We’re solidly in the darker and colder half the year for our 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 and productive under a range of conditions. You can use the search box to find previous month’s entries, such as December.
Winter is a natural opportunity to reconsider the size of your garden, which crops to grow, and your growing methods. Perhaps this will be your first gardening year? If so, welcome! Use the search box to find specific info, or click the blog category to find some further reading. Hopefully, we all have our garden plans made and our seeds ordered. Maybe we are already looking at a planting schedule.
Workhorse Crops to Plant in January
In January, we can plant small small potato onions outdoors. We prepare the bed in the late fall and mulch it with hay, to plant in January. We rake off the mulch, plant the onion bulbs and then lay the mulch back on the bed, to control weeds and somewhat to insulate the little onion bulbs. These smallest potato onions are very cold-hardy, and will grow up to produce a single 3” (7.5 cm) large onion. A few will grow and subdivide to produce more small onions. Click the link to read the details.
Indoor sowings for later transplanting outside or in the hoophouse
In our greenhouse we fire up our germinator cabinets and sow our first lettuce and early cabbage (Early Jersey Wakefield and Faroa) and scallions in mid-January. The following week we sow our tomatoes to plant out in the hoophouse, and at the end of the month, spinach if we have not got enough sown in our hoophouse to transplant as bare-root transplants.
Hoophouse workhorse crops to plant in January
In the hoophouse we are sowing a second or third round of crops, mostly successions of greens and radishes. We have already pulled our first and second radishes, and some of the Asian greens.
This March we will be using a half-bed in the hoophouse for some early green bush beans. Like our other warm weather crops, these can be planted in the hoophouse a month earlier than outdoors. Two cautions with green beans in the hoophouse: buy a very upright variety, as the plants will be more sprawling than they are outdoors. Outdoors we grow Provider and Bush Blue Lake (both very reliable and productive), and in the hoophouse we like Strike. The second bean caution is that we have found the edge beds too cold for beans when we need to sow them, in March. Don’t plant them now, but order seeds of an upright variety and plan a non-edge bed. I’ll say more in March.
We have also planned our next round of early warm-weather crops, which we will transplant in late March and early April. Tomatoes and zucchini/summer squash are on our Workhorse list
We stop filling gaps in most of the Asian greens at the end of December, because they will start to bolt in January and/or because they are mature and we will be clearing the space to sow something else. Tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana, Pac Choi, Chinese Cabbage, Yukina Savoy, all need to be eaten during January. We sow spinach (the Racehorse Crop) in mid-January, to transplant in the hoophouse and outdoors.
On January 24 we sow Vates kale and Morris Heading collards in the ground in the hoophouse, in the space recently freed up by the Chinese cabbage. For 1080ft outdoors, we need 108ft of seedling rows. We can fit 14 rows of seedlings across a 4ft (1.2 m) bed.
We still have workhorse crops to harvest outdoors: chard, kale and collards, and perhaps cabbages. We’re down to three of our 14 workhorse crops to harvest outdoors in January, but we have the Racehorse Crop, spinach, too, and also luscious hoophouse greens.
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. We just had one night at that temperature, much colder than anything else so far this 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.
Collards and Kale can be lightly harvested in January. 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. In October, November, February and March, we can harvest leaves from these plants once a week. In December and January, once each month is more like what we can hope for. Chard and senposai do OK with only 6 leaves left.
Hoophouse Workhorse harvests in January
We are harvesting leaves from our hoophouse Bright Lights chard at an adolescent size, cutting them into ribbons, and chopping the colorful stems, for salad mixes. Later, when the days lengthen, we’ll be able to harvest leaves for cooking.
The Red Russian and White Russian kales are ready to harvest now (we were a bit late with getting a successful sowing in September). Russian kales belong to the napus group of kales, which are better able to make growth in low light levels than oleracea types like the Vates we grow outdoors. Vates is our star outdoors, because it is more cold-hardy than any other kale I’ve found. The Russian kales have a tendency to wilt after harvesting, so we move fast and stand the leaves up in the buckets. We add some water to the buckets before rushing them to the walk-in cooler. (We do this with chard, turnip greens and Tokyo bekana too.)
The hoophouse senposai is on its third round of harvests, just two weeks after the second, which was one week after the first. This clearly demonstrated the slower rate of growth as temperatures and daylight decrease. The short days do cause plant growth to slow down, but this is not the only factor. Soil temperature is another. In our hoophouse, the soil temperature is still 50F (10C) in early January.
But hey! The length of daylight is now increasing! On the shortest day, December 21, we have 9 hours and 34 minutes of daylight, from 7.21 am to 4.55 pm. The mornings continue to get darker by a few minutes, taking a month to get back to 7.21, from a latest of 7.25 am. Meanwhile the evenings are getting lighter, gaining us 6 minutes by January 5. I’m typing this on my laptop onto a USB stick, as we are in day 3 of a power outage. I appreciate the lighter evenings! By January 21 we will be up to 10 hours of daylight!
Workhorse Crops from storage in January
Storage crops come into their own in December and January, once outdoor growth has slowed down. The flavor of stored sweet potatoes reaches its peak in late January! Besides the Workhorse Crops of carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and garlic, there are many other 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.
Eat up your acorn and other pepo types of winter squash, as they store for only 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. They do have hard shells and need a hefty cleaver to cut them open.
Our white potatoes are keeping well in the root cellar down at 40F-50F (5C-10C). We air it about once a week. We open the door on mild nights or chilly overcast days, depending what we get and what we need. Potatoes in storage after their first month are no longer respiring much at all. They should be dormant, and not in need of many air changes.
Our sweet potatoes are very delicious. We are eating about 40-50lbs (19-23 kilos) a week.
Stored cabbage can also be a boon, and this is also a good time to explore all the pickles and canned and frozen produce you put up earlier.
Workhorse Crops Special Topics for January: Making Schedules.
We continue our Garden Planning, ordering seeds and planning schedules of field planting and greenhouse seedling starting. In January we start sowing seeds indoors, and need our schedule figured out for that. We also need to pay attention to germination temps for various crops, so that we get them off to a good start, matched with crops needing similar temperatures in each germination cabinet.
This is the easiest time of year for many of us to plan next year’s garden. If you are in a hot climate zone, or the southern hemisphere, come back to this in six months!
The advantages of good planning are:
Make the most productive use of your land.
Use the growing season to do the planting and harvesting, without stopping to do calculations
Pace yourself, enjoy your life!
Reduce stress and confusion
Become a better farmer – keep good records, learn from the experience.
Invest in your future – Planning gets easier each year – just tweak last year’s plan.
For commercial growers, good planning helps you earn a good income.
Design a planning and recordkeeping system you like, so you’ll use it. There are web-based tools, spreadsheets, worksheets and notebooks. Do you prefer clipboards, computers, or photos? Build in the ability to adapt the plan if conditions change.
Web-based systems like AgSquared, COG-Pro and the smaller-scale Gardenplanner.southernexposure.com and phone apps store a lot of information and let you make changes, which automatically transfer to other pages. But how good is your broadband service? Could you reliably enter and retrieve information when you need it? We often have outages, and this would be just too frustrating.
We use a lot of spreadsheets. You can make your own, or copy others. During the year we follow printed sheets on clipboards – we don’t often need the computer. The program does all the calculations. You can quickly sort out selected parts of the information and rearrange it. You can print out the sheets and hang them on clipboards for daily use.
Some people use worksheets – printed pages to provide the plan and for you to enter what you do. For the computer-averse, these are good, but leave you to do the arithmetic.
The farming or gardening year is a cycle, with no beginning and no end. You can start doing better planning at any time of year, busting into the circle diagram below at any point, although I do recommend clarifying your goals before making any big changes. But the slowest season does offer the most time, and a natural break in the crops. Gather your records and notes, your seed catalogs, your maps, and all the schedules and spreadsheets you used this past year.
0. First, clarify your goals. Don’t plan a garden that is designed for someone else.
The Money: If you are growing vegetables to earn a living, calculate how much money you need to support your household, and your farm.
Markets: Figure how best to do that with the land and labor you have available. A CSA? Farmer’s market? Roadside stand? Restaurant sales? You’ll need an idea of prices, so do some research!
Crops: Then decide which crops to grow. Choose vegetables based on demand balanced with the financial value of those crops and the practicalities of growing in your climate, with the land you have use of. I have written before about our process for deciding which crops to grow. Consider ease of growing, suitability for your farm, productivity, profitability, popularity. Provide critical mass for the whole season and a diversity of crops. Honor your crop rotation!
Harvest Schedule: You might be surprised that it is recommended to next determine how much of which crop you want to harvest when. In other words, plan your Harvest Schedule before planning any planting schedules. List how much of each crop to have ready for harvest each week
Planting quantities: Also calculate (from yield tables such as in Sustainable Market Farming) how much you need to plant to achieve your harvest goals. The average person eats 160-200 pounds of fresh vegetables per year (USDA); the average CSA share feeds 2 or 3 people; an annual share will need to include about 500 pounds of 40-50 different vegetables, distributed, say, once a week for 8 months and once a month for 4 months.
Add about 10%, perhaps, to allow for things not going as planned. This could lead to a surplus of some crops, which you might be able to substitute for the shortages. Consider crop spacings, as these will determine how much space each crop needs.
6. Field Planting Schedule: Next, calculate the planting dates that will lead to harvests on your desired dates. Pause to look at the work flow and reconsider if you have too much work in any given week, and if you could make a change to avoid that problem. Take into account Days to Maturity of the varieties you plan to grow, any slowing down or speeding up because of temperatures very different from the ideal spring temperatures the catalog writers had in mind when they came up with those numbers. Draw up your list of outdoor planting dates, along with varieties, row feet, spacing, notes and space to write down what you actually do.OPS
7. Seedlings Schedule: Decide which crops to direct sow and which to transplant. For all the crops you will transplant, prepare a schedule for growing the seedlings. Pause to make sure your growing space can accommodate the numbers of flats and pots you hope to grow.Seedlings Schedule
Pros of direct seeding
Less work than transplanting
Less money compared to buying starts
No need for a greenhouse and equipment
Better drought tolerance – roots grow without damage
Some crops don’t transplant easily
Some crops have millions of plants! (Carrots)
Cons of direct seeding
Uses more seed
Uses more time thinning
Occupies the land longer
Maybe harder to get started in cold (or hot) conditions
Pros of transplanting
Start earlier than outside, get earlier harvests
Start seed in more ideal conditions in greenhouse, better germination, more fun!
Easier to care for new seedlings in a greenhouse
Protected plants grow quicker
Select sturdiest plants, compost the rest
More flexibility if weather turns bad. Plants still grow!
Fit more crops into the season
Use time windows for quick cover crops
Save on seed costs
Cons of transplanting
Extra time caring for the starts
Transplant shock can delay harvest
More attention needed to watering new plants
8. Maps: Make scale maps and fill in the main crops to grow in each section, in keeping with your crop rotation. Fit the lesser crops in the spaces left.Map
9. Packing more in: If you want more than your space allows for, (including wanting to pack your crops in a smaller space, so you can grow more cover crops), then consider succession plantings, intercropping, relay planting and follow-on crops (removing an old crop and flipping the space for another crop in the remainder of the growing season). If you have plenty of growing space, including for cover crops, then you might go for an EXtensive rather than INtensive garden, and use equipment to deal with weeds.
10. Tweak Your Plan: look at the overview of your planning so far and especially look for ways to improve. Do you want to extend your season in either direction? It’s easier to get extra harvests for a month or two in fall from mature plants you already have, than it is to get harvests a week earlier in the spring. Keep your highest priorities in mind: crops for your best markets, the signature crops you are famous for, and food for your household. Perhaps an old crop is not worth keeping, if pulling it helps you establish a new crop in a timely way. Use all available space for food crops or cover crops. Be sure to transfer any changes made in one spreadsheet to the related ones.
11. Plan B: Write some notes on what you might do if something goes wrong. Keep lists of fast-growing crops, phone numbers of neighbors, articles about dealing with floods, etc. If something does go wrong, write down what happened and why, what you did and whether it was successful, and any ideas that might have worked better, so you are better prepared next year.
12. Record-keeping: be sure to keep good records so that in a year you can tweak your plan to make it better for next year. Make recording easy to do. Minimize the paperwork. Record your planting dates and harvest start and finish dates right on your planting schedule. Have a daily practice of writing down what was done that day: Planting dates, harvest start and end dates for each planting of each crop; the amount of work done on each crop; the amount harvested. Allow time to do that, without losing your lunch break! At the beginning of the winter, have a Crop Review Meeting, discuss and write up what worked and what didn’t, to learn from the experience and do better next year. If your records suggest adjusting a date next year, adjust it to halfway between last year’s plan and what seems ideal – gradually zero in on the likely date without wild pendulum swings based on variable weather.
This fall we had unused space in a bed where we planted Oct 1 radishes and Tokyo bekana (transplanted), Oct 2 brassica salad mix and Chinese cabbage and Oct 3 pak choy. On Oct 4 we had planted only 44ft, half the bed.
On Oct 10 we made a tiny 1.5ft sowing of brassica gap-filler plants. Oct 20 and 23 we did a bit more planting: scallions, radishes and more filler greens and lettuces (12.5ft), leaving 30ft still empty after Oct 23.
The next plantings were more fillers on Nov 9 (5ft), tatsoi on Nov 15 (7ft), radishes on Nov 29 (2ft), total 14ft more, leaving 16ft still empty. Then came lettuce mix on Dec 7 (12ft), leaving 4ft for brassica salad mix #2 on 12/18. Weeks of bare soil – ugh!
Then we start clearing the first round of crops (clearing radish #2 for Dec 8 brassica salad mix #1.5, 2ft) and Dec 18, clearing 4ft of radish #2.5 south side only, for more brassica salad mix #2, Dec 23 (clearing brassica salad mix #1 for radish #5, 4ft).
If we have a similar crop arrangement next winter, or small empty patches in various beds, what can we plant in space that is still empty after Oct 10, and especially the spaces that don’t get planted until mid-November onwards? We could try different crops, for the various crops that follow.
Qualities of possible crops:
Ready to eat 19-83 days from sowing or transplanting. Most spaces 30-60 days.
Cold weather crops, not warm weather crops
Something we’ll want to eat then, that we don’t already have lots of.
Or something that could be processed for later (we generally have enough greens in winter)
Maybe not spinach, as it’s a challenge with pests in the fall.
(Preferably not brassicas as we grow so many and stretch the crop rotation.)
Sow seeds thickly and lightly press seeds into soil. Shade?
Shoots should be at an edible size (3–6″) within 7–21 days.
HARVEST: Using a sharp harvest knife or scissors, cut the shoots just above the soil line. Place in plastic bags or sealed containers and refrigerate. [Could use up leftover pea seed that won’t be any good next spring]
Eat-All Greens (35 days from sowing). Invented by Carol Deppe, as a method of growing cooking greens quickly with little work, direct sown and cut at 12″ tall, leaving the tough-stemmed lower 3”, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil. She recommends 7 greens in particular: Green Wave mustard, Shunkyo and Sensai radishes, Groninger Blue collard-kale, Burgundy amaranth, Tokyo bekana, and Red Aztec huazontle. We tried this outdoors one fall, and I wrote 3 blog posts about it. The crops that did best for us were fava beans, peas, radish greens, Maruba Santoh and Tokyo bekana, frills, turnip greens, Siberian kales. The ones that didn’t work outdoors were kohlrabi, beets, and chard. (We sowed old seeds we had, didn’t buy the recommended ones)
Earlier turnips (45d)
Beets and their greens (easier than spinach and a double crop) (50-60d)
Earlier Senposai – but we have outdoor senposai to harvest in Oct and Nov (40d from emergence after sowing; 20 days from transplant)
Komatsuna (45 days from emergence after sowing; 25 days from transplant)
Kohlrabi (45-60d from 25-40d from transplants)
Earlier Napa cabbage (Blues) (52 days from emergence after sowing; 32 days from transplant).
Fedco Red Dragon Chinese cabbage (60 days from emergence after sowing; 40 days from transplant)
Small early cabbage like Farao, Golden Acre and EJW are all about 62 days from emergence after sowing; 42 days from transplant
Broccoli Tendergreen is 67 days from emergence after sowing; 47 days from transplant
Ready to eat 90 days from planting
Garlic scallions. We normally plant these in early November and eat in early March (120 days). But if we plant them earlier, in a warmer place, they’ll be ready sooner. Normally you don’t want to plant garlic until the soil cools to 50F (10C), because it would grow too fast and not survive the winter. But if it’s just the scallions you want, the rules change. . .
Clif Slade, who farms in a slightly warmer climate zone in Surry, Virginia, tells me they plant garlic for scallions outdoors in every month except August, and in the hoophouse until January (from September?). December plantings are ready indoors in March, outdoors in April. He generally reckons 90 days from planting to harvest, in warm conditions. Any garlic is suitable. Hardneck, softneck, small cloves, large cloves, whole small bulbs. Best return is on small garlic, although bulbs with lots of small cloves can be tiresome to pull apart!
When to sow crops to transplant?
And how would this fit into our schedule?
We’d need to sow 3-4 weeks before a transplant date of Oct 1, thst’s Sept 1-7.
We could sow Sept 15 with our first round of hoophouse transplants. Transplant Oct 7-15 approx
Start the hoophouse nursery bed two weeks earlier?
Or sow in the lettuce nursery seedbed which is already in use in early September?
It looks like we might have 30ft total available for fast crops. Here’s what fits:
Oct 1-Oct 20, 12.5ft. 19 days. Pea shoots, small transplanted senposai.
Oct 1-Nov 9, 5ft. 39 days. Eat-All Greens, transplanted senposai, komatsuna, or kohlrabi, or pea shoots. Maybe garlic scallions.
Oct 1-Nov 15, 7 ft. 45 days. Turnips, transplanted Blues, Red Dragon, small cabbages, or as in B.
Oct 1-Nov 29, 2ft. 59 days. Beets and beet greens, or transplanted Tendergreen broccoli, or as in C.
Oct 1-Dec 7, 12 ft. 67 days. Any of the above
Oct 1-Dec 23, 4 ft. 83 days. Any of the above.
Caution about slow growth
Growing slows down in November and December, so maybe we should be cautious the first time and add 10-14 days to the days to maturity??
Some years ago I figured out a sequence of sowing dates that would give us an even radish supply, without gaps or gluts. For various reasons, we drifted away from those dates, and I’d like to get back to them again. Sept 6 is the earliest we can sow in the hoophouse. Jan 25 is the latest date that will give us a worthwhile harvest, starting Jan 27. Skipping that last one would be OK.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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 continuePlanning, 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!
Are you already snuggling by your woodstove browsing seed catalogs? Remember the huge demand for seeds the past two years, and get your orders in early. The seed companies are doing their part by getting their catalogs out earlier. This winter don’t get sucked in by catalog superlatives! Reading between the lines of the variety descriptions will ensure you don’t miss some basic fact that would tell you this variety is not for your farm. I last wrote about this in detail in October 2013. Here are 24 phrases to watch for:
Who are you buying from? See the Safe Seed Pledge listfor companies that do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants.You may want to buy from local small seed companies who specialize in locally adapted varieties. Crops that overwinter in zone 7 could die in zone 5.
“Adaptable”“easy to grow” are good phrases to look for. Naturally, your climate will affect what grows well. Here it’s too hot for us to grow runner beans, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower. We don’t buy our okra seed from companies in the north – they are focused on varieties which will produce a decent crop in their climates. Our worries are different.
“Requires an attentive grower” is a helpful warning. The size and skill of your labor force matter.
“Best for organic production” means it doesn’t require lots of pesticides to keep it producing. It can also mean that results are variable, less suited to the kind of production where everything needs to ready on the same day, at about the same size.
“Early zucchini, 47 days from direct sowing” sounds impressive. But even the slow Costata Romanesco is only 52 days. How important is it to have zucchini 5 days earlier? And after your first sowing, is it still important to have a 47-day variety? “Early maturing” isn’t so useful if the seed rots in cold soil, so check both points.
Save $8 on slow and spiny?Spineless Perfection zucchini (45 days) and Tigress (50 days) offer the same disease-resistance package. Both are medium green, high yielding, cylindrical. Spineless Perfection has an open plant, Tigress is also an open plant, but has moderate spines. Would you trade a five-day delay and spines to save 8 dollars on 1000 seeds?
Disease resistance and tolerance. Do read the codes about disease tolerance. Don’t be a vegetable hypochondriac– your plants won’t get everything listed. Raven zucchini has no listed disease-resistance, while Dunja withstands four diseases. Both have open plants with high yields of dark green zucchini. Dunja has only small spines. Raven’s spines are “moderate”. Dunja is organically grown, Raven is not. Dunja costs twice as much as Raven at the 100 or 250 seeds level! What price organic seed, disease-resistance and short spines?
Is “mild” flavor better than “rich” or “robust”, or not? Your call.
“Heirlooms taste best” But some old varieties are rare for a reason! People didn’t like them much! Others are fantastic and easy to grow in quantity. Finding which are which is the challenge.The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit by Amy Goldman is not just a beautiful book, but a very useful one. The author spills the beans on which varieties are worth growing. She has books on squash and melons too, but I haven’t had the joy of reading those yet.
“Attractive purple pods” – Do they turn green when cooked? Purple carrots, striped eggplant, white beets – will they sell easily or will it be an uphill struggle?
“Compact”, “Mini” = small. Do you want small or full-size crops? It can be hard to compare weights with measurements. (Small cabbage = 2-4lbs, 4-6”.) “Mini-broccolis” Santee, De Cicco won’t produce a big head, ever, just florets. Mache (corn salad) is a very small vegetable. Even if the variety description says “long leaves” it’s all relative – maybe they’ll be 4” rather than 3”. At the other end of the Rampancy Rating are these key phrases: “needs room to roam,” “vigorous vines”. You can’t sell vines! Is the yield and flavor worth the extra space? “Needs sturdy trellis”: is it worth the time?
“Will be bitter in hot weather.” “Prefers warm days and nights – expect reduced yields in cooler areas” – you have been warned! If your spring heats up quickly, as ours does, you’ll want greens that are bolt-resistant as well as cold-tolerant, so you can set them out early.
Packet sizes: grams, ounces and seed counts. Seeds are measured out in many ways. Take a steady look at seed specs (seeds/ounce or seeds/gram). Alas, this country has not yet fully metricated. Print yourself some conversion tables, or use the online calculators. Or just type “Convert 4” to cm” into the search box and get the answer right away.
“Concentrated fruit set” versus “long harvest season”: length of harvest season is best viewed as potential rather than promised. If Mexican bean beetles or downy mildew are likely to take down your crops, you might do better to sow successions more frequently and not worry about long harvest periods. “Uniform maturity” is definitely a plus if you are growing a drying bean, popcorn, edamame or other single harvest crop. Otherwise you might prefer to harvest from the same row for a while.
“Easiest for hand harvest” (E-Z Pick beans) means they come off the vine easily; but “better for hand harvest” can mean unsuitable for machine harvest (plants sprawl). “Intended to be picked very slender” means tough when big, so be sure you get a high enough price to justify the lower yield and extra harvest time. And be sure you can harvest every 36-48 hours, or you won’t have anything edible.
“Short-term storage only” – we usually read this as “not for storage.” Tendersweet is a fine cabbage for fresh use – its leaves are thin and sweet. Thin leaves dry out fast, so it’s not good for storage. Look for “Retains flavor when frozen or canned,” “Best for sauerkraut,” “Good for kimchee,” “Easy to shell”.
“Good side-shoot production” (Gypsy, Amadeus, Belstar broccoli). If side-shoots aren’t mentioned, it’s likely that variety was bred for crown cuts.
Onions and latitude Latitude makes a difference with onions. Happily, more catalogs now state which latitudes each variety is adapted for. We’re at 38°N. No use us growing Red Bull (43°-65°), as the days never get long enough to initiate bulbing. Nor do we have much hope for Desert Sunrise (30°-36°) – because after the spring equinox, our hours of daylight are more than further south – Desert Sunrise will start bulbing before having a chance to grow very big. A few small leaves cannot produce a big bulb.
Pumpkinsor squash? Some vegetables commonly thought of as winter squash are in catalogs as pumpkins. Many cans of pumpkin pie filling are not made from round orange-skinned pumpkins, but from squash. Choose squash varieties that grow well in your area and make all the pies you want. Or make no pies and serve the squash baked, or in soups. Research at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange showed that many Moschata squash varieties, the kind most resistant to bugs, are also tasty at the immature stage as “summer squash”. So ignore what you’re “supposed to do” and do what works!
Incompatible sweet corn types. Don’t plant any Super Sweet varieties unless you isolate them from other kinds, or you make sure they don’t flower within 10 days of each other. Mistakes will lead to horrible starchy kernels in all your corn. Think about this also if you are growing popcorn, dent corn, flint corn. Those dry corns also need to be separated from all sweet corns. Ignore the small print on this at your peril.
“Parthenocarpic” Plants can set fruit without pollination, so these are good for hoophouse growing or production under rowcover or insect netting. Some new varieties of cucumbers and squash are parthenocarpic, and higher-priced, but some old favorites also happen to be parthenocarpic, Little Leaf pickling cucumber, for example.
“Gynoecious” Plants have only female flowers, so the yield can be higher. These plants still require pollination to set fruit, unless they are also parthenocarpic, so some seeds of another (pollinizer) variety are included in the packet. You’ll need to grow some of these, even though they won’t themselves give you the fruit you want. Sometimes the pollinizer seeds are colored, so you can be sure to sow some.
“Monogerm” beets produce only one seedling from each seedball/fruit. Other varieties will need singling. Trade-off price versus time singling.
Too good to be true? New fancy types are often riskier. They don’t have all the problems resolved. Romanesco broccoli – I don’t know anyone in Virginia who has successfully grown it. Flower Sprouts and Kalettes – hmmm, novel, but slow to grow and not a massive yield. Try brand new things on a small scale first. All the fanfare over Indigo Rose tomato, the excitingly evil Deadly Nightshade color of the immature fruit, and then – blah flavor when ripe. “Good” flavor in a catalog may be the lowest rating.
So, enjoy reading your catalogs and highlighting varieties that appeal to you. Mark the phrases that give you pause as well, so that when you compile your orders, you’ll do it with all the info you need to have a bountiful next season!
We have winter to enjoy/experience/endure before we start spring seedlings, but there are some steps you can take to make spring start-up easier and more successful. Of course, there is the usual list of tidying your workspace, preparing to order seeds and repairing tools.
Replacement tool handles
House Handle Company Telephone: (800) 260-6455 has a wide selection of good quality wood handles online. They specialize in hickory, white oak and ash. Be careful making your selection, and get the handle that’s just right for the tool you are repairing. You can see a lot of their handles in our photos. During the winter we usually have a “Santa’s workshop” day when we repair tools.
There are YouTube videos showing how to make sturdy repairs. Just be sure to shape the handle for a good fit before drilling any holes for rivets. And learn how to make rivets from large nails if none are supplied with your replacement handle. Sharp edges on poking-out badly finished rivets, or nuts and bolts can cause injuries. Sweat we might need. Blood and tears we can do without.
Today I’m thinking about seed and potting compost.
We use 100% home-made compost for sowing seeds, and for potting-up transplants. We don’t mix in any other ingredients. Our seed compost is our regular good-quality compost, screened to remove large particles, and matured over the winter into a very mellow combination of nutrients and micro-organisms. We make great compost and it grows big strong plants.
We screen a big pile of compost in September, and fill the cinder-block beds in our solar-heated greenhouse. See this post: Screening compost to make our own seed compost for spring. If you are making your own screens, you can use hardware cloth (rat-wire), or do as reader Jim Poole suggested and try stucco lathing instead. “It is quite a bit sturdier. (But watch out for the cut ends when installing it- it can give you a nasty gash.)”
We need a lot of compost, but the idea works fine on a smaller scale too. Find an indoor place near where you will use the compost in the spring, and some tubs to put the screened compost into. If you want the full tub to be on a bench in spring, put the empty one on the bench and screen into it! If you want to grow lettuces in the compost, put the tubs near a window.
Just storing the compost inside over the winter will mean you are not dealing with frozen stuff when you want to sow. But better yet, see Starting Seedlings and Preparing for spring, sowing seeds, for more about how we grow lettuces in the stored compost over the winter in our greenhouse, then use that compost in spring for seedlings.
We transplant lettuce at 10″ spacing into the beds in mid-September or early October. By harvesting only the outer leaves, we keep those lettuces alive and growing all winter to give us salad from November to February. Because we water the lettuces, the compost organisms stay alive and active. If you don’t grow a crop overwinter, water the compost from time to time to keep it slightly damp.
This system provides us with a large quantity of mellow screened compost for seed flats, indoors and not frozen. The micro-organisms have had plenty of time to colonize the compost, so it is full of life. In spring, as we need space in the greenhouse, we pull the lettuce. We can then scoop out the compost to fill the flats for seedlings.
The only issue we sometimes have is aphids in early spring. This winter we are experimenting with some plants we hope will flower in early spring and attract beneficial insects who also eat aphids. I’ll report on this project when we see the results.
Here’s what we currently do to deal with early spring greenhouse aphids:
jet the plants with water to project the aphids into outer space (OK I’m exaggerating),
gather up lady bugs, or
if numbers of aphids are really high, we use a soap spray.
We start our first seedlings in mid-January, although we only sow a few things the first week (cabbage and lettuce for outdoors and tomatoes for our hoophouse), and harvesting just one or two lettuces would provide enough compost for those few flats.
Lettuce transplants in soil blocks. Photo Pam Dawling
We used to make soil blocks for our more delicate transplants (melons, early cucumbers and squash) because there is no transplant shock when you plant them out. We even used them for lettuces at one time. We developed a very simple recipe, which we seem to have lost, but it was something like 1.5 parts by volume of our home-made compost, 1 part of soaked coconut coir and as much water as needed to make a wet slumpy, but not soupy, mix.
I use coir rather than peat moss, because I believe the extraction rate of peat moss is not sustainable, and as a carbon sink, it’s better to leave it in the ground. Coir is a tropical food by-product. I’m sure it’s better returned to the soil where the coconuts are grown.
The mix is compressed into a special block-maker, which is then scraped across an edge of the container of mix, to create a flat base, and then the block is ejected using the spring-loaded handle into a tray or open flat. We line our flats with a sheet of plastic to reduce drying out. It’s important to dunk the block maker in water between fillings to wash off the old remnants and enable the new blocks to slip out smoothly.
The blocks are surprisingly stable – they can be picked up and moved, like brownies. Or you can move several at once on a kitchen spatula. As the plants grow, the roots get air-pruned. Even if you pack the blocks shoulder to shoulder in the tray, the roots from one block do not grow into the others. There is no root damage at all when the complete block is transplanted. Do make sure you press the surrounding soil down and inwards to make good contact with the block.
More recently we have come to love Winstrip trays, very durable plug flats with cubic cells that are vented down the sides, so the plants get air-pruned. The bottoms of the cells have finger-sized holes so you can easily pop a full-grown transplant out of the tray. The Winstrip 50 cell tray has cells almost the size of soil blocks. These flats have all the advantages of soil blocks except price. They are expensive. We got ours used. Winstrips have two additional advantages: they are much quicker to use than soil blocks, and they work with all-compost. We don’t add any coir. One less input to buy. I haven’t calculated how many plugs-worth of coir pay for one Winstrip tray. . .
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!
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.
On the planting end, see Plant Garlic (Alliums for November)
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 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 scallionsis 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 FairlyMoist: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Book Review: Building Your Permaculture Property, A Five Step Process to Design and Develop Land
Rob Avis, Michelle Avis and Takota Coen
New Society Publishers, 2021, 222 pages, $49.99, color photos and illustrations throughout
Thank goodness for this book! I had already admired some of the work of Michelle and Rob Avis in Adaptive Habitat (ecological design and sustainable technology), so I knew them to be committed and practical. I am one of those put off from permaculture by the worshipful jargon of some followers, and the peculiarly male-dominated field. This book restores my faith in being able to benefit from and use the good ideas in permaculture without abandoning independent thought or the all-important holistic approach.
This book is a valuable and realistic resource from authors who have “earned their share of cuts and bruises”; a guide to clarifying your goals, attitudes and approaches to holistic land management; a step-by-step guide to get from today to a future aligned with your dreams.
This is not an introduction to permaculture, or a quick-fix for your garden, woodlot, home energy source, flooded land, compacted soil, or back aching from rototilling! There is a common misperception that permaculture is about a set of trendy vegetable gardening techniques. Here is a careful Five Step Permaculture Process, with exercises, templates, workflow tools and thoughtful questions. It addresses real challenges.
The book is introduced by the quote from Bill Mollison (one of the cofounders of Permaculture), defining Permaculture: “Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”
When Rob and Michelle were teaching, Rob was often ashamed to mention the word “permaculture”. Despite the elegant practical solutions for solving systemic problems with food, water, housing and energy systems offered by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Permaculture One, most people publicizing permaculture talk about zones, guilds, keyhole and spiral planting beds. “Putting a herb spiral in your backyard while you still source the majority of your basic needs from the degenerative food, water and energy systems is simply permaculture tourism.” Thank you! Straightening the deckchairs on the Titanic! Society’s big messes will not be helped by a herb spiral!
The authors believe that the root cause of people becoming disenchanted in permaculture is a lack of a clearly defined process. They ask the question “What is the biggest problem you are struggling with right now putting permaculture into practice?” and have found that answers fall into five categories.
I don’t know what I should do. (Unclear goals.)
I don’t know where to look. (Inadequate information.)
I don’t know how it all fits. (Confusion.)
I don’t know where to start or what’s next. (Being overwhelmed.)
I don’t know when it will end. (Burnout)
All indicate a lack of something important. The authors decided that instead of teaching students what to do, they would teach them how to solve their problems. We benefit from focusing less on specific practices (those herb spirals!) and more on making a clear step-by-step process for how to design, develop, and manage a property to provide all the food, water, shelter and energy needs in harmony with the ecosystem.
In the Five-Step Permaculture Process, each step addresses one of the five Biggest Struggles:
Clarify vision, values, resources
Assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats in your resources
Design your use of resources to meet vision and values
Implement the design that most improves your weakest resource
Monitor for well-being or suffering
Buy the book, check out their website, I’m not going to spell it all out here! It’s easy to forget that hours of learning and practicing a skill come before becoming an expert! Persistence and process are both needed.
The illustrations from Jarett Sitter throughout the book look like those from children’s picture books, although examination reveals symbols of the permaculture journey. Each chapter includes sidebars with enlightening segments from Takota Coen’s Story developing regenerative agriculture as a fourth generation farmer.
The heart of the book addresses the five steps and the initial foundation (Step 0) to guide you through design and management. Approach the steps in the order given, and be open to the possibility that you will need to tackle several aspects at once. Like learning to play guitar by learning to read music, keeping time, strumming a rhythm and making a chord, you will need to practice many skills and pull them all together as you go. Find an independent Accountability Partner, who is tackling a similar permaculture challenge, but is not invested in the same one as you. You will gain support and motivation.
The foundation chapter (Step 0) is about inspecting our conscious and unconscious beliefs about reality, which determine our vision, our actions and our responses to other people. We look for hindrances such as confirmation biases (remembering information that supports our existing preconceptions); endowment effects (demanding more to give up something than we would pay to acquire it); the IKEA effect (giving higher value to things we have assembled ourselves, regardless of actual quality!)
The authors define two predominant downward spiraling paradigms: ‘degenerative’ and ‘sustainable’, in contrast to the upward spiraling ‘regenerative’ paradigm. The degenerative paradigm cycles through arrogance, extraction, combat and suffering, creating an increasingly fragile system. The ‘sustainable’ paradigm seeks to maintain the status quo, cycling through guilt, conserving, controlling and surviving, creating a resilient system. The ‘regenerative’ system is anti-fragile, getting stronger, cycling up through reverence, co-creation, designing, thriving.
I dislike this definition of “sustainable” – people in survivalist mode, delaying on their own land the effects of societal collapse. As the author of a book with the S word in the title, I feel a bit defensive. I am not the guilt-ridden, masochistic, fearful, self-hating type portrayed. How does this stereotype help the authors make converts? I share with permaculturists feelings of reverence, awe, co-operation, justice, humility, compassion and being part of nature. But I am not a permaculturist. I use the definition of sustainable in the 1987 Brundtland Report: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I do agree with the authors that ableness to sustain or maintain is not a guarantee that sustaining will happen.
From the perspective of word meanings, regenerative suggests being able to or tending to regenerate, renew or restore, especially after injury, or damage. It includes the sense that something has gone wrong and we are going to ride in and fix it, returning things to a previous state. Yes, corporations and individuals do co-opt the word sustainable, for industrial agriculture, as happened previously with the words organic, biological, ecological. And will happen with the word regenerative. In a few years, this word too, will be seen as having shortcomings, meaning retro-farming, or something unfortunate like that.
Step 1 is to clarify vision, resources and values. The large number of options can be reduced to those that answer all three questions, What do you want?What resources do you have? and What matches your values? The overlap of the first two filters out the impossible. The permaculture movement has developed helpful tools: the Needs and Yields Analysis, when applied to ourselves, will help answer the first two questions, and the Three Permaculture Ethics of earth care, people care and future care gives guidance on clarifying values.
Make an inventory of your resources, starting with money and material resources, and moving into natural, social, spiritual, experiential, intellectual and cultural resources. Your personal resource inventory should include debts (negative resources) and resources you have access to without ownership. Step 1 also includes thought experiments on increasing wellbeing for all, and the creation of a Vision and Values One-pager. Because most of us want to share our lives with others, we need to resolve interpersonal conflicts, to build shared vision and value statements. The process of writing down your desires in broad daylight helps with inspection and reflection.
The most common design mistakes when clarifying visions and values are focusing on the what rather than the why; using language traps like the future tense which let you off the hook for actually doing anything today; identifying yourself as outside the ecosystem looking in, and being paralyzed by perfection. The authors sell a toolkit of the templates for the exercises and provide practice tips at the end of each chapter.
Jared Diamond, in Collapse, his study of collapsed societies, notes: “Two types of choices seem to me to have been crucial in tipping the outcomes towards success or failure: long-term planning and willingness to reconsider core values.”
Step 2: Diagnose Your Resources for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, opens with encouragement to search out any information that could make or break your plans.
You can organize your property resources into 11 categories: geography, climate, water, access, structures, fencing, flora, fauna, business, technology and soil. There’s another helpful chart. Use a pattern found in nature to gather, store, organize and retrieve your info, based on these categories. This functions to help create an ordered workflow (order of operations) for design and implementation.
Diagnosis has two stages, firstly making observations about your resources using the four variables of patterns (form, timing, placement, scale). There’s a chart about this, with descriptors that fit each mode. Secondly SWOT analysis, where you make value-based judgements about each resource. Strengths and weaknesses are attributes within your project. Opportunities and threats are outside your project but close enough to have an impact. There is a big chart with examples for each of the 11 categories.
Be warned that every property seems to have a hidden piece of information that, if discovered, can change everything for the better. Takota Coen describes discovering he had (at big expense) had a pond dug in the wrong place. He thought he knew the land so well he didn’t need to put his design on paper. After learning to use Google Earth Pro (it’s free!), he discovered a much better pond site. The website has tools to help you make effective use of GIS programs.
Step 3: Design Your Resources to Meet Your Vision and Values. When you draw out a design in detail on paper, you gain insights into how to create it in real life and reduce silly mistakes. There are three misconceptions about what design is. Designs are not fixed in stone – if you become aware of ways to improve your design, you do it! Design is not just aesthetics, but is structural, functional, and also beautiful. The best way to improve something is not always to add to it – many improvements come with removing something, or taking a very different approach.
Regularly ask yourself what you are aiming to achieve, and what other options would also provide the same outcome. Don’t decide you need a swale, or a solar greenhouse until you identify a goal and weigh up the options for reaching the goal, and come out with the answer that best satisfies the goal.
Two useful method of design that can be tweaked for this job are the needs and yields analysis and the sector analysis. Both are carefully explained. They examine if every need of every element is fully met within your system; if every yield is fully used; if every element serves multiple functions; if every function is served by multiple elements; and if all is functioning ethically.
Consider each of the energy sources and sinks on your farm, whether you want that energy and how you will make best use of it if you do want it. There are suggestions of what sources and sinks to consider, as well as ways to reduce losses. There’s an engaging list of tips, including “When you are working, work; when you are chilling, chill. Make it a binary.” Also, reduce clutter, distractions (social media), and set up a ritual for starting deep work on your design. Use your accountability partner. Gather all your worksheets in one place.
Step 4: Implement the Right Design That Will Most Improve Your Weakest Resource, opens with a note that “the dirty little secret of permaculture is that design is the easy part, it is the implementation that kills you.” When one of your resources fails, it will no longer be helping you thrive, it will start to cannibalize the farm. This can happen if you made a poor decision earlier. This chapter helps you organize workflow, make weekly plans, make good decisions, and not rush to get to your goal in what looks like the fastest way.
Problems can arise if you tackle tasks in a poor order. Go back to the 11 categories of resources. Geography comes first, because once chosen, it cannot be changed easily or quickly. The categories that are listed higher impact all those below them. Don’t abandon the list because soil is last! Soil is very important, of course, but there is no value in getting into the detail of the best cover crops, if you have not dealt with water supply and drainage to prevent runoff, or dealt with wind erosion.
Look for weakest links (biggest gaps between vision and resources), turn this gap into a Wildly Important Goal (achievable and exciting), and focus with the formula “from X to Y by when?”. Each week commit to one or more actions that will lead in the right direction, schedule them weekly, and check them off when done. The book has an extensive chart of examples.
Revisit Step 3 (Design) with its description of good, bad and ugly designs, and transfer the descriptions to decisions. What is your process for making good decisions? Many people are not consciously aware of how they make decisions. Intuition alone is not enough. Use the Good Decision Worksheet.
After writing down your decision, check its alignment with your values; any possibly ruinous outcome; whether it actually addresses the problem; whether it’s your best use of your resources; the risk/reward ratio; then sleep on it and repeat the process; pass the idea by your accountability partner; flip a coin to check if your emotions align with your decision; write down what needs to be done, and early indications of whether you have made the best decision.
Step 5: Monitor Your Resources for Indicators of Well-being or Suffering. You can only manage what you measure (but you can measure more things than you can manage!) Precision is not the same as accuracy! Knowing exactly how many beetles are on your plants does not provide the whole answer on what to do. Rather than focus entirely on numbers, monitor for suffering and well-being. “The one thing never found in a healthy ecosystem is excessive suffering.” There will always be some suffering – it is feedback on the situation and the design that led to it. Determine what actions you can take to improve things.
There are two categories of resources, personal resources and the 11 categories of property resources. Look at your Vision and Values Sheet and use your Indicators of early signs of success or failure to see if you are heading towards well-being or suffering. Takota tells the story of figuring out when and why his cows got mastitis, and making a small change he had resisted, increasing well-being, and preventing mastitis from then on.
Increase awareness of your own state of being: if you feel patient, grateful, relaxed and enthusiastic, you are in a state of well-being. If you are sleepy, angry, resentful, jealous and prone to procrastination, you are suffering. Do you hum as you work, or curse? Your coworkers will know your signs of distress, if you can’t tell for yourself.
Keeping a journal can help monitor your well-being. Write down the answers to 3 questions in the morning. What are you most excited about today? What are you most grateful for? What is one thing you could do to make today great? In the evening, ask: What is the most amazing thing that happened today? What could I have done better? What was my biggest insight today?
At the end of each month, review your weekly planner sheets, and your daily reflections. Answer questions on a range of 0-10, and compare your answers the previous month. How clear are you on what your weakest link is? How confident are you that what you are doing is addressing this weakest link and moving you towards your goal? Have you seen signs that you are increasing well-being (or suffering)? What has been this month’s most valuable insight?
Monitor your 11 property resources yearly, looking for signs of increased well-being. There is a template! Shockingly, cropland globally is often bare for 30-50% of the year, wasting the potential photosynthesis, and degrading the soil. Soil carbon can (on average) hold four times its weight in water. Another source of potential wastage or potential improvement. When the solar cycle, the water cycle and the soil nutrient cycle interact well, the flora and fauna spiral towards the climax ecosystem for that region.
Monitor, reflect, record, compare results with your vision and values statement, monitor your ecosystems. Make a paper planner and use it for a full year before reviewing. There are templates and suggestions for designing your own planner.
A lot of the ideas in this book make a great deal of sense even for those of us who don’t identify as permaculturists! Careful design and planning, checklists, worksheets – these can save all of us wasted effort or heartache. This thoughtful book can be useful to every farmer or landowner. As I’ve often noted, any gardener or farmer paying close attention and recording their results, has something valuable to teach us, whatever they call the style of their farming.
You can find a wealth of information on my website about growing, harvesting and storing winter vegetables. There are many links here in this post (all should open in a new tab, so you won’t go down a rabbit hole), and you can also use the search box in the upper right to enter whatever vegetable you are wondering about, and “grow” “harvest” or “store”, Remember I also have several annual series of posts, on Asian greens, root vegetables, workhorse crops, alliums, cooking greens, and lettuce. Just don’t look for “Storage lettuce” until April 1st.
I’ve also included some good blogs that I sometimes consult.
Fall and Winter Vegetable Growing
Season extension into cold weather
Prepare your garden for colder weather: plant winter crops if there is still time, use rowcover on hoops to protect crops from wind and cold weather, plant up every little bit of space in your greenhouse or hoophouse.
Shannon suggests using a variety of strategies. “Plant some vegetables that will mature quickly, others that will hold well in your garden beds, and still others that will overwinter and begin growing again when the days lengthen.”
Good late season vegetables: salad greens, Swiss chard, beans, peas (in climates milder than 7), carrots, radishes, senposai, spinach, pak choy, cabbage and winter lettuces.
Good cold hardy vegetables: Plant in late summer and fall to harvest throughout the winter. These late-sown crops reach full maturity before seriously cold weather, and hold so you can harvest them when the rest of your crops have been eaten. They don’t usually grow much during the winter, but they do stay fresh. Grow enough to supply your needs without depending on any further growth. This category includes Asian greens, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, leeks, scallions, spinach, turnips and other root vegetables,
Good crop protection so you can grow some crops through the winter. If your winter temperatures routinely drop below 25 F (- 4 C), crops need protection, from simple rowcover to hoophouses or greenhouses. This improves the temperatures, but it’s hard to address the reduced amount of daylight or sunlight. The increased warmth, plus the protection from winds, can be enough for some, such as spinach, kale and lettuce, to make some growth whenever their temperature is greater than 40F (5C).
Good slow growing crops to harvest outdoors in late winter or early spring. In this category are crops that go into the winter less than fully grown. After the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen, crops start growing again, making them usually ready for harvest very early, much earlier than any crops planted after the solstice. They don’t usually need winter protection and include beets, some types of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, onions, garlic, garlic scallions, spinach, kale and collards.
Good crops to grow in hoophouses include arugula, beets, chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, mustards, pak choy, parsley, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, Tokyo bekana, turnips and Yukina Savoy