Permaculture questioned, Growing for Market, Mother Earth News blogpost, Longhorn tick.

I’ve long had some misgivings about the almost religious fervor of some permaculturists, while at the same time appreciating their seriousness about sustainable land use. (In fact I have written for Permaculture North America, and I have friends who are Permaculturists.) My first impressions of Permaculture were that it was a combination of common sense farming practices gussied up with new labels, other ideas that seemed to me very impractical, and ideas that might work fine in the tropics but not so well in the rest of the world. But it seemed rude to say so publicly. Like picking a fight with allies when there are so many more important campaigns. And more recently I have met some gardeners and even farmers who apply the Permaculture ideas that work in their context, without becoming evangelical about it. I would love to read a practical book written by someone farming commercially, explaining how they apply some of the Permaculture ideas, and make a living.

Curtis Stone (author of The Urban Farmer) has given all this consideration and has written an interesting, thoughtful article in his blog From the Field Friday.

It’s titled What Permaculture got Wrong – Dispelling Five Common Myths

Curtis describes how many people new to farming are a bit starry-eyed, and are (as he was) inspired by Permaculture ideas. In his experience, many of the promises of Permaculture don’t pan out, especially if you try to make them work on a commercial scale as opposed to a hobby, when it doesn’t matter how long a method takes, or how much money it costs.

He has identified five slogans of Permaculture he believes should disappear. He wants to save farmers from burning out while holding these unrealistic tenets. At the same time, he is not disrespecting any individual Permaculture teachers or students, authors or farmers. He just wants everyone to have realistic expectations and for commercial growers to use viable methods.

Permaculture aims to keep the topsoil in place, along with all its biodiversity, and grow food, following patterns in nature. This is a great approach. The problems come with some of the specific prescriptions. Curtis Stone labels five problematic cultural memes The Self-Sustaining Farm; The Lazy Gardener; Mulch Everything; Swale Everything; and No Pests!

The Self-Sustaining Farm

The Forest Garden can work for someone with enough land, providing food for just a few people. There are fruits and nuts, some perennial vegetables, and annual vegetables between the trees. But in order for a food system to feed lots of people, we invented agriculture (which is not natural) to dependably produce quantities of food in an efficient (affordable) way. Most vegetables are annuals, not perennials, and that where the work is, and the bulk of our food. A lot of food can be produced efficiently from a relatively small area of land using annual crops. A Forest Garden is not going to feed the world, and it’s unfair to new farmers to tell them it will. It’s also untrue to suggest that forest, orchard and vineyard crops require almost no work once they are established. Growing food for lots of people is hard work, even when you apply smart methods.

The Lazy Gardener

This idea comes from Bill Mollison, suggesting you can plant crops and ignore them, and get good harvests. Planting potatoes by covering them with mulch rather than soil is one suggestion. Most of these “Lazy Gardener” ideas are not workable on a commercial scale. You can ignore weeds and use “lazy” methods if you are not earning your living from farming, or expecting to feed many people. It’s a lifestyle choice, not a career.

Mulch Everything

Straw mulch is very popular with some Permaculturists. It is used in thick layers to smother weeds. It also adds organic matter to the soil. Straw is the stems of small grains. It’s not bio-regional where I live, or where most of us live. If you don’t see fields of wheat, barley, oats, rye in your area, straw would have to be shipped in. It won’t be cheap. It’ll be more expensive if it’s organic. Curtis Stone points out that it is not really sustainable on a commercial scale to cover all the soil with straw. It also doesn’t work well for fast turn-over crops, where you want to plant a follow-on crop (to get most use of your land). Plus, it keeps the soil cool, which is not what you need for warm-season crops. While it can work for home gardeners to push aside mulch to plant two squash plants, it’s not practical for a 200 foot row of squash. (I always enjoyed Ruth Stout’s little books, but I wondered how she could afford all the straw.)

Swale Everything

Swales are shallow ditches running along the contours, to catch and hold water – a lovely idea to conserve water resources. Constructing these on a farm scale is time-consuming. Navigating swales while growing rows or beds of annual crops is not very practical. Not all soils or all crops benefit from water retention. Curtis Stone claims he has heard of permaculture consultants putting in swales which led to too much water retention and then landslides! Nowadays Key-line plowing has made water-retention far more practical. But we shouldn’t all install water retention everywhere. The need will depend on the soil, the climate and the crop.

No Pests!

This slogan I have also taken issue with, myself. It’s the mistaken belief that if you garden or farm well, you won’t have any pests. It’s a “Blame the Victim” thing – if you have pests, you must be doing something wrong. I’m all for planting flowers to attract beneficial insects, and encouraging bees, good bugs and birds. But pests and diseases do still happen to good people! It’s important to work to prevent and avoid pests and diseases – but still, keep on scouting! You can’t safely assume you won’t get pests.

Curtis says that for him the oddest irony is the people in Permaculture who critique other farmers as if one problem is the root cause of all that goes wrong, while themselves believing that a particular permaculture idea applies always and everywhere, rather than being dependent on the wider context. This he calls “a monoculture of thinking”. Truly there is no one sustainable solution for all farming situations. It’s easier to have simple beliefs, but it doesn’t work. Every permaculture method is not going to work on every farm. We need to stay adaptable and flexible in our thinking, and respect and look for diversity in our approach.


The June/July issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. The lead article, by Carolina Lees, is for farmers who are venturing into hiring employees. How to benefit from the help, absorb their enthusiasm, and also reduce confusion of crops, tools, harvest specs? How to balance teaching and doing? How to balance the desire for competence and success with compassion for learners? How to change from an idiosyncratic, spur of the moment decision-making to something that’s easier for others to predict and understand? As Carolina Lees says:

“You can get away with a lot less training if you can make the task easier to learn in the first place.”

Her suggestions include reducing the number of different varieties, labelling all beds clearly, having clear standards and measurements, having only one kind of watering wand and timer, only a few sizes and types of harvest container, having clear places where information is written and stored, using checklists, so workers can be more independent.

Jesse Frost writes about making effective use of social media to increase farm sales. You Tube and email might do better than Facebook. Paying to advertise on Facebook can be more effective than merely posting something. And remember that people want a personal connection, not a hard sell.

Jenny Quiner writes about her urban farmstand’s struggle with changing county regulations. This will be useful to anyone in a similar situation.

Anne and Eric Nordell, well-known long-established horse-powered vegetable farmers from Pennsylvania, have been re-thinking plant spacings, after surveying seven other teamsters’ cropping methods. They compare the plant densities used by horse farmers with tow common tractor-farming spacings and two intensive bed densities. Food for thought.

Ellen Polishuk has interviewed Joanna Letz of Bluma Flower Farm for this issue.


A misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

I have a post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog: 20 Benefits of Having a Hoophouse

If you have been wondering whether a hoophouse (high tunnel) would be worthwhile, this list of twenty reasons to have one can help you decide. The benefits include more and better crops, extended seasons, food self-reliance and a very pleasant work environment.


Longhorn tick.
Photo West Virginia State Department of Agriculture

Don’t think of this as ending with bad news, think of it as saving your health. There is a new tick. The Longhorn Tick has now been found in West Virginia and Virginia, as well as New Jersey.

The longhorn tick is small and difficult to detect.  It is known to carry several diseases that can affect humans, as well as livestock, including some diseases that are not prevalent in the United States, but have affected people in Asia.

This species was first identified by the Animal and Plant Inspection Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in New Jersey in November 2017. The West Virginia State Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of the tick in West Virginia. The longhorn ticks were identified by samples collected from two separate farms in Hardy County WV, both of which are near the Virginia border.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed the presence of the tick in Warren County in northern Virginia (on horses), and in Albemarle County on a calf. A list of common ticks found in Virginia can be found here.

 

 

Year-Round Hoophouse Book update, Growing for Market, Mother Earth News post

 My upcoming book The Year-Round Hoophouse is being copy-edited this month. I was lucky enough to get the same copy-editor who I worked with on Sustainable Market Farming. Meanwhile the designer is working on the layout design, and a bookmark. I already have the pre-publication postcards to give away at events I attend. See my Events Page for that information.

My hoophouse book will be published November 20, which means it will come off-press (all being well) on October 12. Between now and then, we will finish the copy-edits, proofread for errors, then go back to the designer to enter the corrections (in June). In July the index gets made, by one of the Twin Oaks Indexing crew. That can take three weeks. Then there’s a last check (August) before the book goes off to the printers. The press needs five weeks to turn the book around (September and some of October). Meanwhile the electronic version (Ebook) is prepared.

The foreword will get written, as will those endorsements you see on book covers from well-known people who have been given a copy of the advance page proofs to read. Also happening is a lot of attention to marketing–sending information to the sorts of people who will be interested in the book.


The May issue of Growing for Market is out. The cover article is about wholesaling, by Jed Beach. His purpose is to encourage growers who are dissatisfied with the stiff competition in retail, to look carefully at comparative costs of selling wholesale. Receiving a lower price (wholesale) will not lead to lower income if you costs are considerably lower.

High Mowing Seeds is sponsoring farmer emeritus Ellen Polishuk to travel the country interviewing farmers for a Farmer to Farmer Profile series, which will be featured in Growing for Market each month.  This month her profile is of High Ground Organics in California, just two miles from the ocean. As well as the climate, Ellen tells us about the state laws that require overtime to be paid at 1.5 times the regular wage, and the requirement for wages for agricultural work to line up with other employment and achieve a minimum wage of $15 in six years’ time. This is causing big increases to labor costs. In addition, the national political situation is causing fewer immigrants to reach the farms. Hence, some farmers are selling up. The farmers at High Ground are selling one of their two farms in order to focus on farming one well. Eco-stewardship is an important value.  They are excited about improving at managing people and weeds, transitioning to only organic seeds, and growing strawberries with anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD).

Photos of all the  farms featured in Profiles are here.

Ellen has written an upcoming book, with Forrest Pritchard, called Start Your Farm.It will be published in September 2018.

Morgan Houk compares a trip to the accountant very favorably with a trip to have teeth pulled. She encourages all farmers to learn from an accountant:

“the financial success of my business is critical in order for me to continue building community and growing healthy food”

 

Kai Hoffman-Krull writes about two no-till methods: tilling with chicken tractors, and occultation (the cumbersome name of a system using impermeable plastic silage covers to kill weeds and cover crops and leave the soil ready-to-use). The main purpose of using no-till methods for Kai is to keep the carbon in the soil, as both social and environmental activism.

Gretel Adams closes this issue with her usual solid information on growing cut flowers, This issue the topics are ranunculus and anemones. As always, the flower photos are mouth-watering.


A hose with pinholes repaired using bicycle inner tube and old repair clamps. Photo Pam Dawling

I have a new blog post on Mother Earth News This one is a tip for repairing pin-holes in garden hoses. Cheap hoses don’t spring pin holes, they just crack up. But if you invest in good quality hoses, eventually they start to develop pin holes. Cutting the hose and inserting a repair connector is unnecessary. You just need a leftover clamp from a repair coupling (I found I had a whole boxful!) and a square of inner tube. Mark the hole before turning off the water. Wrap the rubber inner tube over the hole, then assemble the old clamp over that.


Meanwhile in the garden this week, we have transplanted tomatoes outdoors, as well as the first cucumbers. The first lettuces are almost ready to harvest, just as the last hoophouse lettuce mix is getting less desirable – milky sap, slightly bitter flavor. We’ve planted out six sowings of lettuce so far. We’ve hilled the potatoes and disked lots of areas for sweet corn and  sweet potatoes.

Lettuce bed in May.
Photo Wren Vile

Tomato Herbicide Injury, August Growing for Market

Roma tomatoes with damage from Triclopyr herbicide July 2016.
Photo Puck Tupelo

This time last year, we were suffering from a herbicide problem which stunted our Roma paste tomatoes. No, we didn’t spray herbicide on them. Someone else sprayed Triclopyr growth regulator herbicide (Ortho Poison Ivy Killer)  on poison ivy down the road, behind some trees. He sprayed on  5/23, and made repeat sprays twice, about two weeks apart (approx. June 4th and 18th). As the crow flies, it might be 600 ft or so from the tomatoes.

Some other brand names of Triclopyr include Grandstand, Alligare, Garlon and Horsepower. Other growth regulator herbicides include 2,4-D, Aminopyralid, Dicamba, Diflufenzopyr, Picloram, Quinclorac, as well as Triclopyr.

On June 18 2016, we noticed some of the younger leaves on our plants were curling inwards and buckling an odd way. There were no obvious spots or mottling, but the sick plants were stunted. Most of the damaged plants were in groups in low areas.

I thought it was a virus. We decided not to handle the plants until we had a diagnosis, for fear of spreading disease. We got help from the wonderful Virginia Tech Plant Diseases Clinic, who said the plants did not have any of the viruses they could test for, or that they knew, and the damage closely resembled growth regulator herbicide damage. But we don’t use herbicides, we protested.

On 6/30 we found out about the initial Triclopyr spraying, but the Plant Disease Clinic at that point agreed that drift was unlikely, given the distance and trees in between our tomatoes and the poison ivy, and the pattern of damage. Triclopyr damage usually appears within one week, not 25 days later (we didn’t find out about the second and third spraying until later). On the other hand, we did not know of any other use of growth regulator herbicide nearby. Their final report, at the end of July, named herbicide drift as the probable cause.

Roma paste tomatoes with oddly curled leaves due to growth regulator herbicide vapor drift.
Photo Puck Tupelo

I researched some more and found information about volatilization on a herbicide website.

High temperatures and low humidity favor herbicide volatilization, which can lead to vapor drift.

We now think that the herbicide sprayed on the poison ivy evaporated or volatilized on that very hot day, formed a little cloud that dropped down in the middle of our tomato patch and did its damage. Tomatoes are very sensitive to herbicides. 68 of our 246 plants showed some damage – about 25%. The Plant Diseases Clinic said:

Symptoms were consistent with chemical injury from a growth regulator type herbicide . . .  Herbicide residue in straw mulch from herbicide-treated pasture or manure from animals fed on herbicide-treated pasture can cause similar symptoms. Since your tomatoes are growing out of the problem it is very unlikely that the problem was caused by herbicide residue in compost/manure/straw used to amend the soil.

To definitively rule out herbicide residue in compost or the soil, I did a bioassay using snap bean seeds planted in numbered pots with tomato plot soil, compost like we’d used, and other garden soil. Beans emerge and grow quickly and can show up herbicide damage.  Most of my bean seed in the bio-assay got dug up and eaten by something. . . such is agriculture! Only one bean came up (out of 48). The bean plant looked fine. It was in a pot of soil from one of the worst tomato plants. This indicated that it was not a problem in the soil (eg from compost or other soil amendments).

The fact that the plants grew out of the problem, making normal leaves later, also suggested it was not a problem in the soil, but an incident after planting. Unfortunately though, after not string weaving for over a month, the plants were a (stunted) jungle and enthusiasm for string-weaving them had plummeted. We got very poor yields that year. Even after all the investigations, my thoughts were:

Drift still seems rather unlikely to me – the pattern of damage, the tiny ready-to-spray bottle so far away. . . It’s sobering how damaging those herbicides can be!

Since then I have acknowledged it most likely was  vapor drift.

I’ve now found a Herbicide Injury Image Database from the University of Arkansas Extension Service. It covers 18 herbicide groups and you can search not just by herbicide group, but by brand name of herbicide, by crop and even a paired search of crop and herbicide. Sadly it doesn’t include the very pairing (tomatoes and Triclopyr) that we were most interested in, but it does have many, many good photos of other combinations.


Recently a friend was showing me her damaged greenhouse tomatoes, which were growing out (recovering) after suffering some damage which caused the stems to make stubby shortened branches. She thought she’d caused the problem by using horse manure after stacking it for “only” 6 months. She thought she was looking at a type of “burning” from manure that was too fresh. I thought it might be damage from one of the “killer compost” herbicides which survive in hay or straw from sprayed fields, survive through composting, survive through livestock digestive systems, and wreak havoc on vegetables.

I looked through the Tomato section of the Herbicide Injury Image Database but I didn’t see exactly what my friend’s plants had. It most resembled the Quinclorac (Facet, Quinstar) damage but I really don’t know.

Tomato damaged by Quinclorac herbicide.
Source (www.uaex.edu) (Dr. Cal Shumway, Dr. Bob Scott, and Dr. John Boyd)

Unmarketable tomatoes ripen on vines affected by contaminated mulch at Waterpenny Farm. (By Margaret Thomas For The Washington Post)

Waterpenny Farm, Sperryville, Virginia suffered herbicide in hay mulch in 2007. The hay they bought had been sprayed with Grazon. They lost 12,000 plants with a harvest worth $80,000. Grazon is another of the growth regulator herbicides like the Triclopyr we were blighted by.

You can read more about “Killer Compost” in these articles by Cindy Conner, Mother Earth News (several samples of off-the-shelf Purina horse feed were contaminated with clopyralid) and Joe Lampl Growing a Greener World TV

Chert Hollow Farm suffered fungicide spray and wrote about pesticide drift part 1 in three episodes, part 2 and part 3. 

Don’t let this happen to you (if you have any control over it) and if it does, seek help.


On a happier note, the August Growing for Market magazine is out. There is a long article about Triage Farming: How to choose what to do when there’s too much to do by Matt S. An important topic and just the time of year when this massive problem hits us. Matt has a sense of humor, which really helps in hard times. There’s also an article European cultivation tools by Sam Hitchcock Tilton. This is followed by Farmers market metrics: Collecting data has many benefits for vendors by Darlene Wolnik. Then a very appetizing article about berries by Michael Brown and a dramatic article on big floral installations for weddings and other events, by Gretel Adams, which includes some very eye-catching and original ideas.

More about Jamaica’s Source Farm Project

A bunch of bananas growing at face level outside my door on the path to the office at Source Farm, Jamaica.
Photo Pam Dawling

At last I got the photos from my Jamaica trip from my camera to the computer. I didn’t take many photos – as I said in my other Jamaica post, it rained most of the time. As you see in the photo above, bananas grow well, the land at Source Farm is hilly, the office is a repurposed and repainted shipping container

At the beginning of June the BBC visited Source Farm and made a podcast as part of the On Your Farm series, and called it Jamaica’s Organic Revolution.

You can listen to all 22 minutes of it for free, and hear the people I stayed with at Source Farm as well as Mr Brown, one of the farmers I met with. I can only link to the program, not embed it, so click the link below

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08skyk0

Source – BBC News

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the voices of my new friends, and being reminded of the farm and the countryside.

Viewing my photos reminded me also of the “domestic wildlife.” First the friendly ones:

Gecko or “Croaking Lizard” on my wall at Source Farm
Photo Pam Dawling

Then the creepy crawlies, the two inch millipedes that were everywhere. You have to be careful not to crush them, because the liquid inside them can cause burns. I never had that problem, and scooped them up by the handful to throw outside each night, only to find them back inside by morning. I concluded that each house had its allotment of millipedes and it was best to ignore them!

Millipede and electric outlet in my room at Source Farm.
Photo Pam Dawling

Things I noticed and learned from the farmers about growing crops in the tropics have led me to think more about how plants respond to temperature and day-length, and I want to learn more about this when I have time. As I said in my Asian Greens for June post:

“Last month I was in Jamaica and saw how they can grow kale in very hot weather. “

I had a comment from a reader about successfully growing Joy Choi in hot summers as well as Tokyo bekana. It’s revelation to me that at least some brassicas can grow in hot weather as long as the temperature never drops below 50°F (10°C), which triggers bolting.

Swiss chard I take for granted as a summer leafy green – it’s a biennial and usually won’t bolt until the second year. The Ruby chard seems the most prone to bolting. We’ve given up that one in favor of Bright Lights, as well as Fordhook Giant green chard. Chard is popular in Jamaica too.

Fordhook Giant green chard.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

A green which is not common here in the US, but is very popular in Jamaica is callaloo, which is a type of amaranth. I enjoyed eating it at Source Farm. I tried growing it in Virginia one year, when I was researching summer cooking greens in spring 2015 for an article in Growing for Market. Here’s what I said then (when I maybe misspelled callaloo):

Vegetable amaranth,  Amaranthus species.

In spring use the young leaves for salad. Larger leaves make tender and nutritious cooked greens. Calaloo is an amaranth (but sometimes other crops have this name), used to make a green Caribbean stew. Joseph’s Coat, Amaranthus tricolor, is an eye-catching plant with red, green, and yellow leaves that may also include patches of pink, bronze, purple and brown. This tropical plant thrives in really hot weather. It is a huge plant, 4-6’ tall. Carol Deppe in The Tao of Vegetable Gardening recommends All Red for a spectacularly colorful leaf, especially for salads, and Green Calaloo and Burgundy for fast-growing greens. She reports they all taste the same to her raw, and all taste the same when cooked. So choose by preferred color and rate of growth.

Seeds should be started indoors in spring, and transplanted once all chance of frost has passed, when it is time to plant corn. Alternatively, broadcast with aim of getting plants 4” apart. Each time the plants reach 12” tall, harvest the top 8”. Pinch back often to push out new leaves and prevent reseeding (it can become a weed problem). If your farm has lots of amaranth weeds, you won’t want to risk adding another. Also, if weed amaranths are eaten by the striped fleabeetles, your cultivated amaranths will also suffer. (Those are the two reasons we gave up on them.)

William Woys Weaver (Saladings, Warm Weather, Mother Earth News) is a fan of ‘Bliton’ or ‘Horsetooth Amaranth’, Amaranthus lividus (Amaranthus viridis). He reports that it is the easiest and most prolific of summer greens. Seed should be started indoors, except in the South. Transplant seedlings when it’s warm enough to plant beans (Frequent advice for many of these hot weather greens). Alternatively, broadcast where it is to grow after all danger of frost is past. Thin the seedlings for salads or harvest plants about 12” tall and cook like spinach. When the plant is older, the stems get too tough, and then only the leaves and new shoots should be used. In parts of the South, it has become a weed – “Grow responsibly,” as Barbara Pleasant says in her Mother Earth News blogpost Warm Weather Spinach Alternatives.

Green Amaranth/Calaloo
Photo Baker Creek Seeds

 

 

Transplanting into hay or straw mulch, organic myth-busting, keep soil in Organic

Hopefully the really cold nights are behind us. We had 20F last Wednesday night/Thursday morning 3/23. We are getting ready to transplant spring cabbage and broccoli. I wrote a bit about broccoli planting last spring (mostly about varieties and planting alyssum to attract beneficial insects) and in spring 2015. 

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our greenhouse in early March.
Photo Wren Vile

Here I’ll say more about transplanting into hay or straw mulch, which I have also written about for Mother Earth News. Transplanting into rolled out or pre-spread straw or hay from small square bales is quicker, easier and more effective than fitting the mulch around the transplants after you’ve planted them.

We bale hay into big round bales, and move them around with the tractor and forks or a rear bale spike (spear). We plan our beds to be 5′ apart on centers and our rows to be 5-5½’ apart (tomatoes, for example) . We prepare our beds and get the mulch dropped off at the uphill end (even a small slope is helpful!).

When we plant garlic in November, as soon as we’ve planted and covered the cloves with soil, we unroll the bales over the top of the beds.

Using mulch helps control weeds, and reduces the weed seed bank, which is the name for the store of weed seeds already in the soil, that will otherwise grow in the future. “One year’s seeding, seven years weeding,” is a wise and rueful gardener’s saying. Only perennial grasses and a few other “running” perennials will come up through a thick layer of hay. Plastic mulches, while they do deal with weeds, actually raise soil temperature. This is an advantage for warm weather crops, but not for brassicas! If using organic mulches for warm weather crops, it is often best to wait four weeks after transplanting, cultivate to remove one round of weeds, then roll out the mulch. This avoids cooling the soil which would slow growth down and delay harvests. If you’re waiting for watermelons, this is too sad! All kinds of mulch also reduce rain splash, helping prevent fungal leaf diseases.

Organic mulches have some advantages over plastic mulches. They keep the soil damper, which can mean higher yields and less need to water. They also keep temperatures lower in summer, an advantage for cool-weather crops, like broccoli and cabbage. Organic mulches improve the soil structure and increase the organic matter. The number of earthworms in the soil at the end of the season can be twice as high as under plastic mulch.

Rolling hay over newspaper for a new strawberry bed.
Photo Luke Stovall

There is a myth that organic mulches lock-up nitrogen from the soil. This could happen with soils which are very short on organic matter and micro-organisms. It does happen if fresh high-carbon sources, such as straw or hay, are incorporated into the soil. In my experience, surface mulches have not caused nitrogen shortages to the crops they mulch. Our soil is very fertile, and we do what we can to encourage soil micro-organisms to multiply, so that they can readily digest what we add to the soil. The longer-term effect of high-carbon mulches can be to increase the soil nitrogen. The micro-organisms feeding on the carbon die and decompose, and they are a high-N source!

If you are buying in straw or hay and need to watch costs, you could spread the organic mulch over a double layer of newspaper. You’ll only need half as much hay or straw compared to mulching with the straw or hay alone. The final result is only half as deep, which is an advantage when transplanting small plants, which could get lost in deep organic mulch. I believe the inks used on regular newsprint are not toxic. We avoid using glossy paper with colored inks, because of concerns about toxicity of the coating on the paper as well as the inks.

Spring cabbage planted in hay mulch, a few weeks after transplanting.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We grow our own hay, so we know it is unsprayed – there is a danger from pyridine carboxylic acids, a class of broadleaf herbicides which persist through composting and even through the digestive systems of livestock, and can kill or seriously damage food crops and flowers. Grazon is one brand; picloram is the plant growth regulator it contains.

Our hay is not the perfect mulch, as it does have some weed seeds, and sometimes mold. (Our garden gets the hay which is not good enough for the cows to eat.) If you have the choice, unsprayed straw is better than hay, as it won’t have many weeds. We don’t live in a grain-growing area, so there is no local straw for sale.

We remove the twine (if it hasn’t already rotted and fallen off) and study the end of the bale to figure out which way it will unroll. This can be surprisingly unclear. If we have to turn the bale, or maneuver it to line up, we might have three people do that. Once it’s rolling, two people can manage to unroll a round bale of hay. We spend some time at the end using wheelbarrows to move hay from the thick places to the thinner spots.

For transplants we do what we call “making nests” in the hay. Two people work opposite each other, across a bed, as we plant two rows of broccoli or cabbage. One of the people has an 18″ stick to measure the  center-to-center plant spacing. The second person doesn’t measure, but staggers their row compared to the first person’s row, making a zig-zag to match the pattern. Both people aim to stay about 16″ from the edge of the bed, so the rows are evenly spaced across the bed. Using two hands, they pull open the hay, down to soil level. The “nest” needs a diameter of about 4″, for easy transplanting. We either make all the nests before we start planting, or we have two pairs of people, with the nesters moving faster than the planters. We want to get the plants in the ground quickly, and minimize the time they are out in the field wilting in the flat.

Each planter works along a row, transplanting into the exposed soil in the nests, firming the plants in and watering from a can every 10-20 plants (depending how hot or windy it is). Another crew member pulls the hose and wand along the aisles and gives all the plants a generous second watering. After the hose watering, someone pulls the hay around the stems at ground level.We call this ” tucking the plants in”. If plants are  “untucked”, this is the signal to the Hose Waterer that the plants need water.  When they are all tucked in along a section of a bed, it is the signal to those unrolling row cover to go ahead and cover. Our system is almost disaster-proof, as it includes indicators about the next task needed.

To have a long broccoli harvest period, we use several varieties with different days-to-maturity, and two sowing dates. This gives us the longest possible harvest period before it just gets too hot for pleasant-tasting broccoli.

A bed of early spring cabbage, planted into hay mulch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons


The Organic Trade Association has published a set of 33 little posters putting solid information out there, and busting some myths about organic agriculture . Here’s one with a photo on our cabbage theme.

The items are free to download, for any healthy food related events you might be organizing. Or just go and read them, so that next time someone asks you a question about organic farming, you’ll have the answers at your fingertips.


And talking about what’s allowed in Organic certification, one controversial practice is hydroponics, where plants grow without soil, in a liquid including nutrients (the nutrients people are aware the plants need). Another is aquaponics where plants grow without soil, in a liquid where farmed fish have been growing.

There is a “Keep the Soil in Organic” movement, which advocates for Organic certification requiring plants to be grown in soil, not water-plus-some-nutrients. Dave Chapman sent me this message asking for support for the National Organic Standards Board on 3/27/17:

“The NOSB needs our help.

The NOSB meets in Denver in three weeks to debate whether a healthy soil is the foundation of organic farming.

We have champions on the NOSB fighting for us, but they need to hear from you. They are facing tremendous pressure from professional lobbyists in this battle. Lee Frankel, one of the chief lobbyists for the hydroponic coalition, stated in an editorial last week that organic hydro is now a billion dollar a year industry. This explosive growth happened in just 7 years since the NOSB recommended that hydroponics has no place in organic certification. That recommendation was opposed by the USDA, and hydro has been welcomed into organic certification. The hydro industry sees organic as their economic gold rush. And they are only getting started.

Please submit a comment to the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) letting them know that organic must be based on the fertility of a healthy soil ecosystem. Don’t let organic be destroyed.

Comments are due by this Thursday 3/30 at midnight. Do it now.

Click Comment Now!  “

No time to lose on that one! Big hydroponic “organic” industries have lobbied and got included as certifiably Organic, when most of us realize that growing food without soil is the opposite of Organic, with or without a capital O.

Pennsylvania farmer Tom Beddard speaks out on the soil in organic at the Rally In The Valley. “You can tell it was grown in the soil because it tastes better!”

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

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

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

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

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


 

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


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

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

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

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

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

In praise of West Indian Gherkins

640px-Cucumis_anguriaThe West Indian burr gherkin. “Cucumis anguria” by Eugenio Hansen, OFS – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I just harvested 4 5-gallon buckets of gherkins (one for seed, 3 for pickling) from a 50ft row we abandoned over 5 weeks ago. We pulled out the drip tape too, so these plants have survived just on rainfall, and there hasn’t been all that much of that. Maybe 3″, but almost all of it in one week, with nothing in the past ten days.

Next year, I want this to be the only pickling cucumber we grow! Not only is it prolific and drought-tolerant, it also shows no sign of any diseases or pests, and its healthy vines cover the ground, leaving no room for weeds. It is a rambler (long vines) so maybe a trellis would be wise. I’ve also learned that it is resistant to some species of Root Knot Nematodes, so we may grow it in our hoophouse as part of our rotation of nematode resistant crops for the bed there which produced some gnarly-rooted tomatoes this year.

Because it’s open-pollinated and doesn’t cross with actual cucumbers (or watermelons, despite the look of the leaves), we are saving our own seed, and a little money in the process. I mentioned West Indian Gherkins last winter when I was ordering seeds. Before September 2012, when I saw these gherkins growing at Monticello, in Thomas Jefferson’s reconstructed garden, I had no idea of their existence. Now I’m starting to hear about them in more places.

William Woys Weaver, author of  Heirloom Vegetable Gardening wrote about them for Mother Earth News in 2008. He discovered that they originated in West Africa, rather than West Indies, and that they can be pickled, eaten raw or cooked like zucchini.Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/growing-burr-gherkins-zmaz08djzgoe.aspx#ixzz3EAMru5hv

Seed is available from Monticello, Baker Creek Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Trade Winds Fruit and Reimer Seeds. This seems like a great crop for hot, humid disease-prone gardens.


 

Meanwhile, we are replacing the plastic on the end walls of our hoophouse. Not sure when we last did that – maybe 7 years ago? We’ve worked two mornings so far (our garden shifts are in the afternoons now that fall has arrived). We’ve got the old plastic hanging, detached everywhere except around the end bows. Tomorrow we’ll get the new plastic on. I think battening the new plastic will be easier than de-battening the old plastic! I’ll probably write more about that next time, and hopefully I’ll have some photos too.

Home from Asheville, potatoes planted, more rain and cold weather.

Last night I got home from a very successful Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. This location was new one for Mother Earth News, and attendance was higher than expected. On Sunday evening one of the staff told me there had been 7000-8000 people. That’s not official. The weather was perfect, and the setting beautifully backed by the mountains. I gave two presentations: Cold-hardy winter vegetables, and Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops, which I revised for the occasion to be clearer, I hope! Tomorrow I’ll upload it to Slideshare.net, so attendees can watch again, and people who didn’t go can see it for the first time. I did a book-signing, and had a marketing talk with my publishers.

Image

I got home to find our garden crew had managed to seize the moment with dry enough soil and get the potatoes planted. It did involve an evening shift covering them. The beds had been prepared for planting broccoli and cabbage, but time ran out. Just as well, maybe. We now have the possibility of a night-time low temperature of 25F tonight and 26F tomorrow. The transplants are better off in the coldframe under several layers of covers.

I spent a lot of the day setting rooted sweet potato slips into flats.The link takes you to last spring’s blog post telling more about how we do it.  Ten days ago I was behind on my goal for the number of slips in flats. Today I am two weeks ahead, suddenly!

Cut sweet potato slips put in water to grow roots. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Cut sweet potato slips put in water to grow roots.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Growing sweet potato slips in a germinating cabinet. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Growing sweet potato slips in a germinating cabinet. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Another piece of good news is that the glitch that sometimes made my website repeatedly unavailable has been solved!

 

 

 

Back from Allegheny Mountain School

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/coldhardy-winter-vegetables-pam-dawling-2013″ title=”Cold-hardy winter vegetables – Pam Dawling 2013″ target=”_blank”>Cold-hardy winter vegetables – Pam Dawling 2013</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

I’m just home from a trip with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, to the Allegheny Mountain School, where we each gave several presentations. My new one, Cold-hardy winter vegetables, is embedded here. For my others, go to SlideShare.net and search for Pam Dawling. Here’s titles I’ve up-loaded previously, if you’d rather cut and paste than browse:

Fall vegetable production (60 min)

CFSA 2012 – Growing great garlic

Southern SAWG – Producing Asian greens for market

Southern SAWG – Intensive vegetable production on a small scale

VABF Farm School 2013 – Sustainable farming practices

VABF 2013 – Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops

Ira Wallace contributes to the SESE blog and to the Organic Gardening blog on Mother Earth News. Click to read her recent post about planning a tomato tasting party. Here’s more about AMS from their website:

“Allegheny Mountain School (AMS) is a not-for-profit experiential fellowship program designed to serve our region’s communities in developing a more secure food system.  AMS is located in Highland County, VA. Allegheny Mountain School (AMS) has assembled its third cohort of nine Fellows where they are working and studying sustainable food cultivation and restorative, nourishing traditions.  Our goal is to teach Fellows to train others to grow their own food and to understand the benefits of eating local, whole foods. AMS is a fully funded intensive 20 month two phase program.  Phase I (April 28,2013-November 1, 2013) takes place on a mountain farm in Highland County, VA where Fellows experience a full growing season to cultivate and harvest their own food, prepare nutritious meals and put up/sow food for winter.  In addition, Fellows engage in mentored research on topics relevant to food or medicinal cultivation and health.  During Phase II (January 1, 2014-December 31, 2014), AMS Fellows are provided stipends to work in positions for our Partner Service Organizations, local nonprofits focused on food systems activities which positively impact community and environmental well being.”

The nine energetic and enthusiastic Fellows are a small temporary community farming together and learning about sustainability. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them, as well as Kayla and Trevor, the two farm managers, and Laurie Bergman. They farm in a splendidly isolated zone 4 mountainous area. Their gardens are almost weed-free, and their onions and leeks are stupendous! Brassica flea beetles are the main insect challenge. The fresh air was a lovely change from muggy central Virginia. Several of the crops we grow outside (eggplant, peppers, watermelon, sweet potatoes) are creatively packed into their hoophouse.

Upcoming Workshops June-December 2013

262994_482614085095986_31252026_nJune 27 2013 Commercial Berry & Vegetable Field Day, Virginia State University School of Agriculture,  Randolph Farm, Petersburg, Virginia. Steps in Planning for Fall Vegetable Production http://www.virginiafruit.ento.vt.edu/2013BerryVeggieFieldDay.pdf

AMSlogotransparentBACKGROUNDwhitenewTEXTAugust 19-20 Allegheny Mountain School, Highland County, VA Planning Fall Vegetable Production, Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops and Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests. http://alleghenymountainschool.org/workshop-leaders/

home-hhf-2013September 6-7 Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello, near Charlottesville, VA. Producing Plentiful Asian Greens and Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests. Click Premium Workshops for Friday and Saturday. http://heritageharvestfestival.com/

MENFairLogoSeptember 20-22 Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, PA. Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables

http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/workshops-pennsylvania.aspx

October 12-13 Mother Earth News Fair, Lawrence, KS not this year, they over-booked speakers. Probably next year.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/info.aspx

LFH_Logo2December 12 Local Food Hub, Scottsville, VA. Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests, and Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables http://localfoodhub.org/get-involved/events/