A busy fall week

Senposai, a delicious leafy green that grows fast and is fairly cold-hardy

This week has gone by in a flash. The weather has been conveniently dry, so we have been able to make progress on some of the weedy crops. We’ve uncovered turnips, senposai, kale, Chinese cabbage, Yukina Savoy, winter radishes, and a whole new sowing of beans that already have big fat beans on them! I noticed them a few days ago, but we ran out of time on Tuesday and didn’t harvest them.

The nights have been so chilly (one was 45F!) , and the mornings so dewy that it has been impossible to get everything harvested before lunch. So many of the crops at this time of year are best not touched while the leaves are wet, to minimize the spread of fungal diseases. Our crew only works in the mornings in summer, although some of us still have garden work during the rest of the day too. Today was our last morning shift, and tomorrow we start afternoon shifts, until next May. Not everyone relishes gardening in the afternoons, but it makes the most sense in terms of harvesting and also transplanting.

This year’s fall kale doesn’t look as good as this yet.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

We had to resow all of our beets and some of our kale – I think they were eaten by baby grasshoppers or crickets. Possible because our lack of timely mowing around the edges of the plots this summer led to tall grass which is good habitat for grasshoppers. or possibly we over-watered in our effort not to under-water! The new kale is up and I’m keeping an eye on it in case it disappears. Some of our spinach seedlings have also disappeared, I fear. But there is still time to resow spinach. We reckon if we sow it before 9/20, we’ll get some to eat in late fall and during the winter. if we miss that date anmd sow 9/20-9/30, the plants will over-winter small, and we can start harvesting from them in the spring. Spinach makes some growth whenever the temperature rises above 40F in winter, and in our climate (and under the rowcover), it will get plenty of sunny days during the winter.

We started harvesting our broccoli last weekend – it’s over a week earlier than usual, this year. That’s good news, but it caught us hopping, because we are participating in the NOVIC variety trials, and need to record data each time we harvest. A comical event was that when I printed the rating sheet on our only color printer, it ran out of blue ink, and the broccoli colors came out in sunset shades! Luckily, I’d asked for some printed copies in the mail and those arrived later that day. Our color printer is in our Tofu office, and those who know our tofu know that blue features prominently in our tofu packaging and marketing – take a look at the webpage here. I guess that’s where the blue ink went!

Article on resilience in the September Growing for Market magazine

September 2012 issue of Growing for Market

The September issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, and with it, my article Building resilience into farm systems. I’ve embarked on a four-part fall and winter series of articles aimed at helping growers thrive under varying situations, some of which we have no control over.

This first article is about being prepared for whatever Nature throws at you, expecting to adapt, and building in options. I’ve sent in the second article, about  understanding and predicting conditions,for the October issue. It covers weather forecasting, frost prediction, Growing Degree Days and phenology. The next one after that will include using soil temperatures, scouting and monitoring for problems and something about on-the-spot decision-making. The last one will deal more with decision-making, reviewing results and learning from mistakes.

To read the articles, get a subscription to the magazine.

How Buildings Learn, by Stewart Brand

For those who like inspiring background reading, I recommend Stewart Brand in How  Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built (Penguin 1995). He advocates for
constructing buildings that are easy to modify later, in gradual or drastic ways to meet the changing needs of the people inside. Farms can be looked at similarly. Keep as many options as possible (for crops, cover crops, crop layout) open for as long as possible. Brand’s current main activity is through The Long Now Foundation

The Art of the Long View, by Peter Schwartz

It can be helpful to do some scenario planning, which I learned about when I read The Art of the Long View, by Peter Schwartz (Doubleday, 1991). Scenario Planning is a method of making flexible long-term plans, using stories (scenarios) to help us visualize different possible futures that include not only factors we don’t control, like the weather or the market’s enthusiasm for bulb fennel, but also intangibles such as our hopes and fears, beliefs and dreams.

No time to read books? Very sad! Maybe see you at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, near Charlottesville, this Friday and Saturday.

Lots of Rain! Thinking About Strawberries . . .

We’ve managed to work in the garden most of the time we’d planned to this week, even though we’ve had a lot of rain. Since the start of September, in just 5 days, we’ve had 2.4″ and it looks like rain brewing now. Before that we had a week without rain, but before that a week with 2.1″. The soil is saturated, and hoeing anything would be a complete waste of time even if it was possible. We just have to watch the weeds grow in most places, while we focus on what we can do.

Great news on our big carrot weeding – we finished that this morning! I made a new Task List for the week and it mentions a lot of weeding, which sounds daunting. I remind myself that compared to the carrot weeding, most of the upcoming weeding tasks are small. One 90′ bed of squash plants doesn’t take long at all, and even a 90′ bed of turnips isn’t so much!

Tender Grey Zucchini from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I saw that our fifth sowing of squash has tiny squashes on it, so we’ll add that to our harvest list, along with the number 5 and number 4 plantings. That’s good news, because I want to “do in” the old #3 planting soon. It’s beside the watermelon, which is just about finished, and I’d like to pull the drip-tape out of there, and roll and store it for next year. Then as soon as the soil is dry enough to not get too compressed by the weight of the tractor, we can disk up that area and sow winter cover crops. Winter rye, Austrian winter peas, and crimson clover in this case, for next year’s mid-season sweet corn.

I just ordered two rolls of DeWitt Sunbelt landscaping fabric (weed barrier) for our new strawberry beds. We’re going to try burning holes in the fabric to plant through. The goal is to have more strawberries and fewer weeds. I’ve met and read about other growers who do this, and it seems to me to be our best hope. We can roll up the fabric and reuse it in a year or two, when those strawberry plants are worn out. Other members of the crew are less enthusiastic than me to try this, so we’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t work well, I’ll be selling the landscape fabric in June 2014, so watch out for it! Really, though, I do expect it to work well and convince the others.

Planning ahead for strawberries

Here’s a link to Mark Cain of Dripping Springs garden in Huntsville, AR about Landscape Fabric in the Marker Garden. Erin Benzakein wrote a great article in Growing for Market in October 2011: Eliminate weeding with landscape fabrics. You’ll need to subscribe to read it. These two convinced me. There are a couple of photos on the Black Village Market Garden blog and a whole series on Mountain Harvest Organics, which is over twice our scale.

I’m on the point of ordering strawberry plants too. We’re getting plugs of Chandler strawberries from Cottles in North Carolina. (Call or email them for info on plants, mostly their website is about selling fruit and vegetables.) We bought from them in 2010 and the plants did very well. Plugs are the easiest way to grow new strawberries. They are little plants in plastic cell-flats. Shipping is rather expensive, naturally, because you are getting the potting soil too. But in this area, plugs planted now will be harvestable next year. In the past we used to buy bare root plants, which are just how they sound, and are only sold during the dormant season, for planting in early spring. Then you are not supposed to let them flower the first season, so you have to weed for a whole extra year before getting any fruit.

Twin Oaks September Garden Calendar

Welcome to Twin Oaks!
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

THE SECOND SPRING

Here’s our Garden Task List for September: 

During the month

Weed and thin carrots and brassicas (kale to 12”).

Lettuce Factory: Sow hardy lettuce every 2 days till 21st, (3 rows/planting) then every 3 days. Sow #34-46 this month. Transplant 120 every 3-5 days (1/3 bed) #27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 for last outdoor planting (Dec harvest). Transplant  #34, 35, 36  9/24-9/30 for frames

Root cellar: air and cool to 60°F by mid-September

Collect seed from Roma tomatoes if necessary.

Screen compost and fill old greenhouse beds before October, for winter lettuce and spring seed compost.

Early Sept: Prepare and plant new strawberry beds if not done in late August, using rooted potted runners or plants carefully thinned from last year’s beds (see August for details).

Transplant collards and kale if necessary. Transplant lettuce #27, 28, 29, 30.

Retrieve spinach and onion seeds from the freezer. After acclimating spinach seeds, sprout 4oz/bed (1 cup/10,000 seeds) for spinach #1 in fridge for one week, then direct sow (if <68°F, and dead nettle has germinated). If still hot, sow (preferably pre-sprouted) spinach in Speedling flats in float tank. 9/20 is last sowing date for fall harvesting. [Could broadcast oats into spinach at planting time for weed control & cold weather protection.]

Sow if not done already: kale and collards by 9/15; turnips by 9/30; radishes, kohlrabi, daikon and other winter radish, miscellaneous fall greens, scallions.

Plant large potato onions this month or early in October, at 8” (wider if supply limited). Cover with ½-1” soil, mulch with hay.

2nd fall disking: Watermelon plot when 800 have been harvested. Roll up drip tape first, or move to new strawberries.

Mid Sept: 7-14 Sept is the best time to sow vetch & rye, 1:2, 2# of mix/1000 sq ft (75#/acre) on old spring broccoli patch; crimson clover and rye, 1:2, at 55#/acre.

Transplant lettuce #31, 32.

Sow 1st sowing of hoophouse seedlings (hoop and cover).

Bring 6 tractor buckets compost to hoophouse for fertilizing fall and winter crops.

Move stored onions from basement to fridge, after apples peak in mid-September, and space available.

3rd fall disking: corn #3, #4, #5. Part of corn #3 plot may be used for new strawberry beds.

Late Sept: Sow spinach #2 for spring harvesting (9/20-9/30), and 2nd sowing of hoophouse seedlings and cover.

Transplant kale for spring, filling gaps; lettuce #33, finishing up the last outdoor bed; [#34, 35 & 36 in cold frames?] Plant large potato onions (>2”) if not done earlier.

Move garlic from basement to fridge late September-late Oct as needed to make room for winter squash.

Weeding: this is a good catch up time on weeding in the raised beds.

4th fall disking and seeding: Sow cover crops wherever possible (in unused raised beds too). The last chance for oats is early Sept (9/15??). Can sow winter wheat (winter-killed in zone 4) or winter barley (dies in zone 6) if oat planting date missed. (Oats winter-kill in zone 8). Can sow hardy Austrian winter peas in late Sept at 8oz/100sq.ft. with rye. Can sow red clover this month.

Bush-hog late corn if undersown with oats and soy cover crop.

Perennials: New strawberry beds: Prepare and plant by mid-September if not done in late August. Weed strawberries. Could till up grass in grape alley & sow clover if not done in March. If clover sown earlier, let it seed.

Harvest and store winter squash: Acorn (pepo) types (stem still green, ground spot “earthy” or orange), store 1-4 months; Maximas: Cha Cha, Jarrahdale, Kabocha (stem 75% corky) store 3-5 months; Moschatas: Butternuts, Cheese (peanut colored skin, no mottling or streaks) store 4-8 months, or more. Leave on live vines as long as possible, avoiding frost on fruits. Cut leaving long stem using pruners; handle gently.

September Harvests: Asian melons, asparagus beans, beans, beets and beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, Chinese cabbage, corn, cow peas, cukes, edamame, eggplant, horseradish,leeks, lettuce, limas, maruba santoh, okra, pak choy, peppers, hot peppers,radishes, Romas, scallions, senposai, summer squash, Tokyo bekana, tomatoes, turnips, watermelons, winter squash, yukina savoy, zucchini.  It is possible to lightly harvest rhubarb during September, if wanted.

 

Wow! Weeds!

 When we have massive big harvests, it’s hard to get much else done on the garden shifts. This week we’ve made a lot of progress on the two big projects of the broccoli patch and the carrot thinning and weeding.

Crimson clover flowers in early May
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

The whole of the broccoli and cabbage patch except the very edges has been cleared of weeds. After tilling the edges, the next job there is to broadcast a mix of medium red clover, large white clover and crimson clover, and water it in until it germinates, if nature doesn’t deal with that. Hurricane Isaac is forecast to curve round towards Virginia by the middle of next week, but lots can change with weather systems. If all goes well, we’ll get the clovers established before we need to start walking in there harvesting (usually mid-September onwards).

This fall (as I reported in my post on July 5) we are taking part in the Novic broccoli variety trials, growing twelve different kinds of broccoli and eleven of cabbage. We have received our report sheets to write down our data and comments each time we harvest them. We’ll benefit from the comparisons and next year just grow the best varieties. We want varieties that provide a long broccoli season, and sideshoots are as important to us as main heads. Quantity and flavor are important to us as well, of course! We want cabbage to store for the winter, as well as cabbage that is ready quickly. We’re feeding the hundred members of Twin Oaks Community, and just about everyone here likes broccoli and cabbage. George Bush would be out of place!

The carrot thinning is making good progress. From the top of the 265′ rows, it looks like we are very, very close to the end. There is what I call a “curvature of the earth effect”: when you walk down there to weed, you see we’re not as close to the end as it seemed. But – the end is in sight! Next, we’ll hoe between the rows, then leave this crop alone until the baby carrots are salad size. Then we’ll weed and thin again, this time to 3″. And we’ll be able to eat those tender little carrots! Then we’ll leave them alone again until November, when we dig and bag them all.

Happy young zucchini plant
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

So, now we can look at other projects. We are removing rowcover from the crops we sowed at the beginning of August. Today we uncovered a bed of turnips, one of squash, one cucumbers and three kale. In the next few days we can weed and thin those. In fact I already thinned the big squash plants as I walked by on my way to the hoophouse after lunch. I just couldn’t resist! The plants, sown on August 5, are already two feet tall, pushing at the rowcover. I thinned to about 18″-2′ apart, and also pulled out a few handfuls of galinsoga, our most common summer weed in the raised bed area.

One of the signs we look for in deciding whether the season is cooling down enough to sow spinach is the re-emergence of the cool weather annual weeds, especially dead-nettle and henbit. I usually look for them while harvesting paste tomatoes, as that soil has not been disturbed for a while. I saw seedlings of one or other of these key weeds on 8/18 this year, a bit earlier than usual. We were certainly having cooler nights and even cooler days, so it all felt right.

This morning we prepped four beds for spinach. The beds had just been tilled yesterday afternoon with our walk-behind BCS 732, and today we shoveled paths and raked the tops. We’re due to sow 5 beds of spinach on Saturday (9/1), and I’ve already got the seed sprouting in a plastic jar in the fridge. It’s hard to get spinach to germinate in hot weather, so we always pre-sprout in the fall. Just soak the seed overnight, then drain and put the jar in the fridge. I go by once a day to roll the jar so all the seeds get a chance of light and moisture. It’s not much work while they’re sprouting. Hand-sowing is a bit more fussy. Sometimes the damp seeds clump together, so we mix them with a dry, non-sticky food item like dry grits, oatmeal or bran.

We mark five rows in each bed, and sow spinach in the outer four. in spring we sow snap peas in the middle row, and get double value from the bed, the weeding we do, and the winter rowcover.

Looking forward to Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Winter Hardiness

It can be hard to find out just how cold a temperature various vegetable plants can survive. Reading books written in different parts of the country can be confusing: “survives all winter” is one thing in the Pacific Northwest and another in Montana. So for some years I have been collecting data and exchanging information with my friend and neighbor Ken Bezilla at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Each winter I try to record what dies at what temperature. Below is my current list, which should be treated as a work in progress.

Your own experience with your soils, microclimates and rain levels may lead you to use different temperatures. If you have data from your garden, please leave a comment. Likewise if you have found particular varieties to be especially cold-tolerant, I’d love to learn more. Central Virginia isn’t the coldest spot in the US, but if I can grow something without rowcover, I’m happy to hear it!

Here’s our temperature list at which various crops die:

 35°F (2°C):  Basil.

32°F (0°C):  Bush beans, cauliflower curds, corn, cowpeas, cucumbers, eggplant, limas, melons, okra, some Pak Choy, peanuts, peppers, potato vines, squash vines, sweet potato vines, tomatoes.

27°F (-3°C): Most cabbage, Sugarloaf chicory (takes only light frosts), radicchio.

 25°F (-4°C): Broccoli heads, chervil, chicory roots for chicons, and hearts, probably Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), dill, endive (hardier than lettuce, Escarole more frost-hardy than Frisée), annual fennel, large leaves of lettuce (protected hearts and small plants will survive even colder temperatures), some mustards and oriental greens (Maruba Santoh, mizuna, most pak choy, Tokyo Bekana), onion scallions, radicchio. Also white mustard cover crop.

22°F (-6°C): Arugula, Tatsoi. (both may survive colder than this.) Possibly Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), Maruba Santoh, Mizuna, Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana with rowcover.

20°F (-7°C): Some beets, cabbage heads (the insides may still be good even if the outer leaves are damaged), celeriac, celtuce (stem lettuce), some corn salad, perhaps fennel, some unprotected lettuce – some OK to 16°F (-16 °C), some mustards/oriental greens (Tendergreen, Tyfon Holland greens), radishes, turnips with mulch to protect them, (Noir d’Hiver is the most cold-tolerant variety).

17°F (-8°C): Barley (cover crop)

15°F (-9.5°C): Some beets (Albina Verduna, Lutz Winterkeeper), beet leaves, broccoli leaves, young cabbage, celery (Ventura) with rowcover (some inner leaves may survive at lower than this), cilantro, endive, fava beans (Aquadulce Claudia), garlic tops may be damaged but not killed, Russian kales, kohlrabi, perhaps Komatsuna, some covered lettuce, especially small and medium-sized plants (Marvel of  Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density), curly leaf parsley, flat leaf parsley, oriental winter radish with mulch for protection (including daikon), large leaves of broad leaf sorrel, turnip leaves, winter cress.

12°F (-11°C): Some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), carrots (Danvers, Oxheart), multi-colored chard, most collards, some fava beans (not the best flavored ones), garlic tops if fairly large, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln, King Richard), most covered lettuce (Freckles, Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Parris Island, Tango) , large tops of potato onions, Senposai, some turnips (Purple Top).

10°F (-12°C): Beets with rowcover, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest, Brussels sprouts, chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), mature cabbage, some collards (Morris Heading), Belle Isle upland cress, some endive (Perfect, President), young stalks of Bronze fennel, perhaps Komatsuna, some  leeks (American Flag), Oriental winter radish, (including daikon), rutabagas, (if mulched), tops of shallots, large leaves of savoyed spinach (more hardy than flat leafed varieties), tatsoi, Yukina Savoy. Also oats cover crop.

5°F (-15°C): Garlic tops if still small, some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), some leeks (Bulgarian Giant, Laura, Tadorna), some bulb onions (Walla Walla), potato onions and other multiplier onions, smaller leaves of savoyed spinach and broad leaf sorrel.

0°F (-18°C): Chives, some collards (Blue Max, Winner), corn salad, garlic, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, Vates kale (although some leaves may be too damaged to use), Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf  kale, a few leeks (Alaska, Durabel); some onion scallions (Evergreen Winter Hardy White, White Lisbon), parsnips, salad burnet, salsify, some spinach (Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia, Tyee). Also small-seeded cover crop fava beans.

Even Colder: Overwintering varieties of cauliflower are hardy down to -5°F (-19°C).

Many of the Even Star Ice Bred varieties are hardy down to -6°F (-20°C).

Walla Walla onions sown in late summer are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Winter Field Peas and Crimson clover (used as cover crop) are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Hairy vetch and white Dutch clover cover crops are hardy to -30°F (-34°C)

Sorrel and some cabbage (January King) are said to be hardy in zone 3, -30 to-40°F (-34 to -40°C)

Winter wheat and winter rye (cover crops) are hardy to -40°F (-40°C).

Risking Zombie Carrots: weeding tiny carrots versus weeding broccoli

After the flurry at the beginning of August to get the last warm weather crops sown, we’re now focusing on cool weather crops to feed us in the winter.

We sowed 4000 ft of carrots (Danvers 126) on August 4th, flamed them to kill the weeds that came up before the carrots, then hoed between the rows last week. This week we’ve begun the slow job of hand weeding the rows and thinning the carrots to an inch apart. At 4000 ft of rows, that’s 48,000 carrot seedlings to keep and thousands more weeds to remove to ensure the carrots’ happiness! Fortunately, we get faster at this skill with practice. We’re using marker flags as we go down the rows, to show where to start next time. It’s fairly obvious while the plants are all so small, but the flags also serve to measure our daily progress.

After this thinning, we won’t come back till the carrots are big enough for salads, when we’ll thin to 3″ apart. Then we’ll do the big harvest, washing, sorting and bagging, in November. We hope for at least 30 fifty-pound bags to see us through the winter. Last year and the one before, we fell behind with the weeding and had to abandon part of the plot. As always, we resolved not to repeat the same mistake two years running!

A bed of nicely thinned carrots,
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

We’re certainly off to a good timely start this year. And as a result of learning from last year’s mistakes, we decided to try overwintering a bed of later carrots (we’ve just sowed those). Last year we took the desperate measure of mowing the part of the plot we couldn’t weed, to stop the weeds from seeding. To my surprise, the carrots grew back! They were promptly named the Zombie Carrots. They survived the winter and grew into edible size. Sure, they never got big, but the flavor was especially sweet, in the cold weather. Previously we avoided overwintering carrots because of problems with voles tunneling underground and eating roots of whatever they could find. This winter we’ll test which wins: carrots or voles.

Finding time to weed carrots wouldn’t be so hard if it was the only task on our list. Not so.  (If carrots lose out, the best we can hope for is Zombie Carrots!) We are also tackling (larger) weeds in the (larger) fall broccoli. Our plan is to remove the weeds, then broadcast a mix of medium red clover, large white clover and crimson clover. If all goes according to plan and the clover seed gets enough rain or overhead irrigation, it will grow slowly over the fall and winter, and then take off in the spring when the broccoli is dead. We’ll bush hog the dead broccoli in spring and leave the clover growing for the full year to replenish the soil, just mowing from time to time to control annual weeds. When it works, it’s great. But we have to get rid of the weeds soon, to give it a good chance of success.

In March, the old broccoli trunks are surrounded by a sea of green clover.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

So this weeding competes for our attention with the carrot weeding. Happily, they are different types of work: patient detailed work or energetic, vigorous pulling or hoeing. Some weather conditions suggest one job over the other; some people prefer one type of work over the other. The broccoli weeding makes a good energetic start to the morning, when conditions are damp and chilly. The carrot weeding makes for a more mellow finish to the shift. And it all makes a change from harvesting 52 buckets of tomatoes!

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference

I’m presenting a workshop at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference in Greenville, South Carolina. My workshop, Growing Great Garlic, is on Saturday October 27 from 2.30-4pm. You can check out the schedule here.

My workshop will cover garlic planting, harvest, curing, storing and the selection of planting stock.  As well as hardneck and softneck bulb garlic, we will cover “byproduct crops” such as garlic scallions and scapes, which are ready early in the year when new
crops are at a premium. You’ll get the chance for an advance discussion of one of the chapters in my book, and to ask questions and share your experience with this tasty crop.

One of my very first blog posts, on June 14, was about our garlic harvest. Now we have all the bulbs trimmed and stored, and are eating our way into the bounty, and we have several bags of selected bulbs for replanting in early November.

My book, Sustainable Market Farming, and its chapter on garlic, won’t be published in time for the conference, but I will have postcards and pre-publication fliers which offer a discount for pre-orders.

Our garlic harvest underway.
Photo by Marilyn Rayne Squier

52 Buckets of Tomatoes

A small fraction of our harvest

On Tuesday this week we picked fifty-two 5 gallon buckets of Roma paste tomatoes. We’ve been harvesting the four long rows every Friday and Tuesday, but last Friday had a rainy start and we didn’t harvest, so we knew there would be a lot more than usual on Tuesday. Our Food Processing crew makes these into sauce which we store for the winter, and because the crew only has access to the big-scale kitchen equipment necessary to tackle such loads on those two days, there was no point in harvesting before Tuesday.

Also, we knew from records we’d kept from previous years, that 8/9-15 is “Peak Week”, when the harvest is at its highest rate. Nothing else to do but rally lots of people and get picking! Although Twin Oaks Community has about a hundred people, they are not all sitting around waiting to be asked to help with task like this. Most people already have their work scheduled for the week. Still, we were lucky enough to get some extra help.

We started our shift with some energetic work, shoveling and raking to prepare some new beds for lettuce, spinach and turnips. Then we harvested some other crops, beans, squash, cucumbers, okra – the usual stuff for this time of year. We were waiting for the dew to dry off the tomato leaves, to reduce the spread of fungal diseases. (We’ve been appreciating relatively cool nights lately – nice sleeping weather, but dewy mornings.) Round about 9am we started in on the tomatoes, and thanks to a steady pace from the regulars and some extra drop-in helpers, we just got finished at noon.

One of the things I love about living communally is being able to show up at the dining hall at mealtimes and be fed! If I had to prepare my own meals, I wouldn’t eat as well, I’m sure. We lined up the carts of tomato buckets in the shade of some trees next to the dining hall and collapsed into chairs with plates of food. This was the official hand-off to the Food Processing crew. After lunch they washed, trimmed, chopped and cooked the tomatoes. We’d heeded their request to be sure not to use any cracked buckets this time, and I think we we re successful in finding 50 suitable buckets. They fill the buckets with water to wash the tomatoes, and buckets with holes in cause floods in the dining room or kitchen, wherever they are working.

A guest who helped us pick in the morning, worked on the processing shift too, and stayed to the exhausted end around 2.30 am. Not everyone stayed till the end, most people left after the chopping, but the crew manager, of course, was committed to being there. We got 112 half-gallon jars of sauce. Quite impressive. We’ll enjoy those next winter.

112 jars is about the same amount we lost last year in the big earthquake. We were pretty much at the epicenter of the August 23 quake, and among our troubles was a basement floor with 100 broken jars of tomato sauce.

Our Roma paste tomatoes are another of the crops I’ve been saving seed from, and selecting for resistance to Septoria leaf spot, and for earliness and yield. They are sold as Roma Virginia Select through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Gone are the years when our Roma plants crashed to a mess of dead brown leaves by this point of the season. We still have some Septoria, but not a lot, and the plants carry on to produce more healthy leaves and good fruit.

Forty of the fifty-two buckets of tomatoes are visible here. The others are behind the impressive line-up of carts. Photo by Wren Vile

Efficient Harvesting Techniques in Growing for Market magazine

The cover of the August issue of Growing for Market

The August issue of Growing for Market magazine is out! In it on page 9, you’ll find my article on how to harvest efficiently, mostly without machinery. Trade secrets are revealed – like when is a cabbage fully mature, and just what is “full slip” for a melon. And which crops should you harvest later in the shift, when the dew has dried from the leaves.

I cover organization,  planning and management, finding good crop sequences (don’t leave the corn languishing in the heat while you get the beans!), tools, and various harvesting methods such as cutting whole heads, picking individual leaves, and “buzz-cutting” so the plant can regrow. And that’s just the leafy greens. There’s also the roots, including onions, and fruits (botanically speaking) such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and podded crops like beans and peas. Food safety, field washing and short-term storage until the happy diners get their hands on the food – all this is covered too.

When you grow 60 different crops, how do you make time to harvest them all? Well, of course, not everything is ready to harvest at once, even in August. Some crops we pick every day, some every other day, some twice a week. Here’s a trick we use: For the every-other-day crops we have developed an ingenious phonetic system. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we harvest crops beginning with a k/c/g sound; on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we harvest b and p crops. This works almost perfectly, with just a few crops we force into place: eggPlant not eGGplant! sPinach, senPosai! This system works well for us, and adds some amusement. It also ensures we harvest some cooking greens each day: kale, collards, cabbage some days, broccoli, pak choy, spinach on the other days. Beans take over from peas as the spring heats up. Corn gets picked on the days we don’t pick labor-intensive beans.

Our main tools are Garden Way type carts, 5 gallon buckets and knives. Although special harvest knives can be bought, and we have some of those, we get most of our knives at yard sales and thrift stores. Great value for the money! Serrated bread knives can be excellent tools for cutting cabbage and kohlrabi, anything with a thick stem.

My next few articles will be about dealing with nature’s surprises, being ready for anything, predicting what’s about to happen next, and deciding when to change plans and grow something different. Climate change is here, and we growers will need to adapt.