Dragonfly Swarms, Mother Earth News, and Heritage Harvest Festival

Dragonfly photo courtesy Staunton News Leader

Swarms of dragonflies are popping up  in Virginia

Leanna Smith, in the Staunton News Leader reported that meteorologists in Ohio had spotted something unexpected on the radar on September 10 — a swarm of migrating dragonflies. The radar maps are impressive! The Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) were reported swarming in Maryland (Sep 11 evening), New Jersey (Sep 12 nighttime) and Virginia (Sep 11 and Sep 12 morning).

She reported that it is common for dragonflies, especially green darner dragonflies, to migrate south in the fall to find warmer weather, but the swarming is unusual. Ohio State University Entomology Professor Norman Johnson spoke to CNN and said that weather conditions can cause the traveling insects to swarm. In 2018, the Washington Post reported that the migration of green darner is typically unremarkable because the insects rarely travel in packs. Although much is still unknown about the migration of dragonflies, we do know that they are very sensitive to temperature. “Climate warming could really disrupt the presence of this migration,” Colin Studds, an animal ecologist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, told the Post.

It is fairly common for radar to pick up biological movement, especially around sunrise and sunset when warmer air above us can bend the radar beam toward lower elevations where the movement is occurring, according to meteorologist Chris Michaels.

On September 10, the National Weather Service of Cleveland, Ohio tweeted about the new development.

Clouds of dragonflies.
Photo NWS Cleveland @NWSCLE

Ohio State University entomologist Norman Johnson said the dragonflies are likely Green Darners, which migrate south in the fall. “The insects don’t usually travel in flocks,” he told CNN, “but local weather conditions can cause them to bunch up.” “The big swarms have been recorded a lot over the years, but they’re not regular,” Johnson said.

Details of dragonfly migration are still unclear; researchers have found the winged creatures travel an average of 8 miles per day, but can fly as far as 86 miles.

For up to the minute sightings, see the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Search page

TOWARD THE UNKNOWN  A common green darner can migrate hundreds of kilometers each year. A new study reveals details of the insects’ annual migration for the first time. Photo Mark Chappell

Susan Milius in Science News reports that Green Darner dragonflies migrate a bit like monarch butterflies, with each annual migratory loop taking multiple generations to complete.

Ecologist Michael Hallworth and colleagues wrote the migration of the common green darner, described December 19, 2018 in Biology Letters, using data on forms of hydrogen in the insects’ wings, plus records of first arrivals spotted by citizen scientists. Citation https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4320911.v2

“A first generation of insects emerges in the southern United States, Mexico and the Caribbean from about February to May and migrates north. Some of those Green Darners reach New England and the upper Midwest as early as March, says Hallworth, of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center headquartered in Washington, DC.

Those spring migrant darners lay eggs in ponds and other quiet waters in the north and eventually die in the region. This second generation migrates south from about July until late October, though they have never seen where they’re heading. Some of these darners fly south in the same year their parents arrived and some the next year, after overwintering as nymphs.

A third generation emerges around November and lives entirely in the south during winter. It’s their offspring that start the cycle again by swarming northward as temperatures warm in the spring. With a wingspan as wide as a hand, they devote their whole lives to flying hundreds of kilometers to repeat a journey their great-grandparents made.

Tracking devices that let researchers record animals’ movements for more than a week or two haven’t been miniaturized enough to help. The smallest still weigh about 0.3 grams, which would just about double a darner’s weight, Hallworth says. So researchers turned to chemical clues in darner tissues. Conservation biologist and study coauthor Kent McFarland succeeded at the delicate diplomacy of persuading museums to break off a pinhead-sized wing tip fragment from specimens spanning 140 years.

Researchers checked 800 museum and live-caught specimens for the proportion of a rare heavy form of hydrogen that occurs naturally. Dragonfly wings pick up their particular mix of hydrogen forms from the water where the aquatic youngsters grow up. Scientists have noticed that a form called hydrogen-2 grows rarer along a gradient from south to north in North America. Looking at a particular wing in the analysis, “I can’t give you a zip code” for a darner, Hallworth says. But he can tell the native southerners from Yankees.

An adult darner, regardless of where it was born, is “a green piece of lightning,” says McFarland, of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies in White River Junction. Darners maneuver fast enough to snap insect prey out of the air around ponds across North America. The front of an adult’s large head is “all eye,” he says, and trying to catch samples for the study was “like hitting a knuckleball.”

Although the darners’ north-south migration story is similar to that of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), there are differences, says evolutionary biologist Hugh Dingle of the University of California, Davis, who has long studied Monarchs, which move northward in the spring in successive generations, instead of one generation sweeping all the way north.

Also, Dingle says, pockets of monarchs can buck the overall scheme. Research suggests that some of the monarchs in the upper Midwest do a whole round trip migration in a single generation. As researchers discover more details about green darners, he predicts, the current basic migration scheme will turn out to have its quirky exceptions, too.”

MASS MIGRATION

At least three generations make up the annual migration of common green darner dragonflies. The first generation emerges in the southern United States, Mexico and the Caribbean starting around February and flies north. There, those insects lay eggs and die, giving rise to second generation that migrates south until late October. (Some in that second generation don’t fly south until the next year, after overwintering as nymphs.) A third generation, hatched in the south, overwinters there before laying eggs that will start the entire process over again. These maps show the emergence origins of adult insects (gray is zero; red is many) captured at sampling locations (black dots).

Diagram by Matthew Dodder, M.T. Hallworth et al/Biology Letters 2018

Geek.com reports that this isn’t the first insect invasion of 2019. In June, the National Weather Service’s radar in San Diego picked up a giant crush of ladybugs about 80 miles across in each direction, over southern California. On June 27, residents of northeastern Ohio found themselves dealing with invasive mayflies, which covered cars, houses, and lampposts across Cleveland, Sandusky, and other areas.

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Mother Earth News Fair

I had a great time at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. My first workshop, Lettuce Year Round, was on Friday lunchtime and attendees were still arriving. For those who wanted to hear all about it, but missed it, here is the slideshow:

And here is the extended version of Hoophouse Cool Season Crops. It has a lot of bonus material compared to the short workshop I gave last weekend.

Note that all the offers of pdfs of my books to download are scams and nothing to do with me! I cannot stop people posting them. It’s almost enough to stop me posting my slideshows, but I know people appreciate another chance to see the slides.

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Heritage Harvest Festival

This coming weekend, Saturday September 21, I’ll be presenting Winter Gardening: No Tech to High Tech with Ira Wallace at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. Ira will talk about outdoor winter gardening, and I’ll talk about hoophouse growing (which isn’t really that high tech!) It’s Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10:30am in the Heritage Tent. Here’s the LINK. The workshop is for gardeners to learn tips on growing cold-hardy vegetables (and not just kale!) out in the open and with varying degrees of protection from rowcovers, low tunnels, coldframes and hoophouses.

Read more about the Heritage Harvest Festival here

Buy tickets in advance here

Weeding rowcovered spinach in winter.
Photo Wren Vile

Hear Chris Smith In Defense of Okra at Heritage Harvest Festival

Chris Smith, author of The Whole Okra

I’m a big fan of Chris Smith and his work. I reviewed his book The Whole Okra on this site and I want to tell you that you can hear him speak at the Heritage Harvest Festival.

His talk In Defense of Okra is on Friday, Sep. 20th: 1:30 3 pm at the lovely Woodland Pavilion. Click here to buy tickets.

Go if you love okra. Go if you hate it – you might change your mind!

The workshop description says:

Calling all worshippers of this much-maligned, tasty vegetable (that is technically a fruit). And okra doubters beware — we’re about to change … your … life.

Join Smith, author of the newly released book The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration, for an interactive and entertaining exploration of the culinary (and non-culinary) uses of okra. Having grown 125 varieties, Smith will share and sample many of the incredible uses of the plant, including okra kimchi, pickled and fermented okra, okra flower tea, okra-seed coffee and okra oil — not to mention the world-renowned delicacy, okra marshmallows.

Participants will learn to enjoy (yes, even LOVE) and appreciate this disparaged underdog — from pod to stem. Take home delicious recipes that will have you profusely apologizing for ever uttering the word “slimy” in its presence.

The future of okra rests on your shoulders. Do the right thing.

Cow Horn okra flower and pod.
Photo Pam Dawling

Author of The Whole Okra, expert okra enthusiast Chris Smith writes regularly for The Heirloom Gardener, the Mother Earth News blog, and the Farmers’ Almanac blog. His presentations on the versatility of okra have delighted audiences at food and farming festivals and fairs throughout the Southeast. He is the Executive Director for The Utopian Seed Project, Communications Manager for Sow True Seed in Asheville, North Carolina, and serves on the board of The People’s Seed. A native of the UK, Smith has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Manchester. His short stories have been published in Nashville Review, Mid-American Review, and The Manchester Review.

Yes, he’s a fellow Brit. He’s very funny. He’s very knowledgeable about seeds and growing vegetables.

Monticello hosts the annual Heritage Harvest Festival

Get Info on Other Workshops here

Get Tickets here

Potato Research, Mother Earth News Fair PA and Heritage Harvest Festival

Crates of potatoes in our root cellar.
Photo Nina Gentle

Potato Research on Harvest and Storage

Last week I mentioned that while researching potato yield figures, I found an interesting publication, The Potato Association of America, Commercial Potato Production in North America 2010. I’ve been reading that and learning more about potatoes. Here I’m going to focus on harvest and storage, because that’s the bit we’re currently challenged by. I also learned more about planting in hot weather, but that’s for another time.

