Here’s an end-of-year pictorial post with photos from our hoophouse through the year. Few words! Enjoy your holidays. Maybe Santa will bring you a hoophouse?
Because crops grow slowly in cold weather, if something goes wrong at the beginning of the winter, or in the fall, the consequences can cast a long shadow. It is not easy to make up for lost time. In spring, the weather is getting warmer, the daylight is lengthening, and you may have noticed that later sowings can catch up with ones a week or two earlier, allowing for a second chance. In the fall, the rate of growth is moving in the opposite direction, and later sowings will stand no chance of catching up. Even worse, they may get “trapped” like Persephone in the Underworld during the dark Persephone Days. But don’t despair – there are things you can do ahead of time to be prepared for plans going awry, and there are even a few things you can do instead of your original plan, to ensure you get some crops to harvest.
Starting outdoors in September
We sow a lot of our winter crops outdoors in September, and transplant them into the hoophouse in October. This gives us an extra few weeks to prepare the hoophouse beds, and gives the seeds the cooler outdoor conditions to germinate in. We have three sowing dates.
On September 30, we resow anything that didn’t do well in the 9/24 sowing, or substitutes.
This year, we had poor germination of a lot of the 9/15 sowings and too many of the 9/24 sowings. As a back-up for the back-up plans we sowed some crops in Winstrip trays, and spotted lettuce in open flats, which we kept inside the hoophouse. By that point, conditions in the hoophouse were more crop-friendly than outdoors. We did need some of these, and the rest we harvested for salad mixes right out of the flats! We were short of salad items because of the late establishment of the plants, so every plant was a help!
Our goal is to keep the space filled with useful crops.
Success with this goal relies on a cluster of strategies
- The fall transplant program I describe above.
- Follow-on crops: A sequence of different crops occupying the same space over time. It’s important to know when crops will bolt, and how to plant sensible quantities
- Filler crops: As well as scheduled plantings, in October we sow a few short rows of spinach, lettuce, Senposai, Yukina Savoy, Maruba Santoh, Tokyo Bekana to transplant into gaps as soon as they occur. We simply dig them up, replant where needed and water well. Bare-root transplants are much easier than many fear. They save time and money, compared to growing starts in flats, and save on greenhouse space. They are very sturdy plants, as they have the full depth of soil to develop big roots. Little extra care is needed, as they are less prone to drying out than seedlings in flats. Alternatively you could keep some plug flats of these plants handy. We fill gaps with Asian greens, spinach or lettuces as appropriate, until Jan 25. From Jan 25 to Feb 20 we fill all gaps everywhere with spinach From Feb 20, we only fill gaps on the outer thirds of the beds, leaving centers free for tomatoes, etc.
- Interplanting: After 2/20, we harvest the winter crops from the center rows first, plant the new early summer crops down the center, then harvest the outer rows bit by bit as the new crop needs the space or the light. This overlap allows the new crops to take over gradually. Our winter and spring crops end in April
- Fast Catch Crops. Some cool-weather crops mature in 60 days or less. Mostly these are greens and fast-growing root crops. Useful if a crop fails, or you have a small empty space. Details on some of these follow the list.
- Ready in 30–35 days in fall, longer in winter: arugula, many Asian greens (Chinese Napa cabbage, Komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, pak choy,.Senposai, tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy), brassica salad mixes, chard, kale, radishes, salad greens (lettuce, endives, chicories) spinach and winter purslane. Peashoots in late winter or spring.
- Ready in 35–45 days in fall: chervil, corn salad, land cress, parsley and sorrel.
- Ready in 60 days in fall: beets, small fast cabbage, collards, kohlrabi and turnips.
Asian greens are better able to germinate in hot weather than lettuce, and are faster growing than lettuce. Transplant 2-3 weeks after fall sowing, or direct sow.
Asian greens are nutritious as well as tasty – flavors vary from mild to peppery – read the catalog descriptions before growing lots. Colors cover the spectrum: chartreuse, bright green, dark green and purple. A diversity of crops without a diversity of growing methods!
Brassica (Mustard) Salad Mixes
Interesting mustard mixes are sold for salad mixes. We often mix our own Brassica Salad Mix from leftover random brassica seeds. For a single cut, almost all brassicas are suitable – just avoid turnips and radishes with prickly leaves! We sow between 10/2 and 11/14 for winter harvest and from 12/4 to 2/12 for March and early April harvests. We’re zone 7, central Virginia.
