Potato yields, Salanova lettuce review, Yet more snow!

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

After my Feed the Soil presentation at Lynchburg College on 3/16, one of the participants emailed me to ask the relative potato yields from our twice a year plantings. The question sent me back to my records. Interestingly (to me) I’d recorded yield almost every time, but never compared the two. Now I know:
15 years of records on spring plantings (mid-March) gave yield ratios from a very low 3:1 to a happy 13:1. The average was 8.2:1 and the median 8:1.
16 years of records on the mid-June planting gave yield ratios ranging from a miserable 3:1 to a high of 10.7:1. The average was 7:1, and the median the same.

We used to plant at 10″ in-row spacing and have shifted to 12″. These figures contain both, with no obvious difference.

Looking at these results points out to me an advantage of doing two plantings that I didn’t mention during my presentation: a poor spring result can be followed by a good summer result. And vice versa. The 13:1 spring result was followed by 4.8:1 in the summer. The 3:1 spring yield was followed by 7.2:1 from the June planting. Doing two plantings spreads the risk.

The questioner also asked if we get potato beetles. We do get them in the spring and spray once, occasionally twice, with Spinosad, which is organically acceptable. In the summer we get no potato beetles. I think the mulch helps. Adult potato beetles emerging from the soil have to walk to find potato plants, and I bet the mulch is very challenging!

We use the same varieties in both plantings, Red Pontiac and Kennebec. Kennebec stores better, Red Pontiac gives higher yields, but isn’t good for long term storage. That said, we recently finished eating Red Pontiacs from our October harvest. I haven’t done much research into trying other varieties because we just buy what’s available locally.The Irish Eyes catalog has descriptions of varieties better for certain conditions. Moose Tubers (Fedco Seeds) has a useful comparative chart of varieties.

Salanova Lettuce Review

My impulse buy when ordering seeds last year was the full set of Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s. These are varieties of lettuce bred for baby salad mix. You grow them as transplanted heads, and when the head is mature you cut the whole thing and bingo – you get a bowlful of small leaves. They do not grow big leaves, just more and more small leaves. Some of them have a core which you need to cut out in order to make the leaves fall apart. Others you just cut across at the base .If you’ve ever grown Tango, you’ll now the kind of thing.  As well as being very pretty, these lettuces are said to save you time at harvesting compared to cutting along a row of baby lettuce mix. This aspect really appealed to some of our crew.

Johnny's Foundation Collection of Salanova. Photo from their catalog

Johnny’s Foundation Collection of Salanova. Photo from their catalog

Because the seed is expensive (100 pelleted seeds for $15.95), we decided to grow these for our hoophouse “filler” heads, which we transplant into gaps that happen in our beds of head and leaf lettuce. That way we’d get them at the time of year (late winter/early spring) when we grow baby lettuce mix and we could do a direct comparison.

We bought the full set, 100 seeds of the Foundation Collection (the more frilly types) and 100 seeds of the Premier Collection (the more flat and lobed types). Each collection is 25 seeds each of four varieties. We sowed each type in a 4′ seed row (seeds 2 inches apart) on 10/23. They came up well, and we transplanted them 1/2/14. We just started using them 3/20, so the jury is still out. Some unfortunately got cut before reaching full size. I’m not sure what full size is yet. Next year, I’d sow them earlier, so that the heads mature sooner. This winter has been very cold, they may have grown slower than they could have – some other seedlings are certainly slowed down.

A couple of them are exceptionally pretty. The Red Butter type has beautiful very dark red simple shaped leaves. The Red Sweet Crisp reminds me of a fine seaweed in looks – green at the base and intense dark red at the tips. The Green Sweet Crisp is surprisingly sweet, in a good way. Winter lettuce mixes are not usually crisp or sweet.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Also next year, I’d like to compare these with some “Multileaf” varieties from Osborne Seeds. They have 7 varieties, 3 green and 4 red. It took me a little while to realize “multired” was “multi-red” and not the past tense of “to multire”, a verb I was pondering the meaning of! They are $7 – $7.47 for 500 pelleted seeds. Some are back-ordered right now, but I’d want them next winter anyway. I’d also like to do a side-by-side comparison with Tango, Oscarde and Panisse which are inclined towards packing in many small leaves without further marketing.

And finally, yes, we’re expecting some more possible snow tomorrow morning. Can you believe it? Maybe we’ll just get rain.

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>