2023-2024 Conference Tips 3 – Climate Change, less usual edible plants

Carrots under shade cloth in summer.
Photo Pam Dawling

2023-2024 Conference Tips Part 3 – Climate Change, Less Usual Edible Plants

I reported earlier on good tips I got from the CFSA Conference and the VABF-SFOP Summit.  Here I’ll continue the theme.

At the VABF-SFOP Summit, I also attended workshops on Meeting the Climate Challenge with Mark Schonbeck, and Eating and Marketing the Whole Plant with Chris Smith. I’ll tell you more about those now, then move on to the Pasa Sustainable Agriculture Conference.

Meeting the Climate Challenge: Sharing Stories, Co-Creating Solutions with Mark Schonbeck

Mark’s slides and handout will be available soon on the VABF website. In our region we are experiencing hotter summer nights, which are hard on plants (and livestock, I’m sure). At 95F (35C) most crops close down completely or slow their growth. For every 1.8F (1C) in warming, 3-10% of the Organic Matter is lost (burned up) and nitrous oxide emissions may increase 18-28%. Daffodils are flowering up to 5 weeks earlier, fruit trees are budding out earlier, risking losing the fruit to freezing nights. In the spring we are getting later cold snaps below 10F (-12C) in March.

We are having a longer frost-free period, with more generations of bugs. Downy mildew of cucurbits is spreading further north than previously.

Our kale beds after heavy rain. Photo Wren Vile

In Virginia we are getting more intense and heavier rains, with more flooding. The erratic nature of the rains means we can experience flash floods, followed by droughts and wildfires. Heavy rainfall leads plants to grow shallower roots, which then die if a sudden drought follows.

Keeping living roots in the soil will increase climate resilience, as will other ways of building healthy soils, such as diversified rotations, and varied agricultural enterprises. Here’s Mark’s list of

6 Organic Principles of Soil Health:

  1. Keep the soil covered
  2. Maintain living roots
  3. Return organic residues to the soil
  4. Minimize soil disturbance
  5. Diversify crops
  6. Integrate livestock.
Teff cover crop.
Photo Wikipedia

Increasing the use of cover crops will help with 1, 2, 3 and 5. Teff can be considered as a summer cover crop in alleys between plastic mulched beds. Mixing with clover gives better soil coverage. I have not yet tried this myself. Oats/barley/peas/mustard sown in March will grow big by June, adding lots of biomass. Oats/radish/legume cover crop mix will winter-kill. Silage tarps and landscape fabrics can help hold the soil in place.

Installing terraces, berms and swales will help with water management. Installing drip irrigation will help manage droughts. Protected growing, in hoophouses or caterpillar tunnels, will help protect from many kinds of extreme weather. There are steps we can take to mitigate climate change, and more information is becoming available.

Eating and Marketing the Whole Plant with Chris Smith

Chris is the author of The Whole Okra, and part of his presentation was about the many uses of okra, beyond cooking the pods. Okra leaf chips are the latest thing he has tried. The leaves are used for soup in Nigeria. The flowers can be eaten or dried for tea. The oil from okra seeds is nutty, citrusy, a bit like olive oil, although the yield is small, at 9-20%. The oil presscake can be ground for defatted flour.

Book Edible Leaves of the Tropics by Franklin Martin, Ruth Ruberte and Laura S Meitzner

Chris showed us a remarkable book Edible Leaves of the Tropics, by Franklin Martin, Ruth Ruberte and Laura S Meitzner. Plants for a Future  has a database of 8000 plants, including edible plants.  The Book of Greens by Jenn Louis and Legume Species as Leafy Vegetables by Robert P Barrett (online) are also valuable resources on edible plants.

DIYseeds.org educational films on seed production

Go to https://www.diyseeds.org  then search for info on growing seeds.

Male squash flowers can sell at $1/flower for an 8-week season. Winter squash yields can increase if some of the early male flowers are removed! Wisteria, redbud and black locust flowers are edible. Kudzu offers many food options (eat it up!) Roots of dandelion, burdock, thistle, sassafras, daylily, dahlia, runner bean and chayote are all edible.

Soil Health, Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Planning, Rachel Schattman, Sara Keleman and Nic Cook

In February 2024, I participated in the Pasa Sustainable Agriculture Conference.  The first session I attended there was Soil Health, Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Planning, with speakers from the University of Maine Climate Science department. They reported that the NE has seen a 15% increase in Growing Degree Days since 1948, and the frost-free growing season in Maine has increased by 14 days since 1895. California has seen a 40-50 day increase in that period. In Maine the temperature changes are greater in winter than in summer. Since 2012, half of the US has shifted to the next warmer winter-hardiness zone. It is helpful to watch indicator species to determine when to plant particular crops. (See my post on Phenology). Warmer temperatures mean that the air holds more water (7% more for each C degree). This means slower storms, more storms heavier rainfall. They also experience droughts, and distinguish between agricultural drought, meteorological drought, and hydrologic drought – be sure which kind your conversations are about.

Young blueberry plant in snow. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Sea level rise is dramatic on the East coast because of past glaciation. The other main impacts they are seeing on agriculture include False Spring (fruit bud kill after a “warm snap”), winter soil erosion and rain ponding, and new pests, diseases and invasive species, warm season heat stress including crop quality deterioration, greater irrigation demands and needs for shade and ventilation (drought can decrease yields 30%), storm intensity including hail and high winds, longer power outages, soil compaction and nutrient runoff, increased rainfall leading to delayed planting and crop losses. These are all possibilities to prepare for. The silver lining is that there may be new crops we can grow, or longer seasons of familiar crops. NRCS, Extension and other resources are available. Climate-Smart Farming and Marketing is a program for farmers from Maine to South Carolina, offering financial support and technical help to farmers implementing climate-smart practices such as cover cropping, agroforestry, reduced tillage and prescribed grazing.

Prescribed grazing is the intentional use of ruminant animals (hoofed herbivores such as cows, sheep, and goats) on the landscape. Unlike conventional grazing, prescribed grazing utilizes a grazing plan that dictates the location and duration of graze periods. This plan is informed by the ecology of the grazing area.” (Community Environmental Council).

Garlic beds next to rowcovered broccoli beds, under a stormy sky.
Photo Wren Vile

We were helped through an 8-stage planning process:

  1. Risk Assessment (prioritizing which aspect of climate change to deal with first). Heavier rains, then high temperatures, wildfire and smoke, plant diseases.
  2. Vulnerability (looking at your system, climate, location, and seasonal time period). Consider both Exposure to the risk and your farm’s Adaptive Capacity.
  3. Option ID. Consider all of small, medium large and total transformation of your farming. Divide your options up into 4 quadrants on axes of cheap-expensive, difficult-easy; low Greenhouse Gas-high GHG, reducing risk-increasing risk; low impact-high impact, quick to install-takes a long time.
  4. Evaluate tradeoffs (financial, ecological, social). Rank your options and select one that meets as many of your priorities as possible.
  5. Try to meet several goals with one solution. Consider seeking advice or funding.
  6. Monitoring and assessment. How will you measure the improvements?
  7. Revising/tweaking. Reflect and assess. Consider success at each stage.
  8. Share what you learned. Don’t expect perfection, or that others will expect that from you.

Next followed a section on funding. Currently there is lots in Inflation Reduction Act coffers for efficiency increases, renewable energy, conservation practices. Try REAP (Rural Energy for America Program), USDA, NRCS, Rural Development Office for your state, SARE funding for experimentation and trials, state agriculture departments, advocacy organizations, regional non-profits, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Farmer Resource Network, county grants, Beginner Farmer grants, grants for historically under-served farmers, Ambrook Accounting software for American farms..

Take a buddy with you to the offices!

Farmer Resource Network

Vegetable Growing Tips, Winter 2023-2024. Part 2 VABF-SFOP Summit

VABF/SFOP Summit conference January 2024

 At the VABF-SFOP Summit in January, I attended the half-day intensive by Jean-Martin Fortier, Market Gardening 2.0. He covered a brief description of what market gardening is, five different crops that are most profitable, and three management tools for profitable farming. He briefly covered his career from 2004 establishing the 1.5 acre vegetable farm La Grelinette with his wife Maud-Hélène Desroches; his 2015 move to run a training farm school, La Ferme des Quatre-Temps,  with 10 2-year trainees per year; his 2023 move to set up a farm-to-table restaurant, Espace Old Mill, very close to home.

Jean-Martin Fortier with his broadfork.

J-M’s five crops for optimal profitability are summer squash, greenhouse tomatoes, garlic, carrots, small eggplants.

For squash, J-M recommends Romanesco, Safari, Gold Mine and Zephyr, harvesting each of their two plantings (in Quebec) for 10-12 weeks. They plant on landscape fabric with melted holes. The squash are netted until flowering. His workshop included all the details. See J-M’s video about using insect netting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWI30jSQa40. He recommends three types of net: 25 gm net, 47 gm net, and the newer heavy-duty woven net, all from ProtekNet. DuboisAg.com.

Marbonne tomato.
Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

For greenhouse tomatoes, which are 10% of their sales, they grow Marbonne, Margold, Aurea, Big Dena, Marnero and Beorange, all grafted at 4 weeks of age onto Maxifort or Trust rootstock. This is a highly technical crop, grown with some heating, harvested from early June to October. The spacing is intensive, one row per 30” (75 cm) bed, plants every 13” (33 cm), with the centers pinched out to produce double-header plants. The tomato vines are trained to wires, and the lower-and-lean system is used.

The famous Music garlic.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

For garlic, they grow Music hardneck and Siberian softneck, saving their own seed to avoid buying seed lots infested with disease or pests. They plant 2” (5 cm) deep using a dibbler, 3 rows per 30” (75 cm) bed, with plants 5” (14 cm) apart. They combat the leek moths with Tricho-Gard cards containing pupae of the parasitoid Trichogramma wasp. Their garlic sells at $3-$5 per bulb.

Napoli carrots. Credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

For carrots, they grow Adelaide for earlies, Napoli for fall and winter. They found the tops of Mokum too weak. They rowcover the bed for a week before sowing, to pre-germinate weeds. After removing the rowcover and flaming, they sow the carrots with a Jang seeder. They sow some beets as an indicator, flaming the bed as soon as the beets emerge. For cultivating between the rows of carrots, they use Biodisks on a Terrateck wheelhoe. The bio-disc tool consists of two parabolic discs and two straight discs. It provides precision weeding and hilling on rows on light soils. To harvest, one person loosens the carrots with a broadfork, two people pull bunches.

Fairy Tale Eggplant. Photo johnny’s Selected Seeds

For baby eggplants, they grow small fast-maturing varieties such as Fairy Tale, Orient Express, Orient Charm, Hansel and Nadia, on landscape fabric in an unheated caterpillar tunnel, 1 row per 30” bed, 18” in-row spacing. They transplant at 7-8 weeks, large plants just starting to flower.

Terrateck Biodiscs.
Photo Taerrateck

As well as the Jang seeder and Terrateck bio-disks, they recommend tarping, mini-tunnels, the flextine weeder, and a bubbler (Jacuzzi pump) in the wash tank.

J-M’s management tips include a Monday Morning Game Plan, touring the farm and listing the tasks; making a map and task calendar for every week; sharing the week’s task list with the crew on Monday afternoons, and finishing the day with a preview of the next day’s action list, which helps the crew be ready for an efficient start the next morning. Cap the number of hours of work expected each day. Cap the number of each plant you set out – don’t plant more hoping for the best – this adds costs! Every week, at a consistent time, hold a compulsory Roses, Thorns and Buds session for up to one hour, where each person takes a few uninterrupted minutes to describe their Rose highlight that week (something that made them excited, proud and happy); then the Thorns (something that left them sad, frustrated, angry and why) and finishing with the Buds (something they are looking forward to in the coming week). If a big issue comes up, you could go back to it after the round is completed.

I also attended a workshop on perennial cover crops, that I’ll go into details of in a future cover crops post. It was led by Cerruti R2 Hooks, Veronica Yurchak, from the Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, and Hanna Kahl of UC Davis.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore IPM Center has more information on IPM.

I also attended a workshop on Securing Organic Vegetable Production in Virginia Through Increased Disease Management, by Steve Rideout of Virginia Tech. His recent work has been on Septoria on cilantro and parsley, bacterial spot, bacterial speck and early blight on tomato, anthracnose on peppers, powdery mildew and downy mildew on squash.

Steve described the Disease Management Pyramid, with a base layer of the cropping system chosen. Once this is optimized cultural practices and disease-resistant varieties can be used to further reduce the chance of a disease. Chemical control is a last resort, if all else fails. Heat seed treatments can be used to prevent bacterial spot and bacterial speck. Rutgers has step-by-step instructions for avoiding bacterial canker of tomato including sanitation measures.  To reduce tomato diseases that are soil-borne, support the plants up off the ground, use mulch to prevent splash-back, remove the lower leaves of the plants, and use drip irrigation if possible.

Pepper anthracnose. Photo Bayer.

Pepper anthracnose is hard to control by any means, and some resistant varieties are low-yielding. A 2 or 3-year rotation, using certified seed, reducing humidity in the plant canopy (increasing airflow), removing infected fruit, and using mulch and drip can help.

Cucurbit powdery mildew and downy mildew are very different from each other. Downy mildew strikes cucumbers worst of all the cucurbits. There are two strains. Time your planting to avoid DM, by planting in spring in full sun. There is a Cucurbit DM Forecast Site, which shows the annual spread by county. (Nothing to see in February!). The main symptoms are leaf spots that are yellow turning brown on the upper surface and fuzzy on the underside. Steve recommended DMR401, DMR264, SV4179S, Bricky Brickyard?), Bristol and Common Wealth Seeds South Wind as varieties with best resistance.

Cucumber leaves with downy mildew.
Photo Research Gate.

Cucurbit PM does not trouble cucumbers as much as other cucurbits. It forms a sparse white dusty-looking coating, and does best on dry days with dewy nights of 6 hours or more. Better results are found with a homozygous rather than heterozygous resistant variety. Spraying with water can help, but don’t spray cucurbits with anything if the sir temperature is more than 90F. Sulfur, copper, M-Pede, Serenade and Regalia can help. M-Pede may also reduce pests including deer!

Virginia’s biggest pumpkin disease is Plectosporium blight, which can also affect cucumbers and squash, starting as tiny leaf spots, then scarring the leaf veins on the underside, and the stems. Look for resistant cultivars.

Broccoli head with Alternaria fungus. Photo UCANR

Stepping away from cucurbits and considering brassicas, especially broccoli, next. Alternaria lesions of concentric rings can be hidden in the broccoli crown. Bacterial Rot lesions are seen on the leaf margins, moving in as blocks of affected tissue. It smells bad. Some most-resistant varieties include Emerald Jewel, Green Magic, Marathon, Avenger, Vallejo. Also good are Gypsy, Belstar, Eastern Magic, Burney in hot weather. Expo, Montflor were also recommended. Fungicides are not very effective, but OSO (polyoxin zinc) is the best if you have to.

The Plant Diseases Clinic charges $25 per sample sent to them (this may vary from state to state). See the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations and the 2020 Southeastern Commercial Vegetable Crop Handbook and choose your Organic solutions from those resources.

This post is long enough! I also attended workshops on Meeting the Climate Challenge with Mark Schonbeck, and Eating and Marketing the Whole Plant with Chris Smith. I hop to tell you more about those soon!

Rick and Janice Felker of Mattawoman Creek Farms on the Eastern Shore, VA extended an offer to provide a limited amount pf free assistance to farmers interested in learning more about their crop production and organic certification experiences. Contact Rick and Janice to find out if they still have spare time!