More strategies for dealing with a changing climate – article in Growing for Market

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The January issue of Growing for Market is out, and in it is my article More strategies for dealing with a changing climate. A photo of our fava beans is on the cover.  This is the third in a series of four. (You can see earlier blog posts about the first two, in the Articles category.) This article covers the use of soil temperature as a deciding factor on when to sow or plant, and includes a table of minimum (spring) and maximum (summer/fall) temperatures for about 50 crops. As the climate becomes harder to predict, using a calendar (“Plant potatoes on St Patrick’s Day!”) will need to be replaced by using information like soil temperatures, which reflect what the plants will actually experience this particular year.

The article also discusses scouting, which is the practice of making a regular tour of your crops to monitor growth and health. If you see a pest or a disease, you can determine if the level of infestation is enough to call for action, or if watchful waiting is in order. Keeping in touch with how your crops are doing will help you know when you need to take action to avert disaster or to make good use of an opportunity like an early-finishing crop opening up the possibility of using a longer-term cover crop.

droughtI also talk a bit about being prepared for more extreme temperatures – trialing varieties that are more cold- or heat-tolerant than your old favorites, and using shadecloth and organic mulches to reduce heat stress.  ATTRA’s Drought Resistant Soil addresses ways to increase the organic matter content of the soil, and keep the soil covered at all times, helping you farms’ resilience.

In addition I added in a few more resources I’ve found to help with predicting climate change. DailyClimate.org – a daily email newsletter; NOAA Climate Prediction Center, and Weatherspark.com, a fun weather site is where you can see, for instance, what your average winter low has been, and plan plantings accordingly.

Two additional resources on frost management are NCSU’s Frost/Freeze Protection for Horticultural Crops and the Food and Agriculture Organization 126-page book Frost Protection: Fundamentals, Practice and Economics.

Favas, spring sown, good germWhy the fava bean photo? Wait till the soil temperature reaches 36F (2C) before sowing.

As well as my article, there are many other gems – Identify your biggest money-making crops by Chris Blanchard; A Tool Review of The Quick Cut Greens Harvester by Jean-Martin Fortier; 8,000 miles and 18 farmers markets, a travelogue by Gwynn Hamilton and Bert Webster about their cross-country road trip visiting farmers markets all the way; Understanding one of the few insecticides for organic growers by Raymond A. Cloyd, about spinosad formulated as Entrust, and Growers create their own wholesale market for local flowers in Seattle by Debra Prinzing, co-author of The 50-Mile Bouquet  about the movement toward locally grown, sustainable flowers.

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, by Amy Stewart,

Stewart_EarthMoved_pbk_HR-682x1024I’ve been a fan of Amy Stewart since I read her clear explanation of photoperiod in Flower Confidential, about the cut flower industry. Photoperiod is the name for the effect of daylight length on the development of some plants, for example onion plants starting to bulb rather than grow more leaves. In fact, it’s the length of the night, rather than the daylight that is critical. Until I read Amy’s explanation I was puzzled how anyone could distinguish between the length of the daylight and the length of the night. They seem inextricably connected. I was forgetting it is possible to create artificial “days” that are not 24 hours long. Now I get it.

The Earth Moved is an easy read, fascinating, amusing and informative by turn. Its cover looks like an aged Victorian pamphlet, and leads right into a brief history of Charles Darwin’s studies with earthworms, including presenting the worms with hundreds of cut paper triangles to see which end they preferred, when grasping the fake leaves to pull underground. Yes, earthworms make decisions! 80% of the triangles were pulled in by their narrowest tips.

This book distinguishes the different types of worms. Darwin studied earthworms, which eat their way through the soil, produce calcium, distribute soil nutrients, and bury Roman ruins. Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are found in compost, in worm-bins and on fish-hooks. New species of earthworms are still being discovered. Parts of Oregon, the Palouse and Australia are homes for giant worms. The global distribution of various worm species provides evidence that continents were physically connected long ago. (Unlike birds or seeds, worms do not survive air passage). All native worms in the soil improve the organic matter and decrease erosion.

Amy explains worm anatomy, including sex and reproduction, and the truth about regeneration of heads and tails – no, you never get two worms from one cut one. I learned that earthworm cocoons usually only contain one egg, while red wiggler cocoons may contain up to six. This surprised me, because I regularly find balls of small red worms in my home-made seed compost in spring, and I thought each cocoon was hatching a whole ball of worms (more than six).

Many species of earthworm were imported to the US incidentally from Europe. Here’s the bit that is challenging for me: imported earthworm species can damage traditional farming and forests. Earthworms are not entirely angelic! Philippine rice terraces, Minnesota forest understories have been destroyed by worms in the wrong place. Worms digest the duff that understory plants need to germinate and grow. Young tree seedlings can’t get established while ferns and wildflowers are disappearing due to worm activity, and hungry deer are chewing off what remains. Preserving forests means more than sustainably managing the logging – it means encouraging new saplings to grow by keeping the deer out – as removing the earthworms is impossible. Worms can also displace frogs, toads, voles, shrews, springtails, and erosion can get worse if there are few understory plants to hold the soil. No heroes are perfect!

What should farmers do?  Emptying out worm-bins or buying earthworms doesn’t sound smart any longer. Don’t add red wigglers to woodland. Some even suggest that people with worm bins should freeze worm castings before adding them to soil.

The next section of the book dives into the use of worms to digest garbage, animal waste, human waste and to break down toxins and clean up pollution. There are large-scale “continuous flow reactors” with machinery to move everything along and maximize the efficiency of the worm workforce. But a town distributing 4000 household size worm-bins can do as good a job of turning garbage into gold. For animal waste, pre-composted waste is presented to the worms and the resulting castings can be sold to gardeners. All this raises questions about the evolution of red wigglers to be the fittest for dealing with human garbage. On the other hand, we have been domesticating worms for centuries, although less intentionally.

Worms can be used for bioremediation, helping distribute beneficial bacteria deep into compacted polluted soil. For some sites it is necessary to first improve the soil, for instance by growing cover crops, adjusting the acidity, adding some compost to make the soil more hospitable to worms. Not a quick fix, but maybe our best bet for reclaiming strip mine sites and similar. Not good for regenerating forests, as already noted, but perhaps we can increase pasture this way, eventually.

Since 1997, there has been research in Florida into using worms to help process human sewage, using red wigglers to reduce the harmful pathogens in a purely biological process. Instead of paying dumping fees for the sterile Class A solid waste from the sewage treatment plant, the solids are vermi-composted along with some grass clippings or other fresh vegetation, leaving a product that can restore well-being to the soil, rather than being a waste-disposal problem. Meanwhile the now-clean water from the original waste can flow through a regenerated wetland area. Naturally to make this system work, toxic materials need to be kept out of this waste stream, so education and access to free disposal for toxic materials is also needed.

This book may well lead you to consider keeping a worm-bin yourself, and you’ll find enough information and inspiration in this book to get started, including a handy resource section. Here’s help choosing a bin, worms, a location for your bin, starter material, food (no onions or citrus), and then information about adding shredded newspaper, removing castings and making use of them. For small-scale worm-bins, Amy suggests the widely available Can-O-Worms, Wriggly Wranch and Worm Factory, unless you plan to make your own bin. Mid-scale worm farmers might go for the Worm Wigwam or the Eliminator, (Australian, no longer available in the USA).

All gardeners and farmers will benefit from knowing and understanding worms, and this book is an engaging little foray into better acquaintance with these allies. If you want to read more Amy Stewart, go to the blog she writes for, the Garden Rant.

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, by Amy Stewart, Algonquin Books. 2004, and re-released in a new cover 2012. Book Review by Pam Dawling

Ordering seeds! Seed Viability and Varieties New to us

I’ve been busy putting our seed orders together. As we grow so many different crops, it’s quite a time-consuming process. And I hate to buy too little and be out in the field on planting day, looking at an almost empty packet. Equally, I hate to buy too much, which either wastes money (if we throw the extra away), or else causes us to risk sowing seed that really is too old, and won’t do well. I keep a chart of how long different types of seed last:

Seed Viability

(From Sustainable Market Farming, (c) Pam Dawling, New Society Publishers, 2013)

     

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   “Opinions vary a bit about how many years seeds of different vegetables are good for. The fuller story is that storage conditions make a big difference. You can make your own decisions, weighing up the information supplied, your knowledge of how carefully you stored the seeds, the information on each packet about percentage germination when you bought it, and the economic importance to you of that particular crop. If you always transplant lettuce, as I do, you can risk one of your four varieties in that sowing coming up poorly, and just plant out more of the other three if it fails. Many seed catalogs include information about seed longevity, and so does Nancy Bubel in The Seed Starters Handbook.

www.chelseagreenFrank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.

A simplified version is as follows:

  • Year of purchase only: Parsnips, Parsley, Salsify, and the even rarer Sea Kale, Scorzonera
  • 2 years: Corn, Peas and Beans of all kinds, Onions, Chives, Okra, Dandelion, Martynia,
  • 3 years: Carrots, Leeks, Asparagus, Turnips, Rutabagas
  • 4 years: Spinach, Peppers, Chard, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, Basil, Artichokes and Cardoons
  • 5 years: most Brassicas, Beets, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Cucumbers, Muskmelons, Celery, Celeriac, Lettuce, Endive, Chicory.”

Rather than deteriorating with age, some very fresh seed has a dormancy that needs to be overcome by chilling (lettuce). Other seed contains compounds that inhibit germination. These can be flushed out by soaking in water for about an hour (beets).

Another of the challenges with seed ordering is converting between grams, ounces and seed counts. Here’s a helpful table of 1000 Seed Weight for 13 crops.

Our main seed suppliers are FedcoJohnny’s and Southern Exposure. Fedco has great prices, especially on bulk sizes, great social and political commentary in the catalog, and no glossy pages. Johnnys has some good varieties that Fedco doesn’t, and a ton of useful information tucked away on their website. Southern Exposure is best on southern crops and heat tolerant varieties which we can’t expect seed companies in Maine to specialize in. Plus, SESE are my friends and neighbors.

This year we are trying some new varieties. Generally we like to have some reliable workhorses that we know well, and trial a few new things, especially if we hear our favorite varieties are no longer available. Last year our Nadia eggplant couldn’t cope with the heat. For a while in early summer they didn’t grow at all – no new flowers, never mind new fruit. So next year, alongside Nadia I’m trying 3 that should deal better with heat. Florida Highbush is open-pollinated, from the Seed Savers Exchange. Epic and Traviata are hybrids from Osborne Seeds.

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds
Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds
Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds
Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds
Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange
Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange
Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds
Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

I also bought some Sugar Flash snap peas from Osborne. We have been big fans of Sugar Ann, but I’ve heard Sugar Flash is even better on flavor, yield and harvest period. We’re going to find out!

For a couple of years we really liked Frontier bulb onions as a storage variety for this climate and latitude (38N). Frontier disappeared from the catalogs of our usual suppliers and we tried Gunnison and Patterson. This year – no Gunnison! And we didn’t get a good test of Patterson last year, as we failed to weed our onions enough, after an initial enthusiastic good go at it. We were looking again at Copra, one we grew some years ago (before we found Frontier). I lucked out when I decided to see if Osborne had Gunnison, while I was shopping there. they didn’t, but they had Frontier! And then when I was shopping at Johnny’s, I found they did have some Gunnison for online sales only. So I ordered those too!

We’re also trying Sparkler bicolor sweet corn from Fedco and a drying bean I won’t name, as the seed is in short supply. And this year we’re hoping Red Express cabbage will prove to be a reliable little worker. We used to like Super Red 80, but had several years of poor results. Since then, none of the other red cabbages we tried have satisfied us in terms of size, earliness, productivity and flavor.

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello
West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

After a few years of poor pickling cucumbers, we’re going outside the box and trying West Indian Gherkins from Monticello, where they were grown by Thomas Jefferson (and some of the enslaved people, no doubt). These are not closely related to actual cucumbers, but are used similarly. I saw them growing in the Monticello garden when I was there for the Heritage Harvest Festival in September, and they are certainly robust and productive in hot humid weather. We’ll see how the pickles turn out!

My only other “impulse buy” was the Salanova Lettuce new at Johnny’s. They are 6 varieties of head lettuce designed to be used for salad mix at a single cutting. Quicker than  snipping rows of baby lettuce with scissors. More fun than plain lettuce heads. They are loose heads of small leaves in various shades of green and red, and two “hairstyles”: frizzy and wavy.

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny's Seeds
Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s Seeds

12/14/12 My book has gone to the printers!

Since my last update on December 4, we all had a last minute flurry of activity before I left for a few days in the Shenandoah mountains. A very nice break. I got back last night and now have official confirmation from New Society Publishers that the book has gone off to press!

I spent last weekend (before my trip) trawling through the whole thing as a pdf, looking for anything that needed fixing. Kathryn managed to shrink down the index to make up for the extra-long text. The designer managed to squeeze in some more photos. And I found a replacement for one photo that just wasn’t high enough resolution for the color section.

I really wanted a header drawing for each crop chapter, but I didn’t have quite enough of Jessie Doyle’s. You can see her work at jessiedoylesstuff.blogspot.com. I got a few more from other artists, and had to make sure they were credited correctly. Somehow the list and the late drawings got lost when I deposited them in the elctronic drop box, Box.com. I remember it took me ages to do and I was very late for dinner. I imagine I forgot to press one important last button. Anyway, we got all that sorted out.

There was one complicated crop rotation chart that needed last minute changes and the person working on it wasn’t there last Friday when NSP sent me the pdf, so I was unsure it was happening. It was all taken care of!

There were a couple of other charts that had oddities to fix. And sure enough, I found a typo that no-one had noticed before! (Oasts rather than oats.)

And now it’s passed the point of recall, and I’m not making any more changes. Now I can relax a bit!

The publication date remains February 1st, even though the off-press date is now more like mid-late January. I still hope to have some books to sign and sell at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference.

This is a big book – 456 pages now, up from the planned 400, but still at $34.95. Thirteen pages for a dollar! See http://www.newsociety.com/Books/S/Sustainable-Market-Farming

I’ll be getting 3000 bookmarks as give-aways, and I’ll buy 250 on my initial order (maybe 16 in a carton). I’ll be selling them through this website, and at conferences and other events I’m at.Image front cover

See you at the Virginia Festival of the Book!

Virginia Festival of the BookI’ve just received confirmation that I will be a presenter at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, March 20-24 2013. I’ll be talking about my book Sustainable Market Farming, and growing vegetables sustainably to feed ourselves and our community. My panel discussion, the Locavore track, will be on Thursday March 21 at 6pm, at CitySpace, 100 5th St NE. I’ll post more when I have more information.

Also on the Locavore panel will be Jackson Landers, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food and Eating Aliens (about hunting invasive animal species for food). Here’s an interesting interview with Jackson Landers from 2010 and his blog The Locavore Hunter.

Here’s my list of upcoming events:

I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference, January 25-27 2013 at Little Rock, Arkansas presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market; one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve also agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming – no details yet.

Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

After the Virginia Festival of the book in March, I have no workshops planned until September.  I’ll be at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, PA September 20-22, 2013. If you haven’t been to a MEN Fair before, consider going. They’re a lot of fun and a lot of useful information, all at a very reasonable price. Weekend tickets are $15 up until January 31. (Price at the gate: $35). There are workshops on renewable energy, small-scale agriculture, gardening, green building and more. There are vendors of books, tools and organic foods. You can book a room at the Seven Springs resort, or camp nearby. Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/SevenSprings.aspx#ixzz2F3JVesVm

Winding down, 41 bags of carrots in!

Washing and sorting carrots at Twin Oaks
Washing and sorting carrots at Twin Oaks

Yesterday was our last garden crew shift of the year. It was a chilly day, so I was glad we had finished harvesting all our carrots while the weather was warmer. Washing carrots in cold water is tough! Our carrots totaled 41 bags, plus several buckets of culled Use First quality. I think that’s the most we’ve ever got for fall carrots. Part of our success has been the realization that we can grow 5 rows per bed rather than 4, and get more carrots from the same space. Last fall we failed to finish our initial thinning, mowed off part of the patch, and abandoned them. In spring we were surprised to find them still alive. I wrote about this in a post “Risking Zombie Carrots: weeding tiny carrots versus weeding broccoli” . This year we got through all the first thinning (to 1″), but didn’t finish the second (to 3″). We found that we got much the same tonnage from the once-thinned section as the twice-thinned. But yield is not the whole story. Our cooks prefer the bigger carrots, from the area that got properly thinned.

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November
Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

So, for our last shift, we liberated some of our garlic shoots from under over-thick hay mulch. This year we planted up to week later than we usually do, and the colder weather meant the shoots hadn’t emerged in time to be liberated before we stopped having shifts with the crew. The picture above shows where we’d ideally be at before the end of shifts. Yesterday we were able to work on two of the beds, but the shoots were quite small and hard to find. The third bed was even further behind (it was planted a day or two later). We roll the hay bales out over the patch immediately after planting, and the thickness does vary. It’s important to walk through and rescue any shoots trapped under thick clods of hay, or they can smother and die. So the last part of the patch remains for those of us year-round Full Crew to tackle on our own. In the winter we have one of us each day responsible for taking care of the hoophouse, putting blown-open rowcovers back and harvesting outdoor kale, spinach, leeks, and as long as they last, lettuce, celery, senposai and Yukina Savoy. This winter we still have some broccoli and cabbage too. Fiesta has been a good late maturing broccoli for us this year.

My book is fast approaching press-time. Kathryn finished her index and sent it in. I wrote “About the author” and sent in another photo to substitute for one that wasn’t high enough resolution. I’ll probably spend this weekend reading a pdf of the whole book, before it goes to press. And then I take off for a few days with friends, to rest and celebrate.

Here’s a photo Ethan just took last week of our hoophouse and its bounty.

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12/4/12 Progress update on my book

Image front cover

Since my last update on November 13, we’ve continued to make progress and yet the press date has had to be postponed until December 10. The publication date remains February 1st, even though the off-press date is now more like mid-late January. I still hope to have some books to sign and sell at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference.

The photos for the color section, the extra photos for some of the chapter ends and the late additions to the drawings for heading the crop chapters are all being incorporated by the design and layout people at New Society Publishers.

Kathryn is busy on the index – I looked through that this morning and made some suggestions. She’s a very good indexer and a very good gardener. Sadly, we have to shrink down the index to make up for the extra-long text. The whole book has a maximum number of pages, so some things had to give way. I already wrote about pulling out a few chapters and editing down some of the others. This is a big book – 436 pages last time I looked.

The other task I had this morning was to reconfigure two charts and graphs that had got corrupted by the computer gremlins. It’s been a while since I worked with Excel charts, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find out how to fix it. But after a search and some experimenting, they came out OK, apart from an issue I had with the format of the dates. As an ex-pat Brit, I prefer the Day/Month approach, which is the opposite way round to the American Month/Day system. I also believe that written out month-names are easier to grasp than an endless stream of numerals. So my copy-editor and I agreed on a convention of “April 16”, which is in the normal US order of information, and still keeps the words in. But Excel hasn’t heard of that system. . .

This past week or so I also reviewed the text for the back cover, fixed a crop rotation diagram that had gone awry and read the foreword written by Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market magazine.

Some of my endorsers, the people writing advance praise based on reading an electronic uncorrected proof, have sent me copies of what they’re sending in. That’s a nice gift to receive, enthusiastic approval. I’ve also had helpful suggestions: Mark Schonbeck, one of my beady-eyed endorsers, spotted some errors and confusions remaining. I checked what he wrote, and fixed the previously unspotted ones without messing up the page flow, as it’s too late for that, now the index is underway.

I’ve been thinking about how many bookmarks I want as give-aways, and exactly how many books I’ll buy on my initial order (probably 200-300, depending how many fit in a carton).

Once the index and all the fix-its are done, I’ll get the whole thing as a pdf for 24 hours, to look through, hoping not to find any big troubles.

Meanwhile I’m working on my next article for Growing for Market , and planning slideshows for my presentations in the New Year. I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market (I’ve been gathering photos for that one);

An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh
An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh

one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve also agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming. Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

The slide show from my workshop on growing garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference is on www.slideshare.net. It is tagged by cfsa12, cfsa 12, growing garlic, for anyone who wants to look at that.

Climate Change, or just Weather?

We just had a cold night of 17F, considerably colder than our previous coldest this year (22F). Several people remarked how cold this November has been. Perhaps even colder than any month last winter? I decided to find out.

November 2011 had a low of 22F on 11/12, 11/18 and 11/19. The highest low was  56F on 11/21. The average low was 35.3F. December 2011 had a lowpoint of 18F on 12/12, a warmest night at 60F on 12/7, and the average low was 29.2F. January 2012 had a low point of 9F on 1/25, a “warmest” night of 39F just two days later on 1/27, and an average night low of 22.5F. February 2012 had a coldest night (10F) on 2/13, a warmest night (49F) on 2/2, and an average low of 29.3F.

Young blueberry bush in snow.Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Young blueberry bush in snow.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

So how does this November compare? Our coldest night has been 17F on 11/29, our warmest night 44F on 11/19, with an average of 27.5F. So, November 2012 has had colder nights than Nov 2011 and Dec 2011, but not January 2012.

What about the daytime? Has it been chillier than usual? This November has had a max of  78F on 11/11, a coldest day on 11/27 (46F) and an average of 58.4F, not counting today. November 2011 had a 78F day too (11/14) and much warmer days, the lowest was 50F on 11/17 and 11/18. The average daytime high was 65.9F. Positively balmy! Dec 2011 had a high of 68F on 12/15 and a coldest day at 44F just two days later. The average daytime high was 55.2F. Colder than this November. January 2012 had a high point of 72F on 1/31, a coldest day of 34F on 1/21 and an average daytime temperature of 53F. Also colder than this November.

Overwintered Vates kale.Photo credit Twin Oaks Community
Overwintered Vates kale.
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

We record our daily max and min temperatures and rainfall, enabling us to compile the weather data from the past several years into some interesting graphs. Each year around this time we write up a report for the community about how our gardening year has gone, which crops were successful, which not. We also include an appendix about the weather that year and previous years. The appendix gets longer with each added year, so we shorten the reports from the oldest years, so as to give prominence to weather most people can remember. Here I’ll include just the past four years.

The Weather Appendix

As always, the weather changes –

  • Our 2012 earthquakes numbers 61-82 were recorded between January and July 31. No more aftershocks of the Aug 23 2011 big quake have been recorded since, although I felt two in August. It’s nice to have that piece of history behind us after a year of nervousness. Our last frost was on 4/24, a very patchy light frost. The previous frosts were 4/11-4/14. This fall we had a patchy frost on 10/13, but no serious one till 11/1. January was cold and dryish with freezing rain on 1/20. February was mild and wet, with one 5″ snowfall. March and April were warm. May was twice as wet as average (7.4″), and warm. We had four days of 90F or more from 5/25. June heated up, with temperatures of 99F on 6/20, and 105F on 6/29. Seven days of 92F or more. July was brutally hot, with 17 or 18 days at 95F or hotter, nine of them 100F or more. The hottest was 107F. Slightly more rain than normal. And of course, the impressive/oppressive humidity. August had “only” six days above 95F, September was milder and rainier, with 5.5″, and no major hurricanes for us. October was warm, with daytime temperatures of 70-86F until the last week (the Hurricane Sandy week). We were extremely lucky with that, only getting about 3″ of rain. In my memory, there were long drought periods when the need to irrigate was relentless, but the data don’t support this memory. Funny, that. We actually had 2-7.4″ every month and the longest dry spell was the first two weeks of April.
  • 2011 was often too rainy. January 1st had a high of 62°F, then the month cooled, with several nights of 10°F, one at 4°F, and two snowfalls. February included 6 days with highs over 68°F, (80°F on 2/18), a dusting of snow, a few nights in the teens and a normal amount of rain (1.9”). March was wet with 6.7” rain (twice normal), 7 days at 70°F or more, 6 nights below 25°F. April had 7 very hot days (90°F or more), average rain, and a patchy last frost on 4/14. May was very wet (6.6”), and warm, ending with a string of days above 90°F. June was also wet (6.2”, including one deluge of 4.1”), hot at each end , two days at 100°F, and milder in the middle. July had a brutal two week drought at the end, and a string of 14 days (including 8/1-8/2) with temperatures above 95°F. The highest was 104°F. August continued with high temperatures, but only 7 days over 95°F. We got too much rain (7.7”), including Hurricane Irene, which gave us 2.8” but could have been so much worse. And there was the 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered a few miles from us on 8/23, and the 59 aftershocks registering 1.8 or higher between then and the last for the year on December 24 (mag 2.4) . November gave us a 17 day gap in aftershocks, up until the 5 in 48 hours 11/19-20. September brought another huge 7.7” rain, including Tropical Storm Lee. Temperatures were nice, although it was often hard to work with the soil getting saturated so often. October was pleasant, if still wet (5.5”), delaying harvest of our potatoes and rotting our winter squash. The first frosts came decisively at 25°F on 10/30 and 10/31. November had 3.9″ of rain, December 5.4″.
  • The winter of 2009-2010 was remarkable for heavy snowfalls. The lowest temperature of the winter was –5°F (1/30). There was a series of 22 Nor’easter storms December to March. The last frost was 5/9, long after the first days above 95°F (4/6 &4/7). 2010 had a brutally hot summer. The days above 95°F were 13 in June, 19 in July, 14 in August, 10 in September. Days above 100°F were 2, 11, 2, 2 for those months. The hottest day was 107°F on 7/24. No major hurricanes affected us, although Nicole gave us 2.5” rain 9/29. Statistically speaking, the rain was a normal amount, but when temperatures are so hot, much more evaporates. On 10/2 there was a magnitude 3.0 earthquake with an epicenter between Mechanicsville and Fredericksburg, and another at Ashland, magnitude 2.4 on 10/30. First frost was 10/23. November was mild, but the cold weather kicked in 12/4/10.
  • 2009 started mild then got extremely cold in mid-January, with temperatures below  –5°F.  We had the first significant snowfall in a few years, and the pond froze over for the first time in at least 3 years. Last frost 4/18. We had average precipitation overall, but it was flood or drought, which isn’t good for the garden. We lost the new Ag Well pump and tank in the Tobacco Barn fire, and had difficulties with irrigation. The hottest day was 98°F.  We had a heat wave in early June, but only eight days of 95°F or higher all year. In early November it rained for about four days straight.  First frost was 10/18.

Harvesting carrots, covering spinach

Hope those of you in the US had a good Thanksgiving holiday. We had a lovely meal here at Twin Oaks, and followed our tradition of going round the room giving each person a few minutes to say what they feel thankful for or appreciative of this year. Naturally, with about 90-100 people in the dining room, that takes a while! Many people appreciated the efforts of the garden crew and other food producers.

Since then, back to work! We stop having garden shifts for the year on December 6, so we are focusing on the tasks we really want to get to done by then. One big one is harvesting all our fall carrots.

One of our long carrot beds earlier in the year.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

So far we have dug 15 bags (about 50 pounds each), and are about a third of the way up the plot. We reckon we need at least 30 bags for the winter, so we are in very good shape, looking at getting maybe 45 bags, if we keep moving. The carrots have a great flavor, thanks to the cold nights we’ve been having. And they are in good shape. Not many voles in evidence this fall, or tunneling bugs.

This year we didn’t manage to finish the second thinning, so we started the harvest at the unthinned end of the plot. They are a surprisingly decent size for carrots that only got one thinning. After sowing, we flameweed the carrots before they emerge, then as soon as we can see them we hoe between the rows. It really helps to have evenly spaced parallel rows. Next we weed and thin to one inch, taking away the weeds to the compost pile. Leaving broken carrot leaves and roots can attract the carrot rust fly (root fly), and we don’t want those! After a while we hoe again, including using our Valley Oak wheel hoes in the paths. Then we weed again and thin to 3 inches, saving the bigger thinnings for salad carrots. After that we leave them to size up. It takes about 3 months from sowing to final harvest, with carrots.

Young carrots after their first thinning.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Another of our main jobs now is weeding the seven spinach beds and covering them with wire hoops and rowcover. I do like to weed first, as weeds under rowcover grow so well, hidden from sight. We use double hoops for our overwintering spinach. The inner hoop is thick wire with an eye made at each side at ground level. the rowcover goes on top of this, then the thinner wire hoops which hook into the eyes of the inner hoops. (I have a drawing in my book, but I can’t seem to copy it here.) The hoops hold the rowcover in place when it gets windy, and the rowcover can be pushed up between the hoops while we harvest. In our climate (USDA winter hardiness zone 7a), spinach not only survives the winter; it grows whenever the temperature is above about 40F, which happens quite often under the rowcover. So, provided we don’t over-pick, we can keep the plants going all winter into spring. The hoops also hold the rowcover away from the leaves, preventing abrasion damage.