Cover Crops slideshow, speaking events, good reading, and spinach varieties

I’ve had a busy few weeks. On Thursday 9/29, I presented my new slideshow Cover Crops, to the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville. Here it is with a few bonus slides. Like most of my slideshows, you can find it on Slideshare. I’ll be presenting a shorter, more concise version at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference January 9-11 (yes, midweek) at the Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs, VA.

On Saturday 10/1 I gave a shared presentation with Ira Wallace on the Seed Garden, at Lynchburg College. I’ll tell you more about that next week, once I’ve got the slideshow uploaded.

I found out that the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania where I gave two workshops and some tomato string-weaving demos, had 19,000 attendees! Quite the crowd! I’m hoping to get to the 2017 Fair in Asheville, NC and at least one other next year.


October 2016 cover 300

The October issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. There’s an article by Karin Tifft on Getting Started with Biological Pest Control. She writes in a very straightforward style, pointing out many mistakes to avoid, and navigating the route into a complex subject. Phil Norris writes from experience about growing in clay, covering water management, aeration, soil amendments and erecting a movable high tunnel (hoophouse) on clay. They hadn’t sufficiently anchored the structure, which was on a windy site. It blew a foot and a half to the south, and the clay held 3 of the 4 corner posts, saving the structure! Bret Grohsgal writes about introducing unusual crops to your customers successfully – free samples, higher prices, and follow-through, not discounts! the GfM editor, Andrew Mefford, reviews Shawn Jadrnicek’s new book, The Bio-Integrated Farm and Miraculous Abundance by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer. Jane Tanner writes  about building a local flower movement.FarmersOfficeCoverjpg-250x300 The cover article is by Julia Shanks, author of the new book, The Farmer’s Office which I wrote about previously. I’m looking forward to reviewing a copy. In this article, Putting the Right Price on your Product, Julia covers all the aspects of price-setting: costs of production (direct costs, labor and overheads), analyzing what others are charging, and communicating value to your customers.


Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

The September/October Organic Broadcaster has also arrived. The lead article shocked me by revealing that the increased demand for organic corn and soy in the US has lead to an increase in imports. The “organic” labeling of some is in question, as imports are required to meet he standards of the exporting country, not the US. Are we being chauvinist to expect these standards to be looser than USDA certification, or gullible to assume they are at least as stringent? Either way, cheaper imports are leading to lower prices, and difficulties for US Organic farmers. If you can, buy local. Another topic covered in this issue include the law requiring GMO (bioengineered) packaged food to be labeled (good!) but the information that the labeling is in those cryptic QR codes that need a smartphone to read them. There are also articles advising on precautions when putting organic grain into a grain bin previously used for non-organic crops; informing on how the National Organic Program protects organic integrity through oversight and regulation; advising on how to use fishmeal to improve poultry performance, how to create enterprise budgets to see what’s financially worthwhile, how to access farm-to-school programs,how to farm safely with children. Lisa Kivirist writes about the Rural Women’s Project in the Midwest. They have a summer workshop series, farm tours, conference, and lots of networking with over 5000 women farmers involved. An article on farmer-veterans in the Midwest speaks about the solidarity and practical help available.


Fall spinach Photo Wren Vile

Fall spinach
Photo Wren Vile

This week in the Twin Oaks garden we have been using the “ideal transplanting weather” (that means rain!) to move spinach and kale plants from clumps that came up well and survived the grasshoppers to bare patches.  Transplants survive so much better if planted late in the day during overcast weather or light rain.

Tyee spinach. Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

Tyee spinach.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

This fall we sowed three spinach varieties: our long-time favorite Tyee spinach which has been discontinued by the seed trade. We’re trying a couple of other savoyed or semi-savoyed varieties.

Avon spinach and purple-handed gardener. Photo Fedco Seeds

Avon spinach Fedco Seeds

Avon spinach from Fedco Seeds is a promising alternative (I just hope it doesn’t turn everyone’s hands purple as this photo suggests! ) 42 days to mature spinach. This variety starred in Fedco’s 2015 spinach trial A vigorous semi-savoy variety with large broad dark green leaves and a sweet mild ‘sprightly’ flavor. Tender leaf and stem, an upright spreading habit. Tyee had great bolt resistance but tended to yellow, slightly tough, leaves in the fall. Avon promises to hold well in heat and keep its good texture and appearance in the fall, while offering high yields early and late.

Chevelle spinach. Photo Enza Zaden

Chevelle spinach.
Photo Enza Zaden

We are also trying Chevelle spinach, which we bought from Osborne Seeds. Their website is out today, here’s their Phone: (360) 424-7333.

Our variety trials have not got off to a good start, because we are moving plants around so much to fill gaps. But we have got reliably labeled plants in our cold frames, where they will grow overwinter until we need the space for seed flats in spring.

 

 


Growing for Market, Organic Broadcaster, using rainy days

June2016_cover_300 pxThe summer issue of Growing for Market (June/July) has been out for a couple of weeks. We’re having a very rainy Fourth of July, so that pushed my mind towards good reading material. Assuming you stayed home and didn’t join the millions on the roads.

This issue has an interesting article by Amy Halloran about sustainably grown food grains as an addition to the crop portfolio for vegetable and flower producers. Sometimes we’re looking to diversify our crops to help the rotation (thwart the usual pests and diseases), or to even out the workload over the year. Local artisanal bakers and brewers might be looking for locally grown grain, or you can sell small bags alongside your vegetables. One advantage of grains is that they have a good shelf-life, so you can bring them out to your CSA or you market when you wan to add something new and different. Heirloom grains and dry beans have appeal for those who want to return to their roots.

Eric and Joanna Reuter wrote a helpful farmers’ guide to applying for a SARE grant. They give a clear overview explanation, then a step-by-step guide to how to apply. They talk about how to design a suitable project, how to set it up, run it, evaluate and fit with the deadlines. They include an example of a SARE farmer-directed research project that changed their farm management. It was Kevin Cooley’s pilot project using supermarket baskets (factory seconds) to harvest, wash and store vegetables. The vegetables stay in the basket they’re picked into. It saves a lot of time and reduced handling.

Wendy Carpenter wrote a very useful article reviewing use of moveable high tunnels. Five years have passed since this idea really took off, and they are no longer “flavor of the month.” Unsurprisingly, there are pros and cons to using a moveable tunnel, and many cautionary tales. If you are thinking of buying a slideable/dragable tunnel, and especially if you are thinking of designing and building your own hardware, read this article first! Save money and tears! Like many people, I was intrigued by the idea of having a hoophouse that could have a summer home and a winter home. But after some reading and reflection, I’ve come down on the side of staying put, for us. We value a draft-free winter hoophouse (moveable ones can be hard to close up well.) I have been nervous enough when we have high winds – I don’t want to add to that uncertainty. And we have a crop rotation worked out that suits us. We gradually replace the winter and early spring greens with early tomatoes, peppers, squash. Our climate is warm enough that we don’t need it to grow these crops in the hoophouse in the height of summer – they do fine outside. Growers in colder climate zones like to use their tunnels for nightshades and cucurbits all summer, which can make crop rotation difficult. I can see the benefit they get from a moveable house. In high summer we grow a bean seed crop, which helps our rotation, improves the soil and pays its way. We do use a big sheet of shade cloth over the top when it’s hot.

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Linda Hepler Beaty writes about adding a “WOW factor” to farmers market booths. Gretel Adams provides new information about growing lisianthus, a popular topic she has covered before. Theirs are grown in a hoophouse, using horizontal netting to keep the stems upright.


The Organic Broadcaster for May/June has been out (but I’ve been too busy to read it. . . ) it includes articles about industrial hemp farming, sprouted fodder grains, working on the National Organic Standards Board, transitioning to Organic, assessing the financial wisdom of buying machinery, the impact of warm season grasses on organic dairy cows, farming for wildlife with hedgerows (including elderberry and currants), a review of Lisa Kivirist’s book about women farmers Soil Sisters, farm safety for children, and there is the usual round up  of organic field days and events, news briefs, and classified ads. The 20 pages are packed!

Lisa Kivirist and her newest book. See this site for details of an August Soil Sisters event in Wisconsin.

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Local foodie blog, Organic Broadcaster, Climate Hub winter forecast

Radish Quick Pickles Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Radish Quick Pickles
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

For foodies who want recipes and a food blog centered in our part of the country, using seasonal produce, see sustainexistence sustainable sustenance for our existence. This blog is written by one of my fellow Twin Oakers, so you can be sure that you’ll find dishes you can make if you are growing in our bio-region. The latest post is a Pretty Salads gallery and includes Apple Rhubarb Flower Salad; Cucumber, Apple, & Pear salad; the famous Massaged Kale; Mixed Greens & Purples with Feta; Wild-Harvested Salads and more. Other posts include recipes for the under-appreciated rutabagas and turnips, what to do with eggplant, and a series on delicious soups. I can especially vouch for the soups!

This blog makes a nice companion to my blog, as you’ll never find recipes on mine! (Joys of community living #305: I never have to cook!). While I was looking for the link to Sustainexistence, I found another interesting blog with a post from Louisa, A Ride Across America | An Unlikely Hotbed of Food Activism in Small-Town Virginia. Over the course of eight weeks, Ben Towill, the co-owner of the Fat Radish, and the photographer Patrick Dougherty are biking 4,500 miles across the U.S. to talk to strangers about food. Each week, they’ll file a post about their discoveries. While in our area, they visited the Louisa County Community Cupboard, which is worth knowing about if you grow food nearby and have extra. You can take it there and help those less well-off.


Pulling plastic over the hoophouse frame. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Pulling plastic over the hoophouse frame.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

My latest post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog is

How to Put New Plastic on a Hoophouse (High Tunnel): A Step-by-Step Guide.  This is based on our recent experience of replacing just the outer layer, as well as our previous replacements of both layers on the same day.


broadcaster-picture-e1443112899347For more winter reading see the Organic Broadcaster November/December issue. There are articles on silvopasture, the benefits of organic, how to do cost assessments of various crops and markets, collective marketing, organic no-till, a review of Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture, the MOSES Conference, and the controversial practice of aquaponics. Well, it’s not the practice of aquaponics that’s controversial, but rather whether a system without soil can ever be truly organic.

Take Back Organic by Dave Chapman, is a report from the National Organic Coalition (NOC) meeting. Many hydroponic operations are gaining organic certification, even though most organic farmers disagree with the USDA decision to allow hydroponics.”Keep the Soil in Organic” has become a rallying cry. Others include “Take Back Organic,” “Soil Matters,” “Keep Organic Real For Me,” “Dirt Matters,” and “Soil Grown.”.

“On the first day of the meeting, a group of Vermont farmers gathered outside at lunchtime for a protest against the weakened organic standards. It started with a procession of marchers and tractors (and one beautiful delivery truck!). . . . As the standards get watered down to become “Certified Sort Of Organic,” we see something  precious that we have worked at for a long time being diluted.”

Eliot Coleman, one of the mentors of organic farming, addressed the meeting and read the following parts of the 1980 USDA report called “Report  and Recommendations on Organic Farming”. That report listed some of the “basic tenets” of organic agriculture:
“Feed the Soil, Not the Plant — Healthy plants, animals, and humans result from balanced, biologically active soil.”  “Soil is the Source of Life — Soil quality and balance (that is, soil with proper levels of organic matter, bacterial and biological activity, trace elements, and other nutrients) are essential to the long-term future of agriculture. Human and animal health are directly related to the health of the soil.”

