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.

Fall Vegetable Production slideshow, Kansas Mother Earth News Fair, hoophouse end walls

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Well, it took me longer than I expected to get my Fall Vegetable Production slideshow up on SlideShare.net after the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, but here it is.

Now I am starting to plan for the October 25-26 Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas. I’ll be doing three workshops: Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables on Saturday 10 am on the Seed Stage, Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops on Saturday at 5.30 pm on the Seed Stage, and Fall Vegetable Production on Sunday at 11.30 am on the Grit Stage. As of today, they are not yet listed on the website, but soon they will be. A chance for me to meet some non-East Coast people!

MENFairLogo


At home, we have been plugging away at replacing the end wall plastic on our hoophouse. No action pictures yet, but lots of progress. I always over-estimate how much we can get done in the time available. I forget we have a lot of new people, who work part-time. I’m busy compiling a list of tips for replacing hoophouse end wall plastic next time. We bought a roll of plastic 24′ x 100′, and our gothic-style hoophouse is 12′ at the apex. What was I thinking? There’s no spare between 24′ and 2 sides at 12′ each! We learned by accident that the plastic was not evenly folded, so our “midline” cut wasn’t and we got one “half” bigger than the other. This turned out to be a stroke of luck! We used the bigger half outside and the shorter half inside. We solved the shortage by having the top triangle indoors be covered by a separate piece of plastic, letting the big piece of plastic start just above the end wall window, (which is above the double doors).

We learned to mark the center-point of each piece of plastic, to help with lining up from side-to-side. We learned to put the edge with the big printing up high, where most of it gets cut off anyway, so we don’t have to stare at it for the next 7 years or so. We learned to keep the surfaces that had touched the ground facing outward, so we don’t trap dirt between the two layers of new plastic. We learned that it’s best to get both layers of plastic up on the same day, or else the inside of a single layer is coated with condensation next morning, and you have to mop it dry to avoid trapping water in the space. We learned that it really doesn’t take many 100′ lengths of old drip tape to batten two hoophouse ends. We learned that all staple guns are temperamental. We learned that having only one roll of duct tape on the job is a false economy, as it creates a bottleneck when only one person can be covering all the protruding metal bits the plastic will touch. And, once again, I appreciated how nice it is to have someone else cooking lunch for us, so we can work on the project up till the last minute. Hooray for community!

The 30' x 96' gothic-style hoophouse at Twin Oaks Community
The 30′ x 96′ gothic-style hoophouse at Twin Oaks Community