Organic Gardening

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1/6/2015

Herb garden after winter

A few steps from my back porch, close to my kitchen and in a sunny spot of the yard, I’m growing herbs outdoors — in January. I use a simple season-extension device known as a low tunnel to harvest fresh herbs even in the coldest, darkest months of my Kansas climate.

Rather than digging up all the summertime herbs and transplanting them into pots for wintering over indoors (where herbs begin to look anemic after about a month), I use a low tunnel to protect the plants in my existing kitchen herb garden. My low tunnel is a rectangle of 3-mil heavy-duty plastic held above the herbs by a few hoops of CPVC pipes with their ends stuck into the ground. The edges of the plastic are held down with sticks and old bricks. Learn more about this easy DIY project in Low Tunnel Construction: How to Build a Mini Hoop House.

Herbs in low tunnel 

My low tunnel for herbs measures just 3 feet wide by 6 feet long. Inside are sage (only marginally hardy when unprotected in Zone 5b), parsley, marjoram, sorrel, two varieties of thyme and a few rogue seedlings of garlic chives. Often, in late fall, small dill plants will sprout inside the low tunnel. These short seedlings can survive all winter there, but typically last only a few weeks until I harvest them — and fresh dill from the kitchen herb garden in December is a luxury. Parsley plants started from seed in late summer can be transplanted into the tunnel in September, giving the roots time to establish before the first freeze. Other savory plants that can be harvested all winter from my low tunnel are sorrel and Egyptian walking onions. (I also supplement the tunnel-protected plants with rosemary grown in a container and moved indoors before the first frost.)

Any given winter, I save about $65 by growing herbs outdoors under a low tunnel’s layer of plastic. Here’s how I figure the savings: Small packages of fresh herbs cost $2.50 apiece at the grocery store. Every batch of homemade stock incorporates the equivalent of a packet of thyme plus a bunch of parsley. My homemade omelets are garnished with what amounts to a packet of sorrel. One of my household’s favorite dishes, pasta tossed with acorn squash, is dressed with a “packet” of butter-fried sage leaves. Christmas dinner alone can easily use up 4 or 5 packages of fresh herbs. If I had to buy all of this at a grocery store, it would cost $5.00/week, averaged out over 13 weeks of winter. Doing the math, that’s $5.00 x 13 weeks = $65.00.

Herbs in the store 

Another benefit to growing herbs outdoors in the garden is the lack of the plastic waste from individually packaged store-bought herbs. Any waste from home-grown herbs ends up in the compost heap — and the heavy-duty plastic cover protecting my kitchen herb garden is reusable.

By growing my own herbs, I can also count on having varieties, such as lemon thyme, that aren’t available in many stores. Pungent flat-leaf parsley can be hard to find at the local shop, but it’s always on hand in my garden. Plus, store-bought herbs are often of poor quality compared with fresh herbs from the garden — even in the short days of January.

I encourage you to try growing herbs outdoors in low tunnels. You may have to experiment for a couple of winters to discover what works in your climate. Stick to herbs that are reasonably cold-hardy and that suit your cooking style and tastes. If you don’t use sage in your kitchen, don’t bother growing this herb inside a low tunnel — unless you want to impress your friends with garden-grown sage on your homemade pasta in the coldest season of the year.

(Top) My kitchen herb garden had a head start in spring after being protected by a low tunnel from record-breaking cold temperatures during winter 2013-2014 — eleven days were at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Clockwise from top left: tarragon, turnip greens, chives, thyme, sorrel, parsley and sage.

(Middle) A simple sheet of plastic held up by hoops will keep herbs fresh and ready for your kitchen despite sub-freezing temperatures. From left: marjoram, thyme, sage and sorrel.

(Bottom) Store-bought herbs cost as much as $2.50 for a small packet weighing less than 1 ounce.



1/2/2015

Seed saving is a skill that has kept us alive since the dawn of agriculture as we slowly drifted away from hunting and gathering cultures. In this age of GMO frankencrops, climate change and the inevitable global financial crash that will accompany the failure of Keynesian economics, it is becoming more important.

Where Does Your Seed Come From?

The first seed company in the United States was the Landreth Seed Company, established in 1784. Before seed companies were established, farmers saved their own seed. If you are like most of us, your seed comes from a store or mail order catalog with a web-based business. There is a great list of seed companies from MOTHER EARTH NEWS. But what are you going to do if the worst prepper nightmare arrives one day. I mean, like, if super storms wipe out the port cities on the East and West coasts, or like when the Federal Reserve Bank loses control and the government collapses and the country divides into Jericho like regions plagued by marauding hoards?

seeds

There Are Many Reasons to Save Seed

Saving Our Seeds lists the following reasons:

“The genetic reservoir and uniqueness of our vegetable seed heritage resides principally in three places: (1) the USDA seed bank (2) small specialized seed companies, and (3) small family farms, especially those in ethnic communities. Unfortunately, these are all at risk. Federally sponsored government institutions such as the USDA seed bank are subject to periodic funding crises. Small, specialized seed companies (which offer many unique varieties) have low market penetration, are labor intensive, and are subject to market pressures which put them at risk. Small family farms are at risk from urbanization, rural outmigration, and economic change. Multinational corporations are replacing multi-crop fields with monocultures, replacing traditional varieties with hybrids, and polluting open-pollinated varieties with genetically modified crops.

"Gardeners and farmers have assumed that the primary sources of seed will always be available as raw material for the food production system. Yet increasingly this assumption is unsustainable. We need to teach ourselves and our children that stewardship of our seed resources is a community responsibility that begins on the local level."

After the Harvest, What Should We Do With These Leftover Seeds?

After the harvest it is time to clean up the gardening workbench. In the rush of life, the left over seed packets always seem to go to the bottom of the list as shown below in my garage workspace:

The first step in saving seeds is to make sure they are dry. Store them in a cool dry place or in a refrigerator. If you store them in plastic or glass containers be sure to use a desiccant such as powdered milk or silica gell as described on the Organic Gardening website.

How Long Will My Seeds Last?

Here is a chart provided by Dayna Mcdamiels of Seed Savers KC.

Vegetable

Years

Vegetable

Years

Asparagus

3

Kohlrabi

3

Bean

3

Leek

2

Beet

4

Lettuce

6

Broccoli

3

Muskmelon

5

Brussels sprouts

4

Mustard

4

Cabbage

4

New Zealand spinach

3

Carrot

3

Okra

2

Celeriac

3

Onion

1

Cauliflower

4

Parsley

1

Celery

3

Parsnip

1

Chard, Swiss

4

Pea

3

Chicory

4

Pepper

2

Chinese cabbage

3

Pumpkin

4

Collards

5

Radish

5

Corn, sweet

2

Rutabaga

4

Cucumber

5

Salsify

1

Eggplant

4

Spinach

3

Endive

5

Squash

4

Fennel

4

Tomato

4

Kale

4

Turnip

4

 

Watermelon

4

seed packets

The Best Deal on Seeds

The best deal on seeds is of course after the harvest in the local seed store, nursery, or food coop. Seed packets go for half price or less. Now that you know how long seeds will last in storage, grab the seeds with the longest projected viability knowing that by the time you plant them more than a year will have gone by since they were packaged. Here is a post growing season seed sale rack at The Merc Food Coop. in Lawrence, Kansas.

References:

The Political Failure of Keynesian Economics, Atlantic Magazine, Megan McCardle, Feb, 16 2011
Kansas Native Seed Society
The Landreth Seed Company


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/30/2014

My new book, Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement, spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far.

The following profile, which has been excerpted from Planting A Future, features one of Oregon’s oldest and most successful biodynamic farms.

The farmers who own Winter Green Farm in Oregon

Jack Gray, Mary Jo Wade, Wali Via, and Jabrila Via came together at Winter Green Farm the way tributaries meet and combine on their way to something larger than themselves. In doing so, they helped cut a path that many of today’s new farmers are stepping into. There are a lot of ways to tell this story, but I think I’ll follow the sun west and begin back east in Atlanta, Georgia.

Wali Via was looking for something when, as a teenager, he ran away from his Georgia home. A lot of people were looking during the late sixties and early seventies. But regardless of the inciting incident, his search began in an intentional community (aka commune) in the Georgia countryside, and it was there he discovered an activity that would become the central element in his journey. That activity was organic farming.

Wali spent ten months discovering agriculture in that Georgia community before resuming his travels and ultimately settling in another intentional community near Deadwood, Oregon. The eight and a half years he lived and worked in the Deadwood community brought to fruition all of the seeds he had carried with him from his Georgia roots. He began to understand the nature of biodiversity and the rudiments of biodynamic farming. He also met the love of his life, Jabrila. And together, they had a child and began a family of their own.

It takes very little time when talking with Jabrila Via to know she is a perfect match for Wali. A fellow seeker from Menlo Park, California, Jabrila embodies the metaphysical influences of people who cherish the spiritual connectedness of life and wish to share the beauty they see. But in Jabrila’s case, metaphysics should not be confused with something overly ethereal or anything other than pretty damn strong. She has earned her position in Oregon’s organic farming community with a lot of work over a lot of years.

Not long after the birth of their first child, Wali and Jabrila left their intentional community to create a homestead of their own several miles down the road on a worn out farm they were able to lease from a friend. They both talk fondly of the experience, but neither mince words about what kind of a struggle it was. With virtually no money, Wali was forced to find work where he could, either in the woods or occasionally fighting fires. Which left Jabrila home alone with first one, then two little girls.

"I’d get up in the morning with a three-year-old, a new baby, and a cow to milk. My three-year-old learned to milk a quarter by herself. She was fantastic and she’d just sit there and do it. Then I’d milk the rest of the cow while I nursed the baby, and of course the cat and the calf wanted milk, so it was a full experience. There were greenhouses to water. Starts and transplants. Things had to happen and it was me and the girls, so we’d make games of it. The big projects waited for Wali to come home.”

It’s hard to make progress when there’s too much to do, and by 1985 Wali and Jabrila knew they were at a decision point. Either they were going to spend the rest of their lives struggling to make something of the rundown farm they were attempting to rebuild, because it was going to be slow going, or they could look for another situation that might lead to more opportunities for them and their children. That led them to pay a visit to Jack Gray and Mary Jo Wade, another young farm couple they had met during the original formation meetings of Oregon Tilth.

Jack and Mary Jo had their own homestead near Noti, Oregon, which has grown to become the Winter Green Farm we know today. But when it was founded in 1980, it was just two idealistic 20-somethings chasing a dream they were struggling to realize. Regardless, they weren’t about to give up on it… that wasn’t in their makeup.

A field of cruciferous vegetables at Winter Green Farm in Oregon

If one imagines what a wise and experienced farmer might be like, I suspect they’d come up with someone akin to Jack Gray. Jack’s journey to an Oregon homestead was nothing like Wali’s, but it was every bit as interesting.

Jack was born and raised in Portland, son of a businessman who happened to own a ranch in eastern Oregon, and that’s where Jack “was involved for a chunk of time from high school on.” It’s where he loved to be. Outdoors. Riding horses and raising cattle. Who would have guessed that he’d travel to Middletown, Connecticut, to attend Wesleyan University and study geology. But I’m sure he’s glad he did, because that’s where he met his very own Jersey girl.

When Mary Jo met Jack, she knew nothing of farming beyond the garden her father grew in their backyard, but she was ready to follow Jack west when college came to an end. “I didn’t mind coming to the West Coast. I’d finished my economics degree, and I was ready to go somewhere. My boyfriend was out here so I came out here. I worked in Portland the first couple years while Jack worked on the ranch in eastern Oregon. As far as homesteading went, I was as idealistic as everyone else. It turned out to be a pretty fun adventure. And I guess it worked out because we’re the only people I know who have had the same address since 1980.”

Before launching their homesteading plans, Jack took a job as business manager of a new magazine called Small Farmers Journal which actually had its own small farm. Jack and Mary Jo moved onto the Journal farm and if Jack had any reservations about farming prior to that, the magazine erased them. Readers of the Journal can vouch for the fount of agricultural romance packed in each issue. The Journal even had it’s own draft horses. At that time, the Journal was based in Junction City, Oregon, so they began looking for their own land in that area and settled at their current place near Noti.

Jack and Mary Jo’s homestead had a stronger financial foundation than Wali and Jabrila’s, but homesteading is homesteading, and regardless of what you start with, a steady source of income is necessary to sustain it.

“As we got started we were going to raise raspberries and be a dairy,” said Mary Jo. “Maybe sell cheese. And do it all with draft horses. We were pretty young. We had a lot of ideas.”

Click here to read Part 2.

Order your copy of Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement.

(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: Winter Green Farm owners (from left) Jack Gray, Chris Overbaugh, Shannon Overbaugh, Wali Via, Mary Jo Wade, Jabrila Via.

(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes: A field of cruciferous vegetables at today's Winter Green Farm.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/29/2014

Aji Amarillito Peppers

In 2012, we were asked to grow Aji Amarillo peppers for one of our customers. They are used extensively in Peruvian cuisine, but here in the U.S. they are often in short supply, and chefs are limited to using imported Aji Amarillo pastes or dried peppers. It is now almost 3 years later and we still haven’t been able to deliver the Aji Amarillo for the customer who requested them. Paradoxically, however, Aji Amarillo has become one of our favorite peppers, although it feels like we are only scratching the surface of its potential.

Problems (and Solutions) Growing Aji Amarillo Peppers

The main reason we have yet to deliver ripe Aji Amarillo peppers to the customer who originally requested them is that, by chance, we started off growing the “wrong” cultivar of Aji Amarillo. In 2012, we got seeds from a couple of different sources, and the only seeds that germinated that year produced an abundance of 1- to 2-inch-long peppers. What the chefs expected were 5- to 7-inch peppers with much thicker flesh, and the peppers we produced were “too small.” It wasn’t clear, back then if the problem was that our peppers were not grown under the right conditions or if something else was wrong. But, it is clear now that the Aji Amarillo peppers we grew were simply a different strain (cultivar) of Aji Amarillo than the one our customers wanted.

An additional problem with our peppers, as far as our customers were concerned, was that our peppers were not the right color. Instead of being golden orange, they were mostly yellow. What we now know, is that Aji Amarillo needs a long, hot summer to ripen an abundance of fruit. Our summers in Northern California wine country are probably not quite long enough and/or not quite hot enough to produce large amounts of ripe golden-orange Aji Amarillo peppers. Typically, at the end of our growing season, most of the peppers are still more yellow than golden orange. Given these results, we had a couple of choices. First, we could call our Aji Amarillo project a bust, and stop growing them. Alternatively, we could find other uses for the very flavorful, unripe yellow peppers.

Aji Amarillos Make Great ‘Frying’ Peppers

Perhaps not surprisingly, particularly since this is a blog post about Aji Amarillo peppers, we decided to take the second approach, and find other uses for these peppers. One important factor, worth pointing out, is that we really liked the mildly warm flavor of the unripe Aji Amarillo peppers. They were fruity, and the flavor was bright and clean. We were so taken with these unique peppers that we took them home, and tried using them in different ways. We discovered right away that we liked them best as “frying peppers.”

In general, frying peppers, like Spanish Padron peppers or Italian Friariello peppers, have soft skins and clean flavors without bitterness. They are well-suited to frying in olive oil with salt, and eaten whole as appetizers. We found that we liked young Aji Amarillo frying peppers, as much as, or better than the other frying peppers we knew. Our customers were also easily convinced – particularly when we handed out fried Aji Amarillo peppers at our farmers market stand. So, for the past two summers, our unripe Aji Amarillo peppers have been the cornerstone of the frying pepper mix we sell.

This year we also discovered another great use for Aji Amarillo peppers – in this case the hotter ones. Although we still haven’t developed a significant market for our ripe peppers, we let some of the plants produce fully ripe peppers at the end of the year. We have done this mainly to collect seed.  But, we have also found that both the ripe orange peppers, and the not-quite-ripe yellow, can be oven roasted for use all-year-round. We use our roasted peppers to spice up winter soups and stews; to season eggs and quiche; and to add warmth and depth-of-flavor to teas.

Now that we have figured out some of the many uses for the version of Aji Amarillo we started out with, it is also time to explore the other Aji Amarillo pepper cultivars available. A few short years ago there was only one commercial source for Aji Amarillo peppers, now there are a few. This coming year we will be growing seeds we harvested from some large Aji Amarillo peppers we were given, as well as Aji Amarillo seeds from Trade Winds Fruit, Reimer Seeds and Midwest Chile Peppers. Readers interested in our little Aji Amarillo can find it at our online store.

Tips for Growing Aji Amarillo Peppers

Now for a few final suggestions, for gardeners and growers interested in Aji Amarillo:

1. Start your seeds early. The seedlings are slow-growing, even compared with other peppers.

2. Try eating Aji Amarillo at all stages of ripeness. The flavors evolve throughout ripening. You won’t know which version of this pepper you like best, unless you try them all.

3. Maximize warmth and light. Try to plant your Aji Amarillo plants against a sunny wall, or in a greenhouse, if you live in cooler or more northern climates.

4. Try frying young peppers in olive oil with sea salt. They really do make a great snacking pepper. Eat everything but the stem!

5. When roasting the peppers, we cut the peppers at the top, and remove the stems. Then we roast them at low heat (200 degrees Farenheit) in an oven for as long as it takes them to become yellow-brown and brittle.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



12/26/2014

Index Card Seed Varieties

It’s early winter, 15 degrees outside with two inches of snow on the ground. I bundle up and walk to the mailbox, lamenting my gardens. I grab the mail, and suddenly I realize that I have the promise of Spring in my hands — the first seed catalogue for 2015 has arrived!

As I turn the pages, excited at all the new varieties, I realize that it’s time to plan for spring.

An uncomplicated way of collecting and organizing your information during those long winter days is to get some index cards, scissors and tape. Cut out the plant varieties from catalogues that you find interesting, with the pertinent information such as soil recommendations, zone, height and light requirements. Tape this information to the index card. Then in the spring, take this information when you go to your local greenhouse or nursery in search of your plants. It’s difficult talking about a plant when you say “It’s about this tall and has little white flowers”. That leaves quite an array of plants and confusion. These index cards can be invaluable to you and your garden. You will have all your information and can write down observations about your plants over time.

When you get to your gardening destination find your plant. Read the plant tags. Tags can be useful as plant markers in your garden but very limited on information. They are great reminders in the following year of what you planted. An excellent plant example of utilizing tags is the Balloon Flower. This plant is very slow to make its appearance in the spring. All your other plants will be growing nicely. Without a tag you might be inclined to believe it did not survive the winter. A tag is a simple reminder to be patient and give the plant a chance before digging it up and replanting it.

If you have any problems locating your plant, approach your nursery person and show them your index card. They might not have your plant but will be able to assist you in your search. Talk to them; do not be afraid to ask questions when purchasing your plants. Knowledgeable nursery persons appreciate talking about plants and will gladly give you even more information about your plants. Nursery persons want you to have a successful garden and a favorable experience at their nursery. They want you to come back to their establishment. The more you know about your plants the better your garden will thrive.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/24/2014

We are amazed at how incredibly productive our hoop house is, infinitely better than a cold frame! The rate of growth of cold-weather crops is much faster inside; the crop quality, especially leafy greens, is superb. Plants can tolerate lower temperatures than outdoors, as they have the pleasant daytime conditions in which to recover. Salad greens in a hoop house can survive nights with outdoor lows of 14 degrees Fahrenheit (–10 degrees Celsius). Winter gardening in a hoophouse is much more pleasant than dealing with frozen row covers and hoops outdoors.

Hoophouse winter lettuce mix

Hoop House Winter Veggies

We grow mainly salad crops, cooking greens, turnips, radishes, scallions and bare root transplants for setting outdoors in February and March. We aim to harvest greens from the hoophouse after the outdoor crops slow down, and the turnips after the stored outdoor fall turnips have all been eaten, or as an occasional delectable alternative.

Daily Hoop House Tasks In Winter

We reckon on two hours work each day in winter in our 96- by 30-foot-high tunnel. Aim to keep the temperature in the 65 degrees Fahrenheit – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius – 27 degrees Celsius) range during the day, opening the windows and doors as needed. If the sun is shining we usually open the windows around 9 am and close them around 2:30 pm (a few hours before dark) to store some of the warmth. Even in cold weather, plants need fresh air! High-density cropping can really use up the carbon dioxide in a closed hoophouse very quickly. When this happens, photosynthesis crashes and plant growth becomes limited. Soil high in organic matter contains high levels of organisms that produce carbon dioxide, which helps. Dense plant canopies can trap this near soil level, where it is most useful.

Our main task each day is harvesting. In the winter of 2009–2010, we had frozen soil or snow on the ground outside for a month (very unusual in central Virginia). Despite this we were able to keep a hundred people in fresh salad and cooking greens (with turnips and scallions for variety) for the whole month. Aside from harvesting, jobs include planting new crops, clearing old ones, spreading compost, hoeing, hand weeding and supplying water as needed. We have drip irrigation. In the middle of winter, not much water is needed, and we try to only water when a relatively mild night is forecast.

Tatsoi

Persephone Days And Scheduling Winter Hoophouse Crops

To harvest in the darkest days of winter you’ll need a good supply of mature crops to take you through. What has already grown before this period will provide most of your harvests. When the daylight is shorter than 10 hours a day not much growth happens. In Central Virginia, latitude 38 degrees North, this period lasts from November 21 to January 21. Soil temperature also affects growth rate. For us, December 15 to February 15 is the slowest growing time. For most of the winter, our hoophouse plants are actively growing, not merely being stored for harvest (as happens in colder climate zones and outdoors), so we can continue sowing new hoophouse crops even in December.

Growing Greens And The Hazards Of Nitrate Accumulation

During periods of short daylight length, there is a health risk associated with nitrate accumulation in leafy greens. Nitrates are converted in the body into toxic nitrites, which reduce the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Also, nitrites can form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Plants make nitrates during the night, and convert them into leaf material during the day. It takes about six hours of sunlight to use up a night’s worth of nitrates. In winter, a small handful of leafy vegetables can exceed the acceptable daily intake level of nitrate for an adult, unless special efforts have been made to reduce the levels. Spinach, mustard greens and collards contain about twice as much as lettuce; radishes, kale and beets often have two and a half times as much. Turnip greens are especially high, at 3 times lettuce levels.

Bright Lights chard

How To Keep Nitrate Levels As Low As Possible:

• Grow varieties best suited for winter.
• Avoid fertilizing with animal-based fertilizers; use organic compost.
• Ensure soil has enough Phosphorous, Potassium, Magnesium and Molybdenum.
• Water enough but not excessively.
• Provide fresh air as soon as temperatures reach 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), so that carbon dioxide levels are high enough.
• Harvest after at least four (preferably six) hours of bright sunlight in winter.
• Avoid harvesting on very overcast days.
• Avoid over-mature crops and discard the outer leaves. Harvest crops a little under-mature.
• Refrigerate immediately after harvest, store harvested greens at temperatures close to freezing; use crops soon after harvest.
• Mix your salads; don’t just eat turnip greens.

When We Harvest Winter Hoophouse Crops (In Central Virginia)

November: spinach, lettuce leaves, mizuna, arugula, beet greens, tatsoi and brassica mix for salad, radishes and scallions.
• From December: baby lettuce mix, Tokyo Bekana, Maruba Santoh, chard, kale and turnips. Kale grows whenever it is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius).
January till mid-March; the bigger greens, including Senposai, pak choy, Chinese cabbage and Yukina Savoy

How to Harvest Winter Vegetables

Don’t harvest frozen crops - wait till they thaw. With fall-sown crops the aim is often to keep the same plants alive through the winter. November-January is not a good time to sow replacements.

With leafy vegetables, highest productivity is from “Cut and Come Again” crops: cut the tops of the plants above the growing point with scissors or shears every 10 to 35 days. Leaf-by-leaf is the method we use for kale, collards, chard and spinach. Never remove more than 40 percent of the total leaf area: less than half of the leaves, with a safety margin. We say “Leave eight for later.”

Once spinach plants start to look a bit past their peak, we “crew-cut” or buzz-cut them. Initially we harvest lettuce by the leaf, leaving the center to keep growing, and switch to harvesting the heads in late January, when growth begins to pick up. Whole plant harvesting works well for small plants like tatsoi and corn salad. A direct-seeded row can be thinned over time by harvesting out the biggest plants on each visit.

Pam Dawling is the garden manager at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at Sustainable Market Farming. Pam blogs on her website and also on Sustainable Market Farming Facebook Page.

Photo by Twin Oaks Community, Wren Vile, Ethan Hirsh, Pam Dawling.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/24/2014

Seed Libraries cover

Seed libraries are seed sharing programs that help to keep the seeds in the hands of the people so they don’t have to depend on corporations to keep their gardens growing. Members receive seeds—a small amount, usually not enough for their whole garden—and grow them out to seed themselves. A portion of these saved seeds are donated back to the seed library to be shared with others. Gradually the library will build a supply of seeds that grow well in that specific community. It is all about locally grown and seeds are pretty good at adapting to local conditions. If they don’t adapt, they don’t thrive enough to be saved. All of this leads to resilient seeds and resilient communities.

I have written a book about seed libraries and other seed share programs. Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People will be released by New Society around the beginning of February. It is at the printers now. I will have signed copies available through Homeplace Earth where you can pre-order Seed Libraries beginning January 1. It will be shipped as soon as it is available, possibly the first of February. In celebration of this newest book, Homeplace Earth is offering free shipping on all book and DVD orders placed in January 2015.

Public libraries have begun to add seeds to their offerings and you will find more seed libraries as part of public library programs than any other venue. I devote a chapter to the Role of Public Libraries. However, seed sharing can take place between friends, in informal gatherings, and as organized seed swaps. It is all in the book. Besides information of why you should save seeds, the book details how to go about organizing a seed library program and how to keep it going. Keeping it going is often the sticking point.

Seed Libraries has lots of ideas of how to celebrate seeds besides saving them and passing them on to others. You may have heard about some seed libraries being challenged by their state department of agriculture. Although it made the headlines, there are plenty of other seed libraries operating freely, so don’t let that deter your project. There are seed library forces at work to change the laws to exempt seed libraries from the laws that govern seed companies. Those laws are great to protect consumers from unscrupulous seed dealers, but seed libraries are something different entirely. If you suspect that your project will be challenged, or you really want to champion seed saving and sharing but are not ready to manage seeds, you will enjoy the ideas in the book that go beyond handling seeds.

Learn more about Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People at Homeplace Earth. This book doesn’t tell you how to save seeds, but it covers caring for seeds and making them available to others. We are Living in Exciting Times! (title of the last chapter) and have the opportunity to take an active part in the cultural shift happening in the world today. A new way of thinking and living is evolving right before our eyes. Seed libraries are part of that shift. Seed sharing programs are evolving so fast that it was hard to write about them. They will continue to change, but you have to begin somewhere. Begin with this book and become part of the transformation of our society.

Find out more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at Homeplace Earth.


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