There is now a USDA Task Force on Hydroponics and Aquaponics in Organic. Unfairly, two thirds of the task force members were selected for their support of including hydroponics and aquaponics in organic certification.

Barbara Damrosch wrote about the farmers demonstration in the Washington Post
www.keepthesoilinorganic.org is a blog on the topic of keeping aquaculture and hydroponics separate from organic certification.


And lastly, for today, here’s a link to the Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH).  SERCH connects the public, academic, and private sector organizations, researchers, and outreach specialists and provides technical support, tools and strategies for responding to climate change. Their goal is to help producers cope with challenges associated with drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons, and changes in pest pressures.

The current El Niño is on track to be one of the largest on record (since 1950, and. has the potential to surpass the 1997/1998 event, which has been the strongest El Niño so far. Most climate models are in agreement that this episode will peak during the winter and subside to neutral conditions in the spring or summer of 2016. Above average precipitation is expected across the Southeast (see the map below).

off01_prcp

off01_tempTemperature is harder to predict. Sometimes an El Niño can cause above average temperature, sometimes below normal. Currently, December looks like being above average for both temperature and precipitation. In winter, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) plays a strong role in our temperatures. The past two winters have demonstrated this. The AO switches phases fairly unpredictably over weeks or sometimes just days. If it weakens, we can expect nasty cold temperatures again, as Arctic air zooms south to greet us.

El Niño can also cause storms to track along the southern states, if the right temperatures are in place. The SERCH Winter Season Outlook concludes: “However, I do not expect this winter to receive above normal snowfall. For most of the winter, I believe it will be above normal for temperature and precipitation.”

Mother Earth News Fair, string-weaving tomatoes, Organic Broadcaster

At teh New SOciety booth at the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, demonstrating how to string weave tomatoes. Photo Ingrid Witvoet/New Society

At the New Society Publishers booth at the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, demonstrating how to string weave tomatoes.
Photo Ingrid Witvoet/New Society

I got home from the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania yesterday. My two workshops went well. My Friday presentation on Fall and Winter Hoophouses was the first time I had spoken on the “main stage” – the Mother Earth News stage, with at least 600 seats. On Saturday I presented Spring and Summer Hoophouses at the GRIT Stage. Both groups had plenty of people with good questions, keeping me busy till the last minute. After the Friday presentation I signed books and chatted with people at the MEN Bookstore.

And then there were the demos. At four set times over the weekend, I got out my table-top model and showed people how to string-weave tomatoes. As you see in the photo, I had pieces of pink tinsel Christmas tree branches up-cycled into model tomato plants, with #2 pencils as stakes.

String-weaving (also known as basket-weaving and Florida string weaving) is a cheap, easy way to support lots of tomato plants, and all you need to store over the winter are the stakes. No bulky cages or heavy cattle panels or cumbersome rolls of wire mesh. True, you do need to buy twine every year, but then many of the other support methods use twine also.

The ATTRA publication Organic Tomato Production includes a comparison of different training and support methods. String-weaving comes out well in all categories. It isn’t best for high yields per plant, so people who only grow a few plants won’t choose this method. They’ll go for a more expensive and more time-consuming option. But if you have long rows, this method is ideal.

String-weaving diagram from Extension.org

String-weaving diagram from Extension.org

Our variation on string-weaving looks fairly like this drawing from the Extension Service. We have a couple of tricks to make it work even better. As in this drawing, we use a 2ft wood stick with a hole drilled at each end and the twine running through. Our first trick is to park the bale of twine in a bucket at the beginning of the row and leave it there. No need to lug it with you! (We have long rows!)  Putting the bale of twine in a bucket makes it easy to carry and provides a space to store scissors and gloves. Stand between the working end of the twine and the slack being pulled out of the bucket. That is, the spare twine will be running out behind you as you work the first side of the row. You’ll use it for the return journey. We tie the twine to the end stake, pass in front of two tomatoes and the next stake, wrap the twine around the back of the stake, pull tight, put a finger on the cross-over to hold it tight, and wrap round again, making sure that the second loop ends up below the first. This locks the twine so that if you let go, or later on a groundhog chews through your twine, the whole row doesn’t get loose.

String-weaving tomatoes. Photo Kathryn Simmons

String-weaving tomatoes.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

At the end of the row, take the tool round to the other side and work back in the same way, at the same level as the first side. You will need to flip the twine that was behind you on the first side over to your new working side as you need it. Once you reach the end, tie off the twine and cut it.

You’ll see that you never actually wrap twine around a tomato plant, so there is never any injury from tight twine. The plants are simply held between two walls of twine that you “build” by making a new round once a week as the plants grow.

At the end of the season, cut the twine and pull it out, then remove the stakes and till in the tomato plants.


broadcasterlogowebThe September/October edition of the Organic Broadcaster is out, and you can download the free pdf at the link. There are articles about cover crops, mushroom growing, tax planning, growing small grains, transitioning a dairy farm to organic, winter feeding of cattle, an update on avian flu and a review of the new book The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer by Jeff Carpenter with Melanie Carpenter.

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.

Preparing for spring, sowing seeds, planning

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings Photo Kathryn Simmons

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Last Saturday, January 17, I made our first sowings in the greenhouse. I switched on the germinator cabinet made from a broken fridge, and the old incandescent light-bulb came back to life. Before I run out of incandescent light-bulbs, I’ll have to make a germination cabinet with a different form of heating. But I’m shelving that problem for now. On Saturday I sowed some early cabbage, the first lettuce, some scallions and some Red Marble mini-onions. I’ve been checking twice a day to make sure the light-bulb is still working and the temperature in the germination chamber is still OK. Nothing has needed watering. Today one of the cabbage varieties is emerging, so this afternoon I will clear some space for the flat in the greenhouse near the window. Ah! Signs of spring! Even if I did manufacture them, so to speak!

Our system is to screen compost in September, to fill the cinder-block beds in the greenhouse. Then we pop lettuce transplants at 10″ spacing into the beds. Those lettuces are big now, and we have started harvesting leaves from them for salad mixes. On Saturday, I pulled a few lettuces and scooped out some compost to fill the flats for my sowings.

As we need more space in the greenhouse, we’ll pull more of the lettuce. This system works well time-wise – lettuce is still only growing slowly, and we can benefit from this supply right now. It also works well in providing us with a large quantity of mellow screened compost for seed flats, that is indoors and not frozen. The tiny critters have had time to colonize the compost, so it is full of life. (Some of that life will be big white grubs, but I’ll kill those.)

Overwintered Vates kale. Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Overwintered Vates kale.
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Meanwhile, we’re spending more time planning than doing production work. We are still harvesting from the hoophouse, making new sowings there (mostly spinach, some to plant in the hoophouse, some to plant outdoors), and harvesting the remaining outdoor crops. We had to rest the kale as we were in danger of over-harvesting it. We had some very cold weather, including one night at 3F.

The planning this week has included finishing up our Outdoor Planting Schedule (Field Planting Schedule) and doing the complex assigning of crops to our permanent raised beds. We managed to find a home for everything we want to grow, partly by employing some tricks. We will transplant our okra in the middle of beds of existing crops, one spinach and one kale. The okra starts will grow up tall and we’ll finish harvesting the kale and spinach, hoe off the debris, add some more compost and mulch around the okra plants. We’re going to have to finish off one bed of kale sooner than we might like to make way for the following crop, but by then we should have had plenty of kale (three spring beds added to 7 fall-planted beds).

Next week we’ll spread compost on the future spinach, turnips and the first couple of carrot beds. Then we’ll be ready to till those beds when the soil and weather suggest it’s time.

