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

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

Transplanting sweet potatoes, Sword leaf lettuce

Cow Horn okra seedlings in a Winstrip 50 plug flat in the greenhouse. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cow Horn okra seedlings in a Winstrip 50 plug flat in the greenhouse.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’re making good progress with catching up on our big transplanting tasks. We’ve planted the Roma paste tomatoes, peppers, melons, okra, eggplant, yet more lettuce and over half of the sweet potatoes. After this there’s “just” the watermelons and leeks to go. Then only the roughly weekly lettuce planting until the fall brassica transplanting shifts in late July and August. In order to give our transplants the best chance of thriving, we never plant in the mornings (except leeks), and prefer to make the extra effort to plant late in the day. That way, the plants have the cool of the night to get established before being called on to photosynthesize, transpire, extract water and nutrients from the soil, deter bugs and all the many plant tasks we don’t even know about. Currently we are transplanting 4-6 pm each day, with just a small group of people so that everyone focuses on planting and we are not training new people (a feature of our big morning work shifts).

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand Photo Wren Vile

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

This year we are once again planting our sweet potatoes on ridges with drip tape and biodegradable plastic mulch (bioplastic).   Here’s a photo from last year:

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch
Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potato vines grow to completely cover the area and the plastic is out of sight and being digested by the soil micro-organisms. Very little hand-weeding is needed. I think last year we did one walk-through (wade-through!) weeding.

The deer have reappeared and as sweet potato leaves are one of deer’s favorite foods, we got ourselves prepared, installing two Scare Crows, one at each end of the patch. These are water sprinklers activated by motion detectors. We’ve found Scare Crows quite effective against deer. They seem to have dropped off the market. Havahart is selling the Spray Away which looks similar but I haven’t tried. They can only be used during the frost free period, because you have to leave the water supply hooked up. As sweet potatoes will only be in the garden during the frost free period, this is a good match!


Sword Leaf Lettuce Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Sword Leaf Lettuce
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This spring we are trying a new lettuce variety: Sword Leaf (Yu Mai Tsai) Looseleaf Lettuce.

This is a fast growing, productive Asian lettuce. It has a sweet flavor and plenty of crunch. In our climate, I think it would not do well in summer. Better for spring and fall. We bought seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange You can read about it here, on this TaiwanFinn Blog. “Taiwan (and Luxembourg) Through the Eyes of a  Finn”. one comment says this is known in the English-speaking world as Celtuce. But Kitazawa Seeds sells both. With celtuce, the stem is the main part eaten. With Sword Leaf it is the leaves. So I’m doubting they are the same.

Book Report: Cindy Conner’s Grow a Sustainable Diet

79656b7348504867374d52494a3839696d6d77-400x400-0-0Book Report

Cindy Conner: Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth. New Society Publishers 2014.

 

“This book will help you learn how to calculate how much food you need and how much space you need to grow it, ” proclaims Cindy Conner. It  is written for the backyarder or homesteader who takes food self-sufficiency and ecology seriously. To grow food crops without depleting the soil or bringing in outside inputs, for instance, you will need to dedicate 60% of your land to growing compost crops or cover crops. This challenge is not for the faint-hearted. But here you have the leader-in-a-book, you are not going it alone.

Cindy explains what she means by a sustainable diet and includes a fascinating exercise “What if the Trucks Stopped Coming?” – where would you go to get all your food within 100 miles from home? Within 50? 25? What foods would you be eating and what would disappear from your life? Would the existing farmers be able to supply everyone’s needs locally, or would you need to provide more for yourself and your household? What would your priorities need to be? Your first thought might be that you’d need to make secret stashes of food, and get guns to keep away your hungry neighbors. Cindy says she doesn’t believe guns will keep hungry people away and the better answer is to act from compassion, and work with your neighbors to meet whatever the future brings. None of us can survive without community, so let’s make sure our community is strong enough to meet the challenges.

In the Garden Maps chapter, Cindy explains how to divide the available garden space up into smaller plots or sets of beds, increasing your ease of access without losing a high percentage of potential growing space to paths. Beds curved along the contours will reduce rainwater runoff and erosion. On the other hand, straight lines are easier to hoe quickly. Design your garden to suit the ways you use the space – how you get to the chicken pen, or the compost pile. Permaculture design principles have influenced Cindy’s choices.

Next you can chose your crops. If all your nutrients are to come from your garden, you will need to pay attention to growing enough calories. otherwise you’ll lack the energy to get to the end of the season! Cindy reports that potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, salsify, leeks and garlic are on the list of calories/area. Personally I can’t imagine getting a lot of calories from garlic. Besides the overwhelming flavor there is the issue of the work involved – garlic is labor intensive at certain times of year. Leeks similarly don’t seem a good source of calories per pound, even if they are good per square foot. And winter squash are easy to grow and surely full of calories. They do take space to grow, but I wouldn’t rule them out for that reason alone.

If you grow a lot of the calorie crops already mentioned, you will also be growing a lot of protein. Legumes produce more protein, at the cost of needing more space than the high calorie crops above. Beans, peanuts, peas can be interplanted with other crops to get that protein in the most space-saving way possible. Grains provide amino acids that are complementary to those in legumes, and the straw of grain crops is valuable for mulch or compost-making. Calcium is vital for bone health and there is plenty to be found in leafy cooking greens. A little oil or butter on the greens will help assimilate vitamin D, which is as important as calcium.

Oils and sweeteners are the two space-hogging challenges when it comes to food self-reliance. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds and peanuts, whether eaten whole or pressed, supply oil, as can some tree nuts. The home-grown vegan diet would be short on oils. Those who drink milk and eat eggs get some fats that way, easier by far. Some fruits store for out of season use. Honey, maple syrup and sorghum syrup can be home-produced, although you’ll be shocked the first time you see how much land and how much work goes into the vegan options. (Honey is made by small furry animals, it isn’t vegan.)

The question of  How Much to Grow is important, if time, effort and land are not to be wasted. Locally-adapted varieties and your personal culinary preferences, as well as potential yields per area will influence your planning. After your first year, your record-keeping will be your guide to making improvements.

To keep your garden productive year after year, you will need to feed the soil. You can do this by bringing in organic materials as mulch or to contribute to your compost. If you worry about the reliability of the supply from outside, or whether it is contaminated with herbicides or car exhaust, or whether its production is truly sustainable, you’ll want to be as self-relaint in that department as in the rest of your enterprise. You could grow mulch crops (straw or hay) as part of a bigger farm, in rotation with grazing animals. Or you could grow all your compost and mulch crops within the boundaries of your garden.

Compost is a priceless soil amendment, adding not just organic matter and the basic nutrients but also a fine collection of microbes. There are almost as many ways of making compost as there are compost-makers. Cindy prefers the cool, slow method (using a relatively high proportion of carbon materials to nitrogen materials), in order to “farm” the particular mix of microbes that result that way. The annual pile is part of her garden rotation, built on top of one of the beds, starting in the fall. The next fall, after that compost is spread on the garden, winter rye is sown.Next spring this is cut and left as mulch. The rye has scavanged any compost left from the pile and returns the nutrients to the soil as it decomposes around the corn seed (sown into the mulch).

Earlier, I said you need to plant 60% of your garden in compost crops or mulch, to have a sustainable system. Two thirds of that space would be in carbon crops and one third in nitrogen crops. Happily, some of the compost materials will be grown as a by-product of a food crop (corn stalks are a good example). The book leads you through the process of identifying suitable crops, and best of all, provides a worksheet to help you determine Bed Crop Months. For each bed, from your plan you determine how many months that bed has food crops and how many months compost crops (remember that one crop can be both!) Winter cover crops really help achieve the goal! After considering each bed, you tally up and see if you need to find more niches for compost crops.

All the work in Cindy’s garden is done by hand, including cutting down cover crops, and this is carefully explained. The space is used very intensively, often planting several crops in the same bed to get best use of the space, and so that one can take over from another later.

Scheduling so your crops mature when you want them is the next big task, followed by planning a good crop rotation,and fitting everything into the space you’ve got. “Lay out your intentions, stay flexible and keep learning.” More worksheets are provided to help you.

Sections on looking after your seeds, on including animals, on food storage and preservation and on sheds, fences and other support systems follow. About animals: “You can plan a diet of only plants, but you would be hard pressed to fill all your nutritional needs without taking supplements, which are not part of a sustainable diet.” Hear, hear!

Cindy’s book will set you on the path to providing healthy food for your household without depleting the Earth in the process. Her conversational style will give you confidence as she breaks complex ideas into manageable steps. Beginners are talked through the process step by step. Cindy’s years of teaching college shine through. One reframing exercise I liked was this “if you have thought of weeding as drudgery, something you have to endure [b]egin to think of weeding as a harvest of materials for the compost pile.”

Who likes my blog?

It’s the time of year when I start to review what’s working well and what needs tweaking for the next growing season. I’m applying this to my blog as well. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Favorite topics are growing sweet potato slips and harvesting sweet potatoes, winter hardy crops, reviews of books by Janisse Ray and Bill Best, trimming and sorting garlic, and garlic planting, weeding zombie carrots (I suspect some non-gardeners check that one!), climate change and winding up driptape for reuse.

Top searches (other than things directly related to my book) include:

sweet potatoes, quick-cut greens harvester, crop rotation chart, Growing for Market, cicadas, slideshare.net, Proteknet, senposai, and market farming.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Someone in almost every country has visited my site. Hopefully people in Greenland, the Svalbard islands of Norway, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, Azerbijan, and twelve countries in central and western Africa will find it useful at some point!

Sweet potatoes, statistics and inspiration

A bumper crop of sweet potatoes. Credit McCune Porter

A bumper crop of sweet potatoes.
Credit McCune Porter

After a week of drizzle, it finally eased up and we started harvesting our sweet potatoes. I wrote a lot about this topic last year, so I won’t go into many details here. As usual, we set the dug roots in clusters, so we could see which plants yielded most and chose medium-sized roots from those to grow our slips next year. In the picture above, we are crating the sweet potatoes after someone has gone through selecting the seed roots. In the right background you can see our grid-linked solar array. In the left background is our hoophouse, and to the left is our dying last sweet corn planting. We have one last picking today, from the Silver Queen at the far end. We used a low electric fence around this patch to keep the raccoons out, and either it worked, or the beasts didn’t notice this planting. We didn’t get any visits from tigers or elephants either! Also visible in the photo above are remaining bits of the bioplastic biodegradable mulch we used. It’s made from non-GMO corn, and is great for warm-weather loving vining crops.

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they

Not everyone likes jumbo sweet potatoes, but for those cooking for a hundred, they save a lot of time. Credit McCune Porter

This year, the Georgia Jet seem more productive than the Beauregard – I think that’s usual. We dug about a third of the crop the first day and got 86 boxes. The second day we had a lot of other harvesting (beans and broccoli being the most time-consuming), so we only dug another 36 boxes. We’re still only 45% of the way down the patch, so we could end up with 250 or more boxes. Probably the yield will taper off closer to the end of the field as the deer were browsing on the vines all summer.

Friday update: Well, we finished harvesting yesterday, and the yield dropped off a lot where the deer had been browsing (memo: fence out the deer in future!) We got a total of 177 boxes of various sizes, perhaps about 3939 pounds, almost two tons. That’s not a record-breaker, but is second best in the past ten years.

Our yearly harvest of sweet potatoes has varied a lot, from 31 boxes (a sad year) to 243 in 2009. An average over ten years of 112 boxes, each weighing perhaps 23 pounds. We grow about 800 row feet. We always hope to have enough to last till the beginning of May, when people start to lose interest in sweet potatoes, and start hoping for tomatoes.

Now I’ve glided smoothly into the statistics section of this post, so I’ll tell you some figures for my book sales while I’m at it. New Society has sold 3320 to mid-September, from a 5000 print run. They say the book is selling well, not many returns. At Twin Oaks we’ve sold 150 of the 250 we bought in February when it came out. I’ve just set up an Author Page at Amazon, so I can tell you they have sold 940 print copies up till 10/6. They also provide me with ranking info (this could get addictive if I let it!) and my book was #40,116 when I looked. That sounds pathetic till you realize that’s out of 8 million titles. Anyway, enough vanity! As far as its usefulness to readers, having an Author Page means that if you go to Amazon, to my book page, and then click on my name, you can read my bio, and see my upcoming events, and get back to this blog.

Getting perspective on the bookselling world, I was encouraged to learn that there is being a resurgence of small booksellers, despite the Big Online One. Here’s a link to the story in the Christian Science Monitor in March this year. I learned about it from Wendy Welch of the Little Bookstore at Big Stone Gap, who I met at the Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. She has written a memoir about her bookstore, called The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, which you can buy via her website, or, I’m sure, at her store.

And now on to this Inspiring story: At the Mother Earth News Fair I met a young woman of 12 who had borrowed my book from her library. She got inspired and decided to start market gardening. She succeeded in clearing $6000 in her first year, when she was 11!

Heritage Harvest Festival, corn, more raccoons, stray cat.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/succession-planting-for-continuous-vegetable-harvests-2013-pam-dawling-26037044″ title=”Succession planting for continuous vegetable harvests 2013 Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Succession planting for continuous vegetable harvests 2013 Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

You can watch my Succession Planting slide show here, and my Asian greens slideshow at SlideShare.net. I presented both at the Heritage Harvest Festival this weekend.

While at the festival I also did two sessions of book-signing at the Museum Shop, toured the booths, and attended several other workshops.

Cindy Connor ‘s workshop was entitled Grow a Sustainable Diet, which is the name of her book. It will be published by New Society in March 2014.

Also busy at work on a book is Criag LeHoullier, aka NCTomatoman. he spoke on Tomatoes for Southeast Gardens. He has grown hundreds of tomato varieties, mostly in 5 gallon pots along his driveway. Here are some of the open pollinated varieties her recommends for the southeast:

Reds: Red Brandywine (not the pink one!), Livingston’s Favorite (a canner), Aker’s West Virginia (delicious and disease tolerant), Nepal (salad size from Johnny’s).

Pinks: Salzar’s Ferris Wheel, Anna’s Russian (heart-shaped, wonderful and very early), Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, Cherry Pearl (pretty pink cherry with so-so flavor)

Purple/black: Cherokee Purple, Black Cherry, Purple Calabash

Chocolate: Cherokee Chocolate (really good)

Green: Cherokee Green, Green Giant (great flavor), Aunt Ruby’s (wonderful).

Yellow: Lilian’s Yellow Heirloom (delicious), Hugh’s, Yellow Bell (Roma type)

Orange: Yellow Brandywine, Annie, Orange Strawberry, Jaune Flamme, Kellogs Breakfast

White: Coyote (cherry)

Bicolor: Lucky Cross (tastes like Brandywine)

Stripes: Don’s Double Delight, Striped Roman

I’m sure I didn’t write down all the good ones, but these ones appealed to me.

Next I went to hear Clif Slade talk about his $43,560 project. Clif’s goal is “to demonstrate that farmers working with limited resources and using organic methods can make an average of $1 per square foot growing and marketing vegetables from one acre (43.560 square feet)” as explained in the Virginia Association for Biological Farming document I’ve linked to here. The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote up the project in early July. Clif used to grow 10 acres of vegetables, but it didn’t pay much. He once planted two GMO corn varieties and 18 non-GMO. The deer ate the non-GMOs, but didn’t touch the GM ones. Since then he has gone Organic, grows some seed crops for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and has developed his 43560 project, finding crops that produce a head or a pound of crop per square foot. As well as growing the most suitable crops (and ignoring the others), he stresses the importance of building good soil, putting a quarter of the land into cover crops at any one time, and paying attention to marketing.

Later, On Saturday, I went to an inspiring presentation by Cory Fowler, a founder of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. His slideshow includes pictures of the village of Svalbard and the vault, outside and in, and the surrounding ice, snow and wildlife. Norway donated the structure, including the Norwegian requirement that every construction project includes 2% (I think) of art. The daily workforce on-site is zero – they monitor from close-by and remotely, but they really don’t want people coming and going!

Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Credit Mari Tefre, andCroptrust.org

Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Credit Mari Tefre, and Croptrust.org

He spoke about the incredible achievement of setting up this “fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time – and of natural or manmade disasters.” Each country (and a very few non-governmental seed-saving groups) can submit sealed boxes containing 400-seed samples of each variety of each vegetable and grain crop they can obtain. This is as a backup to their national seed bank. The vault at Svalbard steps aside from political and individual self-interest. They are holding the boxes in safe-keeping, and do not open them, but will return them to the source if asked. There are some false stories circulating about what Svalbard is all about, so I encourage everyone to read the website – it’s an impressive project and a heart-warming success story.

The presentation ended with a beautiful short video Polar Eufori which you can see on YouTube.

Meanwhile, back at home, we are using the dry weather to start to catch up on hoeing and weeding. Here’s our fall broccoli (These photos are from Ezra’s blog ObserVA, which I’ve mentioned before.)

Fall broccoli rescued from weeds. Credit Ezra Freeman

Fall broccoli rescued from weeds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

and here’s our late corn and our sweet potatoes:

Sweet potatoes next to our last corn planting.  Credit Ezra Freeman

Sweet potatoes next to our last corn planting.
Credit Ezra Freeman

We are planning to set up a solar-powered electric fence around this corn, before the raccoons find it too. Maybe also to keep the deer out of the sweet potatoes. The previous corn still has new raccoon damage, but the most recent animal to go in our live trap was a stray cat! Not the first stray I’ve caught this year (I think it’s the third). Our spinach came up well this year, thanks to the cooler weather. We’re still working on getting enough kale established. Soon we’ll plant our new strawberries (a bit late, but the best we can do).

 

Cicadas, transplanting and blueberry netting

Pepper transplants waiting to be set out. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Pepper transplants waiting to be set out.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

At last we are getting our warm weather crops transplanted! We finished our 530 Roma paste tomatoes and I’ve just seen this afternoon’s crew of two go past the office window with watermelon starts on a cart. We’re late, but we’re getting there! We have about 260 Crimson Sweet watermelons to go in, and cover to keep the bugs off. This morning, working with the large crew, we set out the ropes and the sticks to hold down the rowcover. Our method is to use the big morning crews to harvest and to get ready whatever will be needed for the small late afternoon transplanting shift, so all they have to do is plant, water and cover. This makes best use of the cooling temperatures later in the day.

After the watermelons, we’ll still have peppers, eggplants, muskmelons (cantaloupes), okra and lots of sweet potatoes to go in. And more lettuce every week.

Meanwhile the brood II 17-year cicadas are in good form. So loud. The ground around the trees is riddled with holes from the emerging juniors. The cast-off shells/exoskeletons are crunchy underfoot. Someone here saw squirrels eating cicadas but I haven’t seen it yet myself.

The other thing I want to write about is our blueberry netting and its seasonal hooped structure. I think this is a good method that more people might like to use. Our older blueberry patch has a rectangular framework made of posts with wires joining the tops. the netting is a fairly rigid square plastic type that is a challenge to put up. This new type is a big improvement – easy to put up and get the netting over, and removable so we don’t have to look at the framework all year.

Our new blueberry area is 16′ x 65′ approx. The 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 looked at these options, then found a few more:

  1. 3/4″ PVC water pipe,
  2. 20′ rebar inside PVC piping
  3. Fiberglass poles fixed to T-posts
  4. Galvanized steel tubing, as sold for small hoophouses.
  5. Metal electrical conduit bent into a curve, connected at the ridge.
  6. Other tubing, such as chainlink fence top-rail, metal water pipe, curved.
  7. “Spider-House” temporary framework
  8. Wood-framed structure
  9. Bamboo

We chose PVC Electrical conduit. Plastic electrical conduit, unlike water pipe, is UV-inhibited for outdoor use. Lengths have swaged (flanged) ends, so can be joined without any separate connectors. Lightweight, no bending tools needed (unlike for metal conduit or fencing top-rail). Packs flat for out-of-season storage. Relatively cheap.

 We use a “Spider-House” temporary framework – an idea used for temporary “field hoophouses”. 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. Helps add strength to lightweight bows.

Blueberry Hoops diagram0001

 I’ll tell you how we did it, then talk about the options we didn’t choose.

  • We bought very nice flexible nylon netting from Lee Valley. We chose the 12’ x 117’ ½” mesh, and I stitched two lengths together using nylon thread, making a piece 24’ wide. It should last a long time. It isn’t cheap. It does not ravel when cut, or snag on itself. At the end of the season it can be stuffed in a bag, with just one end poking out of the neck of the bag. Then next year, drop the bag at one end, pull the free end of the netting up over the piping and along the length of the berry patch. Our netting is longer than the patch, but we plan to extend the patch one day. . .
  • For our 16’ x 65’ patch, we decided on three “spiders.” Our calculation was that 30’ hooped into a half circle would have a diameter of 19’ (divide circumference by pi to get radius, then multiply by two). So we reckoned having the ends of each pipe 19’ apart, crosswise across the patch. A bit of Pythagoras leads to a spacing along the length of the patch of just over 10’ for a width of 16’ and a diagonal of 19’. We don’t need perfect half-circles, but we did need a rough idea of a workable length.
  • We bought 18 pieces of 3/4” PVC electrical conduit in 10’ lengths with swaged (belled) ends.
  • We glued them in threes to make 30’ lengths.
  • We marked the center point of each length, matched centers of two lengths, then tied a pair of lengths together to form a cross shape. If you were in the scouts, square lashing is the type of knot you need.
  • We got 12 4’ lengths of rebar and hammered them halfway in the ground along the long edges of the plot, 12’ 6” apart (six rebars, 5 spaces of 12’ 6” equals 62’ 6”). Close enough.
  • We popped the spider legs over the rebar, making sure all the lumpy knots were on the underside of the tubing crossovers, to make it easier to pull the netting.
  • When we had all three four-legged spiders in position, we pulled over the netting, and pinned it down every 18” round the edges with 1” wide sod staples/landscape pins.
  • We have a doorway along the central seam, simply held closed with clothes pins.

img_1407

Here’s our thoughts about the ideas we didn’t take up:

PVC water pipe. A small experimental structure at Twin Oaks, made from 3/4″ pipe collapsed in the winter, (but need not have). Cheap, easy to bend, easy to replace. Can install for seasonal use on rebar pieces in the ground (which could be an off-season hazard….). Using PVC glue is smelly and unhealthy. Not cheaper than PVC electrical conduit. See Constructing a Simple PVC High Tunnel by Jim Hail, Robbins Hail, Katherine Kelly, and Ted Carey for a 30’ x 18’ hoophouse from 1” PVC.

There is a smaller design “Portable Field Hoophouse”, using 3/4″ rigid white schedule 40 pvc in 18′ lengths to give a 10′ wide frame for an 18-42′ length hoophouse with no ridgepole.

PEX water pipe tubing: Too bendy

Metal electrical conduit bent into a curve, connected at the ridge. Conduit is cheap and readily available. It can be bent with purchased pipebenders (if the right shape is available), or on a wooden jig, or round stakes hammered into the ground. Lost Creek  sells pipebenders. Johnnys sells Quick Hoops Benders but they make 12’ x 7’ high tunnel or caterpillar tunnel hoops only. They have a video on the site.

Other metal tubing, such as chainlink fence top-rail, or metal water-pipe, bent into a curve. Either use the commercially available pipebenders, as above, or make your own jig. There are good plans by Jamie and Tod Hanley using square tubing, and a home-made bending jig. Square is easier to bend without twisting, but that might not be important for this project.

More plastic tubing (1” x 20’) hoophouse frames and a metal tubing frame as well as photos and details of a bending jig for metal water piping, on the New Farm website, using 3/4″ galvanised piping in 21′ lengths. Their jig consists of 20 short pieces of 2×4 lumber screwed down on the bed of a hay wagon.

Pre-curved galvanized steel tubing, as sold for small hoophouses. Farmtek  has a wide range of ready-made hoop parts, including tall, round-topped styles. Shipping adds to the cost. More expensive than other options.

20′ rebar inside PVC piping. Idea from Cindy Connor for small hoophouses. Stronger than PVC pipe alone. 5/8″ rebar could be used alone (but hard to pull fabrics over).

Fiberglass poles fixed to T-posts. T-posts would stay all year, fiberglass poles stored out of season. Straightforward to do. Splinters from fiberglass could be a problem long-term.

Wood-framed structure. A lot of work, but cheap. Clunky. Might take too long to make.

Bamboo. Free if you have invasive bamboo, but a bit of work. The nodes would snag on the netting. Saw then sand them off? Duct tape?

Our new blueberry netting on its hooped frames, Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our new blueberry netting on its hooped frames,
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Twin Oaks Garden Task List for April

Asparagus in early April.Credit Wren Vi

Asparagus in early April.
Credit Wren Vile

All Month:

Lettuce Factory: In flats, (on greenhouse bench) sow lettuce #7, 8, 9 (romaines & small varieties to interplant with peanuts). Transplant 1/3 bed lettuce (120 plants)/week. Plant #4, 5, 6 this month.
Compost Needed for April: 6-9 tractor buckets for beds, 24-30 bkts to disk in.

Early April:

In greenhouse, sow lettuce #7;

Keep celery above 55°F, and celeriac above 45°F (don’t put in coldframe). 10 consecutive days <55°F for celery, <45°F for celeriac, causes bolting.

Spot lettuce, harden off in coldframe. Spot peppers, tomatoes, & eggplant. Protect new pepper seedlings from mice.  Keep tomatoes above 45°F at night, eggplant above 55°F.

Cut sweet potato slips at 6-12”, put in water.  Once a week, plant rooted slips in 4” flats.

Sow outdoors: carrots #5, beets (see March notes), parsnips with radishes #2, (in celery bed), sunflowers.

Weed and thin early crops. Side dress or foliar spray over-wintered spinach to boost production.

Take rowcover from turnips, senposai, cabbage #1, kohlrabi, little alliums, onions as needed for broccoli.

Transplant lettuce #4, main cabbage & broccoli under rowcover (12 pieces) within 6 weeks of sowing.

Till beds for mid-April. Compost beds for late April plantings.

Garlic bulbing is initiated on/after April 10 (13 hours daylight), and soil temperature above 60°F.

Mid April:

In greenhouse sow melons #1 in soil blocks or plug flats, replacement paste tomatoes, lettuce #8, and okra.

Sow beans #1 when lilac in full bloom, sunflowers. Sow edamame #1, corn#1, if warm, and soil >60F.

Till beds for late April (chard, cowpeas, peanuts). Compost beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7,8,9, asparagus beans)

Hill up potatoes when 6” high. Cover half the vine. Repeat after 2 weeks. (Flameweed if too wet to hill.)

Take rowcover from kale, collards, early lettuce for raised bed tender crops.

Transplant broccoli #2, insectary flowers #1, bulb fennel, lettuce #5, cukes #1 w/nasturtiums, zukes #1; use spring hoops for cucurbits. Take rowcover from spinach to strawberries.

A fine bed of fava beans. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A fine bed of fava beans.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Install stakes every 8-10’ for peas and fava beans, and stringweave them to final height of that variety.

Weed garlic [or flameweed it early in the morning after a good rain. Direct flame at base of garlic plants]

Harvest lettuce as heads rather than leaves, from 15 April

#3 Spring Tractor Work (mid April) – Disk areas for sweet potatoes, winter squash, watermelons, (Romas and peppers if no-till cover crop insufficient). Bush-hog late food crop plots when rye heads up, to help clover or peas develop. Also clover patches, eg Green Fallow (All Year Cover Crops).

Late April:

in greenhouse sow lettuce #9; watermelons #1 & 2 in soil blocks or plug flats; calendula and various insectary flowers, filler corn & Romas.

Sow corn #1 (1/2-3/4” deep) in two phases, and peanuts if soil temperature is 65°F. Also cowpeas #1, and sesame.

Sow more leeks if needed in Little Alliums bed outdoors. If not, sow more mini-onions and scallions #3.

Transplant lettuce #6, leaf beet, chard, insectaries; finish transplanting gaps in the main broccoli & cabbage plot, plant Alyssum. Take rowcovers from broccoli & cabbage for new crops.

If mild, plant tomatoes. Harden off nightshades by restricting water.

Till beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7/8/9, asparagus beans). Compost beds for mid-May (edamame, eggplant, limas).

Store spring and fall seeds (spinach, peas, beets) in the basement for the summer.

Foliar feed the potatoes, ideally the morning before hilling up, and every 2 weeks.

Roll out Driptape and Biotelos corn plastic mulch for peppers and Romas where no-till cover crop not used.

Cover crops: sow rye to wimp out. Sow buckwheat in any beds not needed for at least 5 weeks eg. leeks limas; add soy if bed not needed for 7 weeks. 

Haybine or bush-hog vetch & rye for no-till planting of Roma paste tomatoes, late in the month (or very early in May). (Mow strips; or till strips through the cover crop for the rows, with narrow-set tiller). Water the area before digging holes, if dry.

Perennials: Weed blueberries, asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, grapes as needed. Mow aisles. If asparagus weeds are getting out of hand, mow down one or more rows to keep control. Monitor asparagus beetles, spray spinosad when bees not flying, if >10 adults/100 crowns. Spinosad: Shake well, 1-4 Tbsp/gall (1fl.oz=2Tbsp=30ml.) Repeat in 6 days.

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.Credit Kathryn Simmons

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Cover strawberries if frost threatens – take rowcovers from spinach. (Pick flowers off any new spring  plantings.)

Visit grapes, log progress, remove flower buds from new vines. Note deaths and where replacement arms are needed.  Check and repair fruit drip irrigation, thin raspberries to 6/foot of row.

Harvest and weed: Asparagus, chard (hoophouse), collards, garlic scallions- pull at 8″, kale, leeks, lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, senposai, snap peas in hoophouse, spinach.

Twin Oaks January Calendar – Starting a new garden season

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlingsPhoto Kathryn Simmons

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Yes, really! On January 17, I sowed flats of cabbage, lettuce and mini-onions (cipollini), and the cabbage and lettuce are already up. Onions usually take 10 days, so I’m not surprised not to see them yet. It’s fun to see new seedlings, even though my energy isn’t ready for taking on another growing season yet. I’m still enjoying hibernation!

The cabbage varieties are Early Jersey Wakefield, a quick-growing small pointy-head open-pollinated variety, and Faroa, a quick-growing fairly small round hybrid that has been very reliable for us. These are for a bed of early cabbage, to eat after our stored winter cabbage is all gone. We’ll sow our main-crop cabbage on 2/7, in much bigger quantities.

I sowed two lettuces: reliable old Salad Bowl and the unusual Cracoviensis, a pink veined sturdy leaf lettuce, that we have found is only useful for us at this first sowing. It bolts too easily once it gets even faintly warm. It tends not to get bitter even when bolting, but our diners aren’t going to believe that!

We’re also still busy with various stages of our garden planning. yesterday I updated our harvest calendar, which tells our cooks which crops they can expect when, and also our food processing calendar to tell the food processing crew when to be ready to tackle large amounts of broccoli, beans or paste tomatoes, for example. I’m part way through revising the document we call our garden calendar, which is really a month-by-month task list. If you were following this blog in the fall, you’ll remember some of those monthly garden task lists. We’ve planned which crops are going in which of the 60 permanent raised beds and identified the ones we need to spread compost on and till first. And then we twiddle our thumbs – lots of rain last week (and a bit of snow) mean it will be a couple more weeks before the soil is dry enough to till.

Here’s our short Twin Oaks Garden Task List for January:

Planning: Prune the catalogs, do the filing, consolidate notes on varieties and quantities.

Week 1: Finalize seed orders, if not done in December. Revise Seedling Schedule using seed order.

Week 2

    : Revise Outdoor Planting Schedule. Plan labor needs for the year.

Week 3

    : Revise Raised Bed Planning Chart. Plan raised beds for Feb-June.

Week 4:           Revise Garden Calendar, Lettuce List and lettuce Log.

Order Bt, spinosad and predatory beasties, coir. [sweet potato slips for shipping 5/12-5/17 if not growing our own]
Repair greenhouse and coldframes and tidy. Check germinator-fridge and heat mat. Repair flats, and make new if needed. Make stakes. Clean labels. 

Check equipment: rototiller, discs, and mower – repair or replace as needed.  Repair and sharpen tools.

Freeze out greenhouse to kill pests, or spray with soap or cinnamon oil every five days.  Import ladybugs.
Check potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash in storage.

Mid-Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #1, early cabbage, mini-onions, early broccoli, onions.

Late Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #2, scallions #1, spinach, tomatoes, peppers for hoophouse
Plant small potato onions, 4-5″ apart, ½-1” deep, in a mild spell. Remove mulch to plant, then replace it. Plant shallots & mulch.

Perennials (see November list). Weed blueberries, raspberries, asparagus (spread compost), grapes, rhubarb, strawberries.  Add soil amendments, fertilize (not strawberries) and mulch. Prune blueberries, (take cuttings if wanted). Fall raspberries: cut all canes to the ground, remove canes from aisles. Summer raspberries: remove old fruiting canes & canes from aisles.

Harvest: (Chard?), collards, kale, (senposai?) spinach, leeks, (Yukina Savoy?).

Our freshly mulched asparagus patch.Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our freshly mulched asparagus patch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Hoophouse covered! Frost expected Sunday and Monday nights!


Photo credit Luke Stovall

Well, after two weeks exposed to the elements,  our hoophouse finally got its renovations finished, and we put the new plastic on this morning. I haven’t yet got the photos to prove it, but take my word for it, the stress is over! Two people are out there right now, finishing inserting the wiggle-wire in the channels round the edges, and trimming off the spare plastic. We’d all forgotten how hot it gets in there with plastic on! Suddenly no-one wanted to go inside.

This morning’s work went smoothly till we got to the second layer of plastic. Last night was cool and dewy, and the grass wet. As we pulled the second layer of plastic up and over the hoophouse, it got a film of dew on the underside – bad planning! The top layer than stuck to the bottom layer and was really hard to pull over. We turned on the blower to try to push some air between the layers, and we also wafted it ourselves. Eventually we were successful, but we did make a few holes in the edge of the plastic in the meantime.

Those who’ve never put plastic on a hoophouse might wonder how it’s done. Here’s our method: we tied ropes (thank you Twin Oaks Hammocks) around tennis balls pushed up in the edge of the plastic, like little Halloween ghosts. We used five along the 100′ length of plastic. Then we put more tennis balls inside colorful odd socks (thank you Twin Oaks Community Clothes) and tied the other end of each rope to one of these. Someone then threw the balls-in-socks over the top of the hoophouse to the far side. Hilarity at how many of us never learned to throw well! The first layer slid on quite easily, and we “tacked” it into position every ten feet or so with a piece of wiggle-wire. Then we repeated the ball-in-sock throwing exercise with the outer layer. That’s when it got difficult. And our bag of chocolate chips had to be moved to the shade because they were starting to melt!

After we got both layers of plastic in position, we pulled out the slack and fastened the wiggle-wires fully in the channels. The shiny new plastic looks beautiful in a techno-sparkly kind of way. And it promises to help us grow tons of delicious food for the winter. Thank goodness it’s done.The weather forecast suggests we’ll have frost on Sunday and Monday nights. We’ve got ginger and cowpeas growing in there – we don’t want them frosted.

Ginger growing in our hoophouse.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

The Asian greens, spinach and radishes can take it, but not the warm weather crops.

We’ll still have some odds and ends to finish up: one of the windows needs a repair to the frame, and the bubblefoil stuff along the north wall needs tacking back into place. All in all, though, a happy conclusion to this project.

It’s time to put rowcover over the late beans to extend the season beyond the first frosts. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors, we are bringing out rowcovers to cover late plantings of squash, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce. It’s goodbye to the eggplant, okra, sweet corn, tomatoes. It’s time to harvest the sweet potatoes and peanuts. Maybe it’s goodbye to galinsoga and other tender weeds. Maybe goodbye to harlequin bugs. The brown marmorated stink bugs are starting to seek shelter for the winter, in our sweatshirts hanging on the shed door.

Goodbye eggplant!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Goodbye to all that. And hello to sweet potatoes, boiled peanuts (a seasonal tradition here), kale, spinach and leeks.

Hello kale!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons