Good news – great hoeing weather! Bad news – more nematodes in the hoophouse

Fall broccoli last year. Credit Ezra Freeman

Fall broccoli last year.
Credit Ezra Freeman

Last week I wrote about transplanting cabbage and sowing kale. We were having “great transplanting weather”, that is, it rained a lot! We filled all the gaps in all 12 rows of broccoli and cabbage in a single hour with four people. There weren’t many gaps, happily. That’s about 1400 broccoli plants and 700 cabbages, our usual amount to feed a hundred people.

This week in the garden, it’s about three weeks since we started the transplanting, so the first rows are ready to be uncovered and hoed. Happily, we now have great hoeing weather! No rain in sight for a week. Central Virginia weather is very variable, and our particular spot is drier than the surrounding area, so if the forecast says 30% chance of rain or less, we are very unlikely to get any. There’s currently a forecast with a 50% chance of rain in 6 days (Monday night). If we can get all the hoeing done, and till or wheelhoe between the rows, then I can broadcast a clover mix and welcome some rain! We like the wheel hoe if the weeds are not too big and not too grassy. The first few rows were quite grassy, so we used our BCS 732 tiller from Earth Tools.

We cultivate around the brassica plants, then broadcast a mix of clovers: 1 oz crimson clover, 1 oz large white Ladino clover and 2 oz common red clover (medium, multi-cut) per 100 square feet. Then if it doesn’t rain, we water like crazy for a few days, which is all it takes to get the clover germinated. We have drip tape for the brassicas, but we need overhead sprinklers for the clover mix. The crimson clover is the fastest growing in the fall, and the others gradually take over in the spring and summer of the next year. We like watching the progression from crimson clover to red to white as each type comes into its strength.

This method of undersowing clovers in fall brassicas works well for us. It provides cover for the soil, legumes which provide nitrogen for the crop. The clovers survive the winter, and in the spring, we mow off the dead broccoli stems and let the clover grow. If all goes well, we keep the clover mix for a whole year (our Green Fallow Year), feeding the soil and eliminating weed seeds. We mow it to prevent the crimson clover seeding (which could be a nuisance) and when ever any weeds seem to be gaining. Here’s a couple of pictures from a previous year. (That’s our Dairy Barn by the side of the driveway, and our Hay Barn in the distance.)

Broccoli in fall after the clovers grow. Twin Oaks Community

Broccoli in the late fall after the clovers grow.
Twin Oaks Community

In March, the old broccoli trunks are surrounded by a sea of green clover. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

In March, the old broccoli trunks are surrounded by a sea of green clover.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

I’ve written up this method as part of an article for Growing for Market magazine, for the September issue.


And now our bad news – more nematodes in the hoophouse. When we pulled up our early tomatoes, the roots of four of them in one bed were gnarly with lumps. It’s the return of the Root Knot Nematodes.

Credit University of Maryland

Credit University of Maryland

In the early spring of 2011 we found spinach with lumpy roots. We sent some plants with  soil attached, to the Plant Diseases Clinic and got the diagnosis of Peanut Root-Knot Nematodes. We put that half a bed into a series of cover crops, (wheat and white lupins in the winter, French marigolds and sesame in the spring) and solarized it each summer, for two years. In the summer of 2013, we grew Mississippi Silver cowpeas there (resistant to RKN). This past winter we grew lettuce in the that affected half-bed. We benefited – no sclerotinia drop in that lettuce crop, thanks to the summer solarization!

Meanwhile in the early summer of 2013, we found some beans with lumpy roots in the other half of the bed, so we started the same treatment there. Next summer (2015) we could grow the cowpeas there.

Our first (baggy) attempt at solarization in the hoophouse. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Our first (baggy) attempt at solarization in the hoophouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

But now the next bed over has nematodes. Having a half-bed out of production is manageable, but one and a half is more of a blow. We are considering whether we need to be as cautious, or whether we should accept that some level of nematode infestation is likely in hoophouses in the south. We are looking at various scenarios. This research has consumed all my available time this week. Information about nematodes is sometimes too general to be useful, as there are many kinds other than root-knot ones. Plus, what’s true for Peanut RKN is not necessarily true for Southern RKN or Northern RKN. Grr!

I’ve assembled a long list of tomato varieties resistant to some kind of RKN, although I don’t yet know which of them are resistant to Peanut Root-Knot Nematode. Many, many food crops are susceptible. Most of the resistant crops are ones we don’t want to grow in the hoophouse: Jerusalem artichokes, globe artichokes, asparagus, horseradish, rhubarb, maybe sweet corn (opinions vary on its resistance/susceptibility).

Maybe we could grow West Indian gherkins one summer. We’d get soooo many pickles! It’s a very productive crop for us. One idea was to build a second hoophouse and use the old one for (resistant) strawberries for two years! We’re not really at the place to do that, though, financially or time-wise.

Currently I’m studying a list of biocontrols to see what’s available and affordable. Life goes on. Hopefully we can decide at our crew meeting on Thursday, because we can’t start to implement our fall planting schedule in the hoophouse until we decide about the nematodes.

Review of The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier

Before I dive into my review of this wonderful book, newly published in English, I just want to direct people to my posting on Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog about the trapped skunk which I told about two weeks ago. While there, check out the other posts.


 

Image-front-cover_coverbookpageBook Review, The Market Gardener, Jean-Martin Fortier

Jean-Martin Fortier’s The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming, has recently been published in English by New Society Publishers. It has been available in French since 2012, and has sold over 15,000 copies. Jean-Martin and his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches run an impressively productive, tiny bio-intensive vegetable farm in Southern Quebec, Canada. They use low-tech and manual farming methods (no tractors), and have found some unusual and successful high-yielding techniques.

They grow on just 1.5 acres, arranged as 10 plots each of 16 raised beds 30” x 100’ long. The paths are 18” wide. The garden plots surround the building, which was a rabbit barn before the farmers converted half of it into their house and half into a packing and storage shed. Their planning is a wonder of considered efficiency and function. I hear it’s also beautiful.

This book will be an inspiration to all those hoping to start in small-scale vegetable farming but lacking land and money. If you can gather the money to buy a small amount of land (or find some to rent), this book will provide you some of the expertise to make your very small vegetable farm successful, without tractors or employees. Neither Jean-Martin nor I would claim it will be easy, but this book shows that it is possible, given hard work and smart work. So don’t believe those who say it can’t be done. The tips from this book will ease your way, once you have served an apprenticeship on another farm.

Their small farm is called Les Jardins de la Grelinette, which translates as Broadfork Gardens, giving you a clue to one of the tools they value. In many ways, Jean-Martin is in the school of Eliot Coleman, producing top-notch vegetables and books from a small piece of land with only a small workforce. Even the drawings remind me of those in Eliot’s books. Biologically intensive production can feed the world, as well as provide a decent living for farmers. Attention to detail is required, as there is little slack for things to go very wrong.

They run a 120 share CSA for a 21 week season and sell at two farmers’ markets for 20 weeks. They grow a ponderous quantity of mesclun (salad mix)! They even sell it wholesale. Jean-Martin and Maude-Hélène studied the value of all the crops they grew, comparing sales with labor and other costs, including the amount of land used and the length of time that crop occupied the space. They provide a table of their results, assigning profitability as high, medium or low. A quick glance shows you why 35 beds of their 160 bed total grow mesclun – number 2 in sales rank, despite being only number 19 in revenue/bed. This is because salad mix only takes 45 days in the bed, and then another crop is grown. This book deftly illustrates the importance of farming to meet your goals and to fit your resources. My climate is very different from Quebec. I’m providing 100 people for a 52 week season. We don’t want 300 pounds of salad mix each week! We do want white potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and winter squash to feed us all winter.

And yet I find more similarities than differences. We both want high-yielding, efficient farms that take care of the planet, the soil and the workers as well as the diners. We value quality, freshness and flavor. We do season-extension to get early crops in spring. When novelty is important, we grow several varieties of a crop.

The start-up costs at La Grelinette ($39,000) include a 25’ x 100’ greenhouse, two 15’ x 100’ hoophouses, a walk-behind rototiller and several big accessories, a cold room, irrigation system, furnace (remember they are in Quebec!), a flame weeder, various carts, barrows and hand tools, electric fencing, row cover, insect netting and tarps. Jean-Martin sets out all the costs, all the revenue from each crop – valuable solid information for newbies or improvers alike.

I came away from this book with several ideas to consider further. Jean-Martin recommends a rotary harrow rather than a rototiller. It has vertical axes and horizontally spinning tines, and stirs the top layers of soil without inversion, being kinder to the soil structure. It comes with a following steel mesh roller, which helps create a good seed-bed. Earth Tools BCS in Kentucky sell Rinaldi power harrows that fit the bigger BCS walk-behind tractors. The Berta plow is another BCS accessory that Jean-Martin favors, in his case for moving soil from the paths up onto the raised beds. I think we could really use one of those too.

Broadforks and wheel-hoes are already in our tool collection, but the use of opaque impermeable tarps to cover garden beds short-term between one vegetable crop and the next is really new to me. These tarps are sold as silage/bunker/pit covers, and are 6mm black, UV-inhibited polyethylene. Weeds germinate under the plastic, where it is warm and moist, and then they die for lack of light. Earthworms are happy. The tarps can be cut to the width of one bed, and rolled after their 2-4 weeks of use. This could be a useful alternative when there is not enough time to grow a round of buckwheat cover crop (or it is too cold for buckwheat, or your tiller is in the shop). Weed pressure on following crops is also reduced. Tarps can be used to incorporate a flail-mowed cover crop as an alternative to using a tiller.

At Twin Oaks, our gardens are in many ways like a CSA with one big box for the whole community, but in other ways we are more like a self-sufficient homestead – we try to keep our bought-in inputs to a minimum, so producing our own compost and growing cover crops for increasing soil nutrients are valuable to us. They do not fit so well for a micro-farm in the cash economy. For La Grelinette, it is better to buy in compost and poultry manure and keep using all the land to grow more vegetables.

The book includes tables of which crops go where, when to plant in the greenhouse and outdoors, pest control options, and lists of what to grow. The appendices include brief bios of 25 crops, and a short list of the crops they don’t grow and why (potatoes, sweet corn, winter squash, celery and asparagus).

Jean-Martin Fortier. Photo New Society Publishers

Jean-Martin Fortier.
Photo New Society Publishers

Jean-Martin is obviously very particular about running their farm as efficiently as possible, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he must be a grim workaholic! He is very funny with his iconoclastic sidebars. “Crop rotation is an excellent practice . . . to ignore.” (He is addressing new farmers who will likely find plans need to change to improve productivity. He doesn’t want slavish dedication to a crop rotation to prevent someone seizing on a better idea.) His paragraph on the hazards of inexperienced workers with insufficient training and oversight was so good I read it out to my crew. We have never had leeks sliced off at the surface or pea plants pulled up as harvest methods, but we have had carrot seedlings pruned to a uniform height of an inch, rather than thinned to a one inch spacing! If you get a chance to hear Jean-Martin speak, don’t pass it up. He is fully fluent in English as well as French, and does a hilarious skit of French people living in Quebec who found it hard to buy good leeks (until they discovered La Grelinette). His spoof of French-accented English has to be heard!

This book is a delight and an inspiration, well worth the cover price. 224 pages, black and white drawings, 8.5” x 8.5”, $24.95. ISBN 978-0-86571-765-7, New Society Publishers.