Cuban Agroecology Tour: Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso, Viñales
Here’s another post from my January 2020 group agroecology trip with Organic Growers’ School to Cuba. I’m posting about this sporadically as I organize my photos and journal.
Day 5 – Saturday January 11 lunch and afternoon
After visiting La Palma, a farm in Pinar del Rio province primarily growing tobacco, and Manolo Tobacco Farm to see cigars made, we went to a farm restaurant called La Finca Agroecologica el Paraiso. Wilfredo is the main farmer and his daughters are the main chefs.
The farm has 8.9 hectares, with 200 vegetable beds and 80% of the produce is sold through their restaurant, and 20% to hospitals etc (I think that is a legal requirement in Cuba). The restaurant is at the top of the hill, affording beautiful views of the farm.
We had an exceptionally delicious lunch starting with an anti-stress herbal cocktail. Following that we had squash soup, sweet potatoes, taro, squash, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, pickled beans, pickled cucumbers, pork, beef, fish, rice and beans. The most vegetables I ate all week! (Food for tourists tend to be meat focused, although the places we visited could cater for vegetarians and vegans.) We enjoyed flan for dessert.
After lunch we were given a guided tour of Finca Agroecológica El Paraiso. The boxed beds were very tidy, and they are all hand watered with water pumped from the river.
Creole spinach – see photo above. I do not know the Latin name for this vegetable, and in my research of hot weather cooking greens, particularly alternatives to spinach, I had not come across this crop before. Leave a comment if you know what it is.
Their “summer lettuce” is Tokyo bekana or maruba santoh. This use of the fast-growing chartreuse tender-leaved Asian green for a salad leaf was one I saw several times in Cuba. I thought I’d invented it! Haha! One summer when our lettuce did not grow according to plan, we served some Tokyo bekana as lettuce, and many people did not notice a difference! (Enough salad dressing will mask any vegetable flavor!) Some farms and restaurants simply call it “lettuce” or “summer lettuce”, some say it is a kind of pak choy, and a few can provide the actual name.
The farm grows aromatic herbs to deter bugs. They use tobacco stem solution to kill pests. Nicotine is a strong generalist poison, which used to be part of the toolkit of organic growers here in the US and in the UK. It has the advantage of being short-lived, so produce can be eaten the day after spraying.
See this video from Franny’s Farmacy. Made by two of my fellow travelers on the OGS Tour.
Maybe part of your response to Covid-19 is to grow more of your own food, and you are wondering what can bring fastest results. Or maybe you just want to leap into spring and have early harvests. Either way, here is information on some vegetable crops that offer fast returns; ways to get crops to grow faster; ways to get more crops from a small space and some sources for more information.
Ready in 30–35 days from sowing are baby kale, mustard greens, collards, radishes, spinach, chard, salad greens (lettuce, endives, chicories) arugula, and winter purslane. Beet greens from thinnings can be cooked and eaten like spinach.
Many Asian greens are ready in 40 days or less: Chinese Napa cabbage, Komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, pak choy, Senposai, tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy). See my Asian Greens of the Month category of posts. There’s a huge range of attractive varieties, they’re better able to germinate in hot weather than lettuce, and faster growing than lettuce. Most reach baby salad size in 21 days, full size in 40 days. Transplant 4-5 weeks after spring sowing, or direct sow. Nutritious as well as tasty. Flavors vary from mild to peppery; colors cover the spectrum: chartreuse, bright green, dark green and purple. A diversity of crops without a diversity of growing methods! Grow when you normally grow kale. Be aware that Asian greens sown in spring will bolt as soon as the weather heats up, so be ready to harvest a lot at once (if you planted a lot, that is!) You can make Kim Chee.
One summer we sowed Tokyo Bekana as a lettuce substitute. 20 days to baby size, 45 days to a (large) full size. We have also grown this at other times of year, when faced with an empty space we hadn’t planned for.
Mizuna and other frilly mustards are very easy to grow, and tolerate cold wet soil to 25°F (-4°C). In addition, they are fairly heat tolerant (well, warm tolerant). Use for baby salads after only 21 days or thin to 8″–12″ (20–30 cm) apart, to grow to maturity in 40 days. Mild flavored ferny leaves add loft in salad mixes and regrow vigorously after cutting.
Also ready in 30–35 days are spinach, chard, salad greens (lettuce, endives, chicories) and winter purslane.
Ready in 35–45 days are baby carrots (thinnings or the whole row), turnip greens (more thinnings!) endive, corn salad, land cress, sorrel, parsley and chervil. Some of the faster smaller turnip roots can also be ready in 45 days or less.
Ready in 60 days are beets, dwarf snap peas, broccoli, collards, kohlrabi, turnips and small fast cabbages (Farao or Early Jersey Wakefield).
Also ready in 50-60 days once we are past frosts: zucchini, yellow squash, bush beans, small cucumbers can grow fast.
Garlic scallions can be grown over-winter, but will grow quickly in spring. Plant scrappy little garlic cloves you don’t want to cook with in close furrows and wait till the leaves are 7” (18 cm) tall before digging up the plant and preparing like onion scallions (spring onions). Can be eaten raw, but more often cooked. You can also plant whole bulbs without separating the cloves. This is a good use for extra bulbs that are already sprouting in storage.
See other blog posts in my Cooking Greens for the Month series, and Asian Greens for the Month, as well as Lettuce of the Month
Try Eat-All Greens, an idea form Carol Deppe. Patches of carefully chosen cooking greens are sown in a small patch. When it reaches 12″ tall, Carol cuts the top 9″ (23 cm) off for cooking, leaving the tough-stemmed lower part, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil.
Spinach is good for salad or cooking uses. Be aware that the fastest biggest spinach may not last long once it warms up! We have found Acadia and Reflect have good bolt-resistance from outdoor spring sowings.
Grow the right lettuce variety for the conditions. Ones that do well in early spring are often useless here after the end of March, or even mid-February. I like to sow 4 varieties each time (for the attractive harvests, and to reduce the risks if one variety bolts or suffers disease): at least one red and one romaine. We have 5 lettuce seasons, with different varieties:
Early Spring (Jan – Mar), 6 sowings
Spring (April – May 15), 5 sowings
Summer (May 15 – Aug 15), 17 sowings (lots of seed!)
Fall (Aug 15 – Sept 7), 9 sowings
Winter Sept 8 – 27, 9 sowings
Baby lettuce mix can be ready in as little as 21 days from mid-spring to mid-fall. A direct-sown cut-and-come-again crop, the plants regrow and can be harvested more than once in cool seasons. Weed and thin to 1″ (2.5 cm). When 3″–4″ (7.5–10 cm) tall, cut 1” (2.5 cm) above the soil. Gather a small handful in one hand and cut with using large scissors. Immediately after harvesting, weed the just-cut area so the next cut won’t include weeds
Leaf lettuce can be harvested by the leaf much sooner than waiting for a whole head of lettuce.
Small-leaf lettuces (aka Eazyleaf, One-Cut, Multi-Cut, Multileaf): Johnny’s Salanovas, Osborne’s and High Mowing’s Eazyleaf; Tango, Oscarde, and Panisse (older varieties) too. Full-size plants can be harvested as a head, or harvested with a single cut, providing a collection of bite-sized leaves. Or just one side (or the outer leaves) of the plant can be cut and the plant will regrow for future harvests. Growing multileaf heads takes 55 days, compared to 30 days for baby lettuce.
Other greens can be sown in close rows for harvesting as salad crops at a height of 3”-4” (7-10 cm). These are called mustard mixes or brassica salad mixes.
Many cooking greens can be used as salad crops while plants are small, as you thin the rows of direct-sown crops.
Ways to Get Crops to Grow Faster
Sow when the conditions are right. Soil temperature is important. I have a table of soil temperatures in Year-Round Hoophouse on page 208. Vegetable Seed Germination: Optimum soil temperatures for germination and days to emergence, where known.
Grow transplants. By starting your plants in a place with close-to-ideal temperatures, rather than direct-seeding when it’s still a bit too chilly outside, you’ll get bigger plants sooner. You’ll also buy time to prepare the soil where you are going to plant out.
Find warm sheltered micro-climates, in front of a south-facing wall for example.
Make your own warm sheltered micro-climates with rowcover or low tunnels.
Take advantage of plastic mulch to warm the soil, for crops that like warmth. Regular black plastic mulch will need to be removed at the end of the growing season, but biodegradable mulch does not. However, if you are taking over part of your yard near your house, I should tell you that you will see shreds of the bioplastic next year. See Setting out biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Consider landscape fabric with planting holes burned in, as a reusable alternative to throw-away or biodegradable mulch.
Use mixes for salads: Our general salad mix harvesting approach is to mix colors, textures and crop families. I like to balance lettuce of different kinds with chenopods (spinach, baby chard, Bull’s Blood beet leaves) and brassicas (brassica salad mix, baby tatsoi, thinnings of direct-sown brassicas, chopped young leaves of Tokyo bekana, Maruba Santoh or other Asian greens, mizuna, other ferny mustards such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills). See Making salad mix
When the weather warms up, consider using shadecloth for heat-sensitive plants, particularly lettuce, but any of the cool weather greens you still have by then.
In warm weather, greens and lettuces inside a tipi of pole beans will benefit from the shade.
Ways to Get More Crops from a Small Space
With transplants, you can fit more crops into each bed throughout the season, because each crop is occupying the bed for less time than if direct-sown.
Transplanting can help you grow more successions of summer crops, as each one needs less time in the garden or field.
Grow a vertical crop on a trellis and something short in the space below it. You can even use the same trellis twice, growing tomatoes after peas, for instance.
Relay Planting is a method of growing short crops alongside taller ones. We have often sown peas down the center of a bed of overwintered spinach. As the peas grow tall, we trellis them, and continue harvesting the spinach. When the spinach bolts, we pull it up. This overlap of bed use lets us get more crops from a bed in less time than if we sowed the crops one after another. We have also sowed peanuts down the middle of a bed of lettuce on the same date we transplant the lettuce. We make sure to use vertical romaine lettuces rather than sprawly bibbs or leaf lettuces. We have transplanted okra down the middle of a bed of early cabbage. This does involve breaking off outer leaves of the cabbage if they are about to smother the okra.
Sow some slower-maturing crops the same time as you sow the fast ones, so you have food later as well as sooner! Carrots, turnips, cabbages, broccoli, collards, kohlrabi,
Sow some multiple-harvest crops to save work later. Greens that are harvested by the leaf, rather than the head, offer good value.
Sources for More Information
In High-Yield Vegetable Gardening, Colin McCrate and Brad Halm point out that when planning what to grow, it’s important to consider how long the crop will be in the ground, especially if you have limited space.
Cindy Conner in Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth, leads you through the process of identifying suitable crops for food self-reliance, and provides a worksheet to help you determine Bed Crop Months. For each bed, determine how many months that food crop occupies that bed and so assess the productivity value of one crop compared with another. Short season crops grow to harvest size in 30-60 days, allowing series of crops to be grown in the space, and feeding people quickly. If all your nutrients are to come from your garden, you will need to pay attention to growing enough calories. Otherwise you’ll lack the energy to get to the end of the season!
Curtis Stone, in The Urban Farmer, distinguishes between Quick Crops (maturing in 60 days or less) and Steady Crops (slower maturing, perhaps harvested continuously over a period of time). He has designed a Crop Value Rating system based on 5 characteristics. To use this assessment, you look at each characteristic and decide if the particular crop gets a point for that characteristic or not. Then look for the crops with the highest number of points. Spinach gets all 5 points; cherry tomatoes only 3. The smaller your farm, the higher the crops need to score to get chosen. His 5 are:
Shorter days to maturity (fast crops = chance to plant more; give a point for 60 days or less)
High yield per linear foot (best value from the space; a point for1/2 pound/linear foot or more)
Higher price per pound (other factors being equal, higher price = more income; a point for $4 or more per pound)
Long harvest period (= more sales; point for a 4 month minimum)
Popularity (high demand, low market saturation)
Steve Solomon in Gardening When it Countsprovides tables of vegetable crops by the level of care they require. His Easy List: kale, collards, endives, chicories, spinach, cabbage, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, all cucurbits, beets, chard, sweet corn, all legumes, okra, tomatoes (followed by the more difficult eggplant, peppers).
From the hoophouse we continue harvesting chard, kale, senposai, spinach, tat soi thinnings or leaves, Tokyo bekana/Maruba santoh leaves (if we have not yet harvested whole plants because we saw signs of bolting), turnip greens, Yukina Savoy.
From late December we keep a close eye on the Chinese cabbage and pak choy, for signs of bolting. Normally these will bolt in January, so we harvest the whole plants that month. But we have sometimes needed to harvest the plants before we get to January.
Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in December
Outdoors, we sow nothing
In the hoophouse, on December 18 we sow brassica salad #2. Sometimes called mustard mixes, these are mixed brassicas to cut like baby lettuce mix when they are still small. Often we make our own mix at this time of year, using leftover seeds that we don’t want to keep for next year. We are busy working on our seed inventory and seed orders, so it gives us a use for odds and ends of packets. Just avoid bristly-leaved radishes and turnips! Using random seeds works for us because we do not expect yield-miracles. We will not get a lot of cuts from these plants before they bolt in March or early April. Our first round of Brassica Salad Mix is sown October 2 and is harvested several times between October 29 and December 21. Much faster growth in October and November than in December and January! We make a third sowing on New Year’s Day.
Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in December
Outdoors, we transplant nothing
In the hoophouse, we transplant spinach, senposai, Yukina Savoy, Frills (frilly mustards) to fill gaps that occur in the beds. We replace spinach with spinach, brassicas with brassicas wherever possible, filling gaps caused by either harvesting whole plants or Bad Things (those are usually fungal diseases).
Our Filler Greens are sown October 10 and October 20 (brassicas) and October 24 and November 9 (spinach). JANUARY 25 (I originally mistakenly said December 25) is our official last date for using the brassica fillers because there is not enough time for them to make worthwhile growth before they bolt. After that date we fill all gaps with spinach plants.
Other Cooking Greens Tasks in Central Virginia in December
While watching the temperature forecasts, we continue to harvest the hardier greens, such as chard, yukina savoy, collards, kale, spinach and tatsoi. If low temperatures are forecast we might add rowcover to some of the beds, or decide to clear the vulnerable crops and put them in the cooler.
See Cooking Greens for November for more details on winter-kill temperatures
This winter we have already had 16°F(-9°C) and 18°F (-8°C) in mid-November. As temperatures drop, we clear these crops before their winter-kill temperatures happen:
15°F (–9.5°C): kohlrabi, komatsuna, some cabbage, red chard (green chard is hardy to 12°F (-11°C)), Russian kales, rutabagas if not covered, turnip leaves, most covered turnips.
12°F (-11°C): Some beets (Cylindra,), some broccoli, Brussels sprouts, some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), most collards, senposai, some turnips (Purple Top).
10°F (-12°C): Covered beets, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest (too cold in central Virginia for us to grow that), a few cabbages (Deadon), chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), some collards (Morris Heading can survive at least one night at 10°F/-12°C), probably Komatsuna;Senposai leaves (the core of the plant may survive 8°F/-13°C), large leaves of savoyed spinach (more hardy than smooth-leafed varieties), Tatsoi, Yukina Savoy.
5°F (-15°C): some collards, some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), smaller leaves of savoyed spinach and broad leaf sorrel. Some tatsoi. Many of the Even’ Star Ice Bred greens varieties are hardy down to 6°F (-14°C).
0°F (-18°C): some collards (Blue Max, Winner), Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf kale, some spinach (Bloomsdale Long Standing, Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia).Vates kale survives.
Special Cooking Greens Topic for December: Understanding kale types
Russian and other Russo-Siberian kales (napus varieties) do better in the hoophouse than Vates blue curled Scotch (and other European oleracea varieties). Napus kales will make more growth at lower temperatures than oleracea kales, although they are not as cold-tolerant. “Spring” kales (napus) will persist longer into warmer weather than Vates (oleracea) can, from a spring sowing. The vernalization requirement for napus kales with about eight leaves is 10–12 weeks at temperatures below 40°F (4°C). Brassica oleraceae kales will start flowering after 10–12 weeks below the relatively balmy spring temperature of 50°F (10°C).
