Asian Greens for July: Maruba Santoh, plus sowings for fall

Young Maruba Santoh plants
Photo by Ethan Hirsh

In June I told you about Tokyo Bekana, a light green tender-leaved, white-stemmed green which can be cooked, or used as a substitute for lettuce in hot weather. Because summer in Virginia is a hard time for leafy greens, July’s Asian green is very similar – Maruba Santoh. Maruba Santoh has smoother, wavy, less ruffled leaves than Tokyo Bekana.

To show you I’m not being a slouch, I’ll include some pointers on sowing Asian greens for fall, because now is the time – in our climate at least. Here’s what one of my favorite seed suppliers, Fedco Seeds has to say:

Maruba Santoh (35 days) Brassica rapa (pekinensis group) Open pollinated. With Maruba you get four vegetables in one. The loose round vibrant chartreuse leaves provide a mild piquant mustardy flavor while the flat white stems impart a juicy crisp pac choy taste. High-end chefs like to use the blossoms. Market grower Scott Howell finds the flavor more subtle and complex than that of other greens and cuts Maruba small for his mesclun. Fairly bolt tolerant, so plant after the early spring flea beetle invasion subsides.

Fedco is in Maine and we’re in Virginia, so things are a little different. The information on their website about pests and diseases is good. Our worst brassica pests are harlequin bugs.

We grow our summer brassica seedlings and transplanted Asian greens under ProtekNet on hoops. On the Dubois link, study the Dimensions and Specifications tab, then download the brochure from that tab. Study the Descriptions tab – it tells you which insects are excluded by each size mesh. Be sure that you choose the right size mesh for the bugs you want to exclude. Flea beetles and thrips are small – you need a small mesh. Johnny’s is now marketing the close-mesh ProtekNet as  “Biothrips” insect netting, and they also have a comparison chart of rowcover and insect netting on their site.

Adolescent Maruba Santoh plants bunched for market.
Photo Kitazawa Seeds

Kitazawa Seeds also sells Maruba Santoh seed, under the Chinese Cabbage heading. Like most brassicas, Maruba Santoh does best in cool weather, although it is somewhat heat tolerant (or “warm tolerant” as we call it in Virginia.) It tolerates heat better than Napa Chinese cabbage does. To avoid bolting, keep the plants above 50F (10C) at all times, but particularly avoid prolonged spells below this “bolting trigger” temperature.

Maruba Santoh will germinate at temperatures between 50-85F. Seedlings emerge in just 3 days in summer. For summer use, direct sow, thin the rows for baby salad mix, then let the “heads” (it doesn’t actually head up) develop to full size (6-10″ tall) after about 35-40 days. Or transplant two week old starts. We tend to grow our plants quite big (12″ tall) and harvest by the leaf, several times over. Maruba Santoh makes a fine substitute for lettuce, and a tasty quick-cooking green.

To calculate sowing dates, work back 40 days from when you want to harvest, and sow more every week or two until you run into the fall slowdown temperatures, or you go back to eating lettuce in salads and cooking chard and kale. If you still have Maruba Santoh growing in the fall, know that it will be frost tolerant to 25°F (-4°C). No hurry.

Newly transplanted Maruba Santoh.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Maruba Santoh can also be grown at other times of year: spring and fall outdoors, winter in the hoophouse. The seedlings have large cotyledons and make good microgreens too.

Kitazawa’s  Culinary Tips include: Use in salad, sukiyaki, ohitashi, yosenabe, stir-fry, soup and pickling. Kim chi here we come! (If we had surplus.)


Next month I will talk more about Asian greens outdoors in fall. Now is the time to sow for fall harvests. We start in late June, and sow more in early July. We always make two sowings a week apart, for insurance.  We are aiming for greens to feed us in early fall, before the kale is ready, and into the winter, harvesting by the leaf. But Asian greens can be sown all the way up to two months before your first fall frost date. For us, that means August 14-20.  If you want to make sowings now, consider senposai, komatsuna, pak choy, tat soi, Yukina Savoy, and Chinese cabbage.


An insectary circle with borage and sunflower in a chard bed.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I have two posts on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog that I haven’t told you about yet. So if it’s too hot out, or it’s raining (don’t make me envious) seek shade and read more. The newer post is Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects, and the previous one is Planting Leeks. 

More about Jamaica’s Source Farm Project

A bunch of bananas growing at face level outside my door on the path to the office at Source Farm, Jamaica.
Photo Pam Dawling

At last I got the photos from my Jamaica trip from my camera to the computer. I didn’t take many photos – as I said in my other Jamaica post, it rained most of the time. As you see in the photo above, bananas grow well, the land at Source Farm is hilly, the office is a repurposed and repainted shipping container

At the beginning of June the BBC visited Source Farm and made a podcast as part of the On Your Farm series, and called it Jamaica’s Organic Revolution.

