Category Archives: Local Foods

Meet the Amelia Demonstration Garden.

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This month’s post is a bit of a departure from our usual “Meet the Farmer” stories–for February, we are sharing some lessons we learned from our experiences managing the 2015 Extension demonstration garden in Amelia County. The following narrative was first shared in our newspaper column in the Amelia Bulletin Monitor. -Laura Siegle

The garden began in 2013 as a 1,200 square foot vegetable garden at the historic Raleigh Parish Glebe in Amelia Court House, and it was used for several tours and demonstrations. We enlarged the garden to 3,000 square feet in 2014 and expanded efforts to use it for youth, agriculture, and healthy lifestyle education. Following those efforts, we created a documentary video and featured it on the blog last year.

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For the third year in a row, we planted vegetables at the 2015 Extension demonstration garden at the Glebe for the purpose of tours and education, and along the way, we tracked our observations in hopes of sharing the results with gardeners who may benefit from our experiences. In fall of 2014, we planted a wheat cover crop which we killed in the spring with mowing and tillage prior to planting time. This cover crop protected the soil during winter rains, increased organic matter, returned nutrients when it was incorporated into the soil with a tiller, and even seemed to choke out some weeds. However, even after it was mowed, it was tough on the tiller and required us to run through it twice to adequately prepare the seedbed. We then planted snap beans, lima beans, patty pan squash, sweet corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, and several heirloom tomato varieties.

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Insect pressure this year was minimal, and we observed a number of beneficial insects settling in our plants. Bean leaf beetles and various caterpillars fed on foliage, but neither caused enough damage to warrant treatment. In 2014, we picked bean leaf beetles off bean seedlings until they grew large enough to withstand damage, but that practice seemed unnecessary this year.

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Because we could tolerate some crop losses in our garden which might not be acceptable in other scenarios and because our garden is immediately adjacent to some bee hives, we decided to forgo the use of insecticides on our plants. We observed a variety of pollinators from honey bees to bumble bees active in the garden, and insecticides pose the greatest risk to these beneficial insects during the periods when they are readily observed foraging around the garden. Like clockwork, squash bugs showed up in the garden right around the time that our pollinators began taking advantage of blossoming plants, making it difficult to find an appropriate time to use insect controls. However, the squash bug population this year seemed lower in our garden than it was last year, perhaps because we discarded the 2014 cucurbit plant residue from the garden in the winter and removed egg masses we saw on leaves this year. Both practices can be helpful, although sometimes combining these practices with the use of an insecticide can be the only way to salvage a cucurbit crop and prevent the squash bugs from transmitting wilt to the plants.

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Bear in mind that controlling squash bugs and other insects chemically is a risk versus benefit decision, as you must consider the potential for extensive crop losses and pest population buildup in the garden against the risk to pollinators and beneficial insects in the vicinity.

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A few long bouts of dry weather we experienced in June and July helped us avoid early buildup of many of the foliar diseases that sneak in when weather stays wet. However, humidity and sequential rainy days later in the summer favored development of some foliar diseases in our cantaloupe and watermelon patch, treatable with copper and chlorothalonil. Around the middle of the season, we saw powdery mildew arrive on our squash which we treated with fair success using a copper spray.

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Naturally, weeds put constant pressure on the garden throughout the season. However, we judiciously hand-rouged out emerging lambsquarter and spiny pigweed before either could go to seed throughout 2014, and the results seemed to pay off in 2015 as only a few of these plants crept into the garden. We had too much bare, unused space last year where weeds easily grew, so we used shade to our advantage this year by planting as much available space as possible without planting too densely. This seemed to effectively weaken many grass seedlings. We removed weeds approximately biweekly and relied on a scuffle hoe early in the season when crabgrass seedlings were the primary concern. For larger weeds, we combined hand-weeding and hoeing. Carpetweed, spotted spurge, crabgrass, Bermuda grass, and goosegrass were the five most common weeds in the garden this year.

Many people ask about herbicides and pre-emergent control options, and I advise them to keep in mind that the pre-emergent options that are approved for vegetable gardens should only be used in places where desirable plants have already germinated and grown a few true leaves or else they, too, will be suppressed, just like the weed seeds. I have used trifluralin granules in the past for weed seed suppression. I had no experience with the organic option, corn gluten, so we applied this product to the garden as an experiment. We found that, just as stated on the label, this product did not offer long-term control comparable to trifluralin, but it did seem to keep weed seedlings from growing for a period of several weeks. We ceased using it in late summer, as we wanted the option to plant a fall crop. Remember, these pre-emergent products are designed to keep germinating seeds from growing into seedlings and should not be used in places where you are trying to germinate seeds of “good” plants.

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As for post-emergent herbicide sprays, we had good results spot-spraying a few trouble areas last year, but that did not seem necessary this year because our cultural controls were sufficient. Furthermore, gardeners need to realize that herbicides might selectively control grasses or broadleaf weeds or even both. Since most vegetables with the exception of corn are broadleaf plants, a broadleaf or broad-spectrum herbicide, for example, will not know the difference and can kill desirable garden plants that contact the product through drift or direct spray. Many vegetables are highly sensitive to glyphosate and other chemicals, and even organic herbicides can kill desirable plants. For these reasons, the average gardener who is not experienced with using these products and following their labels may be better off relying on tillage, hand-tools, and other cultural methods for weed control while desirable plants are in the immediate vicinity.

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The last facet of our garden’s management that may come as a surprise is the fact that we never watered the site. Getting water to the garden required logistical gymnastics in 2013 and 2014, so for 2015, I decided that the garden would simply be a “sink or swim with what you get” affair. I expected some plants to struggle, but was surprised at the garden’s resilience. This is not necessarily the best strategy for anyone who is aiming for high yields and minimal stress on plants, and we were blessed with a favorable year for rainfall. However, our garden did quite well considering the circumstances. To make the most of this strategy, we timed planting to coincide with a period of high moisture, and we planted everything but the tomatoes from seed because we believed that the transition from a greenhouse to a dry garden might be too much of a shock for transplants to weather. We planted the tomato transplants deep, covering half of the stems, to encourage strong root systems. It seems that the beans, watermelons, and cantaloupes fared the best in the dry weather, whereas the squash experienced some wilting during the longest dry stretches.

All in all, we had an excellent garden year in a beautiful Amelia County setting. Even if you missed this year’s tour, we are sharing our experiences in hopes that they help you along in your own garden pursuits.

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Additional Resources for Readers:

Virginia Garden Pest Factsheets

Virginia Vegetable Factsheets

Integrated Pest Management for Vegetable Gardens

Cover Crops



Meet the Amelia County Extension Demonstration Garden.

Instead of our usual written story, this week we are sharing a video documenting the progress of our 2014 Extension Demonstration Garden in Amelia County. Click the play button to begin watching.

In 2013, the Virginia Cooperative Extension agents in Amelia County created a 1,200 square Demonstration Garden. It was used for a series of summer workshop on topics ranging from food preservation to disease control. The Amelia agents decided to expand the garden in 2014 and continue using it for agriculture, healthy lifestyle, and youth development workshops and events.

Photo highlights from the 2014 garden:

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Snap bean seedlings emerged quickly after germinating in the warm, moist spring soil.

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Herbs like lavender, oregano, fennel, and dill grew in our garden.

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We planted our sweet corn as soon as spring soil temperatures reached the mid-60s.

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Our collards preferred the cooler temperatures of early spring. Collards, like kale, can also grow in a fall garden.

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We grew a handful of tomato varieties including Supersweet 100, Early Girl, Better Boy, Mr Stripey, Amelia, Lemon Boy, and Beefsteak.

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Meet Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market.

100_0810 (1024x768)Stop by the Amelia County fairgrounds on a Tuesday afternoon and you will be met by a colorful array of fresh vegetables, canned jams and preserves, bright flowers, and plenty of flavorful homemade foods and local goods. For the past few years, Amelia has gone without a permanent, centralized farmers’ market, and most people had to travel to on-farm stands or more distant markets in the nearby region to purchase locally-grown foods.  Thanks to a collaboration between several churches, a board of motivated community leaders, and numerous county supporters, the Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market came together in the spring of 2013, and after a successful season-long run, it is set to open for an extended season in 2014, running from 4-7 PM at the fairgrounds from April 1st through the end of October.

100_0813 (1024x768)Why the name “Barter Town?” Consumers and vendors have the option to buy, sell, and trade goods and services. In 2013, it was not uncommon to see trades between vendors and consumer for eggs, vegetables, plants, and other goods. For-sale items like local breads, vegetables, cheeses, jams, sausage, plants, crafts, and herbal products retained their popularity each week.

100_0823 (1024x768)Due to their proximity to buyers in Richmond and its suburbs, Amelia and its neighboring counties are also home to numerous “direct-to-market” farmers who sell goods straight to consumers through venues like Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions, or CSAs, as well as on-farm stores and stands and weekly markets across the region.

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100_0827 (1024x768)Not all of the region’s farm operations are suited to local face-to-face marketing. For example, some crop producers may rely on contracts with grain buyers, and other farms may supply to wholesale outlets or custom buyers. However, direct marketing is the bread and butter for many small-scale, specialty, and niche crop producers in this region as well as many new and beginning farmers who have a diverse set of goods but produce small amounts of each. Even though most direct-market operations sell their products through multiple outlets and go to markets several days of week, close-to-home markets like Barter Town allow producers to keep some of their goods inside the county and serve their own neighbors within the community.

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Local residents took to the stage each week to provide music for customers at Barter Town.

Last year’s inaugural summer season at Barter Town market drew crowds each evening even during the hottest summer days for a time of conversation, community, shopping, and enjoyment of the many musical performances that took place each week. The market also featured some food samples, food preparation demonstrations, and a weekly contest for prizes in categories such as “Ugliest Vegetable” or “Cutest Pet Photo.” Many participants also took part in the “$10 Pledge” campaign offered state-wide by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which offered customers a chance to win prizes for spending  $10 each week at local markets and keeping track of purchases using a loyalty card. Because Barter Town exists to serve the community rather than make a profit, support from consumers and community sponsors last year played a vital role in the market’s success as it came off the ground. 

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FFA youth, who participate in agricultural education, sold locally-produced honey last season to support their activities.

Barter Town is just one of the many up-and-coming markets in central and southside Virginia contributing to the growth of “direct marketing” of agricultural goods. Thanks to an increased interest in local foods, small-scale and specialty producers are able to use markets to extend their reach in the community, build a steady supply of willing customers, and make an impact on the local economy. Furthermore, these markets provide a valuable venue for growers and buyers to meet face-to-face to discuss farm production practices and build confidence in the agricultural industry. Barter Town is one of many markets in Virginia proving that great things happen when a community has a vested interest in its own health and success and a motivation to preserve and enhance local agriculture.

100_0840 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers

Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market Webpage

Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market Facebook Page

 Resources for finding local foods near you, including farm stands, subscription services, CSAs, cooperatives, and markets:

  •    Buy Fresh Buy Local Directory: You can also pick up a printed Buy Fresh Buy Local guide for your locality by visiting your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
  •   There are numerous other places you can find local foods, including sites such as Local Harvest.
  •  A note to farm and food producers: Sites like this offer free advertising. Visit them for information about adding your listing, or seek help through your local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent.