Mother Earth News Fair PA, Heritage Harvest Festival, Ginger Field Day, Future Harvest CASA Beginning Farmer Training

I’ve updated my Events Page, so check there for events I hope to be speaking at between now and the end of March.

Coming right up:

September 14-16, 2018 Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, PA

I’m presenting two workshops:

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Friday 5-6 pm at the Heirloom Gardener Stage

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

Lettuce Year Round (NEW!) Sunday 2-3 pm at the Heirloom Gardener Stage

This presentation includes techniques to extend the lettuce season using rowcover, coldframes and hoophouses to provide lettuce harvests in every month of the year. The workshop will include a look at varieties for spring, summer, fall and winter. We will consider the pros and cons of head lettuce, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix and the newer multileaf types. Information will also be provided on scheduling and growing conditions, including how to persuade lettuce to germinate when it’s too hot.

Handouts

Book-signing

Demonstrations of tomato string-weaving and use of wigglewire to fasten hoophouse plastic to frames, at the New Society Publishers booth. Fri 12.30-1.30pm, 3.30-4.30pm; Sat 11.30-12.30, 5-6 pm; Sun 9.30-10 am, 11.30 am-12.30 pm.

Wigglewire is reusable every time you change the plastic on your hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

September 21-22 Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Premium Workshop on Friday Sept 21, 3-4 pm Classroom 7

Feeding the Soil

In this workshop I will introduce ways to grow and maintain healthy soils: how to develop a permanent crop rotation in seven steps, and why your soil will benefit from this; how to choose appropriate cover crops; how to make compost and how to benefit from using organic mulches to feed the soil. Handouts.

Book-signing Friday 4.15 – 4.45 pm

Heritage Harvest Festival

I’m sadly not attending the Virginia State University Ginger and Turmeric Field Day, but I recommend it!

GINGER/TURMERIC FIELD DAY

OCTOBER 18, 2018

REGISTRATION WILL OPEN SOON AT EXT.VSU.EDU

  • Thursday, October 18, 2018, 8:00 AM 4:00 PM
  • VSU Randolph Farm 4415 River Road Petersburg, VA (map)
  • Ginger and turmeric have been used widely throughout history in many different types of cuisines for their spice and flavor, and these spices may also provide a number of health benefits.
  • Learn more about the production and marketing of ginger and turmeric and see how to harvest, clean and package these spice crops.
  • This educational event will include presentations, demonstrations and a field visit.
  • More details on the Field Day Agenda will be available soon.
  • If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact the Horticulture Program office at [email protected] or call (804) 524-5960 / TDD (800) 828-1120 during business hours of 8 am. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations five days prior to the event.


Conferences, field days and workshops are great ways to expand our farming and gardening knowledge and fill the gaps. Perhaps you are a Beginning Farmer (defined as farmers with less than 10 years’ experience). There are many great regional associations for training new and beginning farmers and ranchers, and one of those I know best is the Future harvest CASA BFTP. This is a region-wide program, open to beginning farmers in  MD, VA, DE—including the Delmarva Peninsula—and DC, WV, and PA.

A free, year-long program with 3 levels from entry-level to advanced.

Applications for the 2019 season are now OPEN!

The BFTP offers a year-long immersive training experience that combines a comprehensive classroom curriculum with hands-on learning at Chesapeake region farms that employ practices that are profitable, protect land and water, and build healthy communities.

The BFTP offers 3 training levels, designed to meet the specific needs of beginning farmers at different stages in their careers.   We offer farmer-to-farmer training opportunities throughout the Chesapeake region, and classroom requirements may be completed in-person or online. We offer training in diverse operation types, including vegetables, fruit, cut flowers, herbs, and livestock at urban, peri-urban, and rural farm settings. The program is also designed with built-in scheduling flexibility to allow new farmers to further their training while maintaining their own farms or other work.

All 3 levels of the program are FREE and trainees receive a host of additional benefits:

  • Free admission to our popular winter conference
  • Free admission to our year-round field days at innovative farms
  • Access to a supportive network of new and experienced farmers
  • FHCASA membership
  • and more!

The final submission deadline is October 15, 2018.

Detailed program information and instructions on how to apply are on our website HERE.  Questions?  Please contact Sarah Sohn, BFTP Director: [email protected].

PASA Conference, Organic biodegradable mulch

I’ll be presenting three workshops at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Farming for the Future Conference February 7-10, 2018. The event is at State College, PA, and will likely draw in 1500-2000 people.

Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales Friday 12.50 – 2.10 pm

Grow crops you can sell during the winter, while allowing yourself some down-time and reprieve from outdoor work. Choose suitable crops, schedules and storage conditions. Understand your weather and basic crop protection. This workshop will provide tables of cold-hardiness and details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (warm and cool weather crops to harvest and store before very cold weather; crops to keep alive in the ground further into winter, then store; hardy crops to store in the ground and harvest during the winter, and overwinter crops for early spring harvests before the main season). It includes tables of storage conditions needed for different vegetables and suggestions of suitable storage methods, with and without electricity.

Crimson clover cover crop.
Photo McCune Porter

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Saturday 8.30 – 9.50 am

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Saturday Feb 10 12.50-2.10pm

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

There will be handouts for each workshop and book-signing on Friday at 5.15pm.

The Farming for the Future Conference is PASA’s featured event, held annually in February. We seek to gather a diverse audience from the sustainable food system including farmers, educators, processors, advocates, and eaters – please join us! Each year we feature:

  • Over 100 speakers representing the best from the sustainable agriculture field and our membership.

  • A variety of sustainable farming and food system programming including full-day tracks, half-day sessions, and 80-minute workshops across the fours days of the event.

  • Over 90 Trade Show vendors representing the broad diversity and deep expertise of our community.

  • Opportunities to network and socialize over receptions and meals that feature regionally-source ingredients.

  • An ag-themed Future Farmers program for kids (K to Grade 8).

  • Special events like music, movie, yoga, knitting, and more!


I’ll return to Pennsylvania in September for the Mother Earth News Fair – see my Events page for more on that.

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Organic Biodegradable Mulch

The Fruit Growers News announced

“Minnesota-based Organix Solutions has received a certification of its product line of black soil biodegradable agricultural mulch film. The OK biodegradable SOIL Certification from Vinçotte International verifies that the product, called Organix A.G. Film, will completely biodegrade in the soil without adversely affecting the environment according to international standards, according to a release from Organix.”

These mulch films are made with ecovio, a compostable biopolymer by BASF – a material that completely biodegrades in a commercially reasonable period. Microbes in the soil  break down the film into CO2, biomass and water. You can  to order online from the Organix link.

This is big news for certified USDA Organic growers, if they can get their certifier to agree with Vinçotte International and certify this material. Previously available biodegradable mulch films have not been accepted as Organic. Here’s a brief history:

In 2014 biodegradable biobased mulch films were added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances permitting their use in organic production as long as they met certain criteria, and were not made from genetically modified organisms. The criteria are:

  1. Meeting the compostability specifications of one of the following standards: ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, EN 13432, EN 14995, or ISO 17088;
  2. Demonstrating at least 90% biodegradation absolute or relative to microcrystalline cellulose in less than two years, in soil, according to one of the following test methods: ISO 17556 or ASTM D5988; and
  3. Being biobased with content determined using ASTM D6866

In January 2015, National Organic Program (NOP) Memo 15-1 further clarified that these mulches cannot include any prohibited ingredients. OMRI researched the availability of these mulches  and found no product on the market in 2015 that met the standard.

Bioplastic mulches are made of several polymers, some derived from renewable vegetable biomass and others from biodegradable fossil fuel materials (petroleum products).

As explained by Johanna Mirenda, OMRI Technical Director in The Dirt on Biodegradable Plastics in 2015:

For example, some currently available biodegradable mulches are made primarily with polylactic acid, an ingredient derived from corn starch, tapioca root, or sugarcane, but they also contain feedstocks derived from petroleum chemicals. More details about the makeup and manufacturing process are available in OMRI’s Report on Biodegradable Biobased Mulch Films, authored for the USDA.

Read the full Final Rule here.

And here’s a thoughtful, constructive article from Broadfork Farm in Canada after Canada’s Organic Certification Scheme decertified biodegradable mulches in 2016.

I’ve written in the past about our use of biodegradable mulch and how we roll it out by hand, with a team of people.

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

Year Round Vegetable Production, speaking events

Here’s my newest slide show, Year Round Vegetable Production, which I presented at the Field School in Johnstown, TN on December 7.  To view full screen, click the diagonal arrows at the bottom right, and to move to the next slide, click the triangle arrow pointing right.

The Field School is a Beginning Farmer program, under the Appalachian RC&D Council. The Field School organizes a monthly series of workshops (November 2017 through August 2018) that provides an overview of small-scale farming in East Tennessee’s mountains and valleys, taught by 20+ farmers and agricultural professionals. It is arranged by the Appalachian RC&D Council, Green Earth Connection, and many area partners with major support from USDA.

As well as my double presentation on Thursday evening, I attended a Q and A brunch on Friday morning and got the chance to meet the new (ish) farmers individually. It was a pleasure to meet such enthusiastic dedicated growers.

My other presentation on Thursday 12/7 was Crop Planning, which you can view by clicking the link.

The school session 2017-18 is already full even though they have expanded to have two tracks (Produce or Small Livestock) in this their third year. Go to their website if you are local and want to be on their waiting list if spots open up. They also sell tickets to the public for some of their workshops.

Beginning farmer training is available in most states, loosely under the USDA, but without a central organization. Do a web search for your state and “beginning farmer training” if you are looking for something like this. Or check out this list on Beginningfarmers.org.


I have been firming up several speaking events in the new year. Here some info on some of those (click the Events tab  or the individual event links for for more details):

The Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture Future Harvest Conference January 11-13, 2018 at College Park, MD.

Ira Wallace (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), Gabe Brown, Michael Twitty and Craig Beyrouty are giving the meal time addresses.

On Saturday January 13 11.30am -12.30pm I’m presenting

Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables Why farm in winter? Information includes tables of cold-hardiness; details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops; overwintering crops for spring harvests; scheduling; weather prediction and protection; hoophouse growing; and vegetable storage.

I am also participating with other speakers in a new format Lightning Session Round, 2.15-3.30pm on Saturday, where we each get 10 minutes to tell the audience the top 5 things we want them to know about a certain topic. I’m speaking on Six Steps to Using Graphs to Plan Succession Crops for Continuous Harvests

I will be signing books at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange booth at points during the conference.


February 7-10, 2018 Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Farming for the Future Conference, State College, PA https://www.pasafarming.org/events/conference.  I’ll be presenting three workshops:

Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales Friday 12.50 – 2.10 pm

Grow crops you can sell during the winter, while allowing yourself some down-time and reprieve from outdoor work. Choose suitable crops, schedules and storage conditions. Understand your weather and basic crop protection. This workshop will provide tables of cold-hardiness and details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (warm and cool weather crops to harvest and store before very cold weather; crops to keep alive in the ground further into winter, then store; hardy crops to store in the ground and harvest during the winter, and overwinter crops for early spring harvests before the main season). It includes tables of storage conditions needed for different vegetables and suggestions of suitable storage methods, with and without electricity.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Saturday 8.30 – 9.50 am

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Saturday Feb 10 12.50-2.10pm

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

There will be handouts for each workshop and book signing


March 9-11 2018, Organic Growers School Spring Conference at UNC-Asheville, Asheville, NC. I’ll be presenting three workshops:

For the Gardener track: Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish

At this workshop you will learn how to grow your own sweet potato slips; plant them, grow healthy crops and harvest good yields, selecting suitable roots for growing next year’s slips. You will also learn how to cure and store roots for top quality and minimal losses. This workshop will be useful to beginners and experienced growers alike.

For the New Farmer Track: Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Sustainable Farming Practices 

An introduction to year round vegetable production; crop planning and record-keeping; feeding the soil using crop rotations, cover crops, compost making and organic mulches; production tips on direct sowing and transplanting, crop spacing, succession crop scheduling to ensure continuous harvests, efficient production strategies, season extension, dealing with pests, diseases and weeds; determining crop maturity and harvest methods.


April 12, 2018, 9am to noon,

Louisa Master Gardener Group Tour of Twin Oaks Gardens

Sweet potato harvest, new hoophouse plastic, see you in Kansas!

Our sweet potatoes curing in boxes in the basement. Photo Nina Gentle
Our sweet potatoes curing in boxes in the basement.
Photo Nina Gentle

We got our sweet potatoes all dug and safely indoors before Saturday night’s 27F and Sunday night’s 26F. Whew! Another Garden Year Milestone passed. We got about 223 boxes this year. The boxes contain about 23lbs each, so that’s 5129 lbs, plenty to feed 100 hungry people for six or seven months. Last year we had a huge harvest, and sold some for a Farm-to-School program and gave some to our local Food Bank. Our average harvest for this size patch (about 700 plants) is 4035lbs. This year we got a yield of a little over 7lbs of sweet potatoes per plant. Last year’s record crop was 11lbs per plant.


No sooner had we finished the sweet potato harvest than we put new outer roof plastic on our hoophouse (yesterday). We decided to just replace the outer layer as we thought it must have big holes, as the inflation blower wasn’t keeping the air bubble between the two layers inflated.

Pulling hoophouse plastic. Photo McCune Porter
Pulling hoophouse plastic.
Photo McCune Porter

We’ve always replaced both layers at once previously, but October is getting late in the year for this job and it’s so much easier to replace just the outer layer! We think we got some holes from a surprise hailstorm (rare here), and we knew we’d made some when we replaced the plastic a couple of years ago. We’d pulled the outer layer too tight, trimmed it, then tried to let out a bit more slack from the margins. The result was lots of holes from the wigglewire’s old positions.

But we didn’t find any huge holes in the old plastic when we got it down, and this morning the house is still not inflated, so our problem is not solved. The next suspect is the inflation blower, which has a theoretically a large enough output, but maybe it’s not working well any more. It sounds OK. Maybe some warmer days will help. . . Not sure of the science there – maybe wishful thinking.  We need a well-inflated hoophouse (high tunnel) to provide winter insulation as well as keep the house sturdy in the face of winter weather.


MENFairLogoIn a couple of days I’m off to Topeka, Kansas, for the October 24-25 Mother Earth News Fair. Here are the details repeated from last week’s post:

I will be giving Fall and Winter Hoophouses  as a keynote presentation on Saturday 10-11 am on the Mother Earth news stage and Spring and Summer Hoophouses
on Saturday at 1-2pm on the Organic Gardening Stage. I’ll be signing books at 11 am Saturday in the MEN Bookstore. I’ll be demonstrating How to String Weave Tomatoes using my sparkly-pink-tinsel and pencil model at the New Society booth 2055 on Saturday at 4pm, and Sunday at 10 am and 2 pm.

If you want the pdfs of the handouts, click these links:

Hoophouse in Fall and Winter Handout

Hoophouse in Spring and Summer Handout


I’ve been enjoying the Connection bimonthly newsletter from the USA National Phenology Network. They monitor the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes. “Phenology is nature’s calendar—when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall. ” They have a lively newsletter and a participatory project called Nature’s Notebook, where everyday people are encouraged to collect data in back yards, nearby parks or as part of a field study. They have a few other newsletters too, for different audiences.


Margaret Roach, author of the blog A Way to Garden, has a great post about the connections between high numbers of acorns, white-footed mice, and ticks. And acorns, chipmunks, mice and Gypsy moths. And acorns, mice and song birds.

pr_2014_03_mouse

Patchy Frost, Sweet Potato Harvest, Upcoming Events,

Jalapeno hot pepper plant with a fruit changing from green to red via black. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Jalapeno hot pepper plant with fruit changing from green to red via black.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We had a very light touch of frost in the wee hours of Sunday October 11. The thermometer in the weather box recorded a low of 36F, but some of the pepper plants “recorded” something chillier. At this time of year we start our special frost season pepper harvesting technique. Instead of just harvesting fully colored peppers (and removing damaged ones), we harvest all peppers exposed to the sky, regardless of color or size. We’ve noticed that the first few frosts usually just nip the tops of the plants. So by harvesting exposed fruits we give the ones lower on the plant a bit longer to ripen, with the protection of the upper leaves. Next time there is a frost, another layer of leaves will get nipped and we’ll harvest another layer of peppers. This also has the advantage that we don’t have to deal with too many peppers at once. Eventually, of course, we’ll either harvest everything or give up. Often there are nice periods of mild weather in between the first few frosts. looks like next weekend will bring some more definite frosts.

Sweet potatoes and our last corn of the year. Photo from September, by Ezra Freeman
Sweet potatoes and our last corn of the year. Photo from September, by Ezra Freeman

We are on the point of harvesting our sweet potatoes. After all the rain we had recently, we were waiting for the soil to dry enough to walk on. Then we were waiting for several key crew members to come back from helping harvest sorghum for syrup at Sandhill Farm in Missouri. Sandhill, like Twin Oaks, is an egalitarian intentional community. We have a labor exchange program between our communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities so that each community can ask for help from the other communities when they most need it and pay it back at another time. Work for a sister community counts as work for the home community. Sandhill asks for help at sorghum harvest. naturally enough this job appeals to members who do agricultural work at home. So we been short-handed in the garden for the past ten days.

I was worried for a couple of days that the weather would stay cold and the sweet potatoes might rot in the cold wet soil. One year when I was fairly new to Virginia I caused us to leave the sweet potatoes in the ground till early November (hoping they would grow a bit more) and then it rained hard and we ended up with a load of sweet potatoes that either rotted directly or else went through a transition to a hard uncookable state. I learned the hard way to harvest sweet potatoes before soil drops to 55F. This week I studied the soil thermometer and the max and min thermometer and was reassured by the warm sunny days. The soil has been drying out nicely. Tomorrow we start digging. It usually takes us three afternoons. Everything looks auspicious. No rain or horribly cold weather, enough people. . .

Sweet potato harvest Photo Nina Gentle
Sweet potato harvest Photo Nina Gentle

Meanwhile we have been working around a Big Ditch, which will soon connect our new grid-linked solar array to the main service panel. Life has been difficult, and the job is lingering because the Big Ditch filled with the heavy rains we had, then we found some unexpected old phone lines (and accidentally cut them). And then the supplies didn’t arrive when they should have. And so on. Everyone is probably familiar with projects which take a lot longer to complete than intended. Soon it will all be done, we’ll be able to disk and prepare the future garlic area take carts along the path again. And we’ll be using more of the sunlight to make electricity!!

Ditch for cables to connect up solar array. Raised beds on the right. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Ditch for cables to connect up solar array. Raised beds on the right.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

 

Upcoming Events I’ll be speaking at

MENFairLogoThe weekend of October 24-25 I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas with my two Hoophouse workshops:

I will be giving Fall and Winter Hoophouses  as a keynote presentation on Saturday 10-11 am on the Mother Earth news stage and Spring and Summer Hoophouses
on Saturday at 1-2pm on the Organic Gardening Stage. I’ll be signing books at 11 am Saturday in the MEN Bookstore. I’ll be demonstrating How to String Weave Tomatoes using my sparkly-pink-tinsel and pencil model at the New Society booth 2055 on Saturday at 4pm, and Sunday at 10 am and 2 pm. If you want the pdfs of the handouts, click these links:

Hoophouse in Fall and Winter Handout

Hoophouse in Spring and Summer Handout


CFSA

November 6-8 I will be at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference, in Durham, North Carolina. Click here for the Conference page. I’m doing two workshops, Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables – on Saturday November7, 8.30-10am, and Succession Plantings for Continuous Harvests – on Sunday November 8, 10.45am-12.15pm. I will also do book signing at the BookSignAGanza, Saturday 5-6pm.


SSAWG

January 27-30 I will be at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. On the website you can sign up for the e-newsletter and around October 15, you can do Early Bird Registration. I will be doing book signing on the Thursday evening Jan 28 from 7 – 8 pm, following the 25 Years in the Field  talks by several people with a long history of contributing to the growth in sustainable and organic agriculture and local foods . I will be giving a 75 minute presentation on Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale on Friday  Jan 29, 9.45 -11 am. There are about 8 conference tracks (simultaneous workshops), and the conference ends on Saturday evening with a fantastic Taste of Kentucky Banquet and live music at the bar.

MENFairLogoI hope to be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. Too soon to say for sure.

Mother Earth News Fair, string-weaving tomatoes, Organic Broadcaster

At teh New SOciety booth at the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, demonstrating how to string weave tomatoes. Photo Ingrid Witvoet/New Society
At the New Society Publishers booth at the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, demonstrating how to string weave tomatoes.
Photo Ingrid Witvoet/New Society

I got home from the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania yesterday. My two workshops went well. My Friday presentation on Fall and Winter Hoophouses was the first time I had spoken on the “main stage” – the Mother Earth News stage, with at least 600 seats. On Saturday I presented Spring and Summer Hoophouses at the GRIT Stage. Both groups had plenty of people with good questions, keeping me busy till the last minute. After the Friday presentation I signed books and chatted with people at the MEN Bookstore.

And then there were the demos. At four set times over the weekend, I got out my table-top model and showed people how to string-weave tomatoes. As you see in the photo, I had pieces of pink tinsel Christmas tree branches up-cycled into model tomato plants, with #2 pencils as stakes.

String-weaving (also known as basket-weaving and Florida string weaving) is a cheap, easy way to support lots of tomato plants, and all you need to store over the winter are the stakes. No bulky cages or heavy cattle panels or cumbersome rolls of wire mesh. True, you do need to buy twine every year, but then many of the other support methods use twine also.

The ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production includes a comparison of different training and support methods. String-weaving comes out well in all categories. It isn’t best for high yields per plant, so people who only grow a few plants won’t choose this method. They’ll go for a more expensive and more time-consuming option. But if you have long rows, this method is ideal.

String-weaving diagram from Extension.org
String-weaving diagram from Extension.org

Our variation on string-weaving looks fairly like this drawing from the Extension Service. We have a couple of tricks to make it work even better. As in this drawing, we use a 2ft wood stick with a hole drilled at each end and the twine running through. Our first trick is to park the bale of twine in a bucket at the beginning of the row and leave it there. No need to lug it with you! (We have long rows!)  Putting the bale of twine in a bucket makes it easy to carry and provides a space to store scissors and gloves. Stand between the working end of the twine and the slack being pulled out of the bucket. That is, the spare twine will be running out behind you as you work the first side of the row. You’ll use it for the return journey. We tie the twine to the end stake, pass in front of two tomatoes and the next stake, wrap the twine around the back of the stake, pull tight, put a finger on the cross-over to hold it tight, and wrap round again, making sure that the second loop ends up below the first. This locks the twine so that if you let go, or later on a groundhog chews through your twine, the whole row doesn’t get loose.

String-weaving tomatoes. Photo Kathryn Simmons
String-weaving tomatoes.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

At the end of the row, take the tool round to the other side and work back in the same way, at the same level as the first side. You will need to flip the twine that was behind you on the first side over to your new working side as you need it. Once you reach the end, tie off the twine and cut it.

You’ll see that you never actually wrap twine around a tomato plant, so there is never any injury from tight twine. The plants are simply held between two walls of twine that you “build” by making a new round once a week as the plants grow.

At the end of the season, cut the twine and pull it out, then remove the stakes and till in the tomato plants.


broadcasterlogowebThe September/October edition of the Organic Broadcaster is out, and you can download the free pdf at the link. There are articles about cover crops, mushroom growing, tax planning, growing small grains, transitioning a dairy farm to organic, winter feeding of cattle, an update on avian flu and a review of the new book The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer by Jeff Carpenter with Melanie Carpenter.

Workshops on Crop Rotations, Hoophouses in spring, summer, fall and winter.

I had a good time at the Heritage Harvest Festival this past weekend. My Friday workshop  on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops in the Woodland Pavilion had about 56 participants. If you missed it or want to see it again it’s here. Most of my slide shows are on SlideShare.net. Search for Pam Dawling and click on the one you want to see.

Brite Lites chard in our hoophouse. Photo credit Pam Dawling
Brite Lites chard in our winter hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

On Saturday I did my presentation on Asian Greens. And this morning I sowed Blues Chinese cabbage, Yukina savoy, Tokyo Bekana, and pak choy, as well as Brite Lites Chard and ten kinds of lettuce, to transplant into our hoophouse for winter greens.

Last winter we tried the Osborne Multileaf lettuces compared to Salanova types, and were well pleased with the Osborne ones. And so we are growing more of those this winter, along with Tango, Panisse, Oscarde, Merlot and Red Tinged Winter. Next week I’ll sow another ten lettuces (some of the same and some others), along with Russian kales and senposai, more Yukina Savoy and the first round of mizuna and fancy frilled mustards, such as Ruby Streaks.

Pam Dawling. Photo Denny Ray McElya
Pam Dawling.
Photo Denny Ray McElya

Next weekend (September 18-20) I will be speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. I”l be one of the Keynote Speakers, talking about Fall and Winter Hoophouses on Friday 4 – 5 pm on the Mother Earth News Stage. Then I will sign books in the MEN Bookstore immediatley following the workshop.

On Saturday 10 – 11 am on the GRIT Stage I will speak about Spring and Summer Hoophouses. That pair of workshops should give plenty of ideas for the whole year.

I’m also doing off-stage demos of tomato string-weaving (using a table-top model) twice a day at the New Society Publishers booth 104.

Because printing 600 handouts is out of the question (too many trees would have to die, and so on), I have made pdfs of my handouts to post here. Click on the links.

Hoophouse winter greens. Photo Kathleen Slattery
Hoophouse winter greens.
Photo Kathleen Slattery

Fall and Winter Hoophouses  Handout

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse. Photo Nina Gentle
Cucumbers and squash in our early summer hoophouse.
Photo Nina Gentle

Spring and Summer Hoophouses Handout