Here’s my updated slide show Sustainable Farming Practices (for Vegetable Growers). You can view it right here, clicking on the white arrowhead, or you can click the diagonal arrows to get a full screen version. This is the second workshop I presented at the Carolina farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference. The handout for the workshop is on the CFSA website as a pdf.
We’ve just completed our annual Crop Review meeting. We prepared a spreadsheet of all the crops we grew, when we planted them, what varieties and so on. We went down the list alphabetically and shared what we could remember about how well each planting did. I’ve written about this process a couple of years ago, in my book, and also in Growing for Market magazine back in December 2007.
This year we had a hard spring, with El Nino. Cold wet weather prevented us planting everything we planned to. We didn’t grow spring potatoes or turnips this year. We did sow snap peas but I think they all rotted in the ground. We had good spring crops of carrots and beets (once germinated, things grew well!). Our spring broccoli and cabbage were good, but our fall ones got lost in weeds, when we didn’t have enough workers. We failed to get a timely delivery of the pedio wasps to deal with the bean beetles, and our beans had low germination rates this year. Our sweet corn did well all season, after the flooded end of the first sowing was forgotten.
We had plentiful cucumbers, and enough zucchini and yellow squash; our leeks this winter are the best ever (thanks to attention to weeding, and to side dressing with compost in the late summer). The lettuce supply was good all through the spring and early summer, and is great now. We lost lettuce to cutworms in August. Okra was very abundant, as were eggplant – the hot summer was good for them. Our peppers did well, our Roma paste tomatoes were a bust, mostly because we didn’t keep up with string weaving. Sweet potatoes and June-planted potatoes yielded poorly. Our cherry and slicing tomatoes did well, but came to an early end. The fall greens (kale, spinach, collards, senposai, Yukina Savoy, turnip greens) are now doing really well, after an early battle with baby grasshoppers. Our fall turnips are the best in many years.
At the Crop Review meeting we popped our hardneck garlic bulbs apart for planting. On the next two days we planted that (3180 row feet). The day after that we popped our softneck garlic and planted that (1080 row feet) and also planted all the reject tiny cloves for garlic scallions. Click the link to read about growing and harvesting these yummy spring treats. We’re up to date with preparing for the end of garden shifts and the transition to one person each day taking care of the hoophouse, greenhouse, weather station and harvesting the remaining outdoor crops. We’ll work that way until the end of January, and then start pruning blueberries and grapes.
The November-December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about tackling root knot nematodes in our hoophouse over the past few years. We found Peanut Root Knot nematodes (RKN) in a half-bed of overwintered spinach transplants in February 2011. As we were digging up the transplants to move them outdoors, we noticed some of the roots were lumpy. I sent a sample to the Plant Diagnostic Clinic at Virginia Tech and got the result we feared. Nematodes are microscopic worms that parasitize plant roots, stressing crops and reducing yields. They have hundreds of host plants and are hard to control.
We came up with a two year plan, taking the half-bed out of production, growing a series of nematode-suppressing cover crops, and solarizing the soil in the summers. Just when we thought we were done, in June 2103, we found nematodes in the other half of the same bed. So we took that half out of production for two years, while enjoying the extra benefits of the solarization we’d done in the first half: a very happy plot of lettuce with no Sclerotinia rot that winter! We took the patient organic approach, accepting the one-twelfth reduction in crop-growing area.
But then, this summer, as we pulled our early tomatoes from the bed next to troubled one, we found nematodes in the roots of 4 of the 44 plants, dotted along the row. To continue the same approach would mean having the new bed as well as the previous half-bed out of production for one year, and then the whole new bed. That would be a quarter of the space for a whole year! So we looked at less cautious approaches, shifting to a “live with a few” approach, rather than the “yikes, get rid of them all” approach we had been (unsuccessfully) applying. Our new plan is to grow resistant crops for two years, then risk one year of susceptible crops. We’re also looking at biocontrols to apply to the soil in spring once it warms up enough for the nematodes to be active. I hope this will work well enough. I’ll let you know.
Other articles in the same GfM issue include Phil Norris in Maine writing about a rolling hoophouse design he came up with after consulting his neighbor, the much-admired author Eliot Coleman. His design runs on a long four-site track. He addresses issues of structural integrity, pedestrian access via a side door, ventilation and irrigation. The house is so easy to move, he even rolls it along to irrigate one of the not-currently-covered sites for two hours, making use of the overhead sprinklers hanging from the roof trusses, before rolling it back for the night!
Susan Studer King writes to debunk myths about solar power. Like many farmers, she uses the slow part of the season to look to making long-term improvements at her farm. The main part of the article is a Q & A, which I found made installment of grid-linked solar arrays seem quite doable by practical people like farmers.
Walt Krukowski writes about caring for peonies at this time of year, for best results next spring. As you know, I’m not a cut flower grower, but I always read the flower articles in GfM to learn tips applicable to vegetable growing.
The GfM editor, Lynn Bryczynski, gives us a valuable article reviewing the fascinating Japanese manual paper chain pot transplanter, which I’ve often wondered about. Lynn interviewed six growers who’ve used the tool, which can set out 264 plants in a minute, under the right soil conditions. The initial cost for the hand-pulled tool and a set of paper pots is about $2000. The paper pots are connected bottomless cells that arrive flattened, and open out as a plugsheet. Good bed prep and optimal transplant size are critical for success, and the method is best suited to stemmy (rather than rosette-shaped) crops grown on a close plant spacing. A boon for people in cold climates transplanting crops others of us direct-sow. It’s available in North America only from Small Farm Works.
And I was happy to note the magazine has grown from 24 to 28 pages with this issue!
Another good source of sustainable farming reading material is the Organic Broadcaster, which I have mentioned before. The November/December issue of that bi-monthly publication is also out. It includes an article by Elaine Ingham on nutrient cycling in organically managed soils; Hebert Karreman on winter barn housing for cows; Harriet Behar on foreseeable problems of GM crop-herbicide combos; Kelli Boylan on a new weed control technique using ground apricot pits (a byproduct of apricot processing) to “sand-blast” the weeds; Bill Stoneman on biopesticides; Claire Strader on the challenges of urban farming; harold Ostenson and David Granatstein on controlling fireblight without antibiotics; John Biernbaum on planning ahead to grow healthy transplants; Harriet Behar on FSA programs to help farmers reduce financial risks;
The Ask A Moses Specialist page tackles buying organic seed and dealing with fruit-flies in the greenhouse. The book review is of Market Farming Success by Lynn Byczynski, which I reviewed here. The MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse Wisconsin, February 26-28 2015 gets a plug from Audrey Alwell, amusingly titled “Pack your plaid for annual MOSES Conference” complete with four supporting photos of six attendees in plaid shirts! The News Briefs include all sorts of useful information on events and publications. And there are classified ads and an Events Calendar.
And meanwhile, this week in the garden: we are getting ready to plant garlic. We started separating bulbs into cloves during our Crop Review Meeting yesterday. 2014 didn’t give us a good crop – we think we left the mulch too thick in some places for too long, so that we had big gaps in the rows. Live and (hopefully) learn! Another big task this week is sorting through all the potatoes we stored two weeks ago. We find that a single sorting two weeks after harvest is all we need to catch the ones that aren’t going to store well.
We got our June-planted potato harvest finished last week, and I counted the crates – 122. That makes 3660 pounds, a pretty good amount for the space we used. The Red Pontiac seem to have done a whole lot better than the Kennebec – the same result we got from our March-planted crop. One thought is that maybe the Kennebec seed pieces were cut too small, although I’d be surprised if the whole crew managed to do the same thing twice.
We use discarded plastic crates for our potatoes. They are lightweight, stack easily and don’t grow mold. We store our crop in our root cellar, which is built into the ground, a kind of constructed cave. Nice, fossil-fuel free and low-tech. And, like natural caves, it is prone to damp. It’s prone to mice too, but we have our organic solution to that problem: a black snake lives in there. We have been known to commandeer a snake, if none has chosen to move in. It’s a good winter home for snakes
We also tallied our Roma paste tomato harvests for the year. We gathered 313 5-gallon buckets. If we’d had more workers we could have harvested more. Our plan was to harvest the whole patch of 530 plants twice a week, but during the peak of the season we were lucky if we could get one half harvested each time.The plants stayed in good health throughout the season, and the fruit stayed a good size. This is thanks to the selection work I have been doing when we save our seed (Roma Virginia Select). Also thanks to drip irrigation we have reduced water splashing on the leaves, which can spread fungal spores.
Roma is a determinate variety, meaning the number of trusses (branches) of fruit is genetically predetermined, but as with many crops, the more you pick, the more you get. Leaving mature fruit delays development of immature fruit. I have not found anyone to tell me how many trusses of fruit Roma has, and despite growing 530 plants each year for over 20 years, I have never taken the time to count them. Maybe next year. . .
If you read descriptions of determinate tomato varieties, you would think they are all tiny plants with a three-week harvest window. Roma is a large determinate, at least 4ft tall, and our harvest period lasts from mid-July until frost (usually late October here). Our peak period is about a month (early August to early September). Here’s a general description from www.seedaholic.com: “Determinate varieties are generally smaller and more compact than indeterminate tomatoes. . .”
The Twin Oaks Garden Crew is getting ready to have our annual Crop Review meeting. We work our way down an alphabetical list of crops, noting what worked and what didn’t. And at the same time, we pop our garlic bulbs into separate cloves for planting.
My next speaking engagement is at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference January 30 and 31 2015, with pre-conference sessions on Thursday January 29. Online registration is now open. I’ll be presenting my workshops on Asian Greens and Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests. Lots of other great workshops too, including from Jean-Martin Fortier. Follow the link to get to my book review of The Market Gardener.
Guess which was our hottest day this year: September 2? July 2? June 18? May 26? I recorded 97F, 98F, 98F and 90F. August didn’t get a look in! June 18 tied with July 2. And our wettest day was April 29, with 3″. Hurricane season didn’t bring us anything to blog about. I’m not complaining!