Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hal Kneen Rocks: Local Matters Grow Year Round Workshop

This morning I attended the free workshop sponsored by Local Matters at the Godman Guild and conducted by The Ohio State University Extension expert extraordinaire, Hal Kneen. (Ok, Kneen lived for a while in my hometown and that by itself makes him special and knowledgeable about all things agricultural). Local Matters fed us at the beginning and end even though they only planned for 40 attendees and 70 people showed up. I ran into lots of friends from the Bexley and other community gardens and GCGC.

Kneen works mostly with commercial growers throughout Ohio in helping them to extend the growing season so that they can get top dollar for produce when fresh local produce is otherwise scarce (and thus more expensive) in groceries and restaurants. In other words, he taught us how to grow lettuce in March, how to harvest zucchinis and cucumbers in early June and to harvest peppers and tomatoes in November when you can charge twice or even thrice the market rate for the same produce in July. What works well for commercial growers can work just as well for backyard and community gardeners. In fact, community gardens could hope to become economically sustainable (and thus ween their reliance on government and grant funding) simply by raising early Spring and late Fall/early Winter crops for sale to restaurants and farmer’s markets when the prices for fresh produce are the highest. (This assumes, of course, that you have some dedicated volunteers that are willing to help raise and sell the produce at the peak market rates).

Kneen talked about and passed around different types of ground covers that can warm up the ground when it’s cold or cool it off when it’s hot. We talked about inexpensive options in building hoop houses. One good tip was to use grey/electrical flexible pvc pipe (instead of white plumber’s pipe) because it withstands the weather better. Another tip was to recycle pipe from old chain link fences.

Kneen also directed us to some handy dandy websites to learn more.

He said that there was a great webinar on greens and lettuces, but I couldn’t find find it. :( So, I'm going to email him at to find out where it is. It's possible that it's webinar 3 (from November 2010) in the OSU series above. If it is, beware that the handouts are not working during the lecture portion and you will need to open them -- particularly pretty handout 2 -- in a separate browser window.

Kneen also took us through a three-hour powerpoint presentation (with lots of pictures of different types of season extenders used at commercial farms and community gardens) and passed out materials so that we could all go home and build high or low tunnel hoop houses or basic cold frames. OSU also passed around books which cost $30/each, but they could sell today and next Saturday for $10.

As an aside, I created a low-tunnel hoop house in my backyard last October for under $20 to extend the season for my greens (i.e., bok choy, chard, kale and turnips) as well as parsley and I harvested all of this just two days ago to make genovese mixed greens for dinner (i.e., greens sauteed in olive oil, garlic and anchovies). I plan to use this to transplant seedlings when I start seeds in a few weeks.

Also Edible Columbus also had an article about extending the growing season with hoop houses in December.

The rest of the free Local Matters gardening workshops are full (oversubscribed even), but Trish said she was working on adding additional sections of the same workshops in light of the overwhelming interest.

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