You can listen to all 22 minutes of it for free, and hear the people I stayed with at Source Farm as well as Mr Brown, one of the farmers I met with. I can only link to the program, not embed it, so click the link below

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08skyk0

Source – BBC News

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the voices of my new friends, and being reminded of the farm and the countryside.

Viewing my photos reminded me also of the “domestic wildlife.” First the friendly ones:

Gecko or “Croaking Lizard” on my wall at Source Farm
Photo Pam Dawling

Then the creepy crawlies, the two inch millipedes that were everywhere. You have to be careful not to crush them, because the liquid inside them can cause burns. I never had that problem, and scooped them up by the handful to throw outside each night, only to find them back inside by morning. I concluded that each house had its allotment of millipedes and it was best to ignore them!

Millipede and electric outlet in my room at Source Farm.
Photo Pam Dawling

Things I noticed and learned from the farmers about growing crops in the tropics have led me to think more about how plants respond to temperature and day-length, and I want to learn more about this when I have time. As I said in my Asian Greens for June post:

“Last month I was in Jamaica and saw how they can grow kale in very hot weather. “

I had a comment from a reader about successfully growing Joy Choi in hot summers as well as Tokyo bekana. It’s revelation to me that at least some brassicas can grow in hot weather as long as the temperature never drops below 50°F (10°C), which triggers bolting.

Swiss chard I take for granted as a summer leafy green – it’s a biennial and usually won’t bolt until the second year. The Ruby chard seems the most prone to bolting. We’ve given up that one in favor of Bright Lights, as well as Fordhook Giant green chard. Chard is popular in Jamaica too.

Fordhook Giant green chard.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

A green which is not common here in the US, but is very popular in Jamaica is callaloo, which is a type of amaranth. I enjoyed eating it at Source Farm. I tried growing it in Virginia one year, when I was researching summer cooking greens in spring 2015 for an article in Growing for Market. Here’s what I said then (when I maybe misspelled callaloo):

Vegetable amaranth,  Amaranthus species.

In spring use the young leaves for salad. Larger leaves make tender and nutritious cooked greens. Calaloo is an amaranth (but sometimes other crops have this name), used to make a green Caribbean stew. Joseph’s Coat, Amaranthus tricolor, is an eye-catching plant with red, green, and yellow leaves that may also include patches of pink, bronze, purple and brown. This tropical plant thrives in really hot weather. It is a huge plant, 4-6’ tall. Carol Deppe in The Tao of Vegetable Gardening recommends All Red for a spectacularly colorful leaf, especially for salads, and Green Calaloo and Burgundy for fast-growing greens. She reports they all taste the same to her raw, and all taste the same when cooked. So choose by preferred color and rate of growth.

Seeds should be started indoors in spring, and transplanted once all chance of frost has passed, when it is time to plant corn. Alternatively, broadcast with aim of getting plants 4” apart. Each time the plants reach 12” tall, harvest the top 8”. Pinch back often to push out new leaves and prevent reseeding (it can become a weed problem). If your farm has lots of amaranth weeds, you won’t want to risk adding another. Also, if weed amaranths are eaten by the striped fleabeetles, your cultivated amaranths will also suffer. (Those are the two reasons we gave up on them.)

William Woys Weaver (Saladings, Warm Weather, Mother Earth News) is a fan of ‘Bliton’ or ‘Horsetooth Amaranth’, Amaranthus lividus (Amaranthus viridis). He reports that it is the easiest and most prolific of summer greens. Seed should be started indoors, except in the South. Transplant seedlings when it’s warm enough to plant beans (Frequent advice for many of these hot weather greens). Alternatively, broadcast where it is to grow after all danger of frost is past. Thin the seedlings for salads or harvest plants about 12” tall and cook like spinach. When the plant is older, the stems get too tough, and then only the leaves and new shoots should be used. In parts of the South, it has become a weed – “Grow responsibly,” as Barbara Pleasant says in her Mother Earth News blogpost Warm Weather Spinach Alternatives.

Green Amaranth/Calaloo
Photo Baker Creek Seeds

 

 

Asian Greens for June: Tokyo Bekana

Bird’s eye view of Tokyo bekana. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Lettuce is hard to grow in summer in our Virginia climate. Tokyo bekana (Brassica rapa chinensis) can be used as an alternative. It won’t get bitter in hot weather. Because it is fast-growing, you can sow it when you realize a lettuce shortage is looming – it grows faster than lettuce, and bigger than most lettuce varieties, so you can make up for lost time.

