Using all the space in the winter hoophouse

Mid-October photo of September-sown tatsoi and August-sown Tokyo bekana. Fast-growing crops make good use of small windows of time throughout the year.
Photo Pam Dawling

Quick crops to fill hoophouse space Oct 1-Nov 29

This fall we had unused space in a bed where we planted Oct 1 radishes and Tokyo bekana (transplanted), Oct 2 brassica salad mix and Chinese cabbage and Oct 3 pak choy. On Oct 4 we had planted only 44ft, half the bed.

On Oct 10 we made a tiny 1.5ft sowing of brassica gap-filler plants. Oct 20 and 23 we did a bit more planting: scallions, radishes and more filler greens and lettuces (12.5ft), leaving 30ft still empty after Oct 23.

The next plantings were more fillers on Nov 9 (5ft), tatsoi on Nov 15 (7ft), radishes on Nov 29 (2ft), total 14ft more, leaving 16ft still empty. Then came lettuce mix on Dec 7 (12ft), leaving 4ft for brassica salad mix #2 on 12/18. Weeks of bare soil – ugh!

Then we start clearing the first round of crops (clearing radish #2 for Dec 8 brassica salad mix #1.5, 2ft) and Dec 18, clearing 4ft of radish #2.5 south side only,  for more brassica salad mix #2, Dec 23 (clearing brassica salad mix #1 for radish #5, 4ft).

If we have a similar crop arrangement next winter, or small empty patches in various beds, what can we plant in space that is still empty after Oct 10, and especially the spaces that don’t get planted until mid-November onwards? We could try different crops, for the various crops that follow.

Qualities of possible crops:

  • Ready to eat 19-83 days from sowing or transplanting. Most spaces 30-60 days.
  • Cold weather crops, not warm weather crops
  • Something we’ll want to eat then, that we don’t already have lots of.
  • Or something that could be processed for later (we generally have enough greens in winter)
  • Maybe not spinach, as it’s a challenge with pests in the fall.
  • (Preferably not brassicas as we grow so many and stretch the crop rotation.)

Ready to eat 21-60 days from sowing

In order of earliness:

Pea shoots make a delightful salad ingredient.
Photo Pam Dawling

Tips (based on Johnny’s Key Growing Info):

  • Grow when the weather is warm 65°F (18°C). Hmmm?
  • Soak seeds for 8 hours (do not re-use water).
  • Sow seeds thickly and lightly press seeds into soil. Shade?
  • Keep moist.
  • Shoots should be at an edible size (3–6″) within 7–21 days.
  • HARVEST: Using a sharp harvest knife or scissors, cut the shoots just above the soil line. Place in plastic bags or sealed containers and refrigerate. [Could use up leftover pea seed that won’t be any good next spring]
Our outdoor Eat-All greens in October. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Eat-All Greens (35 days from sowing). Invented by Carol Deppe, as a method of growing cooking greens quickly with little work, direct sown and cut at 12″ tall, leaving the tough-stemmed lower 3”, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil. She recommends 7 greens in particular: Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes, Groninger Blue collard-kale, Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana, and Red Aztec huazontle. We tried this outdoors one fall, and I wrote 3 blog posts about it. The crops that did best for us were fava beans, peas, radish greens, Maruba Santoh and Tokyo bekana, frills, turnip greens, Siberian kales. The ones that didn’t work outdoors were kohlrabi, beets, and chard. (We sowed old seeds we had, didn’t buy the recommended ones)

  • Earlier turnips (45d)
  • Beets and their greens (easier than spinach and a double crop) (50-60d)

Ready to eat 30-60 d from transplanting

(in order of earliness):

 

  • Earlier Senposai – but we have outdoor senposai to harvest in Oct and Nov (40d from emergence after sowing; 20 days from transplant)
  • Komatsuna (45 days from emergence after sowing; 25 days from transplant)
  • Kohlrabi (45-60d from 25-40d from transplants)
  • Earlier Napa cabbage (Blues) (52 days from emergence after sowing; 32 days from transplant).
  • Fedco Red Dragon Chinese cabbage (60 days from emergence after sowing; 40 days from transplant)
  • Small early cabbage like Farao, Golden Acre and EJW are all about 62 days from emergence after sowing; 42 days from transplant
  • Broccoli Tendergreen is 67 days from emergence after sowing; 47 days from transplant

Ready to eat 90 days from planting

Garlic scallions outdoors in late March. Think what might work in a hoophouse! Photo Pam Dawling
  • Garlic scallions. We normally plant these in early November and eat in early March (120 days). But if we plant them earlier, in a warmer place, they’ll be ready sooner. Normally you don’t want to plant garlic until the soil cools to 50F (10C), because it would grow too fast and not survive the winter. But if it’s just the scallions you want, the rules change. . .

Clif Slade, who farms in a slightly warmer climate zone in Surry, Virginia, tells me they plant garlic for scallions outdoors in every month except August, and in the hoophouse until January (from September?). December plantings are ready indoors in March, outdoors in April. He generally reckons 90 days from planting to harvest, in warm conditions. Any garlic is suitable. Hardneck, softneck, small cloves, large cloves, whole small bulbs. Best return is on small garlic, although bulbs with lots of small cloves can be tiresome to pull apart!

When to sow crops to transplant?

And how would this fit into our schedule?

  • We’d need to sow 3-4 weeks before a transplant date of Oct 1, thst’s Sept 1-7.
  • We could sow Sept 15 with our first round of hoophouse transplants. Transplant Oct 7-15 approx
  • Start the hoophouse nursery bed two weeks earlier?
  • Or sow in the lettuce nursery seedbed which is already in use in early September?
Bull’s Blood beet greens are the most beautiful addition for salads or can be cooked.
Photo Pam Dawling

It looks like we might have 30ft total available for fast crops. Here’s what fits:

  1. Oct 1-Oct 20, 12.5ft. 19 days. Pea shoots, small transplanted senposai.
  2. Oct 1-Nov 9, 5ft. 39 days. Eat-All Greens, transplanted senposai, komatsuna, or kohlrabi, or pea shoots. Maybe garlic scallions.
  3. Oct 1-Nov 15, 7 ft. 45 days. Turnips, transplanted Blues, Red Dragon, small cabbages, or as in B.
  4. Oct 1-Nov 29, 2ft. 59 days. Beets and beet greens, or transplanted Tendergreen broccoli, or as in C.
  5. Oct 1-Dec 7, 12 ft. 67 days. Any of the above
  6. Oct 1-Dec 23, 4 ft. 83 days. Any of the above.

Caution about slow growth

Growing slows down in November and December, so maybe we should be cautious the first time and add 10-14 days to the days to maturity??

Radishes

Cherry Belle radishes in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Some years ago I figured out a sequence of sowing dates that would give us an even radish supply, without gaps or gluts. For various reasons, we drifted away from those dates, and I’d like to get back to them again. Sept 6 is the earliest we can sow in the hoophouse. Jan 25 is the latest date that will give us a worthwhile harvest, starting Jan 27. Skipping that last one would be OK.

#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6
Suggested Sept 6 Sept 30 Oct 27 Nov 23 Dec 20 Jan 25
Sowing interval 24 days 27 days 27 days 27 days 36 days
Harvest start Oct 1 Nov 4 Dec 8 Jan 11 Feb 14 Mar 20
Harvest interval 34 days 34 days 34 days 34 days 34 days

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