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

Tokyo Bekana in the hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

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

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

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

Hoophouse tatsoi in early October.
Photo Pam Dawling

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

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

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

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


December beds with row cover.
Photo Wren Vile

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

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


Tomato seed strained in a sieve.
Photo Pam Dawling

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

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

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

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

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

Eliot Coleman’s letter includes these quotes:

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

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

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

 

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

Replacing hoophouse plastic

Pulling new plastic over our hoophouse frame, using ropes and tennis balls.
Photo Wren Vile

Last week was a busy one. We replaced both layers of hoophouse plastic and did some running repairs. A mere two years ago we replaced just the outer layer, thinking we had hail storm damage on top where we couldn’t see. Then we suffered from over-zealous snow removal in the winter and made lots of holes in our new plastic. We decided to take it back to the skeleton this time. The inner plastic was 4 years old. Sometimes plastic will last 5 years in our climate.

I’ve written twice on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog about this: How to Put New Plastic on a Hoophouse (High Tunnel): A Step-by-Step Guide and Mistakes to Avoid When Putting New Plastic on Your Hoophouse. I won’t repeat all that info here.

We’ve found that mid-September is the best time of year for us to replace hoophouse plastic. We remove the summer shadecloth early in September, so we’ve got that out of the way. October is our busiest hoophouse month with lots of sowings and transplanting of winter greens. It’s good to get the plastic replaced before then. Also in September the temperature is more moderate. Not too cold, so that the plastic is shrunken, not so hot that it gets overstretched. Mind you, September is hurricane season and we are on the east coast. We watched the forecasts carefully. We were lucky: no big hurricanes came our way, it didn’t rain, and we even chose a week with fairly calm winds. We set aside 5 whole days. The second day was too breezy to fly plastic – more than 5 mph. It actually reached about 9 mph, which I know some of you will still say is not very windy, but people with 48 ft x 100 ft kites have to be careful!

Removing old inner layer of hooophouse plastic.
Photo Wren Vile

We assembled a crew of five people, and as we always have some new people each year, we arranged to have at least two experienced people present at all times. The first day we removed and rolled up the two layers of old plastic. We’re storing it in case of emergency! We removed the blower hose, the manometer tubing and the two jumper hoses that make sure air flows from the air-intake side of the house to the other (theoretically not needed in our model, which has no pinch-point ridge-pole). We spent the rest of the day removing the crumbling old duct tape that covered all the connectors in the framework, and cleaning out soil that had got in the channels that keep the wigglewire in place along the south and north sides.

Loosening wigglewire on the end wall of the hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse renovation: replacing duct tape over the metal connectors.
Photo Wren Vile

The second day was the breezy day, and we made good use of it to finish removing old duct tape and replacing it with new. We used over 8 rolls of duct tape for our 30′ x 96′ house. We had an urgent trip to town, as we had expected 6 rolls to be enough. We found an exterior grade of duct tape, which is a darker, pewter, grey. We’ll let you know in five years how it holds up. It didn’t cost much more than the regular grade. We also replaced a rotten part of the hipboard on the north side.

Replacing a rotten part of the hipboard on the hoophouse north wall.
Photo Wren Vile

The third day was calm, and we finished the duct-taping and installed the new plastic. We unrolled the inner plastic along the south side of the house and tied 5 tennis balls into the edge of the plastic, with 60′ ropes attached. One-by-one, we tied a water bottle in a sock to the ropes and threw them over. The inner plastic has a “This Side Down” notice, so we paid attention to that. With the outer plastic, we wanted to pull it over so the side touching the grass would end up outside (ensuring no water or grass mowings got trapped between the layers). Some people are better than others at visualizing how things will be after turning them round!

Throwing a rope attached to a plastic bottle of water in a sock over the hoophouse to pull the new outer plastic over.
Photo Wren Vile

To our dismay, the inner plastic wasn’t tough enough, and we ended up with three holes up high in the roof, from the tennis balls. We’ve never had that happen before, so I’m left wondering if dripless inner hoophouse plastic isn’t what it used to be. We taped up the holes with PolyPatch tape. We decided to wait till the next day to inflate the hoophouse, as we didn’t want to risk exploding it in the night.

