Book Review: The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables: More In-Depth Lean Techniques for Efficient Organic Production, Ben Hartman

Book Review: The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables: More In-Depth Lean Techniques for Efficient Organic Production, Ben Hartman, Chelsea Green, $29.95, publication November 2017

When I read Ben Hartman’s first book, The Lean Farm, and wrote my review in October 2015, I was on the path from curious and enthusiastic skeptic to enthusiastic-fan-with-reservations. I rejoiced in the ideas of reducing wasted effort, being more efficient, more successful at producing food, happier, less stressed. Ben Hartman, Jean-Martin Fortier and Curtis Stone are three successful commercial vegetable growers who clarified for me that a small-scale farm could be more efficient, more sustainable and certainly more pleasant if worked mostly with manual tools and a walk-behind tractor (rototiller) than with a ride-on cultivating tractor, which was the direction I had been looking in. We really didn’t want to be spending our time on a tractor, or under it, maintaining it. We didn’t want a class of tractor-driving gardeners divided from a class of hands-in-the-soil gardeners. Nor did we want to re-format our gardens and give up all the space to allow a tractor to turn around.

When I heard about Ben’s new book, which he describes as “a how-to manual, with a lean twist,” I sought it out. Here are the many helpful details to improve how we do our vegetable growing. His introduction reviews the five core Lean Principles, so if you haven’t read his first book first, you can still understand the thinking behind his systems. With Ben’s first book, I expected push-back from crew members who would judge his ideas and techniques as inflexible, too detailed, nit-picky. Was this just my projection? I found it very thought-provoking, and I was constantly assessing our farm as I read it. I had a rough triage of inner comments: “ah, we already do that (well)” “oh we really need to do that” “ooo I’m not happy with that idea.”

By and large I valued the actual techniques and strategies. I bristled against his classifying planning, organizing and other managerial tasks, as well as bed prep, hoeing, weeding, thinning seedlings as type 1waste (muda, in Japanese). That just didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it’s a word that doesn’t translate well. A commenter on my blog clarified this for me. She likened type 1 waste to Stephen Covey’s Quadrant 2 (Important but Not Urgent) in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Quadrant 2 includes maintenance, advance planning, being prepared. Preventing problems, or dealing with them to minimize their impact is important. I could never call it wasteful. In fact, I see attention to Quadrant 2 as a sign of good leadership, good farming. We need to make time for the important tasks that are not yet urgent. Scout for pests, don’t ignore them till they overwhelm your crops.

In this second book there is acknowledgement that while muda is usually translated as waste, not all muda should be completely eliminated. Simply minimize the time and energy given to non-value-adding activities. OK, I can go with that. In fact, the list of 10 forms of muda doesn’t say a word about managerial activities. Or about reading books, or writing reviews!

Ben takes a Lean look at crop planning, bed prep, compost-making, seed starting, transplanting, the Japanese paper pot transplanter, direct seeding, weed and pest control, sales, seven crop case studies, greenhouses, and finding good land and building a farm. There are valuable appendices with recommendations on tools, crop varieties, dollar-value-per-bed, a photo gallery of seven more crops, a Japanese glossary, and a book list.

I’m a fan of careful crop planning, and I acknowledge that doing it efficiently is important. There is definitely such a thing as “over-planning.” I think experience teaches us what we need planned and what we don’t. When the same people grow the same crops on the same farm year after year, lots can be taken as decided. When we have built fertile soil and there are no new plagues, we can get away with minimal crop rotation. At Clay Bottom Farm (in Indiana), Ben, Rachel and their crew are earning their living from less than one acre, growing and selling specialty produce to restaurants, farmers markets, and through their CSA. They grow a lot of salad greens and tomatoes, along with some root crops, peppers and eggplants, zucchini and cucumbers. Sweet corn, beans, peas, winter storage crops don’t feature much or at all. They have found the crop mix that works for their customers (that is one of the 5 Lean Principles). The situation in our gardens seems more complicated, but the point remains: streamline the planning, don’t over-work it.

The concept of load-levelling (heijunka) is valuable – look at the plan for the year and keep it manageable every month. And plan in a vacation for everyone. We try to stagger our vacations so that there are always a few people who can run things, taking turns. We tried reducing the August workload, moving one big task to September, and taking a few weeks off from lettuce production. Ending our watermelon harvests at the end of August and our winter squash at the end of September were helpful in keeping fall work manageable. We’ve got better at “doing-in” plantings of beans, cucumbers and summer squash if they are getting to be oppressive.

I was particularly excited to see instructions to build a seed germination cabinet à la Hartman. Like Ben, we use discarded refrigerators. Ours rely on incandescent light bulbs, which are a dwindling “resource”. Some would say “good riddance” but we are actually using the heat the bulbs generate, as well as the light. Ben’s clever design uses a pan of water heated by an electric element, on a thermostat. This could be our next germinator!

I’ve read about the Japanese paper pot transplanter before, and concluded it’s best for plants set out at 6″ spacing or less, and fairly large plantings of one thing. I’m intrigued – would love to try it, even though we do more direct sowing of close-planted crops than Ben does. I love the idea of a carefully-designed manual machine for transplanting, especially as my knees get older, and like squatting less. This chapter is worth the price of the book to anyone about to buy the transplanter. So many tips, including Ben’s Paper Pot Cheat Sheet. The direct-seeding chapter explains the Jang JP-1 seeder, and the same message applies about buying the book if you’re buying the seeder.

Weeds and pest control without muda – Yes, of course, focus on prevention, rather than managing. Ben gives 5 Steps to No Weeds. Yes, time saved there would pay for the price of the book too! Pests, Leaned Up is about Biological IPM: rowcovers, beneficial insects and biological sprays if needed.

The sales chapter looks at transportation logistics, sensible delivery vehicles. As Ben says, “Big vehicles, we learned, don’t by themselves lead to large sales”. Avoid over-production. Set up your market booth for smooth flow.

The case studies explore how Clay Bottom farmers decide which varieties to grow, where and when, and of course, how much. The case study crops are tomatoes, baby greens, kale, head lettuce and romaine, carrots, other bunched roots, and peppers. Here’s good information from someone who has paid exquisitely good attention to what works and what doesn’t.

The chapters on finding good land and setting up your farm in a well-organized, Lean, way will save new farmers some costly (livelihood-threatening) mistakes, and help the rest of us think twice about why we store our tools where we do, and so on. The greenhouse chapter is brief, and yet full of gems about design.

Holiday Season approaches, I’m just sayin’. Or invest in your farm, with this worthwhile business expense. In other words, buy this book!

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

Video Review: The Market Gardener’s Toolkit by Jean-Martin Fortier

Les Jardins de la Grelinete (Broadfork Farm)

Les Jardins de la Grelinete (Broadfork Farm)

Photo from Les Jardins de la Grelinette in Saint-Armand, Quebec, Canada.

Photo from Les Jardins de la Grelinette in Saint-Armand, Quebec, Canada.

The Market Gardener’s Toolkit by Jean-Martin Fortier is now hqdefaultavailable for sale online on DVD or Digital Download. $25.49 and $15.49 respectively. Worth every penny! It’s 80 minutes of very inspiring and immediately useful information on small scale sustainable vegetable growing.

The Market Gardener’s Toolkit is an educational documentary featuring Jean-Martin Fortier, small-scale vegetable grower and author of the bestselling book The Market Gardener. In the film, he shares his tools and techniques for successful, profitable, human-scale vegetable growing. From soil preparation to strategies on dealing with insect pests, discover how this micro-farm manages to generate $150,000 in sales annually – without the use of a tractor or any heavy machinery.

hqdefaultThere is also a teaser or two on YouTube here and here.

I participated in the crowd-funding effort to help get this video made, and so I am now the happy owner of a digital download. I’ve watched it once, and am now organizing a group showing for our crew and neighboring gardeners.

I loved every precious minute of this video. It made me proud to be a vegetable grower, using sustainable techniques, contributing to a healthy local food supply. It made me inspired to try harder to use more effective and efficient methods. The aerial views and plan of their plots and crop rotation are inspiring and beautiful.

outbp-derpaillisIt was valuable to see tools in action, such as the broadfork, the five row flamer, the Terrateck manual mulch layer and the home-made precision vacuum seeder.

It was helpful (and fun!) to see the speeded-up version of the farmers moving the large sheets of “occultation plastic” (poly silage covers) used for weed control. It was encouraging to be reminded (after too many years of battling weedy gardens) that clean productive gardens are possible and, indeed, wise. They are more productive, more satisfying, more profitable, with less wasted time. I get it that hand-pulling weeds is more like first aid for a garden gone sadly wrong. I know it’s better to hoe when weeds are tiny, to flame and to prevent weeds from coming up in the first place. We’ve been doing better this year on preparing “stale seed beds” by tilling and prepping the bed at least week before we need it, then scuffle-hoeing on the day before planting. This one change is really making a noticeable difference in our gardens.

Last winter I had been thinking we needed to get a cultivating tractor, and to re-arrange our garden plots for tractor access and accept the turnaround space lost to crops that tractors require. And accept the increased use of fossil fuels, and time spent fixing machines. Watching The Market Gardener’s Toolkit instead reaffirmed the high value of intensive use of garden soils and smart manual work. This fits with the series of books I’ve been reading recently: Ben Hartman’s The Lean Farm, Curtis Stone’s Urban Farmer, Colin McCrate and Brad Halm’s High-Yield Vegetable Gardening, and of course Jean-Martin Fortier’s Market Gardener and Eliot Coleman’s work.

These books emphasize the importance of thinking clearly about what crops you grow and why. In the case of purely commercial growers, it is plain to see that some crops are much more financially worthwhile than others. Some find more ready sales than others. Some grow much quicker than others, enabling the space to be used for another crop in the same season, meaning more income (or simply more food, if you aren’t selling your crops). Our situation at Twin Oaks Community is a bit different. We are growing food to feed the community of a hundred people, year round, as best we can manage it. Commercial growers can specialize in baby salad mix and sell it at a good price at market or to restaurants. They can put a large amount of land and time into such crops. They can ignore winter root crops, or space-hogging sweet corn or time-hogging green beans. We, instead, need to figure out how to efficiently grow as many different vegetable crops as possible. That is why my book, Sustainable Market Farming focuses on production techniques and organization and planning. Although we are not tied to growing according to the relative financial profitability of different crops, we do need to plan our use of space and time, and not get distracted growing demanding crops that are difficult in our climate and don’t provide a decent-sized chunk of our diet. This is why we have stopped growing bulb fennel and parsnips, for instance. And why we do grow sweet potatoes

Beauregard sweet potatoes on biodegradable plastic mulch. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Beauregard sweet potatoes on biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Bridget Aleshire


Jean-Martin Fortier also has a series of 13 YouTubes.  The Market Gardener, Six Figure Farming, Living Web Farms: Part 1, Introduction and Part 2, Getting Started and more: Bio-Intensive Farming, Cropping Systems, Compost Strategies, Soil Management, Cover Crops, Seeders, Weed Prevention, Seedlings & Transplants, Crop Planning, Insect Control, Market & CSA .


You may remember I reviewed Jean-Martin’s Book The Market Gardener. His book has sold over 80,000 copies, and is the winner of the American Horticultural Society 2015 Book Award and the  Living Now 2015 Book Award.

You can buy the book on his website.

Book Review – The Urban Farmer

Screen-Shot-2015-12-18-at-1.01.04-PMBook Review – The Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased and Borrowed Land. Curtis Stone, New Society Publishers, $29.95. January 2016

Curtis Stone wrote this valuable book after only about 6 years as owner/operator of Green City Acres, a small commercial vegetable farm in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. He supplies fairly high-end restaurants with leafy greens and a few other carefully chosen crops which bring a fast return. He also sells at a farmers market once a week. Curtis has figured out how to make the best farming use of small plots of urban land, and in the same way, he has figured out how to make best use of his time, so that he can earn a good 5-figure income from his one-third acre farm. He pays exquisite attention to what works and what doesn’t. Oh, and most of his transportation is by (electrically assisted) bicycle.

This book is part of the recent movement to make a good living as a farmer on a small area of land, without big machinery, as exemplified by Eliot Coleman, Jean-Martin Fortier and Ben Hartman (and as Colin McCrate and Brad Halm do for home gardeners). Curtis writes as an independently-minded entrepreneur engaged in sustainable agriculture, in being part of a better future, supplying very fresh produce to city-dwellers. He shows how would-be farmers with no capital, no land and no truck can get a start. This book will quickly earn its keep. If Curtis Stone is speaking at an event near you, be sure to go to it!

This is a very well-organized and well-written book. The language is clear and straight-forward. The short sentences are made for high-lighting! No skirting of sub-clauses is required. The 41 chapters divide into ten sections. Some chapters are very short. Curtis is not going to waste time filling blank space when he can explain the important stuff in a paragraph. He covers the why and where, and the business aspects, then finding and developing various plots of land into a cohesive small farm. He advises on infrastructure, equipment, production, harvest and post-harvest systems. He also covers basic crop planning.

This isn’t a book about growing a complete diet, or supplying a full range of vegetables for a CSA. Nor is it about how to grow carrots. There are 25 pages devoted to cameos of twenty recommended crops, but if you are a new grower, you’ll need more production info than you find here. Production is one of the main focuses (along with planning and organization) of my book Sustainable Market Farming.  Instead, this book can inspire and educate on how to make decisions likely to lead to successful sales, while focusing your hard work on the tasks that will get you there.

If you want to do multi-site urban farming to grow selected crops for restaurants in the Pacific North West or British Columbia in zone 7a, this book has most of what you need. But its usefulness isn’t at all confined to people in those regions, or to urban farmers, or to super-fit cyclists. So if your town already has a restaurant supplier of bio-intensively-grown salad crops and greens, do not despair. All vegetable growers can find something of value in this book, whether it is in his analysis of different crop types, growing microgreens, becoming more efficient, choosing good tools or keeping good records.

Curtis is a believer in farming smarter, not harder (but hard enough to make it all work). He puts the work in, in a timely way, is very observant, keeps good records, analyses his results and makes changes based on what his records show. He’s not one to grow red peppers “because everyone wants them.” If we follow our hearts only and ignore our sales figures and production costs, we won’t last long earning a living as farmers. Likewise, it’s good to have ethics and ideology, but if you go broke, you’ll be out of a job. If ten crops bring in 80% of the income, why not focus on those? After his first four years, Curtis reduced his farm from 2½ acres to 1/3 acre (5 plots close to each other). He cut his crop portfolio down to the most lucrative fifteen vegetable crops; he parted ways with his fellow worker, his CSA and most of his employees. His hours went down from 100 per week to 40 (and fewer of those were spent managing other people, more in planting and harvesting). His clients were mostly restaurant chefs and his weekly farmers market. He had his best season that far, making a much higher dollar per hour.

Curtis is willing to change plans for a better idea, or to transform a crop failure or over-abundance into a baby beet greens opportunity. He sees the coming end of suburbia as a great opportunity to reclaim all those lawns for food growing: modern-day self-reliant farming communities. Being an urban farmer means interacting with lots of people every day, which leads to opportunities to educate about food, to be part of the local community, and to benefit from what local people will offer in terms of land, help and free advertising.

One aspect of the book I found particularly useful is the way Curtis divides crops and land into categories:

  1. Quick Crops (maturing in 60 days or less) mostly grown in Hi-Rotation plots: mostly salad greens and radishes. The Hi-Rotation beds might grow 4 crops in a single year, with no pre-planned crop rotation. Sometimes a Steady Crop like carrots is grown in a Hi-Rotation plot.
  2. Steady Crops (slower maturing, perhaps harvested continuously over a period of time): kale. tomatoes, carrots. These beds will be in a Bi-Rotation plot, which often will grow one Steady Crop as the Primary Crop, followed or preceded by a Quick Crop, especially one that can be cropped out at a single site visit, rather than requiring daily harvests.

It works best to have the Hi-Rotation plots nearest to the home base as they need the most frequent attention. Bi-Rotation plots can usually be further afield, except for indeterminate tomatoes which Curtis grows on a close spacing and prunes hard to improve airflow and encourage early ripening. Slow long season crops aren’t included, nor are ones that take a lot of space, like sweet corn.

The Crop Value Rating (CVR) is a useful way of comparing the advantages of various vegetable crops when choosing which to grow. Clearly this is important if space is limited. Less clear is the value of assessing crops this way when some other factor is limited. We do this when labor is limited. It clarifies stressful indecisive confusions. Here are the 5 factors Curtis assesses:

  1. Shorter days to maturity (fast crops = more chances to plant more)
  2. High yield per foot of row (best value from the space)
  3. High price per pound (other factors being equal, higher price = more income)
  4. Long harvest period (= more sales)
  5. Popularity (matched with low market saturation).

To use this assessment, give each potential crop a point for each factor where it deserves one. Then look for the crops with the highest number of points. Spinach gets all 5 points; cherry tomatoes only 3. The smaller your farm, the higher the crops need to score to get chosen.

Winter crops can be grown in hoophouses (polytunnels). Summer crops can help level the weekly sales out over the market season.

Various start-up models are spelled out, along with the caution to start small, say with ¼ acre, and low overhead expenses. Various market options are compared. The section on software and organization lists the ten spreadsheets Curtis prepares: Plantings, Yields, Crop Profiles, Weekly Orders, Weekly Sales Totals, Land Allocation Data, Budget and Expenses, Seed Order and Inventory, Plot Progress, and Spoilage.

There is a section on scouting for land and how to choose the best of your offers, and which to decline (heavy metal soil contamination, neighbors spraying herbicides, Field Bindweed, too much shade, too many rocks, owners needing too much care-taking. On the other hand, don’t be over nervous about invasive grasses, they can be conquered. There is information you won’t find in many other farming or gardening books, such as how to remove sod.

There is a thorough section on irrigation, set up for low management with timers and many sprinklers covering an area, or many lines of drip tape. I learned for the first time about flow through drip systems, where both ends of each drip tape are connected into the mains tubing, so that water can flow in both direction, and blockages will not be a problem. The costs are all spelled out (so get the book and buy the gear before prices go up!). Every section contains a gem that will save you time, money, mental strain or wasted crops. It hadn’t occurred to me that box fans could be laid flat above vegetable drying racks to dry washed greens and preserve the quality.

All of the equipment Curtis puts together is inexpensive and relatively easy to move to a new site. Two medium size coolers instead of one big one! Standard lengths of rowcover! Little decisions can have big benefits. Microgreens production indoors (in shallow flats) and outdoors (much less usual, but oh, the returns!) Curtis explains his special board technique for getting fast even germination.

The crops section focuses on providing the basic information through the perspective of factors already mentioned: Quick Crop or Steady Crop, months of harvest, Crop value rating, Days to maturity of recommended varieties, Yield per bed, Gross profit per bed, and also Planting Specs.

Here is a great book for those who want to make their farming time count and be as productive as possible, with best value for time and the land available. Also go to the  book website to buy digital tools, and sign up for Instagram, Twitter and link to YouTube videos. At the Green City Acres website you can sign up for their newsletter.

Insect mesh, shadecloth, crimson clover, sowing corn, too much rain

May2016_cover_300pxThe May issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about protecting crops in the summer, using shadecloth and insect mesh (netting).

If you want to grow lots of summer crops in buggy places, net houses (hoophouses covered with insect mesh rather than poly) may be your answer. If the bugs are not tiny, small mesh shade cloth may be an even better choice than insect mesh, because it cools while keeping the critters out. Search for project FS13-275 at http://www.southernsare.org. The document High Tunnel Pest Exclusion System: A novel strategy for organic crop production in the south is available from a link in that report.

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

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

I write about using shade cloth for cool weather crops like lettuce during the summer, and also about research into the improvements to yields of peppers when using shadecloth. 30% shade cloth can increase pepper yields by 100% (yes, double the yield!). See the University of Georgia paper Shading helps south Georgia pepper farmers beat the heat. For hot weather lettuce, we use 45-60% shade cloth on spring hoops 6-8 feet apart, with a plastic clothespin to attach it at each hoop.  Shadecloth lets air through better than row cover does, so it’s less likely to blow away. We don’t use any weight to hold the edges down. We keep the shade cloth on for 2-3 weeks after transplanting, then move it on to the next planting, in a single operation. 2 or 3 people pull up the hoops with the shade cloth still attached, and parade it like a Chinese dragon procession.We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rowcover (white polypro or polyester non-woven fabric) is often used by growers in cold weather to extend the season. There are also lightweight rowcovers for insect exclusion. These can be fragile, and holey row cover doesn’t keep insects out! We switched to only buying thick rowcover and use it  for some crops even in summer. It doesn’t heat up as much as people fear. Johnnys Seeds has a helpful row cover comparison chart

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

But even better for protecting plants against bugs in summer is ProtekNet, a translucent polyamide (nylon) fabric which comes in different mesh sizes. it allows better airflow than rowcover, and better light permeability (from the plants’ perspective) – visibility from the human perspective. Dubois offers free shipping on online orders over $200. ProtekNet is also available from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland, and  Johnnys Seeds in Maine.


Also in this issue of Growing for Market Jane Tanner writes about the benefits of no-till farming, in building topsoil, encouraging soil micro-organisms and reducing weed pressure.  She writes about several farms, all following the model of small acreage, intensively farmed, mostly with manual tools. This system, advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier in The Market Gardener, includes “occultation”, the practice of covering damp soil with heavy black plastic for several weeks to kill weeds. This article includes photos of occultation and a clear explanation. Cover crops are another important feature of this system. I found this a particularly information-packed article, one I will return to.

9221576_origKarin Tifft writes about IPM tools (Integrated Pest Management) for small and organic farms, making the topic accessible to those of us with only a short amount of reading time! We can read enough now to make some actual differences to our pest levels. Later we’ll want to read more, as results pile up.

Nikki Warner writes with advice for managing a farmers market, and Ralph Thurston and Jeriann Sabin write about starting a flower farm (Excerpted  from their book Deadhead: The Bindweed Way to Grow Flowers with their permission.)


We sowed our first corn on Thursday. the soil temperature was 60F, so we were OK on that score. But then it rained and rained. The soil is saturated. I wonder if the corn seed will rot in the ground? Also the bean we sowed last week. Was I too hasty? We’ll see.


Meanwhile, a cheery sight has been the flowering crimson clover cover crop

Crimson clover cover crop Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

This patch is where our fall broccoli was last year. We under-sowed with a mix of crimson clover, Ladino white clover and medium red clover. If you look closely you can see the white patterned leaves of the red clover and the tiny leaves of the white clover in the understory. Also the seeding chickweed, which will disappear as soon as we bush hog the patch. Our goal here is to maintain the clovers all year, adding nitrogen to the soil for next year’s food crop and swamping the weeds. We’ll mow every time it looks weedy.

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop Photo by McCune Porter

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop
Photo by McCune Porter

In this second picture, you can see a patch where we sowed winter rye mixed with crimson clover in late October as a winter cover crop. In most places the rye is taller than the clover, so it’s not as overwhelmingly pretty as the first patch, but it’s packing a lot of biomass to feed the soil. It will get disked in soon (when the soil dries enough!), in preparation for later sweet corn sowings.

Fall Vegetable Production slideshow, Growing for Market, Mother Earth News Fair

For the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC this past weekend, I updated and presented my Fall Vegetable Production slideshow. Here it is from Slideshare.net, including some bonus material I didn’t have time to present at the weekend.

The other slideshows which I have embedded in blogposts previously can be found by clicking the Slide Shows category in the list of categories to the left side of the page. This includes Crop Planning.

The Fair was a big success, despite challenging windy cold weather on Saturday. it takes more than that to deter the Mother Earth audience of gardeners, farmers, ranchers and homesteaders. The big tents all stood up to the weather. My 4 pm workshop was in one of the tents, and I wore many layers of clothes, including my jacket and woolly hat!

Image-front-cover_coverbookpageI went to some great workshops, including ones by Eliot Coleman, Jean-Martin Fortier, Curtis Stone from the west coast of Canada (I’ll be reviewing his book The Urban Farmer, in the next week or few), and Matt Coffay from Second Spring Market Garden in Asheville, North Carolina. The theme common to all these growers is producing wholesome fresh sustainably grown vegetables using manual tools and efficient techniques. My quest also!


GFM_April2016_cover_300pxThe April issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. The new editor is having the high-level problem of an over-abundance of good articles, and I didn’t manage to get one in this issue. You can read about ensuring food safety with your produce, in an article by Linda Naeve and Catherine Strohbehn; and one on refurbishing an abandoned edge-of-town garden center and converting it into a collaborative venture of several farmers growing microgreens and vegetable seedlings, by Lynn Byczynski ( the “retired” editor), who also plans to move her family’s seed business there. Paula Lee writes about having and maintaining an orderly farm office; Abbie Sewall discusses growing elderberries and aronia berries (and using bird netting very like our newer blueberry netting which I wrote about in May 2013); and lastly Gretel Adams on pest control in greenhouse flowers. Five great articles in 24 pages!

Our blueberry netting on PVC electrical conduit hoops. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our blueberry netting on PVC electrical conduit hoops.
Credit Bridget Aleshire


Next week I’ll tell you more about recent work in our gardens. It’s been a bit depressing this week, with broccoli transplants dying on that very cold night last Saturday. But carrots have germinated, rhubarb is almost ready to harvest and the hoophouse tomatoes are looking particularly good!

The Market Gardener’s Toolkit, Organic Growers’ School, and bad weather

Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches, the farmers at Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally renowned micro-farm in Quebec, Canada

Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches, the farmers at Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally renowned micro-farm in Quebec, Canada

The Market Gardener’s Toolkit is an upcoming 90 minute film by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame. Read my review of his book. He is making this film (actually two films, one in English, one in French) using crowd-sourced funds through Ulule. Here’s the website for the project:The Market Gardener’s Toolkit. It was launched Monday 15 February, so you still have a chance to be one of the Early Bird donors and win a discount on the digital download or the DVD of the film. This project will provide us with an educational film about tools and techniques for a profitable, human-scale agriculture. As Jean-Martin says 34920215316f6552f299ae05386d7cYou can see a short trailer (preview) of the film and read how your money will be used, on the Ulule page. If you have only just heard about Jean-Martin Fortier for the first time, here’s a photo of their beautiful 1.5 acre mini-farm. Clearly, he knows what he’s talking about!

Les Jardins de la Grelinete (Broadfork Farm)

Les Jardins de la Grelinete (Broadfork Farm)

Jean-Martin leaning on his broadfork

Jean-Martin Fortier


OGS SpringConf_FBPromoI will be presenting two workshops (of the 140 offered) at the Organic Growers School on March 12 and 13 in Asheville, North Carolina. On Saturday, 2-3.30pm I’ll be presenting Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale, which was a big hit at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference at the end of January. On Sunday , 4-5.30pm, I’ll be presenting a fully revised and updated version of my Growing Great Garlic slideshow. I’ve been busy working on that (while the weather is so awful).

Organic Growers School farmer

Organic Growers School farmer


November 2013 beds BlogMeanwhile, the weather here is atrocious, and not much vegetable production is happening outdoors. Our hoophouse is still providing salads, cooking greens, turnips, radishes and scallions. Outdoors, we have managed to prune some of the blueberry bushes, and spread compost on some of the beds we hope to grow spring crops in. I say hope, because we’ll be getting a very late start, and the soil is saturated from the past two days of snow and freezing rain, on top of previously saturated soil. We were luckier than some places. We didn’t get a large quantity of snow or ice, we didn’t lose electricity, and we didn’t suffer by having to stay off the (very icy) roads. We had what we earnestly hope will be the coldest night of the year, clocking 2F (-17C).

I’m planning to spend a bit of time “perking up” my website a bit, after realizing that people couldn’t find out how to subscribe or follow my blog. Currently what you need to do is go to the bottom of the “Posted in” Tags and Categories listed at the end of the post, click  “Leave A Reply”; fill out your contact info, go to the bottom of the Leave A Reply space and click “Notify me of new posts by email” Surely I can make it easier than that? I thought I had installed a button, but it isn’t visible. I plan a survey too, when I’ve figured out how to do that.

 

 

 

Summer Reading: Mother Earth News, Organic Broadcaster, Finding a Place to Grow

Fall broccoli undersown with a mixed clover cover crop. Photo Nina Gentle.

Fall broccoli undersown with a mixed clover cover crop.
Photo Nina Gentle.

Here’s some leads to some summer reading on gardening and farming. First, my blog post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. It’s my third post in a series about intercropping (planting a second crop around or beside a first, to take over after the first crop finishes. In this case, I’m writing about undersowing cover crops in vegetable crops.  We like to undersow our fall broccoli and cabbage about 4 weeks after transplanting, with a mix of crimson clover, medium red clover and Ladino white clover. First we remove the rowcover or ProtekNet we have been using to keep the bugs off the crops, then cultivate with our BCS tiller or our Valley Oak wheelhoe. And hand hoes in the row. Then we broadcast the clover and hope for rain. (Huh! We’ve had plenty so far this summer!). If no rain, we use overhead sprinklers every other night for a week.

The MEN blogpost includes other examples, advantages, challenges and so on.


 

broadcasterlogowebI just received the July/August edition of the Organic Broadcaster. Good thoughtful articles on keeping organic livestock healthy; why organic certification doesn’t have the same attractiveness it once had and what can be done to re-energize enthusiasm for the guarantees that certified organic brings; inspiring stories of mentors who are contenders for the MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year award; advice about getting crop hail insurance; dealing with pesticide drift, using mob grazing of cattle; strengthening the bonds between women farmers by holding potlucks; a review of Jean-Martin Fortier’s The Market Gardener; news about an open-source network of seed growers, plant breeders and researchers; an article about how climate change is impacting agriculture and lots of news snippets about resources, opportunities, reports, and tools for organic farmers; classified ads (bargains!),and an events calendar. This paper is free, in either the electronic or the paper format. It’s based in the Mid-west, with information relevant to us all.


R1IsO4E6fviHqxAg8gx8rIJ42tz3oOygTkNRzqXDhapu5gfQta-a7McKdqgJEFZDDTtYP-F9DxxOKJEbHn5ymsHdGn-CCdiW=s0-d-e1-ftI recently heard from the Piedmont Environmental Council about a publication containing  eight stories of beginning farmers and landowners working together to craft affordable leases that enable committed new farmers to establish themselves in farming, and landowners to put land they are not using into good hands. You can read the stories online or Download the PDF.

Finding a Place to Grow: How the Next Generation is Gaining Access to Farmland.

land_leasing_stories_web_banner_2000xThe biggest hurdle for beginning farmers is usually finding land they can afford. This publication encourages us to think more broadly about what might be possible. The eight stories include

  • land slated for housing development that became instead an incubator farm for half a dozen small farming enterprises (Each tenant negotiates his or her own rent with the landowner, maybe starting out with a reduced rate and building up to what is affordable and realistic as the business grows);
  • another new farm is building up their herd by leasing cattle to make full use of the acreage, until they can afford to own their own big herd;
  • others leased form like-minded farmers who needed to take a break from the intensity of full-time farming;
  • others farm on a public nature preserve owned by a non-profit (as part of the deal, the farmers serve as caretakers for the property, keeping the paths cleared for visitors);
  • another started by using family land that had not been actively farmed, then added leases on neighbors’ lands to expand the farm;
  • Waterpenny Farm has been the model and the training ground for many new farmers (they started their lease by paying the landowner in sweat equity, restoring a house);
  • another leaser points out the advantages of having like-minded people around, and a landowner who wants them to succeed;
  • and finally there’s the story of Willowsford, a planned neighborhood including a working farm to grow food for the development’s residents and others.

So, if you or your friends are hoping to start in farming but can’t afford to buy land, here are ways to farm without ownership – although still with commitment, hard work, variable weather and all the ups and downs of dealing with real live plants or animals.

Home from PASA Conference, starting seedlings

Where we're headed - our greenhouse with flats of seedlings. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Where we’re headed – our greenhouse with flats of seedlings.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Today is our day for sowing the first broccoli, and also the celery. This year we are trying Redventure celery from Fedco Seeds. We’re hoping Twin Oakers will like the red color and still find it tender enough for their palates.This spring we are growing five broccoli varieties with varying days to maturity, so we can get a long season. We also do two broccoli sowings two weeks apart, to further extend the season. We’re growing Tendergreen (47 days from transplanting), Green Magic (57 days), Green King (65 days), Arcadia ( 68 days) and Diplomat (also 68 days). Green Magic and Green King are fairly new to us. The others are tried and tested here.

Our hoophouse tomatoes have already germinated, and are in a plastic tent on a seed heating mat by the greenhouse windows. We have the 48″ x 20″ size, and later we’ll extend the plastic tent and graduate the older seedlings off the mat, but still under the tent for extra protection.  Also germinated, but getting no special coddling, are lettuce, cabbage, scallions, cipollini, more cabbage, spinach and collards. Sown, but not yet germinated are the hoophouse peppers, some kale and senposai.

We’re about to spot out the first lettuce and cabbage into bigger flats, with about 2.5″ between plants. My favorite tool for this job is a butter knife! For lettuce we use 3″ deep flats, but for most crops we use 4″ deep flats, so the roots have plenty of space. We use a dibble board to make the evenly spaced holes in the compost in the bigger flats, to move the tiny seedlings into. It’s a piece of plywood with fat dowel pegs glued into holes at the right spacing, 40 in a 12″ x 24″ flat. On the other side of the board are two small wood handles to make it easy to use. Here’s a photo of the result:

Where we're at now; Flats of spotted out lettuce seedlings. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Where we’re at now: Flats of spotted out lettuce seedlings.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Many of you are finding your way to our Twin Oaks Month-by-month Garden Task List without special help. It’s my goal when I have more time to make a permanent link to useful lists and charts from our garden on my website. One day. . .


Here in central Virginia, we have no snow, just flurries of icy stuff that isn’t settling. This past weekend, though, I was up in State College, Pennsylvania, where they had piles of old snow. We were lucky with the weather at the conference and on our travel days. The PASA Farming for the Future Conference was a lot of fun and very inspiring. I don’t know how many were there. I did a rough count of chairs when Frances Moore Lappe was speaking and got to 1500.

I gave two workshops: Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and Growing Great Garlic. Both went well and had about 70 participants. The bookstore sold 18 copies of my book, and I also signed other copies that people brought with them. Rhino Technologies made sound recordings of the workshops for sale, and they will soon be available via their website. My slideshows are available to view at SlideShare.net, so if you weren’t able to get to the conference, you can still catch up!

I also got the chance to go to some great workshops by other people too. Clara Coleman from Four Season Farm Consulting gave an inspiring presentation on the Latest Innovations in Four-season vegetable production from a Maine perspective. Yes, she is a daughter of Eliot Coleman, a great pioneer in extending the seasons growing vegetables sustainably. I love getting new ideas, and it’s also useful to me to be able to compare growing in different climate zones, so I don’t say something silly when someone asks me about growing a crop, and I forget Maine is not Virginia! I also enjoyed Lee Reich‘s presentation on No-Till Vegetables. Mostly for homestead scale gardens, but including photos from a a nearby farm using the same principles. I got a lot of inspiration from Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens‘ workshop on Finding Your Cover Crop Repertoire. I’ve heard them speak before, and I know they have a wealth of carefully-observed information and a clear way of explaining how to put it into practice. At this conference I didn’t go the workshops by Jean-Martin Fortier, even though they are so inspiring. It’s always great to meet him at events, and I did eat dinner with him, and exchange progress reports in the elevator one day.

Now, back to farming.

Wintry garden beds. Credit Ezra Freeman

Wintry garden beds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

2015 Events Calendar and pawpaws

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmond

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors.

Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder

Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder

Speaking of tools, I hope to sell our (long-unused) Cole Planet Junior push seeder at the conference. They are $760 new. Ours is in working order with all the seed plates and an attached bag to keep them in. I’ll sell it for $350 cash or check. Should you ever need them, spare parts are readily available, for instance from Woodward Crossings. It’s not a museum piece or lawn ornament, it’s a working piece of equipment.

At the VBF Conference, there are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops. Friday at 3pm: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages  and on Saturday at 10.30 am, Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting. I’ll also be signing and selling books during Saturday lunchtime.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.


 

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I will also be doing book-signing and sales.


 

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. My workshops will be Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Saturday 2/28 at 9.30 am and two new ones on Friday 2/27, Hoophouse Summer Crops at 9.30 am and Hoophouse Winter Crops at 10.30 am. They are currently listed as High Tunnel workshops. Some say that researchers and Extension agents call them High Tunnels and growers call them Hoophouses, but whatever you call them, high tunnels and hoophouses are the same thing.


 

MENFairLogoMy next booking is at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina, April 11-12, 2015. I haven’t firmed up my workshops and book signings yet, but I might do the hoophouse workshops again (from WVSFC)


HHF Save the Date_2015The next booking after that that I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic. Maybe Crop Rotations and Asian Greens. And I expect to be doing book signings at the Monticello Bookshop.

 


 

As far as future events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015.


Now then, about pawpaws. Neal Peterson has worked for years developing superior flavored pawpaw varieties, and he wants to go global! That is, he wants to secure contracts to sell plants of his varieties worldwide. To do this, he has to have trademarked varieties. So he has set up a Peterson Pawpaws Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $20,000 by . If you’ve tasted pawpaws and if you support fruit diversity, consider if you can back up your support with some hard cash.

You can watch his video here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1750376414/peterson-pawpaws-go-global?ref=card

photo-1024x768