Chard and Beet Greens
Green chard is hardier than the multi-colored Bright Lights. Days to maturity: 61 – 103 days, a big difference, depending when you sow. Sow 9/15, harvest 11/15 – 5/10; Sow 10/26, harvest 2/6 – 5/10.
Varieties we like: Easter Egg, White Icicle, and Cherry Belle. Sparkler got too fibrous for us, as did Cherry Belle after mid Oct. We make 6 sowings 9/6 – 1/26. Small radishes take 27–52 days to maturity, not counting days too cold to grow.
We sow 9/6 for harvest 12/1 – 3/1; 11/18 (following radishes) for harvest in early spring. This winter we are trying a sowing 10/20 also (we happened to have a space at that time, in a spot where it fitted our rotation). Evergreen Hardy White and White Lisbon scallions are hardy down to 0°F (-18°C)
We loved Tyee and now grow Escalade, Reflect, Acadia and smooth leaf Renegade. Renegade makes good Nov/Dec growth; Acadia, Escalade yield well Jan – April; January sown Reflect does well.
- Succession Planting for Winter Hoophouse Crops
We do 2 sowings of chard, scallions, tatsoi and yukina savoy; 3 sowings of mizuna, turnips and bulb onions; 4 sowings of baby lettuce mix and brassica salad mix; 5 sowings of spinach and radish. Our goal is to provide a continuous supply.
As temperatures and day-length decrease in the fall, the time to maturity lengthens – a day late in sowing can lead to a week’s delay in harvesting. As temperatures and day-length increase after the Winter Solstice, the time to maturity shortens – later sowings can almost catch up with earlier ones. To get harvests starting an equal number of days apart, vary the interval between one sowing date and the next accordingly. Here’s the most dependable method:
Making a Close-Fit Plan Using Graphs
- Gather sowing and harvest start and finish dates for each planting of each crop you are growing as successions.
- Make a graph for each crop: sowing date along the horizontal (x) axis; harvest start date along the vertical (y) axis. Mark in all your data. Join with a line. Smooth the line.
- From your first possible sowing date find the first harvest start date.
- Decide the last worthwhile harvest start date, mark that.
- Divide the harvest period into a whole number of equal segments, according to how often you want a new patch.
- Mark in the harvest start dates and see the sowing dates that match those harvest dates
Working around the Persephone Days
In Indiana (in Zone 5b) Ben Hartman (The Lean Farm) sows salad greens & spinach for winter harvests every week Sept 15–Oct 15. Baby lettuce sown before Oct 22 takes 5–6 weeks until harvest. If sown Oct 24–Nov 16, it takes 8–17 weeks to harvest. In Zone 5b, if you want baby lettuce mix before December, sow before Oct 22.
Spinach sown before Oct 11 takes 4–6 weeks to harvest. If sown from Oct 20–Nov 1, it takes 12–15 weeks. To harvest spinach before December, he sows before the middle of October.
For new year harvests he sows every week Oct 15–Nov 1. He then takes a two month break from planting (Nov-Dec). Jan 1–Jan 15 he sows both salad greens and spinach for late winter.
In Zone 7 we can harvest outdoor lettuce and spinach in December, and we have less urgency about early hoophouse sowings (and we get no winter break!).
After the set-backs with our winter hoophouse greens transplants that I wrote about last week, we worked really hard and got the whole house planted up. Most of the transplants have recovered from their transplant shock (wilting each day), during the cloudy weather we had.
The new seedlings are coming up fast and calling on us to thin them. We ended up not needing so many of the Plan D plug flat plants, but we’ve kept them for now “in case” .
Ultimately if we don’t need them, they’ll go in a salad mix. I wrote about making salad mix last year. The past two days I have been able to harvest a mix in the hoophouse. The ingredient we are shortest of is lettuce. My first mix was spinach, Bulls Blood beet leaves, a few leaves of Tokyo Bekana, Bright Lights chard, Scarlet Frills, Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills, and a handful of lettuce leaves. Red Tinged Winter is growing fastest, of all the varieties we planted this year.
The mix I made today had fewer ingredients. I left the frilly mustards, the lettuces and the Tokyo bekana alone to grow some more. I used Bulls Blood beets, spinach, tatsoi outer leaves and a few Bright Lights chard leaves and stems.
I have a new Mother Earth News blogpost, about the nematodes in our hoophouse. And I’m preparing a new slide show for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference. See my Events page for details
For those of you on other social media, here are their handles and links (use the hashtag #CFSAC2018).
In April, sadly, our last mizuna and ferny mustards will come to an end. In our hoophouse we do three plantings of these frilly leaved greens, which we use for salads all winter and early spring.
Mizuna (also known as kyona and shui cai) is a Brassica rapa var. japonica, meaning it’s in the turnip family. The other frilly mustards, such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills, Red Rain are Chinese Mustards, B. juncea. We tend to treat them as if they are all types of mizuna. True mizuna is available in green or purple (but Ruby Streaks and Scarlet Frills mustards are much better colors than Purple Mizuna.)
All are very easy to grow, can be transplanted or direct-sown, and tolerate cold wet soil. They are ready to be harvested for baby salads only 21 days after sowing in the fall (longer in winter). They grow to maturity in 40 days. They are easy-going vegetables, fairly heat tolerant (well, warm tolerant) and cold-tolerant to 25°F (-4°C). All regrow vigorously after cutting. The ferny leaves add color and loft in salad mixes, as well as an attractive leaf shape.
Mizuna is very mild-flavored. The ferny mustards vary in pungency, but most only become markedly spicy when they start bolting.
Like all Asian greens, they need similar care to other brassicas, doing best in very fertile soils. They are shallow-rooted – pay extra attention to providing enough water during hot weather to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency, especially with the B. juncea ones. Provide 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week, 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather.
Do close monitoring of pests, which can build up large populations during the summer. Growing these over the winter, as we do, we have not had many pest problems. Flea beetles sometimes, once the weather starts to warm.
Our mizuna schedule
On September 24 we sow these little crops in our outdoor nursery seedbed, which is covered with insect netting on hoops. We sow 7.5′, with roughly equal amounts of Green Mizuna, Golden Frills, and Ruby Streaks or Scarlet Frills. Red Rain is another we like. We are aiming for about 75 transplants on October 20. We transplant them 8″ apart with 6 rows in a 4′ bed. This takes 8′ length of a bed. This first planting will feed us from November 27 to January 25, with light harvests possible from November 5, and flowers and sprouting shoots as late as February 10.
Our second planting is direct sown in the hoophouse on November 9. We sow 6 rows about 6′ long (depending on available space). We thin these into salad mixes several times as they grow, increasing the spacing until they are about 6-10″ apart. After that we harvest by cutting off the larger leaves, sometimes individually, sometimes by “buzz-cutting” (snipping off leaves on one half of the plant an inch (25 mm) above the ground). Leaving half of the leaves growing seems to help the new leaves grow faster. Next time we harvest, we cut the other side. This planting provides harvests from February 26 to March 24 – just one month, although we get the thinnings from January 20, and the flowers and bolting shoots until mid-April.
A couple of years ago we added in a third planting, because we had some open space in the hoophouse. It follows the first Yukina Savoy. I wrote about some differences between the OP Yukina Savoy and the hybrid Koji. Perhaps Koji is less bolt-resistant than the OP. Late January brings it to an end.
We sow this third planting on February 1 and harvest it for a month from March 24 to April 23. This year this third planting is bolting April 15. (We have had a lot of temperature reversals this spring, which encourage bolting in brassicas.) Scarlet Frills and Golden Frills bolt later than Ruby Streaks and Green Mizuna. The timing of harvest fits perfectly with the second planting. We have sown it as late as March 3 and harvested April 10-April 30 (only 3 weeks when we sow that late).
Kitazawa Seeds sell 18 baby leaf mustards, including four red, purple or streaked mizunas. The other 14 are B. juncea, although a few don’t say. Most are frilly or ferny, a few merely wavy. Something for everyone.
Johnnys lists their selection under “Greens” along with arugula, large Asian greens, mixes. I counted about 15 mustards that fit the loose category I’m talking about here.
Fedco lists theirs under “Asian greens”. Scroll down past Mizuna to Mustards to find several interesting gene pool offerings such as Pink Lettucy Mustard (Variations of greens with pink or purple pigments in midribs) for those seeking milder flavors; and the medium hot Purple Rapa Mix Gene Pool (sold out as I write this): Very vigorous tall serrated green leaves with purple veins and shading.
This is my twelfth and last Asian Greens of the Month series. You can see the others here:
June Tokyo Bekana
July Maruba Santoh
September Komatsuna outdoors
October Yukina Savoy outdoors, Tatsoi
November Daikon and other winter radish
December Pak Choy
January Chinese cabbage
Next month I’ll start another year-long series Allium of the Month
I wrote about outdoor Yukina Savoy going into the winter, in my October post. Re-read that to get details of days to maturity, cold-tolerance (10F/-12C outdoors) and the differences between the open-pollinated Yukina Savoy and hybrids such as Koji. Five months after that posting we are harvesting the last of the over-wintered Yukina Savoy in the hoophouse. For us, this is a cooking green, not a salad crop. It’s delicious and easy to cook. A little robust for salads, for most people.
In March we are starting our hoophouse crop transition to early summer crops (tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers) and meanwhile we are enjoying harvests of arugula, brassica salad mix, Bulls Blood beet greens, chard for salad and cooking greens, Russian kales, leaf lettuce, lettuce heads, baby lettuce mix, mizuna and frilly mustards, radishes, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips and greens and yukina savoy.
We do two hoophouse plantings of Yukina Savoy: the first transplanted from outdoors on October 6, feeds us from December 5 to January 31. The second, transplanted from outdoors on October 24, feeds us from January 8 to early March, sometimes to mid-March. This spring several crops are bolting earlier than hoped-for! We have had some back-and-forth temperatures, which can trigger bolting. Among brassicas, Yukina Savoy is relatively heat-tolerant. This is part of why we do the second planting – it helps us extend the brassica season until we can harvest more outdoor kale.
We transplant Yukina Savoy at 12″ (30 cm) apart in the row, with 4 rows to a 4′ (1.2 m) bed. For a hundred people with lots of other vegetables available, we plant 60 in the first planting and 40 in the second. There are too many other crops competing for space in late October for us to plant more than 40.
Initially we harvest this crop by the leaf, until we see the stems start to elongate prior to bolting, when we cut the whole plant. (It is a loose head type of crop, so don’t wait for a firm head to form!) Actually we pull first, then cut off the head, then bang two roots together to shed the soil, and put the pulled root stumps on the bed to dry out and die. This is easier than cutting first and pulling later. If they do bolt before we get round to pulling them, I have added the pretty yellow flowers to the salad mix. Like all other brassica flowers, these are edible.
Kitazawa Seeds tells us that Yukina Savoy is a Brassica rapa Pekinensis group, for those with a love of brassica botany and those saving seeds. Also those, like us, looking for nematode-resistant vegetables. Brassica juncea are the most resistant brassicas. Kitazawa classifies it as a loose head type of Chinese cabbage.
Tatsoi is a very cold-hardy green (down to 10°F, –12°C), one of the ones we grow in our hoophouse to feed us after the winter solstice, when the crops have started to be fewer in number and each is less abundant in production rate. We have also grown this one outdoors in the fall for early winter eating, but no longer do this as the rate of growth inside the hoophouse is much better. In the fall tatsoi will not bolt, but in late winter/early spring it will.
I have been writing about a particular Asian green once a month since last May. To find the other articles, click the category “Asian Greens”.
Like Asian greens in general, tatsoi is a great crop for filling out winter CSA bags or market booths, and ultimately, dinner tables. Because the Asian greens are so varied in color, texture, shape and spiciness, you can add a lot of diversity to your crops by growing a selection that is easy to grow and can all be treated the same way. They are as easy to grow as kale. They germinate at a wide range of temperatures and make fast growth (much faster than lettuce in cold weather!)
Botanically, tatsoi is Brassica rapa var. narinosa, cousin of other turnip family greens such as Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana, pak choy, mizuna and komatsuna. It is a more distant cousin of the Brassica oleracea greens such as Vates kale, Chinese kale and kai-lan, and of crops in the Chinese Mustard family, Brassica juncea (the frilly mustards like Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills).
Tatsoi is a relatively small plant with shiny, dark green spoon-shaped leaves and green-white stems. If given plenty of space it grows as a flat rosette, but if crowded it takes on a flowerpot shape. For sale, the whole plants are cut and the leaves banded together, so crowding them does not at all make them less marketable. It has a pleasant mild flavor.
We direct sow and then thin into salad mixes, leaving some to mature at 10″ (25 cm) across for cooking greens. You can also transplant at 3-4 weeks of age in the fall, at 6″ (15 cm) apart. Although we transplant most of our brassicas, to allow the beds more time without this crop family (which we grow lots of), we direct sow this one, which will have many plants in a small space.
Tatsoi has similar care requirements to other brassicas. Very fertile soils grow the best Asian greens, so turn in leguminous cover crops or compost to provide adequate nutrition. Asian greens are shallow rooted – Pay extra attention to providing enough water to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency. Expect to provide 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week in cooler weather, 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather.
Do close monitoring for pests, which can build up large populations during late summer. We do nothing special for our tatsoi, but if you have a lot of brassica flea beetles or uncontrolled caterpillars, cover the sowings or new transplants with insect netting such as ProtekNet.
If you are growing tatsoi outdoors in late fall, you could use rowcover to keep your plants alive longer into the winter.
For our hoophouse, we make a first sowing of tatsoi in the very first bed we prepare for winter crops, on 9/6. We make a second sowing in mid-November. The first sowing will feed us for two months, November and December. The second sowing will feed us for a much shorter period of time: the second half of February, first week of March. It would bolt if we tried to keep it any longer.
It is entirely possible to make sowings between 9/6 and 11/15, and get harvests that last longer than our 11/15 sowing. The only reason we don’t is that we have so many other crops we love.
Kitazawa Seeds have a Red Violet tatsoi/pak choy hybrid, with an upright habit. They classify tatsoi as a type of pak choy/bok choy/pak choi, so if you are perusing their interesting site, this is how to find tatsoi.
Tatsoi takes 21 days to be big enough for baby salads; 45 days for cooking size.
To harvest, initially we thin the rows to 1″ (2.5 cm), using baby plants in salad mix. Our first sowing provides thinnings from 10/8, one month after sowing. Next we thin to 3″ (7.5 cm), using these also for salad. Our next thinning, to 6″ (15 cm) gives us small plants for cooking. After this, we harvest individual leaves for salad or cooking. The second sowing provides thinnings 12/27-1/21 approximately.
Once we get close to the time the plants would bolt, we pull up whole plants and use them for cooking. We pull the most crowded plants first, giving the others time to grow bigger – they can grow as big as 12″ (30 cm) across. Overcrowding can lead to early bolting.
Overview of Winter Hoophouse Greens
In the big scheme of things, we harvest Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh for heads in December, along with our first tatsoi; our first Yukina Savoy, our Chinese cabbage and Pak Choy in January, our second tatsoi and Yukina Savoy in February and early March.
Non-heading leafy greens such as Senposai, spinach and chard feed us all winter until mid-March when we need the hoophouse space for spring crops. (Read more about Yukina Savoy here in March.)
We clear our first tatsoi by 1/14, and use the space to sow our fifth spinach on 1/15. This planting of spinach is to be used as bare root transplants outdoors in March. Our second tatsoi is cleared 3/12 to prepare the space for early summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and cucumbers.
Sorry for the delay this week – technical problems.
If you have Chinese cabbage in your hoophouse, January is the month to harvest it in zone 7. We do not harvest leaves from this crop, but wait for it to form full-size heads and then harvest those mature plants. We sometimes start harvesting as early as December 4, if the plants have reached full size and we “need” to harvest them. Otherwise we wait till December 15. If we have planted enough we can harvest until January 23, or sometimes as late as February 9.
Chinese cabbage has very tender, light green savoyed leaves and is excellent for stir-fries, or pickling (sauerkraut or kimchee).
Chinese cabbage (both the Napa kind and the Michihli or Michihili kind) are Wong Bok types (Brassica rapa var. pekinensis) along with the “celery cabbages” – the non-heading Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh.
We like Blues, an open-pollinated “barrel-shaped” Napa cabbage, shown in the photo above. Kasumi has the best bolt tolerance and is larger: 5 lb (2.3 kg) compared to 4 lb (1.8 kg); Orange Queen is a colorful but slower-growing variety (80 days in spring).
The Michihili types are taller and narrower, can be transplanted closer (8″) and might make more sense in terms of space use, although Napa cabbages do store better under refrigeration than michihli types. Jade Pagoda and the O-P Michihli both take 72 days from sowing to harvest in spring – considerably slower than Napa types. Michihili are more stress tolerant and resistant to bolting and black speck than Napa cabbage.
Blues takes 52 days from sowing to harvest in spring, but of course, takes longer in fall and winter. We sow September 15 in an outdoor nursery seedbed, and transplant into our hoophouse at 2-3 weeks old (October 2). It is very fast-growing in those temperatures and conditions. If we start harvesting December 15, it’s 3 calendar months from sowing, 91 days. The minimum germination soil temperature for Chinese cabbage is 50F (10C), and the ideal soil temperatures are 68F (20C) to 86F (30C). Under the ideal conditions the seedlings will emerge in 4 days. The maximum soil temperature to get any germination is 95F (35C).
We plant 52 plants for 100 people, with 4 staggered rows in the 4ft bed, 10.5″ apart (every 7th tine on Johnny’s row marker rake) and plants 10″ apart. With a harvest period of 5-8 weeks, 6-10 heads per week is about right for us.
We have not had many disease or pest problems with our hoophouse Chines cabbage. We do pay attention to using insect netting over the outdoor seedbed in the fall, but once we transplant indoors, our pest troubles are usually over. Vegetable weevil larvae have caused trouble in January. They come out of the soil at night and make holes in the leaves. They tend to prefer pak choy and turnips. We have used Spinosad against them with some success.
Tipburn (brown leaf margins, including internal leaves) is caused by quick drying of the soil, when the weather makes a sudden switch to bright and sunny from overcast. Be ready to irrigate when the weather suddenly brightens.
The winter-kill temperature of Chinese cabbage outdoors without protection is 25F (-4C). Our hoophouse crop has taken outdoor temps of 8F without inner rowcovers, and -8F with added thick rowcover. It is more cold-hardy than most varieties of pak choy, and less cold-hardy than Komatsuna, Senposai, tatsoi, Yukina savoy. Mizuna, Maruba Santoh and Tokyo Bekana have a similar level of cold-tolerance.
Once past the winter solstice, the order of bolting of Asian greens is something like: Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh, pak choy, Chinese cabbage, tatsoi, Komatsuna, Senposai, mizuna, Yukina Savoy, leaf radish, frilly mustards.
When it’s time to harvest, we lever and pull the plant out of the soil, then cut off the root. This helps with the next task of replanting the space. It is much easier than cutting the plants at the base and then digging up the root.
After the Chinese cabbage are all cleared, we might follow with kale or collards on January 24 to transplant outdoors as bare root transplants in March. If we have no plans for a follow-on crop that early in the year, we fill gaps in the Chinese cabbage plot until January 25, using “filler” Asian greens we sowed in October. After that date we fill all gaps with spinach transplants until February 20, and from then on we only fill gaps on the edges of beds, leaving the bed centers free for tomatoes, etc in mid-March.
- Grow Your Own Chinese Vegetables, Geri Harrington, 1984, Garden Way Publishing. Includes the names for these crops in different cultures.
- Growing Unusual Vegetables, Simon Hickmott, 2006, Eco-Logic books, UK.
- Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for the Garden and Kitchen, Joy Larkham, revised edition 2008, Kodansha, USA
- The Chinese Kitchen Garden: Growing Techniques and Family Recipes from a Classic Cuisine, Wendy Kiang-Spray
- Kitazawa Seeds and Evergreen Seeds have the most choices.
- Evergreen has a helpful clickable list.
- Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s have a good range.
- Wild Garden Seed has many interesting home-bred varieties. Search under Mustard.
- Even’ Star Farm Ice-bred Seeds
- ATTRA Cole Crops and Other Brassicas: Organic Production
‘Tis the season – after the relaxation of the holidays – time for garden planning. Inventory your seeds left from last year, peruse the catalogs and prepare your seed orders. The earlier you get them in, the more likely you are to get the varieties you want, before anything is sold out.
I notice that readers of my blog have been looking up the Twin Oaks Garden Calendar, also known as The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month. You can search the category Garden Task List for the Month, or you can click on the linked name of the month you want. At the end you can click on “Bookmark the Permalink” if you might want to refer to this in future. Remember, we’re in central Virginia, winter-hardiness zone 7a. Adjust for your own climate.