Potato harvest.
Photo Nina Gentle

In England we planted in spring and harvested in October, waiting for the frost to kill the vines. In Virginia we plant in March and June, harvesting in July and October. We have grown Red Pontiac, Yukon Gold and Kennebec here, mostly. They all seem to be determinate varieties. I only just learned there are determinate (varieties with naturally self-limiting growth, generally “early” varieties) and indeterminate varieties (such as “Russet Nugget,” “Nicola,” “German Butterball” and “Elba”). The distinction is explained in Potato Bag Gardening. Growers using towers, grow bags, and cage systems want indeterminate potatoes, which continue to produce more layers of tubers on the stems as they are progressively covered with more soil. Growers wanting a fast reliable crop in the field mostly choose determinate types, which grow as a bush, then flower and die. The Wild Woolly Web does seem to have some contradictory statements about which varieties are determinate and which indeterminate, and some dedicated container growers make assertions not supported by experienced commercial growers. So Reader Beware! I trust Extension and here’s a link to their Ask an Expert page on potato types, and the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Info Center Potatoes.

June-planted potatoes in early September
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Whether the vines die naturally at the end of their lifespan, or they die of disease, or the frost kills them, or you kill them yourself by mowing or flaming, the potatoes will store better if you then wait 2-3 weeks before harvesting. The potato skins thicken up (becoming more resistant to scrapes and bruises) and the potatoes become higher in dry matter. Harvesting is easier if the vines are well dead. We generally bush-hog ours. Decades ago, in England, we had late blight in the middle of the season, and we cut the tops off and made a very smoky bonfire. (I wouldn’t participate in that much air pollution nowadays!) After waiting for a couple of weeks for the late blight spores to die, we dug the potatoes. The idea was to prevent spores getting on the tubers. As I remember, it all worked out OK.

If at all possible, harvest when the soil moisture is 60-80% of field capacity. Not too dry, not too wet. This reduces damage from scraping. If using a digger, don’t set it digging too deep, or too much soil will be damped on the harvested potatoes.

Tuber temperature will also impact bruise and rot susceptibility. Ideally soil temperature will be 45-65F (7-18C).  Because soil temperature lags 3-4 hours behind air temperature rise each day, in cold weather, try to harvest around 6 pm or a bit later. In hot weather, harvest in the morning.

When freshly harvested, potatoes are tender, breathing things. Avoid bruising, which is damage that does not break the skin, by not dropping potatoes more than 6” (15 cm), or throwing them towards a container. Don’t bang them to knock off extra soil.

When harvesting in summer, we stack the crates of potatoes under a big tree overnight to lose some of the field heat before moving them to the root cellar early next morning. Potatoes you take from storage can be no better than the quality of the potatoes you put into storage!

The first part of the storage period is the curing. The potatoes are still actively respiring, so they need a good oxygen supply. Failure to ventilate the cellar enough can lead to Black-heart, where the inner tissue of the potatoes dies and turns black. During the curing period, the skins further toughen up, and cut surfaces and superficial wounds heal over, enabling long term storage. The temperature should be as close to 50-58F (10-14.4C) as you can get. The lower end of the range is best for fresh eating (as opposed to junk food manufacture). Hotter temperatures will promote more rot, and age the potatoes faster, leading to early sprouting. Relative humidity should be 90%, but not 100%! If there is too much condensation, use a fan and open the cellar doors, when temperatures are closest to the goal. Curing takes 10-14 days.

Sorting potatoes .
Photo Wren Vile

We find that a single thorough sorting after 14 days can remove almost all of the storage problems that are going to happen. Not sorting at this point lets rots spread.

After the curing period, the potatoes become more dormant and do not respire so actively. They don’t need as many air changes as during curing, but if the cellar is too warm, you will need to aerate more. The temperature during the storage period should be 40-50F (4.4-10C), and closer to the lower end of the range is best. Constant temperatures or a steady decline is the goal, not dramatic fluctuations. Humidity should still be 90-95%, to keep weight loss to a minimum.

Potatoes have a natural dormancy of 60-130 days (depending on the storage temperature). After that period, they will start to sprout. Some plant extracts, including clove oil, can add 20-30 days storage, and will then need to be reapplied. I do not know anything about this myself, and do wonder how you remove the clove flavor from the potatoes!

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Speaking Events

I have two speaking events coming up in September
Mother Earth News Fair

2019 Mother Earth News Fair Pennsylvania.

September Friday 13- Sunday 15, 2019
Location: Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 777 Waterwheel Dr., Seven Springs, Pa. 15622

I am giving two 60 min workshops

Hoophouse winter lettuce: Green Forest, and Red Salad Bowl, two of our fifteen varieties.
Photo Wren Vile

Lettuce Year-Round on Friday 9/13 12.30-1.30 pm at the Grit Stage

This presentation includes techniques to extend the lettuce season using row covers, cold frames, and hoop houses to provide lettuce harvests in every month of the year. The workshop includes a look at varieties for spring, summer, fall, and winter. Pam Dawling considers the pros and cons of head lettuce, leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, and the newer multileaf types. She also provides information on scheduling and growing conditions, including how to persuade lettuce to germinate when it’s too hot.

Cool Season Hoophouse Crops on Saturday 9/14 3.30-4.30 pm at the Building and Energy Stage

Learn how to fill your hoop house with productive food crops in the cool seasons. Pam Dawling discusses suitable crops, cold-hardiness, selecting crops, calculating how much to harvest and how much to plant, crop rotation, mapping, scheduling, seasonal transitions, succession planting, interplanting, and follow-on cropping.

Book-signing at the Bookstore Saturday 4.30-5 pm. Buy new books at the Bookstore and bring your grubby used copies to be signed too!

Demos at New Society Publishers booth, of tomato string-weaving and wigglewire system for fastening hoophouse plastic to framework
Friday 3 -3.30 pm, 4.30-5 pm; Saturday 10-11 am, 1.30-2.30 pm; Sunday 9-10 am. 1-2 pm, 3.30-4 pm

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Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello, Charlottesville, VA

September Friday and Saturday 21-22, 2019
Buy tickets online
Workshop with Ira Wallace
10:30 – 11:30 am Saturday in the Heritage Tent

Winter Gardening: No Tech to High Tech 

Learn tips on growing cold-hardy vegetables (not only kale!) out in the open and with varying degrees of protection from rowcovers, low tunnels, coldframes and hoophouses (high tunnels). We’ll consider crop choices, planting dates and harvesting so there’s always something to eat for everyone from winter market gardeners to small backyard growers. We’ll explain ways to maximize production with succession planting and follow-on cropping.

 No extra fee for the workshop, included with the price of general admission

Booksigning: SATURDAY, SEPT. 21st, 11:45am – 12:15pm, MONTICELLO SHOP TENT (WEST LAWN). Buy new books at the Bookstore and bring your grubby used copies to be signed too!

December view in our hoophouse, showing lettuce mix and turnips.
Photo Wren Vile

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.

Lettuce slideshow, Mother Earth News Fair, FaceBook Live, Top summer blogposts, upcoming events

We drove home seven hours from the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair yesterday through the rain. The remnants of Hurricane Florence. We were among the lucky people. Earlier forecasts for Florence had the hurricane raging across central Virginia.

At the Fair, I gave two workshops: Fall and Winter Hoophouses and my new Lettuce Year Round, which you can view right here. Click the diagonal arrows icon to get a full screen view.

I had a bit too much material for a one-hour time-slot, so those of you who were there and felt disappointed at what I had to leave out, you can see it here.

While I as at the Fair I did a FaceBook Live Interview about gardening in hoophouses, with another author, Deborah Niemann. Look on Facebook for Deborah Niemann-Boehle or click the topic link above. She has several books: Raising Goats Naturally, Homegrown & Handmade, and Ecothrifty.

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

Meanwhile, Mother Earth News tells me that my post 20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather is in third place for most popular posts this summer.

The winner  An Effective and Non-Toxic Solution for Getting Rid of Yellow Jackets’ Nests by Miriam Landman got 43,328 views in 3 months!

Weeding rowcovered spinach in winter.
Photo Wren Vile

Looking at my own website statistics, I find that for this week, the most popular posts are

  1. Winter Kill Temperatures of Winter-Hardy Vegetables 2016
  2. Soil tests and high phosphorus levels
  3. How to deal with green potatoes
  4. .Winter-Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables 2018
  5. Alliums for September

For all-time, the bias is naturally on posts that have been around longest,

  1. Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest! Is most popular, followed closely by
  2. Winter Kill Temperatures of Winter-Hardy Vegetables 2016.
  3. How to deal with green potatoes is still #3.
  4.  The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month,
  5. Harvesting Melons
  6. Book Review, Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier
  7. Wnter Hardiness
  8. Book Review: The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman and
  9. Setting out biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

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I’ve updated my Events page again, now that the September- April  “Events Season” has hotted up. I’ve added in a couple of new ones and updated some others. Click the Events tab to find conferences and fairs near you, and be sure to come and introduce yourself!

Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at the Heritage Harvest Festival Tomato Tasting.
Photo courtesy of Monticello

The Heritage Harvest Festival  is September 21-22 Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia

I’m giving a Premium Workshop on Friday Sept 21, 3-4 pm Classroom 7. Click the link HERE to book for that.

Feeding the Soil

In this workshop I will introduce ways to grow and maintain healthy soils: how to develop a permanent crop rotation in seven steps, and why your soil will benefit from this; how to choose appropriate cover crops; how to make compost and how to benefit from using organic mulches to feed the soil. Handouts.

Book-signing Friday 4.15 – 4.45 pm.

On Saturday there are events all day from 10am to 5pm. $26 general admission.

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Saturday September 29, 2018  Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health,  Fishersville, VA 22939. 9 am – noon

I’m giving a two-hour Class on Season Extension, followed by one-hour Q&A teaching tour of the hoophouse and greenhouse.

Garden Planning, Winter Harvests and Speaking Events

Garden Planning Field Manual
Photo VABF

‘Tis the season – after the relaxation of the holidays – time for garden planning. Inventory your seeds left from last year, peruse the catalogs and prepare your seed orders. The earlier you get them in, the more likely you are to get the varieties you want, before anything is sold out.

I notice that readers of my blog have been looking up the Twin Oaks Garden Calendar,  also known as The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month. You can search the category Garden Task List for the Month, or you can click on the linked name of the month you want. At the end you can click on “Bookmark the Permalink” if you might want to refer to this in future. Remember, we’re in central Virginia, winter-hardiness zone 7a. Adjust for your own climate.

Meanwhile, despite the turn to cold weather, we are not huddled indoors all the time. Each day, one or two of us sally forth to harvest enough vegetables to feed the hundred people here at Twin Oaks Community. Outdoors, in the raised bed area, we have winter leeks, Vates kale, spinach and senposai. We could have had collards but we lost the seeds during the sowing period, so we have lots of senposai instead. Senposai leaves (the core of the plant may survive 10F), are hardy down to about 12F. I noticed some got a bit droopy when we had a night at 15F. Collards  are hardier – Morris Heading (the variety we grow) can survive at least one night at 10F.

Hoophouse December View
Photo Kathleen Slattery

In the hoophouse, we have many crops to choose from: lettuce, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, Yukina Savoy, Tokyo Bekana, turnips and turnip greens, scallions, mizuna, chard, Bull’s Blood beet greens.

Hoophouse scallions ready to harvest.
Photo Pam Dawling

Pak Choy and Chinese cabbage heads are filling out, ready for harvest in January.

Tokyo Bekana, a non-heading Asian green,  has large tender leaves, which we are adding to salad mixes. It can be used as a cooking green, but only needs very light cooking. It will bolt soon, so we are harvesting that vigorously, not trying to save it for later.

The kale and senposai in the hoophouse are being saved for when their outdoor counterparts are inaccessible due to bad weather. The spinach is added to salad mixes, or harvested for cooking when outdoors is too unpleasant, or growth slows down too much.

Hoophouse winter lettuce: Green Forest and Red Salad Bowl, two of our fifteen varieties.
Photo Wren Vile

Another kind of planning I’m doing right now is scheduling my speaking events for the coming year and practicing my presentations. Last week I updated my Events page, and this week I’m adding a new event: The September 21-22 Heritage Harvest Festival.

I might pick up a couple of events in late April and early June, but that’s just speculation at this point.

Right now I need to practice for the CASA Future Harvest Conference January 11-13. Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and a 10-minute “Lightning Session” on using graphs to plan succession plantings for continuous harvest. Click the link or my Events page for more on this.

Komatsuna: Asian greens for September, plus Chinese Kitchen Garden book

Komatsuna Asian green.
Photo Fothergill Seeds

Komatsuna is a large, upright, hardy, leafy green, also known as mustard spinach (so is Pak Choy!), and Summer Fest (a popular hybrid). It’s available in green,  or red (purple) from Kitazawa. it grows into a large plant 18″ (45 cm) tall, with tender deep green leaves, sturdy petioles and a flavor that is mildly peppery, not pungent. You can pick and bunch individual leaves, or harvest the whole plant. You can instead harvest at baby salad size 21 days from sowing. It reaches full size in only 35 days. The days to maturity lengthen as the weather cools.

The hybrid variety Green Boy is preferred by Japanese growers because of its cold tolerance, meaning it can be grown year round in mild areas.  Green Boy is good for hoophouse production in winter. The hybrid variety Summer Fest is best for growing in late spring into summer, rather than in fall and winter. Open-pollinated komatsuna is available from Evergreen Seeds. These two Asian seed companies sell the dark green glossy type. Some other companies have paler green unglossy vegetables called komatsuna that look different to me: Baker Creek, (who call it Tendergreen, which is sometimes considered a separate vegetable), StokesHudson Valley.

Komatsuna is cold-tolerant to 15°F (-9.5°C), perhaps 10°F (-12°C). For seed-savers and botanical Latin geeks, it’s Brassica rapa var. perviridis (Kitazawa) or Brassica rapa var. komatsuna (sources vary in their classification.) Komatsuna is one of the parents of my all-time favorite Asian green, senposai.

Komatsuna transplants.
Photo Gardening Know-How

Amy Grant writes about komatsuna on the Gardening Know-How site

Like all Asian greens, komatsuna has similar care requirements to other brassicas. Very fertile soils grow the best Asian greens, and they are shallow rooted, so pay extra attention to providing enough water during hot weather to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency. Sowing in the fall will mean most of us won’t have to worry about too much hot weather. For central Virginia we would sow 8/20-9/15 for outdoors, 9/15-10/15 outdoors to transplant into a hoophouse. It could be sown later in the hoophouse for filling gaps as they appear during the winter. Or sow indoors in early spring to grow in a hoophouse or greenhouse. Komatsuna is relatively bolt resistant, but don’t wait for hot conditions to harvest, or you could end up with a bunch of yellow flowers instead of tasty leaves.

