SSAWG Conference, Mother Earth News and Eat-All Greens, Growing for Market

I’m home from a very successful Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington Kentucky. It was the biggest so far, with 1400-1500 participants. My workshop Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale ran out even of standing room, so I was asked to repeat it in the afternoon. I did that and the new room was half full. I gave out over 230 handouts. The impossibly broad topic was a challenge for a 75 minute workshop, but I did my best. Last week I blogged the info on Bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management that I had to drop from the slideshow.

I love the SSAWG conference. I learned so many useful tips that will improve my farming this year and in the future. Such as another way to tell a ripe watermelon: stroke it and feel the texture of the skin. If it’s slick the melon isn’t ready. When it becomes a little rough, it is. Such as, yes a 60cfm inflation blower really should be adequate for a 30′ x 96′ hoophouse, so we almost certainly have holes in the plastic. Such as ways to deal with tomato diseases in the Southeast (thanks Joe Kemble of Auburn University).

If you are now wishing you’d been there, go to SlideShare.net and search for SSAWG. There are so many valuable presentations from conferences over the years. Also the audio of this year’s presentations (and last) are available from Rhino Technologies. Wait a few days for them to get home and load everything on their website.


Eat-All Greens on October 19 Photo Bridget Aleshire
Eat-All Greens on October 19
Photo Bridget Aleshire

And while the soil outside is waterlogged and you can’t do much gardening or farming, what better than more veggie-reading? Mother Earth News Feb/March issue has an article by Carol Deppe,  on How to Easily Grow High-Yielding Greens. Carol is the inventor/discoverer of Eat-All Greens, which I have been writing about on this blog. Her 20 years of trialing this method of growing cooking greens quickly with very little work has led her to now recommend seven greens as particularly suitable. Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes (I was interested to read that Carol also harvested the radish roots as we did with ours in December), Groninger Blue collard-kale (must get that this year), Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana (check!), and Red Aztec huazontle. No mention this time of peas. Peas provided our earliest harvests this fall. Keeping them tender was a challenge though. The article includes information on where to buy the varieties she recommends. Carol also has her own seed company Fertile Valley Seeds, selling varieties and strains that she has developed.


Potato harvest in November Photo by Lori Katz
Potato harvest in November with our Checchi and Magli harvester
Photo by Lori Katz

In the same issue of Mother Earth News is some of what I have written about dealing safely with green potatoes.


GFM_February2016_cover_300pxLastly for this week, the February Growing for Market is out. This is the first issue from the new editor, Andrew Mefferd. He tackles the thorny topic of hydroponics and whether it can ever be considered Organic. (Many organic and biological growers believe it is important to Keep the Soil in Organic)  As well as the Organic status of hydroponics, he describes the various types of hydroponic production for those that want to grow food that way, and for the rest of us to understand what we are talking about.

There is an article by Nick Burton about his hydroponic system and developing a trust-based sales system in a gym for people on a “paleo diet”, who eat lots of vegetables. Then a salad mix kit. He had moved from running a plant nursery to selling produce to selling convenience for people short of time and enthusiasm for shopping and preparing food. I admit to being skeptical about the paleo diet. Didn’t those paleo people spend all day scavenging for food?

Gretel Adams writes about running a bouquet business efficiently. (I’d be no good, I would dither for too long!)

My own article this issue is very down-to-earth: growing oats as a cover crop. They are easy-care and in climates in zone 7 or colder, they reliably die in the winter, making for easy early spring cultivation. We like to undersow oats and soy in our last sweet corn patch. This saves us from having to disk up the patch to establish a winter cover crop (it’s already there!), and means we can follow the late sweet corn with an early spring crop the next year. In our case it is the March potatoes.

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy Photo Kathryn Simmons
Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy
Photo Kathryn Simmons

 

Eat-All Greens part 3, more garden planning

Eat-all greens: frosty Red Giant Mustard in December. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Eat-all greens: frosty Red Giant Mustard in December.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I wrote about our Eat-All Greens in November and December. Here’s the last installment for this season. We had a low temperature of 6F on January 5th. Not much is left alive. Always enthusiastic to keep updating my list of cold-hardy winter vegetable crops, I took my notebook and walked the rows a few days later. Here’s a (short) list of the survivors:

Morris Heading Collards - our favorite Photo credit Kathryn Simmons
Morris Heading Collards – our favorite
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Best was (were?) the Morris Heading collards. We grow these overwinter in our garden too, and we are enjoying eating those. This photo shows young plants before they reached full size.

Ortolani Market Grower arugula from Seeds from Italy
Ortolani Market Grower arugula from Seeds from Italy

Also still showing some life were Purple Top White Globe turnips, Ortolani Market Grower arugula and some (not all) of the Hanover kale (which is after all, a Siberian spring kale, not recommended for over-winter growing).

