Sowing fall brassicas, thoughts on Organic certification and organic farming

Brassica seedlings under insect netting.
Photo Pam Dawling

Sowing fall brassicas

We sow our fall broccoli and cabbage in mid-late June, followed by our outdoor Asian greens and collards. These will all get transplanted from nursery seedbeds covered with insect netting, to growing beds covered with insect netting. In the summer we try to have a No Visible Brassicas Month to break the lifecycle of the harlequin bugs. Once our spring kale is finished, the spring cabbage gathered in and the spring broccoli mowed down, the only brassicas are hidden under netting. Our hope is to starve out the harlequin bugs or at least deter them from making too many more.

Brassica transplants under ProtekNet.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I wrote a short piece about sowing our fall broccoli and cabbage in 2014 here

I wrote about our long evenings of transplanting in July and August in 2015 here:

Fall broccoli rows.
Photo Kati Falger

This year we have a simplified plan: one broccoli variety, one cabbage variety, Morris Heading collards, Koji (a hybrid Asian green a bit like Yukina Savoy) and Senposai.

The broccoli is an OP variety, Umpqua. It takes 96 days to maturity, has dark green 5-6″ heads and makes lots of side shoots. That’s a long wait compared to 54d Tendergreen and 60d Green Magic, so I hope it’s good! It’s certainly highly rated compared to other OP types.

The cabbage is Storage #4 a 4-8 lb 90-95d hybrid, for fresh use and storage.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Zipper spider catching pest bugs on our hoophouse squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

After worrying about the challenges with our early squash in the hoophouse, I realized today that at least half of the plants are still producing, while the younger first outdoor planting has given up, before the second planting is ready to take over.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Is Buying Organic Worth It?

An interesting blog post cones from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, exploring the meanings of “organic”, and I will summarize it here. Paying the higher price for organic products is always a personal decision, and whether buying USDA Organic food is “worth it” depends on the relative value that the consumer puts on food The Real Organic Projectbeing produced in accordance with USDA Organic standards.

The word “organic” is used to mean different things:

Formally: When used to advertise and sell a farm product, the word “organic” is regulated by federal law—the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the related USDA Organic regulations. This legal meaning of the word “organic” as defined by Congress and the USDA has only been around since 1990 (when OFPA was signed into law). USDA Organic standards are the same from state to state and from store to store. Because the USDA tracks the sales of certified Organic products, buying USDA Organic food is a great way to vote with your dollar.  The core principles of organic agriculture were initially developed by organic farmers, not the USDA.

Informally: In daily life, many people use the word “organic” for agricultural products that were grown using methods that are similar to or even completely consistent with the USDA Organic standards but are grown by uncertified farms.  The cultural practice of farming using organic methods has been around for a at least a hundred years. Many outstanding organic farmers were growing organically before 1990 and either have never bothered to become USDA certified Organic or have given up their certification since then. However, after 1990, they could no longer market their products as organic. 

What exactly does USDA Organic certification mean? Continue reading

PASA Conference, Organic biodegradable mulch

I’ll be presenting three workshops at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Farming for the Future Conference February 7-10, 2018. The event is at State College, PA, and will likely draw in 1500-2000 people.

Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales Friday 12.50 – 2.10 pm

Grow crops you can sell during the winter, while allowing yourself some down-time and reprieve from outdoor work. Choose suitable crops, schedules and storage conditions. Understand your weather and basic crop protection. This workshop will provide tables of cold-hardiness and details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (warm and cool weather crops to harvest and store before very cold weather; crops to keep alive in the ground further into winter, then store; hardy crops to store in the ground and harvest during the winter, and overwinter crops for early spring harvests before the main season). It includes tables of storage conditions needed for different vegetables and suggestions of suitable storage methods, with and without electricity.

Crimson clover cover crop.
Photo McCune Porter

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Saturday 8.30 – 9.50 am

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Saturday Feb 10 12.50-2.10pm

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

There will be handouts for each workshop and book-signing on Friday at 5.15pm.

The Farming for the Future Conference is PASA’s featured event, held annually in February. We seek to gather a diverse audience from the sustainable food system including farmers, educators, processors, advocates, and eaters – please join us! Each year we feature:

  • Over 100 speakers representing the best from the sustainable agriculture field and our membership.

  • A variety of sustainable farming and food system programming including full-day tracks, half-day sessions, and 80-minute workshops across the fours days of the event.

  • Over 90 Trade Show vendors representing the broad diversity and deep expertise of our community.

  • Opportunities to network and socialize over receptions and meals that feature regionally-source ingredients.

  • An ag-themed Future Farmers program for kids (K to Grade 8).

  • Special events like music, movie, yoga, knitting, and more!


I’ll return to Pennsylvania in September for the Mother Earth News Fair – see my Events page for more on that.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Organic Biodegradable Mulch

The Fruit Growers News announced

“Minnesota-based Organix Solutions has received a certification of its product line of black soil biodegradable agricultural mulch film. The OK biodegradable SOIL Certification from Vinçotte International verifies that the product, called Organix A.G. Film, will completely biodegrade in the soil without adversely affecting the environment according to international standards, according to a release from Organix.”

These mulch films are made with ecovio, a compostable biopolymer by BASF – a material that completely biodegrades in a commercially reasonable period. Microbes in the soil  break down the film into CO2, biomass and water. You can  to order online from the Organix link.

This is big news for certified USDA Organic growers, if they can get their certifier to agree with Vinçotte International and certify this material. Previously available biodegradable mulch films have not been accepted as Organic. Here’s a brief history:

In 2014 biodegradable biobased mulch films were added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances permitting their use in organic production as long as they met certain criteria, and were not made from genetically modified organisms. The criteria are:

  1. Meeting the compostability specifications of one of the following standards: ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, EN 13432, EN 14995, or ISO 17088;
  2. Demonstrating at least 90% biodegradation absolute or relative to microcrystalline cellulose in less than two years, in soil, according to one of the following test methods: ISO 17556 or ASTM D5988; and
  3. Being biobased with content determined using ASTM D6866

In January 2015, National Organic Program (NOP) Memo 15-1 further clarified that these mulches cannot include any prohibited ingredients. OMRI researched the availability of these mulches  and found no product on the market in 2015 that met the standard.

Bioplastic mulches are made of several polymers, some derived from renewable vegetable biomass and others from biodegradable fossil fuel materials (petroleum products).

As explained by Johanna Mirenda, OMRI Technical Director in The Dirt on Biodegradable Plastics in 2015:

For example, some currently available biodegradable mulches are made primarily with polylactic acid, an ingredient derived from corn starch, tapioca root, or sugarcane, but they also contain feedstocks derived from petroleum chemicals. More details about the makeup and manufacturing process are available in OMRI’s Report on Biodegradable Biobased Mulch Films, authored for the USDA.

Read the full Final Rule here.

And here’s a thoughtful, constructive article from Broadfork Farm in Canada after Canada’s Organic Certification Scheme decertified biodegradable mulches in 2016.

I’ve written in the past about our use of biodegradable mulch and how we roll it out by hand, with a team of people.

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

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.

Chert Hollow Farm on Organic certification, More Snow, Feed the Soil presentation.

Chert Hollow Farm's photos of their farm gate before and after.

Chert Hollow Farm’s photos of their farm gate before and after.

For some time I have been following the blog of Eric and Joanna Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm near Columbia, Missouri. I admire their commitment and creativity. Recently they have posted a three-part series on why they have decided to drop their USDA Organic certification. I found it a very thought-filled and coherent piece of writing and want more people to read it and ponder the points they make.

Dropping organic certification, part I talks about some of their concerns with the USDA Organic system as a whole, and how some of the Organic rules are increasingly at odds with their “beliefs and standards for sustainable and ethical food production.” Their work creating a diverse deeply-sustainable farm with minimal bought-in inputs isn’t easily reconciled with the USDA certification process. “Trying to use our own resources in a creatively sustainable way created an unusually-shaped peg that the organic system’s round holes don’t expect. And thus there’s a lot of subtle pressure on organic farms just to buy stuff rather than be more diversified and creative in their farming approach.” According to their Organic inspectors over the years, they have been star poster-child Organic farmers for five years, and their decision to leave Organic certification will be “a major loss to the organic certification community/process in this part of the country”.

In addition to the differing philosophy and practice between Joanna and Eric’s approach and the USDA, the costs are too high and the benefits too few.

Dropping organic certification, part II  goes into some of their specific issues with the certification. Concerns include costs, including the uncertainty of whether the government will continue the cost-share program; bureaucracy (why don’t chemical farmers have to track and report their inputs and applications??); and the degree of usefulness of USDA certification for direct marketing. As a CSA farm, Eric and Joanna are no longer competing for customers with self-proclaimed “organic” farmers at the market.

Dropping organic certification, part III looks at the benefits of dropping certification, while acknowledging what they learned by being part of the certified system, specifically the value of good record-keeping, good compost-making and careful sourcing of inputs. They credit being certified (and needing to check potential herbicide use on hay and straw they brought in for feed and mulch) with helping them avoid the “killer hay” incidents which are, sadly, all too common around the country. They write about what they are looking forward to, freed from the certification restrictions. They are increasing biological diversity on their farm, getting off mailing lists (!), and communicating more with customers and CSA members, know they’ll save time on certification paperwork. Finally, they discuss some of their regrets about no longer being part of “something bigger, a known collection of farms and consumers that stood for something different from the conventional agriculture model” they oppose. They will no longer have the support of USDA if they suffer from spray drift. They will no longer have an easy label to describe their farming practices to customers. Their hope is that more direct, personal communication with CSA members and the rest of the world will take over in addressing that need.

Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we’ve had More Snow. Only about 3″, following rain. But it has brought a halt to our outdoor gardening pursuits for a while. Just before the snow we managed to get some disking done – the first of the year! We had got some raised beds tilled a few days earlier, so we managed to prepare those bed and sow beets, turnips, radishes and scallions, as well as the last of the snap peas. We haven’t transplanted anything except lettuce, scallions and spinach, because it has been so cold. We got beds ready for kale, cabbage, senposai and collards, before I realized the plants were too small to go outside! All our transplants have been growing slowly. We have postponed planting our tomatoes in the hoophouse because the weather is so unsettled (which is a mild way of saying scarily cold).

On Sunday 3/16, I co-taught Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. I spoke about Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slide show from that event:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/feed-the-soil” title=”Feed the soil. Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Feed the soil. Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

C F S A Conference Update

 

Register today or tomorrow!

I’m gearing up to present a workshop at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference in Greenville, South Carolina. My workshop, Growing Great Garlic, is on Saturday October 27 from 2.30-4pm. You can check out the schedule here.

UPDATES: After the late registration deadline (Oct. 17), you’ll have to wait to register on-site at the Conference.The Local Foods Feast on Friday, Oct. 26 and the Saturday, Oct. 27 Luncheon are now sold out, which means that the Everything Conference Package is no longer available.  You can still register today and tomorrow for the Conference Weekend Pass, which gets you in to all the conference action happening from Friday, Oct. 26 at 4:00pm – Sunday, Oct. 28 at 12:00 pm.  For your meals during the Conference, there are plenty of outstanding farm-to-fork restaurants right outside the Conference hotel in Downtown Greenville.

This year’s conference features:

Over 50 cutting-edge, skill-building workshops (one of them’s mine!) on growing organically, pastured livestock, soils, permaculture, food, policy and more! Plus, full tracks devoted to beginning farmers, helping your farm business thrive, and a very cool ‘You Make It – Outdoors and Hands-on’ track!

Outstanding pre-conference intensives from the experts in organic certification, organic production, orchard health, food safety, mushrooms, bees, permaculture and more!

Not-to-be-missed pre-conference bus tours to some of the most beautiful and successful sustainable farms and gardens in the Upstate!

The legendary Local Foods Feast on Friday, Oct. 26 at 6:30 PM! Be inspired by keynote, Debra Eschmeyer, co-founder of Food Corps.  This magical meal made with only the best in-season, sustainably grown ingredients supplied by local farms is sold out. I hope you already registered and got your ticket!

PLUS – Networking, Seed Exchange and Exhibit Hall, CFSA’s Annual Sustainable Ag. Awards and Amazing Local Food!

Don’t miss out on the food and farming event of the year! Register now!   http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/sac-register/

My workshop will cover garlic planting, harvest, curing, storing and the selection of planting stock.  As well as hardneck and softneck bulb garlic, we will cover “byproduct crops” such as garlic scallions and scapes, which are ready early in the year when new crops are at a premium. You’ll get the chance for an advance discussion of one of the chapters in my book, and to ask questions and share your experience with this tasty crop.

My book, Sustainable Market Farming, and its chapter on garlic, won’t be published in time for the conference, but I will have postcards and pre-publication fliers which offer a discount for pre-orders.