Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘garden planning’ Category

Provider bush beans

Provider bush beans

When you are planning your garden you need to plan when your harvest will begin. You don’t want to be off on vacation when the beans are ready to be picked. If you need the harvest by a certain date, knowing the days to maturity will help you decide on your planting date. It is good to know the length of harvest, also. Some crops will be picked all at once and some will be picked over a matter of weeks. My garden planning skills were put to the test this year as we planned for another wedding. Our youngest son, Luke, married the love of his life, Stephanie, on August 2. I was to provide the snap beans, lettuce, garlic, and some of the flowers. Stephanie and our daughter, Betsy, were growing the rest of the flowers. Stephanie and Luke grew all the potatoes and some of the other veggies, such as zucchini, and Betsy grew the cabbage that became the coleslaw for the wedding feast.

Normally, planning snap beans for an event is no problem for me. I like to plant Provider, a tried-and-true early variety. The problem is, when I sat down with the Plant/Harvest Schedule to chart when to plant and when to expect a harvest, the date I wanted to plant the Provider beans was right after we would be getting back from a week-long trip. That would be the trip to the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington and to Victoria, British Columbia. I did not want to worry about making sure I got that planting in. If something happened that delayed my time in the garden upon our return, I would have missed my window of opportunity. I was going to have to reach out of my comfort zone and plant another variety.

I checked the seed catalogs for a variety that took a week longer than Provider to mature. High Mowing listed Provider at 50 days and Jade at 55 days. I remember a market grower friend commenting favorably about Jade at one time, so I ordered Jade. I thought it would be good to grow some yellow wax beans, also, since the wedding colors were green and yellow. It had been a long time since I grew wax beans, but I remembered them to take longer to mature and were usually curled when I grew them in my market garden. High Mowing listed Gold Rush Yellow Wax beans with the same 55 days to maturity as Jade and they were straight beans; just what I was looking for. The Jade and Gold Rush beans were planted on May 29, the day before we left on the trip.

Provider may be listed at 50 days, but I usually begin harvesting six weeks (42 days) after planting and harvest over a two week period, with a little smaller harvest for the first and last pickings, but the yield is generally spread out. In Grow a Sustainable Diet, I encourage you to grow for yourself and learn the ins-and-outs of the crops and varieties before you grow to sell to others. Knowing the ins-and-outs of the varieties is important. At 47 days after planting, the Gold Rush beans were ready and I picked about two-thirds of the total harvest that day. Now that I look back at the seed catalog, I see that “concentrated harvest period” was in the description for Gold Rush. Luckily the caterer was willing to take the vegetables early. I also harvested some of the Jade beans that day. At 54 days after planting I harvested two-thirds of what would be the total harvest for the Jade beans. The last harvest of both varieties was at 58 days.

Since the caterer didn’t mind the vegetables arriving early, it all worked out. For Betsy’s wedding four years ago, our friend Molly catered the event and the harvest was more closely planned; vegetables arriving early would have been a big inconvenience. Even though the days to maturity are listed in the seed catalog or on the packets, it is only an approximate time. Learn what the days to maturity are in your garden for the varieties you choose. Have at least one variety of each crop that you can use to compare new varieties to, such as I did with Provider beans. Make a note of the length of harvest and nuances, such as matures all at one time, color, shape (curled beans or straight), and any other characteristics that might be important some day. This information will be extremely helpful to you if you needed to grow food for a certain event; and certainly if you needed  to satisfy customers.

yellow and green canned snap bensGrowing both colors of beans again made me want to include that in my plan for next year. My signature dish is a cold bean salad. I include cowpeas that I always have as dried beans in the pantry and green beans which are either fresh from the garden or canned. To that I add anything I can think of from the garden and a vinaigrette. I used some of the Gold Rush beans in the bean salad that I made for the rehearsal dinner. I believe next year I will can green and yellow beans together especially to have on hand for the bean salad. I was able to put up some of the extra this year.

Luke and Steph at table - BLOGFlowers are not my specialty, but the bride wanted zinnias and they are easy to grow and a sure thing to have in August. Stephanie likes puffy flowers and chose Teddy Bear sunflowers, in addition to the zinnias. It is usually hard to find days to maturity for flowers, but these were listed as maturing at 60 days. I didn’t want to plant them too early and miss the blooms for the wedding. Unfortunately, I waited a little too long. They didn’t begin blooming until a few days after the wedding. Not to worry, there were many more things in the yard blooming that we could add, including black-eyed Susans, tansy, and Rose of Sharon, that we hadn’t planned on. Stephanie had two sunflowers ready by August 2 and the rest of her planting bloomed while they were on their honeymoon. Besides the happy bride and groom, in the photo you can see Stephanie’s bouquet, the table centerpieces with flowers, and their dinner plates full of homegrown food.

