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

Climate change and pest control

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I recently learned some more about online weather tools for farmers from Eric and Joanna Reuter in Growing for Market. The National Weather Center Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has a wealth of useful info. From the “WPC 7-day QPF” map above (Weather Prediction Center 7 day quantitative precipitation forecast) I see we could get up to an inch of rain over the coming week in central Virginia. Other maps on the site show we can expect above normal temperatures and rainfall for the first week of January. (I’m saying rain, because with above normal temperatures, the precipitation won’t be snow.)

There are maps with forecast conditions for the next month, the next three months and even the whole of 2018, although of course the more intervening time means more chance of things changing before we get there.There is a detailed discussion explaining “La Niña conditions are present, with a transition to ENSO-neutral favored during January-March 2017.” The report was written in November, predicting weak La Nina conditions continuing through March 2017.

Winter offers a good opportunity to explore these tools and get familiar with them (the abbreviations and technical language do take a bit of getting used to). If I were to open this site in mid-summer when already very busy, I think I would struggle to sit still long enough to absorb the information. By figuring it out at the slow time of year, I’ll be more ready to dip in and take advantage of timely info in the main growing season.

If the embedding has worked out right, here is a “Climograph” for Louisa County, Virginia:

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And if it didn’t embed, here’s the link: http://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/louisa/virginia/united-states/usva0445/2015/2

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Outdoors in December – rowcover everywhere! Photo by Wren Vile

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse! Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse!
Photo Wren Vile


This week I also read an interesting article by Rebekah L Fraser in Growing magazine on the Push-Pull Method of pest control, which was developed in Kenya. In Kenya this method is used to protect crops from both invasive weeds and insect pests. Some plants can suppress others by selective allelopathy. Tick-trefoil not only suppresses some weeds but also repels pests, while conserving the soil in the process, and providing stock feed or green manure when cut. Plus, as a legume, the tick-trefoil fixes atmospheric nitrogen (which feeds the next crop) and reduces greenhouse gases (which helps save us all). This is the “push” half of the combination. Tick-trefoil interplanted with corn repels weeds and pests.

Push-pull pest control

Push-pull pest control

The “pull” half involves Napier grass as an attractive trap crop for corn borers. This trap crop is planted as a border around the corn patch. The female stem-borers are repelled by the tick-trefoil out of the corn to the border where they lay eggs on the Napier grass. It’s sticky exudates and sharp silica hairs kill the stem borer larvae when they hatch. Read more on www.push-pull.net .

It’s so heartening to read about organic sustainable ways farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are working to end hunger and poverty. And these principles can surely be applied to other crops in other regions.

Sweet potato slideshow, phenology article, Ira Wallace awarded

I’ve just got back from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC. There were about 1200 people, five workshop slots, 12 tracks, lots of good, locally grown food, a whole pre-conference day of bus tours and intensive workshops, a courageous and inspiring keynote address from Clara Coleman on the joys and challenges of family and farm life. She and her two young sons are now living and working alongside Eliot Coleman (her dad) and Barbara Damrosch at Four Seasons Farm in Maine.

My sweet potato slideshow from my first workshop at CFSA is viewable above. Just click on the forward arrow. To see it full screen, click on the link below the image and then click the diagonal arrows when the new page opens. About 70 very engaged people attended that workshop. My other workshop was Sustainable Farming Practices for Vegetable Growers, which I’ll include next week.

I have also recently written a blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog  called Saving Sweet Potato Roots for Growing Your Own Slips.

I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new friends, learning some good tips about different drip irrigation parts, how to sharpen and use a scythe, how many years half the henbit seeds are viable for (23 years!!), and picking up literature from the trade booths to digest later.

sac-16-banner-960x330Save the date: 2017’s CFSA SAC will be November 3-5 (Fri-Sun)


nov-dec-2016-gfm-cover-300The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about phenology. Phenology is the study of recurring animal and plant life cycle changes in relation to the weather. Some changes are temperature-dependent, rather than (daylength-) calendar-dependent. The opening of some buds and the emergence of some
insects from the ground are related to the accumulated warmth of that season. Observations of certain changes can be used to help growers decide when to expect outbreaks of certain insect pests and when to plant certain crops. For instance, we look to the leaves of the white oaks to decide when it is warm enough to plant sweet corn. The oak leaves should be as big as squirrel’s ears. We have plenty of squirrels! Phenology is especially useful when the weather is extremely variable, which we can expect more of as climate change gets us further in its grip.

Also in this bumper edition of Growing for Market are articles on growing heading chicories (Josh Volk), milling your own logs on your farm (Mark Lieberth), online weather tools for farmers (Eric and Joanna Reuter), image-front-cover_coverbookpagea review of The Farmers Market Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal (Andrew Mefferd), and favorite perennials for flower growers (Jane Tanner). There are also two pages of cameos of books available from GfM. A seasonal tip about gift giving, I think.

I am working on a review of Soil Sisters by Lisa Kivirist, which I will tidy up and post soon.


Ira Wallace receives SFA award

Ira Wallace receives SFA award. Photo by Sara Wood

Ira Wallace, my long time friend and one of the members of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has recently been awarded the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sara Wood took photos at SESE and at Twin Oaks while preparing the SFA oral history interview with Ira Wallace. You can watch the video clip, read the transcript and ass the photos at the link. Well done Ira!

Preparing for the Heritage Harvest Festival, winter hoophouse harvests

The Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Virginia, September 9 and 10, 2016

Now, at the height of summer, I am looking ahead to speaking events this fall, winter and next spring. (I have been in the habit of turning down presentations from May-August, so i can focus on our gardens). My first booking is the fun and local Heritage Harvest Festival at Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Click the link above to plan your visit.

Heritage harvest Festival Speakers include Joel Salatin, Ira Wallace, Michael Twitty and many more. Photo Southern Exposure

Heritage harvest Festival Speakers include Joel Salatin, Ira Wallace, Michael Twitty and many more.
Photo Southern Exposure

Friday is devoted to classroom workshops and walking tours. I will be giving my presentation on Fall Vegetable Gardening on Friday 2-3 pm. It’s a ticketed event, limited to the 32 people who can fit in the classroom. After the workshop I will be signing copies of my book from 3.15-3.45 pm at the Shop at Monticello, and chatting to whoever comes by. There are  30 other workshops on Friday,  and 3 workshops on Sunday.

Monticello Garden Tour with Peter Hatch Photo courtesy of Monticello

Monticello Garden Tour with Peter Hatch
Photo courtesy of Monticello

The main event is on Saturday,  with general admission from 9 am to 6 pm. Attend some of the 16 free workshops, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Tomato Tasting, the Chef demos, Seed swap, Monticello Shop tent and Kids activities. Spend your hard-earned cash in the Beer garden, at the Food concessions, and at 36 Premium Workshops (with pre-paid tickets).

OX_WoQaSw3pW03jzq16xGxrQ12fEY0vnBsBSMIKZcU8I’ll be talking about Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops at the Woodland Pavilion (50 seats) from 1.45 – 2.15 pm, followed by book signing at the Shop again.

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Tomato medley. Photo courtesy of Monticello


If your tomatoes don’t look as wonderful as those in the Monticello  photo above, you might be casting around for descriptions and photos of problems. Margaret Roach in her blog A Way to Garden, recently posted an interview with Dr Meg McGrath about tomato diseases, with photos. If you are worrying about Late Blight, you can sign up for alerts, although when I tried, my computer warned me the link  to www.usablight.org was not secure. Margaret Roach’s Tomato Troubles FAQs has some good descriptions and many helpful links. One of the links is to Tom Stearn’s “tomato hygiene” management method.

We had trouble with our paste tomatoes, and got excellent help from the Plant Disease Clinic of the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Sadly, some of our plants seem to have been victim of some herbicide drift or cross-contamination, despite our best efforts to run our garden organically. We don’t control what falls out of the air. Happily, the plants recovered from the stunted curling in of the leaves, and are starting to pump out good yields. I hate the thought that we will be eating slightly poisoned tomatoes, even though they are still much better than commercially grown non-organic produce.


August2016 cover 300pxThe August issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, along with my article about planning winter and early spring hoophouse harvests.

Here’s our month-by-month alphabetical list of what we plan to harvest:

November
Brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood
Beet greens, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, spinach, tatsoi, thinnings of chard, baby turnips and greens for salad mix. We still have leaf lettuce outdoors, and only harvest from the hoophouse lettuce if the weather is bad outdoors.
December
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard for salad, Chinese cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, maruba santoh, mizuna and frilly mustards, pak choy, radishes, salad mix, scallions, senposai, nspinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.

