Posted on

Fruit Tree Care: Summer

Here we are in the heat of Summer with Autumn beckoning to us from just around the corner. The blossoms of Spring have fallen and are long gone, trees are flushed with new verdant growth, and hopefully laden with the developing fruit crops of the season. With as much excitement that comes with the anticipation of harvesting the first ripe fruits its easy to forget about some of the tasks of keeping our orchards in check. Caring for your home orchard is a year-round endeavor, here are a few tips for summer care for your fruit trees.

Mid-June, July, and August are ideal times to be implementing Summer pruning. The goal of Summer pruning is to shape our trees but also to cut back and limit the energy of excess vegetative growth (water shoots and suckers) that would be otherwise going to our fruiting wood and root systems of the tree. This is especially important for highly vigorous trees. Summer pruning also helps to ensure better air flow and light penetration into the interior canopy of the trees to help mitigate pests and disease and to ensure better ripening for fruit. Be cautious in how much is taken from the tree. A good rule to go by is to cut no more than 30% of the entire tree. Excess pruning can lead to sun scald on the fruit and interior limbs and lead to diminished health.

From Spring onward it’s also important to be mindful of thinning the developing fruit on your tree. As you may know trees tend to produce fruit in excess which is the tree’s way of ensuring their chance of reproduction is more successful. This doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to the size of fruit we want to see on our kitchen tables. Thinning helps to ensure that more energy is being put into less fruit in exchange for larger size and better eating. On the tree, fruit should be no closer to one another than fist length and never touching. Also take into consideration the bearing weight of fruiting limbs. If overburdened with fruit, branches will snap, try to imagine what the weight of future fruit will be and how that will affect the limb. Don’t be shy about your thinning.

For more information, check out Michael Phillips’ work, or get involved with the Home Orchard Society, or a similar organization near you!

Posted on

Microbes and microbial inoculants

One of the fundamental reasons to grow organically is the preservation and vitality of the soil’s microbial community. We can preserve the integrity of our soil’s microbes by minimizing tillage and eschewing chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Then this diverse, invisible population of fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and others, can get to work contributing to our agricultural production. They suppress plant disease and pests; they mineralize nutrients; they improve soil structure and quality.

We get asked regularly about how to contribute microbes to a field, or how to determine if their levels are “adequate” or ideal. Which lab? What test? What thresholds? Which species? When we passed these questions on to OSU, we were informed that, unfortunately, research has not caught up with popular interest: there’s not much data on established thresholds. The bacterial domain is large and very diverse—and then there’s the fungal kingdom pertaining to the mycorrhizae. And the protozoa. We come to our understanding of valuable species just one-at-a-time.

For instance, Rhizobium spp. are well-understood to promote—actually, to make possible—the nitrogen fixation which accounts for why legumes are such useful cover crops. Legumes provide no nitrogen if grown in a soil without Rhizobium bacteria. This is why the seed is often sold inoculated with Rhizobium.

For another example, there’s the bacterial Pseudomonas spp., which WSU has shown will promote plant growth, apparently via the suppression of certain diseases and root parasites. There’s Azotobacter, another genus known to Cornell to fix nitrogen. Plus, it synthesizes cytokinins and other plant growth regulators, and helps to solubilize phosphorus. In fact, Colombian farmers already inoculate using Azotobacter for their vegetable crops, cotton, and stevia.

And Bacillus is a genus you may already know, for well-known for Bacillus thuringiensis, or B.t. B.t. is already widely used as a kind of pesticide, since its introduction in the 60’s, because this naturally-occurring, soil-borne bacterium produces insecticidal poisons. In fact, certain synthetic pesticides are based on the compounds that B.t. forms. There are organic fungicides on the market based on the subtilis species of Bacillus. And Bacillus amyloliquefaciens helps with fighting root pathogens, including Fusarium, Alternaria, and Phytophthora.

And then in the fungal kingdom, there’s Trichoderma and Scleroderma. Cornell has done research on this versatile fungus, which is already in use by textile industries (it softens denim), and among poultry feed manufacturers (it increases digestibility of certain minerals). In terms of soil health, we know that Trichoderma promotes resistance to plant disease (especially among solanaceous crops) and, in its symbiotic interaction with plant roots, reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer, even up to 40% in some cases. Fungal hyphae are instrumental in healthy soil aggregation.

None of this gets into the amoebas, ciliates, flagellates, or protists–the protozoa–who feed on pathogens, mineralize nutrients, and “prune” the bacterial population by grazing on them. OSU recommends growing an “alfalfa alley” in orchards to help increase their population.

Healthy soils may or may not already contain populations of these fungal and bacterial species. Just because a field has been out of production for some time, or was recently in woodland, does not guarantee– or eliminate the possibility of– a suitable balance of these species for agricultural production. The species listed above– along with numerous other species not as well understood– are available from different companies in the form of water-soluble inoculants, generally applied as a soil drench, sometimes to foliage. For those curious about introducing them to their field operations, the easiest and most economical method may be to dunk seedlings at transplant. Many of us already apply kelp- and fish-emulsion fertilizers before setting transplants in the field, so it doesn’t complicate the process to add a bacterial or mycorrhizal inoculant at this point. And you are more likely to ensure good contact with roots, and use less liquid.

And finally, some of our customers are enthusiastic about compost tea. They suspend worm castings, molasses, and other fertilizing components in a mesh bag in a bucket of water, and bubble it with an oxygen pump or aquarium pump. The aeration promotes the growth of certain obligate aerobic bacterial species (including Azotobacter), which propagate readily in this environment if well-fed and warm enough. This is then applied as described above—a soil drench, maybe as fertigation or to your starts. Details on equipment and assembly can readily be found on other webpages, including from OSU.

But note that the usefulness of compost tea is not clear. In 2012, Rutgers reported that “reputable researchers, including the Rodale Institute, have not been able to substantiate the disease suppression claims made by proponents of Aerated Compost Tea.” In fact, depending on the nature of the compost you brew with, the tea process can propagate Salmonella bacteria. (Hence, we don’t advise brewing with dairy-manure based composts.) And yet, anecdotal evidence from our customers suggests significant positive outcomes, even if they remain unconfirmed by the professional researchers.

