Tools for small-scale growers

Rolling drip tape on shuttles for storage and reuse.
Photo Luke Stovall

It’s been raining all day, so I look around for inspiration and useful rainy day work. Repairing things and making useful tools are usually satisfying.And I found a couple of fun and inspiring inventions by others to share.

Drip tape shuttles and winding system

I’ve written before about our drip tape shuttles, which enable us to save and reuse drip tape. Here’s our Perfect Drip Tape Pack-up Check List

  1. Gather spring clamps (4 per cart), rebar axles, carts, small bucket for end caps, black marker, yellow or white grease pencil (in Drip Tape First Aid Kit), a few pieces of rope 2-4 ft long.
  2. Remove end caps and collect in small buckets
  3. Remove any rope/cord tying drip tape to end stakes (if any)
  4. Pull up stakes
  5. Disconnect drip tape at main pipe, by unscrewing the connector from the tape, not by pulling the connectors out of pipe. Don’t disconnect any short drip tape blank ends, leave them in the pipe.
  6. One person coils the mainline pipe in big 4-5 ft diameter loops, with NO kinks. Tie in three places with rope. Make and affix a plastic label if there is not already one attached. Describe what crop it was used for, and what row spacings, number of rows. Store.
  7. Meanwhile, other people free up the drip tape without destroying the crop too much, and write the length on the ends, using the grease pencil.
  8. Set up the cart with the axle and spring clamps, on the uphill side of the patch (helps drain the tape as you roll it)
  9. Then roll it on appropriately labeled shuttles, two lengths at a time, tightly and tidily, each keeping to cos own side of the shuttle (so they can be unwound separately). Tuck last end in, and ensure the end of the drip tape is labeled with the length, and both sides of the shuttle are labeled.
  10. Take all the shuttles to the barn, and hang them in pairs over the beams using rope. Use knots that a normal human will be able to undo easily. Hang shuttles high enough so people won’t bang their heads, but low enough to be reachable by someone standing on a chair.
  11. Return all the tools and supplies.

Unrolling drip tape from shuttles, using a garden cart as support.
Photo Luke Stovall

I was reminded of our drip tape system when I came across this Rowcover roller

Rowcover rolling with crank handle.
Photo Rodale Institute

Taming the floating row cover is a blog post on the Rodale site by John and Aimee Good. They say

The row cover reel is our favorite part of our system, and it is super low-tech. It is comprised of two portable saw horses with pipe straps attached and a PVC crank we made to fit on the end of the row cover pipe. We set up the saw horses at the end of the bed about eight feet apart. We then push the PVC pipe through the pipe straps on each saw horse and hammer our crank onto the end of the pipe with a rubber mallet.

By using long pipes to roll the row cover on, they have handles to hold, and a space to label length, width, condition of the row cover.


While researching a term new to me: “Personalized Harvie Farm Shares

I learned from the Small Farm Central blog that Harvie connects customers directly with  local farms who deliver shares of farm fresh produce customized to meet personal preferences. Like a CSA, but with choices.


Towards the end of that post I got a chuckle when I saw this flame weeder:

Repurposed stroller makes a fine flame weeder.
Photo Sustainable Harvest Farm Kentucky

The blog post is entitled

3 Themes from 2,000 miles of driving visiting farms in TN and KY

and the inventive farmers Ford and Amanda are from Sustainable Harvest Farm in Kentucky.

I’ve written before about the wonders of flame weeding. We bought our Red Dragon backpack flame weeder from Fedco.

We’re going to need the stroller! Single-torch flamer saves lots of weeding time.
Photo Kati Falger


Broadfork from Way Cool Tools.
Photo Way Cool Tools

Another tool we love is our all-steel broadfork from Way Cool Tools.

I wrote about it last September, when we were preparing our hoophouse beds for winter crops.

This tool is great for aerating compacted soil without inverting it. The soil beasties thank us.

Below is a photo of a hoophouse bed after broadforking before the (immediately following) task of raking to break up the big clumps and produce a fine tilth. It’s important not to let the soil dry out into bricks before raking, or life will be hard (and those soil beasties may be dead).

Hoophouse bed broadforked to aerate the soil without inverting.
Photo Pam Dawling


Lastly I’ll mention our blueberry hoop method. Maybe your bushes, like ours, are flowering now, and maybe you are determined to have a better netting system than you had last year. I described our (then new) blueberry hoop system in 2013. The blueberry area is 16′ x 65′ approx. Height of the netting supports needs to be 7′ or more for most of the space. The 20 blueberry bushes are 66″ apart, in two rows.

We chose PVC Electrical conduit to make our hoops. Unlike PVC water pipe,  plastic electrical conduit is UV-inhibited for outdoor use. Lengths have flanged (bell) ends, and can be joined without any connector pieces. It’s lightweight, and no bending tools are needed (unlike for metal conduit or fencing top-rail). It packs flat for out-of-season storage, and is relatively cheap.

We made a “Spider-House” temporary framework: An idea used for temporary “field houses”. It consists of pairs of bows fastened together at the apex, in a way that spreads out into a 4-legged structure. A row of these make up the frame. An advantage is that the spiders are stronger than simple bows, and that the whole thing can be dismantled relatively easily. The shape helps add strength to lightweight bows.

Blueberry netting on hoops.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

Garlic Scapes
Photo courtesy of Small Farm Central

I always know when garlic growers in slightly warmer or more southern climates are starting to find scapes (the edible firm flower stems of hardneck garlic) because my posts about scapes suddenly become popular! My posts “Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest,”  and “Garlic scapes to cheer us up” have been reread a lot recently, and Harvesting garlic is due for attention any time now. My Growing Great Garlic slideshow is here. Click the diagonal arrows to view it full screen.

And sure enough, our own scapes are ready too, even though this is a week earlier than usual.We harvest two or three times a week until there are no more. I love garlic scapes as one of the first outdoor crops of the spring, and a flavor different from leafy greens and stored roots, the staples of early spring.

Our tulip poplars are flowering now too, also early. Our average date for those is 5/1, and we’re a few days ahead of that. When I was a beekeeper it was important to be ready for the tulip poplar flowers, because that was our big nectar flow of the year, and I had to dash out to the beeyard and stack up 5 supers on each hive. I had to give up on the beekeeping because the combination of lifting heavy boxes and twisting was hurting my back too much. Oh, and those heavy boxes were full of thousands of stinging insects, but I didn’t mind that bit as much. The flowering of tulip poplars and the germination of ragweed are both phenology signs that signify that the Growing Degree Days have reached 200 (on a base of 50F) and that conditions are warm enough to sow sweet corn. Myself, I watch the young leaves on the white oaks and when they are the size of a squirrel’s ear, I decide it’s warm enough for corn.


This weekend I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Click the link to see the location, the workshop schedule and the list of vendors who’ll be there. I’m presenting two workshops, Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish on Saturday 5/6 at 12.30on the Yanmar Sustainable Agriculture Stage, followed by book-signing and chatting at the Mother Earth News Bookstore; and Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Sunday 5/7 at the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

Of course, you’ll need to be there and  hear me speak to get the most out of it. I’m also doing short demonstrations of How to String Weave Tomatoes at booth 2800, New Society Publishers (near the Bookstore) on Saturday at 10 am, 11 am and 5 pm, and on Sunday at 10 am and 11 am. They’re half-hour time slots. My table top demo kit uses #2 pencils and pink tinsel.

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

The May issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, including my article about growing seed crops in hoophouses. I interviewed Clif Slade, founder of the 43560 Project at Virginia State University, about several creative sequences of food crops and seed crops he has grown in a high tunnel. (Collards, okra) as well as plant starts (sweet potatoes, onions). He farms in Surry County, Virginia.

Also in this GfM, Simon Huntley of Small Farm Central encourages small farmers to set aside two hours a week for a quick and efficient bit of online marketing “One Photo,
One Paragraph”. His goal is to help farmers stay in the spotlight with their products, without having to spend a great deal of time on it in the busy season.

Conor Crickmore has an article about preparing and laying out no-till permanent raised beds very precisely in a hoophouse. He uses the Quick Cut Greens Harvester to mow off over-size baby salad crops to clear the bed prior to broadforking and adding needed soil amendments.

Spencer Nietmann writes about what it really costs to start a farm. Jesse Frost discusses various types of plastic to cover hoophouses  (high tunnels), and lastly, Jane Tanner writes about native perennials for flower farms

Not much gardening happening; videos, events, articles

A Chandler blueberry layered in a pot. Photo Kathryn Simmons

A Chandler blueberry layered in a pot.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Not much gardening has been happening here. The soil is still saturated, so we can’t till or plant. We have spread a lot of compost on lots of raised beds. We have finished our blueberry pruning and are looking at filling the gaps before the buds break. We have 44 old blueberry bushes in one planting and 20 younger ones in another spot. All the 20 younger ones are alive, but there are about 8 gaps in the older patch. We propagate our own blueberry plants for gap-filling, by layering.

This involves taking a healthy low-lying branch and pinning it down into some soil. Before pinning it, we scrape the lower bark off where it touches the soil, to help the branch grow roots from that point. We used to pin the branches down into pots of soil, as in the photo above, but for the past few years we have simply been pinning them into the ground. This has the advantage of reducing the chance of the roots drying out (they are in a much larger volume of soil). But it has the disadvantage of being harder to see and so more likely to get damaged, mulched over or uprooted by our visitor-helpers. We use 6″ sod staples, those wire staples sometimes sold to hold down geotextiles or row cover or drip tape. We tie a long piece of bright colored plastic flagging tape around the top of the staple to make it easier to see. If the branch tries to spring out of the soil, we use rocks to hold the staple down. With the pot system, we would cut the new plant from the mother once it seemed to have life of its own. Now we grow them in the soil and we have simplified our system so we pin down new layers while we are doing the pruning, and leave them for a whole year.

After the pruning we dig up the previous year’s layers and replant them. We label and flag them, and even put wire netting cages round them for protection. And then water twice a week if nature doesn’t, for a few weeks, then once a week for the summer.

Young blueberry plant protected with wire netting. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Young blueberry plant protected with wire netting.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We keep maps of which blueberry varieties are where in our patches and during the harvest season we flag the most tasty ones, so we know where to go to propagate more.


The Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition is starting a video series with five participating farms. The first video, from Bellair Farm, 11 miles south of Charlottesville, can be seen here:

A different farm will release a YouTube video each week. The other four farms are
Porcello Farm (Charlottesville)
Agriberry Farm (Hanover)
Amy’s Garden (Charles City)
Browntown Farms (Warfield)

The farms address how they got started, where they sell their products, how they organize their labor, and lots more. The conversations were recorded to create these videos to help people learn more about Virginia’s farmers as well as gather practical information to use on your own farm. The goal of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition is to support new farmers at any scale, particularly historically under-served groups.


culpeperimage-front-coverComing right up is my talk at Culpeper County Library next Sunday 2/28 from 2-4pm in their meeting room. I’ll be chatting about writing my book, answering gardening questions, discussing the importance of local sustainably grown food, and selling and signing copies of my book.


The Virginia Berry Production and Marketing Conference
(North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association’s Annual Conference) will be in
Williamsburg, VA – March 1-4, 2016. I haven’t yet got any info I can paste in, but click on the link and find details and registration form.