Cover the sowing with insect net or rowcover if you have a lot of late summer brassica pests (harlequin bugs, I’m talking about you!). If direct sowing, you can thin to 4″ (10 cm) apart for adolescent leaves to use like spinach. Thin to 8″ (20 cm) for mature plants, which can be cut as “heads” to be  stir-fried or steamed. Komatsuna does not form true heads, so don’t wait for that!

If you are sowing to transplant, do that when the plants are 3-4 weeks old (in spring they would need 5-6 weeks). Give the plants 8″ (20 cm) of space all round, or as much as 12″ (30 cm) if you plan to harvest after the plants reach full size. Water well, depending on rainfall. Aim for an inch a week.


At the Heritage Harvest Festival this past weekend, I went to a great workshop by Wendy Kiang-Spray, with show-and-tell vegetables. She has a book, The Chinese Kitchen Garden, published by Timber Press, who say:

“she beautifully blends the story of her family’s cultural heritage with growing information for 38 Chinese vegetables—like lotus root, garlic, chives, and eggplant—and 25 traditional recipes, like congee, dumplings, and bok choy stir-fry. Organized by season, you’ll learn what to grow in spring and what to cook in winter.”

I haven’t read it yet, and I’ve no idea if she mentions komatsuna, but for lovers of Asian vegetables this book is a valuable new addition, and I appreciate that it is seasonal and combines growing with cooking.

Saving watermelon seed, rainy day reading, Heritage Harvest Festival

Scooping watermelon seed.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote recently about saving tomato seed, and here I’ll write about extracting watermelon seed. We grow Crimson Sweet Virginia Select, which we sell to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I walk through the patch with a grease pencil (china marker) in July when the melons are forming and write numbers on 40 nice-looking big melons. I’m selecting for earliness, size, disease resistance and flavor.

Selected watermelon with an identifying number.
Photo Nina Gentle

Once the melons start to ripen, I go out to the plot once a week with my trusty garden cart and a collection of clean buckets, a notebook and pen, a big knife, a large slotted spoon, a couple of damp rags, a bottle of water and a big straw hat. I start testing the numbered ones for ripeness. If they are ripe I decide if they are seed-worthy, demoting any with dead vines (not disease-resistant!) or too small. I find promising replacements for any I decide not to save seed from, and number those.

Garden cart with supplies for watermelon seed collection.
Photo Pam Dawling

When I have a good one, I cut it in half and scoop the heart out into a very clean bucket. I taste a piece (that’s the “good flavor” test). These days they all seem to taste good, but the first few years of seed selection, I had some I didn’t like much, so I didn’t save seed from those. See the first photo for the scooping task. Once the heart is scooped out, there is a layer of flesh with seeds in, which I scoop out into a moderately clean bucket. Then a layer of flesh without seeds for the food bucket.

Watermelon seed bucket and food bucket.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the blue bucket is my “dry zone” with my notebook. I write down which melons I harvested, any I discarded, any new ones I added, and how many are left to find in the coming weeks. Generally I harvest 7-10 watermelons per week, generating two buckets of fruit and two half-buckets of seeds. The watermelon seeds are fermented for four or five days, then washed – just like processing tomato seeds I wrote about last week.

Dried watermelon seeds in a paper bag.
Photo Pam Dawling

I harvest 5 or 6 times, from Late July to early September. I don’t want to be selecting for late-ripening melons so I stop harvesting seed long before the fruits are over.


My most recent blog post for Mother Earth News is about repairing garden hoses, most of which you already read about here. It’s in the DIY blog this time (most of my posts go in the Organic Gardening blog). I just heard some numbers for how various of my Mother Earth News blogposts this year are doing, and the big favorite topic is Growing Lettuce Year Round: Succession Planting for a Continuous Supply: 10,924 views! Growing Winter Lettuce: 4,620 views, is second favorite. people sure do love lettuce! Other popular topics this year have been Winter Hoop House Harvest Schedule, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings EasilyHeat-Tolerant Eggplant Varieties, and Planting Leeks. 

How to harvest garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

When I look to see which posts on this blog people visit most often, I see that garlic harvesting and garlic scapes are very popular, as are posts about sweet potatoes.


Sometimes I post links to my slideshows, but here’s a You Tube I’ve been meaning to tell you about. This is my presentation of Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests at New Country Organics.


The September Growing for Market is out. The cover article, by Carolina Lees, advocating a Farmer Retreat. This is a wintertime regional gathering of farmers, with scheduled time for discussion and also for casual hanging-out. No imported speakers! The author is in Oregon, and envy-inducing photos of the beach-side retreat are included. But, what a good idea!

