Sorry for the delay in posting this. Apparently a driver hit an all-important cable and the whole county is without internet. Rural living can’t be beat!
Here we are in March. Nothing new to harvest outdoors yet, although the garlic scallions are getting close. But the hoophouse is serving us well. Every day we harvest 5 or 10 gallons of salad mix and either some cooking greens, radishes or scallions. The photo above is a new delight: Pink Stemmed Mizuna from Osborne Seeds
We’ve finished the hoophouse turnips, and are now making serious headway on the kale. We grow both Red Russian and White Russian kales.
We use orange flags to denote where to harvest next, as we have a large hoophouse (30 x 96 ft) and many different crops. It is often obvious as we get closer. Here’s three different ways we are harvesting right now:
As you can see we harvest baby lettuce mix by cropping it about an inch above the soil. I think this is the third cutting of this patch. I like to make our salad mixes about one third lettuce, one third brassicas of some kind and one third spinach. The brassica mix below is now bolting, so I pulled it up as I harvested. All brassica flowers are edible, and the buds are just like tiny broccoli.
The spinach I’m harvesting today is our third sowing, and we are cutting outer leaves and chopping them into the salad mix.
For those wondering what the silver stuff is: these three crops are all in our narrow north edge bed. We have 24″ (60cm) bubblefoil insulation stapled onto the hipboard. It reflects back both light (in short supply low on the north wall) and heat.
In the greenhouse we have reached Peak Broccoli Flats season. We have 16 flats for our first planting in the coldframe, 16 of the second and four of the (backup plan) third sowing in the greenhouse.
We use open wood flats for these kinds of hardy seedlings. We sow 4 rows into 12 x 24 x 3″ flats and then spot out into 12 x 24 x 4″ flats (40 plants each) to grow to final transplant size.
After a week of drizzle, it finally eased up and we started harvesting our sweet potatoes. I wrote a lot about this topic last year, so I won’t go into many details here. As usual, we set the dug roots in clusters, so we could see which plants yielded most and chose medium-sized roots from those to grow our slips next year. In the picture above, we are crating the sweet potatoes after someone has gone through selecting the seed roots. In the right background you can see our grid-linked solar array. In the left background is our hoophouse, and to the left is our dying last sweet corn planting. We have one last picking today, from the Silver Queen at the far end. We used a low electric fence around this patch to keep the raccoons out, and either it worked, or the beasts didn’t notice this planting. We didn’t get any visits from tigers or elephants either! Also visible in the photo above are remaining bits of the bioplastic biodegradable mulch we used. It’s made from non-GMO corn, and is great for warm-weather loving vining crops.
This year, the Georgia Jet seem more productive than the Beauregard – I think that’s usual. We dug about a third of the crop the first day and got 86 boxes. The second day we had a lot of other harvesting (beans and broccoli being the most time-consuming), so we only dug another 36 boxes. We’re still only 45% of the way down the patch, so we could end up with 250 or more boxes. Probably the yield will taper off closer to the end of the field as the deer were browsing on the vines all summer.
Friday update: Well, we finished harvesting yesterday, and the yield dropped off a lot where the deer had been browsing (memo: fence out the deer in future!) We got a total of 177 boxes of various sizes, perhaps about 3939 pounds, almost two tons. That’s not a record-breaker, but is second best in the past ten years.
Our yearly harvest of sweet potatoes has varied a lot, from 31 boxes (a sad year) to 243 in 2009. An average over ten years of 112 boxes, each weighing perhaps 23 pounds. We grow about 800 row feet. We always hope to have enough to last till the beginning of May, when people start to lose interest in sweet potatoes, and start hoping for tomatoes.
Now I’ve glided smoothly into the statistics section of this post, so I’ll tell you some figures for my book sales while I’m at it. New Society has sold 3320 to mid-September, from a 5000 print run. They say the book is selling well, not many returns. At Twin Oaks we’ve sold 150 of the 250 we bought in February when it came out. I’ve just set up an Author Page at Amazon, so I can tell you they have sold 940 print copies up till 10/6. They also provide me with ranking info (this could get addictive if I let it!) and my book was #40,116 when I looked. That sounds pathetic till you realize that’s out of 8 million titles. Anyway, enough vanity! As far as its usefulness to readers, having an Author Page means that if you go to Amazon, to my book page, and then click on my name, you can read my bio, and see my upcoming events, and get back to this blog.
Getting perspective on the bookselling world, I was encouraged to learn that there is being a resurgence of small booksellers, despite the Big Online One. Here’s a link to the story in the Christian Science Monitor in March this year. I learned about it from Wendy Welch of the Little Bookstore at Big Stone Gap, who I met at the Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. She has written a memoir about her bookstore, called The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, which you can buy via her website, or, I’m sure, at her store.
And now on to this Inspiring story: At the Mother Earth News Fair I met a young woman of 12 who had borrowed my book from her library. She got inspired and decided to start market gardening. She succeeded in clearing $6000 in her first year, when she was 11!
Yes, we’re still planting leeks! Later than we intended, but the soil is nice and moist, thanks to the recent 1.6″ of rain. We’re growing 180′ each of King Richard and Lincoln, fast-growing fall leeks, 360′ of King Sieg and 1080′ of the wonderful winter-hardy Tadorna. We’ve just got about 400′ of Tadorna left to plant. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get finished.
Usually we grow our leek seedlings outdoors in a nursery bed. We reckoned to sow 24′ each of the fall leeks, 48′ of King Sieg and 144′ of Tadorna on 3/21, and repeat this on 4/27 as a back-up. March had so much rain we couldn’t sow outdoors, so we used open wood flats, sowing the rows close together. Our flats are 12″ by 24″. To get the same number of plants, we sowed 6 rows across and needed a total of 20 flats. Quite space-consuming! The greenhouse couldn’t contain them along with all the other starts we have at that time of year, so we put the freshly sowed flats directly in the cold frames. Our logic was that the coldframe would be at least as warm as the conditions they would have had in the nursery bed. This worked well. There was coldframe congestion, which would have been even harder if we hadn’t been losing so many flats of broccoli to various beasts!
On 4/27 we were able to make the second sowing in the outdoor nursery bed. The strange part of the tale is that we don’t seem to need them! Using flats has given us a much better survival rate than the nursery bed used to (sometimes it’s a challenge dealing with the weeds that pop up and outgrow the slow leeks.) We even seem to have had too many plants in the twenty flats. I’m strongly considering switching over to deliberate use of flats next year. I think we could even sow fewer flats (reducing the coldframe congestion). A disaster has produced a better method! Our, our creativity when faced with a disaster has produced a better method.
With our “new” method, we still put the seedlings in small buckets of water to make the roots stick together for easier planting.
Here’s my description from Sustainable Market Farming (c) Pam Dawling and New Society Publishers:
The ideal size for transplanting is between a pencil lead and a pencil in thickness. We plant at 6″ (15 cm) spacing, with four rows to a 48″ (1.2 m) bed. People wanting really huge leeks use wider spacings. Leeks can also be planted in clumps of four to six, either at 10–12″ (25–30 cm) in-row spacing for easier hoeing or at 6″ (15 cm) for smaller bunching leeks. We use a special planting technique for our bare root transplants, in order to develop long white shanks, which are prized more than the equally edible green parts. A similar technique can be used for seedlings from flats or plugs. We find it efficient to divide the crew up and specialize in one part of the job.
First, if the soil is dry, water it well, preferably more than an hour ahead. Then one person makes parallel V-shaped furrows, 3″ (8 cm) deep, along the bed. Next, a couple of people make holes 6″ (15 cm) apart in the furrows. Tools for this job include hoe handles, purpose-bought “dibbles” or dibblers, or ones homemade from broken digging fork handles, with the end sharpened to a point. The tool needs to have a diameter of 1½–2″ (4–5 cm). The depth of the holes is determined by the height of the transplants, and is likely to need to be 3″ (8 cm) or more. If the holes cave in, you need to water the soil more before proceeding. Meanwhile another person digs up some of the transplants from the nursery bed and transfers them to a small bucket containing an inch or so of water. We make useful little buckets from one-gallon (four-liter) plastic jugs with the top cut off. A rope handle knotted into holes at the top of the new bucket makes it easy to carry. Resist any temptation to trim either the roots or the tops of the leeks.
To transplant, take a leek, shake it free from its neighbors and decide whether to plant it. Discard the ones thinner than pencil leads. If the plant is a good size and looks healthy, twirl it as you lower it into the hole to prevent the roots folding back on the plant and pointing at the sky — they need to grow downwards. This works best if the roots are still wet and muddy from the water bucket. Bobbing the plant up and down as you settle it in the hole will help a transplant that has slightly bunched roots. If at first you don’t succeed, remove the plant from the hole, dip it back in the water and try again. Soon you will develop this quirky planting skill, and will be able to move along the row at a good clip. Ideally the tops of the leaves will poke out of the furrow, not more.Get the depth of the hole-making adjusted to suit the prevailing plant height. This creates the depth for growing a long white shank. Surprising as it may sound, it is not necessary or desirable to fill the holes with soil (you don’t want to bury the seedlings). The soil fills in naturally as the plants become tall enough to survive the depth.
Next someone gently waters each hole, either from a low-pressure hose, watering can or using an overhead sprinkler, once everyone else is out of range. The goal is to water the plant roots, adding only a little soil to each hole. The shelter of the hole helps the plant get over the transplant shock, and because leeks have slender tough leaves, they do not lose a lot of water by transpiration. This means that transplanting in quite hot weather is possible, as is transplanting in the mornings.
Onto a completely different subject: the 17-year cicadas. I heard a radio interview and read an article in a local paper, The Hook, about Jackson Landers the Charlottesville author of Eating Aliens, with whom I shared the platform at the Virginia Festival of the Book in March. He spoke about eating the cicadas (not his usual quarry, because these are native insects, not aliens). He’s also on YouTube. He inspired me to try one (given that we only get the chance once every 17 years). I ate it straight up, after rinsing. I chose one that looked recently dead. It wasn’t unpleasant – a mild flavor and a creamy texture. I did wish I’d removed the wings and legs first. I spat out the fibrous bits, but it was no worse than an over-mature snap peas pod. The adult cicadas are dying off now, and the decibel level has dropped.
I gave a presentation at the VABF Farm School at J Sergeant Reynolds college, Goochland, VA, with Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange on Monday evening (3/18). It was one of three classes on Sustainable Farming Practices. You can see my half here:
Between us, we covered garden planning, record keeping, crop rotations, succession cropping, storing seed and doing a seed inventory, (mostly me). And production efficiencies, online planning tools, growing healthy plants, seed growing and ripeness indicators (mostly Ira). 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. It’s a six week comprehensive program (Monday evenings from 6:00-9:00pm)covering:
Introduction to Whole Farm Planning
Sustainable Farming Practices
Holistic Business Management
And yesterday, Thursday March 21st, I spoke at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia.I talked about the process of writing my book Sustainable Market Farming, who I wrote the book for, the gaps in the available books about ecological vegetable production that caused me to write it, and about my experience growing vegetables sustainably to feed our community at Twin Oaks.My panel discussion, the Locavore track, was at the JMRL Public Library, 201 East Market Street.
What’s new in the garden? Not much! We got snow last Tuesday night, at least 7″. That’s a lot for us, especially in March. Then on Wednesday morning the power went out. Lots of trees and limbs fell on powerlines. I was part way through preparing a slide show on Sustainable Farming Practices for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Farm School for new and beginning farmers and ranchers. No chance of doing that. Or of gardening.
So I went to help our Dairy Crew hand milk five Dutch Belted cows. Usually they are machine-milked. Most people are not adept at hand-milking, so the job can take a long time. But I hand-milked a couple of Jersey cows at a community I was part of in England years ago, and milked goats at another. Hand-milking is one of those skills you don’t forget. Although my shoulder and arm muscles did complain! In between milkings I read a lot. I made use of my solar lantern from d.light, which had been sitting on my windowsill, waiting to be needed. Back in November I bought several of their smallest model (S2, $13.95) and gave most of them as gifts. 10% of the net proceeds of online purchases go to their Give Light Program, which provides solar lanterns to kids without electricity. They’re built to be easy to use as a flashlight or a task light or desk lamp in the fields or the home. The first evening I was able to use it for 3 hours! Next day, I can’t believe I forgot to put it back on the windowsill! Sigh!
As the snow started to melt, we were able to do some garden tasks. We’ve been pruning blueberries, redcurrants and grapes. Sunday and Monday were warm and melted most of the snow, but today it’s raining again. When will we ever get any tilling or disking done? We have planted absolutely no new crops yet this year! We scratched two beds of carrots from our spring plans, because we still have plenty of stored carrots, and we need to reduce the (theoretical) work load. Well, it’s a real work load, but theoretical while we can’t do it. Today I decided to scratch the bed of fava beans as 3/14 is our last date for planting here in central Virginia. Next to go will be the onions, if we can’t get to them soon. Bulbing of onions is controlled mostly by daylength (and a bit by temperature, which has been lower than usual). Soon they will start to make bulbs even if they are still in their seedbed in the hoophouse. Our last date for transplanting kale and collards is 4/1. I’m starting to think about scratching some of those. We won’t be able to make up for all the lost time, and there’s no point in doing a load of work for what, by then, could be a very short-lived crop. In May it gets hot and kale and collards start to bolt. Mid-June is the latest they ever survive. We’d do better focusing on our broccoli and cabbage.
Enough moaning! Time to get back to work preparing for the Farm School presentation and the Virginia Festival of the Book. Come and see me Thursday March 21 at 6-7pm at the downtown public library, Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ll be on the Locavore Panel with Jackson Landers. See my Festival of the Book post at the top of my blog page.
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.
I’ve just received confirmation that 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 CitySpace, 100 5th St NE. I’ll post more when I have more information.
I’ve also agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming – no details yet.
Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.
After the Virginia Festival of the book in March, I have no workshops planned until September. 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 $15 up until January 31. (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