Back from Asheville, potatoes planted, UN urges small-scale organics

MENFairLogoI got home from the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC yesterday, happy with a successful and enjoyable weekend. My workshops The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer, and The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter are viewable if you click on SlideShare.net. The fall and winter one has bonus material, because I couldn’t show all the slides in the time available! 200-250 people attended each workshop, all my handouts disappeared. The Spring and Summer one on Saturday morning had some technical hitches. It was windy and the handouts and raffle tickets (for a copy of my book) blew around despite my weighting them down with the biggest rocks I could find in the parking lot. The microphone didn’t work well, and not everyone could get a good view of the screen. And some people were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to my workshop (the first of the event) in time. But the Fall and Winter one on Sunday had no traffic, microphone or weather challenges, and all went well. The weather was beautiful. Attendance at the Fair was up from last year’s 16,000 figure to 20,000!

Photo Barnes and Noble
Photo Barnes and Noble

I enjoyed attending two workshops by Craig LeHoullier about tomato growing and which to choose for best flavor. I reviewed his lovely book Epic Tomatoes earlier. Craig is now working on another book, this one about straw-bale gardening. Another workshop I enjoyed was Joel Dufour from BCS Earth Tools. Entitled “Garden Tools 202: The stuff you won’t learn at a big box store,” it included information on tool ergonomics and materials, including steel hardness. I loved this advice on how to tell a good hoe from a bad one: if you finish hoeing and the hoe has specks of white dust on it, you have a good hoe that is harder than the rocks you nicked. If instead your hoe has dings where the rocks nicked it, your hoe is very inferior. Earth Tools sells good hand tools as well as good engine-powered tools. Two things Joel didn’t tell us in his workshop –  their customer service is among the best around, and their business is very ecological: they really walk their talk. See their website for more.


While I was at the Fair this weekend, our Garden Crew was busy planting potatoes – at last – we have been held back by cold weather and wet soil. A full month late, so we’re looking at lower yields unless we can harvest later. Not straightforward, as we usually clear the potatoes and transplant our fall broccoli and cabbage on that plot. And we can’t delay that, or we won’t get a decent harvest before the weather cools down too much. . .

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’ve also got the beds prepared for transplanting the spring broccoli and cabbage. We’re 10 days late on that, but the plants were slow-growing earlier, and they’re in nice deep flats, so they might not be set back at all.

The weather changed over the weekend (frost on Saturday night) to warm and sunny. Our over-wintered Vates kale is now all bolting, and a couple of members are enthusiastically making kale chips. There’s a simple recipe here. Kale chips are especially good sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Quite addictive. Also because the kale shrinks, you can move a lot of kale by making chips, and it no longer seems sad that it’s all bolting!


The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group posted this  news (encouraging sustainable farmers on a distressing topic):

UN Report Urges Return to Small-Scale Organic Farming

A UN farming report, Wake Up Before It’s Too Late, is publicly  recognizing and acknowledging that it’s time to return to a more sustainable and organic food system. Increasing species diversity and reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, are two of the changes desperately needed, according to the UN report. The report also covers topics such as land use, climate change and global food security.The conclusion of the report is, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”
Read more on the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy blog.

UNCTAD Report Wake Up Before It Is Too Late
UNCTAD Report, Wake Up Before It Is Too Late

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!

 

 

 

Goodbye winter, hello summer!

Rhubarb season is almost here. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Rhubarb season is almost here.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Spring in Virginia is so variable in temperature! But this year is more so than usual. We’ve just had three days with high temperatures of 90F (31C) or more. Not so long ago we had night-time lows of 20F (-6.5C). Late February and all of March was full of snow and rain.

The only thing we managed to plant in the garden for the whole of March was a small amount of shallot bulbs. We’ve been doing an impressive amount of scrambling in the first ten days of April, to make up for lost time. Some crops we had to cut back on, because it got too late to plant. We only have a quarter of the onions we planned, half of the peas, a fifth of the spinach, and no fava beans this year. I realize it would be useful to have “last worthwhile planting dates” for all our spring crops, to help decision-making.

To add insult to injury, a Beast ate half of our early broccoli transplants in the cold-frame one night. Because there were big surface tunnels, I think it was Eastern Moles. They are insectivorous, not vegetarian, but they do use leaves to line their nests, which they make at this time of year. I bought a trap – no luck. I covered the remaining broccoli and lettuce flats as best I could with rat wire “lids” and clear plastic domed food covers – things I had handy from previous depredations. What seems to have worked is to line the coldframes with landscape fabric and set the flats on that, tightly up against the edges, leaving no wiggle room. Wisely, we do a later, third, sowing of broccoli to cover emergencies, so we spotted those out into bigger flats. We’re going to need them this year.

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting. Credit Kati Folger
Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Falger
Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons
Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We have at last got our potatoes in the ground, three weeks later than ideal. On the positive side, they had been chitting (green-sprouting) in crates under lights in the basement since the beginning of March, so I could console myself that they were growing anyway. And probably they will come up quicker in the (suddenly!) warmer soil. We cut them for planting once the area was disked for planting and we were pretty sure we could get them in the ground in a few days.

We’ve busily transplanted spinach, kale, lettuce and scallions, and sowed carrots, more scallions and the third bed of beets. We used the Earthway seeder for the beets, and found the radish plate worked better than the beet plate for Cylindra seed, which were smaller than the Detroit Dark Red. We also tried the popcorn plate with some success, when the beet plate jammed.

We flamed one of our first two beds of beets, to kill the weeds that didn’t die properly with our hasty delayed rototilling. We would have flamed both, but the Cylindra popped up overnight earlier than I expected (going by soil temperature), so we’ll have to hoe those really soon, maybe this afternoon.

Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Next we’ll be prepping our cabbage and broccoli beds. We make temporary raised beds, roll out round hay bales over them, then transplant into the mulch. We do this by first measuring and making “nests”, using our hands to open up the mulch down to the soil. The brassicas appreciate the mulch to moderate the soil temperature and keep some moisture in the soil.

Our big weeding projects have been the raspberries and the garlic.(Goodbye, henbit!)

 

Mar 2013 Growing for Market
Mar 2013 Growing for Market

Today we might sow our parsnips. I just wrote an article about them in the March issue of  Growing for Market. This issue also contains articles about increasing hoophouse tomato production, adding solar panels, equipment for tracking the weather, food safety and new interesting cut flowers.

Florence bulb fennel. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Florence bulb fennel.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The April issue is also out. For that, I wrote about fennel – bulbs, leaves, seeds and pollen. Other articles include one about Johnny’s Salanova lettuce, others about training cucumbers and tomatoes up strings in the hoophouse, a tractor implement for rolling out round hay bales (which is only fun to do by hand the first ten times, max), more on food safety, and an interview/field trip to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers. 

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