Hoophouse mizuna and lettuce mix. Photo by Kathleen Slattery

Hoophouse mizuna and lettuce mix.
Photo by Kathleen Slattery

January
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, Chinese cabbage, kale, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, maruba santoh, mizuna and frilly mustards, pak choy, radishes,
salad mix, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
February
Arugula, brassica salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce (we cut the whole heads from 2/21), baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix,
scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
March
Arugula, brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce, lettuce heads, baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens, yukina savoy.
April
Brassica baby salad mix, Bulls Blood Beet greens, chard, kale, leaf lettuce (may end in early April), lettuce heads (until late April, then lettuce from outdoors), baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, salad mix, scallions, spinach.

Other great articles include one by Eric and Joanna Reuter about growing chestnuts, one by Gretel Adams about growing flowers without plastic, including the wonderfully simple idea of fastening C-clamps on the bottom of the hood over the tiller to mark rows in the soil. There are reviews of two farming phone apps, one for CSA farmers and one called BeetClock, based of Richard Wiswall’s Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook.

Growing for Market, Organic Broadcaster, using rainy days

June2016_cover_300 pxThe summer issue of Growing for Market (June/July) has been out for a couple of weeks. We’re having a very rainy Fourth of July, so that pushed my mind towards good reading material. Assuming you stayed home and didn’t join the millions on the roads.

This issue has an interesting article by Amy Halloran about sustainably grown food grains as an addition to the crop portfolio for vegetable and flower producers. Sometimes we’re looking to diversify our crops to help the rotation (thwart the usual pests and diseases), or to even out the workload over the year. Local artisanal bakers and brewers might be looking for locally grown grain, or you can sell small bags alongside your vegetables. One advantage of grains is that they have a good shelf-life, so you can bring them out to your CSA or you market when you wan to add something new and different. Heirloom grains and dry beans have appeal for those who want to return to their roots.

Eric and Joanna Reuter wrote a helpful farmers’ guide to applying for a SARE grant. They give a clear overview explanation, then a step-by-step guide to how to apply. They talk about how to design a suitable project, how to set it up, run it, evaluate and fit with the deadlines. They include an example of a SARE farmer-directed research project that changed their farm management. It was Kevin Cooley’s pilot project using supermarket baskets (factory seconds) to harvest, wash and store vegetables. The vegetables stay in the basket they’re picked into. It saves a lot of time and reduced handling.

Wendy Carpenter wrote a very useful article reviewing use of moveable high tunnels. Five years have passed since this idea really took off, and they are no longer “flavor of the month.” Unsurprisingly, there are pros and cons to using a moveable tunnel, and many cautionary tales. If you are thinking of buying a slideable/dragable tunnel, and especially if you are thinking of designing and building your own hardware, read this article first! Save money and tears! Like many people, I was intrigued by the idea of having a hoophouse that could have a summer home and a winter home. But after some reading and reflection, I’ve come down on the side of staying put, for us. We value a draft-free winter hoophouse (moveable ones can be hard to close up well.) I have been nervous enough when we have high winds – I don’t want to add to that uncertainty. And we have a crop rotation worked out that suits us. We gradually replace the winter and early spring greens with early tomatoes, peppers, squash. Our climate is warm enough that we don’t need it to grow these crops in the hoophouse in the height of summer – they do fine outside. Growers in colder climate zones like to use their tunnels for nightshades and cucurbits all summer, which can make crop rotation difficult. I can see the benefit they get from a moveable house. In high summer we grow a bean seed crop, which helps our rotation, improves the soil and pays its way. We do use a big sheet of shade cloth over the top when it’s hot.

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Linda Hepler Beaty writes about adding a “WOW factor” to farmers market booths. Gretel Adams provides new information about growing lisianthus, a popular topic she has covered before. Theirs are grown in a hoophouse, using horizontal netting to keep the stems upright.


The Organic Broadcaster for May/June has been out (but I’ve been too busy to read it. . . ) it includes articles about industrial hemp farming, sprouted fodder grains, working on the National Organic Standards Board, transitioning to Organic, assessing the financial wisdom of buying machinery, the impact of warm season grasses on organic dairy cows, farming for wildlife with hedgerows (including elderberry and currants), a review of Lisa Kivirist’s book about women farmers Soil Sisters, farm safety for children, and there is the usual round up  of organic field days and events, news briefs, and classified ads. The 20 pages are packed!

Lisa Kivirist and her newest book. See this site for details of an August Soil Sisters event in Wisconsin.

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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.

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

Chert Hollow Farm on Organic certification, More Snow, Feed the Soil presentation.

Chert Hollow Farm's photos of their farm gate before and after.

Chert Hollow Farm’s photos of their farm gate before and after.

For some time I have been following the blog of Eric and Joanna Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm near Columbia, Missouri. I admire their commitment and creativity. Recently they have posted a three-part series on why they have decided to drop their USDA Organic certification. I found it a very thought-filled and coherent piece of writing and want more people to read it and ponder the points they make.

Dropping organic certification, part I talks about some of their concerns with the USDA Organic system as a whole, and how some of the Organic rules are increasingly at odds with their “beliefs and standards for sustainable and ethical food production.” Their work creating a diverse deeply-sustainable farm with minimal bought-in inputs isn’t easily reconciled with the USDA certification process. “Trying to use our own resources in a creatively sustainable way created an unusually-shaped peg that the organic system’s round holes don’t expect. And thus there’s a lot of subtle pressure on organic farms just to buy stuff rather than be more diversified and creative in their farming approach.” According to their Organic inspectors over the years, they have been star poster-child Organic farmers for five years, and their decision to leave Organic certification will be “a major loss to the organic certification community/process in this part of the country”.

In addition to the differing philosophy and practice between Joanna and Eric’s approach and the USDA, the costs are too high and the benefits too few.

Dropping organic certification, part II  goes into some of their specific issues with the certification. Concerns include costs, including the uncertainty of whether the government will continue the cost-share program; bureaucracy (why don’t chemical farmers have to track and report their inputs and applications??); and the degree of usefulness of USDA certification for direct marketing. As a CSA farm, Eric and Joanna are no longer competing for customers with self-proclaimed “organic” farmers at the market.

Dropping organic certification, part III looks at the benefits of dropping certification, while acknowledging what they learned by being part of the certified system, specifically the value of good record-keeping, good compost-making and careful sourcing of inputs. They credit being certified (and needing to check potential herbicide use on hay and straw they brought in for feed and mulch) with helping them avoid the “killer hay” incidents which are, sadly, all too common around the country. They write about what they are looking forward to, freed from the certification restrictions. They are increasing biological diversity on their farm, getting off mailing lists (!), and communicating more with customers and CSA members, know they’ll save time on certification paperwork. Finally, they discuss some of their regrets about no longer being part of “something bigger, a known collection of farms and consumers that stood for something different from the conventional agriculture model” they oppose. They will no longer have the support of USDA if they suffer from spray drift. They will no longer have an easy label to describe their farming practices to customers. Their hope is that more direct, personal communication with CSA members and the rest of the world will take over in addressing that need.

Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we’ve had More Snow. Only about 3″, following rain. But it has brought a halt to our outdoor gardening pursuits for a while. Just before the snow we managed to get some disking done – the first of the year! We had got some raised beds tilled a few days earlier, so we managed to prepare those bed and sow beets, turnips, radishes and scallions, as well as the last of the snap peas. We haven’t transplanted anything except lettuce, scallions and spinach, because it has been so cold. We got beds ready for kale, cabbage, senposai and collards, before I realized the plants were too small to go outside! All our transplants have been growing slowly. We have postponed planting our tomatoes in the hoophouse because the weather is so unsettled (which is a mild way of saying scarily cold).

On Sunday 3/16, I co-taught Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. I spoke about Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slide show from that event:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/feed-the-soil” title=”Feed the soil. Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Feed the soil. Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

Planting kale, catching up on weeding and reading

Vates kale Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Vates kale
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Our weather has been dry and sunny (no hurricanes in September this year!) and we’ve had a chance to catch up somewhat on weeding. It’s also meant lots of irrigation, more than usual at this time of year. And consequently, running repairs. This morning I switched out three sprinkler heads – one was stuck and wouldn’t rotate; one leaked too much at the stem and one old one had ground away its brass nut over years of use and finally fell through the hole in its stand, meaning it couldn’t rotate any more either. I fixed two, still not sure how to deal with the old one. Its homemade stand is also breaking up. I’ve also been replacing hose ends and connectors – we were the lucky recipients of a donated pile of about nine hoses, some in better condition than others.

Transplanting kale has kept us busy this week. We direct sow our kale, two beds every six days in August, to make it easier to keep them well watered – we only have to hand water two on any one day to get the seeds germinated. This year we’ve had disappearing seedlings, and we’ve been moving plants around in the beds to get full rows at the right final spacing. This means even more watering, but we all love kale so much, so it’s very worthwhile. Some of the disappearing seedlings were due to cutworms, some may have been grasshoppers, and some maybe rabbits.

I’ve also been pulling up drip tape from our watermelon patch and second cucumbers, rolling it on our home-made shuttles which I described last year. I found myself salvaging 23 late watermelons, I just couldn’t resist! Watermelons in October usually get as much demand as last week’s newspaper, but while the weather is so warm (85F yesterday), people are still grateful for juicy fruit. I’m looking forward to getting more of the gardens into their winter cover crops, so that this year’s weeds can become just a memory. I also like how the garden gets smaller and smaller in the process of putting the plots into cover crops. Less to deal with. (Although I am needing to water the cover crops areas overnight with the sprinklers).

I’m in the process of writing about no-till cover crops for Growing for Market magazine. We really like using no-till winter rye/hairy vetch/Austrian winter peas before our Roma paste tomatoes. We mow the cover crop in early May, when the vetch is starting to flower, then transplant into the dying cover crop, which becomes our mulch, and also supplies all the nitrogen the tomatoes need. Anyway, that’s for the winter double issue.

Hoophouse greens in November. Credit Ethan Hirsh

Hoophouse greens in November.
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Meanwhile, the October issue has just come out, including my article about how to minimize unhealthy nitrate levels in winter greens. During winter, when there is short daylight length and low light intensity, there is a potential health risk associated with nitrate accumulation in leafy greens. Nitrates can be converted in the body into toxic nitrites, which reduce the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Additionally, nitrites can form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Green plants absorb nitrates from the soil during the night and in the process of photosynthesis during the day, combine them with carbon-based compounds into protein (plant material). It takes about six hours of sunlight to use up a night’s worth of nitrates. In winter when the day-length is short, the nitrate accumulated can exceed the amount that can be used during the day, and the excess nitrate builds up in the plant, mostly in the leaves, stems and roots. Leafy vegetables can then exceed an acceptable adult daily intake level of nitrate in just one small serving of greens, unless special efforts have been made to reduce the levels. My article lists which vegetables are more likely to be higher in nitrates, and which circumstances are most likely to make the levels high. I give a list of 16 steps you can take to reduce the levels of nitrate in your crops. 

There are also articles about farms getting financing from crowdfunding websites (Lynn Byczynski), customizing CSA shares using LimeSurvey to let each sharer indicate what they want by email (Eric and Joanna Reuter whose blog I have mentioned before), building a seed germination chamber (Ben Hartman), and  making cash flow projections to avert disaster (Nate Roderick). A fine batch of useful articles, and I’m especially happy to see Eric and Joanna Reuter have “joined the crew” at GFM. They impress me with their attention to details and creativity.

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Phenology follow-up. Cicadas are coming!

Ezra's salamander

Ezra’s salamander

I wrote about phenology and shared our Twin Oaks phenology chart on 3/28. Since then I’ve read two related blogs I want to tell you about. One is my fellow Twin Oaker Ezra Freeman, whose blog ObserVa A year observing nature in Central Virginia has wonderful photos of plants and animals here at Twin Oaks and wherever he goes. Most recently a hike up Old Rag mountain in the Shenandoahs. The other is Chert Hollow Farm’s Bird list & other natural events. Eric and Joanna Reuter own and operate Chert Hollow Farm, a small, diversified farm featuring certified organic produce near Columbia, MO. They have a great website. Probably a thousand miles from Twin Oaks, so not the same as our backyard. In some ways that makes it all the more interesting. Another natural event I’m keeping tabs on is the emergence of the 17-year cicada. Debbie Roos  of the Growing Small Farms site posted a link to a news article about the coming emergence of Brood II of the 17-year periodical cicadas on her Facebook page and sent out a link to the Cooperative Extension’s Growing Small Farms website.

17 year cicada up close and personal

17 year cicada up close and personal. Credit Cicadamania.com

Cicada Mania is a great source for all cicada-related information.  The blog is amusing and packed with info. Adult cicadas begin to emerge when the soil temperatures reach 64F.  (My soil thermometer is monitoring temperature in a carrot bed I plan to flame-weed.) If you haven’t got a soil thermometer, Cicada Mania has an emergence calculator based on air temperature. http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/cicada-emergence-formula/ Here is a map of the areas which can expect to see this cicada, for a month or so, starting in May. We’re right in there. Adult female cicadas damage young woody plants by tunneling in thin twigs to lay eggs. I didn’t plant any new fruit bushes this past winter, so don’t really think I have much to worry about. Damage to older bushes and trees is dramatic-looking, but not usually permanently harmful. b_02