[Market-farming] Somehow we'll make it: Changes due to new USDA zoning map

Road's End Farm organic87 at frontiernet.net
Tue Feb 7 12:55:37 EST 2012

Yes, I know that people growing in the South have crops and growing  
techniques adapted to that climate; and that the native and  
naturalized plants that are used to Zones 6, 7, and 8 do of course do  
well in zones 6, 7, and 8.. For that matter, I know that some people  
locate in the South specifically for the reason that they wish to gow  
in that climate.

I chose the Northeast because, at the time I made that choice, the  
Northeast had a climate that suited me personally. And many people  
have a great deal of investment in varieties that are also suited to  
that climate -- we grow entirely different grapes than are grown down  
South, for instance; and this is a major grape growing region, though  
I personally only have a few. It's exactly spring freezes after  
insufficient earlier dormancy that are the most worrisome issue in  
terms of grapes, tree fruits, and similar crops.

The predator insects that help with many Southern pests often won't  
overwinter here, and have to be purchased, at considerable cost, every  
year, if they're available to us at all. The issue is not only  
specific farm crops, but the overall ecology of the area we're farming  
in. We are starting to get Southern pests and Southern pest pressures  
without, yet, the predators that have adapted to control them.

The issue isn't whether we can adapt, if we have to. The issue is how  
we are best going to. And this is made more difficult by the fact that  
we're not growing in an established Zone 8 or 7, in the middle of an  
ecology adapted to that; we're growing in what used to be zone 5 or  
even 4, in the middle of an ecology that was adapted to those  
circumstances, and which is likely to throw a wide variety of pest and  
other problems at us during the time while it's shifting into whatever  
it's shifting into -- while very likely occasionally deciding to  
behave briefly again like zone 5, or even 4; so that varieties adapted  
only to conditions further south can't be trusted here either, at  
least not yet.

-- Rivka; Finger Lakes NY, Zone 6A now I think
Fresh-market organic produce, small scale

On Feb 2, 2012, at 4:24 PM, Richard Moyer wrote:

> Rivka wrote:
> "What's a far bigger problem than a change in the lowest temperature  
> of the winter is the increase in winter days -- and often winter  
> nights-- that are above freezing, which leads to insufficient  
> hardening off in plants that are likely to then be damaged when the  
> temperature does drop..."
> Rivka, please consider my contrary experience:  Having lived most of  
> my life in Zones 8, 7, then 6 (moving north in stages) let me assure  
> you that all manner of native and naturalized plants have the  
> genetic resources to survive, even thrive in severe fluctuations in  
> winter temps, where it can be 70F one day and single digits 2-3 days  
> later.  There are cues in addition to freezing temps that allow  
> plants to become and remain dormant, including fall dryness and  
> shorter days.  My aunts and uncles in central GA grow all manner of  
> temperate perennials, with subtropicals thrown in for fun, places  
> where they rarely get into the low 20s.  They eat cold hardy greens  
> and root crops all winter long; certain of these plants are well  
> adapted to winter temperature swings.  My 'unholy' arugula, bok choy  
> and tatsoi look so much better without flea beetle pressure.  And  
> the high sugars in all the greens and some roots are appreciated on  
> our table, and those of our winter market customers.
> Severe freezes in spring, after woody perennials have broken  
> dormancy, is a different challenge, and can be more deadly.  During  
> the great Easter Freeze of 2007, it was the Asian magnolias, Asian  
> persimmons, etc that were killed outright.  Our native relatives  
> came through with no to some damage, but all lived and many fruited  
> normally that year.   Mike McConkey has noted that it's not absolute  
> winter minimums that kill certain Asian, woody plants in his  
> collection that can survive minus 30 to 40, but spring freezes after  
> dormancy has broken, and new growth comes on.
> Another instructive event: the (minus) -14F storm in mid-March,  
> during '93 or '94, caused little damage to my wide collection of  
> fruiting plants.  They knew winter was not over yet, despite growing  
> in an area of NE TN where the ground very seldom freezes.
> Brett Grohsgal in southern MD is breeding hardy brassicas to  
> withstand single digit lows, with strong regrowth in late winter  
> into spring.  Another example of plants with genetic resources to  
> survive wide-ranging winter temps.   Southern Exposure and Fedco  
> offer a selection of his best seed.
> Somehow we southerners have managed to produce a lot of food, even  
> some of it during fluctuating winter temps, in partnership with our  
> plants and animals.
> As for the bugs, yes, a mild winter can have many more survivors,  
> and longer periods of frost free days can allow multiple generations  
> of serious pests.  Again, we southerners and the plants under our  
> care have been at this for many generations.  Longer seasons also  
> allow for multiple generations of predatory insects; my tatsoi and a  
> few mustards began to bloom today and are being worked by some  
> small, striped flies and wasps, who I trust will soon be laying eggs  
> in anticipation of their prey hatching out.  Robust ecosystems  
> (whether natural or designed) are highly resilient.  Varied blooms  
> through more and more of the year is a strategy to counter  
> increasing bad bug pressure from milder winters.  Again, we  
> southerners can observe resistance to severe bug pressure in nature,  
> and we mimic it in our better managed farmscapes.
> Not to celebrate mud, but we've been dealing with winter mud for  
> millennia (and have depleted soils to show for it).  Here on Feb. 1,  
> my stand of winter rye and peas is beautiful, ready for grazing our  
> milk goats.  I'll take that over Phil's six more weeks of winter.   
> And our pastures are growing well, 63F and sunny as I write.  Year  
> round grazing (stockpiled forages and early regrowth) can help us  
> off the treadmill of putting up hay in the hottest weeks of the year  
> then doling it out through the coldest.
> Thanks for noting the challenges of uncommon winter weather, and the  
> chance for me to share how we and our ecosystems enjoy it.  Our  
> winter market customers certainly enjoyed the volume and variety of  
> field-grown greens in Jan, and we look forward to selling more this  
> month.
> Richard Moyer
> SW VA  Out to take maple syrup off the pan, as it was 20 then 22F a  
> couple nights ago, leading to a good syrup run.
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