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

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, by Kristin Kimball, Scribner, 2010 – Book Review

The Dirty LifeI feel drawn to autobiographies of women farmers, and Kristin Kimball’s story of growing food for a hundred people particularly appealed to me. I grow vegetables and some fruit for a hundred people at Twin Oaks Community, and our farming as a whole provides meat and dairy products too – what would be the points of similarity and of difference?

Kristin is a freelance writer from New York City. She interviews an energetic young farmer, gets pulled into joining in his work, and then moves from the city to start a new life with him. After some time looking for suitable land for free, they find the deeply run down Essex Farm. This book is the story of their first tumultuous year at Essex Farm (2003), operating a Full Diet CSA.

For farmers, this book will not be a cozy read – you’ll be on the edge of your chair! I probably got over half way through the book before I had any hope that they could succeed. Kristin and Mark’s success defies the quantity of hard work, the number of disasters and arguments, and their opposing strongly held opinions. And yet I know they succeeded, because several years have elapsed since the book was written and they are speaking at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in February 2013. But my goodness, in the early days, they seemed doomed to fail.

Their Whole Diet CSA model is revolutionary not only in the range of food provided, but also in the radical distribution method, which is simplicity itself: “Take what you need.” They provide vegetables, fruit, herbs, maple syrup, flours, dried beans, eggs, milk, beef, chicken and pork, for $2900 (in 2010), on a sliding scale. The members can show up every Friday afternoon to collect what they need from what’s available. Some members live pretty much on the food from Essex Farm, and others also buy elsewhere. There were about 100 members in 2010.

Kristin starts from being a very soft-handed non-farming townie in tight jeans and heeled boots. She has a lot to learn! How will it ever work? Especially as Mark is experienced at farming and seemingly obsessed with working long hard hours in top gear. We don’t hear so much from Mark’s perspective, but Kristin does tell us that he avoids the word “work”, preferring to say “I farmed for 14 hours today.” I like that approach. Mark is an excellent cook as well as a very good farmer. Early in their relationship he kills a deer and cooks dinner. Kristin says “I fell in love with him over a deer’s liver.”

Mark has all the farming knowledge and plenty of opinions besides. He believes he has a magic circle around him, and that good things (such as a free farm) will manifest. Naturally enough, this is exasperating for Kristin, who is accused of draining the magic with her negativity. The clash of the earnest woo-woo hippie and the middle-class lover of manicures and foreign travel doesn’t look promising. Mark tells Kristin to give away her beautiful bed rather than bring it with her to the farm, as he will build a more beautiful bed. They sleep on a mattress on the floor for a very long time. How is this all going to lead to a thriving farm and two thriving farmers?

They (led by Mark) decide to farm in ways they enjoy even if they are less efficient: working horses, hand-milking, no fussing over picayune pricing of individual products. They move to Essex farm in early winter. There are tenants in the farmhouse, so they rent a place in town and commute to milk their cow, feed their chickens and restore the outbuildings. Meanwhile they make plans. Their plans are way beyond reasonable. In one week in February they intend to plan and build a greenhouse. The next week they will cut and split the whole year’s supply of firewood. They planned to hold their wedding in October, coinciding with 50 chicks arriving. Their honeymoon week they would also be extracting honey!

Kristin Kimball
Kristin Kimball

Kristin gets library books about construction and plumbing. She realizes how wrong her prejudice was, that manual workers are stupid and lazy. She gets herself through this big change in lifestyle by pretending she’s visiting a foreign land and will one day go home. She enjoys the present, the everyday, but doesn’t consider the hard work in the dirt and cold as a long-term lifestyle. She doesn’t want the emergencies – runaway cattle, freezing pipes, work at all hours, endlessly.

Despite the ill omens, they survive the winter (and we’re talking a long Northern winter here). “March was a tense and slightly dangerous time, like a border crossing between two conflicting countries. It’s not the deprivations of winter that get you, or the damp of spring, but the no-man’s land between.” The unpredictable weather, the dull and depressed fields. This resonated for me. When I lived and gardened on the Yorkshire Moors, I felt like this in March. Winter seemed endless, but it didn’t help to expect spring in March, because it just was too early. Now I’m in Virginia and we have weeks of work behind us by the end of March – winter is so much shorter.

