I just got home from the Organic Growers’ School Spring Conference near Asheville, NC. On Friday, I gave an all-day workshop with Ira Wallace, on Year-Round Growing on the Farm and Garden. The classroom at Creekside Farm, Arden was packed. This farm also has an educational center, which made a great setting for our workshop. The weather was awful, so we didn’t explore the very wet farm much. We had plenty of indoor teaching material including show-and-tell. The funniest part was my Julia Child chicken-on-the-floor moment when I dropped a freshly -made soil block on the nice wood floor.
On Saturday and Sunday, I gave my Sustainable Farming Practices presentation, which is now on www.SlideShare.net, and posted here for convenient viewing. Just click the diagonal arrow icon to see it full screen.
Now I have a couple of lovely days at home, working in the hoophouse and greenhouse. The crew is steadily composting more beds, sowing peas and transplanting endless spinach beds (our spring is short and then heats up, so to get a longer spring spinach season, we do all transplants.)
Elsewhere for interesting gardening and farming reading, I am enjoying The Modern Farmer an online and digital subscription magazine with lots of thought-provoking and useful articles. Some recent ones I really like include
‘Tis the season – after the relaxation of the holidays – time for garden planning. Inventory your seeds left from last year, peruse the catalogs and prepare your seed orders. The earlier you get them in, the more likely you are to get the varieties you want, before anything is sold out.
I notice that readers of my blog have been looking up the Twin Oaks Garden Calendar, also known as The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month. You can search the category Garden Task List for the Month, or you can click on the linked name of the month you want. At the end you can click on “Bookmark the Permalink” if you might want to refer to this in future. Remember, we’re in central Virginia, winter-hardiness zone 7a. Adjust for your own climate.
Meanwhile, despite the turn to cold weather, we are not huddled indoors all the time. Each day, one or two of us sally forth to harvest enough vegetables to feed the hundred people here at Twin Oaks Community. Outdoors, in the raised bed area, we have winter leeks, Vates kale, spinach and senposai. We could have had collards but we lost the seeds during the sowing period, so we have lots of senposai instead. Senposai leaves (the core of the plant may survive 10F), are hardy down to about 12F. I noticed some got a bit droopy when we had a night at 15F. Collards are hardier – Morris Heading (the variety we grow) can survive at least one night at 10F.
In the hoophouse, we have many crops to choose from: lettuce, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, Yukina Savoy, Tokyo Bekana, turnips and turnip greens, scallions, mizuna, chard, Bull’s Blood beet greens.
Pak Choy and Chinese cabbage heads are filling out, ready for harvest in January.
Tokyo Bekana, a non-heading Asian green, has large tender leaves, which we are adding to salad mixes. It can be used as a cooking green, but only needs very light cooking. It will bolt soon, so we are harvesting that vigorously, not trying to save it for later.
The kale and senposaiin the hoophouse are being saved for when their outdoor counterparts are inaccessible due to bad weather. The spinach is added to salad mixes, or harvested for cooking when outdoors is too unpleasant, or growth slows down too much.
Another kind of planning I’m doing right now is scheduling my speaking events for the coming year and practicing my presentations. Last week I updated my Events page, and this week I’m adding a new event: The September 21-22 Heritage Harvest Festival.
I might pick up a couple of events in late April and early June, but that’s just speculation at this point.
Right now I need to practice for the CASA Future Harvest Conference January 11-13. Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and a 10-minute “Lightning Session” on using graphs to plan succession plantings for continuous harvest. Click the link or my Events page for more on this.
Our Eat-All Greens are still alive, if not exactly thriving. The peas have been harvested to death; the kohlrabi, beets and chards are never going to amount to anything; some of the more tender Asian mustard greens are showing some frost damage.
On 12/10 we made one last crew foray to harvest – not greens, but roots! I’d noticed in the wet mild weather of late November the radishes and turnips had fattened up. We can always use a few more turnips, I thought. Plus, I was inspired by the quick-pickle radisheswe’d had recently. See sustainexistence – sustainable sustenance for our existence, the local foodie blog written by one of my fellow Twin Oakers.
As we were harvesting the two and a half buckets of radishes, someone came by who said he was planning to pickle radishes, so I told him we’d keep him busy! (Actually, ten days later, there are many left to deal within the walk-in cooler.) The daikons predictably did well, as they are a fall crop. Other good varieties included Crimson Giant, which I picked up at a seed swap, and White Icicle. Sparkler (a small radish was unsurprisingly tough and woody at this overgrown stage.
Meanwhile we have been working on our garden planning for next year. Back in 1996 we devised a 10-plot crop rotation, which has generally served us very well for 19 years. The first few years we tweaked it a bit, but we haven’t needed major changes. You can see our pinwheel rotation plan in my book Sustainable Market Farming and in my slideshow Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops on SlideShare.net.
Here you can see the original card version, complete with modifications. The central card disk is fastened with one of those brass-legged paperclips and can be turned one notch each year.
The bit we want to change is the fast-turnaround where the spring potatoes are followed by the fall broccoli and cabbage. This has worked well in terms of getting high usage from our land, and freeing up one plot in ten to be Green Fallow (all-year cover crops). We did that by undersowing the fall brassicas with clover about a month after transplanting, and then letting the clovers grow for a year and a half before disking in. The difficulties with such a fast turnaround in July are
If we have a wet spring, and we plant the potatoes late, we have to terminate them early (by mowing the tops) and the yield isn’t as good as it might have been. Climate change suggests we might be in for more wet springs, and with El Nino upon us, this is a good time to switch.
If the weather doesn’t co-operate in July, the soil might be too wet to harvest the potatoes when we want to, and too wet to disk in preparation for the transplanting. We need to build more climate resilience into our rotation!
July is stressful enough – it’s hot and humid, people are taking their turn at having a vacation.
If we are late transplanting the broccoli and cabbage, the plants are oversize and don’t do well, so we get reduced yields of broccoli and cabbage that year.
We prefer transplanting in the evenings in the summer (cooler for us and for the plants), and if we get late into August, the daylight is getting too short to get much done.
And so, we are seizing the opportunity to make the switch. The opportunity comes because for the last several years we have not needed to grow winter squash in the vegetable garden because it is grown elsewhere on the farm by the Twin Oaks Seeds.
Our crop rotation contains several sequences of crops that we want to keep. For example, Fall brassicas/Green Fallow/early spring crop (Could be corn or potatoes, but not the spring broccoli and cabbage). Another sequence that works well for us is the Early corn/Garlic next to spring brassicas/fall carrots in one half, rye vetch and peas for no-till cover crop in the other half/paste tomatoes on the no-till the next year.
What we’ve planned for next year (a transition to our new plan) is to use the former winter squash plot for the fall brassicas/clover bit. This involves snipping that plot out of the pie and moving it after the corn #6/sweet potato and the spring potato/cantaloupe (which had morphed into 100% potatoes over the years), so that the newly housed fall brassicas can be followed by the clover year.
But that leaves potatoes only two years after other potatoes, and the late corn only two years after the middle corn, so we don’t want to do that more than once! So for 2017 onwards, we plan to insert the late corn & sweet potato/spring potato sequence after the clover, and move the early corn after the spring potatoes (when we have time to plant a winter-killed cover crop and make cultivation for the early corn easy). And switch the watermelon piece of the pie with the 3rd, 4th and 5th sweet corn successions to even out the years between corn patches.
This will give potatoes, tomatoes, potatoes 3 or 4 years before the plot is nightshades again. With the corn we get 3 years, 5 years and 2 years. Not ideal. But we don’t get much in the way of corn diseases (compared to tomato diseases) so it seems the best place to compromise.
If you get bored with holiday jigsaw puzzles and TV offerings, you could draw up your own version of our rotation, chop it up and rearrange it, and send us you suggestions. Remember to plan the winter cover crops too! Have fun!
Secondly, I am planning a workshop with Cindy Connor, author of Grow a Sustainable Diet and Ira Wallace, author of the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. It’s at Lynchburg College, in SW Virginia, on Saturday February 15. I’ll give more details once we have them sorted out.
The weather here has turned wintry. We are bracing for the big ice storm expected Saturday night and Sunday, likely followed by power outages, during which the electric lines-people struggle to restore power over a big area, as this storm looks (on the radar) like it covers a big swath. Here’s the regional radar from Weather Underground this afternoon
Meanwhile, our garden work turns towards planning for next year. We have done an inventory of our remaining seeds and decided what to keep and what to throw out. 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. Frank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.
A simplified version of how long to keep seeds 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,
We are working towards ordering seeds. The catalogs are starting to appear in my mail box. The early bird catches the preferred varieties! The main companies we order from are Fedco, Johnny’s and of course, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We like SESE for regionally adapted varieties, Fedco for great prices on bulk sizes, and Johnny’s for some varieties we really like that aren’t available from the other two. If you are ordering from Fedco and don’t yet have my book, they are now selling it at a very decent price (cheaper than signed copies direct from me). If you need to economize, but don’t want to buy from the big online company that doesn’t pay its workers much, try Fedco, who are a co-operative.
I gave a presentation at the VABF Farm School at J Sergeant Reynolds college, Goochland, VA, with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange on Monday evening (3/18). It was one of three classes on Sustainable Farming Practices. You can see my half here:
Between us, we covered garden planning, record keeping, crop rotations, succession cropping, storing seed and doing a seed inventory, (mostly me). And production efficiencies, online planning tools, growing healthy plants, seed growing and ripeness indicators (mostly Ira). 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. It’s a six week comprehensive program (Monday evenings from 6:00-9:00pm)covering:
Introduction to Whole Farm Planning
Sustainable Farming Practices
Holistic Business Management
And yesterday, Thursday March 21st, I spoke at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia.I talked about the process of writing my book Sustainable Market Farming, who I wrote the book for, the gaps in the available books about ecological vegetable production that caused me to write it, and about my experience growing vegetables sustainably to feed our community at Twin Oaks.My panel discussion, the Locavore track, was at the JMRL Public Library, 201 East Market Street.
Planning: Week 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. Transplantspinach 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.
Sowcarrots #1 outdoors with indicator beets. Flameweed. Finish planting spinach, (direct sow if not enough transplants).
Buyseed 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,sowcarrots # 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.
Yes, really! On January 17, I sowed flats of cabbage, lettuce and mini-onions (cipollini), and the cabbage and lettuce are already up. Onions usually take 10 days, so I’m not surprised not to see them yet. It’s fun to see new seedlings, even though my energy isn’t ready for taking on another growing season yet. I’m still enjoying hibernation!
The cabbage varieties are Early Jersey Wakefield, a quick-growing small pointy-head open-pollinated variety, and Faroa, a quick-growing fairly small round hybrid that has been very reliable for us. These are for a bed of early cabbage, to eat after our stored winter cabbage is all gone. We’ll sow our main-crop cabbage on 2/7, in much bigger quantities.
I sowed two lettuces: reliable old Salad Bowl and the unusual Cracoviensis, a pink veined sturdy leaf lettuce, that we have found is only useful for us at this first sowing. It bolts too easily once it gets even faintly warm. It tends not to get bitter even when bolting, but our diners aren’t going to believe that!
We’re also still busy with various stages of our garden planning. yesterday I updated our harvest calendar, which tells our cooks which crops they can expect when, and also our food processing calendar to tell the food processing crew when to be ready to tackle large amounts of broccoli, beans or paste tomatoes, for example. I’m part way through revising the document we call our garden calendar, which is really a month-by-month task list. If you were following this blog in the fall, you’ll remember some of those monthly garden task lists. We’ve planned which crops are going in which of the 60 permanent raised beds and identified the ones we need to spread compost on and till first. And then we twiddle our thumbs – lots of rain last week (and a bit of snow) mean it will be a couple more weeks before the soil is dry enough to till.
Here’s our short Twin Oaks Garden Task List for January:
Planning: Prune the catalogs, do the filing, consolidate notes on varieties and quantities.
Week 1: Finalize seed orders, if not done in December. Revise Seedling Schedule using seed order.
: Revise Outdoor Planting Schedule. Plan labor needs for the year.
: Revise Raised Bed Planning Chart. Plan raised beds for Feb-June.
Week 4: Revise Garden Calendar, Lettuce List and lettuce Log.
Order Bt, spinosad and predatory beasties, coir. [sweet potato slips for shipping 5/12-5/17 if not growing our own] Repair greenhouse and coldframes and tidy. Check germinator-fridge and heat mat. Repair flats, and make new if needed. Make stakes. Clean labels.
Check equipment: rototiller, discs, and mower – repair or replace as needed. Repair and sharpen tools.
Freeze out greenhouse to kill pests, or spray with soap or cinnamon oil every five days. Import ladybugs. Check potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash in storage.
Mid-Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #1, early cabbage, mini-onions, early broccoli, onions.
Late Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #2, scallions #1, spinach, tomatoes, peppers for hoophouse Plantsmall potato onions, 4-5″ apart, ½-1” deep, in a mild spell. Remove mulch to plant, then replace it. Plant shallots & mulch.
Perennials (see November list). Weed blueberries, raspberries, asparagus (spread compost), grapes, rhubarb, strawberries. Add soil amendments, fertilize (not strawberries) and mulch. Prune blueberries, (take cuttings if wanted). Fall raspberries: cut all canes to the ground, remove canes from aisles. Summer raspberries: remove old fruiting canes & canes from aisles.
This week in the garden we have started fall clean-up. We packed away the rowcovers preserving the last rows of green beans, squash and cucumbers, and harvested the last of those crops. Two nights with lows of 22F made it clear it was time. We removed the okra and eggplant “trees”, and pulled up the t-posts from the tomato rows and the asparagus beans. We bundled the asparagus bean trellis netting, along with the bean vines, and tied it up in the rafters of our greenhouse. It will stay there till spring when we will dance on the bundle in the parking lot and shake out the dried bits of vine, so we can use the netting for the 2013 crop.
We discovered we can use our power-washer to clean the t-posts before storing them. This saves a lot of time, and converts the job from a tedious chore with knives and wire brushes into a “power rangers” opportunity. We like to get the posts really clean before storing them to reduce the chance of carrying over soil-borne tomato diseases to next season.
We have started clearing crops which are less cold-tolerant. This week we are working on the vegetables that get killed at temperatures of 25°F and 20°F. Fall weather in our part of Virginia doesn’t usually get this cold this early, but there’s no arguing with it. We’ve got the Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage) in and we’re going for the small bit of bulb fennel soon (both 25°F crops). We’re picking the broccoli twice a week as long as it lasts, although yields are right down now. Next we’re after the celeriac, turnips (no rutabagas this year), and winter radishes. Sadly our fall beets all failed, so we don’t need to dig those. We still have some from the spring crop in good condition in perforated plastic bags in the fridge. Kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots and parsnips are more cold-tolerant, so they can wait to get harvested in a few weeks. We still have lettuce and celery outdoors under rowcover and hoops. And some of the greens and hardier leeks will feed us all through the winter. Twin Oaks is now in Climate Zone 7a. This means the range of the average annual minimum temperature is 0°F to 5°F.
We’re getting ready to plant garlic. The soil has certainly cooled down enough this year! We decided to cut back our total amount of garlic planted this year for two or three reasons. One is that we think we’ll still have enough if we plant 16% less, and maybe we’ll be less wasteful. Another is that we hope the time we’ll save at harvest and curing will enable us to take better care of what we have got, and less will get wasted that way. Another is that it will help our crop rotation in the raised beds, where we grow a lot of alliums – garlic and potato onions over the winter, onions in spring, shallots and scallions in the mix, and leeks from mid-summer to late winter. Sometimes doing a smaller amount well is more productive than over-extending ourselves with a big crop.
Yesterday we started separating the garlic cloves (“popping” the cloves) at our annual Crop Review meeting. This is when the crew gathers to work through an alphabetical list of crops we grew and talk about what worked and what didn’t and what we want to do differently next year. We plan to try a small amount of West Indian gherkins as an alternative to pickling cucumbers, which seemed plagued by disease. (I saw some very robust gherkins growing at Monticello in September.) We’re looking for a heat-tolerant eggplant variety to trial alongside our well-liked Nadia, which shut down during the early summer heat. We intend to make smaller plantings of edamame next year, and harvest smaller amounts more often, so less goes to waste. We want to try Sugar Flash snap peas and another dwarf early-yielding type of snow peas. (Dwarf Grey works for us, but Oregon Giant didn’t). We’re going to try some purple bush beans to see if that helps us get harvests of nice small beans and fewer ugly giants in the buckets. We debated the harvest size of okra and asparagus too. We vowed to grow fewer different varieties of broccoli and try to find a decent red cabbage. This year we tried Integro, Ruby Perfection and Mammoth Red, but none produced a good amount of nice sized heads. We used to be happy with Super Red 80, but gave it up after two bad years. next year we’ll try Red Express. We strategised about to get red sweet peppers as early as possible.
As the tasks to do outdoors start to wind down, we’re upping the pace of our winter planning season. Our next tasks include doing an inventory of the seeds we still have and figuring out our garden plan, so that we can work towards ordering the seeds we want in sensible quantities.
Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce in hoophouse, for January transplants.
Write Thank You Letter to Paracrew (part-time workers)
Early November: Finish up sowing cover crops in Nov. Can sow winter wheat in early November (won’t winter-kill). Sow wheat or rye in carrot beds by 11/30(?), or if too late for cover crops, just spread carrot tops on beds.
Sowonions to overwinter in hoophouse.
Plant hard-neck garlic when soil temp at 4″ deep is 50°F, and mulch immediately, not too thickly.
Plant soft-neck garlic.
Plant leftover small garlic cloves for garlic scallions and garlic greens.
Potato onions: till beds. 11/1-12/1: Plant medium-size (1½-2” diameter) potato onions, at 6”, or wider if supply is limited. Cover with ½-1” soil, then mulch. If planning a January planting of small potato onions, prep bed and roll mulch now.
Sow spinach (for spring harvesting) in early November if not done already.
Mid November: Free trapped garlic shoots from over-thick mulch, when 50% emerged.
Coverlettuce, spinach (“burns” below 10°F), celery, zukes & cukes and Chinese cabbage. Use double hoops for the spinach, celery, and the last lettuce bed.
Harvest: celeriac (hardy to 20°F), beets (15-20°F), turnips(20°F), kohlrabi (15°F), winter radish (20°F), rutabagas (OK to 20°F), carrots (12°F), parsnips (0°F) in that order. Wash and store in perforated plastic bags in walk-in cooler. Record yields.
After curing, store boxes of sweet potatoes in basement cage (55-60°F, 80-90% humidity).
Sortwhite potatoes in storage 2 weeks after harvest.
Spread lime or gypsum as needed, referring to soil analysis results.
Potato Onions: sell small ones (<1½”) or store on racks until January. Ideal conditions 32-40°F, 60-70% humidity, good ventilation, layers < 4” deep. Do not seem to suffer from freezing.
Winterize the rototillers and BCS mower.
Week 1: Check the accounts and prepare Budget Requests for economic planning. Write Informant. Revise Seed Inventory spreadsheet.
Week 2: Inventory seeds
Week 3: Inventory seeds
Week 4: Seed Inventory: proof reading, etc. File notes.
Perennials: Cut dead asparagus tops with weed whackers or machetes, and remove all ferns. Weed strawberries and spread sawdust in aisles. Weed and fertilize rhubarb, blueberries, asparagus, and spread cardboard and sawdust, (hay for asparagus if possible). Weed grapes, take vine cuttings. Transplant new blueberries if needed.
November Harvests: last outdoor lettuce (hardy to 15°F with rowcover), beets (15-20°F), broccoli (25°F), cabbage (12°F), cauliflower, celeriac (20°F), celery (15°F with rowcover), chard (10°F), fall greens, collards (5°F), fennel (25°F), kale (0°F), kohlrabi (15°F), komatsuna (15°F), leeks (fall leeks hardy to 12-20°F, winter ones to 5°F or lower), parsnips (0°F), scallions (25°F), senposai (12°F), spinach (0°F), tatsoi (10°F), turnips (20°F), yukina savoy (10°F).
December – Time to Rest
Perennials: see November. Cut fall raspberry canes (after leaves have dropped) with pruners, to the ground. Weed raspberries. Hang blueberry drip tape in the branches. Dig docks from asparagus patch.
Plant mediumpotato onions, if not done in November.
Drain and store the hoses and irrigation. Clean up stakes, labels.
Week 1: Prepare seed order spreadsheet. Decide seed order.
Week 2: Revise Lettuce List, lettuce Log. Spend last of money. Check expenditures and spend remaining budget. File the year’s accumulated notes.
Week 3: Put your feet up and read seed catalogs and inspiring gardening books
Week 4: Put your feet up and read seed catalogs and inspiring gardening books
December Harvests: cold frame spinach or lettuce, cabbage (hardy to12°F), celery (15°F with rowcover), chard (10°F), collards (5°F), kale (0°F), komatsuna, leeks (fall leeks hardy to 12-20°F, winter ones to 10°F or lower), parsnips (0°F), senposai (12°F), spinach (0°F), yukina savoy (10°F).