First of all, I’ll get my confession off my chest. A savvy reader spotted an error in my book Sustainable Market Farming: Take a red pen and correct your copy!
In Chapter 20, Sustainable Disease Management, on page 135 I said “Pathogens can infect the seed via several routes . . . Insects that feed on the plant can transfer the disease (striped cucumber beetles vector bacterial wilt, which is caused by Erwinia tracheiphila)”
It is true that striped cucumber beetles vector bacterial wilt, which is caused by Erwinia tracheiphila. It isn’t true that this disease is seed-borne. I don’t know where I got the wrong information from. I don’t yet know of an example of a disease spread by insects that can become seed-borne (that I feel confident about!).
I’ve asked my publishers, New Society, to correct that mistake next time they reprint. I wrote to the attentive reader, thanked her, and asked her for leads on where to find information about seed-borne diseases brought in initially by insects.
Meanwhile, I can recommend two books on seed growing (that weren’t out when I wrote my book), that contain good information about which diseases are seed-borne. I reviewed the impressive The Organic Seed Grower by John Navazio a while back..
Newer is The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Savingfrom Seed Savers Exchange and the Organic Seed Alliance. Including “advice for the home gardener and the more seasoned horticulturist alike”, this is also a book from people who work growing seeds, and know their stuff. I plan to review it one week soon (when the work pace slows a little!)
If you’re a seed grower, you might want to add one of these to your wish list. Both are beautiful books, as well as clearly written ones.
This year I am not doing quite as much seed growing as some years. For sale, we are growing Carolina Crowder cowpeasin our hoophouse. Click the link to see photos.
For ourselves, we are selecting and saving seed from our Roma tomatoes and Crimson Sweet watermelon, as well as West Indian Gherkins. We are also saving garlic and shallots for replanting.
It’s that time of year when I line up events I’ll be speaking at in the fall and winter (and to some extent, into spring). Here’s my plan so far:
Then I will be doing book signing at the tent called The Shop at Monticello (at the Visitor Center), 2.45-3.13pm.
On Saturday I will be offering another premium workshop, Producing Asian Greens. This one is at the Vegetable Garden Tent at the Mountaintop (where most of the Saturday events are). It’s immediately followed by another book-signing, 5.30-6.0pm. The Festival ends at 6pm. All day Saturday is packed with events, and a General Admission ticket will be all you need apart from tickets for premium Workshops.
The following weekend, September 18-20, I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. The schedule is not yet firm, but I will be presenting The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter probably on Friday September 18 4-5pm at the Mother Earth News Stage, and The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer on Saturday September 19 10-11am at the GRIT stage.
I will also be signing books at the Mother Earth News Bookstore at some point and doing some scale demonstrations of string-weaving for tomatoes at the New Society Publishers booth.
I got home from the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC yesterday, happy with a successful and enjoyable weekend. My workshops The Hoophouse in Spring and Summer, and The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter are viewable if you click on SlideShare.net. The fall and winter one has bonus material, because I couldn’t show all the slides in the time available! 200-250 people attended each workshop, all my handouts disappeared. The Spring and Summer one on Saturday morning had some technical hitches. It was windy and the handouts and raffle tickets (for a copy of my book) blew around despite my weighting them down with the biggest rocks I could find in the parking lot. The microphone didn’t work well, and not everyone could get a good view of the screen. And some people were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to my workshop (the first of the event) in time. But the Fall and Winter one on Sunday had no traffic, microphone or weather challenges, and all went well. The weather was beautiful. Attendance at the Fair was up from last year’s 16,000 figure to 20,000!
I enjoyed attending two workshops by Craig LeHoullier about tomato growing and which to choose for best flavor. I reviewed his lovely book Epic Tomatoes earlier. Craig is now working on another book, this one about straw-bale gardening. Another workshop I enjoyed was Joel Dufour from BCS Earth Tools. Entitled “Garden Tools 202: The stuff you won’t learn at a big box store,” it included information on tool ergonomics and materials, including steel hardness. I loved this advice on how to tell a good hoe from a bad one: if you finish hoeing and the hoe has specks of white dust on it, you have a good hoe that is harder than the rocks you nicked. If instead your hoe has dings where the rocks nicked it, your hoe is very inferior. Earth Tools sells good hand tools as well as good engine-powered tools. Two things Joel didn’t tell us in his workshop – their customer service is among the best around, and their business is very ecological: they really walk their talk. See their website for more.
While I was at the Fair this weekend, our Garden Crew was busy planting potatoes – at last – we have been held back by cold weather and wet soil. A full month late, so we’re looking at lower yields unless we can harvest later. Not straightforward, as we usually clear the potatoes and transplant our fall broccoli and cabbage on that plot. And we can’t delay that, or we won’t get a decent harvest before the weather cools down too much. . .
We’ve also got the beds prepared for transplanting the spring broccoli and cabbage. We’re 10 days late on that, but the plants were slow-growing earlier, and they’re in nice deep flats, so they might not be set back at all.
The weather changed over the weekend (frost on Saturday night) to warm and sunny. Our over-wintered Vates kale is now all bolting, and a couple of members are enthusiastically making kale chips. There’s a simple recipe here. Kale chips are especially good sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Quite addictive. Also because the kale shrinks, you can move a lot of kale by making chips, and it no longer seems sad that it’s all bolting!
A UN farming report, Wake Up Before It’s Too Late, is publicly recognizing and acknowledging that it’s time to return to a more sustainable and organic food system. Increasing species diversity and reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, are two of the changes desperately needed, according to the UN report. The report also covers topics such as land use, climate change and global food security.The conclusion of the report is, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”
I ran out of handouts, and I know some people want to view the slideshow again, to catch the bits they missed. Before next Tuesday, I’ll upload The Hoophouse in Fall and Winter as well. Maybe even later today, if I get my more urgent tasks done first.
Yesterday I brought our seed sweet potatoes, which we’d selected and set aside at harvest-time, up out of the basement and into the greenhouse, to start growing them. I wrote about growing sweet potato slips previously. The first step was to see if they float or sink. We save extra seed roots so that we can discard the less promising and still have plenty to grow. Sweet potatoes that float will grow better and yield higher. We had saved 100 roots for a goal of 320 slips. After removing a few rotten roots and discarding the sinkers, next I tested for white streaks, called sweet potato chimeras. I cut a small piece off the distal end (the string root end), not the stem end. The idea is to throw out roots with white streaks bigger than a pencil lead. I only found a few. It’s a genetic mutation that can occur at any time. Because sweet potato slips are clones of the mother root, if you propagate from chimeras you get more chimeras. I succeeded in my goal of having 80 good roots from each batch of 100. I set the cut roots in shallow bins in our germinating chamber to heal the cut surfaces and warm the roots ready for sprouting. In two weeks I’ll “plant” them in flats of compost and return them to the germinating chamber to start growing the slips. They’ll look like this:
Meanwhile the March issue of Growing for Market magazine arrived, and I found a fascinating article about a new method of growing sweet potato slips, from Anthony Boutard and Caroline Boutard Hunt. They write first about “discovering” sweet potatoes and then deciding to grow them, ordering 20 varieties from the Sand Hill Preservation Center. Their propagation method involves cutting each slip into one-node pieces and growing a plant from each short length. This reduces the number of roots to set, which saves propagation space. The single-node cuttings are set in 50-cell plug flats, trimmed of their leaves and grown in the greenhouse for only two weeks before planting out in the field. This reduces the time caring for the young plants by a lot, which once again saves greenhouse space. They say “The resulting crop is better quality because all of the resulting tubers grow from a single node instead of several, concentrating the production. Better yet, there is absolutely no drawback to the technique, at least in our experience to date.” And then, this lovely sentence “Certainly no reason to keep it within the family.” I love the way small farmers share information and tips!
Amusingly, they refer to the method I have written about as “traditional sweet potato slip production”! When I was starting out propagating our own, I followed advice to use cold frames, which clearly doesn’t work in Virginia in March and April. I couldn’t figure how those methods could produce enough slips in time unless a huge number of roots were used to start them. I found out that growers were actually using electrically heated beds. I tried a soil heating cable but it was nothing like warm enough. I searched for more advice and found the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Groupthe previous year had an Organic Farmer Network, who were exchanging tips. Someone, I think Ellen Polishuk of Potomac Vegetable Farms, answered others’ questions about growing sweet potato slips with something like “I just grow them in flats.” That was a lightbulb moment for me – I knew how to grow things in flats! It didn’t seem like it was the traditional method at that time, but it certainly worked, so I adopted it and spread the word.
For this issue of Growing for Market, I wrote about West Indian Gherkins as a trouble-free alternative to regular pickling cucumbers. We’re growing them in our hoophouse this spring, on a trellis net.
Andrew Meffert continues his series on greenhouse nightshade crops for colder climates. This month he provides part two of his detailed work on greenhouse peppers: Pruning and training for maximum production all season.
Lynn Byczynski gives some leads on finding and enjoying farming podcasts, while we are sowing seeds, potting up or otherwise engaged in manual not-mentally-demanding work.
Gretel Adams offers information about weed control in cut flower fields, and of course, it’s equally useful for vegetable fields! Crop planning to rotate crops with different growth habits and timing; neighboring up crops that will have similar cultivation requirements; using the most suitable tractor cultivation equipment; co-ordinating spacing of crops to fit the different equipment (including hands!) to be used for sowing and cultivating. It all adds up to efficient weed control, and maximizing yields from the space.
The lead article is by Lynn Byczynski, and provides a warning about a shortage of hybrid kale seed for the second year running. This has been caused by an increased demand for kale (yay!), a widespread case of black rot disease (boo!) and the fact that the biennial nature of brassica seed production means it takes two years to ramp up seed production.
There are some great new OP kales out there. We have our eyes on Olympic kale, available from High Mowing Seeds.