Friday, August 24, 2012

Cool Season Crops

"Planting the right cool-season crops"2012-08-24 by Pam Peirce [] for "San Francisco Chronicle" []:

As summer speeds along, and squash or beans start to get that beat-up, late-season look, Bay Area gardeners begin to wonder what can replace them. In many of our nation's gardens, this late-summer planting would be called "putting in a second crop." Here, the last half of the year offers chances to put in two or even three plantings of one thing or another (and then to start the spring garden as early as February). Happily, much of the prep and planting can occur before winter cold and rain set in, then we can let rainfall take care of all or most of our watering for a while.

Vegetables that will grow well into fall and winter are those known as cool-season crops. These include all of the cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.), root crops (such as carrot, beet, parsnip, turnip, radish), leafy crops (mustard, bok choy, chard, arugula, lettuce, spinach) and cool-season legumes (pea and fava bean).

Some of these crops will grow until December or January, and then will flower in about March. In most cases, this flowering marks the end of the crop's usefulness in the kitchen, so we want to eat it up before then. What's important in planting these crops, which are biennials, is to be sure they have time to get big enough to harvest before their flowering periods. If planted too late in the year, kale or carrots will bloom in spring while we are still waiting for them to produce enough leaves, or big enough roots, to be worth picking or pulling. (See "About biennials")

Annual crops complete a life cycle in under a year, though we generally eat them long before that. Some annual crops reach harvest size so fast that you might get in more than one late-summer or fall planting in succession. Examples are mustard, bok choy, lettuce, radish, spinach, cilantro and arugula. Replant every few weeks. After about September, set out seedlings of lettuce; otherwise all of these can be grown into fall by direct-sowing the seeds.

Inland vs. coast
In the Bay Area, late-summer and fall planting times for most of the cool-season crops are not "one size fits all." They depend on the microclimate of your garden. Microclimate maps and planting calendars, such as maps and four calendars in my book "Golden Gate Gardening" (Sasquatch Books; 2010) offer very helpful guidance. Then you can use experience with your particular garden to fine-tune planting times for the best results.

Near the coast, where late summer into fall is cool and often foggy, you need to get cole and root crops in sooner because the cool days and nights will slow their growth. In microclimates with warmer late-summer and fall days and nights, you should plant these crops later. This is for two reasons. First, these crops won't perform well while summer is still hot. Second, after the worst of the heat has passed, the still-warm inland fall weather will let these crops catch up to the more coastal plantings.

For example, in chilly, foggy locations, a second-half-of-the-year kale crop is best planted in July or August to bear plenty of leaves all fall and winter. In the San Jose region, gardeners plant a late kale crop in August and September, while in the Walnut Creek region, with its very hot summers, this kale planting is more likely to take place in September or October. For broccoli (annual or biennial types), the times are: near the coast, July and August, or possibly early September; in or near San Jose, August through October; and in or near Walnut Creek, October or November.

Planting time differences for peas and fava beans (overwintering annuals) can reverse this pattern. In near-coastal microclimates, peas and fava beans for winter growth are best planted in November, while inland gardeners may plant them as early as September. This is because they will grow slowly through winter months, but the winter months are colder inland, so they need a bit more time for a jump-start.

Garlic, which would be perennial if we didn't harvest it, is planted in October or November across the region, to produce mature heads in late June. Be sure to plant it where you can most easily withhold irrigation once its lower leaves begin to yellow in about May.

Ideally, before the crop comes out, you'll be thinking about what to plant next in the space it occupies. This will give you time to order seed of a special variety or grow some seedlings yourself. With a little practice you can be planting and replanting in a seamless succession and eating from your garden every month of the year.

Growing tips
How to make the most of the year's second half:

Add fresh organic soil amendment and fertilizer to sections of your garden you are about to replant. If your vegetable plants have been small, be bolder in your amendment and fertilizing efforts.

Grow fall and winter crops in the sunniest locations possible, though some, including lettuce, arugula and spinach, will continue to produce in bright or open shade.

Grow most cole crops from seedlings, which you can buy or grow five to seven weeks before planting out. In cool summer areas, you can start these seedlings outdoors.

Generally speaking, loose-leaf and romaine lettuce varieties handle cold better than crisphead or butterhead types. Some varieties are listed as "cold resistant."

Use large spinach varieties such as 'Oriental Giant' or 'Viroflay Giant.' For spinach, use plenty of nitrogen fertilizer, such as aged chicken manure or worm compost.

Have a sturdy trellis in place before you sow peas: 4 to 5 feet tall for bush peas, 6 feet or taller for pole peas. Use row cover to protect the seed rows from birds, snails and slugs until the plants are well up.

For a longer-lasting harvest, start early and late varieties of cole crops such as broccoli or cauliflower at the same time.

To avoid leaf blotches from leaf miner insect damage, set out Swiss chard seedlings in early September, and cover with row-cover fabric until the leaf miner enters winter dormancy (in around mid-October near the coast, maybe a bit later inland).

What about frost?
Most cool-season vegetable gardens survive mild and/or brief frosts, and some live through an occasional hard freeze even without special protection. Kale, collards, parsnip, turnip, Swiss chard, spinach and long-season broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage can survive short periods as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Early broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage, carrots, beets, lettuce and radish tolerate as low as 10 degrees. Peas are moderately cold hardy, but are damaged by heavy frosts. On nights when frost is predicted, you can use cardboard boxes, sheets (propped away from plants on buckets or stakes) or row cover to protect plants.

Seed sources
* Bountiful Gardens (, (707) 459-6410)
* Johnny's Selected Seeds (, (877) 564-6697)
* Kitazawa Seed Co. (, (510) 595-1188)
* Nichols Garden Nursery (, (800) 422-3985)
* Territorial Seed Co. (, (800) 626-0866)

About biennials
A biennial plant typically lives longer than one but less than two years. These crops do not flower until after they're exposed to a certain amount of winter cold. After flowering, they ripen seed, a process that requires several months, and then the biennial plant dies. Biennial vegetable crops include kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, some kinds of broccoli and cauliflower, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips and Swiss chard.

Note: Early broccoli and cauliflower varieties have been bred to be annuals, so they will produce edible flower buds before winter's cold. Late types (over 120 days to maturity) produce their edible flower buds in spring.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Growing Power! Urban Farming

Will Allen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Founder of Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.

Friday, August 10, 2012

2012-08-10 "Financial questions land solar company in spotlight; NationWize healthy despite accusations, president says"

by Donna Beth Weilenman from "Benicia Herald" []:

MARVIN WILCHER, President of NationWize. Courtesy photo to the "Benicia Herald":

The financial stability of a local business in line to help Benicia launch its solar rebate program for residents in single-family homes has been questioned by a former employee who said she is owed back pay. A customer with similar concerns said she is seeking her deposit back.
But Marvin Wilcher, president of NationWize Solar, 242 First St., said his company was caught by surprise when a Louisiana investor changed its funding arrangements. Wilcher said it will take about three and a half more weeks for a new funding cycle to begin.
At that time, he said, he expects to rehire his sales staff and proceed with helping residents get solar panels on their homes. And he said he hopes to obtain a memorandum of understanding with the city of Benicia to participate in the rebate program.
The former employee, Tina Thorn, who said she began working for the company in 2011, said NationWize wasn’t paying its employees, and that their checks were arriving late. “We left the company because of it,” she said.
One employee, she said, committed suicide because he couldn’t afford to live.
She said she was an office manager and project manager who was being paid $20 an hour, but when she left July 24, she was owed $1,440 for three weeks of work.
She said she has contacted the Department of Industrial Relations in hopes of getting paid.
The customer, Alicia Gallagher, said she had heard from Thorn and worried about her $4,037 down payment. She said she was expected to pay another $10,000 for materials due this week, but they haven’t arrived.
Two more installments also would be due, Gallagher said.
“We have nothing to show for it,” she said.
When she asked for a return of her deposit, she said Wilcher told her he would ask his installation contractor to deal directly with her, if she didn’t want to deal with NationWize.
“I’ll wait and see,” she said. “I plan to pursue this if I don’t get anything back.”
But another Benicia resident said she has dealt with Wilcher and NationWize, and is a satisfied customer.
“I’m ecstatic,” Susan Campbell said. “I can’t say enough about solar, or the job they did. Every month I get a bill, I give him (Wilcher) a copy.”
Her photovoltaic array was installed on her home in a job completed in February. Instead of paying PG&E for electricity, the utility gives her a credit.
In about a year, she said, the power company will determine whether she owes it any money, or if it owes her.
So far, Campbell continues to accumulate energy credit, something that started shortly after work on her project was done.
“It’s funny. PG&E does not put in the reverse meter until (the solar array) is in (for) a month. So the first month, you don’t get a credit,” she said. Neither did she owe money for power.
As for Nationwize and Wilcher, she said, “I have heard nothing negative.”
“It was a good procedure from start to finish. It was a good thing to work with them. I can’t say enough good.”
Wilcher said most of his employees are gone, but that the situation will change in the next business cycle.
“We’re not like a regular company,” he said. “We finance. We acquire customers. We have a pool of money from investors. We draw down funds and put in more from our own money.”
After pooling the investment money and getting customers, the company contracts with installers. It is an authorized dealer of SunPower Corp. high-efficiency solar cells, panels and systems.
Once a project is completed, Wilcher said, paperwork is sent to government agencies and the company gets new financing. “We have to wait for the state to replenish our funds,” he said.
He said the company did system installations last month, about a dozen projects worth $400,000. Those were for single-family homes, some of which had photovoltaic arrays, some of which had solar water heaters installed, and some of which had both.
Most of NationWize’s business — 95 percent — is in Louisiana, not California, Wilcher said. In Benicia, he said, the company has had about five sales employees, most of which are laid off until its new funding cycle starts in less than a month.
“We’re trying to expand our operation in California,” he said, but it’s challenging when this state doesn’t have rebates that are as generous as those elsewhere.
“In California, the incentives are almost none,” he said. By comparison, Louisiana offers a 50-percent rebate, and the federal government, through tax credits, offers an additional 30 percent. In California, he said, “we get almost nothing back.
In Louisiana, utility customers pay a flat rate of 10 cents per kilowatt hour, and the average bill is $150 to $175 per month for 1,500 kilowatt hours.
In California, utility customers don’t pay a flat rate. The lower users are on a first tier, at 12 cents per kilowatt hour. But those consuming more energy may pay 35 cents per kilowatt hour. Prices also change during peak hours, he said. Californians may pay up to $550 for the same amount of energy that costs just $150 in Louisiana.
That’s why Wilcher, a Vallejo resident, said he doesn’t move to Louisiana. If PG&E rates continue to rise at the current rate each year, he said, in 20 years California residents will be paying thousands of dollars for the same power they pay hundreds of dollars for now.
In addition, he said, Solano County is anticipating $180 million from a new PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program that will let property owners pay for renewable energy projects through tax assessments. Those loans stay with the property if it’s sold.
“Ygrene is the company sponsoring the new program,” he said, referring to a Santa Rosa company that manages PACE programs throughout the country. Renewable Funding, of Oakland, also provides financing tools for renewable energy projects.
Both Ygrene and Renewable Funding were recommended by Benicia’s Climate Action Plan coordinator Alex Porteshawver in a July 5 report to the Community Sustainability Commission.
Wilcher said he hoped his company, working with that program, would assist in getting out-of-work construction and electrical workers trained at SunPower’s Richmond plant to install solar systems. Those jobs would pay from $25 to $100 an hour, he said.
As for those who have criticized his company, Wilcher called Thorn a “disgruntled employee.”
He said Gallagher went to his office without notice and asked for a refund, and said most companies don’t return refunds once design and other work has started and a contract has been signed. He suggested her request was approaching a breach of contract.
As for the suicide, Wilcher said the man, Jeffrey Ames, did not hang himself because he had not been paid.
Ames had been working for the company for several months as a commission-only salesperson when Wilcher learned that his wife was planning to leave him and take his daughter and stepdaughter, and that he needed money because sales had declined.
He told Wilcher he was being evicted from his apartment, because the place was in his wife’s name. Wilcher said he wrote several checks to Ames and counseled him on how to approach his upcoming court appearances. He said Ames did not file all the paperwork he needed for the appearance, and that a judge would not allow him to submit the documents he needed.
When the wife sent her daughters to another state, Ames despaired of seeing them again. “He was devastated,” Wilcher said.
When Ames did not show up for work for several days, Wilcher said he and his girlfriend eventually went to check up on the man, and were the first to see his body.
“That’s the real story,” he said.
Wilcher said his company has always completed its installations. In fact, his company has a waiting list of customers that he said will produce $1.5 million in projects in NationWize’s future.
Representatives of the Oakland office of the Better Business Bureau, which covers Solano County, said NationWize has no record of complaints. SunPower confirmed NationWize is among its authorized dealers.
As for NationWize’s dealings with Benicia, Anne Cardwell, director of Administrative Services, said the rebates for the program under consideration by Benicia “come from the manufacturer, Sun Power, and are not dependent on who does the installation.”
However, she said, “We would like to work with an installer with an office as local as possible.”
Cardwell said, “As with anytime the City does business with an outside entity, we have a process for thoroughly checking bids and references before we move forward.”
She said the Community Sustainability Commission is prepared to recommend that the City Council allocate $100,000 in Valero-Good Neighbor Steering Committee settlement funds to match SunPower’s $3,000 rebate for each single-family residential home that decides to install solar panels.
“This is planned to be on the agenda for the September CSC meeting,” Cardwell said.