Keep the Soil in Organic, Mother Earth News, winter reading

Photo from Dave Chapman, Organic Soil Movement

Photo from Dave Chapman, Keep the Soil in Organic

Did you know that nearly all the supermarket “organic” tomatoes are not grown in soil drawing the nutrients they need from the complex array in the soil, but in an inert material (rockwool, coir or plastic pipes with holes in), receiving as nutrients only what the growers provide in a solution that passes by the roots?

Did you know that your understanding of “organic” might be different from USDA’s? Driscoll’s Berries has over a thousand acres of “organic” hydroponic production in hoophouses in California and Mexico. They are the biggest hydroponic “organic” producer in the world.

Did you know that hydroponics is large-scale? Melody Meyers of UNFI testified at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that her company’s hydroponic “organic” sales exceeded $50,000,000. (Wholesale value – double it to get the retail value.)

Dave Chapman said

One of the challenges of the USDA takeover of organic certification has been the loss of involvement on the part of the organic farmers. As we have all struggled to make a living in a tough arena, it has been easy to give into a sense of helplessness around maintaining strong standards. At the same time that organic farmers have retreated from the process, the USDA has been profoundly influenced by large corporate farming interests.

Three quarters of US hydroponics sales go to only three or four farms – this is a huge concentration of money, power, and influence in a very few hands. And the industry is engaging in heavy lobbying, not just at NOSB, but throughout the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

How did this happen? How did “organic farming” change so drastically in six years? My report is based on Dave Chapman’s in his blog Keep the Soil in Organic.

In 2010, the NOSB recommended saying no to hydroponics receiving Organic Certification by a 14:1 vote, in keeping with international standards, the federal law (the Organic Foods Production Act, OFPA) that created the National Organic Program (NOP), and the traditional practices of organic farmers.

At the NOSB meeting in fall 2016, despite hydroponics industry lobbying, there was not enough support to vote to overturn the 2010 recommendation and allow hydroponics, aquaponics and bioponics. (This would have needed a 2/3 majority). Also, the proposal (from the Crops Subcommittee) that would have eliminated hydroponics in organic was sent back for reconsideration. The stalemate means that the NOP will continue to certify “organic” hydroponic operations.

Dave Chapman reported that

Food Democracy Now! presented a petition with over 12,000 signatures to reject hydroponics. Cornucopia Institute presented 1400 proxy letters from farmers and eaters demanding that soil stewardship be a requirement for organic certification. Clearly, the people numbers were on the side of the soil.

National Organic Program (NOP)  director Miles McEvoy stated at the meeting that even if the recommendation allowing hydroponics was defeated, it would not affect NOP policy. The NOP continues to support certifying hydroponics as USDA Organic even though the OFPA law requires Organic farming be based on maintaining and improving soil fertility. The NOP support of hydroponics is also in direct opposition to the 2010 NOSB recommendation, as well as standards in most other countries. Across the world, hydroponic operations are being USDA Organic certified.

A resolution  passed 12 to 0 reading, “It is the consensus of the NOSB to prohibit hydroponic systems that have an entirely water-based substrate.” (This refers to “plastic pipe” hydroponics as opposed to rockwool and coir which are imagined to provide something more than physical support.) This resolution does show consensus in rejecting the idea that hydroponic growing can become organic simply by “adding biology” to plain water, and provides a small glimmer of sanity and common sense. NOSB refused to acknowledge that actual hydroponic farming is not limited to plants that grow in water, but includes those propped up by rockwool and coir. The current hydroponics industry move is to avoid the “H word” and talk about “containerized ” plants – ones held in a small amount of material, but still being fertilized by solutions flowing by.

What makes a system hydroponic is how the fertility is delivered to the plant, not the material that the roots sit in. In a hydroponic system, the fertility is supplied to the plant in the irrigation water. There are so-called “organic” fertilizers that are extremely processed organic materials. For example, the 16-0-0 hydrolyzed soy protein being used in hydroponics acts like a synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. It has little similarity to unprocessed soy meal. In a genuinely organic system, the fertility results from the  complex soil food web interacting with organic materials we growers supply.

The companies speaking in support of hydroponics to the NOSB include Miracle Gro (chemical fertilizer company), Nature Gro (major supplier of substrates for conventional growers), the Organic Trade Association (lobbyists for the big hydroponic “organic” growers), Nature Sweet tomatoes (1400 acres of conventional greenhouses), Houweling’s Tomatoes (250 acres of conventional greenhouse tomatoes), and Driscoll’s (already mentioned).

These companies all want  to get in on the “Organic” market without doing the honest hard work. The food industry spends more money lobbying Capitol Hill each year than the defense industry does!

Know your farmer! Buy local, from trusted growers. Do what you can to speak up for real food, grown in the soil.

Weeding overwintered spinach in March Wren

Weeding over-wintered spinach. Photo Wren Vile


I wrote about our winter lettuce (a summary of blog posts here) for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. You can read it here.

peerj-04-1582-g005Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden has had some interesting blog posts recently. One is about a recent study called “Arthropods of the Great Indoors: Characterizing Diversity Inside Urban and Suburban Homes,” and its lead author is Dr. Matthew Bertone. We are hosting an average of over 90 different arthropod types per home! I’ve noticed that we’ve accidentally brought camel crickets from our root cellar into our bathroom! I’ve been reducing their numbers. . .  They don’t appear to be in top 12 found in most people’s homes according to this article.

This post on Do Home Remedies for Weeds or Garden Pests Work? is a careful look at the options often recommended by others, with cautions about pouring lots of Epsom salts, vinegar, clove oil on your plants and soil.

Her Special Weed Issue has links to a lot of useful weed topics, as well as info on a  Baby Birds book with delightful-looking watercolors.

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Preparing for the Heritage Harvest Festival, winter hoophouse harvests

The Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Virginia, September 9 and 10, 2016

Now, at the height of summer, I am looking ahead to speaking events this fall, winter and next spring. (I have been in the habit of turning down presentations from May-August, so i can focus on our gardens). My first booking is the fun and local Heritage Harvest Festival at Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Click the link above to plan your visit.

Heritage harvest Festival Speakers include Joel Salatin, Ira Wallace, Michael Twitty and many more. Photo Southern Exposure

Heritage harvest Festival Speakers include Joel Salatin, Ira Wallace, Michael Twitty and many more.
Photo Southern Exposure

Friday is devoted to classroom workshops and walking tours. I will be giving my presentation on Fall Vegetable Gardening on Friday 2-3 pm. It’s a ticketed event, limited to the 32 people who can fit in the classroom. After the workshop I will be signing copies of my book from 3.15-3.45 pm at the Shop at Monticello, and chatting to whoever comes by. There are  30 other workshops on Friday,  and 3 workshops on Sunday.

Monticello Garden Tour with Peter Hatch Photo courtesy of Monticello

Monticello Garden Tour with Peter Hatch
Photo courtesy of Monticello

The main event is on Saturday,  with general admission from 9 am to 6 pm. Attend some of the 16 free workshops, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Tomato Tasting, the Chef demos, Seed swap, Monticello Shop tent and Kids activities. Spend your hard-earned cash in the Beer garden, at the Food concessions, and at 36 Premium Workshops (with pre-paid tickets).

OX_WoQaSw3pW03jzq16xGxrQ12fEY0vnBsBSMIKZcU8I’ll be talking about Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops at the Woodland Pavilion (50 seats) from 1.45 – 2.15 pm, followed by book signing at the Shop again.

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Tomato medley. Photo courtesy of Monticello


If your tomatoes don’t look as wonderful as those in the Monticello  photo above, you might be casting around for descriptions and photos of problems. Margaret Roach in her blog A Way to Garden, recently posted an interview with Dr Meg McGrath about tomato diseases, with photos. If you are worrying about Late Blight, you can sign up for alerts, although when I tried, my computer warned me the link  to www.usablight.org was not secure. Margaret Roach’s Tomato Troubles FAQs has some good descriptions and many helpful links. One of the links is to Tom Stearn’s “tomato hygiene” management method.

We had trouble with our paste tomatoes, and got excellent help from the Plant Disease Clinic of the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Sadly, some of our plants seem to have been victim of some herbicide drift or cross-contamination, despite our best efforts to run our garden organically. We don’t control what falls out of the air. Happily, the plants recovered from the stunted curling in of the leaves, and are starting to pump out good yields. I hate the thought that we will be eating slightly poisoned tomatoes, even though they are still much better than commercially grown non-organic produce.


August2016 cover 300pxThe August issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, along with my article about planning winter and early spring hoophouse harvests.

Here’s our month-by-month alphabetical list of what we plan to harvest:

November
Brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood
Beet greens, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, spinach, tatsoi, thinnings of chard, baby turnips and greens for salad mix. We still have leaf lettuce outdoors, and only harvest from the hoophouse lettuce if the weather is bad outdoors.
December
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard for salad, Chinese cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, maruba santoh, mizuna and frilly mustards, pak choy, radishes, salad mix, scallions, senposai, nspinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.

Hoophouse mizuna and lettuce mix. Photo by Kathleen Slattery

Hoophouse mizuna and lettuce mix.
Photo by Kathleen Slattery

January
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, Chinese cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, maruba santoh, mizuna and frilly mustards, pak choy, radishes,
salad mix, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
February
Arugula, brassica salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce (we cut the whole heads from 2/21), baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix,
scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
March
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce, lettuce heads, baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
April
Brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce (may end in early April), lettuce heads (until late April, then lettuce from outdoors), baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, scallions, spinach.

Other great articles include one by Eric and Joanna Reuter about growing chestnuts, one by Gretel Adams about growing flowers without plastic, including the wonderfully simple idea of fastening C-clamps on the bottom of the hood over the tiller to mark rows in the soil. There are reviews of two farming phone apps, one for CSA farmers and one called BeetClock, based of Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook.

Growing for Market issue for March, upcoming events, return of the ticks

GFM_March2016_cover-300pxThe March issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on planning and siting a hoophouse. This is a good time of year to scope out good sites for a hoophouse (high tunnel) if you don’t already have one. Or if you want another!

I address NRCS funding; what to look for in a good site (sunshine, drainage, good soil, fairly level land, wind protection, road access, electricity and water supplies);  size and shape; and DIY versus professionally made frames (my advice – don’t skimp!). I go into the debate on single layer versus double layer plastic and special types of plastic.

I will be writing a follow-up article soon, talking about hoophouse end wall design, windows and doors, fixed walls, roll-up and roll-down walls, interior design (bed layout) and questions of in-ground insulation or even heating, as well as rainwater run-off and perhaps collection.

Our hoophouse site before construction. Photo Twin Oaks Community

Our hoophouse when brand new. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our hoophouse when brand new.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Other articles in this issue of Growing for Market include one on Integrated Pest and Disease Management by Karin Tifft; one on how to plan to make more money, by Jed Beach; Edible landscaping by Brad Halm; and Gretel Adams on how to best look after flowers at harvest, to cope with their particular and sometimes peculiar needs. An issue very packed with information!


My talk at the Culpeper County Library last weekend was very well received. Most of the audience were small-scale growers themselves, some were CSA farmers.

12036905_991970554182625_8873229727110436068_nNow I’m gearing up for a Crop Planning class at For the Love of the Local in my home town on Thursday 3/10 6-7pm. 402 West Main Street. Louisa, Virginia. (540) 603-2068.

OGS Spring16_EmailSig (2)Immediately after that I’m headed to Asheville, NC for the Organic Growers School. On Saturday 3/12, 2-3.30pm I’ll be presenting (a shorter version of) Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale, which was a big hit at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference at the end of January. On Sunday 3/13 , 4-5.30pm, I’ll be presenting my Growing Great Garlic slideshow.

fair-logoTwo weeks after that, I’ll be back in Asheville for the Mother Earth News Fair. Click the link to see the draft schedule. I’ll be giving presentations on Crop Planning and on Fall Vegetable Production. We decided that although the Asheville Fair is always in April, people there also may be just as interested in fall vegetable growing as much as in spring vegetables!

For the stay-at-homes I’ll put these presentations up on SlideShare after the event and share them on my blog.


Margaret Roach A Way to Garden

Margaret Roach A Way to Garden

Spring has reached Virginia and it’s time to be on the lookout for ticks. I found a really good interview with Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute on A Way to Garden.  This blog is by Margaret Roach, a long time garden writer, who interviews many interesting people. You can listen to her podcast or read the interview. Learn why the black-legged tick (which can transmit Lyme disease) is called the deer tick and why that isn’t the best name; why mice, chipmunks and shrews (but not voles) contribute to the spread of Lyme disease, and why foxes, opossums, raccoons and bobcats can reduce Lyme disease incidence (by catching the small mammals). Possums also “hoover up” and eat the ticks directly.


We’ve finally started planting! We transplanted some spinach and sowed carrots on Saturday. The new spinach is covered with hoops and rowcovers, just as our overwintered spinach is. This has been a tough winter. The cold-damaged spinach had bleached frozen spots on the leaves, but we have been able to harvest it about once a week.

Weeding overwintered spinach in March Wren

Weeding overwintered spinach in March. Photo by Wren Vile

Garden Calendar, starting seedlings, ladybugs

One of the pages in our Field Manual, which we revise each winter. Photo VABF

One of the pages in our Field Manual, which we revise each winter.
Photo Virginia Association for Biological Farming

We’re busy planning our 2016 garden, and maybe you are too. Here’s a link to our Twin Oaks Garden Calendar, which is a month-by-month list of vegetable production tasks. It’s two years old and a few things have changed, but most crops stay the same. Margaret Roach on her website A Way to Garden gave links to various regional garden calendars. She even includes two links in England! I found the one from West Virginia Extension Service particularly helpful and well-organized, and useful in central Virginia too.

On the day before Christmas we got our seed orders sent in (Later than I like, but at least we got done). This week our main planning tasks have been around the Seedlings Schedule, getting ready for our first sowings on January 17. Yes, it always seems so early! But we want early harvests of cabbage, lettuce, scallions and hoophouse tomatoes, so that’s when we’re starting!

Seed flats in the greenhouse in early spring. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Seed flats in the greenhouse in early spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

This photo is from late January or early February and you can see a mix of newly emerged close-packed seedlings and spotted out young plants in open flats. Also in the middle of the picture are some big lettuce plants that we have been harvesting leaf-by-leaf during the winter.

Our greenhouse is on a concrete pad and we have built beds with loose stacked cinder blocks. In September or October we screen compost into wheelbarrows and fill the beds. It’s an “exhilarating” job, balancing the wheelbarrows on boards across the tops of the beds. Once the beds are full we transplant lettuces into the compost. These will feed us during the winter and we pull them up in the new year as we need either the compost to fill seed flats, or the space to set the flats of germinated seedlings in the light. We put sticks across the tops of the beds and set the flats on the sticks. It makes great use of the space, but it isn’t very ergonomically efficient! We have to move the flats individually several times as we take maturing starts out to the cold frames for two weeks of hardening off before transplanting in the garden. I have fantasies of rolling bench tops set over the beds, so we wouldn’t have to do so much lifting and moving. One day!

We use 100% home-made screened compost for all our starts (transplants). This gives them a good boost of fertility and helps us reduce bought-in supplies. People sometimes ask if the compost “burns” the plants or if it’s too rich. or attracts aphids. We have a very good compost-making system that provides us with great compost. It has from October to February to mellow out while growing some lettuce for us. In the past we did have some lower-quality, less well-finished compost that did kill off some lettuce transplants in the fall. But for many years we’ve had reliably good compost and no problems of that sort. Compost gives the plants lots of stamina, so that if transplanting is held up, there are still enough nutrients to keep the plants actively growing. I have seen plants in commercial potting compost run out of oomph after a while, and get stunted and useless.

We do get aphids, starting just after the Solstice, when it is warm enough for them, but not yet warm enough for their predators. We also get aphids in the hoophouse, where the plants are growing in regular soil. So I don’t think having the seedlings in pure compost is the cause of the aphid population boom. Either way, we often need to deal them a blow, or in actuality 3 blows. We use soap spray three times, at 4-5 day intervals. This knocks out each new generation of hatching aphids (or catches ones that survived the previous spraying). Some aphids lay eggs, others bear live young (isn’t that a scary thought?). After we’ve got the aphid numbers down to manageable levels, we collect up ladybugs wherever we can find them, and take them to our greenhouse or hoophouse, to keep the levels under biological control from then on.

Ladybugs of Maine Poster from the Lost Ladybug Project

Ladybugs of Maine
Poster from the Lost Ladybug Project

Talking of ladybugs, we are hoping to join some research into breeding and releasing native ladybug species for biological control. There are many different kinds of ladybugs and two beautiful posters. See the Lost Ladybug Project and their Ladybug Identification Tools which include their own two page guide to common ladybug species. The posters are from Maine and South Dakota.

Ladybugs of South Dakota Lost Ladybug Project

Ladybugs of South Dakota
Lost Ladybug Project

Both a long way from central Virginia, but lovely to study nonetheless.

Our other main garden pest this month has been deer. We drained and stored our motion-activated sprinkler deer deterrents as well as our solar powered electric fence unit.

We also had a groundhog above ground in December – something to be on the look-out for in unseasonably warm weather. Grrr! On the other hand, I did enjoy seeing quince blossoms, even though it seemed weird.

Sweet potato harvest, new hoophouse plastic, see you in Kansas!

Our sweet potatoes curing in boxes in the basement. Photo Nina Gentle

Our sweet potatoes curing in boxes in the basement.
Photo Nina Gentle

We got our sweet potatoes all dug and safely indoors before Saturday night’s 27F and Sunday night’s 26F. Whew! Another Garden Year Milestone passed. We got about 223 boxes this year. The boxes contain about 23lbs each, so that’s 5129 lbs, plenty to feed 100 hungry people for six or seven months. Last year we had a huge harvest, and sold some for a Farm-to-School program and gave some to our local Food Bank. Our average harvest for this size patch (about 700 plants) is 4035lbs. This year we got a yield of a little over 7lbs of sweet potatoes per plant. Last year’s record crop was 11lbs per plant.


No sooner had we finished the sweet potato harvest than we put new outer roof plastic on our hoophouse (yesterday). We decided to just replace the outer layer as we thought it must have big holes, as the inflation blower wasn’t keeping the air bubble between the two layers inflated.

Pulling hoophouse plastic. Photo McCune Porter

Pulling hoophouse plastic.
Photo McCune Porter

We’ve always replaced both layers at once previously, but October is getting late in the year for this job and it’s so much easier to replace just the outer layer! We think we got some holes from a surprise hailstorm (rare here), and we knew we’d made some when we replaced the plastic a couple of years ago. We’d pulled the outer layer too tight, trimmed it, then tried to let out a bit more slack from the margins. The result was lots of holes from the wigglewire’s old positions.

But we didn’t find any huge holes in the old plastic when we got it down, and this morning the house is still not inflated, so our problem is not solved. The next suspect is the inflation blower, which has a theoretically a large enough output, but maybe it’s not working well any more. It sounds OK. Maybe some warmer days will help. . . Not sure of the science there – maybe wishful thinking.  We need a well-inflated hoophouse (high tunnel) to provide winter insulation as well as keep the house sturdy in the face of winter weather.


MENFairLogoIn a couple of days I’m off to Topeka, Kansas, for the October 24-25 Mother Earth News Fair. Here are the details repeated from last week’s post:

I will be giving Fall and Winter Hoophouses  as a keynote presentation on Saturday 10-11 am on the Mother Earth news stage and Spring and Summer Hoophouses
on Saturday at 1-2pm on the Organic Gardening Stage. I’ll be signing books at 11 am Saturday in the MEN Bookstore. I’ll be demonstrating How to String Weave Tomatoes using my sparkly-pink-tinsel and pencil model at the New Society booth 2055 on Saturday at 4pm, and Sunday at 10 am and 2 pm.

If you want the pdfs of the handouts, click these links:

Hoophouse in Fall and Winter Handout

Hoophouse in Spring and Summer Handout


I’ve been enjoying the Connection bimonthly newsletter from the USA National Phenology Network. They monitor the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes. “Phenology is nature’s calendar—when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall. ” They have a lively newsletter and a participatory project called Nature’s Notebook, where everyday people are encouraged to collect data in back yards, nearby parks or as part of a field study. They have a few other newsletters too, for different audiences.


Margaret Roach, author of the blog A Way to Garden, has a great post about the connections between high numbers of acorns, white-footed mice, and ticks. And acorns, chipmunks, mice and Gypsy moths. And acorns, mice and song birds.

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Laura Lengnick, Carol Deppe, Growing for Market April issue

51qEC5xzBVLImage-contributor-s_avatarHere’s a new book I’m really looking forward to reading: Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate. $19.95 from New Society Publishers.

Like many farmers, I’ve been struggling not to get despondent about erratic and extreme weather, especially in the past few years. I worry about how and if we are going to be able to adapt to continue producing good food despite extreme heat, cold, drought and deluge. I don’t want to slide into catastrophic thinking about plagues of new pests and diseases. Obviously we’ll need to make changes to how and when we plant and harvest – old-timey calendars don’t work any more.

I’m already there with the need for good record-keeping (to figure out what works best); eating and supplying local food (to reduce transportation fuel use and to get the freshest food); and doing my personal best not to make climate change worse. And I need help in understanding how to be more resilient and use the options I have. And it’s definitely time to start this!

I went to a workshop given by Laura Lengnick at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference in 2012: Managing a Changing Climate:A Farm Vulnerability Assessment and I was encouraged by her grasp of both the science and of farming. Her book is one of three being launched by New Society at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC

Resilient Gardener_SmallResilience is a concept familiar to another author, Carol Deppe, whose new book The Tao of Vegetable Gardening will, sooner or later, get a review by me on this site. I enjoyed her earlier book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. That book focuses on staple crops for survival: potatoes, corn, dry beans, squash and eggs. Her new book includes other crops which make our lives richer and worth gardening for: tomatoes, peas, green beans, summer squash. I just read an interesting interview with Carol Deppe from Margaret Roach who blogs as A Way to Garden, and makes radio podcasts such as this interview.
GFM-April2015-cover-300pxAnd yet more reading! The April issue of Growing for Market is out. I’ve written the first of a pair of articles on hot weather greens. This one is about greens mostly cooked and eaten. next month my article will be about greens mostly eaten as salads. I know there is a lot of overlap, but I had to draw a line somewhere! This month’s article includes chard, Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, beet greens, Egyptian spinach, leaf amaranths, Aztec Spinach, Water Spinach, sweet potato leaves, squash leaves and shoots, crowder pea shoots and leaves and edible celosia. No need to go short of leafy greens, no matter how hot it gets!
Another article in this issue is about pesticide drift contamination, written by Joanna and Eric Reuter, whose fascinating blog I love to follow on their website Chert Hollow Farm. Their blog has a 3-part series of posts about their own experience of being contaminated by a neighbor. Their article tells their own story more briefly and also that of Terra Bella farm, an hour from them.
Jean-Martin Fortier has a great article on Six strategies to prevent weeds. We need them all! (Of course, we are already using some of them.) Raymond Cloyd from Kansas State University has written a timely article about the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a newly emerging pest of fruit, especially brambles. Gretel Adams, in her regular column on flower-growing, advises planting bulbs quickly and often. And Lynn Byczynski reports on what the ag census says about local food. Having the report read carefully and summarized for us is a great service.

Public speaking, Garden Calendars, Winter-kill temperatures

GFM-January2015-cover-300pxThe January issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, along with my article about giving talks. I want to encourage more gardeners and farmers to “grasp the nettle” and offer to give a workshop on a topic you know about. I speak at about 9 or 10 events each year now, but I used to be completely terrified of public speaking. So, if I can do it, I think you can too! It’s a way of sharing useful information to help improve the quality and quantity of fresh healthy food in the world. It’s a part of a co-operative model of spreading information rather than hording it. It can be a way of “singing for your supper”, as conference speakers usually get free registration to the conference and accommodation. Sometimes traveling expenses are covered, sometimes meals, sometimes there’s an honorarium. Start small and local and offer a farm tour, perhaps after joining a local group like CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training). At Twin Oaks, we have been part of the Piedmont CRAFT group of central Virginia. Each month in the main season, there is a gathering at one of the involved farms, with a tour and a discussion topic. Todd Niemeier of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville was the starting energy for that group too.

The January Growing for Market also contains a helpful article about using hot water seed treatments to reduce seed-borne diseases (by Chris Blanchard). The idea of soaking seeds in hot water for half an hour or even more, and then drying them out to sow later can be daunting. But with this step-by-step guide and encouraging reports from different growers, it all becomes manageable.

Andrew Mefferd has branched out from his detailed series on hoophouse tomato growing, to talk about growing eggplant in hoophouses or greenhouses. Very useful for people in climates colder than ours here. And, of course, there are tips that are helpful to people who thought they had already read everything about growing eggplants!

Kyle and Frances Koehn write about the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), a federally assisted Farm to School Program suited to small-scale growers. FFVP supplies elementary schools with fresh produce as snacks (so you don’t have to grow enough to supply a whole lunch every day). For the authors, this has been a great fit with winter leafy greens grown in their NRCS funded high tunnel. Search for the FFVP program in your state. Virginia, for example, covers FFVP in their Farm to School Program Resource Guide.

Lynn Byczynski writes about growing heirloom mums, and Valley Oak Tools advertises the debut of their Electric Cub crop cultivating tractors.


Flats of seedlings in our greenhouse. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Flats of seedlings in our greenhouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

And, here we are with another new year, thinking about the next growing season. I recently read a post in Margaret Roach’s  A Way to Garden. She has gathered regional garden calendars. I found the one from West Virginia Extension Service particularly helpful and attractively set out. This put my in mind to give the link to our Twin Oaks Garden Calendar for all vegetable growers in the mid Atlantic. Especially as one of my local farmer friends asked me about it recently. And let’s not forget that on Saturday 1/17 we are scheduled to start some cabbage, lettuce and mini-onions!

Red marble mini-onions. Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

Red Marble mini-onions.
Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds


Part of my attention at this time of year goes to Winter-kill temperatures for different crops. We’ve had a couple of unusually-cold-for-this-early-in-winter nights already.  What did I learn?

At 14F, Cylindra beets were OK, as were Tribute and Kaitlin cabbages. The remaining broccoli shoots became rubbery.

At 10F, some of the Tribute and Kaitlin cabbage heads were damaged; Some carrot tops were killed, but the roots were OK; Senposai was damaged, but not killed; the winter radish (daikon, China Rose and Shunkyo Semi-long) were OK; the celery is over; most of the chard leaves were killed, and the medium-sized non-headed oats cover crop took quite a hit. Outredgeous lettuce is not as cold-tolerant as I thought. Olga was damaged, but Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Pirat, Red Cross, Sylvesta and Winter marvel were fine under hoops and thick rowcover.

Before it got any colder, we harvested the last of the Melissa savoy cabbage and the bed of Deadon cabbage (we could have covered it if we’d really wanted to preserve it for longer, but we were ready for some fresh cabbage – it does make the stored cabbage look rather wan.

Lettuce bed. Credit Wren Vile

Lettuce bed. Salad Bowl and Outredgeous in early spring.
Credit Wren Vile

Article about Austrian winter peas, frost, horticultural myths

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Winter peas in rye.  Credit Cindy Conner

Winter peas in rye.
Credit Cindy Conner

The October issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, with my article about using Austrian winter peas as a cover crop. The lovely photo on the cover is by Cindy Conner, from her blog Homeplace Earth. We like winter peas because they can be sown quite late in the season,  several weeks later than clovers. This gives more chance of growing your own nitrogen after finishing up a food crop in the fall. We sow winter peas until 11/8 or so, here in central Virginia (zone 7). We mix them with either winter rye or wheat for vertical support, and to add biomass when we incorporate the cover crop in spring. To get best value from legumes such as winter peas, wait till they flower before tilling them in. That’s late April here. To make this work, we arrange our crop rotation to have winter peas followed by food crops we want to plant between mid-May and July. Winter squash, watermelon, mid-season sweet corn, late sweet corn, sweet potatoes and June-planted white potatoes all fit the bill. A bonus is that the tender tips and tendrils of the cover crop peas make a gourmet salad ingredient in April, right when we are all crying out for fresh flavors. As always, the go-to information about this cover crop is available in the SARE book Managing Cover Crops Profitably

Other great articles in this issue include Eight tips for winter success by Ben Hartman. He writes about a gathering of experienced vegetable growers with suppliers, researchers and extension workers in Vermont, to compare practices and increase the amount of locally-grown winter produce. Zones 4 and 5. These growers are not timid! The eight tips include the importance of ventilation, using inner row covers close to the crops inside the hoophouse, removing those inner covers on sunny days (or at least twice a week), hardening off plants in the fall so they’d survive winter temperatures, using supplemental heat wisely if at all, using IRT or black plastic mulch for heading crops, paying attention to soil fertility and salt levels, and planning ahead to combat chickweed! The Frozen Ground Gathering participants have posted many of their Powerpoints.

Susan Studer King writes about a “21st century version of a barn-raising”  neighbors helping one another install solar panels – solar co-ops. The GfM editor, Lynn Byczynski, writes about hoophouse upgrades to save energy. Gretel Adams writes about growing stocks in the hoophouse. I love reading her articles even though I don’t grow flowers!


Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we had a first very light, very patchy frost on Saturday night, well, probably Sunday morning 10/5. Very little damage, a few of the sweet potato vines hit, and a few of the Roma tomatoes. We scurried to harvest Romas on Saturday, gaining 4 big buckets of red ones and about 13 buckets of green ones. We’ve now set the green ones out on egg trays to ripen in the basement. Egg trays make great ripening containers for the egg-shaped Roma tomatoes. I mean those grey square pulp trays that hold 30 eggs or tomatoes. They stack well, are lightweight, and free! We didn’t finish harvesting tomatoes, and now have a warmer break before any more frosts, so before we harvest the rest, we can turn our attention to digging up the sweet potatoes.

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they are a bonus. Credit McCune Porter

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they are a bonus. Credit McCune Porter

For those living on the East Coast, here’s a heads up about a full lunar eclipse early tomorrow morning. 6.25 am, before the sun comes up, just before the moon sets.


Hope to see some of you at Kansas for the Mother Earth News Fair. The schedule has been updated to show my workshops.MENFairLogo


And I’ll end with a link to A Way to Garden, a lovely blog from Margaret Roach, writing about her interview with Linda Chalker-Scott, who is busting horticultural myths, such as digging a huge hole and filling it with potting soil when transplanting a young tree. Lots of fun to read, and lots of wasted time and effort saved!