Workhorse Crops for December

Multicolored chard from our hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

We’ve entered the colder half the year for this monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops: asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards/kale, garlic, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, winter squash, zucchini/summer squash. These crops are reliable under a wide range of conditions.

I hope this blogpost series will help you become more productive and profitable (if selling) as you go into winter. Maybe you gardened for the first time this year, or expanded production in spring (orders to seed companies suggest many people did!) Maybe you have less time at home than you expected when you started planting in spring. Winter brings a natural opportunity to reconsider the size of your garden, your crops, and your methods.

You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as November.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in December

If you are in a warmer climate than our zone 7a, you may still have the chance to plant garlic.  See Workhorse Crops for November.

Garlic scallions prepared for sale. Typepad.com

Garlic scallions

We could still plant garlic scallions in December. See Garlic Scallions and  October’s Workhorse Crops  post for information about planting garlic scallions (baby garlic plants).

Garlic scallions can be grown at many times of year. This is news to many of us! By planting later it is possible to extend the garlic scallion harvest period out later. It is important to plant them in conditions where they can grow some good roots before getting too cold. Roots can grow whenever the soil is not frozen. Tops grow whenever the air is above 40°F (4.5°C) Planting in a hoophouse in November or December could possibly provide earlier garlic scallions then planting outdoors in early November. Because the plants are growing faster in warmer conditions. I have not tried this myself yet.

Bulb formation and drying down of bulb garlic is controlled by daylength, but because you do not need bulbing and drying down, all sorts of dates are possible!

Yellow potato onions.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Potato Onions

We could plant small and medium-sized potato onions outdoors in December.  We have usually also prepared a bed and mulched it with hay, to plant the small potato onions in January. Click the links to get the details.

Hoophouse workhorse crops to plant in December

In the hoophouse we now have all the space fully planted. We intend to do this by November 20 each year, or earlier. We are starting to plant a second round of crops, mostly successions of greens and radishes. We have already pulled our first radishes (which sound like they are sneaking their way into being classified as a workhorse crop!)

Unusually, this fall, we found ourselves with some open space during October and November. I am pulling together information on fast crops we could grow in future years, before the late November and early December crops.

Once we have our hoophouse fully planted, we replace any crop we harvest, keeping all the space fully used. See November’s information on Follow-On Crops, and Filler Greens (short rows of greens sown in October to fill unexpected spaces.

Vates kale – our winter outdoor favorite.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in December

We can still have plentiful quantities of workhorse crops to harvest outdoors: cabbage, carrots, chard, kale and collards, and also luscious hoophouse greens. Only four of our 14 workhorse crops can be harvested outdoors in December, but the quantities are good, and we have the Racehorse Crop, spinach, too

We had our first frost of 2021 on November 3 – our latest first frost in the past fifteen years (approximately) has been November 15 2019.

Cabbage We harvest fall-planted cabbage from September 25 until November 30, or perhaps early December in milder years. Deadon (105d winter cabbage) is extremely cold hardy – we leave it outdoors until nights threaten to hit 10°F (-12°C), the lowest temperature I’ve seen it survive.

Carrots can be harvested in December, if we didn’t finish the job in November and we don’t want to risk feeding voles by leaving the carrots in the ground over the winter.

Chard can still be harvested outdoors if we covered it with hoops and rowcover. The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C). We have succeeded in keeping chard alive outdoors right through the winter, if we cover it. This year, we have abandoned it, as we ate so much chard through the summer and got tired of it! The chard did very well, and we lacked other summer greens like stored spring cabbages, and fall broccoli.

Alabama Blue collards.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Collards and Kale can be lightly harvested in December. Our mnemonic for sustainable harvesting of leafy greens is “8 for later”, meaning we leave at least eight inner leaves when harvesting the outer ones, to ensure the plants have enough strength to regrow. Chard and senposai do OK with only 6 leaves left.

Hoophouse chard in December.
Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse Workhorse harvests in December

We have started harvesting our hoophouse Bright Lights chard in small amounts, cutting the leaves into ribbons, and chopping the colorful stems, for salad mixes.

The Red Russian and White Russian kales are usually ready from early December. This year we suffered from poor germination (old seed!) and the later resows are still too small. We have plenty of other greens to eat, from outdoors, and the hoophouse senposai is on its second round of harvests, just one week after the first.

Workhorse Crops from storage in December

Storage crops start to come into their own in December as outdoor growth slows down. Besides the Workhorse Crops of carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and garlic, there are many root crops. See my posts Root Crops for the Month. Use hardneck garlic first, as it stores for only for 4-6 months. Softneck garlic can store for up to 7 months.

Know your winter squash! Use the ones with the shortest storage life first (and any damaged squash that won’t store longer). Acorn and other pepo types of winter squash store for 1-4 months; Maximas such as Cha Cha, Jarrahdale and Kabochas store for 3-5 months; Moschatas such as Butternuts and Cheese pumpkins will store for 8 months or even more. Seminole pumpkin can easily store for a whole year at room temperature.

Our white potatoes were sorted two weeks after the harvest. This one sorting makes a lot of difference to the quality and quantity of potatoes we will be able to eat. After two weeks, very little further rotting starts up. We cool the root cellar down to 50F after the first month, then to 40F, airing once a week (or less if cooling is not needed).

Sweet potatoes stored in off-duty wood seed flats.
Credit Nina Gentle

Our sweet potatoes are fully cured and delicious. We grow 4 kinds: Georgia Jet and Beauregard in roughly equal amounts, to hedge our bets; and two unnamed varieties we call Bill Shane’s White and Jubilee, in small quantities simply to preserve the genetic diversity. Georgia Jet is a bit faster (90 days compared to 100 days) and usually yields a little better for us than Beauregard.  Some New York growers report problems with Georgia Jet due to soft rots and malformed roots. Most growers really like this variety. Beauregard has light rose, red-orange or copper skin, dark orange flesh, uniformly shaped roots. Georgia Jet has a skin that is red-purple. I sometimes find the roots hard to tell apart when we have accidentally mixed them.

Garlic shoots poking through the mulch.
Photo Pam Dawling

Workhorse Crops Special Topics for December

One task for us this month is to Free Trapped Garlic Shoots

14-16 days after planting, when we can see that more than half of the shoots have emerged, we free any garlic shoots trapped under particularly thick clumps of mulch. We investigate the spots where there should be a plant but isn’t. Ours are planted 5” (13 cm) apart. If we find garlic tops, we simply leave part of them exposed to the light. They will sort themselves out. We don’t leave any soil exposed, because we don’t want weeds to grow. This needs to be a fast-moving, efficient task, as there are thousands of plants. It’s also important to be patient and optimistic, and not start this job too early. The goal is to free the shoots that wouldn’t make it out unaided. Not to prematurely expose them all.

In December we continue Planning, including insurance crops. We calculate how much seed to buy, browse the catalogs, balancing trying different varieties on a small scale, and largely sticking to known successful varieties. See my recent post Reading Between the Lines in the Seed Catalogs. We hope to get our seed orders placed before the end of December. Since the Covid pandemic, lots more people have started growing food. This has led to some seed shortages. So if your heart is set on certain crops or certain varieties, order early to avoid disappointment. And to spread out the massive workload that the people working packing and shipping your seeds are dealing with. Appreciate them!

Workhorse Crops for November

Planting garlic

Here’s another episode in my monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops: asparagus, beans, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards/kale, garlic, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, winter squash, zucchini/summer squash. These crops are reliable under a wide range of conditions. We’re half-way through the year for this series, and entering the colder half.

I hope this focused series will help you become more productive and profitable (if selling) as you go into winter. Maybe you gardened for the first time this year, or expanded production in spring (orders to seed companies suggest many people did!) Maybe you have less time at home than you expected when you started planting in spring. Winter brings a natural opportunity to reconsider the size of your garden, your crops, and your methods.

You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as October.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in November

November in central Virginia is the time to plant garlic, but not much else outdoors. We could also plant garlic scallions and medium-sized potato onions.

In the hoophouse we are working to get all the space fully planted. We intend to do this by November 20. The really busy hoophouse planting month of October is successfully behind us. This year we are trying some carrots (we sowed those in September). We have plenty of other crops that don’t qualify as workhorses too!

Garlic

When to plant garlic

  • Fall-planting is best. Garlic emerges quickly in the fall
  • 9 am soil temperature 50°F (10°C) at 4” (10 cm) deep. We plant in early November. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week.
  • Roots grow whenever the ground is not frozen
  • Tops grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).

I have written a lot about garlic. Here are links to the most timely ones.

14-16 days after planting, when we can see a lot of emerged shoots, we go back to the garlic beds and free any shoots trapped under particularly thick clumps of mulch. We do this by exploring the spots where there should be a plant but isn’t. If we find garlic tops, we simply leave part of them exposed to the light. They will sort themselves out. We don’t leave any soil exposed.

Garlic scallions ready for harvest in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

Garlic scallions

Garlic scallions are immature garlic plants, mostly leaves, pulled up before they make bulbs. They are the garlic equivalent of onion scallions (bunching onions, spring onions, escallions).

We plant the culled tiny cloves from the bulbs we save for outdoor garlic planting in early November. Tiny cloves will never produce big bulbs, so growing garlic scallions makes very good use of them! Planting garlic scallions is simplicity itself! Plant the small cloves close together in closely-spaced furrows, simply dropping the cloves in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw. See October’s post for more information about planting garlic scallions (baby garlic plants).

Since last month’s post, I remembered learning that you can also grow garlic scallions from surplus or culled bulbs, simply planting the whole bulbs and growing ready-made bunches of scallions! This could be useful if you have small bulbs that no one wants to deal with, or you have some that have started sprouting in storage.

Some growers find they make more money from garlic scallions than from bulb garlic, partly because they don’t have the costs of curing and drying the bulbs! Plus you have a tasty crop to eat and sell in spring, when choices are often restricted to overwintered leafy greens and stored roots. Maybe you have already eaten or sold all your bulb garlic by then.

Some people are working to extend the garlic scallion season. By planting later it is possible to stretch the harvest period out later. Softneck garlic varieties can make worthwhile growth for scallions even if planted after the start of January. See Plant garlic scallions from softneck varieties (Alliums for February). Planting in a hoophouse in November could possibly provide earlier garlic scallions (growing faster in warmer conditions). By planting in a hoophouse, more of the year opens up as a planting season.

I encourage you to experiment with planting a few cloves at different times of year and record your results. Because you do not need to work with the right times for bulbing and drying down, all sorts of dates are possible!

For information about harvesting garlic scallions, see my post Alliums for March. With a last frost date of 20–30 April, we harvest garlic scallions March 10 to April 30 in central Virginia, or even into May, if our supply lasts out, and we don’t need the space for something else.

Two beds of potato onions in spring, of different planting dates.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Potato onions

I’m cheating here, as these aren’t on the Workhorse list, but November is a good time to plant medium-sized potato onions (a type of multiplier onions). See Alliums for November and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide.

Spinach, the Racehorse

I didn’t include spinach in my Workhorse Crops list, because it’s more of a Racehorse. It does grow quickly, but in spring it bolts quickly. And in September, when we want to sow spinach, we are challenged by soil temperatures that are too hot. It’s a valuable crop under the right conditions. For more, search “spinach”.

Hoophouse workhorse crops to plant in November

We only have a few small areas of crops to plant in November, and none of those crops qualify as Workhorses. Once we have our hoophouse fully planted, we try to keep it that way. I don’t mean we treat it as a museum and touch nothing! I mean we replace any crop we harvest. In some cases, this is part of our plan, with Follow-On crops, as soon as one crop is over.

Filler greens: short rows of Tokyo bekana, Yukina Savoy and senposai used to fill gaps in the winter hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

In other cases it is by using our Filler Greens, short rows of greens that we sow in October in anticipation of some unexpected spaces opening up. You could have plug flats of seedlings for this, but we prefer bare-root transplants, as they are easier to take care of (roots go deep into the soil, and no special watering is needed. If it happens that we don’t transplant them all, we can simply harvest the overgrown seedlings to eat as salad.

A misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Wren Vile

Hoophouse Follow On Crops

A sequence of different crops occupying the same space over time.

  • Nov 17: We follow our 1st radishes with 3rd scallions
  • Dec 23: 1st baby brassica salad mix with 5th radishes
  • Dec 31: Some of our 1st spinach with our 2nd baby lettuce mix
  • Jan 15: Our 1st tatsoi with our 4th spinach
  • Jan 16: Our Tokyo Bekana with spinach for planting outdoors
  • Jan 24: Our pak choy & Chinese cabbage with kale & collards for outdoors
  • Feb 1: Our 2nd radishes with our 2nd baby brassica salad mix
  • Feb 1: Our 1st Yukina Savoy with our 3rd mizuna/frilly mustards
  • Feb 1: Some of our 1st turnips with our 3rd baby lettuce mix
  • Feb 1: More of our 1st spinach with dwarf snap peas
Carrot harvest cart
Photo Mari Korsbrekke

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in November

As I write this, we have not yet had a frost. Four of our 14 workhorse crops can be harvested in November.

Cabbage We harvest fall planted cabbage from September 25 until November 30.

Deadon (105d winter cabbage) is extremely cold hardy – we leave it outdoors until nights threaten to hit 10°F (-12°C).

Carrots: In November we harvest our huge patch of fall carrots, sown at the beginning of August. Some years we have 30 bags of 50 pounds to feed 100 people! But we have had to downsize the garden due to a shortage of workers. I have written about carrot harvest here. We are not particularly fast at carrot prepping. We don’t have a drum root washer. It takes us about 5-6 people hours to get a big (Garden Way) cartful of harvested carrots trimmed, washed, sorted and bagged.

Bucket lid with holes for sorting root vegetables for storage.
Photo Wren Vile

In November it is generally too late for us to sow cover crops, and we don’t want to leave the carrot beds bare all winter. To avoid erosion, we protect the soil by taking the carrot tops back and spreading them out over the beds.

Chard can still be harvested. The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C). To keep chard alive outdoors over the winter, you can use hoops and rowcover in climates of winter-hardiness zone 6 or warmer. In colder zones, once the temperatures get down near the killing numbers mentioned, make one last harvest, cutting all the leaves just above the growing point. Then pile up mulch over the plants until spring. You could cover the whole heap with rowcover for extra protection. We can soon start harvesting our hoophouse Bright Lights chard in small amounts.

Collards can be harvested in November.

Kale can also be lightly harvested.

Hoophouse Workhorse Harvests

Our first planting of chard in the hoophouse is ready to start harvesting in mid-November, 61 days after sowing. The Russian kales are not usually ready until early December. We have plenty of other greens to eat.

Sweet potatoes on a plate.
Photo Brittany Lewis

From storage: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, and perhaps garlic.

Store garlic above 60°F (15.5°C) or 32°F-40°F (0°C-4.5°C). Never 40°F -56°F (4.5°C-13°C). Last week I said it was OK to store garlic at 32°F -50°F, but newer info says 32°F -40°F (0°C-4.5°C). is better. I’ll edit the previous post. Also avoid reversals of temperature (warm conditions after cooler ones)

Softneck garlic can store for up to 7 months. Hardneck only for 4-6 months.

Sorting potatoes two weeks after harvest, to remove problems.
Photo Wren Vile

With winter squash, use the ones with the shortest storage life first. Pepo types (Acorn) of winter squash store for 1-4 months; Maximas such as Cha Cha, Jarrahdale and Kabochas store for 3-5 months; Moschatas such as Butternuts and Cheese pumpkins will store for 8 months or even more. Seminole (which has a very hard shell) can easily store for a whole year at room temperature.

Our white potatoes will need sorting two weeks after the harvest. This one sorting makes a lot of difference to the quality and quantity of potatoes we will be able to eat. After two weeks, very little further rotting starts up. We also need to cool the root cellar down to 50F after the first month, then to 40F, airing once a week (or less if cooling is not needed).

Workhorse Crops Special Topics for November:

Crop Review, Research, Conferences

Popping garlic at our Crop Review meeting.
Photo Bell Oaks

Crop Review

Every November our garden crew gathers to review how the year went, and what might be done differently next year. See my posts on Crop Review Meetings and here. We usually pop our garlic bulbs apart for planting we sit around talking.

If we have had a particularly difficult year we might look at reducing the number of crops grown. We do this using a points system. See this post. Inevitably, we also have some ideas of new crops we’d like to try, or new varieties of familiar crops. Or new growing methods. This is a good time of year to note down all the suggestions, before the actual plans are made and seeds ordered. See my post How to decide which vegetable crops to grow.

Research

This is also a good time of year to research and evaluate new ideas. Perhaps you made some notes during the year, on your planting schedule.

Conferences

Winter conferences used to be more of a Thing, when we traveled to meet up regionally, browse bookstalls, listen to speakers, meet old friends, make new ones, swap stories, and get re-inspired for another year of hard work. Perhaps we’ll be able to enjoy in-person conferences again in a few months. Meanwhile see my Events Page for presentations I am offering virtually and in the mid-Atlantic. Currently there are more virtual online conferences. These don’t satisfy the itch to talk with other live growers, but many are recorded and they are easier to fit into our schedules. And they do save money. And as Mother Earth News says of their Online Workshops, you can bring your dog!

 

 

More About Winter Vegetable Storage

 

Bucket of freshly harvested Detroit Dark Red beets for storage.
Photo Pam Dawling

 See my previous posts

Here I will tell you more about storage of various crops.

  • Storing crops maximizes their season of availability
  • Many crops can be stored without electricity, perhaps in buildings that serve other uses at the height of the growing season.
  • The Washington State University Extension publication, Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home, is a good introduction to alternatives to refrigerated storage, using pits, clamps and root cellars. Drawings below are from WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home
  • There is also good information in old versions of the USDA Agriculture Handbook 66.
  • Some vegetables need to cure before storage in different conditions from those needed for storage. Curing allows skins to harden and some of the starches to convert to sugars.
A storage cabbage, with curled-back leaf on the head, showing maturity.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Four Sets of Vegetable Storage Conditions

See the chart in my book Sustainable Market Farming, for more details.

By providing storage spaces with just 4 types of conditions, at least 25 crops can be stored.

A= Cold and Moist: 32°F–40°F (0°C–5°C), 80%–95% humidity — refrigerator or winter root cellar conditions. Most roots, greens, leeks. Use ventilated crates, or perforated plastic bags (or mesh net bags for cabbages) indoors. If above 45°F (7°C), roots will start to sprout. Greens benefit from light. See more about root cellars below. Roots can be stored in clamps or pits outdoors – more on those options below.

B= Cool and Fairly Moist: 40°F–50°F (5°C–10°C), 85%–90% humidity — root cellar. Potatoes. Use ventilated crates. Keep in darkness to prevent greening. See the links to my potato storage info.

Trimming garlic stems prior to long-term storage.
Photo by Brittany Lewis

C= Cool and Dry: 32°F–50°F (0°C–10°C), 60%–70% humidity — cooler basements and barns. Garlic and onions. Use net bags or shallow racks. Avoid temperatures of 40°F-56°F (4°C-13°C), or they will sprout. Also avoid reversals of temperature (warm conditions after cold ones). Newer info says 32°F-40°F (0°C-4.5°C). is best for garlic.

Sweet potatoes stored in off-duty wood seed flats.
Credit Nina Gentle

D= Warm and Dry to Fairly Moist: 50°F–60°F (10°C–15°C), 60%–70% humidity — basements. Sweet potatoes and winter squash. Use shallow racks or perforated trays. Sweet potatoes need curing at higher temperatures and humidity before storing.

The entrance to our root cellar.Photo Twin Oaks Community

Root Cellars

  • Potatoes can be stored for five to eight months with a good in-ground root cellar.
  • Potatoes are best stored in a moist, completely dark cellar, at 40°F (5°C) to 50°F (10°C). Ventilate as needed for air exchange and to keep the cellar in the ideal temperature range.
  • Also for apples, cabbage, or root vegetables, but be careful what you mix, because ethylene from the apples, for example, will cause potatoes to sprout!
  • Some people pack unwashed vegetables in boxes of sand, wood ash, sawdust or wood chips. Perforated plastic bags are a modern alternative.
  • Cabbages or pepper plants can be hung upside down in the cellar to ripen, or simply to store.
  • Celery and leeks can be replanted side by side in tubs of soil.
  • See Nancy and Mike Bubel’s book Root Cellaring to learn how to design, build and use a root cellar.
Using a sturdy digging fork to harvest leeks in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

In-Ground Storage

  • Depending on your winter temperatures, some cold-hardy root crops (such as turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and horseradish) and also leeks can be left in place in the ground, with about a foot (30 cm) of insulation (such as straw, dry leaves, chopped corn stalks, or wood shavings) added after the soil temperature drops to “refrigerator temperatures.”
  • Hooped rowcovers or polyethylene low tunnels can keep the worst of the weather off.
  • There could be some losses to rodents, so experiment on a small scale the first winter to see what works for you.
  • Besides being used as a method for storage of hardy crops deep into winter, this can be a useful method of season extension into early winter for less hardy crops such as beets, celery and cabbage, which would not survive all-winter storage this way.
  • In colder regions plan to remove the crops before the soil becomes frozen, or else wait for a thaw.

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

Harvested turnips ready for storage.
Photo Pam Dawling

Storage Clamps (Mounds)

  • Cabbage, kohlrabi, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, salsify and winter radishes can be stored with no electricity use at all, by making temporary insulated outdoor storage mounds (clamps).
  • Mark out a circular or oval pad of soil, lay down some straw or other insulation, pile the roots up in a rounded cone or ridge shape, and cover them with straw and then with soil, making a drainage ditch round the pile. As a chimney for ventilation, leave a tuft of straw poking out the center. Slap the soil in place to protect the straw and shed rainwater.
  • For the back-yarder, various roots can be mixed, or sections of the clamp can be for different crops. Those growing on a large scale would probably want a separate clamp for each crop. It is possible to open one end of a clamp or pit, remove some vegetables, then reseal it, although it takes some care for it to be successful.
  • There is a balance to be found between the thermal buffering of one large clamp and the reduced risk of rot that numerous smaller clamps provide.

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

 Pits and Trenches

  • Dig a hole in the ground, line it with straw, lay in the vegetables, then cover with more straw and soil.
  • To deter rodents, bury large bins such as metal trash cans, layer the vegetables inside with straw, and cover the lid with a mound of more insulation and soil.
  • Trenches can have sidewalls made with boards to extend the height.
  • You can bury insulated boxes in the ground inside a dirt-floored shed or breezeway. Insulated boxes stored in unheated areas need six to eight inches (15–20 cm) of insulation on the bottom, sides and top.

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Don’t store ripening tomatoes with your potatoes!
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Ethylene

  • Ethylene is associated with ripening, sprouting and rotting.
  • Some crops produce ethylene in storage — apples, cantaloupes, ripening tomatoes all produce higher than average amounts.
  • Chilling, wounding and pathogen attack can all cause damaged crops to produce ethylene.
  • Some crops, including most cut greens, are not sensitive to ethylene and can be stored in the same space as ethylene-producing crops.
  • Other crops are very sensitive and will deteriorate in a high-ethylene environment. Potatoes will sprout, ripe fruits will go over the top, carrots lose their sweetness and become bitter.

 

Drawing credit WSU Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

Workhorse Crops for September

Burpee’s Butterbush Winter Squash.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Here we are with my monthly series of 14 Workhorse Crops (including two pairs). These crops are reliable under a wide range of conditions. My goal with this series is to help you become more efficient, productive and profitable (if selling) as you deal with another strange year. Maybe you are not at home as much as last year, or maybe your helpers have gone back to school, but you deeply appreciate growing your own food.  You want less time-consuming crops and growing methods. You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as August.

Workhorse Crops to Plant in September

In September in central Virginia, the heat is less oppressive, especially since Tropical Depression Ida washed by. The day-length is definitely shorter, soon we will be at the equinox with only 12 hours of daylight. Gardening is more focused on harvesting and less on planting. Food processing is at its busiest.

This month we will put our fall and winter garden plan into action. Plants take longer to mature from September onwards, so don’t delay any plantings. Try a few different dates, and keep good records, especially if you’re a new farmer or gardener, and improve your plan for next year.

In September we only have enough good growing conditions to plant 5 of our 14 Workhorse crops in central Virginia. Down from last month’s 8. We can still transplant cabbage, collards and kale, and sow carrots, and chard (or transplant the chard.)

Cabbage and Collards:

September is much too late for us to start cabbage, but we could still transplant early in the month, if we have transplants with four true leaves (3-4 weeks after sowing). If you only have bigger transplants, remove some of the older leaves until four leaves remain. This will help the plants survive by reducing evaporation (transpiration) losses. Collards can be sown here until September 15.

If insect pests are a problem, cover the transplants for four weeks, until they are big enough to survive. Nets are better than rowcover in hot weather, as airflow is better and heating is less. I wrote last month about ProtekNet Insect Exclusion Netting from Dubois Agrinovation.  

Another advantage of nets over rowcover is that you can see what’s growing! Back before ProtekNet I found one year that I had been studiously watering a covered bed that was mostly galinsoga! It was quite big, and I had assumed it was greens!

Two weeks after transplanting, till or hoe around the plants. Four weeks after transplanting, remove the netting entirely, and hoe and till again. At that point you could undersow with a mix of clovers to be a long-term cover crop, unless you plan to plant an early spring crop in that bed.

Young carrot plants, thinned to one inch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Carrots

This is actually late for carrots but if you failed to establish them in August, hurry out and sow some early in September. You won’t get big carrots, but you’ll still get carrots!  Hoe between the rows as soon as you can see them, because carrots grow slowly and fall weeds grow fast!

Once the carrots are 1” (2.5 cm) tall, hand weed, cultivate with claws (to kill weeds that haven’t even emerged yet) and thin to 1” (2.5 cm) apart. Simply pulling the weeds is not as good as also lightly disturbing the surface of the soil. Heavy rains can cause crusting, which makes it hard for seedlings to grow. Breaking up the crust lets air and water in. I have noticed that crops make a growth spurt after hoeing. If you think you might have carrot rust flies in your area, collect up all the carrot thinnings and take them to the compost pile, so that the pests won’t be attracted by the smell of carrot leaves, and move in to eat your carrots.

Later thin your carrots to 3” (7.5 cm) and weed again. That’s a September task, if you sowed in August. The tiny ones you pull out may be big enough to wash and throw in a salad. Before they develop the orange color they don’t have much flavor, but they are a treat for the eyes anyway!

Kale:

We grow Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale, the most cold-hardy variety I’ve found. I’ve tried every type of kale I could get my hands on, including some imported from Europe. Vates isn’t huge – we plant 4 rows 10″ (25 cm) apart in each bed. We want 6 beds of kale to over-winter, and there isn’t time to transplant it all. We direct sow, two beds at a time, every 6 days. We water the two newly sown beds, daily as needed, until the seedlings emerge.

Often we get patchy emergence in those hot August days, so we use carefully dug thinnings to fill gaps. Our goal is one plant every foot (30 cm). Our mixed direct-sow/transplant method requires less watering than if direct sown all at once and gives us a solution if we get patchy germination. September 15 is our last sowing date for kale for harvests in late fall and through the winter. We cover the beds with netting, until the plants are large, or the weather gets too cold for pests.

Kale makes some growth whenever the temperature is above about 40°F (5°C), which happens in our winters on many days, making this a valuable winter crop. We will also sow more kale in late January, to give us a spring crop.

An outdoor bed of young Vates kale Photo Kathryn Simmons

Chard: Swiss chard can be sown here in August, and transplanted in September for a good fall harvest, with the option of overwintering under rowcover. It grows small leaves after only 35 days, and full-size leaves after 50 days. Chard is our poster-child insurance crop! So easy! So productive! It is not eaten by bugs, and does not have problems germinating in hot weather like spinach does.

You could direct sow chard in September and protect it for the winter, for a late winter and early spring harvest.

Workhorse Crops to Harvest in September

Eleven of our 14 workhorse crops can be harvested in September (also true in August, but now with one substitution!)

Beans­ can be harvested until the first frost (or later if we cover the beds with rowcover when a frost threatens). We also cover the bean beds (and squash, cucumbers, zucchini and other tender crops) whenever there is a chilly spell. This keeps the plants warmer and growing faster. Vegetable crops begin to take longer to ripen in September. It’s certainly true that pollinating insects can’t get at the flowers to perform their pollination services and make more beans, etc. But that doesn’t matter. We are more interested in fattening up the already pollinated beans!

Plenty of beans to eat in September.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cabbage We eat about 50lbs (25 k) a week. Fall planted cabbage will be ready from September 25. We like Early Jersey Wakefield and Farao for fast-maturing cabbage.

Carrots: We generally hope not to need to sow carrots between June and the beginning of August, because carrots grown in hot weather don’t taste sweet and can even be soapy. If we did not grow enough carrots in the spring, we sow in June, or July and harvest those carrots about 2-3 months later (less time in warm weather, longer as the weather starts to cool in the fall). So, some years we harvest carrots in September.

Chard can be harvested whenever you want some. Snap or cut off some outer leaves and refrigerate them promptly. We use our Leafy Greens Mantra “8 for later” meaning that we make sure to leave at least eight of the inner leaves on each plant, as we harvest the outer leaves. With chard, we can take a couple more than this, but we do want to harvest at sustainable levels.

To overwinter chard in our climate, we cover the bed with rowcover on hoops. We can continue to make harvests into early winter. The mulch and rowcover help keep warmth in the soil, which keeps the crop growing.

Another method of over-wintering chard in reliably cooler climates, is to make a big harvest of all the sizeable leaves, just before the daytime temperatures are around freezing, then pile tree leaves, straw or hay over the bed for the winter. Covering the whole stack with rowcover is even better. Our winter conditions are too variable for this – we get cold spells interspersed with warm spells in almost every month, causing the plants to make some growth among the mulch.

The outdoor killing temperature for unprotected Bright Lights chard is 22°F (–6°C); red chard survives down to 15°F (–9.5°C) and green chard to 10°F (–12°C).

Alabama Blue collards.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Collards can be lightly harvested in September, if you started them early enough. What’s more likely true for us, is being able to harvest leaves of senposai. No, not the same as collards! But it fills the same spot on the dinner-plate – fresh leafy greens. It’s been a long summer with only chard, this year, as we were short of spring cabbage, and don’t have any fall cabbage or broccoli yet.

Potatoes: We can plant potatoes between mid-March and mid-June, leading to harvests in July-October. It’s as important not to leave potatoes baking in the sun as it is to protect them from frost, both when planting and when harvesting. Read more about potato harvest here.

Our March-planted potatoes are in the root cellar. By mid-September, we need to cool the cellar to 60°F (16°C)

Our root cellar for potatoes. Photo McCune Porter

Sweet Corn harvest is still going strong. Sweet corn is ready to harvest about three weeks after the first silks appear. Some growers say you should harvest daily, but we find that 3 days a week is often enough, and gives us a nice amount from our 1050-1325 ft (320-400 m) plantings to feed our community. We sow sweet corn six times, for continuous harvests from early July to mid-October.

Corn is ready when the silks are brown, not before! If they are brown, and the ears are plump and filled to the end with kernels, take a closer look. Mature ears stand away from the stalks. If you are still learning, slit the husks at the side of the ear with your thumb nails and look at the kernels. (Don’t puncture the husks on the topside of the ear as the dew and a million tiny beetles will get in and make a mess.) The kernels should be a bit square and fairly tight-packed, not round and pearly with rounded diamond-shaped spaces between them. An opaque, milky juice will seep out of punctured kernels. If your sample ear wasn’t ready, push the husks closed over the ear and wait a few days.

Be sure to shade your corn after harvest and get it cooled as soon as possible, as the flavor deteriorates if it sits around.

Amy’s Apricot tomato from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
Photo Pam Dawling

Tomatoes are cranking out their fruit but starting to look “back-endish” – spotty, and smaller. To minimize the spread of fungal diseases, wait for the leaves to dry in the morning, before harvesting. We plant maincrop tomatoes (sown in mid-March) and late tomatoes (sown in mid-May). This way the late ones peak after the maincrop, and keep the plentiful supply going longer. This year our late bed includes a few Black Cherry and Sun Gold cherry tomatoes as well as lots of our standards: Tropic, a heat-tolerant, disease-resistant round red one, and Jubilee, a lovely flavorful orange that is also a feast for the eyes. This year I have been particularly impressed with its healthiness – the fruits are reliably unblemished and do not readily split. Truly a workhorse variety!

Watermelon harvest is peaking. They don’t ripen further after harvest, so get good at determining watermelon ripeness. I wrote about that in my August post. An unripe watermelon is a sad waste, as most plants only produce two melons.

We store our watermelons outdoors, under the eaves of the house, where they will stay in good shape for a few weeks. We used to store them under the trees further from the building, but the squirrels learned to bite their way in, and taught each other the trick!

When we have enough watermelon harvested (500-600), we roll up the drip tape and disk the plot, to get a good stand of winter cover crops. We use winter wheat and crimson clover if before October 14. I’ll address this more next month. We used to try to harvest every last watermelon until the year I realized that we can only eat so many, and that watermelons in October are of limited interest. Good cover crops are important for taking care of the soil mini-livestock.

A fine winter squash medley.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Winter Squash harvest happens once a week throughout September and October. This is next week’s blog topic. Winter squash is very rewarding to grow, providing high yields for not much work. Stored winter squash can provide meals all winter and also in early spring when other crops are scarce.

ATTRA Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Marketing and Production

ATTRA has a very good publication Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Marketing and Production. Add it to your winter reading if you plan to grow winter squash next year!

Zucchini and summer squash are still being harvested every day. Our last sowing was August 5. We harvest beyond the first fall frost, by covering that last planting with rowcover on chilly nights. See above, under Beans for our thinking about fattening up the last fruits.

From storage: spring cabbage, carrots, garlic and potatoes; watermelon from under the trees or the roof overhang.

Workhorse Crops Special Topic:                    Garlic Storage

Between late September and early October, we move our stored garlic from the basement to the walk-in cooler. the garlic was stored in the basement from June to the end of September, where the temperature was above 56°F (13°C) which is a perfectly fine storage temperature for garlic. Once the basement gets colder than that, we move the garlic to the refrigerator, where it will be below 40°F (10°C). The temperature range of 40°F to 56°F (10-13°C) is where garlic sprouts readily.

Hanging garlic of many varieties in bunches.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Everything You Want to Know About Garlic: Garlic Almanac and Phenotypic Plasticity

Silverwhite Silverskin garlic
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Everything You Want to Know About Garlic:

Garlic Almanac and Phenotypic Plasticity

(How garlic adapts to its locality)

It’s garlic harvest season for many of us and I notice many growers are searching my site for information. Here are quick links.

Garlic signs of maturity from October 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Garlic includes all the links listed below here.

Much about garlic is to be found in my Alliums for the Month Series:

Garlic harvest.
Photo Twin Oaks Community
Other posts about garlic, starting with harvest:
Pulling garlic scapes.
Photo Wren Vile

Phenotypic Plasticity

Phenotypic plasticity of garlic refers to the changes to a garlic variety grown in a particular location. Genetically identical garlics can grow differently in different environments. Garlic reproduces asexually, the new cloves are all clones of the mother plant, with no new genetic material introduced. And yet, over time, garlic saved and regrown each year in a certain locality will adapt itself to that location, due to the particular soil type, water availability, local temperatures, latitude, altitude and cultural practices. For example, studies have shown that varieties grown in drought-prone areas can, over years, develop more drought-tolerance. Commercial cultivars can have the highest bulb yield under well-watered conditions, but drought will show up the adapted strains in a comparison trial.

Garlic Plants
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

We have been growing our own strain of hardneck garlic for over 30 years, and it does really well here. Originally the seed stock was a bag of garlic from the wholesale vegetable market. This is the very thing we are told not to do, as it may introduce pests and diseases. Indeed, it may, but our original folly is now deep in the past, and we have fortunately seen no problem.

I was reminded about phenotypic plasticity, when a friend and neighboring grower reported that the seed garlic we had passed on to her was doing well and was mature a couple of weeks before the variety she normally grows.

From the 2004 work of Gayle Volk et al, Garlic Seed Foundation analyzing 211 garlic accessions, we have learned that there are many fewer genetically distinct varieties of garlic than there are named varieties. Of the 211 accessions in that trial, only 43 had unique genotypes. But garlic shows high biodiversity and ability to adapt to its environment. The same garlic genotypes in different environmental conditions can show different phenotypes. This demonstrates the high phenotypic plasticity of garlic, probably linked to its complicated genetics, which somehow compensate for lack of sexual reproduction.

Work done in 2009 by Gayle Volk and David Stern, Phenotypic Characteristics of Ten Garlic Cultivars Grown at Different North American Locations  addressed the observation that garlic varieties grown under diverse conditions have highly plastic environmental responses, particularly in skin color and yield. This is a very readable paper for non-academic readers. Ten garlic varieties were grown at twelve locations in the United States and Canada for two consecutive years to identify phenotypic traits of garlic that respond to environmental conditions. The purpose of the study was to determine which phenotypic traits are stable and which vary with location.

Inchelium Red softneck garlic – note the small cloves in the center.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
  • Clove number, weight and arrangement, clove skin coloration, clove skin tightness and topset number, size and color stay true to variety independent of location.
  •  Mostly, varieties classified as hardneck types produced scapes and those classified as softnecks did not, but there were some exceptions.
  • Bulb size, bulb wrapper color and bulb elemental composition (flavor) are related to location, (the influence of the local environment, such as the weather in that production year and the soil mineral content), rather than variety. The intensity of the skin patterns is highly dependent on the location. Some general trends were noted, but no clear correlation was found. (Read the study for the details).
  • For good size, predictably colored and flavored garlic, buy seed garlic grown locally that yields well. When garlic is grown in similar conditions to those in which it was produced, yields can remain consistent or improve.

    Our softneck garlic in May.
    Photo Pam Dawling
  • Varieties that grow well thousands of miles away are not a guarantee of a good result in your garlic patch. They may not match the bulb size, shape, color and flavor listed in the catalogs.
  • When grown under the same environmental conditions, the leaf number before bolting, flowering date, the final stem length, the flower/topset ratio, and pollen viability vary from one variety to another.
  • Studies that compared bulb firmness, pH, soluble solids, moisture content and sugar content with appearance determined that many of these traits are independent of skin color across 14 garlic varieties.
  • Bulb size was highly dependent on growth location with northern sites producing larger bulbs overall than southern sites for at least half of the trial varieties. Regional differences between varieties with respect to bulb size were noted, but because the project had a limited number of sites, specific variety recommendations for different regions were not provided.
  • Bulb size and weight were positively correlated with soil potassium levels.
  • Bulb sulfur and manganese content (flavor) were correlated with soil sulfur and manganese levels.

    The famous Music garlic, a hardneck type – see the stem.
    Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
  • The demand for high-quality fresh garlic is increasing as restaurants and consumers seek out local vegetables. Consumers are attracted to colorful, unique garlic varieties for different culinary uses. As variety name recognition in garlic increases, understanding which traits define particular varieties and which traits vary within cultivars, depending on environmental conditions, will be valuable for successful marketing of new garlic types.

Flame Weeding

Commiseration and sympathy to ice-blasted farmers and gardeners

Visits to my website shot up over the weekend. People are checking out my Winter-Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables as they are dealing with temperatures considerably colder than they ever expected for their region.  I hope you can find some helpful information there while you triage your crops into “OK with these temperatures, can be left alone”/”might die, need help”/”will definitely die, no point in trying to save them”.

Q and A

Next a couple of questions that people left on the contact form, that I thought others might be interested in.

Q1. Is there an easy way to figure out what vegetables I can plant to maximize my space and yield. I am not sure if its my soil or sunlight availability in my backyard garden.

A. Most vegetables do need at least 6 hours a day of sunlight, so as we get closer to spring, assess various spots in your backyard. Maximizing use of the space includes careful choice of plant spacing, but also following one crop with another, or squeezing crops in between others. There’s no quick answer. Search my site for Succession Planting, Crop Spacing, Choosing Crops.

Q2. I am currently looking for Onion seeds or seedlings to purchase for approximately 1hector to plant. We based in the Free State Area.

A. South Africa? Sorry, I have no idea what is available where you are. 1 hectare is a huge area for onions, especially if you have never grown them before. Use transplants, not direct-seeded onions. Choose varieties adapted to your latitude, or else they may never grow big, or may not dry down and store well.

Flaming can be used for weed control, pest control, or crop termination.

Flame weeding can be used for carrots and beets before emergence.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Our introduction to flame-weeding was via the first article I ever read in Growing for Market magazine. It was about flaming for pre-emergence weed control in carrots. It sounded like such an effective method that we bought a Red Dragon flamer and never looked back! I remember saying and writing that it worked so well it felt like cheating!

Our flamer

We use a handheld flamer attached to a propane cylinder that is in a wheelbarrow pushed by a second person behind the first. This person also acts as a “fire warden.” Some growers mount the propane on a backpack frame. Walking along the aisle between beds and wafting the wand diagonally back and forth across the bed takes about ten minutes for a 100′ (30 m) bed. Flame-weeding alone can reduce hand-weeding to one hour/100′ (30 m). Hand-weeding can be reduced to 6 minutes/100′ (30 m) by flame-weeding after using stale beds which have been hoed three or four times.

Stale seedbed flaming for weed control

In the stale seedbed technique, the bed is prepared and watered ahead of planting time and one or more flushes of weeds are germinated and flamed or hoed off. Flaming avoids bringing any new weed seeds to the surface. To sow large crop seeds into a seedbed that has already had the weeds removed (by flaming or other stale seedbed technique), you can use a stick seeder or easy-plant jab planter. Making furrows for small seeds will inevitably activate a few weed seeds along the rows.

Flame weeding, pre-emergence

Flame weeding a carrot bed.
Photo Kati Falger

Carrots, beets and parsnips are ideal crops for pre-emergence flame-weeding. They do very poorly with competition, and grow more slowly than weeds, consuming lots of time hoeing, cultivating and hand weeding to get good yields. Flame weeding can change all that, with pre-emergence either as part of a stale seedbed technique, or post-sowing.

The latter method is to prepare the bed, sow the seeds, water, and then monitor carefully. The day before you expect the carrots to emerge, flame across the whole surface of the bed. Use a soil thermometer and the table here to figure out which day to flame.

Table of vegetable seed germination as a function of soil temperature

 

Days to Germinate 50F (10C) 59F (15C) 68F (20C) 77F (25C) 86F (30C) 95F (35C)
Carrots 17.3 10.1 6.9 6.2 6.0 8.6
Beets 16.7 9.7 6.2 5.0 4.5 4.6
We sow “indicator beets” with our carrots so that we know when to flame-weed them
Photo Kathryn Simmons

People who use pre-emergence flame-weeding for carrots can use a few “indicator beet” seeds sown at one end of the bed to show when to flame. As soon as you see the red loops of the beet seedlings breaking the surface, flame the carrots. (But look for carrots too, just in case!) Beets are always a bit quicker than carrots in germinating. Note that beets are about half a day ahead of carrots at 50°F–68°F (10°C–20°C), but more than a day at 77°F–95°F (25°C–35°C). The challenge with carrots is to keep the soil surface damp until they come through. As an indicator for beet seeds, you can use a few radish seeds.

Another way to get an alarm call is to put a piece of glass over part of a row. The theory is that the soil under the glass will be warmer and the crop there will come up sooner than the rest. I tried this once, but the soil under the glass dried out, and those carrots came up later than the rest! Nowadays we have a “no glass in the garden” rule, for safety, so I use beets, the thermometer and the chart.

See the useful resource Flame Weeding for Vegetable Crops  from ATTRA

Flame-weeding growing crops

Potatoes can get impossible to hill when you’d like to if you have wet weather, and this is where flaming can save the day. Potatoes may be flamed at 6″–12″ (15–30 cm) tall, to kill weeds without damaging the potato plants. After that, flaming is not recommended.

Sweet corn can be flame-weeded after planting, either pre-emergence or, with care, after the crop is two inches (5 cm) tall, using a directed flame.

Onion and garlic crops can be flame-weeded when relatively mature. Flame-weeding can achieve as good results as hand-weeding using one-third of the labor. Flame-weeding can damage young plants (four or fewer leaves), so bide your time. Direct the flame at the base of the plants, in the morning, when the plants are turgid. This technique is for unmulched crops. Naturally, if you have used straw or hay mulch, flame-weeding is not such a smart idea!

Peanut seedlings can be slow to emerge, so pre-emergence flame-weeding may be helpful. The seedlings look somewhat like peas or clover. Because they grow slowly for the first 40 days, they will not thrive if you lose them in weeds (guess how I know?!).

Flaming for ending potato growth

Potato plants come to a natural end when the leaves die, after which no further growth can be induced in them. Once the tops die, the potato skins start to toughen up. If you are growing storage potatoes and are impatient for the end to come, you can mow off the tops or flame them, to start the skin-thickening process, which takes around two weeks. The potatoes are ready when you can rub two together without any obvious damage to the skins.

Flaming for pest control

Pest habitat includes all those half-wild edges and odd corners. You can reduce the pest count in these havens by mowing, hand weeding, or flaming. Be sure not to remove all the habitat for beneficial insects while you do this.

Colorado Potato beetle late stage larva
Photo Pam Dawling

Colorado potato beetles can be tackled by flaming while the potatoes are less than eight inches (20 cm) tall, as an effective pest control measure. It won’t kill the potato plants. Choose a warm sunny day when the pests are at the top of the plants. Flaming can kill 90 percent of the adults and 30 percent of the egg masses, according to ATTRA.

Harvesting from bean plants with bad bean beetle damage.
Photo Wren Vile

Mexican bean beetles can be killed by flaming after harvest for that planting is finished. Flaming will kill the plants too. We used to plant six or seven successions of beans, every two weeks, then flame the old plants when the pest count got too high, and move on to a newer planting. Nowadays we buy the Pediobius parasitic wasp to deal with the MBB, and we can sow beans less often and harvest them for longer.

Flaming trap crops

Young turnips (with flea beetles!) in need of thinning for cooking greens.
Photo Pam Dawling

Flea beetles can be lured by a row of mustard greens. They like the pungent compounds in brassicas. Once you have lured the flea beetles you need to deal with them before you create a flea beetle breeding ground. Flaming the mustard plants is one possibility.

Striped cucumber beetle in squash flower. Photo Pam Dawling

Cucumber beetles  have a preference for some particular squash varieties, which may be grown as a trap crop: Cocozelle summer squash, Seneca and Dark Green zucchini are all “cucumber beetle preferred”! When beetles accumulate in the trap crop, flame it or till it in.

Stink bugs: Russ Mizell has published a paper on trap cropping for native stink bugs in the South. He recommends buckwheat, triticale, sunflower, millet, field pea and sorghum. A succession of trap crops including these and others such as pumpkins, cowpeas and other small grains (which are most attractive in the milk or soft dough stage) could help. Flame the trap crops when the stink bug numbers in the trap crop build up.

Excerpted and adapted from Sustainable Market Farming

Repurposed stroller makes a fine flame weeder.
Photo Sustainable Harvest Farm Kentucky

Everything You Need to Know About Garlic; Money and More

 

Softneck garlic ready to harvest
Photo Pam Dawling

We started harvesting our hardneck garlic on May 26 this year. One of the earliest harvests we have on record.

I’ve written lots on garlic in this blog, it’s one of the most sought-out topics. To cut to the chase, here’s my Garlic Recap.

Many of these are posts in my Alliums for the Month Series:

Harvesting garlic scapes
Photo Wren Vile

For a second opinion, see Margaret Roach (who grows in Massachusetts) in A Way to Garden

Music garlic cut open showing gaps around stem – a sign of maturity.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Of the many other posts I’ve written on garlic, that are not mentioned already, starting with harvest and moving round the calendar, there are:

Harvest

Garlic Harvest step by Step

Harvesting Garlic

Garlic Harvest

Garlic harvest, Intercropping, Summer lettuce,

Garlic harvest finished, fall crop planning, tomato bug heads-up

In September 2020, a reader asked:

In this blogpost https://www.sustainablemarketfarming.com/2013/07/05/snipping-sorting-and-storing-garlic/ you discuss that if a garlic bulb is larger or smaller than 2-2.5″, it should not be used for planting.  I’m wondering if you could discuss this in a blogpost perhaps.  I grow Polish White softneck and Turban hardneck, and I’ve been using the largest bulbs I can find for planting both.    I sort the Polish first though, and use only the biggest cloves from each softneck bulb (culls I dry or pickle).  I feel that with the Polish, over time I’ve been increasing my size, and people really like that to purchase.  I would be so very interested to read your reasons for the sizing.  I’m currently sorting for fall planting and was mulling this today and thought I would just ask to see if you might enlighten your readers.  Thanks.

My reply is:

Ah, the hazards of writing a brief article! You can plant any size garlic! Using large cloves from large bulbs usually gives the highest yields, and will, if repeated every year, steer your crop towards bigger bulbs. However, there is a limit: the very largest bulbs are often irregular, and have got large by growing lots of cloves, some of which are very small. As this is probably not what you want to steer towards, don’t use very large irregular bulbs as planting stock.
Yes, I totally agree that if your bulbs are now generally 2.5″ or larger, you are doing the right thing.
Garlic hanging in netting to dry and cure.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Drying and Curing, Snipping, Sorting and Storing

Garlic drying and curing methods

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic 

Planting garlic

Sustainable Farming Practices slideshow, garlic planting, annual crop review

Garlic Planting and Freeing Trapped Shoots

Winter radishes, planting garlic.

Garlic scallions in March
Photo Pam Dawling

Garlic scallions

Harbinger weeds of spring, and early garlic scallions

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest!

Too much rain! But garlic scapes to cheer us up.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

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My DONATE button

I’ve added a donate button, for those who’d like to use it (via PayPal or credit card). We’re all staying home, not going to conferences or fairs. This is reducing my opportunities to collect speaker fees or sell books face to face.

More people are reading my blog (thank you!). There are thousands of new or returning gardeners across the country, aiming to get fresh air and exercise while usefully putting their time into providing food for their households. There are experienced professional growers trying hard to make their farming more efficient, and pivot to find ways to still earn a living and not lose the farm, due to loss of markets.

I put a lot of energy into providing useful info and practical details, and so if you are finding my posts helpful, and you can afford to, please consider clicking the pay-what-you-can button.

Together we’ll get through this difficult time and reach better days again.

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Birth of Assassin Bugs

Debbie Roos, an Agricultural Extension Agent at Chatham County Center, North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the founder of www.growingsmallfarms.org is a wonderful photographer,. She recently reposted this.

A couple of years ago I posted a series of photos on my Growing Small Farms website showing assassin bug nymphs emerging from their eggs. It was an amazing thing to witness and not something you see every day. Folks really enjoyed seeing the photos back then and since it’s spring and time for more to emerge I thought it would be fun to share the photos again now that so many people are spending so much time at home!

Adult wheel bug feeding on a Japanese beetle. Photo by Debbie Roos. Click here to visit NC Cooperative Extension’s Growing Small Farms website to view the photos.

Be on the lookout for these egg clusters on your property and you may even get lucky and witness the birth of an assassin!

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Quick-Growing Vegetable Crops

Steve Albert has an informative website, Harvest to Table, and this post on quick-growing vegetables includes some warm weather crops like bush green beans and sweet corn. It includes names of fast-maturing varieties.

I wrote Fast Growing Vegetables in March, focusing on early spring crops. If you are still racing to catch up, or in need of more crops that yield quickly, see Harvest to Table.

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How to Fight Hornworms

On the Mother Earth News blog, my post How to Fight Hornworms has been very popular, and has led me to make an article for the Mother Earth Gardener magazine

This magazine is “a quarterly publication committed to giving you in-depth expertise to bolster your organic garden each and every season. Roll up your sleeves and learn soil-boosting strategies, permaculture practices, and more! Formerly known as Heirloom Gardener.”

Tobacco hornworm on tomato leaf
Photo Pam Dawling


16 things I know about growing tomatoes

From Margaret Roach at A WAY TO GARDEN

Margaret writes about home-grown seedlings, finding flavor, choosing between hybrids and open-pollinated varieties, saving seed, good tomato-hygiene, monitoring for pests and diseases, pruning, staking or otherwise supporting the plants, and dealing with the weather.

Jubilee tomato in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

 

Garlic drying and curing methods

Hanging garlic of many varieties (and onions) in bunches.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I’m prompted to write about garlic drying and curing by an inquiry from a reader in Idaho. Their family has a new garlic business and they need to upgrade their drying and curing method. This year they have planted 3 acres (12 varieties), so they really need a method that will be reliable. Do leave a comment if you have suggestions. Here I’ll review methods I know about, for areas from backyard to small commercial size.

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

I also think this is a good time of year to plan and construct infrastructure you will need later in the season, when planting, cultivating and harvesting have top priority. First, so you know when you’ll need the space ready, here are some links to information to help with that.

When and How to Harvest Garlic

Garlic bulb cut horizontally to check maturity (good now or soon).
Photo Wren Vile

Signs of garlic maturity: Alliums for May

Alliums for June: planting leeks, harvesting garlic and bulb onions

Garlic bulb initiation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by daylight increasing above13 hours in length (April 10 here at 38°N). Soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) and air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) are secondary triggers. The drying down process is started by hot weather above 91°F (33°C) which ends bulb growth. In tropical latitudes where daylength does not vary much, it may be that temperature is a bigger trigger and daylength is less important. See Alliums for May for more

Harvesting garlic: Garlic Harvest step by Step

Methods for Drying and Curing Garlic

Faragut Farm in Alaska dries their garlic in a hoophouse (but beware of over-heating )
Photo Chris Blanchard

Growers of small amounts of garlic (or complicated harvests of relatively small amounts of many varieties) sometimes tie the garlic plants in bundles and hang them from nails or hooks in beams. This method takes a lot of twine, and can be slow.

Garlic spread to dry on an upper story wood barn floor.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We once spread a single layer of garlic on a wood upstairs floor of the barn, when our harvest exceeded our storage racks. “Shingle” the garlic plants so that the bulbs and roots are all uppermost, for best airflow.

Garlic hanging in vertical netting.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We hang our garlic in nylon netting fastened vertically around the walls of our old tobacco barn. This is a good method for humid areas as the garlic is in a single layer and can get good airflow. Other growers have used chicken wire or snow fencing. We have considered making free-standing frames covered in netting, so we can deal with higher yields. The walls of the barn limit the amount we can hang there. It’s a slower method than laying plants on horizontal racks.

Garlic in vertical netting and onions on stackable wood racks.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier.

Horizontal racks need to be sturdy. We made stackable wood slatted racks to dry our bulb onions, as onion necks are not strong enough to hang onions by. Later we made larger netted wood frames that we hang from a pulley in the beams. We can fill them layer by layer, starting at the lowest one, and gradually lower the upper racks as we need to fill them. This kind of system would work for garlic too, but is not practical on a large scale.

Bulb onions curing on a rack.
Photo Wren Vile

Horizontal racks can either have the garlic threaded bulbs up through the holes of the netting (as we do for onions), or the plants laid flat, shingled. Shingling saves space (racks can be closer to each other vertically) but it is harder to dry garlic this way in a humid climate.

For a nice design of racks for drying onions, and perhaps garlic, see this post about the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Virginia

Onion racks at the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Virginia (their photo)
Drying and Curing Garlic Step by Step with Vertical Netting

Hang your garlic to cure for 3-6 weeks or even longer, with fans if the humidity is high. Don’t set the fans too close to the garlic, your goal is to improve the air flow, not blast the bulbs and shrivel them up. See my book Sustainable Market Farming.

  1. We like our garlic arranged in order of harvesting, to make it easier to find dry garlic when the time comes to trim it. We hang our curing garlic in vertical netting hanging around the walls of our barn. Some growers use horizontal racks, others tie garlic in bunches with string and hang the bunches from the rafters.
Garlic threaded into vertical netting.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

2. We start at knee height, threading one garlic plant in each hole of the netting. (The netting stretches downward with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower would lead to garlic piling up on the floor.)

3. Take a garlic plant, fold over the top quarter or a third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through the netting. The leaves will unfold behind the netting. Leaves shouldn’t poke through to the front.

4. We work back and forth in rows, filling a 4-6 ft wide strip per person, working upwards.

5. We continue as high as we can reach before moving to the next section. We make walls covered with garlic, day by day until done. This sequential arrangement simplifies trimming, and makes the best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly.

6. Damaged bulbs are “Farm Use” quality and are set on horizontal racks to dry.

7. Arrange box fans to blow on the drying garlic. Even in an airy old tobacco barn, fans are essential in our humid climate.

After curing, this garlic has dry necks and is ready to snip and store. Photo Wren Vile

8. Wait 3-4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, strawy. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90% of the necks are dry.

In 2016, we pondered whether a ground floor shed or an upstairs barn offers the better airflow, and whether better airflow is worth hauling all the garlic upstairs and down again. We didn’t come to a conclusion, but we didn’t find time to build a new barn.

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic 

You won’t need this for  a while, but it’s helpful to have next steps in mind when designing your hanging and curing space – see the link to Garlic harvest, new barn plans, Mother Earth News post on sweet potatoes which includes the question of how to tell when the garlic is cured, and setting up, snipping and sorting garlic into three categories for replanting, for storing and for using soon. Garlic can be stored in the same high temperature range as bulb onions, provided it has never dropped into the sprouting temperature range of 40-55°F (5-13°C). The key to good storage is dry necks

For pictures of our onion drying racks see Alliums for July: harvest minor alliums, finish harvesting bulb onions, snip and sort garlic and bulb onions.

If weather prevents gardening and farming, knit your own garlic potholders and felt them! Photo Pam Dawling

Garlic Planting and Freeing Trapped Shoots

Garlic planting crew.
Photo Valerie Renwick

Planting Garlic

We are planting garlic, a topic I’ve written much about! Here are links to a few of my Allium of the Month posts from 2018-2019 and my slideshow.

Sign up for the free Growing for Market newsletter  and read my article How and when to plant garlic this month. That article mentions Get ready for garlic planting which you can read if you are a Full Access Member. I wrote these articles back in 2012, so I do have some newer info in my slideshow and my blog posts from last year.

See last year’s Alliums for November for

How Much Garlic to Plant

Popping Garlic Cloves for Planting;

Pre-plant Seed Garlic Treatments to reduce pests and diseases.

Planting garlic cloves, using a 5″ (13 cm) measuring stick.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Preparation for Garlic Planting

Cloves for planting should be from large (but not giant) bulbs and be in good condition. Garlic for planting should be separated into cloves 0–7 days before planting. Twist off the outer skins and pull the bulb apart, trying not to break the basal plate of the cloves (the part the roots grow from), as that makes them unusable for planting. With hardneck garlic, the remainder of the stem acts as a convenient lever for separating the cloves. We sort as we go, putting good size cloves for planting in big buckets, damaged cloves in kitchen buckets, tiny cloves in tiny buckets and outer skins and reject cloves in compost buckets. Don’t worry if some skin comes off the cloves — they will still grow successfully. The tiny cloves get planted for garlic scallions (see below).

When to Plant Garlic

Both hardneck and softneck garlic do best when planted in the fall, though softneck garlic may also be planted in the very early spring if you have to (with reduced yields). If you miss the window for fall planting, ensure that your seed garlic gets 40 days at or below 40°F (4.5°C) in storage before spring planting, or the lack of vernalization will mean the bulbs will not differentiate (divide into separate cloves).

Plant when the soil temperature at 4″ (10 cm) deep is 50°F (10°C) at 9 am. If the fall is unusually warm, wait a week.  We plant in early-mid November. (We used to plant at the end of October or early November, but we’ve moved later.) In New Hampshire, mid-October is the time. The guideline for areas with cold winters is 2-3 weeks after the first frost but before the ground freezes solid for the winter. In Michigan, planting time is 6 weeks prior to the ground freezing, giving enough time for root growth only, to avoid freezing the leaves.Instructions from Texas A&M say less than 85°F (29°C) at 2″ (5 cm) deep. In California, garlic can be planted in January or February.

Closing the furrows over the garlic cloves.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Mulch your Garlic Beds

After planting, pull soil over the cloves, tamp or roll to get the cloves in good soil contact to help the roots grow. Within a couple of days, mulch the beds. At planting time, the soil is still warm, and the newly separated cloves are now primed to start growing. If you want to roll out mulch as we do (big round bales of spoiled hay), then you need to act before fragile garlic shoots emerge from the soil. If you are using loose mulch you can blow or throw it over the beds, and a few emerged shoots are no big deal.

Garlic Scallions

Garlic scallions are small garlic plants, mostly leaves, the garlic equivalent of onion scallions (bunching onions, spring onions, escallions). Great for omelets, stir-fries, pesto, soups, and many other dishes. If you want to have Garlic Scallions to eat or sell in early spring, when new fresh vegetables are in short supply, and homesteaders may be running out of stored bulb onions, see my post Alliums for March.

You could plant these next to your main garlic patch, or in a part of the garden that’s easily accessible for harvest in spring. We plant our small cloves for scallions at one edge of the garden, and as we harvest, we use the weed-free area revealed to sow the lettuce seedlings for that week.

Planting garlic scallions is simplicity itself! Plant small cloves close together in closely-spaced furrows, simply dropping the cloves in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. (If you’ve just finished a large planting of main-crop garlic, you’ll probably be too tired to fuss with them anyway!) Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw.

November-planted garlic scallions in February.
Photo Pam Dawling

With a last frost date of 20–30 April, we harvest garlic scallions March 10 to April 30 in central Virginia, or even into May, if our supply lasts out, and we don’t need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done!

Rather than dig up whole garlic scallion plants, some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply lift the whole plant once it reaches about 7″–8″ (18–20 cm). The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of three to six depending on size. A little goes a long way! If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto for sale later in the year.

Garlic scallions ready for harvest in early spring.
Photo Wren Vile

Cold-hardiness of Young Garlic Plants

  • At 12°F (−11°C): garlic tops that have grown fairly large will die
  • At 5°F (−15°C): garlic tops if still small will die.
  • When properly planted, cloves can withstand winter lows of –30°F (–35°C).
  • Garlic roots will grow whenever the ground isn’t frozen
  • Garlic tops will make growth whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C).

If the tops do get frozen back, do not despair! They will regrow. The growing point of alliums (garlic, onions and relatives) is close to the bulb, probably under mulch, certainly in or close to the soil, where temperatures are warmer. If your garlic gets frozen back twice, the yield will be less than if it had not got frozen, but we don’t control the weather. If your climate is getting colder in the garlic-planting season, plant deeper and/or earlier. But don’t plant earlier if climate change is giving you hotter fall weather!

Garlic shoots poking through the mulch in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Free Trapped Garlic Shoots

See last year’s Alliums for December for my post  Free trapped garlic shoots.

Watch your mulched garlic beds and when the shoots start to emerge, choose the moment to free any trapped shoots, by working along the rows, investigating each spot where you expect a garlic plant to be, but nothing has emerged. Your goal is simply to let the shoot see the daylight. Then it will right itself. Don’t reveal any bare soil, as that will grow weeds (and let colder winter air at the garlic.) Don’t over-work this – as soon as any part of a shoot is visible, leave that plant alone, and move on to the thousands of others. It isn’t necessary to make all the leaves visible, or to clear around the whole plant.

Choosing the right time is tricky. I used to say when half or more of the shoots are visible, but one year we were having a crop disaster, and we waited too long – we were never going to have half visible. Usually, most of them emerge at the same time. it would be helpful to note down how many weeks after planting this is likely to be. We somehow haven’t done that – I think it’s about 3 weeks. Leave a comment if you have an answer!

 

Hoophouse Squash Variety Trial, Garlic Recap, Flowers for Organic IPM

Golden Glory Squash in our hoophouse in mid-June.
Photo Pam Dawling

Hoophouse Squash Variety Trial

A month ago I wrote about our hoophouse squash variety trials for pollination issues and blossom end rot. I think our problem was mostly unpollinated squash, rather than blossom end rot. Go to last month’s post for valuable links to distinguish the two conditions.

We planted 15 Golden Glory zucchini (good at setting fruit without pollinators) along with 25 Gentry yellow squash (a favorite variety, except that we had pollination troubles with it in our hoophouse for several years). The trial is almost over, we’re about to pull those plants, and we have plenty of squash coming in from our outdoor plantings now. The first outdoor planting includes some Golden Glory too, so if I have more news I write about it when it happens.

Gentry yellow squash in our hoophouse in mid-June
photo Pam Dawling

As I said last time, I recorded the number of small rotting squash we removed. The Golden Glory produced far fewer rotten unpollinated fruit.

Date 15 Golden Glory plants: rotted fruit Golden Glory: rotted fruit per plant 25 Gentry plants:

rotted fruit

Gentry:

rotted fruit per plant

5/13 2 0.13 12 0.48
5/14 2 0.13 5 0.2
5/17 0 0 32 1.28
5/21 15 1 54 2.16
5/27 9 0.6 39 1.56
6/4 13 0.9 29 1.2
6/10 2 0.13 11 0.46
6/14 2 0.13 9 0.43
Average per plant   0.38   0.97

 But low numbers of rotted fruits is not the only goal! Yield is important too, and the healthiness of the plants (which relates to yield).

We noticed that the plants were starting to die, and we thought of bacterial wilt. But when I tried the test for that disease, the results were negative. The test is to cut through the plant stem, rub the cut ends together, then slowly separate them. If the plant has bacterial wilt, there will be bacterial slime in strings between the stem ends when you slowly draw them apart. We got nothing like that. More research needed!

We pulled the dying squash, put them in a black trash bag and set that in the sun to cook.

Diseased squash, mid-June.
Photo Pam Dawling

Here’s what we found:

Date 15 Golden Glory plants: Number of healthy plants Golden Glory: Percentage of plants healthy 25 Gentry plants:

Number of healthy plants

Gentry:

Percentage of plants healthy

6/4 15 100% 25 100%
6/10 15 100% 24 96%
6/14 15 100% 21 84%
6/18 10 67% 20 80%
6/24 6 40% 18 72%

Initially, the Gentry started to keel over, then suddenly the Golden Glorys weren’t so glorious!

As far as yield, we did not measure it much. We only have notes from one day, 6/10. We harvested 7 squash from 15 Golden Glory plants (47%) and 14 Gentry from 24 plants (60%). Different people harvested on different days, meaning sometimes they were picked bigger than on other days. My sense is that the Golden Glory were not as productive throughout their harvest period. They are beautiful, the plants are open, easier to harvest from, and we had fewer rotten squash, and initially fewer dying plants. Is this enough to recommend them for an early hoophouse crop in future years?

My inclination is to also try another variety that is rated well for setting fruit without pollinators (hence fewer tiny rotting squash) and try harder to also record yield as well as problems next year!

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Garlic Recap

Our garlic is at the “Trim and Sort” stage, but depending where you garden, yours may be at a completely different stage. See my blogposts from the previous year, when I posted my Alliums for the Month Series.

Trimming garlic stems.
Photo by Brittany Lewis

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For people in colder climates than Virginia, you may be just starting to harvest your garlic. Learn from Margaret Roach (who grows in Massachusetts) in A Way to Garden

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Here are a couple of allium resources that didn’t make it into the Alliums for the Month Series

Mulching alliums

The Nordells on mulching alliums

RAMPS

Barry Glick sells ramps

“The Cat Is Out Of The Bag”!!!
Sunshine Farm & Gardens
696 Glicks Road
Renick WV 24966 USA

Ramps plants.
Photo Sunshine Farm and Gardens

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Flowers for Organic IPM

This is my post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog

Organic Integrated Pest Management involves tackling pest problems one step at a time with ecologically-based practices, starting with reducing the chances of the pest ever getting a grip on your crops. Follow prevention with avoidance, and finish with pest-killing if needed. I recommend the ATTRA online publication Organic Integrated Pest Management. Each  page is a poster, complete with good photos and concise clear info.

In May we transplant flowers in our vegetable garden to attract pollinators and pest predators. We like a combination of sunflowers, dill, borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia (Mexican sunflowers), zinnias. See my earlier Mother Earth News post Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects

We sow sunflowers about every 10ft (3 m) in each of our bean beds. We are growing sesame surrounded by French marigolds in our hoophouse to deter nematodes, which we have in parts of our hoophouse soil. Sesame is apparently particularly good in deterring root knot nematodes, the type we have.

French marigolds and sesame to deter Root Knot nematodes in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling