• Publishers' Note Fall 2011

    Publishers' Note Fall 2011

    Recently we saw The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary by Werner Herzog. The film takes the viewer on a visual journey exploring the 30,000-year-old paintings inside the cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, in southern France. Powerful images of long-extinct animals, crafted by torchlight, transported us back in time. In the film, Herzog explores the very nature and origins of humanness and our urge to communicate; it’s astonishing to realize that at our core there is a need to convey meaningful information. And 30,000 years later, we’re still hard at work connecting with each other, trying to share what is meaningful.

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  • Crop Mobsters

    Crop Mobsters

    Barley is furry. It is, in the eyes of Nick Cowles, “…golden and beautiful and furry…and it might tickle.”

    Nick was preparing a group of Green Mountain Crop Mob volunteers to enter his fields at Shelburne Orchards this past July. He was responding to a question about appropriate clothes for that morning’s work. The furry warning, and a gesture to the bathroom (recently cleaned in our honor), were all we needed before setting off through the orchards toward the five acres of barley we’d signed on to weed that morning.

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  • Thinking Outside the Bordeaux

    Thinking Outside the Bordeaux

    Folks have been fermenting things for as long as there have been reasons to get drunk. Okay, crop preservation was probably more of a reason for fermentation, but I’m sure that inebriation was an added perk for many early consumers. Before refrigeration was an option, people needed to either dry, ferment, or culture foods to carry them through the lean months. When Vermont was more rural, each farm needed to produce food for their own winter larders, so fermented fruit, honey, and maple drinks were common.

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  • Learning at the Market

    Learning at the Market

    Shop, Learn, Connect— that’s our market’s slogan, and this summer we emphasized the second word “learn” with 15 teaching demonstrations held during market hours. Intended to match the spirit of the market (local, seasonal, and affordable), the demonstrations helped customers learn how to preserve foods to enjoy year-round, how to prepare a variety of dishes from local produce, and how to stretch their food dollar. We partnered with Montpelier-area chefs, our market vendors, and food educators to lead these almost-weekly demonstrations.

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  • Humane Heft

    Humane Heft

    Chalk up another “first” for Vermont.

    The state was the first to outlaw slavery, the first to legalize civil unions, and the first to pass a single-payer health care law, among other singular achievements. It may not be as significant, but the fact that Vermont recently became the first state to require local slaughterhouses to file a written humane handling plan falls in line with the state’s tradition of leading the way on moral issues.

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  • Classroom, Cafeteria, Community

    Classroom, Cafeteria, Community

    From the First Lady to the USDA and Governor Peter Shumlin to celebrity chef Jaime Oliver, there is a growing national interest in improving the health and nutrition of our schoolchildren. Vermont will be among the last states to appear on Oliver’s Food Revolution, a television program meant to save America’s health by helping kids and adults change the way they eat, but perhaps that’s because our state has been leading the way by developing Farm to School (FTS) programming for more than a decade.

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  • Having Both Lives

    Having Both Lives

    Why anybody would want to be either a farmer or a poet when there were spools turning in factories was beyond the grasp of the old man. That his grandson should desire to be both was almost enough to bring on a stroke.”

    According to the grandson’s biographer, “Determined in his course, Robert laid the whole matter before his grandfather. He would have a farm, live on it, produce his food with his own labor, and write poetry.”

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  • Hooping it Up

    Hooping it Up

    For much of the summer, the sun rises too early for even early birds to see it. But you probably noticed the nights arriving earlier when August rolled around. Perhaps you walked outside at dusk and felt the absence of the swallows. By the time this article hits the stands in September, you’ve probably had your first light frost(s). Maybe even a killing frost, although with climate change it’s all less predictable now.

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  • Set the Table with Sweet Potatoes

    Set the Table with Sweet Potatoes

    In prehistoric cave sites in Peru, scientists have found remains of sweet potatoes dating back to the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest vegetables grown by humans. Yet even with that amount of history in every velvety, sensuous mouthful, the sweet potato is also a plant of the future, and may be a very important plant indeed for Vermont’s future. We are witnessing the arrival and adaptation of a new staple food crop to the Northeast—a rare and exciting event.

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  • Packing Local Lunches 101

    Packing Local Lunches 101

    Packing your child’s lunch every day can be a challenge. Below are some tips for cutting down on costs, time, and the energy you put into your child’s brown bag lunch—and adding some locally grown goods!

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Tomatillo Tamworths

    Farmers' Kitchen—Tomatillo Tamworths

    Yankee and Doodle squealed in the crate in the back of the Subaru. We were as shocked by the piglets’ lung capacity as we were by the fact that we, two former vegetarians, were about to start raising and selling meat! Once we got them home, they settled in quickly in the barn, scratching against the hand-hewn beams and eventually burying their noses in sweet-smelling hay.

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  • A Tasty Tour

    A Tasty Tour

    Year One: A Good Cause. Managing our farm, my wife and I try to respect a Sunday off, cultivating diversity in our lives as we do in our fields. So in September 2008, a neighbor and I chose to ride the first annual "Tour de Farms," an Addison County bike-to-farms ride of various lengths, organized by Rural Vermont, the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), and the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition. Having chosen the 30-mile loop, the rolling hills of Addison County on that clear morning were stunning.

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  • Vermont Wine & Spirits Guide

    Vermont Wine & Spirits Guide

    Vermont is home to a thriving spirits industry. Our in-state distillers are producing a wide variety of products from vodka and maple liqueurs to gin and rye whiskey. Many of them are winning national acclaim and international awards for their fine quality and appealing flavor. A number of the distilleries have their own tasting rooms where the products they make can be sampled and purchased. You may also find local distillers at farmers’ markets, special events, or festivals around the state.

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Hooping it Up

Hoophouse at Fertile Fields Farm, Westmoreland, NH
Hoophouse at Fertile Fields Farm, Westmoreland, NH

Written By

Lisa Holderness

Written on

September 01 , 2011

For much of the summer, the sun rises too early for even early birds to see it. But you probably noticed the nights arriving earlier when August rolled around. Perhaps you walked outside at dusk and felt the absence of the swallows. By the time this article hits the stands in September, you’ve probably had your first light frost(s). Maybe even a killing frost, although with climate change it’s all less predictable now.

For a home gardener, this means the end of basil-and-tomato nirvana and fresh food independence. For a farmer, it’s a cash-flow fiasco. But with a little knowledge and some simple tools, we can make the most of that waning sun and feed ourselves a little farther into the fall. We can push our final harvests from the real date of the pilgrim’s first harvest feast in early October much closer to our late-November Thanksgiving Day.

Our first season extension feat at Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford was accomplished on a Thursday afternoon about 10 years ago, with the weather radio blaring a freeze warning. Our tomato vines were still weighted with luscious fruit, heritage raspberries were full of color, and row after row of 5-foot- tall dahlias were in full bloom. Picture us biped mammals, my husband and I, scurrying around with scraps of greenhouse plastic, shreds of Remay row cover, and lots of admonitions. It was the dahlias that were the most challenging, as their flowers and growing tips couldn’t be allowed to touch the plastic or row cover or they would die.

When the adrenaline subsided, reflection and innovation kicked back in. Why don’t we use the same hoop-and-plastic structures we start the season with to round out the other side of the year?

I picked up 10- to 12-foot lengths of PVC pipe to arc over the plants and cut rebar into 8- to 10-inch lengths with a hack saw to push into the ground as posts. I used old greenhouse plastic from our 24-foot x14-foot seedling greenhouse and picked up some extra builders’ plastic. As the temperature plummeted, we pounded the rebar into the soil, slid the PVC over it, bent it into a hoop and anchored the other end with another piece of rebar. Over this makeshift mini-hoophouse, we stretched our covers and anchored them with cordwood and rocks. We covered double rows of tomatoes as night settled in and time and materials ran out.

We spent very little, lost very little, and enjoyed another month of glorious “Indian Summer” markets. Warm days, cool nights, happy eaters, and reassured farmers. I was a convert! Soon we installed our first unheated hoophouse over soil for growing under cover with only solar heat. By then I knew to use IR (infrared reflecting) greenhouse plastic, and I added a second layer, using a small inflation fan to create an insulating pillow of air. Each of those steps added almost 10 degrees of protection, and we experimented for the first year with a variety of flowers and green vegetables.

Last year we added a 30-foot x 72-foot high-side Ledgewood single-layer plastic hoophouse, which lets in the maximum amount of light in spring and fall and has a better surface-to-volume ratio. On cold fall nights, we stretch a breathable row cover over the crops inside it, creating a temporary double layer. On extremely cold nights we stretch a second layer of IR plastic over them. Last November my science students from Kindle Farm High School were able to pick Seascape strawberries, the taste of summer sparkling in their smiling mouths.

Since our original work, I’ve watched the documentary “Blue Vinyl” multiple times with my science classes and I’m turned off by PVC for non-medical uses. So last year I invested in a pipe bender template from Johnny’s Seeds and bought half-inch EMT (that metal conduit electricians use). Ten foot lengths of EMT can be bent into 4-foot or 6-foot wide hoops, with far greater rigidity than the PVC hoops. They are easier to anchor in the soil and less prone to bending under unexpected snow load. We opted for the 4-foot wide EMT so we could get better height for our plants and also greater air volume. Metal conduit can also be purchased in greater diameter or set up with a purlin running parallel to the hoops, lashed or clamped onto the top, to greatly increase structural integrity.

Either hoop will hold plastic over plants. You then need to grab the tails at the ends of rows and anchor them. They can be balled, tied, and anchored with rebar or tree stakes, or anchored all along the sides, as we do with rocks and cordwood—but leave a “flange” when you calculate your plastic width; 12–13 foot wide leaves wiggle room over a 10 foot pipe for a good anchor on each side after you push poles into the ground. You don’t want wind to get up under the edge and rip it off. A third kind of anchor is plastic clamps. These are made of melted segments of PVC pipe. You can figure out how to make them or you can buy them from Pinetree Seeds in Maine or Johnny’s.

Just don’t forget to open the plastic on bright clear fall days, to vent humidity and to give plants a little more solar access. Your mini-hoophouse can overheat very quickly, although its plant “headroom” is a big advantage over the window-sash-over-a-box method. There are several nifty methods for venting.

Enjoy the challenges and benefits of stretching out your season. Initially, you can get more tomatoes to ripen on the vine and pick green beans much later. When fruiting is done, you’ll still have growing lettuce, spinach, and kale. The last benefit will be over-wintering spinach. Give it a little hay insulation and an extra layer over it under your hoop. Then just raise up the coverings and steal some spinach every once in a while. As soon as February rolls around the spinach will start growing like mad again. And it will grow more and more through March and April—just pinch individual leaves and it will “cut and come again.”

Of all the connections I share in my farm life, the biggest gift I can imagine giving my students and guests is solar awareness and a few easy ways to live longer and happier off the land each year.

Photo courtesy of Fertile Fields Farm

Season Extension in a Nutshell

  1. Use PVC, EMT, or local wood to build hoops over your plants.
  2. A purlin/ridgepole gives strength and helps support plastic sheets. Anchor it well.
  3. Use real greenhouse plastic with UV inhibitors and IR (infrared radiation resistance).
  4. Bigger volume = better plant protection from cold and overheating. Tall = good.
  5. Go for maximum light transmission during the day and heat storage at night.
  6. Venting is essential—what saves at night kills in light.
  7. Track your effectiveness with an indoor-outdoor thermometer, just for fun.
  8. Learn the cold-tolerant plants; read Four Season Harvest by Elliot Coleman.
  9. Know the location of the sun in your sky throughout the year. It can change significantly.
  10. Cold air drains downhill. Experiment with this; we plant our peaches and berries on north-facing hillsides. Practice feeling the air and watching for warm and cold spots in your growing area.

About the Author

Lisa Holderness

Lisa Holderness

Lisa Holderness has an MS in environmental science from Antioch New England. She has been a science teacher and environmental educator for 25 years and an organic farmer for 14 years.

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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