Leek Planting

Leek seedlings earlier in spring

The past few days we’ve been planting out leeks. We love these so much for winter harvests that we plan to plant about 3600 (5 beds at 90′ long, with 4 rows in each, and plants 6″ apart).

We sow March 21 and April 20 or so. Some people start leeks earlier, in the greenhouse, but we don’t want leeks in August (why compete with tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn and all the other summer delights?). By starting in late March, we can sow the seeds outdoors in a nursery bed, and just transplant the bare-root leeks when the time comes.

This year April was hot and dry here, and I failed to get good germination with the March sowing (it’s now a copse of galinsoga), so we’re relying on the April sowing to give us all we need. Luckily the weather cooled down, and the second sowing came up well. Leeks do grow slowly, and don’t compete well with weeds, so we did have to “rediscover” them a few weeks ago.

Now they are big enough to plant (between a pencil-lead and a pencil in thickness). We make a map of our nursery bed, because we are growing 5 varieties and don’t want them mixed up. We have fast-growing Lincoln and King Richard for eating in October and November, King Sieg for December, and the hardy Tadorna for December to February. We can eat 720 per month in winter, between a hundred people. They make a nice change from leafy greens and root vegetables, and they are a good source of onion flavor after our bulb onions have all been eaten.

To plant them, we make deep furrows down the bed, then dibble holes every 6″ in the bottom of the furrows. We dig up some seedlings and put them in small buckets of water. having the roots covered in water helps the plants separate from each other, and stay in good shape in hot weather. Leeks are the only thing we’d even consider transplanting in the mornings here, as the afternoon temperatures can be brutal. Because leeks don’t have wide spreading leaves, they don’t lose water fast.

We shake out a plant separate from its neighbors, then twirl it down into a hole. Sometimes bobbing it up and down helps settle it with the roots at the bottom of the hole and not folded back on themselves. Having wet roots makes this task easier. After planting a section, we bring cans of water and fill up the holes. The goal is to fill the hole with water but not with soil, leaving the small plants protected from sunshine, deep in the hole. They have room to grow a bit before the soil fills in the hole. This gives long white shanks without the need to h

On Monday, after planting the first bed, we had a heavy rain, which filled in the holes anyway, totally covering the smaller leeks. We’ll need to do some remedial gap-filling later. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we planted more beds. Today I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and in view of the forecast for temperatures over 100F for the next 3 days, we’d hold off on more planting till Monday. We have plenty of other jobs we can do!

Growing for Market articles

My training for writing my book, Sustainable Market Farming, came from several years of writing monthly articles for Growing for Market magazine. Growing for Market is a wonderful, highly respected trade publication for local food producers. It’s packed with reliable information about the business of sustainably growing and selling vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, plants, herbs, and other food products.

I first became a subscriber after getting a sample copy and reading an article about flame-weeding carrots before they germinate. I realized right away that the annual subscription would pay for itself in the time I’d save, applying just that one nugget of information. And I was sure there’d be more time- and money-saving tips in the issues to follow.

I hope some of my articles in GfM will be as inspiring for you as the long-ago flame-weeding one was for me. My article in the current issue is on trellising tomatoes and maintaining them for the season. My article for the August issue will be on harvesting: efficient manual harvesting techniques. And in the fall I plan to write a series of articles about predicting upcoming weather and rolling with whatever happens.

Potato Planting and Carol Deppe’s Writing

A ladybug on a potato leaf, looking for pests

We’ve just planted our second crop of potatoes for the year. At 3450 row ft (about a quarter of an acre), this planting is a bit bigger than our March planting. We aim to grow a whole year’s worth of potatoes for a hundred people. Planting in June has several advantages – for us the main one is that we can store this harvest in a root cellar over the winter, without using any electricity to control temperature. If we planted our whole year’s supply in March, we’d harvest in July and have to store them over the summer, and then all the way round till the next July. It’s also nice to split the work up into smaller chunks.

Up until this spring, we made furrows for our potatoes and covered and hilled them using a BCS 732 rototiller (or walk-behind tractor, as the retailers prefer to designate it). This is doable, but labor-intensive. This year we set up a toolbar on the tractor with sweeps to make furrows, and then discs to form hills. It’s been a learning process, with some teething troubles, but  I do think it’s the way of the future for us. (I just don’t have the stamina for all the rototilling any more!).

Compared to using the rototiller, the tractor needs a lot more space to manoeuver. We were lucky in having an area of cover crops next to the potatoes for this planting, so we could run over the edge onto “next door”. In the spring planting, we had a hydrant in the middle of the patch. that’s a minor problem with the rototiller, but a bigger problem with the tractor. Keeping the row spacing tight is harder with the tractor, and in the spring, we ended up with some wider spacings, which lead to more weeds than usual, and poorer hills. This week (our second time using the tractor), we managed much better row spacing. Next year, we’ll allow more space to turn the tractor, right from the planning stage.

Another “surprise feature” this time, was that it rained right after we’d planted (yes, before we’d covered the potatoes). The forecast had suggested a small chance of showers later in the day, but the 3/4″ drenching was a complete surprise! So we had to wait two days for the soil to dry out enough to take the tractor again. The soil was clumpy, but not impossible. Probably we could have covered and hilled sooner with the rototiller, as it weights less, and compacts the soil less. And the soil would have ended up with a finer texture. Overall I think the trade-offfs of using the tractor are worth it.

The potatoes came to no visible harm sitting in their furrow for two days. We had pre-sprouted them, so the sprouts grew a bit bigger and greener. Luckily we didn’t have extremely hot temperatures those days.

Recently I learned some new information about ideal soil temperatures for potato planting. This came from a workshop on Sustainable Potato Production by Rusty Nuffer at Southern SAWG in January 2012. In spring, wait for soil temperatures to reach 50F (10C) before planting. In summer, the ideal soil temperature is 60-75F (15-24C). Ours was 70F (21C). It’s possible to pre-irrigate to lower the soil temperature in summer. (And hopefully nature won’t mid-irrigate for you as it did for us this week!)

 Carol Deppe, author of the wonderful book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production And Self-Reliance In Uncertain Times, has written a very interesting article The 20 Potato a Day Diet versus the Nearly All Potato Winter about the nutritional and gastronomic wonders of potatoes.  It will inspire you to grow and eat more potatoes!

Review of Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

Here’s a book review I wrote for the newsletter of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. 

Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook is the perfect book for organic farmers like me who focus on the production side while intending (hoping?) to use time wisely and effectively. If you want to make a living directly from sustainable food production, as opposed to making a living from something else in order to fund your passion, this is the place to look for help. Mostly this is a book about vegetable growing – I think it would also be directly useful to organic growers raising fruit, flowers, seed crops, hay or feedstocks. Livestock farmers would also get value from applying the principles.

Don’t worry that this book will be dry and inaccessible – not so! Richard Wiswall’s wholistic approach to getting us to investigate how successful our farm ventures are includes starting with a questionnaire on personal values, and consideration of goals, quality of life and the meaning of true sustainability.

Next he leads us into a closer look at how some apparently humdrum crops (kale) can be great money-earners while other apparent  basics (beans) can be a loss leader at best. In this  way he encourages us to track production and sales via a Crop Journal with a page for each crop and a note made each time any task is performed on a crop (at the end of each day).

Peppered throughout the book, at just the spots where you might start to think you can’t do it, are encouraging messages: “It’s so easy!” “Think like the bank statement. Be the bank statement!” “Checkbook balancing is just a different crossword puzzle” “That’s it! No rocket science in there.” Richard Wiswall has the gift of making spreadsheets nice and easy, clear and useful. He leads us through making crop budgets for each crop in a simplified way so we can then list all our crops or enterprises in order of net return. Then we have the information we can use to make decisions for the future.

One chapter steers us through labor costs and overheads so that we can clearly see whether it’s better financially to raise transplants or buy them in (assuming they are available). We can compare the income from restaurant sales with farmers’ markets, with CSA sales for a good balance. Tractor and implement use is not free, even if you’ve already got the machines in the barn. Hand transplanting is more efficient for areas of ¼ acre or less. There is a whole chapter on production efficiencies with photos of useful implements and a box warning on avoiding hearing loss.

And just in case you think the rest of the book is going to be all profit calculations, Richard takes a deep look at how to be an effective manager, write a good crew job description and be the kind of farmer people want to work with. He spends time on coaching in simple ways to prevent money leaking away, and how to plan for comfortable retirement.

Next, Richard leads us step by step through writing a business plan, making a balance sheet and cash flow projections. This is all explained beautifully clearly and the chapter ends with congratulations on creating a road map for the future of your farm.

An appendix includes examples of all the worksheets he advocates, including crop budgets for 24 crops, including greenhouse tomatoes. And the best bit is – the book includes a CD you can copy and use to create your own budgets, timesheets, payroll calculator, and a farm crew job description template as well as the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program Farm Financials Workbook, compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux. Buy it, it will soon repay you the $34.95; or order it from the library.

Richard Wiswall,Sally Colman and family at Cate Farm in Central Vermont cultivate 22 acres and seven 100-foot long greenhouses of organic vegetables, medicinal herbs,  and flowers. You can buy the book directly from Cate Farm.

Garlic Harvest

We’ve just finished our garlic harvest. It matured a week earlier than usual and there was no arguing with it! Most of our garlic is an unknown hardneck type which we’ve been growing for years. We save our best bulbs for replanting. I watch the tips of the leaves, and when several are brown, but we still have several green-tipped younger leaves, then I do my second ripeness test. I pull up a few and cut them open across the middle. As soon as I see air spaces between the cloves and what’s left of the stem in the center, I know it really is time to harvest.

This year we started 5/31. it takes us many days at an hour or two a day, with a big crew, to get them all up and hanging in the barn. And as soon as the big hardneck planting was cleared, we disked the patch and sowed buckwheat and soy cover crop. This area will be planted in fall carrots at the end of July and it really pays to minimize the weed seed in carrot beds before planting. I was happy to get the cover crops sown just before the last rain.

And then we moved on to harvesting our softneck garlic, Polish White. Some of it had a mold problem while growing, but most of it is still good. We finished yesterday.

Our garlic beds early this spring

Some years it’s hard to get to harvesting the softneck before it’s past its best stage. We want it to store, but if the cloves have already started to separate, and they don’t have many protective layers of skin left, it’s a losing proposition. Now we’re tilling those beds, one was sown to carrots this morning. (We do like to eat a lot of carrots and a lot of garlic too!)

Update on progress on my book

Currently my copy editor (at New Society Publishers) and I are working on getting the wrinkles out of my punctuation and phrasing. We should be done by the end of June.

At een the same time, I’m working with marketing people at NSP, compiling lists of magazines, websites and organizations that are a good match with my book, and good places to put reviews or advertisements. I’m also looking for events at which I’d like to make presentations. Soon I will have postcards, flyers and bookmarks to distribute at Welcome! events too.

Meanwhile, I’m sending an Technische article every month to Growing for Market magazine. For June/July wholesale NBA jerseys I’ve written about trellising tomatoes. People who don’t want to wait till the book comes out to start reading my work can get a Miami Dolphins Jerseys sub to GfM. It’s a great magazine, full of the details small-scale growers need to be even more successful than they already are.

In the fall, my friend 明けましておめでとうございます。 and fellow Twin Oaker, Kathryn Simmons, will compile the index for the book, cheap nfl jerseys and we’ll all be poring over electronic proofs. The book will Earth get printed wholesale MLB jerseys in early winter and the publication date is February 1, 2013. I’m excited!