The wedding was wonderful. It took some planning to have the produce ready at the right time, but the more you do that, even for your own dinner table, the easier it gets. If something comes up, such as the trip for us, you will have the skills and knowledge to take it in stride. I hope your garden is producing well and that you are finding time to share it with others this summer.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

4.1 How Much To Grow - BLOGHow Much to Grow is the title of Chapter 4 in Grow a Sustainable Diet. If your garden is small and whatever you get from it is a welcome addition to your table, you might not be concerned with exactly how many pounds are produced of anything. You are just happy to have homegrown food in your meals. If you want to be able to predict how much your harvest will be so you can plan to have a certain amount for your family to eat, you can put pencil to paper now and do some calculating.

butternut squash

butternut squash

Chapter 4 contains a worksheet (you see part of it here) to help with those calculations. (There is a link in the book that will take you to PDFs of all the worksheets so you can print them out.) Whether you are trying to decide how much to grow for your family or for your CSA, the process is the same. Decide how much you want for each week and how many weeks you will be eating it, or in the case of a CSA, how many weeks you need to put it in the CSA boxes. If you have no idea how many pounds of something you need, go to the grocery store and pick out a reasonable quantity for a meal in the produce department. Weigh it on the scale that is right there. Multiply that weight by how many meals per week that item will supply and you have the pounds needed per week. The number of weeks you want to eat something could be only the weeks it is fresh from the garden, or every week of the year if you are preserving for eating out of season. Rather than the weight, you may need to know the count; how many of something you will have, such as butternut squash. Sometimes you can find that information in the seed catalogs, and sometimes not. From my experience, I know that I can expect about 4 squash per plant. If the catalog doesn’t have that information for the variety you choose, read the description of all the varieties, as well as the specifics for each crop to get an estimate.

Finding out how much is needed is the easy part. You need to know how much you can grow in your area and pounds/100 ft² is a good universal measure to use. How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons has Master Charts that can help you with that. The Master Charts have columns for Biointensive yields and for the US Average for each crop. Use those figures as guidelines. Your yield will depend on many factors, including your soil, climate, and management style. You might already know how much you can harvest in the area planted. If not, this exercise should encourage you to record your harvests this year, at least for the crops you are most interested in.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Mississippi Silver cowpeas

Remember the charts are only guidelines. For the Biointensive yield, the Master Charts give three numbers; the beginning yield that you could expect getting at some time, the intermediate yield that could be reached after good soil building, and a high yield that few might reach. The Biointensive yield of winter squash is shown as 50/100/350. There is no US Average shown in the Master Charts, but my research determines that number to be 49.5 pounds/100 ft². The target yield I use for butternut squash is 150 pounds/100 ft². I have reached that yield and sometimes higher in my garden. For cowpeas, the Biointensive yield is 2.4/4/5.9. The US Yield of cowpeas isn’t shown, but through my research I’ve determined it to be 2.6 pounds. I live in a great climate for cowpeas and have found I can use 5 pounds/100 ft² as my target yield. On the other hand, I would love to plan on getting 100 pounds/100 ft² regularly with my potatoes, but the voles keep the yield below that. The Biointensive yield for potatoes is 100/200/780 and the US Average is 84.2. Depending on the variety, I don’t always reach the low Biointensive yield of 100 pounds for tomatoes. The US Average for tomatoes is 67 pounds for fresh and 153.4 pounds for processing tomatoes per 100 ft².

From your garden map you will know how much space you have available. My post Making a Garden Map can help you with that. It becomes a balancing act, deciding how much space to allot for each crop. Having a target yield makes planning easier. Your target yield may need to be adjusted from year to year, but at least you have someplace to start from. Between cover crops and food crops, plan to have your beds full all year. Immediately after your early spring crops are harvested, plant the next crop. Leaving the beds empty is an invitation for Mother Nature to plant her favorites, which we tend to think of as weeds.

The rest of the page of the How Much to Grow worksheet that you don’t see is a space for comments and three columns for the amount of calories, protein, and calcium per pound of food. It is always good to leave space for comments—something about that crop you want to remember. Since I keep records for my certification as a GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Minifarming teacher, I am interested in the amount of calories, protein, and calcium in each crop. There might be other things that you want to record in those additional columns.

Use this information to enhance what you are doing, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep track of what you can. As you find you have more questions, add the appropriate recordkeeping to your system. Most importantly—have fun in your garden this year!Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

melting snow 2-18-14A recent snowfall gave me an opportunity to take some new photos. Things can come and go right before our eyes, and if we don’t take the time to look carefully we’ll never see them. I like to take photos of the snow melting to remind me of the variations in soil temperature and the micro-climates we have everywhere. I mentioned soil temperature in my post on Phenology. This garden photo was taken on February 18. The weather was warming and the first place the snow began to melt was on the south side of my garden beds, which run from east to west. When I see this in late winter I’m reminded of the idea I’ve always had in the back of my head to make the soil on a garden bed slant towards the south. This could be done in the fall and the bed would be ready early in the spring, or even late winter, for planting. The soil would warm first on the whole bed. With a cold frame on top, things could get off to a really good start.

melting snow in coldframeSo far, however, my coldframes have stayed on flat ground. The covers slant, since the front (south) side is 8” tall and the back (north) side is 12” tall. On February 20 I took this photo of the coldframe which had no cover for the winter because it wasn’t planted. The snow had melted everywhere except the places with the most shade. Since the sun is so low in the sky during these winter months, it casts a longer shadow. If I would have had a cover on that coldframe, the snow would surely have melted everywhere in there. However, the front of the box would still be shading the strip of soil beside it. The sides of the box cast a shadow, also, but only for part of the day. The east side (foreground) is shaded in the morning and the west side is shaded in the afternoon. The strip to the south (with snow) stays shaded all day until spring when the sun is sufficiently high enough in the sky to peek over the edge all day.

You could solve that problem by using a clear plastic row cover. With clear plastic coming all the way to the ground you don’t have that shaded area on the inside; however, the structure itself will shade just to the north. You can see that by the row cover in the topmost part of the coldframe photo. The area to the north of the coldframe is also left with a bit of snow where it is shaded. I don’t have plans to plant anything directly to the north of these two structures, but it is interesting to note. When I plant seeds in the coldframe I plant many rows. I run these rows across the short way, north-to-south. If that bit of shade on the inside is enough to affect anything, it won’t affect all of one thing.

melting snow by board fenceOther interesting snow / shade spots are to the north of our board fence. You would think that since there is space between the boards, the sun would reach through. There is also a line of snow to the north of the hazelnut hedge in the upper left of that fence photo. There is a wire fence there and the hazelnut trees have lost their leaves, but it is still enough to leave a snow line.

You don’t have to have snow to notice the shaded areas, but it is a whole lot easier. When I took the first photos on February 18 the snow had melted in the front yard, but not in the back yard (north side of the house). On February 20 when I was out with the camera I noticed that half the snow had melted in the backyard. There was still snow in the area that showed up as a shadow on the snow in my photos two days earlier. Last summer I paid particular attention to the sun and shade there in the flower bed near the house (very last place for the snow to melt). I was looking for a space to plant a few cotton plants that I wanted to keep separate from my other cotton. I determined that the sun was high enough, and would be that way long enough, for the cotton. It was with careful consideration that I put those cotton plants there. That would have worked, too, except that the summer was extremely cloudy and even the cotton that was planted in the sunniest part of the garden didn’t mature. Oh well.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the days getting longer and spring will be here before you know it. The sun will cross the sky a little higher each day, making the shadows not quite so long. If you pay attention to the little nuances occurring in your garden you will be off to a good beginning as you start your seeds and set out transplants.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

Come out and see me at my book signing on Saturday, February 22 at Ashland Coffee and Tea, Ashland, VA 23005. It is a good treatment for the spring fever you will have by the weekend with the warming trend coming. Find more upcoming events at http://homeplaceearth.com/5.html.

Book Signing and Movies-flyer-FACEBOOK

Read Full Post »

williams pride in full bloom 2013 - closeup-BLOG

Williams Pride apple blossoms

What you see in the photo is blossoms on a Williams Pride apple tree. The data stored automatically from my digital camera says that photo was taken on April 16, 2013. What a handy thing that is for the camera to record that information! I surely didn’t at the time. What difference does it make that I know when that happened? Knowing when the bushes and trees in your yard bloom, drop petals, and whatever else they do, helps you to know when the time is right for planting your vegetable crops without looking at the calendar. The study of recurring plant and animal life cycles and their relationship to weather is called phenology. By studying these things, we can learn how our climate is changing from year to year and, more specifically, we can know how things are doing this year. Are things blooming later than usual? In that case you wouldn’t want to be too anxious and plant your vegetable crops earlier than normal. My friends, Pam Dawling and Ira Wallace, keep phenology records of what is happening at their farms in Louisa County, Virginia. In her book, Sustainable Market Farming, Pam says that falling apple blossoms are said to be a phenological sign that conditions are good for transplanting celery and celeriac. She goes on to say that the time to plant is after the last frost and the weather has settled. For planning purposes, I use April 26 as the date for my last expected frost. I imagine those petals would have been dropping by then. You can read more about what Pam has to say about phenology and even see the chart she keeps for the gardens at Twin Oaks Community at http://sustainablemarketfarming.com/tag/phenology/. Ira mentions phenological signs in her book Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. In this era of climate change, the date on the calendar of when to plant things will gradually shift, but nature will already be on top of it.

The temperature of the soil is also an indicator of when to plant. In fact, soil temperature has a lot to do with the phenological signs I just mentioned. Just because the air temperature has warmed up, doesn’t mean the soil is ready for seeds and plants. Over the years I’ve noticed that we have a warm week in the first half of April. The temperature might even soar into the 80’s. I’ve also noticed that in the next couple weeks after that, April will deliver cold temperatures before the weather settles. I taught at a community college and no matter how much I talked about expected last frost dates (and that it wasn’t until late in April in our area), some of my students would plant warm weather crops during those early warm days. A new farmer once asked me when I planted summer squash and snap beans. When I replied after April 26, he said he got that same answer from a neighbor. It was that warm spell in early April and he had just planted his warm weather crops. He thought I was being too cautious. I advised him to only plant early what he was prepared to lose and to plant his main crop when the soil was warmer.  Of course, many farmers have high tunnels and use row covers now to get a head start on planting. They are warming the soil to prepare the right conditions for the seeds and transplants.

compost thermometer in kale bed

compost thermometer in kale bed

You can check the soil temperature by putting the probe of a thermometer a few inches into the soil. I use a compost thermometer for that. It has a long stem that serves two purposes. I can read it without bending down so far and I can find it when I need it. I often leave it in a garden bed or a coldframe so I know where it is. I can readily know the temperature in that spot and pick it up to move it to a new location. I have a thermometer I keep in my kitchen that I bought from a cheesemaking supplier. I use it when I make yogurt, but it would do to check my soil. You can buy an inexpensive (about $7) thermometer at the grocery store. Those thermometers even come with a plastic sleeve to protect the stem. That would do fine to check your soil temperature. As long as you are keeping records of phenological signs, you might record the soil temperature at the same time. Keep in mind that it will vary if you are checking it at different times of the day or in different locations, so be consistent. Nancy Bubel’s book The New Seed Starters Handbook contains helpful charts on Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination, the Number of Days for Vegetable Seeds to Emerge at Different Temperatures, and the Percentage of Normal Vegetable Seedlings Produced at Different Temperatures.

ladybug on cowpea plant

ladybug on cowpea plant

Knowing what the insects and birds are doing should be part of your phenological records. If you haven’t gotten your record keeping set up before things start blooming and insects and birds start appearing, take photos and let your camera record the date for you, if your camera does that. If insects are on a plant, by taking the photo, you will have a visual record of the insect and of plants they like, whether they are beneficial insects or harmful ones. This photo shows a ladybug on a cowpea plant. I’ve found other beneficials attracted to the cowpeas. As I write this, we are in the grip of weather colder than normal, even for winter here. Before it hit, someone told me she knew a weather event was coming because she saw bluebirds at her bird feeder. Since bluebirds eat insects, they were usually not visitors to her feeder.

At the very least, even if you never record any of these things, start to notice them. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will become more in tune to where you are and what is going on around you. There is a whole other world available to you, right in your garden. All you have to do is take the time to noticeHomeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

after the frost foodThe first hard frost of fall has come. I think it happened here on October 24. I can’t say for sure because I was in Ohio visiting family. I knew the seasons would be changing in the eight days I would be gone. In preparation for leaving I was busy cleaning up the garden, which goes hand in hand with building compost piles, and planting cover crops. When I returned on October 30 the leaves on the trees had changed colors and the newly planted cover crop seeds had sprouted.

When the first hard frost comes in the fall, everything changes in the garden. The pepper plants that were so lush the day before are now wilted, along with so many other warm weather crops. That doesn’t mean your garden is finished for the season, however. This is the time for the cold weather crops to take center stage. I look forward to the frost bringing out the sweetness in the carrots and greens. In fact, I don’t worry about growing carrots to harvest in the summer anymore because we are so spoiled with the ones we have in the cold months. For the next six months we will have sweet carrots fresh from the garden. I’ve previously written about how I grow my winter carrots.

Other fall and winter crops that we eat fresh from the garden are beets, Jerusalem artichokes, collards, kale, chard, and parsley.  There are more root crops that I could add to the list, if I had grown them this year. Those crops are turnips, Daikon radish, and kohlrabi. No doubt, some of my readers could add more choices. With onions and garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and peanuts from stored harvests, there is a wealth of food one can eat without further preservation. Our winters here in Zone 7 are not so mild that we don’t need protection for the greens if we want to have a continual harvest. Even at that, picking once a week is what to expect, and less frequently during the weeks of the least daylight, so more area needs to be planted for winter harvest than needed for a spring planting.

kale-row cover-carrots-BLOGI don’t cover the carrots and beets with anything so as not to encourage voles to move in. They are planted early enough to be mature now, so only need to be held in cold storage in the soil. For protection from harsh winter weather for the greens I use low tunnels made from plastic pipe and old greenhouse plastic. This type of cover is easy to erect. The ½” plastic pipe can be inserted into larger size plastic pipe stuck in the ground or put over pieces of rebar. The rebar and larger plastic pipe is cut to 2’ lengths and put half in and half out of the ground. If you leave rebar in the ground without a hoop over it, be sure to cover it with a plastic bottle, piece of plastic pipe, or an old tennis ball. You don’t want anyone to get hurt if they stumble upon it. You can find rebar precut to various lengths in the building supply stores near the cement blocks. Plastic pipe comes in 10’ lengths. I cut it to 8’ to form a hoop over a 4’ wide bed. These pipe structures also have a pipe across the top and a cord (anchored to the bottom of the hoops) that goes over the plastic cover to keep it in place. More details about that are at my blog post Managing a Cold Frame, Low Tunnel, or Mini-greenhouse. The plastic is held to the end hoops with clips made especially for that purpose. They are nice to have.

row cover clip

row cover clip

Having this bounty of food available in my garden all winter is the result of careful planning done sometimes a year in advance. To have the cabbage family greens at a good size now is sometimes a challenge, since they would have been started during hot weather. I have to keep a vigilant watch to pick off cabbage worms and harlequin bugs during those weeks. The seeds are started in the coldframe, not because they need protection, but because the coldframes are my seed starting areas. I do, however, sometimes cover the coldframe with a shadecloth if the weather is too hot and sunny. Once established, the best plants are transplanted to the garden beds. The winter covers don’t go on until cold weather hits. I’m just now bringing the covers out. A big advantage of using this type of low cover, rather than a greenhouse, is that the covers are easily added, removed, or vented, allowing the plants to get the full benefit of the natural climate, including the rain.

If you don’t have this variety of food available in your garden after the frost, and would like to, start making notes now and work on your garden plan to make it happen next year. Go ahead and prepare a bed and put a cover on it now, or at least put up the hoops and be ready for a cover. In late winter you can use it to get off to an early start. Put the cover on two weeks before your planting time to warm the soil. When my community college students planned a season extension structure for their projects, many of them constructed their designs, but put in transplants and seeds too late for a fall or winter harvest. However, often they found they had a very early spring harvest from those plants, especially with things like spinach. If you have the time and inclination to prepare now, it will put you one step ahead for early planting next spring.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

Grant Olson, education coordinator of Seed Savers Exchange

Grant Olson, education coordinator of Seed Savers Exchange

Sunday (September 8, 2013) I attended the first ever gathering of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) members in the southeast region of the U.S. It made for a busy weekend, since some of us had been involved in the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello the previous day or two. In fact, that is why this SSE event was scheduled for this particular day, thinking that it would be convenient for folks who had traveled to the Heritage Harvest Festival. It turned out that the majority of the more than 85 people present showed up just for this. I don’t have any specifics, but I know that some came from afar. I should have paid more attention to the out-of-state license plates that I saw in the parking area, but I do know that some of the other states represented besides Virginia were Ohio, Maryland, and North Carolina. I’m sure there were more. This meeting was the brainchild of Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Ira’s passion is connecting folks with seed saving and everything it involves.

Grant Olson, education coordinator at SSE, gave a presentation about stories behind the seeds. There is a lot of talk about saving seeds and how to do that, but it is also important to save the stories that go with the seeds. That is part of our heritage. Preserving the stories is preserving our cultural history, besides the genetics of the seeds. Preserving the stories is a big part of what Seed Savers Exchange is all about. In addition, when you save a particular variety, you also preserve the cuisine that has developed around it. Seed Savers Exchange publishes a seed catalog that offers only a fraction of the seed varieties that they preserve. Many more varieties can be found in the yearbook that they publish each year. The yearbook lists varieties that are offered by members. Anyone can order seeds from the catalog, but the print copy of the yearbook is only offered to SSE members. However, a peek into the yearbook online is now available to everyone and can be accessed at https://exchange.seedsavers.org. If you are not a member you can see what’s there, but you can’t see who is offering it. A notice on this website indicates there will be a webinar on how to use the new online exchange on September 18, 2013. This new database is searchable by geographical area, variety, and other specifics. The webinar at http://www.seedsavers.org/Education/Webinar-Archive/#yearbook shows how to use the print yearbook. Membership in SSE helps them continue their work. If you are not a member, a peek at the yearbook just might entice you to join. Members receive the quarterly publication The Heritage Farm Companion.

Edmund speaking to seed savers at Twin Oaks.

Edmund speaking to seed savers at Twin Oaks.

Member Craig LeHoullier spoke after Grant. He also mentioned reuniting people with their heritage through what we grow and eat. A big concern of Craig’s (and mine) is how to keep the momentum going in seed saving. There are too many accounts of long-time seed savers who are getting on in years, or their life has changed, and they need to turn over the responsibility of their seed collections to someone else. Seed Savers Exchange can’t do it all. Connecting more seed savers, such as with this meeting, and developing regional hubs would be a start for not letting these collections disappear. I have begun to do some research on seed libraries and believe they may be an ideal place to help fill this need. Of course, these efforts involve the work of many gardeners, such as you, to take care to follow the necessary guidelines to carry on the traits needed for each variety.

Irena explaining techniques to seed savers.

Irena explaining techniques to seed savers.

The afternoon was spent touring farms in Louisa County, VA. This part of the day was sponsored by the Virginia Association of Biological Farming. There were five farms on the list, but my daughter and I only made it to three. These were all farms that grow seed on a commercial scale for seed catalogs. First up was Twin Oaks Community. Edmund Frost showed us around the seed fields and cut open a watermelon that we ate on the spot. Our visit with Edmund was about seed saving, but if you would like to know more about how they grow enough food to feed the 100 residents of Twin Oaks, check out Pam Dawling’s book Sustainable Market Gardening. Pam heads up the food garden at Twin Oaks.

Ira in the flower garden at Acorn.

Ira in the flower garden at Acorn.

The next stop was Acorn Community, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Irena Hallowell was our tour guide, explaining seed saving techniques and encouraging us to sample things as we went along. Ira Wallace led us to the flower gardens and demonstrated saving flower seeds using seed screens. An added treat was seeing the progress on the new building being constructed at Acorn.

Alexis explaining the drying cabinet.

Alexis explaining the drying cabinet.

The last stop we had time for was Living Energy Farm, a farm being developed with the goal of being free of fossil fuel. It was a really busy day for them, managing tour visitors in the midst of laying cement block for the foundation of their first house on the property. Nevertheless, Alexis Zeigler , author of Integrated Activism, showed us the seed fields and their drying shed. The fan for the drying cabinet you see in the picture is powered by the sun. The farms we had to miss are All Farm Organics (no website) and Forrest Green Farm. At All Farm Organics William Hale grows grain, including rye and popcorn, for seed companies and makes compost on a commercial scale for his use and to sell. The diversity at Forrest Green Farm includes an educational component. If we had had time to get there, I believe we would have seen a demonstration on saving seeds from herbs.

It was a good day. We hung out with old friends and met some new ones. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a southeast regional gathering of seed savers. We need gatherings like this in every region. Most of us have a vision of how we would like the earth to be. Every bite we take and every action we make determines how the earth is used to produce our food. We are the creators of our future—a future that needs to include seed saving.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

Why You Should Save Seeds

saved seedsI assume everyone has their favorite seed company, or several favorites. However, as good as these sources are, they might not always be there for you. Even if the company exists, the varieties it carries might not. If they don’t grow the seed themselves, their suppliers, even if they are excellent farmers, could suffer crop failure from time to time. Or, the variety is dropped from the catalog due to low sales. What do you do then, if that variety was the pride of your garden? Did you ever consider saving seed yourself from the varieties you grow? Providing what we are talking about is open-pollinated varieties, you could have grown out a portion of your crop to seed yourself, insuring future harvests.

Open-pollinated varieties are those that breed true, providing they have not cross-pollinated with something else. The parents are the same variety. You would have trouble saving seed from hybrid varieties, but not because they won’t germinate and grow. The parents of hybrids are from two different varieties, crossed to produce an F1 (first generation) variety that has specific characteristics. With the mixed genetics, the offspring of these plants may not be the same. Remember the heredity diagrams from biology class in high school? There are dominant and recessive characteristics that may or may not appear in one generation, but pop up in another. It takes seven years of careful selection to de-hybridize a hybrid variety. In those seven years, you could have been working with an open-pollinated variety to get just what you want.

Getting just what you want to survive in the micro-climate of your garden is what you are after. If you buy seeds that are grown far from your garden year after year, it is like starting over all the time. If you save the seeds of what does best in your garden, you will be developing a strain of that variety that is particularly suited to your place. Personally, I’ve been looking at peppers that do well being started in a coldframe, rather than the warmer conditions indoors.

Worchester Indian Red Pole Lima Beans

Worchester Indian Red Pole Lima Beans

Some folks begin to save seeds when they are passed on to them by family, particularly when that family member has kept them alive for many generations. Saving seeds from one year to the next was once a way of life. When the immigrants came to this country, they often had seeds with them. I would think that the growing conditions would be different from where they came from. The seeds and plants that survived would have gradually become acclimated to the new land.

Saving money is as good a reason as any to save seeds. Not only is the cost of seeds going up, but so is the shipping. A few packets of seeds when you are starting out doesn’t put too much of a dent in your pocketbook, but as you begin to grow more of your food, you will need more variety and a larger quantity of seed.

If you have been gardening for awhile, maybe it is time to expand your gardening expertise and learn new skills. When you save seeds, you have to be aware of which varieties will cross, the timing of the harvest for seeds, how to get the seeds from the plant to your seed-saving container and how to store them so they will be viable for as long as possible. Learning new things keeps life interesting.

The last reason I have for saving seeds is a biggy. You’ve probably heard that major chemical companies, such as Monsanto, have taken a huge interest in having the rights to seeds so they can patent the genes. They have also bought up seed companies, then discontinued varieties, particularly the ones of regional significance. The major focus of these companies is to breed varieties that do well when used with their chemicals. They even change the genes, inserting genes that may not even be plant genes, let alone a variety of the plant that they are working with. These genetically engineered seeds may result in plants that are able to withstand being sprayed with herbicide or may resist predation by certain insects. This has resulted in weeds and insects that are resistant to their efforts; so around and around it goes. Any toxic effects all of that has on humans has not been considered as well as it should have.

These efforts by the chemical companies have nothing to do with flavor or nutrition; things you would be looking for in plant breeding for your family dinner table. As far as dealing with weeds and insects, if you have developed a sustainable, organic system, you already have those things under control. If you save seeds from your best plants, they obviously have survived the weed, insect, and climate pressure in your garden. Take a look around your garden now and decide what seeds you will be saving. Educate yourself from the many books available on the topic, so you will be ready when the time comes this year.

Enjoy the adventure!Homeplace Earth

 

Read Full Post »

trowels in old mailbox

trowels in old mailbox

I am a long-time subscriber to Growing For Market, a monthly publication for folks selling produce and other farm products. Although 2001 was my last year to sell produce, I kept my subscription up-to-date because I was teaching market growing at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. I left that position in May 2010, but still maintain my subscription because I continue to find the information helpful. When I read ‘Lean’ Principles Applied to a Farm by Ben Hartman in the May 2013 issue, the wheels in my head couldn’t stop spinning, reminding me of all the things that I had experienced along that line that are helpful to me.

You could search “lean business principles” on the internet and come up with lots of background information. In his article, Hartman explains how taking stock of what was happening on his farm, in the light of “lean” principles, helped him have a more efficient and profitable business. I remember hearing Joel Salatin, many years ago, speak about the importance of regularly reading books about business if you are involved in the business of farming. I know–people don’t like to think of mixing business and the pleasure of farming and gardening–but this is a way of examining what you are doing and making it better. The end result, hopefully, is a more relaxed and enjoyable you.

I urge anyone wanting to sell produce from their farm someday to learn to grow as much as they can of their total food needs first, fine-tuning the timing and quantity to their family’s needs. With a good garden plan, you will know what to expect and when to expect it. You’ll also learn how much you can produce in the area you are working with. When you do decide to grow for more than your family, you will have an idea of how much area you will need, when things will be ready and how much you would have to sell. You can also anticipate if you will need to change methods or add equipment. Your garden plan is your business plan for the business of managing the food production for your household. My DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan can help you with that. You might also take a look at my blog posts Keeping Garden Records and Making a Garden Map.

peanut plants in wood flats

peanut plants in wood flats

The first suggestion in Hartman’s article is to get rid of anything not necessary for your operation. I remember when I was a market grower and made the decision to standardize my operation and only use wooden flats that I’d made from recycled wood to start seeds. I had been using a variety of recycled plastic containers to start seeds in. What I cleaned out of my shed filled half of my 8’ long pickup bed. My shed was cleaner and I loved using the wooden flats.

garden map and sickle storage

garden map and sickle storage

“A place for everything and everything in its place” is a common mantra for anyone becoming better organized. It’s also important for a lean operation, whether for your business or household. I keep my garden maps on a clipboard and have found that if I hang it up, rather than leave it around the house or on my desk, I can find it much easier. I keep it on a nail on the side of a cabinet that I store seeds and garden supplies in. Just below it I hang my sickle, so that I know where it is and for safety reasons because it is so sharp. When I get a garden shed built, the sickle will live there. Some people go so far as to outline their tools on the wall where they are hanging up. That way if something is missing, they readily know what it is and can begin looking for it. I have an old mailbox in my garden to hold trowels and small garden tools. As long as I make sure to put them back there, I can find them in an instant.

The article mentioned keeping work stations clean. Having a defined work station in the garden is something that is often late in coming. Gardeners are too used to picking, then hauling everything to the house. You will get some ideas for making a work station for cleaning your produce in your garden from my post Garden Washing Station. Having a garden washing station allows me to wash and prepare the produce and load it onto the screens that go directly into my solar dryers. That food never enters the house until it is ready to be put away in jars as dried food. Water, dirt and trimmings stay in the garden.

Having a standardize measurement to compare each part of your operation, in this case different crops, is the best way to know what is profitable (in $ or in time) and what is not. The basic measurement I use is pounds harvested per hundred square feet. To take that further would be to factor in the months it took to reach that harvest. If you are growing to fill canning jars, you might measure the harvest in how many quarts filled — or as a market grower, how much money you can make per hour of harvesting. Eventually you realize you can’t do everything and will make decisions about what to keep on with and what not to do anymore. In a market operation, the amount of money to be made comes in high on the priorities for making those decisions. In a household operation, matters of the heart might be higher on the priorities list than potential income.

Another suggestion in the article was to “level the load” — spread out tasks over time, so as not to be overwhelmed. If you are already overwhelmed with a family and a garden, just imagine how it would be if you added selling produce to the mix. Begin now to look at what you are doing in all aspects of your life to see how you could adjust your tasks for a more even flow of your personal energy. Rules we seem to establish for ourselves, for whatever reasons, are not so rigid that they can’t be changed.  Sometimes it is only our minds that need changing — how we choose to perceive things.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of putting a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil. The frog stays there until it is cooked because it doesn’t realize what is happening. If you drop the frog into water that is already boiling, it will jump out. If the waters of your life are heating up, jump back now and take a look at what is going on and make some adjustments in what you are doing. You will be happier and so will your family and friends. Of course, everything doesn’t always go as planned and complications are bound to pop up. Somewhere I came across this saying — Life is not about weathering the storm, but dancing in the rain. I hope to find you dancing.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

MEN June-July 2013

Includes Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency.

To truly feed yourself from your garden, you need to grow staple crops. The current issue (June/July 2013) of Mother Earth News contains an article that I wrote about the subject. You can read Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency in the print magazine (where these things always look better) or online. The crops that I talk about are potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, wheat, peanuts, winter squash,  dry beans, cabbage, collards, and kale. There are two charts in this article that you might keep for reference. One chart shows suggested varieties of these crops for each region of the continental U.S.  The other chart is “Crop Yields and Calorie Density”. The information posted there is based on my article that appeared in the October/November 2012 issue, with the addition of calories produced. If you don’t have that issue, you can read that article, A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency, online. The four charts in that article show suggested yields and the number of half-cup servings you might expect per pound of food as it comes from the garden. There are many crops listed, with separate charts for vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. A fifth chart (online only) that is connected to that article shows yields and oil content of nuts and seeds. 

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency

Includes A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency.

Including staple crops in your garden plan is one thing; finding the variety for each crop that will do well in your climate, that also fits well with your management schedule, is quite another. Besides depending on my own experience, I pored over catalogs and read variety descriptions and gardeners’ internet postings carefully to decide which varieties to include on the regional chart. Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was kind enough to go over the chart with me and make suggestions. It helped that we were both at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in early February and that our booths were right next to each other to afford us the time and opportunity for that discussion. In working on this staple crops article I met Eli Rogosa through email and telephone. She is the director of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy and provided the wheat varieties for the chart. You may have other varieties of these staple crops that do well for you in your garden. If so, I welcome you to post a comment with the crop variety and the general area where you are located. Your comments will be helpful to everyone. To my readers from outside these U.S. regions, I hope you take this opportunity to write a comment to share the varieties you are growing in your part of the world.

Building our personal and regional food supplies will take all of us sharing information and seeds as we develop a new food system independent of corporate America. If we are to succeed, we need to be active participants in the process. Even with the best information and seeds, the learning is in the doing. Get out in the garden and get growing. Your skills and knowledge will develop more each year. For the sake of us all, I wish you well.Homeplace Earth

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 368 other followers

%d bloggers like this: