Green potatoes, The Lean Farm, GMO issues

Mulched June-planted potatoes. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Mulched June-planted potatoes.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I’ve just done a blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, called Green Potato Myths and 10 Steps to Safe Potato Eating. You can read it here. it’s an updated version of a post on this site back in December.


 

GFM_September2015_cover_300pxMeanwhile an issue of Growing for Market passed without me writing an article. There’s a thought-provoking article by Ben Hartman on how their farm implemented the Lean system to remove inefficiencies, slim down what they do, focus on the important stuff and make much more money. This has also been fun. One aspect is using pictures rather than lots of words to show what to do (eg how the workspace should look after clean-up). Also visual cues such as colored magnets, rather than printed checklists. Ben has written a book, The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and

The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman, Chelsea Green Publishers

The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman, Chelsea Green Publishers

Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work. It is reviewed by Lynn Byczynski in the September issue. Here’s what the publishers (Chelsea Green) have to say: “Using examples from his own family’s one-acre community-supported farm in Indiana, Hartman clearly instructs other small farmers in how to incorporate lean practices in each step of their production chain, from starting a farm and harvesting crops to training employees and selling goods”. – See more here. It’s about how to work smarter not harder, and avoid burnout. This is a good time of year to look forward to reading a book like this, no? We’ve all been pretty exhausted here, slogging through the heat of August with not enough workers. We did take notes on how to have the fall brassica transplanting go more smoothly and efficiently in future. We finally tilled between the rows for the second time yesterday and broadcast a clover mix. Hopefully with overhead irrigation, the clover will grow fast enough to be big enough to take the foot traffic when we  start harvesting, which will be very soon!

Other articles in Growing for Market include Fences for all types of wildlife by Joanna and Eric Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm. They discuss physical barriers, electric fences, long-term and short-term fences and all possible combinations of these, including hybrids. Oh, OK not the combination of short-term and long-term, but everything else.

There are also articles on farmer networking groups, the expanding USDA loan program, and encouragement to start now for good spring cut flower sales.


 

Anthony Flaccavento

Anthony Flaccavento

Farmer and sustainable development consultant Anthony Flaccavento has published a series of four 5-minute You-tube videos to clarify GMO issues, debunk the false arguments of labeling opponents, and support efforts to persuade Senators and the President to reject the House bill to block states rights to mandate GMO food labeling.  The DARK Act outlawed all State GMO labeling laws, including those already on the books in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut. This bill is a disaster for farmers, consumers, the environment and food sovereignty.

GMOs vs. World Hunger – Take 5 with Tony

This is the first segment, focused on the fallacy of increased yields from GMOs

Genetic Engineering – Take 5 with Tony

This is the segment taking on the myth of ‘equivalence’ in GMO breeding vs conventional

GMO Studies – Take 5 with Tony

3rd segment:  Debunks myth of GMO safety, that there is “no evidence” of health problems

Take Action – Take 5 with Tony

Final segment:  Recaps first three, uses this to undermine arguments against labeling laws;  call to action

 

Reviewing tomatoes, checking garlic, Growing for Market magazine

Hoophouse tomatoes at full height. Photo Nina Gentle

Hoophouse tomatoes at full height.
Photo Nina Gentle

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Riesentraube cherry tomatoes. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Riesentraube cherry tomatoes.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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

Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Cherokee Purple tomatoes.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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

Glacier early tomatoes. photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Glacier early tomatoes.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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

Garden Peach fuzzy tomato. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Garden Peach fuzzy tomato.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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

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

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

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

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


Growing for Market magazine

Growing for Market magazine

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

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

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

 

Growing for Market May issue; this week in the garden

GFM_May2015_cover_600pxThe May issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, along with my article about hot weather salad crops. This follows my article last month about hot weather cooking greens.

My salad greens ideas include quick-growing Tokyo Bekana, Maruba Santoh and mizuna; purslanes; baby salad mixes including komatsuna, Yukina Savoy and Jewels of Opar; and garnishes like Spilanthes cress, red shiso, saltwort and microgreens. For years I have been perfecting the techniques needed to grow year round lettuce in Virginia (you can read about that in my book Sustainable Market Farming). It’s good to have more strings to our bows so we can be resilient in the face of unpredictable weather and changing climate.

The crop I am most excited about this summer is Jewels of Opar, also known as Fame flower. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells the seed, and have an interesting blogpost about this crop by Irena Hollowell. She heads her post “A Heat-Tolerant Leafy Green Vegetable Disguised as a Flower”. As you see in the July photo below, the plants continue to produce fresh leaves even as they make light sprigs of pretty little flowers and attractive fruits.

Jewels of Opar Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Jewels of Opar
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The cover article of this Growing for Market issue is Know Your Knots by Joanna and Eric Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm who I have mentioned before (Eric commented about frosted strawberry flowers on my previous post.) This is an example of the hands-on useful articles in Growing for Market – written by farmers for other farmers, with information that is sure to save time, and even materials. I’m looking at the square-lashed storage rack for keeping rottable things off the ground. I damaged our cold frame lids last year by leaving them stacked on edge on the ground all summer. We used to store them in the shed, but an increase in the other stuff stored in the shed meant no room left for seasonal storage of bulky coldframe lids. Now I know how to store them outside without damage. One of our mantras is “Never make the same mistake two years running!”

In this same GfM issue, Patty Wright has an article about Community Supported Agriculture Farms (CSAs), encouraging us farmers to look at our aspirations and celebrate the diversity of CSAs. The two principles of shared risk and community support are at the heart of the CSA movement, and there are different ways that these are put into practice. The more common aspirations we can share, the stronger the movement will be.

Gretel Adams has an article about attractive foliage for cut flower arrangements in spring, summer and autumn.

Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, who I meet periodically as fellow presenters at the Mother Earth News Fairs have a new book Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up
and Market a Food Business From Your Home Kitchen, published by New Society Publishers. An excerpt from the book is in this issue. It covers how Cottage Food Laws apply to people making food products and selling them to neighbors and community. Many growers would like to process some of their crops for sale in the quieter parts of the season. This book will give inspiring examples and help you stay on the right side of the law.


Working in the greenhouse. Photo by Ira Wallace

Working in the greenhouse.
Photo by Ira Wallace

Early tomato plant in the hoophouse in late March. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Early tomato plant in the hoophouse in late March.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

The season of tending millions of seedlings is winding down. We are planting out more every day. yesterday we planted our maincrop slicing and cherry tomatoes. (The early crop is in the hoophouse).

We’re continuing our relentless schedule of planting out 120 lettuces each week. It’s time for us to set out celery, Malabar spinach and okra. And we’re about to launch out into the row-crop area of the garden again. First the big planting of 540 Roma paste tomatoes.

Re-using drip tape, unreeling it using our shuttle and garden cart system. Photo credit Luke Stovall

Re-using drip tape, unreeling it using our shuttle and garden cart system.
Photo credit Luke Stovall

We have measured and flagged the six 180′ rows. We need to run the drip tape, test it, fix problems, then unroll the biodegradable plastic mulch, then stake and rope where we want the rows to be, so we plant in straight rows. Then we’ll install the metal T-posts without spearing the hidden driptape (easiest if we run the irrigation while we do that, so the drip tape is fat and easier to locate.)

We’ll be transplanting for two hours a day for the next 4 weeks.

 

Laura Lengnick, Carol Deppe, Growing for Market April issue

51qEC5xzBVLImage-contributor-s_avatarHere’s a new book I’m really looking forward to reading: Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate. $19.95 from New Society Publishers.

Like many farmers, I’ve been struggling not to get despondent about erratic and extreme weather, especially in the past few years. I worry about how and if we are going to be able to adapt to continue producing good food despite extreme heat, cold, drought and deluge. I don’t want to slide into catastrophic thinking about plagues of new pests and diseases. Obviously we’ll need to make changes to how and when we plant and harvest – old-timey calendars don’t work any more.

I’m already there with the need for good record-keeping (to figure out what works best); eating and supplying local food (to reduce transportation fuel use and to get the freshest food); and doing my personal best not to make climate change worse. And I need help in understanding how to be more resilient and use the options I have. And it’s definitely time to start this!

I went to a workshop given by Laura Lengnick at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference in 2012: Managing a Changing Climate:A Farm Vulnerability Assessment and I was encouraged by her grasp of both the science and of farming. Her book is one of three being launched by New Society at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC

Resilient Gardener_SmallResilience is a concept familiar to another author, Carol Deppe, whose new book The Tao of Vegetable Gardening will, sooner or later, get a review by me on this site. I enjoyed her earlier book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. That book focuses on staple crops for survival: potatoes, corn, dry beans, squash and eggs. Her new book includes other crops which make our lives richer and worth gardening for: tomatoes, peas, green beans, summer squash. I just read an interesting interview with Carol Deppe from Margaret Roach who blogs as A Way to Garden, and makes radio podcasts such as this interview.
GFM-April2015-cover-300pxAnd yet more reading! The April issue of Growing for Market is out. I’ve written the first of a pair of articles on hot weather greens. This one is about greens mostly cooked and eaten. next month my article will be about greens mostly eaten as salads. I know there is a lot of overlap, but I had to draw a line somewhere! This month’s article includes chard, Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, beet greens, Egyptian spinach, leaf amaranths, Aztec Spinach, Water Spinach, sweet potato leaves, squash leaves and shoots, crowder pea shoots and leaves and edible celosia. No need to go short of leafy greens, no matter how hot it gets!
Another article in this issue is about pesticide drift contamination, written by Joanna and Eric Reuter, whose fascinating blog I love to follow on their website Chert Hollow Farm. Their blog has a 3-part series of posts about their own experience of being contaminated by a neighbor. Their article tells their own story more briefly and also that of Terra Bella farm, an hour from them.
Jean-Martin Fortier has a great article on Six strategies to prevent weeds. We need them all! (Of course, we are already using some of them.) Raymond Cloyd from Kansas State University has written a timely article about the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a newly emerging pest of fruit, especially brambles. Gretel Adams, in her regular column on flower-growing, advises planting bulbs quickly and often. And Lynn Byczynski reports on what the ag census says about local food. Having the report read carefully and summarized for us is a great service.

Growing for Market article about sweet potatoes; zipper spiders

GFM_August 2014_coverThe August Growing for Market magazine is out, including my article about growing sweet potatoes. There is (of course!) a whole chapter in my book about sweet potatoes, and I’ve written previously in GfM about harvesting, curing, selecting roots for growing next year’s crop, and storage (September 2007). And also about starting sweet potato slips and planting them in spring (Feb 20007). And the harvest (twice) and starting the slips are covered in my blog too.

This time I wrote about growing the sweet potatoes out in the garden or field: varieties, crop requirements, when to plant, making ridges, using biodegradable plastic mulch, stages of development (roots first, then vines, then potatoes); and pests and diseases.

Also in this GfM is a good article by Joanna and Eric Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm (who I’ve mentioned before., when they decided to drop organic certification). They write about their 12 or so varieties of garlic and how they market them for specific uses such as roasting, eating raw and sauteeing.

The editor, Lynn Byczynski, writes about her son’s wedding and the flower arrangements she made for the big day. Chris Blanchard writes about Gardens of Eagan farm in Minnesota. Once owned and operated by Martin and Atina Diffley, it is now owned by the Minneapolis Wedge Food Co-op. It has expanded and now hosts a few satellite farms which help supply all the broccoli the Wedge needs. Eric Plaksin of Waterpenny Farm (not too far from Twin Oaks), writes about when he broke his foot, and makes suggestions to help other farmers be (somewhat) prepared for adversity, so it’s manageable. And lastly, Gretel Adams writes an inspiring article about growing bulbs and corms for cut flowers.  A good read all round!


And, on a different topic: Does anyone know if zipper spiders eat hornworms?

Zipper spider on tomato plant.  Credit Wren Vile

Zipper spider on tomato plant.
Credit Wren Vile

We get tobacco hornworms on our tomato plants. Outdoors, they usually get parasitized and do little damage. But the mother of the parasites doesn’t fly inside the hoophouse, and in there we sometimes have to handpick the hornworms. These things get big! And are hard to squash! This year we have lots and lots of these zipper spiders, and few hornworms. I never seem to find zipper spiders eating, but they must, because they grow fast. Anyone know what they eat?