Tomato Herbicide Injury, August Growing for Market

Roma tomatoes with damage from Triclopyr herbicide July 2016.
Photo Puck Tupelo

This time last year, we were suffering from a herbicide problem which stunted our Roma paste tomatoes. No, we didn’t spray herbicide on them. Someone else sprayed Triclopyr growth regulator herbicide (Ortho Poison Ivy Killer)  on poison ivy down the road, behind some trees. He sprayed on  5/23, and made repeat sprays twice, about two weeks apart (approx. June 4th and 18th). As the crow flies, it might be 600 ft or so from the tomatoes.

Some other brand names of Triclopyr include Grandstand, Alligare, Garlon and Horsepower. Other growth regulator herbicides include 2,4-D, Aminopyralid, Dicamba, Diflufenzopyr, Picloram, Quinclorac, as well as Triclopyr.

On June 18 2016, we noticed some of the younger leaves on our plants were curling inwards and buckling an odd way. There were no obvious spots or mottling, but the sick plants were stunted. Most of the damaged plants were in groups in low areas.

I thought it was a virus. We decided not to handle the plants until we had a diagnosis, for fear of spreading disease. We got help from the wonderful Virginia Tech Plant Diseases Clinic, who said the plants did not have any of the viruses they could test for, or that they knew, and the damage closely resembled growth regulator herbicide damage. But we don’t use herbicides, we protested.

On 6/30 we found out about the initial Triclopyr spraying, but the Plant Disease Clinic at that point agreed that drift was unlikely, given the distance and trees in between our tomatoes and the poison ivy, and the pattern of damage. Triclopyr damage usually appears within one week, not 25 days later (we didn’t find out about the second and third spraying until later). On the other hand, we did not know of any other use of growth regulator herbicide nearby. Their final report, at the end of July, named herbicide drift as the probable cause.

Roma paste tomatoes with oddly curled leaves due to growth regulator herbicide vapor drift.
Photo Puck Tupelo

I researched some more and found information about volatilization on a herbicide website.

High temperatures and low humidity favor herbicide volatilization, which can lead to vapor drift.

We now think that the herbicide sprayed on the poison ivy evaporated or volatilized on that very hot day, formed a little cloud that dropped down in the middle of our tomato patch and did its damage. Tomatoes are very sensitive to herbicides. 68 of our 246 plants showed some damage – about 25%. The Plant Diseases Clinic said:

Symptoms were consistent with chemical injury from a growth regulator type herbicide . . .  Herbicide residue in straw mulch from herbicide-treated pasture or manure from animals fed on herbicide-treated pasture can cause similar symptoms. Since your tomatoes are growing out of the problem it is very unlikely that the problem was caused by herbicide residue in compost/manure/straw used to amend the soil.

To definitively rule out herbicide residue in compost or the soil, I did a bioassay using snap bean seeds planted in numbered pots with tomato plot soil, compost like we’d used, and other garden soil. Beans emerge and grow quickly and can show up herbicide damage.  Most of my bean seed in the bio-assay got dug up and eaten by something. . . such is agriculture! Only one bean came up (out of 48). The bean plant looked fine. It was in a pot of soil from one of the worst tomato plants. This indicated that it was not a problem in the soil (eg from compost or other soil amendments).

The fact that the plants grew out of the problem, making normal leaves later, also suggested it was not a problem in the soil, but an incident after planting. Unfortunately though, after not string weaving for over a month, the plants were a (stunted) jungle and enthusiasm for string-weaving them had plummeted. We got very poor yields that year. Even after all the investigations, my thoughts were:

Drift still seems rather unlikely to me – the pattern of damage, the tiny ready-to-spray bottle so far away. . . It’s sobering how damaging those herbicides can be!

Since then I have acknowledged it most likely was  vapor drift.

I’ve now found a Herbicide Injury Image Database from the University of Arkansas Extension Service. It covers 18 herbicide groups and you can search not just by herbicide group, but by brand name of herbicide, by crop and even a paired search of crop and herbicide. Sadly it doesn’t include the very pairing (tomatoes and Triclopyr) that we were most interested in, but it does have many, many good photos of other combinations.


Recently a friend was showing me her damaged greenhouse tomatoes, which were growing out (recovering) after suffering some damage which caused the stems to make stubby shortened branches. She thought she’d caused the problem by using horse manure after stacking it for “only” 6 months. She thought she was looking at a type of “burning” from manure that was too fresh. I thought it might be damage from one of the “killer compost” herbicides which survive in hay or straw from sprayed fields, survive through composting, survive through livestock digestive systems, and wreak havoc on vegetables.

I looked through the Tomato section of the Herbicide Injury Image Database but I didn’t see exactly what my friend’s plants had. It most resembled the Quinclorac (Facet, Quinstar) damage but I really don’t know.

Tomato damaged by Quinclorac herbicide.
Source (www.uaex.edu) (Dr. Cal Shumway, Dr. Bob Scott, and Dr. John Boyd)

Unmarketable tomatoes ripen on vines affected by contaminated mulch at Waterpenny Farm. (By Margaret Thomas For The Washington Post)

Waterpenny Farm, Sperryville, Virginia suffered herbicide in hay mulch in 2007. The hay they bought had been sprayed with Grazon. They lost 12,000 plants with a harvest worth $80,000. Grazon is another of the growth regulator herbicides like the Triclopyr we were blighted by.

You can read more about “Killer Compost” in these articles by Cindy Conner, Mother Earth News (several samples of off-the-shelf Purina horse feed were contaminated with clopyralid) and Joe Lampl Growing a Greener World TV

Chert Hollow Farm suffered fungicide spray and wrote about pesticide drift part 1 in three episodes, part 2 and part 3. 

Don’t let this happen to you (if you have any control over it) and if it does, seek help.


On a happier note, the August Growing for Market magazine is out. There is a long article about Triage Farming: How to choose what to do when there’s too much to do by Matt S. An important topic and just the time of year when this massive problem hits us. Matt has a sense of humor, which really helps in hard times. There’s also an article European cultivation tools by Sam Hitchcock Tilton. This is followed by Farmers market metrics: Collecting data has many benefits for vendors by Darlene Wolnik. Then a very appetizing article about berries by Michael Brown and a dramatic article on big floral installations for weddings and other events, by Gretel Adams, which includes some very eye-catching and original ideas.

Article about Austrian winter peas, frost, horticultural myths

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Winter peas in rye.  Credit Cindy Conner

Winter peas in rye.
Credit Cindy Conner

The October issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, with my article about using Austrian winter peas as a cover crop. The lovely photo on the cover is by Cindy Conner, from her blog Homeplace Earth. We like winter peas because they can be sown quite late in the season,  several weeks later than clovers. This gives more chance of growing your own nitrogen after finishing up a food crop in the fall. We sow winter peas until 11/8 or so, here in central Virginia (zone 7). We mix them with either winter rye or wheat for vertical support, and to add biomass when we incorporate the cover crop in spring. To get best value from legumes such as winter peas, wait till they flower before tilling them in. That’s late April here. To make this work, we arrange our crop rotation to have winter peas followed by food crops we want to plant between mid-May and July. Winter squash, watermelon, mid-season sweet corn, late sweet corn, sweet potatoes and June-planted white potatoes all fit the bill. A bonus is that the tender tips and tendrils of the cover crop peas make a gourmet salad ingredient in April, right when we are all crying out for fresh flavors. As always, the go-to information about this cover crop is available in the SARE book Managing Cover Crops Profitably

Other great articles in this issue include Eight tips for winter success by Ben Hartman. He writes about a gathering of experienced vegetable growers with suppliers, researchers and extension workers in Vermont, to compare practices and increase the amount of locally-grown winter produce. Zones 4 and 5. These growers are not timid! The eight tips include the importance of ventilation, using inner row covers close to the crops inside the hoophouse, removing those inner covers on sunny days (or at least twice a week), hardening off plants in the fall so they’d survive winter temperatures, using supplemental heat wisely if at all, using IRT or black plastic mulch for heading crops, paying attention to soil fertility and salt levels, and planning ahead to combat chickweed! The Frozen Ground Gathering participants have posted many of their Powerpoints.

Susan Studer King writes about a “21st century version of a barn-raising”  neighbors helping one another install solar panels – solar co-ops. The GfM editor, Lynn Byczynski, writes about hoophouse upgrades to save energy. Gretel Adams writes about growing stocks in the hoophouse. I love reading her articles even though I don’t grow flowers!


Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we had a first very light, very patchy frost on Saturday night, well, probably Sunday morning 10/5. Very little damage, a few of the sweet potato vines hit, and a few of the Roma tomatoes. We scurried to harvest Romas on Saturday, gaining 4 big buckets of red ones and about 13 buckets of green ones. We’ve now set the green ones out on egg trays to ripen in the basement. Egg trays make great ripening containers for the egg-shaped Roma tomatoes. I mean those grey square pulp trays that hold 30 eggs or tomatoes. They stack well, are lightweight, and free! We didn’t finish harvesting tomatoes, and now have a warmer break before any more frosts, so before we harvest the rest, we can turn our attention to digging up the sweet potatoes.

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they are a bonus. Credit McCune Porter

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they are a bonus. Credit McCune Porter

For those living on the East Coast, here’s a heads up about a full lunar eclipse early tomorrow morning. 6.25 am, before the sun comes up, just before the moon sets.


Hope to see some of you at Kansas for the Mother Earth News Fair. The schedule has been updated to show my workshops.MENFairLogo


And I’ll end with a link to A Way to Garden, a lovely blog from Margaret Roach, writing about her interview with Linda Chalker-Scott, who is busting horticultural myths, such as digging a huge hole and filling it with potting soil when transplanting a young tree. Lots of fun to read, and lots of wasted time and effort saved!

 

 

Heritage Harvest Festival, Mother Earth News Fair and plenty of watermelons

HHF_20141I’m gearing up for my Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables presentation on Friday September 12 at 9 am at Monticello (near Charlottesville, VA) as one of the Premium Workshops of the Heritage Harvest Festival. After my presentation  I will be signing copies of my book Sustainable Market Farming (see the tab About Pam’s Book) at 10.15 am at the Monticello bookstore. Come by for a chat, even if you’re not buying a book that day. Image-front-cover_coverbookpage

Jeanine Davis, author of  Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal, and Other Woodland Medicinals will be signing copies of her book at the same time.

Last time I looked there were still some tickets available for each of the premium workshops except Peter Hatch’s tour of the vegetable garden.

The Heritage Harvest Festival is a lovely event, promoting and celebrating gardening, sustainability, local food, crafts and the preservation of heritage plant varieties. This is the 8th Annual HHF, hosted by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in partnership with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. There are food booths, music, a beer garden, events for children (last year they were splitting fence-posts and making split rail fences). There is also a seed swap, so bring what you have to offer and take home something different.

This year there is also a Special Thursday event on Edible Landscaping with Rosalind Creasy and our own Ira Wallace. 1-4 pm, $45. On Friday there is also a special Harvest to Hearth event where you can watch a demonstration of cooking on a fire in the Monticello kitchen. 9-11 am, $55. If you are making a special occasion of the weekend there is the Chefs’ Harvest Dinner  6:30 – 9 p.m Friday. It’s $125 and it’s bound to be good. Outside my price range, by quite a bit.

If you can only come for one day, come for the main event on Saturday, with booths where you can watch crafters, buy seeds, plants, tools; taste more varieties of tomatoes than you knew existed; attend various free workshops and tours of the Monticello vegetable garden and woodland walks. Adult general admission for Saturday is $10 until September 11, $15 At the Gate. Child tickets and family tickets are also available. It’s a fun day at a fair price. Lots to see and do, and a beautiful setting.

Ken Bezilla of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is offering his workshop Fall & Winter Veggies: Zero Degree Gardening for free at noon on Saturday at the Vegetable Gardening Tent. So if all the $10 tickets for my workshops are sold out, or you can’t make it on Friday, go to his workshop on Saturday! Or just to hear a second opinion!


MENFairLogoOn Friday, after my book signing and hers, I’m zooming off with Cindy Conner of Grow a Sustainable Diet fame, up to Pennsylvania for the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs. No, it wasn’t our idea to have both events on the same weekend, but we’ll make it work!

A weekend pass is only $25 (and you’ll need to find accommodation). It’s only $15 if you hurry up and pre-order! Food is available at the Fair, but bring something in case the lines are long. The Fair website has links to hotels and campsites, and there are some rooms at the Seven Springs resort itself. It’s a huge event, with row upon row of vendor and exhibit booths, and 12 workshop locations offering a series of 4 workshops on Friday afternoon, 6 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday. That’s 180 workshops for grown-ups. And there’s a kids’ program too.

The complete list of speakers is here. And the schedule is here. Keep reading. (ignore the funny gap which I can’t seem to get rid of)

I’m presenting Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops. I’m doing this one twice, 10 – 11 am on Saturday at the Seed Stage and 11.30 am -12.30 pm on Sunday at the New Society Publishers stage. The blurb says: “We will provide ideas to help you design a sequence of vegetable crops that maximizes the chance to grow good cover crops as well as reduce pest and disease likelihood. We will discuss formal rotations as well as ad hoc systems for shoehorning minor crops into available spaces. The workshop will discuss cover crops suitable at various times of year, particularly winter cover crops between vegetable crops in successive years. We will include examples of undersowing of cover crops in vegetable crops and of no-till options”

I’m presenting Fall Vegetable Production on  Saturday 1-2 pm at the New Society Publishers stage and again on Sunday 4-5 pm at the Storey stage. “Learn how to optimize production by choosing a suitable combination of warm weather crops, cool weather crops and cold-hardy crops. Hear seasonal tips on dealing with hot weather, followed by information on dealing with cold weather, as well as advice on scheduling late summer and fall plantings, thoughts about season extension and an introduction to winter hoophouse growing.”

I’m also doing a book signing on Saturday 2-2.30 pm at the MEN bookstore.

and
Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/workshops-and-speakers-pennsylvania.aspx#ixzz3C5xXb3Rz

and for those nearer Kansas than Pennsylvania, I’ll be at

Topeka, Kan. | Kansas Expocentre | Oct. 25-26, 2014


Meanwhile we are getting a sudden spell of hot weather and have started catching up on tilling raised beds for fall crops, and in some cases, oats as a winter cover crop. We have decided to stop harvesting watermelons for eating at 531. I wrote about our decisions about how many watermelon to plant and to harvest in 2012. We’ve had a banner year! We had the biggest melons ever – some were hard to lift! And the flavor has been delicious! And the foliage is still in good shape, not diseased. A big success. We harvested about 40 so far for seed, and will do one big bulk seed harvest round on Wednesday. Next year you can grow our Virginia Select Crimson Sweet watermelon! Buy the seed from Southern Exposure.

Crimson Sweet Virginia Select watermelon. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Crimson Sweet Virginia Select watermelon.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

 

Updated Crop Rotations Slideshow

Here’s my updated Crop Rotations slideshow for your viewing pleasure, as they say!

<div> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/crop-rotations-for-vegetables-and-cover-crops-2014″ title=”Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops 2014, Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops 2014, Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

I heard from the Asheville Mother Earth News Fair organizers that there were 16,000 people at the Fair!! They had expected 10,000 for a first time at that location. The next MEN Fair is May 31- June 1 at Puyallup, Washington. I’m not going to that one (too far, too busy). I will be going to  Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. That’s September 12-14. Then there is Topeka, Kansas, October 25-26. I hope to be there.

Somehow, I’m also presenting at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, September 12-13. Ira Wallace, Cindy Conner and I (and perhaps some other speakers) will all be presenting earlyish at HHF (mostly Friday) then heading north to present at MEN. Next year these events will not be double-booked!

Meanwhile, home on the farm, we are transplanting broccoli, rather late this year, due to cold wet weather. Now it is dry and warm, and our over-large plants are suffering. . . Time to set out the sprinkler irrigation. There is some chance of showers today, but I don’t think it’s going to add up to much water. “At least they won’t be getting drier” as my predecessor taught me to say!

Broccoli seedlings in the cold frame Credit Kathryn Simmons

Broccoli seedlings in the cold frame
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We’ve also transplanted the 120 lettuce for the week, and after the forecast chilly Wednesday night, we have chard, cucumbers and squash to set out, and corn to sow. We will be firmly into the warm weather crops then, and the start of the busy season.

Spring lettuce transplants protected by rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Spring lettuce transplants protected by rowcover.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Another of my tasks today is to make maps of where the drip irrigation is to go, so more of the crew can set up the systems. Then I really have to tackle the unholy mix-up of low-flow and medium-flow drip tape that we unwittingly got ourselves into last year.

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>

March Events

I have two events in March, where I am making presentations. The first is an online conference (no travel costs!)

 

CSA Expert Exchange:
An Online Conference
Presented in partnership with Small Farm Central
March 6 – Want to Start a CSA?
Beginning Farmers Session
7:00pm-9:30pm EST
March 7 – CSA Expert Exchange Main Event
11:00am-3:30pm EST

Register for one or both days. Sessions will be recorded.
I am speaking on Crop Planning on Friday at 1.40pm.
Then on Sunday March 16, is the rescheduled day at Lynchburg College (postponed from February 15 because of all the snow). I am speaking on Feeding the Soil.
Ira, Cindy and Pam working on our presentations

Ira, Cindy and Pam working on our presentations. Photo Betsy Trice

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Busy events time

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I spent the weekend of January 31/February 1 at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in Richmond. You can read about it on their website. You can also access at least 16 of the presentations made at the conference, and you can find out about the Farm Tours program for 2014 on their website.

Luckily I was not making a presentation this year – luckily, because I was sick, and would have found it difficult. I did three sessions of book signing, and attended some workshops myself. I also met up with a lot of old friends.

I particularly enjoyed the workshop by Jean-Martin Fortier about Les Jardins de la Grelinette in Quebec. Those of you who can read French can check out their website. Jean-Martin has written a book, published in 2012 in French (http://lejardiniermaraicher.com/), and freshly published in English by New Society. It’s called The Market Gardener. Here’s the info from New Society:

“Les Jardins de la Grelinette is a micro-farm located in Eastern Quebec, just north of the American border. Growing on just 1.5 acres, owners Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene feed more than 200 families through their thriving CSA and seasonal market stands and supply their signature mesclun salad mix to dozens of local establishments. The secret of their success is the low-tech, high-yield production methods they’ve developed by focusing on growing better rather than growing bigger, making their operation more lucrative and viable in the process.”

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This past weekend, February 6-9, I was at the PASA Conference in State College, PA. This was my first time at this large 2000 person conference. I presented two workshops, Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (attended by 135 people) and Producing Asian Greens (attended by about 60 people). Both went well, and generated interesting questions. You can view my presentations on SlideShare.net. Also Rhino Technologies recorded the workshops and will have CDs and MP3s for sale soon. Watch the PAS site for info.

I also did some book-signing, and attended some workshops by other farmers and researchers. I was particularly inspired by the PASAbilities Address by Miguel Altieri  on Why is agroecology the solution to hunger and food security?  You can experience it on YouTube here. A very well researched, outspoken and inspiring person, with a global perspective.

Next Saturday (2/15) I will be at Lynchburg College, Virginia teaching an all-day program with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I’m speaking on Feeding the Soil. We would have done more publicity, but the event is sold out! Next week I’ll get my slideshow up on SlideShare.net.

Ira, Cindy and Pam working on their presentations for Lynchburg College 2014

Ira, Cindy and Pam working on their presentations for Lynchburg College 2014

Conference Season!

This weekend (Friday and Saturday) is the Virginia Biofarming Conference, in Richmond, VA. You can see the program here. If you’re going, come by the authors’ table and chat. I’ll be there (James River Foyer) signing books Friday 2.30-3pm and 4.30-5pm. On Saturday, I’ll be there 10-10.30 am. There are lots of great workshops!

cropped-website-header-2013-12The following weekend, Feb 7 & 8, I’ll be speaking (and signing books) at the PASA Conference. On Friday at 1.15-2.35 I will be presenting Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables. Then from 4.10 to 5.30 I will be presenting Producing Asian Greens for Market or at Home.

2014-ART-SLIDEThe following Saturday, Feb 15, I’m presenting a day workshop with Ira Wallace and Cindy Conner at Lynchburg College: Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round! It is already sold out, and there is a waiting list, so no point in me doing much promotion for that! The workshop description is: “Learn about Virginia-specific garden planning, season extension, crop rotation, compost, cover crops and how to interpret seed catalogs”.

Book Report: Cindy Conner’s Grow a Sustainable Diet

79656b7348504867374d52494a3839696d6d77-400x400-0-0Book Report

Cindy Conner: Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth. New Society Publishers 2014.

 

“This book will help you learn how to calculate how much food you need and how much space you need to grow it, ” proclaims Cindy Conner. It  is written for the backyarder or homesteader who takes food self-sufficiency and ecology seriously. To grow food crops without depleting the soil or bringing in outside inputs, for instance, you will need to dedicate 60% of your land to growing compost crops or cover crops. This challenge is not for the faint-hearted. But here you have the leader-in-a-book, you are not going it alone.

Cindy explains what she means by a sustainable diet and includes a fascinating exercise “What if the Trucks Stopped Coming?” – where would you go to get all your food within 100 miles from home? Within 50? 25? What foods would you be eating and what would disappear from your life? Would the existing farmers be able to supply everyone’s needs locally, or would you need to provide more for yourself and your household? What would your priorities need to be? Your first thought might be that you’d need to make secret stashes of food, and get guns to keep away your hungry neighbors. Cindy says she doesn’t believe guns will keep hungry people away and the better answer is to act from compassion, and work with your neighbors to meet whatever the future brings. None of us can survive without community, so let’s make sure our community is strong enough to meet the challenges.

In the Garden Maps chapter, Cindy explains how to divide the available garden space up into smaller plots or sets of beds, increasing your ease of access without losing a high percentage of potential growing space to paths. Beds curved along the contours will reduce rainwater runoff and erosion. On the other hand, straight lines are easier to hoe quickly. Design your garden to suit the ways you use the space – how you get to the chicken pen, or the compost pile. Permaculture design principles have influenced Cindy’s choices.

Next you can chose your crops. If all your nutrients are to come from your garden, you will need to pay attention to growing enough calories. otherwise you’ll lack the energy to get to the end of the season! Cindy reports that potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, salsify, leeks and garlic are on the list of calories/area. Personally I can’t imagine getting a lot of calories from garlic. Besides the overwhelming flavor there is the issue of the work involved – garlic is labor intensive at certain times of year. Leeks similarly don’t seem a good source of calories per pound, even if they are good per square foot. And winter squash are easy to grow and surely full of calories. They do take space to grow, but I wouldn’t rule them out for that reason alone.

If you grow a lot of the calorie crops already mentioned, you will also be growing a lot of protein. Legumes produce more protein, at the cost of needing more space than the high calorie crops above. Beans, peanuts, peas can be interplanted with other crops to get that protein in the most space-saving way possible. Grains provide amino acids that are complementary to those in legumes, and the straw of grain crops is valuable for mulch or compost-making. Calcium is vital for bone health and there is plenty to be found in leafy cooking greens. A little oil or butter on the greens will help assimilate vitamin D, which is as important as calcium.

Oils and sweeteners are the two space-hogging challenges when it comes to food self-reliance. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds and peanuts, whether eaten whole or pressed, supply oil, as can some tree nuts. The home-grown vegan diet would be short on oils. Those who drink milk and eat eggs get some fats that way, easier by far. Some fruits store for out of season use. Honey, maple syrup and sorghum syrup can be home-produced, although you’ll be shocked the first time you see how much land and how much work goes into the vegan options. (Honey is made by small furry animals, it isn’t vegan.)

The question of  How Much to Grow is important, if time, effort and land are not to be wasted. Locally-adapted varieties and your personal culinary preferences, as well as potential yields per area will influence your planning. After your first year, your record-keeping will be your guide to making improvements.

To keep your garden productive year after year, you will need to feed the soil. You can do this by bringing in organic materials as mulch or to contribute to your compost. If you worry about the reliability of the supply from outside, or whether it is contaminated with herbicides or car exhaust, or whether its production is truly sustainable, you’ll want to be as self-relaint in that department as in the rest of your enterprise. You could grow mulch crops (straw or hay) as part of a bigger farm, in rotation with grazing animals. Or you could grow all your compost and mulch crops within the boundaries of your garden.

Compost is a priceless soil amendment, adding not just organic matter and the basic nutrients but also a fine collection of microbes. There are almost as many ways of making compost as there are compost-makers. Cindy prefers the cool, slow method (using a relatively high proportion of carbon materials to nitrogen materials), in order to “farm” the particular mix of microbes that result that way. The annual pile is part of her garden rotation, built on top of one of the beds, starting in the fall. The next fall, after that compost is spread on the garden, winter rye is sown.Next spring this is cut and left as mulch. The rye has scavanged any compost left from the pile and returns the nutrients to the soil as it decomposes around the corn seed (sown into the mulch).

Earlier, I said you need to plant 60% of your garden in compost crops or mulch, to have a sustainable system. Two thirds of that space would be in carbon crops and one third in nitrogen crops. Happily, some of the compost materials will be grown as a by-product of a food crop (corn stalks are a good example). The book leads you through the process of identifying suitable crops, and best of all, provides a worksheet to help you determine Bed Crop Months. For each bed, from your plan you determine how many months that bed has food crops and how many months compost crops (remember that one crop can be both!) Winter cover crops really help achieve the goal! After considering each bed, you tally up and see if you need to find more niches for compost crops.

All the work in Cindy’s garden is done by hand, including cutting down cover crops, and this is carefully explained. The space is used very intensively, often planting several crops in the same bed to get best use of the space, and so that one can take over from another later.

Scheduling so your crops mature when you want them is the next big task, followed by planning a good crop rotation,and fitting everything into the space you’ve got. “Lay out your intentions, stay flexible and keep learning.” More worksheets are provided to help you.

Sections on looking after your seeds, on including animals, on food storage and preservation and on sheds, fences and other support systems follow. About animals: “You can plan a diet of only plants, but you would be hard pressed to fill all your nutritional needs without taking supplements, which are not part of a sustainable diet.” Hear, hear!

Cindy’s book will set you on the path to providing healthy food for your household without depleting the Earth in the process. Her conversational style will give you confidence as she breaks complex ideas into manageable steps. Beginners are talked through the process step by step. Cindy’s years of teaching college shine through. One reframing exercise I liked was this “if you have thought of weeding as drudgery, something you have to endure [b]egin to think of weeding as a harvest of materials for the compost pile.”

Getting the most from conferences, plus updates on blog and events

cropped-website-header-2013-12The program for the Virginia Biofarming Conference just arrived in the mail, and I’m happily highlighting workshops I want to go to.

Meanwhile I’ve been feeling wistful that I’m not going to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference this year. It’s January 15-18 at Mobile, Alabama. I hope it will be closer to home next year!facebook cover 2014 highres

This winter, for the first time, I’m going to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Farming for the Future February 5-82014-ART-SLIDE

“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`As I’m starting to think about attending conferences (as opposed to thinking about presentations I’ve agreed to make), I’m reminding myself of ways of getting the most out of time at a conference. I thought I’d pass some tips along.

Before the conference

  • If you’re short of money, look for scholarships or work-exchange opportunities at the conference you want to go to. But start early, as there will be limited offers.
  • Beforehand, be sure of the dates and times. Sometimes there are pre-conference events, either included with the price of registration, or for an extra fee. If I’m going, I want to take advantage of all the opportunities I can!
  • Book accommodation in good time to get the best deals. Some conferences match up attendees with local members with spare rooms or even floor space, or set up a way for attendees to share hotel rooms with compatible others. There’s Couchsurfing and Airbnb, if you can’t afford a hotel. Cheaper accommodation could mean you can stay an extra day and not miss anything.
  • If you are in a hotel, find out what’s included with the price of the room. Breakfast? Microwave? Mini-fridge? Kettle? You could do some self-catering and save money that way. Find out which meals are included with registration. Or are there “Heavy snacks” receptions – just as filling as a meal!
  • Contact others to car-pool. This could be friends or simply other attendees from your area (Future Friends!)
  • Having taken care of your physical needs, turn your attention to the workshop program. Highlight the ones you really want to go to. Use a different highlighter to mark your second choices (just sometimes you’ll discover your first choice isn’t such a good match as you expected. It’s OK to jump ship!)
  • Some speakers repeat a workshop in two different time-slots. This is a big help when you are finding it hard to choose between two concurrent workshops.
  • Talk to friends who are also going. Perhaps they’ll go to different workshops and you can photocopy their notes or handouts later.

At the conference

  • Make a “pocket list” with your list of activities for each day, including times and room numbers or names. Include your second choices, to make jumping ship speedy if you need to do that. Include any non-workshop events, such as if you make a date to meet someone to talk over a meal. It’s so much quicker to refer to a little note in your pocket than to drag out the whole program and page through it.
  • Keep the conference map handy, perhaps folded in your pocket, or clipped to your notebook.
  • Bring a comfortable-to-use notebook and more than one pen. Maybe a camera to snap screenshots at presentations. Some people bring laptops or tablets, some bring audio-recording devices. All ways to help you remember key points of the presentation. Studies show that the actual writing-down of things helps you remember them – it’s not a matter of reading the notes later (although if your notes are legible, you are more likely to read them later).
  • Get to the room in good time to collect any handouts and flip through to see what’s there. This will save frantic unnecessary scribbling if the chart you want is already in the handout. Sit where you can see and hear. I’ve discovered in recent years that having progressive lenses means I need to sit in the center rather than off to one side.
  • Use the margins of the handout or your notes to flag particular items to follow-up later.
  • Ask questions immediately if you don’t understand clearly. Save your questions that broaden the discussion until the speaker has finished their presentation. They should have allowed time for that, and waiting till the end avoids creating a diversion.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach the speaker after the presentation. We speakers are just human beings. We  want our presentations to be understood. We need to know if we worded something in a confusing way. We will benefit from knowing which aspects of our topic you want to know more about.
  • Be sure to fill out the conference evaluation form, and don’t be constrained by the questions that are asked! Add suggestions for future speakers or future topics. Be as specific as possible with your feedback, so it is useful to the presenters. Include suggestions to improve the visibility, audibility, memorability of each presentation. Include praise and appreciation, not just what you didn’t like!!

After the conference

  • If friends went to different workshops, talk over your respective workshops. This will have the advantage of firming up your memory on the ones you went to, as well as informing you about the ones you missed.
  • Make a collected list of all the items you want to follow up on, from all the workshops, and from the hallway conversations you had. Choose several each week to investigate. Don’t just keep the list in a safe place!
  • Check back at the conference website a week after the event. Sometimes there will be handouts or slideshows posted there.
  • Next winter, as you plan your crops, incorporate some of the best ideas you picked up, at least on a small scale.
  • Write down next year’s conference dates, so you don’t double book yourself!

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Pam-blog1 jpgMy first blog post has now been posted on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog. You can read it here. It’s about reading and understanding the small print in seed catalogs. I wrote about it more fully here back in October. I plan to post there about once a month.

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MENFairLogoOn the upcoming events front, I have now received confirmation from New Society Publishers and Mother Earth News that I will be a speaker at the Asheville, NC, MEN Fair, April 12-13 2014. I’ve offered several workshops – we’ll see which one they choose. I’m also working on a Saturday February 15 workshop with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace at Lynchburg College, in SW Virginia. It will be from 10am to 3pm with a break for lunch. All three of us Virginia gardening authors will be selling our books there. When we’ve firmed up the topics I’ll let you know.