Chert Hollow Farm on Organic certification, More Snow, Feed the Soil presentation.

Chert Hollow Farm's photos of their farm gate before and after.

Chert Hollow Farm’s photos of their farm gate before and after.

For some time I have been following the blog of Eric and Joanna Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm near Columbia, Missouri. I admire their commitment and creativity. Recently they have posted a three-part series on why they have decided to drop their USDA Organic certification. I found it a very thought-filled and coherent piece of writing and want more people to read it and ponder the points they make.

Dropping organic certification, part I talks about some of their concerns with the USDA Organic system as a whole, and how some of the Organic rules are increasingly at odds with their “beliefs and standards for sustainable and ethical food production.” Their work creating a diverse deeply-sustainable farm with minimal bought-in inputs isn’t easily reconciled with the USDA certification process. “Trying to use our own resources in a creatively sustainable way created an unusually-shaped peg that the organic system’s round holes don’t expect. And thus there’s a lot of subtle pressure on organic farms just to buy stuff rather than be more diversified and creative in their farming approach.” According to their Organic inspectors over the years, they have been star poster-child Organic farmers for five years, and their decision to leave Organic certification will be “a major loss to the organic certification community/process in this part of the country”.

In addition to the differing philosophy and practice between Joanna and Eric’s approach and the USDA, the costs are too high and the benefits too few.

Dropping organic certification, part II  goes into some of their specific issues with the certification. Concerns include costs, including the uncertainty of whether the government will continue the cost-share program; bureaucracy (why don’t chemical farmers have to track and report their inputs and applications??); and the degree of usefulness of USDA certification for direct marketing. As a CSA farm, Eric and Joanna are no longer competing for customers with self-proclaimed “organic” farmers at the market.

Dropping organic certification, part III looks at the benefits of dropping certification, while acknowledging what they learned by being part of the certified system, specifically the value of good record-keeping, good compost-making and careful sourcing of inputs. They credit being certified (and needing to check potential herbicide use on hay and straw they brought in for feed and mulch) with helping them avoid the “killer hay” incidents which are, sadly, all too common around the country. They write about what they are looking forward to, freed from the certification restrictions. They are increasing biological diversity on their farm, getting off mailing lists (!), and communicating more with customers and CSA members, know they’ll save time on certification paperwork. Finally, they discuss some of their regrets about no longer being part of “something bigger, a known collection of farms and consumers that stood for something different from the conventional agriculture model” they oppose. They will no longer have the support of USDA if they suffer from spray drift. They will no longer have an easy label to describe their farming practices to customers. Their hope is that more direct, personal communication with CSA members and the rest of the world will take over in addressing that need.

Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we’ve had More Snow. Only about 3″, following rain. But it has brought a halt to our outdoor gardening pursuits for a while. Just before the snow we managed to get some disking done – the first of the year! We had got some raised beds tilled a few days earlier, so we managed to prepare those bed and sow beets, turnips, radishes and scallions, as well as the last of the snap peas. We haven’t transplanted anything except lettuce, scallions and spinach, because it has been so cold. We got beds ready for kale, cabbage, senposai and collards, before I realized the plants were too small to go outside! All our transplants have been growing slowly. We have postponed planting our tomatoes in the hoophouse because the weather is so unsettled (which is a mild way of saying scarily cold).

On Sunday 3/16, I co-taught Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. I spoke about Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slide show from that event:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/feed-the-soil” title=”Feed the soil. Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Feed the soil. Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

Summer reading

GFM-August 2013-cover-300px

 

The August issue of Growing for Market magazine is out (the June-July issue was the most recent previous one). This one includes my article on Last Chance Sowings.

In line with my advice, at home we are busy preparing beds and sowing beans, bulb fennel, cucumbers and squash. As well as being our last chance with these warm weather crops, it’s now our first chance to start again with the spring and fall crops such as carrots, beets, kale, scallions, turnips (no rutabagas for us these days – it needs extra time to grow to a good size, and we’re never ready soon enough). It’s too soon for us to sow spinach (although the weather is surprisingly cool for August!) – we wait till the fall chickweed, dead nettle and henbit germinate before sowing spinach. we’re also out in the garden every evening transplanting broccoli and cabbage. We’re over half way, and the mild weather is really helping.

Cutting Zephyr yellow summer squash. Credit Brittany Lewis

Cutting Zephyr yellow summer squash.
Credit Brittany Lewis

Also in this Growing for Market issue are valuable articles by other growers, such as Ben Hartman on arranging their farm’s CSA into two separate seasons, spring and fall, with a two week gap in the middle. What a great idea. I got a two week gap myself, thanks to our stalwart crew keeping the crops happy while I was gone.

There’s encouragement from Lynn Byczynski, the editor,  to comment to the FDA on the proposed food safety rules for produce. cover4Jonathan Magee (author of the book Small Farm Equipment) writes about irrigation pumps, which will likely be a big stress-saver for anyone who has stood in exasperation over a non-working pump. Andrew Mefford writes about useful tools for the hoophouse, including some nifty little Harvest Scissors, worn like a ring, freeing up the hands to alternate with other tasks while working.Erin Benzakein, the regular writer on cut flowers, covers ideas for early spring blooms, and, as always, has some beautiful photos.

For the next issue I am writing on strawberry production systems, including our latest method – using landscape fabric with holes burned in it.

2013-berry-veggie1-80x300My presentation on Planning Fall Crops at the Virginia State University Commercial Berry and Vegetable Field Day  on June 27 is now a full blown video. you can view it at their website, along with those of the other presenters; Reza Rafie on specialty crops such as baby ginger, Steven Pao on food safety and Debra Deis from Seedway Seeds on their variety trials.

I’ve recently found a website I think will be very useful for help in predicting pest outbreaks, as well as counting accumulated Growing Degree Days and recording the weather. It’s called My Pest Page. It’s for the technically minded. To modify our page for your area, start with the map and zoom out then in again on your area, using your nearest weather station. Then you can choose which pieces of information to have displayed, by clicking on the plus button by each topic to expand the list of options. Then click on the big Refresh button and bookmark the site. I see we’re now at the point when Late Blight infection is possible. . . , so I’ll keep my eyes open.A few years ago when we thought we had Late Blight on our tomatoes we spent a lot of time removing infected leaves into trash bags. When we sent a sample to the plant diagnostic clinic they said we didn’t have Late Blight. I think it was a heat stress condition caused by us using the wrong kind of drip tape. (We had too much on at once, so not all the plants were actually getting the irrigation we thought they were.)

Talking of irrigation, It’s time I left my desk and went to switch over to today’s fourth sub-system.

 

 

 

Fall vegetable production – my presentation

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/fall-vegetable-production-60min” title=”Fall vegetable production (60min) – Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Fall vegetable production (60min) – Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

Here’s the presentation I gave at the VSU  2013 Commercial Berry and Vegetable Filed Day at Randolph Farm, Petersburg on Thursday (6/27). Actually this slide show has some extra slides that I had to cut out to fit the time available. Registration for the field day had doubled compared to last year and reached 500. I don’t know how many were at the presentations, maybe 250. The other option was to continue the outdoor exploration of the research plots.

One section I would have loved to have seen, if I hadn’t been signing and selling books, and answering questions about VABF, was Clif Slade’s “43560” (Forty-three five sixty”) plot. He is aiming to demonstrate the viability of earning $43560 per year from one acre (43560 square feet) of intensive vegetable production. There are some You-Tubes about this project on http://www.youtube.com/user/VSUCoopExtension/videos

Around mid-July, check out http://www.vsuag.net/
for a video compiled by Michael Clark, combining my slideshow and me speaking.

Our sweet potato plot doesn't look like this yet. We're weeding as the vines start to run. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Our sweet potato plot doesn’t look like this yet. We’re weeding as the vines start to run.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Meanwhile, back at the farm, I’m sowing fall broccoli, cabbage and senposai, weeding sweet potatoes, sowing another succession of beans and one of edamame. More of our time is spent harvesting these days. Today we pulled a bag of beets, 2 buckets of beans, 2 buckets of lettuce (we’ll have a short gap until the next bed comes in), 6 buckets of broccoli, one bucket each of cukes, squash, zucchini, turnips and kohlrabi. Most of our crops are getting harvested every two days at this point (except lettuce, cukes and zukes). So no cabbage, kale, chard, scallions, blueberries or celery today.

Twin Oaks Garden Task List for April

Asparagus in early April.Credit Wren Vi

Asparagus in early April.
Credit Wren Vile

All Month:

Lettuce Factory: In flats, (on greenhouse bench) sow lettuce #7, 8, 9 (romaines & small varieties to interplant with peanuts). Transplant 1/3 bed lettuce (120 plants)/week. Plant #4, 5, 6 this month.
Compost Needed for April: 6-9 tractor buckets for beds, 24-30 bkts to disk in.

Early April:

In greenhouse, sow lettuce #7;

Keep celery above 55°F, and celeriac above 45°F (don’t put in coldframe). 10 consecutive days <55°F for celery, <45°F for celeriac, causes bolting.

Spot lettuce, harden off in coldframe. Spot peppers, tomatoes, & eggplant. Protect new pepper seedlings from mice.  Keep tomatoes above 45°F at night, eggplant above 55°F.

Cut sweet potato slips at 6-12”, put in water.  Once a week, plant rooted slips in 4” flats.

Sow outdoors: carrots #5, beets (see March notes), parsnips with radishes #2, (in celery bed), sunflowers.

Weed and thin early crops. Side dress or foliar spray over-wintered spinach to boost production.

Take rowcover from turnips, senposai, cabbage #1, kohlrabi, little alliums, onions as needed for broccoli.

Transplant lettuce #4, main cabbage & broccoli under rowcover (12 pieces) within 6 weeks of sowing.

Till beds for mid-April. Compost beds for late April plantings.

Garlic bulbing is initiated on/after April 10 (13 hours daylight), and soil temperature above 60°F.

Mid April:

In greenhouse sow melons #1 in soil blocks or plug flats, replacement paste tomatoes, lettuce #8, and okra.

Sow beans #1 when lilac in full bloom, sunflowers. Sow edamame #1, corn#1, if warm, and soil >60F.

Till beds for late April (chard, cowpeas, peanuts). Compost beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7,8,9, asparagus beans)

Hill up potatoes when 6” high. Cover half the vine. Repeat after 2 weeks. (Flameweed if too wet to hill.)

Take rowcover from kale, collards, early lettuce for raised bed tender crops.

Transplant broccoli #2, insectary flowers #1, bulb fennel, lettuce #5, cukes #1 w/nasturtiums, zukes #1; use spring hoops for cucurbits. Take rowcover from spinach to strawberries.

A fine bed of fava beans. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A fine bed of fava beans.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Install stakes every 8-10’ for peas and fava beans, and stringweave them to final height of that variety.

Weed garlic [or flameweed it early in the morning after a good rain. Direct flame at base of garlic plants]

Harvest lettuce as heads rather than leaves, from 15 April

#3 Spring Tractor Work (mid April) – Disk areas for sweet potatoes, winter squash, watermelons, (Romas and peppers if no-till cover crop insufficient). Bush-hog late food crop plots when rye heads up, to help clover or peas develop. Also clover patches, eg Green Fallow (All Year Cover Crops).

Late April:

in greenhouse sow lettuce #9; watermelons #1 & 2 in soil blocks or plug flats; calendula and various insectary flowers, filler corn & Romas.

Sow corn #1 (1/2-3/4” deep) in two phases, and peanuts if soil temperature is 65°F. Also cowpeas #1, and sesame.

Sow more leeks if needed in Little Alliums bed outdoors. If not, sow more mini-onions and scallions #3.

Transplant lettuce #6, leaf beet, chard, insectaries; finish transplanting gaps in the main broccoli & cabbage plot, plant Alyssum. Take rowcovers from broccoli & cabbage for new crops.

If mild, plant tomatoes. Harden off nightshades by restricting water.

Till beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7/8/9, asparagus beans). Compost beds for mid-May (edamame, eggplant, limas).

Store spring and fall seeds (spinach, peas, beets) in the basement for the summer.

Foliar feed the potatoes, ideally the morning before hilling up, and every 2 weeks.

Roll out Driptape and Biotelos corn plastic mulch for peppers and Romas where no-till cover crop not used.

Cover crops: sow rye to wimp out. Sow buckwheat in any beds not needed for at least 5 weeks eg. leeks limas; add soy if bed not needed for 7 weeks. 

Haybine or bush-hog vetch & rye for no-till planting of Roma paste tomatoes, late in the month (or very early in May). (Mow strips; or till strips through the cover crop for the rows, with narrow-set tiller). Water the area before digging holes, if dry.

Perennials: Weed blueberries, asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, grapes as needed. Mow aisles. If asparagus weeds are getting out of hand, mow down one or more rows to keep control. Monitor asparagus beetles, spray spinosad when bees not flying, if >10 adults/100 crowns. Spinosad: Shake well, 1-4 Tbsp/gall (1fl.oz=2Tbsp=30ml.) Repeat in 6 days.

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.Credit Kathryn Simmons

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Cover strawberries if frost threatens – take rowcovers from spinach. (Pick flowers off any new spring  plantings.)

Visit grapes, log progress, remove flower buds from new vines. Note deaths and where replacement arms are needed.  Check and repair fruit drip irrigation, thin raspberries to 6/foot of row.

Harvest and weed: Asparagus, chard (hoophouse), collards, garlic scallions- pull at 8″, kale, leeks, lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, senposai, snap peas in hoophouse, spinach.

Phenology – What happens when

Flowering Purple (or Red) Dead Nettle, with honeybee.Credit Kathryn Simmons

Flowering Purple (or Red) Dead Nettle, with honeybee.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

For ten years I have been keeping phenology records, as a guide to when to plant certain crops, and as a way of tracking how fast the season is progressing.

Phenology involves tracking when certain wild and cultivated flowers bloom, seedlings emerge, or various insects are first seen. These natural events can substitute for Growing Degree Day calculations. Certain natural phenomena are related to the accumulated warmth of the season (rather than, say, the day-length), and by paying attention to nature’s calendar you will be in sync with actual conditions, which can vary from year to year, and are changing over a longer time-scale..

Many people know to sow sweet corn when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear. By this point, regardless of date, the season has warmed enough to get oak leaves to that size, which happens to be warm enough for sweet corn seed to germinate and grow well. Some people transplant eggplant, melons and peppers when irises bloom; sow fall brassicas when catalpas and mockoranges bloom; and know to look for squash vine borers laying eggs for the two weeks after chicory flowers. Some transplant tomatoes when the lily of the valley is in full bloom, or the daylilies start to bloom.

Lilac is often used to indicate when conditions are suitable for various plantings:

  •   When lilac leaves first form, plant potatoes
  •  When lilac is in first leaf (expanded), plant carrots, beets, brassicas, spinach, lettuce
  • When lilac is in early bloom, watch out for crabgrass germinating
  • When lilac is in full bloom, plant beans, squash, corn. Grasshopper eggs hatch.
  • When lilac flowers fade, plant cucumbers.

Also, recording the dates of the same biological events each year can show longer term climate changes. In Europe, 500 years of recorded dates of grape harvests provide information about summer temperatures during that time. Project Budburst is a citizen science field campaign to log leafing and flowering of native species of trees and flowers across the US each year. Each participant observes one or more species of plant for the whole season.

 Here’s our Twin Oaks Phenology Record so far:

(c) Pam Dawling, 2013

Event 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Notes
Crocus blooming 26-Jan 25-Jan 6-Feb 10-Feb 28-Feb 17-Feb 30-Jan
Chickweed blooming 8-Feb 1-Jan 5-Mar 10-Feb 13-Mar 19-Feb 13-Feb 15-Feb
Robins arrive 27-Feb 31-Jan 20-Jan 26-Feb 2-Mar 14-Feb
Henbit blooming 14-Mar 7-Mar 12-Jan 6-Jan 7-Feb 20-Feb 22-Mar 2-Mar 15-Feb 15-Feb
Daffodils blooming 17-Mar 9-Mar 7-Mar 1-Mar 22-Feb 3-Mar 5-Mar 15-Mar 3-Mar 17-Feb Plant potatoes
Dead-nettle blooming 18-Mar 6-Mar 7-Mar 8-Mar 14-Mar 9-Feb 24-Feb 13-Mar 21-Jan 22-Feb 10-Feb
Spring Peepers first heard 4-Mar 11-Mar 10-Mar 3-Mar 3-Mar 6-Mar 11-Mar 28-Feb 23-Feb 5-Mar Plant peas
Overwinter Grasshoppers seen 26-Feb 4-Apr 25-Feb
Maples Blooming 10-Mar 6-Mar 15-Mar 12-Mar 28-Feb
Dandelion blooming 16-Mar 16-Mar 24-Jan 1-Jan 3-Mar 17-Mar 9-Mar 8-Mar 19-Mar Sow beets, carrots
Forsythia blooming 13-Mar 12-Mar 28-Mar 10-Mar 23-Mar 13-Mar 17-Mar 21-Mar 15-Mar 12-Mar 15-Mar Plant peas. Crabgrass germinates.
Peach blooming 15-Mar 25-Mar 26-Mar 25-Mar 13-Mar
Cabbage White Butterfly 25-Mar 20-Mar 7-Mar 8-Mar 11-Mar 6-Apr 24-Mar 12-Mar 14-Mar Dutch white clover blooms
Harlequin bugs 10-Apr 13-Mar 26-Mar 12-May 16-Apr 29-Apr 14-Mar
Johnny Jump-up blooming 16-Mar 30-Mar 14-Mar 20-Mar 3-Apr 17-Mar
Flowering Cherry blooming 27-Mar 4-Apr 3-Apr 1-Apr 6-Apr 25-Mar 17-Mar 18-Mar 20-Mar
Asparagus spears 6-Apr 4-Apr 4-Apr 5-Apr 6-Apr 6-Apr 21-Mar 19-Mar
Redbud blooming 5-Apr 13-Apr 9-Apr 3-Apr 2-Apr 7-Apr 9-Apr 7-Apr 4-Apr 19-Mar Expect flea beetles
Smartweed germinating 15-Apr 10-Apr 15-Apr 6-Apr 11-Apr 1-Apr 23-Mar 20-Mar <149 GDD base 48F
Lambsquarters germinating 20-Mar 20-Mar <150 GDD base 48F
Violets blooming 29-Mar 26-Mar 28-Mar 6-Apr 22-Mar 20-Mar
Morning Glory germinating 27-Apr 10-Apr 3-Apr 26-Apr 24-Apr 25-Apr 22-Mar >349 GDD base 48F
Tiger Swallowtail 19-Apr 29-Mar 15-Apr 16-Apr 18-Apr 10-Apr 28-Mar
Apples blooming 18-Apr 20-Apr 14-Apr 7-Apr 12-Apr 28-Mar
Dogwood (Amer.) full bloom 5-Apr 21-Apr 13-Apr 28-Mar Plant peppers; soil 65 F
Strawberries bloom 13-Apr 11-Apr 14-Apr 12-Apr 4-Apr 2-Apr 15-Apr 6-Apr 8-Apr 30-Mar
Lilac full bloom 16-Apr 20-Apr 21-Apr 22-Apr 19-Apr 21-Apr 14-Apr 18-Apr 1-Apr Plant beans, squash
Crimson Clover blooming 29-Apr 2-May 16-Apr 22-Apr 23-Apr 27-Apr 18-Apr 25-Apr 4-Apr
Whippoorwill first heard 1-May 22-Apr 15-Apr 24-Apr 17-Apr 25-Apr 8-Apr 14-Apr 5-Apr
Galinsoga germinating 1-May 22-Apr 16-Apr 20-Apr 6-Apr
White Oak “squirrel’s ear” 20-Apr 26-Apr 23-Apr 26-Apr 25-Apr 14-Apr 23-Apr 12-Apr Plant sweet corn
Tulip Poplar blooming 2-May 10-May 3-May 26-Apr 3-May 6-May 26-Apr 28-Apr 17-Apr Plant sw corn 200 GDD base 50F
Ragweed germinating 20-Apr 16-Apr 25-Apr 26-Apr 21-Apr Plant sw corn 200 GDD base 50F
Last Frost 24-Apr 4-May 3-May 1-May 8-May 17-Apr 19-May 10-May 14-Apr 25-Apr Average 4/30 (10 yrs)
Fireflies 7-May 2-May 1-May
Colorado Potato Beetle adult 22-May 3-May 7-May 29-Apr 27-Apr 3-May 25-Apr 2-May
Strawberries ripe 10-May 17-May 12-May 10-May 7-May 15-May 3-May 10-May 7-May
Purslane germinating 26-May 8-May 22-May 5-May 20-May 15-May 8-May
Baby Grasshoppers 12-Jul 30-Jun 26-Jun 17-Jun 16-May
Cicada first heard/seen 14-May 5-Jul 3-Jul 29-Jun 17-May
Hardneck garlic mature 14-Jun 19-Jun 13-Jun 5-Jun 4-Jun 30-May 9-Jun 11-Jun 6-Jun 31-May
Foxgloves bloom 6-Jun 11-Jun 8-Jun Bean beetle eggs hatch
Bean Beetle eggs 4-Jun 16-Jun 10-Jun 6-Jun 20-Jun Hatch when foxgloves bloom
Japanese Beetle first seen 16-Jun 21-Apr 15-Jun 20-Jun 29-Jun 21-Jun 850 GDD (base 50F)
“June” Bugs first seen 5-Jul 11-Jul 2-Jul 12-Aug 10-Jul 30-Jun 29-Jun 30-Jun 23-Jun
Corn Earworm first seen 28-Jul 8-Jul 12-Jul 10-Jul 14-Jul 150-490 (base 54F)
Fall Dead-nettle germinating 1-Sep 20-Aug 30-Aug 20-Aug 16-Aug 20-Aug 15-Aug 29-Aug 18-Aug Plant spinach
Fall Henbit germinating 28-Aug 20-Aug 29-Aug 18-Aug
Fall Chickweed germinating 7-Sep 7-Sep 5-Sep 6-Sep Plant spinach
First Fall Frost 3-Oct 6-Nov 27-Oct 13-Oct 29-Oct 20-Oct 19-Oct 23-Oct 30-Oct 22-Oct Average 10/22 (9 yrs)
Harmonia Ladybugs migrate east 18-Oct 12-Nov 21-Oct 27-Oct
Garlic planted (hardneck) 25-Oct 20-Oct 9-Nov 3-Nov 11-Nov 1-Nov 5-Nov 11-Nov 15-Nov 6-Nov Soil temp 50 F
Event 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Notes

Ordering seeds! Seed Viability and Varieties New to us

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

Seed Viability

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

     

Close this window

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

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

A simplified version is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

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

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

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

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

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

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

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny's Seeds

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s Seeds

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

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).

Last Chance Sowings

This week we’ve been busy tilling and raking beds in preparation for some Last Chance sowings.

In our climate zone, with an average first frost date of October 14, the first half of August is the last chance to sow several vegetables and get crops from them before winter. It’s important to know the last date for planting each crop so that you have a reasonable chance of success. For this part we got help from the Virginia Tech Extension Service: Fall Vegetable Gardening. 

The first group of Last Chance sowings are the warm weather crops, such as green beans, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash.

Here’s the formula (for frost tender crops), for figuring the number of days to count back from the expected first frost date; add the number of days from seeding to harvest, the average length of the harvest period, 14 days to allow for the slowing rate of growth in the fall, and 14 days to allow for an early frost. For example, yellow squash takes maybe 50 days from sowing to harvest, and the plants are good here for 21 days, so the last date for sowing would be 50+21+14+14= 99 days before the first frost. For us that means 99 days before 10/14, so 7/7. But with rowcover to throw over the last planting when it gets cold, the growing doesn’t slow down, and the season is effectively 2 weeks longer, and we can ignore the 14 days for an early frost. So our last planting of squash is 8/5, a whole month later than if we didn’t use rowcover..

But August is way to soon to be thinking about frosty weather, except to ensure we have enough rowcover on hand when the time comes. Here, and in many parts of the country, a frost or two will often be followed by a few more weeks of warm weather, so getting past the first few frosts is the effort. It’s easy to get extra harvests for a month or two from mature plants you already have.

We sow our #6 planting of beans 8/3, 15 days after #5; cukes #5 (slicing), by 8/5 at the latest; and zucchini and summer squash #5 by 8/9.

The second group of Last Chance sowings are cool weather crops that grow here in spring and fall, but don’t thrive in the summer. Beets, carrots, chard, turnips and radishes all fall in this group. It can be hard to get some of these to germinate when the soil is still hot.

On 8/1 we sow beets dry or presoaked for 2-12 hours in a little water – not too much water or for too long, as they need to breather air, or could drown. We sow them 1/2″-1″ deep, tamp the soil, and keep the surface damp with daily watering for the 5 or 6 days they take to emerge. We have tried using shadecloth to help keep the soil moist, but it does cut down the airflow and our climate is humid and fungus-inducing. I like the Formanova/Cylindra/Forono beet. The shape is long (good for slicing), and the flavor is very sweet and the texture tender.

Very early in August, or sometimes in late July, we sow a large planting of fall carrots, enough to store and feed us all winter. Danvers 126 is our workhorse carrot. We use an EarthWay seeder, which is light, easy to use and to empty, and comes at a reasonable price. There are more expensive precision seeders that put the seed out more evenly, and so don’t require the amount of thinning that using the EarthWay does, but we’re happy with our choice. We use pre-emergent flame weeding to remove the first flush of weeds, making it easy to then hoe between the rows.

Carrots and beets are ideal crops for this technique. The goal is to flame the bed the day before the expected emergence of the crop. use a soil thermometer and a table of how many days the crop needs to germinate at various soil temperatures, to figure out which day to flame. For carrots it’s possible to sow a few “indicator beets” at one end of the bed, and as soon as you see the red loops of the beet seedlings breaking the surface, flame the carrots. (But look for carrots too, just in case!) Beets are always a bit quicker than carrots to germinate. Tables of Days to Germination can be found in Knott’s Vegetable Growers’ Handbook (Wiley, 2006), by Donald Maynard and George Hochmuth, and Nancy Bubel’s New Seed Starter’s Handbook. (Rodale, 1988)

We use a handheld flamer attached to a propane cylinder that is in a wheelbarrow pushed by a second person behind the first. this person also acts as a “fire warden”. Some growers mount the propane on a backpack frame. Walking along the aisle between the beds, and wafting the wand diagonally back and forth across the bed takes about 10 minutes for a 100′ (30 m) bed. Flame weeding alone can reduce the hand weeding to one hour/100′. Hand weeding can be reduced to 6 minutes/100′ by flaming after using stale beds which have been hoed 3 or 4 times.

Swiss Chard can also be sowed here in August, for a nice fall harvest. We sow ours in April and just keep it going all summer, fall and (if covered) winter too.

At the beginning of August we sow winter storing radishes, China Rose, Red Meat, Shindin Risoh Daikon and Shunkyo Semi-Long. We also sow Easter Egg small radishes. We can have trouble with flea beetles as well as harlequin bugs on our fall brassica sowings, as the pest numbers have built up over the summer. To avoid these troubles, we put rowcover over the beds until the plants are big enough to stand up for themselves against “pest bullying”.

We sow 6 beds of kale, two each every 6 days, (8/4, 8/10, 8/16, 8/24) until we succeed in getting enough established. Often we’ll get patchy emergence and end up transplanting plants from one bed or one end of a bed to fill out the blank areas.

We sow our turnips 8/15 or up until 9/15 (our absolute latest). Rutabagas need longer than turnips, and we’ve given up growing them because late July weather is just too hot and dry. Brassicas will germinate just fine in hot temperatures – the challenge is keeping the soil moist.