Tokyo bekana leaves
Photo The Funny Farm

Or, once you’ve tried it, you might decide to plan for Tokyo bekana in the summer rather than lettuce. The flavor is very mild, and most people don’t notice they aren’t eating lettuce. The texture of the white stems is very crunchy and juicy, and the frilly leaves are sweet and tender.The color of the leaves is chartreuse: a light bright lime green. Here is a delicious description of the flavor from Specialty Produce in San Diego, CA.

Tokyo Bekana cabbage is succulent with mild pepper nuances and a melting quality unique to all cabbage varieties.

I haven’t got the figures for nutritional content just now, but I think it’s got to be more nutritious than lettuce. Brassicas generally have more lots of antioxidants than lettuce, for example.

Tokyo Bekana was first cultivated in Japan and is a descendant of Chinese loose-heading celery cabbages (pe tsai). It is widely grown in rural Japan as well as in ex-pat Asian farming communities worldwide.

To grow Tokyo bekana for summer salads

We sow 4/30 – 6/15 and transplant at 2 weeks old. Germination at temperatures of 50-85°F is quick and reliable. Growth is fast. It can be harvested at any stage from microgreens to full-size “heads” – it never actually heads up, as a Napa Chinese cabbage does, but forms a loose head of big frilly leaves about 45 days after sowing.

Tokyo bekana Photo Johnny’s Seeds

Tokyo bekana transplants.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Sowing

Sow the seed thinly (3 seeds per inch) in a nursery seed bed. Or sow in pots or plug flats depending on the scale of production you need. Cover to keep bugs off, and transplant when there are 3 or 4 true leaves on each plant. We transplant 4 rows in a 48″ wide bed, but they could be a little closer.

Or you could direct sow  3 or 4 rows per bed. Make individual shallow furrows 1/4-1/2″ deep.

For baby salad greens, sow in 3″ wide bands, or broadcast. Harvest these by cutting when seedlings are 3-4″ tall.

One key to growing delicious Asian greens is to treat hem well: fertile soil, plenty of water, keep the bugs off. 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week, 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather.

A bed of Tokyo bekana
Photo The Funny Farm

You may be thinking “Oh it’s sure to bolt in hot weather!” But if the temperature remains above 50°F (10°C) it will not bolt if treated fairly. Of course, if you don’t water, or don’t harvest when it’s ready, it will bolt. I’ve been slow to learn what’s important. Years ago an Atlanta grower told me he grew arugula all summer in his hoophouse. It was hard for me to understand how that was possible. Last month I was in Jamaica and saw how they can grow kale in very hot weather. Any prolonged dip to 50°F (10°C) triggers bolting. It just happens that in my climate the bolt-triggering temperature happens in many months (but not in June, July, August!)

Harvest

Bunched Tokyo bekana Photo Johnny’s Seeds

Harvest Tokyo bekana at any stage: Young baby leaves for salad mix after 25 days, or the whole plant when fully mature at 10-12″ tall (45 days). You can harvest individual leaves and keep coming back for more. Juvenile plants can be cut and bunched for market. Once you have lots you can cut the whole plant. Full size plants weigh up to 1.25 lbs. each.

Tokyo bekana can also be sauteed like bok choy, if you find it grows extremely successfully! I have eaten sauteed lettuce, so I don’t want you lettuce lovers writing in to inform me that’s possible too. I didn’t think much of sauteed lettuce, but I do like sauteed Tokyo bekana. Cooked it pairs well with poultry,  pork, sausage,  fish, legumes, garlic, cream sauces, cheese, mushrooms, bulb fennel, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocados, grapefruit, lemon,  peaches and cherries.

More about Tokyo bekana

It is an open pollinated heirloom variety so the seeds can be saved and replanted.

It can be grown in the fall and spring outdoors, and in the winter hoophouse in our climate. It has good frost tolerance, down to around 25°F (-4°C), perhaps even 15ºF (-9ºC) with thick rowcover.

Maruba Santoh is similar – more about that one next month.

 

 

 

Asian Greens Slide Show, Crops in our Hoophouse

I’ve started my year of monthly posts about Asian greens with one about senposai and at the Mother Earth News Fair in Vermont this past weekend, I presented my slide show on Asian Greens, which is here for those who missed it. Click the diagonal arrow symbol to get the full screen version.

Today, back on the farm, I spent the morning in the hoophouse. I harvested 4 buckets of cucumbers from one 90′ bed of Spacemaster bush cucumbers. We harvested 2 buckets two days ago, and today they have really taken off!

Flowering cucumbers in our hoophouse May 25. Photo by Alexis Yamashita

I also harvested 3 gallons of green beans – we planted Strike, a very upright variety. We find that bush beans tend to sprawl in the hoophouse, and the varieties that do well for us outside (Provider and Bush Blue Lake, from Fedco Seeds), grow straggly inside and the beans curve. It’s probably because the shadecloth on the hoophouse is too dark for beans.

Strike beans in our hoophouse. See the big shade cloth over the hoophouse.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

The Gentry yellow squash are doing very well. I’ll harvest those tomorrow (we’re alternating cucumber and squash harvest days currently)

Gentry yellow squash in our hooophouse.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

The other crops in our hoophouse now are peppers (we’ve had a handful of green bells). two beds of tomatoes that have been struggling with aphids and sooty mold, and some Iron and Clay cowpeas as cover crops. See this sad picture of the aphids and sooty mold:

Tomato plant with aphids and sooty mold.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

Aphids excrete a sweet liquid called honeydew. In warm moist conditions this sugary substance grows a black mold on every deposit. This is called sooty mold. We have been dealing with it by jet-washing some of the tomatoes every sunny day, and we are winning. The photo above was specially chosen to demonstrate the problem – it’s not a crop to be proud of at this point! We use a brass jet-spray nozzle on a hose and wash them in the middle of the day, so the leaves can dry quickly – we don’t want any more fungal tomato diseases moving in!

Upcoming events, Growing for Market article, Organic Broadcaster

Harvesting Zephyr yellow squash.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Starting with what’s being harvested now – squash and zucchini are coming in nicely. The hoophouse Gentry yellow squash (chosen for being fast-maturing) is coming in by the bucketload, and the outdoor yellow squash and zucchini have started producing.


I’m off to Burlington, Vermont this weekend, for the Mother Earth News Fair. I’m giving two workshops:

Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables,on Saturday 6/10 at 11 am on the Yanmar Sustainability Stage, immediately followed by book-signing at the Mother Earth News Bookstore noon- 12.30.

Producing Asian Greens on Sunday  6/11 at 3.30 pm on the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

I’m also doing demonstrations of tomato string-weaving at the New Society Publishers booth 2611, near the Mother Earth News Stage (not the Bookstore this time), at 10 – 10.30 am and 3-3.30 pm on Saturday and 10 -10.30 am, 11- 11.30 am and 2- 2.30 pm on Sunday. Check out my Events page to see the pink sparkly tinsel tomato plant models I use!


At the Heritage Harvest Festival near Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday September 8 (the Premium Workshops before the main Festival), I’m presenting on Growing Sweet Potatoes at 3.30-4.30 in classroom 7, followed by book-signing at the Monticello Bookshop.


The June/July summer issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, and includes my article on Hoophouse soil salt buildup. This is an issue we have been dealing with – we see white deposits on the soil. I did a lot of research and found ways to water the salts back down deep in the soil profile. I also gathered information on how to measure and monitor salinity, and how to understand the test results and their different testing methods and different units of measure. I learned about salt tolerance of different crops, the plant symptoms of excess salinity, and how to prevent the problem in future. This topic is rising in importance as more people use hoophouses with drip irrigation systems. We were blithely ignorant for our first several years of hoophopuse use, as salinity takes a few years to really develop, and there wasn’t much information available.

I’m also looking forward to reading the other articles, especially Summer lettuce lessons from Southern growers by Jesse Frost. There are some great photos of beds covered with hoops and shade-cloth, which show a good system. I always appreciate articles written for southern growers, which can be in short supply.

Daisy Fair in Utah’s zone 5 has written about moveable tunnels with in-ground hydronic heat. So there’s information for cold climates too. Sam Hitchcock Tilton has an article with tips learned from Dutch and Swiss farmers. Robert Hadad advises on careful monitoring of costs of production in order to actually make a living from farming. The flower growing article in this issue is from Debra Prinzing and is about American Flowers Week, a chance to highlight American-grown flowers with some light-hearted fun photos.


The May/June Organic Broadcaster just arrived in its paper format – I’ve had the digital one for a while. Good thing I’ve got that long car ride to Vermont this weekend to catch up on my farming reading!

The front page story this time is about Kansas farmers, Tim and Michael Raile, transitioning thousands of dryland (non-irrigated) acres to Organic steadily over the next 5 or 6 years. Dryland farming focuses on moisture retention. The Railes grow a wheat/corn/
sunflower/milo (grain sorghum)/fallow rotation. They are also trialing some ancient grains.

Organic production in the US is not meeting demand, and organic imports are increasing, including organic soy and feed corn, not just bananas and coffee. More farmers want to produce Organic poultry, eggs, milk and meat. And so they are looking for Organic feed at an affordable price. This is often imported, which raises issues about how Organic Standards vary from one country to another, and the bigger issue of sustainability – not always the same as Organic! Does it really make sense to ship in grains to feed livestock?

Harriet Behar writes about the true meaning of Organic and overall methods of production. It’s not just about following rules on allowed inputs and materials – it’s a whole approach to how we treat the soil, our plants and livestock.

Hannah Philips and Brad Heins share research on how cover crop choices can influence the fatty acids and meat of dairy steers. Jody Padgham writes about CSAs responding to competition and decreasing membership by offering more options on shares and delivery. Gone are the days of “One box, one day, one price” CSAs. Numerous modifications of the basic CSA model have sprung up to better fit the diverse needs of customers (members). Kristen McPhee writes about the Vermont Herb Growers  Cooperative, which buys from various small-scale growers and aggregates orders to larger buyers. Other topics covered include lessons learned from Hawaii’s GMO controversy, paying for end-of-life care without losing your farm, and many short items and classified ads. As always, a newspaper packed with information.


And by the way, we’re also picking blueberries – ah! heaven!

Blueberries.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Asian Greens in May: Senposai outdoors

A bed of senposai outdoors in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

This is the first of what will be a year of monthly posts about different Asian greens.

Most Asian greens are chancy outdoors in the spring here in central Virginia, because our springs are short, escalating from cold weather to hot in not much time, and most Asian greens bolt as soon as it heats up. Senposai is the only one that is worthwhile for us to plant outdoors in spring. It grows quickly into a big plant producing large, round, mid-green leaves. Senposai is cold tolerant down to 12°F (-11°C) once hardened off, and also warm-tolerant (I won’t say heat-tolerant).

Senposai, which translates as Thousand Wonder Vegetable, is a cross between komatsuna and regular cabbage.

Spotting senposai seedlings in the greenhouse in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

We start the seedlings in the greenhouse, sowing senposai February 7, the same date as our main spring cabbages. We spot out the seedlings into 4″ deep flats, 40 in a 12 x 24″ flat, as shown in the photo above. When the transplants reach a good size, we harden them off in the cold frame for two weeks, ready to plant out March 18 (at five to six weeks old).

We transplant senposai in 3 rows per 4 ft bed, with plants 18″ apart in the rows. Yes, they will grow into big plants.You could transplant at anywhere between 12″–18″ (30–45 cm) spacing, using the closer spacing if you will harvest often and prefer smaller leaves. When transplanting we use rowcover, but only keep it on the senposai until early April, when we take it away to use it on the newly planted broccoli instead.

Senposai is very fast growing. In the fall, senposai takes only 40 days to mature, but this early spring sowing takes 57 days. We can start harvesting senposai April 5 (almost as soon as we remove the rowcovers!) and continue till late May, when it starts bolting a week or two before the spring kale and collards.

A young senposai transplant.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Because senposai grows fast, it is very productive. It is usually harvested leaf by leaf,simply snapping off the bigger leaves.  “8 for later” is our mantra to prevent over-harvesting of leafy greens – we encourage new people to count the leaves from the center out and take those in excess of 8 (or we might take fewer). After a while of counting, it becomes second nature to recognize what is a sustainable number of leaves to save for future harvests.

Senposai is tender, easy and quick to cook, much quicker than collards. It has a delicious sweet cabbagey flavor, and tender texture. It can be stir-fried, stir-braised, steamed and even eaten raw, by the fairly dedicated salad-lover.

Because it is fast-growing, senposai can be a good Plan B vegetable, to plant as a fast-growing substitute for cabbage or kale if something goes wrong with your original planting plans. We did this one spring when we got poor germination of cabbage.

Senposai also does well planted outdoors in the fall, and over the winter in our hoophouse, so it might reappear later in the year in this series of blogposts.

We buy seed from Fedco Seeds (who recommend it for okonamiyaki  savory pancakes). “Customers buy it once because it looks absolutely stunning, then they buy it again because it is extremely delicious. Absurdly productive and easy to grow,” raves John Eisenstein of Port Royal, PA, in the Fedco catalog.

Seed is also available from Kitazawa Seeds in California who say: “This is an excellent vegetable for soup, salad, pickling, stir-fry, ohitashi, sukiyaki, and yosenabe,” and Evergreen Seeds.