BCS Berta Plow, Proofreading The Year-Round Hoophouse, Tomato Foliage Diseases

Our new equipment – a Berta rotary plow.
Photo Pam Dawling

In recent years we have mostly hand-shoveled the paths between our 90ft x 4ft raised beds. If we have two neighboring beds ready to prepare at the same time, we might use the hiller-furrower on our BCS 732 walk-behind tiller. But frankly that didn’t do as good a job as the old Troybilt hiller-furrower we used to have, and if you went off-course, there was no chance of a re-run to fix it. With the Troybilt you could fix a wiggle by steering hard on a re-run, but the BCS wouldn’t co-operate on that. So there was less incentive to use the BCS. We would measure and flag the bed, and have a person with a shovel at each end of each path, shoveling towards each other. Then we raked the bed, breaking up the big shovel-dollops.

Using the Berta rotary plow to make paths between our raised beds.
Photo Pam Dawling

Now we have a Berta Rotary Plow from Earth Tools BCS, and we are hopping with joy. It is easy to fit and unfit on our BCS, easy to use and does a lovely job. We flag the midline of the path, plow up one side of the path and back down the other. We get straighter paths, beds almost ready to use (no shovel-dollops!), and we save a lot of time, and don’t feel so tired!

A raised bed prepared with our Berta Rotary Plow, with some lettuce transplants under shadecloth.
Photo Pam Dawling


This week I am proofreading the Advance Proof of The Year-Round Hoophouse. A professional proofreader is also working through the advance proof at the same time, and the foreword and the endorsements are being written (or more likely, being thought about!).

So far, I have found a few inconsistencies to align. I guess I thought one thing when I wrote one chapter and something else a few months later when I wrote another chapter! I found a few tiny typos, even after so much careful checking here and during the professional copy-editing process. I found a few unclear bits, which I hope will now be clearer!

I relearned a few things I’d figured out for the book and then forgotten about! I impressed myself with seeing again all the information packed in there, from helpful tips to expansive over-views. I’m very much looking forward to having the book in my hands. Several more months yet. Publication date is November 20. New Society is taking pre-orders. When I’ve got some actual boxes of books I’ll update the Buy Now button here on my website and you can support-an-author and buy direct. I’ll sign the book for you!

Grow abundant produce year-round in any climate

Growing in hoophouses reduces the impact of increasingly unpredictable climate on crops, mitigates soil erosion, extends growing seasons, and strengthens regional food supply. The Year-Round Hoophouse teaches how to site, design, and build a hoophouse and successfully grow abundant produce all year in a range of climates.

Pam Dawling has been farming and providing training in sustainable vegetable production in a large variety of climates for over 40 years, 14 of which have been hoophouse growing. Pam’s first book is the best-selling Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres.

PB 9780-086571863-0/ 8 x 10”/ 288 pages/$ 29.99/Available November 2018

Pre-order at www.newsociety.com before November 1 and receive a 20% discount.


Striped German tomato in our hoophouse. Note the lower leaves have been removed to reduce diseases.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

At the end of July or the first week of August we will pull up our hoophouse tomatoes and sow some soy as a cover crop until we are ready to prep the beds for winter greens. Our outdoor tomatoes are producing now, and as their yields increase, we’ll have no regrets about pulling up the aging hoophouse plants. We like to grow some heirlooms in there, and they are (in general) notorious for foliar diseases. I know some are disease-resistant, but we don’t only grow those ones! We did better this year at removing any lower leaves touching the ground, to dissuade any transfer of diseases from the soil.

Early in the season we had aphids and sooty mold, but ladybugs sorted out that problem. More recently we have had a little Early Blight, some Septoria leaf spot, and a sporadic issue that has concentrations of leaves with small silvery spots (dead leaf tissue). These are mostly located below webs of zipper spiders. Is it a disease, or the result of spider poop or dead prey detritus?

Zipper spider on a hoophouse tomato.
Photo Pam Dawling

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

Reviewing tomatoes, checking garlic, Growing for Market magazine

Hoophouse tomatoes at full height. Photo Nina Gentle

Hoophouse tomatoes at full height.
Photo Nina Gentle

One of the crops we grow in our hoophouse in spring is a range of open-pollinated and heirloom tomatoes. Because it doesn’t rain in there and we use drip irrigation, our plants don’t get water put on the leaves. Naturally, they have some dew in the mornings, but this dries up early. So there is less fungal disease pressure than outdoors. Additionally, we do a better job of monitoring the indoor crops than those in the field. So the hoophouse is a good place to “audition” varieties we haven’t grown before, and to grow those delicious but temperamental ones that we no longer grow outside. This year we grew 20 varieties, with at least two plants of each. A few are F1 Hybrids, most are OP.

We are lucky enough to be able to grow some of what we like best without a lot of attention to whether it would be a commercial success or not. But there comes a point (usually in the heat and busyness of summer!) when we want to know which varieties are productive and disease-resistant, as well as delicious. We haven’t time to cosset the losers. We want to invest our time wisely and get good results. And we want to boot the worst to make way for trying some other varieties next year.

I already wrote about the “Rampancy Rating” tomato height chart which we use to plan for the shortest plants at the east end and tallest on the west (for best lighting along the rows). Now here are some notes on the varieties we grew this spring, in terms of productivity and disease resistance. Flavor is very important and more subjective. All of these were tasty.

 

This year’s most productive tomatoes among the ones we grew in our hoophouse include Amy’s Apricot, Amy’s Sugar Gem, Five Star Grape (F1 hybrid), Garden Peach, Glacier, Mountain Magic, Stupice, Sun Gold (F1 hybrid) and TC Jones.

Amy's Sugar Gem tomato. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Amy’s Sugar Gem tomato.
Photo  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Reasonably productive for us were Black Cherry, Green Zebra, Nepal, Riesentraube, Tropic and Yellow Oxheart.

Riesentraube cherry tomatoes. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Riesentraube cherry tomatoes.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We got poor yields from Cherokee Purple, Jubilee, Moskvich, Striped German and Valencia. Now, in all fairness to tomato plant breeders, I should say these productivity ratings sometimes cause me to wonder if the plants have been “browsed” by my fellow communards. Black Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Striped German are well-known for exceptional flavor. It could be that the yield was much higher than I saw.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Cherokee Purple tomatoes.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

In terms of disease, we got some Early Blight and Septoria Leaf Spot. Our most disease-resistant tomatoes were Amy’s Apricot, Amy’s Sugar Gem, Black Cherry, Five Star Grape, Jubilee, Mountain Magic, Riesentraube and Sun Gold. We usually get good disease-resistance from Tropic but it was only so-so this year. Other so-so varieties we grew were Cherokee Purple, Garden Peach, Striped German and TC Jones. More prone to diseases were Green Zebra, Moskvich, Nepal, Valencia and Yellow Oxheart.

Glacier early tomatoes. photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Glacier early tomatoes.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We didn’t record disease-resistance for Stupice or Glacier. We grow these two because they are the fastest and have pretty good flavor for early varieties. We don’t plan to keep them long-term. As soon as we can have bigger slicing varieties and ones without green shoulders, we’re on to them!

Garden Peach fuzzy tomato. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Garden Peach fuzzy tomato.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

So, looking at both productivity and disease-resistance, next year we’ll likely grow Amy’s Apricot, Amy’s Sugar Gem, Black Cherry, Five-Star Grape, Garden Peach, Glacier, Jubilee, Mountain Magic, Riesentraube, Stupice, Sun Gold and Tropic. Maybe not Cherokee Purple or Striped German unless some people fess up to surreptitious private harvesting. Maybe not Green Zebra, Moskvich, Nepal, TC Jones, Valencia or Yellow Oxheart.

The Cornell Vegetable MD Online has a wonderful chart of disease-resistance in tomato varieties. 38 diseases, 7 physiological disorders and almost 300 varieties listed. The list is a few years old, so really new varieties won’t be there, but the heirlooms and the standard F1s are there.

Research at Penn State Extension provides this list of “Best Tunnel Tomatoes”:BHN 589***, Scarlet Red, Primo Red, Red Mountain*, Red Deuce, Rally **, Charger, Finishline, Rocky Top, BrandyBoy, Conestoga, Carolina Gold, BHN 876, and Big Dena. Mostly they focused on red determinate slicers.

Amy Goldman’s Book The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit will tell you all the pros and cons of many heirloom varieties.

So will Craig LeHoullier’s Epic Tomatoes which I reviewed when it first came out.


Growing for Market magazine

Growing for Market magazine

The august issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, along with my article about garlic. This is in the form of a checklist for each stage of harvesting, curing, snipping, sorting and storage.

The cover article, by Joanna and Eric Reuter, whose interesting Chert Hollow Farm blog I often refer to, is about learning to successfully farm together as a couple. (The June/July issue of Growing for Market carried an article about farming as a family with a young child.) This month, Joanna and Eric have interviewed five couples, and asked probing questions about communication of information and emotional states, division of labor, dealing with the jobs neither partner likes to do, balancing sharing decision-making with allowing each other some autonomy and accepting following the other’s lead on some decisions. They also address time off, in particular, how to get time off together, as well as the general issue of limit setting. Managing stress comes up, including the challenges of supporting each other while in the midst of a farm crisis. And they close with some words of advice. I appreciated having this aspect of farming get serious consideration. It’s as vital as good transplants and good tools!

In this issue is also a picture and info about a sloping deer fence that is effective without making you feel like you are working in a cage, a review of the USDA cover crops chart, where each “tile” of the chart opens up when clicked to provide more information, and  Gretel Adams write about growing dried flowers and grains for winter flower arrangements. Lastly there is the encouraging and heart-warming story of Anne and Brian Bates who went from zero land and zero farm income to a 75 acre farm making $100K two years later. they financed the farm with loans from parents, USDA, NRCS and a crowd-funded 3 year loan from Kiva Zip. Their financial plan includes one-third of their income going to pay off the loans, one third in salary and one third to operating costs. Careful planning and hard work are bringing success.

 

How tall is that tomato variety?

Tomato plants with string-weaving. Photo Wren Vile

Tomato plants with string-weaving.
Photo Wren Vile

If you grow lots of different tomato varieties, and you use a string-weaving method to train them, you might like to plant the varieties in order of increased height, so that when you string weave the row you can do partial rows of weaving to take care of the tall ones, and not waste time string-weaving between stakes with only small plants. Or perhaps, like us, your rows run from east to west and you’d like to put the shortest on the east, so that they all get he best morning light, and the short ones aren’t shaded by tall ones. But how do you find out the relative heights of the tomato varieties you have?

Seed catalogs and websites can help, with notes like “compact” or “relatively short”, but one catalog’s “fairly tall’ might be another’s  “moderate height”. We keep a “Tomato Rampancy Rating List” and each year we take notes, updating the list in light of how the varieties grew that year. We have noticed that results vary. Some years a variety ends up taller than the year before. So – no promises – here’s our list, starting with compact ones and ending with very tall ones. The names in bold are the ones we really like. The others are ones we tried and decided not to repeat.

Tomato Rampancy Rating List

Compact/Short

A                             Taxi

B                             Orange Blossom

Orange Blossom. Photo Johnnys Slected Seeds

Orange Blossom.
Photo Johnny’s Selected Seeds

C                             Barnes Mountain Orange, Indigo Rose

D                             Illini Star, Polbig, Sweet Tangerine, Washington Cherry

E                              Yellow Bell

Abraham Lincoln. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Abraham Lincoln.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

F                              Abe Lincoln

G                             BHN 968 Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Glacier, Green Zebra, Jubilee, Nepal, Ozark Pink, Tropic

H                             New Girl, Rutgers Improved, Striped German, Stupice, TC Jones, Valencia

 I                               Amy’s Sugar Gem, Aunt Ruby, Garden Peach, German Johnson, Heather, Mountain Magic, Riesentraube

J                              Honeydrop, Striped Roman

Yellow Oxheart. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Yellow Oxheart.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

 

K                             Black Cherry, Favorita cherry, Sun Gold, Wow, Yellow Oxheart

L                              Amy’s Apricot, Five Star Grape

 

 

Hoophouse tomatoes and trellised gherkins. Photo Nina Gentle

Hoophouse tomatoes and trellised gherkins.
Photo Nina Gentle

Chert Hollow Farm on Organic certification, More Snow, Feed the Soil presentation.

Chert Hollow Farm's photos of their farm gate before and after.

Chert Hollow Farm’s photos of their farm gate before and after.

For some time I have been following the blog of Eric and Joanna Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm near Columbia, Missouri. I admire their commitment and creativity. Recently they have posted a three-part series on why they have decided to drop their USDA Organic certification. I found it a very thought-filled and coherent piece of writing and want more people to read it and ponder the points they make.

Dropping organic certification, part I talks about some of their concerns with the USDA Organic system as a whole, and how some of the Organic rules are increasingly at odds with their “beliefs and standards for sustainable and ethical food production.” Their work creating a diverse deeply-sustainable farm with minimal bought-in inputs isn’t easily reconciled with the USDA certification process. “Trying to use our own resources in a creatively sustainable way created an unusually-shaped peg that the organic system’s round holes don’t expect. And thus there’s a lot of subtle pressure on organic farms just to buy stuff rather than be more diversified and creative in their farming approach.” According to their Organic inspectors over the years, they have been star poster-child Organic farmers for five years, and their decision to leave Organic certification will be “a major loss to the organic certification community/process in this part of the country”.

In addition to the differing philosophy and practice between Joanna and Eric’s approach and the USDA, the costs are too high and the benefits too few.

Dropping organic certification, part II  goes into some of their specific issues with the certification. Concerns include costs, including the uncertainty of whether the government will continue the cost-share program; bureaucracy (why don’t chemical farmers have to track and report their inputs and applications??); and the degree of usefulness of USDA certification for direct marketing. As a CSA farm, Eric and Joanna are no longer competing for customers with self-proclaimed “organic” farmers at the market.

Dropping organic certification, part III looks at the benefits of dropping certification, while acknowledging what they learned by being part of the certified system, specifically the value of good record-keeping, good compost-making and careful sourcing of inputs. They credit being certified (and needing to check potential herbicide use on hay and straw they brought in for feed and mulch) with helping them avoid the “killer hay” incidents which are, sadly, all too common around the country. They write about what they are looking forward to, freed from the certification restrictions. They are increasing biological diversity on their farm, getting off mailing lists (!), and communicating more with customers and CSA members, know they’ll save time on certification paperwork. Finally, they discuss some of their regrets about no longer being part of “something bigger, a known collection of farms and consumers that stood for something different from the conventional agriculture model” they oppose. They will no longer have the support of USDA if they suffer from spray drift. They will no longer have an easy label to describe their farming practices to customers. Their hope is that more direct, personal communication with CSA members and the rest of the world will take over in addressing that need.

Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we’ve had More Snow. Only about 3″, following rain. But it has brought a halt to our outdoor gardening pursuits for a while. Just before the snow we managed to get some disking done – the first of the year! We had got some raised beds tilled a few days earlier, so we managed to prepare those bed and sow beets, turnips, radishes and scallions, as well as the last of the snap peas. We haven’t transplanted anything except lettuce, scallions and spinach, because it has been so cold. We got beds ready for kale, cabbage, senposai and collards, before I realized the plants were too small to go outside! All our transplants have been growing slowly. We have postponed planting our tomatoes in the hoophouse because the weather is so unsettled (which is a mild way of saying scarily cold).

On Sunday 3/16, I co-taught Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. I spoke about Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slide show from that event:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/feed-the-soil” title=”Feed the soil. Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Feed the soil. Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>