goldfinch9For our October and last CRAFT tour of the 2013 season we visited Goldfinch Gardens, where Ben McCann and Cedar Johnson shared their efforts at season extension and greenhouse management. The cooler weather set the stage for lots of discussion about the pros, cons and how-tos for extending your season and markets into less favorable growing conditions. Thanks again to Cedar and Ben for their time and willingness to share all the ins and outs of their farm business.

Ben and Cedar grow the range of A-Z vegetables on about 1.5 acres of land in Celo, NC. Their main markets are an online farmers market and local restaurants, and having quality products as long as possible is important to meet their demand. They’ve invested, brainstormed, tried a few things and brainstormed some more to devise the best methods for extending their season in the Celo valley. The major challenge they face with season extension is wind. Countless times they’ve come out to find row cover billowing in the trees, or pipe caterpillars up turned and broken.

Despite being susceptible to wind Ben and Cedar found the pipe caterpillars worked well when they were able to keep them in place. They function like a temporary hoop house, are made with inexpensive materials, and can be built quickly over an established crop. Their basic design is created with PVC conduit pipe hooped over rebar driven into the ground, and covered with greenhouse plastic secured on all sides. Ben recommends using gray colored PVC electrical conduit piping because it holds up to UV exposure the best.

They are now adopting a low-hoop system from Pam Dawling at Growing for Market magazine. In this method you use flexible wire hoops and remay cover in the traditional low row cover style, but then come back and place shorter wire hoops over the remay in-between the first wire hoops. This added layer of wire should help Ben and Cedar combat the blustery Celo winds.

As soon as you walk on to the farm you are greeted by three greenhouses, showing the major investment Ben and goldfinch6Cedar have put into season extension. We visited their stationary greenhouse first. They built it two years ago and it is a 30×96 ft. Atlas greenhouse with a gothic arch to withstand large amounts of snow. It’s also equipped with mechanical ventilation (i.e. really big fans). But, a highlight of their farm are the two 28x48ft. movable greenhouses that help maximize their production on their small space. They are each set on a 150 ft. track, and are able to be moved to three separate sections. However, in the future Ben is hoping to extend the greenhouses to 75ft. with just two growing sections. Although, these houses cost as much as the stationary greenhouse without the same amount of coverage, there are benefits to a movable structure including suppression of soil borne diseases and other pests, easy rotations, and allows for the soil to rest and be cover cropped to increase soil health. Since, they had so many extra hands around Ben and Cedar put us to work rolling one of the greenhouses to its winter location!

As we explored the greenhouses a bit more Cedar went on to explain that it’s important to have a specific goal for your season extension such as trying to grow for a winter CSA versus overwintering plants for early spring production. There are lots of good ideas out there, but having a clear goal helps you figure out which ones aren’t worth the extra work they require. At Goldfinch Gardens they are trying to extend the season to have quality products up to December 15th. None of their structures are heated so they use extra row cover within the greenhouses for added protection instead.

Some other considerations for season extension include maintaining fertility and resting soil – will you add extra compost to compensate for winter growth, or do you have enough land to let it rest and cover crop it during a different part of the season. If you’re trying to grow through the winter you need to have a large enough patch of your desired crops to harvest from since there is little to no re-growth at that time. You also must consider how much you like working in the cold, harvesting and washing vegetables in freezing temperatures can be hard on the hands. Watering in the winter is an added issue in freezing temperatures so water lines and pumps must be drained to prevent damage.

goldfinch2As a treat at the end Ben and Cedar shared their favorite tools of the year. Cedar is partial to her lawn roller from Tractor Supply that she uses to press moist soil around freshly seeded beds, and she has seen a significant increase in germination. While Ben’s favorite is the Hoss seeder he outfitted to attach to a wheel hoe frame. We capped off the day with a delicious locally grown and lovingly made food potluck dinner. Thanks again to Ben and Cedar for being such great hosts and CRAFT members. Can’t wait until we get to start all over again next April.

See you then!

Join CRAFT now and don’t miss out on any of the CRAFT events and learning opportunities this year! CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaboration that offers farmers and their interns networking and learning opportunities. For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Cameron Farlow, Organic Growers School Farmer Programs Coordinator at 828.338.9465 or cameron@organicgrowersschool.org.

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Cameron Farlow

Cameron Farlow

Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director.She grew up in Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, and has made her home in Western North Carolina. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC – Chapel Hill in Anthropology and Geography in 2006, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University in May 2011. Gaining as much experience as she could she worked with several other regional nonprofits in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. When she isn’t visiting farms all around this end of the state as Farmer Programs coordinator you can usually find her digging in her garden or adventuring alongside her husband Walker, the farm manager at Hickory Nut Gap Farm.