Peterson Pawpaws Success, more cold weather, sturdy seedlings

ffac5b6bec40f9b6194c44df0fe3126d_originalphoto-1024x768A few weeks ago I wrote about Neal Peterson’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money to pay for trademarks for the six varieties of pawpaw he has been breeding during the last 38 years. This will enable him to export the plants to nurseries in japan and Europe, which are enthusiastic to stock his varieties. The great news is that the Kickstarter Campaign has been successful, with less than 22 hours to go. He’d still accept more donations, naturally, to help defray costs. The website has lots of interesting information, including his video, an NPR video report, the history of this project, some photos of pawpaws from his varieties, press reviews, and an explanation of why trademarks are necessary and important for exports like this. Congratulations Neal! And all the best with the enterprise!


Snow Yucca. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Snow Yucca.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Yes, more cold weather! We had been planning to have garden shifts four times a week, with up to ten people working for three hours each shift. None of this has happened since it started to snow on Monday 16 February. The garden has been inaccessible, under snow and ice. That’s 180 hours of work we haven’t done, and the prospect is for losing another 180 and even then the soil will be too wet to till.

Oh well! This gives us time to sharpen tools, repair them and cold frame lids and wooden flats. On that subject, Cindy Conner has written about using wood flats on her blog Homeplace Earth. She writes about different sizes of wood flat. Her choice would be 8 x 18¾” x 3-4″. We make two sizes: 12 x 24 x 3″ for seedlings and 12 x 24 x 4″ for spotted out seedlings, as I said in my reply to the comment by Jeff. I prefer cedar or pine, rather than oak (which we have lots of). This is mostly about the weight, but also that oak gets splintery, and I’ve had too many hand injuries while enthusiastically spotting seedlings. After we decided No More Oak Flats we made a new batch in cedar. We made them 15 x 24 x 4″ and those are now heavier than I care to lift once they are full of compost and plants. They (along with other flats) make great sweet potato storage boxes, though!

Sweet potatoes stored in off-duty wood seed flats. Credit Nina Gentle

Sweet potatoes curing in off-duty wood seed flats.
Credit Nina Gentle


All the plants in our hoophpouse and our greenhouse have survived the horrific weather (down to -12F one night!). We have been covering the plants at night with thick rowcover, which we have only needed to do on occasional super-cold nights in the past few years. We have also started using an electric heater in the greenhouse, with the thermostat set to 45F, to fend off the worst. Our efforts have been worthwhile, and we have a hoophouse full of food (very fortunate considering that we can’t get at the spinach, leeks and kale in the outdoor garden). We also have very sturdy seedlings in the greenhouse. The tomato plants (for the hoophouse in mid-March) are in the greenhouse on a heating mat under a poly tent. They look very good indeed. Here’s a picture from a previous year.

This time next week? Tomato seedlings potted up in the greenhouse.  Credit Kathryn Simmons

This time next week? Tomato seedlings potted up in the greenhouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Article about Austrian winter peas, frost, horticultural myths

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Winter peas in rye.  Credit Cindy Conner

Winter peas in rye.
Credit Cindy Conner

The October issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, with my article about using Austrian winter peas as a cover crop. The lovely photo on the cover is by Cindy Conner, from her blog Homeplace Earth. We like winter peas because they can be sown quite late in the season,  several weeks later than clovers. This gives more chance of growing your own nitrogen after finishing up a food crop in the fall. We sow winter peas until 11/8 or so, here in central Virginia (zone 7). We mix them with either winter rye or wheat for vertical support, and to add biomass when we incorporate the cover crop in spring. To get best value from legumes such as winter peas, wait till they flower before tilling them in. That’s late April here. To make this work, we arrange our crop rotation to have winter peas followed by food crops we want to plant between mid-May and July. Winter squash, watermelon, mid-season sweet corn, late sweet corn, sweet potatoes and June-planted white potatoes all fit the bill. A bonus is that the tender tips and tendrils of the cover crop peas make a gourmet salad ingredient in April, right when we are all crying out for fresh flavors. As always, the go-to information about this cover crop is available in the SARE book Managing Cover Crops Profitably

Other great articles in this issue include Eight tips for winter success by Ben Hartman. He writes about a gathering of experienced vegetable growers with suppliers, researchers and extension workers in Vermont, to compare practices and increase the amount of locally-grown winter produce. Zones 4 and 5. These growers are not timid! The eight tips include the importance of ventilation, using inner row covers close to the crops inside the hoophouse, removing those inner covers on sunny days (or at least twice a week), hardening off plants in the fall so they’d survive winter temperatures, using supplemental heat wisely if at all, using IRT or black plastic mulch for heading crops, paying attention to soil fertility and salt levels, and planning ahead to combat chickweed! The Frozen Ground Gathering participants have posted many of their Powerpoints.

Susan Studer King writes about a “21st century version of a barn-raising”  neighbors helping one another install solar panels – solar co-ops. The GfM editor, Lynn Byczynski, writes about hoophouse upgrades to save energy. Gretel Adams writes about growing stocks in the hoophouse. I love reading her articles even though I don’t grow flowers!


Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we had a first very light, very patchy frost on Saturday night, well, probably Sunday morning 10/5. Very little damage, a few of the sweet potato vines hit, and a few of the Roma tomatoes. We scurried to harvest Romas on Saturday, gaining 4 big buckets of red ones and about 13 buckets of green ones. We’ve now set the green ones out on egg trays to ripen in the basement. Egg trays make great ripening containers for the egg-shaped Roma tomatoes. I mean those grey square pulp trays that hold 30 eggs or tomatoes. They stack well, are lightweight, and free! We didn’t finish harvesting tomatoes, and now have a warmer break before any more frosts, so before we harvest the rest, we can turn our attention to digging up the sweet potatoes.

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they are a bonus. Credit McCune Porter

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they are a bonus. Credit McCune Porter

For those living on the East Coast, here’s a heads up about a full lunar eclipse early tomorrow morning. 6.25 am, before the sun comes up, just before the moon sets.


Hope to see some of you at Kansas for the Mother Earth News Fair. The schedule has been updated to show my workshops.MENFairLogo


And I’ll end with a link to A Way to Garden, a lovely blog from Margaret Roach, writing about her interview with Linda Chalker-Scott, who is busting horticultural myths, such as digging a huge hole and filling it with potting soil when transplanting a young tree. Lots of fun to read, and lots of wasted time and effort saved!

 

 

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.