Feeding the Soil Slideshow, Hoophouse Crop Rotations, Growing for Market Magazine

Tall sweet pepper plants in our hoophouse in early October. Photo Pam Dawling

First a photo of a couple of sweet pepper plants in our hoophouse. They are looking a bit “back-end-ish”, but are still producing fruit. We plan our rotation so that the bed which had peppers during the summer is the last to get planted to greens. This lets us get the most peppers possible. Plus, preparing the other beds keeps us fully occupied.

This week’s post is a catch up on various topics. I have been busy with speaking events (see my Events page at the tab on this site), and the busiest time of the year in the hoophouse, preparing to plant the winter greens.

On the topic of hoophouse vegetable crop rotations, I have just posted something on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. There are two lovely pairs of photos, winter and summer, demonstrating crop rotations.

Hoophouse beds in November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh


Heritage Harvest Festival

At the Heritage Harvest Festival I spoke on Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slideshow on that. Click the diagonal arrow icon to view it full screen.

Last weekend I presented Season Extension for the Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health, and I will be presenting that topic again this weekend at the Center for Rural Culture, Goochland, VA 23063.

I will include that slideshow in a couple of weeks. Next week is my Alliums for October post.


I haven’t found much reading time lately, so a magazine is just the thing! I’ve finished the September Growing for Market and am just moving on to the newly published October issue.

The September issue starts with an article on profitable bouquet making (something I’ve never tried to do) by Erin Benzakein. She gives ingredients for each season, “recipes”, and systems for ergonomic working. Spencer Nietmann writes on managing seasonal farm income using a cash projection spreadsheet. If you see yourself heading for disaster, you delay buying equipment and move that expense later in your projection. Simple and effective. No bad surprises! He also advocates for using zero interest credit cards short-term to pay for an expense you are confident you can pay for before the end of the free period. His example is paying for a hoophouse until the NRCS EQIP grant money came through.

Ellen Polishuk’s Farmer-to-Farmer profile is Blue House Farm in California. Franklin Egan writes on strategies to grow organic matter levels and reduce tillage at the same time. This is to help answer the challenges of some farmers on new land that was previously in continuous industrial corn production. The farmers were growing impressive bulky cover crops in sequence, but needed intensive tillage to get those covers incorporated. This tillage knocked back the organic matter levels each time. They used a farm walk to invite other farmers to suggest improved methods to bring their land into good heart.

Sam Hitchcock Hilton wrote about an urban farm in New Orleans using events and farm meals to develop interest in their vegetable sales. It is written in the voice of the farm goat, which adds an entertaining touch.

The October issue starts with an Introduction to Korean Natural Farming, which was a new topic to me, and may well be new to most of you. The method includes indigenous microorganisms, or “bugs in a jug” (a fermentation process is used). You can learn how to try this for yourself.

Jed Beach writes about his top crops for profitable wholesaling. His hypothesis is that “there are four factors that predict which crops can be competitively profitable for small farms to grow, even at close to distributor prices.” Perishability, matching planting to sales, gross sales per square foot and gross per harvest-and-pack hour. He provides a chart of his seven most profitable seven least profitable crops assessed on these factors. Thought-provoking stuff.

Ellen Polishuk’s Farmer-to-Farmer profile this month is Sassafras Creek Farm in Maryland, with 6 acres of vegetables and 17 acres of grains. The farmers there have a clear system of employment expectations and benefits, and instructions. Half of farm sales come from a farmers market and the other half come from wholesaling to restaurants, natural food stores, caterers and other farms’ CSAs. They decided early on that running their own CSA was not for them.

I was startled by the next article: “You don’t need a high tunnel to grow ginger” from three growers in the Midwest. (“Surely you do”, I thought). They used grant money to test out growing ginger in low tunnels, some with in-ground heating coils, some with in-ground foam insulation. Soil temperature is key (60-85F). But, personally, I’d still rather have a high tunnel!

Doug Trott wrote about planning and ordering now for next year’s flower crops – useful tips for flower growers everywhere.

Permaculture questioned, Growing for Market, Mother Earth News blogpost, Longhorn tick.

I’ve long had some misgivings about the almost religious fervor of some permaculturists, while at the same time appreciating their seriousness about sustainable land use. (In fact I have written for Permaculture North America, and I have friends who are Permaculturists.) My first impressions of Permaculture were that it was a combination of common sense farming practices gussied up with new labels, other ideas that seemed to me very impractical, and ideas that might work fine in the tropics but not so well in the rest of the world. But it seemed rude to say so publicly. Like picking a fight with allies when there are so many more important campaigns. And more recently I have met some gardeners and even farmers who apply the Permaculture ideas that work in their context, without becoming evangelical about it. I would love to read a practical book written by someone farming commercially, explaining how they apply some of the Permaculture ideas, and make a living.

Curtis Stone (author of The Urban Farmer) has given all this consideration and has written an interesting, thoughtful article in his blog From the Field Friday.

It’s titled What Permaculture got Wrong – Dispelling Five Common Myths

Curtis describes how many people new to farming are a bit starry-eyed, and are (as he was) inspired by Permaculture ideas. In his experience, many of the promises of Permaculture don’t pan out, especially if you try to make them work on a commercial scale as opposed to a hobby, when it doesn’t matter how long a method takes, or how much money it costs.

He has identified five slogans of Permaculture he believes should disappear. He wants to save farmers from burning out while holding these unrealistic tenets. At the same time, he is not disrespecting any individual Permaculture teachers or students, authors or farmers. He just wants everyone to have realistic expectations and for commercial growers to use viable methods.

Permaculture aims to keep the topsoil in place, along with all its biodiversity, and grow food, following patterns in nature. This is a great approach. The problems come with some of the specific prescriptions. Curtis Stone labels five problematic cultural memes The Self-Sustaining Farm; The Lazy Gardener; Mulch Everything; Swale Everything; and No Pests!

The Self-Sustaining Farm

The Forest Garden can work for someone with enough land, providing food for just a few people. There are fruits and nuts, some perennial vegetables, and annual vegetables between the trees. But in order for a food system to feed lots of people, we invented agriculture (which is not natural) to dependably produce quantities of food in an efficient (affordable) way. Most vegetables are annuals, not perennials, and that where the work is, and the bulk of our food. A lot of food can be produced efficiently from a relatively small area of land using annual crops. A Forest Garden is not going to feed the world, and it’s unfair to new farmers to tell them it will. It’s also untrue to suggest that forest, orchard and vineyard crops require almost no work once they are established. Growing food for lots of people is hard work, even when you apply smart methods.

The Lazy Gardener

This idea comes from Bill Mollison, suggesting you can plant crops and ignore them, and get good harvests. Planting potatoes by covering them with mulch rather than soil is one suggestion. Most of these “Lazy Gardener” ideas are not workable on a commercial scale. You can ignore weeds and use “lazy” methods if you are not earning your living from farming, or expecting to feed many people. It’s a lifestyle choice, not a career.

Mulch Everything

Straw mulch is very popular with some Permaculturists. It is used in thick layers to smother weeds. It also adds organic matter to the soil. Straw is the stems of small grains. It’s not bio-regional where I live, or where most of us live. If you don’t see fields of wheat, barley, oats, rye in your area, straw would have to be shipped in. It won’t be cheap. It’ll be more expensive if it’s organic. Curtis Stone points out that it is not really sustainable on a commercial scale to cover all the soil with straw. It also doesn’t work well for fast turn-over crops, where you want to plant a follow-on crop (to get most use of your land). Plus, it keeps the soil cool, which is not what you need for warm-season crops. While it can work for home gardeners to push aside mulch to plant two squash plants, it’s not practical for a 200 foot row of squash. (I always enjoyed Ruth Stout’s little books, but I wondered how she could afford all the straw.)

Swale Everything

Swales are shallow ditches running along the contours, to catch and hold water – a lovely idea to conserve water resources. Constructing these on a farm scale is time-consuming. Navigating swales while growing rows or beds of annual crops is not very practical. Not all soils or all crops benefit from water retention. Curtis Stone claims he has heard of permaculture consultants putting in swales which led to too much water retention and then landslides! Nowadays Key-line plowing has made water-retention far more practical. But we shouldn’t all install water retention everywhere. The need will depend on the soil, the climate and the crop.

No Pests!

This slogan I have also taken issue with, myself. It’s the mistaken belief that if you garden or farm well, you won’t have any pests. It’s a “Blame the Victim” thing – if you have pests, you must be doing something wrong. I’m all for planting flowers to attract beneficial insects, and encouraging bees, good bugs and birds. But pests and diseases do still happen to good people! It’s important to work to prevent and avoid pests and diseases – but still, keep on scouting! You can’t safely assume you won’t get pests.

Curtis says that for him the oddest irony is the people in Permaculture who critique other farmers as if one problem is the root cause of all that goes wrong, while themselves believing that a particular permaculture idea applies always and everywhere, rather than being dependent on the wider context. This he calls “a monoculture of thinking”. Truly there is no one sustainable solution for all farming situations. It’s easier to have simple beliefs, but it doesn’t work. Every permaculture method is not going to work on every farm. We need to stay adaptable and flexible in our thinking, and respect and look for diversity in our approach.


The June/July issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. The lead article, by Carolina Lees, is for farmers who are venturing into hiring employees. How to benefit from the help, absorb their enthusiasm, and also reduce confusion of crops, tools, harvest specs? How to balance teaching and doing? How to balance the desire for competence and success with compassion for learners? How to change from an idiosyncratic, spur of the moment decision-making to something that’s easier for others to predict and understand? As Carolina Lees says:

“You can get away with a lot less training if you can make the task easier to learn in the first place.”

Her suggestions include reducing the number of different varieties, labelling all beds clearly, having clear standards and measurements, having only one kind of watering wand and timer, only a few sizes and types of harvest container, having clear places where information is written and stored, using checklists, so workers can be more independent.

Jesse Frost writes about making effective use of social media to increase farm sales. You Tube and email might do better than Facebook. Paying to advertise on Facebook can be more effective than merely posting something. And remember that people want a personal connection, not a hard sell.

Jenny Quiner writes about her urban farmstand’s struggle with changing county regulations. This will be useful to anyone in a similar situation.

Anne and Eric Nordell, well-known long-established horse-powered vegetable farmers from Pennsylvania, have been re-thinking plant spacings, after surveying seven other teamsters’ cropping methods. They compare the plant densities used by horse farmers with tow common tractor-farming spacings and two intensive bed densities. Food for thought.

Ellen Polishuk has interviewed Joanna Letz of Bluma Flower Farm for this issue.


A misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

I have a post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog: 20 Benefits of Having a Hoophouse

If you have been wondering whether a hoophouse (high tunnel) would be worthwhile, this list of twenty reasons to have one can help you decide. The benefits include more and better crops, extended seasons, food self-reliance and a very pleasant work environment.


Longhorn tick.
Photo West Virginia State Department of Agriculture

Don’t think of this as ending with bad news, think of it as saving your health. There is a new tick. The Longhorn Tick has now been found in West Virginia and Virginia, as well as New Jersey.

The longhorn tick is small and difficult to detect.  It is known to carry several diseases that can affect humans, as well as livestock, including some diseases that are not prevalent in the United States, but have affected people in Asia.

This species was first identified by the Animal and Plant Inspection Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in New Jersey in November 2017. The West Virginia State Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of the tick in West Virginia. The longhorn ticks were identified by samples collected from two separate farms in Hardy County WV, both of which are near the Virginia border.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed the presence of the tick in Warren County in northern Virginia (on horses), and in Albemarle County on a calf. A list of common ticks found in Virginia can be found here.

 

 

My Forthcoming Book, Hoophouse Squash and Cucumbers, Growing for Market magazine

Here’s the photo of our hoophouse that we used on the cover of my forthcoming book The Year Round Hoophouse. You can read about it here.

Yes, exciting news! I’ve been writing my second book, the Year Round Hoophouse, I finished the manuscript at the end of February, and New Society Publishers have accepted it. Next steps include copy-editing and marketing. It will be published November 20, and  I’ll give you more details as things become apparent. It will likely be 288 information-dense pages for $29.99 (worth every penny at 10 cents a page).

Growing in hoophouses reduces the impact of the increasingly unpredictable climate on crops, mitigates soil erosion, extends growing seasons, and enables growers to supply more regional foods. In one of the only books of its kind, The Year-Round Hoophouse teaches how to design/build a hoophouse and make a success of growing abundant produce all year, for various climates and land sizes.

Here is the list of chapters

Section 1: Design, Siting and Construction

  1. Hoophouse Siting and Planning
  2. Style and Design
  3. Shopping Checklist
  4. Preparing the Site and the Base
  5. Utilities
  6. Frame Assembly, Baseboards and Hipboards
  7. End Walls
  8. Roof  Plastic
  9. Drip Irrigation and Outfitting Your Hoophouse

 Section 2: Growing Crops

  1. Lettuce
  2. Other Salad Greens
  3. Cooking Greens
  4. Root Crops
  5. Alliums
  6. Legumes
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Peppers and Eggplants
  9. Cucurbits
  10. Crops for High Summer
  11. Bare-Root Transplants
  12. Seed Crops

Section 3: Keeping Everything Working Well

  1. Planning and Record-Keeping
  2. Cold Weather Care
  3. Hot Weather Care
  4. Succession Crops
  5. Crop Rotations and Sequences
  6. Pests and Diseases
  7. Salt Build-Up
  8. Feeding the Soil
  9. Replacing the Plastic
  10. Preparing for and Coping with Disasters

Amys Apricot tomato transplanted a week ago, looking happy in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Meanwhile, we have finished transplanting about 90 tomatoes into two beds in our hoophouse and have been rewarded by seeing how much they have grown in just one week. They were really struggling in the greenhouse, where the light wasn’t so good, and it was hard to keep them warm through those cold nights. Two weeks ago I included a photo of a cleared space waiting for a tomato plant. Now we’re there!

Gentry yellow squash newly transplanted into our hoophouse, with a friendly wood sorrel!
Photo Pam Dawling

A few days ago we transplanted one bed of yellow squash (Gentry), chosen for being fast-maturing, productive and having a good flavor. Also a bed of Spacemaster bush-type slicing cucumbers, among the spinach, peas and baby lettuce mix.

New Spacemaster bush cucumber transplant in our hoophouse in a bed with old winter spinach, young snap peas and baby lettuce mix.
Photo Pam Dawling

Next will be the peppers. We have flagged the bed at spots 2 feet apart. Today I’ll harvest that lettuce mix around each flag, clearing the way to digging holes and adding compost.

North edge bed in our hoophouse flagged up for digging holes to plant peppers.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the photo above you can also see the bubble-foil insulation we have on the north wall. It improves the light back there, as well as keeping in some heat. It’s only the lowest 2 feet of the north wall, and very little direct light comes in there, so we gain much more than we lose. Also see the diagonal tubing we added to strengthen the frame at the west end, which is the direction most of the wind comes from.

At last the lettuce has started to grow! We have been struggling to find enough leafy crops to harvest  a 5 gallon bucket each day. Today I had no trouble finding plenty of baby lettuce, tender young spinach and baby brassica greens for a salad for a hundred people.


The April Growing for Market is out. The lead article, by Josh Volk, gives ideas for upgrading your packing shed or crop clean-up area. It includes a slatted spray table you can build and some natty clip-on fittings (K-ball nozzles) you can install on PVC pipe to give an easy-to-use sprayer wherever you want one. See below – I haven’t tried them myself.Sam Hitchcock Tilton has a profile of Nature’s Pace Organics in Michigan, and their switch from intensive cultivation to permanent cover crops and strip tillage. Liz Martin has written about the advantages of growing pole beans instead of bush beans. She has trialled different kinds to find varieties that have smaller smoother pods (more like bush beans) and likes Emerita, Blue Lake, Matilda and Cobra. Their trellis uses tall T-posts and two pieces of Hortanova netting. They also grow bean seed using this method. I gather they don’t have Mexican bean beetles or many bean diseases, two of the three reasons we gave up on pole beans. The third is our dislike of installing trellises, which only become worthwhile if your plants will stay healthy for the whole season. Thorsten Arnold writes about their co-op rural online farmers market in Ontario, Canada. Todd Coleman describes how to build and install an in-ground greenhouse heating system, and lastly Gretel Adams in Ohio discusses the many decisions behind building a cut flower greenhouse . They chose a tall-wall three-bay gutter-connected plastic structure installed by Yoder’s Produce Supply. This greenhouse has increased production so much that they are moving into shipping nationally through an online store.

Drill a 9/16″ hole and attach to pipe. No threading or nipples required, grips the pipe and the body fits in the 9/16″ hole. Spray is fan-shaped with spray angle of 65° at 40 psi and spray density tapers off toward the outside to permit overlapping of spray patterns.

  • Fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene
  • EPDM O-ring seal & SS spring clip
  • Pressure rating: 100 psi at 175°F
  • Swivel ball allows for 52° total angle of adjustment

Enjoy your spring!

 

Twin Oaks Garden blog, rainy day reading, more on hydroponics.

Y-Star Pattypan squash, one of the varieties for the Twin Oaks Garden this year.

Wren, one of the Twin Oaks Garden Managers, has started a blog about the Twin Oaks Garden. This is a great place to check what’s happening in our garden, especially if you also garden in Virginia or some other winter-hardiness zone 7 area.

The new post this week is about What’s New in Spring 2018. There are photos of people at work and also of the new varieties we’re growing this year: Southern Giant Curled Mustard, Purple Peacock broccoli/kale, Canary melon, Flavorburst yellow bell pepper, Y-Star pattypan squash, Royal Burgundy beans (not new to us, but back again), Granny Cantrell’s tomato and Persimmon tomato.

The March issue of Growing for Market is out. Nothing from me this time, but plenty of good stuff from other farmer-writers. Diane Szukovathy writes about starting a 12-member flower producer’s co-op in Seattle. They started with a part-time employee and a simple leased space, working on an indoor farmer’s market model where each farm conducted its own business under a shared roof. They were able to get some USDA funding, and increased their income immediately. Their shared setting was attractive to customers, and a good way to mentor newer growers.

Jesse Frost has written on Understanding Early Blight, with a lot of solid information from Meg McGrath at Cornell (home of the Vegetable MD Online site). Carolina Lees writes about Healthcare beyond hospitals: farm-hospital connections. Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms offers a Farmer to farmer profile of Richard Wiswall (author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook and designer of many labor-saving devices.) Morgan Houk writes about only collecting useful information when record-keeping, not piles of data you’ll never use. John Hendrickson brings us the latest news on the paper pot transplanter (still not certifiable for USDA Organic farms).

Paper pot transplanter,
Photo Small Farm Works

The Spring 2018 Heirloom Gardener magazine has an article from me about Intercropping (planting two crops side by side in the space normally reserved for just one. In early spring we often sow snap peas down the center of a spinach bed (either an overwinterred spinach bed, or a spring-planted one). The same piece of rowcover warms both (until we whisk away the rowcover to a later crop. The peas grow upwards, not competing with the spinach. When the spinach bolts, the next crop is in place with no further work.

In the summer we have sown peanuts down the center of a bed of lettuce, and transplanted okra into a bed of early cabbage. It’s all about timing and about choosing compatible crops. Okra grows tall, while cabbages stay close to the ground. peanuts grow slowly while lettuce grows quickly.

Overwintered spinach with spring-sown Sugar Ann snap peas.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Lastly I have more on hydroponics and Organic Certification.

Last week I wrote about the November 2017 vote at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) on hydroponics. Since then I’ve read more information, and realized that the view I presented last time is not the whole picture. It is more complex. Audrey Alwell wrote in the Organic Broadcaster for Jan/Feb 2018, reminding us that the 8:7 vote at the NOSB is not a clear stamp of approval for “organic” hydroponics and aquaponics. The NOSB rules require a “decisive vote” (10:5) for a decision. They did not get a decisive vote to prohibit hydroponics from Organic Certification. This means the situation continues for now as it has been. That is, Organic certifiers can certify hydroponic operations of growers using only approved inputs for fertility and pest management, and if they are protecting natural resources and fostering biodiversity.

The Organic label does not cover all the important aspects of ethical and sustainable farming. Not all Organic practices are sustainable. (Think about removing and trashing plastic mulch!) Social justice and fair trade are not addressed. Some hydroponic  growers use renewable energy, some see hydroponics as more sustainable than Organic. In California, during the 6 year drought, hydroponics helped some farmers survive and produce food. Adaptability is important.

One USDA-accredited certifier, CCOF, says all producers should be pushed towards using renewable energy, in order to reduce impact on natural resources. CCOF submitted a 12-page comment.

You can see the USDA Hydroponics Package slideshow.

Continue reading

Growing for Market article, CSA Day, Organic Growers School, VA raw milk threatened

Our hoophouse hydrant with drip irrigation supply equipment.
Photo Pam Dawling

The February Growing for Market issue is out, including my article on drip irrigation, which will help people new to drip get started. I was a reluctant adopter myself, maybe 10 years ago, and I’ve become a big convert. I explain the basics and include the options on tape width, wall thickness, emitter spacing and flow rate, to help everyone get the options that’s best for them.  I have a worked example of the calculation and links to more information. I show how to figure how long to run the system for each week, and the pieces of equipment you’ll need. I talk about maintenance and repair too.

Other articles in this issue include Chris Blanchard on the Food Safety Modernization Act (pronounced Fizma). Of course none of us want to make anyone sick from eating crops we grow, but if you are a farm with average sales of more than $25,000 worth of produce a year , this new rule applies to you. All the details of exceptions and compliance are in the article.

Sam Knapp writes from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan about tackling quackgrass (Elymus repens) without chemicals. We know this as couch grass, a cool weather wandering perennial with long sturdy white roots. It’s not the same as wiregrass, a bigger problem in the South. That’s Cynodon dactylon, also known as Bermuda grass and scutch grass. It’s a fine-leafed wandering perennial that dies back in the winter. If your problem grass is brown in winter, suspect wiregrass; if it’s green, suspect couch grass. Sam Knapp advises on how to deplete the rhizomes of couchgrass/quackgrass with repeated tillage going into the winter and mowing in summer.

Ricky Baruc writes from Orange, Massachusetts, about mulching with cardboard (topped with hay or manure)and silage covers to control weeds and replace the need to till. The editor adds a note that some organic certifiers prohibit cardboard that has ink in colors other than black. Check with your certifier if you are certified organic. Ricky Baruc also uses cover crops, which he crimps and plants into. He is able to manage several acres of intensively planted crops on his own.

If you’ve ever coveted those Bumble Bee tomatoes in the Johnny’s catalog, you’ll enjoy the interview with Fred Hempel, their breeder.

The last article is about winter cut flower planning, and is by Gretel Adams who regularly writes about cut flowers for GfM.

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February 23 is CSA Day. CSAs will be promoting their work and signing up new members. Data gathered by Small Farm Central  showed that the most popular day for CSA signups was  Fri Feb 28. And so CSA Day is celebrated on the last Friday of February to encourage more signups and to publicize the whole idea of community-supported agriculture. CSA is a way for farmers to sell directly their customers. In the original CSA model, people pay for a season’s worth of produce (a membership), at the beginning of the season. The members then receive a box of produce every week throughout the harvesting season. The members are supporting their farmer by paying up front, when the farmers most need the income to get ready for the growing season. Today there are variations on this theme, so look around and see what’s available near you.

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The Organic Farm School Spring Conference is Friday–Sunday, March 9–11, 2018, at UNC Asheville, NC. Click the link to read more and to get to registration. Pre-conference workshops are on Friday March 9, with the main conference 90-minute sessions on Saturday and Sunday. I’m offering two workshops on Saturday, which I’ll repeat on Sunday. This conference tends to offer workshops twice, so people who can only come on one day can choose which is best for them, and fewer people have to miss a topic they are interested in. My workshops are Sustainable Farming Practices and Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish.

Sweet potatoes on a plate.
Photo Brittany Lewis

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Lastly I want to mention an alert I received from the Homesteaders of America at the end of January. (Note theirs is not a secure webpage)

House Bill 825 (HB 825), introduced by Virginia House of Delegates Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), would require herd share dairies to register with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, be open to premises and paperwork inspections, and adhere to stipulations put forward by VDACS.

“While the sale of raw milk is illegal in Virginia, raw milk advocates have used the concept of herd sharing to obtain the revered, nutrient-dense food for decades. In a herd share agreement, consumers pay a farmer a fee for boarding their animal (or share of the animal), caring for the animal, and milking the animal. The herd share owners then collect the milk from their own animal. No sales occur, the animals are taken care of, and everyone gets to enjoy the magical elixir that is raw milk. Herd share agreements have been in use in Virginia since the mid-1970s” Christine Solem, Virginia Independent Consumers & Farmers Association (VICFA).

On 2/5/18 The Subcommittee #1 recommended striking this bill from the docket. On 2/13/18 the House left this with the ANCR (Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources) Committee.

Tomato Herbicide Injury, August Growing for Market

Roma tomatoes with damage from Triclopyr herbicide July 2016.
Photo Puck Tupelo

This time last year, we were suffering from a herbicide problem which stunted our Roma paste tomatoes. No, we didn’t spray herbicide on them. Someone else sprayed Triclopyr growth regulator herbicide (Ortho Poison Ivy Killer)  on poison ivy down the road, behind some trees. He sprayed on  5/23, and made repeat sprays twice, about two weeks apart (approx. June 4th and 18th). As the crow flies, it might be 600 ft or so from the tomatoes.

Some other brand names of Triclopyr include Grandstand, Alligare, Garlon and Horsepower. Other growth regulator herbicides include 2,4-D, Aminopyralid, Dicamba, Diflufenzopyr, Picloram, Quinclorac, as well as Triclopyr.

On June 18 2016, we noticed some of the younger leaves on our plants were curling inwards and buckling an odd way. There were no obvious spots or mottling, but the sick plants were stunted. Most of the damaged plants were in groups in low areas.

I thought it was a virus. We decided not to handle the plants until we had a diagnosis, for fear of spreading disease. We got help from the wonderful Virginia Tech Plant Diseases Clinic, who said the plants did not have any of the viruses they could test for, or that they knew, and the damage closely resembled growth regulator herbicide damage. But we don’t use herbicides, we protested.

On 6/30 we found out about the initial Triclopyr spraying, but the Plant Disease Clinic at that point agreed that drift was unlikely, given the distance and trees in between our tomatoes and the poison ivy, and the pattern of damage. Triclopyr damage usually appears within one week, not 25 days later (we didn’t find out about the second and third spraying until later). On the other hand, we did not know of any other use of growth regulator herbicide nearby. Their final report, at the end of July, named herbicide drift as the probable cause.

Roma paste tomatoes with oddly curled leaves due to growth regulator herbicide vapor drift.
Photo Puck Tupelo

I researched some more and found information about volatilization on a herbicide website.

High temperatures and low humidity favor herbicide volatilization, which can lead to vapor drift.

We now think that the herbicide sprayed on the poison ivy evaporated or volatilized on that very hot day, formed a little cloud that dropped down in the middle of our tomato patch and did its damage. Tomatoes are very sensitive to herbicides. 68 of our 246 plants showed some damage – about 25%. The Plant Diseases Clinic said:

Symptoms were consistent with chemical injury from a growth regulator type herbicide . . .  Herbicide residue in straw mulch from herbicide-treated pasture or manure from animals fed on herbicide-treated pasture can cause similar symptoms. Since your tomatoes are growing out of the problem it is very unlikely that the problem was caused by herbicide residue in compost/manure/straw used to amend the soil.

To definitively rule out herbicide residue in compost or the soil, I did a bioassay using snap bean seeds planted in numbered pots with tomato plot soil, compost like we’d used, and other garden soil. Beans emerge and grow quickly and can show up herbicide damage.  Most of my bean seed in the bio-assay got dug up and eaten by something. . . such is agriculture! Only one bean came up (out of 48). The bean plant looked fine. It was in a pot of soil from one of the worst tomato plants. This indicated that it was not a problem in the soil (eg from compost or other soil amendments).

The fact that the plants grew out of the problem, making normal leaves later, also suggested it was not a problem in the soil, but an incident after planting. Unfortunately though, after not string weaving for over a month, the plants were a (stunted) jungle and enthusiasm for string-weaving them had plummeted. We got very poor yields that year. Even after all the investigations, my thoughts were:

Drift still seems rather unlikely to me – the pattern of damage, the tiny ready-to-spray bottle so far away. . . It’s sobering how damaging those herbicides can be!

Since then I have acknowledged it most likely was  vapor drift.

I’ve now found a Herbicide Injury Image Database from the University of Arkansas Extension Service. It covers 18 herbicide groups and you can search not just by herbicide group, but by brand name of herbicide, by crop and even a paired search of crop and herbicide. Sadly it doesn’t include the very pairing (tomatoes and Triclopyr) that we were most interested in, but it does have many, many good photos of other combinations.


Recently a friend was showing me her damaged greenhouse tomatoes, which were growing out (recovering) after suffering some damage which caused the stems to make stubby shortened branches. She thought she’d caused the problem by using horse manure after stacking it for “only” 6 months. She thought she was looking at a type of “burning” from manure that was too fresh. I thought it might be damage from one of the “killer compost” herbicides which survive in hay or straw from sprayed fields, survive through composting, survive through livestock digestive systems, and wreak havoc on vegetables.

I looked through the Tomato section of the Herbicide Injury Image Database but I didn’t see exactly what my friend’s plants had. It most resembled the Quinclorac (Facet, Quinstar) damage but I really don’t know.

Tomato damaged by Quinclorac herbicide.
Source (www.uaex.edu) (Dr. Cal Shumway, Dr. Bob Scott, and Dr. John Boyd)

Unmarketable tomatoes ripen on vines affected by contaminated mulch at Waterpenny Farm. (By Margaret Thomas For The Washington Post)

Waterpenny Farm, Sperryville, Virginia suffered herbicide in hay mulch in 2007. The hay they bought had been sprayed with Grazon. They lost 12,000 plants with a harvest worth $80,000. Grazon is another of the growth regulator herbicides like the Triclopyr we were blighted by.

You can read more about “Killer Compost” in these articles by Cindy Conner, Mother Earth News (several samples of off-the-shelf Purina horse feed were contaminated with clopyralid) and Joe Lampl Growing a Greener World TV

Chert Hollow Farm suffered fungicide spray and wrote about pesticide drift part 1 in three episodes, part 2 and part 3. 

Don’t let this happen to you (if you have any control over it) and if it does, seek help.


On a happier note, the August Growing for Market magazine is out. There is a long article about Triage Farming: How to choose what to do when there’s too much to do by Matt S. An important topic and just the time of year when this massive problem hits us. Matt has a sense of humor, which really helps in hard times. There’s also an article European cultivation tools by Sam Hitchcock Tilton. This is followed by Farmers market metrics: Collecting data has many benefits for vendors by Darlene Wolnik. Then a very appetizing article about berries by Michael Brown and a dramatic article on big floral installations for weddings and other events, by Gretel Adams, which includes some very eye-catching and original ideas.

Upcoming events, Growing for Market article, Organic Broadcaster

Harvesting Zephyr yellow squash.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Starting with what’s being harvested now – squash and zucchini are coming in nicely. The hoophouse Gentry yellow squash (chosen for being fast-maturing) is coming in by the bucketload, and the outdoor yellow squash and zucchini have started producing.


I’m off to Burlington, Vermont this weekend, for the Mother Earth News Fair. I’m giving two workshops:

Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables,on Saturday 6/10 at 11 am on the Yanmar Sustainability Stage, immediately followed by book-signing at the Mother Earth News Bookstore noon- 12.30.

Producing Asian Greens on Sunday  6/11 at 3.30 pm on the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

I’m also doing demonstrations of tomato string-weaving at the New Society Publishers booth 2611, near the Mother Earth News Stage (not the Bookstore this time), at 10 – 10.30 am and 3-3.30 pm on Saturday and 10 -10.30 am, 11- 11.30 am and 2- 2.30 pm on Sunday. Check out my Events page to see the pink sparkly tinsel tomato plant models I use!


At the Heritage Harvest Festival near Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday September 8 (the Premium Workshops before the main Festival), I’m presenting on Growing Sweet Potatoes at 3.30-4.30 in classroom 7, followed by book-signing at the Monticello Bookshop.


The June/July summer issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, and includes my article on Hoophouse soil salt buildup. This is an issue we have been dealing with – we see white deposits on the soil. I did a lot of research and found ways to water the salts back down deep in the soil profile. I also gathered information on how to measure and monitor salinity, and how to understand the test results and their different testing methods and different units of measure. I learned about salt tolerance of different crops, the plant symptoms of excess salinity, and how to prevent the problem in future. This topic is rising in importance as more people use hoophouses with drip irrigation systems. We were blithely ignorant for our first several years of hoophopuse use, as salinity takes a few years to really develop, and there wasn’t much information available.

I’m also looking forward to reading the other articles, especially Summer lettuce lessons from Southern growers by Jesse Frost. There are some great photos of beds covered with hoops and shade-cloth, which show a good system. I always appreciate articles written for southern growers, which can be in short supply.

Daisy Fair in Utah’s zone 5 has written about moveable tunnels with in-ground hydronic heat. So there’s information for cold climates too. Sam Hitchcock Tilton has an article with tips learned from Dutch and Swiss farmers. Robert Hadad advises on careful monitoring of costs of production in order to actually make a living from farming. The flower growing article in this issue is from Debra Prinzing and is about American Flowers Week, a chance to highlight American-grown flowers with some light-hearted fun photos.


The May/June Organic Broadcaster just arrived in its paper format – I’ve had the digital one for a while. Good thing I’ve got that long car ride to Vermont this weekend to catch up on my farming reading!

The front page story this time is about Kansas farmers, Tim and Michael Raile, transitioning thousands of dryland (non-irrigated) acres to Organic steadily over the next 5 or 6 years. Dryland farming focuses on moisture retention. The Railes grow a wheat/corn/
sunflower/milo (grain sorghum)/fallow rotation. They are also trialing some ancient grains.

Organic production in the US is not meeting demand, and organic imports are increasing, including organic soy and feed corn, not just bananas and coffee. More farmers want to produce Organic poultry, eggs, milk and meat. And so they are looking for Organic feed at an affordable price. This is often imported, which raises issues about how Organic Standards vary from one country to another, and the bigger issue of sustainability – not always the same as Organic! Does it really make sense to ship in grains to feed livestock?

Harriet Behar writes about the true meaning of Organic and overall methods of production. It’s not just about following rules on allowed inputs and materials – it’s a whole approach to how we treat the soil, our plants and livestock.

Hannah Philips and Brad Heins share research on how cover crop choices can influence the fatty acids and meat of dairy steers. Jody Padgham writes about CSAs responding to competition and decreasing membership by offering more options on shares and delivery. Gone are the days of “One box, one day, one price” CSAs. Numerous modifications of the basic CSA model have sprung up to better fit the diverse needs of customers (members). Kristen McPhee writes about the Vermont Herb Growers  Cooperative, which buys from various small-scale growers and aggregates orders to larger buyers. Other topics covered include lessons learned from Hawaii’s GMO controversy, paying for end-of-life care without losing your farm, and many short items and classified ads. As always, a newspaper packed with information.


And by the way, we’re also picking blueberries – ah! heaven!

Blueberries.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

Garlic Scapes
Photo courtesy of Small Farm Central

I always know when garlic growers in slightly warmer or more southern climates are starting to find scapes (the edible firm flower stems of hardneck garlic) because my posts about scapes suddenly become popular! My posts “Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest,”  and “Garlic scapes to cheer us up” have been reread a lot recently, and Harvesting garlic is due for attention any time now. My Growing Great Garlic slideshow is here. Click the diagonal arrows to view it full screen.

And sure enough, our own scapes are ready too, even though this is a week earlier than usual.We harvest two or three times a week until there are no more. I love garlic scapes as one of the first outdoor crops of the spring, and a flavor different from leafy greens and stored roots, the staples of early spring.

Our tulip poplars are flowering now too, also early. Our average date for those is 5/1, and we’re a few days ahead of that. When I was a beekeeper it was important to be ready for the tulip poplar flowers, because that was our big nectar flow of the year, and I had to dash out to the beeyard and stack up 5 supers on each hive. I had to give up on the beekeeping because the combination of lifting heavy boxes and twisting was hurting my back too much. Oh, and those heavy boxes were full of thousands of stinging insects, but I didn’t mind that bit as much. The flowering of tulip poplars and the germination of ragweed are both phenology signs that signify that the Growing Degree Days have reached 200 (on a base of 50F) and that conditions are warm enough to sow sweet corn. Myself, I watch the young leaves on the white oaks and when they are the size of a squirrel’s ear, I decide it’s warm enough for corn.


This weekend I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Click the link to see the location, the workshop schedule and the list of vendors who’ll be there. I’m presenting two workshops, Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish on Saturday 5/6 at 12.30on the Yanmar Sustainable Agriculture Stage, followed by book-signing and chatting at the Mother Earth News Bookstore; and Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Sunday 5/7 at the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

Of course, you’ll need to be there and  hear me speak to get the most out of it. I’m also doing short demonstrations of How to String Weave Tomatoes at booth 2800, New Society Publishers (near the Bookstore) on Saturday at 10 am, 11 am and 5 pm, and on Sunday at 10 am and 11 am. They’re half-hour time slots. My table top demo kit uses #2 pencils and pink tinsel.

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

The May issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, including my article about growing seed crops in hoophouses. I interviewed Clif Slade, founder of the 43560 Project at Virginia State University, about several creative sequences of food crops and seed crops he has grown in a high tunnel. (Collards, okra) as well as plant starts (sweet potatoes, onions). He farms in Surry County, Virginia.

Also in this GfM, Simon Huntley of Small Farm Central encourages small farmers to set aside two hours a week for a quick and efficient bit of online marketing “One Photo,
One Paragraph”. His goal is to help farmers stay in the spotlight with their products, without having to spend a great deal of time on it in the busy season.

Conor Crickmore has an article about preparing and laying out no-till permanent raised beds very precisely in a hoophouse. He uses the Quick Cut Greens Harvester to mow off over-size baby salad crops to clear the bed prior to broadforking and adding needed soil amendments.

Spencer Nietmann writes about what it really costs to start a farm. Jesse Frost discusses various types of plastic to cover hoophouses  (high tunnels), and lastly, Jane Tanner writes about native perennials for flower farms

Sustainable Farming Practices slideshow, garlic planting, annual crop review

Here’s my updated slide show Sustainable Farming Practices (for Vegetable Growers). You can view it right here, clicking on the white arrowhead, or you can click the diagonal arrows to get a full screen version. This is the second workshop I presented at the Carolina farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference. The handout for the workshop is on the CFSA website as a pdf.


We’ve just completed our annual Crop Review meeting. We prepared a spreadsheet of all the crops we grew, when we planted them, what varieties and so on. We went down the list alphabetically and shared what we could remember about how well each planting did. I’ve written about this process a couple of years ago, in my book, and also in Growing for Market magazine back in December 2007.

This year we had a hard spring, with El Nino. Cold wet weather prevented us planting everything we planned to. We didn’t grow spring potatoes or turnips this year. We did sow snap peas but I think they all rotted in the ground. We had good spring crops of carrots and beets (once germinated, things grew well!). Our spring broccoli and cabbage were good, but our fall ones got lost in weeds, when we didn’t have enough workers. We failed to get a timely delivery of the pedio wasps to deal with the bean beetles, and our beans had low germination rates this year. Our sweet corn did well all season, after the flooded end of the first sowing was forgotten.

Leeks and scenery Kati Falger

Leeks, sunflowers and buckwheat
Kati Falger

We had plentiful cucumbers, and enough zucchini and yellow squash; our leeks this winter are the best ever (thanks to attention to weeding, and to side dressing with compost in the late summer). The lettuce supply was good all through the spring and early summer, and is great now. We lost lettuce to cutworms in August. Okra was very abundant, as were eggplant – the hot summer was good for them. Our peppers did well, our Roma paste tomatoes were a bust, mostly because we didn’t keep up with string weaving. Sweet potatoes and June-planted potatoes yielded poorly. Our cherry and slicing tomatoes did well, but came to an early end. The fall greens (kale, spinach, collards, senposai, Yukina Savoy, turnip greens) are now doing really well, after an early battle with baby grasshoppers. Our fall turnips are the best in many years.

Purple top turnips. Photo Small Farm Central

Purple top turnips.
Photo Small Farm Central

At the Crop Review meeting we popped our hardneck garlic bulbs apart for planting. On the next two days we planted that (3180 row feet). The day after that we popped our softneck garlic and planted that (1080 row feet) and also planted all the reject tiny cloves for garlic scallions. Click the link to read about growing and harvesting these yummy spring treats. We’re up to date with preparing for the end of garden shifts and the transition to one person each day taking care of the hoophouse, greenhouse, weather station and harvesting the remaining outdoor crops. We’ll work that way until the end of January, and then start pruning blueberries and grapes.

Garlic planting crew. Photo Valerie Renwick

Garlic planting crew.
Photo Valerie Renwick

Covering garlic cloves. Photo Brittany Lewis

Covering garlic cloves.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Garlic scallions in April. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Garlic scallions in April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cover Crops slideshow, speaking events, good reading, and spinach varieties

I’ve had a busy few weeks. On Thursday 9/29, I presented my new slideshow Cover Crops, to the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville. Here it is with a few bonus slides. Like most of my slideshows, you can find it on Slideshare. I’ll be presenting a shorter, more concise version at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference January 9-11 (yes, midweek) at the Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs, VA.

On Saturday 10/1 I gave a shared presentation with Ira Wallace on the Seed Garden, at Lynchburg College. I’ll tell you more about that next week, once I’ve got the slideshow uploaded.

I found out that the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania where I gave two workshops and some tomato string-weaving demos, had 19,000 attendees! Quite the crowd! I’m hoping to get to the 2017 Fair in Asheville, NC and at least one other next year.


October 2016 cover 300

The October issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. There’s an article by Karin Tifft on Getting Started with Biological Pest Control. She writes in a very straightforward style, pointing out many mistakes to avoid, and navigating the route into a complex subject. Phil Norris writes from experience about growing in clay, covering water management, aeration, soil amendments and erecting a movable high tunnel (hoophouse) on clay. They hadn’t sufficiently anchored the structure, which was on a windy site. It blew a foot and a half to the south, and the clay held 3 of the 4 corner posts, saving the structure! Bret Grohsgal writes about introducing unusual crops to your customers successfully – free samples, higher prices, and follow-through, not discounts! the GfM editor, Andrew Mefford, reviews Shawn Jadrnicek’s new book, The Bio-Integrated Farm and Miraculous Abundance by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer. Jane Tanner writes  about building a local flower movement.FarmersOfficeCoverjpg-250x300 The cover article is by Julia Shanks, author of the new book, The Farmer’s Office which I wrote about previously. I’m looking forward to reviewing a copy. In this article, Putting the Right Price on your Product, Julia covers all the aspects of price-setting: costs of production (direct costs, labor and overheads), analyzing what others are charging, and communicating value to your customers.


Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

The September/October Organic Broadcaster has also arrived. The lead article shocked me by revealing that the increased demand for organic corn and soy in the US has lead to an increase in imports. The “organic” labeling of some is in question, as imports are required to meet he standards of the exporting country, not the US. Are we being chauvinist to expect these standards to be looser than USDA certification, or gullible to assume they are at least as stringent? Either way, cheaper imports are leading to lower prices, and difficulties for US Organic farmers. If you can, buy local. Another topic covered in this issue include the law requiring GMO (bioengineered) packaged food to be labeled (good!) but the information that the labeling is in those cryptic QR codes that need a smartphone to read them. There are also articles advising on precautions when putting organic grain into a grain bin previously used for non-organic crops; informing on how the National Organic Program protects organic integrity through oversight and regulation; advising on how to use fishmeal to improve poultry performance, how to create enterprise budgets to see what’s financially worthwhile, how to access farm-to-school programs,how to farm safely with children. Lisa Kivirist writes about the Rural Women’s Project in the Midwest. They have a summer workshop series, farm tours, conference, and lots of networking with over 5000 women farmers involved. An article on farmer-veterans in the Midwest speaks about the solidarity and practical help available.


Fall spinach Photo Wren Vile

Fall spinach
Photo Wren Vile

This week in the Twin Oaks garden we have been using the “ideal transplanting weather” (that means rain!) to move spinach and kale plants from clumps that came up well and survived the grasshoppers to bare patches.  Transplants survive so much better if planted late in the day during overcast weather or light rain.

Tyee spinach. Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

Tyee spinach.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

This fall we sowed three spinach varieties: our long-time favorite Tyee spinach which has been discontinued by the seed trade. We’re trying a couple of other savoyed or semi-savoyed varieties.

Avon spinach and purple-handed gardener. Photo Fedco Seeds

Avon spinach Fedco Seeds

Avon spinach from Fedco Seeds is a promising alternative (I just hope it doesn’t turn everyone’s hands purple as this photo suggests! ) 42 days to mature spinach. This variety starred in Fedco’s 2015 spinach trial A vigorous semi-savoy variety with large broad dark green leaves and a sweet mild ‘sprightly’ flavor. Tender leaf and stem, an upright spreading habit. Tyee had great bolt resistance but tended to yellow, slightly tough, leaves in the fall. Avon promises to hold well in heat and keep its good texture and appearance in the fall, while offering high yields early and late.

Chevelle spinach. Photo Enza Zaden

Chevelle spinach.
Photo Enza Zaden

We are also trying Chevelle spinach, which we bought from Osborne Seeds. Their website is out today, here’s their Phone: (360) 424-7333.

Our variety trials have not got off to a good start, because we are moving plants around so much to fill gaps. But we have got reliably labeled plants in our cold frames, where they will grow overwinter until we need the space for seed flats in spring.