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John Jeavons giving a free lecture at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the evening before a 3 -Day Workshop in 2008.

John Jeavons giving a free lecture at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, the evening before a 3 -Day Workshop in 2008.

Ecology Action began more than forty years ago when John Jeavons was seeking the answer to his question of how much space it would take to grow food for one person for a year. The focus on this work expanded to include also growing the crops to feed the soil. Besides researching growing a complete diet and the cover/compost crops needed for the soil, all in as small a space as possible, Ecology Action seeks to educate people worldwide to better feed themselves while building and preserving the soil and conserving resources.

Ecology Action maintains a website at www.GrowBiointensive.org where you will find information about their work, intern/apprentice opportunities, and a list of publications, some of which are in languages other than English. The outlet for Ecology Action’s research is Bountiful Gardens. There, in addition to seeds, you will find the Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE® publications. You can also purchase the DVD Grow Biointensive: A Beginner’s Guide in 8 Easy Sessions through Bountiful Gardens or watch each session for free at www.johnjeavons.info/video.

In January 2014 Ecology Action held a 2-Week Farmers Course at their place in Willlits, California. This important event contained lectures from twelve different sustainability experts from around the world plus hands-on learning experiences. Through the wonders of the Internet, you now have access to some of the lectures in that course. Having produced two DVDs myself, I have an appreciation of what an undertaking it was to have the Farmers Course filmed, edited, and made available to you at www.vimeo.com/ondemand/ecologyaction. There are four free lectures and another seven lectures available for $1.99 each or $11.99 for all seven.

Ecology Action holds 3-Day Workshops which consist of lectures with a half-day of hands-on activities in the garden. Watching these Farmers Course lectures will give you a taste of what a 3-Day Workshop is like if you’ve never been to one. If you have, these lectures will support what you’ve already learned and supply you with new insights and knowledge. One advantage of being able to watch them on your computer is that you can stop if you need to take a break or if you want more time to take notes.

HTGMV 8--BLOGOne of the four free episodes is a 40 minute introduction to the course which is different than the paid Introduction. The free episode shows a number of speakers from throughout the course besides John Jeavons; including Steve Moore, Jake Blehm, Eric Buteyn, Jed Diamond, Patricia Mayagoitia, Juan Manuel Martinez Valdez, Samuel Nderitu, and Peris Wanjiru. The $1.99 Introduction contains John’s full lecture on the world situation (parts of it are in the free introduction). Although the world situation looks dire, John stresses that we are each the solution to a dying world, which is actually a theme throughout the course.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklets  #34, #32, and #36.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklets #34, #31, and #36.

If you want to get the full benefit of these videos it is good to already be familiar with John’s book How to Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV). If you want to better understand his Diet Design lecture, it would be good to have first read Ecology Action’s Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #31 Designing a GROW BIONTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farm. In the Diet lecture, he refers to worksheets that are found in Booklet #31. Booklets #34 Food for the Future Now and #36 An Experimental 33-Bed GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-Farm are also good resources. When attending an Ecology Action 3-Day Workshop it is recommended that you have read the Ecology Action publications ahead of time.

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #32

Ecology Action Self-Teaching Mini-Series Booklet #32

I consider Ecology Action Booklet #32 GROW BIOINTENSIVE Composting and Growing Compost Materials a companion to John’s Compost lecture. In that talk he speaks of the importance of building organic matter in the soil using compost, specifically compost made from materials grown biointensively in your garden. Compost holds 6 times its weight in water, which is an important consideration in times of water scarcity. You can store water in your soil by using compost to increase the organic matter in your garden. John explains why compost piles that are cool, rather than hot, contain more microbes than the hot piles and puts to rest any thought of needing to turn your compost piles regularly. It is better to let them molder in place, particularly if that place is in rotation in your garden. You can find more information about having a compost pile in your garden rotation in my DVDs and my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. The short and long range benefits of having a carbon to nitrogen ratio greater than 30:1 are also part of this lecture.

The lectures in this series include Operational Seed Security Systems by Sameul Nderitu from Kenya. He explains how his organization, G-BIACK, is encouraging farmers to save their own seeds. Just as in the U.S., farmers in Kenya tend to buy all their seeds each year from seed companies. In Kenya it is illegal for a farmer to sell seeds unless he has fulfilled all the requirements of a seed company, which is prohibitive. So, instead of selling their seeds as seeds, they sell them as food, which is legal.

Samuel’s wife, Peris Wanjiru spoke of Women Empowerment Programmes through G-BIACK . The women in Kenya are predominately illiterate and responsible for all of the household. If G-BIACK can teach the women biointensive gardening, solar cooking, and baking (to mention only a few of the subjects), they can help the whole family much more than targeting the men for education. G-BIACK stands for Grow Biontensive Agriculture Centre of Kenya. Samuel and Peris are graduates of the Manor House in Kenya, which expects its graduates to go back to their communities and make a difference. G-BIACK is the non-profit that they started and it has made a difference in the lives of so many people in Kenya. In turn, those people go back to their communities and teach others.

Steve Moore’s lecture on Farm Layout and Agroecology brings permaculture to the program and explains how a Biointensive garden needs to blend into the natural world and not be separate from it. Biointensive is actually the intensive gardening part of permaculture. Part of GROW BIOINTENSIVE teaching is that at least half of the area managed should be left to the wild. We need the wild areas of the natural world to filter our air and water, store water, and remove toxins.

There is more, but you will just have to watch these videos and check it out for yourself. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about GROW BIOINTENSIVE, John Jeavons, Ecology Action, and the whole crew of folks you will be seeing on the screen.

Homeplace Earth

 

Homemade wooden flats for seed starting.

Homemade wooden flats for seed starting.

If you have been following my work, you know that I start my seeds outdoors in coldframes, rather than indoors in flats. However, it was not always that way and, since I have fielded questions about seed starting lately, I thought I’d pass on the seed starting methods I employed when I did use flats.

For many years, when I started seeds for transplants I would use recycled containers or plastic flats and their inserts for the soil mix and seeds. In 1992 I became a market gardener, selling produce to two local restaurants. I knew I needed a better way to produce seedlings and followed Eliot Coleman’s advice in New Organic Grower to use soil blocks. I made wooden flats to the specifications in the book. We have a table saw and plenty of scrap wood, so the only out-of-pocket cost for the flats was for nails. The flats had only three sides to facilitate removing the soil blocks.

After a few years of working with soil blocks I decided I needed to produce more transplants in the same space, plus I didn’t want to buy sand and peat moss for the mix. In fact, I didn’t even want to bother making the mix. I did like the idea of wood flats, though. So, I turned to the advice of John Jeavons in How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV). The soil mix he recommends is half soil and half compost, which I already have in the garden. Fill a wooden flat, level it off, and plant the seeds—much easier than making soil blocks. I put a fourth side on all my soil block flats and made some new flats to the specifications in HTGMV. The flat on top in the first photo is a Coleman flat with the fourth side added.

You can make flats any size you want, but first think of how and where you will use them. The Coleman flats were sized specific for soil blocks with the inside dimensions 8 x 18¾” and 2” deep. That was just right for 36 two-inch soil blocks. The inside dimensions of a Jeavons flat is 14” x 23” and is 3” deep. There are Master Charts in HTGMV that indicate how many transplants of each crop that can be started in a flat that size. If you depended on those Charts for your planning, you would want to make that size flat. Filled with moist soil, the Jeavons flat would weigh about 45 pounds.

The depth of the Coleman flat is 2”. The depth of the Jeavons flat is 3”. That might not seem like such a big deal, but it is. Although I continued to use the Coleman flats, I preferred the Jeavons flats for the depth and saw that the plants did better with the extra space for their roots. If I used the Coleman flats, I had to pot-on the transplants to deeper containers sooner. I think my ideal flat would be closer to the Coleman dimensions, but 3-4” deep. However, the deeper the flat, the more soil mix is needed. Jeavons recommends making 6”deep flats half the size of his regular flat to transfer seedlings to that need to grow for a few more weeks before planting in the garden, such as tomatoes and peppers. A full size flat that was 6” deep would be too heavy to manage easily. You could also make 3” deep half-size flats.

wooden flats-BLOG

Summer transplants enjoying the shade under the tree.

I stopped experimenting with flat sizes when I realized that I could just plant the seeds in the coldframes and dig up the transplants to plant in the garden. Sometimes I use wood flats to put my coldframe grown seedlings in until time to set out into the garden. I might do that if I need the space in the coldframe or to protect the seedlings from insects. Caterpillars occasionally take out my peppers in the coldframe, so I watch for the seedlings to come up, then transfer the seedlings to a flat. I want the seeds to germinate in the coldframe and begin to grow there so they will be acclimated from the beginning. When I pull out the seedlings for the flats I can choose only the best and wouldn’t have wasted flat space on ungerminated seeds or poor seedlings. Sometimes, however, if the seedlings need more space and I have it in the coldframe, I’ll spread them out there until time to go into the garden. If I do put seedlings in the flats, they stay outside until transplanting.

Peanuts started in wood flats ready to be transplanted in the garden.

Peanuts started in wood flats ready to be transplanted in the garden.

I transplant corn and peanuts and have to be careful about where I start the seeds to make sure voles don’t eat them before they germinate. Sometimes I’ll use wood flats for that. The photo with the peanuts shows flats 6” deep, but with Coleman’s dimensions. Peanuts germinate quickly and were not going to be in there long so I didn’t fill the boxes with the soil/compost mix to the full 6”. However, their roots would have quickly outgrown the 2” deep flats. When I was selling at the farmers markets I discovered that a 6” deep half-flat made a good container for potatoes at the market. It held about 15 pounds of spuds.

Although I no longer sell at the market, I still do quite a bit of gardening to feed my husband and me, as well as experiment with new things. I like to take advantage of the rhythms of nature and do things that involve less work and less stuff. Starting seeds in the coldframes fits in well with that philosophy. However, if I need them, the wood flats are handy in my shed. I still have the flats I made in 1992, minus the ones I passed on to my daughter and daughter-in-law to use in their own gardens.Homeplace Earth

UPDATE: More about wood flats at Mother Earth News.

Seed Libraries is Here!

SeedLibraries~MENSeed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People has arrived! Homeplace Earth is well stocked and ready to fill orders with signed copies. Writing this book has brought me in touch with wonderful people all over North America who are making a difference in their communities by setting up programs for saving and sharing seeds. You will meet them in the pages and learn what they did and how they did it, giving you ideas to follow their lead with your own program.

Don’t really understand what the big deal about seed is? Seed Libraries will take you through how our society went from one of independent seed savers to a society dependent on corporations for its seed needs and the danger that looms if we don’t take action to change now. The reasons you should save seeds are discussed, such as preserving genetic diversity, flavor and nutrition, unique varieties, and cultural heritage. Other reasons include growing to seed to attract beneficial insects, saving money growing your own seeds, and learning new skills. It is always good to learn something new and seed saving will make you a better gardener.

Seed libraries are often located in public libraries. You will learn just how much these institutions have to offer. Having a seed library located in a public library is good for community access and good for a public library that wants to expand its programs and stay relevant to the community it serves. Whether a seed library is located in a public library or elsewhere, often it is in partnership with other groups. You will find examples of some of these groups and their projects in this book.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

You need seeds to start a seed share program and you need to take care of them. Where to find seeds to start, how to take care of them, and how to do a germination test to make sure the seeds are still viable is all covered. You also need people supporting your project. You will discover who would be beneficial to have on your committee and how to form a mission statement. A mission statement is one of the most important things you can have to define your project to others.

How to package the seeds, sign up seed-sharing members, and how to educate your members so they will bring back healthy seeds that haven’t cross pollinated with other varieties is all in the book. The plight of seeds is so important that everyone should be aware of seeds, not only the seed savers. This book is loaded with ideas to celebrate seeds throughout the year, keeping the excitement and momentum going for all involved.

Not all seed share programs take the form of organized seed libraries. Sometimes it starts with friends saving and sharing seeds among themselves and grows to public seed swaps. In fact, seed swaps are good ways to become acquainted with sharing seeds and are a good prelude to a seed library. You can use the ideas in this book to organize your own seed swap.

If you are already involved in a seed library, the ideas in Seed Libraries will help to energize your project. There is so much to know and think about and this book puts it all together in one place, making it easier for you to have the information at hand, and easier to explain it to others that you want to involve in your project. Just give them a copy and you can discuss the issues together. Links to Internet resources are listed, giving you access to the helpful materials there and keeping you up-to-date on the changes that seed libraries are experiencing as these new seed sharing programs continue to evolve.

We are living in exciting times and I invite you to be part of the positive changes that are coming in our society. I hope you like the book!Homeplace Earth

 

UPDATE: In Seed Libraries I wrote about Sascha DuBrul being the one to come up with the idea for the first seed library. In his blog post http://www.mapstotheotherside.net/history-of-seed-libraries/ he tells the back story of that time. Keep reading to the end and he posts what I wrote about him in the book, which will help you to understand his story. You never know what will happen to your ideas when you follow your heart–and being a little crazy is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

Winter Food Crop Rotation-- croppedIn January 2013 I wrote about what I do to have winter carrots. I begin in the fall of the previous year and plant rye in rows in my future carrot bed. The rye crop is allowed to mature all the way to seed, which around here in zone 7 is mid-June. When it is cut, the harvest is seed and straw. I lightly hoe between the rows of stubble and plant carrots. I keep this bed well watered to get the carrots off to a good start and replant if there are spots lacking good germination. Once everything is growing well the only attention is to weed periodically. The stubble decomposes, gently feeding back the soil for the carrots.

With this post I thought I would show the carrots in a three bed rotation plan that provides greens and carrots for my household through the fall and winter months, while feeding back the soil with cover crops. If you have trouble reading the text on the garden map, click on it and it will open up in a new window, as will all my photos. I grow all of my compost and mulch materials in order to avoid bringing damaging materials into my garden. In the photo you can see the skeleton of this plan. The carrots and kale and collards take up 43% of the space for the year in the total of the three beds. There are 12 bed crop months in each bed for a total of 36 bed crop months. The carrots and greens use 15.5 bed crop months, or 43%. When I plan cover crops I like to have 60% of the bed crop months in the garden in soil building crops. That would mean that the rest of the space in the three beds would need to be devoted to cover crops, plus I need to have some extra in the rest of the garden to make up for the shortage here. The winter rye that is already part of the rotation is a cover crop.

Rye planted in rows in preparation for carrots to be planted into the stubble the following June.

Rye planted in rows in preparation for carrots to be planted into the stubble the following June.

The map you see is for the calendar year, showing the crops that are already in each bed at the beginning of the year. The green areas in the plan show when each bed is available for crops beyond the carrots and greens winter food plan. There is a lot of flexibility here. First I will give suggestions for filling those areas with cover crops. Bed 1 is already filled all twelve months, so look at Bed 2. You will harvest carrots from the fall until you have pulled them all or the weather warms in March and they start sending up a seed stalk. If you still have some then, pull them and store them in plastic bags in the fridge and you can have carrots for weeks in your kitchen. If you want to save seed, leave some of the carrots in the garden to go to seed. That might take until July so you may want to have those on one side of the bed, leaving the rest of the bed for something else. Only save from one variety to avoid crossing. My plan shows the carrots are there until March 1. That could vary and they could be there until they show signs of bolting. For a soil building crop you could plant fava beans or field peas. Favas and field pea plants can be harvested as green biomass for the compost pile when they reach full flower. In my area the blooms of fava beans tend to fall off when the weather gets hot, making it hard to save seed anyway. If you take them while blooming, you could follow with another legume, such as cowpeas or soybeans for biomass. Buckwheat can be planted anytime in there to keep the bed planted and to attract beneficial insects. The goal is to have the bed free by the middle of August for the kale and collard transplants that will overwinter. It helps to put a low tunnel on this bed then. It provides a frame for shade cloth at transplanting that is replaced by a plastic cover when the weather warrants. This low tunnel can be moved from one bed to the other to follow the brassicas crop.

Greens and roots for winter food.

Greens and roots for winter food.

In Bed 3 you can see that it begins the calendar year with kale and collards already there, left from last year’s planting. That group of crops (carrots early and kale/collards late) were planted in Bed 3 the previous year as you can see by the rotation arrows, leaving the kale/collards there to overwinter. If the harvest is for greens only, the bed will be ready for the next crop in mid-March. If you intend to save seeds from either kale or collards, those plants will be in the bed until June. Favas or field peas are an option for this bed, but so is spring wheat. That could be followed by cowpeas (or another legume), then buckwheat before it is time to plant the winter rye. In my area rye can go in anytime in October. Plant the rye in rows as to make the carrot planting easier. You can see by the rotation arrows that the crops in Bed 1 will rotate to Bed 3 in the next year and conveniently, the rye will be there, right on schedule.

If you have plenty of compost materials from the other beds in your garden you might prefer to plant crops for eating in those green spaces on the map. In that case, salad crops such as sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach, and bunching onions could be planted after the carrots or kale and collards. Those crops could be followed by snap beans. Bed 2 needs to be open by mid-August, but you have into the fall in Bed 3 leaving the possibility of planting sweet potatoes in late May/early June after the salad crops. Winter squash is a possibility in Bed 3 and you can use the rye straw harvested from Bed 1 as mulch. Potatoes followed by snap beans could happen in either bed.

Of course, the timing of these crops depends on your location. If you enjoy going to the farmers market for fresh vegetables or belong to a summer CSA, but also like to garden, you may want to consider this winter food plan. It might do well for those of you who like to travel in the summer, as long as you are around for the key planting times. You will find other garden maps and plans in my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. Once you learn how to plan for the whole year, the possibilities are endless.

I will be talking about all of this on Saturday, January 31, 2015 in the presentation that Ira Wallace, of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and I are giving at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in Richmond, VA. Come and see us!Homeplace Earth

 

 

 

Seedy Days

Seed Swap table at the VA Biological Farming Conference.

Seed Swap table at VA Biological Farming Conference.

The terms Seedy Saturday and Seedy Sunday were not in my vocabulary until I was doing research for Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People. Seedy Saturday usually referred to an event in Canada and Seedy Sunday usually referred to an event in the United Kingdom, but not always. Seedy Saturdays, Sundays, or any day actually, are events that celebrate seeds. Seed sharing occurs there through vendors selling their seeds or individuals offering them for trade or give-away. You might also find presentations about seeds and gardening from people in the know, and maybe food for sale and music to enjoy.

The first Seedy Saturday occurred in Canada in 1990. It was a day of speakers and vendors. Sharon Rempel came up with the idea and was helped by her friends Roy Forster, Cathrine Gabriel, and Dan Jason. The goal of that day was to get the heritage varieties of seeds grown by home gardeners trialed and evaluated regionally, and a core collection of regionally adapted vegetables, fruits, and grains conserved and exchanged annually. Agronomists from the University of British Columbia were among those at the event. Seeds of Diversity Canada maintains a list of current seed sharing events here. You can find information about such events in the UK at www.seedysunday.org.

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Guidelines for how many seeds to take.

With additional events scheduled besides seed sharing, Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays in Canada and the UK are more than just seed swaps. It is likely that you may find very small seed companies there, as well as large well-known ones. Each seed event is operated a little differently. What I am most familiar with are seed swaps that are part of a larger event where seeds are not the main topic. I have participated in seed swaps when I have attended the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, the Virginia Biological Farming Conference, and the Mother Earth News Fairs around the country. These swaps are sponsored by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE). At the Mother Earth News Fairs, additional sponsors may be High Mowing Seeds, Organic Seed Alliance, and Seed Savers Exchange. A table is set up, covered with a nice cloth, and seeds and supplies are set out. It begins with seeds that SESE has to share, but is open to seeds anyone else wants to offer for free. Conference and Fair goers can help themselves, within limits, of course, without contributing seeds of their own. There is a list of guidelines to help you decide how many to take. Here in the U.S. the last Saturday in January is designated as National Seed Swap Day. You can find a list of seed swaps around the country here. If your seed swap is not on the list, consider having it added so others in your area can find you.

Seeds are foremost in the minds of gardeners in January. The seed catalogs have been arriving for weeks and you have begun to make up your list of things you want to order. However, you need to know what you already have before you order more seeds, or acquire them in a seed swap, so take an inventory. In my book Grow a Sustainable Diet there is a link to worksheets, one of them for a seed inventory. That form is also on the companion CD that comes with my Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan DVD. I designed it with columns for information I like to refer to, but actually, you can make an inventory by writing down on notebook paper what seeds you have on hand and how much of each variety. I did it that way for many years.

Joseph Lofthouse sharing his seeds at Seed School.

Joseph Lofthouse sharing his seeds at Seed School.

When you inventory your seeds you may find that you have too much of something or that you have seeds for things you will never get around to planting. If you have some of these extra seeds, check their germination rate, particularly if they are a few years old. If they are still viable, you have something to share and you could pass them on to someone else at a seed swap. Here in the U.S. we have opportunities to share seeds all year long through seed libraries, without waiting to attend a seed swap. Seed swaps, by the way, don’t have to be once a year events. They can be scheduled as often as you can find people who are interested in coming.

Whether you are planning on participating in a seed swap or a seed library, you will find great information to help with those activities in my upcoming book Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People.  If there are no seed swaps or seed libraries in your neighborhood, consider starting one. You could get together with friends to share seeds and grow your event from there. The more we share our seeds with others, the more we are ensuring that they will stay a part of our community food systems. Like love, the more you give it away, the more it comes back to you.Homeplace Earth

SeedLibraries~MENMy newest book, Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People, will be available soon. My publisher, New Society, tells me that it is now at the printers. Beginning in January 2015, you can order Seed Libraries through Homeplace Earth and it will ship as soon as we have copies, which may not be until the first week in February. In celebration of this newest book we are offering Free Shipping within the continental US on all book and DVD orders for the month of January. All books ordered through Homeplace Earth are signed copies.

Seed Libraries has come on the heels of Grow a Sustainable Diet and it has been quite a journey. Just so you know, there are no new books planned on the horizon. Writing these books has been a grand adventure, but I do have a lot of other projects to catch up on and a garden to tend. Grow a Sustainable Diet grew out of the work I had been doing for many years. Writing Seed Libraries was a different experience. I had to reach out of my comfort zone and explore the work others have been doing. Besides reporting what I found, I identified common areas that need to be addressed if a group was to start a seed library and be successful. (I believe it needs to be more than one person from the get-go.) Being a seed saver myself, I am aware of the pitfalls that may arise when organizing and maintaining a project such as a seed library. My suggestions will help my readers foresee challenges and move forward smoothly.

Besides the mechanics of starting a seed library, this book promotes celebrating seeds any way you can. My post Start a Seed Library will give you suggestions for getting started. However, there is so much more to it than setting up the program. You want to engage your seed savers through the whole year. In addition you should want to engage the public. Even if someone isn’t a seed saver, they can learn about what you are doing and become a supporter of the movement to keep the seeds in the hands of the people. Otherwise, corporations will have control of all the seeds and whoever controls the seeds controls the food supply.

Celebrate seeds anyway you can. Saving and exchanging them, of course, is what a seed library is about, but you can also celebrate seeds with art and music. Promote books that refer to anything about seeds and gardening, eating locally, preserving genetic diversity, etc. Post photos and artwork that show plants going to seed. Sing about seeds and the wonders of nature. Take a holistic approach to seed saving and make it as much a part of your life as you can. You will find yourself thinking about where the seeds came from to produce whatever you are eating.

Plant gardens in your community for the purpose of saving and sharing seeds and plan educational programs around it. If not a whole garden, this year learn to save seeds from a few of the crops in your garden. If you are new at this, begin with one crop. Make it your focus and study everything there is to know about that crop to go from seed to seed. Once you have learned about that, share your knowledge and seeds with others. Seeds are very flexible and will adapt to the ecosystem where they are grown. When you save them yourself you are naturally producing seeds that are acclimated to your community.

Seed libraries can be set up as seed sharing programs in public libraries and, since public libraries are already community centers, it makes sense to do that. However, seed sharing programs can take many forms and can happen in many different places. In Seed Libraries I’ve given you examples of that. If you are already a seed saver, or if 2015 is your year to delve into seeds, use this book to help you make a difference with others. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, and you have a seed saver on your list, print this post and give it with a promise of ordering the book in January. Seed libraries are exciting ways for people to come together to preserve and develop varieties unique to their region, thus ensuring a resilient food system.

We are past the winter solstice and each new day will bring a little more light. In this busy holiday time, take a moment to notice and enjoy the new light.Homeplace Earth

 

 

 

Low Tunnel

Low Tunnel

Season extension structures resembling low tunnels are a great way to protect overwintering vegetables. I use them to have fresh greens—kale, collards, and chard—on the table through the winter months. They are easy to build with plastic pipe and either clear plastic sheeting or greenhouse plastic. I would love to not have any plastic in my garden, but until I have a better alternative, I make an exception for this.

Plastic pipe easily bends to form the arches that hold up the plastic cover. My garden beds are 4’ wide and I use an 8’ length of plastic pipe (1/2” inside diameter) for each arch, giving me a tunnel with a height of about 30”. Some people use metal electrical conduit for their arches, bending them around a homemade jig. I space the arches about 4’ apart down the length of the bed. Another piece of plastic pipe is put on top, becoming a ridge pole to connect the arches. A screw is used to attach the ridge pole to the top of each arch. It is important to have the ridge pole.

My arches are held in place by either putting them over pieces of rebar extending up from the ground or by inserting them into larger pieces of plastic pipe, also extending up from the ground. Whether rebar or larger plastic pipe is used, the pieces of each are cut to 2’ lengths. Plastic pipe can be cut easy enough and you can buy rebar already cut into 2’ lengths. Look for rebar where cement blocks are sold. One foot of each anchor piece is driven into the ground, leaving 12” sticking up to receive the end of the arch.

Next comes the plastic cover. You can find clear plastic sheeting in a hardware store or big box building supply store (look for it in the paint department). Make sure it is 6 ml thick to withstand the winter weather. This construction plastic has no UV protection, but since you are only using it through the cold months, you can get a couple years use out of it if you store it out of the sun and keep the mice away during the off-season. Greenhouse plastic is good if you can get it since it will last longer. If you are building a structure that will be in the weather all year long, go with greenhouse plastic. A piece 10’ wide is good to go over the 8’ arches covering my 4’ wide beds.

The easiest way to secure the plastic cover to the pipes is with plastic clips, called garden clips or snap clamps, that are sold for this purpose. Johnny’s sells them and they are available at other garden and greenhouse supply sources. You can make some from plastic pipe, but if you need to take them on and off, the ones you buy are easier to work with. Okay, I know it is December already and if you had greens to protect, most likely you have already put up a structure like this if you intended to. I’m really writing this post to talk about the covers. You can build a low tunnel from these directions, but if you stop here you will have problems when the wind picks up or when it comes to harvesting from your tunnel through the winter.

Screw eye inserted into arch secures row cover cord.

Screw eye inserted into arch secures row cover cord.

The plastic covers on my low tunnels stick out 12” on the sides. Some gardeners put sand bags, rocks, or pieces of wood on that extra to hold the cover down. On a calm day, it might seem to do the job, but the wind will easily whip the plastic out from under these things. Besides, if you have 18” wide paths like I do, there is no extra room for sandbags, rocks, or pieces of wood. You will be tripping over these long after the covers were removed in the spring, unless you are diligent in taking them up. It would take putting many clips across each arch to secure your plastic cover enough to hold it through high winds. Even if you were willing to work with that many clips, you need to be able to access the plants inside through the season and it isn’t practical to be messing with so many fasteners each time.

My solution is to put a cord across from one arch to the next, alternating sides. You need the ridge pole to hold the cord up. I usually use 1/8” nylon cord found in hardware/building supply stores, but have used old clothesline if that was available. If you already have a low tunnel and have experienced problems with wind, you can add this feature and alleviate problems the rest of the winter. It involves putting a screw eye near the base of each pipe the cord attaches to. I use a drill to make a pilot hole for the screw eye.

The bungee provides tension to hold the cord securely to the cover.

The bungee provides tension to hold the cord securely to the cover.

Years ago when I first did this I thought I needed to build a wood box and use pipe clamps to hold the arches, screwing the screw eye into the wood beside the pipe. Later I discovered that it is fine putting the screw eye directly into the plastic pipe. Of course, there is more material to screw into if there are two layers of pipe (the anchor pipe and the arch pipe), but it also works well if the arch is put over rebar. I have not put a screw eye into a metal pipe, but I imagine it would work well, also. If anyone has done that, I welcome your comments. Using a bungee cord between the screw eye on one end arch and the cord helps to apply tension to the cord.

The cord holds the plastic sheeting in place for venting or harvesting.

The cord holds the plastic sheeting in place for venting or harvesting.

There are so many great things about securing the cover this way. Most importantly, it doesn’t come off in the wind. Another advantage is that all those things you put in the path to hold the plastic down are not necessary anymore. And the harvest—it is so easy! You can lift the plastic at any point along the sides to harvest and it is held in place under the cord. You will still use clips, but only on the end arches. The cover can be cut to come a few inches over the end arches and be secured with the clips. A separate piece of plastic sheeting can be cut to fit the ends. In mild weather it can be left off. When it is needed, it can be secured with the same clip that holds the tunnel plastic, holding two pieces at once. There are so many ventilation advantages with a separate end piece. Once the weather gets severe enough for me to put on the end pieces, I will fold the top edge down for ventilation on the warmer winter days.

Venting the row cover ends.

Venting the row cover ends.

I got the idea for using a cord over the plastic cover from Eliot Coleman in his book Four Season Harvest. He used wire arches with a loop bent into it to anchor the cord. Arches from plastic or metal pipe with a ridge pole can withstand more severe weather than the wire arches he described. If you have been having trouble with the plastic covers on your row tunnels and haven’t used a cord to secure them, take the time on a mild day to go out to your garden and make the upgrade. You will be happy you did.Homeplace Earth

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