Saving watermelon seed, rainy day reading, Heritage Harvest Festival

Scooping watermelon seed.
Photo Pam Dawling

I wrote recently about saving tomato seed, and here I’ll write about extracting watermelon seed. We grow Crimson Sweet Virginia Select, which we sell to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I walk through the patch with a grease pencil (china marker) in July when the melons are forming and write numbers on 40 nice-looking big melons. I’m selecting for earliness, size, disease resistance and flavor.

Selected watermelon with an identifying number.
Photo Nina Gentle

Once the melons start to ripen, I go out to the plot once a week with my trusty garden cart and a collection of clean buckets, a notebook and pen, a big knife, a large slotted spoon, a couple of damp rags, a bottle of water and a big straw hat. I start testing the numbered ones for ripeness. If they are ripe I decide if they are seed-worthy, demoting any with dead vines (not disease-resistant!) or too small. I find promising replacements for any I decide not to save seed from, and number those.

Garden cart with supplies for watermelon seed collection.
Photo Pam Dawling

When I have a good one, I cut it in half and scoop the heart out into a very clean bucket. I taste a piece (that’s the “good flavor” test). These days they all seem to taste good, but the first few years of seed selection, I had some I didn’t like much, so I didn’t save seed from those. See the first photo for the scooping task. Once the heart is scooped out, there is a layer of flesh with seeds in, which I scoop out into a moderately clean bucket. Then a layer of flesh without seeds for the food bucket.

Watermelon seed bucket and food bucket.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the blue bucket is my “dry zone” with my notebook. I write down which melons I harvested, any I discarded, any new ones I added, and how many are left to find in the coming weeks. Generally I harvest 7-10 watermelons per week, generating two buckets of fruit and two half-buckets of seeds. The watermelon seeds are fermented for four or five days, then washed – just like processing tomato seeds I wrote about last week.

Dried watermelon seeds in a paper bag.
Photo Pam Dawling

I harvest 5 or 6 times, from Late July to early September. I don’t want to be selecting for late-ripening melons so I stop harvesting seed long before the fruits are over.


My most recent blog post for Mother Earth News is about repairing garden hoses, most of which you already read about here. It’s in the DIY blog this time (most of my posts go in the Organic Gardening blog). I just heard some numbers for how various of my Mother Earth News blogposts this year are doing, and the big favorite topic is Growing Lettuce Year Round: Succession Planting for a Continuous Supply: 10,924 views! Growing Winter Lettuce: 4,620 views, is second favorite. people sure do love lettuce! Other popular topics this year have been Winter Hoop House Harvest Schedule, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings EasilyHeat-Tolerant Eggplant Varieties, and Planting Leeks. 

How to harvest garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

When I look to see which posts on this blog people visit most often, I see that garlic harvesting and garlic scapes are very popular, as are posts about sweet potatoes.


Sometimes I post links to my slideshows, but here’s a You Tube I’ve been meaning to tell you about. This is my presentation of Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests at New Country Organics.


The September Growing for Market is out. The cover article, by Carolina Lees, advocating a Farmer Retreat. This is a wintertime regional gathering of farmers, with scheduled time for discussion and also for casual hanging-out. No imported speakers! The author is in Oregon, and envy-inducing photos of the beach-side retreat are included. But, what a good idea!

David Ross writes about grower relationships with wholesalers. Shawn Jadrnicek, author of The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Reveolutionary Permaculture-Based System . . .  writes about mulching and crimping techniques for no-till vegetables, including how to have weed-free cover crops, and get the right machinery to roll and crimp them. he uses a manure spreader to spread tree leaf mulch, and shows photos of a very tidy farm.

Rowan Steele writes about obtaining used silage tarps (as advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier) for covering beds to control weeds organically. Rowan writes about how to use the tarps and suggests coordinating a used silage tarp delivery for your small farm community. Contact Travis Quirk at the nonprofit Simply Agriculture Solutions Inc. in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ([email protected]).  The tarps may be delivered for the cost of shipping. Canadian farmers are required to recycle their “grain bags”, but it’s hard for them to find a recycling facility in Canada, so the plastics are sent to the US. They are happy to be able to divert the material for a second use. Sounds great to me!

Jane Tanner writes about William’s WIldflowers, a floral design business run by two sisters, using lots of native flowers, especially perennials, for weddings and other formal occasions.


See you at the Heritage Harvest Festival on Friday September 8 (my premium workshop on growing sweet potatoes from start to finish) or Saturday (strolling around). Last time I looked there were still tickets available for my workshop ($20)

Heritage Harvest Festival

Saving Tomato Seeds and the Tomatoes too

Roma paste tomatoes in mid-August, with stakes flagged for seed collection.
Photo Pam Dawling

August is my busy month for seed harvesting. I alternate tomato seeds and watermelon seeds, getting one batch of each done each week. Today (Tuesday) I packed away a dried batch of Roma tomato seeds and washed and set to dry a batch of Crimson Sweet watermelon seeds. These are both the Virginia Select strains which I sell to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I harvested two buckets of Romas on Thursday and left them to fully ripen until today (day 5 for those not counting).

Each year since 2001, I’ve been selecting the Romas for earliness, productivity and resistance or tolerance to Septoria leaf spot disease. In the photo above you can see pink flagging tape on two of the T-posts and yellow on the nearer one. Pink flagging tape marks the plants that had large early yields and OK foliage. Yellow tape marks the plants that have healthier foliage and at least average early yield.

Roma tomatoes getting washed ready for seed extraction.
Photo Pam Dawling

Today I processed the two bucketfuls of Romas from Thursday for seed. I like to do this task on the porch steps as this gives me various heights for the different buckets, and reduces bending double. The next step is to cut each tomato in half lengthwise, pitching any rotten ones in a compost bucket, and putting the good halves in a clean bucket.

Roma tomatoes cut in half for seed extraction.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the photo above, the compost bucket is on the right and the food bucket on the left is getting any edible parts that I don’t want to save seed from for one reason or another. For instance, if the end of the fruit was bad, I don’t want seed from it in case the disease is also in the seeds, but the rest of the fruit is perfectly edible. For the cutting I like a small serrated knife, as shown in the picture.

Roma tomatoes with the seeds removed, all ready for making sauce or salsa.
Photo Pam Dawling

Next I use a soup spoon to scoop out the seeds into a smaller bucket and I put the scooped out halves (“shells”) into another clean bucket. I’ve trained myself to keep moving on this task and only scoop once in each half tomato. I don’t go back for one odd seed that got away!

The “shells” are then all ready for cooking into sauce, or chopping and making into salsa. The seeds bucket gets a loose lid and is put in a cool dark corner of the shed for three days (until Friday). The goal is to ferment the tomato seeds, which kills the spores of some of the diseases, and makes it easier to remove the gel around the seeds and the bits of tomato flesh. I stir once to three times a day to let the carbon dioxide escape, and to break up any surface mold that develops. After three days I wash and dry the seeds.

Roma tomato seeds just after extraction from the tomatoes.
Photo Pam Dawling

I like seed crops where the food part is also harvested (or most of it). Peppers and melons are that way too, but not crops that we eat botanically immature, such as eggplant and cucumber. And obviously not crops where the seed is the food crop, such as peas, beans and corn.

Heritage Harvest Festival, Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc Conference, Succession Planting Podcast

After a couple of summer months off from speaking at events, I am gearing up for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, near Charlottesville. This two day festival has a day of ticketed workshops on Friday September 8 and a field day on Saturday September 9. Saturday workshops, demonstrations, tours and kids events are all included with the price of admission.

Never been to Monticello’s annual Heritage Harvest Festival? What exactly is it? Get your tickets now to join in 9/8-9/9. You’ll find a variety of interesting events and workshops focused on all things related to gardening, cooking and food. You can learn everything from how to make cider, how to keep your garden alive throughout the winter, or even how to become a chicken whisperer.  There is something for everyone! See the schedule of events here.

Sweet potato harvest
Photo Nina Gentle

This year I am presenting my workshop Growing Sweet Potatoes on Friday at 3.30 pm, followed by book-signing at the Bookshop at 4.45 pm. Bring your grubby well-thumbed old copy of Sustainable Market Farming for me to sign, or buy a fresh new one for yourself, or as a gift, at the Bookshop.

Come and participate in the 11th Annual Old Timey Seed Swap at Monticello’s Heritage
Harvest Festival  and learn more from Ira Wallace, one of the founders of HHF and worker/owner of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Seed savers of all levels are welcome! #HHF2017.

Seed Swap jars at Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Tour Monticello’s 1,000-foot-long vegetable garden: an “Ellis Island of edible curiosities” at this year’s Heritage Harvest Festival .

Peter Hatch giving a tour of the Monticello vegetable garden.
Photo courtesy of Monticello

Come and sample more than 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, heirloom peppers and melons in the Tasting Tent.

Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at the Heritage Harvest Festival Tomato Tasting.
Photo courtesy of Monticello


My next event after that will be the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference.  November 3-5, 2017 in Durham, NC. I will be talking about hoophouse growing, both in the Friday morning pre-conference and on Sunday. See my Events page (tab) for more.

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse.
Photo Nina Gentle

I’m doing fewer speaking events this fall/winter/spring season. I’m writing my second book, on year round vegetable production in hoophouses. I need to stay home and write, take photos, write some more, edit, draw diagrams, write more, make charts, etc.


In June, at the Vermont Mother Earth News Fair in Burlington, I took part in a podcast on Succession Planting. I thought I could embed it right here, but the closest I can manage today is this link: https://www.podbean.com/media/player/9s7a3-6cafa3?from=yiiadmin&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=1&download=1&rtl=0

https://motherearthnewsandfriends.podbean.com/e/ep-13-succession-gardening/



Debbie Roos of Chatham County, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, steward of the very useful Growing Small Farms website, sent a heads up about a special feature of this week:

The week of August 6-12 has been declared National Farmers’ Market Week by the Farmers’ Market Coalition. It’s a great time to reflect on the importance of farmers’ markets to our communities and pledge to support our local markets, farmers, and vendors.

As demand for local food continues to grow, so too have the opportunities for America’s farmers to market fresh food directly to the consumer. The number of markets listed in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers’ Market Directory has grown from 2,863 in 2000 to 8,675 in 2016.
According to statistics recently released by the USDA, farmers’ markets and farm stands account for roughly $2 billion of the $3 billion that Americans spend annually on direct-to-consumer farm product sales. This revenue, in turn, supports the livelihoods of more than 165,000 mostly small and mid-sized farms and ranches.

Farmers’ markets strengthen rural economies. According to the Farmers’ Market Coalition, farmers selling locally create 13 full-time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned, compared to three jobs created by farmers who don’t sell locally. Farmers’ markets provide a low-barrier entry point for farmers and food entrepreneurs who are just starting out and/or want to test new products by getting feedback directly from customers.

Farmers’ markets support healthy communities by increasing access to fresh, nutritious, and flavorful food. Markets also provide important opportunities for social interactions and vendors help educate the non-farming public about agriculture and local foods.

So, support your local Farmers Market, unless you grow all your own food! You can probably find something to buy, or some way to offer help. Or buy a farmer a cup of tea!

Asian Greens for June: Tokyo Bekana

Bird’s eye view of Tokyo bekana. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Lettuce is hard to grow in summer in our Virginia climate. Tokyo bekana (Brassica rapa chinensis) can be used as an alternative. It won’t get bitter in hot weather. Because it is fast-growing, you can sow it when you realize a lettuce shortage is looming – it grows faster than lettuce, and bigger than most lettuce varieties, so you can make up for lost time.

Tokyo bekana leaves
Photo The Funny Farm

Or, once you’ve tried it, you might decide to plan for Tokyo bekana in the summer rather than lettuce. The flavor is very mild, and most people don’t notice they aren’t eating lettuce. The texture of the white stems is very crunchy and juicy, and the frilly leaves are sweet and tender.The color of the leaves is chartreuse: a light bright lime green. Here is a delicious description of the flavor from Specialty Produce in San Diego, CA.

Tokyo Bekana cabbage is succulent with mild pepper nuances and a melting quality unique to all cabbage varieties.

I haven’t got the figures for nutritional content just now, but I think it’s got to be more nutritious than lettuce. Brassicas generally have more lots of antioxidants than lettuce, for example.

Tokyo Bekana was first cultivated in Japan and is a descendant of Chinese loose-heading celery cabbages (pe tsai). It is widely grown in rural Japan as well as in ex-pat Asian farming communities worldwide.

To grow Tokyo bekana for summer salads

We sow 4/30 – 6/15 and transplant at 2 weeks old. Germination at temperatures of 50-85°F is quick and reliable. Growth is fast. It can be harvested at any stage from microgreens to full-size “heads” – it never actually heads up, as a Napa Chinese cabbage does, but forms a loose head of big frilly leaves about 45 days after sowing.

