Garden Planning: Filling Out Rest of Shade Row

The western most row of my garden will receive the most afternoon shade. As a result, the rest of the space not occupied by hops crowns will be planted with more shade tolerant plants.

Mother Earth News and this chart gives options for shade tolerance and produce (all errors and typos preserved from source):


Crop Shade Notes Growing Tips
Arugula At least three to four hours of sun per day. Arugula welcomes shade, as this crop is prone to bolting as soon as the weather turns warm if in full sun.
Asian greens At least two hours of sun per day. Asian greens such as bok choi (also spelled “pac choi” and “pak choi”), komatsuna and tatsoi will grow wonderfully with a couple hours of sun plus some bright shade or ambient light.
Chard If you grow chard mainly for its crisp stalks, you will need at least five hours of sun per day; if you grow it mainly for the tender baby leaves, three to four hours of sun per day will be enough. Expect chard grown in partial sade to be quite a bit smaller than that grown in full sun. Baby chard leaves are excellent cooked or served raw in salads.
Culinary herbs At least three hours of sun per day. While many culinary herbs need full sun, chives, cilantro, garlic chives, golden marjoram, lemon balm, mint, oregano and parsley will usually perform well in shadier gardens.
Kale At least three to four hours of sun per day. You’ll notice only a small reduction in growth if comparing kale grown in partial shade with kale grown in full sun.
Lettuce At least three to four hours of sun per day. Lettuce is perfect for shadier gardens because the shade protects it from the sun’s heat, preventing it from bolting as quickly. Often, the shade can buy a few more weeks of harvesting time that you’d get from lettuce grown in full sun.
Mesclun One of the best crops for shady gardens. Grows in as little as two hours of sun per day and handles dappled shade well. The delicate leaves of this salad mix can be harvested in about four weeks, and as long as you leave the roots intact, you should be able to get at least three good harvests before you have to replant.
Mustard greens At least three hours of sun per day for baby mustard greens. Mustard grown for baby greens is best-suited for shady gardens.
Peas and beans At least four to five hours of sun. If growing these crops in partial shade, getting a good harvest wil take longer. Try bush and dwarf varieties rather than pole varieties.
Root vegetables At least four to five hours of sun per day for decent production. Beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes and turnips will do OK in partial shade, but you’ll have to wait longer for a full crop. The more light you have, the faster they’ll mature. Alternatively, you can harvest baby carrots or small new potatoes for a gourment treat that would cost an arm and a leg at a grocery store.
Scallions At least three hours of sun per day. This crop does well in partial shade throughout the growing season.
Spinach At least three to four hours of sun per day. Spinach welcomes shade, as it bolts easliy if in full sun. If you grow it specifically to harvest as baby spinach, you’ll be able to harvest for quite a while as long as you continue to harvest the outmost leaves of each plant.


Another consideration is shade-tolerant currants. However I will reserve these to grow on the garden boundary fence that get the most shade from the tall silo.

Peas are removed from consideration as they are already planned to be grown with corn and sunflowers in more sunny spots. Herbs deserve their own post so they will not be included here either.

The shadiest row has an abundance of space so both salad greens and highly marketable plants can be included. Considering brassicas reported affinity for rhubarb means that mustard (for greens and seeds), collard greens and kale will be experimented with in the spring while cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower can be added in the fall. Additionally, columbine flowers and numerous salad greens will be planted adjacent to rhubarb and compared to those grown away from the plant.

Therefore I will be filling out the shade row with Arugula, Chard, Kale, Lettuce, Mesclun (as a premixed salad that can be harvested directly as a mix), Mustard, and Spinach. Lettuce is really the only plant with varietal considerations so it will be planted in thirds: 1/3 will be iceberg (head) lettuce, 1/3 will be romaine, and 1/3 will be batavia. Considering aphids, companions will be planted along side the lettuce, but I have not yet determined which herbs or flowers to use.

Quickly weighting the plants by preference gave me the final amount of 1 square foot spaces to dedicate to each plant. Spacing requirements were determined entirely from this PDF from Virginia Tech.

Here is how the shade row looks all mapped out with spring plantings:




Perennial Species Highlight: Rhubarb

Initially, I turned my nose up at rhubarb because I have never used it…ever. I’ve had rhubarb pie once every few years but to my knowledge, that was the only use for the plant.

Turns out the plant has a lot of uses, including being a great companion plant and producing a refreshingly tart water drink. In fact, it is reported that the toxic compounds in rhubarb leaves can be made into a spray that is fatal to aphids (PDF, page 5). This site, Golden Harvest Organics states that rhubarb helps brassicas which is a great family of crops for both marketing and cold weather growing. Therefore kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts etc. Additional non-brassicas like chard, carrots, garlic, onions, lettuce, arugula and other greens can be successfully grown. Additionally rhubarb, like asparagus, is harvested very early in the spring and can provide that initial spurt of cashflow to start the season. Lastly, its is an extremely easy plant to grow so it should suit my Virginia location well.

Specifically, 6 rhubarb crowns will be planted far apart. The vacant space in the bed will be filled with the suitable species listed above and companion planted as needed. Low space requirements for all of these plants mean that they will be planted in 1 square foot sections and varied for diversity.

Another desirable characteristic of rhubarb is that is can be propagated very easily. Simply, the roots are split and replanted. If they prove to be successful sellers in the Shenandoah Valley or produce a noticeable difference in the neighboring plants, more rhubarb crowns can be produced in the future from the initial stock.

For the first year, here is the plan for rhubarb:


Garden, GIS Planning

Perennial Species Highlight: Hops

Beer has been around since some guy in ancient Mesopotamia left grains or bread sitting in water around 10000 BCE. The first appearance in recorded history are in reliefs on Egyptian tombs or in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the first chemical evidence of barley beer is from before 3,000 BCE from jars in Iran. Bitter local herbs have always been used to counteract the sweetness the grain fermentation yields, but in modern times the added anti-microbial properties of hops have made them them almost the sole bittering agent used around the world. The craft beer boom of the last few decades have capitalized on the aromatic and flavor characteristics of some varieties as well.

Hops are vertical vine climbers and will be grown up the front of the barn. While enjoying full sun, they can get scorched with too much afternoon exposure so hopefully they will enjoy the trellises hung from the barn rafters 25 feet overhead while getting some afternoon shade from the structure. If they shade the open section of the barn, awesome! More than anything I just want them to grow UP and not outward on ground level. They will be contained by root barriers like these: 24″ x 100 ft.  or 18″ x 100 ft. Rhizome plantings are used to produce female-only plants as males plants pollinate the flowers causing them to seed which destroys their use in beer.

Same varieties are recommended to be planted no closer than 3 ft’ apart while separate varieties should be no closer than 5 feet apart (source). Soil ever allowed to dry completely will likely kill the plants growth for the year so heavy mulching and regular watering will be applied. I’d like to branch out and see which varieties grow well here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia using organic methods but here is my starting point.

Sticking with my garden theme of focusing on growing plants I will personally use (or help the plants I enjoy), I will grow mostly Cascades and Willamette hops, with smaller plantings of Magnum/Zeus (CTZ) or other High Alpha Acid Percentage (AA%) hop meant for bittering. I’m going to try out a rhizome of Sunbeam Golden hops as the leaves are beautifully yellow and they prefer partial shade. I’d love to grow Simone or Amarillo hops but their genetic information is patented and I could not sell them let alone obtain rhizomes. There are literally zero recommended companion plants as they would most likely get smothered by the spreading hops roots. I plant to toss in some marigolds, a sunflower or two and some potted basil to determine the best companions myself.

Using the growth requirements mentioned above, the mapping part is as simple as adding the data to each grid. Here is a peak into the GIS database which represents where to plant the individual rhizomes.



Garden, Side Projects, Uncategorized

Forbidden Fruit, the interesting story of the currant and pine trees (Ribes genus)

At 22 years old, I first heard of this family of fruits. Geography of Wine actually fulfilled one of my core elective requirements for my degree. Ever the most eccentric of professors, John Boyer recommended we throw a wine tasting party as an assignment fulfillment but the catch was to include everything you may encounter in wine, from various fruits to dirty gym socks to barnyard hay. Preparation to identify even the worst and erroneously produced flavors of wine was weighted equally to the pleasurable and inviting flavors. My quest to track down all of the fruit flavors was an adventure in itself. Unripe persimmons from my now-farm-site were used to demonstrate astringency and tannins but it was the Currants that proved most difficult to find. I was able to order red, white and rose currants online but black currants despite being an oft cited flavor in wine profiles were nearly impossible to find. Natural curiosity begged the question: why? Illegality was the first curious attribute of these fruits that was encountered. Were they psychoactive or invasive or any of the things that would lead to a federal ban?

Pinus strobus, the eastern white pine was once found extensively from northern Georgia to northeastern Canada. Europeans recognized the lightweight, tall, straight growth as forming ideal ship masts (source: Dendrology lecture with Dr. Seiler at Virginia Tech). Continued recognition as an ideal timber species led to Europeans shipping pine specimens to be grown in european nurseries (source) while continued harvest of native stands caused massive deforestation by the late 1800’s (source). Consequently, specimens were shipped backed to re-establish stands in the depleted native habitat.

Specifically, Lord Weymouth was a prolific gardener and arranged for the importation of white pines into Europe in 1705. By affixing “Lord” to “Weymouth Pine”, he subsequently stole the common name from the first european to discover the pine in current-day Maine, George Weymouth. A shipment from France to British Columbia in 1910 brought a fungal pathogen to North America that went undetected for 11 years allowing it to spread extensively (source). White pine blister rust, the fungus (Cronartium ribicola) had first appeared in Germany (Source). Further investigation revealed that the Ribes genus of gooseberries (thorned) and currants (not thorned) provided a host for the fungus to complete its lifecycle. The resulting native Ribes removal cost an estimated $150 million shown below:

Three-man crew eradicating Ribes in northern Idaho. (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service, copyright-free) Retrieved from

Thus the North American shortage of currants is adequately explained.

While the federal ban was lifted in 1966, many state bans are still in effect to various degrees of enforcement. Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the state enforces the ban by preventing nursery sales of natural strains of black currants. Hybrid black currants and all other colors are perfectly legal. Check on your state regulations regarding the issue. No complete state guide exists currently so I will compile one as time allows as a reference.

As the case with any prohibition laws, the government has created a market that is both ripe and untapped. Europe has a billion dollar industry in yogurt, jams/jellies/preserves, liquor, teas, smoothies and any other use for berries that can be filled by the unique flavor of currants. While the American market is ramping up and in its infancy, currants seem to fit the bill for obscure, nutritionally packed and strangely flavored to become the next rage in the health food industry. As such I hope to have a few plants established if currants do become the next rage as they take 3 years to produce substantially. Boundaries in the garden will be the starting point as they are a fantastic plant to grow along fence rows and can thrive in afternoon shade!




Landslides and Gardening?

Having only books and radio for entertainment at the farm is one of my favorite reasons for wanting to make it my full time lifestyle. I have nothing against learning from the internet but I find I absorb information much better through focused and singular vectors like books and magazines. While reading How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons, I came across a claim by Alan Chadwick who is one of the pioneers of modern organic gardening. The claim is one I have seen many times and is usually qualified by phrases like “by observation”.

Apparently, Greeks noticed that plants grew best on soils from recent landslides. The idea that these during the landslide, the soils were highly aerated which provided easy root penetration that facilitated nutrient absorption.  While I not found any scholarly source to back this claim, it is logical and inline with plant ecology knowledge regarding plant succession following a major soil disturbance. Having made these observations, the Greeks invented the raised garden bed in an effort to emulate landslide conditions. I do want to note that the book also mentions contributions by other civilizations to organic gardening practices and was both informative and enjoyable to read.

However for my purposes, I will stop at raised beds:


Here is my longest bed being prepared. Beds are built into the slight incline with collected scrap and discarded, low quality wood from around the farm. Old fence boards were the main source of lumber while smaller pieces were split and made into stakes to hold the raised beds up. Its not pretty, but it is functional and free!

In order to smother grasses and weeds, I put down cardboard from which I had removed any tape, glue or staples. Normally I wet the cardboard first, but this preparation was hurried to beat the incoming winter storm which would saturate the cardboard anyway. I overlapped any joints or slits in the cardboard to ensure complete coverage. The idea is this one-time application will kill any perennial turf or broad leaf species then break down into organic matter once the soil microbes come out of dormancy.

On top of the cardboard, I piled well aged horse manure/bedding mix to a depth of about 2 inches. Once the soil is workable, I will perform a onetime deep tilling to incorporate all of the organic matter into the subsoil. Since this bed is for perennial plants, a surface incorporation of fresh compost will be performed as needed. Note: I started the far end of the bed with a load of manure when I was home from the middle east for the Thanksgiving holiday. It is almost a solid black and still hosted many worms despite the winter temperatures fluctuating between single digits and 40 degrees Fahrenheit over the past month!

On top of the manure, I mulched deeply with hay that was inside and underneath the manger inside of the barn. Livestock has not been on the property in about 15 years so the hay is old and useless as feed, but perfect for mulching!

There are also 15 huge round bails of 15 year old hay in the loft of the barn that I have no idea how to use. Since carbon is so precious on a farm, I think I’ll slowly use it as garden mulch, animal bedding (mixed with more absorbent material like sawdust) or in compost piles. Any other suggestions?


Garden, GIS Planning

Revisting Garden Planning With GIS

I’ve decided to follow many of the market gardening and urban micro farm literature in preparing my garden. Vertical space and efficient layout are key considerations in planning.

GIS Software mapped the garden beds at 4 feet wide with 2 foot aisles between beds.


Using a GIS tool that someone published online the garden bed polygons provided the boundaries to create 1×1 ft. grids.  Some unpredictable results were produced from my minorly complex garden bed geometries. I removed all but the two largest polygons to re-run the tool, then copied, pasted and cut the results to replace the other beds.


This GIS tool applied my grid to the garden beds to cut the polygons into 1×1 ft. squares. I ran into the same issue so I deleted all by the western most beds. After running the tool again, I copied the resulting beds and pasted them with 2 foot aisle ways in between. Then I clipped all of the beds to the desired boundary of the garden while adding an additional piece along the main fence. The end result is below


The point of doing this is that now I can link the individual 1×1 ft rectangles to any piece of data I want. Examples include: plant species, species variety, growth characteristics, water needs, sunlight recommendations, soil preference, composting/mulching/organic fertilizing needs, planting time in relation to frosts, harvest time and ANYTHING else that is even remotely useful. This will help in planning but also garden maintenance and in the future, logging location specific performance over time. With GIS software, I can analyze the latter against 3-D sunlight, elevation, soils, and climatic data when I get bored or want to knock the rust off of the skills of professions past.


Cattle, Chicks, Garden

Purchased Tanks for Water Collection: Warnings and Advice

I have been browsing craigslist regularly for anything from animals to equipment to discarded plastic drums for water tanks. After doing some extensive math that will be included in a future series of posts, I quickly realized that the rainwater collection system would be best served with a higher capacity than 55 gallon drums could accommodate reasonably.

Off to Craigslist in search of some of the 250+ gallon tanks that come in metal cages, pictured below.

Water Tank

First for the warning: Like 55 gallon plastic drums, be VERY particular to source a tank that stored food materials or safe chemicals. Watering animals, plants or yourself with water tainted by industrial-grade acid, chemicals, etc would be tragic and entirely avoidable.

Advice: Don’t write off tanks with chemical stickers like I almost did. Luckily the craigslist ad for 300 gallon tanks had a price that made me inquire despite almost dismissing the option due to visible chemical stickers on the tanks. Here is a picture from the ad:


Turned out the tanks contained medical grade Hydrogen Peroxide. The seller of the tanks explained that he does not clean them out as the solution keeps the inside of the tanks sterile. All that is needed to make them food-safe is to add 10 gallons of water, slosh it around and dump it out as the trace amounts of it have been diluted to ~1% and will break down into water + oxygen gas once exposed to light.

Self-sanitizing 300 gallon tanks at twice the local going rate for 55 gallon drums? I took as many as I could safely haul at once and may go back for more. They would make the perfect mobile watering tank for cattle, rain barrels or even a tank to combine smaller rain water containers together! Also I am sure they could be used to barter with other farmers/gardeners if I find myself with too many in the end.

To recap, when sourcing potential water tanks, be very careful to determine exactly what they held previously. If they were used for non-food uses, see if there is a way to make them food safe before writing them off. After all I much prefer my Hydrogen Peroxide container to the cleaning I’ve done in the past to an agave or honey container!



Choosing Heirloom Sweet Potato Varieties

As previously stated, I love sweet potatoes and they make up majority of my carbohydrate intake.


I found a passionate propagator of many varieties, even those that are rare, in Sand Hill Preservation. I isolated the orange-fleshed, heirloom sweet potatoes for further analysis.

Taken right from their site, the growth characteristics and maturity ratings are as follows:


Maturity Criteria

Early:  At 90 days here in Iowa these have reached full size.

Mid-season:  At 90 days here in Iowa these still have roots that need a few more weeks to bulk up.

Late:  At 90 days here in Iowa these only have about 25% of the roots mature.

Very Late:  Really nothing much at 90 days. These need around 140 days.


Plant Growth Type Criteria

This is our criteria that we use to classify the varieties’ growth habits. This is from data gathered at our farm, taking measurements from the location where the plant is growing to the distance the vines cover on one side of the plant.

Very Vigorous:  Vines go to 12 feet or more.

Vigorous:  Vines usually go from 8 to 12 feet.

Vining:  Vines go from 6 to 8 feet.

Semi-Bush:  Vines go from 4 to 6 feet.

Bush:  Vines are less than 4 feet.



Climatic conditions of my location limit me to varieties that mature early or mid-season, preferable the former. Bush and semi-bush align with the goals of my garden production by occupying limited space. As such, I applied scores to each variety based on its characteristics and employed factors to those scales based on importance. Growth Type and maturity are factored at twice the value of yield as they are more important to my goals. To be considered, the variety had to have meet a basic criteria made apparent by the following tables of scoring value.

Growth Type Score
Vining 1
Semi-Bush 2
Bush 3


Maturity Score
Mid-season 2
Early 3


Yield Score
Average 1
Above Average 2
Excellent 3


With the scoring factors applied, the growth types are as follows:

Sweet Potato-Factored

Sorted by total score:

Sweet Potato-Sorted

I now have the four varieties I want to try out! Note that the Qualls Variety is included despite a poor score because it is a Virginia Heirloom variety. Even though it does not support the economical goals of my operation, it aligns with noneconomical virtues of the farm. It could be a great producer or a dud but there is only one way to know for sure!


Also: I apologize for using grainy screenshots. When I get off of wordpress onto my own host I’ll switch to HTML tables.

Here is a link to a google doc that contains the above spreadsheet!

Bees, Garden

Lets talk about companions, acid and berries

If I had to make the choice of a single fruit to eat for the rest of my life, it would be blueberries. Raspberries are such a close second that I would read the fine print of the agreement to try and loophole them in.

Blueberries need acidic soil. I will have to retest my farm, but I anticipate the karst limestone-heavy area is going to need some amendment. In the raised beds I need a solution that doesn’t involve hauling in chemicals or soil amendments. My solution will be to mulch up many of the cedars that have encroached on the pasture. Every year, I will assist by adding a top mulch of chipped, discarded christmas trees (needles and all). I would like to note that I have not found any studies that convince me that pine mulch is any better the just plain old organic matter in acidifying the soil. In a pinch, I won’t hesitate to use the leave litter from the forest as a soil amendment.

As for companions, the literature prescribes clover to help fix nitrogen or acid-tolerant herbs for pest deterrence.

I’m going to take a different approach here. My perennial blueberry patch will be a sanctuary for the bees. Widely-spaced Rhododendron could provide shade for the plants during the dog days of summer, beautiful flowers in its long blooming season, and potentially psychedelic honey. I’ll probably avoid them in the end, but they are a viable companion. Lewisias flowers enjoy acidic soils and bloom in the late winter providing food for the bees when not much else is available. Strawberries are another delicious potential companion that would provide a living mulch but they have many pest and disease issues. Yarrow flowers have a rich history of natural medicinal use and seem to enrich soil where they grow. Clover is the last plant to consider as a legume that fixes nitrogen for the berries high demand.

Honestly at this point I have no idea what companions I want to plant with the blueberries. I think for now I will plant strawberries as a ground cover with no expectations regarding production while locating the flowering herbs on the boundaries of the rows.

If anyone has any suggestions for acid-tolerant plants that provide human food or nectar for bees, please let me know!

Chicks, Garden

Wintering Chickens: Shelter, feed, minerals

Wintering chickens actually seems like the least intimidating part of starting the farmstead.

Shelter- Hoop greenhouse over garden. One example is $100-$150 for a 9’x8′ structure. I can easily predator-proof it, provide deep bedding and lock the chickens in at night while letting them wander the garden by day fertilizing everything.

Feed – I am a big advocate of letting animals express their genes thus allowing them to alter their own diets to make up for deficiencies. I will provide them with basics. Carbohydrates will come from spent brewing grains and garden produce. Squash, sunflowers and Corn will be grown specifically as winter chicken feed as they both store well when harvested and handled correctly. Soil in the garden is rich with earthworms to provide protein (28% by composition) and fats while the worms are active. Additionally, red wiggler worms will be an integral part of the composting system and can be fed to the chickens. Honey locust pods are easily collected from the many trees in the pasture. The pods could also be collected for the goats winter feed. Persimmon trees are numerous and heavy producing, but are not as easily harvested.

Supplements- Keeping as much feed on-farm as possible, yeast will also be an abundant byproduct of my brewing operations. Enough yeast for subsequent batches of fermentation can be harvested when the current batch is complete leaving about 95% of it to go to waste. That wasted yeast is a great source of vitamins and minerals including calcium, the most important consideration for laying hens. To ensure all nutrient needs are met, I will provide some off farm sources to see if the chickens utilize them. These will most likely be kelp, oyster shell or other conventional sources.

Future considerations: Aquaponics to recycle processed chicken innards and waste as fish food as well as worms that feed on chicken droppings.