Here is our task list for the Twin Oaks Garden in March. We’re zone 7, our average last frost is April 20. You’ll need to adapt this information for your climate.
Lettuce factory during March: Transplant 1/3 bed each, for sowings #1, 2, 3. Cover. Sow #5, 6 this month.
1st March: chit seed potatoes in flats for 2-4 weeks with bright light in basement.
Check irrigation and hoses. Buy replacements as needed.
Buy twine: make up to 6 binder and 2 baler twine.
Inventorycover crop seeds, buy buckwheat, sorghum-sudan, pearl millet, clover or other summer cover crops.
Compost needed in March: 6-9 tractor buckets for beds, 8-20 to disk in.
Compost and till raised beds for April plantings – carrots #4 & 5, lettuce 4-6, beans #1.
Sowradishes, (spinach), turnips, scallions #2 and cover. Last date for sowing fava beans is 3/14. Sow peas only 1/2″-3/4″ deep. Cover.
Transplant fall sown onions ½-3/4” deep, when no thicker than pencils; cabbage #1, lettuce #1.
In greenhouse sow peppers, eggplant, hoophouse squash, Alyssum, bulb fennel, broccoli #3 (1 week after #2, quick, heat tolerant varieties). Test and condition sweet potatoes for 2 to 4 weeks at 75- 85°F, 95% humidity.
Cut seed potatoes and heal for three days: two buds on each piece, one for insurance. Ginger too.
Plant potatoes when the weather becomes suitable (when daffodils bloom.). Reduce sprouts/piece to 2. See Perfect Potato Planting card.
In greenhouse: sow main crop tomatoes, lettuce #5 [sesame]. Protect cabbage and broccoli at 5-8 true leaves from cold stress (<40°F for a few days, or longer at 50°F).
Plant sweet potatoes in flats in glass door germinator cabinet.
Transplant collards, kale, kohlrabi, senposai,lettuce #2, scallions #1, mini-onions. [spring-sown onion seedlings in clumps @12″, 1/2 to 1” deep].
Till raised beds before weeds seed, and sow oats (by 31st) if not needed for 6 weeks or more, (eggplants, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, celery, later lettuce). Sow clovers until 3/15 for long-term cover; or winter rye to wimp out (it does not head up in warm weather).
#2 Spring Tractor Work Mid-March – Disk area for corn #1&2,
Late March: [side dress garlic & onions with compost]
In greenhouse: sow Roma tomatoes, lettuce #6, nasturtiums, chard and leaf beet in soil blocks or plug flats; squash #1 & cukes #1 in blocks or plug flats (not before 3/25). Spot eggplant. Sweet Potatoes: Cut slips at 6 to 12”, put in water. Once a week, plant rooted slips in 4” flats. Plant ginger in flats or crates.
Buy seed potatoes for June planting, and refrigerate them. Keep at 40-50°F in the dark, until 6/1.
Sowleeks & other little alliums in seed bed, update map; carrots #4 outdoors. Sowkohlrabi if transplants fail, thin to 6” later.
Compost & till beds for late April planting: cucumbers #1, edamame #1, squash #1, peanuts, celery, parsnips, chard, cowpeas #1, (sesame). Can sow oats till 3/31 in beds not needed for 6 weeks.
Work on thePerennials in March: Really finish weeding, fertilizing and mulching them! Early in the month plant new blueberries, grapevines, raspberries, strawberries if not done in fall. Divide and replant rhubarb if needed. Water if needed, especially new beds. Set up irrigation and ropes where needed. Put up ropes for raspberries, mow between grapes. Maybe till up aisle in grapes and sow clovers & grass.
We’ve been starting seedlings since late January, and the greenhouse is filling up with flats of lettuce, cabbage, kohlrabi, spinach, scallions and broccoli. We’re eating our way through the lettuces that grew overwinter in the compost in the block-work greenhouse beds, and shoveling out the compost to fill our flats. All our seedlings are grown in 100% home-made compost. We screen compost to fill the beds in September and transplant lettuce there in October. When we need the compost for the seedlings, it has mellowed nicely and has plenty of worms. This beats buying in bags of compost, or chipping lumps off a heap of frozen compost outdoors in January! Our greenhouse has a masonry north wall and a patio-door south wall. It has no heating apart from the sun (this is Zone 7). This space is warm enough and just big enough for all our seedlings once they have emerged. For growing-on the very early tomatoes and peppers, destined for our hoophouse, we use an electric heat mat and a plastic low tunnel in one corner of the greenhouse. Many seeds benefit from some heat during germination and are then moved into slightly less warm conditions to continue growing. This means it’s possible to heat a relatively small space just to germinate the seeds in. We use two broken refrigerators as insulated cabinets, with extra shelves added. A single incandescent lightbulb in each supplies both the light and the heat (we change the wattage depending on what temperature we’re aiming for). Some people construct an insulated cabinet from scratch, with fluorescent lights suspended above the flats.
We use traditional coldframes for “hardening-off” our plants (helping them adjust to cooler, brighter, breezier conditions). They are rectangles of dry-stacked cinder blocks, with lids of woodframed fiberglass. Having heavy flats of plants at ground level is less than ideal for anyone over thirty-five! Shade houses and single-layer poly hoop structures with ventable sidewalls and benches for the flats are a nicer option. Some growers report that some pests are less trouble when flats are up on benches. Others say flats on the ground produce better quality plants. According to the nighttime temperatures, we cover the coldframes with rowcover for 32°F–38°F (0°–3°C), add the lids for 15°F–32°F (–9°C–0°C) and roll quilts on top if it might go below 15°F (–9°C). For brassicas, lettuce and our paste tomatoes (a big planting), we use open flats — simple wooden boxes. The transplant flat size is 12″ × 24″ × 4″ deep (30 × 60 × 10 cm). It holds 40 plants, “spotted” or pricked out in a hexagonal pattern, using a dibble board. For sowing, we use shallower 3″ (7.5 cm) flats. Usually we sow four rows lengthwise in each seedling flat. We reckon we can get about six transplant flats from each seedling flat. This allows for throwing out any wimpy seedlings, and lets us start a higher number of plants in a smaller space. Because we transplant by hand, and because we hate to throw plastic away (or spend money when we don’t need to), we use a range of plastic plant containers. For crops where we are growing only a small number of plants of each variety, we use six- or nine-packs, or a plug flat divided into smaller units.
The first crops sown are not necessarily the first ones planted out. Our spinach gets sown Jan 24 and transplanted out 4 weeks later. The early tomatoes get planted in the hoophouse at 6 weeks of age (slower-growing peppers go in at 7.5 weeks with rowcover at the ready!). Lettuce goes outdoors after 6.5 weeks, cabbage after 7.5 weeks, cipollini mini-onions after 8 weeks. These are early season timings and as the days warm up and get longer, seedlings grow more quickly. Being a few days later sowing something in early spring makes little difference, as later sowings can catch up by growing faster in the warmer weather. If the spring is cold and late, you may find your greenhouse packed to the gills with flats you don’t want to take outside. We try to put the faster-maturing crops near the doors and keep the open flats, which will need spotting-out, near the accessible north side. But let’s not complain about the bounty of so many plants! Spring is an exciting time of year, full of new growth and new potential. Working in the greenhouse with tiny plants on a sunny day when it’s cold outside is a special treat.
The February 2013 issue of Growing for Market magazine is now available, including my new article Making Good Decisions Under Pressure. This is the fourth article in my series about being resilient, understanding what’s going on with the plants and the weather, and knowing when to take action, is about tools to help busy farmers with complex decisions that have to be taken quickly. The middle of a hot field in mid-afternoon of the day you need to plant is not the best place to make a hard decision. It’s better to have a framework in place to lean on when the going gets tough. I talk about various decision-making techniques, clarifying whose job it is to make each decision, what resources are available, and what the impacts of the decision might be.
If that sounds abstract, I also include our sad chart “Can’t Do It All 2011”. In early March that year, we realized we had nothing like enough experienced workers. We were looking at an overwhelming amount of work. We made a list of labor-intensive crops for possible cuts. The main point was to save us time, not just cut crops we personally disliked! We noted the decision date by each crop on the list. As each date approached we reviewed our situation. This method enabled us to make one decision at a time, in a straightforward way, and not go insane. Such a list is helpful for many types of calamity. It leaves the door open for possible upturns of fortune later in the year. It’s less distressing to take one bite at a time than to take a big decision when you already are struggling to cope with some big bad thing having happened.
This issue of GfM also has these articles:
• Lettuce varieties that tolerate heat and cold By Lynn Byczynski
• Book Reviews: The Organic Seed Grower (John Navazio) and The Art of Fermentation Sandor Katz) by Lynn Byczynski
• A new meal-planning service keeps CSA members happy by Lynn Byczynski
• Capturing information in the field to help with recordkeeping, by Chris Blanchard
• Plans for farm-built pallets that make it easy to move transplants, by Chip and Susan Planck
• What the proposed federal produce safety rules mean to you, by Lynn Byczynski
• An urban flower farmer builds a flourishing business in weddings, an interview with Jennie Love by Erin Benzakein.
Also newly arrived is the Report Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation (USDA Technical Bulletin 1935). I wrote about this in my post following the CFSA conference in October, where I attended a gripping workshop by Laura Lengnick, one of the authors of this report. It has 193 pages, and when I’ve read it, I’ll review it. Chapters include An Overview of U.S. Agriculture, An Overview of the Changing Climate, Climate Change Science and Agriculture, Climate Change Effects on U.S. Agricultural Production, Climate Change Effects on the Economics of U.S. Agriculture, Adapting to Climate Change, Conclusions and Research Needs, and various appendices.
I will be a presenter at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, March 20-24 2013. I’ll be talking about my book Sustainable Market Farming, and growing vegetables sustainably to feed ourselves and our community.My panel discussion, the Locavore track, will be on Thursday March 21 at 6pm, at the JMRL Public Library, 201 East Market Street. It’s free! See you there.
I’ll be signing and selling copies of my book, so if you want a signed copy, and you want local authors to get the money they’ve earned (rather than have it go to that cheap online store!), come and get one. Of course, you also get the chance to leaf through and see it is the book for you!
I’ll be taking part with Ira Wallace in teaching a module of the VABF Farm School on Monday 3/18/13 at J Sergeant Reynolds college. We’re talking on Sustainable Farming Practices. The purpose of this program is to help beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia to make informed farm planning decisions as part of a whole farm plan. This six week comprehensive program (Monday evenings from 6:00-9:00pm)will introduce students to these curriculum modules:
Introduction to Whole Farm Planning (2 sessions)
Sustainable Farming Practices (2 sessions)
Holistic Business Management
On June 27 2013, I’ll be giving a presentation on Planning for Fall Vegetable Production at VSU’s Randolph Farm, as part of the Annual Summer Vegetable and Berry Field Day, which runs from 9am to 3pm and includes a field tour, a chef competition and then a choice of educational sessions.
I’ll be presenting two workshops at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Friday September 6 and Saturday September 7. it was a lovely event last year, with perfect weather. let’s hope for similar again. I’ll be presenting my workshop on Producing Asian Greens on Friday Sept 6 and one on Succession Planting on Saturday Sept 7.
I’ll be at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs, PA September 20-22, 2013. If you haven’t been to a MEN Fair before, consider going. They’re a lot of fun and a lot of useful information, all at a very reasonable price. Weekend tickets are $20 if you pre-order by March 31, 2013: (Price at the gate: $35). There are workshops on renewable energy, small-scale agriculture, gardening, green building and more. There are vendors of books, tools and organic foods. You can book a room at the Seven Springs resort, or camp nearby. Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/fair/SevenSprings.aspx#ixzz2F3JVesVm
My books are selling well. I’m selling them by mail order and via my website (see the front page) and in person at events I attend People wanting e-books, go to New Society Publishers.Trade orders go to this link.
I’ve gathered my presentations from the SSAWG Conference and put the slideshows on Slideshare.net.
Planning: Week 1: Revise Crop Planting Quantities chart, Perennials worksheet, Harvest and Food Processing Calendars, Veg Finder, and Phenology Chart. Week 2: Revise Fall Brassicas Spreadsheet, Onion Plan and Log, Sweet Potato Plan. Revise and post Paracrew Invitation. Week 3: Write Seed Saving Letter. Revise Blueberry Map and Log, Grape Map and Log. Week 4: Revise Crop Planting Specs sheet, revise Garden Planning Calendar, File notes, prune files.
Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce #3, 4 in flats (short-day fast varieties, every 14 days).
Spread compost & till beds for spinach, beets, favas, lettuce, onions, little alliums, turnips, senposai, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, collards when soil dry enough. Till beds for carrots 1-3, with or without compost.
#1 Spring Tractor Work –Compost and disk areas for broccoli and potatoes when dry enough, or till.
Early Feb: in greenhouse sow: cabbage, collards, senposai, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli #1, celery, celeriac
Sow spinach outdoors if Jan sowings fail: 4oz/bed pre-sprouted. Transplantspinach from hoophouse [or flats].
Sow fava beans (seed is in peas bucket). Plant small potato onions if not done in January.
Mid-month:in greenhouse: Sow lettuce #3, and resow hoophouse peppers as needed. Spot cabbage,lettuce#3, hoophouse peppers, kale, collards, and harden off.
Sowcarrots #1 outdoors with indicator beets. Flameweed. Finish planting spinach, (direct sow if not enough transplants).
Buyseed potatoes mid-month and set out to greensprout (chit) before planting: 65°F (19°C) and light.
[Strawberries: plant new bought plants, if applicable.]
Late Feb,sowcarrots # 2 (flameweed);
Really finish transplanting spinach. If needed, presprout 4oz/bed spinach for 1 week before sowing.
Till and sow areas for clover cover crops (eg grapes, eggplant beds), or oats, from 2/15.
Transplant fall-sown onions ½-3/4” deep, when no thicker than pencils. Weed over-wintered spinach, kale, collards.
In greenhouse sow broccoli #2 (2 weeks after 2nd), (shallots), lettuce #4, hoophouse cukes.
Perennials: Finish weeding. Give compost, if not done in fall, including strawberries and grapes. See list for January. Transplant bushes, canes, crowns if needed. Mulch. Finish pruning blueberries, ribes. Prune grapes before 3/21 – see last year’s log notes about replacement limbs needed, etc. Summer raspberries: cut out old canes. Install irrigation. Prepare sites for new grapevines, if needed.
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.
: Revise Outdoor Planting Schedule. Plan labor needs for the year.
: 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 Plantsmall 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.
My presentation is on Saturday Feb 9, 10:30 am – 12:00 noon
Session 4. Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops, Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community, Louisa, VA:
Pam Dawling writes for Growing for Market magazine. She has been growing vegetables at Twin Oaks Community in Central Virginia for over 20 years, where the gardens feed 100 people on 3.5 acres. Her book Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, published by New Society Publishers on February 1, 2013, will be on sale at the conference. The workshop will discuss cover crops suitable at various times of year in our Virginia climate, particularly winter cover crops between vegetable crops in successive years. She will provide ideas to help you design a sequence of vegetable crops which maximizes the chance to grow good cover crops as well as reduce pest and disease likelihood. She will include examples of undersowing of cover crops in vegetable crops and of no-till options. She will discuss formal rotations as well as ad hoc systems for shoehorning minor crops into available spaces.
I’ll be at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange booth when I’m not at a workshop, perched on the end of their table, with a big stack of books, signing and selling. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be selling the book at their booth at all the events they go to throughout the year, and through their catalog.
The Keynote speaker Karl Hammer of Vermont Compost Company will describe an Integrated System for Production of Poultry and Compost. The Friday plenary will feature Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain who will discuss Using Mycorrhizae to Improve Soil Fertility and Plant Health. Other speakers include: Kristin Kimball, author of The Dirty Life, and her husband Mark Kimball, on crop and soil management at Essex Farm in New York, where they run a complete diet CSA, (I just reviewed her book!); Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes, for a primer on the soil food web; Kit Pharo of Cheyenne Wells, CO, on minimum input beef cattle production, and me, on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops. I’m on at 10.30 am on Saturday February 9.
New this year: Conference meals will feature all major ingredients from Virginia’s sustainable farms! (Friday lunch and dinner, Saturday lunch). Friday dinner will feature our new “Fresh Chef Trifecta”: Three local chefs will face off to offer the best and most delicious demonstration of local, seasonal fare. (In February, no less!)
If you can’t make it to the entire conference, tickets are available for just the Friday night dinner, cooking demonstrations, and keynote speech by Karl Hammer.
Separate from the Conference itself, VABF is hosting two workshops and Farm Tours on Thursday, February 7th (Registration is separate but located on the same webpage.) There are two all-day workshops and two farm tour options. Workshops take place at and tours depart from the same hotel/conference center as the Conference.
Farm School for Beginners: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm – This One Day Farm School course utilizes the Whole Farm Planning curriculum developed as part of the Virginia Beginner Farmer and Rancher Coalition from Virginia Tech. The course is designed for those with 10 years or less farming experience, and includes presentations from successful farmers as well as extensive hand-outs and resources from the Whole Farm Planning curriculum. Complementary Farm Tour component on Friday morning. $75 – Lunch is included.
Farm School – Advanced Vegetable Production: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm – The owner of Victory Farms, Inc., Charlie Collins has grown for restaurants and farmer’s markets in Phoenix, Arizona and Richmond, Virginia for nearly 20 years, most recently running a 400+ member CSA. His methods yield significant production and very high quality. He has been Certified Naturally Grown for all 10 of CNG’s years as a farmer-run certification program. With specific focus on vegetables, greens, herbs, and vining fruits, Charlie will offer insight into medium to large-scale production, harvesting and storage techniques, transportation and distribution, and farm business management. He will also talk about how to establish workable roles on the farm to avoid burn out, delegating to employees, interns or volunteers, and the cycle of a farm and CSA over several years. Discussion is encouraged so bring your questions! Minimum enrollment required. $85 members, $95 non-members –Lunch is included.
Farm Tours: Will depart from the Holiday Inn-Koger Center at 9 am. $40 members, $45 non-members. Lunch and transportation provided.
Option 1: Commercial Compost, and Dairy/Poultry/Pork/Beef – Watkins Nurseries‘ commercial compost operation and Avery’s Branch Farms in Amelia, where the Alexander family tend a herd of dairy cows and raise grass-fed beef and poultry, in addition to pastured layers and pork. $40members, $45 non-members – Lunch is included.
Option 2: Hydroponics, and Vegetable Production (High Tunnel and Over-wintering) – Windmill Produce Farm’s two greenhouses growing hydroponic lettuces, herbs, and microgreens, followed by Twin Oaks Community‘s 3.5 acre vegetable operation, which provides most food for 100 people year round through the use of their two greenhouses. $40members, $45 non-members – Lunch is included.
I 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 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.
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.
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).”
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).”
This week I’ve been marveling at Ruby Streaks, a beautiful ferny dark red leafy salad vegetable growing in our hoophouse. It brings a smile to winter salad mixes, a refreshing change from all the earnest shades of green. It’s beautiful, fast-growing, productive, easy to grow, cold tolerant, sweet-tasting,slightly pungent, and the seed is not expensive, what more need I say?
Ruby Streaks is so much more colorful and interesting than actual purple mizuna. For the botanists of Asian Greens among us, Ruby Streaks is a Brassica juncea, not B. rapa var japonica, like actual mizuna.
It can be grown and used as a microgreen (cut at small seedling stage), or a baby green after 21 days, and full size after 40 days. You could lightly braise it if you wanted it cooked. The leaves are finely serrated at the baby size and very similar to mizuna at full size. The stems are green and the leaf color ranges from dark green with red veins in warmer weather, to dark maroon in winter. Right now the color is incredible.
We harvest full size leaves by “crew-cutting” one side of each plant with scissors, then chopping them into short lengths. The plants regrow quickly.
It germinates quickly. Fedco warns that it bolts more readily than mizuna. We only grow it in the winter, when nothing is inclined to bolt, so this hasn’t been an issue for us. If you want to sow for spring, I’d recommend starting early in flats or pots indoors, and then transplanting at 4-5 weeks of age, about a month before the last frost date. Use rowcover for a few weeks.
To start in summer for a fall outdoor crops, you could again use flats, or you can make an outdoor nursery seed bed, protected with hoops and rowcover or ProtekNet insect netting from Fedco or from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland. In hot weather it’s easier to keep outdoor beds damp compared to flats with a small amount of soil in them. We start ours 6/26 – the same dates we use for sowing fall broccoli and cabbage. The last sowing date is about 3 months before the first frost date. Transplant at 3-4 weeks of age, preferably not older. We haven’t tested out the cold-hardiness of Ruby Streaks, but I would expect it to survive at least down to 25F (-4C), the temperature mizuna is good to.
But the hoophouse in winter is where Ruby Streaks really shines! Double layers of inflated plastic provide enough protection in our climate for Ruby Streaks to grow all winter. And I do mean make actual growth, not just rest up waiting for spring! For winter salad mixes, we sow on 9/24 in an outdoor nursery bed, then plant into the hoophouse 10/24 (4 weeks old). We harvest that 11/1-1/25, by only cutting down one side of the plant at a time. After we clear that crop, we sow radishes in the space. We sow a second round of Ruby Streaks and mizuna inside the hoophouse 11/9, thin it into the salad, and then harvest from it 1/27-3/6.