Climate change and pest control

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I recently learned some more about online weather tools for farmers from Eric and Joanna Reuter in Growing for Market. The National Weather Center Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has a wealth of useful info. From the “WPC 7-day QPF” map above (Weather Prediction Center 7 day quantitative precipitation forecast) I see we could get up to an inch of rain over the coming week in central Virginia. Other maps on the site show we can expect above normal temperatures and rainfall for the first week of January. (I’m saying rain, because with above normal temperatures, the precipitation won’t be snow.)

There are maps with forecast conditions for the next month, the next three months and even the whole of 2018, although of course the more intervening time means more chance of things changing before we get there.There is a detailed discussion explaining “La Niña conditions are present, with a transition to ENSO-neutral favored during January-March 2017.” The report was written in November, predicting weak La Nina conditions continuing through March 2017.

Winter offers a good opportunity to explore these tools and get familiar with them (the abbreviations and technical language do take a bit of getting used to). If I were to open this site in mid-summer when already very busy, I think I would struggle to sit still long enough to absorb the information. By figuring it out at the slow time of year, I’ll be more ready to dip in and take advantage of timely info in the main growing season.

If the embedding has worked out right, here is a “Climograph” for Louisa County, Virginia:

<iframe frameborder=”0″ width=”470px” height=”430px” style=”overflow:hidden;” scrolling=”no” src=”http://www.usclimatedata.com/climate-graph.php?id=usva0445&system=american&title=1″></iframe>

And if it didn’t embed, here’s the link: http://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/louisa/virginia/united-states/usva0445/2015/2

december-beds-with-row-cover-wren

Outdoors in December – rowcover everywhere! Photo by Wren Vile

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse! Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse!
Photo Wren Vile


This week I also read an interesting article by Rebekah L Fraser in Growing magazine on the Push-Pull Method of pest control, which was developed in Kenya. In Kenya this method is used to protect crops from both invasive weeds and insect pests. Some plants can suppress others by selective allelopathy. Tick-trefoil not only suppresses some weeds but also repels pests, while conserving the soil in the process, and providing stock feed or green manure when cut. Plus, as a legume, the tick-trefoil fixes atmospheric nitrogen (which feeds the next crop) and reduces greenhouse gases (which helps save us all). This is the “push” half of the combination. Tick-trefoil interplanted with corn repels weeds and pests.

Push-pull pest control

Push-pull pest control

The “pull” half involves Napier grass as an attractive trap crop for corn borers. This trap crop is planted as a border around the corn patch. The female stem-borers are repelled by the tick-trefoil out of the corn to the border where they lay eggs on the Napier grass. It’s sticky exudates and sharp silica hairs kill the stem borer larvae when they hatch. Read more on www.push-pull.net .

It’s so heartening to read about organic sustainable ways farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are working to end hunger and poverty. And these principles can surely be applied to other crops in other regions.

Sweet potato slideshow, phenology article, Ira Wallace awarded

I’ve just got back from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC. There were about 1200 people, five workshop slots, 12 tracks, lots of good, locally grown food, a whole pre-conference day of bus tours and intensive workshops, a courageous and inspiring keynote address from Clara Coleman on the joys and challenges of family and farm life. She and her two young sons are now living and working alongside Eliot Coleman (her dad) and Barbara Damrosch at Four Seasons Farm in Maine.

My sweet potato slideshow from my first workshop at CFSA is viewable above. Just click on the forward arrow. To see it full screen, click on the link below the image and then click the diagonal arrows when the new page opens. About 70 very engaged people attended that workshop. My other workshop was Sustainable Farming Practices for Vegetable Growers, which I’ll include next week.

I have also recently written a blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog  called Saving Sweet Potato Roots for Growing Your Own Slips.

I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new friends, learning some good tips about different drip irrigation parts, how to sharpen and use a scythe, how many years half the henbit seeds are viable for (23 years!!), and picking up literature from the trade booths to digest later.

sac-16-banner-960x330Save the date: 2017’s CFSA SAC will be November 3-5 (Fri-Sun)


nov-dec-2016-gfm-cover-300The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about phenology. Phenology is the study of recurring animal and plant life cycle changes in relation to the weather. Some changes are temperature-dependent, rather than (daylength-) calendar-dependent. The opening of some buds and the emergence of some
insects from the ground are related to the accumulated warmth of that season. Observations of certain changes can be used to help growers decide when to expect outbreaks of certain insect pests and when to plant certain crops. For instance, we look to the leaves of the white oaks to decide when it is warm enough to plant sweet corn. The oak leaves should be as big as squirrel’s ears. We have plenty of squirrels! Phenology is especially useful when the weather is extremely variable, which we can expect more of as climate change gets us further in its grip.

Also in this bumper edition of Growing for Market are articles on growing heading chicories (Josh Volk), milling your own logs on your farm (Mark Lieberth), online weather tools for farmers (Eric and Joanna Reuter), image-front-cover_coverbookpagea review of The Farmers Market Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal (Andrew Mefferd), and favorite perennials for flower growers (Jane Tanner). There are also two pages of cameos of books available from GfM. A seasonal tip about gift giving, I think.

I am working on a review of Soil Sisters by Lisa Kivirist, which I will tidy up and post soon.


Ira Wallace receives SFA award

Ira Wallace receives SFA award. Photo by Sara Wood

Ira Wallace, my long time friend and one of the members of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has recently been awarded the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sara Wood took photos at SESE and at Twin Oaks while preparing the SFA oral history interview with Ira Wallace. You can watch the video clip, read the transcript and ass the photos at the link. Well done Ira!

Heritage Harvest Festival presentations, Eggplant variety trials, Growing for Market

I enjoyed the weekend at the Heritage Harvest Festival. On Friday I gave my Fall Vegetable Production slideshow, which you can watch an updated version of above (again or for the first time). If you want to see it larger click here and then on the diagonal arrow icon. On Saturday I gave my Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops presentation, which you can watch below (again or for the first time). Just click on the forward pointing arrow.

To see this one larger, click here.


Epic Eggplant Photo by Nina Gentle

Epic Eggplant
Photo by Nina Gentle

We are gathering good information on our Heat-tolerant Eggplant Trials. We have been seeking a classic dark purple/black pear or tear-drop shaped eggplant that yields well in hot weather. Click the link to read last year’s report and summary of the trials in 2013 and 2104. Our plants (Nadia, Epic and Traviata this year) are all doing well. I wrote an interim report as a blog post for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. This year (unlike 2013, 2014 and 2015), we’ve actually had some very hot days.

At the end of the season I will give a full report and correlate the yields with the temperatures typical at the time. Meanwhile, I can confidently say that of the three, Epic is winning! From the first harvest on 7/18, up to the end of August, Epic had produced a staggering 287 eggplants, averaging 0.9 pounds each; Nadia  125 eggplants, averaging 0.76 pounds each; Traviata 124 averaging 0.72 pounds. The cull rate for Nadia was best (least) at 21%; Epic was close at 22%, while Traviata produced a surprisingly high proportion of culls at 29%.


September 2016 cover300

The September issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. The cover article is by Jed Beach, on matching farm production with sales demand. growing produce that nobody wants is so frustrating. Probably not quite as bad as a crop failure, but discouraging in another way. The consequence is the same though: time spent working hard for no useful result. As Jed puts it:

“will our hard work and money decompose before our eyes as sales come in lower than we’d hoped?”

If the percentage of produce that is converted into sales is 80% or more, you’re doing OK. If it’s less, then try to either increase sales or decrease production. Growers who are not selling their vegetables can think about this in terms of what gets used and what gets wasted. Jed tells how to better match production with demand.

Brad Halm writes about how to manage urban and other difficult soils.He covers soil contamination, soil amelioration, container growing (building beds on top of the existing soil), in-soil growing and growing on top of impermeable surfaces like roofs.

Louise Swartzwalder describes The Crossroads Farmers Market in Tacoma, MD, which was designed intentionally to be accessible to a low-income population. A very heart-warming and inspiring story.

Michael Kilpatrick reports on the 2016 Frozen Ground Conference, held in Vermont during August. I found the material from the last Frozen Ground Conference in 2014 which focused on Winter Growing very valuable. It seems to have involved a small group of 22 very experienced participants all sharing something in the spirit of mutual aid. The 2016 conference was a large round-table discussion (not a speaker-and-audience conference). Topics included long-term soil fertility, soil salt buildup in high tunnels (hoophouses), and new and improved gardening tools, new products like Solarwrap greenhouse film. Participants brought slideshows of their hoophouse (high tunnel) heating and insulation systems. Michael has released an ebook on his blog “10 Winter growing secrets we wish we knew when we started,” which you can find at michael-kilpatrick.com.

FarmersOfficeCoverjpg-250x300Andrew Mefferd, the editor of Growing for Market, has reviewed the book  The Farmer’s Office by Julia Shanks. The subtitle is “Tools, tips and templates to successfully manage a growing farm business”. She explains how to understand the farm records you have kept, and how to keep better (more useful) records.  It includes real-life examples of straightforward and difficult situations, along with templates of forms you might use. Andrew Mefferd says: “Curl up with The Farmer’s Office in your office this winter.”

The final article in the magazine is traditionally the one on cut flowers, maybe because the color photos on the back cover can be enjoyed more often than if they were hidden inside. This time it’s an article by the previous editor, Lynn Byczynski about the U-pick cut flower operation at Omena Cut Flowers, run by Carolyn Faught in northern Michigan. The farm looks beautiful!

 

How to decide which vegetable crops to grow

Don't have more work than you can bear. Photo Bridget Aleshire Credit Bridget Aleshire

Don’t have more work than you can bear.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

It’s late August, and we have a grueling amount of work. Help is thin on the ground, crops need harvesting, weeds need dealing with, fall planting for winter crops is calling us. I’m sure we’re not the only growers this happens to. We need to assess which crops are our priority.

Sometimes you have the time and space to grow everything you want. That’s wonderful! Other times, either land or labor is in short supply (or both). What to do? How do you decide which crops to grow? I’ve looked at this problem several times, and taken note when other farmer/writers tackle the topic.

Sometimes it is possible to reduce waste, increase productivity, increase efficiency, make more use of crops you have in abundance. If space is short you can sometimes plant closer, use transplants rather than direct seed, plant faster-maturing varieties, relay-plant one crop while the previous one is still growing, interplant a tall crop in a bed of a short crop, use rowcover to speed up maturity, and various other tricks of the trade. Here I am going to focus on shortage of time/shortage of labor, rather than shortage of land.

As in all farming, it’s best to make a plan that fits your resources. But sometimes the situation changes and less time is available than you thought. In years when we’ve been short of labor we have created a “Can’t do it all” list. We list some labor intensive crops along with their respective “decision dates,” the month that it is most labor-intensive for that crop, how expensive it would be for us to buy that crop rather than grow our own, and a few other factors. We list the crops in date order of Decision Time, then as each date approaches we review our situation and vote Keep, Down (Less) or Out. This method enables us to make one decision at a time, in a straightforward way, and not go insane.

Late sweet corn and sweet potatoes Credit Ezra Freeman

Late sweet corn and sweet potatoes
Credit Ezra Freeman

Such a list leaves the door open for possible upturns of fortune later in the year. It’s less distressing to take one bite at a time than to take a big decision when you already are struggling to cope with some big calamity having happened. When is it time to cut your losses? Farming never stands still, sometimes the best way to catch up with an interminable list is to remove some items, whether you’ve done them or not. I wrote about this in the February 2013 issue of Growing for Market: Making good decisions under pressure.

Having some clear crop characteristics to base our decisions on really makes the sad task easier. The process led me to look out for information from other growers on what informs their decisions. This led to a much longer piece of writing that is too long for here. I’ll cut to the chase.

Factors to consider

Putting together various ideas, here’s my list of pointers. First be clear about your farming goals – some of the factors below will be more important to some growers than to others. Rearrange the list to suit your farm, then award each crop a point for each Yes. Knock out the crops with fewest Yeses.

  1. Is it labor efficient? (Some space-hogging crops like sweet corn are not labor intensive)
  2. Does the intense work for this crop come in at a less-busy time of year?
  3. Is this crop fast-maturing? (If labor is short, weed control might be an issue for a slow-growing crop, even if space isn’t)
  4. Is it high yielding for the space occupied (does it produce one vegetable head or 1 pound of produce, per square foot or1/2 pound/row foot)?
  5. Is it high yielding for the labor intensiveness? (Okra doesn’t provide much food for the space or the time)
  6. Does it provide multiple harvests from a single planting?
  7. Is there minimal wastage/ maximum saleable quality of the harvested crop?
  8. Does the crop require minimal time to process to be ready for sale?
  9. If you are selling, does it bring a high price, above $4 per pound?
  10. If you are growing for a household, or a non-profit, or considering buying wholesale from another farmer for your CSA: Is it expensive to replace?
  11. Is it popular (do you have a good market for it)?
  12. Is it reliably easy to grow?
  13. Is it fun or pleasantly challenging to grow?
  14. Is it forgiving of difficult weather?
  15. Is it a staple?
  16. Does it provide food at times of year when other crops are scarce?
  17. Is it an “insurance crop” which provides harvests even if other crops fail? (chard, storage root vegetables)
  18. Does it store well/easily?
  19. Does it help provide your land with a good crop rotation?
  20. Are there high pesticide levels in the commercial non-organic crop (if that’s your alternative source)? Is it in the Dirty Dozen?
  21. Does it provide appealing diversity for your booth or CSA boxes?
  22. Are you relying on this crop for personal sustenance?
  23. Is it nutritionally dense or important (a protein crop, an oil crop, a mid-winter crop?)
Celery is high on the "Dirty Dozen" list. If you eat non-organic you get lots of pesticides. We like Ventura. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Celery is high on the “Dirty Dozen” list. If you eat non-organic you get lots of pesticides. We like Ventura.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Insect mesh, shadecloth, crimson clover, sowing corn, too much rain

May2016_cover_300pxThe May issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about protecting crops in the summer, using shadecloth and insect mesh (netting).

If you want to grow lots of summer crops in buggy places, net houses (hoophouses covered with insect mesh rather than poly) may be your answer. If the bugs are not tiny, small mesh shade cloth may be an even better choice than insect mesh, because it cools while keeping the critters out. Search for project FS13-275 at http://www.southernsare.org. The document High Tunnel Pest Exclusion System: A novel strategy for organic crop production in the south is available from a link in that report.

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer. Photo Nina Gentle

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer.
Photo Nina Gentle

I write about using shade cloth for cool weather crops like lettuce during the summer, and also about research into the improvements to yields of peppers when using shadecloth. 30% shade cloth can increase pepper yields by 100% (yes, double the yield!). See the University of Georgia paper Shading helps south Georgia pepper farmers beat the heat. For hot weather lettuce, we use 45-60% shade cloth on spring hoops 6-8 feet apart, with a plastic clothespin to attach it at each hoop.  Shadecloth lets air through better than row cover does, so it’s less likely to blow away. We don’t use any weight to hold the edges down. We keep the shade cloth on for 2-3 weeks after transplanting, then move it on to the next planting, in a single operation. 2 or 3 people pull up the hoops with the shade cloth still attached, and parade it like a Chinese dragon procession.We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rowcover (white polypro or polyester non-woven fabric) is often used by growers in cold weather to extend the season. There are also lightweight rowcovers for insect exclusion. These can be fragile, and holey row cover doesn’t keep insects out! We switched to only buying thick rowcover and use it  for some crops even in summer. It doesn’t heat up as much as people fear. Johnnys Seeds has a helpful row cover comparison chart

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

But even better for protecting plants against bugs in summer is ProtekNet, a translucent polyamide (nylon) fabric which comes in different mesh sizes. it allows better airflow than rowcover, and better light permeability (from the plants’ perspective) – visibility from the human perspective. Dubois offers free shipping on online orders over $200. ProtekNet is also available from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland, and  Johnnys Seeds in Maine.


Also in this issue of Growing for Market Jane Tanner writes about the benefits of no-till farming, in building topsoil, encouraging soil micro-organisms and reducing weed pressure.  She writes about several farms, all following the model of small acreage, intensively farmed, mostly with manual tools. This system, advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier in The Market Gardener, includes “occultation”, the practice of covering damp soil with heavy black plastic for several weeks to kill weeds. This article includes photos of occultation and a clear explanation. Cover crops are another important feature of this system. I found this a particularly information-packed article, one I will return to.

9221576_origKarin Tifft writes about IPM tools (Integrated Pest Management) for small and organic farms, making the topic accessible to those of us with only a short amount of reading time! We can read enough now to make some actual differences to our pest levels. Later we’ll want to read more, as results pile up.

Nikki Warner writes with advice for managing a farmers market, and Ralph Thurston and Jeriann Sabin write about starting a flower farm (Excerpted  from their book Deadhead: The Bindweed Way to Grow Flowers with their permission.)


We sowed our first corn on Thursday. the soil temperature was 60F, so we were OK on that score. But then it rained and rained. The soil is saturated. I wonder if the corn seed will rot in the ground? Also the bean we sowed last week. Was I too hasty? We’ll see.


Meanwhile, a cheery sight has been the flowering crimson clover cover crop

Crimson clover cover crop Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

This patch is where our fall broccoli was last year. We under-sowed with a mix of crimson clover, Ladino white clover and medium red clover. If you look closely you can see the white patterned leaves of the red clover and the tiny leaves of the white clover in the understory. Also the seeding chickweed, which will disappear as soon as we bush hog the patch. Our goal here is to maintain the clovers all year, adding nitrogen to the soil for next year’s food crop and swamping the weeds. We’ll mow every time it looks weedy.

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop Photo by McCune Porter

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop
Photo by McCune Porter

In this second picture, you can see a patch where we sowed winter rye mixed with crimson clover in late October as a winter cover crop. In most places the rye is taller than the clover, so it’s not as overwhelmingly pretty as the first patch, but it’s packing a lot of biomass to feed the soil. It will get disked in soon (when the soil dries enough!), in preparation for later sweet corn sowings.

Growing for Market issue for March, upcoming events, return of the ticks

GFM_March2016_cover-300pxThe March issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on planning and siting a hoophouse. This is a good time of year to scope out good sites for a hoophouse (high tunnel) if you don’t already have one. Or if you want another!

I address NRCS funding; what to look for in a good site (sunshine, drainage, good soil, fairly level land, wind protection, road access, electricity and water supplies);  size and shape; and DIY versus professionally made frames (my advice – don’t skimp!). I go into the debate on single layer versus double layer plastic and special types of plastic.

I will be writing a follow-up article soon, talking about hoophouse end wall design, windows and doors, fixed walls, roll-up and roll-down walls, interior design (bed layout) and questions of in-ground insulation or even heating, as well as rainwater run-off and perhaps collection.

Our hoophouse site before construction. Photo Twin Oaks Community

Our hoophouse when brand new. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our hoophouse when brand new.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Other articles in this issue of Growing for Market include one on Integrated Pest and Disease Management by Karin Tifft; one on how to plan to make more money, by Jed Beach; Edible landscaping by Brad Halm; and Gretel Adams on how to best look after flowers at harvest, to cope with their particular and sometimes peculiar needs. An issue very packed with information!


My talk at the Culpeper County Library last weekend was very well received. Most of the audience were small-scale growers themselves, some were CSA farmers.

12036905_991970554182625_8873229727110436068_nNow I’m gearing up for a Crop Planning class at For the Love of the Local in my home town on Thursday 3/10 6-7pm. 402 West Main Street. Louisa, Virginia. (540) 603-2068.

OGS Spring16_EmailSig (2)Immediately after that I’m headed to Asheville, NC for the Organic Growers School. On Saturday 3/12, 2-3.30pm I’ll be presenting (a shorter version of) Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale, which was a big hit at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference at the end of January. On Sunday 3/13 , 4-5.30pm, I’ll be presenting my Growing Great Garlic slideshow.

fair-logoTwo weeks after that, I’ll be back in Asheville for the Mother Earth News Fair. Click the link to see the draft schedule. I’ll be giving presentations on Crop Planning and on Fall Vegetable Production. We decided that although the Asheville Fair is always in April, people there also may be just as interested in fall vegetable growing as much as in spring vegetables!

For the stay-at-homes I’ll put these presentations up on SlideShare after the event and share them on my blog.


Margaret Roach A Way to Garden

Margaret Roach A Way to Garden

Spring has reached Virginia and it’s time to be on the lookout for ticks. I found a really good interview with Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute on A Way to Garden.  This blog is by Margaret Roach, a long time garden writer, who interviews many interesting people. You can listen to her podcast or read the interview. Learn why the black-legged tick (which can transmit Lyme disease) is called the deer tick and why that isn’t the best name; why mice, chipmunks and shrews (but not voles) contribute to the spread of Lyme disease, and why foxes, opossums, raccoons and bobcats can reduce Lyme disease incidence (by catching the small mammals). Possums also “hoover up” and eat the ticks directly.


We’ve finally started planting! We transplanted some spinach and sowed carrots on Saturday. The new spinach is covered with hoops and rowcovers, just as our overwintered spinach is. This has been a tough winter. The cold-damaged spinach had bleached frozen spots on the leaves, but we have been able to harvest it about once a week.

Weeding overwintered spinach in March Wren

Weeding overwintered spinach in March. Photo by Wren Vile

SSAWG Conference, Mother Earth News and Eat-All Greens, Growing for Market

I’m home from a very successful Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington Kentucky. It was the biggest so far, with 1400-1500 participants. My workshop Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale ran out even of standing room, so I was asked to repeat it in the afternoon. I did that and the new room was half full. I gave out over 230 handouts. The impossibly broad topic was a challenge for a 75 minute workshop, but I did my best. Last week I blogged the info on Bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management that I had to drop from the slideshow.

I love the SSAWG conference. I learned so many useful tips that will improve my farming this year and in the future. Such as another way to tell a ripe watermelon: stroke it and feel the texture of the skin. If it’s slick the melon isn’t ready. When it becomes a little rough, it is. Such as, yes a 60cfm inflation blower really should be adequate for a 30′ x 96′ hoophouse, so we almost certainly have holes in the plastic. Such as ways to deal with tomato diseases in the Southeast (thanks Joe Kemble of Auburn University).

If you are now wishing you’d been there, go to SlideShare.net and search for SSAWG. There are so many valuable presentations from conferences over the years. Also the audio of this year’s presentations (and last) are available from Rhino Technologies. Wait a few days for them to get home and load everything on their website.


Eat-All Greens on October 19 Photo Bridget Aleshire

Eat-All Greens on October 19
Photo Bridget Aleshire

And while the soil outside is waterlogged and you can’t do much gardening or farming, what better than more veggie-reading? Mother Earth News Feb/March issue has an article by Carol Deppe,  on How to Easily Grow High-Yielding Greens. Carol is the inventor/discoverer of Eat-All Greens, which I have been writing about on this blog. Her 20 years of trialing this method of growing cooking greens quickly with very little work has led her to now recommend seven greens as particularly suitable. Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes (I was interested to read that Carol also harvested the radish roots as we did with ours in December), Groninger Blue collard-kale (must get that this year), Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana (check!), and Red Aztec huazontle. No mention this time of peas. Peas provided our earliest harvests this fall. Keeping them tender was a challenge though. The article includes information on where to buy the varieties she recommends. Carol also has her own seed company Fertile Valley Seeds, selling varieties and strains that she has developed.


Potato harvest in November Photo by Lori Katz

Potato harvest in November with our Checchi and Magli harvester
Photo by Lori Katz

In the same issue of Mother Earth News is some of what I have written about dealing safely with green potatoes.


GFM_February2016_cover_300pxLastly for this week, the February Growing for Market is out. This is the first issue from the new editor, Andrew Mefferd. He tackles the thorny topic of hydroponics and whether it can ever be considered Organic. (Many organic and biological growers believe it is important to Keep the Soil in Organic)  As well as the Organic status of hydroponics, he describes the various types of hydroponic production for those that want to grow food that way, and for the rest of us to understand what we are talking about.

There is an article by Nick Burton about his hydroponic system and developing a trust-based sales system in a gym for people on a “paleo diet”, who eat lots of vegetables. Then a salad mix kit. He had moved from running a plant nursery to selling produce to selling convenience for people short of time and enthusiasm for shopping and preparing food. I admit to being skeptical about the paleo diet. Didn’t those paleo people spend all day scavenging for food?

Gretel Adams writes about running a bouquet business efficiently. (I’d be no good, I would dither for too long!)

My own article this issue is very down-to-earth: growing oats as a cover crop. They are easy-care and in climates in zone 7 or colder, they reliably die in the winter, making for easy early spring cultivation. We like to undersow oats and soy in our last sweet corn patch. This saves us from having to disk up the patch to establish a winter cover crop (it’s already there!), and means we can follow the late sweet corn with an early spring crop the next year. In our case it is the March potatoes.

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy Photo Kathryn Simmons

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy
Photo Kathryn Simmons

 

Planting leeks, Growing for Market melon article, different weather

Planting leeks has been one of our main jobs this week. Two beds finished, three to go. When I wrote about this last year, I said we were trying leek seedlings in flats (rather than bare-root from an outdoor seedbed) for the second year, and doing the transplanting 2-3 weeks earlier than with our outdoor seedbed method, from the same sowing dates.

Leek planting diagram. Pam Dawling

Leek planting diagram.
Pam Dawling

This year we again used flats, and I think this will be the way of the future for us. It is easier to keep weeds at bay in flats than outdoors. We’ve cut back from 20 flats to 15, for the same number of beds, and still have plenty of plants. Next year, perhaps a further cut.

But I’m a bit unhappy with the root damage that occurs in getting the close-planted seedlings out of the flats. I know some growers trim leek roots before planting, but we never have. Extricating them from flats does produce a root-pruning of a sort. Last year’s leeks grew well, so I think I can ease back on worrying! Some growers use plug flats, but I can’t imagine having enough coldframe space for 5 beds x 4 rows x 90ft x 2 (6″ spacing) seedlings. 3600 plugs. Plus up to 10% spare to allow for non-germinating seeds, and for selecting the strongest.

A bed of overwintered leeks Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

A bed of overwintered leeks
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

In 2013, I wrote about calculating the seed-row length for outdoor seed beds, and about using flats for the first time. We sowed 20 flats 12″ x 24″ with 6 rows in each. We found we had more plants than we needed, and we didn’t need the back-up sowing in April at all. We were still transplanting on June 20 that year.

In 2012, I introduced our furrow and dibbled holes system for leeks. I notice I said we were growing five varieties: fast-growing Lincoln and King Richard for eating in October and November, King Sieg for December, and the hardy Tadorna for December to February. I count that as four, not five, so I wonder about the fifth. We were still transplanting leeks on June 28, because the March 21 sowing got over-run by weeds, and we used our back-up April 20 sowing.


 

GFM_JuneJuly2015_cover_300px

The June/July issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about growing muskmelons aka cantaloupes. I was surprised to find I had never written about growing melons for Growing for market previously. There’s a chapter in my book, of course. Melons are one of my favorite fruits, and I enjoy even looking forward to them! I wrote about the different types of melons and why the ones we call cantaloupes are actually muskmelons; how to start the seeds; transplanting and direct sowing; keeping the bugs off and harvesting. There are also lists of pests diseases you hope not to get, and some handy resources.

I wrote a complementary post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog about personal size melons, something we are trying again this year.

Kansas Melon. Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Kansas Melon.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

In this issue, you can also read the cover story by Emily Oakley and Mike Appel of Three Springs Farm in eastern Oklahoma, about having small children while farming. Worth learning from others’ experience before launching into that project! Periodical cicadas are the subject of Lynn Byczynski‘s editorial. They were here on our farm in 2013.

Regina Dlugokencky of Seedsower Farm in Centerport, New York writes about a new organic farming opportunity: the supply of organic mulching materials from the current proliferation of microbreweries. She has had success using Spent Brewers Grains (SBG) on Long Island. One micro-brewer can produce 220 pounds of SBG per working day. Read the complete report at www.sare.org – search for Project Number FNE12-743.

There’s also an article about two electronic record-keeping systems you can use on your smart phone, if you have one. COG Pro (use the word Guest as username and password) and FARMDATA. Next up is an article about a small flower farm in County Cork, Ireland. Gretel Adams closes with an article about flower photography to increase sales.


Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting. Credit Kati Folger

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Folger

And lastly, the weather. After days without rain, with forecasts including “chance of thunderstorms” that went everywhere but here, we finally are getting some rain. Hoeing is out, transplanting is in, as is setting seed potatoes to sprout for our second planting, in a couple of weeks.

For weather-entertainment from the safety of your own desk, check out LightningMaps.org. Real time lightning. Of course, if the lightning is close, you might  close down your computer and not get zapped.

 

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Cold weather, snow, thinking about nematodes

We won't starve or get scurvy! Plenty of food in the hoophouse!  Credit Twin Oaks Community

We won’t starve or get scurvy! Plenty of food in the hoophouse!
Credit Twin Oaks Community

This morning we have about 6 inches of snow. Knowing it was coming, we stocked the kitchen with extra potatoes from the root cellar (for those who don’t know, it’s next to impossible to pull a loaded garden cart through loose snow). We also braved the begiinning of the snow yesterday afternoon to harvest some spinach outdoors. We did try digging leeks, but the ground was frozen too deep. If the weather forecast holds true, we won’t see the soil for a week, as not much thawing is predicted. But the hoophouse will feed us. One winter the outdoor crops were inaccessible due to snow, ice or freezing weather, for a whole month, and we were able to feed 100 people in salads and cooking greens from the hoophouse. That wasn’t typical central Virginia weather. But typical isn’t typical any more.

Young blueberry bush in the snow. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Young blueberry bush in the snow.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our hoop house is a 30 x 96 ft Clearspan Gothic Cold Frame type from Farmtek. We made ours with bows four feet apart for better strength against ice and snow build up, and the gothic arch shape helps shed snow, as does the rigidity provided by having two layers of plastic and an air bubble. A couple of years ago when we were changing the plastic we added some reinforcement props to the west wall, which was leaning in from the force of winds. On Sunday night I was very glad of that, because we had very high gusty winds, and I lay in bed trying to ignore the sound of the wind, imaging we would lose our hoophouse. Imagine my relief to wake up to see it still in place!

We did have a big pine tree come down near our dining hall, but it missed the big propane tanks and didn’t even block the road by the Tofu Factory. We didn’t lose electric power either, so we have been lucky in several ways. Now I am watching the forecast for Thursday night. At one point the forecast was for a low of -9F, which is unthinkably low! Even the Vates kale won’t survive that – unless we have snow covering, which we still might! Currently the forecast has “warmed” to -2F. We always subtract 5F from the Louisa forecast, because it is often that much colder here.


Meanwhile, here are some warming photos from Hawai’i. Following my article in Growing for Market about dealing with nematodes in the hoophouse, I heard from Gerry Ross at Kupa’a Farms on Maui, at  2000 feet above sea level. (Take a look at their beautiful website, and feel the sunshine!) Root Knot Nematodes are a warm weather problem – they are inactive if the soil is colder than 50F. We had never seen their damage until a few years ago. In warmer climates they may have to deal with them constantly. On Maui the soil temperatures never go below 59F! Their high tunnel is for insect exclusion, not warmer temperatures, so it is covered with insect mesh, not polyethylene.

Nematode-susceptible food crops. Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa'a farms

Nematode-susceptible food crops.
Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa’a farms

Gerry wrote that he is trying a hoophouse crop rotation: “We started with cukes, tomatoes, zukes, and peppers for the hotter summer weather. We then moved to sunn hemp-Piper sudan cover crop for about 45 days, and then to a winter rotation of brassicas with peas and cukes. We will mow and disc the brassicas down in about a month when it starts to get on the warm side and harvest is over and plant directly into the debris with peppers, tomatoes and cukes/zukes. So far we are really pleased with the results…..the brassicas are really clean with no cabbage moth damage. This is just one way to manage the RKN I suspect but so far so good.”

Nematode -fighting cover crops. Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa'a Farms

Nematode -fighting cover crops.
Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa’a Farms

Outdoors, for field crops, Gerry said:

” we usually do 2-4 month cover crop like sunn hemp and Piper sudan grass and then follow that with our most susceptible crops (potatoes, carrots, beans, beets). When those come out we follow with brassicas, lettuce, onions. We usually grow row crops for 8 months in a field and then do a cover crop. The sunn hemp we use is called “Tropic Sunn” and the USDA on Molokai has developed it and bred the alkaloids out of it. Not sure it is widely available but try http://oahurcd.org/ and see if they will mail it to you. We also use vetch as a cover but it can get whacked with RKN so we co-plant with a scaffolding nonhost like the Piper sudan or oats.”

Brassicas in nematode-fighting hoophouse crop rotation. Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa'a Farms

Brassicas in nematode-fighting hoophouse crop rotation.
Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa’a Farms

“Buried in some of the research by the sugar cane companies was a comment that molasses seems to drive down populations of RKN in the soil. We found application of local molasses to be difficult because it is so thick and viscous and hard to make spreadable BUT a local farming store did get us some dried molasses which is used as a horse supplement in the Mainland and applying that to the soil seemed to really help. That might be something you could try.

We have tried lots of compost (food-waste based as manure is not easily available here) and have created beds with loads of earthworms but the RKN persists.
We have found that some lima beans perform well even with heavy RKN infestation esp the Florida speckled butterbeans (huge purple speckled beans on wild vines that live for three years here!) and Fordhook that seem to just carry on regardless of RKN infestation. Fava beans on the other hand suffer mightily and do not produce at all. 
Thank you for the list of remedies and resistant cultivars. We have used the NemaQ and it seems to work if we run through our drip lines or water it in in diluted form in our raised beds. We might try grafted tomatoes too because one of the available rootstocks is RKN resistant. “

So, here I sit with “good garden planning weather” and fight my desire to just hibernate till it warms up!
Field manual Vabf unnamed

My article on nematodes in Growing for Market; PASA Conference Feb 2015; reading the Organic Broadcaster

GFM-November-December2014-cover-300pxThe November-December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about tackling root knot nematodes in our hoophouse over the past few years. We found Peanut Root Knot nematodes (RKN) in a half-bed of overwintered spinach transplants in February 2011. As we were digging up the transplants to move them outdoors, we noticed some of the roots were lumpy. I sent a sample to the Plant Diagnostic Clinic at Virginia Tech and got the result we feared.  Nematodes are microscopic worms that parasitize plant roots, stressing crops and reducing yields. They have hundreds of host plants and are hard to control.

We came up with a two year plan, taking the half-bed out of production, growing a series of nematode-suppressing cover crops, and solarizing the soil in the summers. Just when we thought we were done, in June 2103, we found nematodes in the other half of the same bed. So we took that half out of production for two years, while enjoying the extra benefits of the solarization we’d done in the first half: a very happy plot of lettuce with no Sclerotinia rot that winter! We took the patient organic approach, accepting the one-twelfth reduction in crop-growing area.

But then, this summer, as we pulled our early tomatoes from the bed next to troubled one, we found nematodes in the roots of 4 of the 44 plants, dotted along the row. To continue the same approach would mean having the new bed as well as the previous half-bed out of production for one year, and then the whole new bed. That would be a quarter of the space for a whole year! So we looked at less cautious approaches, shifting to a “live with a few” approach, rather than the “yikes, get rid of them all” approach we had been (unsuccessfully) applying. Our new plan is to grow resistant crops for two years, then risk one year of susceptible crops. We’re also looking at biocontrols to apply to the soil in spring once it warms up enough for the nematodes to be active. I hope this will work well enough. I’ll let you know.


Other articles in the same GfM issue include Phil Norris in Maine writing about a rolling hoophouse design he came up with after consulting his neighbor, the much-admired author Eliot Coleman. His design runs on a long four-site track. He addresses issues of structural integrity, pedestrian access via a side door, ventilation and irrigation. The house is so easy to move, he even rolls it along to irrigate one of the not-currently-covered sites for two hours, making use of the overhead sprinklers hanging from the roof trusses, before rolling it back for the night!

Susan Studer King writes to debunk myths about solar power. Like many farmers, she uses the slow part of the season to look to making long-term improvements at her farm. The main part of the article is a Q & A, which I found made installment of grid-linked solar arrays seem quite doable by practical people like farmers.

Walt Krukowski writes about caring for peonies at this time of year, for best results next spring. As you know, I’m not a cut flower grower, but I always read the flower articles in GfM to learn tips applicable to vegetable growing.

The GfM editor, Lynn Bryczynski, gives us a valuable article reviewing the fascinating Japanese manual paper chain pot transplanter, which I’ve often wondered about.  Lynn interviewed six growers who’ve used the tool, which can set out 264 plants in a minute, under the right soil conditions. The initial cost for the hand-pulled tool and a set of paper pots is about $2000. The paper pots are connected bottomless cells that arrive flattened, and open out as a plugsheet. Good bed prep and optimal transplant size are critical for success, and the method is best suited to stemmy (rather than rosette-shaped) crops grown on a close plant spacing. A boon for people in cold climates transplanting crops others of us direct-sow. It’s available in North America only from Small Farm Works.

And I was happy to note the magazine has grown from 24 to 28 pages with this issue!


Another good source of sustainable farming reading material is the Organic Broadcaster, which I have mentioned before. The November/December issue of that bi-monthly publication is also out. It includes an article by Elaine Ingham on nutrient cycling in organically managed soils; Hebert Karreman on winter barn housing for cows; Harriet Behar on foreseeable problems of GM crop-herbicide combos; Kelli Boylan on a new weed control technique using ground apricot pits (a byproduct of apricot processing) to “sand-blast” the weeds; Bill Stoneman155_full on biopesticides; Claire Strader on the challenges of urban farming; harold Ostenson and David Granatstein on controlling fireblight without antibiotics; John Biernbaum on planning ahead to grow healthy transplants; Harriet Behar on FSA programs to help farmers reduce financial risks;

The Ask A Moses Specialist page tackles buying organic seed and dealing with fruit-flies in the greenhouse. The book review is of Market Farming Success by Lynn Byczynski, which I reviewed here. The MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse Wisconsin, February 26-28 2015 gets a plug from Audrey Alwell, amusingly titled “Pack your plaid for annual MOSES Conference” complete with four supporting photos of six attendees in plaid shirts! The News Briefs include all sorts of useful information on events and publications. And there are classified ads and an Events Calendar.


As well as my booking to speak at the January 30-31 Virginia Biofarming Conference, I have now heard that I will also be a speaker at the February 2015 PASA Farming for the Future Conference. The titles of my workshops are not finalized yet. I’ll tell you when I know more.

And I see my embedding of my slideshow Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables two weeks ago was unsuccessful, and all you got was a long string link. I’ll try to fix that next.


And meanwhile, this week in the garden: we are getting ready to plant garlic. We started separating bulbs into cloves during our Crop Review Meeting yesterday. 2014 didn’t give us a good crop – we think we left the mulch too thick in some places for too long, so that we had big gaps in the rows. Live and (hopefully) learn! Another big task this week is sorting through all the potatoes we stored two weeks ago. We find that a single sorting two weeks after harvest is all we need to catch the ones that aren’t going to store well.

Planting garlic

Planting garlic, credit Twin Oaks Community