David Ross writes about grower relationships with wholesalers. Shawn Jadrnicek, author of The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Reveolutionary Permaculture-Based System . . .  writes about mulching and crimping techniques for no-till vegetables, including how to have weed-free cover crops, and get the right machinery to roll and crimp them. he uses a manure spreader to spread tree leaf mulch, and shows photos of a very tidy farm.

Rowan Steele writes about obtaining used silage tarps (as advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier) for covering beds to control weeds organically. Rowan writes about how to use the tarps and suggests coordinating a used silage tarp delivery for your small farm community. Contact Travis Quirk at the nonprofit Simply Agriculture Solutions Inc. in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ([email protected]).  The tarps may be delivered for the cost of shipping. Canadian farmers are required to recycle their “grain bags”, but it’s hard for them to find a recycling facility in Canada, so the plastics are sent to the US. They are happy to be able to divert the material for a second use. Sounds great to me!

Jane Tanner writes about William’s WIldflowers, a floral design business run by two sisters, using lots of native flowers, especially perennials, for weddings and other formal occasions.


See you at the Heritage Harvest Festival on Friday September 8 (my premium workshop on growing sweet potatoes from start to finish) or Saturday (strolling around). Last time I looked there were still tickets available for my workshop ($20)

Heritage Harvest Festival

Washing tomato seeds, Heritage Harvest Festival, Organic Broadcaster

Wet Roma tomato seeds set to dry with a fan.
Photo Pam Dawling

Last week I wrote about saving tomato seeds and eating the tomatoes too. We left the extracted tomato seed in a bucket to ferment for three days. On Friday I washed the seeds. They look quite unappetizing at first, with a thin layer of mold on the surface of the liquid.

Roma tomato seed ferment on day 3, ready for washing.
Photo Pam Dawling

The process of washing the seeds and pouring off the detritus is almost magical. The fermentation kills some disease spores, and also dissolves the gel that coats the seeds. If you dry tomato seeds without fermenting, they all stick together.

Tomato seed processing: adding water from a hose and stirring the mix.
Photo Pam Dawling

With each successive wash, more of the tomato flesh floats off, along with poor quality seeds. I add water using a hose and stir. Here I’m stirring with a short length of green plastic pipe that was conveniently nearby. When the bucket is about two-thirds full I turn off the hose and stop stirring. Good seed sinks to the bottom of the bucket. When I think it has settled, I pour the liquid along with lumps of tomato flesh into another bucket. This is a safety precaution to ensure I don’t throw away good seed. If I just poured it on the ground I could slip and dump the lot.

Roma tomato seed ferment after first pour.
Photo Pam Dawling

I repeat the wash and pour a few more times. Even after the second pour the seeds are plainly visible.

Roma tomato seed ferment after the second pour.
Photo Pam Dawling

The seeds which float and get poured away are very light and are either very thin or they show a black spot in the center. So it’s counter-productive to try to catch every single seed.Let the useless seeds float away!

Tomato seed extraction after the third pour.
Photo Pam Dawling

After four or five washes the water I pour off is clear, so then I add more water, stir and pour the swirling stuff through a sieve balanced on a bucket.

Tomato seed extraction, fourth wash water. almost clear.
Photo Pam Dawling

In my case I have a small sieve balanced in a bigger one, which sits more safely on the bucket, but has a mesh too big for tomato seeds. This sieve contains seed from 10 gallons of Roma tomatoes.

Roma tomato seeds strained in a sieve.
Photo Pam Dawling

From here, I take the seed sieve indoors and empty it on sturdy paper towels on a tray by a small fan. See the first photo. After a few hours I come by and crumble the clumps of seeds to help even out the drying. For two days I turn the seeds over a few times a day. Once they are dry I put them in a labelled paper bag, and ready the space for the next batch of seeds to dry. Watermelon in this case. I alternate tomato and watermelon seeds, processing one batch of each every week through late July to early September.


Heritage Harvest Festival

I mentioned the Heritage Harvest Festival a few weeks ago. I’m presenting one of the Premium Workshops on Friday, about growing sweet potatoes. See my Events Page for more about this. Pictures of sweet potatoes at this time of year are a monotonous swath of green leaves (now we have got a double electric fence to stop the deer eating the leaves off.) Last year we didn’t do a good job of keeping deer off our sweet potatoes and we got low yields. One of our gardening mantras is “Never make the same mistake two years running!” so you can be sure we are working hard to keep the pesky deer from eating our winter food.

On Saturday September 9, I’ll be out and about at the Festival, and hope to see many old friends and make some new ones.

If you live in North Carolina and can’t make it all the way to Virginia for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, you could go to the Organic Growers School Harvest Conference that same weekend September 8-9. I’ve been to their Spring Conference several times, but never the Harvest Conference because it’s always the same weekend as the Heritage Harvest Festival.


Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

The July/August issue of Organic Broadcaster has been on my desk for a few weeks waiting for time to read it. This newspaper is free online, with a new issue every two months. It covers more aspects of Organic Farming than simply vegetable production. There are good articles about cover crops, including roller-crimping no-till rye. Also an article on weed control for market farmers by Bailey Webster, who interviewed farmers and researchers. Harriet Behar, the senior organic specialist at MOSES, write about the thorny issues of falsely labeled Organic foods: imported livestock feedstuffs, milk from cows with no pasture access and algal oil in Organic milk. Now that 68% of Americans bought organic foods of some kind (Pew), more Organic suppliers are needed to meet the demand (or else the unscrupulous rush in with false labels.) There are further articles about cash flow for farmers, winter bale grazing for cattle, the 2018 Farm Bill, and transferring the farm to new owners.

Now we are getting some rain from Cyclone 10, which might have become Tropical Storm Irma, but now looks less likely to qualify for a name. But, enough rain to want to stay indoors, so maybe I can read for a while.

 

Heritage Harvest Festival, Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc Conference, Succession Planting Podcast

After a couple of summer months off from speaking at events, I am gearing up for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, near Charlottesville. This two day festival has a day of ticketed workshops on Friday September 8 and a field day on Saturday September 9. Saturday workshops, demonstrations, tours and kids events are all included with the price of admission.

Never been to Monticello’s annual Heritage Harvest Festival? What exactly is it? Get your tickets now to join in 9/8-9/9. You’ll find a variety of interesting events and workshops focused on all things related to gardening, cooking and food. You can learn everything from how to make cider, how to keep your garden alive throughout the winter, or even how to become a chicken whisperer.  There is something for everyone! See the schedule of events here.

Sweet potato harvest
Photo Nina Gentle

This year I am presenting my workshop Growing Sweet Potatoes on Friday at 3.30 pm, followed by book-signing at the Bookshop at 4.45 pm. Bring your grubby well-thumbed old copy of Sustainable Market Farming for me to sign, or buy a fresh new one for yourself, or as a gift, at the Bookshop.

Come and participate in the 11th Annual Old Timey Seed Swap at Monticello’s Heritage
Harvest Festival  and learn more from Ira Wallace, one of the founders of HHF and worker/owner of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Seed savers of all levels are welcome! #HHF2017.

Seed Swap jars at Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Tour Monticello’s 1,000-foot-long vegetable garden: an “Ellis Island of edible curiosities” at this year’s Heritage Harvest Festival .

Peter Hatch giving a tour of the Monticello vegetable garden.
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Come and sample more than 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, heirloom peppers and melons in the Tasting Tent.

Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at the Heritage Harvest Festival Tomato Tasting.
Photo courtesy of Monticello

My next event after that will be the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference.  November 3-5, 2017 in Durham, NC. I will be talking about hoophouse growing, both in the Friday morning pre-conference and on Sunday. See my Events page (tab) for more.

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse.
Photo Nina Gentle

I’m doing fewer speaking events this fall/winter/spring season. I’m writing my second book, on year round vegetable production in hoophouses. I need to stay home and write, take photos, write some more, edit, draw diagrams, write more, make charts, etc.


In June, at the Vermont Mother Earth News Fair in Burlington, I took part in a podcast on Succession Planting. I thought I could embed it right here, but the closest I can manage today is this link: https://www.podbean.com/media/player/9s7a3-6cafa3?from=yiiadmin&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=1&download=1&rtl=0

https://motherearthnewsandfriends.podbean.com/e/ep-13-succession-gardening/



Debbie Roos of Chatham County, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, steward of the very useful Growing Small Farms website, sent a heads up about a special feature of this week:

The week of August 6-12 has been declared National Farmers’ Market Week by the Farmers’ Market Coalition. It’s a great time to reflect on the importance of farmers’ markets to our communities and pledge to support our local markets, farmers, and vendors.

As demand for local food continues to grow, so too have the opportunities for America’s farmers to market fresh food directly to the consumer. The number of markets listed in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers’ Market Directory has grown from 2,863 in 2000 to 8,675 in 2016.
According to statistics recently released by the USDA, farmers’ markets and farm stands account for roughly $2 billion of the $3 billion that Americans spend annually on direct-to-consumer farm product sales. This revenue, in turn, supports the livelihoods of more than 165,000 mostly small and mid-sized farms and ranches.

Farmers’ markets strengthen rural economies. According to the Farmers’ Market Coalition, farmers selling locally create 13 full-time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned, compared to three jobs created by farmers who don’t sell locally. Farmers’ markets provide a low-barrier entry point for farmers and food entrepreneurs who are just starting out and/or want to test new products by getting feedback directly from customers.

Farmers’ markets support healthy communities by increasing access to fresh, nutritious, and flavorful food. Markets also provide important opportunities for social interactions and vendors help educate the non-farming public about agriculture and local foods.

So, support your local Farmers Market, unless you grow all your own food! You can probably find something to buy, or some way to offer help. Or buy a farmer a cup of tea!