Review of Lynn Byczynski’s Market Farming Success

648Book Review of Market Farming Success: The Business of Growing and Selling Local Food by Lynn Byczynski. Published by Chelsea Green, October 2013

7” x 10”, 276 page paperback, full color photos throughout, $29.95.

A thorough revision and updating of a book originally written in 2006.

I write about the planning and crop production aspects of market farming. I leave the equally important marketing side to be covered by those who know more. Lynn Byczynski is an extremely knowledgeable mentor. Her overview of the business of market farming is a survival kit for new and aspiring vegetable farmers. It can save you from many pratfalls on the learning curve. Lynn explains each challenge of professional small-scale vegetable production (including some you never even realized you needed to know) in a calm, clear, confidence-boosting voice. She writes from her own experience seasoned with sifted information gleaned from the many growers she knows as editor of Growing for Market magazine.

There are eight chapters identifying and explaining aspects of market farming that new growers need to tackle. The book covers getting started, finding markets, choosing crops to grow, tools and equipment, planning, crop production, post-harvest handling and business management. Lynn gives useful information on resources and helps growers work towards success.

Should you quit your day job to start market farming? Lynn’s advice is to work towards that without jumping into the deep end. Learn as much as you can about farming while your income still reliably comes from another source. Teach yourself, learn from other farmers, practice with a big garden. If possible, keep some other part-time job going even while you start to earn a living from farming. Balance the inspiration and the perspiration!

Lynn explains the naming of small farms: less than 3 acres is generally called market gardening (or micro-farming). One person full time can handle one acre of intensive vegetable production, earning $20,000-35,000 per acre with a margin of 50-60%. Equipment consists of basic manual tools. Working between 3 and 12 acres is generally called market farming. Hand labor is not enough, therefore there are more capital costs. Income varies widely – finding enough markets to sell all the crops at retail prices can be a challenge. Vegetable farms cropping more than 12 acres need mechanization. Production is less intensive, and so the income/acre is less – up to $10,000/acre. Earning a good income relies on using more land, with a smaller profit margin – 10-50%. Of the gross income, one third each may go to paid labor, non-labor expenses and net income for the farmers.

When buying a farm, look for good soil: check the Web Soil Survey and talk with NRCS. Get help from programs for new farmers and Start2Farm.gov, a single site which collects all the free resources. Johnny’s has a free manual on building moveable caterpillar tunnels. Study drainage, texture and slope. Fertility can be improved, but rockiness will damage machinery and joint cartilage. Know how you will irrigate – never assume enough water will drop from the sky.

Drip irrigation can work with low water pressure, save water and money, reduce foliar diseases, as well as weed growth between the rows. It can be intimidating for beginners. Lynn gives step-by-step instructions to set up a basic drip system (I wish I’d had this when I was first venturing into the mysteries of drip irrigation!) Once you have the basics, you’ll learn whatever you need to upgrade. “Once you see how easy it is, you’ll be thrilled.” Such plain-spoken encouragement lightens up the book, as do the instances of novel solutions like wearing a Mardi-Gras necklace to remind you the irrigation is running.

You’ll need a diversity of crops, not just a couple of profitable items. You’ll need critical mass for the whole of your chosen season, not just early crops. Of course, grow what yields well for least labor at your farm, grow what sells best at the highest price, but also grow what fills gaps between your major crops. Keep records! “The only way to benefit from your experience is to keep records of everything you do. You may think that you will remember when you planted which variety, and when you started to harvest it. And there may be a few geniuses out there who really can remember the details on their crops. But when you are growing five, six, seven varieties of 20 different crops, you are not going to remember it all.” Lynn backs up these words of wisdom with example record sheets.

When deciding which equipment to buy first, start with machinery for tasks you can’t easily hire out. For example, secondary tillage, because this needs to be done in a timely way. It is easier to hire out primary tillage, such as plowing or disking, which needs big tractors. Tips like this can save you from tying up your limited capital in poor-choice gear, and can even save you from going under. Be sure to make a cash-flow projection so you don’t spend more than you have, or will have when you go shopping.

There are four types of seeder: the cheap plate seeders such as the EarthWay, which does a great job for the price, and leaves your crew to do the thinning; drills such as the Planet Junior; pinpoint seeders used for precision seeding of small seeds, closely sown; and precision planters which space seeds accurately, for a price. Start cheap, don’t rush to spend money. If you are growing many different crops, you might not benefit from hard-to-adjust precision seeders, so don’t spend money unless it will pay you back.

