Insect mesh, shadecloth, crimson clover, sowing corn, too much rain

May2016_cover_300pxThe May issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about protecting crops in the summer, using shadecloth and insect mesh (netting).

If you want to grow lots of summer crops in buggy places, net houses (hoophouses covered with insect mesh rather than poly) may be your answer. If the bugs are not tiny, small mesh shade cloth may be an even better choice than insect mesh, because it cools while keeping the critters out. Search for project FS13-275 at http://www.southernsare.org. The document High Tunnel Pest Exclusion System: A novel strategy for organic crop production in the south is available from a link in that report.

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer. Photo Nina Gentle

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer.
Photo Nina Gentle

I write about using shade cloth for cool weather crops like lettuce during the summer, and also about research into the improvements to yields of peppers when using shadecloth. 30% shade cloth can increase pepper yields by 100% (yes, double the yield!). See the University of Georgia paper Shading helps south Georgia pepper farmers beat the heat. For hot weather lettuce, we use 45-60% shade cloth on spring hoops 6-8 feet apart, with a plastic clothespin to attach it at each hoop.  Shadecloth lets air through better than row cover does, so it’s less likely to blow away. We don’t use any weight to hold the edges down. We keep the shade cloth on for 2-3 weeks after transplanting, then move it on to the next planting, in a single operation. 2 or 3 people pull up the hoops with the shade cloth still attached, and parade it like a Chinese dragon procession.We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rowcover (white polypro or polyester non-woven fabric) is often used by growers in cold weather to extend the season. There are also lightweight rowcovers for insect exclusion. These can be fragile, and holey row cover doesn’t keep insects out! We switched to only buying thick rowcover and use it  for some crops even in summer. It doesn’t heat up as much as people fear. Johnnys Seeds has a helpful row cover comparison chart

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

But even better for protecting plants against bugs in summer is ProtekNet, a translucent polyamide (nylon) fabric which comes in different mesh sizes. it allows better airflow than rowcover, and better light permeability (from the plants’ perspective) – visibility from the human perspective. Dubois offers free shipping on online orders over $200. ProtekNet is also available from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland, and  Johnnys Seeds in Maine.


Also in this issue of Growing for Market Jane Tanner writes about the benefits of no-till farming, in building topsoil, encouraging soil micro-organisms and reducing weed pressure.  She writes about several farms, all following the model of small acreage, intensively farmed, mostly with manual tools. This system, advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier in The Market Gardener, includes “occultation”, the practice of covering damp soil with heavy black plastic for several weeks to kill weeds. This article includes photos of occultation and a clear explanation. Cover crops are another important feature of this system. I found this a particularly information-packed article, one I will return to.

9221576_origKarin Tifft writes about IPM tools (Integrated Pest Management) for small and organic farms, making the topic accessible to those of us with only a short amount of reading time! We can read enough now to make some actual differences to our pest levels. Later we’ll want to read more, as results pile up.

Nikki Warner writes with advice for managing a farmers market, and Ralph Thurston and Jeriann Sabin write about starting a flower farm (Excerpted  from their book Deadhead: The Bindweed Way to Grow Flowers with their permission.)


We sowed our first corn on Thursday. the soil temperature was 60F, so we were OK on that score. But then it rained and rained. The soil is saturated. I wonder if the corn seed will rot in the ground? Also the bean we sowed last week. Was I too hasty? We’ll see.


Meanwhile, a cheery sight has been the flowering crimson clover cover crop

Crimson clover cover crop Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

This patch is where our fall broccoli was last year. We under-sowed with a mix of crimson clover, Ladino white clover and medium red clover. If you look closely you can see the white patterned leaves of the red clover and the tiny leaves of the white clover in the understory. Also the seeding chickweed, which will disappear as soon as we bush hog the patch. Our goal here is to maintain the clovers all year, adding nitrogen to the soil for next year’s food crop and swamping the weeds. We’ll mow every time it looks weedy.

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop Photo by McCune Porter

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop
Photo by McCune Porter

In this second picture, you can see a patch where we sowed winter rye mixed with crimson clover in late October as a winter cover crop. In most places the rye is taller than the clover, so it’s not as overwhelmingly pretty as the first patch, but it’s packing a lot of biomass to feed the soil. It will get disked in soon (when the soil dries enough!), in preparation for later sweet corn sowings.

The Market Gardener’s Toolkit, Organic Growers’ School, and bad weather

Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches, the farmers at Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally renowned micro-farm in Quebec, Canada

Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches, the farmers at Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally renowned micro-farm in Quebec, Canada

The Market Gardener’s Toolkit is an upcoming 90 minute film by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame. Read my review of his book. He is making this film (actually two films, one in English, one in French) using crowd-sourced funds through Ulule. Here’s the website for the project:The Market Gardener’s Toolkit. It was launched Monday 15 February, so you still have a chance to be one of the Early Bird donors and win a discount on the digital download or the DVD of the film. This project will provide us with an educational film about tools and techniques for a profitable, human-scale agriculture. As Jean-Martin says 34920215316f6552f299ae05386d7cYou can see a short trailer (preview) of the film and read how your money will be used, on the Ulule page. If you have only just heard about Jean-Martin Fortier for the first time, here’s a photo of their beautiful 1.5 acre mini-farm. Clearly, he knows what he’s talking about!

Les Jardins de la Grelinete (Broadfork Farm)

Les Jardins de la Grelinete (Broadfork Farm)

Jean-Martin leaning on his broadfork

Jean-Martin Fortier


OGS SpringConf_FBPromoI will be presenting two workshops (of the 140 offered) at the Organic Growers School on March 12 and 13 in Asheville, North Carolina. On Saturday, 2-3.30pm I’ll be presenting Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale, which was a big hit at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference at the end of January. On Sunday , 4-5.30pm, I’ll be presenting a fully revised and updated version of my Growing Great Garlic slideshow. I’ve been busy working on that (while the weather is so awful).

Organic Growers School farmer

Organic Growers School farmer


November 2013 beds BlogMeanwhile, the weather here is atrocious, and not much vegetable production is happening outdoors. Our hoophouse is still providing salads, cooking greens, turnips, radishes and scallions. Outdoors, we have managed to prune some of the blueberry bushes, and spread compost on some of the beds we hope to grow spring crops in. I say hope, because we’ll be getting a very late start, and the soil is saturated from the past two days of snow and freezing rain, on top of previously saturated soil. We were luckier than some places. We didn’t get a large quantity of snow or ice, we didn’t lose electricity, and we didn’t suffer by having to stay off the (very icy) roads. We had what we earnestly hope will be the coldest night of the year, clocking 2F (-17C).

I’m planning to spend a bit of time “perking up” my website a bit, after realizing that people couldn’t find out how to subscribe or follow my blog. Currently what you need to do is go to the bottom of the “Posted in” Tags and Categories listed at the end of the post, click  “Leave A Reply”; fill out your contact info, go to the bottom of the Leave A Reply space and click “Notify me of new posts by email” Surely I can make it easier than that? I thought I had installed a button, but it isn’t visible. I plan a survey too, when I’ve figured out how to do that.

 

 

 

Summer Reading: Mother Earth News, Organic Broadcaster, Finding a Place to Grow

Fall broccoli undersown with a mixed clover cover crop. Photo Nina Gentle.

Fall broccoli undersown with a mixed clover cover crop.
Photo Nina Gentle.

Here’s some leads to some summer reading on gardening and farming. First, my blog post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. It’s my third post in a series about intercropping (planting a second crop around or beside a first, to take over after the first crop finishes. In this case, I’m writing about undersowing cover crops in vegetable crops.  We like to undersow our fall broccoli and cabbage about 4 weeks after transplanting, with a mix of crimson clover, medium red clover and Ladino white clover. First we remove the rowcover or ProtekNet we have been using to keep the bugs off the crops, then cultivate with our BCS tiller or our Valley Oak wheelhoe. And hand hoes in the row. Then we broadcast the clover and hope for rain. (Huh! We’ve had plenty so far this summer!). If no rain, we use overhead sprinklers every other night for a week.

The MEN blogpost includes other examples, advantages, challenges and so on.


 

broadcasterlogowebI just received the July/August edition of the Organic Broadcaster. Good thoughtful articles on keeping organic livestock healthy; why organic certification doesn’t have the same attractiveness it once had and what can be done to re-energize enthusiasm for the guarantees that certified organic brings; inspiring stories of mentors who are contenders for the MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year award; advice about getting crop hail insurance; dealing with pesticide drift, using mob grazing of cattle; strengthening the bonds between women farmers by holding potlucks; a review of Jean-Martin Fortier’s The Market Gardener; news about an open-source network of seed growers, plant breeders and researchers; an article about how climate change is impacting agriculture and lots of news snippets about resources, opportunities, reports, and tools for organic farmers; classified ads (bargains!),and an events calendar. This paper is free, in either the electronic or the paper format. It’s based in the Mid-west, with information relevant to us all.


R1IsO4E6fviHqxAg8gx8rIJ42tz3oOygTkNRzqXDhapu5gfQta-a7McKdqgJEFZDDTtYP-F9DxxOKJEbHn5ymsHdGn-CCdiW=s0-d-e1-ftI recently heard from the Piedmont Environmental Council about a publication containing  eight stories of beginning farmers and landowners working together to craft affordable leases that enable committed new farmers to establish themselves in farming, and landowners to put land they are not using into good hands. You can read the stories online or Download the PDF.

Finding a Place to Grow: How the Next Generation is Gaining Access to Farmland.

land_leasing_stories_web_banner_2000xThe biggest hurdle for beginning farmers is usually finding land they can afford. This publication encourages us to think more broadly about what might be possible. The eight stories include

  • land slated for housing development that became instead an incubator farm for half a dozen small farming enterprises (Each tenant negotiates his or her own rent with the landowner, maybe starting out with a reduced rate and building up to what is affordable and realistic as the business grows);
  • another new farm is building up their herd by leasing cattle to make full use of the acreage, until they can afford to own their own big herd;
  • others leased form like-minded farmers who needed to take a break from the intensity of full-time farming;
  • others farm on a public nature preserve owned by a non-profit (as part of the deal, the farmers serve as caretakers for the property, keeping the paths cleared for visitors);
  • another started by using family land that had not been actively farmed, then added leases on neighbors’ lands to expand the farm;
  • Waterpenny Farm has been the model and the training ground for many new farmers (they started their lease by paying the landowner in sweat equity, restoring a house);
  • another leaser points out the advantages of having like-minded people around, and a landowner who wants them to succeed;
  • and finally there’s the story of Willowsford, a planned neighborhood including a working farm to grow food for the development’s residents and others.

So, if you or your friends are hoping to start in farming but can’t afford to buy land, here are ways to farm without ownership – although still with commitment, hard work, variable weather and all the ups and downs of dealing with real live plants or animals.

Events I’ll be speaking at in 2015, more new varieties

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmondLast week I listed four events I’m booked for for next year. I’ll fill you in a bit and tell you about some more I hope to be at. My first is

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. Early registration (hurry! ends 12/20) is $130 for members, $190 for non-members. So why not become a member if you aren’t already? You’ll get news all year. Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch;

There are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages (3pm Friday); and  Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting (10.30 am Saturday). I’ll also be signing and selling books.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I also hope to be doing book-signing and sales.

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. That workshop will either be Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, or Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests.

2012-festival-slideshowThe fourth booking I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic.

MENFairLogoAs far as events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Asheville, NC April 11-12, 2015, Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015


 

Carioca Batavian lettuce. Credit Johnnys Seeds

Carioca Batavian lettuce.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

And meanwhile, this week on the farm we finished our seed ordering and started some shopping for tools and supplies. In 2015 we will repeat our variety trials to try to find a heat-tolerant eggplant variety. We were happy to find another Batavian heat-tolerant lettuce to try: Carioca from Johnny’s. With the addition of a few exceptions, we rely on Batavian lettuce varieties once the weather gets hot, to grow without bolting or getting (very) bitter. the exceptions are Jericho green romaine, De Morges Braun and New Red Fire, a looseleaf red lettuce which nearby grower Gary Scott told me about.

We are also growing some Eden Gem melons alongside our Kansas and Sun Jewel melons (and the individual-serving size Tasty Bites that I mentioned in my last post.

Peacework sweet pepper. Credit fedco Seeds

Peacework sweet pepper.
Credit fedco Seeds

We have high hopes for Peacework sweet pepper from Fedco, a very early (65 day) OP medium-thick-walled pepper “with good flavor and full-bodied sweetness.” We are always on the look-out for fast-ripening bell peppers. Because of the seed-growing business at Twin Oaks, at the end of the season we have tons of ripe peppers, but if you are growing a seed crop, there is no incentive to try to push the planting date early. So our main pepper-focus in the vegetable garden is on earliness and flavor – never forget the importance of flavor!

We are also trying Donkey spinach this year. For years we have been very happy with the reliable performance and productivity of Tyee, but Fedco tell us the producer of Tyee is a Multinational engaged in genetic engineering. If Donkey can replace Tyee we’ll be very happy!

 

Home from Mother Earth News Fair; Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables Slideshow; potato harvest

Lynn, Pam, Jean-Martin MEN Oct 14Here’s a photo from the Mother Earth News Fair at Topeka, Kansas. I’m at the Friday barbecue dinner at Bryan Welch’s farm, Rancho Cappuccino. Bryan is the publisher of Mother Earth News. I’m sitting with Lynn Byczynski, editor of Growing for Market magazine, and Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener.  I reviewed his wonderful book here. Despite writing for Growing for Market magazine for many years, this was the first time Lynn Byczynski and I had met. We had a couple of near-misses at conferences that one of us was at, but not the other. It felt like we were old friends – which, thanks to email, in some sense we are.

The Kansas Mother Earth News Fair was smaller than the reputed 20,000 person event at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania in September. There were, I think, about 12,000 people this weekend. This was the second year in Kansas, the first in Topeka.  The next MEN Fair is April 11 & 12 in Asheville, NC. Hope to see you there!

This past weekend I gave my Fall Vegetable Production presentation, my Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops presentation, and my Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables slideshow. All are on SlideShare.net. You can see Cold-hardy Winter vegetables here:

Meanwhile at home, the crew have been harvesting potatoes, ahead of the brutal weather switch coming this weekend.

October potato harvest. Credit Twin Oaks.

October potato harvest. Credit Twin Oaks.

Potatoes waiting to be picked up.  Credit Twin Oaks

Potatoes waiting to be picked up.
Credit Twin Oaks

 

 

Busy events time

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I spent the weekend of January 31/February 1 at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in Richmond. You can read about it on their website. You can also access at least 16 of the presentations made at the conference, and you can find out about the Farm Tours program for 2014 on their website.

Luckily I was not making a presentation this year – luckily, because I was sick, and would have found it difficult. I did three sessions of book signing, and attended some workshops myself. I also met up with a lot of old friends.

I particularly enjoyed the workshop by Jean-Martin Fortier about Les Jardins de la Grelinette in Quebec. Those of you who can read French can check out their website. Jean-Martin has written a book, published in 2012 in French (http://lejardiniermaraicher.com/), and freshly published in English by New Society. It’s called The Market Gardener. Here’s the info from New Society:

“Les Jardins de la Grelinette is a micro-farm located in Eastern Quebec, just north of the American border. Growing on just 1.5 acres, owners Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene feed more than 200 families through their thriving CSA and seasonal market stands and supply their signature mesclun salad mix to dozens of local establishments. The secret of their success is the low-tech, high-yield production methods they’ve developed by focusing on growing better rather than growing bigger, making their operation more lucrative and viable in the process.”

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This past weekend, February 6-9, I was at the PASA Conference in State College, PA. This was my first time at this large 2000 person conference. I presented two workshops, Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (attended by 135 people) and Producing Asian Greens (attended by about 60 people). Both went well, and generated interesting questions. You can view my presentations on SlideShare.net. Also Rhino Technologies recorded the workshops and will have CDs and MP3s for sale soon. Watch the PAS site for info.

I also did some book-signing, and attended some workshops by other farmers and researchers. I was particularly inspired by the PASAbilities Address by Miguel Altieri  on Why is agroecology the solution to hunger and food security?  You can experience it on YouTube here. A very well researched, outspoken and inspiring person, with a global perspective.

Next Saturday (2/15) I will be at Lynchburg College, Virginia teaching an all-day program with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I’m speaking on Feeding the Soil. We would have done more publicity, but the event is sold out! Next week I’ll get my slideshow up on SlideShare.net.

Ira, Cindy and Pam working on their presentations for Lynchburg College 2014

Ira, Cindy and Pam working on their presentations for Lynchburg College 2014