During the maple syrup run, Kristin finds her feet, a job she excels at: evaporating the sap. She begins to love the work, seeing the connection between her actions and their consequences, believing in what she’s doing. She and Mark still argue a lot, with their different styles (passive-aggressive grudge-nurturer versus dog-like shaking of the issue.) Kristin sees that their arguments come from their two different basic fears: hers of poverty, debt and being enslaved to repayments; his of ruining themselves with overwork: “the farm gaining mass and speed until it ran over the farmer and squashed him.” He worried they’d be overwhelmed and life would not be fun anymore. Both problems are certainly deserving of fear. Organic farms fail most often from burnout or divorce. Kristin comments that they were fighting so much they could reach divorce before even reaching marriage.

Which farmer will not relate to this, my favorite quote from the book: “A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only things that must be done now, and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can’t, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. It’s blackmail, really.”

They somehow continue to build up the farm and by the time the ground has thawed [I wonder when that is in the Lake Champlain area?], they have seven paid up members for their CSA, and tensions recede. They have direction, purpose and a weekly goal. Neighbors and friends rally to help. The first week of their CSA they offer milk, meat, eggs, maple syrup and lard.

Once they reach June, the peak of the farming year, they are starting work at 3.45am and not finishing till 7pm (and even then they still have to lock up the chickens). Kristin even falls asleep on the seat of the cultivator. Mark seems to have “diabolical energy” and exuberance. Kristin is happy, working alongside Mark and walking the fields in the evenings, making more plans.

Kristin realizes “the things I admired most about him [Mark] in the abstract were what drove me nuts in the specific.” His beliefs were informed by his experiences and his research. He was uncomfortable with anything where he was unable to know and measure the impact – he wanted no part of it. He tried hard to live by his beliefs of low consumption, handmade items, responsible decisions. Kristin, for her part, was a hedonist with no particular ethic. Mark’s unbending strength carries him and the farm through very hard times. Unbending strength = rigidity = inflexibility = stubbornness. Kristin accommodates to Mark’s beliefs (perhaps another example of Mark’s good luck – without a partner like Kristin, flexible, hardworking, accepting,  he would not have made it)

The CSA membership reaches 30 by late summer. They realize the house will not be all fixed up in time for the wedding. Their “To Do” list includes “Find tables and chairs. Slaughter bull for ox roast. Butcher chickens for rehearsal dinner. Write vows.”  Kristin is still unsure she wants to marry Mark: “Poverty, unmitigated hard work, and a man whom, for all his good points, no reasonable person would describe as easy to be with.” She is very candid, very open about her doubts, to a level I feel uncomfortable with – it feeds my near-certainty that they’ll never make it. She is also very perceptive: “Marriage asks you to let go of a big chunk of who you were before, and that loss must be grieved. A choice for something and someone is a choice against absolutely everything else, and that’s one big fat goodbye.”

In October the wedding does happen (in case you too, were wondering), despite Kristin having flu and the baker having gone AWOL. It was a reflection of their farming: “exquisite, untidy, sublime and untamed”. I don’t know if the chicks arrived the same week, as originally planned. One month later, Kristin is on a two month writing assignment in Hawai’i. She feels a need to anchor herself by doing some farming, so she visits a vegetable grower. She is taken aback by the leisurely pace of harvesting, and records that that was the moment she made the emotional commitment to her marriage. She realizes the difficulties in her chosen life are hers by choice, and she can’t wait to get home.

When she gets home, Mark has settled into his own rhythm, and they work together looking for harmony, not for conflict. But this isn’t the sugar-coated happy-ever-after ending. Their marriage remains fiery. They engage a few interns each year, and employ some of the local people. CSA membership grows to a hundred. In year 4 their daughter is born and they buy part of the farm.

Kristin leaves us with these words of wisdom: “in my experience, tranquil and simple are two things farming is not. Nor is it lucrative, stable safe or easy. Sometimes the work is enough to make you weep.” And yet “A bowl of beans, rest for tired bones. . . . these things. . .  have comforted our species for all time, and for happiness’ sake they should not slip beneath our notice. Cook things, eat them with other people. If you can tire your own bones while growing the beans, so much the better for you.”

Phew! It worked out! Who needs suspense novels for winter reading when there are farming tales as gripping as this one? to read more, go to her website.

See you at Little Rock for SSAWG, with books!

Southern SAWG

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference “Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms” is coming right up. January 23-26 at the Statehouse Convention Center and Peabody Hotel, Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m surprised to find I haven’t already told you about it.

The best bit is that I will probably have copies of my book to sell (and sign, if you want!)

I’m contributing to three workshops (I’ve been busy preparing the slide shows and presentations – maybe that’s why I forgot to mention it! Right in front of my nose every day.

Michihili Chinese cabbagePhoto credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Michihili Chinese cabbage
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

At 1.30pm on Friday 25, I’m presenting this one: “Producing Asian Greens For Market — There are many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens that grow quickly and bring fast returns. Led by long-time producer and author of the new book, Sustainable Market Farming, this session will cover production of Asian Greens outdoors and in the hoophouse, including tips on variety selection, timing of plantings, pest and disease management, fertility and weed management, and harvesting. Over twenty types of Asian Greens will be discussed.”

Then at 10.30am on Saturday 26, I’m part of a panel doing:” Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is It Right For You? — On-farm seed production can ensure that you have access to the seed you need, diversify farm income, and provide the environmental benefits of new crop rotations and enhanced beneficial insect habitat. But managing seed crops along with a demanding, diverse production system can be daunting. Hear the success stories of other farmers who have taken the leap into seed production and learn how and why you may want to do the same. Micaela Colley, Organic Seed Alliance (WA); Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA); Richard Moyer, Moyer Family Farm (VA); Jim Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm (ME); and Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks (VA).”

Seed Drying ScreensPhoto credit Twin Oaks
Seed Drying Screens
Photo credit Twin Oaks

 

And lunch is followed at 1.30pm by: “Intensive Crop Production on a Small Scale — Many farmers raise large amounts of food on small acreages. Learn about methods for close spacing, wide beds, using season extension techniques, soil-building, disease and pest management, and dealing with humidity and heat issues in crowded plantings. Presenters will also discuss developing a marketing plan to inform a planting guide and maximize profits. For both rural and urban farmers who want to maximize production on limited space. Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community (VA) and Edwin Marty, Hampstead Institute (AL).”

Broccoli transplants in our cold framePhoto credit Kathryn Simmons
Broccoli transplants in our cold frame
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Winding down, 41 bags of carrots in!

Washing and sorting carrots at Twin Oaks
Washing and sorting carrots at Twin Oaks

Yesterday was our last garden crew shift of the year. It was a chilly day, so I was glad we had finished harvesting all our carrots while the weather was warmer. Washing carrots in cold water is tough! Our carrots totaled 41 bags, plus several buckets of culled Use First quality. I think that’s the most we’ve ever got for fall carrots. Part of our success has been the realization that we can grow 5 rows per bed rather than 4, and get more carrots from the same space. Last fall we failed to finish our initial thinning, mowed off part of the patch, and abandoned them. In spring we were surprised to find them still alive. I wrote about this in a post “Risking Zombie Carrots: weeding tiny carrots versus weeding broccoli” . This year we got through all the first thinning (to 1″), but didn’t finish the second (to 3″). We found that we got much the same tonnage from the once-thinned section as the twice-thinned. But yield is not the whole story. Our cooks prefer the bigger carrots, from the area that got properly thinned.

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November
Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

So, for our last shift, we liberated some of our garlic shoots from under over-thick hay mulch. This year we planted up to week later than we usually do, and the colder weather meant the shoots hadn’t emerged in time to be liberated before we stopped having shifts with the crew. The picture above shows where we’d ideally be at before the end of shifts. Yesterday we were able to work on two of the beds, but the shoots were quite small and hard to find. The third bed was even further behind (it was planted a day or two later). We roll the hay bales out over the patch immediately after planting, and the thickness does vary. It’s important to walk through and rescue any shoots trapped under thick clods of hay, or they can smother and die. So the last part of the patch remains for those of us year-round Full Crew to tackle on our own. In the winter we have one of us each day responsible for taking care of the hoophouse, putting blown-open rowcovers back and harvesting outdoor kale, spinach, leeks, and as long as they last, lettuce, celery, senposai and Yukina Savoy. This winter we still have some broccoli and cabbage too. Fiesta has been a good late maturing broccoli for us this year.

My book is fast approaching press-time. Kathryn finished her index and sent it in. I wrote “About the author” and sent in another photo to substitute for one that wasn’t high enough resolution. I’ll probably spend this weekend reading a pdf of the whole book, before it goes to press. And then I take off for a few days with friends, to rest and celebrate.

Here’s a photo Ethan just took last week of our hoophouse and its bounty.

DSC00106

Climate Change, or just Weather?

We just had a cold night of 17F, considerably colder than our previous coldest this year (22F). Several people remarked how cold this November has been. Perhaps even colder than any month last winter? I decided to find out.

November 2011 had a low of 22F on 11/12, 11/18 and 11/19. The highest low was  56F on 11/21. The average low was 35.3F. December 2011 had a lowpoint of 18F on 12/12, a warmest night at 60F on 12/7, and the average low was 29.2F. January 2012 had a low point of 9F on 1/25, a “warmest” night of 39F just two days later on 1/27, and an average night low of 22.5F. February 2012 had a coldest night (10F) on 2/13, a warmest night (49F) on 2/2, and an average low of 29.3F.

Young blueberry bush in snow.Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Young blueberry bush in snow.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

So how does this November compare? Our coldest night has been 17F on 11/29, our warmest night 44F on 11/19, with an average of 27.5F. So, November 2012 has had colder nights than Nov 2011 and Dec 2011, but not January 2012.

What about the daytime? Has it been chillier than usual? This November has had a max of  78F on 11/11, a coldest day on 11/27 (46F) and an average of 58.4F, not counting today. November 2011 had a 78F day too (11/14) and much warmer days, the lowest was 50F on 11/17 and 11/18. The average daytime high was 65.9F. Positively balmy! Dec 2011 had a high of 68F on 12/15 and a coldest day at 44F just two days later. The average daytime high was 55.2F. Colder than this November. January 2012 had a high point of 72F on 1/31, a coldest day of 34F on 1/21 and an average daytime temperature of 53F. Also colder than this November.

Overwintered Vates kale.Photo credit Twin Oaks Community
Overwintered Vates kale.
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

We record our daily max and min temperatures and rainfall, enabling us to compile the weather data from the past several years into some interesting graphs. Each year around this time we write up a report for the community about how our gardening year has gone, which crops were successful, which not. We also include an appendix about the weather that year and previous years. The appendix gets longer with each added year, so we shorten the reports from the oldest years, so as to give prominence to weather most people can remember. Here I’ll include just the past four years.

The Weather Appendix

As always, the weather changes –

  • Our 2012 earthquakes numbers 61-82 were recorded between January and July 31. No more aftershocks of the Aug 23 2011 big quake have been recorded since, although I felt two in August. It’s nice to have that piece of history behind us after a year of nervousness. Our last frost was on 4/24, a very patchy light frost. The previous frosts were 4/11-4/14. This fall we had a patchy frost on 10/13, but no serious one till 11/1. January was cold and dryish with freezing rain on 1/20. February was mild and wet, with one 5″ snowfall. March and April were warm. May was twice as wet as average (7.4″), and warm. We had four days of 90F or more from 5/25. June heated up, with temperatures of 99F on 6/20, and 105F on 6/29. Seven days of 92F or more. July was brutally hot, with 17 or 18 days at 95F or hotter, nine of them 100F or more. The hottest was 107F. Slightly more rain than normal. And of course, the impressive/oppressive humidity. August had “only” six days above 95F, September was milder and rainier, with 5.5″, and no major hurricanes for us. October was warm, with daytime temperatures of 70-86F until the last week (the Hurricane Sandy week). We were extremely lucky with that, only getting about 3″ of rain. In my memory, there were long drought periods when the need to irrigate was relentless, but the data don’t support this memory. Funny, that. We actually had 2-7.4″ every month and the longest dry spell was the first two weeks of April.
  • 2011 was often too rainy. January 1st had a high of 62°F, then the month cooled, with several nights of 10°F, one at 4°F, and two snowfalls. February included 6 days with highs over 68°F, (80°F on 2/18), a dusting of snow, a few nights in the teens and a normal amount of rain (1.9”). March was wet with 6.7” rain (twice normal), 7 days at 70°F or more, 6 nights below 25°F. April had 7 very hot days (90°F or more), average rain, and a patchy last frost on 4/14. May was very wet (6.6”), and warm, ending with a string of days above 90°F. June was also wet (6.2”, including one deluge of 4.1”), hot at each end , two days at 100°F, and milder in the middle. July had a brutal two week drought at the end, and a string of 14 days (including 8/1-8/2) with temperatures above 95°F. The highest was 104°F. August continued with high temperatures, but only 7 days over 95°F. We got too much rain (7.7”), including Hurricane Irene, which gave us 2.8” but could have been so much worse. And there was the 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered a few miles from us on 8/23, and the 59 aftershocks registering 1.8 or higher between then and the last for the year on December 24 (mag 2.4) . November gave us a 17 day gap in aftershocks, up until the 5 in 48 hours 11/19-20. September brought another huge 7.7” rain, including Tropical Storm Lee. Temperatures were nice, although it was often hard to work with the soil getting saturated so often. October was pleasant, if still wet (5.5”), delaying harvest of our potatoes and rotting our winter squash. The first frosts came decisively at 25°F on 10/30 and 10/31. November had 3.9″ of rain, December 5.4″.
  • The winter of 2009-2010 was remarkable for heavy snowfalls. The lowest temperature of the winter was –5°F (1/30). There was a series of 22 Nor’easter storms December to March. The last frost was 5/9, long after the first days above 95°F (4/6 &4/7). 2010 had a brutally hot summer. The days above 95°F were 13 in June, 19 in July, 14 in August, 10 in September. Days above 100°F were 2, 11, 2, 2 for those months. The hottest day was 107°F on 7/24. No major hurricanes affected us, although Nicole gave us 2.5” rain 9/29. Statistically speaking, the rain was a normal amount, but when temperatures are so hot, much more evaporates. On 10/2 there was a magnitude 3.0 earthquake with an epicenter between Mechanicsville and Fredericksburg, and another at Ashland, magnitude 2.4 on 10/30. First frost was 10/23. November was mild, but the cold weather kicked in 12/4/10.
  • 2009 started mild then got extremely cold in mid-January, with temperatures below  –5°F.  We had the first significant snowfall in a few years, and the pond froze over for the first time in at least 3 years. Last frost 4/18. We had average precipitation overall, but it was flood or drought, which isn’t good for the garden. We lost the new Ag Well pump and tank in the Tobacco Barn fire, and had difficulties with irrigation. The hottest day was 98°F.  We had a heat wave in early June, but only eight days of 95°F or higher all year. In early November it rained for about four days straight.  First frost was 10/18.

Harvesting carrots, covering spinach

Hope those of you in the US had a good Thanksgiving holiday. We had a lovely meal here at Twin Oaks, and followed our tradition of going round the room giving each person a few minutes to say what they feel thankful for or appreciative of this year. Naturally, with about 90-100 people in the dining room, that takes a while! Many people appreciated the efforts of the garden crew and other food producers.

Since then, back to work! We stop having garden shifts for the year on December 6, so we are focusing on the tasks we really want to get to done by then. One big one is harvesting all our fall carrots.

One of our long carrot beds earlier in the year.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

So far we have dug 15 bags (about 50 pounds each), and are about a third of the way up the plot. We reckon we need at least 30 bags for the winter, so we are in very good shape, looking at getting maybe 45 bags, if we keep moving. The carrots have a great flavor, thanks to the cold nights we’ve been having. And they are in good shape. Not many voles in evidence this fall, or tunneling bugs.

This year we didn’t manage to finish the second thinning, so we started the harvest at the unthinned end of the plot. They are a surprisingly decent size for carrots that only got one thinning. After sowing, we flameweed the carrots before they emerge, then as soon as we can see them we hoe between the rows. It really helps to have evenly spaced parallel rows. Next we weed and thin to one inch, taking away the weeds to the compost pile. Leaving broken carrot leaves and roots can attract the carrot rust fly (root fly), and we don’t want those! After a while we hoe again, including using our Valley Oak wheel hoes in the paths. Then we weed again and thin to 3 inches, saving the bigger thinnings for salad carrots. After that we leave them to size up. It takes about 3 months from sowing to final harvest, with carrots.

Young carrots after their first thinning.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Another of our main jobs now is weeding the seven spinach beds and covering them with wire hoops and rowcover. I do like to weed first, as weeds under rowcover grow so well, hidden from sight. We use double hoops for our overwintering spinach. The inner hoop is thick wire with an eye made at each side at ground level. the rowcover goes on top of this, then the thinner wire hoops which hook into the eyes of the inner hoops. (I have a drawing in my book, but I can’t seem to copy it here.) The hoops hold the rowcover in place when it gets windy, and the rowcover can be pushed up between the hoops while we harvest. In our climate (USDA winter hardiness zone 7a), spinach not only survives the winter; it grows whenever the temperature is above about 40F, which happens quite often under the rowcover. So, provided we don’t over-pick, we can keep the plants going all winter into spring. The hoops also hold the rowcover away from the leaves, preventing abrasion damage.

Winter radishes, planting garlic.

Our main task this week has been planting garlic, both hardneck and softneck. As we separated the cloves for planting, we put all the tiny cloves (which wouldn’t grow big bulbs) into small buckets. We use these to grow garlic scallions. Planting them is next on our list.

Garlic scallions are small whole garlic plants, pulled and bunched in the spring like onion scallions. They are chopped and cooked in stir-fries and other dishes. They are mostly green leaves at that point, although the remains of the clove can also be eaten. Hard-core garlic lovers eat them raw like onion scallions. They provide an attractive early spring crop.

To grow garlic scallions,  plant small cloves close together in furrows, simply dropping them in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. (If you’ve just finished a large planting of main-crop garlic, you’ll probably be too tired to fuss with them anyway!) Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw.

A healthy patch of garlic scallions in spring
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

You could plant these next to your main garlic patch, or in a part of the garden that’s easily accessible for harvest in spring. Or you could plant your regular garlic patch with cloves at half the usual spacing and pull out every other one early. Think about quantities, though. If we double planted, we’d have over 7000 scallions, far more than we could use. The danger with double planting is stunting the size of your main crop by not thinning out the ones intended for scallions soon enough. We plant our small cloves for scallions at one edge of the garden, and as we harvest, we use the weed-free area revealed to sow the lettuce seedlings for that week.

With a last frost date of 20-30 April, we harvest garlic scallions from early March until May,  depending on how long our supply lasts out, and when we need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done! Some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall, and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply pull the whole plant once it reaches about 7-8″ (18-20 cm) tall. The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of 3-6 depending on size. If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto, for sale later in the year.

Misato Rose winter radish
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This week we also harvested our winter storage radishes, which we sowed in July. Winter radish varieties have large roots that may be round or long, with white, red, pink, green or black skin. They can be eaten raw, pickled, mixed in stir-fries or cooked like turnips. Our favorites are:

  • Shunkyo Semi-long  (32 days, OP), 4-5″ (10-12 cm), smooth, cylindrical, attractive rose-pink roots with crisp white flesh. The flavor is hot and sweetly nutty. The pink-stemmed leaves can also be eaten. This slow bolting variety can be sown throughout the year in mild climates.

The other varieties in this list are all day-length sensitive, for summer to fall sowing only. They bolt if sown in spring.

  • China Rose (55 days, OP). AKA Rose Colored Chinese, Scarlet China Winter. About 5″ (12 cm) in diameter. Round, with white flesh, pink skin. Cosmetically, this variety is more variable and less beautiful than Shunkyo.
  • Red Meat (50 days, OP). AKA Watermelon. Large round roots, 2-4″ (5-10 cm), depending on how long you let them grow. Green and white skin, with sweet dark pink flesh. Large leaves.
  • Misato Rose (60 days, OP). AKA Chinese Red Heart. Green and white skin, rose and white “starburst” flesh. Beautiful when sliced for salads. Unlike many radishes, this one will still bulb properly if crowded, according to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Attractive, spicy, not sharp, with “a rich sweet vegetable undertone.” Can grow as large as a big beet if given sufficient space. A good keeper.
  • Shinden Risoh Daikon (65 days F-1 hybrid). Daikon (pronounced “dye-kon”) is the Japanese word for radish. Daikon are huge long white roots which store very well and stay crisp for months under refrigeration. They can be grated or sliced thin for salads, pickled, or sliced and chopped for stir-fries. Kim Chee is a traditional Korean pickle made with daikon and napa Chinese cabbage. Daikon can also be harvested small.
  • Miyashige Daikon (50 days, OP). 16-18″ (40-45 cm) long by 2.5-3″ (6-8 cm) in diameter. These “stump-rooted” cylindrical white radishes are pale green near the crown. Very crisp and tender for pickling and storage.
China Rose winter radish
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This year we grew 45′ each of Shunkyo Semi-Long, China Rose, Red Meat and Shindin Risoh Daikon. In terms of yield, the China Rose is the clear winner: 54 lbs from 45′.

And they look very smooth and attractive. Next best in yield was the other pink one, Shunkyo Semi-Long at 25 lbs. The daikon came in at 21 lbs, lower than I expected. Maybe we should have thinned more drastically. A big disappointment was the Red Meat at only 15 lbs. Mind you, this one sells itself on its impressive looks. See the picture above.

Miyashige White Daikon,
Picture credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Crop review, harvesting roots

Large Smooth Prague Celeriac
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This week in the garden we have started fall clean-up. We packed away the rowcovers preserving the last rows of green beans, squash and cucumbers, and harvested the last of those crops. Two nights with lows of 22F made it clear it was time. We removed the okra and eggplant “trees”, and pulled up the t-posts from the tomato rows and the asparagus beans. We bundled the asparagus bean trellis netting, along with the bean vines, and tied it up in the rafters of our greenhouse. It will stay there till spring when we will dance on the bundle in the parking lot and shake out the dried bits of vine, so we can use the netting for the 2013 crop.

We discovered we can use our power-washer to clean the t-posts before storing them. This saves a lot of time, and converts the job from a tedious chore with knives and wire brushes into a “power rangers” opportunity. We like to get the posts really clean before storing them to reduce the chance of carrying over soil-borne tomato diseases to next season.

White Egg turnip
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We have started clearing crops which are less cold-tolerant. This week we are working on the vegetables that get killed at temperatures of 25°F and 20°F. Fall weather in our part of Virginia doesn’t usually get this cold this early, but there’s no arguing with it. We’ve got the Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage) in and we’re going for the small bit of bulb fennel soon (both 25°F crops). We’re picking the broccoli twice a week as long as it lasts, although yields are right down now. Next we’re after the celeriac, turnips (no rutabagas this year), and winter radishes. Sadly our fall beets all failed, so we don’t need to dig those. We still have some from the spring crop in good condition in perforated plastic bags in the fridge.  Kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots and parsnips are more cold-tolerant, so they can wait to get harvested in a few weeks. We still have lettuce and celery outdoors under rowcover and hoops. And some of the greens and hardier leeks will feed us all through the winter. Twin Oaks is now in Climate Zone 7a. This means the range of the average annual minimum temperature is 0°F to 5°F.

Popping garlic cloves in preparation for planting
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exhcange

We’re getting ready to plant garlic. The soil has certainly cooled down enough this year! We decided to cut back our total amount of garlic planted this year for two or three reasons. One is that we think we’ll still have enough if we plant 16% less, and maybe we’ll be less wasteful. Another is that we hope the time we’ll save at harvest and curing will enable us to take better care of what we have got, and less will get wasted that way. Another is that it will help our crop rotation in the raised beds, where we grow a lot of alliums – garlic and potato onions over the winter, onions in spring, shallots and scallions in the mix, and leeks from mid-summer to late winter. Sometimes doing a smaller amount well is more productive than over-extending ourselves  with a big crop.

Yesterday we started separating the garlic cloves (“popping” the cloves) at our annual Crop Review meeting. This is when the crew gathers to work through an alphabetical list of crops we grew and talk about what worked and what didn’t and what we want to do differently next year. We plan to try a small amount of West Indian gherkins as an alternative to pickling cucumbers, which seemed plagued by disease. (I saw some very robust gherkins growing at Monticello in September.) We’re looking for a heat-tolerant eggplant variety to trial alongside our well-liked Nadia, which shut down during the early summer heat. We intend to make smaller plantings of edamame next year, and harvest smaller amounts more often, so less goes to waste. We want to try Sugar Flash snap peas and another dwarf early-yielding type of snow peas. (Dwarf Grey works for us, but Oregon Giant didn’t). We’re going to try some purple bush beans to see if that helps us get harvests of nice small beans and fewer ugly giants in the buckets. We debated the harvest size of okra and asparagus too. We vowed to grow fewer different varieties of broccoli and try to find a decent red cabbage. This year we tried Integro, Ruby Perfection and Mammoth Red, but none produced a good amount of nice sized heads. We used to be happy with Super Red 80, but gave it up after two bad years. next year we’ll try Red Express. We strategised about to get red sweet peppers as early as possible.

As the tasks to do outdoors start to wind down, we’re upping the pace of our winter planning season. Our next tasks include doing an inventory of the seeds we still have and figuring out our garden plan, so that we can work towards ordering the seeds we want in sensible quantities.

Twin Oaks November Calendar (and December)

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

November -The End is in Sight

During the month

Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce in hoophouse, for January transplants.

Write Thank You Letter to Paracrew (part-time workers)

Early November: Finish up sowing cover crops in Nov. Can sow winter wheat in early November (won’t winter-kill). Sow wheat or rye in carrot beds by 11/30(?), or if too late for cover crops, just spread carrot tops on beds.

Sow onions to overwinter in hoophouse.

Plant hard-neck garlic when soil temp at 4″ deep is 50°F, and mulch immediately, not too thickly.

Plant soft-neck garlic.

Plant leftover small garlic cloves for garlic scallions and garlic greens.

Potato onions: till beds.  11/1-12/1: Plant medium-size (1½-2” diameter) potato onions, at 6”, or wider if supply is limited.  Cover with ½-1” soil, then mulch. If planning a January planting of small potato onions, prep bed and roll mulch now.

Sow spinach (for spring harvesting) in early November if not done already.

Mid November: Free trapped garlic shoots from over-thick mulch, when 50% emerged.

Cover lettuce, spinach (“burns” below 10°F), celery, zukes & cukes and Chinese cabbage. Use double hoops for the spinach, celery, and the last lettuce bed.

Harvest: celeriac (hardy to 20°F), beets (15-20°F), turnips(20°F), kohlrabi (15°F), winter radish (20°F), rutabagas (OK to 20°F), carrots (12°F), parsnips (0°F) in that order. Wash and store in perforated plastic bags in walk-in cooler. Record yields.

After curing, store boxes of sweet potatoes in basement cage (55-60°F, 80-90% humidity).

Sort white potatoes in storage 2 weeks after harvest.

Spread lime or gypsum as needed, referring to soil analysis results.

Potato Onions: sell small ones (<1½”) or store on racks until January. Ideal conditions 32-40°F, 60-70% humidity, good ventilation, layers < 4” deep. Do not seem to suffer from freezing.

Winterize the rototillers and BCS mower.

Planning:

Week 1: Check the accounts and prepare Budget Requests for economic planning. Write Informant. Revise Seed Inventory spreadsheet.

Week 2: Inventory seeds

Week 3: Inventory seeds

Week 4: Seed Inventory: proof reading, etc. File notes.

Perennials: Cut dead asparagus tops with weed whackers or machetes, and remove all ferns. Weed strawberries and spread sawdust in aisles. Weed and fertilize rhubarb, blueberries, asparagus, and spread cardboard and sawdust, (hay for asparagus if possible). Weed grapes, take vine cuttings. Transplant new blueberries if needed.

November Harvests: last outdoor lettuce (hardy to 15°F with rowcover), beets (15-20°F), broccoli (25°F), cabbage (12°F), cauliflower, celeriac (20°F), celery (15°F with rowcover), chard (10°F), fall greens, collards (5°F), fennel (25°F), kale (0°F), kohlrabi (15°F), komatsuna (15°F), leeks (fall leeks hardy to 12-20°F, winter ones to 5°F or lower), parsnips (0°F), scallions (25°F), senposai (12°F), spinach (0°F), tatsoi (10°F), turnips (20°F), yukina savoy (10°F).

December – Time to Rest

Perennials: see November. Cut fall raspberry canes (after leaves have dropped) with pruners, to the ground. Weed raspberries. Hang blueberry drip tape in the branches. Dig docks from asparagus patch.

Plant medium potato onions, if not done in November.

Drain and store the hoses and irrigation. Clean up stakes, labels.

Planning:

Week 1: Prepare seed order spreadsheet. Decide seed order.

Week 2: Revise Lettuce List, lettuce Log. Spend last of money. Check expenditures and spend remaining budget. File the year’s accumulated notes.

Week 3: Put your feet up and read seed catalogs and inspiring gardening books

Week 4: Put your feet up and read seed catalogs and inspiring gardening books

December Harvests: cold frame spinach or lettuce, cabbage (hardy to12°F), celery (15°F with rowcover), chard (10°F), collards (5°F), kale (0°F), komatsuna, leeks (fall leeks hardy to 12-20°F, winter ones to 10°F or lower), parsnips (0°F), senposai (12°F), spinach (0°F), yukina savoy (10°F).

Winter Squash in storage at Twin Oaks potato onion planting, potato onion storage,

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.