Hoophouse seasonal transition to tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers

This past weekend I was at the Organic Growers School spring conference in Asheville, NC. I presented my workshop on Spring and Summer Hoophouses twice. This link will take you to a blog post where you can get the handout. An older version of the slideshow is at this SlideShare link. Later this week I will tweak the presentation a little and upload the revised version. It wasn’t very spring-like in Asheville. We got 3″ snow, but gardeners and farmers are a hardy lot, and attendance was still good. My workshops were packed (the room was quite small).


Young tomato plant in our hoophouse.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Now I’m home and we had snow in the forecast for Monday night, but got ice pellets instead. The worst of the weather passed us by. It’s still very cold though, and so we are delaying transplanting our early tomatoes in our hoophouse, which we had scheduled for 3/15 and 3/16. The photo above shows where we’re headed: sturdy transplants in the middle of the bed, with wire hoops to hold rowcover on cold nights. Here’s where we are now:

March hoophouse bed prepared for tomato planting.
Photo Wren Vile

When we make the transition from hoophouse winter crops to early spring crops, we don’t clear the whole bed. First we harvest out the greens down the middle of the bed, then measure and dig holes every two feet and put a shovelful of compost in each hole. Within a couple of weeks after transplanting the tomatoes, we harvest the greens on the south side of the bed, as they will block light from the new crop. After that we harvest the greens on the north side. This allows us to keep the greens later, which covers the time (the Hungry Gap) until the new spring plantings of outdoor greens start to produce.

Tomato transplants in March, ready to plant in our hoophouse in milder weather.
Photo Wren Vile

Meanwhile the tomato transplants are in pots in our greenhouse, where we can keep them warmer at night with rowcover. Our greenhouse stays warmer at night than our double-poly hoophouse. It has a solid north wall and double-pane glass windows (old patio doors).

We use the same method for our peppers, cucumbers and yellow squash, transplanted 4/1. In the photo below you can see the winter crop of Bulls Blood beets, which we grow for leaves for salad mixes, discarded beet stems, young squash plants and one of the wire hoops that hold rowcover on freezing nights.

Young summer squash plants in the hoophouse, surrounded by Bulls Blood beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

In the hoophouse we have three crop seasons:

  1. winter crops planted in the fall, harvested November to April (some spinach to May)
  2. early warm weather crops planted in March and April, harvested June and July (peppers to November)
  3. high summer crops planted in July and harvested August to October.

 

This post was hacked–we’re trying to restore it.

This post was hacked–we’re trying to restore it.

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.

 

 


Mother Earth News Fair, Local Food Hub, other events

10646717_696746683734934_2365867868579925687_nI got home last night from a wonderful Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs Pennsylvania. I heard it was a record-breaker in attendance. It’ll probably be a week before we know for sure. I gave two of my traditional favorite workshops, Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests and Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production. They are on SlideShare, with most of my other sustainable farming slide shows, and I’m inserting them here for new readers.We ran out of handouts at the Succession Planting workshop, but the MENF staff made more, so I hope everyone who wanted one got one.


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On Thursday 9/29 I will be offering a new two hour workshop on Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers with the Local Food Hub. 4-6 pm in Room 246,  Albemarle County Office Building, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, VA. COST: $10; free for Local Food Hub partner farms. Still some seats available, as of Tuesday morning. QUESTIONS? Email Adrianna Vargo, Director of Grower Services, at [email protected].

Crimson clover cover crop Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

imagesOn Saturday 10/1 I will be at Lynchburg College, 1501 Lakeside Dr, Lynchburg, VA 24501 (SW Virginia) with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, co-presenting The Seed Garden: Planning for Seed Saving and Lots of Vegetables. That’s 10.00 am to 12.30 pm. My contribution will be to talk about including a few seed crops while mainly focusing on producing vegetables. We’ll have show and tell as well as slides.


I have started an Events Page here on my website, but while I keep running from one event to another, I’m not spending the time to make it pretty. Hopefully next week. For those in Vermont – you will be getting your own Vermont Mother Earth News Fair in July 2017, and I hope to see you there!


 

Below is info on an interesting symposium for those doing urban agriculture.

Urban Agriculture Symposium

VIRGINIA COOPERATIVE EXTENSION, ARLINGTON COUNTY OFFICE

Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington VA 22206

Telephone 703-228-6400

Contact:  Kirsten Buhls, Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent [email protected]

The 2016 VCE Urban Agriculture Symposium will be held on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington 22206. The symposium is being held in conjunction with Urban Agriculture Month in Virginia and is sponsored by VCE and Greenstreet Garden Center in partnership with Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.

The keynote speaker will be Carlin Rafie, assistant professor at Virginia Tech and VCE adult nutrition specialist, who will discuss the relationship between nutrition and health.  In breakout sessions, Virginia Tech researchers and other experts will focus on perennial and tree crops for the urban gardener; research on growing food with biosolids; growing nutritious, low-maintenance vegetables; small-space gardening of the future; aeroponic containerized farming; teaching the next generation of gardeners; and growing microgreens and sprouts at home for winter nutrition.

Registration is open to all. The fee is $25 and covers the cost of supplies as well as refreshments and lunch for participants. More information and a registration form are available at mgnv.org; click on the link http://bit.ly/VCEUrbanAgSymposium.

Questions? Call 703-228-6414 or email [email protected].


Meanwhile in the garden, we have got lovely little kale and bigger spinach seedlings, and we are thinking about potato and sweet potato harvests in a couple of weeks.

Sweet potato harvest with carts. Usually we use a truck! Photo Nina Gentle
Sweet potato harvest with carts. Usually we use a truck! Photo Nina Gentle

Growing for Market issue for March, upcoming events, return of the ticks

GFM_March2016_cover-300pxThe March issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on planning and siting a hoophouse. This is a good time of year to scope out good sites for a hoophouse (high tunnel) if you don’t already have one. Or if you want another!

I address NRCS funding; what to look for in a good site (sunshine, drainage, good soil, fairly level land, wind protection, road access, electricity and water supplies);  size and shape; and DIY versus professionally made frames (my advice – don’t skimp!). I go into the debate on single layer versus double layer plastic and special types of plastic.

I will be writing a follow-up article soon, talking about hoophouse end wall design, windows and doors, fixed walls, roll-up and roll-down walls, interior design (bed layout) and questions of in-ground insulation or even heating, as well as rainwater run-off and perhaps collection.

Our hoophouse site before construction. Photo Twin Oaks Community
Our hoophouse when brand new. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Our hoophouse when brand new.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Other articles in this issue of Growing for Market include one on Integrated Pest and Disease Management by Karin Tifft; one on how to plan to make more money, by Jed Beach; Edible landscaping by Brad Halm; and Gretel Adams on how to best look after flowers at harvest, to cope with their particular and sometimes peculiar needs. An issue very packed with information!


My talk at the Culpeper County Library last weekend was very well received. Most of the audience were small-scale growers themselves, some were CSA farmers.

12036905_991970554182625_8873229727110436068_nNow I’m gearing up for a Crop Planning class at For the Love of the Local in my home town on Thursday 3/10 6-7pm. 402 West Main Street. Louisa, Virginia. (540) 603-2068.

OGS Spring16_EmailSig (2)Immediately after that I’m headed to Asheville, NC for the Organic Growers School. On Saturday 3/12, 2-3.30pm I’ll be presenting (a shorter version of) Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale, which was a big hit at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference at the end of January. On Sunday 3/13 , 4-5.30pm, I’ll be presenting my Growing Great Garlic slideshow.

fair-logoTwo weeks after that, I’ll be back in Asheville for the Mother Earth News Fair. Click the link to see the draft schedule. I’ll be giving presentations on Crop Planning and on Fall Vegetable Production. We decided that although the Asheville Fair is always in April, people there also may be just as interested in fall vegetable growing as much as in spring vegetables!

For the stay-at-homes I’ll put these presentations up on SlideShare after the event and share them on my blog.


Margaret Roach A Way to Garden
Margaret Roach A Way to Garden

Spring has reached Virginia and it’s time to be on the lookout for ticks. I found a really good interview with Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute on A Way to Garden.  This blog is by Margaret Roach, a long time garden writer, who interviews many interesting people. You can listen to her podcast or read the interview. Learn why the black-legged tick (which can transmit Lyme disease) is called the deer tick and why that isn’t the best name; why mice, chipmunks and shrews (but not voles) contribute to the spread of Lyme disease, and why foxes, opossums, raccoons and bobcats can reduce Lyme disease incidence (by catching the small mammals). Possums also “hoover up” and eat the ticks directly.


We’ve finally started planting! We transplanted some spinach and sowed carrots on Saturday. The new spinach is covered with hoops and rowcovers, just as our overwintered spinach is. This has been a tough winter. The cold-damaged spinach had bleached frozen spots on the leaves, but we have been able to harvest it about once a week.

Weeding overwintered spinach in March Wren
Weeding overwintered spinach in March. Photo by Wren Vile

SSAWG Conference, Mother Earth News and Eat-All Greens, Growing for Market

I’m home from a very successful Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference in Lexington Kentucky. It was the biggest so far, with 1400-1500 participants. My workshop Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale ran out even of standing room, so I was asked to repeat it in the afternoon. I did that and the new room was half full. I gave out over 230 handouts. The impossibly broad topic was a challenge for a 75 minute workshop, but I did my best. Last week I blogged the info on Bio-intensive Integrated Pest Management that I had to drop from the slideshow.

I love the SSAWG conference. I learned so many useful tips that will improve my farming this year and in the future. Such as another way to tell a ripe watermelon: stroke it and feel the texture of the skin. If it’s slick the melon isn’t ready. When it becomes a little rough, it is. Such as, yes a 60cfm inflation blower really should be adequate for a 30′ x 96′ hoophouse, so we almost certainly have holes in the plastic. Such as ways to deal with tomato diseases in the Southeast (thanks Joe Kemble of Auburn University).

If you are now wishing you’d been there, go to SlideShare.net and search for SSAWG. There are so many valuable presentations from conferences over the years. Also the audio of this year’s presentations (and last) are available from Rhino Technologies. Wait a few days for them to get home and load everything on their website.


Eat-All Greens on October 19 Photo Bridget Aleshire
Eat-All Greens on October 19
Photo Bridget Aleshire

And while the soil outside is waterlogged and you can’t do much gardening or farming, what better than more veggie-reading? Mother Earth News Feb/March issue has an article by Carol Deppe,  on How to Easily Grow High-Yielding Greens. Carol is the inventor/discoverer of Eat-All Greens, which I have been writing about on this blog. Her 20 years of trialing this method of growing cooking greens quickly with very little work has led her to now recommend seven greens as particularly suitable. Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes (I was interested to read that Carol also harvested the radish roots as we did with ours in December), Groninger Blue collard-kale (must get that this year), Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana (check!), and Red Aztec huazontle. No mention this time of peas. Peas provided our earliest harvests this fall. Keeping them tender was a challenge though. The article includes information on where to buy the varieties she recommends. Carol also has her own seed company Fertile Valley Seeds, selling varieties and strains that she has developed.


Potato harvest in November Photo by Lori Katz
Potato harvest in November with our Checchi and Magli harvester
Photo by Lori Katz

In the same issue of Mother Earth News is some of what I have written about dealing safely with green potatoes.


GFM_February2016_cover_300pxLastly for this week, the February Growing for Market is out. This is the first issue from the new editor, Andrew Mefferd. He tackles the thorny topic of hydroponics and whether it can ever be considered Organic. (Many organic and biological growers believe it is important to Keep the Soil in Organic)  As well as the Organic status of hydroponics, he describes the various types of hydroponic production for those that want to grow food that way, and for the rest of us to understand what we are talking about.

There is an article by Nick Burton about his hydroponic system and developing a trust-based sales system in a gym for people on a “paleo diet”, who eat lots of vegetables. Then a salad mix kit. He had moved from running a plant nursery to selling produce to selling convenience for people short of time and enthusiasm for shopping and preparing food. I admit to being skeptical about the paleo diet. Didn’t those paleo people spend all day scavenging for food?

Gretel Adams writes about running a bouquet business efficiently. (I’d be no good, I would dither for too long!)

My own article this issue is very down-to-earth: growing oats as a cover crop. They are easy-care and in climates in zone 7 or colder, they reliably die in the winter, making for easy early spring cultivation. We like to undersow oats and soy in our last sweet corn patch. This saves us from having to disk up the patch to establish a winter cover crop (it’s already there!), and means we can follow the late sweet corn with an early spring crop the next year. In our case it is the March potatoes.

Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy Photo Kathryn Simmons
Late season sweet corn undersown with oats and soy
Photo Kathryn Simmons

 

Updated Crop Rotations Slideshow

Here’s my updated Crop Rotations slideshow for your viewing pleasure, as they say!

<div> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/crop-rotations-for-vegetables-and-cover-crops-2014″ title=”Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops 2014, Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops 2014, Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

I heard from the Asheville Mother Earth News Fair organizers that there were 16,000 people at the Fair!! They had expected 10,000 for a first time at that location. The next MEN Fair is May 31- June 1 at Puyallup, Washington. I’m not going to that one (too far, too busy). I will be going to  Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. That’s September 12-14. Then there is Topeka, Kansas, October 25-26. I hope to be there.

Somehow, I’m also presenting at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, September 12-13. Ira Wallace, Cindy Conner and I (and perhaps some other speakers) will all be presenting earlyish at HHF (mostly Friday) then heading north to present at MEN. Next year these events will not be double-booked!

Meanwhile, home on the farm, we are transplanting broccoli, rather late this year, due to cold wet weather. Now it is dry and warm, and our over-large plants are suffering. . . Time to set out the sprinkler irrigation. There is some chance of showers today, but I don’t think it’s going to add up to much water. “At least they won’t be getting drier” as my predecessor taught me to say!

Broccoli seedlings in the cold frame Credit Kathryn Simmons
Broccoli seedlings in the cold frame
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We’ve also transplanted the 120 lettuce for the week, and after the forecast chilly Wednesday night, we have chard, cucumbers and squash to set out, and corn to sow. We will be firmly into the warm weather crops then, and the start of the busy season.

Spring lettuce transplants protected by rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Spring lettuce transplants protected by rowcover.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Another of my tasks today is to make maps of where the drip irrigation is to go, so more of the crew can set up the systems. Then I really have to tackle the unholy mix-up of low-flow and medium-flow drip tape that we unwittingly got ourselves into last year.