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Dave Ruggiero

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since Oct 05, 2018
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Recent posts by Dave Ruggiero

You may have heard the old saying:

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
A swarm in July ain't worth a fly.

Bees are hard to get established and trying to do it late in the year is risky. If your neighbor calls in August and asks you to remove a swarm for him, and you already have the equipment, sure, no problem, you'll just risk time and energy. But nucs are expensive and I wouldn't pay for them that late in the year. And losing your first couple colonies is depressing and likely to drive you out of bees entirely. Maybe once you know some local beekeepers you'll have a better idea where to buy from. I know in our area, there's a strong local beekeeping club that can provide both mentoring and bulk ordering help.
11 months ago
Hey Antonio, the "inch of water" is phrased that way as it's often rainfall - if you get an inch of rain over the course of the week, you don't need to worry about irrigation. If you look at it in terms of irrigation, however, it's probably roughly accurate if you look at the size of the root zone you're actually trying to irrigate, which will depend on the plant - a tomato is obviously pulling water from a bigger area than a carrot. Tyler's figure of 27,000 gallons per acre is about right if you're growing tightly on a whole acre, but if, for instance, you're growing an acre of zucchini in a more conventional row pattern, and irrigating via drip tape, you may only end up needing to irrigate a third or less of that acre - you won't bother irrigating the walking paths.

So yes, to some degree if you're growing less in a space, you don't need as much water (especially if you can only water near the plants, not indiscriminately over the whole area) However, you do need to either mulch heavily or do a lot of weeding - if you have a lot of weeds they will compete with your plants for water., and if you have bare soil it will speed up evaporation. If you do a very dense planting you can shade out the weeds, and prevent water from evaporating off the soil surface as quickly, but you will need somewhat more water per unit area than a less intense planting.
1 year ago
As Tyler said, the general rule of thumb for market gardening is that vegetables need an inch of water every week.  Obviously good or bad water conservation techniques will adjust the numbers, but it's a good rule of thumb.  I've never seen a table looking at it with the level of detail you're asking for - it would depend on so many factors, not just soil type and organic matter content, but the slope, depth to bedrock, plant life growing, temperature, and more. I would calculate out a "standard worst case" length of drought (maybe a 20-year drought?), plan on watering an inch a week during that time, and figure out your water needs from there.
1 year ago
Hi Susan, I feel the same way, coming from more of a market gardening perspective, where efficiency is so highly valued. I think there's a balance between work efficiency and diversity that will differ for everyone depending on what their design goals are, and I agree - having a lot of meandering paths and mandala gardens may not be the best option for everyone, especially as you get out into Zone 3 designs where you may have a lot of work to get through at certain times of year, and need to be able to get a cart or other equipment through.

That said, "edge" is a very diverse category and it can apply in a lot of different ways depending on your scale. I would consider all of the following to be an "increase in edge":
  • A grain farmer reducing erosion by strip-cropping, planting alternating strips of maize and grass along a slope
  • A sheep rancher building up perennial hedges, including food plants for people and birds, instead of just plain wire fencing
  • A pig farmer including both forest and pasture in a fenced-in paddock so the pigs can take advantage of the shade and mast while also uprooting sod for a later planting
  • A vegetable farmer putting a pollinator garden in the odd bits of space along the field edges and over her irrigation lines rather than just mowing them
  • A suburban homeowner planting raspberries along the edge of her property, screening her view of the neighbors and providing them both some tasty food
  • An urban IT professional, going out of his way to bike through different neighborhoods on the way to work rather than always taking the same path

  • I think the principle is probably given as "increase edge" because most of us have efficiency so beaten into us that it helps to push the conversation the other way. But if you're going to repeat the same task 200 times a year, I would never advise you to put an obstacle in your property that doubles how long that task takes.

    1 year ago
    I think Elizabeth's question has probably been answered, but if not, in a very barebones sense, there are two big categories of annual plants based on whether or not they'll die in a frost. Lots of common garden plants (including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, sweet potatoes, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers) will die if you get a frost, so you need to wait to plant them out until after the last frost of the spring (you can often transplant them to hurry them along), and you should try to get them all harvested before the first frost of the fall. These crops will generally refer to the frost on the seed packet and say something like "Transplant after all threat of frost has passed."

    The other big category is plants that will survive a mild frost, including lettuce, mustard greens, kale, chard, collards, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, beets, onions, turnips, rutabagas, peas, and potatoes. That doesn't mean you want to plant them outdoors in the middle of winter, but you can get away with planting them when the ground has thawed out in the spring and you're unlikely to see many nights below 25 F or so. Seed packets will often list this as "plant in spring as soon as the ground can be worked." If you're using a no-till garden system, you may not have to do any "working" at all, so just make sure the soil isn't frozen and is also not completely waterlogged - if you can turn it over with a shovel and the soil you dig up can't be wrung out like a dirty dishrag, you're fine.

    Here in southern Pennsylvania, I can generally plant my first outdoor crops between March 15 and April 15. It depends on the year - sometimes we have three feet of snow on the ground in early April, and sometimes it feels balmy and tropical in mid-March. I won't spend a lot of time planting if the 10-day forecast shows a lot of chilly nights and a high chance of snow, but I know that we're very unlikely to get a low in the teens by this point. Where the equivalent spot would be for you depends on your climate - in southern Virginia, you might have greens planted out by mid-February, but in Wisconsin the ground might still be frozen solid on April 1st.

    There are some more complex cases (for instance, you can harvest field corn in the depths of winter, but around here you can't plant till mid-May), but in general, when something says "plant in spring", it means "once you can turn over a shovelful of soil and not find it full of ice chunks or completely saturated with water, go ahead and plant it".
    I think N Murray covered most of what I would say. Peppers like it hot, so even if you don't have heat mats for everything inside, you should have one for peppers. It'll make a big difference. They are the earliest thing that I start here in Pennsylvania's Zone 6, now that I'm not growing commercially and don't start onions from seed anymore. They take a long time to get going. I planted them last week (Feb 5) in anticipation of transplanting around the 1st of May.

    Peppers don't like a lot of nitrogen once they're going (as mentioned above). They'll grow giant amounts of green shoots and leaves, get to be six feet high, and take their sweet time making any fruit. If you've been taking good care of your soil in general I wouldn't bother putting any other fertilizer on there when growing peppers. (Obviously if you have a conventional farm that just treats soil as a sponge to temporarily hold nutrients in you'll need some sort of fertilizer, but a backyard garden that's got lots of compost and worms in it should be fine already). This is sometimes the problem when people say peppers take forever to fruit - their soil is too fertile and the peppers grow like crazy without making any fruit.

    Depending on the sturdiness of your plants (the pinching off will help) you may decide you want to trellis them. They won't need it if they get a lot of wind exposure early on and don't have too much fertility in the soil, but if they start to get long and leggy you might as well not let them get killed - put a couple little tomato cages or something over them so they don't blow over after getting heavy with peppers.

    Hi Michelle, one more word of advice, you indicated two options in your original post - set out now on your own homestead or keep farming at your current location. Don't rule out finding another farm to work on. I apprenticed for five years at one farm before starting my own and I learned an unbelievable amount in the process, but looking back, it might have been a better idea to move on to another place at some point before setting out on my own. It amazed me how differently crops grew on my own land just thirty miles from the spot where I apprenticed, and working with someone new will help you get an idea what the range of management possibilities are rather than what might just have been your original teacher's quirks. So many farmers have a few tasks that they just always do on their own because they enjoy them and that they then forget to teach their apprentices. It really is helpful to get a range of ideas.

    If that's not an option, see if there's any sort of farming network group in your area that you can use to go to classes, workshops, or field days. That'll help you get to see what others are doing and maybe help you meet some local people doing similar things too.
    2 years ago
    I know that lambs quarters are pretty common in commercial microgreens mixes - you should definitely be able to use them.

    Michelle, how do you set up your winter radish and buckwheat? Are you growing them as shoots and eating them  as soon as they sprout, or are you growing microgreens to the point where they have a couple true leaves and need some light?
    2 years ago
    I transplanted some lettuce into my asparagus bed this summer, around the time I stopped harvesting them in early June. It's a fertile, somewhat shaded spot that I need to keep weeded anyway, so I figure I might as well put something there that can't handle the full July sun. This was the first year I tried it but they turned out pretty well.

    You can straw mulch asparagus or not, based on your priorities, just remember that the soil temperature is what triggers them to start coming up in the spring. So if you leave the soil bare in the spring, it'll warm up fast, and you'll get that delicious early asparagus when garden crops are otherwise really sparse (often around April 20 here in PA). If you mulch, you'll cut down on the weeds, but your asparagus will come up later (although it'll also stay productive later into June).  Of course the slope of your land and a bunch of other factors affecting how easily you can leave soil bare for a few weeks may come into play there as well.

    2 years ago