Upcoming workshops, winter weather, preparing seed orders

First up, note this change of location for my workshop on December 11th. Adrianna Vargo from the Local Food Hub sent this notice of a change of location:

“Due to overwhelming demand (and a few grumpy farmers!) we have moved the location of next week’s workshop with Pam Dawling to accommodate more people.

The new location is:
Albemarle County Office Building
Room A
1600 5th Street Extended
Charlottesville VA 22902
Other details remain the same:

Providing for the Full Eating Season: Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests of Summer Vegetables, and Growing and Storing Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables

Date: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 6:00 pm
Location: Albemarle County Office Building, Room A (1600 5th Street, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22902)
Cost: $25 (free for Local Food Hub Partner Producers)
Questions: [email protected]

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Secondly, I am planning a workshop with Cindy Connor, author of Grow a Sustainable Diet and Ira Wallace, author of the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. It’s at Lynchburg College, in SW Virginia, on Saturday February 15. I’ll give more details once we have them sorted out.

Cindy has written a blog post about Ira Wallace’s new book, Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. See http://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/

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The weather here has turned wintry. We are bracing for the big ice storm expected Saturday night and Sunday, likely followed by power outages, during which the electric lines-people struggle to restore power over a big area, as this storm looks (on the radar) like it covers a big swath. Here’s the regional radar from Weather Underground this afternoon

Weather Underground regional radar for December 7 2013

Weather Underground regional radar for December 7 2013

In case you couldn’t tell from my slack blogging recently, I’ve been on vacation. My fellow communard, Ezra Freeman, has been tracking the weather here, and reported in his blog on a low of 10F on Saturday 23 November. The previous low had been 18F on November 13, reported to me by Ken Bezilla at Acorn Community and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Here are some seasonal photos of our gardens taken by Ezra:

East Garden with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman

East Garden with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman

Raised beds November 2013 Credit Ezra freeman

Raised beds November 2013
Credit Ezra Freeman

Ice on the pond. Credit Ezra Freeman

Ice on the pond.
Credit Ezra Freeman

Blackberry leaf with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman

Blackberry leaf with frost.
Credit Ezra Freeman

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Meanwhile, our garden work turns towards planning for next year. We have done an inventory of our remaining seeds and decided what to keep and what to throw out. 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. Frank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.

A simplified version of how long to keep seeds 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).

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We are working towards ordering seeds. The catalogs are starting to appear in my mail box. The early bird catches the preferred varieties! The main companies we order from are Fedco, Johnny’s and of course, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We like SESE for regionally adapted varieties, Fedco for great prices on bulk sizes, and Johnny’s for some varieties we really like that aren’t available from the other two. If you are ordering from Fedco and don’t yet have my book, they are now selling it at a very decent price (cheaper than signed copies direct from me). If you need to economize, but don’t want to buy from the big online company that doesn’t pay its workers much, try Fedco, who are a co-operative.

Heritage Harvest Festival, corn, more raccoons, stray cat.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/succession-planting-for-continuous-vegetable-harvests-2013-pam-dawling-26037044″ title=”Succession planting for continuous vegetable harvests 2013 Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Succession planting for continuous vegetable harvests 2013 Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

You can watch my Succession Planting slide show here, and my Asian greens slideshow at SlideShare.net. I presented both at the Heritage Harvest Festival this weekend.

While at the festival I also did two sessions of book-signing at the Museum Shop, toured the booths, and attended several other workshops.

Cindy Connor ‘s workshop was entitled Grow a Sustainable Diet, which is the name of her book. It will be published by New Society in March 2014.

Also busy at work on a book is Criag LeHoullier, aka NCTomatoman. he spoke on Tomatoes for Southeast Gardens. He has grown hundreds of tomato varieties, mostly in 5 gallon pots along his driveway. Here are some of the open pollinated varieties her recommends for the southeast:

Reds: Red Brandywine (not the pink one!), Livingston’s Favorite (a canner), Aker’s West Virginia (delicious and disease tolerant), Nepal (salad size from Johnny’s).

Pinks: Salzar’s Ferris Wheel, Anna’s Russian (heart-shaped, wonderful and very early), Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, Cherry Pearl (pretty pink cherry with so-so flavor)

Purple/black: Cherokee Purple, Black Cherry, Purple Calabash

Chocolate: Cherokee Chocolate (really good)

Green: Cherokee Green, Green Giant (great flavor), Aunt Ruby’s (wonderful).

Yellow: Lilian’s Yellow Heirloom (delicious), Hugh’s, Yellow Bell (Roma type)

Orange: Yellow Brandywine, Annie, Orange Strawberry, Jaune Flamme, Kellogs Breakfast

White: Coyote (cherry)

Bicolor: Lucky Cross (tastes like Brandywine)

Stripes: Don’s Double Delight, Striped Roman

I’m sure I didn’t write down all the good ones, but these ones appealed to me.

Next I went to hear Clif Slade talk about his $43,560 project. Clif’s goal is “to demonstrate that farmers working with limited resources and using organic methods can make an average of $1 per square foot growing and marketing vegetables from one acre (43.560 square feet)” as explained in the Virginia Association for Biological Farming document I’ve linked to here. The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote up the project in early July. Clif used to grow 10 acres of vegetables, but it didn’t pay much. He once planted two GMO corn varieties and 18 non-GMO. The deer ate the non-GMOs, but didn’t touch the GM ones. Since then he has gone Organic, grows some seed crops for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and has developed his 43560 project, finding crops that produce a head or a pound of crop per square foot. As well as growing the most suitable crops (and ignoring the others), he stresses the importance of building good soil, putting a quarter of the land into cover crops at any one time, and paying attention to marketing.

Later, On Saturday, I went to an inspiring presentation by Cory Fowler, a founder of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. His slideshow includes pictures of the village of Svalbard and the vault, outside and in, and the surrounding ice, snow and wildlife. Norway donated the structure, including the Norwegian requirement that every construction project includes 2% (I think) of art. The daily workforce on-site is zero – they monitor from close-by and remotely, but they really don’t want people coming and going!

Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Credit Mari Tefre, andCroptrust.org

Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Credit Mari Tefre, and Croptrust.org

He spoke about the incredible achievement of setting up this “fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time – and of natural or manmade disasters.” Each country (and a very few non-governmental seed-saving groups) can submit sealed boxes containing 400-seed samples of each variety of each vegetable and grain crop they can obtain. This is as a backup to their national seed bank. The vault at Svalbard steps aside from political and individual self-interest. They are holding the boxes in safe-keeping, and do not open them, but will return them to the source if asked. There are some false stories circulating about what Svalbard is all about, so I encourage everyone to read the website – it’s an impressive project and a heart-warming success story.

The presentation ended with a beautiful short video Polar Eufori which you can see on YouTube.

Meanwhile, back at home, we are using the dry weather to start to catch up on hoeing and weeding. Here’s our fall broccoli (These photos are from Ezra’s blog ObserVA, which I’ve mentioned before.)

Fall broccoli rescued from weeds. Credit Ezra Freeman

Fall broccoli rescued from weeds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

and here’s our late corn and our sweet potatoes:

Sweet potatoes next to our last corn planting.  Credit Ezra Freeman

Sweet potatoes next to our last corn planting.
Credit Ezra Freeman

We are planning to set up a solar-powered electric fence around this corn, before the raccoons find it too. Maybe also to keep the deer out of the sweet potatoes. The previous corn still has new raccoon damage, but the most recent animal to go in our live trap was a stray cat! Not the first stray I’ve caught this year (I think it’s the third). Our spinach came up well this year, thanks to the cooler weather. We’re still working on getting enough kale established. Soon we’ll plant our new strawberries (a bit late, but the best we can do).

 

Rain, raccoons and books to look forward to.

This week has come with a lot of rain, which has restricted what we can do in the garden, but saves me from running irrigation systems. It means the weeds are growing too well, and there is no chance to hoe: the soil is too wet, the weeds won’t die, just re-root. We’re about 40% down our 265′ long carrot rows (15 of them), weeding, but the weeds are now bigger than the carrots. Meanwhile, other timely tasks are going begging. probably we’ll have to draw a line in the mud and give up on the lower part of the carrot patch. Too bad.

Farming is completely non-linear! You don’t finish one task, then start another. Every day involves a juggling of priorities. At this time of year, harvesting takes a lot of time. And naturally, it’s very important to do it! After all, why grow food if you don’t harvest it? An added challenge this year is that for most of the summer crops (tomatoes, beans, eggplant, squash, cucumbers), it’s better not to touch the plants while the leaves are wet. Fungal diseases spread easily when it’s warm and wet. Many mornings the dew is heavy, so we start our shifts with some hoeing (if the soil and the forecast are dry enough), or carrot weeding (most days). Our next priority, after harvesting, is planting. “Prioritize planting during the planting season!” is one of our mantras.Here in central Virginia, the planting season runs from mid-February to the end of September (ignoring the garlic planting in November).

Yesterday we caught our eleventh raccoon in the sweet corn. We’ve probably lost close to 2000 ears of corn to these pests this year. (Two whole sections 6 rows x 60ft with a plant every 8 inches, plus serious inroads in three other sections.) We’re looking at installing an electric fence, but several crew are unenthusiastic, foreseeing problems with the fence shorting out on the grass, and inconvenience working around it. We need to do something different. This morning both raccoon traps had the bait eaten, but no captives. One trap was open and on its side – have the beasts figured out how to turn the trap and get the food out without springing the trap? The other was closed but emptied. Perhaps we have a giant raccoon that uses its butt to keep the door from closing while it eats the bait?

On a more cheery note, here’s two books to look forward to before next season. (People looking for gifts for gardening friends, take note).

51E7ayNJ7IL._SX260_Ira Wallace, from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Acorn Community, has written the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. It will be published in December 2013. The write-up says “Growing vegetables requires regionally specific information—what to plant, when to plant it, and when to harvest are based on climate, weather, and first frost. The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast tackles this need head on, with regionally specific growing information written by local gardening expert, Ira Wallace. This region includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.”

Ira’s book is for new vegetable gardeners, or ones relocating to the southeast. It includes month-by-month planting recommendations, skill-building tips, a primer for beginners and an A-Z meet-the-vegetables section. Paperback, 256 pp., 7½ x 9 in. (230 x 190 mm.), ISBN: 9781604693713.  It will sell for $19.95 and I recommend you support your local writers in the same way and for the same reasons we support our local farmers – buy direct from them and don’t line the pockets of the big corporations. Those places that sell books at big discounts don’t contribute much to writers and publishers! Southern Exposure will be selling the book through their catalog and at events where they have a booth.

bookcover

Cindy Connor has written Grow a Sustainable Diet, which will be published by New Society in Spring 2014. Read what she has to say to introduce it on her blog Homeplace Earth. Cindy says: ” This book is for folks who want to grow all, or a substantial amount, of their food and do it in a way that has a small ecological footprint. Particular attention would need to be paid to crop choices for your diet and for feeding back the soil . . . If you wanted, you could use the information from this book to plan a complete diet of homegrown foods.” Or you could choose which bits best fit your life and use her worksheets, diet planning, garden planning and information on cover crops, livestock, food storage and preservation, sheds and fences to help you provide more of your own food. And you can enjoy her stories.

I haven’t yet got the price for Cindy’s book, or the ISBN, or a firm date, but check her website regularly or subscribe to her blog (which is always packed with good information). I will post more information as I get it. You can bet Cindy will be selling the book directly, and that SESE will also carry it.

Cicadas, transplanting and blueberry netting

Pepper transplants waiting to be set out. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Pepper transplants waiting to be set out.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

At last we are getting our warm weather crops transplanted! We finished our 530 Roma paste tomatoes and I’ve just seen this afternoon’s crew of two go past the office window with watermelon starts on a cart. We’re late, but we’re getting there! We have about 260 Crimson Sweet watermelons to go in, and cover to keep the bugs off. This morning, working with the large crew, we set out the ropes and the sticks to hold down the rowcover. Our method is to use the big morning crews to harvest and to get ready whatever will be needed for the small late afternoon transplanting shift, so all they have to do is plant, water and cover. This makes best use of the cooling temperatures later in the day.

After the watermelons, we’ll still have peppers, eggplants, muskmelons (cantaloupes), okra and lots of sweet potatoes to go in. And more lettuce every week.

Meanwhile the brood II 17-year cicadas are in good form. So loud. The ground around the trees is riddled with holes from the emerging juniors. The cast-off shells/exoskeletons are crunchy underfoot. Someone here saw squirrels eating cicadas but I haven’t seen it yet myself.

The other thing I want to write about is our blueberry netting and its seasonal hooped structure. I think this is a good method that more people might like to use. Our older blueberry patch has a rectangular framework made of posts with wires joining the tops. the netting is a fairly rigid square plastic type that is a challenge to put up. This new type is a big improvement – easy to put up and get the netting over, and removable so we don’t have to look at the framework all year.

Our new blueberry area is 16′ x 65′ approx. The height of the netting supports needs to be 7′ or more for most of the space. The 20 blueberry bushes are 66″ apart, in two rows.

We looked at these options, then found a few more:

  1. 3/4″ PVC water pipe,
  2. 20′ rebar inside PVC piping
  3. Fiberglass poles fixed to T-posts
  4. Galvanized steel tubing, as sold for small hoophouses.
  5. Metal electrical conduit bent into a curve, connected at the ridge.
  6. Other tubing, such as chainlink fence top-rail, metal water pipe, curved.
  7. “Spider-House” temporary framework
  8. Wood-framed structure
  9. Bamboo

We chose PVC Electrical conduit. Plastic electrical conduit, unlike water pipe, is UV-inhibited for outdoor use. Lengths have swaged (flanged) ends, so can be joined without any separate connectors. Lightweight, no bending tools needed (unlike for metal conduit or fencing top-rail). Packs flat for out-of-season storage. Relatively cheap.

 We use a “Spider-House” temporary framework – an idea used for temporary “field hoophouses”. It consists of pairs of bows fastened together at the apex, in a way that spreads out into a 4-legged structure. A row of these make up the frame. An advantage is that the spiders are stronger than simple bows, and that the whole thing can be dismantled relatively easily. Helps add strength to lightweight bows.

Blueberry Hoops diagram0001

 I’ll tell you how we did it, then talk about the options we didn’t choose.

  • We bought very nice flexible nylon netting from Lee Valley. We chose the 12’ x 117’ ½” mesh, and I stitched two lengths together using nylon thread, making a piece 24’ wide. It should last a long time. It isn’t cheap. It does not ravel when cut, or snag on itself. At the end of the season it can be stuffed in a bag, with just one end poking out of the neck of the bag. Then next year, drop the bag at one end, pull the free end of the netting up over the piping and along the length of the berry patch. Our netting is longer than the patch, but we plan to extend the patch one day. . .
  • For our 16’ x 65’ patch, we decided on three “spiders.” Our calculation was that 30’ hooped into a half circle would have a diameter of 19’ (divide circumference by pi to get radius, then multiply by two). So we reckoned having the ends of each pipe 19’ apart, crosswise across the patch. A bit of Pythagoras leads to a spacing along the length of the patch of just over 10’ for a width of 16’ and a diagonal of 19’. We don’t need perfect half-circles, but we did need a rough idea of a workable length.
  • We bought 18 pieces of 3/4” PVC electrical conduit in 10’ lengths with swaged (belled) ends.
  • We glued them in threes to make 30’ lengths.
  • We marked the center point of each length, matched centers of two lengths, then tied a pair of lengths together to form a cross shape. If you were in the scouts, square lashing is the type of knot you need.
  • We got 12 4’ lengths of rebar and hammered them halfway in the ground along the long edges of the plot, 12’ 6” apart (six rebars, 5 spaces of 12’ 6” equals 62’ 6”). Close enough.
  • We popped the spider legs over the rebar, making sure all the lumpy knots were on the underside of the tubing crossovers, to make it easier to pull the netting.
  • When we had all three four-legged spiders in position, we pulled over the netting, and pinned it down every 18” round the edges with 1” wide sod staples/landscape pins.
  • We have a doorway along the central seam, simply held closed with clothes pins.

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Here’s our thoughts about the ideas we didn’t take up:

PVC water pipe. A small experimental structure at Twin Oaks, made from 3/4″ pipe collapsed in the winter, (but need not have). Cheap, easy to bend, easy to replace. Can install for seasonal use on rebar pieces in the ground (which could be an off-season hazard….). Using PVC glue is smelly and unhealthy. Not cheaper than PVC electrical conduit. See Constructing a Simple PVC High Tunnel by Jim Hail, Robbins Hail, Katherine Kelly, and Ted Carey for a 30’ x 18’ hoophouse from 1” PVC.

There is a smaller design “Portable Field Hoophouse”, using 3/4″ rigid white schedule 40 pvc in 18′ lengths to give a 10′ wide frame for an 18-42′ length hoophouse with no ridgepole.

PEX water pipe tubing: Too bendy

Metal electrical conduit bent into a curve, connected at the ridge. Conduit is cheap and readily available. It can be bent with purchased pipebenders (if the right shape is available), or on a wooden jig, or round stakes hammered into the ground. Lost Creek  sells pipebenders. Johnnys sells Quick Hoops Benders but they make 12’ x 7’ high tunnel or caterpillar tunnel hoops only. They have a video on the site.

Other metal tubing, such as chainlink fence top-rail, or metal water-pipe, bent into a curve. Either use the commercially available pipebenders, as above, or make your own jig. There are good plans by Jamie and Tod Hanley using square tubing, and a home-made bending jig. Square is easier to bend without twisting, but that might not be important for this project.

More plastic tubing (1” x 20’) hoophouse frames and a metal tubing frame as well as photos and details of a bending jig for metal water piping, on the New Farm website, using 3/4″ galvanised piping in 21′ lengths. Their jig consists of 20 short pieces of 2×4 lumber screwed down on the bed of a hay wagon.

Pre-curved galvanized steel tubing, as sold for small hoophouses. Farmtek  has a wide range of ready-made hoop parts, including tall, round-topped styles. Shipping adds to the cost. More expensive than other options.

20′ rebar inside PVC piping. Idea from Cindy Connor for small hoophouses. Stronger than PVC pipe alone. 5/8″ rebar could be used alone (but hard to pull fabrics over).

Fiberglass poles fixed to T-posts. T-posts would stay all year, fiberglass poles stored out of season. Straightforward to do. Splinters from fiberglass could be a problem long-term.

Wood-framed structure. A lot of work, but cheap. Clunky. Might take too long to make.

Bamboo. Free if you have invasive bamboo, but a bit of work. The nodes would snag on the netting. Saw then sand them off? Duct tape?

Our new blueberry netting on its hooped frames, Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our new blueberry netting on its hooped frames,
Credit Bridget Aleshire