I have had a little flurry of arranging workshops, so if you have (educational) travel plans, check out my Events page. I’ve also got two interviews lined up, for podcasts, and I’ll tell you about those when they go online.
Use cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Select cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fit cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.
In the Main Conference, on Sat Nov 2, 1.30 – 2.45 pm in the Empire Ballroom E, I have a 75 min workshop
Optimize your Asian Greens Production
This workshop covers the production of Asian greens outdoors and in hoop houses in detail, for both market and home growers. Grow many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens easily and quickly, and bring fast returns. The workshop includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings including succession planting when appropriate; crop rotation in the hoop house; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting.
I will be participating in the Booksigning on Saturday 5.45 – 6.45 pm during the reception
Winter Cover Crops
Cover crops have been much on my mind. Partly it’s that time of year – too late for us to sow oats, not so late that the only option left is winter rye. Here’s my handy-dandy visual aid for central Virginia and other areas of cold-hardiness zone 7a with similar climates.
If you are considering growing winter rye as a no-till cover crop this winter, check out this video:
Rye Termination Timing: When to Successfully Crimp, by Mark Dempsey
“Interested in no-till production, but unsure of how to manage cover crops so they don’t become a problem for the crop that follows?
The most common management concern is when to crimp your cover crop to get a good kill but prevent it from setting seed. Getting the timing right on crimping small grain cover crops like rye isn’t difficult, but it does take a little attention to its growth stage. See this three-minute video for a quick run-down on which stages to look for in order to get that timing right.”
I’m presenting two brand new 90 minute workshops:Diversify your Vegetable Crops(Friday 2-3.30pm) and Storage Vegetables for Off-SeasonSales (Saturday 8.15-9.45 am). Workshops will be recorded. Book signing (Thursday 5pm) and sales.
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.
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!
The September issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, including my article about growing clovers for cover crops, which I mentioned on my blog last week. I wrote how we had ideal “transplanting weather” (rain) when we needed to top up the transplanted cabbage and broccoli, and then “ideal hoeing weather” (not a cloud in sight) when we started removing the rowcovers and hoeing the rows. We tilled between the last rows in the end, as the grassy weeds got ahead of us (all that rain the week before) and we couldn’t get done with the wheelhoes in time, while the weeds were small. We got “perfect clover broadcasting weather” yesterday (drizzle), and I managed to get the clover mix sowed after lunch. I was in my raincoat, with a bucket of seed under my arm, striding forth. I ended up happy, with lots of mud and clover seed between my toes! It feels good to have that job done. We’re having more drizzle this morning – seems perfect to get the clover seed to germinate there on the surface, without drying out. It’s saving a lot of fussing with overhead irrigation.
And you can read more about undersowing clovers for all year cover crops (Green Fallow), and other uses of clovers for winter cover crops in Growing for Market magazine. For next month I’m writing about another of our favorite leguminous winter cover crops, Austrian winter peas.
The September issue also has an article generated by a competition among readers to send in ideas for easy DIY hoophouse ventilation. Ideas include high end wall windows (Tennessee), sidewalls rolled up onto pipe hangers (Louisiana), internal end-wall sliding doors (Alaska) and roll-up ridge vents (North Carolina).
Chris Blanchard writes about increasing production efficiencies and scaling up for increased production. He wisely recommends first taking a cool calm review of how your current plans have been working, and which bits haven’t been working. Don’t expand unless you have a successful grasp of what you are already doing. If you are unsure, focus first on improvements, then revisit the idea of expansion. Get better before getting bigger. Chris has a lot of wise advice and this is a good time of year to review and plan for next season. he recommends keeping a file folder labeled “Painful Things to Remember in November”. You drop a note in the folder whenever you hit a problem during the year, so that in the winter you can be reminded (helpfully!) and you can devise solutions or changes before next year. I like this. I try to do some of this, but a dedicated folder, or maybe a box, like a Suggestions Box, in the shed, for any of the crew to drop in a note. . .
There is an article on the food safety risks introduced by irrigation water and by compost, written by Meredith Melendez and Wesley Kline from Rutgers NJAES Co-operative Extension Service. We all need to be reminded to take appropriate care to make sure our food really is as healthy and good for us as we want it to be.
Gretel Adams writes about preparing for Mothers’ Day flowers – yes, now is the time to plant for that event, one of the biggest in the flower farmers’ calendar.
And then – the picklewormhas arrived in our part of Virginia. This tropical insect, Diaphania nitidalis overwinters in south Florida (and maybe south Texas) and spreads up the east coast each year. It regularly reaches South and North Carolina in August or September. It reached here in the first week of September. This is the first time I’ve seen this pest on our farm. I’ve read that it can reach as far north as Michigan and Connecticut some years. We’re reassured that it can’t overwinter here, and that we could get at most 3 generations. Sort of reassured. The adult is a night-flying moth, which lays tiny eggs on buds and flowers. Despite the name, this pest likes yellow squash more than pickling cucumbers. (And winter squash, gherkin and cantaloupe can be colonized if necessary.)We first found ours on Zephyr yellow squash and initially the neighboring Noche zucchini was untouched. But yesterday some of the zucchini also had holes.
Yes, I’m getting to that. When the eggs hatch, the small multi-spotted white, brown-headed larvae/caterpillars burrow into a squash, where they eat and grow, and do what everyone does, poop. If you don’t act quickly, the inside of the squash gets tunneled out, until the fifth instar, up to an inch long, is ready to pupate. The fifth instars are the easiest to find, being biggest, although they have lost their spots and are now colored according to what they’ve been eating, somewhere in the pale yellow-green part of the spectrum. The dark copper-colored pupae (haven’t seen those yet) nest in a leaf fold or among dead plant mater, for 8-9 days, then a new adult moth emerges. What’s a busy organic (small o) farmer to do?
Soldier beetles and some carabid beetles eat them. Steinerama carpocapsae nematodes attack them. We’d have to buy those in. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) would kill them if we could reach them, but they are living a sheltered life inside our squash! We could cover the plants every night and uncover them every morning to let polllinators in, but oh dear, the days are so full already! We decided for this week, we’ll just harvest the squash a bit smaller than usual and see how that goes. Maybe not many moths arrived, and frequent harvesting (and slicing up of holed squash) will stop any future generations. Slicing the squash at the level of the hole does usually decapitate the larva. I wonder how long the moths live for?
The eXtension website publication Biology and Management of Pickleworm and Melonworm in Organic Curcurbit Production Systems by Geoff Zehnder of Clemson U provides the useful information that “research by Brett et al. (1961) demonstrated marked resistance to pickleworm in the following varieties: Butternut 23, Summer Crookneck, Early Prolific Straightneck, and Early Yellow Summer Crookneck. The varieties more susceptible to pickleworm are Cozini Zucchini, Black Caserta Zucchini, and Benning’s Green Tint Scallop squash.” I might add Zephyr squash. Spinosad might be effective, but as with Bt, I think it would be difficult to get the spray on the beasties as they are inside the squash.
For pictures of the damage, see Sunninglow Farms blog. They are in Florida and posted this in April. I shouldn’t complain too loudly. It is September here.
For ten years I have been keeping phenology records, as a guide to when to plant certain crops, and as a way of tracking how fast the season is progressing.
Phenology involvestracking when certain wild and cultivated flowers bloom, seedlings emerge, or various insects are first seen. These natural events can substitute for Growing Degree Day calculations. Certain natural phenomena are related to the accumulated warmth of the season (rather than, say, the day-length), and by paying attention to nature’s calendar you will be in sync with actual conditions, which can vary from year to year, and are changing over a longer time-scale..
Many people know to sow sweet corn when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear. By this point, regardless of date, the season has warmed enough to get oak leaves to that size, which happens to be warm enough for sweet corn seed to germinate and grow well. Some people transplant eggplant, melons and peppers when irises bloom; sow fall brassicas when catalpas and mockoranges bloom; and know to look for squash vine borers laying eggs for the two weeks after chicory flowers. Some transplant tomatoes when the lily of the valley is in full bloom, or the daylilies start to bloom.
Lilac is often used to indicate when conditions are suitable for various plantings:
When lilac leaves first form, plant potatoes
When lilac is in first leaf (expanded), plant carrots, beets, brassicas, spinach, lettuce
When lilac is in early bloom, watch out for crabgrass germinating
When lilac is in full bloom, plant beans, squash, corn. Grasshopper eggs hatch.
When lilac flowers fade, plant cucumbers.
Also, recording the dates of the same biological events each year can show longer term climate changes. In Europe, 500 years of recorded dates of grape harvests provide information about summer temperatures during that time. Project Budburst is a citizen science field campaign to log leafing and flowering of native species of trees and flowers across the US each year. Each participant observes one or more species of plant for the whole season.