The hoophouse in fall and winter, last spring planting dates, MEN Asheville

Last week I embedded my slideshow on using a hoophouse in spring and summer. Here’s the slideshow for the hoophouse in fall and winter, including some bonus material I didn’t show at the West Virginia Small farms Conference, due to time constraints:

Of course, this isn’t the season to be planting winter crops (despite the recent weather!), but you can get ideas for next winter and plan them in to your hoophouse layout, and order seeds.

I’ll be giving these two presentations at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s April 11-12 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, Fletcher, NC. There you can hear me speak as well as see the slides; you’ll get a handout and you can ask questions.  The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer is on Saturday 10am-11am on the Organic Gardening stage and The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter is on Sunday at 11.30am -12.30pm on the GRIT stage. I’ll also have a book signing.

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One row of grapes (mostly Concord) from the north, in a warmer spring. Credit Kathryn Simmons

One row of grapes (mostly Concord) from the north, in a warmer spring.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Meanwhile, this week in the garden, the snow has almost melted, and we had two garden shifts, on Saturday and Monday afternoons. We pruned grapes and gave compost to our younger blueberries. Mud season is everywhere. The snowmelt is being augmented by rain today. When will we ever be able to till the garden? We planted nothing in February except some shallots. “Normally” by now we would have sowed two beds of carrots, nine of peas, one of turnips and some radishes and scallions, transplanted  4 beds of spinach, one of cabbage, and a third of a bed of lettuce. We’d have beds ready for sowing more carrots and 4 beds of beets and transplanting three beds of kale and one of collards. We’d be preparing the potato patch for planting. Instead we are looking at at least a couple more weeks before we can till and several weeks before we can disk.

Obviously we can’t do it all, even if the weather suddenly became glorious rather than rainy! We have to make some tough decisions about where to take our losses. The potatoes we can just plant later, although it will cause us problems later, when we want to end the potatoes and prepare to plant fall broccoli and cabbage in the same spot. it will likely mean lower yields, as we can’t at this point find a new home for the broccoli and cabbage without infringing on our crop rotation.

Spinach and peas 9The peas still have a chance. We plant peas in the middles of beds of overwintered spinach. So we don’t need to till, just weed, then sow. We reckon we can plant peas until 3/31 in central Virginia. Veggie Harvest agrees.

I’ve been researching last worthwhile planting dates for spring. There are plenty of tables of last planting dates for fall, but fewer for spring. Here’s what we came up with:

3/16 Turnips (Virginia Extension) – so we abandoned plans for those.

3/31 Peas (date from our records, confirmed by Veggie Harvest)

4/1 Kale and collards transplants (our records, confirmed by Veggie Harvest)

4/8 Spinach transplants (our records. Va Ext says 3/16, VH says late April, Barbara Pleasant says average last frost date. Ours is 4/20). So we’re in the middle, maybe risk later than we were going to. But it can turn hot fast here!

4/15 Beets (our records. VH says late April, so maybe we could try a little later)

We also have 3/15 as the last spring date to sow clovers and 3/31 as the last spring date to sow oats for cover crop.

We’re going to reconsider each week, looking at this list for reference. We’ve already also decided to cut out two beds of spring carrots, as we reckon we wouldn’t have time to deal with them all, even if we could get them planted. we have plenty of stored ones from the fall planting, still in good shape.

And, despite the challenges outdoors, we are potting up peppers for the hoophouse.

Pepper seedlings in the greenhouse. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Pepper seedlings in the greenhouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

 

 

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.

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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!

 

 

 

Rain, raccoons and books to look forward to.

This week has come with a lot of rain, which has restricted what we can do in the garden, but saves me from running irrigation systems. It means the weeds are growing too well, and there is no chance to hoe: the soil is too wet, the weeds won’t die, just re-root. We’re about 40% down our 265′ long carrot rows (15 of them), weeding, but the weeds are now bigger than the carrots. Meanwhile, other timely tasks are going begging. probably we’ll have to draw a line in the mud and give up on the lower part of the carrot patch. Too bad.

Farming is completely non-linear! You don’t finish one task, then start another. Every day involves a juggling of priorities. At this time of year, harvesting takes a lot of time. And naturally, it’s very important to do it! After all, why grow food if you don’t harvest it? An added challenge this year is that for most of the summer crops (tomatoes, beans, eggplant, squash, cucumbers), it’s better not to touch the plants while the leaves are wet. Fungal diseases spread easily when it’s warm and wet. Many mornings the dew is heavy, so we start our shifts with some hoeing (if the soil and the forecast are dry enough), or carrot weeding (most days). Our next priority, after harvesting, is planting. “Prioritize planting during the planting season!” is one of our mantras.Here in central Virginia, the planting season runs from mid-February to the end of September (ignoring the garlic planting in November).

Yesterday we caught our eleventh raccoon in the sweet corn. We’ve probably lost close to 2000 ears of corn to these pests this year. (Two whole sections 6 rows x 60ft with a plant every 8 inches, plus serious inroads in three other sections.) We’re looking at installing an electric fence, but several crew are unenthusiastic, foreseeing problems with the fence shorting out on the grass, and inconvenience working around it. We need to do something different. This morning both raccoon traps had the bait eaten, but no captives. One trap was open and on its side – have the beasts figured out how to turn the trap and get the food out without springing the trap? The other was closed but emptied. Perhaps we have a giant raccoon that uses its butt to keep the door from closing while it eats the bait?

On a more cheery note, here’s two books to look forward to before next season. (People looking for gifts for gardening friends, take note).

51E7ayNJ7IL._SX260_Ira Wallace, from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Acorn Community, has written the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. It will be published in December 2013. The write-up says “Growing vegetables requires regionally specific information—what to plant, when to plant it, and when to harvest are based on climate, weather, and first frost. The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast tackles this need head on, with regionally specific growing information written by local gardening expert, Ira Wallace. This region includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.”

Ira’s book is for new vegetable gardeners, or ones relocating to the southeast. It includes month-by-month planting recommendations, skill-building tips, a primer for beginners and an A-Z meet-the-vegetables section. Paperback, 256 pp., 7½ x 9 in. (230 x 190 mm.), ISBN: 9781604693713.  It will sell for $19.95 and I recommend you support your local writers in the same way and for the same reasons we support our local farmers – buy direct from them and don’t line the pockets of the big corporations. Those places that sell books at big discounts don’t contribute much to writers and publishers! Southern Exposure will be selling the book through their catalog and at events where they have a booth.

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Cindy Connor has written Grow a Sustainable Diet, which will be published by New Society in Spring 2014. Read what she has to say to introduce it on her blog Homeplace Earth. Cindy says: ” This book is for folks who want to grow all, or a substantial amount, of their food and do it in a way that has a small ecological footprint. Particular attention would need to be paid to crop choices for your diet and for feeding back the soil . . . If you wanted, you could use the information from this book to plan a complete diet of homegrown foods.” Or you could choose which bits best fit your life and use her worksheets, diet planning, garden planning and information on cover crops, livestock, food storage and preservation, sheds and fences to help you provide more of your own food. And you can enjoy her stories.

I haven’t yet got the price for Cindy’s book, or the ISBN, or a firm date, but check her website regularly or subscribe to her blog (which is always packed with good information). I will post more information as I get it. You can bet Cindy will be selling the book directly, and that SESE will also carry it.