Day 4, we switched on the blower. Golly, it took all day to inflate. So we unplugged it at night and closed the air intake, hoping to preserve the air we’d blown into the space. But the air intake flap was too gappy, so the next day was almost like a fresh start. We trimmed the excess plastic round the edges, tidied away the tools and continued tinkering with getting the right setting on the air intake flap.

Hoophouse inflation blower air intake.
Photo Kathryn Simmons.

 

Asian Greens for July: Maruba Santoh, plus sowings for fall

Young Maruba Santoh plants
Photo by Ethan Hirsh

In June I told you about Tokyo Bekana, a light green tender-leaved, white-stemmed green which can be cooked, or used as a substitute for lettuce in hot weather. Because summer in Virginia is a hard time for leafy greens, July’s Asian green is very similar – Maruba Santoh. Maruba Santoh has smoother, wavy, less ruffled leaves than Tokyo Bekana.

To show you I’m not being a slouch, I’ll include some pointers on sowing Asian greens for fall, because now is the time – in our climate at least. Here’s what one of my favorite seed suppliers, Fedco Seeds has to say:

Maruba Santoh (35 days) Brassica rapa (pekinensis group) Open pollinated. With Maruba you get four vegetables in one. The loose round vibrant chartreuse leaves provide a mild piquant mustardy flavor while the flat white stems impart a juicy crisp pac choy taste. High-end chefs like to use the blossoms. Market grower Scott Howell finds the flavor more subtle and complex than that of other greens and cuts Maruba small for his mesclun. Fairly bolt tolerant, so plant after the early spring flea beetle invasion subsides.

Fedco is in Maine and we’re in Virginia, so things are a little different. The information on their website about pests and diseases is good. Our worst brassica pests are harlequin bugs.

We grow our summer brassica seedlings and transplanted Asian greens under ProtekNet on hoops. On the Dubois link, study the Dimensions and Specifications tab, then download the brochure from that tab. Study the Descriptions tab – it tells you which insects are excluded by each size mesh. Be sure that you choose the right size mesh for the bugs you want to exclude. Flea beetles and thrips are small – you need a small mesh. Johnny’s is now marketing the close-mesh ProtekNet as  “Biothrips” insect netting, and they also have a comparison chart of rowcover and insect netting on their site.

Adolescent Maruba Santoh plants bunched for market.
Photo Kitazawa Seeds

Kitazawa Seeds also sells Maruba Santoh seed, under the Chinese Cabbage heading. Like most brassicas, Maruba Santoh does best in cool weather, although it is somewhat heat tolerant (or “warm tolerant” as we call it in Virginia.) It tolerates heat better than Napa Chinese cabbage does. To avoid bolting, keep the plants above 50F (10C) at all times, but particularly avoid prolonged spells below this “bolting trigger” temperature.

Maruba Santoh will germinate at temperatures between 50-85F. Seedlings emerge in just 3 days in summer. For summer use, direct sow, thin the rows for baby salad mix, then let the “heads” (it doesn’t actually head up) develop to full size (6-10″ tall) after about 35-40 days. Or transplant two week old starts. We tend to grow our plants quite big (12″ tall) and harvest by the leaf, several times over. Maruba Santoh makes a fine substitute for lettuce, and a tasty quick-cooking green.

To calculate sowing dates, work back 40 days from when you want to harvest, and sow more every week or two until you run into the fall slowdown temperatures, or you go back to eating lettuce in salads and cooking chard and kale. If you still have Maruba Santoh growing in the fall, know that it will be frost tolerant to 25°F (-4°C). No hurry.

Newly transplanted Maruba Santoh.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Maruba Santoh can also be grown at other times of year: spring and fall outdoors, winter in the hoophouse. The seedlings have large cotyledons and make good microgreens too.

Kitazawa’s  Culinary Tips include: Use in salad, sukiyaki, ohitashi, yosenabe, stir-fry, soup and pickling. Kim chi here we come! (If we had surplus.)


Next month I will talk more about Asian greens outdoors in fall. Now is the time to sow for fall harvests. We start in late June, and sow more in early July. We always make two sowings a week apart, for insurance.  We are aiming for greens to feed us in early fall, before the kale is ready, and into the winter, harvesting by the leaf. But Asian greens can be sown all the way up to two months before your first fall frost date. For us, that means August 14-20.  If you want to make sowings now, consider senposai, komatsuna, pak choy, tat soi, Yukina Savoy, and Chinese cabbage.


An insectary circle with borage and sunflower in a chard bed.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I have two posts on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog that I haven’t told you about yet. So if it’s too hot out, or it’s raining (don’t make me envious) seek shade and read more. The newer post is Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects, and the previous one is Planting Leeks. 

Mother Earth News post, Organic Broadcaster, Jamaica trip

Hoophouse early squash planted in the middle of a bed of winter chard.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I wrote a blog post for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog on Hoophouse Intercropping in Spring.

We transplant our tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers into the middles of the beds of winter crops. We pull out the middle rows, dig holes, add compost and transplant. Initially the rows of winter greens to the south of the new plants shade and shelter them a little, which helps them settle in. The next week we harvest out the greens on the south side of the new crops, then after that (but less urgently) the row on the north side.

Hoophouse peppers transplanted in the north hoophouse bed among lettuce mix.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

3/15 is our usual tomato planting date, 4/1 we planted squash. 4/5 we’ll put the cucumbers in and 4/7 the peppers. We used to plant the hoophouse peppers earlier but it’s such a struggle keeping them warm enough as seedlings in the greenhouse, that we moved a week later. It’s just not worth having stunted pepper plants!


The March/April Organic Broadcaster is out too. Phew it’s hard to find enough reading time in spring! There are articles about the Organic check-off program (discussed at the MOSES Conference), information about policy work for the National Organic Program, and their “Ask a Specialist” column answering a question about “fast, inexpensive greenhouse space.” The answer was souped-up 10 x 60 ft caterpillar tunnels, including heated benches for starting plants. Other articles address organic grain production, humane mobile houses for poultry, a profile of the MOSES Farmers of the Year, Hans and Katie Bishop, solar panels on small farms, diverse meat CSA farms, as well as news from the conference. Something for everyone!


I’m volunteering with the Jamaica Sustainable Farm Enterprise Project. Here’s a bit more about the project:

The people of Jamaica and the greater Caribbean region have long been buffeted by  natural and human-caused disasters that have left them in a state of economic, social, and environmental crisis. Jamaican  people are vulnerable due to national dependency on unaffordable, less healthy, imported food, lost skill sets needed to produce certain crops without expensive chemical inputs, and natural disasters that wipe out farmers crops with regularity. The Parish of St. Thomas and the other eastern parish of Portland have systemically been the most forgotten and underdeveloped parishes in Jamaica for over a century.

St. Thomas is a farming parish. However, since the liberalization of the banana industry by the European Union and NAFTA all the banana plantations have closed leaving few agricultural avenues for profitable employment in the parish. Many of the people of St. Thomas still rely on small cash crops and seasonal tree crop production for their livelihood.

JSFEP aims to focus on local sustainable production to increase food security and help develop high value internal and export markets to increase agricultural profitability. Permaculture and organic (POF) systems provide solid foundations for these solutions.

I’ll be going to St Thomas parish (click for a map) from 5/11 to 5/22, providing training in vegetable crop planning. JSFEP partners The Source Farm, a multi-cultural, intergenerational eco-village, located in Johns Town, in the parish of St. Thomas.  You can see a slideshow at their website. And You Tube has a short video The Source Farm Foundation Ecovillage.

Well, I’m out of time this week, as I need to get my laundry off the line and spray the aphids in the greenhouse and hoophouse with soapy water.

