May at Twin Oaks in central Virginia

Hoophouse tomatoes in early May Photo Bridget Aleshire

Hoophouse tomatoes in early May
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Last night (May 15) we had a low temperature of 35F. This seems oh-so-late. I put rowcover over our two beds of outdoor tomatoes but forgot the two beds of beans! But the heavy rains are over for now, and we are tilling where we can and getting ready for lots of transplanting.

We are currently harvesting kale, collards, garlic scallions, garlic scapes, rhubarb, lettuce and the last of the spinach outdoors. From storage we have sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.Our spring senposai failed (probably not enough watering after transplanting). Soon we’ll have broccoli and early cabbage and radishes.

Our first yellow squash in the hoophouse mid-May. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Our first yellow squash in the hoophouse mid-May.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Hoophouse Snap peas 5 Winnie web

Sugar Ann snap peas in our hoophouse. Photo Bridget Aleshire

From the hoophouse we have our first squash and our last spinach, as well as snap peas. I have lots more photos but this morning our internet service is being very very slow, and I’m out of time. Before closing I’ll just tell you about the Twin Oaks Herb Garden Tour and Tea:

Twin Oaks Herb Garden Photo Bridget Aleshire

Twin Oaks Herb Garden
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Join Hildegard and Ira for a Guided Tour of the Twin Oaks Herb Garden in Louisa, Virginia, on Saturday, May 21, 2016.

Choose from two times:

  • with Morning Tea (10 am to noon)
  • with Afternoon Tea (1 pm to 3 pm)

Tour our verdant herb garden and enjoy assorted sweet & savory herbal treats and teas. You’ll receive recipes and have time to chat with our herbalist. Plants from the garden will be available for purchase. 

For more information or to reserve your space email:
hild@twinoaks.org

Crop Planning presentation, weather and resilience

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/crop-planning-60-min-presentation” title=”Crop Planning. Pam Dawling 60 min presentation” target=”_blank”>Crop Planning. Pam Dawling 60 min presentation</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

My presentation on Crop Planning to the CSA Expert Exchange Online Conference on Friday 3/7 went well, after a short delay due to slow website loading. Joys of rural living! I just learned that our Internet runs slow on rainy days because the water in the soil affects the underground cables. A s a farmer, I’m very used to considering the effects of the weather, But I never would have guessed this one. Now I realize I jinx myself when I work outside in nice weather and do my desk work while it’s raining!

Spinach bed with a row of peas in the middle. Photo

Spinach bed with a row of peas in the middle.
Photo Kathryn SImmons

This week has been challenging in the garden because of snow followed by very wet soil. On Monday we managed to transplant a bed of spinach and the first week’s round of lettuce. That felt like great progress! Even though it is a month later than we would “normally” hope to do those tasks! We chose to work on the driest section of the raised bed area. Before that we had been weeding the grapes and spreading compost. Having some perennials to take care of makes good use of our time in the winter, early spring, and whenever cultivated soil is too boggy to step on (in).

These considerations are all part of a list we keep to help us choose tasks suited to the conditions, so we can make best use of our time without doing damage. A lot of our garden work is done on 3 or 4 hour shifts with up to 11 people. The honcho needs to be on the ball to keep all those people gainfully employed! Our honchos/honchas are the more experienced people, and will usually prepare for the shift beforehand, making a list of possibilities.

Some of the shift time is harvesting (only spinach currently, apart from getting potatoes from the root cellar and sweet potatoes from the basement). That’s our top priority. We try to get some harvesting done even if it’s very cold or raining lightly. The crops that wilt fastest get picked close to the end of the harvesting period, so they don’t deteriorate while we get other crops.

We have a Task List for the week, and our sequence of priority is generally harvest, plant, mulch, prepare beds for planting, hoe, hand-weed. “Prioritize planting during the planting season” is one of the mantras we embrace. Sometimes other factors come into play. A new member pointed out that all my answers start with “It depends. . . ”

We try to do the more aerobic jobs (especially jobs involving shovels) in the coolest part of the shift, or on the cooler days. We also try to offer each person some options, because people do better when doing tasks they prefer. Sometimes we just have to grin and bear it: “This is the job we need to finish today.”

We are often including visitors in our work, so we need to make sure we mix up members and visitors on each task, so that visitors get enough directions and help. We also need to check in to see how they’re doing with the heat/cold and level of physical activity. We don’t want them to collapse! We also need to be firm about pulling them off a job if they are causing damage, and trying to find some other task that might suit them better.

Having the entire crew finish the shift at the same time is complex choreography! Putting tools away as we go along helps reduce a mammoth task at the end, although having some people cleaning and storing tools as the finish time approaches can be a good way of evening out the workload. The honcho needs to pace the planting, watering and rowcovering. It’s no good transplanting 500 feet if you don’t get it watered and covered before leaving the scene.

Our root cellar for potatoes. Photo McCune Porter

Our root cellar for potatoes. Photo McCune Porter

Sometimes it’s easier to start everyone on a big hoeing or weeding project, then leave an experienced person in charge of the straightforward task and most of the crew, while you pull out a couple of people to get a complicated task started. Next add more people once it’s up and running. Or send one or two experienced people over to set up, and then send more crew over as the set up work is done It’s awful having 9 people stand there while you try to figure out how to do a planting!.

We have contingency plans for specific situations:

If the day is likely to be very hot, have an “aerobic segment” at the beginning of the shift and get the physically taxing tasks done first (especially anything involving shovels).

If the morning starts out with a heavy dew, postpone harvesting cucurbits, nightshades, strawberries and legumes until the leaves dry, to reduce the spread of disease.

After heavy rain: mulched perennials (fruit and asparagus) are the easiest places to work without getting bogged down. Don’t work in sinking mud, it compacts the soil, which means the plants go short on air, and the soil will be slower to drain after future rains.. Standing on boards is an option for harvesting or planting..

If heavy rain is expected and you might have to stop in a hurry, do weeding, not planting. Don’t hoe if it’s about to rain, it’s a waste of time. Hoeing is best done in an area that won’t get irrigated that night. Likewise don’t leave pulled weeds on the beds before rain. They’ll re-root.

If you feel frazzled, choose a big simple task lots of people can do, like weeding strawberries, or hoeing corn. Or choose two tasks geographically close, so it’s easy to keep an eye on everything happening.

Rain, raccoons and books to look forward to.

This week has come with a lot of rain, which has restricted what we can do in the garden, but saves me from running irrigation systems. It means the weeds are growing too well, and there is no chance to hoe: the soil is too wet, the weeds won’t die, just re-root. We’re about 40% down our 265′ long carrot rows (15 of them), weeding, but the weeds are now bigger than the carrots. Meanwhile, other timely tasks are going begging. probably we’ll have to draw a line in the mud and give up on the lower part of the carrot patch. Too bad.

Farming is completely non-linear! You don’t finish one task, then start another. Every day involves a juggling of priorities. At this time of year, harvesting takes a lot of time. And naturally, it’s very important to do it! After all, why grow food if you don’t harvest it? An added challenge this year is that for most of the summer crops (tomatoes, beans, eggplant, squash, cucumbers), it’s better not to touch the plants while the leaves are wet. Fungal diseases spread easily when it’s warm and wet. Many mornings the dew is heavy, so we start our shifts with some hoeing (if the soil and the forecast are dry enough), or carrot weeding (most days). Our next priority, after harvesting, is planting. “Prioritize planting during the planting season!” is one of our mantras.Here in central Virginia, the planting season runs from mid-February to the end of September (ignoring the garlic planting in November).

Yesterday we caught our eleventh raccoon in the sweet corn. We’ve probably lost close to 2000 ears of corn to these pests this year. (Two whole sections 6 rows x 60ft with a plant every 8 inches, plus serious inroads in three other sections.) We’re looking at installing an electric fence, but several crew are unenthusiastic, foreseeing problems with the fence shorting out on the grass, and inconvenience working around it. We need to do something different. This morning both raccoon traps had the bait eaten, but no captives. One trap was open and on its side – have the beasts figured out how to turn the trap and get the food out without springing the trap? The other was closed but emptied. Perhaps we have a giant raccoon that uses its butt to keep the door from closing while it eats the bait?

On a more cheery note, here’s two books to look forward to before next season. (People looking for gifts for gardening friends, take note).

51E7ayNJ7IL._SX260_Ira Wallace, from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Acorn Community, has written the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. It will be published in December 2013. The write-up says “Growing vegetables requires regionally specific information—what to plant, when to plant it, and when to harvest are based on climate, weather, and first frost. The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast tackles this need head on, with regionally specific growing information written by local gardening expert, Ira Wallace. This region includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.”

Ira’s book is for new vegetable gardeners, or ones relocating to the southeast. It includes month-by-month planting recommendations, skill-building tips, a primer for beginners and an A-Z meet-the-vegetables section. Paperback, 256 pp., 7½ x 9 in. (230 x 190 mm.), ISBN: 9781604693713.  It will sell for $19.95 and I recommend you support your local writers in the same way and for the same reasons we support our local farmers – buy direct from them and don’t line the pockets of the big corporations. Those places that sell books at big discounts don’t contribute much to writers and publishers! Southern Exposure will be selling the book through their catalog and at events where they have a booth.

bookcover

Cindy Connor has written Grow a Sustainable Diet, which will be published by New Society in Spring 2014. Read what she has to say to introduce it on her blog Homeplace Earth. Cindy says: ” This book is for folks who want to grow all, or a substantial amount, of their food and do it in a way that has a small ecological footprint. Particular attention would need to be paid to crop choices for your diet and for feeding back the soil . . . If you wanted, you could use the information from this book to plan a complete diet of homegrown foods.” Or you could choose which bits best fit your life and use her worksheets, diet planning, garden planning and information on cover crops, livestock, food storage and preservation, sheds and fences to help you provide more of your own food. And you can enjoy her stories.

I haven’t yet got the price for Cindy’s book, or the ISBN, or a firm date, but check her website regularly or subscribe to her blog (which is always packed with good information). I will post more information as I get it. You can bet Cindy will be selling the book directly, and that SESE will also carry it.

See you at Little Rock for SSAWG, with books!

Southern SAWG

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference “Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms” is coming right up. January 23-26 at the Statehouse Convention Center and Peabody Hotel, Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m surprised to find I haven’t already told you about it.

The best bit is that I will probably have copies of my book to sell (and sign, if you want!)

I’m contributing to three workshops (I’ve been busy preparing the slide shows and presentations – maybe that’s why I forgot to mention it! Right in front of my nose every day.

Michihili Chinese cabbagePhoto credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Michihili Chinese cabbage
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

At 1.30pm on Friday 25, I’m presenting this one: “Producing Asian Greens For Market — There are many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens that grow quickly and bring fast returns. Led by long-time producer and author of the new book, Sustainable Market Farming, this session will cover production of Asian Greens outdoors and in the hoophouse, including tips on variety selection, timing of plantings, pest and disease management, fertility and weed management, and harvesting. Over twenty types of Asian Greens will be discussed.”

Then at 10.30am on Saturday 26, I’m part of a panel doing:” Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is It Right For You? — On-farm seed production can ensure that you have access to the seed you need, diversify farm income, and provide the environmental benefits of new crop rotations and enhanced beneficial insect habitat. But managing seed crops along with a demanding, diverse production system can be daunting. Hear the success stories of other farmers who have taken the leap into seed production and learn how and why you may want to do the same. Micaela Colley, Organic Seed Alliance (WA); Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA); Richard Moyer, Moyer Family Farm (VA); Jim Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm (ME); and Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks (VA).”

Seed Drying ScreensPhoto credit Twin Oaks

Seed Drying Screens
Photo credit Twin Oaks

 

And lunch is followed at 1.30pm by: “Intensive Crop Production on a Small Scale — Many farmers raise large amounts of food on small acreages. Learn about methods for close spacing, wide beds, using season extension techniques, soil-building, disease and pest management, and dealing with humidity and heat issues in crowded plantings. Presenters will also discuss developing a marketing plan to inform a planting guide and maximize profits. For both rural and urban farmers who want to maximize production on limited space. Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community (VA) and Edwin Marty, Hampstead Institute (AL).”

Broccoli transplants in our cold framePhoto credit Kathryn Simmons

Broccoli transplants in our cold frame
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons