I will be at the the Ashland Farmers Market on Saturday, May 3, from 9am-noon with my books and DVDs. I was one of the founding farmers of the market in 1999 and it has been nice to see how much the market has grown over the years. It will be exciting to be back on opening day 15 years later. After growing food to sell locally for 10 years, I left the markets after the 2001 season to focus on teaching and on exploring sustainable food production from the garden all the way to the table. In the years since, my students have been customers, vendors, and market managers at the Ashland Market and at many more markets around the state.
When I was selling at the Ashland Market, and even before that, people would often approach me with questions about organic growing. I began to teach out of self-defense. I was instrumental in developing the Sustainable Agriculture program at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland and taught there from 1999-2010. My daughter, Betsy Trice, teaches those courses now.
I developed the DVDs about garden planning and cover crops from what I was teaching. They are part of the curriculum at the college and are great for people to use as teaching tools for themselves or with groups. My book Grow a Sustainable Diet is also a teaching tool. When you read it I hope you feel like I was right there with you. Just as if you were in my class, there are worksheets to use and references to point you to more information on many topics.
The Ashland Farmers Market is in Ashland, Virginia at 121 Thompson St, behind the Town Hall. See you there on Saturday!
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Today is Earth Day, so zero waste events are a good thing to talk about. Imagine having an event with a large number of people and having no waste! That is my idea of something called a zero waste event. Others may have alternate ideas, such as sorting out the recyclables and compostables before taking the rest to the landfill, but that’s a start. When I taught at the community college one of the projects I had my students do was to write a paper on the composting topic of their choice from my list of six. The topics were (1) institutional food wastes, (2) animal carcass composting, (3) manure management, (4) bioremediation, (5) construction and demolition debris, and (6) zero waste events. At the time I chose those topics there was little information on many of them and I gave them articles from BioCycle magazine to get them started.
I was reminded of that when I attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC recently. Always looking out for the environment, Mother Earth News is careful when it comes to putting on their Fairs. Instead of single trash barrels, there were three containers in each spot. As you can see in the photo, each had a sign identifying what to put where. There was a place to deposit things destined for recycling, composting, or the landfill. The signs, lid tops, and plastic bag liners were color coded to further keep things straight. The signs indicated this was managed by Danny’s Dumpster. I didn’t find Danny, but when I spotted one of his employees I stopped him to ask some questions. Danny’s Dumpster works with businesses and events on a regular basis. They even have their own composting facility and sell compost. Their website says that Danny’s Dumpster specializes in waste reduction while striving to make environmentally responsible decisions both affordable and convenient. Affordable and convenient are what everyone has been waiting for. Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t want to go out of their way or spend extra money to recycle. It will be nice to see this become the way of all trash haulers.
This business is beginning to work with schools to take their cafeteria waste. In the mid-1990’s I volunteered with the garden program at my children’s elementary school and pioneered composting the cafeteria waste right at the school. The students put their food waste and paper napkins into the recycle bins and two students were assigned to empty the bins into the compost piles each day, along with leaves for the needed carbon. It worked great, but not too many adults really understood the importance of what we were doing, or the necessity. That system operated for the four years I was a volunteer, but didn’t continue more than about a year after that. My experience at the school made me realize that I needed to devote my time to teaching adults so that more of them would understand, putting more people out there to teach the children and others. Those elementary school students are adults now. They know this can work because they were doing it way back when. Maybe they’ll be the ones to make a difference in their communities.
What are you throwing away? Each household should sort its own waste and try to have less (or none). A compost pile can take care of the food scraps, but there are lots of other waste items to contend with. When food goes from the garden to the table, there are no containers to dispose of. Furthermore, when it is preserved at home, the containers that are required can be used over and over. I still use canning jars I bought 40 years ago. Packaging is a big waste. Bringing less stuff home of any kind will reduce the packaging you have to throw away. In your household can you have a zero waste event and really make it zero waste? We worked with that goal in mind when our daughter got married in 2010. We came close with less than a full bag of trash for the landfill. You can read what we did at http://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/homegrown-wedding/.
It is encouraging to see how much the subjects I assigned are in the news in the years since I first gave my students that project. Animal carcass composting was thought to be quite an unusual subject at the time and much of the available information was about poultry farms composting, rather than incinerating, dead chickens, although composting roadkill was the subject of a BioCycle article. Virginia now has a composting program primarily for deer killed on I-81 in the western part of the state. The resulting finished compost will be used in landscape maintenance. Demolition debris is being separated and recycled. Brown fields are being cleaned up with bioremediation. As a society we are beginning to take more of a holistic approach to what we do, taking into account the complete cycle of our resources and our actions. There just might be hope for the world after all.
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I didn’t have honeybees in 2013 because they had died out over the winter. Many beekeepers in my bee club—the Ashland Virginia Beekeepers Association– suffered losses then. I had three hives in 2012, but going into the winter I knew one was weak and I would probably lose it. I was so busy working on Grow a Sustainable Diet, I decided not to look for replacements last spring. Working on Seed Libraries and other means of keeping seeds in the hands of the people is keeping me busy this year—deadline is July 1—but I didn’t want to go another year without bees. Since I knew ahead of time that I would need bees, I ordered them in December. A friend in the Ashland Beekeepers picks them up each year in Georgia. I would have liked to have gotten local bees, but this was easier than searching them out.
The beeyard sat empty of bees all last year and the wax moths moved in, doing damage to the wax in the frames. Recently on a warm Saturday I took everything apart and put the best back together in two hives to get ready for the newcomers. I prepared one deep box for each package of bees. The first photo shows those hives with the bees safely inside. Soon it will be time to add another deep super to those hives and after that I will need to put a honey super on. Instead of putting everything away in the shed, I cleaned things up and prepared what looks like another hive right in the beeyard. That tall stack has the deep boxes I will need and a honey super for each hive. Not only did I not have to put them in the shed now, I won’t have to drag those boxes out there when I need them.
Knowing what it is like when I move boxes around, I thought I’d put an old metal wagon in the beeyard. The tires are beginning to rot and it is best left in one place, making a perfect bench for setting boxes on. I placed a deep hive body on the wagon with a piece of plywood on top. Now when I am working with the hives, I have a place to set any frames that I take out. The piece of plywood keeps the weather off the box. When I am working with the frames, I’ll put the plywood under the box. If the queen is on the frame I put in there, there will be no worries that she would drop off the frame undetected with the plywood on the bottom. The box is brown because it was painted that color when I received it from a friend.
beeyard equipment storage
The extra honey supers on the stack currently have no frames in them. I thought that would be a great place to put things I need, such as my hive tool, bee brush, and Boardman feeders. I put a queen excluder under the honey supers to keep things from falling into the hive bodies.
medium frame that the bees have made into a deep
I prefer to use deep boxes for the bees and shallow boxes for the honey supers. It takes three medium boxes to house a cluster and only two deep boxes. Although the deep boxes are heavier, I like working with them, rather than handling more mediums. One year I received a nuc that had medium frames. When I transferred the frames to my deep boxes, the bees added comb to fill them out. You can see one of those frames in the photo. It goes to show you that the bees know what they are doing and will make comb without foundation, which is what they do in a top bar hive. Building a top bar hive is definitely on my to-do list. Unfortunately, we didn’t get one made this year in time for the new bees. It would be different learning to handle the comb from a top bar without the benefit of the wood frames, but seeing how substantial the comb is that the bees filled out, I look forward to it.
I don’t know why I never thought to make these changes in the beeyard before. The extra boxes and the wagon will make my life easier this summer. Having the extra Boardman feeders already came in handy. I usually put one jar of sugar water in a feeder on the front of each hive, which I did when the bees were installed on March 27. I didn’t have to hunt for the extra feeders when I took off the entrance reducers and added another jar to each hive. There is also a feeder inside each hive that is the size of a frame. We will be traveling this week and I want to fill up all the feeders before we leave so no one will have to tend to the bees while we’re gone. There will be other things our son will be tending to, but not the bees.
The Mother Earth News Fair near Asheville, NC is coming up this weekend. I’ll be there the whole time and will be speaking on Sunday, April 12 at 1pm. If you are looking for me other times, you might find me at the New Society Publishers booth or out and about the Fair. On the way there I’ll be visiting two libraries to give a presentation. I’ll be speaking at the Summers County Public Library in Hinton, WV on Wednesday, April 9 at 3pm and at the Washington County Public Library in Abingdon, VA on April 10 at 6pm. Each library is home to a seed library. Hope to see some of you at these events!
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How 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.
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
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!
Posted in biointensive, cowpeas, garden planning, Grow a Sustainable Diet, record keeping, winter squash | Tagged biointensive, butternut squash, Cindy Conner, cowpeas, garden planning, garden record keepingning, Grow a Sustainable Diet, how much to grow, winter squash | 4 Comments »
March 16, 2014 Lynchburg College, Lynchburg VA. Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round. Cindy will be joining Ira Wallace, author of Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast, and Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming, for a program from 10am-3pm in Hopwood Auditorium. Free admission. Seating is limited. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your seat. Books and DVDs available for sale.
April 9, 2014 Summers County Public Library, Hinton, WV. Cindy will be giving the presentation Grow a Sustainable Diet and signing her new book. 3pm. www.summers.lib.wv.us.
April 10, 2014 Washington County Public Library, Abingdon, VA. Cindy will be giving the presentation Grow a Sustainable Diet and signing her new book. 6pm. www.wcpl.net.
April 12-13, 2014 Mother Earth News Fair, Asheville, NC. Look for Cindy on the speaker schedule. www.motherearthnewsfair.com.
May 31-June 1, 2014 Mother Earth News Fair, Puyallup, WA. Look for Cindy on the speaker schedule. www.motherearthnewsfair.com
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A 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.
So 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.
Other 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.
Posted in coldframes, low tunnel, phenology, season extension, soil temperature | Tagged Cindy Conner, coldframes, low tunnels, phenology, season extension | Leave a Comment »