PASA Conference, Organic biodegradable mulch

I’ll be presenting three workshops at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Farming for the Future Conference February 7-10, 2018. The event is at State College, PA, and will likely draw in 1500-2000 people.

Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales Friday 12.50 – 2.10 pm

Grow crops you can sell during the winter, while allowing yourself some down-time and reprieve from outdoor work. Choose suitable crops, schedules and storage conditions. Understand your weather and basic crop protection. This workshop will provide tables of cold-hardiness and details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (warm and cool weather crops to harvest and store before very cold weather; crops to keep alive in the ground further into winter, then store; hardy crops to store in the ground and harvest during the winter, and overwinter crops for early spring harvests before the main season). It includes tables of storage conditions needed for different vegetables and suggestions of suitable storage methods, with and without electricity.

Crimson clover cover crop.
Photo McCune Porter

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Saturday 8.30 – 9.50 am

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Saturday Feb 10 12.50-2.10pm

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

There will be handouts for each workshop and book-signing on Friday at 5.15pm.

The Farming for the Future Conference is PASA’s featured event, held annually in February. We seek to gather a diverse audience from the sustainable food system including farmers, educators, processors, advocates, and eaters – please join us! Each year we feature:

  • Over 100 speakers representing the best from the sustainable agriculture field and our membership.

  • A variety of sustainable farming and food system programming including full-day tracks, half-day sessions, and 80-minute workshops across the fours days of the event.

  • Over 90 Trade Show vendors representing the broad diversity and deep expertise of our community.

  • Opportunities to network and socialize over receptions and meals that feature regionally-source ingredients.

  • An ag-themed Future Farmers program for kids (K to Grade 8).

  • Special events like music, movie, yoga, knitting, and more!


I’ll return to Pennsylvania in September for the Mother Earth News Fair – see my Events page for more on that.

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Organic Biodegradable Mulch

The Fruit Growers News announced

“Minnesota-based Organix Solutions has received a certification of its product line of black soil biodegradable agricultural mulch film. The OK biodegradable SOIL Certification from Vinçotte International verifies that the product, called Organix A.G. Film, will completely biodegrade in the soil without adversely affecting the environment according to international standards, according to a release from Organix.”

These mulch films are made with ecovio, a compostable biopolymer by BASF – a material that completely biodegrades in a commercially reasonable period. Microbes in the soil  break down the film into CO2, biomass and water. You can  to order online from the Organix link.

This is big news for certified USDA Organic growers, if they can get their certifier to agree with Vinçotte International and certify this material. Previously available biodegradable mulch films have not been accepted as Organic. Here’s a brief history:

In 2014 biodegradable biobased mulch films were added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances permitting their use in organic production as long as they met certain criteria, and were not made from genetically modified organisms. The criteria are:

  1. Meeting the compostability specifications of one of the following standards: ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, EN 13432, EN 14995, or ISO 17088;
  2. Demonstrating at least 90% biodegradation absolute or relative to microcrystalline cellulose in less than two years, in soil, according to one of the following test methods: ISO 17556 or ASTM D5988; and
  3. Being biobased with content determined using ASTM D6866

In January 2015, National Organic Program (NOP) Memo 15-1 further clarified that these mulches cannot include any prohibited ingredients. OMRI researched the availability of these mulches  and found no product on the market in 2015 that met the standard.

Bioplastic mulches are made of several polymers, some derived from renewable vegetable biomass and others from biodegradable fossil fuel materials (petroleum products).

As explained by Johanna Mirenda, OMRI Technical Director in The Dirt on Biodegradable Plastics in 2015:

For example, some currently available biodegradable mulches are made primarily with polylactic acid, an ingredient derived from corn starch, tapioca root, or sugarcane, but they also contain feedstocks derived from petroleum chemicals. More details about the makeup and manufacturing process are available in OMRI’s Report on Biodegradable Biobased Mulch Films, authored for the USDA.

Read the full Final Rule here.

And here’s a thoughtful, constructive article from Broadfork Farm in Canada after Canada’s Organic Certification Scheme decertified biodegradable mulches in 2016.

I’ve written in the past about our use of biodegradable mulch and how we roll it out by hand, with a team of people.

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

Year Round Vegetable Production, speaking events

Here’s my newest slide show, Year Round Vegetable Production, which I presented at the Field School in Johnstown, TN on December 7.  To view full screen, click the diagonal arrows at the bottom right, and to move to the next slide, click the triangle arrow pointing right.

The Field School is a Beginning Farmer program, under the Appalachian RC&D Council. The Field School organizes a monthly series of workshops (November 2017 through August 2018) that provides an overview of small-scale farming in East Tennessee’s mountains and valleys, taught by 20+ farmers and agricultural professionals. It is arranged by the Appalachian RC&D Council, Green Earth Connection, and many area partners with major support from USDA.

As well as my double presentation on Thursday evening, I attended a Q and A brunch on Friday morning and got the chance to meet the new (ish) farmers individually. It was a pleasure to meet such enthusiastic dedicated growers.

My other presentation on Thursday 12/7 was Crop Planning, which you can view by clicking the link.

The school session 2017-18 is already full even though they have expanded to have two tracks (Produce or Small Livestock) in this their third year. Go to their website if you are local and want to be on their waiting list if spots open up. They also sell tickets to the public for some of their workshops.

Beginning farmer training is available in most states, loosely under the USDA, but without a central organization. Do a web search for your state and “beginning farmer training” if you are looking for something like this. Or check out this list on Beginningfarmers.org.


I have been firming up several speaking events in the new year. Here some info on some of those (click the Events tab  or the individual event links for for more details):

The Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Future Harvest Conference January 11-13, 2018 at College Park, MD.

Ira Wallace (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), Gabe Brown, Michael Twitty and Craig Beyrouty are giving the meal time addresses.

On Saturday January 13 11.30am -12.30pm I’m presenting

Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables Why farm in winter? Information includes tables of cold-hardiness; details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops; overwintering crops for spring harvests; scheduling; weather prediction and protection; hoophouse growing; and vegetable storage.

I am also participating with other speakers in a new format Lightning Session Round, 2.15-3.30pm on Saturday, where we each get 10 minutes to tell the audience the top 5 things we want them to know about a certain topic. I’m speaking on Six Steps to Using Graphs to Plan Succession Crops for Continuous Harvests

I will be signing books at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange booth at points during the conference.


February 7-10, 2018 Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Farming for the Future Conference, State College, PA https://www.pasafarming.org/events/conference.  I’ll be presenting three workshops:

Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales Friday 12.50 – 2.10 pm

Grow crops you can sell during the winter, while allowing yourself some down-time and reprieve from outdoor work. Choose suitable crops, schedules and storage conditions. Understand your weather and basic crop protection. This workshop will provide tables of cold-hardiness and details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (warm and cool weather crops to harvest and store before very cold weather; crops to keep alive in the ground further into winter, then store; hardy crops to store in the ground and harvest during the winter, and overwinter crops for early spring harvests before the main season). It includes tables of storage conditions needed for different vegetables and suggestions of suitable storage methods, with and without electricity.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Saturday 8.30 – 9.50 am

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Saturday Feb 10 12.50-2.10pm

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

There will be handouts for each workshop and book signing


March 9-11 2018, Organic Growers School Spring Conference at UNC-Asheville, Asheville, NC. I’ll be presenting three workshops:

For the Gardener track: Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish

At this workshop you will learn how to grow your own sweet potato slips; plant them, grow healthy crops and harvest good yields, selecting suitable roots for growing next year’s slips. You will also learn how to cure and store roots for top quality and minimal losses. This workshop will be useful to beginners and experienced growers alike.

For the New Farmer Track: Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Sustainable Farming Practices 

An introduction to year round vegetable production; crop planning and record-keeping; feeding the soil using crop rotations, cover crops, compost making and organic mulches; production tips on direct sowing and transplanting, crop spacing, succession crop scheduling to ensure continuous harvests, efficient production strategies, season extension, dealing with pests, diseases and weeds; determining crop maturity and harvest methods.


April 12, 2018, 9am to noon,

Louisa Master Gardener Group Tour of Twin Oaks Gardens

Cover crops slideshow, Hoophouse style and design article

Last week I went to the annual conference of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, held at Hot Springs Resort, Virginia. There were about 430 attendees, a big increase from last year. I gave two presentations, Spring and Summer Hoophouses, and Cover Crops. Here’s the Cover Crops slideshow.

In case you were there and missed the handouts, here they are:

Spring and Summer Hoophouses Handout

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers 4pg Handout 2016

Crimson clover is a beautiful and useful cover crop.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

My next two events are

Jan 25-28, 2017 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference Location: Hyatt Regency Hotel and Convention Center, 401 West High St, Lexington, KY 40507. 888 421 1442, 800 233 1234. Registration: http://www.ssawg.org/registration

I’m presenting two brand new 90 minute workshops: Diversify your Vegetable Crops (Friday 2-3.30pm) and Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales (Saturday 8.15-9.45 am). Workshops will be recorded. Book signing (Thursday 5pm) and sales.

Feb 1-4 2017 PASA Farming for the Future Conference 2000 people Location: Penn Stater Convention Center, State College, PA Registration: http://conference.pasafarming.org/

I’m presenting three 80 minute Workshops: Sweet Potatoes, (Friday Feb 2 12.50pm), Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops,  (Saturday 8.30am), and Succession Planting, (Sat 3.40pm). Workshops will be recorded. Book-signings and sales.

Sweet potato harvest 2014
Photo Nina Gentle

The January 2017 issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on Hoophouse style and design. As well as the Gothic/Quonset
decision and that on whether to choose  roll-up, drop-down or no sidewalls, this article discusses roads, utilities, irrigation, in-ground insulation, end-wall design, inflation, airflow fans, and bed layout to match your chosen method of cultivation.

Other articles include Barbara Damrosch on flower production on a small vegetable farm (beautiful photos!), Emily Oakley on planning to  grow only what you can sell (words of wisdom), Eric and Joanna Reuter with part two of their series online weather tools for farmers, Jed Beach on how to avoid and fix common financial mistakes we farmers make, and Jane Tanner on local food hubs. Plenty of good reading!

The first issue of Growing for Market that I ever picked up (years ago) had an article about flame-weeding carrots. I realized that that one article was going to save us more than the price of a subscription. Just one good idea, clearly explained, can save so much wasted time!

We won’t starve or get scurvy! Plenty of food in the winter hoophouse!
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Speaking Events, Good Reading, Sustainable Agriculture Courses

Photo by Karen Lanier
Photo by Karen Lanier

I’ve got my Events Page organized now, so you can check there whenever you’re wondering where I might show up next, addressing a conference or a classroom.

In January, I will be speaking at two conferences: VABF and SSAWG.

January 10-11 (Tuesday and Wednesday) 2017, Virginia Biological Farming Conference http://vabf.org/conference/  Location: Omni Homestead Resort, 7696 Sam Snead Highway, Hot Springs, VA. 800 838 1766. Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-virginia-biological-farming-conference-tickets-28261472826.

Two 90 minute workshops: Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers and Spring and Summer Hoophouses. Book signing and sales.

Jan 25-28, 2017 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference http://www.ssawg.org/january-2017-conference/ Location: Hyatt Regency Hotel and Convention Center, 401 West High St, Lexington, KY 40507. 888 421 1442, 800 233 1234. Registration: http://www.ssawg.org/registration

Two 90 minute workshops: Diversify your Vegetable Crops (Friday 2-3.30pm) and Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales (Saturday 8.15-9.45 am). Workshops will be recorded. Book signing (Thursday 5pm) and sales.


planning-designing-the-family-food-garden-book-cover-2-e1454884966600-768x993I recently discovered an interesting website and blog: Family Food Garden by Isis Loran. I found it because Isis recommends my book Sustainable Market Farming in her article on designing for large-scale family food production. She lives in zone 5 in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada.

Isis Loran is collecting and sharing a lot of good information, and she has written a book Planning and Designing the Family Food Garden  (which I haven’t seen yet). The E-book is $12.99 online, and you can preview 12 pages before buying.

She also sells a 23 page garden planner via Etsy, the craft retail site, for $11.05 Canadian.

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For growers more at the farmer end of the scale than the family garden end, the November/December issue of the Organic Broadcaster from MOSES is out.

There’s an article Farmers use creative mix of new technology, adapted equipment to grow row crops. Carolyn Olsen writes about  a 36 burner flame-weeder they made from a sprayer!

In Expanding market offers opportunities for herb growers to create value-added products, Jane Hawley Stevens, of Four Elements Organic Herbals, writes about growing more than 150 varieties of herbs on their 130-acre certified organic farm near Madison, Wisconsin. In SILT offers permanent solution to affordable land access in Iowa, Denise O’Brien describes the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), a new model that reduces land costs for sustainable food farmers for generations to come. SILT permanently protects land from development, for truly sustainable production of food. Retiring farmers are donating land to this worthy cause.

There are more articles, some about livestock, one about the questionable organic certification on some imported grain crops, one about farm finances, and many more.


Lastly, I’d like to hear from you if you know of a college using my book for a text for sustainable agriculture courses. I know of a few in Virginia, but I’d like to hear more. At the Carolina farm Stewardship Conference at the beginning of November, I met a student at the Central Carolina Community College. The “green-collar” workforce in the “Green Central” program learns about Sustainable Ag and according to the student I spoke with, they chose my book because it is more regionally appropriate for the Carolinas.

I’d like to make more contacts with teachers of sustainable ag courses, and look into marketing my book as a text.

Hoophouse lettuce in winter at Twin Oaks. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Hoophouse lettuce in winter at Twin Oaks.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Mother Earth News Fair, Local Food Hub, other events

10646717_696746683734934_2365867868579925687_nI got home last night from a wonderful Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs Pennsylvania. I heard it was a record-breaker in attendance. It’ll probably be a week before we know for sure. I gave two of my traditional favorite workshops, Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests and Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production. They are on SlideShare, with most of my other sustainable farming slide shows, and I’m inserting them here for new readers.We ran out of handouts at the Succession Planting workshop, but the MENF staff made more, so I hope everyone who wanted one got one.


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On Thursday 9/29 I will be offering a new two hour workshop on Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers with the Local Food Hub. 4-6 pm in Room 246,  Albemarle County Office Building, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, VA. COST: $10; free for Local Food Hub partner farms. Still some seats available, as of Tuesday morning. QUESTIONS? Email Adrianna Vargo, Director of Grower Services, at [email protected].

Crimson clover cover crop Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

imagesOn Saturday 10/1 I will be at Lynchburg College, 1501 Lakeside Dr, Lynchburg, VA 24501 (SW Virginia) with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, co-presenting The Seed Garden: Planning for Seed Saving and Lots of Vegetables. That’s 10.00 am to 12.30 pm. My contribution will be to talk about including a few seed crops while mainly focusing on producing vegetables. We’ll have show and tell as well as slides.


I have started an Events Page here on my website, but while I keep running from one event to another, I’m not spending the time to make it pretty. Hopefully next week. For those in Vermont – you will be getting your own Vermont Mother Earth News Fair in July 2017, and I hope to see you there!


 

Below is info on an interesting symposium for those doing urban agriculture.

Urban Agriculture Symposium

VIRGINIA COOPERATIVE EXTENSION, ARLINGTON COUNTY OFFICE

Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington VA 22206

Telephone 703-228-6400

Contact:  Kirsten Buhls, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent [email protected]

The 2016 VCE Urban Agriculture Symposium will be held on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington 22206. The symposium is being held in conjunction with Urban Agriculture Month in Virginia and is sponsored by VCE and Greenstreet Garden Center in partnership with Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.

The keynote speaker will be Carlin Rafie, assistant professor at Virginia Tech and VCE adult nutrition specialist, who will discuss the relationship between nutrition and health.  In breakout sessions, Virginia Tech researchers and other experts will focus on perennial and tree crops for the urban gardener; research on growing food with biosolids; growing nutritious, low-maintenance vegetables; small-space gardening of the future; aeroponic containerized farming; teaching the next generation of gardeners; and growing microgreens and sprouts at home for winter nutrition.

Registration is open to all. The fee is $25 and covers the cost of supplies as well as refreshments and lunch for participants. More information and a registration form are available at mgnv.org; click on the link http://bit.ly/VCEUrbanAgSymposium.

Questions? Call 703-228-6414 or email [email protected].


Meanwhile in the garden, we have got lovely little kale and bigger spinach seedlings, and we are thinking about potato and sweet potato harvests in a couple of weeks.

Sweet potato harvest with carts. Usually we use a truck! Photo Nina Gentle
Sweet potato harvest with carts. Usually we use a truck! Photo Nina Gentle

Local Food Hub change of venue 9/29/16

Thursday Sept 29, 2016 Local Food Hub 

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers. 4-6pm

Room B Albemarle County Office Building, 1600 5th Street, Charlottesville, VA

Room 246,  Albemarle County Office Building, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, VA

Adrianna Vargo. Room for 20-30 people.

http://www.localfoodhub.org/workshops/cover-crops-for-vegetables-growers/

Buckwheat, a wonderful summer cover crop

Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The June/July issue of Growing for Market magazine has an article I wrote about buckwheat, one of our favorite summer cover crops.

Buckwheat is a fast-growing warm-season broadleaf annual that is a very useful cover crop. Its special strengths are in weed-suppression, attracting beneficial insects, improving the soil tilth (aggregate structure) with its fibrous roots, and extracting potassium, calcium and phosphorus from the soil to the benefit of following crops. Buckwheat is almost three times as good as barley in scavenging phosphorus, and more than ten times better than rye (a poor phosphorus scavenger). Buckwheat can do fairly well on poor soils, is tolerant of a range of soil pH and is an easy crop to deal with manually or with small-scale equipment. Because buckwheat is not related to any of the common food crops, it is simple to include in rotations.

There wasn’t space in the magazine to include all the great resources I found, so I’m including them here.

Resources in the article

e-Organic’s Buckwheat for Cover Cropping in Organic Farming

Principles of Sustainable Weed Management in Organic Cropping Systems

Virginia Association for Biological Farming Infosheet Seeders: Using Manually-operated Seeders for Precision Cover Crop Plantings by Mark Schonbeck and Ron Morse,

How to De-hull Buckwheat with the Country Living Mill

Buckwheat beginning to flower. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Buckwheat beginning to flower. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Buckwheat Resources

Cornell Buckwheat Cover Crop Handbook (thorough, but not organic) .

Buckwheat Cover Crop Guide – Jefferson Farm and Gardens

General Cover Crop Resources

 Agricultural Sustainability Institute at University of California Davis, Cover Crop Database

 USDA/ARS Cover Crop ChartThe crop “tiles” in the chart can be clicked to access more information about 46 cover crops.

NCSU Department of Horticultural Sciences Horticulture Information Leaflet 37, Summer Cover Crops,

SARE, Managing Cover Crops Profitably, the whole book is available as a free download

CEFS Organic Production: Cover Crops for Organic Farms, under Resources, Guides, Organic Production Guide:

Cornell University, Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers,

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