Tokyo bekana Photo Johnny’s Seeds

Tokyo bekana transplants.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Sowing

Sow the seed thinly (3 seeds per inch) in a nursery seed bed. Or sow in pots or plug flats depending on the scale of production you need. Cover to keep bugs off, and transplant when there are 3 or 4 true leaves on each plant. We transplant 4 rows in a 48″ wide bed, but they could be a little closer.

Or you could direct sow  3 or 4 rows per bed. Make individual shallow furrows 1/4-1/2″ deep.

For baby salad greens, sow in 3″ wide bands, or broadcast. Harvest these by cutting when seedlings are 3-4″ tall.

One key to growing delicious Asian greens is to treat hem well: fertile soil, plenty of water, keep the bugs off. 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week, 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather.

A bed of Tokyo bekana
Photo The Funny Farm

You may be thinking “Oh it’s sure to bolt in hot weather!” But if the temperature remains above 50°F (10°C) it will not bolt if treated fairly. Of course, if you don’t water, or don’t harvest when it’s ready, it will bolt. I’ve been slow to learn what’s important. Years ago an Atlanta grower told me he grew arugula all summer in his hoophouse. It was hard for me to understand how that was possible. Last month I was in Jamaica and saw how they can grow kale in very hot weather. Any prolonged dip to 50°F (10°C) triggers bolting. It just happens that in my climate the bolt-triggering temperature happens in many months (but not in June, July, August!)

Harvest

Bunched Tokyo bekana Photo Johnny’s Seeds

Harvest Tokyo bekana at any stage: Young baby leaves for salad mix after 25 days, or the whole plant when fully mature at 10-12″ tall (45 days). You can harvest individual leaves and keep coming back for more. Juvenile plants can be cut and bunched for market. Once you have lots you can cut the whole plant. Full size plants weigh up to 1.25 lbs. each.

Tokyo bekana can also be sauteed like bok choy, if you find it grows extremely successfully! I have eaten sauteed lettuce, so I don’t want you lettuce lovers writing in to inform me that’s possible too. I didn’t think much of sauteed lettuce, but I do like sauteed Tokyo bekana. Cooked it pairs well with poultry,  pork, sausage,  fish, legumes, garlic, cream sauces, cheese, mushrooms, bulb fennel, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocados, grapefruit, lemon,  peaches and cherries.

More about Tokyo bekana

It is an open pollinated heirloom variety so the seeds can be saved and replanted.

It can be grown in the fall and spring outdoors, and in the winter hoophouse in our climate. It has good frost tolerance, down to around 25°F (-4°C), perhaps even 15ºF (-9ºC) with thick rowcover.

Maruba Santoh is similar – more about that one next month.

 

 

 

Sweet potato slideshow, phenology article, Ira Wallace awarded

I’ve just got back from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC. There were about 1200 people, five workshop slots, 12 tracks, lots of good, locally grown food, a whole pre-conference day of bus tours and intensive workshops, a courageous and inspiring keynote address from Clara Coleman on the joys and challenges of family and farm life. She and her two young sons are now living and working alongside Eliot Coleman (her dad) and Barbara Damrosch at Four Seasons Farm in Maine.

My sweet potato slideshow from my first workshop at CFSA is viewable above. Just click on the forward arrow. To see it full screen, click on the link below the image and then click the diagonal arrows when the new page opens. About 70 very engaged people attended that workshop. My other workshop was Sustainable Farming Practices for Vegetable Growers, which I’ll include next week.

I have also recently written a blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog  called Saving Sweet Potato Roots for Growing Your Own Slips.

I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new friends, learning some good tips about different drip irrigation parts, how to sharpen and use a scythe, how many years half the henbit seeds are viable for (23 years!!), and picking up literature from the trade booths to digest later.

sac-16-banner-960x330Save the date: 2017’s CFSA SAC will be November 3-5 (Fri-Sun)


nov-dec-2016-gfm-cover-300The November/December issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about phenology. Phenology is the study of recurring animal and plant life cycle changes in relation to the weather. Some changes are temperature-dependent, rather than (daylength-) calendar-dependent. The opening of some buds and the emergence of some
insects from the ground are related to the accumulated warmth of that season. Observations of certain changes can be used to help growers decide when to expect outbreaks of certain insect pests and when to plant certain crops. For instance, we look to the leaves of the white oaks to decide when it is warm enough to plant sweet corn. The oak leaves should be as big as squirrel’s ears. We have plenty of squirrels! Phenology is especially useful when the weather is extremely variable, which we can expect more of as climate change gets us further in its grip.

Also in this bumper edition of Growing for Market are articles on growing heading chicories (Josh Volk), milling your own logs on your farm (Mark Lieberth), online weather tools for farmers (Eric and Joanna Reuter), image-front-cover_coverbookpagea review of The Farmers Market Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal (Andrew Mefferd), and favorite perennials for flower growers (Jane Tanner). There are also two pages of cameos of books available from GfM. A seasonal tip about gift giving, I think.

I am working on a review of Soil Sisters by Lisa Kivirist, which I will tidy up and post soon.


Ira Wallace receives SFA award

Ira Wallace receives SFA award. Photo by Sara Wood

Ira Wallace, my long time friend and one of the members of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has recently been awarded the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sara Wood took photos at SESE and at Twin Oaks while preparing the SFA oral history interview with Ira Wallace. You can watch the video clip, read the transcript and ass the photos at the link. Well done Ira!

Lettuce growing in October

 

Outredgeous lettuce at an adolescent stage. Photo

Cold-hardy Outredgeous lettuce at an adolescent stage.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We’re just about to get our first real frost, and our lettuce planting has moved indoors, while our lettuce harvesting is straddling outdoors and indoors. As I reported in September, we had cutworms eating our outdoor lettuce seedlings. We sowed (and resowed on 9/16) some outdoor baby lettuce mix to play catch-up and help feed us salads until the hoophouse lettuce are ready. Yesterday, day 38 since sowing, we cut our first lettuce mix. We could have started a few days earlier. We have had a warm spell, which helped them grow faster. Because we usually only grow lettuce mix in our winter hoophouse and hadn’t planned to sow the mix outdoors, we didn’t have enough “official” lettuce mix seed. I simply made a mix of seasonally appropriate leftover fall varieties that we wouldn’t need for the second hoophouse sowing on 9/24.

Lettuce mix seedlings Photo Ethan Hirsh

Lettuce mix seedlings
Photo Ethan Hirsh

For those unfamiliar with baby lettuce mix, this is a cut-and-come-again crop. We like Fedco’s 2981LO Lettuce Mix OG or Johnny’s Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix #2310. For those with challenging growing conditions, both companies offer other specialized selected mixes. 1 ounce of seed sows about 600 ft, and you can sow rows 4″ (10 cm) apart. Here’s how we grow baby lettuce mix: We weed and thin to 1″ as soon as we can see the seedlings well enough to do so. Once the plants are 3-4″ tall, we cut them about an inch above the soil, with large scissors or shears. I usually gather a small handful with my left hand, cut with my right. After putting the harvested leaves in a crate or bucket, I weed the just-cut area so that there won’t be weeds in the next cut. I have also read the recommendation to rake over the rows after harvest with a fine leaf rake to remove outer leaves and cut scraps. If you want to make more than one cut, you will need to remove anything that isn’t top quality salad while you can see it.

Yesterday, as well as the baby lettuce mix, we made up our salad mix with spinach which we had sowed in the hoophouse 9/7, and brassica salad mix sown in there 10/2 (which was already plenty big enough to harvest after only 20 days. The brassica seed mix was put together by us, and was high in mizuna, I noticed.

Greenhouse with young Lettuce transplants in early October. Photo Wren Vile

Greenhouse with young lettuce transplants in early October.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Before the weekend, we were making salad mixes using spinach from our cold frames sown on 9/8. The leaves had grown very big, helped by having drip irrigation and cinder block walls as well as a slight southward slope to the soil in the cold frame, as recommended by Eliot Coleman. We added lettuce leaves from the plants in our greenhouse, which were sown in early to mid-September and transplanted in there early October. We will keep these plants alive all winter, just harvesting leaves. When we need the greenhouse space for seedlings at the end of January, we ‘ll start clearing the lettuce.

Our home made double hoop system for holding row cover in cold windy weather. Image (c) Pam Dawling

Our home made double hoop system for holding row cover in cold windy weather.
Image (c) Pam Dawling

We’ve covered our outdoor lettuce mix and our last bed of leaf lettuce (still waiting for it to get to harvestable size) with row cover on double hoops. We roll the long edges of row cover between hoops on to reject hammock spreader bars. They are about 5 ft long, and by setting the hoops about 6 ft apart we have the right amount of space to comfortably roll the edges under. Having the row cover nice and taut over the hoops not only helps it stay in place, but also holds the row cover above the leaves and makes the likelihood of bits of row cover in your lettuce unlikely.

That’s the round-up on what salad we’re harvesting in October and how. Now on to this month’s planting. I already mentioned transplanting lettuce into our greenhouse. In September’s lettuce article I listed the varieties we sow for the greenhouse and the hoophouse. This month we have been transplanting those into the hoophouse. On 10/15 we transplanted the first sowing (9/15), about 230 plants at 10″ spacing in 4 rows in a 48 ft length of bed (half the length of our hoophouse). We expect to harvest leaves from these from 11/16 all the way to 3/1. Today (10/25) we are transplanting our second sowing (9/24), a similar sized planting. We hope to harvest from these from December to mid-April. We plan to start harvesting our outdoor lettuce heads from 4/15.

We have also just sown our first lettuce mix in our hoophouse (10/24). 10 rows 4.5 inches apart, 30 ft long. That will give us a lot of lettuce! We’ll get our first cut somewhere in the 12/5-12/22 range and might even get as many as 8 cuts during the winter. It will get bitter and need to be pulled 2/26-3/15. We’ll have some later sowings to take over before that happens.

We have also just sowed some “lettuce filler” in our hoophouse. This is a small are of a few crosswise rows of the varieties we have sown to grow full-size. We’ll use the fillers to replace casualties.or if we don’t have any casualties, we ‘ll use the rows as baby cutting lettuce like our intentional baby lettuce mix.

Where we're headed: Winter hoophouse lettuce Photo Kathryn Simmons

Where we’re headed: Winter hoophouse lettuce
Photo Kathryn Simmons

 

Seed Garden slideshow, eggplants in September, sweet potato harvest

Here’s  my slideshow on growing seed crops alongside vegetable production. This is a new workshop topic for me. I shared the presentation with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, at Lynchburg College on Saturday 10/1. We also did some Show-and-Tell. My favorite bit was swirling my glass jar of tomato seed ferment, convincing everyone it wasn’t a canning project gone wrong, pouring off the pulpy water, and washing the contents to reveal the seeds as if by magic.

I’m currently working on a slideshow about sweet potatoes for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference Nov 4-6, 2016 in Durham, NC.


Eggplant row. Bridget Aleshire

Eggplant row.
Bridget Aleshire

About a month ago, I reported on our eggplant variety trials, seeking heat tolerant eggplant varieties. I wrote a longer piece for  the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. Our harvest records from July 18 on through August showed Epic clearly ahead of Nadia and Traviata. I’ll do a fuller report after the frost. That could be soon. We had a low of 36F last night, including a few patches of light frost.

Now I’ve looked at September’s harvests too. During September, Traviata produced the largest number of saleable fruits (145) compared to 138 Nadia and 135 Epic. Probably not statistically different from each other. As I’ve noted before, the eggplants are all a similar size, and so it’s no surprise that Traviata’s 145 fruits totaled the highest weight (112.5 pounds), with Nadia at 98 pounds and Epic at 95.5. Nadia had an 8% cull rate, Traviata 9% and Epic only 6.8%. Clearly, all three are good varieties.

Adding September to the figures for August and July, Epic is still the winning eggplant in terms of total yield, saleable yield, low cull ratio, and weight per fruit. That impressive leap off the starting blocks that Epic made is still holding it ahead of the pack.

The ripe fruits have got a little smaller, and there has been a noticeable drop-off in yield since the equinox.Their days are numbered.


Sweet potato harvest and seed selection crate. Photo Nina Gentle

Sweet potato harvest and seed selection crate.
Photo Nina Gentle

Out with the old, in with the new! Yesterday we started harvesting our sweet potatoes. Yields look OK but not fantastic. We had a lot of problems with deer eating our sweet potatoes this year. We did have a temporary electric fence, but we often didn’t pay it good attention and it grounded out. Next year the rotation brings the sweet potatoes to a more traveled location. I can’t believe I’m already doing that “Gardener Survival Strategy” of thinking “Next Year Everything Will Be Perfect”!!

 

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

Lettuce in September, Bean borers,

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

September is a month of change, when it comes to lettuce. We sow and transplant a lot of lettuce. The September 1 sowing is number 34 in our annual series, which runs to number 46 on September 27.

When to sow to eat lettuce in September

In September we are normally eating lettuce which we sowed from late June to mid-July. That’s a tough time for growing lettuce here, and this year was tougher than usual. We got fine seedlings up, but then they were mowed down by cutworms lurking under the shadecloth. We started new sowings in flats, up off the ground on a frame. We tried sowing baby lettuce mix to feed us during the gap. Although we sowed it in a cooler spell, it didn’t come up. We just resowed on 9/16. Now we are having a deluge – of rain, not of lettuce!

Sowing lettuce in September

From September 1-21 we sow head lettuce every 2 days. This is because the rate of growth will slow down when the weather cools, and the harvest dates of those sowings will spread out. They will all feed us through to the spring, if we protect them from cold temperatures. Before we got our hoophouse, we grew lettuce outdoors through the winter under double rowcover. It did stay alive, but we couldn’t harvest very often. Rowcover will provide a temperature gain of 4–6 degrees F (2.2–3.3 degrees C), depending on the thickness. It also reduces light transmission and airflow, but the trade-off can be very worthwhile. Lettuce can survive an occasional dip to 10°F (–12°C) with good rowcover outdoors — but not 8°F (–13°C), as I’ve seen! Adolescent lettuce are more cold-hardy than full-sized plants.

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting. Photo Wren Vile

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting.
Photo Wren Vile

Sowings in the first week of September are for planting in cold frames in central Virginia. These days we have switched to growing spinach all winter in our cold frames, rather than continue these lettuce plantings. We get better value from spinach. It grows faster than the outdoor (rowcovered) spinach, but slower than our hoophouse spinach.This means that after the last sowing for transplanting outdoors, on August 29, we get a short break on lettuce sowing.

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We resume with number 38 on September 9. The sowings from 9/9 to 9/17 will be transplanted in our greenhouse. We also sow on 9/15 and 9/24 to transplant into our hoophouse. The sowings from 9/19-9/27 are “insurance plantings” in case something goes wrong with an earlier [planting, or we don’t get the greenhouse beds refilled with compost soon enough, and want smaller plants.

Lettuce varieties to plant in September.

From September 1-7, (the coldframe ones we used to grow), we use cold-hardy varieties Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Pablo, Red Salad Bowl, Salad Bowl, Winter Marvel (a Bibb) and Winter Wonderland (Romaine). Pablo is a hold-over from the summer Batavian lettuces. (Heat-tolerant varieties also tolerate cold.) There are also specialized cold-hardy varieties that do not tolerate heat (because they have a relatively low water content). Sow these in fall and winter only.

Salad Bowl Lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Salad Bowl Lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The salad bowls do fine in the greenhouse and the hoophouse, although I remember they are not cold-hardy enough for growing outdoors here. During the winter we will be harvesting lettuce by the leaf, rather than cutting heads. Green Forest, Kalura and Winter Wonderland are romaines that do well in the winter for us. Note that we don’t grow butterhead lettuce (bibbs) after the end of August.

Once we reach September 8, we are sowing lettuce for planting in the (unheated) greenhouse. We use Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Kalura, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Salad Bowl, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Tango and Winter Wonderland.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

For the hoophouse winter lettuce, we sow Osborne multileaf lettuce types (Multigreen 57, Multired 4, Multired 54), Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Tango, Red Salad Bowl, Outredgeous, Salad Bowl, Winter Wonderland Romaine. For the second sowing on 9/24, we use Include all the same ones except Oscarde, which has given us trouble in the past when started that late.

Small and medium-sized plants of Marvel of Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density, and Tango can take 15F (-9.5C). I’ve seen some small unprotected lettuces survive down to 5F (-15C) – Winter Marvel, Tango, North Pole, Green Forest. Other particularly cold-hardy lettuce varieties include Brune d’Hiver, Cocarde, Esmeralda (a bibb),  Lollo Rossa, North Pole (bibb), Outredgeous, Rossimo, Sunfire and Vulcan.

I’ll address winter lettuce in some future post.

Cultivating winter lettuce in the hoophouse. photo McCune Porter.

Bean Borers

I enjoy Charley Eiseman’s blog Bug Tracks, even though I’m nowhere near in his league of paying attention to insects. It’s inspiring to read his posts! This week he wrote about Gray Hairstreak caterpillars as bean borers.

 

Late carrot sowing, plenty of corn and okra, spotty tomatoes.

Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We finally got our big planting of fall carrots sown. Much later than I’ve ever sown carrots before. Our goal is early August, so we are a month behind. We usually harvest all our carrots at some point in November and store them for the winter. If carrots take 75 days to grow and we’ve lost 30, how big will the carrots get? The rate of growth will slow as it gets colder.We can’t just harvest a  month later and expect the same size carrots as usual. It’s not a linear rate of increase. Some crops double in size in their last month of growth. if that’s true of carrots, we’ll get about half the yield we usually do, if we harvest at our usual date.

We had challenges preparing the soil (too much rain, too many grass weeds, not enough rain, not enough time. . . ). This morning we finally got it all raked and rocks picked out, and seeds put in. We mark the beds with the Johnny’s rowmarker rake five rows in a four foot wide bed. Then we sow with an EarthWay seeder. It’s very quick and easy. We sow about 12″ of beet seeds at one end – these are our “Indicator Beets”. When the beets germinate, we know the carrots will be up the next day and it’s time to flame weed the carrot beds.

Flame weeding carrots. Photo by Kati Falger

Flame weeding carrots.
Photo by Kati Falger

Once you get over the hesitation about using a fiercely hot propane burner, flame weeding is also quick and easy. And boy, it saves so much hand weeding! We bought our Red Dragon backpack flame weeder from Fedco. As you see, we decided to use wheelbarrow rather than carry the propane tank on our backs, and include a second person (and in this picture, a third!). The second person is the safety monitor and looks out for unwanted things (like hay mulch burning).

We do hope our carrots will have ideal growing weather and catch up a bit. We’ve sowed 4000 feet of them. Here’s a picture of fall carrots from a previous year:

Fall carrots. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Fall carrots.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

I did a bit of research on last sowing dates for carrots in our area.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in their useful Fall & Winter Vegetable Gardening Quick Reference suggests 8/31. We’re five days later than that. The National Gardening Association on their customizable Garden Planting Calendar for our zipcode comes up with September 4. The news is getting better! They have planting dates for spring and fall, in a very user-friendly format. The How Do Gardener Page says August 31 is the last planting date for carrots in Virginia. Fingers crossed!

Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Planting 5 is under the ropes to the right.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Meanwhile our sweet corn is doing very well. We’re eating the Bodacious sweet corn and the Kandy Korn of our fifth sowing. In a couple of days the Silver Queen of our fifth sowing will be ready. After that we have sowing number 6, the same three varieties. That’s it: six sweet corn sowings through the season.

Another crop being very successful is okra. We grow Cow Horn okra from Southern Exposure. We like it for its tall plants, high productivity and the fact that the pods are tender at 5-6″. We do find it hard to convince our cooks that we have specially chosen this “commune-friendly” variety so they don’t have to deal with fiddly little okra pods when cooking for 100. We used to harvest at 5″, we’ve had to compromise and harvest at 4″.

Cow Horn okra. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Cow Horn okra.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

And then the not-so-good news – spotty tomatoes. We have been getting anthracnose,

Anthracnose spot on tomato. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Anthracnose spot on tomato.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

small water-soaked spots. The Vegetable MD Online site is one I often turn to. I go to the “Diseases by crop” page, then click on the vegetable I’m worrying about. Sometimes the vitally helpful photos are down the page, below the horizon. Here’s the info which I think tells us where we went wrong:

” In late spring the lower leaves and fruit may become infected by germinating sclerotia and spores in the soil debris. “

While we were determining what was wrong when our plants got hit with some hot weather herbicide drift, we didn’t touch the plants in case it was a viral disease.  We didn’t do the string weaving. The plants sprawled on the ground. Later we made a bit of an effort to catch up but failed. The plants were a sprawly mess, even though the foliage recovered and the plants were loaded with fruits. Far too much contact with the ground! (Even though we used the biodegradable plastic, each plant had a hole in the plastic, and soil ‘appeared’). I also noted that anthracnose is more prevalent on poorly drained soils, and the area we had planted in was one of the lower lying plots, and July had lots of rain.

Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Well, lessons learned! Fortunately our other tomatoes on higher ground didn’t get anthracnose, and some of them will feature in Southern Exposure‘s Tomato Tasting at the Heritage Harvest Festival this weekend.

An amazing array of tomaotes. Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier

An amazing array of tomatoes.
Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier