad waste, as most plants only produce two melons.

We store our watermelons outdoors, under the eaves of the house, where they will stay in good shape for a few weeks. We used to store them under the trees further from the building, but the squirrels learned to bite their way in, and taught each other the trick!

When we have enough watermelon harvested (500-600), we roll up the drip tape and disk the plot, to get a good stand of winter cover crops. We use winter wheat and crimson clover if before October 14. I’ll address this more next month. We used to try to harvest every last watermelon until the year I realized that we can only eat so many, and that watermelons in October are of limited interest. Good cover crops are important for taking care of the soil mini-livestock.

A fine winter squash medley.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Winter Squash harvest happens once a week throughout September and October. This is next week’s blog topic. Winter squash is very rewarding to grow, providing high yields for not much work. Stored winter squash can provide meals all winter and also in early spring when other crops are scarce.

ATTRA Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Marketing and Production

ATTRA has a very good publication Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Marketing and Production. Add it to your winter reading if you plan to grow winter squash next year!

Zucchini and summer squash are still being harvested every day. Our last sowing was August 5. We harvest beyond the first fall frost, by covering that last planting with rowcover on chilly nights. See above, under Beans for our thinking about fattening up the last fruits.

From storage: spring cabbage, carrots, garlic and potatoes; watermelon from under the trees or the roof overhang.

Workhorse Crops Special Topic:                    Garlic Storage

Between late September and early October, we move our stored garlic from the basement to the walk-in cooler. the garlic was stored in the basement from June to the end of September, where the temperature was above 56°F (13°C) which is a perfectly fine storage temperature for garlic. Once the basement gets colder than that, we move the garlic to the refrigerator, where it will be below 40°F (10°C). The temperature range of 40°F to 56°F (10-13°C) is where garlic sprouts readily.

Hanging garlic of many varieties in bunches.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange