Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

Garlic Scapes
Photo courtesy of Small Farm Central

I always know when garlic growers in slightly warmer or more southern climates are starting to find scapes (the edible firm flower stems of hardneck garlic) because my posts about scapes suddenly become popular! My posts “Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest,”  and “Garlic scapes to cheer us up” have been reread a lot recently, and Harvesting garlic is due for attention any time now. My Growing Great Garlic slideshow is here. Click the diagonal arrows to view it full screen.

And sure enough, our own scapes are ready too, even though this is a week earlier than usual.We harvest two or three times a week until there are no more. I love garlic scapes as one of the first outdoor crops of the spring, and a flavor different from leafy greens and stored roots, the staples of early spring.

Our tulip poplars are flowering now too, also early. Our average date for those is 5/1, and we’re a few days ahead of that. When I was a beekeeper it was important to be ready for the tulip poplar flowers, because that was our big nectar flow of the year, and I had to dash out to the beeyard and stack up 5 supers on each hive. I had to give up on the beekeeping because the combination of lifting heavy boxes and twisting was hurting my back too much. Oh, and those heavy boxes were full of thousands of stinging insects, but I didn’t mind that bit as much. The flowering of tulip poplars and the germination of ragweed are both phenology signs that signify that the Growing Degree Days have reached 200 (on a base of 50F) and that conditions are warm enough to sow sweet corn. Myself, I watch the young leaves on the white oaks and when they are the size of a squirrel’s ear, I decide it’s warm enough for corn.


This weekend I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Click the link to see the location, the workshop schedule and the list of vendors who’ll be there. I’m presenting two workshops, Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish on Saturday 5/6 at 12.30on the Yanmar Sustainable Agriculture Stage, followed by book-signing and chatting at the Mother Earth News Bookstore; and Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Sunday 5/7 at the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

Of course, you’ll need to be there and  hear me speak to get the most out of it. I’m also doing short demonstrations of How to String Weave Tomatoes at booth 2800, New Society Publishers (near the Bookstore) on Saturday at 10 am, 11 am and 5 pm, and on Sunday at 10 am and 11 am. They’re half-hour time slots. My table top demo kit uses #2 pencils and pink tinsel.

At the New Society Publishers booth at the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, demonstrating how to string weave tomatoes.
Photo Ingrid Witvoet/New Society

The May issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, including my article about growing seed crops in hoophouses. I interviewed Clif Slade, founder of the 43560 Project at Virginia State University, about several creative sequences of food crops and seed crops he has grown in a high tunnel. (Collards, okra) as well as plant starts (sweet potatoes, onions). He farms in Surry County, Virginia.

Also in this GfM, Simon Huntley of Small Farm Central encourages small farmers to set aside two hours a week for a quick and efficient bit of online marketing “One Photo,
One Paragraph”. His goal is to help farmers stay in the spotlight with their products, without having to spend a great deal of time on it in the busy season.

Conor Crickmore has an article about preparing and laying out no-till permanent raised beds very precisely in a hoophouse. He uses the Quick Cut Greens Harvester to mow off over-size baby salad crops to clear the bed prior to broadforking and adding needed soil amendments.

Spencer Nietmann writes about what it really costs to start a farm. Jesse Frost discusses various types of plastic to cover hoophouses  (high tunnels), and lastly, Jane Tanner writes about native perennials for flower farms

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!

Patchy Frost, Sweet Potato Harvest, Upcoming Events,

Jalapeno hot pepper plant with a fruit changing from green to red via black. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Jalapeno hot pepper plant with fruit changing from green to red via black.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We had a very light touch of frost in the wee hours of Sunday October 11. The thermometer in the weather box recorded a low of 36F, but some of the pepper plants “recorded” something chillier. At this time of year we start our special frost season pepper harvesting technique. Instead of just harvesting fully colored peppers (and removing damaged ones), we harvest all peppers exposed to the sky, regardless of color or size. We’ve noticed that the first few frosts usually just nip the tops of the plants. So by harvesting exposed fruits we give the ones lower on the plant a bit longer to ripen, with the protection of the upper leaves. Next time there is a frost, another layer of leaves will get nipped and we’ll harvest another layer of peppers. This also has the advantage that we don’t have to deal with too many peppers at once. Eventually, of course, we’ll either harvest everything or give up. Often there are nice periods of mild weather in between the first few frosts. looks like next weekend will bring some more definite frosts.

Sweet potatoes and our last corn of the year. Photo from September, by Ezra Freeman

Sweet potatoes and our last corn of the year. Photo from September, by Ezra Freeman

We are on the point of harvesting our sweet potatoes. After all the rain we had recently, we were waiting for the soil to dry enough to walk on. Then we were waiting for several key crew members to come back from helping harvest sorghum for syrup at Sandhill Farm in Missouri. Sandhill, like Twin Oaks, is an egalitarian intentional community. We have a labor exchange program between our communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities so that each community can ask for help from the other communities when they most need it and pay it back at another time. Work for a sister community counts as work for the home community. Sandhill asks for help at sorghum harvest. naturally enough this job appeals to members who do agricultural work at home. So we been short-handed in the garden for the past ten days.

I was worried for a couple of days that the weather would stay cold and the sweet potatoes might rot in the cold wet soil. One year when I was fairly new to Virginia I caused us to leave the sweet potatoes in the ground till early November (hoping they would grow a bit more) and then it rained hard and we ended up with a load of sweet potatoes that either rotted directly or else went through a transition to a hard uncookable state. I learned the hard way to harvest sweet potatoes before soil drops to 55F. This week I studied the soil thermometer and the max and min thermometer and was reassured by the warm sunny days. The soil has been drying out nicely. Tomorrow we start digging. It usually takes us three afternoons. Everything looks auspicious. No rain or horribly cold weather, enough people. . .

Sweet potato harvest Photo Nina Gentle

Sweet potato harvest Photo Nina Gentle

Meanwhile we have been working around a Big Ditch, which will soon connect our new grid-linked solar array to the main service panel. Life has been difficult, and the job is lingering because the Big Ditch filled with the heavy rains we had, then we found some unexpected old phone lines (and accidentally cut them). And then the supplies didn’t arrive when they should have. And so on. Everyone is probably familiar with projects which take a lot longer to complete than intended. Soon it will all be done, we’ll be able to disk and prepare the future garlic area take carts along the path again. And we’ll be using more of the sunlight to make electricity!!

Ditch for cables to connect up solar array. Raised beds on the right. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Ditch for cables to connect up solar array. Raised beds on the right.
Photo Bridget Aleshire


 

Upcoming Events I’ll be speaking at

MENFairLogoThe weekend of October 24-25 I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas with my two Hoophouse workshops:

I will be giving Fall and Winter Hoophouses  as a keynote presentation on Saturday 10-11 am on the Mother Earth news stage and Spring and Summer Hoophouses
on Saturday at 1-2pm on the Organic Gardening Stage. I’ll be signing books at 11 am Saturday in the MEN Bookstore. I’ll be demonstrating How to String Weave Tomatoes using my sparkly-pink-tinsel and pencil model at the New Society booth 2055 on Saturday at 4pm, and Sunday at 10 am and 2 pm. If you want the pdfs of the handouts, click these links:

Hoophouse in Fall and Winter Handout

Hoophouse in Spring and Summer Handout


CFSA

November 6-8 I will be at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference, in Durham, North Carolina. Click here for the Conference page. I’m doing two workshops, Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables – on Saturday November7, 8.30-10am, and Succession Plantings for Continuous Harvests – on Sunday November 8, 10.45am-12.15pm. I will also do book signing at the BookSignAGanza, Saturday 5-6pm.


SSAWG

January 27-30 I will be at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. On the website you can sign up for the e-newsletter and around October 15, you can do Early Bird Registration. I will be doing book signing on the Thursday evening Jan 28 from 7 – 8 pm, following the 25 Years in the Field  talks by several people with a long history of contributing to the growth in sustainable and organic agriculture and local foods . I will be giving a 75 minute presentation on Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale on Friday  Jan 29, 9.45 -11 am. There are about 8 conference tracks (simultaneous workshops), and the conference ends on Saturday evening with a fantastic Taste of Kentucky Banquet and live music at the bar.

MENFairLogoI hope to be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. Too soon to say for sure.

Book Review, Resilient Agriculture by Laura Lengnick

Image-front-cover_coverbookpage_embedResilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate.

Laura Lengnick. New Society Publishers

ISBN 978-0-86571-774-9

I first heard Laura Lengnick speak at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference in 2012. Her solution-focused presentation was “Is Your Farm Climate Ready?”

 I wrote in April about her new book, Resilient Agriculture, which was launched by New Society at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC

EJ at New Society has reviewed this book on the New Society blog

Since April I have been reading the book and finding lots of practical tips as well as moral support and help with thinking clearly about what could otherwise be a paralyzing topic: producing food in the face of an increasingly erratic and unpredictable climate. This major transformation is so hard to consider that at times I’ve thought “thank goodness I’m already in my sixties – it’s the younger people who will have to bear the brunt of coping with this mess.” I know that is neither a constructive nor a realistic approach – we each need to make our best effort if our species is to survive the wild changes and unprecedented obstacles ahead.

Temperatures and rainfall outside of our experience are some of the challenges. There are also effects we have barely begun to think about: different bugs and plant diseases; weeds which can grow faster than before; times of desperate water shortage, times of flooding; hurricanes and other strong winds; colder winter and spring temperatures affecting bud burst of fruit and nut trees. But this is far from a doom-and-gloom book. Nor is it a “Blame Industry/Government” tome. It is a very practical and constructive aid to successful sustainable farming.

Fall broccoli last year. Credit Ezra Freeman

Fall broccoli.
Credit Ezra Freeman

In some cases we have already been practicing some of the skills we’ll need: growing a diversity of crops and livestock; learning from our experience (record-keeping!), paying attention to the weather and learning to forecast our local weather; making plans we are prepared to change as conditions change, and having enough workers, seeds and machines to take advantage of smaller windows.

Young blueberry bush in the snow. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Young blueberry bush in the snow.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

In the Southeast, farmers report more frequent summer droughts, more and hotter heat waves, increased intensity of hurricanes, and in general more frequent extreme weather events of all types, more often. This is what we need to be ready for, at the same time as we reduce our own carbon footprints and campaign for national changes. Starting around 1980, the length of the frost-free season increased across the US. In the SE, it became 6 days longer. Ours is the region with the smallest change. On the other hand, the Southeast has seen a 27% increase in the amount of rain and snow dropping down as very heavy precipitation. The East has become a bit warmer and has heavier rainfall/snowfall, while the West has become hotter and has a smaller percentage change in the amount of heavy precipitation.

In Resilient Agriculture, Laura Lengnick uses her own extensive knowledge of the science and politics of climate change and her personal experience of growing food, along with her interviews with award-winning sustainable farmers across the US to give us a both a basic framework for approaching the issue and many practical tips.

The framework

Climate change is yet another production risk to assess and prepare for – a big one. The vulnerability of a farm is the degree to which it is susceptible to adverse effects of climate change. It is a combination of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Thinking about climate change using this framework helps us focus on the components we have most control over: sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

Exposure and sensitivity acting together decide the potential impact of climate change. Water issues (too much and too little) are the most immediate key exposures (changes in conditions). Rising air temperatures, including night temperatures, more extreme temperatures provide threats and some opportunities. Increasing CO2 levels will provide some positive effects such as faster crop growth. We can reduce exposure overall by reducing emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. These broad efforts are vital, but will have less immediate effects at a farm level.

Sensitivity is a measure of how much a given farm is affected by the conditions (exposures). For example, is the farm in a flood plain in a region that can expect more floods in future? What are the factors limiting the ability of the farm to adapt to climate change? Assessing the farm’s sensitivities provides a good starting point for planning adaptive strategies.

Adaptation is the method most successful in addressing the challenges of climate change at a local level. Adaptive capacity includes our individual capability, knowledge and options, and the operating context (your farm’s unique combination of economic, social and ecological conditions). As far as adaptive capacity, the main feature of that aspect is our personal capacity to respond and plan. Laura Lengnick says “Greater attention to climate as critical for decision-making is expected by future generations of producers.” We need to start with ourselves.

Keep clear plans and records

Keep clear plans and records

The interviews encompass farmers of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and livestock. Each production section includes five to ten farms in various parts of the country and ends with a summary of challenges to the adaptive capacity of farmers in that production area. Farmers report on changes they have observed in the past twenty years, whether those changes seem to be long term, and changes they have made to their farming practices as a way to improve their chance of harvesting good yields. Naturally I paid most attention to vegetable growing, and to farmers in the Southeast, to get some ideas on what changes I might wisely introduce.

Some vegetable growers noted the arrival of longer growing seasons, in particular, a longer fall season. Many refer to the need to improve irrigation systems and access to water supplies. Many also see a need to improve soil drainage and soil water-holding capacity. The diversity of vegetable crops many growers produce is a strength in that it spreads the risk. Whatever the weather, something will grow (surely?)

 

Wintry garden beds. Credit Ezra Freeman

Wintry garden beds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

I also found the sections on other types of farming useful, noting that fruit and nut tree growers were looking at diversifying into annual vegetables because of problems with late frosts or insufficient chilling hours that can lead to a complete crop failure in a perennial. Grain farmers had very interesting advice about mixtures of cover crop seed, cocktails of 10 – 20 different cover crops, to increase the chance of improving the soil and gaining longer-term benefits of resilience.

Laura Lengnick is one of the main authors of a USDA ARS report Climate Change and Agriculture: Effects and Adaptation. (USDA Technical Bulletin 1935) Feb 2013. She also participates in the Climate Listening Project, a “storytelling platform for conversations on climate change resilience”.  You can learn more about the Climate Listening Project in their introductory video.

Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy writes in his endorsement of the book, “we must keep climate from changing too much – because there’s nothing even the best farmer can do to cope with a truly overheated planet.”

Back from Asheville, potatoes planted, UN urges small-scale organics

MENFairLogoI got home from the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC yesterday, happy with a successful and enjoyable weekend. My workshops The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer, and The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter are viewable if you click on SlideShare.net. The fall and winter one has bonus material, because I couldn’t show all the slides in the time available! 200-250 people attended each workshop, all my handouts disappeared. The Spring and Summer one on Saturday morning had some technical hitches. It was windy and the handouts and raffle tickets (for a copy of my book) blew around despite my weighting them down with the biggest rocks I could find in the parking lot. The microphone didn’t work well, and not everyone could get a good view of the screen. And some people were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to my workshop (the first of the event) in time. But the Fall and Winter one on Sunday had no traffic, microphone or weather challenges, and all went well. The weather was beautiful. Attendance at the Fair was up from last year’s 16,000 figure to 20,000!

Photo Barnes and Noble

Photo Barnes and Noble

I enjoyed attending two workshops by Craig LeHoullier about tomato growing and which to choose for best flavor. I reviewed his lovely book Epic Tomatoes earlier. Craig is now working on another book, this one about straw-bale gardening. Another workshop I enjoyed was Joel Dufour from BCS Earth Tools. Entitled “Garden Tools 202: The stuff you won’t learn at a big box store,” it included information on tool ergonomics and materials, including steel hardness. I loved this advice on how to tell a good hoe from a bad one: if you finish hoeing and the hoe has specks of white dust on it, you have a good hoe that is harder than the rocks you nicked. If instead your hoe has dings where the rocks nicked it, your hoe is very inferior. Earth Tools sells good hand tools as well as good engine-powered tools. Two things Joel didn’t tell us in his workshop –  their customer service is among the best around, and their business is very ecological: they really walk their talk. See their website for more.


While I was at the Fair this weekend, our Garden Crew was busy planting potatoes – at last – we have been held back by cold weather and wet soil. A full month late, so we’re looking at lower yields unless we can harvest later. Not straightforward, as we usually clear the potatoes and transplant our fall broccoli and cabbage on that plot. And we can’t delay that, or we won’t get a decent harvest before the weather cools down too much. . .

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’ve also got the beds prepared for transplanting the spring broccoli and cabbage. We’re 10 days late on that, but the plants were slow-growing earlier, and they’re in nice deep flats, so they might not be set back at all.

The weather changed over the weekend (frost on Saturday night) to warm and sunny. Our over-wintered Vates kale is now all bolting, and a couple of members are enthusiastically making kale chips. There’s a simple recipe here. Kale chips are especially good sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Quite addictive. Also because the kale shrinks, you can move a lot of kale by making chips, and it no longer seems sad that it’s all bolting!


The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group posted this  news (encouraging sustainable farmers on a distressing topic):

UN Report Urges Return to Small-Scale Organic Farming

A UN farming report, Wake Up Before It’s Too Late, is publicly  recognizing and acknowledging that it’s time to return to a more sustainable and organic food system. Increasing species diversity and reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, are two of the changes desperately needed, according to the UN report. The report also covers topics such as land use, climate change and global food security.The conclusion of the report is, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”
Read more on the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy blog.

UNCTAD Report Wake Up Before It Is Too Late

UNCTAD Report, Wake Up Before It Is Too Late

The hoophouse in fall and winter, last spring planting dates, MEN Asheville

Last week I embedded my slideshow on using a hoophouse in spring and summer. Here’s the slideshow for the hoophouse in fall and winter, including some bonus material I didn’t show at the West Virginia Small farms Conference, due to time constraints:

Of course, this isn’t the season to be planting winter crops (despite the recent weather!), but you can get ideas for next winter and plan them in to your hoophouse layout, and order seeds.

I’ll be giving these two presentations at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s April 11-12 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, Fletcher, NC. There you can hear me speak as well as see the slides; you’ll get a handout and you can ask questions.  The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer is on Saturday 10am-11am on the Organic Gardening stage and The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter is on Sunday at 11.30am -12.30pm on the GRIT stage. I’ll also have a book signing.

MENFairLogo


One row of grapes (mostly Concord) from the north, in a warmer spring. Credit Kathryn Simmons

One row of grapes (mostly Concord) from the north, in a warmer spring.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Meanwhile, this week in the garden, the snow has almost melted, and we had two garden shifts, on Saturday and Monday afternoons. We pruned grapes and gave compost to our younger blueberries. Mud season is everywhere. The snowmelt is being augmented by rain today. When will we ever be able to till the garden? We planted nothing in February except some shallots. “Normally” by now we would have sowed two beds of carrots, nine of peas, one of turnips and some radishes and scallions, transplanted  4 beds of spinach, one of cabbage, and a third of a bed of lettuce. We’d have beds ready for sowing more carrots and 4 beds of beets and transplanting three beds of kale and one of collards. We’d be preparing the potato patch for planting. Instead we are looking at at least a couple more weeks before we can till and several weeks before we can disk.

Obviously we can’t do it all, even if the weather suddenly became glorious rather than rainy! We have to make some tough decisions about where to take our losses. The potatoes we can just plant later, although it will cause us problems later, when we want to end the potatoes and prepare to plant fall broccoli and cabbage in the same spot. it will likely mean lower yields, as we can’t at this point find a new home for the broccoli and cabbage without infringing on our crop rotation.

Spinach and peas 9The peas still have a chance. We plant peas in the middles of beds of overwintered spinach. So we don’t need to till, just weed, then sow. We reckon we can plant peas until 3/31 in central Virginia. Veggie Harvest agrees.

I’ve been researching last worthwhile planting dates for spring. There are plenty of tables of last planting dates for fall, but fewer for spring. Here’s what we came up with:

3/16 Turnips (Virginia Extension) – so we abandoned plans for those.

3/31 Peas (date from our records, confirmed by Veggie Harvest)

4/1 Kale and collards transplants (our records, confirmed by Veggie Harvest)

4/8 Spinach transplants (our records. Va Ext says 3/16, VH says late April, Barbara Pleasant says average last frost date. Ours is 4/20). So we’re in the middle, maybe risk later than we were going to. But it can turn hot fast here!

4/15 Beets (our records. VH says late April, so maybe we could try a little later)

We also have 3/15 as the last spring date to sow clovers and 3/31 as the last spring date to sow oats for cover crop.

We’re going to reconsider each week, looking at this list for reference. We’ve already also decided to cut out two beds of spring carrots, as we reckon we wouldn’t have time to deal with them all, even if we could get them planted. we have plenty of stored ones from the fall planting, still in good shape.

And, despite the challenges outdoors, we are potting up peppers for the hoophouse.

Pepper seedlings in the greenhouse. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Pepper seedlings in the greenhouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons