Extending the Growing Season

With spring fast approaching, it is time to consider options that would allow your growing season to begin even sooner. There are several ways in which you can extend the growing season to allow you to raise crops earlier in the spring or later into the fall.

This article will discuss two methods of season extension: greenhouses and high tunnels.

Greenhouses are metal or wooden framework covered in glass or plastic, which offer the greatest controlled environment for vegetable production. They are often used with heating systems or fans to provide temperature control, and the enclosed system offers protection from pests and the elements. They can be used to cultivate plants year round (especially in colder climates) and seed plants (grow plants from seeds that will later be transplanted). In a greenhouse, the plants are grown in pots or flats using potting mix. The plants are not grown in the ground, unlike in high tunnels.

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Greenhouses can be found in a variety of sizes depending on your needs. Small, easy to assemble greenhouses can be found at many farmer’s cooperatives and other stores. Smaller greenhouses are ideal for seeding and growing plants for small farm or garden operations. In contrast, large operations often use market garden vegetable greenhouses that are normally 32 feet wide by 90 feet long. For more information and help choosing a greenhouse, visit these links: Choosing a GreenhouseGreenhouse Types and StructuresThe Benefits of a GreenhouseGreenhouse: The Benefits of A Greenhouse

High tunnels have become more popular in the past few years. Like greenhouses, they are made of stretched plastic over frames. However, in high tunnels plants are grown directly in the ground under the tunnel. The plastic sides of the tunnel roll up to provide ventilation, and normally no heating, cooling, or energy is used within the high tunnel. This often makes high tunnels a less expensive alternative to greenhouses, because they can have fewer costs from energy and potting materials. They are used for season extension and crop protection, but may get too hot to effectively grow plants in southern summers.

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Also, the NRCS is currently offering a seasonal high tunnel initiative program that will provide funds for people interested in building high tunnels. Even new farmers have received 90% funding with the program. For more information, contact your county NRCS agent and read the following link: EQUIP Seasonal High Tunnel Extension Program.

For more information about high tunnels, feel free to view these links: High Tunnel Crop Production ProjectHigh Tunnels: OverviewThe Benefits of Building a High Tunnel

Both greenhouses and high tunnels offer great benefits to any grower. Be sure to consider your options as we wait for the snow to melt!

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Industrial Hemp Making a Comeback in TN? Let’s Hope So!

There is currently a lot of talk and even some promising action surrounding the issue of re-legalizing the cultivation of industrial cannabis hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill was approved in the Federal House of Representatives finally last month with a crucial amendment that focuses on the rescheduling of industrial cannabis hemp. More specifically, the US Senate’s “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013” would appropriately differentiate the non-psychoactive cannabis hemp from another variety of the plant currently placed under schedule I drug prohibition. The amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill “allows institutions of higher education to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of agricultural or academic research.” The volition of the State’s will decide whether or not to allow hemp to be cultivated.

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This is an incredible advance in the outmoded, if ever valid, prohibition of a vital crop which has been predicted to offer to meet and exceed the nations fiber and nutritional needs. Perhaps the US can once again become a major exporter–or at least begin to provide more for itself without ravaging the land. Cannabis hemp may be a superior feedstock for bio-fuels, plastics, building materials, insulation, and a host of other products that currently are derived from unsustainable fossil fuel consumption. The impressive scale of this reality may hold promise to an end in the need to cut down one more single tree for paper. Hemp is a crop that can offer a profitable and sustainable mode of agriculture to the landscape in Tennessee.

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 Proponents of forestry and agriculture alike will surely recognize this as an epic turning point in our history—one which will likely be venerated by future generations. It is likely that the prohibition of the plant was tied to political and industrial interests which sought to remove competition from the vital and versatile agricultural crop to make way for other products in the capitalistic pursuit of profits. The controversy surrounding genetically modified crops, the need for bioremediation, the plague of petrochemical pollution, and the viability of agriculture and manufacturing for Americans are all benefits for our failing economy.

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One does not have to do too much digging to research on the Web to read about the history, many uses, and benefits of this crop that has been a part of humankind at least since agriculture itself was developed.

Legislature pertinent to the new Farm Bill is currently awaiting approval in Tennessee. There are many avenues from which to show your support for this groundbreaking step toward better health and economic stability for Tennesseans:

vvv(Click the Photo Below to Get More Info)vvv

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Please click the links below to explore a viable crop with exciting economic and environmental benefits for the land, people, families, and communities of our nation:

(All photos sourced from the Web--not property of the author.)

https://www.facebook.com/tnhemp

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c113:H.R.525:

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d113:hz208:

http://www.tnfarmbureau.org/content/farm-bureau-welcomes-2014-farm-bill

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy../Cannabis_sativa.html

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf404278q

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926669099000485 -Fiber strain different than drug

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01140671.2001.9514191 -Hemp as a pesticide [nematicide]

Bee Friendly

So we all know that America’s bee population is declining at an alarming rate. According to the USDA Agriculture Research Service, the total number of managed honey bee colonies has gone from 5 million in the 1940s to half of that today. “At the same time, the call for hives to provide pollination services has continued to increase. This means honey bee colonies are being transported over longer distances than ever before,” (ARS).

There are many possible reasons for this decline, but it seems that a clear answer has yet to be found. Some of the possibilities scientists are looking at are pathogens, such as Nosema, described morbidly as “pathogen gut fungi,” and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (ARS). Other possible causes are management and environmental stressors, including lack of diversity of plant nectar, being shipped all over the place, and not enough access to clean water in the wild. One, some, or all of these factors have most likely caused this decline, otherwise known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD for short, (ARS).
beeAs caretakers of the earth, we want to prevent this from continuing. The organic approach to agriculture, in my opinion, would help slow this tragic loss. We depend on bees for pollination and without them we would be in a bad state, let me tell you. According to the ARS, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.” They contribute billions to our country’s agricultural production annually!
That being said, I recently became aware of the fact that not all organic methods of farming are bee-friendly. Organic farmers are allowed to use a list of approved substances for fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. The Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation listed some of these substances and rated them as “Non-Toxic,” “Low Toxicity,” and “Highly Toxic,” in reference to the bee’s well-being. I will list them here for you:toxicity table
I, personally, was surprised that some of the approved practices for organic farming could be part of the cause of CCD! I’m beginning to become aware of the fact that there are two groups of organic growers. There’s the group the truly cares for the environment and then there’s the group that is just trying to capitalize on the new up-and-coming organic food trend. Then again, I know there are others out there like me who had no idea that even organic methods can be bad for bees, as well as countless other insects, however I really see my future farming adhering to Sir Albert Howard’s strict definition of what organic means. “The system (or growing production) ‘having a complex but necessary interrelationship of parts, similar to that in living things’,” (Heckman). The earth is made of a myriad of complex systems, each relying on the other to do what it does best. When one part of the large-scale system is damaged or suffering, it effects all the others in one way or another, so farming in a way that’s closest to being natural is always best, and be sure to read up on any substances you’re thinking of using!
Another practice that can help keep the bee population safe is conservative biological control, which basically means creating a bee and beneficial insect-friendly habitat in your yard, garden, or around the farm. Bees love lots of brightly-colored and sweet-smelling flowers! Crop diversity in general is good, not only for insects, but for our plant species as well! The concept of introducing beneficial insects is definitely better than using a chemical pesticide, but the Xerxes Society says this can be detrimental to bees due to the fact that some of these non-native insects think bees are tasty, too. Also, low/conservation tillage and avoiding the use of plastic mulch helps as well, as 70% of America’s bee species nest underground.
One other thing you can do to help the honey bee population is to start a hive or two or your own! The University of Tennessee offers the BeeMaster Program, a program that teaches beginners all the things you need to know to be successful. This spring it will be held on the UT Ag campus, as well as several other locations. I’ll post that link and the link for the Tennessee Beekeepers’ Association below if you are interested!

UT's BeeKeeper Program

UT’s BeeMaster program:
http://bees.tennessee.edu/beemaster.htm
Tennessee Beekeepers’ Association:
http://www.tnbeekeepers.org/

USDA Organic Info
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/organicinfo

USDA Agriculture Research Service “Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.” http://www.ars.usda.gov/news/docs.htm?docid=15572

Mader, Eric. “Organic Farming Practices: Reducing Harm to Pollinators from Farming.” Invertebrate Conservation Fact Sheet. Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation.” http://www.xerxes.org

Heckman, J. “A History of Organic Farming: Transitions from Sir Albert Howard’s War in the Soil to USDA National Organic Program.” Aug. 20, 2005.

Transplanting Time?

This year one of the goals here on the farm (UT organic farm) is to increase yields – especially for our CSA program. High yield is the ultimate goal for all farmers whether in organic or conventional systems. One way to increase yields and get a head start on the growing season is TRANSPLANTING. Studies have shown that transplanting eliminates unhealthy seedlings from crop/field production. Crops produced from transplant often lead to early yields, uniformity in growth sizes, and better weed control than direct seeding. There is a definite advantage in growing one’s own transplant as to purchasing. Purchasing cutback on greenhouse fuel and labor costs. Well, what if you do not have a greenhouse and instead of purchasing, you intend to produce your own transplants. The following is a “do it yourself” list for transplant production in organic farming/gardening:

1. Set your budget
2. Select crop varieties for growing season
3. Purchase certified organic seeds
4. Design a pre-test for seed germination (place a number of seeds
on a damped paper towel and place in a cool area)
5. Select the proper potting mix, NOT soil – certified organic
peat or other soil-less mixes (this allows for aeration,
germination, water holding capacity, etc)
6. Container for seedlings – seedling flats
7. Watering seeds demands high attention (avoid over and
under watering seeds)
8. Know the transplant age, growth stage, and possibly ideal
growth temperature of your crop selections (e.g. tomatoes:
transplant age 5-7wks, at growth stage ready to transplant,
must have buds but, no flowers, and temperature for day 75
degrees and night 65 degrees)
9. Keep potted seedlings in controlled environment at proper
temperatures during the days and nights

Happy Seedlings Awaiting TransplantTransplanting comes with so many advantages that benefits the farmer and the crops such as: enhanced uniformity for better growth, weather adaptation, reduce input costs compared to direct-seedling, decrease weeds, fast turnaround time, minimize labor cost (highly important), and lastly, less seeds usage – which reduce cost on seeds.

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

I recently attended the 23rd annual SSAWG conference held in Mobile, AL. This conference is a great networking and educational tool for beginning and seasoned farmers. Topics range from starting a small farm, understanding farm policies, how to maximize yields and profits, creating farm to school programs, high tunnel production, cattle management, insect identification and control, and understanding the biodynamics of a farm system. The University of TN was well represented and many colleges and universities were very interested in our internship program, and how we help to grow young farmers while feeding the Knoxville community.

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At the end of every conference, a dinner is held to acknowledge the accomplishments of the sustainable movement and areas of improvement.

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I am already looking forward to next year’s conference which will again be held in Mobile, AL. Hope to see you there!

Concepts and Themes in Design – Permaculture Course

Originator of the Permaculture Concept, literally denoting permanent agriculture, is Australian agriculturalist, educator, and permaculture pioneer, Bill Mollison. His contributions in the area of agricultural design and processes have given rise to many concepts that focus on developing a sustainable agriculture in all varieties of setting and climate. Permaculture not only encompasses the culture of soils and plant life, but it pays attention to all aspects of human interaction with the natural environment, such as housing, transport, community design, etc, which all spring from the idea that resources should be conserved within intentionally designed systems; much like the traditional concepts involved in organic agriculture.

In this video of one of his classes taught at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Mollison draws from his experiences with aboriginal people among other things to express major concepts and major themes in design that one should think of when implementing an intentionally sustainable system of agriculture. Mollison notes the importance of experimentation and continuous attention to natural rhythms, geometry, and other mathematical concepts that allow the designer to create something better than what is conventionally accepted. The video is set in the classroom with Mollison using a chalkboard to aid in his lecture. His ideas and stories are fascinating and intriguing in my opinion!

Life in the dead of Winter

I still can’t believe the single digit temperatures we received earlier this week. Although it would seem that all plants would be dead or dormant this time of year, there are some plants that continue to grow, slowly. While walking around the Market Garden today, I removed some of the straw mulch covering the garlic.  Since garlic is a biennial, you must plant the individual bulbs in the fall in order to harvest in early summer. We planted our garlic in mid-November and I was worried we were too late. Ideally, I would have planted the garlic bulbs in mid-October but as most of you know, plans constantly change when gardening.  Fortunately, garlic shoots were poking out of the soil! I was relieved and excited.

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As temperatures begin to warm in late February and early March, we will begin to remove the mulch to allow the garlic shoots to take in all the available sunlight. This time of year can feel like an eternity as you prepare for spring planting, but you must wait for the cold blanket of winter to be removed. This is also a great time to attend state and/or regional conferences, and to do as much crop research as possible. Bulk up on all the information you can handle to prepare yourself for another growing season.

-Jeff

 

Happy New Year!

We are busy preparing for another season in East TN. We have about all the seed for the spring season and are eager to begin planting in the greenhouse in the coming weeks.

I have taken the reigns from the previous Manager, Mary Rogers.  She did an excellent job forming this program and I am excited to continue to grow this program.

2014 marks our 5th year of our Market Garden Project! The Farmer’s Market has continued to grow and we ran our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program in 2013. We look forward to growing our CSA and have received great feedback from our previous members.

There are five new interns this season and I am looking forward to working and learning with them throughout the season. Their diverse backgrounds and knowledge should be a great asset this year.

-Jeff