Lettuce in February, Growing for Market, open seed flats

Baby lettuce mix in our winter hoophouse.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We still have plenty of lettuce to eat, although our first sowing of baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse has come to its bitter end, and the second sowing isn’t quite ready (I think we sowed it a bit later than intended). We are still harvesting leaves from the large lettuce we transplanted in October.  Soon we’ll have the second and third baby lettuce mix sowings to bring a welcome change. We are about ready to transplant our first outdoor lettuce, to feed us mid-late April.

Here is a month-by-month planting and harvesting narrative for our hoophouse lettuce in Zone 7, from September to April:

September: Sow cold-hardy varieties in the second and third weeks (outdoors or in your greenhouse) to transplant into the hoophouse at 4 weeks old .

October: 4 weeks after sowing, transplant those lettuces at 8” spacing to harvest leaves from mid-November to early March, rather than heads. In late October, sow the first baby lettuce mix, for up to 8 cuts from early December to late February, and sow a small patch of “filler lettuces” to replace casualties in the main plantings up until the end of December.

November: 11/9 sow more filler lettuce, to be planted out in the hoophouse during January. Transplant the first “filler lettuce” to replace casualties. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce.

December: Use the “filler lettuce #1” to replace casualties or fill other hoophouse space, for lettuce leaves in January and February, or heads in February. At the end of December, make a second sowing of baby lettuce mix, to harvest from late February to the end of March. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix.

January: Use the “filler lettuce #2” to fill gaps in the lettuce beds up until January 25. After that is too late here for hoophouse lettuce planting, and we use spinach to fill all the gaps, regardless of the surrounding crop. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches the right size.

February: 2/1 sow the third baby lettuce mix, to provide up to three cuts, from mid-March to late April. In mid-February, consider a fourth sowing of baby lettuce mix, if outdoor conditions look likely to delay outdoor harvests. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Harvest the first baby lettuce mix, clearing it at the end of February before it gets bitter.

March: Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches size. Cut the third baby lettuce mix when it sizes up.

April: In the first half of the month, harvest the last of the transplanted lettuce as heads . Continue to cut the third baby lettuce mix until it gets bitter. Cut the fourth baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Outdoor lettuce heads are usually ready for harvest mid-April. Plan to have enough hoophouse harvests until the outdoor harvests can take over.

Lettuce transplants in soil blocks, on our custom-made cart. We don’t use soil blocks for lettuce any more (too time-consuming!) but I love this photo. Photo Pam Dawling


The February issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article How to decide which crops to grow which I previewed some of here last August. I also included some of the material in my slideshow Diversify Your Vegetable Crops. Click the link to see the slideshow. This past winter we used this kind of process to reduce the amount of garden work for 2017. I’m retiring from garden management and the new managers  want to stay sane and not be exhausted all the time. We have fewer workers this year (the past few years actually), so we needed to slim down the garden and not go crazy trying to do everything we’ve done in the past. I’ll still be working in the hoophouse, the greenhouse, and doing some outdoor work, as well as being available to answer questions and provide some training when asked.

Back to Growing for Market. There’s a great article for new small-scale growers, from Katherine Cresswell in northern Idaho, Year One Decision Making, about starting a farm with only one implement. Careful planning lead Katherine and her partner Spencer to focus on fall, winter and spring vegetables, as no-one else around them provided these, and they had experience of winter growing from working on other farms. Clearly a high tunnel (hoophouse) needed to be in the plan. It was essential that they hit the ground running and have saleable produce within six months. The expense budget was very tight. They bought a BCS 739 walk-behind tractor (which they both had experience of) and a rotary plow. A very down-to-earth article to encourage any new grower with limited means.

There are reviews of three new books by GfM writers: Compact Farms by Josh Volk, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden and The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Growers Handbook by Andrew Mefferd, the editor of GfM. Brett Grohsgal has written a valuable article about his 15 years experience with on-farm breeding of winter-hardy vegetables, both in the field and under protection of hoophouses. Informative and inspiring. Erin Benzakein has written about rudbeckias, the unsung heroes of summer bouquets, and Gretel Adams has written on new flower varieties to try in 2017.


I have a new post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings Easily – How to make reusable wood flats (seed trays) for seedlings, and use them to grow sturdy vegetable starts to transplant into your garden. This is a way to avoid contributing to the problem of agricultural plastic trash and be self-reliant in gardening equipment. You can also grow stronger plants by giving them a larger compost volume than plug flats or cell packs provide.

Open flat of broccoli seedlings.
Photo Wren Vile

I heard that my MEN blogpost Green Potato Myths and 10 Steps to Safe Potato Eating was very popular in January, coming sixth in their table of most-viewed posts on all topics. This has been out there in the blog-iverse for almost 18 months, so clearly there is a lot of concern about eating healthy food and not wasting what we’ve grown.

Sorting potatoes two weeks after harvest to remove problem potatoes before rot spreads.
Photo Wren Vile


The false spring has been barreling along. Last week I reported that we’ve seen a flowering crocus (2/17). Since then, we’ve seen daffodils and dandelions flowering, heard spring peppers and already the maple is flowering (2/25). These are all markers on our phenology list. The maple flowers on average 3/12, with a range (before this year) of 2/28 in 2012 to 4/2 in 2014. A 9-year record broken!

This post was hacked–we’re trying to restore it.

This post was hacked–we’re trying to restore it.

Keep the Soil in Organic, Mother Earth News, winter reading

Photo from Dave Chapman, Organic Soil Movement

Photo from Dave Chapman, Keep the Soil in Organic

Did you know that nearly all the supermarket “organic” tomatoes are not grown in soil drawing the nutrients they need from the complex array in the soil, but in an inert material (rockwool, coir or plastic pipes with holes in), receiving as nutrients only what the growers provide in a solution that passes by the roots?

Did you know that your understanding of “organic” might be different from USDA’s? Driscoll’s Berries has over a thousand acres of “organic” hydroponic production in hoophouses in California and Mexico. They are the biggest hydroponic “organic” producer in the world.

Did you know that hydroponics is large-scale? Melody Meyers of UNFI testified at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that her company’s hydroponic “organic” sales exceeded $50,000,000. (Wholesale value – double it to get the retail value.)

Dave Chapman said

One of the challenges of the USDA takeover of organic certification has been the loss of involvement on the part of the organic farmers. As we have all struggled to make a living in a tough arena, it has been easy to give into a sense of helplessness around maintaining strong standards. At the same time that organic farmers have retreated from the process, the USDA has been profoundly influenced by large corporate farming interests.

Three quarters of US hydroponics sales go to only three or four farms – this is a huge concentration of money, power, and influence in a very few hands. And the industry is engaging in heavy lobbying, not just at NOSB, but throughout the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

How did this happen? How did “organic farming” change so drastically in six years? My report is based on Dave Chapman’s in his blog Keep the Soil in Organic.

In 2010, the NOSB recommended saying no to hydroponics receiving Organic Certification by a 14:1 vote, in keeping with international standards, the federal law (the Organic Foods Production Act, OFPA) that created the National Organic Program (NOP), and the traditional practices of organic farmers.

At the NOSB meeting in fall 2016, despite hydroponics industry lobbying, there was not enough support to vote to overturn the 2010 recommendation and allow hydroponics, aquaponics and bioponics. (This would have needed a 2/3 majority). Also, the proposal (from the Crops Subcommittee) that would have eliminated hydroponics in organic was sent back for reconsideration. The stalemate means that the NOP will continue to certify “organic” hydroponic operations.

Dave Chapman reported that

Food Democracy Now! presented a petition with over 12,000 signatures to reject hydroponics. Cornucopia Institute presented 1400 proxy letters from farmers and eaters demanding that soil stewardship be a requirement for organic certification. Clearly, the people numbers were on the side of the soil.

National Organic Program (NOP)  director Miles McEvoy stated at the meeting that even if the recommendation allowing hydroponics was defeated, it would not affect NOP policy. The NOP continues to support certifying hydroponics as USDA Organic even though the OFPA law requires Organic farming be based on maintaining and improving soil fertility. The NOP support of hydroponics is also in direct opposition to the 2010 NOSB recommendation, as well as standards in most other countries. Across the world, hydroponic operations are being USDA Organic certified.

A resolution  passed 12 to 0 reading, “It is the consensus of the NOSB to prohibit hydroponic systems that have an entirely water-based substrate.” (This refers to “plastic pipe” hydroponics as opposed to rockwool and coir which are imagined to provide something more than physical support.) This resolution does show consensus in rejecting the idea that hydroponic growing can become organic simply by “adding biology” to plain water, and provides a small glimmer of sanity and common sense. NOSB refused to acknowledge that actual hydroponic farming is not limited to plants that grow in water, but includes those propped up by rockwool and coir. The current hydroponics industry move is to avoid the “H word” and talk about “containerized ” plants – ones held in a small amount of material, but still being fertilized by solutions flowing by.

What makes a system hydroponic is how the fertility is delivered to the plant, not the material that the roots sit in. In a hydroponic system, the fertility is supplied to the plant in the irrigation water. There are so-called “organic” fertilizers that are extremely processed organic materials. For example, the 16-0-0 hydrolyzed soy protein being used in hydroponics acts like a synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. It has little similarity to unprocessed soy meal. In a genuinely organic system, the fertility results from the  complex soil food web interacting with organic materials we growers supply.

The companies speaking in support of hydroponics to the NOSB include Miracle Gro (chemical fertilizer company), Nature Gro (major supplier of substrates for conventional growers), the Organic Trade Association (lobbyists for the big hydroponic “organic” growers), Nature Sweet tomatoes (1400 acres of conventional greenhouses), Houweling’s Tomatoes (250 acres of conventional greenhouse tomatoes), and Driscoll’s (already mentioned).

These companies all want  to get in on the “Organic” market without doing the honest hard work. The food industry spends more money lobbying Capitol Hill each year than the defense industry does!

Know your farmer! Buy local, from trusted growers. Do what you can to speak up for real food, grown in the soil.

Weeding overwintered spinach in March Wren

Weeding over-wintered spinach. Photo Wren Vile


I wrote about our winter lettuce (a summary of blog posts here) for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. You can read it here.

peerj-04-1582-g005Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden has had some interesting blog posts recently. One is about a recent study called “Arthropods of the Great Indoors: Characterizing Diversity Inside Urban and Suburban Homes,” and its lead author is Dr. Matthew Bertone. We are hosting an average of over 90 different arthropod types per home! I’ve noticed that we’ve accidentally brought camel crickets from our root cellar into our bathroom! I’ve been reducing their numbers. . .  They don’t appear to be in top 12 found in most people’s homes according to this article.

This post on Do Home Remedies for Weeds or Garden Pests Work? is a careful look at the options often recommended by others, with cautions about pouring lots of Epsom salts, vinegar, clove oil on your plants and soil.

Her Special Weed Issue has links to a lot of useful weed topics, as well as info on a  Baby Birds book with delightful-looking watercolors.

9780544206700_hres

 

Sweet potato slideshow, phenology article, Ira Wallace awarded

I’ve just got back from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC. There were about 1200 people, five workshop slots, 12 tracks, lots of good, locally grown food, a whole pre-conference day of bus tours and intensive workshops, a courageous and inspiring keynote address from Clara Coleman on the joys and challenges of family and farm life. She and her two young sons are now living and working alongside Eliot Coleman (her dad) and Barbara Damrosch at Four Seasons Farm in Maine.

My sweet potato slideshow from my first workshop at CFSA is viewable above. Just click on the forward arrow. To see it full screen, click on the link below the image and then click the diagonal arrows when the new page opens. About 70 very engaged people attended that workshop. My other workshop was Sustainable Farming Practices for Vegetable Growers, which I’ll include next week.

I have also recently written a blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog  called Saving Sweet Potato Roots for Growing Your Own Slips.

I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new friends, learning some good tips about different drip irrigation parts, how to sharpen and use a scythe, how many years half the henbit seeds are viable for (23 years!!), and picking up literature from the trade booths to digest later.

sac-16-banner-960x330Save the date: 2017’s CFSA SAC will be November 3-5 (Fri-Sun)


nov-dec-2016-gfm-cover-300The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about phenology. Phenology is the study of recurring animal and plant life cycle changes in relation to the weather. Some changes are temperature-dependent, rather than (daylength-) calendar-dependent. The opening of some buds and the emergence of some
insects from the ground are related to the accumulated warmth of that season. Observations of certain changes can be used to help growers decide when to expect outbreaks of certain insect pests and when to plant certain crops. For instance, we look to the leaves of the white oaks to decide when it is warm enough to plant sweet corn. The oak leaves should be as big as squirrel’s ears. We have plenty of squirrels! Phenology is especially useful when the weather is extremely variable, which we can expect more of as climate change gets us further in its grip.

Also in this bumper edition of Growing for Market are articles on growing heading chicories (Josh Volk), milling your own logs on your farm (Mark Lieberth), online weather tools for farmers (Eric and Joanna Reuter), image-front-cover_coverbookpagea review of The Farmers Market Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal (Andrew Mefferd), and favorite perennials for flower growers (Jane Tanner). There are also two pages of cameos of books available from GfM. A seasonal tip about gift giving, I think.

I am working on a review of Soil Sisters by Lisa Kivirist, which I will tidy up and post soon.


Ira Wallace receives SFA award

Ira Wallace receives SFA award. Photo by Sara Wood

Ira Wallace, my long time friend and one of the members of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has recently been awarded the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sara Wood took photos at SESE and at Twin Oaks while preparing the SFA oral history interview with Ira Wallace. You can watch the video clip, read the transcript and ass the photos at the link. Well done Ira!

Seed Garden slideshow, eggplants in September, sweet potato harvest

Here’s  my slideshow on growing seed crops alongside vegetable production. This is a new workshop topic for me. I shared the presentation with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at Lynchburg College on Saturday 10/1. We also did some Show-and-Tell. My favorite bit was swirling my glass jar of tomato seed ferment, convincing everyone it wasn’t a canning project gone wrong, pouring off the pulpy water, and washing the contents to reveal the seeds as if by magic.

I’m currently working on a slideshow about sweet potatoes for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference Nov 4-6, 2016 in Durham, NC.


Eggplant row. Bridget Aleshire

Eggplant row.
Bridget Aleshire

About a month ago, I reported on our eggplant variety trials, seeking heat tolerant eggplant varieties. I wrote a longer piece for  the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. Our harvest records from July 18 on through August showed Epic clearly ahead of Nadia and Traviata. I’ll do a fuller report after the frost. That could be soon. We had a low of 36F last night, including a few patches of light frost.

Now I’ve looked at September’s harvests too. During September, Traviata produced the largest number of saleable fruits (145) compared to 138 Nadia and 135 Epic. Probably not statistically different from each other. As I’ve noted before, the eggplants are all a similar size, and so it’s no surprise that Traviata’s 145 fruits totaled the highest weight (112.5 pounds), with Nadia at 98 pounds and Epic at 95.5. Nadia had an 8% cull rate, Traviata 9% and Epic only 6.8%. Clearly, all three are good varieties.

Adding September to the figures for August and July, Epic is still the winning eggplant in terms of total yield, saleable yield, low cull ratio, and weight per fruit. That impressive leap off the starting blocks that Epic made is still holding it ahead of the pack.

The ripe fruits have got a little smaller, and there has been a noticeable drop-off in yield since the equinox.Their days are numbered.


Sweet potato harvest and seed selection crate. Photo Nina Gentle

Sweet potato harvest and seed selection crate.
Photo Nina Gentle

Out with the old, in with the new! Yesterday we started harvesting our sweet potatoes. Yields look OK but not fantastic. We had a lot of problems with deer eating our sweet potatoes this year. We did have a temporary electric fence, but we often didn’t pay it good attention and it grounded out. Next year the rotation brings the sweet potatoes to a more traveled location. I can’t believe I’m already doing that “Gardener Survival Strategy” of thinking “Next Year Everything Will Be Perfect”!!

 

Heritage Harvest Festival presentations, Eggplant variety trials, Growing for Market

I enjoyed the weekend at the Heritage Harvest Festival. On Friday I gave my Fall Vegetable Production slideshow, which you can watch an updated version of above (again or for the first time). If you want to see it larger click here and then on the diagonal arrow icon. On Saturday I gave my Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops presentation, which you can watch below (again or for the first time). Just click on the forward pointing arrow.

To see this one larger, click here.


Epic Eggplant Photo by Nina Gentle

Epic Eggplant
Photo by Nina Gentle

We are gathering good information on our Heat-tolerant Eggplant Trials. We have been seeking a classic dark purple/black pear or tear-drop shaped eggplant that yields well in hot weather. Click the link to read last year’s report and summary of the trials in 2013 and 2104. Our plants (Nadia, Epic and Traviata this year) are all doing well. I wrote an interim report as a blog post for the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. This year (unlike 2013, 2014 and 2015), we’ve actually had some very hot days.

At the end of the season I will give a full report and correlate the yields with the temperatures typical at the time. Meanwhile, I can confidently say that of the three, Epic is winning! From the first harvest on 7/18, up to the end of August, Epic had produced a staggering 287 eggplants, averaging 0.9 pounds each; Nadia  125 eggplants, averaging 0.76 pounds each; Traviata 124 averaging 0.72 pounds. The cull rate for Nadia was best (least) at 21%; Epic was close at 22%, while Traviata produced a surprisingly high proportion of culls at 29%.


September 2016 cover300

The September issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. The cover article is by Jed Beach, on matching farm production with sales demand. growing produce that nobody wants is so frustrating. Probably not quite as bad as a crop failure, but discouraging in another way. The consequence is the same though: time spent working hard for no useful result. As Jed puts it:

“will our hard work and money decompose before our eyes as sales come in lower than we’d hoped?”

If the percentage of produce that is converted into sales is 80% or more, you’re doing OK. If it’s less, then try to either increase sales or decrease production. Growers who are not selling their vegetables can think about this in terms of what gets used and what gets wasted. Jed tells how to better match production with demand.

Brad Halm writes about how to manage urban and other difficult soils.He covers soil contamination, soil amelioration, container growing (building beds on top of the existing soil), in-soil growing and growing on top of impermeable surfaces like roofs.

Louise Swartzwalder describes The Crossroads Farmers Market in Tacoma, MD, which was designed intentionally to be accessible to a low-income population. A very heart-warming and inspiring story.

Michael Kilpatrick reports on the 2016 Frozen Ground Conference, held in Vermont during August. I found the material from the last Frozen Ground Conference in 2014 which focused on Winter Growing very valuable. It seems to have involved a small group of 22 very experienced participants all sharing something in the spirit of mutual aid. The 2016 conference was a large round-table discussion (not a speaker-and-audience conference). Topics included long-term soil fertility, soil salt buildup in high tunnels (hoophouses), and new and improved gardening tools, new products like Solarwrap greenhouse film. Participants brought slideshows of their hoophouse (high tunnel) heating and insulation systems. Michael has released an ebook on his blog “10 Winter growing secrets we wish we knew when we started,” which you can find at michael-kilpatrick.com.

FarmersOfficeCoverjpg-250x300Andrew Mefferd, the editor of Growing for Market, has reviewed the book  The Farmer’s Office by Julia Shanks. The subtitle is “Tools, tips and templates to successfully manage a growing farm business”. She explains how to understand the farm records you have kept, and how to keep better (more useful) records.  It includes real-life examples of straightforward and difficult situations, along with templates of forms you might use. Andrew Mefferd says: “Curl up with The Farmer’s Office in your office this winter.”

The final article in the magazine is traditionally the one on cut flowers, maybe because the color photos on the back cover can be enjoyed more often than if they were hidden inside. This time it’s an article by the previous editor, Lynn Byczynski about the U-pick cut flower operation at Omena Cut Flowers, run by Carolyn Faught in northern Michigan. The farm looks beautiful!