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

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

To see this one larger, click here.


Epic Eggplant Photo by Nina Gentle
Epic Eggplant
Photo by Nina Gentle

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

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


September 2016 cover300

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Book Review: High-Yield Vegetable Gardening by McCrate and Halm

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Book Review: High-Yield Vegetable Gardening: Grow More of What You Want in the Space You Have by Colin McCrate and Brad Halm, Storey Publishing, December 2015

This book is intended for home gardeners who value efficiency and productivity. The authors, founders of the Seattle Urban Farm Company, explain techniques used by biointensive farmers and how to adapt these techniques for any size of garden. This professional help will assist gardeners to extend the season, increase yields, maintain healthy soils and deal with pests and other problems. This is not a beginner book telling you how to grow carrots (or any other crop). It will give you the information to choose the variety of carrot best suited to your goals, figure out how much land to put into carrots for the harvest you want, when to plant them, how to get maximum yields and how to have a continuous supply. It is not a book on marketing either. I want to set that out clearly, so no-one buys the book wanting something that it’s not. It’s a very good book if you want to “up your game” and get full potential from the land you have and the time you have available to spend working it.

This 7″ x 9″ spiral bound lay-flat book has 320 pages, including the index and resources section. The cover price is $18.95. It is illustrated with black and white drawings rather than photos, and has green spot color for headings and special sections. This gives an old-fashioned air to the book, until you come upon a drawing of a smart phone. There is nothing old-fashioned about the planning charts and spreadsheets.

After a poor start, on page 222 the gender ratio of the gardeners pictured starts to even up, and ends up close to the national average of 30% of farmers being female.

The book opens with three examples of high-yield gardens: A typical city lot of 5000 sq ft (including the space occupied by the house); a quarter-acre in the suburbs; and a rural one-acre plot. The authors discuss how to make a garden map and determine which factors influence how you use the site (shade for instance), and what your priorities are. They advocate for standard size raised beds in order to simplify planning and to reuse materials like row cover, netting or drip tape.

There are tables of crop spacing and scheduling for 60 annual vegetables and herbs, about 20 perennial vegetables and fruits and 20 perennial herbs. There is a worksheet to help you calculate how much of each crop to aim for, based on the average serving size, depending on your tastes, whether that’s non-stop arugula, tomatoes for canning or a large amount of carrots for a farmer wedding. Some of the charts can be downloaded from the Seattle Urban Farm Company’s website. There is a table of yields and one of planting dates, working from your own frost dates. There is a Planting Calendar Worksheet blank you can copy and use for each crop you plan to grow.

There are clear instructions on designing a crop rotation, including a chart of crop height, life span and fertility needs. They discuss practical limitations that might lead you towards either two rotations within your garden, or a separate rotation for the greenhouse. They urge you to keep good clear records. (Oh so important! Who has time to make the same mistake twice in farming?).

There is a Seed Order Worksheet, and a clear description of the word “hybrid” which has sometimes become a bad word among some gardeners who misunderstand the plant breeding work of the past century or so, and how it has brought us high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties, which are a boon to gardeners wanting high yields. Sure, you can’t save your own seed from hybrids and have it grow true, but who realistically grows all their own seed? So many crops cross with each other; sometimes seed-saving conflicts with getting food from that planting; seed-growing and selecting is a skilled job. Seed companies can do that work for us. I do grow a few seed crops, so I know what is involved. But I also grow many hybrids, and am grateful for them.

In a couple of places the drawing isn’t as good as a photo would be. The Jericho and Winter Density lettuces don’t look so different, and you couldn’t tell the size difference. The high tunnel (hoophouse) inflation blower tubing drawing on p 263 looks very strange to me, like maybe the artist has never seen a real one, and worked from a description.

There is a chart of seed longevity, a subject not always covered in gardening books. There is an excellent chapter on soil tests and interpreting them, which is very down-to-earth. (“We determined this to be about 75 and 50 pounds per 1000 sq ft.”) Nice and user-friendly, it won’t blind you with science. There is another good chapter on irrigation systems, a subject often ignored in backyard gardening books. “Because we strongly believe that hand watering a large, diversified garden site is an inefficient use of time and resources, we won’t even include it as a viable option for garden irrigation.” “Spending valuable hours trailing a hose through the garden is, at best, a poor use of your time.” Absolutely!

Setting up spaces to start seedlings and keeping them well-lit and watered is clearly explained. So is the subject of small greenhouses. The drawing includes the 1970’s craze of lining the back wall with black barrels of water, although the authors do point out that such devices can help, but will not be enough to warm the air to seed germination temperatures. In my opinion, the space given over to big barrels of water would be better given to more plants and the need for heat addressed in other ways!

There is a chapter on starting seedlings and planning for that on a large scale. It includes tips not found everywhere, such as when to sow rootstock and scion varieties for grafting tomatoes, starting cuttings, growing microgreens and hand pollinating. Planting depth is covered, including laying tall tomato plants in a small trench and planting brassicas up to the lowest leaves, rather than the same height as in the seed flat. There are recipes for mixing your own organic fertilizers, and which plants will respond most to extra nutrients. There are tables of organic management strategies for pests and diseases.

Compost-making is discussed, along with a table of Carbon:Nitrogen ratios of various compost ingredients. There is a table of cold-hardy salad crops and information about building low tunnels, caterpillar tunnels and basic types of small hoophouses for cold-weather growing. If you are planning a big hoophouse, I’d recommend getting more information than in this book. There is a chapter on harvesting, washing and storage.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, this is a book full of valuable gardening charts. If you are a grower who doesn’t want to work with spreadsheets, you can easily print off the Seattle Urban Farm Company’s worksheets and use those. Or take the spreadsheets and run. Either way, this is a valuable book for serious backyard growers.

Growing for Market issue for March, upcoming events, return of the ticks

GFM_March2016_cover-300pxThe March issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on planning and siting a hoophouse. This is a good time of year to scope out good sites for a hoophouse (high tunnel) if you don’t already have one. Or if you want another!

I address NRCS funding; what to look for in a good site (sunshine, drainage, good soil, fairly level land, wind protection, road access, electricity and water supplies);  size and shape; and DIY versus professionally made frames (my advice – don’t skimp!). I go into the debate on single layer versus double layer plastic and special types of plastic.

I will be writing a follow-up article soon, talking about hoophouse end wall design, windows and doors, fixed walls, roll-up and roll-down walls, interior design (bed layout) and questions of in-ground insulation or even heating, as well as rainwater run-off and perhaps collection.

Our hoophouse site before construction. Photo Twin Oaks Community
Our hoophouse when brand new. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Our hoophouse when brand new.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Other articles in this issue of Growing for Market include one on Integrated Pest and Disease Management by Karin Tifft; one on how to plan to make more money, by Jed Beach; Edible landscaping by Brad Halm; and Gretel Adams on how to best look after flowers at harvest, to cope with their particular and sometimes peculiar needs. An issue very packed with information!


My talk at the Culpeper County Library last weekend was very well received. Most of the audience were small-scale growers themselves, some were CSA farmers.

12036905_991970554182625_8873229727110436068_nNow I’m gearing up for a Crop Planning class at For the Love of the Local in my home town on Thursday 3/10 6-7pm. 402 West Main Street. Louisa, Virginia. (540) 603-2068.

OGS Spring16_EmailSig (2)Immediately after that I’m headed to Asheville, NC for the Organic Growers School. On Saturday 3/12, 2-3.30pm I’ll be presenting (a shorter version of) Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale, which was a big hit at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference at the end of January. On Sunday 3/13 , 4-5.30pm, I’ll be presenting my Growing Great Garlic slideshow.

fair-logoTwo weeks after that, I’ll be back in Asheville for the Mother Earth News Fair. Click the link to see the draft schedule. I’ll be giving presentations on Crop Planning and on Fall Vegetable Production. We decided that although the Asheville Fair is always in April, people there also may be just as interested in fall vegetable growing as much as in spring vegetables!

For the stay-at-homes I’ll put these presentations up on SlideShare after the event and share them on my blog.


Margaret Roach A Way to Garden
Margaret Roach A Way to Garden

Spring has reached Virginia and it’s time to be on the lookout for ticks. I found a really good interview with Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute on A Way to Garden.  This blog is by Margaret Roach, a long time garden writer, who interviews many interesting people. You can listen to her podcast or read the interview. Learn why the black-legged tick (which can transmit Lyme disease) is called the deer tick and why that isn’t the best name; why mice, chipmunks and shrews (but not voles) contribute to the spread of Lyme disease, and why foxes, opossums, raccoons and bobcats can reduce Lyme disease incidence (by catching the small mammals). Possums also “hoover up” and eat the ticks directly.


We’ve finally started planting! We transplanted some spinach and sowed carrots on Saturday. The new spinach is covered with hoops and rowcovers, just as our overwintered spinach is. This has been a tough winter. The cold-damaged spinach had bleached frozen spots on the leaves, but we have been able to harvest it about once a week.

Weeding overwintered spinach in March Wren
Weeding overwintered spinach in March. Photo by Wren Vile