Cindy Conner’s Grow a Sustainable Diet, and results from the poll about my blog 2 weeks ago

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Endorsement for Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and growing to feed ourselves and the Earth, by Cindy Conner, which is being published by New Society Publishers early next year. Fun cover!

Cindy’s book will set you on the path to providing healthy food for your household without depleting the Earth in the process. Her conversational style will give you confidence as she breaks complex ideas into manageable steps. You can learn from the outset how to replenish what you take from the soil, by cropping intensively, growing cover crops (to till in) and crops to cut and compost. She advocates growing compost materials on 60% of your land, and she explains her Bed Month concept to help you do this easily. You can also read what Cindy has to say about it on her blog 

When I put out a short poll two weeks ago I wondered what the response would be. Here’s the answers so far

Mini-articles on a particular crop 5 45%
This week in the garden 3 27%
Other: 3 27%
Book reviews 0 0%
Other Answer Votes
small farm equipment reviews and suggestions 1
All of the above. 1
All of the above – love your VA gardening info 🙂 1

Well, no one spoke up for book reviews. Too bad, I’ve got some good ones!

But I’ll definitely try to focus on the things you do want!

Sweet potatoes, statistics and inspiration

A bumper crop of sweet potatoes. Credit McCune Porter

A bumper crop of sweet potatoes.
Credit McCune Porter

After a week of drizzle, it finally eased up and we started harvesting our sweet potatoes. I wrote a lot about this topic last year, so I won’t go into many details here. As usual, we set the dug roots in clusters, so we could see which plants yielded most and chose medium-sized roots from those to grow our slips next year. In the picture above, we are crating the sweet potatoes after someone has gone through selecting the seed roots. In the right background you can see our grid-linked solar array. In the left background is our hoophouse, and to the left is our dying last sweet corn planting. We have one last picking today, from the Silver Queen at the far end. We used a low electric fence around this patch to keep the raccoons out, and either it worked, or the beasts didn’t notice this planting. We didn’t get any visits from tigers or elephants either! Also visible in the photo above are remaining bits of the bioplastic biodegradable mulch we used. It’s made from non-GMO corn, and is great for warm-weather loving vining crops.

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they save a lot of time. Credit McCune Porter

This year, the Georgia Jet seem more productive than the Beauregard – I think that’s usual. We dug about a third of the crop the first day and got 86 boxes. The second day we had a lot of other harvesting (beans and broccoli being the most time-consuming), so we only dug another 36 boxes. We’re still only 45% of the way down the patch, so we could end up with 250 or more boxes. Probably the yield will taper off closer to the end of the field as the deer were browsing on the vines all summer.

Friday update: Well, we finished harvesting yesterday, and the yield dropped off a lot where the deer had been browsing (memo: fence out the deer in future!) We got a total of 177 boxes of various sizes, perhaps about 3939 pounds, almost two tons. That’s not a record-breaker, but is second best in the past ten years.

Our yearly harvest of sweet potatoes has varied a lot, from 31 boxes (a sad year) to 243 in 2009. An average over ten years of 112 boxes, each weighing perhaps 23 pounds. We grow about 800 row feet. We always hope to have enough to last till the beginning of May, when people start to lose interest in sweet potatoes, and start hoping for tomatoes.

Now I’ve glided smoothly into the statistics section of this post, so I’ll tell you some figures for my book sales while I’m at it. New Society has sold 3320 to mid-September, from a 5000 print run. They say the book is selling well, not many returns. At Twin Oaks we’ve sold 150 of the 250 we bought in February when it came out. I’ve just set up an Author Page at Amazon, so I can tell you they have sold 940 print copies up till 10/6. They also provide me with ranking info (this could get addictive if I let it!) and my book was #40,116 when I looked. That sounds pathetic till you realize that’s out of 8 million titles. Anyway, enough vanity! As far as its usefulness to readers, having an Author Page means that if you go to Amazon, to my book page, and then click on my name, you can read my bio, and see my upcoming events, and get back to this blog.

Getting perspective on the bookselling world, I was encouraged to learn that there is being a resurgence of small booksellers, despite the Big Online One. Here’s a link to the story in the Christian Science Monitor in March this year. I learned about it from Wendy Welch of the Little Bookstore at Big Stone Gap, who I met at the Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. She has written a memoir about her bookstore, called The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, which you can buy via her website, or, I’m sure, at her store.

And now on to this Inspiring story: At the Mother Earth News Fair I met a young woman of 12 who had borrowed my book from her library. She got inspired and decided to start market gardening. She succeeded in clearing $6000 in her first year, when she was 11!

Report from Mother Earth News Fair, and more to look forward to

<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>

While I was checking SlideShare.net for my slideshows, to re-post my Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables one, I found this lovely one, from Alison and Paul Weidiger, two of my gardening gurus. They farm in Kentucky, which is the same winter-hardiness zone as us (zone 7) and the same latitude (38N).

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/awiediger/fall-and-winter-production-presentation” title=”Fall And Winter Production” target=”_blank”>Fall And Winter Production</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/awiediger” target=”_blank”>awiediger</a></strong> </div>

Alison and Paul will be presenters at the Virginia Biofarming Conference Jan 31 – Feb 1, 2014 in Richmond, VA at the Doubletree by Hilton HotelThey will give two workshops Growing Cool Season Vegetable Crops in High Tunnels  and  Greenhouse Herb and Transplant Production for Profit. There’s a great line-up of speakers including Mark Cain (another grower I much admire) on Cut Flowers, Harvey Ussery, The Modern Homestead,  the $43,560 Project by Clif Slade and our dear friend  Ira Wallace, of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange on How to Germinate Seeds Year-Round.

Also some speakers I haven’t met before, who sound really good: Successful Management of a Diversified Organic Farm by Stacy Brenner and John Bliss, of Broadturn FarmProfitable Vegetable Farming on 1.5 Acres: BioIntensive Market Garden  by Jean-Martin Fortier, of Les Jardins de la Grelinette, and Ray Archuleta, Conservation Agronomist, NRCS .and several more. See the VABF website for more details.

I left for the Mother Earth News Fair in PA on Thursday, and got home on Monday. It was a huge event! Over 240 workshops at 14 different locations, some indoor stages, some outdoors. Saturday was rainy, Sunday cold. I think it’s the first time I’ve given a presentation while wearing my jacket. but these Fair-goers are a hardy lot. The tent was packed. As well as the presentations, there were almost 400 booths with exhibitors, vendors and demonstrations, and the large MEN Bookstore, where I did book-signing on Sunday after my presentation.

Here’s a lovely piece of feedback I got: “I thought your presentation was excellent – best I went to. – you seem to really love your vocation and your information was all practical with no trite filler (like some). Well done.”

I also (at last, after a few years of emailing), had the pleasure of meeting my editor, Ingrid Witvoet, and my marketing person, Sara Reeves, from New Society Publishers. At the NSP authors’ reception, I got the chance to talk with other writers, comparing our experiences.

I joined the MEN Blog Squad at a lunch meeting, and signed up to also blog for them. Don’t worry, I won’t close this one down any time soon.

I hope to go to the Asheville, NC MEN Fair April 12-13 2014. I might need a new slideshow – so many of mine are intended for winter and fall conference audiences.

And now, back at home, fixing irrigation systems, sowing seeds for winter hoophouse crops and unpacking my cold weather clothes. there has been a decided shift in temperature in the past few weeks. Fall is beautiful here.

Fall spiderweb photo from Ezra's blog ObserVA

Fall spiderweb photo from Ezra’s blog ObserVA

Frost, tomatoes, sun, rain, mistakes and future events

Tomato Seedlings in the greenhouse earlier in spring. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Tomato Seedlings in the greenhouse earlier in spring.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

What a week! With the forecast for low temperatures on Sunday and Monday nights this past week, we back-pedaled on our transplanting plans. The tomato plants in our coldframe were very tall. In order to cover them we extended the cold-frame height by balancing plastic crates on top of the blockwork walls. Setting the lids on top of this construction was a bit precarious, but it worked well. Only a few of the taller tomatoes got nipped at the very top on Monday night when the temperature plummeted to 30F. 5/14 is very late for a last frost for us. Our average for the past ten years is 4/30, but in 2009 it was 5/19. In 2011 it was 4/14. Farming is full of surprises!

Tomato Transplants in the cold-frame. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Tomato Transplants in the cold-frame.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

On Tuesday we started transplanting tomatoes. Hot dry windy weather. On Wednesday 5/15 it reached 90F. On Thursday afternoon we planned to continue the big transplanting of our Roma paste tomatoes. Three rows are in mowed no-till rye, vetch and winter peas cover crop and one row is on black biodegradable plastic mulch. (Here’s an interesting link to a comparison of the two biggest brands of biodegradable plastic mulch. http://extension.udel.edu/ag/files/2012/03/2012DegradableMulchWM.pdf) But Thursday’s shift was inauspicious. We started with only 5 of us (we plan for 7). One person had to leave at 4pm. One person was called away to bale hay. Another person agreed to provide childcare for the person baling hay, from 4-6pm. Then another person started to feel ill, and left the scene. The 3 of us still working at 3pm started to sow our second zucchini and summer squash. We each used two dowels to make holes every 6″ in the biodegradable plastic mulch. We got the holes popped through, but then another community member cycled by and warned us of a strong thunderstorm heading right for us. Discretion being the better part of valor, we retired for a tea-break and to consult the local radar on Wunderground. An intense “red and yellow” storm, not very wide (ie not very long-lasting), was due any minute. Once it started to rain we decided to quit trying to garden for the day. good thing too. We got an inch of rain in an hour. Too bad the soil hadn’t dried out enough for us to do a second hilling of the potatoes before this new rain. or make ridges for sweet potatoes. Now we’ll have to wait another week, during which there is 20-80% chance of some rain every day except Monday, when it is forecast to be foggy. So I’m getting closer to finishing reading my library book. . .

April 2013 Growing for Market

April 2013 Growing for Market

Meanwhile, in the Mental Gardening Department, I found I had made mistakes in my Growing for Market articles on parsnips and fennel, about which plants can cross-pollinate each other. So I wrote an apology and correction. One of these mistakes is in my book. In case you are reading my former, deluded, beliefs, here is the correction: On parsnips, the facts are that parsnips can cross with wild parsnip, but not with carrots or Queen Anne’s Lace, as I wrongly claimed.

On fennel, the facts are that fennel does not cross with anything except other fennel. It is widely said (even by some seed companies!) that dill and fennel cross, and some even describe the terrible flavor of the resulting crosses. Clearly this is a superstitious belief that continues because acting on the belief produces good fennel (or dill) seed. Similar to how someone might snap their fingers to keep away tigers – no tigers – complete success! I’ve long believed dill and fennel crossed. It’s good to know I don’t need to worry about that any more.

This is the first error I’ve found in my book. Soon New Society wants a list of corrections from me, for when they do a reprint. I’ve only found this and one formatting glitch so far. Embarrassing, but I repeat my Mantra for Consolation: “The only people who never make mistakes are those who don’t do anything.” On Monday I did an interview for Lightly on the Ground Radio on wrir.org (Richmond Independent Radio) with Sunny Gardener. I’m learning how to find and download the podcast (so many technical skills to learn!) I’m working on a powerpoint presentation on Planning Fall Vegetable Production, for Virginia State University’s Summer Vegetable and Berry Field Day on June 27 at Randolph Farm. This will lead nicely to my Last Chance Sowings article for the August Growing for Market and a Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables presentation for the Mother Earth News Fair in September

Here’s my list of upcoming presentations and workshops:

June 27 VSU Randolph Farm. Planning Fall Vegetable Production

August 19-20 Allegheny Mountain School, VA

September 6-7 Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello, near Charlottesville, VA. Asian Greens, and Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests

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

October 12-13  Mother Earth News Fair, Lawrence, KS perhaps

December 12 Local Food Hub, Scottsville, VA. Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests, and Winter Hardy Vegetables

Starting sweet potato slips

Growing sweet potato slips from roots planted in flats of compost.Credit Kathryn Simmons

Growing sweet potato slips from roots planted in flats of compost.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

The weather outside is still full of rain, but I’m optimistically starting growing our own sweet potato slips. Surely it will dry out by May?

Sweet potatoes are related to morning glory, in the genus Ipomoea. They are not yams, even though they are often called yams! True yams are a tropical species of tuber (genus Dioscorea). Sweet potatoes are roots, not tubers, and will not even cross with yams. So forget yams. Unlike white potatoes, which have the annual plant sequence of vegetative
growth, flowering and dying back, sweet potato plants would continue growing forever if the weather was warm enough.

The mystique of sweet potato slips

Sweet potatoes are not grown from seed or from replanted roots, but from “slips,” which are pieces of stem with a few leaves, grown from a mother root. We used to buy bare-root sweet potato slips to plant, believing growing our own would be very tricky. The collapse of our supplier and our desire to have organic plants (plus a need to reduce our expenses one year), pushed us into growing our own. We had some problems initially, so I can warn you about how not to do it. Now we have a system we really like, and we’ve found several advantages of homegrown slips over purchased ones.

With purchased slips, we had to specify a shipping date months ahead, then hope the weather sprites would be kind. We had to jump to when the plants arrived, and get them all in the ground pronto, to keep them alive as best we could (because their roots needed moisture). We accepted as normal a certain amount of drooping. We can have late frosts, spring droughts or El Niño wet springs, and climate change is only adding to the uncertainty. With homegrown slips we can delay planting if that seems wise; we can plant them in stages rather than all on one day. The transplants don’t wilt. We can grow them big and plant them with three to five nodes underground, giving more chance of survival in heat or frost. We can keep some spares on hand to replace casualties. The sturdy plants get off to a strong start, which could be an even bigger advantage further north where the season of warm-enough weather is on the short side for a 90–120-day plant. And we are self-reliant — we never have to spend money on them.

Timing

Figure out your ideal planting date and work back to find your starting date. Planting is usually done about two weeks after the last frost. The soil temperature should reach at least 65°F (18°C) at 4″ (10 cm) deep on four consecutive days. For us, that’s around May 12. It takes eight weeks to grow the slips, and the roots produce more slips if conditioned for two weeks (or even four), before you start to grow slips. So start ten to twelve weeks before your planting date. We now start March 1. Here’s where I made my first big mistake — following directions written for much further south, I tried to start growing slips in mid-January. Dismal fight against nature!

Testing (Optional)

If you want to get the best yields from your mother roots, first test the roots in a bucket of water — the ones that float are said to yield better and produce better-flavored roots. Next, test for viral streaking — also known as color breaks or chimeras, where paler spots or radial streaks appear in the flesh — and discard roots with pale spots or streaks wider than a pencil lead. Cut a thin slice from the distal end of each root — the stringy root end, opposite the end that was attached to the plant stem. All the sprouts will grow from the stem end, so don’t cut there! If you can’t tell the difference between the ends, you can ignore this step and plan not to propagate your own slips for more than a couple of years (so the virus load doesn’t get too high). Or if you are a home gardener dealing with a small crop, you could keep the slips from each root separately and cut up the mother root before planting and then discard the slips from streaked roots.

Conditioning (Also Optional)

Put the chosen roots in flats, boxes or trays, without soil, in a warm, moist, light place for two to four weeks. Ideal conditions are 75°F–85°F (24°C–29°C) at 95% humidity. This can double or triple the number of sprouts the root will produce in a timely manner. We use our germinating chamber, which is an old glass door refrigerator heated by a light bulb. See the photo above. Conditioning after testing allows the cut surfaces to heal before they are covered by compost. The environment for sprouting the roots is similar, so you can probably use the same location.

Sprouting

Set up a place with light, humidity and ventilation at 75°F–85°F (24°C—29°C) and with about 12″ (30 cm) of headroom. Plant the selected roots almost touching each other, horizontally in free-draining light potting compost in flats or crates. Water the boxes and put them to sprout. Once again, we use our ex-fridge germinator. Using boxes is much more manageable than having the roots loose in a big coldframe. Indoor spaces are much easier to heat than the great outdoors! Boxes can be insulated and put on a bench at a decent working height, with lights or heat lamps over them. Keep the compost damp, and if your planting medium is without nutrients, give liquid feed occasionally once sprouting starts. For small quantities of slips, it is possible to sprout the potatoes half-submerged in water, either in trays of water or by suspending a sweet potato impaled on toothpicks, resting on the top of a glass of water. For larger quantities I recommend our method.

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

Cutting and spotting the slips
After 5–7 days, the roots will begin to produce slips. Ideally, wait until the slips are 6″–12″ (15–30 cm) tall with 4–6 leaves beginning, then cut them from the root and stand them in water. If necessary, cut them a bit shorter. Some people pull or twist the slips from the roots, but this could transfer diseases by bringing a small piece of the root with the sprout. I cut the slips daily, bunch them in a rubber band and stand them in a small bucket of water. The slips will grow more roots while they are in water for several days, which seems to be an advantage. Once a week I spot (plant) the oldest, most vigorous slips (with good roots) into 4″ (10-cm) deep wood flats filled with compost. The spotted flats require good light in a frost-free greenhouse and sufficient water. If you are two weeks away from your planting date and are short of slips, you can take cuttings from the first flats of slips that were spotted, to make more. The slips planted in flats become very sturdy, allowing flexibility about planting dates and a longer slip-cutting season. About ten days before planting, start to harden off the flats of slips by reducing the temperature and increasing the airflow. It’s also possible to skip the spotting stage and transplant the slips outside directly from the water, but I don’t think this is as good as spotting them into flats of good compost for a few weeks.

Once a week we plant the rooted slips in flats.Credit: Kathryn Simmons.

Once a week we plant the rooted slips in flats.
Credit: Kathryn Simmons.

From Sustainable Market Farming, (c) Pam Dawling, New Society Publishers 2013

 

Presentation at VABF Conference

My next presentation will be at Healthy Soil, Healthy Crops, Healthy Livestock, the Virginia Biological Farming Conference  at the Holiday Inn-Koger Center in Richmond, Virginia, February 8-9. I’m also hosting one of the Farm Tours on the Thursday before the conference (see below).

My presentation is on Saturday Feb 9, 10:30 am – 12:00 noon

Session 4. Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops, Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community, Louisa, VA:

Pam Dawling writes for Growing for Market magazine. She has been growing vegetables at Twin Oaks Community in Central Virginia for over 20 years, where the gardens feed 100 people on 3.5 acres. Her book Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, published by New Society Publishers on February 1, 2013, will be on sale at the conference. The workshop will discuss cover crops suitable at various times of year in our Virginia climate, particularly winter cover crops between vegetable crops in successive years. She will provide ideas to help you design a sequence of vegetable crops which maximizes the chance to grow good cover crops as well as reduce pest and disease likelihood. She will include examples of undersowing of cover crops in vegetable crops and of no-till options. She will discuss formal rotations as well as ad hoc systems for shoehorning minor crops into available spaces.

I’ll be at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange booth when I’m not at a workshop, perched on the end of their table, with a big stack of books, signing and selling. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be selling the book at their booth at all the events they go to throughout the year, and through their catalog.

vabfThe Keynote speaker Karl Hammer of Vermont Compost Company will describe an Integrated System for Production of Poultry and Compost. The Friday plenary will feature Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain who will discuss Using Mycorrhizae to Improve Soil Fertility and Plant Health. Other speakers include: Kristin Kimball, author of The Dirty Life,  and her husband Mark Kimball, on crop and soil management at Essex Farm in New York, where they run a complete diet CSA, (I just reviewed her book!); Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes, for a primer on the soil food web; Kit Pharo of Cheyenne Wells, CO, on minimum input beef cattle production, and me, on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops. I’m on at 10.30 am on Saturday February 9.

Full sessions schedule found here.

New this year: Conference meals will feature all major ingredients from Virginia’s sustainable farms! (Friday lunch and dinner, Saturday lunch). Friday dinner will feature our new “Fresh Chef Trifecta”: Three local chefs will face off to offer the best and most delicious demonstration of local, seasonal fare. (In February, no less!)

If you can’t make it to the entire conference, tickets are available for just the Friday night dinner, cooking demonstrations, and keynote speech by Karl Hammer.

Separate from the Conference itself, VABF is hosting two workshops and Farm Tours on  Thursday, February 7th (Registration is separate but located on the same webpage.) There are two all-day workshops and two farm tour options. Workshops take place at and tours depart from the same hotel/conference center as the Conference.

Farm School for Beginners: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm – This One Day Farm School course utilizes the Whole Farm Planning curriculum developed as part of the Virginia Beginner Farmer and Rancher Coalition from Virginia Tech. The course is designed for those with 10 years or less farming experience, and includes presentations from successful farmers as well as extensive hand-outs and resources from the Whole Farm Planning curriculum. Complementary Farm Tour component on Friday morning. $75 – Lunch is included. 

Farm School – Advanced Vegetable Production: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm – The owner of Victory Farms, Inc., Charlie Collins has grown for restaurants and farmer’s markets in Phoenix, Arizona and Richmond, Virginia for nearly 20 years, most recently running a 400+ member CSA.  His methods yield significant production and very high quality.  He has been Certified Naturally Grown for all 10 of CNG’s years as a farmer-run certification program. With specific focus on vegetables, greens, herbs, and vining fruits, Charlie will offer insight into medium to large-scale production, harvesting and storage techniques, transportation and distribution, and farm business management. He will also talk about how to establish workable roles on the farm to avoid burn out, delegating to employees, interns or volunteers, and the cycle of a farm and CSA over several years.  Discussion is encouraged so bring your questions! Minimum enrollment required. $85 members, $95 non-members – Lunch is included. 

Farm Tours: Will depart from the Holiday Inn-Koger Center at 9 am. $40 members, $45 non-members. Lunch and transportation provided.

Option 1: Commercial Compost, and Dairy/Poultry/Pork/Beef – Watkins Nurseries‘ commercial compost operation and Avery’s Branch Farms in Amelia, where the Alexander family tend a herd of dairy cows and raise grass-fed beef and poultry, in addition to pastured layers and pork. $40 members, $45 non-members – Lunch is included. 

Option 2: Hydroponics, and Vegetable Production (High Tunnel and Over-wintering) – Windmill Produce Farm’s two greenhouses growing hydroponic lettuces, herbs, and microgreens, followed by Twin Oaks Community‘s 3.5 acre vegetable operation, which provides most food for 100 people year round through the use of their two greenhouses. $40 members, $45 non-members –  Lunch is included. 

Register here

Ordering seeds! Seed Viability and Varieties New to us

I’ve been busy putting our seed orders together. As we grow so many different crops, it’s quite a time-consuming process. And I hate to buy too little and be out in the field on planting day, looking at an almost empty packet. Equally, I hate to buy too much, which either wastes money (if we throw the extra away), or else causes us to risk sowing seed that really is too old, and won’t do well. I keep a chart of how long different types of seed last:

Seed Viability

(From Sustainable Market Farming, (c) Pam Dawling, New Society Publishers, 2013)

     

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   “Opinions vary a bit about how many years seeds of different vegetables are good for. The fuller story is that storage conditions make a big difference. You can make your own decisions, weighing up the information supplied, your knowledge of how carefully you stored the seeds, the information on each packet about percentage germination when you bought it, and the economic importance to you of that particular crop. If you always transplant lettuce, as I do, you can risk one of your four varieties in that sowing coming up poorly, and just plant out more of the other three if it fails. Many seed catalogs include information about seed longevity, and so does Nancy Bubel in The Seed Starters Handbook.

www.chelseagreenFrank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.

A simplified version is as follows:

  • Year of purchase only: Parsnips, Parsley, Salsify, and the even rarer Sea Kale, Scorzonera
  • 2 years: Corn, Peas and Beans of all kinds, Onions, Chives, Okra, Dandelion, Martynia,
  • 3 years: Carrots, Leeks, Asparagus, Turnips, Rutabagas
  • 4 years: Spinach, Peppers, Chard, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, Basil, Artichokes and Cardoons
  • 5 years: most Brassicas, Beets, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Cucumbers, Muskmelons, Celery, Celeriac, Lettuce, Endive, Chicory.”

Rather than deteriorating with age, some very fresh seed has a dormancy that needs to be overcome by chilling (lettuce). Other seed contains compounds that inhibit germination. These can be flushed out by soaking in water for about an hour (beets).

Another of the challenges with seed ordering is converting between grams, ounces and seed counts. Here’s a helpful table of 1000 Seed Weight for 13 crops.

Our main seed suppliers are FedcoJohnny’s and Southern Exposure. Fedco has great prices, especially on bulk sizes, great social and political commentary in the catalog, and no glossy pages. Johnnys has some good varieties that Fedco doesn’t, and a ton of useful information tucked away on their website. Southern Exposure is best on southern crops and heat tolerant varieties which we can’t expect seed companies in Maine to specialize in. Plus, SESE are my friends and neighbors.

This year we are trying some new varieties. Generally we like to have some reliable workhorses that we know well, and trial a few new things, especially if we hear our favorite varieties are no longer available. Last year our Nadia eggplant couldn’t cope with the heat. For a while in early summer they didn’t grow at all – no new flowers, never mind new fruit. So next year, alongside Nadia I’m trying 3 that should deal better with heat. Florida Highbush is open-pollinated, from the Seed Savers Exchange. Epic and Traviata are hybrids from Osborne Seeds.

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

I also bought some Sugar Flash snap peas from Osborne. We have been big fans of Sugar Ann, but I’ve heard Sugar Flash is even better on flavor, yield and harvest period. We’re going to find out!

For a couple of years we really liked Frontier bulb onions as a storage variety for this climate and latitude (38N). Frontier disappeared from the catalogs of our usual suppliers and we tried Gunnison and Patterson. This year – no Gunnison! And we didn’t get a good test of Patterson last year, as we failed to weed our onions enough, after an initial enthusiastic good go at it. We were looking again at Copra, one we grew some years ago (before we found Frontier). I lucked out when I decided to see if Osborne had Gunnison, while I was shopping there. they didn’t, but they had Frontier! And then when I was shopping at Johnny’s, I found they did have some Gunnison for online sales only. So I ordered those too!

We’re also trying Sparkler bicolor sweet corn from Fedco and a drying bean I won’t name, as the seed is in short supply. And this year we’re hoping Red Express cabbage will prove to be a reliable little worker. We used to like Super Red 80, but had several years of poor results. Since then, none of the other red cabbages we tried have satisfied us in terms of size, earliness, productivity and flavor.

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

After a few years of poor pickling cucumbers, we’re going outside the box and trying West Indian Gherkins from Monticello, where they were grown by Thomas Jefferson (and some of the enslaved people, no doubt). These are not closely related to actual cucumbers, but are used similarly. I saw them growing in the Monticello garden when I was there for the Heritage Harvest Festival in September, and they are certainly robust and productive in hot humid weather. We’ll see how the pickles turn out!

My only other “impulse buy” was the Salanova Lettuce new at Johnny’s. They are 6 varieties of head lettuce designed to be used for salad mix at a single cutting. Quicker than  snipping rows of baby lettuce with scissors. More fun than plain lettuce heads. They are loose heads of small leaves in various shades of green and red, and two “hairstyles”: frizzy and wavy.

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny's Seeds

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s Seeds

12/14/12 My book has gone to the printers!

Since my last update on December 4, we all had a last minute flurry of activity before I left for a few days in the Shenandoah mountains. A very nice break. I got back last night and now have official confirmation from New Society Publishers that the book has gone off to press!

I spent last weekend (before my trip) trawling through the whole thing as a pdf, looking for anything that needed fixing. Kathryn managed to shrink down the index to make up for the extra-long text. The designer managed to squeeze in some more photos. And I found a replacement for one photo that just wasn’t high enough resolution for the color section.

I really wanted a header drawing for each crop chapter, but I didn’t have quite enough of Jessie Doyle’s. You can see her work at jessiedoylesstuff.blogspot.com. I got a few more from other artists, and had to make sure they were credited correctly. Somehow the list and the late drawings got lost when I deposited them in the elctronic drop box, Box.com. I remember it took me ages to do and I was very late for dinner. I imagine I forgot to press one important last button. Anyway, we got all that sorted out.

There was one complicated crop rotation chart that needed last minute changes and the person working on it wasn’t there last Friday when NSP sent me the pdf, so I was unsure it was happening. It was all taken care of!

There were a couple of other charts that had oddities to fix. And sure enough, I found a typo that no-one had noticed before! (Oasts rather than oats.)

And now it’s passed the point of recall, and I’m not making any more changes. Now I can relax a bit!

The publication date remains February 1st, even though the off-press date is now more like mid-late January. I still hope to have some books to sign and sell at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference.

This is a big book – 456 pages now, up from the planned 400, but still at $34.95. Thirteen pages for a dollar! See http://www.newsociety.com/Books/S/Sustainable-Market-Farming

I’ll be getting 3000 bookmarks as give-aways, and I’ll buy 250 on my initial order (maybe 16 in a carton). I’ll be selling them through this website, and at conferences and other events I’m at.Image front cover

12/4/12 Progress update on my book

Image front cover

Since my last update on November 13, we’ve continued to make progress and yet the press date has had to be postponed until December 10. The publication date remains February 1st, even though the off-press date is now more like mid-late January. I still hope to have some books to sign and sell at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference.

The photos for the color section, the extra photos for some of the chapter ends and the late additions to the drawings for heading the crop chapters are all being incorporated by the design and layout people at New Society Publishers.

Kathryn is busy on the index – I looked through that this morning and made some suggestions. She’s a very good indexer and a very good gardener. Sadly, we have to shrink down the index to make up for the extra-long text. The whole book has a maximum number of pages, so some things had to give way. I already wrote about pulling out a few chapters and editing down some of the others. This is a big book – 436 pages last time I looked.

The other task I had this morning was to reconfigure two charts and graphs that had got corrupted by the computer gremlins. It’s been a while since I worked with Excel charts, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find out how to fix it. But after a search and some experimenting, they came out OK, apart from an issue I had with the format of the dates. As an ex-pat Brit, I prefer the Day/Month approach, which is the opposite way round to the American Month/Day system. I also believe that written out month-names are easier to grasp than an endless stream of numerals. So my copy-editor and I agreed on a convention of “April 16”, which is in the normal US order of information, and still keeps the words in. But Excel hasn’t heard of that system. . .

This past week or so I also reviewed the text for the back cover, fixed a crop rotation diagram that had gone awry and read the foreword written by Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market magazine.

Some of my endorsers, the people writing advance praise based on reading an electronic uncorrected proof, have sent me copies of what they’re sending in. That’s a nice gift to receive, enthusiastic approval. I’ve also had helpful suggestions: Mark Schonbeck, one of my beady-eyed endorsers, spotted some errors and confusions remaining. I checked what he wrote, and fixed the previously unspotted ones without messing up the page flow, as it’s too late for that, now the index is underway.

I’ve been thinking about how many bookmarks I want as give-aways, and exactly how many books I’ll buy on my initial order (probably 200-300, depending how many fit in a carton).

Once the index and all the fix-its are done, I’ll get the whole thing as a pdf for 24 hours, to look through, hoping not to find any big troubles.

Meanwhile I’m working on my next article for Growing for Market , and planning slideshows for my presentations in the New Year. I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market (I’ve been gathering photos for that one);

An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh

An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh

one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve also agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming. Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

The slide show from my workshop on growing garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference is on www.slideshare.net. It is tagged by cfsa12, cfsa 12, growing garlic, for anyone who wants to look at that.

11/13/12 Progress update on my book


Since my last update in mid-late October, I’ve chosen the photos for the eight-page section of color photos, and also rounded up and sent in over 30 more photos to use in the spaces at the ends of chapters, where they finish high up the page. By this point I’ve pored through our photo collections so many times I no longer knew which ones were in the text, which were in the color section and which remained available, so I had to scroll through the proof to check each one. That took a while.

The book goes to press in just over two weeks, on November 28, and that will be a great day. – Not as great as publication day will be, but a very significant day in its own right!

Various kind and knowledgeable gardeners, researchers and teachers of organic gardening and farming have read the electronic proofs and written some encouraging praise about my book, for the cover, and Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market, is writing the foreword.

My workshop on growing garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference went well, and the slide show is on www.slideshare.net. It is tagged by cfsa12, cfsa 12, growing garlic, for people to search.

I’ve got several more powerpoint presentations to prepare for. I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market; one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve just agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming

Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

The book will get printed in during December and the publication date is February 1, 2013. I’m excited! And tired!

Hard at work on the book earlier this year