Special Cooking Greens Topic for December: Ordering Seeds (Adapted from Sustainable Market Farming)
Every year we try to introduce a new crop or two, on a small scale, to see if we can add it to our “portfolio.” Some-times we can successfully grow a crop that is said not to thrive in our climate.(Brussels sprouts really don’t). We like to find the varieties of each crop that do best for our conditions. We read catalog descriptions carefully and try varieties that offer the flavor, productivity and disease resistance we need. Later we check how the new varieties do compared with our old varieties. We use heirloom varieties if they do well, hybrids if they are what works best for us. We don’t use treated seeds or GMOs, because of the wide damage we believe they do.
Calculating the seed order
When we figure out how much seed to order we add in some extra for some things – crops that can be difficult to germinate, or we really don’t want to cut too close. We add 20 percent extra for most crops, but only 5 percent for kale, 10 percent for onions and collards and 30 percent for melons. These numbers are based on our experience – yours might be different. We also know which seed we can buy in bulk and use over several years. This gives us an additional security against poor germination, or plagues of grasshoppers or caterpillars. For me, a big bag of broccoli seed for each of our main varieties gives some kind of warm glow of horticultural security!
This is the time of year we adjust the “seed rate” (seed/100′ or /30 m) column of our spreadsheet using information from our past year, and we feed in the next year’s crop plan for varieties and succession plantings – everything we have decided so far about next year. We make notes about any problems or questions we need to resolve later, and we’re sure to order enough seeds to cover these eventualities. We have found it worthwhile to proofread our inventory and order form carefully before making our final decisions, as mistakes not discovered until planting day can be a big problem.
Formatting and placing seed orders
On the Seed Order version of our spreadsheet, we include columns for the name of the supplier we buy each variety from (we just use the initial), the item number in the catalog, the packet size and the price. (Be careful though, if you carry this information over from year to year – prices change.) Once we have composed our total seed order, we sort the orders by the name of the supplier. Then we can calculate the total price for each supplier. This also gives us the opportunity to look at price breaks for large orders and move an item from one supplier to another, if that makes sense. At this point we usually make a cup of tea and reward ourselves with an “impulse buy” or two, if that doesn’t push us up into a higher shipping cost bracket or blow the budget. We place our orders online these days, nice and early, to increase the chances of getting exactly what we want.
For years I have been mentioning “Miami Peas” in my presentations about cover crops. At the Carolina Farm Stewardship conference I was asked what they are, by Mark Schonbeck, who knows cover crops well. (This is one of the wonderful benefits of attending conferences – meeting peers and mentors, and learning new things.)
I said it is a frost tender cover crop pea of the field pea type (not a southern pea). I can’t remember where I first heard about this cover crop, and we haven’t been using it on our farm, so it was time for a reality check when I got home. I can’t find any reference to Miami peas apart from the ones I’ve made! I believe it’s a type of Canadian field pea, but maybe it no longer goes by the Miami name, or maybe it never did! It’s embarrassing to promote untruths.
This short term green manure smothers weeds well and adds nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil. Peas are often mixed with vetch, oats, or rye as an effective cover crop. The sprouts are delicious and you can even harvest the peas themselves for soup. This annual prefers cool well drained soil and has no frost tolerance. Sow 3 to 4 lbs per 1000 sq. ft.
For clarity, here’s what I now believe:
“Forage pea” and “Field pea” are terms that include the hardy Austrian winter peas, that we do use and are big fans of, as well as frost-tender spring peas, also known as Canadian field peas.
SARE lists Canadian field peas as Spring Peas. SARE is a very reliable source of information. They say
These annual “spring peas” can outgrow spring-planted winter peas. They often are seeded with triticale or another small grain. Spring peas have larger seeds, so there are fewer seeds per pound and seeding rates are higher, about 100 to 160 lb./A. However, spring pea seed is a bit less expensive than Austrian winter pea seed. TRAPPER is the most common Canadian field pea cultivar.
Other spring pea varieties are Dundale and Arvika
There’s also a tropical Pigeon Pea, Cajanus cajan, which can grow in the Southern US, but that looks pretty different, and I don’t think that’s what I meant.
Forget industrial hemp
I have been alarmed at how many small-scale growers are trying industrial hemp. Partly I’m hoping it won’t cause a shortage in locally grown food! I also wonder how well an industrial field crop grows on a small scale, and how the growers would deal with the permits, the processing and the marketing.
Read this report from The Modern Farmer about how industrial hemp is unsuccessful for most growers and how the market is swamped with would-be suppliers:
Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in November
Beet greens – we get our last chance for greens as we harvest all our beets for storage. Sometimes the greens are in too poor shape to eat. Beets are hardy down to 15-20°F (–7 to –9.5°C) outside without rowcover.
From the hoophouse we continue harvesting spinach, tatsoi thinnings and leaves, as well as leaves of Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh. We can start to harvest chard, senposai, Yukina Savoy leaves and perhaps kale, although it is a slow grower.
At the end of November we keep a close eye on the Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh, for signs of bolting. Normally these will bolt in December, so we harvest the whole plants that month. But we have sometimes needed to terminate the plants November 26 or so.
Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in November
we sow spinach (for spring harvesting) in early November if we have not been able to do it already. Hopefully we will have got this done during October. Here it’s too late for any more outdoor sowings till spring, although there will be garlic planting.
In the hoophouse
on November 9 we sow spinach #3 to fill any spinach casualties that happen during the winter, and “Frills“ #2 (mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Scarlet Frills, Golden Frills). This is one of our favorite winter crops to suppress nematodes. We sow tatsoi #2 on November 15. We could sow Eat-All Greens in hoophouse in November, but so far we haven’t tried that.
No Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in November!
Other Cooking Greens Tasks in Central Virginia in November
While watching the temperature forecasts, we continue to harvest the hardier greens, such as chard, yukina savoy, collards, kale, spinach and tatsoi.
As night temperatures drop, we clear some crops
In this order:
25°F(–4°C) Most broccoli, some cabbage, Chinese Napa cabbage, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, most pak choy, Tokyo Bekana.
22°F (–6°C): Bright Lights chard.
20°F (–7°C): Less-hardy beets, broccoli heads (some may be OK to 15°F/-9°C), Brussels sprouts, some cabbages (the insides may still be good even if the outer leaves are damaged), cauliflower, most turnips.
15°F (–9.5°C): The more hardy beet varieties and their greens, some broccoli, some cabbage, red chard (green chard is hardy to 12°F (-11°C)), Russian kales, rutabagas if not covered, turnip leaves, most covered turnips.
Here are some more numbers for killing temperatures outdoors (without rowcover unless otherwise stated). In my Cooking Greens in October post, I gave the Veggie Deaths in the 35°F (2°C) to 15°F (–9.5°C) range. Here’s the next installment, which I am prompted to post by the forecast 16°F (-9°C) here for the night of Friday November 8. This list only includes the cooking greens. Your results may vary! Let me know! Click the link above to see the complete list.
12°F (-11°C): Some beets (Cylindra,), some broccoli, Brussels sprouts, some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), most collards, covered rutabagas (swedes), some turnips (Purple Top).
10°F (-12°C): Covered beets, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest (too cold here for us to grow that), a few cabbages (Deadon), chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), some collards (Morris Heading can survive at least one night at 10°F/-12°C), probably Komatsuna;Senposai leaves (the core of the plant may survive 8°F/-13°C), large leaves of savoyed spinach (more hardy than smooth-leafed varieties), Tatsoi, Yukina Savoy.
5°F (-15°C): some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), smaller leaves of savoyed spinach and broad leaf sorrel. Many of the Even’ Star Ice Bred greens varieties are hardy down to 6°F (-14°C).
0°F (-18°C): some collards (Blue Max, Winner), Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf kale, some spinach (Bloomsdale Long Standing, Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia).
Reminder: The temperatures given are air temperatures that kill those outdoor unprotected crops.
To keep chard in good condition overwinter, either cover with hoops and rowcover (in milder areas, Zone 6 or warmer), or else mulch heavily right over the top of the plant, after cutting off the leaves in early winter.
Once the frost has killed the galinsoga we go ahead and put rowcover over the spinach beds. That happened this weekend (November 2 and 3) – we got temperatures of 27°F (–3°C) and 25°F (–4°C). Spinach will make growth whenever the temperature is 40°F (5°C) or more, which happens a lot more often under rowcover than exposed to the elements. We don’t want to provide rowcover for the galinsoga!
Special Cooking Greens Topic for November: Seed Inventory
November is a good month for us to start our big winter planning process. For all the crops, not just cooking greens! The first step is the Seed Inventory, in preparation for ordering the right amounts of the right varieties of seeds for next year. We do ours fairly accurately, because we also use the process to fine tune the amount of seed to buy for each row we plan to sow. Some growers simply buy plenty and throw away all the leftover seed each season, but for us the time spent paying attention to what we need is very worthwhile. See the Planning section in my book Sustainable Market Farming for step by step details on how we do it.
We use a spreadsheet and a cheap little digital scale (for the small amounts, up to 100g). Ours is an AWS-100. It’s not legal for trade, but we are not using it to weigh seeds for sale, just to give ourselves a good idea of what we have left. For large quantities, we use our business shipping scale.
We take a few seed buckets and the scale into a pleasant-temperature room, and take out a bundle of seed packets of a particular crop. First we weigh a packet at a time and write down the amount. The scale can be tared for the empty packet.
Next we assess whether the seed will be viable next year. Storage conditions make a big difference, the best storage being cool, dark, dry and airtight. Make your own decisions based on how carefully you stored the seeds, the information on each packet about percentage germination when you bought it, and the economic importance to you of that particular crop.
We have a simplified chart:
Year of purchase only: parsnips, parsley, salsify, scorzonera and the even rarer sea kale;
2 years: corn, peas and beans of all kinds, onions, chives, okra, dandelion and
3 years: carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips and rutabagas;
5 years: most brassicas, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, muskmelons, celery, celeriac, lettuce, endive and chicory.
If the seed is still recent enough to grow well, we keep it. If it is too doubtful we “write it off” on the spreadsheet and consign the packet to a special “Old Seeds” bucket, which we keep for a year in case of mistakes or desperation!
This is the time we adjust the “seed rate” (seed/100′ or /30 m) column on our spreadsheet using our new information from our year.
I have had a little flurry of arranging workshops, so if you have (educational) travel plans, check out my Events page. I’ve also got two interviews lined up, for podcasts, and I’ll tell you about those when they go online.
Use cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Select cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fit cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.
In the Main Conference, on Sat Nov 2, 1.30 – 2.45 pm in the Empire Ballroom E, I have a 75 min workshop
Optimize your Asian Greens Production
This workshop covers the production of Asian greens outdoors and in hoop houses in detail, for both market and home growers. Grow many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens easily and quickly, and bring fast returns. The workshop includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings including succession planting when appropriate; crop rotation in the hoop house; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting.
I will be participating in the Booksigning on Saturday 5.45 – 6.45 pm during the reception
Winter Cover Crops
Cover crops have been much on my mind. Partly it’s that time of year – too late for us to sow oats, not so late that the only option left is winter rye. Here’s my handy-dandy visual aid for central Virginia and other areas of cold-hardiness zone 7a with similar climates.
