Weed of the Month for May: Galinsoga

People in early spring weeding spinach that has been hooped and covered overwinter.
Photo Wren Vile

This is the first of my new monthly series of posts. All about weeds.

Sustainable (or Ecological) Weed Management: A Holistic Approach to Organic Weed Management

In the early days of organic farming, maximum use was made of frequent cultivation to kill weeds. Now we know that too-frequent cultivation risks causing soil erosion, and that each tilling or deep hoeing stirs air into the soil and leads to a burning-up of organic matter. The practice of sustainable weed management is about effectiveness – including removing weeds at their most vulnerable stage, or at the last minute before the seed pods explode – and ignoring weeds while they are doing little damage. Work smarter, not harder!

Start with restoring and maintaining balance in the ecosystem. Develop strategies for preventing weeds and for controlling the ones that pop up anyway. An obvious point is to avoid adding new kinds of weeds to any part of your fields. Remove the hitch-hikers from your socks out on the driveway, not when you notice them as you squat to transplant onions! We use our driveway as a convenient place to “roadkill” particularly bad weeds by letting them die in the sun. Beware of Trojan plant swaps!

Weeding in early June. Photo Lori Katz

Weeds are not a monolithic enemy, but a diverse cast of characters. Applying biological principles is not an attitude of war, but more like ju-jitsu, using the weaknesses of the weeds to contribute to their downfall. Develop an understanding of weeds and the different types: annual/perennial; stationary perennials/invasive perennials; cool weather/warm weather; quick-maturing/slow-maturing; and what Chuck Mohler referred to as “Big Bang” versus “Dribblers”. In this monthly blogpost series, we’ll meet various types of weeds, and develop a broader understanding of how and when to tackle each kind.

One factor to consider is how vulnerable the crop is to damage from that weed at that time. Weeds that germinate at the same time as a vegetable crop usually do not really affect the crop’s growth until they become large enough to begin competing for moisture and nutrients. These early weeds have the greatest potential for reducing crop yields if allowed to grow unchecked. We need to cultivate or otherwise control weeds before this 2- to 3-week grace period is over.

Weedy sweet corn. ideally, we would have cultivated two weeks and four weeks after sowing. Photo Bridget Aleshire

The critical period for weed control for the crop is the interval from the end of the initial grace period until the end of the minimum weed-free period, which is approximately the first third to one half of the crop’s life. For vigorous crops like tomato, squash and transplanted brassicas this is four to six weeks; less vigorous crops like onion or carrot need weed-free conditions for eight weeks or more. During that period it is essential to control weeds to prevent loss of yield.

Weeds that emerge later have less effect, and ones that emerge quite late in the crop cycle no longer affect the yield of that crop, although there are long-term reasons for removing weeds to improve future crops.

Know Your Weeds

Lettuce with weeds, easily hoed. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Learn to identify the major weeds on your farm, and any minor ones that suggest trouble later. Observe and research. Start a Weed Log with a page for each weed. Add information about your quarry’s likes and dislikes, habits and possible weak spots. Find out how long the seeds can remain viable under various conditions, and whether there are any dormancy requirements. Note down when it emerges, how soon it forms viable seed (if an annual), when the roots are easiest and hardest to remove from the soil (if a perennial), what time of year it predominates, which plots and which crops have the worst trouble with this weed. Monitor regularly throughout the year, each year. Look back over your records and see if anything you did or didn’t do seems to have made the problem worse or better.

Next think about any vulnerable points in the weed’s growth habit, life cycle, or responses to crops or weather that could provide opportunities for prevention or control. List some promising management options. Try them, record your results, decide what to continue or what to try next.

Most weeds respond well to nutrients, especially nitrogen. If you give corn too much nitrogen, even as compost, the corn productivity will max out and the weeds will use the remaining nutrients. Some crops, like carrots and onions never cast much shade at any point of their growth, so that sun-loving weeds like purslane are more likely to thrive there, but not be a problem for crops which rapidly form canopies that shade the ground.

Galinsoga – a fast growing, fast-seeding weed of cultivated soil.
Photo Wren Vile

Galinsoga

This month’s Weed Character is galinsoga, a “Seed Dribbler”, that matures seed while still quite small plants, sheds some, makes some more, and can carry on for a long seed-shedding season.

Encouraging information is that a constant percentage of the seeds that are still left from one year’s shedding dies each year. This varies widely among species – for lambsquarters it’s 31% per year in cultivated soil (only 8% in uncultivated soil). The number of seeds declines rapidly at first, but a few seeds persist for a long time.

While seeds survive better deeper in the soil, they don’t germinate better down there. Larger seeds can germinate at deeper levels than small seeds. If you are trying to bury seeds deep, use inversion tillage, don’t rely on rotavating, as seeds somehow manage to stay near the surface with rotary tilling. Chuck Mohler, author of the excellent book Manage Weeds on Your Farm, has tested this out with colored plastic beads.

We have two kinds of galinsoga: narrow-leaved and hairy. Both behave the same way. They thrive in highly fertile, freshly tilled soil, just the same as you hope your vegetable seeds will. Mostly we think about how to get rid of galinsoga (prompt hoeing or other cultivation before it flowers), or stop it germinating in the first place (mulches). Its flowers attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies, and it can be eaten by humans and livestock. Young leaves can be used in a soup or in mixed dishes. It doesn’t have a strong flavor. The plants contain flavonoids and phenolic compounds, and it has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Extracts from hairy galinsoga can coagulate blood. It is an alternate host for certain nematodes and over twenty insect pests. Hairy galinsoga is thought to have originated in Central and South America, and has become naturalized in North America and other temperate and tropical regions.

Galinsoga is a summer annual that belongs to the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and can invade vegetable gardens with dense infestations that crowd out crop plants. The secrets of galinsoga’s success are that its seeds germinate immediately they reach the soil (no dormancy period), it grows very fast, shading out other plants, it sets seed in as few as 30–40 days after emergence, and continues shedding seed as long as it is growing. It also has the knack of re-rooting if pulled and laid on the surface of the bed, if there is any moisture in the soil. Large plants seem able to transfer the water in their cells to their roots, helping re-rooting happen. Seed that is shed early in the year is capable of growing a mature plant very quickly. There can be multiple generations in one warm season. Fortunately, the seeds are short-lived, and have to be in the top 0.25″ (6mm) of the soil to germinate.

Hoe weeds while they are small and you’ll be rid of those with short-lived seeds in a few years. Galinsoga and Outredgeous lettuce.
Photo Pam Dawling

Galinsoga Identification

Hairy galinsoga (Galinsoga quadriradiata), has profuse hairs on stems and leaves. Narrow-leaved galinsoga ( Galinsoga parvifolia), is very similar, except it is not hairy and it has narrower leaves. Leaves are oval with serrated margins and distinct petioles. They are arranged opposite each other on the stems. The flowers have densely packed yellow disc florets and five tiny white ray florets, each with three scalloped teeth at the end. Seeds of hairy galinsoga germinate between 54°F-86°F (12°C-30°C) with an optimum temperature requirement of 68°F-75°F (20°C-24°C). Most of the seed germination occurs from May to June, after the last frost. It flowers abundantly from about late-May until late fall here in central Virginia. Fallen seeds can germinate immediately due to the absence of dormancy requirement. Take advantage of this phenomenon to eradicate hairy galinsoga from an infested field in three to four years by careful management.

Controls for Galinsoga

Prevention of Weed Germination

Hoeing or mechanical cultivation is effective if carried out repeatedly during the early stages of growth (before flowering). Mulches, such as thick (6-mil) black plastic, or straw, hay, leaves, woodchips over cardboard or newspaper, are effective to control galinsoga in small gardens if applied immediately after planting the crop and before the galinsoga germinates.  Tarping is the equivalent solution for larger areas.

Reduction of Weed Seeding

Grazing, or the mechanical equivalent, mowing, will take care of galinsoga in places you are not currently growing a crop. This weed is not usually found in lawns. It has no resistance to frost. Livestock will happily graze it.

Reduction of Viability of Seeds

Most weed emergence happens within two years of the seeds being shed. Not all seeds that are produced will ever get to germinate (I was very pleased to learn that seeds have many ways of not succeeding!) You can help reduce their chances, by mowing crops immediately after harvest, (to prevent more weed seed formation); then wait before tilling to allow time for seed predators to eat weed seeds that already produced. Seeds lying on or near the soil surface are more likely to deteriorate or become food for seed predators than buried seeds, so delaying tillage generally reduces the number of seeds added to the long-term seed bank. (Short-term, they may germinate!)

If they do not get eaten, dry out or rot, seeds on top of the soil are more likely to germinate than are most buried seeds, and small, short-lived seeds of weeds which have no dormancy period, such as galinsoga, will almost all die within a year or two if they are buried a few inches.

Putting it Together

Strategies include

  1. Inversion tillage such as moldboard plowing (seeds will die off deep in the soil within a year or so.)
  2. Mulching – the seeds will not germinate or be able to grow through the mulch, and will be dead by next year. Be sure to rotate the mulched crops around the farm, so that the benefits are not confined to one section;
  3. Grazing with small livestock, or harvesting galinsoga for human consumption, or mowing: especially mow as soon as the food crops are finished, if you cannot till right away.
  4. Tarping (mow first);
  5. No-till cover crops, with summer crops transplanted into the dying mulch;
  6. Stale seed bed techniques, including flaming;
  7. Plant flowers that attract beneficial insects, particularly seed-eating insects, and birds.
Front cover of manage Weeds on your Farm

Resources on Weeds

Hoophouse Baseboards: wood, steel or recycled plastic?

 

Our first year shadecloth with ropes to hooks in our cedar baseboards.

This post is not for everyone, but it shows where my head has been this week. Even if you don’t have a hoophouse, or are not even thinking about getting one,you might be interested in recycled plastic decking boards, or buying repurposed material from an “industrial thrift store”!

We made cedar baseboards when we put up our hoophouse 20+ years ago, and they have rotted. We have done partial replacements, including a major one maybe five years ago, but are now considering either plastic decking “lumber” (recycled plastic, with or without any wood filler), or steel.

I did some research:

https://hightunnels.org/design-construction-of-high-tunnels-west-virginia/ Lewis Jett (WV Extension)

“Baseboards and hip boards add strength to the base of the frame (Figure 8). For most high tunnel frames, 2 inches x 6 inches x 10 feet wood (or recycled plastic) boards are suitable. Pressure-treated wood can be used for both hipboards and baseboards. Each section of baseboard is bolted onto the ground post or secured with a pipe strap. The baseboard and hipboard must be level across the length of the high tunnel. Each joint between sections can be spliced with a small segment of board.” Our hoophouse is 96ft long, so we’d need 192ft plus some way of joining them (metal brackets?)

So, same dimensions, whether wood or plastic. 2” x 6” x 10’. We don’t need “structural grade” lumber (wood or plastic) as the ground-posts provide the strength and are not going to move sideways.

Next, I asked local growers: Do any of you have advice based on experience?

Replies ranged across the spectrum

  1. Sounds like cedar serves well for that. 20 years is a good run for wood. Maybe locust or old chestnut barn boards would serve well, too.
  2. We replaced the rotting wood baseboard with plastic deck “wood” about 5 years ago and haven’t had any problems with it.  Didn’t even think about using steel.   Ignorance is bliss.
  3. When we redo base boards I would like to go with hat channel.  I think sidewalls would air seal better and I’m finding that more important than insulation value. We’ve been putting straw on the tunnel edges for weed control and insulation for the winter.

I replied: We’re not content with living with the state of decline of the wood. Currently we have about 12 ft of the south wall where the plastic and wigglewire channel are not attached to the earth. We have to fix that before the chills of winter get in!

Wood

See the ATTRA publication Pressure-Treated Wood: Organic and natural Alternatives 2011. Be aware that many of the alternative lumber treatments described in the ATTRA article are NOT currently allowed for use on organic farms.  Certified farms should consult their Organic certifier.

“Lumber treated with prohibited materials is not allowed under the National Organic Program (NOP) Regulations. The NOP prohibits most but not all synthetics. Lumber is pressure treated to resist insects and fungi, but the materials used are toxic to humans. For posts and lumber that are in contact with soil, crops, or livestock, the options include untreated lumber, alternatively treated lumber, alternative plywood products, and untreated fence posts.

Borates (boric acids and borax) have long been used for alternative wood protection and can be used with all types of lumber, logs, and ply-wood. Borax, a naturally occurring mined material, is allowed for organic production. Borates and boric acid are synthetic substances allowed for use as an insecticide in organic production as what is described in the National List 205.601 as a “structural pest control, [not in] direct contact with organic food or crops.” Borate-treated lumber and borate wood treatments are available commercially.

Borate wood treatments will penetrate to the center of the wood when the wood is dipped, especially when the wood is freshly cut or when seasoned wood is rewetted. Because borates are water soluble; however, they will leach from the wood when in contact with water in the soil, leaving the wood unprotected. This is the reason that borate-treated lumber should be used only in locations that are at least six inches above the ground and protected from excessive rain. Borate-treated wood is not considered suitable for unprotected outdoor use, such as for fence posts or poles, but it is suitable for most building-construction purposes.”

Recycled Plastic Lumber and Plastic/Wood Composite Lumber

(from ATTRA 2011)

“Lumber” made of recycled plastic or composites of plastic and wood can provide durable weather-resistant alternatives to wood for some applications. In organic operations, formed plastic is approved only for use in nonstructural applications because it doesn’t have strength comparable to wood. However, plastic lumber can easily substitute for treated wood in nonstructural applications such as fences, sill plates, and raised beds. The plastics are rot- and corrosion-proof and don’t crack, splinter, or chip. Even in exposed and sub-grade conditions, plastic lumber has a long life expectancy. It will not leach chemicals into the ground, surface water or soil as treated wood can. A challenging aspect of working with plastic lumber is its relatively high likelihood of expanding, which varies for each product and manufacturer and has to be considered during installation. Thermal expansion is the change in dimensions of a material due to temperature changes.

The number of plastic-lumber manufacturers and their variety of products has notably increased recently. Some companies use only High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, while others use commingled plastic wastes. A few manufacturers even mix plastic with recycled tire rubber. Some plastic lumber will contain wood fiber, which helps strengthen the plastic and reduces expansion.

Plastic lumber is available in many configurations and sizes, including solid- and hollow-core dimensional products and tongue-and-groove designs. The quality and product performance will vary by manufacturer; many manufacturers have independent testing results available.”

——

The Composite Lumber Manufacturers Association offers publications and links to member companies that manufacture and distribute plastic lumber. See All About Composite Decking. It requires no maintenance, comes in lengths up to 20ft, can be fastened with self-drilling screws, and can be drilled and sawn with power or hand tools used for wood.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board Recycled Plastic Lumber website provides a good introduction to the types and uses of recycled-plastic-lumber products.

——

Suppliers of plastic lumber

Growers Supply has 2” x 6” x 8’or 12’ recycled plastic boards in black (Expands in heat, don’t buy dark color?). We’d need 16 boards at 12ft long ($1887.20 plus shipping), or 24 at 8ft long ($1894.80 plus shipping). Can get 10% discount. “A 12foot board will shrink .029/inches over a 5 degree drop in temperature. Note your starting point is what temperature the board started at when assembled. Typically use 60 degrees as a baseline. In this case a temperature drop to 0 degrees will net 11/32″ over the 60degree swing. A direct sunlight board will shrink less in a temperature drop and expand more in a temperature increase.”

On decks, the boards are tightly fastened every 16” and can’t go anywhere much sideways.

Home Depot and Lowes only have short pieces.

Plastic Lumber Yard, PA. Can get 5% discount.

Premium Grade is the nicest looking, and best for decking. Structural grade is reinforced with fiberglass, making it stiffer, the best under high traffic. Molded grade is recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE), suitable for landscaping, buildings and near food.

Molded grade 2” x 6” x 12’ $126.23 each. $2,019.68 for us (plus shipping) Available in 8, 10, 12, 14, 16ft lengths and many colors. This grade would work for baseboards.

Their Clearance dept might be useful, as we probably don’t care exactly what color it is, or even if it’s all the same color. Currently they have 2” x 6” x 12’ in white for $76.50 each ($1224 for 192 ft) and a grey board with peg joins 1 7/8’ x 5 7/8” x 12’ for $50 each, but they only have 9 left! 2” x 6” x 8‘ black (severe “dog-bone”, meaning the boards are thinner in the middle than along the edges. (Oops! We all have days like that) for $30.16 each – must buy all 36 pieces. We only need 24. info@plasticlumberyard.com or call (610) 277-3900 for shipping info.

Markstaar 888-846-2693 Offering double discounts right now. Recycled lumber boards.

2” x 6” x 12’ $48.96; 2” x 6” x 8’ $32.64. (24 for $783.36) Black is cheapest.

——–

Metal baseboards

Steel is available as either “hat” profile strips from greenhouse suppliers, or metal joists, 6″ wide, C-cross-section. They look easiest to use, but have zero insulating value.

I’ve found some steel joists on https://www.repurposedmaterialsinc.com/ . This is a fun website, saving all sorts of good stuff from going to the landfill.

  1. Hat channel Join by overlapping sections and using self-tapping screws. Tunnel Vision has an installation video on Hat Channel. $54.74 for a 12’3” length 5” wide. 18-gauge steel. ($875.84 plus shipping for 16 lengths) Truck delivery for full-length strips, or they will cut them in half for ground delivery.

Boot Strap Farmer also has a video with hat channel. 6.5’ lengths, $452.99 for a 10-pack. (65’). We’d need three 10-packs, $1358.97 plus shipping. And lots of joins. . .

  1. Square tubing
  2. Steel C-section joists

RepurposedMaterials is a fun website, saving all sorts of good stuff from going to the landfill. I need to compare prices, shipping and practicality. Steel is looking better right now.  has different things at different times, naturally enough.

Structural Steel Stud

$78 for almost 20ft length. 12″ x 2″ 14 gauge C-shape plus curved over edges. We’d need 10 lengths and would spend $780 Plus Shipping

Track square cornered c-shape

$48 for 20ft.  10″ x 1.25″ 18 gauge We’d spend $480 plus shipping from SC

Structural Steel Track

$45. 20′ x 11-1/4″ x 1-1/2″. 18 gauge. Square cornered, no curved in edges. We’d spend $450 plus shipping.

Wood Recycled Plastic Hat Channel Repurposed joist
Price $783.36/

$1224/

$1887.20/ $2,019.68

$875.84/

$1358.97

$450 /

$480 /

$780/

 

Pluses Recycled,

No maintenance

No maintenance Saving waste

Price is good

Minuses Rots Expands.

Leaches? They say not

Shipping might be high (heavy)

 

 

 

Some Highlights of the PASA Conference

I enjoyed attending the in-person conference of Pasa Sustainable Agriculture. This is the first conference I’ve been to in person in two whole years. PASA did a lot to ensure the conference was as Covid-safe as possible. They limited the number of attendees (there were still plenty to ensure lots of chances to exchange information). Everyone had to test on their day of travel to the conference, and speakers had to test every day of speaking. For me that was all three days. Everyone was masked, nearly all with KN95 “real” masks. The hotel housekeeping staff only came in after we left. (We could have requested the service, but, heck, I can make my own bed!) In the workshop rooms, the chairs were spaced 6 ft apart. The trade show had wide aisles, and meals could be taken out of the dining room to a quiet spot. Just getting to be there was a big highlight for me! I left feeling energized and enthused, and very grateful to the PASA team for preparing such a successful event.

There were four sessions of workshops each day, with one-hour breaks between, allowing time to visit uncrowded trade booths, catch up with old friends, and make new ones. We were well-supplied with snacks and beverages during the breaks. There were socials with more snacks at the end of the day.

I did have trouble with the conference app, but then, my phone is limited in what it can do. Likewise I failed to upload my slideshows to the platform, so I ran them off my flashdrive. My pdf handouts did make it onto the app, so if you wanted one of my handouts, you can find it there and here:

Young Yukina Savoy plants.
Photo Ethan Hirsh
Optimize your Asian Greens Production Dawling PASA handout 2022 2.10 9am
Young spinach seedlings.
Photo Pam Dawling
Winter Vegetable Production Methods From the Field to the Hoophouse Dawling 2022 2.11 9am 6 page handout
Sweet potatoes in storage. An ideal crop for winter meals, as they store at room temperature for a long time, maybe seven or eight months.
Photo Pam Dawling
Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish Dawling 4 pg handout 2022 2.12 11am.docx

Each of the ten workshop sessions had a choice of eight or nine workshops. I had thought I might hunker down in my hotel room when I wasn’t speaking, to minimize my chance of catching Covid, but as permaculture author Darrell Frey said “This feels safer than going to the grocery store!”

I enjoyed several workshops presented by others, including:

On-Farm Experience with Organic No-Till

Sam Malriat from Rodale

No-Till sequesters carbon in the soil, but simply never tilling does not improve the soil. Chemical no-till uses lots of herbicide. Don’t be obsessive about no-till. Shallow tillage can be a responsible choice, as incorporation of organic matter is valuable. Adding cover crops, compost or manure, grazing, and a good crop rotation, can increase the OM, and thus increase the soil water capacity enormously.

Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

To overcome the challenges of no-till, you need a very good cover crop stand that will provide a thick mulch when terminated; a competitive cash crop; a way to plant into the residue, and a back-up plan in case one of the requirements doesn’t pan out.

Sowing corn into rolled and crimped hairy vetch does not work well, because corn is a heavy feeder and not very competitive. Better is to undersow the corn at V5 or V6 (stages of vegetative growth) with white clover or crimson clover in September. It’s important to get good seed to soil contact. The clover grows when the corn dies. This is in Rodale Country in PA. If the clover can be left growing until the second year, cabbage can be transplanted into it. His slides showed the success of this system after an unpromising start.

Pumpkins can be direct seeded in crimped and rolled (or mowed) winter rye. There is a lot of difference in thickness of the mulch between rye sown in August and October.

Organic Solutions: Pest Management

Drew Smith and Emily Gantz from Rodale

There was a big drop in pesticide use in the mid 1990’s as GMO crops came in. But then a big uptick as resistance to the GMO crops developed. Currently, almost all non-Organic seeds contain neo-nicotinoids, even though they provide no economic benefits.

Crop rotation is the single most important thing you can do to manage pests. Drew showed us the IPM triangle, and we worked our way up. To succeed in preventing pest infestations, planning of all aspects of growing the crop is vital. As is regular scouting of each crop. Cultural controls include the physical aspects of the planting. Other physical controls include mechanical aspects of growing the crop. Biological controls include encourage beneficials, releasing biological agents. Greater biodiversity provides greater stability. See Cornell Entomology https://biocontrol.entomolgy.cornell.edu/index.php

Native Pollinators: Identification, Habitat Needs and Resources

Sarah Koenig and Ryan Stauffer from the Audubon Society

A bee pollinating squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

There are 4000 species of bees in the US (20,000 globally). 70% of food crop species rely on honeybee pollination to some extent. Native bees mostly nest in the ground. Don’t kill them by compaction (or weedkillers!). Use native flowers to attract native pollinators.

Using Tarps to Reduce Tillage on Small Vegetable Farms

Ryan Maher, Cornell Small Farms & Bob Tuori, Nook and Cranny Farm

More growers are trying tarping for weed control, killing cover crops, maintaining a good soil temperature, avoiding crusting and compaction, keeping beds dry enough for planting and reducing dependence on single-use plastics. Challenges include the heavy weight, the aggravation of using sand bags, especially in windy places, ponding of rainwater runoff, and the frustration of providing perfect vole habitat.

After 28 days in summer, you gain 200 GDDs. Plant-available soil N increases by 2 or 3 times from the plant residues. How soon does it dissipate after removing the tarp? Tarping for 3 weeks after shallow tilling kills the living weeds, improves crop establishment and reduces weed emergence by up to 83%. Think of tarps as a tillage tool! Do plan for weed management after removing the tarp. Pigweed and amaranth can become worse!

We haven’t tried tarps yet. Early September photo of hay mulched June-planted potatoes.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Bob Tuori spoke about a SARE trial of tarping in the Northeast. He compared potatoes grown with and without prior tarping, both patches with and without hay mulch after planting. The tarped area needed sandbags every 10-15 ft. The tarp was removed June 4, weeds were counted June 24, then the patches were mulched. (I hope I got that right). I did not write down all the results, but the only-mulch area grew 17.4 lbs per hour of work, and the tarp-only area grew 13 lbs per hour of work. See the SARE report for the details.

Harvesting Techniques for Small- to Mid-Scale Vegetable Farms

Julie Henninger of Good Keeper Farm and Matthew Lowe

We saw good tool and equipment storage, and learned the benefits of growing head lettuce on landscape fabric (no rotten bottom leaves, no weeds). Muir is their favorite lettuce for spring, summer and fall. At $3/head, a 95ft row planted at 9” spacing earns them $1300, if they have a 15% loss.

Beautiful baby lettuce mix in our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

We learned the importance of sharp knives or scissors for cutting baby greens with minimal cell damage and browning. Theirs sells at $12/pound. They grow Salanova, which brings in $1140/bed at each cutting. If they cut whole heads, these bring in $1476 per bed.

For loose carrots, they sow rows in pairs 2” apart, with 6 rows on a 30” bed, using a stale seed bed and flaming. They sell 1000 lbs per week. Julie Henninger emphasized not wasting time by setting the carrots down in piles. Minimize the number of times each crop is touched. They have modified a cement mixer to wash 25-45 lbs at a time.

Training and communication are also very important. New workers must master the task first, before chatting. Minimize distractions. Send crews out with a strong role model each, to keep the crew working at a sustainable pace. If working with a crew with diverse abilities (eg children), provide a clear short task with a beginning and an end, to give a good sense of achievement.

I also attended the Plenary, Why Is Farming So Hard & What Can We Do About It?  on Friday with Brennan Washington, Sarah Mock and Dr Jessica Gordon Nembhard, who were livestreamed and recorded.

I participated in the book swap, setting out some spare handouts I had in exchange for a couple of magazines. I enjoyed the Farm Innovations poster display of tools and techniques to improve production or save resources (or both). I liked that previous years’ posters were available as pages in several ring binders.

In the Trade Show there were 60-odd vendors. I checked in with Nifty Hoops, a company who will deliver a hoophouse and put it up for you in one day, or help you put it up, teaching as you build. We put ours up ourselves, in 2003, and we were inexperienced and slow, and had to work on it in the (hot) afternoons, after spending the mornings farming. At events when I talk about hoophouse growing, I’ve sometimes been asked if there are companies who will erect hoophouses (high tunnels), so it’s good to be able to pass on this contact. Nifty Hoops also sell interesting components such as DC-powered inflation blowers. (734) 845-0079.  They have videos on their Facebook page

I picked up some publications from ATTRA, who have supplied me with great vegetable growing info since before the internet. (We used to call them up and ask for publications to be sent in the mail).

The Mini-Treffler manual harrow

I also was fascinated by the Mini-Treffler, from OrganicMachinery.net, a manual rolling tine harrow for crops in beds.

  • The TINY Treffler is a hand drawn harrow with the working width of 80cm (2 ft 7 in), 100 (3 ft 4 in) and 130cm (4 ft 3 in)
  • Shares the same principle with the big Treffler harrows: in the row harrowing, adjustable tension and the patented tine suspension
  • Each tine follows the contour of the field and the downward pressure remains constant
  • The TINY is effective throughout the growing season in greenhouses or for small enterprises in vegetable production or seed propagation
  • Wheels extendable from one or both sides to straddle a bed

I gathered literature for our garden crew as well as our dairy, orchard and poultry people, and an assortment of free pens, notebooks, stickers.

PASA also had a virtual conference, spread out over a couple of weeks in January. I’m sure there was great information there too, but our rural internet is not up to the task of virtual conferencing, so I’m in the dark. Pasa intends to keep a virtual conference next year as part of the mix – it works better for farmers who cannot easily leave the farm, it reduces the carbon footprint of travel, and saves on travel and hotel or BnB costs. Maybe next year I’ll have better internet. Maybe Covid will have receded. This year’s conference was great! I look forward to next year’s!

 

Strange Roots, Podcast and Video, News Round-Up

Strange Roots

 

A 10 pound purple ube grown in North Carolina by Yanna Fishman.

Here’s an ube, a true yam/Dioscorea alata. This amazing photo is from Yanna Fishman in Union Mills, NC. She grew this in her garden. It’s all one root, one season’s growth from a small section of a root. She has also had success growing both the white and purple yam from aerial tubers.

Grower Jim in Florida has more information on ubes.

 Yanna’s second photo shows a selection of unusual roots she grew. She is launching herself on a ‘tropical perennials as temperate annuals’ trial

Tropical roots grown in North Carolina by Yanna Fishman. See key below

Clockwise from top root with green stem:

Taro (2 types)    Colocasia esculenta

Arrowroot    Maranta arundinacea

Malanga     Xanthosoma  sagittifolium

White yam      Dioscorea alata

Purple ube yam     Dioscorea alata

Jicama     Pachyrhizus erosus

Yuca/cassava     Manihot esculenta

Groundnut     Apios americana

Ginger   Zingiber officinale

Yacon      Smallanthus sonchifolius

Achira   Canna edulis

Center:

Water chestnut    Eleocharis dulcis

Turmeric (3 types)    Curcuma longa

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A video and a podcast

Josh Sattin of Sattin Hill Farm  came out to our farm to film me talking about farming and Twin Oaks Community and you can see that here. Not sure if I’ve been around long enough to be a legend, but Twin Oaks has.

Legendary Farmer on a Legendary Commune

https://youtu.be/vLzFd4YP9dI

If you want to see more of Josh’s videos, here’s his contact info:

Josh Sattin – YouTube

Instagram (@sattinhillfarm) – www.instagram.com/sattinhillfarm

Website – https://www.sattinhillfarm.com/

Jesse Frost of No-Till Growers

interviewed me for his No-Till Market Market Garden Podcast and you can listen to it here:

Scroll down past the photo and the sponsor plugs to get to the place to click for the podcast.

It’s also on You Tube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p75gRIl0Hzs

Here’s Jesse’s contact info:

No-Till Growers Website – https://www.notillgrowers.com/ Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/FarmerJesse YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLhu… Instagram @notillgrowers – https://www.instagram.com/notillgrowers/

Following the interview, Jesse’s friend and colleague Josh Sattin visited and made his video.


Cold-hardiness

Frosty Mizuna in January.
Photo Bridget Aleshire
Mother Earth News

has published my blog post Which Vegetable Crops Survive Cold Weather? Knowing at what temperature various crops will die, and watching weather forecasts will help us act in time to save our crops.

Cold-hardiness of Cauliflower

And a blog reader, Andy Montague, has passed along the info that his cauliflower was damaged by temperature around 19F (-7C), while his broccoli, cabbage, collards, and Brussels sprouts were unharmed.  This illustrates that cauliflower is the cole crop most susceptible to cold.

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Growing for Market Newsletter

Growing for Market magazine has launched a free monthly newsletter. The current issue includes articles on How to Improve CSA Retention Rates, and growing garlic (I wrote that one), and a special offer on a bundle of two no-till books. I see you can even get the newsletter translated instantly into a wide range of languages!

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Sustainable Farming News Round-up

Study Demonstrates Economic Efficiency of Agroecological Management
A study published in Scientia Horticulturae compared conventional, organic-input, and organic agroecological blueberry production systems in Chile. A farm that used organic management based on agroecological principles achieved the highest yield and also had the lowest cost of production, showing agroecology as the most efficient production system from both an environmental and an economic perspective.
Related ATTRA Publication: Blueberries: Organic Production

Key Perennial Crops information sheets (info from ATTRA)

The Savanna Institute has produced a new series of free “Key Perennial Crop” information sheets in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the USDA-SARE program. The information sheets offer descriptions of 12 key Midwestern agroforestry crops: Aronia, Asian Pear, Black Currant, Black Walnut, Chinese Chestnut, Cider Apple, Elderberry, Hazelnut, Honeyberry, Northern Pecan, Pawpaw, and Serviceberry. They are available free online.
Related ATTRA Publication: Fruit Trees, Bushes, and Vines for Natural Growing in the Ozarks

Forest Farming Could Make Medicinal Plant Harvest Sustainable (from ATTRA)

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University say that forest farming could provide a model for the future of forest botanical supply chains. They say that transitioning from wild collection to forest farming as a source of medicinal herbs such as ginseng would create a sustainable supply chain, not only in terms of the environment, but also in terms of social justice for people who harvest the plants. The researchers point out that forest farming would allow more transparency in the supply chain, which could lead not only to better-quality herbal products, but also to a reliable and stable income for forest farmers.

Related ATTRA Publication: Ginseng, Goldenseal, and Other Native Roots

eOrganic has published a Weed Tour

A Virtual Tour of Major Weed Plant Families

by Mark Schonbeck of the Organic Farming Research Foundation

Harvesting, Curing and Post Harvest Care of Pumpkins and Winter Squash

You’ve worked hard to grow healthy pumpkins and winter squash. Keep them that way off the vine using these best practices.

There’s An App for That!

Wondering where to dig post holes or construct a pond or building on your property? Want help determining the production capability of your land? You can answer those questions and many more with SoilWeb, a free app that gives you quick access to Soil Survey data through your mobile device

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/newsroom/releases/?cid=NRCSEPRD1466260

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A Conference to Look Forward to

 

The Southern SAWG Annual Conference is well-known for providing the practical tools and solutions you need at our annual conference. It is the must-attend event for those serious about sustainable and organic farming and creating more vibrant community food systems! This popular event attracts farmers and local food advocates from across the nation each year. This year, we have 101 “field-tested” presenters, a full slate of hot-topic conference sessions and pre-conference courses, five field trips, a forum, a poster display and a trade show. New this year! 2020 Special Topic: Agricultural Resilience in a Changing Climate.

There are scholarships for limited-resource farmers. Pre-conference intensives, a two-day general conference, a trade show, networking opportunities, research posters. Learn more about the great sessions planned for 2020.

Insectary flowers to attract beneficial insects

Sunflower bee and bug. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Sunflower bee and bug. Do you know this bug?
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

As part of our strategy to entice pollinators and other beneficial insects into our garden, we plant selected flowers among the vegetables. On a big scale this is known as Farmscaping, and you can read about it in a publication from ATTRA; “Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control – IP065” It’s 99c for the download unless you are a subscriber, or if the cost is beyond your budget. Oregon State Extension has a 40 page year 2000 version online.

We plant Sweet Alyssum with our spring broccoli and cabbage to attract insects that prey on aphids. This works very well. We plant one Alyssum plant per 8 broccoli or cabbage plants in the center-line of the bed, between the two rows of brassicas. We sow it in the greenhouse in early March, around the time we sow replacement broccoli and cabbage, and transplant in mid April when we do the gap-filling, replacing any brassica casualties, 2 or 3 weeks after transplanting the brassicas. We have to explain carefully to our helpers not to weed them out, or smother them with mulch when we move the garlic mulch over to top up the brassica mulch.

As you’ll see in some of the photos, we do also grow some repellent flowers (nasturtiums, french marigolds) and some trap crop flowers (cleome for harlequin bugs) but I’m not going to talk about those today.

Insectary circle at the end of a bed of chard. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Insectary circle at the end of a bed of chard.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Plants with small flat open flowers, like alyssum, dill, yarrow, buckwheat, sunflowers, cosmos can attract ladybugs, lacewings, aphid parasites, damsel bugs, braconid wasps, rove beetles, syrphid flies, and spined soldier beetles. This is a rather loose and general statement. you can read the ATTRA publication to make a specific plan to tackle particular pests. Ladybugs are a good general help because they eat the eggs of many different pest species.

At the end of April we sow several plug flats of different flowers to plant out in Insectary Circles at the ends of our raised beds. We include borage, dill, calendula, cosmos, sunflowers zinnias and tithonia in that sowing, and hope to plant them out in mid-late May, after the big push to get all our tender transplanted crops out. We used to sow earlier, but we find ourselves too busy to get them transplanted at the right stage of growth, so it’s better for us to hold off and sow later.

Insectary circle in an okra bed. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Insectary circle in an okra bed.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

We choose beds where the crop will be in place for a long stretch of time, hopefully to the frost date. This includes tomatoes, eggplant, okra, chard, leeks.  Because our focus is on food crops and we are always too busy, we have evolved a method that uses little time and reduces the chance of things going wrong. As mentioned above, we get a lot of help in the garden from visitors and people who help out for half a day a week, so we need to make the flowers obvious to prevent over-zealous weeding. The main way we do this is to take old plastic buckets and saw hoops from them. We set the hoops in the soil and plant he flowers very close together inside the hoops. This marks them out as something special. And it really works fine to have the flowers just 2 or 3 inches apart.

Insectary flower planting day is ideally one when rain is expected at night, as otherwise it’s a fussy job to tour all the circles with a watering can every day. We take a wheelbarrow and set the flats leaning out the sides like wings. Some kinds of watering cans can be carried on wheelbarrow handles. that helps. The hoops can also go on the wheelbarrow handles. Then we  work our way along the driveway, finding suitable beds. We dig with a trowel to make a circle big enough to set the hoop in, and pile any extra soil inside. Then we plant a selection from our flats, water and move on.

After the driveway, we work along the center path between the east beds and the west beds and then back along the east side, where there is a path. We hope to find a suitable spot every 25 feet or so. if it doesn’t rain, we do hand-water daily until each circle has had a good soaking from night-time sprinklers or rain.

We haven’t made a scientific study of whether these flowers do attract more beneficial insects than we had previously, but we do enjoy seeing the flowers, and I firmly believe that diversity of species helps the ecosystem.

Borage in an insectary circle. Photo by Bridget Aleshire.
Borage in an insectary circle.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire.

 

Planting spring broccoli, farmscaping, BMSB

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’re mid-way through transplanting spring broccoli. It’s been a challenging “broccoli-planting season” with two very cold nights (20F and 22F) since we started, some high winds (very cold and drying, hard to keep the rowcovers in place). In order to have as long a broccoli harvest period as possible, we use several varieties with different days-to-maturity, and do two sowing dates. This spring we are using the following varieties:

Tendergreen broccoli Credit Fedco Seeds
Tendergreen broccoli Credit Fedco Seeds

Tendergreen (47 days from transplanting),

Green King broccoli Credit Fedco Seeds
Green King broccoli
Credit Fedco Seeds
Green Magic broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Green Magic broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds

Green Magic (57 days), Green King (65d), Arcadia (68d) and Diplomat (also 68d).

 

 

 

Arcadia broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Arcadia broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Diplomat broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Diplomat broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds

These are all varieties we’ve grown before and had success with. Tendergreen is exceptionally fast, and gets us off to a good start. It’s not heat tolerant, however.

Note that the catalogs give different days to maturity. Sometimes these are from sowing. We’ve calculated our own for comparison.

We sowed our first round of broccoli on February 10 to transplant April 4, and our second round (a repeat of the first) on February 24 for transplanting April 10. For insurance we do a (smaller) third sowing of the two fastest varieties on March 6 to fill gaps on April 25. Well, the plants in the flats looked great! We delayed the start of transplanting because of the weather. We transplanted on April 4 and April 9. The first planting suffered  from the two very cold nights I mentioned, even with thick rowcover. So last week we replaced casualties with plants left over from the initial planting. (We spot out 20% more plants than calculations say we need.) We had 20 flats of 40 plants for each of the two plantings. Today we will plant the second half of the patch, over a week later than originally planned.

The third sowing has been in the cold frame for about a week. We like to give them two weeks to harden off. In another week we’ll go through and replace casualties throughout.

Sweet Alyssum Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Sweet Alyssum
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

At the same time we’ll transplant Sweet Alyssum in the centers of the broccoli and cabbage beds, about one plug every 6ft (it’s easiest to count 4 broccoli plants, then plant an alyssum). These little plants attract beneficial insects. You can read about Virginia State University research into Farmscaping. ATTRA also has a good publication.

Alyssum attracts the Syrphid fly and the Tachinid fly, predators of aphids and caterpillars.

 


We do other farmscaping too. We sow rows of sunflowers wherever we find space and nasturtiums with cucumbers and squash. We also transplant “Insectary Circles” with a mix of borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia, dill, zinnias and cleome. We sow these in the greenhouse in plug flats in late April or early May and transplant in late May. If we had more time we could do it earlier. We found that sowing earlier was a mistake for us, as we don’t get around to finding time to transplant them until after the warm weather vegetables have been planted out. We choose beds with long season crops, (meaning ones that will be there a long time) to avoid problems trying to till around the circles. We cut bottomless circles from old plastic buckets, sink these in the soil at the end of a bed, and plant into them. This helps avoid the problems that can come with novice weeders!

Harlequin bug nymphs on spider flower (Cleome); note, white flecks in the leaf typical of feeding by true bugs Credit Missouri Botanical Garden
Harlequin bug nymphs on spider flower (Cleome); note, white flecks in the leaf typical of feeding by true bugs
Credit Missouri Botanical Garden

Cleome (spider flower) can be used as a trap crop for Harlequin bugs.(You still have to deal with the infested cleomes, but it keeps your brassicas free). The Missouri Botanical Garden has great info on Harlequin bugs.


Adult female brown marmorated stink bug. Credit Rutgers New Jersey Ag Station
Adult female brown marmorated stink bug.
Credit Rutgers New Jersey Ag Station

While one the subject of bugs and stink bugs in particular, I read some recent information on Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs in an eOrganic article on the eXtension site. They even have a video. The good news is that jumping spiders, ground beetles and earwigs have been observed eating the egg masses of BMSB, assassin bugs attack the nymphs, and  the predatory spined soldier bugs eat both the eggs and the nymphs of BMSB. This is so much better news than the early days of the invasion, when it seemed like nothing would touch them.

But I don’t want to close with a picture of a pest, so here’s more broccoli. Yes, it’s under the rowcover!

Spring broccoli under rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Spring broccoli under rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons

 

Useful sustainable farming links

My Number One Resource for many years has been ATTRA, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Resource, www.attra.ncat.org. Solid useful info on a range of topics. Very helpful people. Toll-free hot-lines in English and Spanish. Hundreds of helpful publications. Newsletters. Look also on their site for SIFT, (Small-Scale Intensive Farm Training Program) for new farmers. Here’s ATTRA’s  pest management page.

 

Fast becoming another favorite of mine is the newer and rapidly growing eOrganic, the Organic Agriculture part of the Cooperative Extension System.

Many state Extension Services have good websites. Some have particular strengths: Our own Virginia Tech  has lots about vegetables and diseases and pests (not necessarily organic). For locally relevant information, start with your local Extension Office after the EOrganic one. Then prepare for global warming and try one south of you. Cornell is good on fruit and Cornell Plant Pathology runs the Vegetable MD onlineNorth Carolina has good info for commercial growers of vegetables, fruits and flowers, including some publications specifically on organic methods. They also have publications geared more towards home gardeners. And they have another of my favorites: Debbie Roos’ site Growing Small Farms.

 

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group has produced a series of Virtual Farm Tour DVDs. The series is called Natural Farming Systems in the South.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Grants and information, including free downloads of several really good books such as Managing Cover Crops Profitably. Click on the Learning Center tab.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, seeds for the south and lots more contacts and events. Click on the links button.

Growing for Market magazine. Monthly magazine packed with practical information for market growers.

If you want to join a discussion group, here’s the one I do: Market-Farming listserv

Farmscaping: Symbiont Biological Pest Management Company, Dr Richard McDonald, and more at ATTRA

Virginia Association for Biological Farming www.vabf.org Conference February 8-9, 2013 in Richmond, including a one day Farm School for new farmers and growers.