A bed of young transplanted lettuce. Credit Wren Vile

A bed of young transplanted lettuce.
Credit Wren Vile

While writing an article for Growing for Market magazine I came across the website on Vegetable Transplant Production from the University of Florida Vegetable horticulture Program. It has a collection of great articles developed by Charles Vavrina in the late nineties. Plants still grow the same way! Check out the site for lots of useful tips about growing and using transplants. This is a good time of year to make plans to do something in a different way, to avoid repeating last year’s less successful episodes!

My reading material has included the Jan/Feb issue of the Organic Broadcaster. This issue includes exciting news about a new open pollinated bi-color sweet corn variety Who Gets Kissed which has been developed for organic growing by co-operation between farmers, breeders and researchers. It is available from High Mowing Seeds. Next year Abundant Bloomsdale spinach, a variety bred with collaboration from eight organic farms, will be released by the Organic Seed Alliance. I’m looking forward to trying that.

The Organic Broadcaster includes an article about pesticide drift by Harriet Behar, arguing for compensation for organic farmers whose land is polluted by pesticides. This topic is a hot one for Joanna and Eric Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm. They are writing a three part blog post about experiencing pesticide drift. So far, the crop testing they had done has been paid by taxpayers, and the perpetrators seem to be getting off with just a reprimand. No fine to balance the costs of testing. The injustices stack up.

Other articles in the Broadcaster include one about John Jeavons’ GrowBiointensive method, another advising offering free-choice minerals to livestock, rather than a commercial mix, as this can cause animals to over-consume the mix to try to get the one mineral they are short of, and one on wholistic poultry welfare. There’s a book review of Farming with Native Beneficial Insects from the Xerces Society. I’m adding this to my wish list. There’s more we could be doing to encourage more beneficial insects in our garden. There’s an article recommending grain farmers add small grains to their crop rotations, and there’s information from a potato variety trial on Midwest organic farms. There’s another about “cottage food laws” which allow some home-made food products to be sold to the public, and more about value-added products of different types. And there’s advice from some “second career” farmers to others choosing farming after retiring from their other jobs. And one about how good record-keeping will pay fro itself when it’s time to prepare your taxes.

A honeybee on deadnettle weeds. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A honeybee on deadnettle weeds.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

My article on nematodes in Growing for Market; PASA Conference Feb 2015; reading the Organic Broadcaster

GFM-November-December2014-cover-300pxThe November-December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about tackling root knot nematodes in our hoophouse over the past few years. We found Peanut Root Knot nematodes (RKN) in a half-bed of overwintered spinach transplants in February 2011. As we were digging up the transplants to move them outdoors, we noticed some of the roots were lumpy. I sent a sample to the Plant Diagnostic Clinic at Virginia Tech and got the result we feared.  Nematodes are microscopic worms that parasitize plant roots, stressing crops and reducing yields. They have hundreds of host plants and are hard to control.

We came up with a two year plan, taking the half-bed out of production, growing a series of nematode-suppressing cover crops, and solarizing the soil in the summers. Just when we thought we were done, in June 2103, we found nematodes in the other half of the same bed. So we took that half out of production for two years, while enjoying the extra benefits of the solarization we’d done in the first half: a very happy plot of lettuce with no Sclerotinia rot that winter! We took the patient organic approach, accepting the one-twelfth reduction in crop-growing area.

But then, this summer, as we pulled our early tomatoes from the bed next to troubled one, we found nematodes in the roots of 4 of the 44 plants, dotted along the row. To continue the same approach would mean having the new bed as well as the previous half-bed out of production for one year, and then the whole new bed. That would be a quarter of the space for a whole year! So we looked at less cautious approaches, shifting to a “live with a few” approach, rather than the “yikes, get rid of them all” approach we had been (unsuccessfully) applying. Our new plan is to grow resistant crops for two years, then risk one year of susceptible crops. We’re also looking at biocontrols to apply to the soil in spring once it warms up enough for the nematodes to be active. I hope this will work well enough. I’ll let you know.


Other articles in the same GfM issue include Phil Norris in Maine writing about a rolling hoophouse design he came up with after consulting his neighbor, the much-admired author Eliot Coleman. His design runs on a long four-site track. He addresses issues of structural integrity, pedestrian access via a side door, ventilation and irrigation. The house is so easy to move, he even rolls it along to irrigate one of the not-currently-covered sites for two hours, making use of the overhead sprinklers hanging from the roof trusses, before rolling it back for the night!

Susan Studer King writes to debunk myths about solar power. Like many farmers, she uses the slow part of the season to look to making long-term improvements at her farm. The main part of the article is a Q & A, which I found made installment of grid-linked solar arrays seem quite doable by practical people like farmers.

Walt Krukowski writes about caring for peonies at this time of year, for best results next spring. As you know, I’m not a cut flower grower, but I always read the flower articles in GfM to learn tips applicable to vegetable growing.

The GfM editor, Lynn Bryczynski, gives us a valuable article reviewing the fascinating Japanese manual paper chain pot transplanter, which I’ve often wondered about.  Lynn interviewed six growers who’ve used the tool, which can set out 264 plants in a minute, under the right soil conditions. The initial cost for the hand-pulled tool and a set of paper pots is about $2000. The paper pots are connected bottomless cells that arrive flattened, and open out as a plugsheet. Good bed prep and optimal transplant size are critical for success, and the method is best suited to stemmy (rather than rosette-shaped) crops grown on a close plant spacing. A boon for people in cold climates transplanting crops others of us direct-sow. It’s available in North America only from Small Farm Works.

And I was happy to note the magazine has grown from 24 to 28 pages with this issue!


Another good source of sustainable farming reading material is the Organic Broadcaster, which I have mentioned before. The November/December issue of that bi-monthly publication is also out. It includes an article by Elaine Ingham on nutrient cycling in organically managed soils; Hebert Karreman on winter barn housing for cows; Harriet Behar on foreseeable problems of GM crop-herbicide combos; Kelli Boylan on a new weed control technique using ground apricot pits (a byproduct of apricot processing) to “sand-blast” the weeds; Bill Stoneman155_full on biopesticides; Claire Strader on the challenges of urban farming; harold Ostenson and David Granatstein on controlling fireblight without antibiotics; John Biernbaum on planning ahead to grow healthy transplants; Harriet Behar on FSA programs to help farmers reduce financial risks;

The Ask A Moses Specialist page tackles buying organic seed and dealing with fruit-flies in the greenhouse. The book review is of Market Farming Success by Lynn Byczynski, which I reviewed here. The MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse Wisconsin, February 26-28 2015 gets a plug from Audrey Alwell, amusingly titled “Pack your plaid for annual MOSES Conference” complete with four supporting photos of six attendees in plaid shirts! The News Briefs include all sorts of useful information on events and publications. And there are classified ads and an Events Calendar.


As well as my booking to speak at the January 30-31 Virginia Biofarming Conference, I have now heard that I will also be a speaker at the February 2015 PASA Farming for the Future Conference. The titles of my workshops are not finalized yet. I’ll tell you when I know more.

And I see my embedding of my slideshow Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables two weeks ago was unsuccessful, and all you got was a long string link. I’ll try to fix that next.


And meanwhile, this week in the garden: we are getting ready to plant garlic. We started separating bulbs into cloves during our Crop Review Meeting yesterday. 2014 didn’t give us a good crop – we think we left the mulch too thick in some places for too long, so that we had big gaps in the rows. Live and (hopefully) learn! Another big task this week is sorting through all the potatoes we stored two weeks ago. We find that a single sorting two weeks after harvest is all we need to catch the ones that aren’t going to store well.

Planting garlic

Planting garlic, credit Twin Oaks Community