Twin Oaks January Calendar – Starting a new garden season

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlingsPhoto Kathryn Simmons

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Yes, really! On January 17, I sowed flats of cabbage, lettuce and mini-onions (cipollini), and the cabbage and lettuce are already up. Onions usually take 10 days, so I’m not surprised not to see them yet. It’s fun to see new seedlings, even though my energy isn’t ready for taking on another growing season yet. I’m still enjoying hibernation!

The cabbage varieties are Early Jersey Wakefield, a quick-growing small pointy-head open-pollinated variety, and Faroa, a quick-growing fairly small round hybrid that has been very reliable for us. These are for a bed of early cabbage, to eat after our stored winter cabbage is all gone. We’ll sow our main-crop cabbage on 2/7, in much bigger quantities.

I sowed two lettuces: reliable old Salad Bowl and the unusual Cracoviensis, a pink veined sturdy leaf lettuce, that we have found is only useful for us at this first sowing. It bolts too easily once it gets even faintly warm. It tends not to get bitter even when bolting, but our diners aren’t going to believe that!

We’re also still busy with various stages of our garden planning. yesterday I updated our harvest calendar, which tells our cooks which crops they can expect when, and also our food processing calendar to tell the food processing crew when to be ready to tackle large amounts of broccoli, beans or paste tomatoes, for example. I’m part way through revising the document we call our garden calendar, which is really a month-by-month task list. If you were following this blog in the fall, you’ll remember some of those monthly garden task lists. We’ve planned which crops are going in which of the 60 permanent raised beds and identified the ones we need to spread compost on and till first. And then we twiddle our thumbs – lots of rain last week (and a bit of snow) mean it will be a couple more weeks before the soil is dry enough to till.

Here’s our short Twin Oaks Garden Task List for January:

Planning: Prune the catalogs, do the filing, consolidate notes on varieties and quantities.

Week 1: Finalize seed orders, if not done in December. Revise Seedling Schedule using seed order.

Week 2

    : Revise Outdoor Planting Schedule. Plan labor needs for the year.

Week 3

    : Revise Raised Bed Planning Chart. Plan raised beds for Feb-June.

Week 4:           Revise Garden Calendar, Lettuce List and lettuce Log.

Order Bt, spinosad and predatory beasties, coir. [sweet potato slips for shipping 5/12-5/17 if not growing our own]
Repair greenhouse and coldframes and tidy. Check germinator-fridge and heat mat. Repair flats, and make new if needed. Make stakes. Clean labels. 

Check equipment: rototiller, discs, and mower – repair or replace as needed.  Repair and sharpen tools.

Freeze out greenhouse to kill pests, or spray with soap or cinnamon oil every five days.  Import ladybugs.
Check potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash in storage.

Mid-Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #1, early cabbage, mini-onions, early broccoli, onions.

Late Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #2, scallions #1, spinach, tomatoes, peppers for hoophouse
Plant small potato onions, 4-5″ apart, ½-1” deep, in a mild spell. Remove mulch to plant, then replace it. Plant shallots & mulch.

Perennials (see November list). Weed blueberries, raspberries, asparagus (spread compost), grapes, rhubarb, strawberries.  Add soil amendments, fertilize (not strawberries) and mulch. Prune blueberries, (take cuttings if wanted). Fall raspberries: cut all canes to the ground, remove canes from aisles. Summer raspberries: remove old fruiting canes & canes from aisles.

Harvest: (Chard?), collards, kale, (senposai?) spinach, leeks, (Yukina Savoy?).

Our freshly mulched asparagus patch.Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our freshly mulched asparagus patch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

11/13/12 Progress update on my book


Since my last update in mid-late October, I’ve chosen the photos for the eight-page section of color photos, and also rounded up and sent in over 30 more photos to use in the spaces at the ends of chapters, where they finish high up the page. By this point I’ve pored through our photo collections so many times I no longer knew which ones were in the text, which were in the color section and which remained available, so I had to scroll through the proof to check each one. That took a while.

The book goes to press in just over two weeks, on November 28, and that will be a great day. – Not as great as publication day will be, but a very significant day in its own right!

Various kind and knowledgeable gardeners, researchers and teachers of organic gardening and farming have read the electronic proofs and written some encouraging praise about my book, for the cover, and Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market, is writing the foreword.

My workshop on growing garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference went well, and the slide show is on www.slideshare.net. It is tagged by cfsa12, cfsa 12, growing garlic, for people to search.

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

I’ve just agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming

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

I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

The book will get printed in during December and the publication date is February 1, 2013. I’m excited! And tired!

Hard at work on the book earlier this year

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.

Grasshoppers and hoophouses

This week I did some research into grasshoppers, as we have have been losing lots of new seedlings (kale, spinach, beets and turnips), and the beds are leaping with little jumping critters. Definitely bigger than flea beetles, I think they are baby grasshoppers. usually we get them in mid-August, not the first part of September, but climate change is here, so things are not “as usual” any more.

I learned that we had inadvertently been providing ideal grasshopper habitat by two things we have been doing. Or rather, two things we have not been doing. Grasshoppers like tall unmowed grass, and yes, we have been very slack about mowing around the edges of the gardens this year.Next I read that if you want to keep grasshoppers away from your vegetables you could sow a small patch of grains nearby, but not too close. The light-bulb lit up! We use a lot of buckwheat and soy as summer cover crops in our raised beds and for one reason and another, some of them got over-mature and the buckwheat set seed. No doubt the grasshoppers were having a feeding frenzy there! We paid in other ways too – the self-sown buckwheat has come up in our fall crops, and been a challenge to remove before it swamps the crops. Next year, more timely mowing and tilling. (We have a mantra not to repeat the same mistake two years running.)

I read up about Nosema Locustae bait. It’s a parasite of grasshoppers that you can spray in the spring when there is a growing population of young grasshoppers. Some of them eat the bait and incubate the parasite, then other grasshoppers eat those ones, and the disease spreads. It’s an organic answer, and doesn’t give an instant result. Some people say it’s the following year after applying it, that you’ll see a diminished horde. Sounds worthwhile, to me.

ImageMeanwhile, our main task this week has been replacing the plastic and doing major renovations to our 30′ x 96′ hoophouse (high tunnel). We scheduled this last week, but got too much rain and wind. It’s time to replace the plastic, and we also need to replace the baseboards and shore up the west wall, which has been leaning in for some time. The two layers of plastic came off fairly easily, but it’s been tough going since. All the screws and bolts are rusted up, of course.

In order to stabilize the framework, we decided to put a screw in each connector where the purlins join the bows. That’s 25 x 6! And to prop the west wall up, we got some steel tubing to make diagonal braces. Dim-wittedly, I bought connectors that only work on two pieces of tubing at right angles to each other, not on a diagonal. So I had to do some hasty shopping. We had hoped to finish before rain and before Tuesday, but I think we’ll be there longer than that. Every little thing that doesn’t go according to plan sets us back a bit more. I’ll tell you how it’s gone next weekend.

It’ll be a joy when it’s all done and cozy in there for the winter, and we have lots of salads and cooking greens. Can’t wait!

Image

Lots of Rain! Thinking About Strawberries . . .

We’ve managed to work in the garden most of the time we’d planned to this week, even though we’ve had a lot of rain. Since the start of September, in just 5 days, we’ve had 2.4″ and it looks like rain brewing now. Before that we had a week without rain, but before that a week with 2.1″. The soil is saturated, and hoeing anything would be a complete waste of time even if it was possible. We just have to watch the weeds grow in most places, while we focus on what we can do.

Great news on our big carrot weeding – we finished that this morning! I made a new Task List for the week and it mentions a lot of weeding, which sounds daunting. I remind myself that compared to the carrot weeding, most of the upcoming weeding tasks are small. One 90′ bed of squash plants doesn’t take long at all, and even a 90′ bed of turnips isn’t so much!

Tender Grey Zucchini from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I saw that our fifth sowing of squash has tiny squashes on it, so we’ll add that to our harvest list, along with the number 5 and number 4 plantings. That’s good news, because I want to “do in” the old #3 planting soon. It’s beside the watermelon, which is just about finished, and I’d like to pull the drip-tape out of there, and roll and store it for next year. Then as soon as the soil is dry enough to not get too compressed by the weight of the tractor, we can disk up that area and sow winter cover crops. Winter rye, Austrian winter peas, and crimson clover in this case, for next year’s mid-season sweet corn.

I just ordered two rolls of DeWitt Sunbelt landscaping fabric (weed barrier) for our new strawberry beds. We’re going to try burning holes in the fabric to plant through. The goal is to have more strawberries and fewer weeds. I’ve met and read about other growers who do this, and it seems to me to be our best hope. We can roll up the fabric and reuse it in a year or two, when those strawberry plants are worn out. Other members of the crew are less enthusiastic than me to try this, so we’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t work well, I’ll be selling the landscape fabric in June 2014, so watch out for it! Really, though, I do expect it to work well and convince the others.

Planning ahead for strawberries

Here’s a link to Mark Cain of Dripping Springs garden in Huntsville, AR about Landscape Fabric in the Marker Garden. Erin Benzakein wrote a great article in Growing for Market in October 2011: Eliminate weeding with landscape fabrics. You’ll need to subscribe to read it. These two convinced me. There are a couple of photos on the Black Village Market Garden blog and a whole series on Mountain Harvest Organics, which is over twice our scale.

I’m on the point of ordering strawberry plants too. We’re getting plugs of Chandler strawberries from Cottles in North Carolina. (Call or email them for info on plants, mostly their website is about selling fruit and vegetables.) We bought from them in 2010 and the plants did very well. Plugs are the easiest way to grow new strawberries. They are little plants in plastic cell-flats. Shipping is rather expensive, naturally, because you are getting the potting soil too. But in this area, plugs planted now will be harvestable next year. In the past we used to buy bare root plants, which are just how they sound, and are only sold during the dormant season, for planting in early spring. Then you are not supposed to let them flower the first season, so you have to weed for a whole extra year before getting any fruit.

Wow! Weeds!

 When we have massive big harvests, it’s hard to get much else done on the garden shifts. This week we’ve made a lot of progress on the two big projects of the broccoli patch and the carrot thinning and weeding.

Crimson clover flowers in early May
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

The whole of the broccoli and cabbage patch except the very edges has been cleared of weeds. After tilling the edges, the next job there is to broadcast a mix of medium red clover, large white clover and crimson clover, and water it in until it germinates, if nature doesn’t deal with that. Hurricane Isaac is forecast to curve round towards Virginia by the middle of next week, but lots can change with weather systems. If all goes well, we’ll get the clovers established before we need to start walking in there harvesting (usually mid-September onwards).

This fall (as I reported in my post on July 5) we are taking part in the Novic broccoli variety trials, growing twelve different kinds of broccoli and eleven of cabbage. We have received our report sheets to write down our data and comments each time we harvest them. We’ll benefit from the comparisons and next year just grow the best varieties. We want varieties that provide a long broccoli season, and sideshoots are as important to us as main heads. Quantity and flavor are important to us as well, of course! We want cabbage to store for the winter, as well as cabbage that is ready quickly. We’re feeding the hundred members of Twin Oaks Community, and just about everyone here likes broccoli and cabbage. George Bush would be out of place!

The carrot thinning is making good progress. From the top of the 265′ rows, it looks like we are very, very close to the end. There is what I call a “curvature of the earth effect”: when you walk down there to weed, you see we’re not as close to the end as it seemed. But – the end is in sight! Next, we’ll hoe between the rows, then leave this crop alone until the baby carrots are salad size. Then we’ll weed and thin again, this time to 3″. And we’ll be able to eat those tender little carrots! Then we’ll leave them alone again until November, when we dig and bag them all.

Happy young zucchini plant
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

So, now we can look at other projects. We are removing rowcover from the crops we sowed at the beginning of August. Today we uncovered a bed of turnips, one of squash, one cucumbers and three kale. In the next few days we can weed and thin those. In fact I already thinned the big squash plants as I walked by on my way to the hoophouse after lunch. I just couldn’t resist! The plants, sown on August 5, are already two feet tall, pushing at the rowcover. I thinned to about 18″-2′ apart, and also pulled out a few handfuls of galinsoga, our most common summer weed in the raised bed area.

One of the signs we look for in deciding whether the season is cooling down enough to sow spinach is the re-emergence of the cool weather annual weeds, especially dead-nettle and henbit. I usually look for them while harvesting paste tomatoes, as that soil has not been disturbed for a while. I saw seedlings of one or other of these key weeds on 8/18 this year, a bit earlier than usual. We were certainly having cooler nights and even cooler days, so it all felt right.

This morning we prepped four beds for spinach. The beds had just been tilled yesterday afternoon with our walk-behind BCS 732, and today we shoveled paths and raked the tops. We’re due to sow 5 beds of spinach on Saturday (9/1), and I’ve already got the seed sprouting in a plastic jar in the fridge. It’s hard to get spinach to germinate in hot weather, so we always pre-sprout in the fall. Just soak the seed overnight, then drain and put the jar in the fridge. I go by once a day to roll the jar so all the seeds get a chance of light and moisture. It’s not much work while they’re sprouting. Hand-sowing is a bit more fussy. Sometimes the damp seeds clump together, so we mix them with a dry, non-sticky food item like dry grits, oatmeal or bran.

We mark five rows in each bed, and sow spinach in the outer four. in spring we sow snap peas in the middle row, and get double value from the bed, the weeding we do, and the winter rowcover.

Looking forward to Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Winter Hardiness

It can be hard to find out just how cold a temperature various vegetable plants can survive. Reading books written in different parts of the country can be confusing: “survives all winter” is one thing in the Pacific Northwest and another in Montana. So for some years I have been collecting data and exchanging information with my friend and neighbor Ken Bezilla at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Each winter I try to record what dies at what temperature. Below is my current list, which should be treated as a work in progress.

Your own experience with your soils, microclimates and rain levels may lead you to use different temperatures. If you have data from your garden, please leave a comment. Likewise if you have found particular varieties to be especially cold-tolerant, I’d love to learn more. Central Virginia isn’t the coldest spot in the US, but if I can grow something without rowcover, I’m happy to hear it!

Here’s our temperature list at which various crops die:

 35°F (2°C):  Basil.

32°F (0°C):  Bush beans, cauliflower curds, corn, cowpeas, cucumbers, eggplant, limas, melons, okra, some Pak Choy, peanuts, peppers, potato vines, squash vines, sweet potato vines, tomatoes.

27°F (-3°C): Most cabbage, Sugarloaf chicory (takes only light frosts), radicchio.

 25°F (-4°C): Broccoli heads, chervil, chicory roots for chicons, and hearts, probably Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), dill, endive (hardier than lettuce, Escarole more frost-hardy than Frisée), annual fennel, large leaves of lettuce (protected hearts and small plants will survive even colder temperatures), some mustards and oriental greens (Maruba Santoh, mizuna, most pak choy, Tokyo Bekana), onion scallions, radicchio. Also white mustard cover crop.

22°F (-6°C): Arugula, Tatsoi. (both may survive colder than this.) Possibly Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), Maruba Santoh, Mizuna, Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana with rowcover.

20°F (-7°C): Some beets, cabbage heads (the insides may still be good even if the outer leaves are damaged), celeriac, celtuce (stem lettuce), some corn salad, perhaps fennel, some unprotected lettuce – some OK to 16°F (-16 °C), some mustards/oriental greens (Tendergreen, Tyfon Holland greens), radishes, turnips with mulch to protect them, (Noir d’Hiver is the most cold-tolerant variety).

17°F (-8°C): Barley (cover crop)

15°F (-9.5°C): Some beets (Albina Verduna, Lutz Winterkeeper), beet leaves, broccoli leaves, young cabbage, celery (Ventura) with rowcover (some inner leaves may survive at lower than this), cilantro, endive, fava beans (Aquadulce Claudia), garlic tops may be damaged but not killed, Russian kales, kohlrabi, perhaps Komatsuna, some covered lettuce, especially small and medium-sized plants (Marvel of  Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density), curly leaf parsley, flat leaf parsley, oriental winter radish with mulch for protection (including daikon), large leaves of broad leaf sorrel, turnip leaves, winter cress.

12°F (-11°C): Some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), carrots (Danvers, Oxheart), multi-colored chard, most collards, some fava beans (not the best flavored ones), garlic tops if fairly large, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln, King Richard), most covered lettuce (Freckles, Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Parris Island, Tango) , large tops of potato onions, Senposai, some turnips (Purple Top).

10°F (-12°C): Beets with rowcover, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest, Brussels sprouts, chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), mature cabbage, some collards (Morris Heading), Belle Isle upland cress, some endive (Perfect, President), young stalks of Bronze fennel, perhaps Komatsuna, some  leeks (American Flag), Oriental winter radish, (including daikon), rutabagas, (if mulched), tops of shallots, large leaves of savoyed spinach (more hardy than flat leafed varieties), tatsoi, Yukina Savoy. Also oats cover crop.

5°F (-15°C): Garlic tops if still small, some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), some leeks (Bulgarian Giant, Laura, Tadorna), some bulb onions (Walla Walla), potato onions and other multiplier onions, smaller leaves of savoyed spinach and broad leaf sorrel.

0°F (-18°C): Chives, some collards (Blue Max, Winner), corn salad, garlic, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, Vates kale (although some leaves may be too damaged to use), Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf  kale, a few leeks (Alaska, Durabel); some onion scallions (Evergreen Winter Hardy White, White Lisbon), parsnips, salad burnet, salsify, some spinach (Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia, Tyee). Also small-seeded cover crop fava beans.

Even Colder: Overwintering varieties of cauliflower are hardy down to -5°F (-19°C).

Many of the Even Star Ice Bred varieties are hardy down to -6°F (-20°C).

Walla Walla onions sown in late summer are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Winter Field Peas and Crimson clover (used as cover crop) are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Hairy vetch and white Dutch clover cover crops are hardy to -30°F (-34°C)

Sorrel and some cabbage (January King) are said to be hardy in zone 3, -30 to-40°F (-34 to -40°C)

Winter wheat and winter rye (cover crops) are hardy to -40°F (-40°C).

Risking Zombie Carrots: weeding tiny carrots versus weeding broccoli

After the flurry at the beginning of August to get the last warm weather crops sown, we’re now focusing on cool weather crops to feed us in the winter.

We sowed 4000 ft of carrots (Danvers 126) on August 4th, flamed them to kill the weeds that came up before the carrots, then hoed between the rows last week. This week we’ve begun the slow job of hand weeding the rows and thinning the carrots to an inch apart. At 4000 ft of rows, that’s 48,000 carrot seedlings to keep and thousands more weeds to remove to ensure the carrots’ happiness! Fortunately, we get faster at this skill with practice. We’re using marker flags as we go down the rows, to show where to start next time. It’s fairly obvious while the plants are all so small, but the flags also serve to measure our daily progress.

After this thinning, we won’t come back till the carrots are big enough for salads, when we’ll thin to 3″ apart. Then we’ll do the big harvest, washing, sorting and bagging, in November. We hope for at least 30 fifty-pound bags to see us through the winter. Last year and the one before, we fell behind with the weeding and had to abandon part of the plot. As always, we resolved not to repeat the same mistake two years running!

A bed of nicely thinned carrots,
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

We’re certainly off to a good timely start this year. And as a result of learning from last year’s mistakes, we decided to try overwintering a bed of later carrots (we’ve just sowed those). Last year we took the desperate measure of mowing the part of the plot we couldn’t weed, to stop the weeds from seeding. To my surprise, the carrots grew back! They were promptly named the Zombie Carrots. They survived the winter and grew into edible size. Sure, they never got big, but the flavor was especially sweet, in the cold weather. Previously we avoided overwintering carrots because of problems with voles tunneling underground and eating roots of whatever they could find. This winter we’ll test which wins: carrots or voles.

Finding time to weed carrots wouldn’t be so hard if it was the only task on our list. Not so.  (If carrots lose out, the best we can hope for is Zombie Carrots!) We are also tackling (larger) weeds in the (larger) fall broccoli. Our plan is to remove the weeds, then broadcast a mix of medium red clover, large white clover and crimson clover. If all goes according to plan and the clover seed gets enough rain or overhead irrigation, it will grow slowly over the fall and winter, and then take off in the spring when the broccoli is dead. We’ll bush hog the dead broccoli in spring and leave the clover growing for the full year to replenish the soil, just mowing from time to time to control annual weeds. When it works, it’s great. But we have to get rid of the weeds soon, to give it a good chance of success.

In March, the old broccoli trunks are surrounded by a sea of green clover.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

So this weeding competes for our attention with the carrot weeding. Happily, they are different types of work: patient detailed work or energetic, vigorous pulling or hoeing. Some weather conditions suggest one job over the other; some people prefer one type of work over the other. The broccoli weeding makes a good energetic start to the morning, when conditions are damp and chilly. The carrot weeding makes for a more mellow finish to the shift. And it all makes a change from harvesting 52 buckets of tomatoes!

52 Buckets of Tomatoes

A small fraction of our harvest

On Tuesday this week we picked fifty-two 5 gallon buckets of Roma paste tomatoes. We’ve been harvesting the four long rows every Friday and Tuesday, but last Friday had a rainy start and we didn’t harvest, so we knew there would be a lot more than usual on Tuesday. Our Food Processing crew makes these into sauce which we store for the winter, and because the crew only has access to the big-scale kitchen equipment necessary to tackle such loads on those two days, there was no point in harvesting before Tuesday.

Also, we knew from records we’d kept from previous years, that 8/9-15 is “Peak Week”, when the harvest is at its highest rate. Nothing else to do but rally lots of people and get picking! Although Twin Oaks Community has about a hundred people, they are not all sitting around waiting to be asked to help with task like this. Most people already have their work scheduled for the week. Still, we were lucky enough to get some extra help.

We started our shift with some energetic work, shoveling and raking to prepare some new beds for lettuce, spinach and turnips. Then we harvested some other crops, beans, squash, cucumbers, okra – the usual stuff for this time of year. We were waiting for the dew to dry off the tomato leaves, to reduce the spread of fungal diseases. (We’ve been appreciating relatively cool nights lately – nice sleeping weather, but dewy mornings.) Round about 9am we started in on the tomatoes, and thanks to a steady pace from the regulars and some extra drop-in helpers, we just got finished at noon.

One of the things I love about living communally is being able to show up at the dining hall at mealtimes and be fed! If I had to prepare my own meals, I wouldn’t eat as well, I’m sure. We lined up the carts of tomato buckets in the shade of some trees next to the dining hall and collapsed into chairs with plates of food. This was the official hand-off to the Food Processing crew. After lunch they washed, trimmed, chopped and cooked the tomatoes. We’d heeded their request to be sure not to use any cracked buckets this time, and I think we we re successful in finding 50 suitable buckets. They fill the buckets with water to wash the tomatoes, and buckets with holes in cause floods in the dining room or kitchen, wherever they are working.

A guest who helped us pick in the morning, worked on the processing shift too, and stayed to the exhausted end around 2.30 am. Not everyone stayed till the end, most people left after the chopping, but the crew manager, of course, was committed to being there. We got 112 half-gallon jars of sauce. Quite impressive. We’ll enjoy those next winter.

112 jars is about the same amount we lost last year in the big earthquake. We were pretty much at the epicenter of the August 23 quake, and among our troubles was a basement floor with 100 broken jars of tomato sauce.

Our Roma paste tomatoes are another of the crops I’ve been saving seed from, and selecting for resistance to Septoria leaf spot, and for earliness and yield. They are sold as Roma Virginia Select through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Gone are the years when our Roma plants crashed to a mess of dead brown leaves by this point of the season. We still have some Septoria, but not a lot, and the plants carry on to produce more healthy leaves and good fruit.

Forty of the fifty-two buckets of tomatoes are visible here. The others are behind the impressive line-up of carts. Photo by Wren Vile

Efficient Harvesting Techniques in Growing for Market magazine

The cover of the August issue of Growing for Market

The August issue of Growing for Market magazine is out! In it on page 9, you’ll find my article on how to harvest efficiently, mostly without machinery. Trade secrets are revealed – like when is a cabbage fully mature, and just what is “full slip” for a melon. And which crops should you harvest later in the shift, when the dew has dried from the leaves.

I cover organization,  planning and management, finding good crop sequences (don’t leave the corn languishing in the heat while you get the beans!), tools, and various harvesting methods such as cutting whole heads, picking individual leaves, and “buzz-cutting” so the plant can regrow. And that’s just the leafy greens. There’s also the roots, including onions, and fruits (botanically speaking) such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers and podded crops like beans and peas. Food safety, field washing and short-term storage until the happy diners get their hands on the food – all this is covered too.

When you grow 60 different crops, how do you make time to harvest them all? Well, of course, not everything is ready to harvest at once, even in August. Some crops we pick every day, some every other day, some twice a week. Here’s a trick we use: For the every-other-day crops we have developed an ingenious phonetic system. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we harvest crops beginning with a k/c/g sound; on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we harvest b and p crops. This works almost perfectly, with just a few crops we force into place: eggPlant not eGGplant! sPinach, senPosai! This system works well for us, and adds some amusement. It also ensures we harvest some cooking greens each day: kale, collards, cabbage some days, broccoli, pak choy, spinach on the other days. Beans take over from peas as the spring heats up. Corn gets picked on the days we don’t pick labor-intensive beans.

Our main tools are Garden Way type carts, 5 gallon buckets and knives. Although special harvest knives can be bought, and we have some of those, we get most of our knives at yard sales and thrift stores. Great value for the money! Serrated bread knives can be excellent tools for cutting cabbage and kohlrabi, anything with a thick stem.

My next few articles will be about dealing with nature’s surprises, being ready for anything, predicting what’s about to happen next, and deciding when to change plans and grow something different. Climate change is here, and we growers will need to adapt.