More strategies for dealing with a changing climate – article in Growing for Market

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The January issue of Growing for Market is out, and in it is my article More strategies for dealing with a changing climate. A photo of our fava beans is on the cover.  This is the third in a series of four. (You can see earlier blog posts about the first two, in the Articles category.) This article covers the use of soil temperature as a deciding factor on when to sow or plant, and includes a table of minimum (spring) and maximum (summer/fall) temperatures for about 50 crops. As the climate becomes harder to predict, using a calendar (“Plant potatoes on St Patrick’s Day!”) will need to be replaced by using information like soil temperatures, which reflect what the plants will actually experience this particular year.

The article also discusses scouting, which is the practice of making a regular tour of your crops to monitor growth and health. If you see a pest or a disease, you can determine if the level of infestation is enough to call for action, or if watchful waiting is in order. Keeping in touch with how your crops are doing will help you know when you need to take action to avert disaster or to make good use of an opportunity like an early-finishing crop opening up the possibility of using a longer-term cover crop.

droughtI also talk a bit about being prepared for more extreme temperatures – trialing varieties that are more cold- or heat-tolerant than your old favorites, and using shadecloth and organic mulches to reduce heat stress.  ATTRA’s Drought Resistant Soil addresses ways to increase the organic matter content of the soil, and keep the soil covered at all times, helping you farms’ resilience.

In addition I added in a few more resources I’ve found to help with predicting climate change. DailyClimate.org – a daily email newsletter; NOAA Climate Prediction Center, and Weatherspark.com, a fun weather site is where you can see, for instance, what your average winter low has been, and plan plantings accordingly.

Two additional resources on frost management are NCSU’s Frost/Freeze Protection for Horticultural Crops and the Food and Agriculture Organization 126-page book Frost Protection: Fundamentals, Practice and Economics.

Favas, spring sown, good germWhy the fava bean photo? Wait till the soil temperature reaches 36F (2C) before sowing.

As well as my article, there are many other gems – Identify your biggest money-making crops by Chris Blanchard; A Tool Review of The Quick Cut Greens Harvester by Jean-Martin Fortier; 8,000 miles and 18 farmers markets, a travelogue by Gwynn Hamilton and Bert Webster about their cross-country road trip visiting farmers markets all the way; Understanding one of the few insecticides for organic growers by Raymond A. Cloyd, about spinosad formulated as Entrust, and Growers create their own wholesale market for local flowers in Seattle by Debra Prinzing, co-author of The 50-Mile Bouquet  about the movement toward locally grown, sustainable flowers.

Home from CFSA, Superstorm Sandy

Beauregard sweet potato
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Superstorm Sandy didn’t do us much damage, luckily. It’s been raining for 40 hours, but we’ve only got 2.8 inches so far and it looks like it’s going to clear up later today. Despite my worries about the broken hoophouse windows blowing in and us losing our newly re-plasticked hoophouse, it didn’t happen. We didn’t have any really high winds, and we didn’t even lose power, but of course we did all the prep work.

Georgia Jet
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Yesterday we re-stacked our sweet potatoes which had finished curing (the skins don’t rub off any more). We moved them into a wire rodent-proof cage, and close-stacked them, taking away all the sticks that spaced the boxes during curing. I haven’t got numbers for the total yield yet, but it comes to 96 boxes. The Georgia Jet produced 42 boxes and the Beauregard only 32 from the same length row. Our two heirloom varieties produced three boxes each. We don’t expect many of them, but we are keeping the varieties alive, because genetic diversity is important and who knows what secret virtues these varieties have?

We also bravely spent time in the rain, digging drainage ditches to reduce the impact of the hurricane. They seem to have worked quite well. And we draped the soggy rowcovers over the frost tender crops, in anticipation of freezing conditions.

While I was away at the CFSA Conference, the crew harvested the white potatoes. We got a good yield (also no numbers yet), but we got a disappointingly large number of greened potatoes. (Green from being exposed to the light.) I think the reason is that our new experimental tractor-mounted furrow-making disks don’t make furrows as deep as we need. The walk-behind BCS furrower on the rototiller made adequate furrows, but not as good as the old Troybilt furrower. This flags a need to research better gear before March.

I had a great time at the CFSA Conference. I think there were about 700 people there. About 70 came to my workshop Growing Great Garlic, on Saturday afternoon. They were very appreciative, and I managed OK without my notes! It’s not as bad as it sounds – I had a slideshow and had practiced quite a few times, and knew it better than I would have guessed. Somehow I couldn’t get my notes on the laptop screen without them also appearing on the big screen along with lots of clutter. This flags a need to find out before my three workshops at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, January 23-26. Busy, busy.

The conference was very well organized and the food was spectacular – mostly local and sustainably grown. I had the chance to attend several workshops by other people. Tony Keinath, the vegetable pathologist at Clemson University, talked on Sustainable and Organic Approaches to Managing Cucurbit and Tomato Diseases – a very well-prepared and information-packed session. I feel in a better place to tackle next year’s plagues now. I was struck by the fact that he had seen NO benefits of using Oxidate, the hydrogen peroxide disease control product.

A workshop I found particularly valuable was Laura Lengnick‘s presentation “Is Your Farm Climate Ready?”  She is doing valuable work to help farmers get ready for climate variability. She is one of the main authors of a USDA ARS report Climate Change and Agriculture: Effect and Adaptation. Its publication date is November 14 2012. She also spoke at the August 2012 symposium of the Ecological Society of America, Climate change impacts on agricultural systems:

She suggests viewing climate change as yet another production risk to assess and prepare for. The vulnerability of your farm has two components: exposure and adaptive capacity. As far as vulnerability, the most immediate key exposure is water issues (too much and too little). Rising air temperatures, including night temperatures, more extreme temperatures provide threats and some opportunities. Increasing CO2 levels will provide some positive effects such as faster crop growth. As far as adaptive capacity, the main feature of that aspect is our personal capacity to respond and plan. Laura Lengnick says “Greater attention to climate as critical for decision-making is expected by future generations of producers.” We need to start with ourselves.

Baby ginger, ready to be eaten, pickled, candied, frozen.
Photo East Branch Ginger

Next I attended a workshop by Susan Anderson of East Branch Ginger, and learned so much about how to do the best by this crop, that I am looking forward to an even bigger harvest next year. This year we harvested 165 pounds, and saved 65 pounds as seed stock, so we can plant a bigger patch in next year’s hoophouse.

Harvested baby ginger, about 6 months old
Photo East Branch Ginger

Meanwhile I’ve finished my next article for Growing for Market. My working title is Knowing When to Take Action. It’s the third part of my series on being a resilient farmer. This article includes scouting and monitoring for pests and diseases; using pest and disease forecast services; and being prepared for the effects of extreme high and low temperatures. When is it time to cut your losses? A big part of the article is a table of soil temperatures to help when deciding planting and harvesting dates.