Harvesting carrots, covering spinach

Hope those of you in the US had a good Thanksgiving holiday. We had a lovely meal here at Twin Oaks, and followed our tradition of going round the room giving each person a few minutes to say what they feel thankful for or appreciative of this year. Naturally, with about 90-100 people in the dining room, that takes a while! Many people appreciated the efforts of the garden crew and other food producers.

Since then, back to work! We stop having garden shifts for the year on December 6, so we are focusing on the tasks we really want to get to done by then. One big one is harvesting all our fall carrots.

One of our long carrot beds earlier in the year.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

So far we have dug 15 bags (about 50 pounds each), and are about a third of the way up the plot. We reckon we need at least 30 bags for the winter, so we are in very good shape, looking at getting maybe 45 bags, if we keep moving. The carrots have a great flavor, thanks to the cold nights we’ve been having. And they are in good shape. Not many voles in evidence this fall, or tunneling bugs.

This year we didn’t manage to finish the second thinning, so we started the harvest at the unthinned end of the plot. They are a surprisingly decent size for carrots that only got one thinning. After sowing, we flameweed the carrots before they emerge, then as soon as we can see them we hoe between the rows. It really helps to have evenly spaced parallel rows. Next we weed and thin to one inch, taking away the weeds to the compost pile. Leaving broken carrot leaves and roots can attract the carrot rust fly (root fly), and we don’t want those! After a while we hoe again, including using our Valley Oak wheel hoes in the paths. Then we weed again and thin to 3 inches, saving the bigger thinnings for salad carrots. After that we leave them to size up. It takes about 3 months from sowing to final harvest, with carrots.

Young carrots after their first thinning.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Another of our main jobs now is weeding the seven spinach beds and covering them with wire hoops and rowcover. I do like to weed first, as weeds under rowcover grow so well, hidden from sight. We use double hoops for our overwintering spinach. The inner hoop is thick wire with an eye made at each side at ground level. the rowcover goes on top of this, then the thinner wire hoops which hook into the eyes of the inner hoops. (I have a drawing in my book, but I can’t seem to copy it here.) The hoops hold the rowcover in place when it gets windy, and the rowcover can be pushed up between the hoops while we harvest. In our climate (USDA winter hardiness zone 7a), spinach not only survives the winter; it grows whenever the temperature is above about 40F, which happens quite often under the rowcover. So, provided we don’t over-pick, we can keep the plants going all winter into spring. The hoops also hold the rowcover away from the leaves, preventing abrasion damage.

Where in the world?

Feeling “back-endish” as we used to say in England about the lowering of energy farmers feel as the growing season slows down, I spent a bit of time in the cozy office this morning, reading the statistics on my blog. I’m only mildly embarrassed. It is rather chilly outside and I spent a chunk of time outdoors yesterday afternoon sorting potatoes. I reckon I’m due for some indoors time.

I was curious to see where in the world readers of my blog come from. 71 different countries so far. Naturally the biggest number of people looking at this website are here in the US: 2444 of those. And naturally enough, the other main English-speaking countries are next on the list: 156 in Canada, 79 in the UK, 50 in Australia, 37 in India. Indian readers just leaped from 28 a few days ago. Who knows why? If you’re one of them, please leave a comment on what sparked interest there.

There have so far been 18 readers in Kenya, 9 in Ukraine, 3 in the British Virgin Islands, 2 in Peru and one in each of 23 countries including Qatar, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Moldova and Estonia. I’m curious as to how those people found this site before anyone else in their country. Do tell. . .

Most fun was finding a link to my recent post on winter radish and planting garlic via a translation service that rendered it into Slovenian! Welcome, whoever you are in Slovenia!

Unsurprising to those who love Facebook is the fact that more people view my posts via my page on Facebook than any other way.

And yesterday the site got more visitors than ever before. It’s all a bit of a mystery why this should be. I look at the stats. Some weeks more people look at the site on weekends. Other weeks some random day like Thursday attracts readers.

OK, enough navel-gazing! I’ve got workshops to prepare for, and winter planning to do for our gardens. I’m probably speaking at an event in the Charlottesville, Virginia area in March. More on that soon.

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

10/23/12 Progress update on my book


At last I’ve finished the proof-reading! It took me two whole weeks at about 3 hours a day. The design people at New Society Publishers sent me a layout of the pages with text, drawings and photos. Another step closer!

We’ve had to downsize to one eight-page section of color photos rather than two, because of the extra length of the text, which I talked about in my last update. This big book is going to be great value for money! As I said last time, people buying the electronic version will still get the “deleted scenes” and people buying the print version will get a link where they can read what we couldn’t print (so to speak!).

I also rounded up and sent in eleven more lovely drawings as chapter headers for the crop chapters which didn’t yet have one.

I’m working on collecting up more photos to use in some of the spaces at the ends of chapters, where they finish high up the page. When NSP sends me the pdf of the color photo section I’ll know which photos from my collection haven’t been used yet.

This weekend I’m off to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference, where I’m presenting a workshop on growing great garlic. I’ve been slaving away over my powerpoint presentation, and tomorrow I’ll make some handouts. I’ll be taking postcards and fliers to distribute too.

I’ve been working really hard lately, and I’m looking forward to going to some of the  workshops other people are presenting, and learning form them. Ag conferences are wonderful for re-vitalizing tired farmers like me!

Various kind and knowledgeable gardeners, researchers and teachers of organic gardening and farming are reading the electronic draft of my book in preparation for writing something honest and hopefully encouraging about my book, and Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market, is writing the foreword.

I’m still working on making lists of magazines, websites and organizations that are a good match with my book, and good places to put reviews or advertisements.

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?

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.

Meanwhile, I’m writing another article for Growing for Market magazine, for the two-month issue coming out in December. And I’ve got my ideas for my January article already lined up.

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

Hoophouse revisited

An old photo from the first time we pulled plastic in 2002.
Photo credit McCune Porter

Today we revisited the hoophouse and loosened up the outer layer of plastic. We’d accidentally pulled it too tight in our eagerness to get the task finished, and it couldn’t really inflate properly. (The air between the two layers provides insulation as well as structural strength – it stops the plastic flapping about and wearing out by rubbing on the bows). We only had a few inches spare because we had already trimmed the extra plastic off (did I say we were keen to get the job finished?) Hopefully, when it finishes re-inflating the result will be better than it was.

I’ve been busy proof-reading my book Sustainable Market Farming and I’m tired of sitting at the computer, so this post will be short on words and long on photos!

Fresh air hoophouse waiting for its plastic.
Photo credit Robbie Sproule

 

 

 

We tied the edge of the plastic round old tennis balls, so we could pull without tearing the plastic

We were lucky with the weather. You can see from Robbie’s picture that we had cowpeas, peppers and ginger growing at the time, and didn’t want a frost.

Here we are after throwing the ropes over the top, getting ready to pull the plastic over.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Here’s the plastic rolled out along the length of the hoophouse, all tied to ropes. We’re on the far side, ready to pull.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Starting to pull from the far side.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Another view of the crew starting the pull.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

In case it’s not obvious, this amount of plastic is heavy! Our hoophouse is 96′ by 30′. The plastic was 100′ by 50′.

The plastic starts to move up.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Progress!
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Halfway!
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

The first layer was exciting, the second frustrating. The inner plastic is made to keep Infra-red radiation inside the hoophouse and also to disperse condensation, so water-bombs don’t drop down on the workers (or plants). It seems to have a slightly sticky, textured surface, which makes the second layer harder to pull over it. Our real downfall, though, was that the grass was dewy and we thoughtlessly pulled the outer layer over the wet grass before it went over the hoophouse. This made the two layers stick together.

Here’s a great picture of the tennis-ball-in-sock being thrown over the top to pull the second layer.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire.

So, now we have the plastic on, we have been busy inside the hoophouse, sowing turnips, transplanting lettuce and chard. And harvesting radishes, tatsoi and peppers. We’ve pulled up the cowpeas, which are a seed crop, and sown turnips in their place. We’ve started pulling up the pepper plants and soon we’ll harvest the ginger. Next week!

 

 

 

C F S A Conference Update

 

Register today or tomorrow!

I’m gearing up to present a workshop at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference in Greenville, South Carolina. My workshop, Growing Great Garlic, is on Saturday October 27 from 2.30-4pm. You can check out the schedule here.

UPDATES: After the late registration deadline (Oct. 17), you’ll have to wait to register on-site at the Conference.The Local Foods Feast on Friday, Oct. 26 and the Saturday, Oct. 27 Luncheon are now sold out, which means that the Everything Conference Package is no longer available.  You can still register today and tomorrow for the Conference Weekend Pass, which gets you in to all the conference action happening from Friday, Oct. 26 at 4:00pm – Sunday, Oct. 28 at 12:00 pm.  For your meals during the Conference, there are plenty of outstanding farm-to-fork restaurants right outside the Conference hotel in Downtown Greenville.

This year’s conference features:

Over 50 cutting-edge, skill-building workshops (one of them’s mine!) on growing organically, pastured livestock, soils, permaculture, food, policy and more! Plus, full tracks devoted to beginning farmers, helping your farm business thrive, and a very cool ‘You Make It – Outdoors and Hands-on’ track!

Outstanding pre-conference intensives from the experts in organic certification, organic production, orchard health, food safety, mushrooms, bees, permaculture and more!

Not-to-be-missed pre-conference bus tours to some of the most beautiful and successful sustainable farms and gardens in the Upstate!

The legendary Local Foods Feast on Friday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 PM! Be inspired by keynote, Debra Eschmeyer, co-founder of Food Corps.  This magical meal made with only the best in-season, sustainably grown ingredients supplied by local farms is sold out. I hope you already registered and got your ticket!

PLUS – Networking, Seed Exchange and Exhibit Hall, CFSA’s Annual Sustainable Ag. Awards and Amazing Local Food!

Don’t miss out on the food and farming event of the year! Register now!   http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/sac-register/

My workshop will cover garlic planting, harvest, curing, storing and the selection of planting stock.  As well as hardneck and softneck bulb garlic, we will cover “byproduct crops” such as garlic scallions and scapes, which are ready early in the year when new crops are at a premium. You’ll get the chance for an advance discussion of one of the chapters in my book, and to ask questions and share your experience with this tasty crop.

My book, Sustainable Market Farming, and its chapter on garlic, won’t be published in time for the conference, but I will have postcards and pre-publication fliers which offer a discount for pre-orders.

9/18/12 Progress update on my book

The typesetters and design people at New Society Publishers are now laying out the pages and photos. We’re getting closer! This has not all been plain sailing. Today I’m working on replacing a dozen of the photos that didn’t have enough dots per inch or were too small to work well. We’re having two eight-page sections of color photos as well as the B&W photos as advertised!

I’ve also had to shorten the text a bit because what I sent in was too long. People buying the electronic version will still get the “deleted scenes” and people buying the print version will get a link where they can read what we couldn’t print (so to speak!).

I have postcards and fliers to distribute at events too, and bookmarks will be coming along later when the covers get printed (they’re printed at the side of the covers and trimmed off, as far as I understand it).

My next job directly for the book is to make a list of well-known people who might read the electronic proofs and write those “advance praise” comments that you see on back covers and in the front of books. That list is one of my jobs for today too.

Then, in a few days, I get to proofread the whole book, in the electronic proofs. And if there’s nothing major that would change the page flow, Kathryn Simmons at Twin Oaks will make the index. She’s not only one of the members of the Twin Oaks Indexing crew, but also a very experienced vegetable grower herself. (Maybe you’ve never thought about how a book comes to have an index. It doesn’t happen by magic! Click on the link to learn more.)

I’m also continuing to work on marketing ideas, compiling lists of magazines, websites and organizations that are a good match with my book, and good places to put reviews or advertisements. I’m also looking for events at which I’d like to make presentations in November and December. I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January and the Virginia Biofarming Conference in February. I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

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

Meanwhile, I’m sending an article every month to Growing for Market magazine. See other blog posts for news about recent articles. People who don’t want to wait till the book comes out to start reading my work can get a sub to GfM. It’s a great magazine, full of the details small-scale growers need to be even more successful than they already are.

This weekend I gave my presentation on Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests at the Heritage Harvest Festival. It was sold out ahead of the event. (Well, the classrooms are a bit small, only 32 chairs.) My presentation went well, and I distributed postcards and fliers for my book.

My next presentation is Growing Great Garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference in Greenville, SC October 26-27. Soon I’ll get busy on preparing my slideshow.

7/20/12 Progress update on my book

Two weeks ago my copy editor and I finished getting the wrinkles out of my punctuation and phrasing. We had to extend ten days beyond our original deadline, but now we’re done! Sigh of relief.

The next stage, now the copy-editing is done, will be for the typesetters and design people at New Society Publishers to lay out the pages and proofread. Then I get to read it all again, in the stage they call First Pages. I guess that will be August and September. Then Kathryn Simmons at Twin Oaks will make the index. She’s not only one of the members of the Twin Oaks Indexing crew, but also a very experienced vegetable grower herself. (Maybe you’ve never thought about how a book comes to have an index. It doesn’t happen by magic! Click on the link to learn more.)

I’m also continuing to work with marketing people at NSP, compiling lists of magazines, websites and organizations that are a good match with my book, and good places to put reviews or advertisements. I’m also looking for events at which I’d like to make presentations. I’m negotiating a couple of possible bookings right now. Soon I will have postcards, fliers and bookmarks to distribute at events too.

The book will get printed in early winter and the publication date is February 1, 2013. I’m excited!

Meanwhile, I’m sending an article every month to Growing for Market magazine. For August I’ve written about manual harvesting techniques. People who don’t want to wait till the book comes out to start reading my work can get a sub to GfM. It’s a great magazine, full of the details small-scale growers need to be even more successful than they already are.

Potato Planting and Carol Deppe’s Writing

A ladybug on a potato leaf, looking for pests

We’ve just planted our second crop of potatoes for the year. At 3450 row ft (about a quarter of an acre), this planting is a bit bigger than our March planting. We aim to grow a whole year’s worth of potatoes for a hundred people. Planting in June has several advantages – for us the main one is that we can store this harvest in a root cellar over the winter, without using any electricity to control temperature. If we planted our whole year’s supply in March, we’d harvest in July and have to store them over the summer, and then all the way round till the next July. It’s also nice to split the work up into smaller chunks.

Up until this spring, we made furrows for our potatoes and covered and hilled them using a BCS 732 rototiller (or walk-behind tractor, as the retailers prefer to designate it). This is doable, but labor-intensive. This year we set up a toolbar on the tractor with sweeps to make furrows, and then discs to form hills. It’s been a learning process, with some teething troubles, but  I do think it’s the way of the future for us. (I just don’t have the stamina for all the rototilling any more!).

Compared to using the rototiller, the tractor needs a lot more space to manoeuver. We were lucky in having an area of cover crops next to the potatoes for this planting, so we could run over the edge onto “next door”. In the spring planting, we had a hydrant in the middle of the patch. that’s a minor problem with the rototiller, but a bigger problem with the tractor. Keeping the row spacing tight is harder with the tractor, and in the spring, we ended up with some wider spacings, which lead to more weeds than usual, and poorer hills. This week (our second time using the tractor), we managed much better row spacing. Next year, we’ll allow more space to turn the tractor, right from the planning stage.

Another “surprise feature” this time, was that it rained right after we’d planted (yes, before we’d covered the potatoes). The forecast had suggested a small chance of showers later in the day, but the 3/4″ drenching was a complete surprise! So we had to wait two days for the soil to dry out enough to take the tractor again. The soil was clumpy, but not impossible. Probably we could have covered and hilled sooner with the rototiller, as it weights less, and compacts the soil less. And the soil would have ended up with a finer texture. Overall I think the trade-offfs of using the tractor are worth it.

The potatoes came to no visible harm sitting in their furrow for two days. We had pre-sprouted them, so the sprouts grew a bit bigger and greener. Luckily we didn’t have extremely hot temperatures those days.

Recently I learned some new information about ideal soil temperatures for potato planting. This came from a workshop on Sustainable Potato Production by Rusty Nuffer at Southern SAWG in January 2012. In spring, wait for soil temperatures to reach 50F (10C) before planting. In summer, the ideal soil temperature is 60-75F (15-24C). Ours was 70F (21C). It’s possible to pre-irrigate to lower the soil temperature in summer. (And hopefully nature won’t mid-irrigate for you as it did for us this week!)

 Carol Deppe, author of the wonderful book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production And Self-Reliance In Uncertain Times, has written a very interesting article The 20 Potato a Day Diet versus the Nearly All Potato Winter about the nutritional and gastronomic wonders of potatoes.  It will inspire you to grow and eat more potatoes!

Review of Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

Here’s a book review I wrote for the newsletter of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. 

Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook is the perfect book for organic farmers like me who focus on the production side while intending (hoping?) to use time wisely and effectively. If you want to make a living directly from sustainable food production, as opposed to making a living from something else in order to fund your passion, this is the place to look for help. Mostly this is a book about vegetable growing – I think it would also be directly useful to organic growers raising fruit, flowers, seed crops, hay or feedstocks. Livestock farmers would also get value from applying the principles.

Don’t worry that this book will be dry and inaccessible – not so! Richard Wiswall’s wholistic approach to getting us to investigate how successful our farm ventures are includes starting with a questionnaire on personal values, and consideration of goals, quality of life and the meaning of true sustainability.

Next he leads us into a closer look at how some apparently humdrum crops (kale) can be great money-earners while other apparent  basics (beans) can be a loss leader at best. In this  way he encourages us to track production and sales via a Crop Journal with a page for each crop and a note made each time any task is performed on a crop (at the end of each day).

Peppered throughout the book, at just the spots where you might start to think you can’t do it, are encouraging messages: “It’s so easy!” “Think like the bank statement. Be the bank statement!” “Checkbook balancing is just a different crossword puzzle” “That’s it! No rocket science in there.” Richard Wiswall has the gift of making spreadsheets nice and easy, clear and useful. He leads us through making crop budgets for each crop in a simplified way so we can then list all our crops or enterprises in order of net return. Then we have the information we can use to make decisions for the future.

One chapter steers us through labor costs and overheads so that we can clearly see whether it’s better financially to raise transplants or buy them in (assuming they are available). We can compare the income from restaurant sales with farmers’ markets, with CSA sales for a good balance. Tractor and implement use is not free, even if you’ve already got the machines in the barn. Hand transplanting is more efficient for areas of ¼ acre or less. There is a whole chapter on production efficiencies with photos of useful implements and a box warning on avoiding hearing loss.

And just in case you think the rest of the book is going to be all profit calculations, Richard takes a deep look at how to be an effective manager, write a good crew job description and be the kind of farmer people want to work with. He spends time on coaching in simple ways to prevent money leaking away, and how to plan for comfortable retirement.

Next, Richard leads us step by step through writing a business plan, making a balance sheet and cash flow projections. This is all explained beautifully clearly and the chapter ends with congratulations on creating a road map for the future of your farm.

An appendix includes examples of all the worksheets he advocates, including crop budgets for 24 crops, including greenhouse tomatoes. And the best bit is – the book includes a CD you can copy and use to create your own budgets, timesheets, payroll calculator, and a farm crew job description template as well as the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program Farm Financials Workbook, compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux. Buy it, it will soon repay you the $34.95; or order it from the library.

Richard Wiswall,Sally Colman and family at Cate Farm in Central Vermont cultivate 22 acres and seven 100-foot long greenhouses of organic vegetables, medicinal herbs,  and flowers. You can buy the book directly from Cate Farm.