It will be interesting to see if any of these survive until mid-February, when we will need to disk the plot (El Nino willing) to plant some new grape vines along one side. This plot is also my back-up area in case the plot where we want to plant our spring cabbage and broccoli is too wet when the time comes. The rotation puts these in the wettest part of our gardens.

I have written up our Eat-All Greens for Growing for Market magazine and you can read it in the January issue.

In this issue you can also read an article by the new editor Andrew Mefferd about growing microgreens. I’ve never grown these, so I valued getting professional tips from someone who has. How not to grow them (sowing too thickly, using expensive potting soil when you don’t need to, over-watering, under-ventilating.

GfM January 2016
GfM January 2016

He also includes tips on which seeds are best for microgreens, and how to tidily harvest. If you want to add microgreens to your market crops, a sub to Growing for Market will repay you pretty quickly with just this one article. And if you are growing them at home, it will save you lots of frustration.

The long-time editor, Lynn Byczynski, who is retiring, has an article about growing turmeric, which has similar growing requirements to ginger (but a bit easier). Eric and Joanna Reuter have written about raising shiitakes for market. Gretel Adams has written about selling cut flowers to supermarkets, which has served her as a good way to increase sales volume. All good inspirational reading while the weather doesn’t encourage working outdoors!

Eat-All Greens rows with frost in December. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Eat-All Greens rows with frost in December.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Ate more Eat-All Greens; Changed vegetable crop rotation

Eat-All Greens radishes on October 19. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Eat-All Greens radishes on October 19.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Our Eat-All Greens are still alive, if not exactly thriving. The peas have been harvested to death; the kohlrabi, beets and chards are never going to amount to anything; some of the more tender Asian mustard greens are showing some frost damage.

On 12/10 we made one last crew foray to harvest – not greens, but roots! I’d noticed in the wet mild weather of late November the radishes and turnips had fattened up. We can always use a few more turnips, I thought. Plus, I was inspired by the quick-pickle radishes we’d had recently. See sustainexistence sustainable sustenance for our existence, the local foodie blog written by one of my fellow Twin Oakers. 

As we were harvesting the two and a half buckets of radishes, someone came by who said he was planning to pickle radishes, so I told him we’d keep him busy! (Actually, ten days later, there are many left to deal within the walk-in cooler.) The daikons predictably did well, as they are a fall crop. Other good varieties included Crimson Giant, which I picked up at a seed swap, and White Icicle. Sparkler (a small radish was unsurprisingly tough and woody at this overgrown stage.

We also pulled a 5-gallon bucket of delectable small turnips, including some rather pretty Mezza Lunga Bianca Colletto Viola from Seeds from Italy.

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Meanwhile we have been working on our garden planning for next year. Back in 1996 we devised a 10-plot crop rotation, which has generally served us very well for 19 years. The first few years we tweaked it a bit, but we haven’t needed major changes. You can see our pinwheel rotation plan in my book Sustainable Market Farming and in my slideshow Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops  on SlideShare.net.

Here you can see the original card version, complete with modifications. The central card disk is fastened with one of those brass-legged paperclips and can be turned one notch each year.

Original Twin Oaks Garden Crop Rotation Pinwheel
Original Twin Oaks Garden Crop Rotation Pinwheel

The bit we want to change is the fast-turnaround where the spring potatoes are followed by the fall broccoli and cabbage. This has worked well in terms of getting high usage from our land, and freeing up one plot in ten to be Green Fallow (all-year cover crops). We did that by undersowing the fall brassicas with clover about a month after transplanting, and then letting the clovers grow for a year and a half before disking in. The difficulties with such a fast turnaround in July are

  1. If we have a wet spring, and we plant the potatoes late, we have to terminate them early (by mowing the tops) and the yield isn’t as good as it might have been. Climate change suggests we might be in for more wet springs, and with El Nino upon us, this is a good time to switch.
  2. If the weather doesn’t co-operate in July, the soil might be too wet to harvest the potatoes when we want to, and too wet to disk in preparation for the transplanting. We need to build more climate resilience into our rotation!
  3. July is stressful enough – it’s hot and humid, people are taking their turn at having a vacation.
  4. If we are late transplanting the broccoli and cabbage, the plants are oversize and don’t do well, so we get reduced yields of broccoli and cabbage that year.
  5. We prefer transplanting in the evenings in the summer (cooler for us and for the plants), and if we get late into August, the daylight is getting too short to get much done.

And so, we are seizing the opportunity to make the switch. The opportunity comes because for the last several years we have not needed to grow winter squash in the vegetable garden because it is grown elsewhere on the farm by the Twin Oaks Seeds.