 

Further reading

https://biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/pathogens/trichoderma.php

https://micro.cornell.edu/research/epulopiscium/bacterial-genomes

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21211960

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768769/

https://biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/pathogens/bacillus.php

http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/24d-captan/bt-ext.html

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf503136a

https://apsjournals.apsnet.org/doi/abs/10.1094/PHYTO-97-2-0250

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/wasco/sites/default/files/soilsworkshop_3-16_1.pdf

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/?cid=nrcs142p2_053867

Posted on

A Review of Michael Phillips’ Literature on Pure Neem Oil in Orchard Sprays

Phillips, Michael. The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way. Chelsea Green, 2013.

Recently, there has been discussion between the benefits of using neem-derived insecticides versus pure neem oil. Michael Phillips’ opinion on this differentiation is interesting and worth looking into if you are invested in his methods of managing your perennial or annual operation organically with an eye toward microbial health. He discusses it in depth in his book, The Holistic Orchard. Phillips speaks to the importance of engaging biology to keep disease and pests from taking hold. The key to his method is consistent monitoring and implementation of seasonal spray treatments that engage a diverse and abundant biological ecosystem.

Pure neem oil is at the heart of Michael Phillips’ ongoing nutritional spray program. He describes its efficacy primarily as an insect growth regulator, owed to the azadirachtin compounds that strongly inhibit the development of insects that consume it. Specifically, azadirachtins suppress the production of the hormone that allows insect larvae to shed its old skin, trapping the larvae in this stage until it dies. Other constituents in neem oil work as oviposition deterrants, confusing sexual communication, mating, or leading the female to lay her eggs in an inopportune place. Finally, when ingested, a leaf treated with neem oil will cause an insect to lose the ability to swallow, regurgitating the leaf and repelling the pest from feeding on the treated plants. According to Phillips, utilizing azadirachtin without the other components of neem is cheating oneself and your plants.

Phillips identifies the fatty-acid based connections as a primary source of healthy biology in orchard ecosystems. In particular he says, neem contains vitamin E, essential amino acids, and secondary plant metabolites called terpenoids and isoflavonoids, primarily derived from palmitic, stearic, linoleic, and oleic acids. An interesting aspect to folks looking to balance minerals in their soil or address nutrient deficiencies is that pure neem oil also contains trace amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese.

In a nutshell, says Phillips, healthy biology of any sort thrives on fatty-acid-based connections. These fatty acids operate in different ways to stimulate tree immune response and protect trees from climatic stresses. Mycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi in the soil use them as a food source when the ground begins to warm in early spring. Fat nutrition encourages diverse organisms to out compete canker infections, bacterial spot and fire blight buildup.

Thankfully, Phillips discusses the tricks of the trade to using unadulterated neem oil. The characteristic of pure neem oil that can scare folks away is due to its high levels of natural vegetable fats – when temperatures hit 60F, pure neem oil is as thick as butter. His method of emulsifying neem into a spray is reminiscent of the time and planning that is necessary for lactofermentation or making pie crusts. When it is time to spray, place the container of neem in a warm room (but out of the sunlinght) for a day until the consistency resembles a homogeneous liquid. He suggests placing neem in a pot of warm water to finish the job. Biodegradable soap is used as an emulsifying agent, and mixed in directly to the neem oil at a rate of 1 tablespoon soap to 6 ounces oil. Pour the oil and soap blend into warm water, stirring vigorously, before adding the mixture to its full volume of cooler water for spraying. Spray immediately. According to Phillips, not only are you reducing pests reproductive and feeding abilities, but also feeding bacterial and fungal diversity that are innate to plants’ immune responses.

Michael Phillips advises specific timing and rates for different plant varieties in his holistic approach to disease and organic health management. It also depends on the pests and diseases that are indigenous to your region. However, spring and fall are when he most highly recommends spraying pure neem oil, in addition to liquid fish and effective microbes. Is biology a priority in your farm management plan? What steps do you take to maintain the fungal and bacterial diversity on your plants and in your soil?

Resources:

Phillips, Michael. The Holistic Orchard Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way. Chelsea Green, 2013.

Phillips, Michael. “Articles on Holistic Gardening: Pure Neem Oil” www.groworganicapples.com. April 26, 2017.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author under review and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Concentrates, Inc.

Posted on

Silicon, silica, silicate, soil health

Photos from Rutgers of crops raised with calcium silicate vs calcium carbonate. Note the powdery mildew on the vine raised with calcium carbonate.

Silicon. It probably doesn’t show up on your soil analysis, and maybe you don’t look for silicon-heavy amendments when doing your annual fertilizer shopping. But when silicon has been leached from the soil and is not replenished, plants succumb to stress—fungus, disease, pest pressure, temperature, salinity—reducing the yield, the quality of the produce, and its post-harvest longevity.

The importance of silicon does not end with the plant. As consumers of vegetables, silicon content matters in our diet. Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm reflects on silicon,

“When we moved to Gaston twelve years ago, we noticed many signs advertising “Eastern Oregon Hay.” We asked our friend Eric, a dedicated horse farmer, why hay from the eastern part of the state was such a big deal. He told us that the soil from the dry eastern side of the Cascades has higher silicon content, and the hay from the region produces stronger bones and joints in horses. … We easily accept calcium as necessary for strong bones, but few people other than horse owners appreciate the need for silicon in the diet, or the fact that it can be deficient in foods grown on certain soils.” (Beautiful Corn, p. 80)

You can top off your soil’s silicon levels with the mineral wollastonite, which we carry under the brand name VanSil. It’s approved for organic production, and shown to offer the benefits of silicon described above. Wollastonite is high in calcium silicate (spelled Ca2SiOor 2CaO·SiO2).

In addition to providing silicon, wollastonite works as a liming agent. It’s about 93% as effective as ag lime—so, you can use it as a substitute for some, or all, of your liming that you already apply for maintenance of our acidic soils, saving on amendment costs. VanSil is marginally more expensive than ag lime, but remember, not only does it regulate pH, it also confers a whole separate benefit: silicon.

