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Vegetables

Autumn is garlic planting season. If you save your own bulbs for planting (and I heartily recommend you do), you will need to decide what part of your crop to plant and what part to sell or eat or give away. The usual advice is to plant your very best—those giant heads with mammoth cloves, because, the advice goes, “the largest cloves makes the largest heads.” But those giant heads will also sell for the most money, and that made me wonder whether I could come out ahead if I planted my mediums instead. Would they do just as well?

This past season I tried an experiment to answer that question. I took 50 large, 50 medium, and 50 small cloves, and planted them in the same bed, with the same soil preparation, and the same irrigation. (As I’ve described before, I plant shallowly into several inches of compost, and cover with several inches of leaves, which makes for a fertile, no-weed bed that requires no digging at harvest time.)

If you had looked for my onion patch a few years back, it would have been hard to find at this time of year—overgrown with endless amounts of pigweed, crabgrass, and all manner of other weeds, lording over and crowding out my onions. Last year I radically changed my approach to onions, and this year extended that approach to most of my gardens. This year, just before harvest, you can see every onion flopped over in the row, and the weeds in a 100-foot bed number in the low dozens.

I did three main things to effect this transformation, all designed to deeply bury my prodigious bank of weed seeds.  First, I stopped tilling the garden. Second, I laid several inches of new compost on each bed. Third, I mulched everything deeply with leaves, covering beds and paths alike, only pulling the leaves off the beds at planting time.

There are three major reasons I love to use drip irrigation in the garden: It puts water where it does the most good, it puts enough of it there to really make my plants happy, and it allows me to set it and forget it for the rest of the summer—a real benefit to a busy, lazy farmer like me.

Drip systems got their start in the desert, and that’s where I first learned about them.  But they are useful wherever plants need more water than the sky will supply.

There are many types of drip emitters, but for gardeners, the most common and most useful is drip tape—thin tubing with regularly spaced slits. Laid in straight lines down the planting bed, drip tape weeps water that percolates down into the root zone, allowing the plant’s roots to dive deep for water (and bring up nutrients from there as well), rather than spread wide and stay shallow.

When I started gardening, I thought everything got planted only once; when it was harvested, you waited until next year to get more. But over time I learned nothing could be further from the truth—with succession planting, you can reap multiple harvests of the same crop all season long.

Lettuce is perhaps the premier crop in this regard. There is no reason that home gardeners can’t have fresh lettuce on the table every week of the season, and no reason market gardeners can’t sell lettuce at the farm stand from March to December. All it takes is a plan, the right varieties, and keeping at it.

 

Most of the gardeners I know are optimists, and there is nothing quite as tempting to the optimistic gardener as getting the earliest possible start on the tomato season and, one hopes, the earliest possible harvest. But after a number of years of succumbing to this temptation myself, while I still try to push the season, I’ve learned to hold off planting for much longer than my optimistic self might like.

The reasons for waiting are three-fold and, I think, all related to cold temperatures. First, tomatoes will die in a frost, and even in the unheated hoop house, where I grow most of my tomatoes, it can get nippy well into April. I now hold off on starting my seeds until late March or beyond, and plan to transplant in late April. Second, tomatoes need warmth to grow rapidly, and steady, rapid growth is what you want. There is little to be gained by putting a tomato into cold soil. A four-week-old transplant that sits around for two weeks in the cold can easily be surpassed by one two weeks younger that skipped those two weeks of chill.

For the ambitious gardener, there is nothing quite as frustrating as planting seeds that never come up. You watch and wait, and wait some more, and wait some more, and…nothing. Precious weeks can slip away before you accept that you’re going to have to replant. For any crop, this is a nuisance; for some, like long-season tomatoes or late-season broccoli, it’s a disaster.  

There are three keys to avoiding this disaster:  

  • Store your seeds properly 

  • Test their viability   

  • Replace them when its time 

HIP

On March 21, 2019 NOFA/Mass will be supporting the coalition efforts of the MA Food System Collaborative by participating in a “Lobby Day” at the Mass State House, “as we come together as farmers, SNAP recipients, and advocates to talk to legislators and staffers about the HIP program, and urge them to include $8.5 million for the program in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.”

 

Seed Sovereignty Month

If you had a chance to read the early January Civil Eats article about the updated seed monopoly chart (“The Sobering Details Behind the Latest Seed Monopoly Chart”) then you may be newly concerned about the fact that 60% of our global seed sales are controlled by what was previously 6—and is now 4—large chemical companies.

Those companies include Bayer, ChemChina, BASF and Corteva. If you haven’t yet heard of Corteva, that’s the name of the new agritech company created after Dow and DuPont merged (conveniently allowing DuPont to shed negative associations and bad press after poisoning the water in dozens of communities with PFOS, PFOA, and other fluorinated chemicals used to make nonstick Teflon cookware).

Seeds

For the backyard gardener, a seed catalog can be an exciting resource full of opportunities that cast visions of gorgeous rare plants thriving in your garden and previously undiscovered vegetables that astound your taste buds. But where did these unique seeds come from and why does it matter?

There are different terminologies that are thrown around and each one carries with it an understanding of how plants reproduce and ultimately the way that they are controlled.

Larry Najuch of Namac Farm

Larry Najuch of Namac Farm

Larry is one of six growers who will be participating in the Soil Technical Assistance grant that we received from the MA Department of Agricultural Resources. These six growers will work closely with Laura Davis and Caro Roszell on soil education through soil mineralization and carbon proxy testing and analysis. His path has taken him through both growing and supermarket produce management. He shares the insights and help he received from NOFA and his plans for his newly cleared farm for the long and short term.

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