“Having great produce is essential to your success as a market gardener, but growing is only half the job. As a market farmer, you still have the selling ahead of you, but even that is not the end of the work. You still have five additional skills to master: food safety; post-harvest handling; value-added processing; pricing and presentation.” Lynn provides this clear list and then suggests you can and will master these skills and that you can measure your progress. Never sell cheap – you won’t earn a living and you might alienate people who could be your mentors.

On-Farm Food Safety Assessment helps you figure out how to handle produce safely on your farm. “Many market gardeners get into the business by gradually transitioning from home gardening to commercial gardening. If you are somewhere on that continuum, stop right now and decide that from this day forward you will act like you are in business.” Deal with taxes, legal structures, hiring, insurance. Get professional advice.

Here’s the reward: “When your business is also an activity that you enjoy, your pleasures become tax-deductible . . .  Maybe you would like to grow 50 varieties of lilies in your garden just because you love the look and fragrance of lilies. When you are in the cut-flower business, you can grow all the lilies you want and deduct the cost.” Her exuberance lightens this somber subject.

It is a general rule that one person working full-time can handle only one acre of production. Then you’ll need to hire workers from one of the four possible pools:

  • your kids (good tax benefits, as well as teaching them skills and responsibility);
  • interns or apprentices (low cost, involves training and wider education);
  • H-2A program workers (temporary immigrants);
  • local workers.

Insurance is a minefield. Beware of not expecting to get sued ever. Some people’s insurance may require them to sue you to compensate for receiving insurance payments or claims. “it is important to understand. . . you cannot depend on the fact you deal with your friends, to assume they won’t sue you if something goes wrong. In most cases they will not be making this decision, the insurance company will, and insurance companies are not interested in friendships.”

Lynn explain the possible relative costs and benefits of paying workers’ comp insurance for your employees versus adding employees to your farm liability policy. This could save you $400/person/year.”

Lynn is committed to helping new farmers meet success. She plans to put the whole “Where to Learn More” chapter on the Growing for Market website so that we get one handy access point with live links to all the sites mentioned. Go to www.growingformarket.com click the button for Market Farming Success.

I started out recommending this book for all new market farmers. As I read it, I see that this book is so dense with helpful tips that any market grower could quickly save the cover price many times over, just learning and applying one new trick.

Growing for Market February issue is out! So is USDA Climate Change Report!

GFM-February2013-cover-300px

The February 2013 issue of Growing for Market magazine is now available, including my new article  Making Good Decisions Under Pressure. This is the fourth article in my series about being resilient, understanding what’s going on with the plants and the weather, and knowing when to take action, is about tools to help busy farmers with complex decisions that have to be taken quickly. The middle of a hot field in mid-afternoon of the day you need to plant is not the best place to make a hard decision. It’s better to have a framework in place to lean on when the going gets tough. I talk about various decision-making techniques, clarifying whose job it is to make each decision, what resources are available, and what the impacts of the decision might be.

If that sounds abstract, I also include our sad chart “Can’t Do It All 2011”.  In early March that year, we realized we had nothing like enough experienced workers. We were looking at an overwhelming amount of work. We made a list of labor-intensive crops for possible cuts. The main point was to save us time, not just cut crops we personally disliked! We noted the decision date by each crop on the list. As each date approached we reviewed our situation. This method enabled us to make one decision at a time, in a straightforward way, and not go insane. Such a list is helpful for many types of calamity. It leaves the door open for possible upturns of fortune later in the year. It’s less distressing to take one bite at a time than to take a big decision when you already are struggling to cope with some big bad thing having happened.

This issue of GfM also has these articles:

• Lettuce varieties that tolerate heat and cold By Lynn Byczynski

• Book Reviews: The Organic Seed Grower (John Navazio) and The Art of Fermentation Sandor Katz) by Lynn Byczynski

• A new meal-planning service keeps CSA members happy by Lynn Byczynski

• Capturing information in the field to help with recordkeeping, by Chris Blanchard

• Plans for farm-built pallets that make it easy to move transplants, by Chip and Susan Planck

• What the proposed federal produce safety rules mean to you, by Lynn Byczynski

• An urban flower farmer builds a flourishing business in weddings, an interview with Jennie Love by Erin Benzakein.

Also newly arrived is the Report Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation (USDA Technical Bulletin 1935). I wrote about this in my post following the CFSA conference in October, where I attended a gripping workshop by Laura Lengnick, one of the authors of this report. It has 193 pages, and when I’ve read it, I’ll review it. Chapters include An Overview of U.S. Agriculture, An Overview of the Changing Climate, Climate Change Science and Agriculture, Climate Change Effects on U.S. Agricultural Production, Climate Change Effects on the Economics of U.S. Agriculture, Adapting to Climate Change, Conclusions and Research Needs, and various appendices.

Photo by Wren Vile

Photo by Wren Vile

Success at the Virginia Biofarming Conference! Watch the slideshow!

On Saturday 2/8/13 I gave my presentation at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond. It was Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops. You can watch the slide show here or go to SlideShare.net.

About 120 people came to my workshop – there were about 500 people at the whole conference. I also sold 48 more Sustainable Market Farming books!

While I was tidying up, I loaded my other slide shows onto SlideShare.net too. Here are the links:

http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/crop-rotations

Growing Great Garlic was presented at the Carolina Farm Stewardship conference in October 2012: http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/cfsa-2012-growing-great-garlic-pam-dawling

Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests was presented at the Heritage Harvest Festival in September 2012: http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/hhf-2012-succession-planting-for-continuous-vegetable-harvests-pam-dawling

Producing Asian Greens for Market and Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale are both from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January 2013: http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/southern-sawg-producing-asian-greens-for-market-pam-dawling
http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/southern-sawg-intensive-vegetable-production-on-a-small-scale-pam-dawling

Or you can simply go to SlideShare and search for “Pam Dawling”

Next I’m working on how to make the handouts more accessible, although SlideShare does make this less necessary for the workshops where the slideshow includes everything on the handout. The Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale handout does have material I couldn’t include in such a short slideshow.

Meanwhile in our garden we’re weeding the asparagus and sowing more seeds in the greenhouse: celery and celeriac, kohlrabi, broccoli and more cabbage. The first lettuce and cabbage are ready for spotting out. I’m hoping the sun will come out this afternoon and I can enjoy myself doing those tasks. Tomorrow we might prune the blueberries.

Virginia Festival of the Book Update . And more event updates.

Virginia Festival of the BookI will be a presenter at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, March 20-24 2013. I’ll be talking about my book Sustainable Market Farming, and growing vegetables sustainably to feed ourselves and our community.My panel discussion, the Locavore track, will be on Thursday March 21 at 6pm, at the JMRL Public Library, 201 East Market Street. It’s free! See you there.

I’ll be signing and selling copies of my book, so if you want a signed copy, and you want local authors to get the money they’ve earned (rather than have it go to that cheap online store!), come and get one. Of course, you also get the chance to leaf through and see it is the book for you!

Also on the Locavore panel will be Jackson Landers, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food and Eating Aliens (about hunting invasive animal species for food). Here’s an interesting interview with Jackson Landers from 2010 and his blog The Locavore Hunter.

Here’s my list of upcoming events:

I’ll be taking part with Ira Wallace in teaching a module of the VABF Farm School on Monday 3/18/13 at J Sergeant Reynolds college. We’re talking on Sustainable Farming Practices. The purpose of this program is to help beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia to make informed farm planning decisions as part of a whole farm plan.  This six week comprehensive program (Monday evenings from 6:00-9:00pm) will introduce students to these curriculum modules:

  • Introduction to Whole Farm Planning (2 sessions)
  • Marketing
  • Sustainable Farming Practices (2 sessions)
  • Holistic Business Management

On June 27 2013, I’ll be giving a presentation on Planning for Fall Vegetable Production at VSU’s Randolph Farm, as part of the Annual Summer Vegetable and Berry Field Day, which runs from 9am to 3pm and includes a field tour, a chef competition and then a choice of educational sessions.

I’ll be presenting two workshops at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Friday September 6 and Saturday September 7.  it was a lovely event last year, with perfect weather. let’s hope for similar again. I’ll be presenting my workshop  on Producing Asian Greens on Friday Sept 6 and one on Succession Planting on Saturday Sept 7.

I’ll be at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, PA September 20-22, 2013. If you haven’t been to a MEN Fair before, consider going. They’re a lot of fun and a lot of useful information, all at a very reasonable price. Weekend tickets are $20 if you pre-order by March 31, 2013: (Price at the gate: $35). There are workshops on renewable energy, small-scale agriculture, gardening, green building and more. There are vendors of books, tools and organic foods. You can book a room at the Seven Springs resort, or camp nearby. Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/SevenSprings.aspx#ixzz2F3JVesVm

My books are selling well. I’m selling them by mail order and via my website (see the front page) and in person at events I attend  People wanting e-books, go to New Society Publishers.Trade orders go to this link.

southern-sawg-producing-asian-greens-for-market-pam-dawling

I’ve gathered my presentations from the SSAWG Conference and put the slideshows on Slideshare.net.

Producing Asian Greens for Market.

 

southern-sawg-intensive-vegetable-production-on-a-small-scale-pam-dawling

Intensive vegetable production on a small scale

 

Twin Oaks Garden Task List for February

Greenhouse interior with early spring seedling flats.Photo Kathryn Simmons

Greenhouse interior with spring seedling flats.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

PlanningWeek 1:  Revise Crop Planting Quantities chart, Perennials worksheet, Harvest and Food Processing Calendars, Veg Finder, and Phenology Chart. Week 2:  Revise Fall Brassicas Spreadsheet, Onion Plan and Log, Sweet Potato Plan. Revise and post Paracrew Invitation. Week 3: Write Seed Saving Letter. Revise Blueberry Map and Log, Grape Map and Log. Week 4: Revise Crop Planting Specs sheet, revise Garden Planning Calendar, File notes, prune files.

Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce #3, 4 in flats (short-day fast varieties, every 14 days).

Spread compost & till beds for spinach, beets, favas, lettuce, onions, little alliums, turnips, senposai, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, collards when soil dry enough.  Till beds for carrots 1-3, with or without compost.

#1 Spring Tractor Work  – Compost and disk areas for broccoli and potatoes when dry enough, or till.

Early Feb: in greenhouse sow: cabbage, collards, senposai, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli #1, celery, celeriac

Sow spinach outdoors if Jan sowings fail: 4oz/bed pre-sprouted. Transplant spinach from hoophouse [or flats].

Sow fava beans (seed is in peas bucket). Plant small potato onions if not done in January.

Mid-month: in greenhouse: Sow lettuce #3, and resow hoophouse peppers as needed. Spot cabbage, lettuce#3, hoophouse peppers, kale, collards, and harden off.

February pepper seedlings in the greenhousePhoto Kathryn Simmons

February pepper seedlings in the greenhouse
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Sow carrots #1 outdoors with indicator beets. Flameweed. Finish planting spinach, (direct sow if not enough transplants).

Buy seed potatoes mid-month and set out to greensprout (chit) before planting: 65°F (19°C) and light.

[Strawberries: plant new bought plants, if applicable.]

Late Feb, sow carrots # 2 (flameweed);

Really finish transplanting spinach. If needed, presprout 4oz/bed spinach for 1 week before sowing.

Till and sow areas for clover cover crops (eg grapes, eggplant beds), or oats, from 2/15.                    

Transplant fall-sown onions ½-3/4” deep, when no thicker than pencils. Weed over-wintered spinach, kale, collards.

In greenhouse sow broccoli #2 (2 weeks after 2nd), (shallots), lettuce #4, hoophouse cukes.

Perennials: Finish weeding. Give compost, if not done in fall, including strawberries and grapes.  See list for January.  Transplant bushes, canes, crowns if needed. Mulch. Finish pruning blueberries, ribes. Prune grapes before 3/21 – see last year’s log notes about replacement limbs needed, etc. Summer raspberries: cut out old canes. Install irrigation. Prepare sites for new grapevines, if needed.

Vates kale over-wintered Photo Twin Oaks Community

Vates kale over-wintered
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Harvest: (Chard?), collards, kale, spinach, leeks.

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, by Kristin Kimball, Scribner, 2010 – Book Review

The Dirty LifeI feel drawn to autobiographies of women farmers, and Kristin Kimball’s story of growing food for a hundred people particularly appealed to me. I grow vegetables and some fruit for a hundred people at Twin Oaks Community, and our farming as a whole provides meat and dairy products too – what would be the points of similarity and of difference?

Kristin is a freelance writer from New York City. She interviews an energetic young farmer, gets pulled into joining in his work, and then moves from the city to start a new life with him. After some time looking for suitable land for free, they find the deeply run down Essex Farm. This book is the story of their first tumultuous year at Essex Farm (2003), operating a Full Diet CSA.

For farmers, this book will not be a cozy read – you’ll be on the edge of your chair! I probably got over half way through the book before I had any hope that they could succeed. Kristin and Mark’s success defies the quantity of hard work, the number of disasters and arguments, and their opposing strongly held opinions. And yet I know they succeeded, because several years have elapsed since the book was written and they are speaking at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in February 2013. But my goodness, in the early days, they seemed doomed to fail.

Their Whole Diet CSA model is revolutionary not only in the range of food provided, but also in the radical distribution method, which is simplicity itself: “Take what you need.” They provide vegetables, fruit, herbs, maple syrup, flours, dried beans, eggs, milk, beef, chicken and pork, for $2900 (in 2010), on a sliding scale. The members can show up every Friday afternoon to collect what they need from what’s available. Some members live pretty much on the food from Essex Farm, and others also buy elsewhere. There were about 100 members in 2010.

Kristin starts from being a very soft-handed non-farming townie in tight jeans and heeled boots. She has a lot to learn! How will it ever work? Especially as Mark is experienced at farming and seemingly obsessed with working long hard hours in top gear. We don’t hear so much from Mark’s perspective, but Kristin does tell us that he avoids the word “work”, preferring to say “I farmed for 14 hours today.” I like that approach. Mark is an excellent cook as well as a very good farmer. Early in their relationship he kills a deer and cooks dinner. Kristin says “I fell in love with him over a deer’s liver.”

Mark has all the farming knowledge and plenty of opinions besides. He believes he has a magic circle around him, and that good things (such as a free farm) will manifest. Naturally enough, this is exasperating for Kristin, who is accused of draining the magic with her negativity. The clash of the earnest woo-woo hippie and the middle-class lover of manicures and foreign travel doesn’t look promising. Mark tells Kristin to give away her beautiful bed rather than bring it with her to the farm, as he will build a more beautiful bed. They sleep on a mattress on the floor for a very long time. How is this all going to lead to a thriving farm and two thriving farmers?

They (led by Mark) decide to farm in ways they enjoy even if they are less efficient: working horses, hand-milking, no fussing over picayune pricing of individual products. They move to Essex farm in early winter. There are tenants in the farmhouse, so they rent a place in town and commute to milk their cow, feed their chickens and restore the outbuildings. Meanwhile they make plans. Their plans are way beyond reasonable. In one week in February they intend to plan and build a greenhouse. The next week they will cut and split the whole year’s supply of firewood. They planned to hold their wedding in October, coinciding with 50 chicks arriving. Their honeymoon week they would also be extracting honey!

Kristin Kimball

Kristin Kimball

Kristin gets library books about construction and plumbing. She realizes how wrong her prejudice was, that manual workers are stupid and lazy. She gets herself through this big change in lifestyle by pretending she’s visiting a foreign land and will one day go home. She enjoys the present, the everyday, but doesn’t consider the hard work in the dirt and cold as a long-term lifestyle. She doesn’t want the emergencies – runaway cattle, freezing pipes, work at all hours, endlessly.

Despite the ill omens, they survive the winter (and we’re talking a long Northern winter here). “March was a tense and slightly dangerous time, like a border crossing between two conflicting countries. It’s not the deprivations of winter that get you, or the damp of spring, but the no-man’s land between.” The unpredictable weather, the dull and depressed fields. This resonated for me. When I lived and gardened on the Yorkshire Moors, I felt like this in March. Winter seemed endless, but it didn’t help to expect spring in March, because it just was too early. Now I’m in Virginia and we have weeks of work behind us by the end of March – winter is so much shorter.

During the maple syrup run, Kristin finds her feet, a job she excels at: evaporating the sap. She begins to love the work, seeing the connection between her actions and their consequences, believing in what she’s doing. She and Mark still argue a lot, with their different styles (passive-aggressive grudge-nurturer versus dog-like shaking of the issue.) Kristin sees that their arguments come from their two different basic fears: hers of poverty, debt and being enslaved to repayments; his of ruining themselves with overwork: “the farm gaining mass and speed until it ran over the farmer and squashed him.” He worried they’d be overwhelmed and life would not be fun anymore. Both problems are certainly deserving of fear. Organic farms fail most often from burnout or divorce. Kristin comments that they were fighting so much they could reach divorce before even reaching marriage.

Which farmer will not relate to this, my favorite quote from the book: “A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only things that must be done now, and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can’t, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. It’s blackmail, really.”

They somehow continue to build up the farm and by the time the ground has thawed [I wonder when that is in the Lake Champlain area?], they have seven paid up members for their CSA, and tensions recede. They have direction, purpose and a weekly goal. Neighbors and friends rally to help. The first week of their CSA they offer milk, meat, eggs, maple syrup and lard.

Once they reach June, the peak of the farming year, they are starting work at 3.45am and not finishing till 7pm (and even then they still have to lock up the chickens). Kristin even falls asleep on the seat of the cultivator. Mark seems to have “diabolical energy” and exuberance. Kristin is happy, working alongside Mark and walking the fields in the evenings, making more plans.

Kristin realizes “the things I admired most about him [Mark] in the abstract were what drove me nuts in the specific.” His beliefs were informed by his experiences and his research. He was uncomfortable with anything where he was unable to know and measure the impact – he wanted no part of it. He tried hard to live by his beliefs of low consumption, handmade items, responsible decisions. Kristin, for her part, was a hedonist with no particular ethic. Mark’s unbending strength carries him and the farm through very hard times. Unbending strength = rigidity = inflexibility = stubbornness. Kristin accommodates to Mark’s beliefs (perhaps another example of Mark’s good luck – without a partner like Kristin, flexible, hardworking, accepting,  he would not have made it)

The CSA membership reaches 30 by late summer. They realize the house will not be all fixed up in time for the wedding. Their “To Do” list includes “Find tables and chairs. Slaughter bull for ox roast. Butcher chickens for rehearsal dinner. Write vows.”  Kristin is still unsure she wants to marry Mark: “Poverty, unmitigated hard work, and a man whom, for all his good points, no reasonable person would describe as easy to be with.” She is very candid, very open about her doubts, to a level I feel uncomfortable with – it feeds my near-certainty that they’ll never make it. She is also very perceptive: “Marriage asks you to let go of a big chunk of who you were before, and that loss must be grieved. A choice for something and someone is a choice against absolutely everything else, and that’s one big fat goodbye.”

In October the wedding does happen (in case you too, were wondering), despite Kristin having flu and the baker having gone AWOL. It was a reflection of their farming: “exquisite, untidy, sublime and untamed”. I don’t know if the chicks arrived the same week, as originally planned. One month later, Kristin is on a two month writing assignment in Hawai’i. She feels a need to anchor herself by doing some farming, so she visits a vegetable grower. She is taken aback by the leisurely pace of harvesting, and records that that was the moment she made the emotional commitment to her marriage. She realizes the difficulties in her chosen life are hers by choice, and she can’t wait to get home.

When she gets home, Mark has settled into his own rhythm, and they work together looking for harmony, not for conflict. But this isn’t the sugar-coated happy-ever-after ending. Their marriage remains fiery. They engage a few interns each year, and employ some of the local people. CSA membership grows to a hundred. In year 4 their daughter is born and they buy part of the farm.

Kristin leaves us with these words of wisdom: “in my experience, tranquil and simple are two things farming is not. Nor is it lucrative, stable safe or easy. Sometimes the work is enough to make you weep.” And yet “A bowl of beans, rest for tired bones. . . . these things. . .  have comforted our species for all time, and for happiness’ sake they should not slip beneath our notice. Cook things, eat them with other people. If you can tire your own bones while growing the beans, so much the better for you.”

Phew! It worked out! Who needs suspense novels for winter reading when there are farming tales as gripping as this one? to read more, go to her website.

See you at Little Rock for SSAWG, with books!

Southern SAWG

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference “Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms” is coming right up. January 23-26 at the Statehouse Convention Center and Peabody Hotel, Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m surprised to find I haven’t already told you about it.

The best bit is that I will probably have copies of my book to sell (and sign, if you want!)

I’m contributing to three workshops (I’ve been busy preparing the slide shows and presentations – maybe that’s why I forgot to mention it! Right in front of my nose every day.

Michihili Chinese cabbagePhoto credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Michihili Chinese cabbage
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

At 1.30pm on Friday 25, I’m presenting this one: “Producing Asian Greens For Market — There are many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens that grow quickly and bring fast returns. Led by long-time producer and author of the new book, Sustainable Market Farming, this session will cover production of Asian Greens outdoors and in the hoophouse, including tips on variety selection, timing of plantings, pest and disease management, fertility and weed management, and harvesting. Over twenty types of Asian Greens will be discussed.”

Then at 10.30am on Saturday 26, I’m part of a panel doing:” Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is It Right For You? — On-farm seed production can ensure that you have access to the seed you need, diversify farm income, and provide the environmental benefits of new crop rotations and enhanced beneficial insect habitat. But managing seed crops along with a demanding, diverse production system can be daunting. Hear the success stories of other farmers who have taken the leap into seed production and learn how and why you may want to do the same. Micaela Colley, Organic Seed Alliance (WA); Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA); Richard Moyer, Moyer Family Farm (VA); Jim Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm (ME); and Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks (VA).”

Seed Drying ScreensPhoto credit Twin Oaks

Seed Drying Screens
Photo credit Twin Oaks

 

And lunch is followed at 1.30pm by: “Intensive Crop Production on a Small Scale — Many farmers raise large amounts of food on small acreages. Learn about methods for close spacing, wide beds, using season extension techniques, soil-building, disease and pest management, and dealing with humidity and heat issues in crowded plantings. Presenters will also discuss developing a marketing plan to inform a planting guide and maximize profits. For both rural and urban farmers who want to maximize production on limited space. Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community (VA) and Edwin Marty, Hampstead Institute (AL).”

Broccoli transplants in our cold framePhoto credit Kathryn Simmons

Broccoli transplants in our cold frame
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Ordering seeds! Seed Viability and Varieties New to us

I’ve been busy putting our seed orders together. As we grow so many different crops, it’s quite a time-consuming process. And I hate to buy too little and be out in the field on planting day, looking at an almost empty packet. Equally, I hate to buy too much, which either wastes money (if we throw the extra away), or else causes us to risk sowing seed that really is too old, and won’t do well. I keep a chart of how long different types of seed last:

Seed Viability

(From Sustainable Market Farming, (c) Pam Dawling, New Society Publishers, 2013)

     

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   “Opinions vary a bit about how many years seeds of different vegetables are good for. The fuller story is that storage conditions make a big difference. You can make your own decisions, weighing up the information supplied, your knowledge of how carefully you stored the seeds, the information on each packet about percentage germination when you bought it, and the economic importance to you of that particular crop. If you always transplant lettuce, as I do, you can risk one of your four varieties in that sowing coming up poorly, and just plant out more of the other three if it fails. Many seed catalogs include information about seed longevity, and so does Nancy Bubel in The Seed Starters Handbook.

www.chelseagreenFrank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.

A simplified version is as follows:

  • Year of purchase only: Parsnips, Parsley, Salsify, and the even rarer Sea Kale, Scorzonera
  • 2 years: Corn, Peas and Beans of all kinds, Onions, Chives, Okra, Dandelion, Martynia,
  • 3 years: Carrots, Leeks, Asparagus, Turnips, Rutabagas
  • 4 years: Spinach, Peppers, Chard, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, Basil, Artichokes and Cardoons
  • 5 years: most Brassicas, Beets, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Cucumbers, Muskmelons, Celery, Celeriac, Lettuce, Endive, Chicory.”

Rather than deteriorating with age, some very fresh seed has a dormancy that needs to be overcome by chilling (lettuce). Other seed contains compounds that inhibit germination. These can be flushed out by soaking in water for about an hour (beets).

Another of the challenges with seed ordering is converting between grams, ounces and seed counts. Here’s a helpful table of 1000 Seed Weight for 13 crops.

Our main seed suppliers are FedcoJohnny’s and Southern Exposure. Fedco has great prices, especially on bulk sizes, great social and political commentary in the catalog, and no glossy pages. Johnnys has some good varieties that Fedco doesn’t, and a ton of useful information tucked away on their website. Southern Exposure is best on southern crops and heat tolerant varieties which we can’t expect seed companies in Maine to specialize in. Plus, SESE are my friends and neighbors.

This year we are trying some new varieties. Generally we like to have some reliable workhorses that we know well, and trial a few new things, especially if we hear our favorite varieties are no longer available. Last year our Nadia eggplant couldn’t cope with the heat. For a while in early summer they didn’t grow at all – no new flowers, never mind new fruit. So next year, alongside Nadia I’m trying 3 that should deal better with heat. Florida Highbush is open-pollinated, from the Seed Savers Exchange. Epic and Traviata are hybrids from Osborne Seeds.

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

I also bought some Sugar Flash snap peas from Osborne. We have been big fans of Sugar Ann, but I’ve heard Sugar Flash is even better on flavor, yield and harvest period. We’re going to find out!

For a couple of years we really liked Frontier bulb onions as a storage variety for this climate and latitude (38N). Frontier disappeared from the catalogs of our usual suppliers and we tried Gunnison and Patterson. This year – no Gunnison! And we didn’t get a good test of Patterson last year, as we failed to weed our onions enough, after an initial enthusiastic good go at it. We were looking again at Copra, one we grew some years ago (before we found Frontier). I lucked out when I decided to see if Osborne had Gunnison, while I was shopping there. they didn’t, but they had Frontier! And then when I was shopping at Johnny’s, I found they did have some Gunnison for online sales only. So I ordered those too!

