The beets that prompted this story grabbed my attention because they had been bred with flavor in mind. Specifically, these beets had been selected to be either very high or very low in geosmin, the simple twelve-carbon molecule that gives soil its distinctive earthy aroma. It’s long been known that beets have an earthy character; some people call them “dirt candy” while others say they just taste like dirt. Of the flavor components identified in beets, earthiness is the one that people most often dislike, so my doctoral advisor, Dr. Irwin Goldman, had wondered: If we bred a beet with less geosmin, would more people like it?
I have grown potatoes in my garden for many years and agree with the French: the flowers are gorgeous. They may be white, pink, red, blue and purple. I favor Yukon Gold, which produces purple flowers with brilliant yellow anthers and stigmas. Perhaps I am biased, but I don’t think any other flower is so beautiful.
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…
As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.
Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.
In this column we finish cultivating a selection of questions from the 2012 farm tours. We also respond to a question from a group of forty extension agents who toured the bio-extensive market garden in 2010. We thought their concern about managing horse manure in the vegetable fields was timely to address given the recent release of the FDA’s proposed Produce Safety Rule.
The first year we plowed up four acres of the old hayfields (corresponding to fields 1-8 on the map) and planted oats for the work horses. We also put out about a quarter-acre of medicinal herbs and vegetables to see what would grow well in our area. Digging quackgrass out of these trial crops on our hands and knees convinced us that we needed to use the summer fallow to deal with this perennial weed before committing to a larger acreage of produce.
For the past 25 growing seasons, we have used the dryland practices described in this article to direct seed and transplant vegetables all season long without irrigation. Of course, rainfall has been necessary to finish out some of our longer term crops, and yields have generally been better in wet weather. Nevertheless, we consistently get good stands of produce without precipitation or watering in the plants, and our income from dryland fruits and vegetables has increased every year without expanding acreage. Although not a substitute for irrigation, the following moisture preserving ideas may possibly be helpful to growers making do with limited access to water or simply desiring to reduce the size of their hydrological footprint.
In the Summer 2008 SFJ we reported on our initial experiment using the fallow field cover crops to generate enough mulch materials for a 380’ row of un-irrigated winter squash. Encouraged by the excellent crop growth and yield despite the dry, hot conditions of 2007, we repeated the experiment the following years, trying to determine the optimum ratio of land in straw producing cover crops to cash crop area. In 2009, we finally got it right: we seeded a 36’ wide strip of rye and medium red clover in September of 2008, then, in April, 2009, we skim plowed a 12’ wide area in the middle of the overwintering cover crops for planting the winter squash.
To weatherproof more of the market garden in 2011, we tried a variation on the grow-your-own mulch system we developed for producing winter squash in the fallow fields. We discovered it was possible to mulch row crops like tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and leeks by moving windrows of rye into the pathways. Although awkward to handle at first, we soon got the hang of picking up an 8-10’ length of twisted rye straw in our arms and walking it from the fallow lands into the adjacent vegetable field.
We have relied exclusively on rye for the grow-your-own mulch experiment because it is such a perfect match for many of our spring and summer vegetables. Established in early-to-mid September at our northern Pennsylvania location, rye produces a prodigious amount of biomass by the end of the following May. Mowing the rye at this time eliminates the possibility of volunteer grain. And raking the conveniently grown straw next to the adjacent vegetables a week or two later coincides nicely with the soil temperature and moisture requirements of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, leeks and winter squash. This year we branched out a little, trialing different cover crops for other growing windows.
Our winter workshops seem to generate a lot of interest in bioextensive market gardening among young growers. However, we sense an undercurrent of frustration because many of the participants do not have access to enough land to fallow half of the market garden. We hope that the following list of speculative suggestions will provide some encouragement to new vegetable farmers who cannot afford to take land out of production but want to take advantage of the bioextensive principles of rotational cover cropping, minimum-depth tillage, and bare fallowing.
Over the last twenty plus years of intensive vegetable growing at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT, we have constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of our crops and soils. Much of the land grows vegetable crops year round so the intensity of production demands very careful soil care. Over the last several years a system was developed on the farm which has proven to be quite successful. The various methods are still being fine tuned; but with a high level of success and it seems appropriate to share what has been done.
Originally developed in the Midwest as an alternative to chemical no-till which aided soil warming and mechanical weed control, we adapted ridge-tillage to horsedrawn market garden production by attaching the rough equivalent of a ridge-till sweep to the middle of the riding cultivator. We initially used a cast-off roto-tiller middle buster found on the farm, then upgraded to a heavier duty customized 12” sweep, and finally settled on a 10” furrower purchased from Agri-Supply.
Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?
The whole secret of the growth of these products before the regular season is in the cropping and the soil. Every inch of soil bears at least three crops a year, each of them anticipating the season and therefore producing fancy prices. The soil is regarded by the gardeners as of so much value that, as explained, there is a special clause in the lease that they are at liberty to cart it away to a depth of eighteen inches if they give up the farm at the termination of the agreement. The ground is so precious that no space is allowed for a wheelbarrow path. The loads are all carried in baskets and not a square inch is allowed to go to waste in this rich garden.
Market gardeners who already have an up and running tractor-powered operation and think they might want to explore transitioning to live horse power are often attracted to the idea of starting with a single horse. The single horse can also be a viable option for creating a mixed power system where the tractor is used for heavy tillage and the horse is used for secondary tillage, cultivation, and other light draft tasks around the farm. And for the complete beginner looking to get started in market gardening and working with horses, a single horse has a lot of appeal.
To grow a crop of fruit is but the initial step towards the successful termination of the enterprise. If the fruit is to be sent to market, then crates, baskets, etc., are necessary for gathering and transporting, all of which should be provided in advance of the ripening of the crop. The number of baskets required per acre cannot be given, inasmuch as the product will not be the same in any two seasons, but it is always best to provide enough, for if the supply should fall short in the busy part of the season, it might cause considerable loss.
If we had to buy all we eat there is no way we could afford it. And I like having my husband home too much to give him up to a high paying job half my life just so we can eat well. Good food is expensive. Grass fed beef and dairy, free range chickens, organic and non-GMO fruit, vegetables, grain, honey, and maple syrup. So, we skip the high paying jobs and live on less, spending our lives in each other’s company and growing what we eat.
My gardening career extends from the late 40s to the present. I am not a certified master gardener who has achieved acclaim and fame. Vegetable production has been fairly substantial with a scope of hundreds of jars canned, quarts frozen, and bushels dried almost every year. Eighty-five percent of the food we eat is produced on our farm and in our gardens. As we have worked in the agrarian life style, we have learned many lessons which have come in the form of failure – missed expectation. Perhaps some of our experiences will help you.
Every year finds some new unexpected battle with the elements. Seems like if I lay drip tape as I plant my rows then I am in for a wet year that needs no irrigation. If my memory is still smarting from last years’ wet summer and I plant my rows in hills, seems like the weather takes its cue to be dry. There’s wind storms and hail, rain in sheets and scorching heat. It can all happen and I don’t know when. In the meantime, we take what we get, cope with the weather extremes as best we can and are grateful for the crops we have. Although there is little we can do about the weather, we are not entirely helpless when contending with it. There are things we can do to help protect our garden.
If melons are to be grown as one of the crops in a regular rotation, they should follow the leguminous crop that is grown for the purpose of adding humus and nitrogen to the soil. In regions where winter wheat and clover are grown, a rotation of wheat, clover, and melons is highly satisfactory. Another good rotation is oats, clover, melons, and corn. In regions where clover does not thrive and wheat and oats are not grown, a rotation of corn, cowpeas, and melons may be employed, or the rotation extended by seeding to grass after the melons are harvested.
Harrow or rake the soil smooth as in any good gardening operation. Early spring planting is best for the home garden. If you cannot set the plants on arrival, hold them until planting time in the refrigerator with the roots in moist packing, or put the plants in a plastic bag. Soak the roots in water for an hour before you set them in the garden. Plant on a cloudy day or in the evening, and water after setting.
A good deal of the success with hotbeds is due to the careful selection of the manure. Cold manure, like that of cows and pigs, should never be used because it will not heat. Horse manure is best, but in this case at least one-third of the bulk should be straw. If pure manure is used, it will pack too tightly when firmed, so that it will not heat. If possible, the manure from grain-fed, straw-bedded horses should be used.
This pepper came to me through David and is easily one of our favorite varieties on the farm. Before I was a local food eater and farmer, many vegetables were unappealing; celery was bitter, cucumbers were spongy, and peppers were leathery and tart. My dislike of peppers quickly changed into an obsession after growing Jimmy Nardellos.
The accumulation of unsalable wool from the production of lamb for meat increases overall storage needs and overhead costs. The reason many wool growers store this kempy wool is simple; there is no existing market for kempy wool, as it has no textile value, and thus is considered an agricultural waste. During the 2010 growing season the price of kempy wool was seven cents per pound. At Turner Farm, Bonnie Mitsui and Melinda O’Briant, Garden Manager, resolved to address the wool storage problem by using the wool as a mulch in vegetable production.
The pea is grown as a field crop for the production of grain for stock-feeding and for the manufacture of “split peas” for culinary use, for canning in the factories, for forage and green-manuring and to supply the seed trade. The field- or stock-pea differs from the garden pea usually in its violet or purple rather than white flowers, its smaller and more uniformly smooth seeds, but chiefly in the less tenderness and sweetness and lower quality of the green seeds.
As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.
There are three general divisions or kinds of graftage, between which, however, there are no decisive lines of separation: 1. Bud-grafting, or budding, in which a single bud is inserted under the bark on the surface of the wood of the stock. 2. Cion-grafting, or grafting proper, in which a detached twig, bearing one or more buds, is inserted into or on the stock. 3. Inarching, or grafting by approach, in which the cion remains attached to the parent plant until union takes place.
Budding is the operation of applying a single bud, bearing little or no wood, to the surface of the living wood of the stock. The bud is applied directly to the cambium layer of the stock. It is commonly inserted under the bark of the stock, but in flute-budding a piece of bark is entirely removed, and the bud is used to cover the wound. There is every gradation between budding and grafting proper.
Grafting is the operation of inserting a cion (or scion) — or a twig comprising one or more buds — into the stock, usually into an incision in the wood. It is variously divided or classified, but chiefly with reference to the position on the plant, and to the method in which the cion and stock are joined. In reference to position, there are four general classes: 1. Root-grafting, 2. Crown-grafting, 3. Stem-grafting, and 4. Top-grafting.
Veneer grafting makes no incision into old wood, and all wounded surfaces are completely covered by the matching of the cion and stock. It is not necessary, therefore, to wax over the wounds, as a rule. If used in the open, however, wax should be used. So far as the union of the parts is concerned, this is probably the most perfect form of grafting.
In making the resin and beeswax waxes, the materials are first broken up finely and melted together. When thoroughly melted, the liquid is poured into a pail or tub of cold water. It soon becomes hard enough to handle, and it is then pulled and worked until it becomes tough or “gets a grain,” at which stage it becomes the color of very light-colored manila paper. When wax is applied by hand, the hands must be well greased.
Row 7 is a unique new seed company grounded in ‘the notion that deliciousness might just change the world.’ A seed company built by chefs and breeders striving to make ingredients taste better before they ever hit a plate. It’s a collaboration—a cross-pollination— based on a simple premise: they believe flavor can succeed where commodification has failed. That it can change how we all eat and, in turn, how we might grow.
Russian household agriculture – dacha gardening – is likely the most extensive system of successful food production of any industrialized nation. This shows that highly decentralized, small-scale food production is not only possible, but practical on a national scale and in a geographically large and diverse country with a challenging climate for growing. Most of the USA has far more than the 110 days average growing season that Russia has.
Ever wonder where all that seed comes from when you place your midwinter seed orders? Many seed companies (as in retail seed catalogs) buy at least some of the seed they offer from commercial seed growers who have a highly mechanized operation. This allows us to have inexpensive seed that is widely available. A lot of these catalogs also contract small farm growers to provide those hard-to-find specialty seeds we all love. There are also seed companies who do all their own grow-outs for the seed they offer. All these companies will also run seed trials to test the qualities of new varieties they want to offer.
This past year a phenomenon occurred I had not heard of before that brought me mixed feelings. In the face of the nationwide quarantines and shelter in place mandates, people everywhere put out gardens. People who had not gardened before, those who had not in many years, and the regular gardeners did even more. This resulted in seed companies everywhere running out of seed relatively early in the year. Many of these companies had surplus stock that was completely wiped out. And then it happened again this year. As I said this brought me mixed feelings. The first was “Wow! This is great, more people are gardening than ever!” The next thought was a little more somber and perhaps selfish, “I may not be able to count on getting the seed I want when I want it.”
Squashes and pumpkins are very easy plants to grow, provided they are given a warm and quick soil. They are long-season plants, and therefore in the North they are very likely to be caught by frosts before the full crop has matured, unless the plants are started early and make a rapid and continuous growth early in the season. In hard, rough clay lands the plants do not get a foothold early enough to allow them to mature the crop. On such lands it is impossible, also, to plant the seeds early. As a consequence, nearly all Squashes are grown on soils of a loose and relatively light character.
Shortly after we moved in to our current house, our then eight-year-old daughter, Stella, looked at the scraggly, empty lawn of her new home and asked, “Could we turn it into a food garden?” Stella’s food garden provides a little more than 15% of our family’s annual food. Many reading this will laugh, as our largest piece of antique farm equipment is a now 30-year-old rusty and rebuilt pale-blue wheelbarrow. But we look forward to our copy of Small Farmer’s Journal and page through the images of livestock, fields and crops with a curious and magnetic fascination as if it were an old family album, and this amazing feeling of connectedness to all the others who coax things from the earth in America had me pen this letter to all my brother and sister farmers.
The family meal has undergone a steady devaluation from its one time role at the center of human life, when it was the daily enactment of shared necessity and ritualized cooperation. Today, as never before in history, the meals of children are likely to have been cooked by strangers, to consist of highly processed foods that are produced far away, and are likely to be taken casually, greedily, in haste, and, all too often, alone.
It is always advisable to place coldframes and hotbeds in a protected place, and particularly to protect them from cold north winds. Buildings afford excellent protection, but the sun is sometimes too hot on the south side of large and light-colored buildings. One of the best means of protection is to plant a hedge of evergreens. It is always desirable, also, to place all the coldframes and hotbeds close together, for the purpose of economizing time and labor.
The gardener’s work, in almost every thing he does, is to co-operate with Nature. To the extent he learns how to do this, his efforts will be rewarded by success. His problem really is to discover the things he can do that will actually be working with nature, and not counter to her way of doing things. The “improving on nature” which one hears much about is in reality merely lending her a helping hand, by following the tips she herself gives. When we interpret these tips correctly and are guided accordingly, it means successful gardening.
The earth’s green carpet is the sole source of the food consumed by livestock and mankind. It also furnishes many of the raw materials needed by our factories. The consequence of abusing one of our greatest possessions is disease. This is the punishment meted out by Mother Earth for adopting methods of agriculture which are not in accordance with Nature’s law of return. We can begin to reverse this adverse verdict and transform disease into health by the proper use of the green carpet – by the faithful return to the soil of all available vegetable, animal, and human wastes.
The top two thirds of these pages features a reprint of the circa 1905 catalog from the Standard Garden Tool company. Across the bottom third of those pages we are running some of the illustrations of cultivator shovel setups from Lynn R. Miller’s Horsedrawn Tillage Tools. This book, originally published in 2001, has been out of print for 19 years. We are pleased to announce that it is once again available.
Let us remember: We all come from a great lineage of farmers, seed stewards and plant breeders. From ten thousand years to a century ago, to be a farmer was synonymous with being a seed saver, synonymous in turn with being a plant breeder. Keen observation, thoughtful selection and an appreciation for diversity across the millennia have surrounded us with all the agricultural crops we now know, love and depend on. Countless generations and entire cultures were plant breeders before DNA was even described. Indeed, modernity has thoroughly rogued human interest from our food system.
Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.
Yoder’s Produce is a market garden seeds and equipment supply company located in the heart of Ohio Amish country. Anyone serious about growing produce would benefit from reviewing this company’s catalog. They offer a wide assortment of seeds and tools. From the process of creating raised beds in fresh tilled earth all the way through to fertilizing, planting and spray applications, Yoder’s offers exceptional equipment.