Cover crops slideshow, Hoophouse style and design article

Last week I went to the annual conference of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, held at Hot Springs Resort, Virginia. There were about 430 attendees, a big increase from last year. I gave two presentations, Spring and Summer Hoophouses, and Cover Crops. Here’s the Cover Crops slideshow.

In case you were there and missed the handouts, here they are:

Spring and Summer Hoophouses Handout

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers 4pg Handout 2016

Crimson clover is a beautiful and useful cover crop.
Photo Kathryn Simmons


My next two events are

Jan 25-28, 2017 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference Location: Hyatt Regency Hotel and Convention Center, 401 West High St, Lexington, KY 40507. 888 421 1442, 800 233 1234. Registration: http://www.ssawg.org/registration

I’m presenting two brand new 90 minute workshops: Diversify your Vegetable Crops (Friday 2-3.30pm) and Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales (Saturday 8.15-9.45 am). Workshops will be recorded. Book signing (Thursday 5pm) and sales.

Feb 1-4 2017 PASA Farming for the Future Conference 2000 people Location: Penn Stater Convention Center, State College, PA Registration: http://conference.pasafarming.org/

I’m presenting three 80 minute Workshops: Sweet Potatoes, (Friday Feb 2 12.50pm), Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops,  (Saturday 8.30am), and Succession Planting, (Sat 3.40pm). Workshops will be recorded. Book-signings and sales.

Sweet potato harvest 2014
Photo Nina Gentle


The January 2017 issue of Growing for Market is out. It includes my article on Hoophouse style and design. As well as the Gothic/Quonset
decision and that on whether to choose  roll-up, drop-down or no sidewalls, this article discusses roads, utilities, irrigation, in-ground insulation, end-wall design, inflation, airflow fans, and bed layout to match your chosen method of cultivation.

Other articles include Barbara Damrosch on flower production on a small vegetable farm (beautiful photos!), Emily Oakley on planning to  grow only what you can sell (words of wisdom), Eric and Joanna Reuter with part two of their series online weather tools for farmers, Jed Beach on how to avoid and fix common financial mistakes we farmers make, and Jane Tanner on local food hubs. Plenty of good reading!

The first issue of Growing for Market that I ever picked up (years ago) had an article about flame-weeding carrots. I realized that that one article was going to save us more than the price of a subscription. Just one good idea, clearly explained, can save so much wasted time!

We won’t starve or get scurvy! Plenty of food in the winter hoophouse!
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Cover Crops slideshow, speaking events, good reading, and spinach varieties

I’ve had a busy few weeks. On Thursday 9/29, I presented my new slideshow Cover Crops, to the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville. Here it is with a few bonus slides. Like most of my slideshows, you can find it on Slideshare. I’ll be presenting a shorter, more concise version at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference January 9-11 (yes, midweek) at the Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs, VA.

On Saturday 10/1 I gave a shared presentation with Ira Wallace on the Seed Garden, at Lynchburg College. I’ll tell you more about that next week, once I’ve got the slideshow uploaded.

I found out that the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania where I gave two workshops and some tomato string-weaving demos, had 19,000 attendees! Quite the crowd! I’m hoping to get to the 2017 Fair in Asheville, NC and at least one other next year.


October 2016 cover 300

The October issue of Growing for Market magazine is out. There’s an article by Karin Tifft on Getting Started with Biological Pest Control. She writes in a very straightforward style, pointing out many mistakes to avoid, and navigating the route into a complex subject. Phil Norris writes from experience about growing in clay, covering water management, aeration, soil amendments and erecting a movable high tunnel (hoophouse) on clay. They hadn’t sufficiently anchored the structure, which was on a windy site. It blew a foot and a half to the south, and the clay held 3 of the 4 corner posts, saving the structure! Bret Grohsgal writes about introducing unusual crops to your customers successfully – free samples, higher prices, and follow-through, not discounts! the GfM editor, Andrew Mefford, reviews Shawn Jadrnicek’s new book, The Bio-Integrated Farm and Miraculous Abundance by Perrine and Charles Herve-Gruyer. Jane Tanner writes  about building a local flower movement.FarmersOfficeCoverjpg-250x300 The cover article is by Julia Shanks, author of the new book, The Farmer’s Office which I wrote about previously. I’m looking forward to reviewing a copy. In this article, Putting the Right Price on your Product, Julia covers all the aspects of price-setting: costs of production (direct costs, labor and overheads), analyzing what others are charging, and communicating value to your customers.


Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

Photo courtesy of Organic Broadcaster and MOSES

The September/October Organic Broadcaster has also arrived. The lead article shocked me by revealing that the increased demand for organic corn and soy in the US has lead to an increase in imports. The “organic” labeling of some is in question, as imports are required to meet he standards of the exporting country, not the US. Are we being chauvinist to expect these standards to be looser than USDA certification, or gullible to assume they are at least as stringent? Either way, cheaper imports are leading to lower prices, and difficulties for US Organic farmers. If you can, buy local. Another topic covered in this issue include the law requiring GMO (bioengineered) packaged food to be labeled (good!) but the information that the labeling is in those cryptic QR codes that need a smartphone to read them. There are also articles advising on precautions when putting organic grain into a grain bin previously used for non-organic crops; informing on how the National Organic Program protects organic integrity through oversight and regulation; advising on how to use fishmeal to improve poultry performance, how to create enterprise budgets to see what’s financially worthwhile, how to access farm-to-school programs,how to farm safely with children. Lisa Kivirist writes about the Rural Women’s Project in the Midwest. They have a summer workshop series, farm tours, conference, and lots of networking with over 5000 women farmers involved. An article on farmer-veterans in the Midwest speaks about the solidarity and practical help available.


Fall spinach Photo Wren Vile

Fall spinach
Photo Wren Vile

This week in the Twin Oaks garden we have been using the “ideal transplanting weather” (that means rain!) to move spinach and kale plants from clumps that came up well and survived the grasshoppers to bare patches.  Transplants survive so much better if planted late in the day during overcast weather or light rain.

Tyee spinach. Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

Tyee spinach.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

This fall we sowed three spinach varieties: our long-time favorite Tyee spinach which has been discontinued by the seed trade. We’re trying a couple of other savoyed or semi-savoyed varieties.

Avon spinach and purple-handed gardener. Photo Fedco Seeds

Avon spinach Fedco Seeds

Avon spinach from Fedco Seeds is a promising alternative (I just hope it doesn’t turn everyone’s hands purple as this photo suggests! ) 42 days to mature spinach. This variety starred in Fedco’s 2015 spinach trial A vigorous semi-savoy variety with large broad dark green leaves and a sweet mild ‘sprightly’ flavor. Tender leaf and stem, an upright spreading habit. Tyee had great bolt resistance but tended to yellow, slightly tough, leaves in the fall. Avon promises to hold well in heat and keep its good texture and appearance in the fall, while offering high yields early and late.

Chevelle spinach. Photo Enza Zaden

Chevelle spinach.
Photo Enza Zaden

We are also trying Chevelle spinach, which we bought from Osborne Seeds. Their website is out today, here’s their Phone: (360) 424-7333.

Our variety trials have not got off to a good start, because we are moving plants around so much to fill gaps. But we have got reliably labeled plants in our cold frames, where they will grow overwinter until we need the space for seed flats in spring.

 

 


Garden Calendar, starting seedlings, ladybugs

One of the pages in our Field Manual, which we revise each winter. Photo VABF

One of the pages in our Field Manual, which we revise each winter.
Photo Virginia Association for Biological Farming

We’re busy planning our 2016 garden, and maybe you are too. Here’s a link to our Twin Oaks Garden Calendar, which is a month-by-month list of vegetable production tasks. It’s two years old and a few things have changed, but most crops stay the same. Margaret Roach on her website A Way to Garden gave links to various regional garden calendars. She even includes two links in England! I found the one from West Virginia Extension Service particularly helpful and well-organized, and useful in central Virginia too.

On the day before Christmas we got our seed orders sent in (Later than I like, but at least we got done). This week our main planning tasks have been around the Seedlings Schedule, getting ready for our first sowings on January 17. Yes, it always seems so early! But we want early harvests of cabbage, lettuce, scallions and hoophouse tomatoes, so that’s when we’re starting!

Seed flats in the greenhouse in early spring. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Seed flats in the greenhouse in early spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

This photo is from late January or early February and you can see a mix of newly emerged close-packed seedlings and spotted out young plants in open flats. Also in the middle of the picture are some big lettuce plants that we have been harvesting leaf-by-leaf during the winter.

Our greenhouse is on a concrete pad and we have built beds with loose stacked cinder blocks. In September or October we screen compost into wheelbarrows and fill the beds. It’s an “exhilarating” job, balancing the wheelbarrows on boards across the tops of the beds. Once the beds are full we transplant lettuces into the compost. These will feed us during the winter and we pull them up in the new year as we need either the compost to fill seed flats, or the space to set the flats of germinated seedlings in the light. We put sticks across the tops of the beds and set the flats on the sticks. It makes great use of the space, but it isn’t very ergonomically efficient! We have to move the flats individually several times as we take maturing starts out to the cold frames for two weeks of hardening off before transplanting in the garden. I have fantasies of rolling bench tops set over the beds, so we wouldn’t have to do so much lifting and moving. One day!

We use 100% home-made screened compost for all our starts (transplants). This gives them a good boost of fertility and helps us reduce bought-in supplies. People sometimes ask if the compost “burns” the plants or if it’s too rich. or attracts aphids. We have a very good compost-making system that provides us with great compost. It has from October to February to mellow out while growing some lettuce for us. In the past we did have some lower-quality, less well-finished compost that did kill off some lettuce transplants in the fall. But for many years we’ve had reliably good compost and no problems of that sort. Compost gives the plants lots of stamina, so that if transplanting is held up, there are still enough nutrients to keep the plants actively growing. I have seen plants in commercial potting compost run out of oomph after a while, and get stunted and useless.

We do get aphids, starting just after the Solstice, when it is warm enough for them, but not yet warm enough for their predators. We also get aphids in the hoophouse, where the plants are growing in regular soil. So I don’t think having the seedlings in pure compost is the cause of the aphid population boom. Either way, we often need to deal them a blow, or in actuality 3 blows. We use soap spray three times, at 4-5 day intervals. This knocks out each new generation of hatching aphids (or catches ones that survived the previous spraying). Some aphids lay eggs, others bear live young (isn’t that a scary thought?). After we’ve got the aphid numbers down to manageable levels, we collect up ladybugs wherever we can find them, and take them to our greenhouse or hoophouse, to keep the levels under biological control from then on.

Ladybugs of Maine Poster from the Lost Ladybug Project

Ladybugs of Maine
Poster from the Lost Ladybug Project

Talking of ladybugs, we are hoping to join some research into breeding and releasing native ladybug species for biological control. There are many different kinds of ladybugs and two beautiful posters. See the Lost Ladybug Project and their Ladybug Identification Tools which include their own two page guide to common ladybug species. The posters are from Maine and South Dakota.

Ladybugs of South Dakota Lost Ladybug Project

Ladybugs of South Dakota
Lost Ladybug Project

Both a long way from central Virginia, but lovely to study nonetheless.

Our other main garden pest this month has been deer. We drained and stored our motion-activated sprinkler deer deterrents as well as our solar powered electric fence unit.

We also had a groundhog above ground in December – something to be on the look-out for in unseasonably warm weather. Grrr! On the other hand, I did enjoy seeing quince blossoms, even though it seemed weird.

Busy events time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall vegetable production – my presentation

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/fall-vegetable-production-60min” title=”Fall vegetable production (60min) – Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Fall vegetable production (60min) – Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

Here’s the presentation I gave at the VSU  2013 Commercial Berry and Vegetable Filed Day at Randolph Farm, Petersburg on Thursday (6/27). Actually this slide show has some extra slides that I had to cut out to fit the time available. Registration for the field day had doubled compared to last year and reached 500. I don’t know how many were at the presentations, maybe 250. The other option was to continue the outdoor exploration of the research plots.

One section I would have loved to have seen, if I hadn’t been signing and selling books, and answering questions about VABF, was Clif Slade’s “43560” (Forty-three five sixty”) plot. He is aiming to demonstrate the viability of earning $43560 per year from one acre (43560 square feet) of intensive vegetable production. There are some You-Tubes about this project on http://www.youtube.com/user/VSUCoopExtension/videos

Around mid-July, check out http://www.vsuag.net/
for a video compiled by Michael Clark, combining my slideshow and me speaking.

Our sweet potato plot doesn't look like this yet. We're weeding as the vines start to run. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Our sweet potato plot doesn’t look like this yet. We’re weeding as the vines start to run.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Meanwhile, back at the farm, I’m sowing fall broccoli, cabbage and senposai, weeding sweet potatoes, sowing another succession of beans and one of edamame. More of our time is spent harvesting these days. Today we pulled a bag of beets, 2 buckets of beans, 2 buckets of lettuce (we’ll have a short gap until the next bed comes in), 6 buckets of broccoli, one bucket each of cukes, squash, zucchini, turnips and kohlrabi. Most of our crops are getting harvested every two days at this point (except lettuce, cukes and zukes). So no cabbage, kale, chard, scallions, blueberries or celery today.

Make Shuttles, Wind up and Re-use Your Drip Tape

Pam and Calvin unreel drip-irrigation hose over a garden bed.
Photo credit Luke Stovall

We are hesitant to fully embrace the use of agricultural plastics because of decreasing world stocks of oil, increasing air pollution, global warming, and problems of how to dispose of plastics responsibly. But sometimes plastics are so useful they’re irresistible! So our policy is to use plastics if they offer a significant advantage; to make them last as long as possible; to find uses for the scrap plastics where possible, and to find somewhere to recycle the final mess. Drip tape is a good example: drip irrigation reduces water use and decreases foliar diseases compared with over-head irrigation; and it enables larger areas to be irrigated well with a given amount of water, which is increasingly important as droughts become more common. We buy the thickest drip tape, 15mil, so that it will last as long as possible (10 years?). We have various tricks to get the longest life out of our drip tape, which I might write about some other time. What’s on my mind at this time of year is pulling up the drip tape and storing it, which I guess quite a few other growers are doing right now too.

We use shuttles to store the tape, and garden carts as a base to hold the shuttles while winding and unwinding. Winter is a great time to make yourself a set of shuttles. Or you could cut a set of parts and make them up on rainy days in the spring. 

At a Virginia Association of Biological Farmers field day at Glen Eco Farm some years ago, we saw a shuttle system with an A-frame shuttle holder, developed by Marlin Burkholder. Marlin’s system of raising beds, laying drip tape and plastic mulch is tractor based and involved some impressive tractor gymnastics on Marlin’s part. I got together later with another grower at the field day, Melissa Wender of Shannon Farm, to modify Marlin’s system for use without tractors. Here’s our original rough drawing of how to make a shuttle: 

Our shuttles rotate on lengths of rebar resting on the top of a garden cart. The rebar is held in place on each side of the cart by two large spring clamps. Visegrips would work, if you have enough. Or you could make permanent wood or metal additions to the sides of your cart to hold the rebar. We have 6 carts, and they stray a lot, so we could never be sure of finding the cart with the axle set-up, so it’s easier for us to find 4 spring clamps each time.

Our shuttles are made from scrap white oak stretcher bars from our hammocks business. The dimensions are 1.25” x  0.75”, but I’m sure anything similar would work. We have the larger style of garden cart (Carts Vermont, Johnny’s have them). We found that a 28” height of shuttle was the tallest workable. Melissa has the smaller style of cart, and I think she decided to go with 24” shuttles. Here’s a parts list for one large shuttle:

1.5” x 1” lumber: 2 pieces 28” long

2 pieces 13 & 5 eighths inches

2 pieces 12” long

16 screws approx  1.5” long

Drill a hole in the center of each of the 28” lengths through the flat side, wide enough to easily fit your rebar axle. Screw the 12” pieces between the 28” pieces, about 5” in from the ends of the long pieces. Screw the other pieces across the shuttle offset from each other, a little above and below the axle holes. These cross-braces strengthen the shuttles and give a handy place to tuck the starting end of the drip tape. One shuttle this size can hold 400’ of tape, maybe more. We generally wrap two lengths at once onto one shuttle.

To wind up used drip tape from the field, first open the ends of the drip tape. Then bring your cart with a shuttle on the axle and line it up between two runs of drip tape. If there is any slope at all, it will be drier work if you are at the high end of the field and the drip tape is draining as you wrap it.  Disconnect the drip tape from the supply pipe, and tug at the end of the tape nearest the cart. Sometimes it will just pull through any accumulated crop debris and weeds, sometimes it won’t. If it won’t, walk back down the line tugging the tape and looking for what is snagging it. Free it up and go back to the cart. If you have two people to work on each shuttle, two lines can be wrapped at once. Tuck the starting ends of  the drip tape around the shuttle and under one of the cross-braces. Then steadily turn the shuttle end over end, wrapping the tape around the shuttle. If you’re rolling two lengths at once, obviously the two people will need to co-operate, and stop if one length gets snagged up. When you get to the final end of the drip tape, write the length on the tape with a white china marker (grease pencil) and tuck the loose end under a couple of rounds of wrapped tape. We also write the contents of the shuttle on the side with a permanent marker, eg “ 2 @ 150’ ”. We store our shuttles of drip tape in a barn, tied by rope thrown over a beam, as if storing food safe from bears when backpacking. Another shuttle balances the weight of the first. This keeps the drip tape fairly inaccessible to mice.

To reuse the drip tape next season, use the cart and the rebar axle again. Unrolling is much quicker than wrapping it up, especially if you have two lengths of drip tape on one shuttle. Two shuttles can be put on one axle side by side, and two people can walk out with two runs of drip tape each, one in each hand.