Other amendments contain silicon as well, as we discuss further below. But none of the other options double as a liming agent, and they’re all more expensive, and only some are OMRI-listed, which is why we typically recommend wollastonite.

Why apply it? What levels are beneficial, deficient, excessive? Who’s worked with it?

In short, silicon helps a plant to resist all kinds of stresses. Extension research from Rutgers, an East coast land grant university, has shown that applying wollastonite instead of calcium carbonate delivers a host of statistically significant benefits, including reduction of plant diseases and fungi (including powdery mildew and leafspot), increased yield, increased post-harvest longevity, and decreased palatability to sucking pests (incl. aphids and stem borers). Other researchers (cited below) have found that silicon helps plants with metal toxicity, deficiency or excess of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, low-temperature stress, and salinity levels. The short version is that silicon makes a plant more resilient to biotic and abiotic stressors in its environment, measurably improving yield and quality in the final product. This isn’t just for some commodity-scale crop like sugar beets: these results were observed in vegetables (cabbage, squash) as well as grasses (including corn), which are known to be heavy silicon accumulators.

O.K., so what are the numbers? What thresholds are deficient, or adequate?

Rutgers found that dicotyledonous plants benefit from an extra application of silicon if soil test levels are below 30 ppm; for grasses, apply if your test is below 40 ppm. (Your soil may only be 15-30 ppm in its natural state.) Consider asking your lab for a silicon analysis by acetic acid soil extraction. Read more here, from Rutgers. That report also discusses performing a foliar test to ascertain adequate silicon accumulation.

Who says we need it?

Silicon was deemed to be an “inessential” plant nutrient back in the 1860’s, when German soil scientists found they could grow plants in soilless solutions without any silicon. And yet, some plants will accumulate up to 10% silicon—including some of our important staple cereal crops, like corn and wheat, which accumulate more silicon in their tissues than any other element. Turns out that this is why we have customers building their peat-based soilless mixes and looking to incorporate trace amounts of silicon. (Which, in fact, is what some of the commercial blends have already done–take a close look at the labels next time you pick up a bag.)

What’s the deal, isn’t silicon already in the ground? Why add more?

Yes, silicon is found in sands (containing quartz, made of silica, SiO2), and clays (containing sheets of silica). But silica has limited solubility, and plants only uptake silicon in solution as silicic acid, H4SiO4. This is why our west Oregon soils may contain quartz, and yet prove deficient in silicon.

So what are the other sources of silicon, agriculturally? Other than wollastonite?

There’s potassium silicate (K2SiO3), which we carry under the brandname AgSil 16. offers a soluble source for feeding silicon and potassium. But potassium silicate is prohibited in organic agriculture. And many of us already have adequate potassium, anyway.

And there’s rock flours, like greensand. Our greensand is 58.97% silica, according to the guaranteed analysis. And it is permitted in organics. Other OMRI-listed rock flours also contain silicon (as silica), like glacial rock dust (871 ppm Si), basalt dust (995 ppm Si), diatomaceous earth (89% silica), and azomite (65% silica).

The silicon source used by Rutgers, in their studies of silicon’s use in agriculture, is calcium silicate (spelled Ca2SiOor 2CaO·SiO2), as we discussed above. Calcium silicate is permitted in organics, so long as you get it as the mineral wollastonite, and not from a steel mill. We carry wollastonite as VanSil, and recommend it as a source of silicon. It can conveniently be used instead of calcium carbonate for your liming this year, even just in part, while you determine whether silicon might help your soil health and crop resilience.

As always, be cautious when handling and spreading any kind of dust that contains silica, whether that’s D.E., glacial rock flour, greensand or anything else.

Further reading

Boutard, Anthony. Beautiful Corn. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2012.

Liang, Yongchao, et al. Silicon in Agriculture. Heidelberg: Springer Science, 2015.

Datnoff, L.E., et al., ed. Silicon in Agriculture. Studies in Plant Science (8). Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2001.

 

Posted on

Phosphorus and the Spoils of War

Image: Greg Westfall (https://www.flickr.com/photos/imagesbywestfall/5855284480)

Image: Greg Westfall (https://www.flickr.com/photos/imagesbywestfall/5855284480)

Phosphorus can be a limiting factor in crop yield here in the Pacific Northwest, as in agriculture globally. But OSU is now broadly recommending that organic farmers watch their phosphorus inputs. In consulting with our local farmers, they often find that phosphorus has routinely been kept too high. (Their new recommendation is to keep P < 50ppm.)

What are the risks of over-applying phosphorus? After all, a plant does not uptake it excessively. However, runoff and leaching of phosphorus damages our waterways and aquatic life. It causes eutrophication, or hypoxia. One very visible example of this is the dieoff in the Gulf of Mexico. Read about it here, from the NOAA.

Additionally, there is the question of sourcing our phosphorus. The phosphorus cycle in our environment is very slow, comparatively speaking. It does not enter the atmosphere, but cycles from the soil into mineral and animal forms (bones). What this means is that the phosphorus that leaches or runs off from our soils does not return to its rock form for generations, becoming lost to us as a fertilizing agent. Soft rock phosphate is a non-renewable resource, like fossil fuels, and we can only mine it for so long before it is gone. Synthetic triple superphosphates depend on soft rock phosphate, from which they are made. Already, concerns about its scarcity have ignited geopolitical conflict in the Western Sahara, where most of the world’s reserves are found. (Substantial deposits in Australia and Florida have mitigated the alarm over peak phosphorus.)

But there are alternatives to soft rock phosphate and its synthetic progeny, triple superphosphate. Phosphorus is also available in a so-called “recycled” form in amendments like bone meal and fish bone meal. In fact, pound-for-pound, this phosphorus is generally more affordable than soft rock phosphate. Further, being derived from animal material rather than rock, it is more readily and quickly available to plants, meaning it is more appropriate for our purposes. And finally, it saves us from mining more of the rock out of the ground, getting more mileage from the phosphate we have already mined by reusing it.

Bones have been an source of phosphorus since ancient times. Mesoamerican and Mesopotamian archaeology attests to the practice of calcinating an enemy’s skeleton for use as a whitewash or fertilizer– consider Amos 2:1. Ancient cultures seemed to have some understanding that battlefields, watered with blood and dusted with bones, held extra fertility. And in the 19th century, England ran a bustling trade in the post-battle market for human bones, whether the source was Waterloo post-Napoleon, or Egypt’s catacombs. See this article from 1829, scroll down to “traffic in human bones.”

How much phosphorus do you apply? Do certain crops respond more than others? What amendments provide it on your farms? What arrangements have you made for the disposal of your skeleton?

Posted on

Managing nutrients for soil health

Some of us from Concentrates were recently at a public workshop with Dan Sullivan and Nick Andrews from OSU, about nutrient management for organic farmers. It helped us dial-in some of our soil test interpretation, something we commonly help our customers with.

Turns out that most veggie farms are maintaining excessive phosphorus levels. Phosphorus runoff contributes to die-off in our waterways–the dead spot in the Gulf of Mexico is from phosphorus runoff. They advised that 50 ppm is an adequate phosphorus level.

As far as potassium, it can easily get too high with the application of manure or certain composts. Potassium is one of the nutrients that a plant will “accumulate,” meaning they will keep on taking more even when they don’t need it, even to the detriment of other nutrients, like magnesium. Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency can be present when potassium is in excess, even though adequate magnesium is in the soil. Potassium levels are adequate at 200 ppm.

Sulfur is hard to test for, since much of it is stored in the organic matter, but lab analyses do not account for this portion of the overall sulfur. That being said, they felt comfortable advising the application of sulfur if the soil test indicates less than 20 ppm. Sulfur is very affordable as gypsum, and applying it generously is not a risky proposition. A surplus of sulfur or calcium in the soil won’t affect the plant; nor does it become a gas; nor do they leach readily.

Calcium and magnesium are rarely deficient. As we said above, symptoms of magnesium “deficiency” are often from a potassium excess; likewise, symptoms of calcium “deficiency” are often in fact a nitrogen excess, or due to uneven watering. If a soil test in fact indicates a magnesium deficiency (<120 ppm), applying 10-20# Mg can be helpful.

Boron is deficient in most of our soils here in the Willamette Valley, but a boron deficiency only presents acute problems for certain crops– beets and brassicas, especially. For those crops, an indicated deficiency can be remedied by applying 1-3# boron/acre. We carry small units of Solubor (20.5% boron) for adding this boron as a foliar spray; or, you can get a similar effect with a healthy dose of kelp meal or Azomite, trace mineral sources high in boron.

Nitrogen is a complicated question, involving assessing the nitrogen values from your cover crops, as well as any contributions you might expect from your years of building organic matter. OSU has conducted tests and reached the conclusion that the best way to factor for nitrate from organic matter is to conduct nitrate tests throughout the season–once, when the crop in question has a few true leaves, and again at the end of the season but before winter rains.

We send our soils off to a lab for analysis, and the lab prints their own recommendations at the bottom of the page. But Dan and Nick reviewed that these recommendations are not in sync with OSU’s decades of research for our region–sometimes, they recommend excessive applications; sometimes, inadequate. So we use the thresholds endorsed by the land-grant universities and their research to dial-in our own advice.

Dan and Nick dismissed the value of evaluating cation ratios, or as a percentage of the saturation of the CEC.

Go to the next level by reading OSU’s publications–

1. Nutrient management for Sustainable Vegetable Systems

2. Applying Lime to Raise Soil pH (Western Oregon)

Posted on

Fall Task List

Fall is a transitional time, meant to chase us out of the fields and slow down the constant intensity of planting, harvest, rotation, and irrigation. The rains return, and when we find a moment between pulling winter squash, corn and dry beans from the field, we forage for the fruits of our lush, mycorrhizal soils. Chanterelles, King Boletes, Lobster mushrooms run rampant this time of year. Now is the last window to get in cover crops, and if we miss it, to mulch any bare soil. 

October

Harvesting

  • Annuals: Chicory, radicchio, beets, carrots, turnips, napa cabbage, winter squash, collards, kale, spigarello, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, mustard greens, lettuce, chard, spinach, pak choi, celery, celeriac, leeks, scallions, potatoes, sunchokes, salsify, scorzonera, burdock root
  • The last of cucumbers, melons, eggplants, paste tomatoes, hot peppers – get them in before our first frost!
  • Perennials: Apples, figs, persimmon, quince, pears
  • Forage: Chanterelles

Storage

  • Store garlic below 40F or above 56F, never between 40 and 50F.
  • Harvest and cure winter squash: Acorn (pepo) types (stem still green, ground spot “earthy” or orange), store 1-4 months; Maximas (stem 75% corky) store 3-5 months; Moschatas (peanut colored skin, no mottling or streaks) store 4-8 months, or more. Low humidity and high temperature (60 degrees, or above). Leave on live vines as long as possible, avoiding frost on fruits. Cut leaving long stem using pruners; handle gently. (sourced from Pam Dawling’s Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List)

Planting

  • Alliums: Garlic, Onions, Shallots
  • Overwintering Fava beans
  • Overwintering grains: Barley, Rye, Spelt, Triticale, Wheat
  • Flower bulbs
  • Get your cover crops in by early October

Infrastructure

  • Pull drip tape out of field and store
  • Install and/or secure season extension structures, greenhouses, low tunnels, cloches
  • Put row cover out over cold sensitive crops
  • Pull trellises out of field and store
  • Erect low tunnels out of electrical conduit hoops and 4-6mm polyfilm and/or 9mm wire hoops and row cover for cold protection

Bed Prep

  • Cut all warm-season crops down to soil level and leave the root buried to decompose, releasing enzymes to the soil’s microbial community.
  • Mulch bare soil with compost, leaves, straw, fermented alfalfa hay, etc.
  • Weed, fertilize and mulch berries and perennials.
  • If you practice tarping/occulation, lay your plastic mulch and sandbag every four feet.

Soil health

  • Liming–and the application of other rock flours, like gypsum–can be done at this point, to allow for these slow-release amendments to incorporate into the soil.
  • Take a nitrate test at the end of harvest, but before winter rains, to calibrate next year’s nitrogen application. This is the best way to know if you are overapplying nitrogen.

Crop Planning

  • Get soil tests done before soil gets too wet.
  • Sign up for seed catalog delivery – a lot of seed companies have their inventory online, but how nostalgic is it to cozy up with your favorite seed catalogs?
  • Gather harvest totals from the previous season and plug in to your planting calculations for next year. Josh Volk is a great resource for record keeping and developing an effective crop plan – check out this article he wrote for Growing For Market. He has some other useful ones on the Q&A section of his website joshvolk.com.

Animals

  • Muck stalls at least once a week during rainy months

November

Harvesting

  • Annuals: Chicory, raddichio, beets, carrots, turnips, napa cabbage, winter squash, collards, kale, spigarello, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, mustard greens, lettuce, chard, spinach, pak choi, celeriac, leeks, scallions, scorzonera, salsify, burdock root, sunchoke, pull all potatoes out before rains set in
  • Perennial herbs

Planting

  • If you haven’t yet plant your alliums: Garlic, Onions, Shallots

Infrastructure

  • Check low tunnels, high tunnels and greenhouses for adequate circulation
  • Make sure ends of plastic and row cover are adequately weighed down by sand bags, soil, etc.
  • Turn off all water and irrigation sources at risk of freezing
  • Gather old trellising, t-posts, irrigation, and rowcover.

Winter growing

  • Are your greenhouses being fully utilized? Take the time to plan for next year’s overwintering crops. Vacant greenhouses can have their film removed, so that soluble salt buildup is leached by winter rains.
  • Consider applying an extra layer of rowcover to crops inside your greenhouse, or a second layer of film and a blower, for extra insulation.

Bed Prep

  • Expect our first frost during this month and protect your plants accordingly.
  • Mulch garlic
  • Spread lime or gypsum as indicated by soil test.
  • Mulch bare soil with compost, leaves, straw, fermented alfalfa hay, etc.
  • Prune back dead asparagus tops and mulch with leaves or other mulch.
  • Weed, fertilize and mulch berries and perennials.

Crop Planning

  • Go through seed packets and determine viability. High Mowing Seeds has a great chart to help you figure out which seeds have a few years left.
  • Accumulate past year’s harvest totals.

Animals

  • Muck stalls at least once a week during rainy months
  • Pull feed buckets and water troughs out of fields and sanitize.
  • If keeping a water source in the field, use a tank deicer to keep water available.
Posted on

Summer Task List

July

Harvest

  • From the field: peas, lettuce, mustard greens, chard, kale, cabbage, beets, carrots, salad turnip, salad radish, fennel, edible flowers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, strawberries, early potatoes, fresh onions, scallions, asparagus, celery, broccoli, woody herbs
  • From the orchard: early blueberries, cherries, raspberries
  • For storage: garlic, shallots
  • Grains: Most grains are harvested late July through August. “Sample kernels of grain between your teeth for hardness. When the grain begins to crack between your teeth, you know it is close to ready.” – Jack Lazor, author of The Organic Grain Grower.

Perennial Maintenance

  • Michael Phillips advises a fourth holistic spray (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes) aimed at the leaf canopy and developing fruitlets. From his book, The Holistic Orchard, “The fish will help meristem development for return bloom; neem stimulates immune function and hinders moths; microbes are biological reinforcement for the summer ahead.”
  • Continue kaolin clay application if faced with curculio.
  • Run chickens through to pick through infested early fruit drops or lie dropcloths to prevent larva from getting to soil to pupate.
  • Thinning fruit: start with your heaviest-setting varieties within forty days of petal fall. Leave one fruit per cluster, and pick infested fruitlets to dispose with your chickens.
  • Pinch off shoots on young trees to correct crow’s foot situations from heading cuts.
  • Keep mowing ground covers.
  • Place bird netting over cherries and blueberries.
  • Hang sticky traps for apple maggot fly.
  • Apply thick kaolin slurry with paintbrush for borer protection.

Bed Prep

  • Perform a mid-season nitrate test
  • Summer cover crops, like buckwheat and sorghum/sudangrass, should be mowed and incorporated just as they begin flowering.

Planting in the Ground

  • Most overwintering roots need to be planted during this month: storage radishes, storage turnips, rutabaga, burdock, scorzonera, salsify.
  • Overwintering brassica starts need to be planted this month. If starting from seed, start in the greenhouse in early June.

Integrated Pest Management

  • Fungal and disease control may involve spraying. Do you have your emulsifiers and sticker-spreaders? Are your sprayers in working order? Are you stocked-up on neem oil and other sprays?

August

Harvest

  • From the field: peas, lettuce, mustard greens, chard, kale, cabbage, beets, carrots, salad turnip, salad radish, fennel, edible flowers, strawberries, early potatoes, fresh onions, scallions, asparagus, celery, broccoli, woody herbs, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak and roma tomatoes, summer squash, cucumber, eggplant, sweet pepper, hot pepper
  • For storage: storage onions, cured potatoes
  • Grains: Most grains are harvested late July through August. “Sample kernels of grain between your teeth for hardness. When the grain begins to crack between your teeth, you know it is close to ready.” – Jack Lazor, author of The Organic Grain Grower.

Perennial Maintenance

  • Summer prune watersprouts on especially vigorous apple trees to increase sun penetration and circulation and to improve fruit color.
  • Spray for summer moth control. Michael Phillips suggests rotating spinosad and Bt if pure neem oil is not getting the job done.
  • Phillips also recommends spraying holistic summer sprays (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes), as well as horsetail and nettle tea for a silica source. He ideally applies these every ten to fourteen days up until harvest.
  • Bicarbonates may help with sooty blotch and flyspeck on light-colored apples in humid areas or situations of low circulation.
  • Keep mowing ground cover, keep pathways mowed. This helps to expose early dropped and infested fruit.
  • Sow an oat or legume cover crop along the edges of dwarf tree rows.
  • Take soil tests every year and then every few years to balance your soil minerals and feed the soil biology.
  • Prune out spent canes immediately after harvest to allow more sunlight and circulation, and to initiate fruit buds on maturing primocanes.

Planting in the Ground

  • Carrots, chervil, green onions, cress, salad radish, salad turnips, beets, spinach, chard, chicory, endive, escarole, lettuce, mustard greens, shungiku, mache, claytonia.

September

Harvest

  • From the field: peas, lettuce, mustard greens, chard, kale, cabbage, beets, carrots, salad turnip, salad radish, fennel, edible flowers, strawberries, early potatoes, fresh onions, scallions, asparagus, celery, broccoli, woody herbs, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak and roma tomatoes, summer squash, cucumber, eggplant, sweet pepper, hot pepper
  • From the orchard:

Perennial Maintenance

  • Prune stone fruit after harvest.
  • Gather apple maggot traps and all other monitoring traps.
Posted on

Spring Task List

April

Harvesting

  • Along with March, April is often-times referred to as the Hunger Gap. This is the time in the PNW when our winter stocks of squash and onions have run out, we have harvested the last storage roots from the field, and the greens we seeded in the greenhouse have not put on enough growth to harvest yet.
  • Brassica Raab – coming in to fill in the Hunger Gap, raab is a farmer’s and eater’s best friend. For those unfamiliar with this delectably sweet last hurrah from the brassica family, let your fall and overwintering plants grow into the spring. As they enter their last life cycle, they will begin to flower – the apical stem will flower, and once you snap that off and devour it, they will begin flowering at each of the apexes of their apical stem and leaves. Once these shoots set their florets and before they flower, snap them off at the base while they are still succulent. You will be amazed and instantly addicted to their sweet and tender nature. Welcome to Raabtown, USA! You’ll be very happy here.
  • Microgreens are always a quick and reliable source of greens through the winter and spring. The shallow open flats are very useful for microgreen production, which we carry in the Concentrates’ showroom, as well as coir and kelp extract.

Perennial Maintenance

  • Apply Michael Phillips holistic spray, consisting of pure neem oil, liquid fish, effective microbes, and seaweed extract. Aim at the buds, trunk, and branch structure. From his book The Holistic Orchard, “The fatty oils in the fish and neem fuel microorganism colonization on the leaf surface…Other constituents in the neem oil coat insect eggs tucked into bark crevices and get ingested by larvae feeding directly on the tree, which causes the molting cycle of certain pests to crash.”
  • Hang white sticky traps for European apple sawfly.

Infrastructure

Crop Planning

  • Summer cover crops: Buckwheat, sorghum-sudan, sudangrass, for added organic matter and weed suppression.

Bed Prep

  • Cover crop mowing and incorporation takes place when they first begin flowering. Consider submitting a cover crop analysis to OSU’s Central Analytic Lab. Sampling and lab submission instructions here.
  • Amend your fields as you prepare for planting. Consider soil temperature when timing your nitrogen application: remember than the phase of rapid N uptake, which varies by species, is about four weeks from germination; but nitrogen does not mineralize very quickly in cold soils. Give your amendments time to become available, or plan to use highly soluble sources like fish emulsion.
  • Spreaders should be calibrated and maintained.

Propagation

  • Source/purchase/organize your potting soil(s) and germinating mixes, or their components.
  • Gather and inspect your trays, source/purchase as needed.
  • Organize your work area and tools–dibblers, seeders, mixing equipment, writing implements, record-keeping paperwork, tray labels, heat mats/lights, wicking irrigation.
  • Compost tea can efficiently be applied to starts as you water them. Does your brewer work, and do you have the ingredients on hand? Molasses, worm castings?
  • Do you fertigate your seedlings? Gather your fish emulsion, or other soluble nitrogen source.
  • Do you provide trace minerals and myco inoculants? Gather your kelp emulsion and mycorrhizal inoculants for a pre-transplant dunk.
  • Tomatillo, ground cherry, cucumber, melons, pumpkin, summer squash, winter squash, basil, globe amaranth, tithonia, amaranth

Planting in the Ground

  • Carrots, chervil, dill, fennel, leeks, onions, lovage, parsnip, parsley, arugula, broccoli, cress, kohlrabi, radish, turnip, chois, beets, chard, spinach, quinoa, orach, burdock, lettuce, sunchoke, salsify, scorzonera, shungiku, peas, anise hyssop, sorrel, potatoes, cabbage, purslane, calendula, nasturtium, flax, cosmos, zinnia, sunflowers
  • Calibrate and maintain your bed marking tools

Animals

  • Check all new animals delivered on-farm for overall health and thrift. Hands-on examinations including tracking the weights of new arrivals as they grow can help ensure healthy animals.
  • Provide environmental stimuli for new creatures that will be pen raised. A bail of hay to play in, hidden or suspended food treats, large sturdy balls to push and toss, and logs or stumps to climb all keep growing minds of all species active and occupied.
  • Clean feed and water dishes as needed to prevent creatures from ingesting waste. A hot water and soap scrub is sufficient to remove debris. If illness is present, consider washing and sanitizing equipment and spaces frequently.
  • Check bedding and shelters to ensure clean, dry and draft-free.
  • Get market ready! Prepare signs, flyers and other materials for farmers markets or other sales avenues. Make sure product packaging is ready to go and that all coolers and equipment is in clean, ready-to-work order.

May

Harvesting

Perennial Maintenance

  • Install or replace mason bee nesting tubes.
  • Hang pheromone wing traps for monitoring moth presence and timing of first-generation egg hatch.
  • Lightly cultivate areas to prepare for a summer cover crop.

Infrastructure

Crop Planning

Bed Prep

Seeding Indoors for Transplants

  • Any and all succession plantings of lettuce, fennel, broccoli, chicory, summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, etc.

Planting in the Ground

  • Carrots, cilantro, dill, parsnip, leeks, onions, amaranth grain and greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, radish, chois, beets, magentaspreen, spinach, orach, chard, quinoa, burdock, lettuce, peas, bush and pole beans, dry beans, corn, potatoes, purslane, calendula, aster, cosmos, zinnia, amaranth, marigold, tithonia, sunflower
  • If night temperatures are warm enough and the weather is dry enough in certain parts of Cascadia, tomatoes may be planted out under plastic or row cover this month. Watch for slug pressure, and hold off til night temperatures are over 50F if you’re unsure.

Animals

  • Prepare livestock sales advertisements. Good photos of animals being listed for sale and a clear, clean description of the critter and their selling points help move sales.
  • Make sure all registered stock paperwork is ready to go with animals that are listed for sale.
  • Plant livestock feeds such as sunflowers, beans, beets and greens.

June

Harvesting

Perennial Maintenance

  • Apply Michael Phillips’ third holistic spring spray as described in The Holistic Orchard (liquid fish, pure neem oil, effective microbes). Aim at leaf canopy and developing fruitlets.
  • Apply kaolin clay. Phillips recommends repeating every five to seven days for the next 2-3 weeks.
  • Gather sticky traps.
  • Begin mowing of ground cover and mulch thickly around the dripline of trees.
  • Watch for scap this time of year. Phillips recommends an application of microbes and seaweed, but also acknowledges some growers will apply sulfur.

Infrastructure

Crop Planning

Bed Prep

Seeding Indoors for Transplants

Planting in the Ground

Animals

  • Plan for breeding. Locate studs if needed and start tracking heat cycles.
  • Swap paperwork with any intended studs or leases to ensure that all animals involved have been tested clean and are registered if applicable.
  • Ensure animals are healthy and up to date on bio-security screenings and vaccinations.
  • Check fence lines and ensure that all fences are in good repair.
  • Consider electric fencing to enable easy rotational grazing.
Posted on

Winter Task List

Winter is a time for maintenance on many levels. Self-care, cleaning and restoring tools, fixing up infrastructure, mucking stalls, perfecting your crop rotation and planting schedule, studying up on recent publications, reading seed catalogs, tractor maintenance, etc.

December

Harvesting

  • From the field: Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, chicory, radicchio, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, beets, sunchokes, leeks, burdock, scorzonera, salsify
  • In hoop house/high tunnel/low tunnel: Mustard greens.
  • From storage: Winter squash (maxima, moschata), onions, garlic, shallots, grains
  • Microgreens are always a quick and reliable source of greens through the winter and spring. The shallow open flats are very useful for microgreen production, which we carry in the Concentrates’ showroom, as well as coir and kelp extract. With the low light and heat conditions of winter, heat mats and supplemental lighting are very helpful for reliable and quality production.

Perennial Maintenance

  • Once leaves fall on raspberries, cut back old growth to soil level.
  • Pest management: check for deer incursions weekly; show shoe around the base of tree trunks to pack down vole tunnels.
  • Order rootstock; collect scions for grafting.
  • Prune all bearing trees, establishing an open structure of branches that allow maximum penetration of sunlight and circulation.
  • Remove rotted fruit still hanging on the trees to reduce rot spore inoculum.

Infrastructure

  • Tool Maintenance: take a file to all blades on hoes, harvest knives, hoof trimmers, pruners.
    • Josh Volk has a great article on tool sharpening that he wrote for Growing for Market in 2010
  • Tractor, engine, and implement winterization and maintenance.
  • Sanitize harvest bins, buckets, sinks, and knives.
  • Clean and sanitize greenhouse tables, propagation & seeding area
  • Do all-farm tidying, organizing, and consolidating.
  • Inspect and purchase worn-out items: drip tape? Row cover? Weed barrier? Greenhouse film?

Crop Planning

  • Perfect your crop rotation: Are you maximizing your soil’s potential to grow cover crops? Keeping the soil covered throughout the season? Maintaining biodiversity and attracting beneficial insects? How many pounds of PAN did you harvest last year–would it be appropriate to adjust the ratio of legumes to cereals?
  • Interpret your soil test and determine your fertilizer blend for next year, source its ingredients.
  • Prepare seed order: The Pick A Carrot search engine is a great tool to use to compare prices and availability of Organic and conventional seeds from different seed companies – it can cut your time searching for seeds in half.
  • Now is the time to read and catch up on new lean farm techniques, soil health building methods, and the current discussions circulating in farm circles. Renew your subscription to Growing for Market!
  • Sign up for and attend off-season conferences, like Small Farm School, the Small Farms Conference, The Culinary Breeding Network‘s Variety Showcase & Squash Sagra, Friends of Family Farmers Fill Your Pantry & Infarmations, Oregon Tilth‘s Organicology, the Tilth Alliance conference, the Home Orchard Society‘s All About Fruit Show, etc. Check out our events page to stay up to date on goings on in the PNW Ag community!

Propagation

  • Source/purchase your potting soil(s) and germinating mixes, or their components.
  • Inspect your trays and source/purchase as needed.
  • Organize your work area and tools–dibblers, seeders, mixing equipment, writing implements, record-keeping paperwork, tray labels, heat mats/lights, wicking irrigation.
  • Compost tea can efficiently be applied to starts as you water them. Does your brewer work, and do you have the ingredients on hand? Molasses, worm castings?
  • Do you fertigate your seedlings? Gather your fish emulsion, or other soluble nitrogen source.
  • Do you provide trace minerals and myco inoculants? Gather your kelp emulsion and mycorrhizal inoculants for a pre-transplant dunk.

 

Animals

  • Have a fecal eggs per gram count done on animals that are breeding and poultry, most veterinarians offer this service or ship fresh samples to MidAmerica to receive counts via email.
  • If animals need to be dewormed based on fecal results, find the right product for the parasites and follow up with a fecal to ensure treatment was effective. Most dewormers do have an egg, meat and milk withdrawal time. Planning to treat while animals are not producing will help avoid non-productive weeks during a busy season.
  • Ensure that all creatures have a dry, draft-free, well-ventilated location to escape the wet, windy December weather.
  • Visually check all animals and do a hands-on check for body condition. Animals wearing their heavy winter coats are often much thinner than they appear. By physically putting your hands on your animals you will have a much better idea of their weight. Bucks and rams in particular should be carefully checked over as being in rut tends to run them down.
  • Pick-up a book or two to self-educate on your animals. Concentrates has a wonderful collection of animal wellness books available for sale including, but not limited to: “Keeping Livestock Healthy” by N. Bruce Haynes, D.V.M., “Temple Grandin’s Guide to Working With Farm Animals” by Temple Grandin and “Holistic Goat Care” by Gianaclis Caldwell.

January

Harvesting

  • From the field: beets, storage radishes, turnips, rutabaga, carrots, leeks, sunchokes, scorzonera, burdock, salsify
  • In hoop house/high tunnel/low tunnel: Mustard greens
  • From storage: Winter squash (maxima, moschata), onions, garlic, shallots, grains

Perennial Maintenance

  • Pest management: check for deer incursions weekly; show shoe around the base of tree trunks to pack down vole tunnels.
  • Prune all bearing trees, establishing an open structure of branches that allow maximum penetration of sunlight and circulation.
  • Collect scions for grafting
  • Remove mummified fruit still on trees to reduce rot spore inoculum.

Infrastructure

  • Take inventory of all irrigation, row cover, propagation, tools, traps, etc.
  • Test heating system in greenhouse and check for repairs

Bed Prep

  • Make fertilizer order according to fall soil test results (now through February)
  • Mix or order soil for seeding

Crop Planning

  • Make seed orders by January 1st
  • Order perennial rootstock for grafting
  • Order potato seeds
  • Order bareroot strawberry plants
  • Order asparagus corms
  • Order cover crop seed

Seeding Indoors/Greenhouse

  • Onions, leeks, artichoke, cardoon, endive, lettuce

Animals

  • Start prepping for new life on the farm! Consider where your animals will deliver their new babies and start assembling needed supplies.
  • If kidding, calving, lambing, farrowing, foaling and so on is new to you find a mentor that has a few years of experience and line up a vet that has assisted in your species.
  • For registered stock, be sure paperwork is ready and in order.
  • Find a place to buy honey bee nucs and get hives and bee-keeping gear in order.

February

Harvest

  • From the field: Leeks, claytonia
  • In the hoop house/high tunnel/low tunnel: Mustard green
  • From storage: Winter squash (maxima, moschata)

Perennial Maintenance

  • Finish pruning fruit bearing perennials.
  • Chip prunings for ground cover, but remove obviously cankered wood.
  • Finish composting and mulching any perennials that were not finished last fall.
  • Finish thinning canes.
  • Plant new trees as early as possible.
  • Remove any spiral trunk guards used on young trees.

Infrastructure

  • Order needed drip irrigation, row cover, propagation trays, tools, traps, etc.
  • Turn on greenhouse heating system
  • Set up trellising for tuberous and bulbing flowers sending up shoots, ie. peonies, anemones and ranunculus.

Bed Prep

  • Look for a dry window to mow and do a very shallow till of cover crops that are starting to bloom or are sitting on bed space that will need to be planted within the next 4-8 weeks.

Propagation

  • Gather your tools (dibblers, seeders, trays, record-keeping paperwork, labels).
  • Gather your potting soils and components.
  • Gather any other amendments–fish emulsion, kelp, compost tea, mycorrhizal inoculants.
  • On heat tables: Celeriac, onions, leek, artichoke, cardoon, endive, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, kale, chard, broccoli raab, cabbage, chinese cabbage, bok choi heads, endive, parsley, celery

Planting in Ground Under Cover – Late February

  • Carrot, arugula, broccoli raab, cress, mustards, turnips, chois, miner’s lettuce, mache, endive, shungiku, radishes, onions, garlic, onion sets, fava bean, peas, fenugreek
  • Plant new fruit trees and berries as early as possible
  • Inoculate perennial roots with ecto or endo mycorrhizae when planting

Animals

March

Harvest

  • From the field: Claytonia
  • From the hoop house/high tunnel/low tunnel: Mustard greens

Perennial Maintenance

  • First holistic spring spray, suggests Michael Phillips, of liquid fish, pure neem oil, & effective microbes.
  • He also recommends applying an organic fertilizer blend to nonbearing trees in order to grow a strong framework of branches quickly.
  • Train branch crotch angles on young trees with limb spreaders.
  • Weed around nonbearing trees.
  • Check trunks for borer damage.

Infrastructure

  • Begin installing drip irrigation into the fields as you transplant.

Bed Prep

  • Pull old and less productive planting of strawberries if you need to make room in your crop rotation. General rule of thumb is that strawberries loose productivity after three years.
  • Look for a dry window to mow and do a very shallow till of cover crops that are starting to bloom or are sitting on bed space that will need to be planted within the next 4-8 weeks.
  • Cover crop mowing and incorporation takes place when they first begin flowering. Consider submitting a cover crop analysis to OSU’s Central Analytic Lab. Sampling and lab submission instructions here.
  • Amend your fields as you prepare for planting. Consider soil temperature when timing your nitrogen application: remember than the phase of rapid N uptake, which varies by species, is about four weeks from germination; but nitrogen does not mineralize very quickly in cold soils. Give your amendments time to become available, or plan to use highly soluble sources like fish emulsion.
  • Spreaders should be calibrated and maintained.

Seeding Indoors for Transplants

  • Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillo, ground cherry, lettuce, endive, bok choi heads, cabbage, kale, celery, parsley, fennel, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach

Planting in Ground

  • Favas, mustard greens, onions, chervil, cilantro, fennel, parsley, arugula, cress, salad radish, turnips, spinach, chard, peas, claytonia, carrots, beets, chicories, salsify, scorzonera, shungiku
  • Late March: Sunchokes, potatoes
  • Perennials: Bareroot strawberry plants – planting into landscape fabric can be incredibly useful to keep weeds down and keep plants from putting too much energy into spreading runners.

Animals

  • Have a fecal eggs per gram count done on animals that might have a high count such as new mothers and babies between the ages of 8 weeks and 16 weeks , most veterinarians offer this service or ship fresh samples to MidAmerica to receive counts via email.
  • Ensure that all milking equipment is in good working order and sanitized including stanchions, buckets milk machines and storage containers.
  • Strip and sanitize grow-out areas.
  • Order new poultry chicks and ensure brooding areas and implements are cleaned, disinfected and in working order. Make sure that heating sources are in working order and that the brooder is able to maintain age-appropriate temps.
  • If there is a warm, sunny day, check on bee hives! Make sure everyone is healthy and happy and feed if needed. If there is a die-out, clean and sanitize for new bees.