Meanwhile, despite the turn to cold weather, we are not huddled indoors all the time. Each day, one or two of us sally forth to harvest enough vegetables to feed the hundred people here at Twin Oaks Community. Outdoors, in the raised bed area, we have winter leeks, Vates kale, spinach and senposai. We could have had collards but we lost the seeds during the sowing period, so we have lots of senposai instead. Senposai leaves (the core of the plant may survive 10F), are hardy down to about 12F. I noticed some got a bit droopy when we had a night at 15F. Collards are hardier – Morris Heading (the variety we grow) can survive at least one night at 10F.
In the hoophouse, we have many crops to choose from: lettuce, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, Yukina Savoy, Tokyo Bekana, turnips and turnip greens, scallions, mizuna, chard, Bull’s Blood beet greens.
Pak Choy and Chinese cabbage heads are filling out, ready for harvest in January.
Tokyo Bekana, a non-heading Asian green, has large tender leaves, which we are adding to salad mixes. It can be used as a cooking green, but only needs very light cooking. It will bolt soon, so we are harvesting that vigorously, not trying to save it for later.
The kale and senposai in the hoophouse are being saved for when their outdoor counterparts are inaccessible due to bad weather. The spinach is added to salad mixes, or harvested for cooking when outdoors is too unpleasant, or growth slows down too much.
Another kind of planning I’m doing right now is scheduling my speaking events for the coming year and practicing my presentations. Last week I updated my Events page, and this week I’m adding a new event: The September 21-22 Heritage Harvest Festival.
I might pick up a couple of events in late April and early June, but that’s just speculation at this point.
Right now I need to practice for the CASA Future Harvest Conference January 11-13. Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and a 10-minute “Lightning Session” on using graphs to plan succession plantings for continuous harvest. Click the link or my Events page for more on this.
December and the first three weeks of January are the season we harvest mature pak choy heads in our hoophouse. Pak choy, also known as bok choi, pac choy, and similar names, is a large 12″-15″ (30–38 cm) tall heading green, usually cut as a full head. If you prefer, you can harvest a leaf or two from each plant each time you want to eat some. It is hardy at least down to 32F (0C) outdoors. Some varieties are hardy down to 25F (-4C).
Botanically, pak choy is a Brassica rapa var. chinensis. If you plan to grow seed of more than one Asian green, carefully choose ones that won’t cross. Be aware of the possibility of brassica crops being wrongly classified.
Pak Choy generally has thick rounded white stems, dark glossy leaves and a mild flavor. There are varieties with green stems, some with red-purple leaves such as Red Choi from Kitazawa, and some miniature varieties, such as Mei Qing Choi from Kitazawa, but we grow the full-sized white and green kinds, such as Joi Choi from Johnny’s and Prize Choy from Fedco. For the most choice, go to Kitazawa Seeds, as they stock 23 varieties (although 4 are tatois).
Like all Asian greens, pak choy is nutritious as well as tasty. It’s high in carotenoids, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, magnesium and fiber. It contains antioxidants which fight against cancer and protect eyes from macular degeneration.
We sow for this planting in an outdoor nursery seedbed on September 15, and cover the outdoor seedbeds with insect netting. The ideal germination temperature range for Pak Choy is 45-70F, it’s very easy-going. Ideal temperatures for growth are 60-70F. Hoophouses are perfect. The plants grow fast and we only get a few weeds to deal with.Asian greens have similar care requirements to other brassicas, and very fertile soils grow the best Asian greens.
We transplant as bare root transplants into the hoophouse just 3 weeks after sowing, around Oct 3. We plant 10″ apart, with 4 rows in a 4ft wide bed. We reckon on 52 pak choy plants for 100 people. Because the harvest period is short, it is not wise to grow too many.
Pak choy is shallow rooted, so pay extra attention to providing enough water during hot weather , 1” (2.5 cm) of water per week; 2” (5 cm) during very hot weather. This will prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency.
Do closely monitor for pests, which can cause havoc. We have had trouble in the hoophouse from the vegetable weevil larva. Click the link for information and great photos from Debbie Roos at Growing Small Farms. Other possible pests include flea beetles, aphids, harlequin bugs, cabbage caterpillars, grasshoppers and slugs.
Only about 8 weeks after transplanting, pak choy is ready to harvest. Because we want to keep all our hoophouse space in full use, we pull the plant out, then cut off the root. This is easier than cutting the head off at ground level, then trying to pry out the root.
That same day we fill the gaps with some younger transplants (sown 10/10 in the hoophouse), that we have in reserve. We call these “filler greens.” We stop filling gaps with Asian greens (and lettuces) on Jan 25, and follow the pak choy with a sowing of kale to be transplanted outdoors in early March.
There’s a good publication from Iowa State Extension on Commercial Production of Pak Choi. As an organic grower, I don’t use the herbicides and pesticides they mention, but the publication is good on identifying pests and diseases as well as covering the basic growing needs.
See ATTRA’s Cole Crops and Other Brassicas: Organic Production for more information than I can cover here.
In areas with cool or mild springs, pak choy can be a spring green, but that doesn’t work with our short springs – they just bolt rather than size up. Growing outdoors for fall harvest and in the hoophouse for winter use works best here in central Virginia.
I realize this post in my Asian greens series is not exactly a leafy green, but hey, you do what you can. November is the time we harvest winter radishes and wash and sort them. We store the good condition ones in perforated plastic bags in a refrigerator. They store really well this way for several months.
For our other root vegetables we have this bucket lid to help new workers determine what is too small to store. Skinny roots shrivel in storage, so it’s best to eat those up soon after harvest. Winter storage radish doesn’t have its own hole. Deciding what size to store at will depend which variety you are growing. The different varieties can be quite different shapes and sizes.
We like the red-skinned China Rose, which is a round root, which could grow as big as 4″ in diameter. We prefer them at 2-3″ diameter. I’d use the “Turnips” hole or the “Beets” hole in our lid.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has this to say about Winter Storage Radishes:
Sow 5-10 weeks before first fall frost. Thin to wider spacing (4-6 in. apart) than regular radishes. Harvest before temperatures drop below 20 degrees F. Trimmed roots can store 2-3 months in the refrigerator or root cellar. These radishes are daylength-sensitive and should not be sown in spring.
Misato Rose is very beautiful. It has an unexciting green and white skin, but inside, a burst of rose and white flesh. Wonderful when sliced or grated for salads. The round roots can grow up to 5″, although I recommend growing them closer and harvesting more of them, in the 3″-4″ range. According to SESE, this is a very forgiving crop – unlike many radishes, this variety will still bulb properly even if over-crowded or thinned late.
Daikon (pronounced “dye-con”) is the Japanese word for radish. They are usually harvested when 12″ long and 2″-3″ in diameter, though they will grow much larger! Juicy and flavorful, they can be used fresh in salads (grated or thinly sliced), cooked in vegetable dishes (as you would cook turnips), pickled (as in kim chee) or grated with ginger and covered with soy sauce for a dip. They add a wonderful freshness and crunch to winter meals. The cylindrical white roots of Miyashige daikon are pale green near the crown and grow 16-18″ long by 2.5″-3″ across.
Daikons are brittle – they can easily break during harvest. Fork deeply and lift roots carefully. Those that do snap in half can heal over and store just fine.
As well as the true arm-length daikon, there are short stubby “half-long” Korean varieties, for the timid grower.
There is one winter radish I’m not a fan of – the Black Spanish radish. This attractive, round white radish with a matt-black skin has had a tendency to become fibrous, when I’ve grown it. If you’ve had success, do leave a comment, telling about your climate and growing method.
Winter storage radishes are for July and early August sowing, as they are relatively slow growing. We sow August 4 in central Virginia. Don’t try sowing in spring, they will bolt.
One that can be grown year-round is slow-bolting Shunkyo Semi-Long. This 4″-5″ long, smooth, attractive cylindrical radish has deep pink roots and crisp white flesh. The flavor is a combination of spicy and sweet. The edible leaves are smooth with attractive rhubarb-pink stems.
In November we clear crops from the outdoor garden in this order, and in anticipation of these night temperatures:
25°F:broccoli, fennel, scallions, Chinese Cabbage
20°F: turnips, cauliflower, celeriac, winter radish,
15°F: beets, rowcovered lettuce (the last), kohlrabi, komatsuna, rpwcovered celery,
12°F: fall varieties of leeks, senposai, carrots, cabbage,
10°F: Yukina Savoy, Deadon cabbage, tatsoi, rowcovered scallions.
From December our “Asian greens of the month” will be harvested from the hoophouse.