Friday, August 27, 2010

JSS Advantage September 2010

The shorter days and cooler temperatures of September provide a reminder to start planning for winter. This month, your work might include:
  • Planting cover crops to protect and improve your soil; 
  • Seeding hoophouse and low tunnel crops to harvest in October, November, and December;
  • Making value-added products to sell at fall and winter markets;
  • Stocking up for your own table.
Protecting soil in winter
The best cover crops for planting now are those that grow quickly in cool weather. Some will winter over and start growing again next spring. Others will be killed by cold weather but will have enough root and top growth to hold the soil in place during the winter. These two types require different management next year, so it's important to figure out how the cover crop fits into your spring planting schedule. Here are some of the considerations for cover crops to plant now.

Johnny's Fall Green Manure Mix contains winter rye, hairy vetch, field peas, crimson clover and ryegrass. The winter rye and hairy vetch are hardy and will grow rapidly in spring. The field peas, clover, and ryegrass will winter kill in the North.

Oats, field peas and oilseed radish are cold-tolerant, but will be killed by a hard freeze. They are easy to incorporate in spring.

Winter rye can be planted latest of all the fall cover crops and it will overwinter. It will start growing early next year and need to be tilled in before it produces seed.

To help you choose the cover crops that are best for your farm, we recommend our free Cover Crop Comparison chart and the book Managing Cover Crops Profitably, which is sold on Johnny's website.

Hoophouse and Quick Hoops™ crops

With an unheated hoophouse or Quick Hoops™ covered with greenhouse poly, you can have fresh produce to sell until Thanksgiving and beyond. Choose vegetables that are cold-tolerant, and remember to add about 14 days to the days to maturity printed in the catalog to account for slower growth as the days get shorter. Here are our picks for sweet, crisp, fall and winter vegetables.
Winter markets and value-added products

Although 88% of U.S. farmers markets are open less than six months a year, there is a definite trend toward stretching the market season in fall or holding special holiday markets. In addition, many communities have craft markets where farmers can sell value-added products. Many growers create a line of value-added products that they can sell after the main produce season is over. If you haven't specifically grown crops with value-added products in mind, this is a good time to survey your markets for potential niches. You might also find that you already have the materials for products you can sell this fall, as a way of testing the water. Here are a few ideas.

Herbs: Dried herbs can be used in many products including herbal vinegars, herb rubs for meat and fish, soup mixes, and dip mixes. Mixed bunches of dried herbs are even easier. The best herbs for drying: marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme. For best results, cut the herbs when the foliage is dry but not wilted. Hang them upside down in small bunches in a warm, dry place with good air circulation or a fan on them. Once they are thoroughly dry, store them in an opaque container with silica gel dessicant until you need them.

Peppers: As the frost date approaches, pay particular attention to your peppers. Once nighttime temperatures drop below 60F/16C, peppers will stop flowering and setting fruit. Cut off any small peppers that you think won't mature before frost. This will help the remaining larger peppers to ripen. Peppers take about three weeks to go from green ripe to red/orange ripe, but once a pepper is 50% colored, it will continue to color after harvest. Holding partially colored peppers at 68-77F/20-25C with high humidity is most effective.

Small, thin-walled peppers can be made into ristras, swags, and wreaths and sold for culinary and decorative uses. They have the greatest impact when the foliage is removed so the peppers are in full view. To defoliate pepper branches, stand the stem ends in water like cut flowers, and store them in complete darkness at 68F/20C for three days. After that, remove from the water and shake the stems. The leaves, but not the fruits, will fall off.

To learn more about making pepper wreaths and swags, see this article on the Growing for Market website.

Dried botanicals: Fall and winter decorating is a favorite pastime for many people, but if they live in a city, they probably don't have access to the raw materials for nature crafts. Your farm may be a cornucopia of botanicals that you can sell at fall and winter markets. Take a walk around your fields, meadows, and hedgerows and see what you can find to sell at a "crafters' corner" of your market stand. Popular crafting materials include bittersweet and other berries; seed heads of sunflowers, Echinacea, and rudbeckias; broom corn, millet, and native grasses; overgrown okra pods (for Santa ornaments); dried flowers including carthamus, celosia, craspedia, gomphrena, statice, strawflowers; hydrangea heads; corn shocks and husks; small pumpkins that can be used as vases; gourds and ornamental squash; pine cones, sweet gum, and other ornamental seed pods.

A penny saved ...

Don't forget to stock up for your own table. You'll find all the details in the book How to Store Your Garden Produce. If frost threatens suddenly, go through your fields and glean whatever odds and ends you can find. Almost everything can be frozen and used in soup later. Most veggies should be blanched (scalded briefly in hot water) before freezing. Here's a concise publication from New Mexico State University about how long to blanche. Some veggies don't even require blanching, but can be frozen raw. Here are a few examples.

Roma tomatoes: Wash, dry, place in plastic bags and put them in the freezer. When you want to use them, run warm water over them and the skins will slip right off.

Cherry tomatoes: Freeze them whole; they will rupture when thawed, but will add great fresh flavor to cooked dishes.

Herbs: Wash and chop them (individually or in your favorite combinations), then put them in ice cube trays. Fill the trays with water, freeze, and then transfer the herbed ice cubes to airtight storage containers.

Peppers: Wash and either freeze whole or cut and remove seeds and stems; chop and freeze in airtight containers.

Onions/green onions/leeks: Chop, double wrap, and freeze.

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