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

Late carrot sowing, plenty of corn and okra, spotty tomatoes.

Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We finally got our big planting of fall carrots sown. Much later than I’ve ever sown carrots before. Our goal is early August, so we are a month behind. We usually harvest all our carrots at some point in November and store them for the winter. If carrots take 75 days to grow and we’ve lost 30, how big will the carrots get? The rate of growth will slow as it gets colder.We can’t just harvest a  month later and expect the same size carrots as usual. It’s not a linear rate of increase. Some crops double in size in their last month of growth. if that’s true of carrots, we’ll get about half the yield we usually do, if we harvest at our usual date.

We had challenges preparing the soil (too much rain, too many grass weeds, not enough rain, not enough time. . . ). This morning we finally got it all raked and rocks picked out, and seeds put in. We mark the beds with the Johnny’s rowmarker rake five rows in a four foot wide bed. Then we sow with an EarthWay seeder. It’s very quick and easy. We sow about 12″ of beet seeds at one end – these are our “Indicator Beets”. When the beets germinate, we know the carrots will be up the next day and it’s time to flame weed the carrot beds.

Flame weeding carrots. Photo by Kati Falger

Flame weeding carrots.
Photo by Kati Falger

Once you get over the hesitation about using a fiercely hot propane burner, flame weeding is also quick and easy. And boy, it saves so much hand weeding! We bought our Red Dragon backpack flame weeder from Fedco. As you see, we decided to use wheelbarrow rather than carry the propane tank on our backs, and include a second person (and in this picture, a third!). The second person is the safety monitor and looks out for unwanted things (like hay mulch burning).

We do hope our carrots will have ideal growing weather and catch up a bit. We’ve sowed 4000 feet of them. Here’s a picture of fall carrots from a previous year:

Fall carrots. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Fall carrots.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

I did a bit of research on last sowing dates for carrots in our area.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in their useful Fall & Winter Vegetable Gardening Quick Reference suggests 8/31. We’re five days later than that. The National Gardening Association on their customizable Garden Planting Calendar for our zipcode comes up with September 4. The news is getting better! They have planting dates for spring and fall, in a very user-friendly format. The How Do Gardener Page says August 31 is the last planting date for carrots in Virginia. Fingers crossed!

Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Planting 5 is under the ropes to the right.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Meanwhile our sweet corn is doing very well. We’re eating the Bodacious sweet corn and the Kandy Korn of our fifth sowing. In a couple of days the Silver Queen of our fifth sowing will be ready. After that we have sowing number 6, the same three varieties. That’s it: six sweet corn sowings through the season.

Another crop being very successful is okra. We grow Cow Horn okra from Southern Exposure. We like it for its tall plants, high productivity and the fact that the pods are tender at 5-6″. We do find it hard to convince our cooks that we have specially chosen this “commune-friendly” variety so they don’t have to deal with fiddly little okra pods when cooking for 100. We used to harvest at 5″, we’ve had to compromise and harvest at 4″.

Cow Horn okra. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Cow Horn okra.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

And then the not-so-good news – spotty tomatoes. We have been getting anthracnose,

Anthracnose spot on tomato. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Anthracnose spot on tomato.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

small water-soaked spots. The Vegetable MD Online site is one I often turn to. I go to the “Diseases by crop” page, then click on the vegetable I’m worrying about. Sometimes the vitally helpful photos are down the page, below the horizon. Here’s the info which I think tells us where we went wrong:

” In late spring the lower leaves and fruit may become infected by germinating sclerotia and spores in the soil debris. “

While we were determining what was wrong when our plants got hit with some hot weather herbicide drift, we didn’t touch the plants in case it was a viral disease.  We didn’t do the string weaving. The plants sprawled on the ground. Later we made a bit of an effort to catch up but failed. The plants were a sprawly mess, even though the foliage recovered and the plants were loaded with fruits. Far too much contact with the ground! (Even though we used the biodegradable plastic, each plant had a hole in the plastic, and soil ‘appeared’). I also noted that anthracnose is more prevalent on poorly drained soils, and the area we had planted in was one of the lower lying plots, and July had lots of rain.

Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Well, lessons learned! Fortunately our other tomatoes on higher ground didn’t get anthracnose, and some of them will feature in Southern Exposure‘s Tomato Tasting at the Heritage Harvest Festival this weekend.

An amazing array of tomaotes. Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier

An amazing array of tomatoes.
Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier

 

 

Tomatoes, watermelon, grapes, carrots, conferences

This week I feel we’ve turned a corner as far as being overwhelmed by the workload. We have been able to make progress on several projects, and the complete lack of rain since August 10th means that we are gaining on the weeds.

Days of yore: carts of harvested tomatoes. Photo Wren Vile

Days of yore: carts of harvested tomatoes.
Photo Wren Vile

Our sorry Roma tomatoes have come to an end, but it’s not all bad. We got 270 5-gallon buckets. Last year we harvested 313 buckets, picking until October 16. By this point last year we had harvested only 225 buckets. It took us till September 17 to get beyond today’s 270, and then another month to get the last 40 buckets. Most of those were picked in a single day when we expected frost. The plants survived the light frost and we picked twice more.

Here are the silver linings of an early end to the Roma tomatoes:

  1. Lots of time we won’t have to spend harvesting them any more.
  2. We can get a good cover crop in, because we can clear the plot earlier.
  3. No green tomatoes to deal with. (We usually store them and sort ripening ones out weekly – there is a demand for fried green tomatoes, but only so many. . . )
  4. I was able to do good seed selection for Septoria tolerance or resistance. Some plants were much better at surviving than others.
Crimson Sweet watermelon. Photo Nina Gentle

Crimson Sweet watermelon.
Photo Nina Gentle

We’re also winding down on watermelon harvests. We’ve picked 522, within our goal-range of 500-600. We’ve eaten a lot, given some away, dropped a few by accident and saved plenty of seed for the next couple of years.

Our groundhog tally went up by 4 this week, one of them caught by a dog, the rest by us. We had a raccoon in the corn, but after a groundhog occupied its trap and ate its can of cat food, it hasn’t been back. We’ve had very good sweet corn yields. Bodacious, Kandy Korn and Silver Queen are our big three favorite varieties. We’re trying a few others on a small scale: Early Sunglow, Incredible, Sparkler, and Tuxana. No collated comments on those yet. We gave up on Sugar Pearl (early, white) after trying it last year. We much prefer Bodacious (early, yellow).

Ripening Concord grapes. Photo Kati Falger

Ripening Concord grapes.
Photo Kati Falger

Our grape harvest (mostly Concord) is almost over. Usually we harvest once a week for four weeks in August, sometimes running into September if a late spring frost froze off the flower buds and they had to develop new ones.

We watched in dismay as our June sowing of carrots suffered from Alternaria blight, which blackens the leaves. Now or never, harvest or till under? Today some of the crew, more optimistic than me, dug a third of them, and found plenty of good carrots. Some not so good, it’s true. But worth digging. No, the flavor in the hot weather is never as good as in cooler weather, but these won’t wait for cooler nights. We’re cutting our losses.

Flame weeding carrots. Photo Brittany Lewis

Flame weeding carrots.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Another of our pressing projects is hoeing the big planting of fall carrots, which we sowed in early-mid August and flamed before the seedlings emerged. The flaming was well-timed, thanks to the “Indicator Beets” – a few beet seeds sown at he end of the bed. Beets germinate a bit quicker than carrots, so as soon as the beets emerge, it’s time to flame the carrots. This year, the bit that hasn’t worked so well (apart from the drought), has been the emergence of self-sowed buckwheat, resulting from the summer cover crop we planted there, and didn’t till in in time before it set seed. So the hoeing has become urgent (buckwheat grows so quickly!). We have made a good start.

We’ve finalized our plans the outdoor winter cover crops and next year’s main crops and also the hoophouse winter crops. We have spinach seeds sprouting in a jar in the fridge while we prepare the bed. This morning in the hoophouse I pulled buckwheat and shoveled 7 wheelbarrows of compost. I was motivated by the hope that if I got the compost spreading done, others would do the broadforking and raking before my next day in there on Friday!! The broadfork is a great tool, but energetic. I’d rather barrow compost!

SSAWG Conference

SSAWG Conference

I just got confirmation that I will be a presenter at the Southern SSAWG Conference January 29 and 30. I’m presenting Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale.

Now, time to switch over the drip irrigation and water the blueberries.