If you are considering growing winter rye as a no-till cover crop this winter, check out this video:
Rye Termination Timing: When to Successfully Crimp, by Mark Dempsey
“Interested in no-till production, but unsure of how to manage cover crops so they don’t become a problem for the crop that follows?
The most common management concern is when to crimp your cover crop to get a good kill but prevent it from setting seed. Getting the timing right on crimping small grain cover crops like rye isn’t difficult, but it does take a little attention to its growth stage. See this three-minute video for a quick run-down on which stages to look for in order to get that timing right.”
October is the busiest month in our hoophouse! The bed prep, sowing and transplanting keeps us busy for 3 or 4 hours a day. Add in harvesting (peppers, radishes, salad crops) and hand-watering of new plants, and we’re there for a good half of each day. And then there are extra challenges. Yesterday, in tightening one of the strings that mark the bed edges, I managed to hammer a 6” sod staple right through the irrigation main line tubing, which was below soil level. I can hardly believe I did that! I even thought “Be careful not to stab the water pipe!” So I had to dig it up, find a coupler and fix it right away. Because at this time of year, we rely on the irrigation for all the new plants.
And the nights are getting colder. We intend to close the doors every night when the temperature will be below 50F (10C), and the windows if the temperatures will be below 45F (7C). We have been converting the doors at one end from hinged to sliding doors. They’re hanging on their tracks, but one door is jamming in the track, and we need more than a cursory look to fix the problem. So meanwhile, only 3 of the 4 doors close!
My book The Year Round Hoophouse, has a chapter on making end walls, including doors and windows. Writing that helped me decide to change our east doors. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter:
“For our 30′ (9.1 m) wide gothic hoophouse, we have a pair of hinged double 4′ x 8′ (1.2 x 2.4 m) doors at each end. Our doors open out and have to drag over the grass outside. We have found “rising butt” hinges to be helpful here. As the door opens, it rises on the curved base of the hinge, giving a little extra clearance above the ground. Each door fastens with a hook and eye to the wall when open (it will get windy!).I recommend considering sliding doors, with the track and hardware on the inside, if the tunnel is wide enough for the track needed to carry the size of doors wanted. This avoids problems in many weathers: rampant grass-growing season, snow season, strong winds. Some people purchase storm doors and use those, but they are not very big. Anyone with basic carpentry skills can make simple door and window frames, as they will be covered both sides in lightweight plastic and not need to be extremely strong.”
Sometimes in the cool weather we have problems with this secretive pest chewing holes in brassica leaves at night. The larvae live in the soil and stay underground or deep in the heart of the plants during the day, so if your leaves are holey, but you can’t find any culprits, you can suspect vegetable weevil larvae. They especially like turnips, pak choy and the flavorful mustardy greens. We sprayed with Spinosad last Monday, then again on Friday, and this week (Monday and Tuesday) I’m not seeing any new holes.
The new outdoor greens this month are tatsoi, kale, spinach, collards, and mizuna (if we have that outdoors).
Eat-All Greens harvests can start, if you sowed some last month. When we sowed some on September 16, we got two harvests in October and several in November.
From the hoophouse we start to harvest spinach, tatsoi, and leaves of Tokyo bekana.
Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in October
This month we finish sowing spinach and kale for overwintering outdoors (10/30 is our last chance). No more outdoor sowings until spring!
On October 10, we sow Brassica fillers #1. These are short rows of senposai, Tokyo bekana, Yukina Savoy, Maruba Santoh, to use to fill gaps later during the winter as soon as they occur. We simply dig them up, replant where needed and water well. Alternatively you could keep some plug flats of these plants handy. Bare-root transplanting is much easier than many fear.
During December we use the “Filler” greens plants to replace casualties and harvested heads of Tokyo bekana, Maruba Santoh, Chinese cabbage, Pak choy, Yukina Savoy and tatsoi daily. We stop filling gaps in these early harvest crops on December 25, as they will bolt in the hoophouse conditions in January at the latest.
We continue to fill gaps elsewhere with senposai until January 25. Asian greens don’t make good growth before bolting if transplanted after January 25. From January 25 to February 20 we fill all gaps everywhere with spinach transplants
Hoophouse Bed preparation and Planting
In the hoophouse we have a lot of bed preparation (all the beds except the Early Bed which we plant in September), as well as transplanting and sowing.
On October 14, we sow turnips #1: Red Round (1 row on North), Hakurei (2 rows South). Oasis, White Egg.
On October 20, we sow Filler Greens #2.
By October 23, we clear and prepare two more beds and sow spinach #2; tatsoi #2, turnips #2, chard #2 and perhaps Frills (Frilly Mustards) #1.5.
Brassica (Mustard) Salad Mix
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 October 2 and November 14 for harvests during the winter, and from December 4 to February 12 for March and early April harvests.
We could, but so far we haven’t, sow Eat-All Greens in hoophouse in October.
Useful if a crop fails, or you have an empty space. Don’t delay, as rates of growth slow down as the temperatures and daylight decrease. Don’t expect much from sowings during the Persephone Days (less than 10 hours daylight).
This year we grew an early catch crop of Tokyo bekana when we realized we had space that wouldn’t be needed till mid-October (for turnips). We direct sowed it August 28, weeded and thinned to 1” (2.5 cm) on September 5; weeded and thinned to 3” (7.5 cm) on September 16, using the small plants for salad. We need to clear this crop by the middle of October to sow the turnips, and the Tokyo bekana has got to a fine size.
Ready in 30–35 days in fall, longer in winter: brassica salad mixes, spinach, chard, salad greens (lettuce, endives, chicories), winter purslane., kale, arugula, radishes (the fast small ones and the larger winter ones), many Asian greens: Komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, frilly mustards, Senposai, tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy.
Ready in 35–45 days in fall: corn salad, land cress, sorrel, parsley and chervil.
Ready in 60 days in fall: beets, collards, kohlrabi, turnips
Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in October
In our hoophouse in early October, we transplant Tokyo Bekana, Chinese cabbage, Pak choy, Yukina savoy #1, using plants which we sowed outside under insect netting.
By October 13, we transplant chard #1, Frills #1, and Red and White Russian kales, from our outdoor nursery seedbed.
By October 21, we clear and prepare another bed and transplant 1/2 bed kale, plus Yukina Savoy, and frilly mustards. (This is our favorite crop selection to suppress nematodes),
By October 23, we clear and prepare two more beds and transplant senposai and Yukina Savoy #2 from the outdoor nursery bed.
Other Cooking Greens Tasks in Central Virginia in October
October is our month to weed and thin the fall crops in the outdoor raised beds, especially spinach and kale. We thin kale to 12” (30 cm); perhaps more space would be better, although Vates is a dwarf variety.
We put rowcover over any beds of pak choy, Chinese cabbage or Tokyo bekana we have that year. Later we weed (again!) and cover the spinach for faster growth, but leave the kale uncovered after a bad experience of Vates kale with rowcover fibers mixed in. The cooks didn’t love us!
We prefer to wait to cover spinach after frosts kill the galinsoga. As well as raised beds, we plant spinach in our cold frames, making good use of the space until the frames are needed in spring for hardening off transplants.
We roll, label and store drip tape from the fall broccoli and cabbage
Special Cooking Greens Topic for October: Get Soil Tests; Be Ready for Cold Nights.
October is a good month to do soil tests, when the soil is not too wet, and the soil temperatures are still warm (the soil life is active).
We use Wunderground, but subtract 5F° from their forecast night lows for our nearest town, and mentally downgrade the chance of rain by 10%, as rain often passes us by as it scoots along the river valley north of us.
The date is after 10/14 or before 4/30 (our average first and last frost dates).
The Wunderground forecast low for Louisa Northside is 37°F (3°C) or less.
The daytime high temperature was less than 70°F (21°C).
The temperature at sunset is less than 50°F (10°C).
The sky is clear.
The soil is dry and cool.
The moon is full or new (maybe to do with tides and gravity?).
If temperatures are falling fast, the wind is from NW and the sky is clear, then polar air may be moving in, and we’ll get a hard freeze.
The dew point forecast is low, close to freezing. Frost is unlikely if the dew point is 43°F or more.
Watch for cold night temperatures and decide which crops to harvest, which to cover, which to abandon:
In a double-layer hoophouse (8F/5C warmer than outside) plants can survive 14F/8C colder than outside, without extra rowcover; with thick rowcover (1.25 ozTypar/Xavan) plants can survive at least 21F/12C colder than outside.
25°F (–4°C): Some cabbage, chervil, chicory roots for chicons and hearts, Chinese Napa cabbage, dill, endive, some fava beans, annual fennel, some Asian greens (Maruba Santoh, mizuna, most pak choy, Tokyo Bekana), some onion scallions (many varieties are hardier), radicchio.
22°F (–6°C): Some arugula (some varieties are hardier), Bright Lights chard, large leaves of lettuce (protected hearts and small plants will survive colder temperatures), rhubarb stems.
20°F (–7°C): Some beets, broccoli heads (some may be OK to 15°F/-9°C), Brussels sprouts, some cabbages (the insides may still be good even if the outer leaves are damaged), celeriac, celtuce (stem lettuce), some head lettuce, some mustards/Asian greens, flat leaf parsley (curly parsley is hardier), radishes, most turnips.
15°F (–9.5°C): Some beets, beet greens, some broccoli, some cabbage, rowcovered celery, red chard (green chard is hardy to 12°F (-11°C)), cilantro, endive, some fava beans, Russian kales, kohlrabi, some lettuce, especially medium-sized plants with 4-10 leaves, curly parsley, rutabagas if not covered, broad leaf sorrel, turnip leaves, most covered turnips, winter cress.
Mizuna is a very mild flavored crop, with thin juicy white stems and green ferny leaves which add loft in salad mixes. (“Loft” is the word for the “puffiness” of frilled salad crops, helping them occupy space and not collapse in the bottom of the bag or bowl like wet green corn flakes.) This tolerant crop is very easy to grow, tolerates cold wet soil, and variable weather. It is fairly heat tolerant (well, warm tolerant), and cold tolerant to 25°F (-4°C).
We used to just grow just one planting, sowing it outdoors September 24, transplanting it into our hoophouse October 22. It regrows vigorously after cutting and we harvest leaves from November 27 to January 25 or even to March 7, when it becomes a mass of small yellow flowers (edible!). In the winter, once the plant gets bigger and bushier, we switch from harvesting individual leaves to a method we call the “half-buzz-cut.” We gather the leaves on one side of the plant and cut them with scissors about an inch above the soil. Then we chop them into our salad mix harvest bucket. The plants look odd with half their leaves still full-size and half shorn, but this method seems to help the plant regrow quicker. The big leaves can photosynthesize and feed the regrowing leaves.
Next we tried Purple Mizuna, but we were disappointed with the weak color and a constitution less-robust than green mizuna.
Ruby Streaks and other Frilly Mustards
After a few years of growing mizuna, we discovered Ruby Streaks. It has a much stronger color, and I admit, a much stronger flavor. Our diners don’t generally like pungent greens, but this one, cut small and mixed with other salad greens, gained wide approval. We have moved on to include Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills, and for a while Red Rain. We find the Scarlet Frills and Golden Frills bolt (go to seed) later than Ruby Streaks and Mizuna.
Adding a Second Sowing
We added a second sowing, this one direct-sown in the hoophouse, on October 30, and the next year shifted the date to November 9. These direct-sown mustards can be used for baby salads after only 21 days (when thinning the rows, for instance). Thin to 8″–12″ (20–30 cm) apart, to grow to maturity in 40 days. We sow mizuna and the spicier mustards at the same time, usually 6 rows to a 4’ (1.2 m) wide bed, maybe a total row length of 50’ (15 m). This sowing gives us harvests from February 26 to March 24, several weeks later than the September 24 sowing.
When we learned our hoophouse soil had nematodes some years ago, we searched for resistant crops and were happy to learn that Brassica juncea greens were resistant. Although mizuna is not B. juncea, the more pungent frilly mustards are, so we focused on growing those, and ignored mizuna for several years.
Adding a Third Sowing
We were looking for a late winter nematode-resistant crop to follow our Koji, which I think bolts up to a month earlier than my long-time favorite Yukina Savoy. We tried the frilly mustards, sown February 1, and they were very successful. We got harvests from March 24 to April 23, a very worthwhile month of greens! I like greens that are harvestable in March and April, because this is really our Hungry Gap, the time when the stored crops are running out and the outdoor spring-planted ones haven’t really got producing much yet. I’m a bit suspicious of our record-keeping on the April 23 date – I suspect it was really over before that. It seems unlikely that this sowing lasts 30 days when the second one only lasts 26 days.
As part of a renewed effort to manage the nematodes, last year we added in a fourth sowing, on October 30. I haven’t got any records for that harvest to hand. I do remember though, that we had about as much “Frills” (as we now call them) as we could eat. We planted 30’ (9 m) in the first sowing, 50’ (15 m) in the new extra planting, 48” (14 m) in the November 9 sowing, and a whopping 120’ (36 m) in the February 1 sowing.
Solarization is a method of killing pests, diseases and weed seeds near the surface of the soil by covering the soil with clear plastic for six weeks or more in hot weather. We use this method to help control nematodes in our hoophouse. Nematodes are only active in warm weather, and we have not had problems with them outdoors, but of course, it’s warmer in the hoophouse!
I’ve written before about solarization to fight nematodes in our hoophouse.
“Solarization uses clear plastic (old hoophouse plastic is ideal). In a summer hoophouse, solarization can be as quick as 24 hours, Andrew says. When we’ve done this, one of our goals was to kill nematodes and fungal diseases, not just weeds, so we waited a few weeks. Outdoors it takes several weeks. You can see when the weeds are dead. Bryan O’Hara poked a thermometer probe through solarization plastic and found a 50F degree (28C) difference between the outside air and the soil immediately under the plastic; a 10F (6C) difference at 1″ (2.5 cm) deep and little temperature gain lower than that. Solarization does not kill all the soil life!”
In June this year I wrote about using marigolds, sesame, Iron and Clay cowpeas as nematode resistant cover crops. We’ve also used winter wheat, and white lupins. See Our Organic Integrated Pest Management . Other cover crops that suppress nematodes include some other OP French marigold varieties (but avoid Tangerine Gem or hybrid marigolds); chrysanthemum; black-eyed Susan; gaillardia (blanket flower, Indian blanket); oats; sesame/millet mix. We decided against sorghum-sudangrass (too big), winter rye (harder than wheat to incorporate by hand), bahiagrass, Bermuda grass (both invasive), castor bean and Crotolaria (sunnhemp) (both poisonous, although newer varieties of Crotolaria have lower toxin levels, and I’ve been rethinking my opposition to using that), partridge pea, California poppy (both require at least one full year of growth) and some obscure vetches that weren’t available locally. We might have included Pacific Gold mustard (B. juncea), if we’d found it in time. Don’t confuse this with Ida Gold Mustard, which kills weeds, and is susceptible to nematodes.
Food Crop Choices
This list starts with the crops most resistant to Root Know Nematodes and ends with the most susceptible. I’ve included some “bookmarks” between categories, but it can also be read as a continuous list:
We came up with a collection of nematode-resistant winter greens, including radishes, Russian kales, Brassica juncea mustards (mostly salad greens like Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills, Scarlet Frills), and Brassica rapa var. japonica greens, mizuna and Yukina Savoy. We have since learned that Yukina Savoy is a Brassica rapa, not B. juncea as we thought, and that mizuna is Brassica rapa var. japonica with a less certain resistance, or perhaps Brassica rapa var. niposinica, or perhaps B.juncea after all (integrifolia type). We also grow scallions in the nematode-infested areas. Now I am looking for more nematode-resistant cold-weather greens.
After the winter greens this spring, we transplanted two beds of tomatoes, one each of peppers, squash and cucumbers, and put two beds into Iron and Clay cowpeas. The eastern ends where we had found evidence of nematodes, we transplanted French marigolds and sesame as stronger fighting forces.
When we pulled up the squash and cucumbers we found no sign of nematodes on the roots. One of the tomato beds produced no sign either, but the other one did. Our first response was to sow Iron and Clay cowpeas instead of the planned soybeans, but before the plants were even 2” (5 cm) high, we decided to solarize that whole bed. We now have small patches of nematode infestation in almost every bed, calling for a more nimble approach to crop planning.
Brassica juncea mustards to try
According to Wikipedia, Brassica juncea cultivars can be divided into four major subgroups: integrifolia, juncea, napiformis, and tsatsai. I did some searching for more B. juncea, especially large leafed ones. Some promising looking crops include these: