Sowing hoophouse winter crops

New spinach seedlings in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

We are on our way with our late fall, winter and early spring crops in the hoophouse. On September 6 and 7 we sowed five crops in our first bed – spinach, tatsoi, Bulls Blood beet greens, radishes and scallions. On September 15 we sowed lettuces, chard, pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy, in an outdoor bed to be transplanted into the hoophouse in a few weeks, after we’ve prepared another bed.

Broadfork from Way Cool Tools.
Photo Way Cool Tools

To prepare hoophouse beds for winter crops, we first remove the summer crops to the compost pile, then spread a generous layer of compost over the surface. We use about five wheelbarrowsful for one bed 4’ x 90’. Next we move the three lengths of drip tape off to one side or the other, and broadfork the whole area. We have an all-steel broadfork from Way Cool Tools that we really like. To use a broadfork, work backwards either going the length of the bed or the width. Stab the tines into the soil and step on the crossbar, holding the long handles. Step from foot to foot until the bar touches the soil, with the tines all the way in, then step off backwards, pulling the handles towards you. This loosens a big area of soil, which hopefully crumbles into chunks. Lift the broadfork and set it back in the soil about 6” back from the first bite. Step on the bar and repeat. We’ve found it’s important to only broadfork the amount of space you have time to rake immediately, otherwise the warm hoophouse conditions dry out the soil and make it harder to cultivate into a fine tilth, which is the next task. Sometimes we use a rake, breaking the clumps up with the back of the rake, then raking the soil to break up the smaller lumps, and reshape the bed.

7″ stirrup hoe.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

Sometimes we use a wide stirrup hoe very energetically. This isn’t the job scuffle hoes were designed for (that’s very shallow hoeing, and hence why we call them scuffle hoes), but the sharp hoe blade does a good job of breaking up clumpy soil. We’ve also found it important to lay the drip tapes back in place in between each day’s work, so that the soil gets irrigated when we run the system and stays damp. We don’t want dead, baked soil.

Once the bed is prepared, we measure out the areas for different crops and mark them with flags. Next we use our row-marker rake (bed prep rake) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Johnny’s Bed Prep rake with row marker pegs.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

We plant crops closer in the hoophouse than outdoors, and closer to the edges of the beds. We don’t have many weeds in the hoophouse, and the paths are marked off with twine, to keep us from stepping on the beds, compacting the soil. We find that the soil does slump and compact some of its own accord, even if we don’t step on the edges (and of course, some feet do find themselves on the bed edges sometimes), hence the once-a-year broadforking. We found out how valuable the soil loosening is, because one year before we started broadforking, we decided to loosen the edges with a digging fork to make up for several years of accidental steps. The edge rows of spinach grew much bigger than the inner rows, and we realized that the whole bed needed loosening.

After the rowmarking, we deepen the furrows if needed (often it’s not needed), using a pointed hoe, then sow the seeds. We pre-sprout our spinach for a week in a jar in the fridge. Just soak the seed overnight, drain it in the morning, fit a mesh lid on the jar, and lay it on its side in the fridge. Once a day, give the jar a quarter turn to tumble the seeds and even out the moisture. This year the seeds were a bit wet when I came to sow them, and clumped together. I poured them out on a cloth to dry a bit before I sowed. This year we are growing two varieties (Avon and Reflect) side by side, still seeking a replacement for our much loved Tyee, which was pulled from the market, because it was prone to a disease prevalent in the West.

Easter Egg radish seedlings in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

The spinach, tatsoi and radishes came up very quickly, with the beets a day or two behind. The scallions came up in a week, which is quicker than at other times of year.

One week after the sowings, I thinned the spinach and radishes to 1” apart in the row. We are growing Easter Egg, Cherry Belle and White Icicle radishes. The Cherry Belle will be ready first, Easter Egg next (they mature relatively gradually, giving us a nice harvest period). Icicle are unusual long white radishes which are slower to mature, and slow to get woody.

Buckley One-cut (Eazileaf) lettuce.
Photo High Mowing Seeds

Meanwhile, outdoors on September 15 we sowed the first half of the crops that we transplant bare-rooted into the hoophouse. Our planned schedule called for 10 varieties of lettuce, but I ended up sowing 12, partly because we are trying three new Vitalis one-cut lettuce varieties from High Mowing Seeds: Ezrilla, Hampton and Buckley.  These are bred to provide lots of similar-sized leaves from cutting. They can be cut and mixed for baby salad mix or cut as whole heads for easy-to-prepare salads, or harvested by the leaf (or layers of leaves) once the plant has grown to full size. This is how we use them. They were previously called Eazileaf varieties, and are now called One-cut lettuces. They are only available as pelleted seed, so I regard them as too pricey to grow for baby salad mix, and best used for multiple harvests.

Johnny’s Green Sweet Crisp Salanova lettuce.
Photo Johnnys Seeds

Osborne’s Multigreen 3 lettuce.
Photo Osborne Seeds

You can click here to read the New Head Lettuces article Andrew Mefferd wrote about this new type of lettuce in Growing for Market magazine. We have previously grown Johnny’s Salanova and Osborne’s Multileaf varieties and I wrote about them here and here. This year we are trying the High Mowing ones. We did a small trial of them outdoors in spring, knowing that in our climate (very different from High Mowing’s in Vermont) they might well bolt. They grew into handsome plants, but clearly they are more suited to fall than spring in our quickly-heating-up climate.

Other lettuces we sow for our winter hoophouse crops include Oscarde, Panisse, Tango which have a similar shape of lots of same-sized leaves, and Green Forest (romaine), Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Merlot, Revolution, Salad Bowl and Red Salad Bowl. I would have sown Red Tinged Winter but we seem to be out of seed.

Red Salad Bowl lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Book Review, The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook, by Andrew Mefferd

The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook,  Organic Vegetable Production Using Protected Culture. by Andrew Mefferd. Chelsea Green.March 2017, $34.95. ISBN 978-1-60358-637-5

I was lucky enough to be asked to write an endorsement for this book, and was sent an uncorrected proof to read. Now I have the full color, published version, and I’m poring through it once again. Andrew Mefferd is the editor and publisher of Growing for Market magazine that I sometimes write for. Prior to that job, he worked at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in the research department for seven years. Born in Virginia, he apprenticed on farms in six states on the west and east coasts, then farmed in Pennsylvania. He now farms in Maine, and has a good appreciation for the difference a different climate can make.

This is not an “Everything you always wanted to know to get started with a hoophouse” book, nor a compendium of greenhouse crops, pests and diseases. On the contrary, this book focusses down on the precise details of successful practices to grow what Andrew has determined to be the eight most profitable crops using protected culture: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, greens, microgreens and herbs.

This is a book to come back to each time we want to know more about one of his topics. If I were about to launch into microgreens, I would follow Andrew’s methods. I tend to read quite widely on vegetable growing topics and I’ve read some very fussy time-consuming microgreens-growing instructions for home gardeners. I haven’t seen another book be so down-to-earth with an efficient and professional growing method that uses only simple tools and supplies. Those wanting to grow microgreens in quantity, and make a living from it will find plenty of information to get started or to fine-tune their operation.

The part of the book I’m most excited about right now is the information on what plants need at different stages of growth, in terms of balance between temperature, humidity as it affects transpiration, daylength, light intensity, carbon dioxide, oxygen, water and nutrients; and how to use this information for “crop steering” – adjusting conditions to select for leaf growth or fruit development. Here are the details to get it right. I once got a light meter to compare the light transmission through clouded old glass and new glass (I wanted to know if it was worthwhile to replace the glass in our greenhouse). But then I didn’t know how to use the information. Now I know that 1% less light will lead to about a 1% lower yield. Specific information like this can be hard to dig up bit by bit on the web. Here the gold nuggets have been screened for us, and the mud left behind.

The book starts off with a sixty page section on the basics of protected culture: the why, what and how of the various options of structures and utilities you might be choosing among, with a chapter on economics and efficiencies. The main part of the book then dives into the specific practices that help the eight crops do best. Chapters on propagation, pruning and trellising; temperature control and crop steering; and grafting are applicable to many of the recommended crops. Next follow chapters on each of the crop groups, and appendices on hydroponics, pests and disease and tools and supplies.

Andrew is obviously a very attentive farmer, and one who keeps good records. And here we can all benefit, whether experienced growers looking to improve our game, or beginners wanting to grasp success from day one. Serious backyard gardeners could use this book too, not only commercial growers. Facts are facts, results are results. Not everyone will want to follow all of the recommendations immediately or perhaps ever. In our hoophouse in Virginia, we grow two beds of early tomatoes in our hoophouse with just enough trellising to keep them upright, and minimal pruning. As soon as our outdoor tomatoes are producing well, we pull out the hooophouse rows. Our climate doesn’t warrant keeping them in the hoophouse, and in fact, it may get too hot in there for them. Our climate is full of fungal diseases, so crop rotation is very important to us, and the sooner we don’t need tomatoes in the hoophouse, the sooner we can remove them and their fungal spores!

But I do remember growing tomatoes in a glass greenhouse in northern England, and how we cherished those plants! I had started to experiment with side-grafting 25 years ago, in hopes of having sturdier tomatoes. We pruned and twined, and every ripe tomato was precious to us. It was late September when I moved to Virginia, and I helped the garden crew harvest Roma paste tomatoes, which were grown sprawled on the ground. That in itself was a shock – gosh these people don’t hold their tomatoes in very high regard, they let them rot on the ground! The crew member working next to me shocked me further: “Stomp on the green ones” she muttered under her breath. Apparently so great had been the harvest of these paste tomatoes that the crew was exhausted from harvesting and wanted to be done!

So, select the sections of Andrew’s book that speak to your needs and your climate. There’s something for everyone. You don’t need to abide by it all to want the book. It will easily pay for itself if you find only one new practice to adopt this season. But read the whole book anyway, and you can develop a fuller understanding of the big picture, a new management strategy and a set of skills to deal with the challenges that arrive unbidden. Andrew has tested all these practices as a small-scale grower himself, and he does this because he’s a passionate supporter of local food, sustainably grown, and sees protected cropping as a way to increase local food production by increasing on-the-ground crop insurance in the face of the unpredictable.

Young tomato plant in our hoophouse in April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Hoophouse slideshow, Ruminant podcast, potatoes planted

Here’s my updated Spring and Summer Hoophouse slideshow, that I promised all the people at my Organic Growers School workshops. I rearranged the slides in what I think is a better order and revised the resources section.


The Farmers Aren’t All Right.
Podcast from the Ruminant

I also took part in an interview with Jordan Marr for a podcast with The Ruminant: Audio Candy for Farmers, Gardeners and Food Lovers. It’s about farmers’ struggles with mental health problems, trying to cope with the many and varied stresses, while the public wants farmers to appear competent and blissful with all that time in the Inspiring and Nurturing Outdoors.

“Farming is tough work. The unpredictability of the job and the pressure to present a curated, bucolic version of the work can easily lead to various kinds of mental health problems: despair, feeling overwhelmed or like a failure, or even depression. In this episode, co-produced with Jessica Gale of Sweet Gale Gardens, we discuss the prevalence of mental health problems among farmers, and how to address them.” Jordan Marr

As well as Jessica Gale, the episode includes discussion of Professor Andria Jones-Bitton’s work and interviews with Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener and Curtis Stone of The Urban Farmer.


The March issue of Growing for Market is out. Nothing from me this month (I have articles for May and June/July coming up). In this issue. There are articles about No-till vegetable farming (Conor Crickmore at Neversink Farm, in the Catskill Mountains of New York), and Bio-integrated farm design by Shawn Jadrnicek, co-author with Stephanie Jadrnicek, of The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Revolutionary Permaculture-Based System Using Greenhouses, Ponds, Compost Piles, Aquaponics, Chickens and More. Lots of water in this book, and very practical. There’s an article on A DIY mobile cooler for moving and storing perishable foods  – an insulated trailer using Cool-Bot technology by Cary Rivard, Kansas State Research & Extension Horticulture & Forestry & Extension Vegetable & Fruit Crop Specialist. Karin Tifft has written The “other” reasons to grow in a greenhouse: climate, light, good use of space, reduced wastage of produce, energy conservation and more. Andrew Mefferd, the editor has written on growing cucumbers umbrella style under cover. Finally, Debra Prinzing writes on Making your mark with local branding.


Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Folger

And here at Twin Oaks, we planted our spring potatoes yesterday, after pre-sprouting (chitting) the seed potatoes for a couple of weeks. Soon we hope to see the potato shoots emerging from the soil.

Potatoes emerging in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Sweet potato slideshow, phenology article, Ira Wallace awarded

I’ve just got back from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC. There were about 1200 people, five workshop slots, 12 tracks, lots of good, locally grown food, a whole pre-conference day of bus tours and intensive workshops, a courageous and inspiring keynote address from Clara Coleman on the joys and challenges of family and farm life. She and her two young sons are now living and working alongside Eliot Coleman (her dad) and Barbara Damrosch at Four Seasons Farm in Maine.

My sweet potato slideshow from my first workshop at CFSA is viewable above. Just click on the forward arrow. To see it full screen, click on the link below the image and then click the diagonal arrows when the new page opens. About 70 very engaged people attended that workshop. My other workshop was Sustainable Farming Practices for Vegetable Growers, which I’ll include next week.

I have also recently written a blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog  called Saving Sweet Potato Roots for Growing Your Own Slips.

I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new friends, learning some good tips about different drip irrigation parts, how to sharpen and use a scythe, how many years half the henbit seeds are viable for (23 years!!), and picking up literature from the trade booths to digest later.

sac-16-banner-960x330Save the date: 2017’s CFSA SAC will be November 3-5 (Fri-Sun)


nov-dec-2016-gfm-cover-300The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about phenology. Phenology is the study of recurring animal and plant life cycle changes in relation to the weather. Some changes are temperature-dependent, rather than (daylength-) calendar-dependent. The opening of some buds and the emergence of some
insects from the ground are related to the accumulated warmth of that season. Observations of certain changes can be used to help growers decide when to expect outbreaks of certain insect pests and when to plant certain crops. For instance, we look to the leaves of the white oaks to decide when it is warm enough to plant sweet corn. The oak leaves should be as big as squirrel’s ears. We have plenty of squirrels! Phenology is especially useful when the weather is extremely variable, which we can expect more of as climate change gets us further in its grip.

Also in this bumper edition of Growing for Market are articles on growing heading chicories (Josh Volk), milling your own logs on your farm (Mark Lieberth), online weather tools for farmers (Eric and Joanna Reuter), image-front-cover_coverbookpagea review of The Farmers Market Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal (Andrew Mefferd), and favorite perennials for flower growers (Jane Tanner). There are also two pages of cameos of books available from GfM. A seasonal tip about gift giving, I think.

I am working on a review of Soil Sisters by Lisa Kivirist, which I will tidy up and post soon.


Ira Wallace receives SFA award

Ira Wallace receives SFA award. Photo by Sara Wood

Ira Wallace, my long time friend and one of the members of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has recently been awarded the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sara Wood took photos at SESE and at Twin Oaks while preparing the SFA oral history interview with Ira Wallace. You can watch the video clip, read the transcript and ass the photos at the link. Well done Ira!

Heritage Harvest Festival presentations, Eggplant variety trials, Growing for Market

I enjoyed the weekend at the Heritage Harvest Festival. On Friday I gave my Fall Vegetable Production slideshow, which you can watch an updated version of above (again or for the first time). If you want to see it larger click here and then on the diagonal arrow icon. On Saturday I gave my Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops presentation, which you can watch below (again or for the first time). Just click on the forward pointing arrow.

To see this one larger, click here.


Epic Eggplant Photo by Nina Gentle

Epic Eggplant
Photo by Nina Gentle

We are gathering good information on our Heat-tolerant Eggplant Trials. We have been seeking a classic dark purple/black pear or tear-drop shaped eggplant that yields well in hot weather. Click the link to read last year’s report and summary of the trials in 2013 and 2104. Our plants (Nadia, Epic and Traviata this year) are all doing well. I wrote an interim report as a blog post for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. This year (unlike 2013, 2014 and 2015), we’ve actually had some very hot days.

At the end of the season I will give a full report and correlate the yields with the temperatures typical at the time. Meanwhile, I can confidently say that of the three, Epic is winning! From the first harvest on 7/18, up to the end of August, Epic had produced a staggering 287 eggplants, averaging 0.9 pounds each; Nadia  125 eggplants, averaging 0.76 pounds each; Traviata 124 averaging 0.72 pounds. The cull rate for Nadia was best (least) at 21%; Epic was close at 22%, while Traviata produced a surprisingly high proportion of culls at 29%.


September 2016 cover300

The September issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. The cover article is by Jed Beach, on matching farm production with sales demand. growing produce that nobody wants is so frustrating. Probably not quite as bad as a crop failure, but discouraging in another way. The consequence is the same though: time spent working hard for no useful result. As Jed puts it:

“will our hard work and money decompose before our eyes as sales come in lower than we’d hoped?”

If the percentage of produce that is converted into sales is 80% or more, you’re doing OK. If it’s less, then try to either increase sales or decrease production. Growers who are not selling their vegetables can think about this in terms of what gets used and what gets wasted. Jed tells how to better match production with demand.

Brad Halm writes about how to manage urban and other difficult soils.He covers soil contamination, soil amelioration, container growing (building beds on top of the existing soil), in-soil growing and growing on top of impermeable surfaces like roofs.

Louise Swartzwalder describes The Crossroads Farmers Market in Tacoma, MD, which was designed intentionally to be accessible to a low-income population. A very heart-warming and inspiring story.

Michael Kilpatrick reports on the 2016 Frozen Ground Conference, held in Vermont during August. I found the material from the last Frozen Ground Conference in 2014 which focused on Winter Growing very valuable. It seems to have involved a small group of 22 very experienced participants all sharing something in the spirit of mutual aid. The 2016 conference was a large round-table discussion (not a speaker-and-audience conference). Topics included long-term soil fertility, soil salt buildup in high tunnels (hoophouses), and new and improved gardening tools, new products like Solarwrap greenhouse film. Participants brought slideshows of their hoophouse (high tunnel) heating and insulation systems. Michael has released an ebook on his blog “10 Winter growing secrets we wish we knew when we started,” which you can find at michael-kilpatrick.com.

FarmersOfficeCoverjpg-250x300Andrew Mefferd, the editor of Growing for Market, has reviewed the book  The Farmer’s Office by Julia Shanks. The subtitle is “Tools, tips and templates to successfully manage a growing farm business”. She explains how to understand the farm records you have kept, and how to keep better (more useful) records.  It includes real-life examples of straightforward and difficult situations, along with templates of forms you might use. Andrew Mefferd says: “Curl up with The Farmer’s Office in your office this winter.”

The final article in the magazine is traditionally the one on cut flowers, maybe because the color photos on the back cover can be enjoyed more often than if they were hidden inside. This time it’s an article by the previous editor, Lynn Byczynski about the U-pick cut flower operation at Omena Cut Flowers, run by Carolyn Faught in northern Michigan. The farm looks beautiful!

 

SSAWG Conference, Mother Earth News and Eat-All Greens, Growing for Market

I’m home from a very successful Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington Kentucky. It was the biggest so far, with 1400-1500 participants. My workshop Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale ran out even of standing room, so I was asked to repeat it in the afternoon. I did that and the new room was half full. I gave out over 230 handouts. The impossibly broad topic was a challenge for a 75 minute workshop, but I did my best. Last week I blogged the info on Bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management that I had to drop from the slideshow.

I love the SSAWG conference. I learned so many useful tips that will improve my farming this year and in the future. Such as another way to tell a ripe watermelon: stroke it and feel the texture of the skin. If it’s slick the melon isn’t ready. When it becomes a little rough, it is. Such as, yes a 60cfm inflation blower really should be adequate for a 30′ x 96′ hoophouse, so we almost certainly have holes in the plastic. Such as ways to deal with tomato diseases in the Southeast (thanks Joe Kemble of Auburn University).

If you are now wishing you’d been there, go to SlideShare.net and search for SSAWG. There are so many valuable presentations from conferences over the years. Also the audio of this year’s presentations (and last) are available from Rhino Technologies. Wait a few days for them to get home and load everything on their website.


Eat-All Greens on October 19 Photo Bridget Aleshire

Eat-All Greens on October 19
Photo Bridget Aleshire

And while the soil outside is waterlogged and you can’t do much gardening or farming, what better than more veggie-reading? Mother Earth News Feb/March issue has an article by Carol Deppe,  on How to Easily Grow High-Yielding Greens. Carol is the inventor/discoverer of Eat-All Greens, which I have been writing about on this blog. Her 20 years of trialing this method of growing cooking greens quickly with very little work has led her to now recommend seven greens as particularly suitable. Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes (I was interested to read that Carol also harvested the radish roots as we did with ours in December), Groninger Blue collard-kale (must get that this year), Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana (check!), and Red Aztec huazontle. No mention this time of peas. Peas provided our earliest harvests this fall. Keeping them tender was a challenge though. The article includes information on where to buy the varieties she recommends. Carol also has her own seed company Fertile Valley Seeds, selling varieties and strains that she has developed.


Potato harvest in November Photo by Lori Katz

Potato harvest in November with our Checchi and Magli harvester
Photo by Lori Katz

In the same issue of Mother Earth News is some of what I have written about dealing safely with green potatoes.


GFM_February2016_cover_300pxLastly for this week, the February Growing for Market is out. This is the first issue from the new editor, Andrew Mefferd. He tackles the thorny topic of hydroponics and whether it can ever be considered Organic. (Many organic and biological growers believe it is important to Keep the Soil in Organic)  As well as the Organic status of hydroponics, he describes the various types of hydroponic production for those that want to grow food that way, and for the rest of us to understand what we are talking about.

There is an article by Nick Burton about his hydroponic system and developing a trust-based sales system in a gym for people on a “paleo diet”, who eat lots of vegetables. Then a salad mix kit. He had moved from running a plant nursery to selling produce to selling convenience for people short of time and enthusiasm for shopping and preparing food. I admit to being skeptical about the paleo diet. Didn’t those paleo people spend all day scavenging for food?

Gretel Adams writes about running a bouquet business efficiently. (I’d be no good, I would dither for too long!)

My own article this issue is very down-to-earth: growing oats as a cover crop. They are easy-care and in climates in zone 7 or colder, they reliably die in the winter, making for easy early spring cultivation. We like to undersow oats and soy in our last sweet corn patch. This saves us from having to disk up the patch to establish a winter cover crop (it’s already there!), and means we can follow the late sweet corn with an early spring crop the next year. In our case it is the March potatoes.

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy Photo Kathryn Simmons

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy
Photo Kathryn Simmons

 

Eat-All Greens part 3, more garden planning

Eat-all greens: frosty Red Giant Mustard in December. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Eat-all greens: frosty Red Giant Mustard in December.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I wrote about our Eat-All Greens in November and December. Here’s the last installment for this season. We had a low temperature of 6F on January 5th. Not much is left alive. Always enthusiastic to keep updating my list of cold-hardy winter vegetable crops, I took my notebook and walked the rows a few days later. Here’s a (short) list of the survivors:

Morris Heading Collards - our favorite Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Morris Heading Collards – our favorite
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Best was (were?) the Morris Heading collards. We grow these overwinter in our garden too, and we are enjoying eating those. This photo shows young plants before they reached full size.

Also still showing some life were Purple Top White Globe turnips, Ortolani Market Grower arugula and some (not all) of the Hanover kale (which is after all, a Siberian spring kale, not recommended for over-winter growing).

It will be interesting to see if any of these survive until mid-February, when we will need to disk the plot (El Nino willing) to plant some new grape vines along one side. This plot is also my back-up area in case the plot where we want to plant our spring cabbage and broccoli is too wet when the time comes. The rotation puts these in the wettest part of our gardens.

I have written up our Eat-All Greens for Growing for Market magazine and you can read it in the January issue.

In this issue you can also read an article by the new editor Andrew Mefferd about growing microgreens. I’ve never grown these, so I valued getting professional tips from someone who has. How not to grow them (sowing too thickly, using expensive potting soil when you don’t need to, over-watering, under-ventilating.

GfM January 2016

GfM January 2016

He also includes tips on which seeds are best for microgreens, and how to tidily harvest. If you want to add microgreens to your market crops, a sub to Growing for Market will repay you pretty quickly with just this one article. And if you are growing them at home, it will save you lots of frustration.

The long-time editor, Lynn Byczynski, who is retiring, has an article about growing turmeric, which has similar growing requirements to ginger (but a bit easier). Eric and Joanna Reuter have written about raising shiitakes for market. Gretel Adams has written about selling cut flowers to supermarkets, which has served her as a good way to increase sales volume. All good inspirational reading while the weather doesn’t encourage working outdoors!

Eat-All Greens rows with frost in December. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Eat-All Greens rows with frost in December.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

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

My article on blueberries in the May Growing for Market

 

GFM_May2014_coverThe May issue of Growing for Market is on its way, and in there is my article about growing blueberries (and protecting them from all the other critters that want to eat them too!) I’ve mentioned our blueberries before, when we were weeding and mulching them this spring. Also they feature in my Twin Oaks Task List for the Month for April and June. And I wrote about the netting support structure we created for our new blueberry bushes. Here’s Bridget’s photo of that:

The netting on big hoops over our new blueberries. Credit Bridget Aleshire

The netting on big hoops over our new blueberries.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our older blueberry patch in the spring. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our older blueberry patch in the spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Highbush blueberries are our most successful fruit crop. Our old patch of 40 bushes has some over 20 years old, still doing well. Our younger patch of 20 bushes is 6 years old. Right now they are all weeded, composted and mulched, and they are flowering. Soon we’ll think about putting the netting over the top to keep the birds out. It’s best to get the netting on before the fruit is anything like ripe, or else the birds learn that there is something really good in there!

Here’s our Twin Oaks Schedule for blueberry care

Late winter (January/early February for us):

1. Weed

2. Add soil amendments such as sulfur, if soil test indicates a need.

3. Add compost around the base of each bush if this wasn’t done in fall. Bushes will need 20lbs N/acre in the first year, rising by 20lbs/acre a year to 80-100 lbs annually for mature bushes. If the foliage becomes generally yellow (not just between the veins) then your plants are short of nitrogen. Another sign of nitrogen shortage is less than 6” of new growth on mature bushes. A third is reddening of the leaves, although this can also be caused by water stress.

4. Renew the mulch: we use two layers of cardboard topped by 3” of woodchips or sawdust. 6-12” is a better depth, if you don’t use cardboard. Cardboard works in humid climates, but could be too much of a challenge for the roots in a dry climate.

5. Plant new bushes if needed.

6. Repair fencing if needed.

Early spring (April. March if there’s a drought):

Check irrigation and run it twice a week. Foliar feeding with fish and seaweed emulsions can be helpful if the plants seem stressed. Weed.

Late spring (May-June):

When flowers are setting fruit, install the roof netting.

Harvest.

Summer (August):

Weed. Water (root growth is greatest in August and early September in our climate)

After harvest, remove and store roof netting, check that perimeter fencing will keep groundhogs and deer out.

Fall (September/October/November):

Prepare new beds if needed. Plant new bushes in November (or wait till February)

Weed, spread compost, add to the mulch, take soil tests.

Blueberry flowers. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Blueberry flowers.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

A cluster of blueberries. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

A cluster of blueberries.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

As well as my article there are plenty of other good ones, of course. Andrew Mefferd has written about hoophouse tomato pruning. Not something we worry about here in steamy central Virginia summers, but people in colder climates do have to work quite hard to get good yields of presentable tomatoes. Pruning is part of that.

Chris Blanchard writes about determining farm labor costs and how to get good value for money spent on workers’ wages. Liz Martin writes from New York State about a new emerging pest – the swede midge – and how she has dealt with it. (Swedes are rutabagas by another name, in case you didn’t know). The Swede midge attacks broccoli heads as they are forming, not just rutabaga plants. Liz describes the lifecycle, and which broccoli varieties are most susceptible. The solution for their farm has been the 25gm weight ProtekNet insect exclusion netting made by Dubois Agrinovation. They got the best broccoli ever! The netting kept out fleabeetles and cabbage worms, as well as the Swede Midge. We, too, are big fans of ProtekNet for brassicas especially. It lets air and light throughbetter than row cover does, and so it is less likely to pick up and blow away in a strong wind.

And lastly, Gretel Adams writes about planning and organizing for sales of wedding flowers.

Lots to read, and plenty to do outdoors too. More on that next time!