We’re also trying Sparkler bicolor sweet corn from Fedco and a drying bean I won’t name, as the seed is in short supply. And this year we’re hoping Red Express cabbage will prove to be a reliable little worker. We used to like Super Red 80, but had several years of poor results. Since then, none of the other red cabbages we tried have satisfied us in terms of size, earliness, productivity and flavor.

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

After a few years of poor pickling cucumbers, we’re going outside the box and trying West Indian Gherkins from Monticello, where they were grown by Thomas Jefferson (and some of the enslaved people, no doubt). These are not closely related to actual cucumbers, but are used similarly. I saw them growing in the Monticello garden when I was there for the Heritage Harvest Festival in September, and they are certainly robust and productive in hot humid weather. We’ll see how the pickles turn out!

My only other “impulse buy” was the Salanova Lettuce new at Johnny’s. They are 6 varieties of head lettuce designed to be used for salad mix at a single cutting. Quicker than  snipping rows of baby lettuce with scissors. More fun than plain lettuce heads. They are loose heads of small leaves in various shades of green and red, and two “hairstyles”: frizzy and wavy.

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny's Seeds

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s Seeds

12/14/12 My book has gone to the printers!

Since my last update on December 4, we all had a last minute flurry of activity before I left for a few days in the Shenandoah mountains. A very nice break. I got back last night and now have official confirmation from New Society Publishers that the book has gone off to press!

I spent last weekend (before my trip) trawling through the whole thing as a pdf, looking for anything that needed fixing. Kathryn managed to shrink down the index to make up for the extra-long text. The designer managed to squeeze in some more photos. And I found a replacement for one photo that just wasn’t high enough resolution for the color section.

I really wanted a header drawing for each crop chapter, but I didn’t have quite enough of Jessie Doyle’s. You can see her work at jessiedoylesstuff.blogspot.com. I got a few more from other artists, and had to make sure they were credited correctly. Somehow the list and the late drawings got lost when I deposited them in the elctronic drop box, Box.com. I remember it took me ages to do and I was very late for dinner. I imagine I forgot to press one important last button. Anyway, we got all that sorted out.

There was one complicated crop rotation chart that needed last minute changes and the person working on it wasn’t there last Friday when NSP sent me the pdf, so I was unsure it was happening. It was all taken care of!

There were a couple of other charts that had oddities to fix. And sure enough, I found a typo that no-one had noticed before! (Oasts rather than oats.)

And now it’s passed the point of recall, and I’m not making any more changes. Now I can relax a bit!

The publication date remains February 1st, even though the off-press date is now more like mid-late January. I still hope to have some books to sign and sell at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference.

This is a big book – 456 pages now, up from the planned 400, but still at $34.95. Thirteen pages for a dollar! See http://www.newsociety.com/Books/S/Sustainable-Market-Farming

I’ll be getting 3000 bookmarks as give-aways, and I’ll buy 250 on my initial order (maybe 16 in a carton). I’ll be selling them through this website, and at conferences and other events I’m at.Image front cover

See you at the Virginia Festival of the Book!

Virginia Festival of the BookI’ve just received confirmation that I will be a presenter at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, March 20-24 2013. I’ll be talking about my book Sustainable Market Farming, and growing vegetables sustainably to feed ourselves and our community. My panel discussion, the Locavore track, will be on Thursday March 21 at 6pm, at CitySpace, 100 5th St NE. I’ll post more when I have more information.

Also on the Locavore panel will be Jackson Landers, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food and Eating Aliens (about hunting invasive animal species for food). Here’s an interesting interview with Jackson Landers from 2010 and his blog The Locavore Hunter.

Here’s my list of upcoming events:

I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference, January 25-27 2013 at Little Rock, Arkansas presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market; one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve also agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming – no details yet.

Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

After the Virginia Festival of the book in March, I have no workshops planned until September.  I’ll be at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, PA September 20-22, 2013. If you haven’t been to a MEN Fair before, consider going. They’re a lot of fun and a lot of useful information, all at a very reasonable price. Weekend tickets are $15 up until January 31. (Price at the gate: $35). There are workshops on renewable energy, small-scale agriculture, gardening, green building and more. There are vendors of books, tools and organic foods. You can book a room at the Seven Springs resort, or camp nearby. Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/SevenSprings.aspx#ixzz2F3JVesVm