My Forthcoming Book, Hoophouse Squash and Cucumbers, Growing for Market magazine

Here’s the photo of our hoophouse that we used on the cover of my forthcoming book The Year Round Hoophouse. You can read about it here.

Yes, exciting news! I’ve been writing my second book, the Year Round Hoophouse, I finished the manuscript at the end of February, and New Society Publishers have accepted it. Next steps include copy-editing and marketing. It will be published November 20, and  I’ll give you more details as things become apparent. It will likely be 288 information-dense pages for $29.99 (worth every penny at 10 cents a page).

Growing in hoophouses reduces the impact of the increasingly unpredictable climate on crops, mitigates soil erosion, extends growing seasons, and enables growers to supply more regional foods. In one of the only books of its kind, The Year-Round Hoophouse teaches how to design/build a hoophouse and make a success of growing abundant produce all year, for various climates and land sizes.

Here is the list of chapters

Section 1: Design, Siting and Construction

  1. Hoophouse Siting and Planning
  2. Style and Design
  3. Shopping Checklist
  4. Preparing the Site and the Base
  5. Utilities
  6. Frame Assembly, Baseboards and Hipboards
  7. End Walls
  8. Roof  Plastic
  9. Drip Irrigation and Outfitting Your Hoophouse

 Section 2: Growing Crops

  1. Lettuce
  2. Other Salad Greens
  3. Cooking Greens
  4. Root Crops
  5. Alliums
  6. Legumes
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Peppers and Eggplants
  9. Cucurbits
  10. Crops for High Summer
  11. Bare-Root Transplants
  12. Seed Crops

Section 3: Keeping Everything Working Well

  1. Planning and Record-Keeping
  2. Cold Weather Care
  3. Hot Weather Care
  4. Succession Crops
  5. Crop Rotations and Sequences
  6. Pests and Diseases
  7. Salt Build-Up
  8. Feeding the Soil
  9. Replacing the Plastic
  10. Preparing for and Coping with Disasters

Amys Apricot tomato transplanted a week ago, looking happy in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Meanwhile, we have finished transplanting about 90 tomatoes into two beds in our hoophouse and have been rewarded by seeing how much they have grown in just one week. They were really struggling in the greenhouse, where the light wasn’t so good, and it was hard to keep them warm through those cold nights. Two weeks ago I included a photo of a cleared space waiting for a tomato plant. Now we’re there!

Gentry yellow squash newly transplanted into our hoophouse, with a friendly wood sorrel!
Photo Pam Dawling

A few days ago we transplanted one bed of yellow squash (Gentry), chosen for being fast-maturing, productive and having a good flavor. Also a bed of Spacemaster bush-type slicing cucumbers, among the spinach, peas and baby lettuce mix.

New Spacemaster bush cucumber transplant in our hoophouse in a bed with old winter spinach, young snap peas and baby lettuce mix.
Photo Pam Dawling

Next will be the peppers. We have flagged the bed at spots 2 feet apart. Today I’ll harvest that lettuce mix around each flag, clearing the way to digging holes and adding compost.

North edge bed in our hoophouse flagged up for digging holes to plant peppers.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the photo above you can also see the bubble-foil insulation we have on the north wall. It improves the light back there, as well as keeping in some heat. It’s only the lowest 2 feet of the north wall, and very little direct light comes in there, so we gain much more than we lose. Also see the diagonal tubing we added to strengthen the frame at the west end, which is the direction most of the wind comes from.

At last the lettuce has started to grow! We have been struggling to find enough leafy crops to harvest  a 5 gallon bucket each day. Today I had no trouble finding plenty of baby lettuce, tender young spinach and baby brassica greens for a salad for a hundred people.


The April Growing for Market is out. The lead article, by Josh Volk, gives ideas for upgrading your packing shed or crop clean-up area. It includes a slatted spray table you can build and some natty clip-on fittings (K-ball nozzles) you can install on PVC pipe to give an easy-to-use sprayer wherever you want one. See below – I haven’t tried them myself.Sam Hitchcock Tilton has a profile of Nature’s Pace Organics in Michigan, and their switch from intensive cultivation to permanent cover crops and strip tillage. Liz Martin has written about the advantages of growing pole beans instead of bush beans. She has trialled different kinds to find varieties that have smaller smoother pods (more like bush beans) and likes Emerita, Blue Lake, Matilda and Cobra. Their trellis uses tall T-posts and two pieces of Hortanova netting. They also grow bean seed using this method. I gather they don’t have Mexican bean beetles or many bean diseases, two of the three reasons we gave up on pole beans. The third is our dislike of installing trellises, which only become worthwhile if your plants will stay healthy for the whole season. Thorsten Arnold writes about their co-op rural online farmers market in Ontario, Canada. Todd Coleman describes how to build and install an in-ground greenhouse heating system, and lastly Gretel Adams in Ohio discusses the many decisions behind building a cut flower greenhouse . They chose a tall-wall three-bay gutter-connected plastic structure installed by Yoder’s Produce Supply. This greenhouse has increased production so much that they are moving into shipping nationally through an online store.

Drill a 9/16″ hole and attach to pipe. No threading or nipples required, grips the pipe and the body fits in the 9/16″ hole. Spray is fan-shaped with spray angle of 65° at 40 psi and spray density tapers off toward the outside to permit overlapping of spray patterns.

  • Fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene
  • EPDM O-ring seal & SS spring clip
  • Pressure rating: 100 psi at 175°F
  • Swivel ball allows for 52° total angle of adjustment

Enjoy your spring!

 

Book Review, The Bio-integrated Farm by Shawn Jadrnicek

Publisher: Chelsea Green. ISBN: 9781603585880

This book, by Shawn and Stephanie Jadrnicek, was hidden in my “to read” pile for too long! The title doesn’t make it clear enough that this is an authoritative text on all kinds of water management on the farm: integrating ponds, swales, ditches, water catchment, heat storage in water, irrigation, water for light reflection in winter, fish and shrimp-farming. Chickens and black soldier flies, compost-making and vegetable production in hoophouses and outdoors are all part of the bigger picture.

This book speaks from Shawn Jadrnicek’s experience at the Clemson University Student Organic Farm in South Carolina, and at his own homestead. The author tells us honestly when things he tried didn’t work out, and why. It is a permaculture book written for non-believers as well as the converted. It does not mystify with strange jargon. It does not make unsubstantiated claims about how things ought to be. Full disclosure: I suffer from having read too much permaculture writing that was obscure, convoluted, not backed with direct experience and written for people with a lot of time and only a small piece of land. This book is a breath of fresh air! The ideas have been tested on a farm scale, with a close eye on efficiency. It’s written for market farmers, homesteaders and serious gardeners, showing how to make best use of natural resources to help feed the world. Each technique has to have at least seven functions to qualify for inclusion in the author’s farming practices and the book.

You may not want to follow all of the author’s methods. I, for one, am not going to grow hydroponically. (I doubt that fully nutritious food can be grown without soil, with just the nutrients we know to feed in.) You may not want a hoophouse that is almost all pond. But you may be very happy to find a book that describes how to build a hoophouse on sloping land; very happy to learn how to grade your land to move rainwater away from where you don’t want it to sit, to where you do want it to improve growth of your pastures. You may be very happy to learn how to use a pond to grow minnows (tadpoles in the non-minnow season) to feed chickens. You may like the idea of filling your hoophouse with sweet potatoes or cowpeas in summer to act as a “smother crop,” dealing with weeds while keeping the soil alive. Perhaps you’d like to try freshwater prawn (large shrimp) farming? The regulations are easier than for fish-farming. Giant river prawns can weigh as much as a pound, they are easy to process and cook, and they sell at a good price.

Water management fills over half of the book, complemented by 30 pages on chickens, 33 on compost, 13 on fly farming, 28 on field layout and drainage, and 56 pages of case studies. Most of the vegetable production mentioned takes place in hoophouses (high tunnels). The book includes various ideas for heating the indoor crops, using hydronics (indirect heating with water in pipes warmed in outdoor ponds or compost piles), indoor ponds with solar pool covers, and compost piles leaning on the sidewall of the hoophouse. The information on rainwater harvesting includes checking your roofing material for toxicity (there is a special coating you can put on if necessary), how to avoid leaves clogging gutters (cleverly designed downspout filters), regulations about harvested rainwater, how to make gravity flow toilets and gravity drip irrigation systems that really work, and how to find the data and do the calculations. The level of detail in this book inspires confidence!

The chicken-farming system in this book uses a permanent coop and alley (mulched corridor) along with temporary pens made with electric netting. This makes better use of resources than free-ranging, unless you have only mature trees and grass. The birds get 30% of their dietary needs from the landscape, if rotated every 6-12 days onto perennial clover and grass pasture that has regrown to 4-8″ in height. This system ensures the chickens can always reach shade, and you can reseed bare spots in the resting pens with rye, wheat, millet, sunflowers and buckwheat, and reduce their feed costs by 30%. I liked the careful thinking and observation behind this scheme.

And then we come to the black soldier flies. The mesh flooring of the chicken pen lets the manure fall through into a fly digester below. The fly larvae digest the manure and grow, later becoming chicken food themselves. I wasn’t initially attracted to the idea of deliberately breeding flies, but the system has a lot going for it. Black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) are not a pest. In fact they out-compete houseflies and thus reduce their numbers 95%! The adult soldier flies live only 5-15 days – they have no functioning mouthparts, and they don’t vector diseases. They are native in zone 7 and warmer, especially in the Southeast, so consult your Extension Service to find out if you’ll need to mail order them or just set out a nice digester once it’s warm enough. This sounds better than worm-bin farming! The flies tolerate a wider range of conditions and consume waste faster than earthworms. The large segmented larvae will “self-harvest” into buckets, if you have a well-designed digester. Two commercial models are available, the larger ProtaPod (4 ft diameter) and the smaller BioPod. They have internal ramps that the pre-pupae will climb, and a curled rim that prevents escape. The creatures launch themselves down a tube into a lidded bucket. All the details are in the book! Add fresh waste daily, and empty the bucket at least weekly (to prevent adult flies hatching out and setting up residence where you don’t want them).

The section on compost-making includes how to extract heat from your compost pile to warm your hoophouse, and how not to extract so much heat that the compost stops working. My beef with some other books about methods of heating greenhouses is that they fail to address the unintended side-effects, such as having very humid air go into your living space, or having little space left to grow plants because the greenhouse is full of heat-storing devices. Make good compost, and warm your hoophouse a bit.

The section on field application of these ideas is not about growing vegetables, but about field layout and drainage. It includes useful calculations on using drip irrigation. It also discusses keyline plowing, which had previously been just a bit of permaculture theory to me. Shawn says, “keyline pattern cultivating intrigued me for years, but I first had to implement the technique before becoming a convert.” There is no need to buy the special equipment some advocates suggest, if you have a box scraper with ripping tines. Keyline plowing (ripping 4″ deep in lines through pasture or grassways to direct water from a valley to a bit of a ridge) helps build soil and increase grass growth. Reading Shawn’s results, I now understand why others said it was a good idea.

I recommend this book to any small-scale farmers who are interested in learning efficient techniques to increase productivity while reducing use of resources.

Stephanie and Shawn Jadrnicek
Photo Chelsea Green

Making baby salad mix

Salad Mix freshly harvested.
Photo Pam Dawling

Our salad mix season has started! Very exciting! During the summer we have heads of lettuce and the warm weather salad crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. But now we’ve had a couple of frosts and we are starting to harvest mixed salads, mostly from our hoophouse. This involves snipping the outer leaves of various crops into ribbons, cutting small individual leaves from other crops and mixing the ingredients. In the photo above are spinach, Tokyo Bekana, Bull’s Blood beet leaves and a speck of Ruby Streaks. There is no lettuce in the picture. In October and early November we harvest the last of our outdoor lettuce and mix that in.

Tokyo Bekana in our hoophouse in late October.
Photo Pam Dawling

Our general salad mix harvesting approach is to mix colors, textures and crop families. I like to balance lettuce of different kinds with chenopods (spinach, baby chard, Bull’s Blood beet leaves) and brassicas (brassica salad mix, baby tatsoi, thinnings of direct-sown brassicas, chopped young leaves of Tokyo bekana, Maruba Santoh or other Asian greens, mizuna, other ferny mustards such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills).

Ruby Streaks and mizuna.
Photo Kathleen Slattery

I prefer to harvest and chop as I go, mixing everything at the end. It might seem easier to harvest first and then cut and mix, but that requires handling the greens a second time which causes more damage. Incidentally, tearing damages more  than cutting, so just get a good pair of scissors and keep them sharp. I cut and gather until I have a handful of leaves, then roll them lengthwise and cut into ribbons. The width of the ribbon depends on the crop. I like to have different size shreds. Mild flavor and plentiful items I cut on the wider side, stronger flavors narrower. I also want every bowlful to get some red highlights, so if red leaves are in short supply that day, I cut those thin.

Bull’s Blood beet greens in our hoophouse in late October.
Photo Pam Dawling

Use knives to cut whole heads, if you are doing that. Ceramic or serrated plastic knives cause less rapid browning to cut leaf edges, but almost all growers I know use metal knives.

Brassica salad mixes are easy to grow. There are various mustard mixes you can buy, to complement your baby lettuce mix. It doesn’t work well to mix lettuce seed and brassica seed together when sowing, as the crops grow at different rates. It is better to grow separate patches and customize your mix when you harvest. Wild Garden Seed has Wild Garden Pungent Mix, and the mild Pink Petiole Mix. Some seed companies now sell individual crops for mixes (see Johnnys Selected Seeds or Fedco Seeds Asian Greens for example). We mix our own Brassica Salad Mix from leftover random brassica seeds. For a single cut, almost all brassicas are suitable, except very bristly turnips. We sow in early February for March and early April harvests. Even if you don’t plan to grow brassica salad mix, keep it in mind as a worthwhile backup plan if other crops fail, or outdoor conditions are dreadful and you need a quick crop to fill out what you have.

Our first sowing of brassica salad mix, ready to harvest in mid-October.
Photo Pam Dawling

To harvest baby lettuce mix or brassica salad mix (also called mustard mix), use scissors, shears or a serrated knife, and cut an inch (a few centimeters) above the soil to spare the growing point of the plants for regrowth. Some growers use a leaf rake to pull out debris after each harvest of baby leaf lettuce, and minimize the chance of including bits of old rotting leaves in the next cut. For small plants, it works fine to pinch off individual leaves, provided you are careful not to tug–small plants may not be very firmly anchored in the soil! Small leaves can go in the mix whole

Young lettuce mix growing in our hoophouse.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Baby lettuce mix can be cut 21 days from seeding in warm weather, but from November to mid-February, it may take two or three times as long from sowing to first harvest. Cool season lettuce mix may provide four or more cuttings, but in warm weather it will only provide a single harvest. Excessive milkiness from the cut stems is a sign of bitterness. You can also test by nibbling a piece of leaf. Our winter salad mixes end at the end of April, when our outdoor lettuce heads are ready for harvest.

What’s growing in the hoophouse; reading; planning for winter.

Tokyo Bekana in the hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the hoophouse we are perhaps half way through our bed preparations. The Tokyo Bekana was the first crop we transplanted from our outdoor nursery bed, and it’s looking very sturdy now.  We’ve also transplanted some Yukina Savoy and the first of the lettuces.

Cherry Belle radishes in the hoophouse, early October.
Photo Pam Dawling.

The crops we direct sowed in early September are growing well, and we are harvesting the radishes and some of the tatsoi and Bulls Blood beet greens (thinning to 6″ apart). The spinach is big enough to start harvesting but we haven’t needed to yet.

Hoophouse tatsoi in early October.
Photo Pam Dawling

The newer sowings (the second radishes and the first brassica baby salad mix (mustards) have emerged and are ready to thin to 1″. Sometimes we use thinned seedlings as a salad garnish, but it takes more time than simply pulling them out, and it takes attention to keep them clean.

This summer we grew more cover crops rather than seed crops, which we have been growing in summer for several years, because we were short of workers. In the photo below you can see some healthy cowpeas I’m going to be pulling up later today, as well as some pulled up and dried buckwheat. We don’t dig our cover crops under, just let them die on the surface for as long as possible, shedding bits of dead leaf, then haul them to the compost pile. With the cowpeas, we hope to leave the nitrogen nodules from the roots, by ripping the plants up roughly!

Iron and Clay cowpeas as cover crop in the hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

These cowpeas have been cut back two or three times over the summer, to keep them manageable. At one point, they were black with sooty mold growing on aphid honeydew. We wondered if it was going to be a bigger problem, but after we cut the plants back, most of the aphids seem to have died. We also got a healthy population of ladybugs.


December beds with row cover.
Photo Wren Vile

I gather readers are planning for winter, as many folks have been visiting my Winter-Kill Temperatures List of hardy crops. I update this list every spring, with the info from the previous winter. It’s useful for planning harvests based on forecast temperatures, and it’s useful for planning which winter crops will grow in your location, either inside or out.

On the same theme, I just discovered the WeatherSpark website which provides “The Typical Weather Anywhere on Earth”. Enter your nearest town or airport and you get clearly explained info with fascinating graphics of how the weather goes over the year in your locality. Note this is not a forecast site, it’s about average weather for each place. Useful to people who’ve recently moved and want to know what to expect this winter, or to new gardeners who haven’t paid so much attention previously. Or to those who want to check their assumptions (I really thought the wind was out of the west more of the time than records say). There are charts of high and low temperature, temperature by the hour each month, cloud cover, daily chance of precipitation (both rainfall and snowfall), hours of daylight, humidity, wind speed and direction and solar energy. A big help in making wise decisions. I know that climate change is going to cause havoc with averages, and we’ll need to learn to become better weather forecasters individually, and to use soil temperature and other metrics to decide when to plant. But this website explains things well.


Tomato seed strained in a sieve.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote a more concise description of saving tomato seed for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. For the full length version, see my two posts here and here.

The October Growing for Market is out. Flower farmer Erin Benzakein writes about getting to grips with the marketing side of running a farm. She encourages farmers to get good photos, step out from behind the camera, and dust off their website. I could use some of this advice! (I’ve been very busy writing a hoophouse book, and have necessarily paid less attention to giving presentations and to rejuvenating this website!

Kai Hoffman-Krull writes about on-farm trials of bio-char. I’m looking forward to reading that. Jesse Frost writes about winter CSAs and profiles some he visited. Chris Bodnar covers Italy’s thriving agricultural co-ops and asks if this could be a model for the next phase of the locally-grown movement. Lastly Zach Loeks offers the first of a two-part series on Transitioning to a permaculture market garden.

The September/October issue of Organic Broadcaster is also out. Articles include attending to soil health to improve production; the top reasons customers buy organic foods (accountability, environment, health); interseeding cover crops in cash crops; an interview with farmers in the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program; designing an efficient pack shed; and selecting the right meat processor.

Lastly, the campaign www.keepthesoilinorganic.org has posted a letter a letter recently sent out by farming mentor Eliot Coleman about the travesty of allowing hydroponics to be certified as Organic. Hydroponics is a system of growing plants anchored in holes in plastic tubes, or in blocks of inert material, and feeding them with a liquid solution of things that work to produce mature plants. The arrogance of imagining we know everything a plant needs is astounding! The idea that all the many complex ingredients of soil can be replaced with a synthetic concoction is staggering!

Eliot Coleman’s letter includes these quotes:

Organic farming is best defined by the benefits of growing crops on a biologically active fertile soil.

The importance of fertile soil as the cornerstone of organic farming is under threat. The USDA is allowing soil-less hydroponic vegetables to be sold as certified organic without saying a word about it.

The encouragement of “pseudo-organic” hydroponics is just the latest in a long line of USDA attempts to subvert the non-chemical promise that organic farming has always represented. Without soil, there is no organic farming.

 

Eliot Coleman will be a speaker, along with Fred Kirschenmann, Enid Wonnacott, Jim Riddle, Will Allen, Jeff Moyer, Dave Chapman, Anaise Beddard, Lisa Stokke, Tom Beddard and  Linley Dixon at the Jacksonville Rally of the Keep the Soil in Organic movement. Oct 31, 2017 at 12:45 pm – 2:00pm EDT. Omni Jacksonville Hotel, 245 Water St, Jacksonville, FL 32202, USAThis Rally will be a gathering of organic farmers and eaters from all over the world. The march will begin at the Omni Jacksonville during the lunch break from 12:45 to 2 PM on Tuesday, the first day of the NOSB meeting. There will be a 5 minute march to The Landing from the Omni. Lunch will be available at the Rally. For more information, call Dave Chapman at 802-299-7737.

Lettuce in September, Bean borers,

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

September is a month of change, when it comes to lettuce. We sow and transplant a lot of lettuce. The September 1 sowing is number 34 in our annual series, which runs to number 46 on September 27.

When to sow to eat lettuce in September

In September we are normally eating lettuce which we sowed from late June to mid-July. That’s a tough time for growing lettuce here, and this year was tougher than usual. We got fine seedlings up, but then they were mowed down by cutworms lurking under the shadecloth. We started new sowings in flats, up off the ground on a frame. We tried sowing baby lettuce mix to feed us during the gap. Although we sowed it in a cooler spell, it didn’t come up. We just resowed on 9/16. Now we are having a deluge – of rain, not of lettuce!

Sowing lettuce in September

From September 1-21 we sow head lettuce every 2 days. This is because the rate of growth will slow down when the weather cools, and the harvest dates of those sowings will spread out. They will all feed us through to the spring, if we protect them from cold temperatures. Before we got our hoophouse, we grew lettuce outdoors through the winter under double rowcover. It did stay alive, but we couldn’t harvest very often. Rowcover will provide a temperature gain of 4–6 degrees F (2.2–3.3 degrees C), depending on the thickness. It also reduces light transmission and airflow, but the trade-off can be very worthwhile. Lettuce can survive an occasional dip to 10°F (–12°C) with good rowcover outdoors — but not 8°F (–13°C), as I’ve seen! Adolescent lettuce are more cold-hardy than full-sized plants.

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting. Photo Wren Vile

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting.
Photo Wren Vile

Sowings in the first week of September are for planting in cold frames in central Virginia. These days we have switched to growing spinach all winter in our cold frames, rather than continue these lettuce plantings. We get better value from spinach. It grows faster than the outdoor (rowcovered) spinach, but slower than our hoophouse spinach.This means that after the last sowing for transplanting outdoors, on August 29, we get a short break on lettuce sowing.

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We resume with number 38 on September 9. The sowings from 9/9 to 9/17 will be transplanted in our greenhouse. We also sow on 9/15 and 9/24 to transplant into our hoophouse. The sowings from 9/19-9/27 are “insurance plantings” in case something goes wrong with an earlier [planting, or we don’t get the greenhouse beds refilled with compost soon enough, and want smaller plants.

Lettuce varieties to plant in September.

From September 1-7, (the coldframe ones we used to grow), we use cold-hardy varieties Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Pablo, Red Salad Bowl, Salad Bowl, Winter Marvel (a Bibb) and Winter Wonderland (Romaine). Pablo is a hold-over from the summer Batavian lettuces. (Heat-tolerant varieties also tolerate cold.) There are also specialized cold-hardy varieties that do not tolerate heat (because they have a relatively low water content). Sow these in fall and winter only.

Salad Bowl Lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Salad Bowl Lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The salad bowls do fine in the greenhouse and the hoophouse, although I remember they are not cold-hardy enough for growing outdoors here. During the winter we will be harvesting lettuce by the leaf, rather than cutting heads. Green Forest, Kalura and Winter Wonderland are romaines that do well in the winter for us. Note that we don’t grow butterhead lettuce (bibbs) after the end of August.

Once we reach September 8, we are sowing lettuce for planting in the (unheated) greenhouse. We use Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Kalura, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Salad Bowl, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Tango and Winter Wonderland.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

For the hoophouse winter lettuce, we sow Osborne multileaf lettuce types (Multigreen 57, Multired 4, Multired 54), Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Tango, Red Salad Bowl, Outredgeous, Salad Bowl, Winter Wonderland Romaine. For the second sowing on 9/24, we use Include all the same ones except Oscarde, which has given us trouble in the past when started that late.

Small and medium-sized plants of Marvel of Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density, and Tango can take 15F (-9.5C). I’ve seen some small unprotected lettuces survive down to 5F (-15C) – Winter Marvel, Tango, North Pole, Green Forest. Other particularly cold-hardy lettuce varieties include Brune d’Hiver, Cocarde, Esmeralda (a bibb),  Lollo Rossa, North Pole (bibb), Outredgeous, Rossimo, Sunfire and Vulcan.

I’ll address winter lettuce in some future post.

Cultivating winter lettuce in the hoophouse. photo McCune Porter.

Bean Borers

I enjoy Charley Eiseman’s blog Bug Tracks, even though I’m nowhere near in his league of paying attention to insects. It’s inspiring to read his posts! This week he wrote about Gray Hairstreak caterpillars as bean borers.

 

Hoophouse tomatoes and squash, garden tour, class.

Tomato plants in our hoophouse, planted among the winter greens Photo Kathryn Simmons

Tomato plants in our hoophouse, planted among the winter greens
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We have planted our two beds of tomatoes in our hoophouse – 92 plants – can’t wait! It will be the very end of May before we get any to eat. We have one bed of fast-maturing kinds, mostly Glacier and Stupice, but also a couple each of Five Star Grape, Sun Gold, Atkinson (trying this for the first time), Garden Peach, Mountain Magic, and Ozark Pink (first year for this too.). Except for Atkinson and Ozark pink these are all tried and tested here. They all mature in 56-71 days from transplanting.

Our second bed is of slower ones – 75-85 days from transplanting. A quarter of them are our reliable standard red slicer Tropic. About another quarter are our favorite orange slicer Jubilee. The other half of the bed are special ones, such as Yellow Oxheart, Amy’s Apricot, Black Cherry, Vinson Watts (new to us this year, disease resistant), Green Zebra, Amy’s Sugar Gem, Rebelski (new to us), Mortgage Lifter, TC Jones and Striped German.

For the tender crops going into the hoophouse at this time of year, we don’t clear the whole bed, but dig holes at 2ft spacing down the middle, removing winter crops as needed.

Holes dug for our hoophouse tomatoes. Photo Wren Vile

Holes dug for our hoophouse tomatoes.
Photo Wren Vile

After planting, we prioritize harvesting the old crops directly to the south of the new plants, then gradually harvest the other “old” crops around , to make more space for the growing new crop. This way, we get maximum food from the space. When the surrounding “old” crops are big, we also get some protection on chilly nights. As you can see in the top picture, we also put wire hoops over the plants and use row cover if a frosty night is forecast.

Summer squash in the hoophouse, planted among Bulls Blood beets. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Summer squash in the hoophouse, planted among Bulls Blood beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Next to be planted is a row of squash. Today the plants are still in a flat in the greenhouse. Next weekend is forecast to be cold – below freezing. Do we plant soon and add row cover, or try to wait until after the weekend? By then the plants could be too big for the flat.


reynolds-logoToday I gave a garden tour to 15 horticulture students from J Sargeant Reynolds Community College, one of Betsy Trice’s three classes there.

logoOn Saturday I taught a class at New Country Organics in Waynesboro, on Succession Planting. I have many slideshows, and each time I prepare for a presentation I usually revise or at least tweak the one I’m about to give. And often after the event, I upload the slides to SlideShare.net so people can see them again (or the many people who missed the event can see them for the first time. I haven’t yet uploaded the slightly revised Succession Planting to Slide Share. I see I posted the previous version here as recently as 11/10/15.

Instead of reposting I went through my archives and made a new category “slide shows” and labelled all the ones I could find. So, if you are in a slide show watching mood, you can click on the Slide shows category in the side panel on the left and pick from the choices there. Also, Jillian Lowery filmed the class at New Country Organics, and I hope to be able to post the video.


Rhubarb in early spring, not yet ready to harvest. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rhubarb in early spring, not yet ready to harvest.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors, we are weeding, composting and mulching our rhubarb. This is a borderline climate for rhubarb, but we manage to get a crop from it. Best if we provide summer shade.

 

Broccoli planting, hoophouse summer plantings, strawberry flowers

Spring broccoli plant one week after transplanting. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Spring broccoli plant one week after transplanting.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We have at last finished planting out our broccoli – over two weeks late. The delays were due to wet soil preventing cultivation. Happily the plants were thriving in their 4″ deep wood flats. But it was tough to get them to thrive when transplanted that big. The weather was hot on most of those days, so we had to water a lot, even thought he soil was still saturated from the heavy rains.

Here you can see how we mulch our spring broccoli and cabbage: we make temporary raised beds, 4′ wide with one foot paths. then we unroll big round bales of spoiled hay over the beds and the paths too. They are just the right width for the bales. After that we make two rows of “nests” in each bed, using a measuring stick to get the right spacing. We use our hands to tease the hay apart down to soil level. Then we transplant, water in and close the hay over the soil around the stem of the plant. Then we cover with rowcover to protect from cold nights, bugs and stiff breezes. We use sticks to hold the rowcover down, rolling the edges  under rather than over, which helps them stay in place and not tangle with hoses or feet.

Not much to see - spring broccoli under rowcover. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Not much to see – spring broccoli under rowcover.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

A week after transplanting, we’ll go through and replace any casualties with slightly younger plants. We’ll also put one plant of alyssum every 6ft down the center of each bed. After we remove the rowcover, this little flowering plant will attract beneficial insects like Braconid wasps, aphid parasites, and syrphid flies. These will deal with aphids and cabbage caterpillars. The paper wasps also carry off the cabbage caterpillars, so we rarely have serious caterpillar trouble.

Completing the broccoli planting means we now have 3 of our 10 row-crop plots planted out. Another one will be cover crops, so we have 6 left to go. Next up will be the Roma paste tomatoes and peppers, on biodegradable plastic. I need to sort out the drip tape for that this week.


Hoophouse in April - transition to summer squash from winter scallions and Bulls Blood beets. Photo Cass Russillo

Hoophouse in April – transition to summer squash from winter scallions and Bulls Blood beet greens.
Photo Cass Russillo

In the hoophouse we are making the transition from winter and spring crops to early summer crops. We have planted tomatoes, peppers and summer squash in the middles of the beds (gherkins to come soon), and we are hurrying up the harvesting of the winter crops which are competing for space and sunlight. We prefer to let the winter crops continue as late as possible, for maximum harvests. Soon we won’t need the hoophouse lettuce or greens as the outdoor senposai is ready to start harvesting and the lettuce heads are not far behind.


Watering seedlings in our greenhouse. Photo Pam Dawling

Watering seedlings in our greenhouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

We’ve moved a lot more flats out of the greenhouse to the coldfarmes to harden off for two weeks before we plant them out in the garden. Not everything goes to the coldframes – we keep the melons and celery inside so they don’t get too chilled, and the eggplant so they don’t encounter fleabeetles. the greenhouse work is starting to taper off for the season. One of the biggest occupiers of space are the flats of sweet potatoes – you can see the first two in the foreground of this picture. they are limp because they have only just been set in the flats. We’ll plant them out about May 10. You can read more about our method of growing sweet potato slips here and here. We’re well on track to have enough by the time it’s warm enough to plant out.


The weather here in central Virginia has been teasing us. It was hot, then cold again. We thought we were done with frosts, then we had some cold forecasts. We covered the strawberries for two nights to protect the flowers, and built height-extenders on the walls of the cold frames with plastic crates, so we could put the lids on without squashing the very tall plants we had in there. Then we got nights of 36F, 36F, 34F, 33F. We had covered the strawberries for the 36F nights, but not the 34F or the 33F, as we followed the forecasts too gullibly! Later today I’ll go to see if the strawberry flowers have black centers – the sure sign of a frost hitting the blossoms.

We always like to think we are done with frosts once we pass April 20, but the truth is our average last frost date for the past ten years is April 30, and the range has been 4/14 to 5/14, with a mean of 5/3.

A frosted strawberry flower with a black center. Photo Kathryn Simmons

A frosted strawberry flower with a black center.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

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

In praise of West Indian Gherkins

640px-Cucumis_anguriaThe West Indian burr gherkin. “Cucumis anguria” by Eugenio Hansen, OFS – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I just harvested 4 5-gallon buckets of gherkins (one for seed, 3 for pickling) from a 50ft row we abandoned over 5 weeks ago. We pulled out the drip tape too, so these plants have survived just on rainfall, and there hasn’t been all that much of that. Maybe 3″, but almost all of it in one week, with nothing in the past ten days.

Next year, I want this to be the only pickling cucumber we grow! Not only is it prolific and drought-tolerant, it also shows no sign of any diseases or pests, and its healthy vines cover the ground, leaving no room for weeds. It is a rambler (long vines) so maybe a trellis would be wise. I’ve also learned that it is resistant to some species of Root Knot Nematodes, so we may grow it in our hoophouse as part of our rotation of nematode resistant crops for the bed there which produced some gnarly-rooted tomatoes this year.

Because it’s open-pollinated and doesn’t cross with actual cucumbers (or watermelons, despite the look of the leaves), we are saving our own seed, and a little money in the process. I mentioned West Indian Gherkins last winter when I was ordering seeds. Before September 2012, when I saw these gherkins growing at Monticello, in Thomas Jefferson’s reconstructed garden, I had no idea of their existence. Now I’m starting to hear about them in more places.

William Woys Weaver, author of  Heirloom Vegetable Gardening wrote about them for Mother Earth News in 2008. He discovered that they originated in West Africa, rather than West Indies, and that they can be pickled, eaten raw or cooked like zucchini.Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/growing-burr-gherkins-zmaz08djzgoe.aspx#ixzz3EAMru5hv

Seed is available from Monticello, Baker Creek Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Trade Winds Fruit and Reimer Seeds. This seems like a great crop for hot, humid disease-prone gardens.


 

Meanwhile, we are replacing the plastic on the end walls of our hoophouse. Not sure when we last did that – maybe 7 years ago? We’ve worked two mornings so far (our garden shifts are in the afternoons now that fall has arrived). We’ve got the old plastic hanging, detached everywhere except around the end bows. Tomorrow we’ll get the new plastic on. I think battening the new plastic will be easier than de-battening the old plastic! I’ll probably write more about that next time, and hopefully I’ll have some photos too.

On the radio

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

What pictures can I give you of a radio interview? On NPR they always say the pictures are better on the radio, so you might have to use your imaginations.

A while back I was interviewed by Patricia Stansbury (also known as Sunny Gardener) of Lightly on the Ground Radio, Here’s Sunny Gardener’s description of her program:

“Lightly on the Ground is how we travel when go consciously. It’s how we dance when we really dance. The wealth of information gathered while living this life becomes wisdom only if used and shared. Lightly on the Ground Radio is a way to use and share life’s wisdom by casting light into shadowed corners of our culture. The show emphasizes how our daily choices affect how we live and how others on this tiny planet live.  The advice to “live simply that others might simply live” informs life daily as long as some semblance of consciousness is maintained. This requires looking at local issues as part of a larger picture. Our daily choices in food, clothing, activities, transportation, childbearing, values, and association make up a fabric that can either be shabby and worn to bits or woven tightly and mended when needed.  Lightly on the Ground Radio imparts information through news reporting and story telling, conversations with those who know the subject; and commentary to bring personal perspectives on issues and events.”

Lightly on the Ground is a program on Richmond’s Independent Radio WRIR. 

I talked about How to Feed 100 People Year ‘round from the Garden, and about my book Sustainable Market Farming “which addresses the topic splendidly” as Sunny Gardener wrote.  You can listen to the podcast of my interview herehttp://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/69076 

 Radio4All.net