Fall broccoli undersown with clover. Photo Nina Gentle
Fall broccoli undersown with clover.
Photo Nina Gentle

Our crop rotation contains several sequences of crops that we want to keep. For example, Fall brassicas/Green Fallow/early spring crop (Could be corn or potatoes, but not the spring broccoli and cabbage). Another sequence that works well for us is the Early corn/Garlic next to spring brassicas/fall carrots in one half, rye vetch and peas for no-till cover crop in the other half/paste tomatoes on the no-till the next year.

What we’ve planned for next year (a transition to our new plan) is to use the former winter squash plot for the fall brassicas/clover bit. This involves snipping that plot out of the pie and moving it after the corn #6/sweet potato and the spring potato/cantaloupe (which had morphed into 100% potatoes over the years), so that the newly housed fall brassicas can be followed by the clover year.

But that leaves potatoes only two years after other potatoes, and the late corn only two years after the middle corn, so we don’t want to do that more than once! So for 2017 onwards, we plan to insert the late corn & sweet potato/spring potato sequence after the clover, and move the early corn after the spring potatoes (when we have time to plant a winter-killed cover crop and make cultivation for the early corn easy). And switch the watermelon piece of the pie with the 3rd, 4th and 5th sweet corn successions to even out the years between corn patches.

June planted potatoes with hay mulch. Photo Twin Oaks Community
June planted potatoes with hay mulch.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

This will give potatoes, tomatoes, potatoes 3 or 4 years before the plot is nightshades again. With the corn  we get 3 years, 5 years and 2 years. Not ideal. But we don’t get much in the way of corn diseases (compared to tomato diseases) so it seems the best place to compromise.

If you get bored with holiday jigsaw puzzles and TV offerings, you could draw up your own version of our rotation, chop it up and rearrange it, and send us you suggestions. Remember to plan the winter cover crops too! Have fun!

Events List 2016

I’ve been busy planning my workshops for the next several months and beyond. Here’s a list of what I have confirmed and some that are just possibilities at this point. Remember, conference registrations can make nice gifts! (as can books – click my Book Reviews category in the side bar.)

SSAWG+2016+Conf+Brochure+coverSouthern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms conference, KY.

Dates: January 29-30, 2016 (pre-conference Jan 27-28)

Location: Lexington Convention Center, 430 West Vine Street, Lexington, KY 40507

Registration: $199 including Taste of Kentucky banquet

http://www.ssawg.org/2016-conference-program

Pam’s Workshop: Friday, 9:45 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale — Learn techniques for raising large amounts of food on small acreages. Pam Dawling, who raises vegetables for a 100-person community on 3.5 acres, will discuss direct sowing and growing of transplants, close spacing, raised beds, irrigation, disease and pest management, and season extension techniques. This session will be valuable for small market farmers and urban farmers who want to maximize production with limited space.

Book Signing: Thursday, January 28 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.


culpeper

Culpeper County Library, VA

Date: Sun, Feb 28, 2016 2-4 pm

Location: Culpeper County Library, 271 Southgate Shopping Center, Culpeper, VA  22701

Workshop topic: talk about my book, research, importance, etc. for 30 – 45 minutes, then 15 – 30 minutes Q&A.  CSA Farmers at an info table. (National CSA sign up day)

Signing and selling books.


23Spring_PageBanner1Organic Growers School, Asheville, NC

Dates: March Fri 11-Sun 13 2016.

Location: University of North Carolina Asheville, UNCA

Workshop topics: Growing Great Garlic – Planting, harvest, curing, storing and the selection of planting stock are comprehensively covered in this workshop. As well as both hardneck and softneck bulb garlic, this workshop covers “byproduct crops” such as garlic scallions and scapes, which are ready early in the year when new crops are at a premium.

Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale — Raise large amounts of food on small acreages.  Learn about crop planning and record-keeping, growing and maintaining healthy soils, using crop rotations, cover crops, organic mulches and the basics of compost making (and growing). Compare methods for direct sowing and growing transplants. Learn about plant spacing, raised beds, irrigation, disease, pest and weed management, and season extension techniques.  For both small market farmers and urban farmers who want to maximize production with limited space.

Handouts

Workshops are 1.5 hours each

Signing and selling books.


logoNew Country Organics, Waynesboro, VA

Small class, about 15 people

Date: Saturday March 26, 10am-noon.

Location: New Country Organics 801 2nd Street Waynesboro, VA 22980 To be confirmed

My contact: Jillian Lowery [email protected]

www.newcountryorganics.com 540-184-1956 844-933-3337

Workshop topic: Succession Planting

Handouts

Selling and signing books


fair-logoMother Earth News Fair, Asheville, NC (to be confirmed)

Anticipated Weekend Attendance: 15,000

Dates: Saturday April 9 – Sunday April 10, 2016 (to be confirmed)

Location: Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, 1301 Fanning Bridge Road,
Fletcher, NC 28732

Registration: $25 weekend pass.

Workshops: (to be decided)

Book-signing


MGHeaderLouisa Master Gardener class tour of TO gardens

Date: Thursday, April 21

Location: Twin Oaks Community


HHF2016Heritage Harvest Festival

Dates: September 9-10 2016

Location: Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Tickets: TBD

Workshops: To be decided

Book-signing


fair-logoMother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. (to be confirmed)

Anticipated Weekend Attendance: 18,000

Dates: Friday-Sunday September 23-25, 2016

Location: Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 777 Waterwheel Drive, Seven Springs, Pa. 15622

Registration: $20 weekend pass

Workshop topics to be decided

Book-signing


logoNew Country Organics, Waynesboro, VA (to be confirmed)

Date: Saturday October??, 10am-noon. About 15 people

Location: To be confirmed: New Country Organics 801 2nd Street Waynesboro, VA 22980

My contact: Jillian Lowery [email protected]

www.newcountryorganics.com 540-184-1956 844-933-3337

Workshop topic: Cold Hardy Winter Vegetables

Handouts

Selling and signing books

 fair-logoMother Earth News Fair, Topeka, KS (to be confirmed)

Anticipated Weekend Attendance: 12,000

Dates: October 22-23, 2016

Location: One Expocentre Dr., Topeka, KS 66612

Registration: $20 weekend pass

Workshop topics to be decided

Book-signing


 

Winter salad crops: Ruby Streaks. Photo McCune Porter
Winter salad crops: Ruby Streaks.
Photo McCune Porter

Meanwhile, here and now, on the ground, a photo of our much-beloved Ruby Streaks, in our Eat-All Greens patch, being used as salad greens.

Virginian Eat-All Greens

Carol Deppe, in her delightful book The Tao of Vegetable Gardening introduces us to the concept of Eat-All Greens. Carol grows these by broadcasting seed of one of her carefully chosen greens crops in a small patch. When it reaches 12″ tall, she cuts the top 9″ off for cooking, leaving the tough-stemmed lower part, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil. I wanted to try this idea in Virginia, where the climate is fairly different from the Pacific Northwest where Carol lives.

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 9. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 9.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I decided fall was a promising time of year to try this scheme, as our spring planted greens only have a short season before they bolt. And summer is too hot, winter too cold. . . We sowed in mid-September, and are about to make our third harvesting foray. Unlike Carol, we sowed our greens in rows side by side. This fitted better with the space we had, a large rectangle where our asparagus used to be. The organic matter content of the soil is lovely, as we used to mulch the asparagus with hay twice a year. But the weed seed-bank is awful! After each asparagus harvest season we let the ferns grow up and the plot became impenetrable. So we got lots of summer weeds, especially morning glories and cocklebur. After about 12 years or so, we decided to give up on that asparagus patch and grow a series of cover crops until we got the weeds under control again. Having the Eat-All Greens in rows, and hoeing between the rows, fit that strategy nicely.

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 19. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 19.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We sowed on 9/16. I had a lot of help that day. Somehow the seed got sowed very thickly. Carol recommends leaf or pod radishes, some beets, some chards, quinoa, some mustards, some snow peas, some Napus kales, some amaranths, some leafy Asian greens (mustards but less spicy). She has put a lot of research into which grow best – see her book for the details. We decided to use some seeds we had on hand and some we got given, that resembled the things Carol recommends. We didn’t want to invest a lot of money first time around, nor wait for a seed company to fill our order. We knew our results wouldn’t be the same as if we lived in the Pacific Northwest anyway.

Most of the seeds emerged by 9/21 (5 days), and we hoed between the (wavy) rows on 9/23. We also thinned some of the radishes, because they were sown too thickly. The fava beans didn’t come up till 9/30, but then they grew fast, and became one of the first crops big enough to harvest. Eating the tips of fava bean plants is a practice I learned in England, so I knew these unusual plants are edible. I noticed the beets and chards are all slow-growing in our climate at this time of year, as are the kohlrabi. We had lots of seed of Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi and the seedlings are so pretty I thought they might work for Eat-All Greens, but no, not at this time of year anyway..

Dwarf Grey snow peas as Eat-All Greens. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Dwarf Grey snow peas as Eat-All Greens.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

We got our first harvest on 10/21, 35 days after sowing. The biggest varieties were the fava beans (seed we’d bought, then decided not to grow) and dwarf grey sugar snow peas (seed from last year – we don’t like these as snow peas any more). We cut along the rows with scissors. People found it hard to cut at 3″, high enough to leave the tough stem behind. I noticed we all tended to cut low. The plan was to lay the cut greens in shallow crates with the stems all aligned to make it easier for the cooks. Some people didn’t do this with the peas, putting them in a big mat in the crate. The peas got served raw, which wasn’t my intention. The stems were too tough for most people – even for cooking, we should have cut higher. We got 3 cratefuls, a generous amount, which we didn’t make the best use of, despite an instructional label. Presentation and instructions are our version of marketing to our cooks.

