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Onions at harvest.

Onions at harvest.

Onions have been on my mind lately because I have been sorting my harvest. I make sure to harvest onions when their tops begin to fall over, but while the tops are still green. Each leaf is a covering over the onion, which protects it. When the tops dry, the outer covering can be removed to reveal a clean onion. Trim the roots and that is all there is to cleaning onions.

Before you can get to the cleaning part, you need to have a good way to dry the onions with their tops intact. If you do that, you can braid them. When you leave the onions in the garden for too long, the tops die and disappear. Not only do you not have the tops for braiding, but you may not even be able to find where the onions are.

A shady place is good to dry onions, and if you don’t have too many you could spread them out on your porch to dry. When I was growing a lot of onions to sell I would spread them out on the floor of our barn loft. In June and July it was available space, but in August I would be getting in hay for the cow that we had at the time, so I needed to sort and braid the onions in a timely manner.

Onions hung to dry after harvest.

Onions hung to dry after harvest.

Eventually I needed to come up with a better way. I decided to use some old welded wire fencing with 2”x 4” spaces. I made the fence into a circle and put it on two cement blocks for better air circulation. The onions are loaded onto the fencing with the bulbs in the middle of the circle and the tops on the outside. If the onions are too big to be put through the spaces from the outside, you need to reach the onion down to the inside and pull the top through to the outside. Keep that in mind if you are making such a circle. A good size is about 3’ high and 2’ wide.

Onions dried on this circle of fencing.

Onions dried on this circle of fencing.

Having this rest on the cement blocks works for good air circulation, but I’ve also hung it up by tying baling twine to two sides with loops to hang from nails in the rafters. This frees up floor space in addition to contributing to better air circulation. Once the tops are dry (it will take a few weeks) you can begin to sort. There is no hurry and you could leave them there for quite some time, but it is best to go through them to determine the ones that will keep the longest and the onions that need to be used soon.

I grow storage varieties because I want them to last as long as possible. Some of the sweeter varieties are not for storage and you will need to eat them or dry them soon. Even with the storage varieties, there are always some that need to be used before too long. I determine that by pressing with my thumb where the dry top comes out of the onion bulb. If there is no give, it is a keeper. If there is just a little give, those are the next best keepers. If I detect a softness there, I put those aside to use first.

I would use the onions that I knew were not long term keepers in cooking throughout the summer and in the spaghetti sauce I used to can. Now that I make spaghetti sauce from my solar dried tomatoes, I dry those “use first” onions in my solar food dryers for use later in the sauce. Preparation for that is easy—cut them up and put them on the trays. My solar dehydrators are outside, of course. If you are drying onions in an electric dryer be prepared for the aroma of onions. You might want to set the dehydrator out on your porch when you are doing onions.

red onion on string

String for braiding is attached.

I love braiding the onions that I will be keeping the longest. They will hang in the rafters of my garden shed until fall. Then I will hang the braids from the floor joists in the crawl space of our house, bringing one braid at a time to the kitchen. I usually put about 3 pounds of onions in each braid, although the string of red onions in the photo below only weights 1.25 pounds. To make a braid, I cut a string about 3’ in length, fold it in half to make a loop, and wrap it around one onion top near the bulb. Drawing the two ends of the string through the loop holds the string tight to the onion. The string is braided along with the onion top it is attached to. You need three onions to start the braid. To braid, keep putting one onion top to the middle working from one side, then the next. Add a new onion each time a dried top goes into the middle. The top for that onion will now be braided with the onion top it was paired with in the middle.

onion braid

Onion braid.

It is time to tie things off before you run out of string. There should be two string ends mixed in with your onion tops. I wrap them around the dried tops a couple times, knotting them in the front and the back. Tie the ends together, leaving a loop for hanging. Trim the tops to an attractive length. For a great looking onion braid, pull off the dry outer covering and trim the roots on the onions before braiding. Braids are great. Not only do they look good, but you can see all the onions at once, making it easy to choose what size you want. If one is not looking so good, you will know right away and can use that one before the others. If you are selling onions at a farmers market, the braids hanging from your canopy will attract attention and you can get a premium for them. You can even mix varieties, and if you look closely at the photo of the braid, you will notice a yellow onion in with the red.

If you have harvested onions this year and wondered just how to handle them, I hope this post has given you some good ideas. You might want to make some notes for next year’s harvest. In a previous post about onions I wrote of the health benefits of onions and gave some planting tips. They should be part of everyone’s diet and garden. If you did not grow any onions this year, buy them from local growers now and plan to make onions a part of your 2016 garden plan.Homeplace Earth

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???????????????????????????????I’m going to be out and about traveling to some special events in the coming months. First up is a visit to the Washington County Seed Savers Library in Abingdon, VA, then on to the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. In early May I’ll be in Tucson, AZ for the First International Seed Libraries Forum. Find me in Vermont the first week of June at the Slow Living Summit. Here is a list of all the events on my schedule so far through June. The complete list for the year, which I’ll be updating as necessary, is at Homeplace Earth.  Come see me!

April 9, 2015  Washington County Library, Abingdon, VA. Cindy will give a presentation at 7pm, followed by a book signing.

April 11-12, 2015  Mother Earth News Fair, Asheville, NC. Look for Cindy on the speaker schedule. motherearthnewsfair.com.

April 25, 2015  Spring Garden Fest, Reynolds Community College, Goochland, VA. Cindy will be in the college library signing books from noon to 1:15 pm. 

May 2, 2015  Ashland Farmers Market, Ashland, VA. Cindy will be there signing books from 9-noon.

May 3-6, 2015  International Seed Libraries Forum, Tucson, AZ Look for Cindy on the speaker schedule.

May 16, 2015  Spring Conference-Master Gardener Association of Central Rappahannock Area.  Cindy will be speaking on Grow a Sustainable Diet. University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA.

June 3-5, 2015  Slow Living Summit, Brattleboro, VT. Look for Cindy on the schedule speaking about seed libraries. slowlivingsummit.org

Homeplace Earth

 

 

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Cindy Conner - blogCome and see me at the Ashland branch of the Pamunkey Regional Library in Ashland, Virginia on Wednesday, March 18 from 7-8:30 pm! The library will be giving away new seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and I will be giving the presentation Growing to Seed to Share. My talk will include organic gardening and seed saving tips, as well as well as inform you of the seed library movement taking place around the country. Afterward, I’ll be signing my books–Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People and Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth.Homeplace Earth My DVDs will also be for sale.

See you there!

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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 yos@lynchburg.edu 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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Rethink Everything1Rethink Everything! is the title of the last chapter in my upcoming book Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth. The official release date is March 1, 2014, but I should have copies for some events I’ll be at in February. You can check my website for those dates and locations. When we are growing up, we are pretty much brainwashed by our parents to live according to their beliefs and habits. That’s just how it is. Then we do the same with our children. But, now that you are grown, you are free to decide for yourself. If you are still blaming your parents for how they raised you– shame on you. It’s your life; get on with it. I want to encourage you to rethink everything you do and look at things with a holistic approach. Don’t be afraid to decide that some of the activities you have been active in are not so important in your life anymore. We should clean out our social/activity life regularly, just as we should clean out our closets on a regular basis.

I’m working on a new book. This one is about seed libraries. If any of you are involved in a seed library, I’d love to hear about it. While researching that topic, I came across the website for the Center for the New American Dream where I found a webinar about starting a seed library.  The new American dream that this website is referring to is about more of what matters, not more stuff. It is about developing a plentitude economy; one which has reduced work time, allowing more time for do-it-yourself projects at home and more commitment to community. I have a feeling you are already participating in this type of an economy that will contribute to a better society. Having a garden, preserving your own food, supporting a farmers market, and developing your homestead, whether it is in an apartment or in the wide open spaces, are all part of the New American Dream. Decide what your dream is while you are rethinking everything.

Christmas gift bagsChristmas is a great time to rethink everything. A holistic approach would bring your holiday actions more in sync with the other ecological things you do all year. One thing, if you haven’t already done it yet, is to get rid of Christmas wrapping paper. It is easy to pull out the Sunday funnies to wrap an occasional birthday present, but when faced with wrapping more presents at one time, it took us a little longer to ditch the Christmas wrap. When we did that a number of years ago, it made an enjoyable difference. That first year I had found some Christmas fabric on sale at a deep discount and bought a few pieces to make gift bags. Not all the bags have to be Christmas fabric. Some are solids or prints that could also suit for birthdays. Sometimes I’ve wrapped large packages in an old flannel sheet, usually a red or green one. You might keep that in mind when picking out new sheets. Pillow cases work really well for gift bags, also. The year we were replacing the roof on the barn, we made tool boxes for each of our children from the old boards we took off the roof. Pillow cases were the perfect wrap. I even save the strings we use to close the bags from year to year.

earthingbookcoverdropshadleft21Life can be pretty stressful. So, as people go into the New Year they often begin thinking of how to live a more relaxed life. I have been reading an interesting book that can help with that. Earthing, by Clinton Ober, Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, and Martin Zucker explains how grounding ourselves fills our bodies with the unlimited supply of electrons from the earth that will connect with the free radicals floating around doing damage in our bodies. Those free radicals are why you always hear of needing to consume antioxidants. Although you can buy special earthing products to use, the authors make it clear that you can ground yourself just by walking barefoot on the ground outside. I have long known that being in my garden has a calming influence on me and communing with nature is widely known to be good for you. In the summer I don’t wear shoes if I don’t have to. I’ve found that by going barefoot I don’t track as much dirt in the house, but I didn’t realize just how good for me going barefoot was. I have to say, I haven’t been strolling barefoot in the garden since the weather turned colder. Walking barefoot on the beach or swimming in the ocean are also grounding activities.

Apparently you could get the same grounding effect by having your feet on an uninsulated, unpainted concrete floor. If you have a basement with a concrete floor, you could ground yourself there in the winter. The grounding mats that are available for sale allow people to be grounded while they sleep, are at their desk, or just watching TV. People who have used them say they sleep better and pain is diminished or gone, doing away with inflammation that is the cause of so many diseases, including heart disease. Grounding thins the blood and sets your body up to heal itself. One thing I thought was particularly interesting was that you can avoid the stress of jet lag if, when you get to your destination, you take off your shoes and socks and spend ten minutes with your bare feet in the grass.

All this is fascinating. Combine grounding with meditation and just think how healthy we can be! Meditation involves work on our part to discipline ourselves to it, but it is free and you can do it anywhere. Can you imagine doctors writing prescriptions for their patients to go sit in the grass and clear the chatter in their heads? I hope you have a wonderful holiday and terrific New Year. I’m taking a short break. My next blog post will be January 14. Until then—rethink everything!Homeplace Earth

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vabf logoI attended my first sustainable agriculture conference in 1990. At the time I was a home gardener and hadn’t ventured into the area of market gardening yet. That would happen two years later, and when it did, I was much better prepared than I would have been if I hadn’t had the benefit of hearing real-life stories of how others were doing it. Besides hearing from the farmers, I learned about the research being done at our land grant colleges. That first conference I attended was sponsored by the Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF) and was their third annual, if I remember correctly.  There was a disconnect sometime in the 1990’s and no conference was held for a few years. I see that this year’s Virginia Biological Farming Conference is billed as the 15th annual, the count beginning over when things started up again. Now the conference is a joint project of VABF and Virginia State University. In 2014 it will be held January 31-February 1 near Richmond, VA, with extra workshops offered on January 30.

Attending a conference such as this is a terrific opportunity to meet the movers and shakers in the sustainable agriculture movement. At my first conference Fred Kirschenmann was the keynote and told of how he returned to the conventional family farm to help his father and converted it to organic production. Fred stars in the film My Father’s Garden that has been made since then, showcasing the struggles that farmers face and why they make the decisions they do. I highly recommend it. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak again at a conference in 2007. A word of advice—if you ever have to take a plane to speak at a conference, make sure you are wearing something you wouldn’t mind getting up in front of hundreds of people in, in case the airline loses your luggage. That’s what happened to Fred in 1990.

The first edition of Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower was published in 1989 and he was a presenter at one of the early conferences I attended. His books helped many market gardeners get started. Coleman was back in Virginia to speak at the VABF conference in 2011. I used his book Four Season Harvest as a text when I taught at the community college. Conferences are a good place to meet authors with new books. Jean-Martin Fortier is on the schedule at the VABF conference this year. His new book The Market Gardener is not out yet, but the previews remind me quite strongly of New Organic Grower. Fortier may just be the new leader of small-scale market growers.

pasa conference 2014I got a taste of what it was like to attend agriculture conferences and even started a market garden operation, only to have no conference to attend for a few years. I always shied away from organizational politics, so I don’t remember what happened there, just that there was no conference. By the time VABF was ready to put on another conference in 2000, I had made plans to attend the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference. It was wonderful! Some presenters that come to mind are Vandanna Shiva, William Woys Weaver, and Elaine Ingham (vermicompost tea was a hot new topic at the time). PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference is February 5-8, 2014 in State College, PA.

Southern SAWG puts on a large conference each year. This year it is in Mobile, Alabama on January 15-18. Some years a busload of folks went from Virginia. I heard it was great fun for all, but always at a time when the college semester was getting started and not a good time for me to be away. I attended the Southern SAWG conference in Chattanooga, TN in 2011 as a presenter. Being in another part of the country, it was great to meet a whole new set of faces. That year was the first time in over a decade that I wasn’t teaching at the community college in January, with a new semester of students to be planning for.

oeff conference2014sbThe Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association holds a conference each year. In 2014 the OEFFA conference will be February 15-16 in Granville, OH. I have not been, but according to their website, 1,200 people are expected to be in attendance. I’m sure there are many more conferences planned by many more sustainable agriculture groups around the country. In addition to the speakers, these conferences are a great place to meet like-minded people. When our daughter was a volunteer at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas years ago, she and a few other volunteers attended the second day of a goat conference. They went for the information they knew they would receive, but were confused because so many people already knew each other. It appeared to be a gathering of friends and not quite what they expected. A few months later, she was back in Virginia and attended a VABF conference with me. Then she understood—it was a gathering of friends. It was a time for those of us who already knew each other to catch up on each other’s lives, which made for a lot of friendly banter. It is a time to make new friends, also. I encouraged my students to attend and chided them if they sat together at meals. They could see each other in class each week. I wanted them to embrace the opportunity to meet new people.

Farmers, researchers, authors, vendors, and friends (both new and old)—what more could you want to nudge you out of your winter hibernation and get the wheels turning in your head with new plans? Times have changed since 1990. Back then, most people I knew didn’t have a computer yet (including me) and of course, didn’t know anything about the internet. Now you can watch webinars and youtube videos about every subject imaginable. What you can’t do is witness the passion that a speaker has for the subject as you can in their in-person presentation, with the added benefit of impromptu conversations about the matter with other attendees. I’ve told you about the people I was most impressed with who presented at the early conferences I attended. I’ve left it up to you to check out the conference schedules to find out who you might want to see this year. If there is no money in your budget for a vacation, make continuing education a line item and find a conference near you to attend.Homeplace Earth

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BOOKS-12-2012-BLOGThe cover crops are growing nicely in the garden, with the harvesting of greens and roots being the only thing going on out there right now. The days are short and nights are long. Winter is the time to spend on some self-directed education. Reading this blog and studying my DVDs is a fine start. I have some suggestions for good books to add to your program. All through my blog posts you will find mention of books that I will not repeat here. There is a short list on the resource page on my website. For the others, well you’ll just have to read the posts. These books are more recent and I think you will find them helpful on your journey. I’ll list them from newest to oldest.

sustainable market farming coverSustainable Market Farming is so new that it isn’t even out yet. The release date by New Society Publishers is February 1, 2013. I have been looking forward to this book all year and was fortunate to have the privilege of reading an advance copy. Author Pam Dawling is the garden manager at Twin Oaks, a community of about 100 people here in Virginia. She shows you how she plans the 3½ acre garden, manages the crew, coordinates with the kitchen, and generally, what it takes to feed 100. When you grow for the markets you are usually not so intimately involved with your customers as Pam is with her community. Everywhere she goes and every meal she eats, she is getting feedback about her efforts, which is the same as growing for a family, just on a much larger scale. If you have enjoyed my garden planning ideas and would like to get another take on it all, you will like Pam’s book. She has suggestions for planting and harvesting that are helpful whether you are growing for your own kitchen or for your market customers. There are excellent chapters on crops, including peanuts, potato onions and okra- crops you generally don’t hear a lot about. The last two chapters are about saving seeds, a topic of increasing importance to gardeners everywhere. Find out more about Pam, her book and her blog at http://sustainablemarketfarming.com/. You might want to catch her at one of the conferences she will be speaking at this winter.

Permaculture Handbook-BLOGThe Permaculture Handbook by Peter Bane, editor of Permaculture Activist magazine, was published by New Society in June, 2012. It is nice to have a permaculture book written in the U.S. showing case studies of various farms and projects. Besides permaculture theory, this book gives practical information and shows it being put to use by Peter and his partner on their .7 acre property in Indiana. Peter discusses coppicing—allowing multiple trunks to grow back for future harvests—a subject I can never find enough information on.  I was also particularly interested in his chapter on Diet and Food. Learn more about Peter Bane, his book and where you can find him at http://permaculturehandbook.com/.

The Art of Fermentation-BLOGThe Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz was released by Chelsea Green Publishing in May, 2012.
If you are a beginner to fermentation, this book might be too much for you. If what you want is some recipes to get started, read Wild Fermentation first, also by Sandor. If you have already played around with fermentation and really enjoy learning about the culture of food beyond the ferment, you will like this book. To Sandor Katz, food is a celebration. You will learn the deeper stories behind the food. Learn more about Sandor Katz, his books, and where you might find him at www.wildfermentation.com.

The Small Scale Poultry Flock-BLOGThe Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery, also a Chelsea Green book, was released in 2011. This book is much more than a how-to-raise-chickens book. A particular interest of Harvey’s (and mine) is Feeding The Flock From Home Resources, which is also a chapter title. Harvey explores raising worms and black soldier fly grubs. He grows cover crops to benefit his garden and his birds. As much as he can, Harvey integrates his chickens with his garden and is always experimenting and tweaking his system. Being in Virginia, his climate is the same as mine. Find out more about Harvey Ussery, his book and his homestead at www.themodernhomestead.us.

These books are hefty in both weight and content and not for someone just looking for some light reading. Be ready to delve headlong into the subjects. If your budget doesn’t allow putting them on your shelf, find them at the library. If your library doesn’t have them, fill out a request form. They can get it for you through interlibrary loan or purchase it for their shelves. That’s what libraries do. In fact, it is always a good idea to browse a book at the bookstore, library, or at a conference before you buy it to make sure it will be useful to you, no matter what the reviews say, including mine. Be assured that these authors are passionate about what they do and have written these books because they are just as passionate about sharing what they know with others.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday. These books should keep you busy right on into the New Year, as if you don’t already have enough to do. I am taking a break over the holiday season, so my next blog post won’t appear until January 8. See you in 2013!Homeplace Earth

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