Growing magazine has just arrived and I’m interested to see they have several articles about carrots. Good carrot production, how to produce consistent carrots twice a year (in central California), insect-infested carrots and weeds in carrots. Why carrots only twice a year? We plant carrots in February, March, April, May and August. Sometimes even in June and July if we need to. There’s also an article about soils and climate change. Growing is not an organic magazine, so I pick and choose from their advice. It is what I’d call open-minded about organics: they recognize some growers use organic methods and they want their magazine to be read by those farmers too. Some articles are online. Subscription to the magazine is free (I imagine the advertisers cover the costs)

Carrot photo from Small Farm Central

Carrot photo from Small Farm Central

Events December 2013 – April 2014

LFH_Logo2Local Food Hub, Charlottesville, VA

Date: Wednesday Dec 11, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 6:00 pm
Change of Location: The new location is:

Albemarle County Office Building
Room A
1600 5th Street Extended
Charlottesville VA 22902
Cost: $25 (free for Local Food Hub Partner Producers)

http://localfoodhub.org/our-programs/workshops/

Providing for the Full Eating Season: Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests of Summer Vegetables, and Growing and Storing Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables

People eat year-round and growers need to expect this! Learn how to produce a consistent supply of produce throughout the year. The first half of this workshop will explain how to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages. The second half of the workshop will tackle growing at the “back end” of the year, with details on crops, timing, protection and storage. Why farm in winter? Here’s the information to succeed – tables of cold-hardiness, details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (fall crops to harvest before serious cold, crops to keep growing into winter, crops for all-winter harvests, overwintering crops for spring harvests); scheduling; weather prediction and protection; hoophouse growing; and vegetable storage.

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cropped-vabf-virginia-grass-fed-cattleVirginia Association for Biological Farming Conference, Richmond, Virginia.

Dates: Thursday January 30-Saturday February 1, 2014

Location: Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, Richmond-Midlothian, VA
Registration: $130.00 for members

http://vabf.org/conference/

Book-signings scheduled throughout the conference

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Website_banner_v2PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) Farming for the Future Conference

Dates: Wednesday February 5 – Saturday February 8, 2014

Location: State College, PA

Registration: $145 for members for Friday and Saturday?

http://www.pasafarming.org/events/conference

Book-signing

Producing Asian Greens

Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting.

Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables

Details on crops, timing, protection and storage. Why farm in winter? Here’s the information to succeed – tables of cold-hardiness, details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (fall crops to harvest before serious cold, crops to keep growing into winter, crops for all-winter harvests, overwintering crops for spring harvests); scheduling; weather prediction and protection; hoophouse growing; vegetable storage.

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Lynchburg College

Date: Saturday February 15 2014 10am to 3 pm

Location: Lynchburg College, SW Virginia

Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round
10-11  Grow a Sustainable Diet–Cindy Conner
11-11:10  Break
11:10-12:10  Year Round Gardening–Ira Wallace
12:10-1:10 Lunch
1:10-1:50  Understanding and Using Seed Catalogs –small group activity.
1:50-2.00  Break
2.00-3.00 Crop Rotations, Cover Crops, and Compost — Pam Dawling

Details to be confirmed soon

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AiscAvnOsQFURv1wbixykzdTEl5dCrYHumxaW5HMlv_9XK1UpLeQQEgEAD9gMcdG9L_RhllIVVAnqOEAkdAwxOJeL_fFsxWEKQyzNfllayMqc7g=s0-d-e1-ftlogo_sfcCSA Expert Exchange Online Conference, Small Farm Central and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

Dates: March 6-7, 2014

Location: Online

Registration: $70 for access to both days

www.csafarmconference.com

Crop Planning for Sustainable Vegetable Production

A step-by-step approach to closing the planning circle, so that you can produce crops when you want them and in the right quantities, so you can sell them where and when you need to and support yourself with a rewarding livelihood while replenishing the soil. Never repeat the same mistake two years running!

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Mother Earth News Fair, Asheville (confirmed 12/21/13)

Dates: Saturday April 12 – Sunday April 13, 2014

Location: Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, 1301 Fanning Bridge Road,
Fletcher, NC 28732

Registration:?

http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/north-carolina.aspx#axzz2k02EAfZq

Workshop topic to be decided

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