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on Oct 22. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on Oct 22.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

One week later (10/28) we went for our second harvest. By then the radishes had clearly come into their own, and one of the rows of dwarf grey peas that we harvested the week before had already made enough growth for a second cut. You can see in the photo above the big difference in growth rate between the radishes and everything else. The harvest was bigger than we’d hoped for. We got 10 crates and two very stuffed 5-gal buckets we decided to give to the chickens as a sign of our appreciation.

What next? I ‘m looking forward to the Maruba Santoh, and the Ruby Streaks especially. But we have to explain more carefully how these should be cooked, to people unaccustomed to cooking mixed greens. And we need to switch to more frequent forays and smaller harvests at a time. And cut higher up the stems. And then, it depends on the weather. The kohlrabi already got some frost damage. Currently the nights are mostly above freezing. Some of these crops are good down to 25F, some better than that.

I’m already thinking what would I do different if we do this again. No chards, no beets, no kohlrabi. Thinner seed sowing, straighter rows (easier hoeing). Try some other Asian greens? Buy some of the specific varieties that Carol Deppe recommends. Maybe sow a week earlier. And a smaller patch! It’s being fun!

Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens - Ruby Streaks. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens – Ruby Streaks.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

VABF Richmond Area Farm Tours, Buckwheat Trials, Methane and Climate Change

2015rvafarmtour8x11The Virginia Association for Biological Farming has organized this event, and Twin Oaks Community Garden will be tourable at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm on Saturday and Sunday (ONLY!). Tickets (per vehicle) are $25 in advance, $30 on the day, for as many farms as you care to tour.

BUY TICKETS

Download Farm Tour Guide

Read all about it: 2015 Richmond Virginia Area Farm Tour #RVAFarmTour

Shake the Hands that Feed You!  October 3 & 4, 2015 1 PM to 6 PM
Spend the weekend of October 3 & 4 touring Richmond area organic farms!
Buy your ticket now. Load up your car with friends and family (one ticket covers everyone!) and head out for a day — or two — of meeting area biological farmers and seeing where and how your food is grown. Go at your own pace. This farm tour weekend is self-paced with farms located throughout the area.

Interested in volunteering? Help us support the local organic food movement in Richmond. Volunteer on one day of the tour and receive a free pass to take the tour on the other day of the tour with a carload of people. Please contact Sue Ellen Johnson at [email protected].

More info on the tour and the farms

FARMS:
Amy’s Garden, Avery’s Branch Farms, Broadfork Farm, Byrd Farm, ChiknEGG Cook ‘N Nook,  delli Carpini Farm, Elim Springs Farm, Forrest Green Farm, Reynolds Community College Gardens, Keenbell Farm, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, Renew Richmond Community Farm,  Shalom Farms, Tricycle Gardens, Twin Oaks Community Garden, Victory Farms, Virginia Vegetable Company, Waverly Farm

Read More About the Farms Here


Welcome to Twin Oaks Photo Wren Vile
Welcome to Twin Oaks
Photo Wren Vile

And if you can’t make it then, maybe you have enough interest in buckwheat and other technical gardening details to join the VABF-VSU Buckwheat Trials Field Tour at Twin Oaks:

Twin Oaks Garden Tour: Oct 7, 2015, 4pm – 6pm

Buckwheat trials are now underway on four Virginia farms. A field tour at Old Crowe Farm in Red Oak happened on August 22. Now it’s the turn of Twin Oaks. The buckwheat trial plots are unlikely to still have buckwheat. Instead you can see the next stage of our experiment – a version of Carol Deppe’s Eat-All Greens. I reviewed her lovely book, The Tao of Vegetable Gardening here. Carol lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she broadcasts small patches of various carefull;y selected crops to cut at an adolescent stage and use for salads or cooking greens. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we are experimenting with fall sowing of rows of various crops that she recommends, and a few others to see what happens.

We can also talk about about cover crops, year-round vegetable production and fall season crops.

http://www.twinoaks.org/

Twin Oaks Community, 138 Twin Oaks Road, Louisa, VA 23093


Methane and Climate Change.

I received a comment on my review of Laura Lengnick’s book Resilient Agriculture. I’ve given Randall Snyder’s comment more thought and replied to him. Here is some information I found while reading Ben Hartman’s Lean Farm (review coming soon, I promise!)

a0701e00Is animal farming the chief cause of climate change? Not according to what I’ve read. A UN report (FAO Livestock’s Long Shadow, 2006) says that cattle-rearing generates 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured as the CO2 equivalent. 37% of all human-induced methane  (which is 23 x as warming as CO2) is largely produced by the digestive systems of ruminants. So, clearly livestock farming makes a big contribution to climate change. But the high level of pollution from cattle is because of intensive agriculture. Specifically, feeding grain to cattle rather than grazing them. In order to produce lots of meat cheaply, industrial farmers feed grain, which is not a natural part of the ruminants’ diet.The UN says we need to improve animal diets in order to reduce enteric fermentation and methane emissions. Cost-cutting by industrial farming has simply passed even larger costs to all of humanity.

We need to eat. Some people like to eat meat. There are parts of the world where farming with grazing animals makes best use of the land. For example, slopes and highly erodeable soils are best kept under sod, rather than plowed up for crop farming. On many farms some combination of vegetable, grain, tree crop and meat farming makes sense, and indeed the diversity can be a strategy for dealing with a changeable and unpredictable climate, as Laura Lengnick points out in Resilient Agriculture. Ducks, chickens and pigs can eat food scraps and vegetable crop residues, and contribute manure.

Reducing food waste is an important step to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Organic matter (including food) in landfills accounts for 16% of US methane emissions (Dana Gunders, “Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40% of its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” Natural Resources Defense Council, August 2012.)


And I’ll leave you with this fun, surprising, interactive website from the LA Times on the Food-Water-Footprint, where you can see how much water is used to produce the plate of food you choose. Inevitably the choices are limited, and the foods are all “Commercial US Average” (let’s hope we’re doing better!), but the information from the relative values is useful.

Chickpeas Photo LA Times
Chickpeas
Photo LA Times

 

Book Review: The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe

9781603584876_p0_v3_s260x420Book Review

The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy and Serenity

Carol Deppe, Chelsea Green, 2015

I enjoyed Carol Deppe’s other gardening books, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties and The Resilient Gardener. I haven’t read her renditions of Taoist Stories or the Tao Te Ching, but this new book offers entwined wisdom from both aspects of Carol’s life. Something for beginners and experienced growers alike. A combination of Carol’s exquisite attention to detail, solid grounded-in-experience advice and application of Taoist philosophy can help make us better and happier gardeners. Better understanding, more inner harmony. Carol is an independent and iconoclastic gardener, and she introduces each chapter with a passage from her own translation of the 2500 year old Tao Te Ching and intersperses fables from her anthology Taoist Stories.

Resilient Gardener_Small BYOVegVarieties_SmallThe Resilient Gardener focused on growing basic food staples – corn, potatoes, dry beans, winter squash and eggs. This new book moves us onward to groups of nutritionally- and economically-valuable vegetables we love to eat (and therefore to grow): tomatoes, summer squash, peas, green beans, greens. Each crop is used as an opportunity to explain a technique or concept. 13 chapters with titles like “Honoring Your Own Essential Nature”, “Non-Doing” and “Joy” lead us into the practicalities of crop requirements, plant genetics, lacto-fermentation and preserving land-races.

The tomato chapter covers how to grow and plant transplants, how to choose the best-tasting varieties, then how to breed late blight resistant tomatoes. The chapters on peas and green beans explain how to direct sow big seeds. That on greens tells how to sow small seeds, and introduces the Eat-All Greens Garden, a new way of growing direct-sown greens, producing high yields from small amounts of work. The final chapter explains why and how to grow your own seeds and prepare them for long-term storage

Carol clearly thinks for herself. I enjoy reading her take on the recent “accepted wisdom” of “imitating nature,” by prioritizing perennials, growing in polycultures (the carrots-love-tomatoes school), increasing diversity – “Ant agriculture violates all these principles.” I have long felt irritated and frustrated by the carrots-love-tomatoes belief, so I got special pleasure from reading Carol’s amusing story of actually trying to make interplanting carrots and tomatoes work, despite different needs for temperature, soil texture, soil fertility, watering, plant spacing, mulch, fencing, and length of time occupying a garden bed. And the competition for sunlight. I am a practitioner of some interplanting (spinach and peas, lettuce and peanuts, cabbage and okra), saving space, work, and in some cases, mulch or rowcover. But the almost religious belief that certain crops “like” each other, despite lack of data and lots of practical impediments, drives me potty. Carol takes the time to explain which pairs of crops stand a chance of complementing each other, and to point us towards a study by R Fred Denison (sorry I can’t find the link) that showed that yields of the best intercrop combos were somewhat better than the lower-yielding of the pair as solo occupant of the space, but less than the higher-yielding of the pair was capable of. So don’t plant crops together hoping for increased yields.

Carol encourages us to look at what actually happens in nature, and in the garden. Is this particular USDA-Organic-approved pesticide actually less damaging to non-target organisms and the general environment than the synthetic alternative? Will planting extra to “share” with pests like gophers still provide enough of a harvest? (“Lots of luck with that,” says Carol.) In the Balance chapter, Carol cautions against unrealistic beliefs about what to always or never do. “Prudence trumps completion when it comes to your health or safety.” “Ultimate Knowing does not create emergencies.”

Carol gives examples of intercropping that work for her. She sometimes plants her Eat-All Greens between alternate rows of corn (not sweet corn, which is quickly over), after the corn is up and has been cultivated twice. I’d guess that’s about 4 weeks after planting, the same age corn would be if sowing pole beans to grow up the corn stalks. The greens can grow fast enough in the shade of the corn to need no weeding, and the corn can be harvested from the alternate aisles without trampling the greens.

Russian Hunger Gap Kale from Adaptive Seeds
Russian Hunger Gap Kale from Adaptive Seeds

Carol names her “Perfect Polyculture” as Russian Hunger Gap kale (a tall, hardy Brassica napus, unlike the Hungry Gap kale I grew in England, which is an oleracea type), and vining winter squash. Initially an accident, the self-sown kale came up after she planted her squash. It grew rapidly, and timely harvesting of the kale nearest the squash was important to maintain enough space for the squash to thrive. Carol recommends her Candystick Dessert Delicata C.pepo fall squash; Sweet meat – Oregon Homestead C. maxima and fast-maturing Lofthouse Landrace Moschata C. moschata winter squashes. The Lofthouse squash is not sweet, so works well for soups and other savory dishes.

Although the USDA doesn’t regard tomatoes as an essential food group, most gardeners act as if tomatoes are fundamental. Indeterminate varieties for full season crops give the highest yields and the best flavors. Determinates provide the earliest harvests and come to an early end. Plenty of large leaves will be more likely to produce lots of sugar and flavor for the fruit, compared to what is possible with less well-endowed plants. (But keep an eye on Craig LeHoullier’s new Dwarf Tomatoes.)

Not simply under-ripe. See http://windowsillarranging.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html
Not simply under-ripe. See http://windowsillarranging.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html Nancy Ross Hugo

I was fascinated to learn that the green shoulders of some heirloom varieties are a cause of good flavor. The extra chlorophyll develops more sugars and flavors. Modern breeders decided to eliminate the undesired green shoulders and got uniform ripening at the expense of good flavor! My respect for Glacier and Stupice grew! Carol’s favorites for her shady Oregon garden include Amish paste – Kapuler, Pruden’s Purple (flavor, size, earliness), Black Krim, Legend (not for flavor, but for earliness, size, dependability, and especially for late blight resistance), Geranium Kiss (late blight resistance, lots of 1 ounce fruit).

Carol explains (Late Blight 101, page 96) why we need to be more careful about Late Blight now. Previously there were several strains of Late Blight, but they were all in the same mating group and could only reproduce asexually (requiring live plant material) – unless we left cull piles of potatoes in our fields, we only got the disease if we were unlucky enough to have spores blow in or be imported on diseased plants. This has now changed and newer strains of Late Blight, from both mating groups, have moved into the US. The disease will be able to evolve more rapidly, and the oogonia (sexually propagated ‘spores’) can persist in the soil. We will need to develop tomatoes and potatoes with stronger resistance. We will need to be more careful and not put any store-bought tomatoes in our compost piles. We will need to get better at recognizing late blight symptoms and acting swiftly. See http://usablight.org/.

Potato late blight lesion.  Image courtesy of Jean Ristaino, NC State University.
Potato late blight lesion. Image courtesy of Jean Ristaino, NC State University.

Legend and other of the more resistant open-pollinated and hybrid varieties are very useful in breeding work to produce more varieties resistant to late blight in future. Carol lists the resistance level of 10 promising hybrids (including Mountain Magic which we grow on our farm, Jasper, Golden Sweet, Juliet, Defiant PhR, Plum Regal, Iron Lady, Mountain Merit, Ferline and Fantasio) and 19 OPs (in order of earliness: Red Pearl, Stupice, Slava, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Yellow Currant, Geranium Kiss, Legend, Pruden’s Purple, Quadro, Black Plum, Red Currant, Tigerella, Old Brooks, Black Krim, Brandywine, West Virginia 63, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Aunt Ginny’s Purple and Big Rainbow. At the end of the book, Carol tells us how to do this. It’s not that difficult.

The chapter about the Eat-All Greens garden also has the title “Effortless Effort.” The idea is to broadcast seeds densely enough that no weeding is needed. Harvest when 10-16” tall by cutting the top 7-12” with a serrated knife, leaving the lower 3-4” of tougher stuff. Align the stems in the harvest tote or trug, to make chopping in the kitchen easier. Yields can be as high as 4.5 pounds per square yard (2.45 kg/sq m) in 8 weeks. The patch can be resown as many as three more times in the Willamette Valley climate. This is like a grown-up-tall version of growing baby salads, in that the entire tops of all the plants are harvested together. But salad mixes are cut small and may provide more than one cutting from the same plants. Eat-All Greens are usually harvested just once, then cleared., although it can work to harvest out the biggest plants, leaving others to grow bigger later in the increased space available.

Generally it’s best to grow just one type of Eat-All greens in one patch – mixes don’t do as well, because they grow at different rates to different heights. You can sow different patches right next to each other, and harvest whichever is ready. The Eat-All Greens system is a technique to perfect by practice. Spacing, timing, varieties – all can make or break your success. Timing will depend on your climate. Carol can sow in mid-March, harvest in mid-May and follow with a crop of tomatoes or squash.

Carol Deppe's Eat All Greens. Photo from The Tao of Vegetable Gardening
Carol Deppe’s Eat All Greens. Photo from The Tao of Vegetable Gardening

After years of work, Carol identified about a dozen good Eat-All crops. You can read the qualities of a good Eat-All crop in her book and test others, but I recommend taking advantage of her experience rather than re-inventing the wheel. Suitable greens include Green Wave mustard, Groninger kale, Tokyo Bekana, Spring Raab, several leaf radishes (Shunkyo Semi-Long, Saisai, Four Seasons, Hittorikun and Pearl Leaf) , several Chinese kales/gai lohns (Crispy Blue, South Sea, China Legend, Hybrid Blue Wonder, Hybrid Southern Blue, Green Lance Hybrid), three amaranths (All Red, although a bit slow-growing, Green Calaloo and Burgundy), Indian Spinach – Red Aztec Huauzontle, quinoa (choose a variety expected to grow well locally), pea shoots (Oregon Giant Sugar edible pod peas or Austrian Winter field peas) and shungiku (oh no! Chrysanthemum greens, I just haven’t managed to learn to like those!)

Another garden myth is exploded when Carol points out that we don’t necessarily get maximum nutrition out of greens when we eat them raw. Tables of vitamin C lost when greens are boiled and the water poured away are plain irrelevant if you steam your greens and use the liquid. Assays of nutrients present before and after cooking a food tell us nothing about what we actually absorb. All animals absorb nutrients better from starchy roots and tubers, meat and grains when they are cooked. That has been studied, but there is no information on cooked greens. Clearly raw greens are neither essential nor harmful in themselves. Unclear is whether the claim that raw greens are more nutritious than cooked ones has any basis in fact, or is just plain wrong. Interesting.

Carol wrote about dried beans in The Resilient Gardner. Here she writes about varieties suited for eating fresh. This chapter includes instructions for direct sowing of any large-seeded crop, and explains when trellises or plant supports are needed and what types there are. Edible-podded peas provide much more food from the same space and the same amount of garden labor (and less kitchen labor) than shelling peas do. You need no longer confuse snow peas (flat pods, not sweet, harvested before peas develop much at all), sugar peas (flat pods but sweeter), and snap peas (round cross-section pods harvested after the peas develop full size). Oregon Giant Sugar is a flat sugar type, although it has fleshy succulent pods that can be harvested with fully developed peas. Carol calls this a “flat-snap” type. In England we grew “mangetout” peas, which according to Wikipedia can be either snow or snap peas, but according to the BBC must have flat pods and can be either snow or sugar peas. Thompson & Morgan classifies Oregon Sugar Pod as a mange-tout. Mange-tout is French for “Eat-All”, so they fit right in with Eat-All Greens.

For those hoping to follow the Native American practice of growing pole beans on corn, Carol gives detailed instructions – there are so many ways to go wrong! I don’t grow field corn, so I didn’t take notes, but as always, I was very impressed with the helpful precision of Carol’s instructions. She can save so many of us from making wasteful mistakes.

Carol recommends we all try some seed-saving, in case of hard times, or for the benefits of selecting traits best suited to our climate and soil. She warns against buying a “Survival Kit” of seeds, as these won’t keep forever, and are unlikely to be varieties suited to your farm or garden. We need to pay attention and develop food crops that reliably feed us, not expect a miracle-in-a-can. Carol helps by leading us through a calculation of how much seed of a staple crop we will need, and how much land we will need to grow that amount of seed. She recommends a rotating stockpile of seed: grow and replace some of your seed every year.

At $24.95 this book will pay for itself many times over, and provide enjoyable reading, encouragement and inspiration on the way.