Saving watermelon seed, rainy day reading, Heritage Harvest Festival

Scooping watermelon seed.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote recently about saving tomato seed, and here I’ll write about extracting watermelon seed. We grow Crimson Sweet Virginia Select, which we sell to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I walk through the patch with a grease pencil (china marker) in July when the melons are forming and write numbers on 40 nice-looking big melons. I’m selecting for earliness, size, disease resistance and flavor.

Selected watermelon with an identifying number.
Photo Nina Gentle

Once the melons start to ripen, I go out to the plot once a week with my trusty garden cart and a collection of clean buckets, a notebook and pen, a big knife, a large slotted spoon, a couple of damp rags, a bottle of water and a big straw hat. I start testing the numbered ones for ripeness. If they are ripe I decide if they are seed-worthy, demoting any with dead vines (not disease-resistant!) or too small. I find promising replacements for any I decide not to save seed from, and number those.

Garden cart with supplies for watermelon seed collection.
Photo Pam Dawling

When I have a good one, I cut it in half and scoop the heart out into a very clean bucket. I taste a piece (that’s the “good flavor” test). These days they all seem to taste good, but the first few years of seed selection, I had some I didn’t like much, so I didn’t save seed from those. See the first photo for the scooping task. Once the heart is scooped out, there is a layer of flesh with seeds in, which I scoop out into a moderately clean bucket. Then a layer of flesh without seeds for the food bucket.

Watermelon seed bucket and food bucket.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the blue bucket is my “dry zone” with my notebook. I write down which melons I harvested, any I discarded, any new ones I added, and how many are left to find in the coming weeks. Generally I harvest 7-10 watermelons per week, generating two buckets of fruit and two half-buckets of seeds. The watermelon seeds are fermented for four or five days, then washed – just like processing tomato seeds I wrote about last week.

Dried watermelon seeds in a paper bag.
Photo Pam Dawling

I harvest 5 or 6 times, from Late July to early September. I don’t want to be selecting for late-ripening melons so I stop harvesting seed long before the fruits are over.


My most recent blog post for Mother Earth News is about repairing garden hoses, most of which you already read about here. It’s in the DIY blog this time (most of my posts go in the Organic Gardening blog). I just heard some numbers for how various of my Mother Earth News blogposts this year are doing, and the big favorite topic is Growing Lettuce Year Round: Succession Planting for a Continuous Supply: 10,924 views! Growing Winter Lettuce: 4,620 views, is second favorite. people sure do love lettuce! Other popular topics this year have been Winter Hoop House Harvest Schedule, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings EasilyHeat-Tolerant Eggplant Varieties, and Planting Leeks. 

How to harvest garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

When I look to see which posts on this blog people visit most often, I see that garlic harvesting and garlic scapes are very popular, as are posts about sweet potatoes.


Sometimes I post links to my slideshows, but here’s a You Tube I’ve been meaning to tell you about. This is my presentation of Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests at New Country Organics.


The September Growing for Market is out. The cover article, by Carolina Lees, advocating a Farmer Retreat. This is a wintertime regional gathering of farmers, with scheduled time for discussion and also for casual hanging-out. No imported speakers! The author is in Oregon, and envy-inducing photos of the beach-side retreat are included. But, what a good idea!

David Ross writes about grower relationships with wholesalers. Shawn Jadrnicek, author of The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Reveolutionary Permaculture-Based System . . .  writes about mulching and crimping techniques for no-till vegetables, including how to have weed-free cover crops, and get the right machinery to roll and crimp them. he uses a manure spreader to spread tree leaf mulch, and shows photos of a very tidy farm.

Rowan Steele writes about obtaining used silage tarps (as advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier) for covering beds to control weeds organically. Rowan writes about how to use the tarps and suggests coordinating a used silage tarp delivery for your small farm community. Contact Travis Quirk at the nonprofit Simply Agriculture Solutions Inc. in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ([email protected]).  The tarps may be delivered for the cost of shipping. Canadian farmers are required to recycle their “grain bags”, but it’s hard for them to find a recycling facility in Canada, so the plastics are sent to the US. They are happy to be able to divert the material for a second use. Sounds great to me!

Jane Tanner writes about William’s WIldflowers, a floral design business run by two sisters, using lots of native flowers, especially perennials, for weddings and other formal occasions.


See you at the Heritage Harvest Festival on Friday September 8 (my premium workshop on growing sweet potatoes from start to finish) or Saturday (strolling around). Last time I looked there were still tickets available for my workshop ($20)

Heritage Harvest Festival

Rain, corn and beans, garden reading

Young bean plants Photo Steve Albert, Harvest to Table

Young bean plants
Photo Steve Albert, Harvest to Table

Well, we’ve had a lot of rain here in central Virginia: 6.3″ (16 cm) in 11 days from 4/26-5/6. The month of April landed us with 4.9″ (12.4 cm) and the first week of May with 2.6″ (6.6 cm). Last week I wrote about my worries for the beans and corn we’d sown before the big rains. The photo above is from Harvest to Table, a website for “beginner and veteran gardener alike”, with the goal of helping people “find easy solutions to common garden problems and . . . bring great food from your garden to your table.” I was happy to see our beans coming up 9 days after sowing, on Thursday! Thank goodness for raised beds! We had canals either side of the beds.

Young sweet corn. Hope to have ours looking like this in a few weeks. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Young sweet corn. Hope to have ours looking like this in a few weeks.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

And the corn started to come up 9 days after sowing, with wan little spikes poking up out of the ground. It remains to be seen how good or otherwise the stand is. I was looking at the top (road) end of the plot, where it is driest. I couldn’t even walk far into the plot as the soil was too sodden and I didn’t want to compact the soil. We always stay off wet soil if we start to sink in – compacting the soil just starves the roots of air and leaves the soil less free-draining than before, causing worse flooding problems. Our first sweet corn sowing is always a bit of a risk. In fact we prepare for this by sowing some corn seeds in styrofoam Speedling flats, the same day we sow the first corn planting outdoors. We float these on water in a tank we built from cinder blocks lined with carpet and plastic. (The carpet extends the life of the plastic.). It is possible to transplant sweet corn until it is about 2″ tall. The link takes you to Vern Grubinger at the University of Vermont, in a region where whole fields of corn are transplanted. We only transplant to fill gaps in our first sowing, if we need to.

Our float frame for Speedling flats can be seen behind this cart of lettuce transplants. Photo Pam Dawling

Our float frame for Speedling flats can be seen behind this cart of lettuce transplants.
Photo Pam Dawling

This floating technique comes from the tobacco growing industry. It works well for corn and onions, but it doesn’t work well for many vegetables – most can’t take continuous water and have to be drained some of the time. If early September is very hot, we use this technique for starting spinach seeds in hot weather. We float the Speedling flats in the daytime and pull them out to drain overnight.

Stakes and ropes set out for planting corn. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Stakes and ropes set out for planting corn.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Back to sowing corn. We sow by hand, making furrows below ropes we stretch between stakes at the right row spacing. In normal conditions, we flood the furrow with water from a hose before we plant. This gives the seed enough water to get up out of the ground and saves worrying and saves a lot of time watering the soil after planting. We put new seed at 6″ and last year’s seed at 4″. Later we thin to 8-10″. I think this shows that different people’s idea of 4″ and 6″ vary a lot! After sowing we cover the seed with soil and  tamp it down. We leave the ropes, as we’ve found they keep the crows off the corn seed. 10″ seems about the right height. About two weeks later we will sow our next corn, and at that point we move those stakes and ropes to mark out the new planting.


I wrote a blogpost for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog, about transplanting broccoli (and other things) into hay mulch. You can see the post here.

And in case it’s raining where you are and you want to think about growing food while you can’t actually get out there and do it, here’s a video of the Succession Planting presentation I did at New Country Organics

Hoophouse tomatoes and squash, garden tour, class.

Tomato plants in our hoophouse, planted among the winter greens Photo Kathryn Simmons

Tomato plants in our hoophouse, planted among the winter greens
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We have planted our two beds of tomatoes in our hoophouse – 92 plants – can’t wait! It will be the very end of May before we get any to eat. We have one bed of fast-maturing kinds, mostly Glacier and Stupice, but also a couple each of Five Star Grape, Sun Gold, Atkinson (trying this for the first time), Garden Peach, Mountain Magic, and Ozark Pink (first year for this too.). Except for Atkinson and Ozark pink these are all tried and tested here. They all mature in 56-71 days from transplanting.

Our second bed is of slower ones – 75-85 days from transplanting. A quarter of them are our reliable standard red slicer Tropic. About another quarter are our favorite orange slicer Jubilee. The other half of the bed are special ones, such as Yellow Oxheart, Amy’s Apricot, Black Cherry, Vinson Watts (new to us this year, disease resistant), Green Zebra, Amy’s Sugar Gem, Rebelski (new to us), Mortgage Lifter, TC Jones and Striped German.

For the tender crops going into the hoophouse at this time of year, we don’t clear the whole bed, but dig holes at 2ft spacing down the middle, removing winter crops as needed.

Holes dug for our hoophouse tomatoes. Photo Wren Vile

Holes dug for our hoophouse tomatoes.
Photo Wren Vile

After planting, we prioritize harvesting the old crops directly to the south of the new plants, then gradually harvest the other “old” crops around , to make more space for the growing new crop. This way, we get maximum food from the space. When the surrounding “old” crops are big, we also get some protection on chilly nights. As you can see in the top picture, we also put wire hoops over the plants and use row cover if a frosty night is forecast.

Summer squash in the hoophouse, planted among Bulls Blood beets. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Summer squash in the hoophouse, planted among Bulls Blood beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Next to be planted is a row of squash. Today the plants are still in a flat in the greenhouse. Next weekend is forecast to be cold – below freezing. Do we plant soon and add row cover, or try to wait until after the weekend? By then the plants could be too big for the flat.


reynolds-logoToday I gave a garden tour to 15 horticulture students from J Sargeant Reynolds Community College, one of Betsy Trice’s three classes there.

logoOn Saturday I taught a class at New Country Organics in Waynesboro, on Succession Planting. I have many slideshows, and each time I prepare for a presentation I usually revise or at least tweak the one I’m about to give. And often after the event, I upload the slides to SlideShare.net so people can see them again (or the many people who missed the event can see them for the first time. I haven’t yet uploaded the slightly revised Succession Planting to Slide Share. I see I posted the previous version here as recently as 11/10/15.

Instead of reposting I went through my archives and made a new category “slide shows” and labelled all the ones I could find. So, if you are in a slide show watching mood, you can click on the Slide shows category in the side panel on the left and pick from the choices there. Also, Jillian Lowery filmed the class at New Country Organics, and I hope to be able to post the video.


Rhubarb in early spring, not yet ready to harvest. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rhubarb in early spring, not yet ready to harvest.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors, we are weeding, composting and mulching our rhubarb. This is a borderline climate for rhubarb, but we manage to get a crop from it. Best if we provide summer shade.

 

Events List 2016

I’ve been busy planning my workshops for the next several months and beyond. Here’s a list of what I have confirmed and some that are just possibilities at this point. Remember, conference registrations can make nice gifts! (as can books – click my Book Reviews category in the side bar.)

SSAWG+2016+Conf+Brochure+coverSouthern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms conference, KY.

Dates: January 29-30, 2016 (pre-conference Jan 27-28)

Location: Lexington Convention Center, 430 West Vine Street, Lexington, KY 40507

Registration: $199 including Taste of Kentucky banquet

http://www.ssawg.org/2016-conference-program

Pam’s Workshop: Friday, 9:45 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale — Learn techniques for raising large amounts of food on small acreages. Pam Dawling, who raises vegetables for a 100-person community on 3.5 acres, will discuss direct sowing and growing of transplants, close spacing, raised beds, irrigation, disease and pest management, and season extension techniques. This session will be valuable for small market farmers and urban farmers who want to maximize production with limited space.

Book Signing: Thursday, January 28 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.


culpeper

Culpeper County Library, VA

Date: Sun, Feb 28, 2016 2-4 pm

Location: Culpeper County Library, 271 Southgate Shopping Center, Culpeper, VA  22701

Workshop topic: talk about my book, research, importance, etc. for 30 – 45 minutes, then 15 – 30 minutes Q&A.  CSA Farmers at an info table. (National CSA sign up day)

Signing and selling books.


23Spring_PageBanner1Organic Growers School, Asheville, NC

Dates: March Fri 11-Sun 13 2016.

Location: University of North Carolina Asheville, UNCA

Workshop topics: Growing Great Garlic – Planting, harvest, curing, storing and the selection of planting stock are comprehensively covered in this workshop. As well as both hardneck and softneck bulb garlic, this workshop covers “byproduct crops” such as garlic scallions and scapes, which are ready early in the year when new crops are at a premium.

Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale — Raise large amounts of food on small acreages.  Learn about crop planning and record-keeping, growing and maintaining healthy soils, using crop rotations, cover crops, organic mulches and the basics of compost making (and growing). Compare methods for direct sowing and growing transplants. Learn about plant spacing, raised beds, irrigation, disease, pest and weed management, and season extension techniques.  For both small market farmers and urban farmers who want to maximize production with limited space.

Handouts

Workshops are 1.5 hours each

Signing and selling books.


logoNew Country Organics, Waynesboro, VA

Small class, about 15 people

Date: Saturday March 26, 10am-noon.

Location: New Country Organics 801 2nd Street Waynesboro, VA 22980 To be confirmed

My contact: Jillian Lowery [email protected]

www.newcountryorganics.com 540-184-1956 844-933-3337

Workshop topic: Succession Planting

Handouts

Selling and signing books


fair-logoMother Earth News Fair, Asheville, NC (to be confirmed)

Anticipated Weekend Attendance: 15,000

Dates: Saturday April 9 – Sunday April 10, 2016 (to be confirmed)

Location: Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, 1301 Fanning Bridge Road,
Fletcher, NC 28732

Registration: $25 weekend pass.

Workshops: (to be decided)

Book-signing


MGHeaderLouisa Master Gardener class tour of TO gardens

Date: Thursday, April 21

Location: Twin Oaks Community


HHF2016Heritage Harvest Festival

Dates: September 9-10 2016

Location: Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Tickets: TBD

Workshops: To be decided

Book-signing


fair-logoMother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. (to be confirmed)

Anticipated Weekend Attendance: 18,000

Dates: Friday-Sunday September 23-25, 2016

Location: Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 777 Waterwheel Drive, Seven Springs, Pa. 15622

Registration: $20 weekend pass

Workshop topics to be decided

Book-signing


logoNew Country Organics, Waynesboro, VA (to be confirmed)

Date: Saturday October??, 10am-noon. About 15 people

Location: To be confirmed: New Country Organics 801 2nd Street Waynesboro, VA 22980

My contact: Jillian Lowery [email protected]

www.newcountryorganics.com 540-184-1956 844-933-3337

Workshop topic: Cold Hardy Winter Vegetables

Handouts

Selling and signing books

 fair-logoMother Earth News Fair, Topeka, KS (to be confirmed)

Anticipated Weekend Attendance: 12,000

Dates: October 22-23, 2016

Location: One Expocentre Dr., Topeka, KS 66612

Registration: $20 weekend pass

Workshop topics to be decided

Book-signing


 

Winter salad crops: Ruby Streaks. Photo McCune Porter

Winter salad crops: Ruby Streaks.
Photo McCune Porter

Meanwhile, here and now, on the ground, a photo of our much-beloved Ruby Streaks, in our Eat-All Greens patch, being used as salad greens.