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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

by Charles Capaldi

Dateline – May 1st, 2010

Today, Paul Bishop lives in Houston, Texas.  But his farming roots reach far back into a childhood with time well-spent on his grandparents’ farm in Tennessee.   Now that he’s a grown up, with a day job requiring a deft hand at tying a tie, Paul’s farming consists of  a couple 18″-deep raised beds set right on the lawn.  He trucked in a pile of black, fertile, organic soil and planted his crop right there.  When he told me that, I knew that I had a kindred spirit on the other end of the phone.  I also know from the indoctrination tapes on the interstate as you drive into the Lone Star state:  Everything in Texas is bigger, better and above all, warmer than most of the nation.  While a late season weather event left my Vermont garden blanketed in snow, Paul’s cukes are blooming in Houston.   Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.

And arrive they have …

“At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked them up on the web and they turned out to be striped cucumber beetles.”

Paul did what most of us would do in our right mind.  He ran out to a local garden supply store and asked what he could use.  Sure enough, the clerk sold him a bottle of something he promised would work and that he reassured him, was indeed organic.  Of course, the idea that we can just spray something on our crops to protect them from predators, or add something to our soil to make everything grow better, oversimplifies the relationship between the relative order of a kitchen garden and the chaos of nature.  Where the raison d’être of a garden supply store is to sell you something, the raison d’être of an organic garden is to find that balance between order and chaos.

In a small garden, picking off any visible beetles only takes a few minutes each day.  My youngest son regularly cashes in his haul of potato, asparagus, and Japanese beetles to the tune of a penny a piece – and then promptly feeds the contents of his container to the chickens who provide the service of turning them into eggs.  We also use floating row covers to confound the wee beasties – Remay, for instance,  is a woven horticultural fabric, permeable to light, air and water.  At its simplest, it can be laid directly on top of the crop to confound the pests whose stomachs are way bigger than their brains.

Unfortunately, living in the great North, just about everything blows away in the wind, so we borrowed a page from Eliot Coleman’s books (The Four Season Harvest and now, The New Organic Grower).  Portable tunnels may well be the cheapest way to cover a section of garden –tunnels made from flexible PVC pipe and appropriate cover material – greenhouse plastic, Remay, shade cloth – your choice depending on the desired effect.

In mid April, we cut 5 foot lengths of PVC and inserted them into the ground as deep as we could push them on either side of the bed.  We planted our brassicas under the protection of this tunnel – weeks ahead of the traditional spring planting date in our area (Memorial Day).  The floating row cover (for bug protection), greenhouse plastic (for heat-loving crops), or shade cloth (for mid summer cool weather crops), can be laid over top of the hoops and secured by rocks, bags of sand, or even lengths of wood.  This works like a charm to protect the crops from invaders, or in our case, from the two feet of snow that blanketed our garden during a late season winter weather event.  According to The New Organic Grower, temperatures under the floating row crop are typically 4 degrees warmer than the ambient air temperature.  Our power went out for 24 hours, the ski resorts reopened their slopes and we, needless to say, rekindled the fire in our woodstove.  The seedlings under a thin cover of Remay cloth were none the worse for wear.  So whether your problem is cucumber beetles or temperature extremes, floating row covers may be the answer you are looking for.  

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

What We've Learned From Compost

What We’ve Learned From Compost

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Our compost piles will age for at least a year before being added to the garden. We have learned that the slow aging is more beneficial to the decomposition process as well as not losing nearly as much nitrogen to off-gassing as happens with the hot and fast methods. Another benefit is the decomposition is much more thorough, destroying weed seeds, pathogens and any unwanted chemicals much better in a slower composting setup.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

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There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

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After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

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The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

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Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

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Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

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Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT