Cooking Greens in July

 

Early spring cabbage with alyssum to attract beneficial insects.
Photo Pam Dawling

Here in central Virginia in July, we have chard and spring cabbage for cooking greens, the last broccoli, and some collards early in the month.

Sowing the fall greens is well underway. We also start transplanting cooking greens this month – it’s very hot, but this is when we need to do it, to have the crops mature before it gets too cold for them.

Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in July

See June’s Cooking Greens post for more about chard, a biennial that will not bolt in the summer heat. We can eat it whenever we like; it is always there, always harvestable, from late May to late December. It’s so easy to care for, and nothing bad happens if we ignore it. Some years it even survives our winters.

Our broccoli comes to an end in early July, when it gets bitter, and has only tiny side-shoots left. We are harvesting our cabbage. We sowed early cabbage in our greenhouse in late January and transplanted it around March 10. We sowed our main-crop cabbage February 7 and transplanted around April 1. In our early cabbage, we grew Farao (F1, 60d, 3lbs, 1.5 kg), Early Jersey Wakefield, (OP, 63d, 2-3lbs, -1.5 kg)), and flat, mid-sized, Tendersweet (F1 71d). For the maincrop, we have more Farao and Early Jersey Wakefield, along with Red Express, Kaitlin and Tribute.

A cabbage, with curled back leaf on the head, showing maturity.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We store cabbage beyond our immediate needs in net bags in the refrigerator. None of these spring varieties are long-storers, but they should see us through the summer until mid-October when we have fresh outdoor fall cooking greens. We eat a 50lb (23k) bag of cabbage each week, so we aim to get 12 bags into storage, by the time the harvest ends in mid-July. Additional cabbage beyond the 12 bags (if any) gets made into sauerkraut. Our main sauerkraut making season is when we harvest the fall cabbage, which is usually a bigger planting.

That’s it for cooking greens harvests here until late August, when our fall planting of Senposai will start to yield. Some years we have sowed Tokyo Bekana or Maruba Santoh for a quick harvest. Both are very fast growing tender chartreuse (yellow-green) leafy plants that can be served chopped and lightly cooked. Tokyo Bekana a Brassica rapa chinensis type and takes 45 days to full maturity. Maruba Santoh, Brassica rapa pekinensis, is similar to Tokyo Bekana but less frilly. Fairly bolt tolerant. Only 35 days to maturity.

We have sometimes planted these for salad leaves to get us through late summer lettuce shortages. The wide white stems of the mature plant provide crunch for salads, along with the delicate leaves; or the baby leaves can be harvested. Both have a mild flavor and even so, I have been surprised that many people don’t even notice they are not eating lettuce – I suppose enough salad dressing masks all flavors!

An adolescent Tokyo bekana plant.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in July

In May, I described our planning for our fall brassica nursery seedbeds. In June I described our schedule of weekly sowings, hooping, netting, watering and weeding. Weeks 3-6 fall in July, so now I’ll tell you about those. Weeks 7 and 8 are in August.

We sow the fall brassicas weekly throughout July – see the Special Topic for June for all the details. Each week we resow anything from the previous week that did not germinate well or became casualties. We sow these top-ups for any varieties with germination less than 80%, in a fresh row, with a new label, to avoid confusion.

In week 3 of our Fall Brassica Transplanting Schedule, (the first week of July) we sow broccoli and cabbage for the second time (insurance!), and senposai, Yukina Savoy and Chinese cabbage (if we are growing it that year) for the first time.

In week 4, (the second week of July) we sow the Chinese cabbage, senposai and Yukina Savoy for the second time, and collards for the first time. If we have to resow broccoli or cabbage, we choose the faster-maturing varieties.

In week 5 (the third week of July) we sow collards for the second time. Week 6 has no new sowings, only resows for anything that didn’t come up well..

It’s also possible in warmer areas to sow Swiss chard or leaf beet for a fall crop. This might be a useful Plan B if some other crops have failed. The last planting date is ten weeks before frost. The winter-kill temperature is 15°F (–10°C) for multi-colored chard, 12°F (-11°C) for red chard and 10°F (-12°C) for green chard (Fordhook Giant). Asian greens can also be direct-sown this month. We prefer transplants for several reasons: it’s easier to protect close-packed seedlings from pests than whole beds; it gives us extra time to grow a round of buckwheat as cover crop in the beds, and improve the organic matter and reduce weeds.

A netted bed of brassica seedlings on July 4.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in July

Now is the time to prepare our plot for the fall broccoli and cabbage transplanting as I described in June, mark out the rows and start transplanting.

We aim to transplant most brassicas at 4 true leaves (3-4 weeks after sowing in summer), but it often slips to 5 weeks before we get finished. I recommend transplanting crops at a younger age in hot weather than you would in spring, because larger plants can wilt from high transpiration losses. If we find ourselves transplanting older plants, we remove a couple of the older leaves to reduce these losses. It would make an interesting experiment to see which actually does best: 3 week transplants, 4 week transplants, or 5 week transplants with 2 leaves removed. Possibly the larger root mass of the older plants would be an advantage. On the other hand, old, large transplants can head prematurely, giving small heads. By that point in the year, my scientific curiosity has been fried by the sheer workload of crop production!

Week 4 (the second week of July): Transplant week 1 cabbage (especially the slower-growing “late” varieties). Cover: hoop and net or rowcover.

Week 5 (the third week of July): Transplant Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana, Maruba Santoh sown in week 3. Yes they really will be big enough at 2 week-old! Transplant week 2 sowings of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and any week 2 resows. Cover: hoop and net or rowcover.

Week 6 (the fourth week of July): Transplant week 3 sowings of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, senposai, Yukina Savoy, collards; week 4 Chinese cabbage, Tokyo Bekana, Maruba Santoh, and any week 3 resows. Cover: hoop and net or rowcover.

We plan to have transplanting crews 6 days a week for an hour and a half or two hours in late afternoon or early evening, for 2-3 weeks, not counting the kale transplanting, which happens later. We water the seedlings one day and again one hour before digging them up. We plant to the base of the first true leaves, to give the stem good support, and we firm in well, so the roots have good contact with the soil, and do not die in an air pocket. After transplanting, we water generously within half an hour of planting, and again the third day, and the seventh, and then once a week. We use overhead sprinklers, and don’t easily have the option of watering every day. If you have drip irrigation, you can more easily give a little water in the middle of each day, which will help cool the roots.

A harvest cart with cabbage, kale, squash and lettuce.
Photo by Wren Vile

Other Cooking Greens Tasks for July

No visible brassicas month! In early July, the last of our spring brassica crops get harvested, and all the seedling brassica crops are under netting. There are no brassicas for the harlequin bugs to feed on and multiply in, for at least one month. We hope this will break their lifecycle. When we transplant the young brassicas, we cover those all with netting or rowcover for a few weeks.

Special Cooking Greens Topic for July: Unusual Hot Weather Cooking Greens (More in August)

All the following are warm weather crops, so wait till the soil temperature is at least 60°F (16°C) before direct sowing. If sown after mid-June, they can follow an earlier crop such as lettuce or peas.

Leaf amaranth, Amaranthus species.

Amaranths are found across the globe. There are two basic types: seed amaranths, used as a grain, and leaf amaranths. Callaloo is another name for leaf amaranth (but sometimes other crops have this name), widely used in the Caribbean. Amaranth leaves make tender and nutritious cooked greens.

This tropical annual plant thrives in really hot weather. It is a huge plant, 4’-6’ (1.2-1.8 m) tall. Some are very attractive, looking like coleus.

Carol Deppe in The Tao of Vegetable Gardening recommends All Red for a spectacularly colorful leaf, especially for salads, and Green Calaloo and Burgundy for fast-growing greens. She reports they all taste the same to her raw, and all taste the same when cooked. So choose based on your preferred color and rate of growth.

Joseph’s Coat, Amaranthus tricolor, is an eye-catching plant with red, green, and yellow leaves that may also include patches of pink, bronze, purple and brown.

William Woys Weaver (Heirloom Warm Weather Salad Greens, Mother Earth News) is a fan of ‘Bliton’ or ‘Horsetooth Amaranth’, Amaranthus lividus (Amaranthus viridis). He reports that it is the easiest and most prolific of summer greens.

In colder regions, start seed indoors, and transplant when it’s warm enough to plant beans or corn (Frequent advice for many of these hot weather greens). In warmer regions, direct sow in rows after all danger of frost is past, or broadcast with the aim of getting plants 4” (10 cm) apart. Succession-sowing in summer to provide continuous harvests.

Thin the seedlings to at least 6” (15 cm) apart (use for salads) and each time the plants reach 8-12” (20 -30 cm), harvest the top 8” (20 cm) for cooking. This pinching back will encourage bushier plants with new leaves and prevent reseeding. If grown for a single harvest, pull plants about 12” (30 cm) tall.

The crop is ready 50 days after sowing. It is tasty steamed or stir-fried like spinach. The tender leaves have a sweet nutty flavor.

When the plant is older, the stems get too tough, and then only the leaves and new shoots should be used. Some people say that amaranth should not be eaten raw, but I have failed to discover why, and others recommend it as salad.

In parts of the South, it has become a weed – “Grow responsibly,” as Barbara Pleasant says in her Mother Earth News blogpost Warm Weather Spinach Alternatives. If your farm has lots of amaranth weeds, you won’t want to risk adding another.

Red-root pigweed is an amaranth. If you have this weed and its striped flea-beetle, you will also find your edible crop full of holes and not saleable. For this reason, we don’t grow amaranth crops.

Aztec Spinach, Huauzontle, (Chenopodium berlandieri).

The chenopods (goosefoot family) are now considered a subfamily of the Amaranth family, which is related to true spinach. This plant has bigger leaves, more tender stems and better resistance to bolting than common lambsquarters, which is also edible.

Broadcast and thin to 4” apart, harvesting young leaves for salad just 30 days after sowing. When 12” tall, harvest the top 8”. This could be less than 8 weeks from sowing, depending on your climate. After the first harvest, thin the plants to 12”-15” (30-38 cm) apart, and the bushy new growth will provide leaves for future harvests. Each plant can produce a pound (0.5 kg) of colorful leaves, which steam in just one minute, and keep their color when cooked. Later, the plants with flowerbuds are cooked for breakfast. Wrap the stems with buds around a soft white cheese, dip the whole thing in batter and then fry the fritters, and simmer in a chili sauce. This may be more a springtime dish than a summer one, depending when the plants start to flower.

Hot weather increases productivity, while cooler fall weather increases the color intensity of the leaves. Succession-sowing in summer may be the solution to providing a later crop.

There is also a red version – the lower leaves turn bright red as they mature, and stay red when cooked. An attractive red and green plant, this crop can make a dramatic statement in the vegetable garden. Aztecs grew it between rows of corn. It can grow to 8’-12’ (2.4-3.7 m) tall, although it is a skinny plant, not bulky.

Magenta Magic orach.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Orach (Atriplex hortensis) is another member of the Chenopod family, and comes in several attractive green, red and purple color schemes. It is also salt-tolerant. It can be tricky to transplant, needing plenty of water. The plants produce small leaves, and set seed liberally, although it is not usually invasive. Thin to 6” (15 cm) apart. Orach has a star role as elegant baby salad leaves, but it can also be grown to full size and eaten steamed. The flavor is good, and the color is retained after cooking.

Good King Henry, Chenopodium bonus-henricus, aka Mercury or Lincolnshire Spinach, has thick long-stemmed, arrow-shaped leaves. It is rich in vitamins A & C, and calcium This hardy perennial is a fairly untamed plant that bolts easily, vigorously self-seeding. So don’t expect a long picking season. Early in the year the emerging shoots may be picked and eaten like asparagus.

Magenta Lamb’s Quarters, Chenopodium album, has beautiful colorful leaves.  It has a mild flavor raw or cooked. This is basically a giant weed, which grows to 6’ (1.8 m) and re-seeds readily, so keep it from seeding if you don’t want an invasion.

Strawberry Spinach/Beetberry Greens, Chenopodium capitatum is an ancient plant from Europe. It is similar to lambsquarters in habit, but only 18” (45 cm) tall. The triangular, toothed leaves are thinner than spinach, very nutritious, and high in vitamins. This plant is also grown for the small, mildly sweet, strawberry-like fruits at each leaf axil. It can re-seed vigorously and become invasive.

Edible Celosia, Celosia argentea comes from tropical Africa, where the fresh young leaves are used in a dish of various vegetable greens, combined with onion, hot peppers, eggplant, vegetable oil, and fish or meat. Peanut butter may be added as a thickener. The ingredients are boiled together into a tasty and nutritious soup. Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange reports that in their trial in Virginia it didn’t suffer from a single pest attack.

Next month I’ll tell you about some more hot weather greens.

Cooking Greens in June: Chard is the queen!

Young Fordhook Giant chard plants in mid-May.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cooking Greens in June

Summer has arrived here in central Virginia, and most of the spring-planted cooking greens have bolted and been cleared to make way for warm weather crops. And it’s already time to start work on the fall greens, sowing most of them this month. We have no cooking greens to transplant this month (it’s going to be too hot!).

See the chapter Other Greens: Chard and Other Summer Cooking Greens in Sustainable Market Farming for more about chard relatives and amaranths.

Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in June

Winstrip tray with chard seeds.
Photo Pam Dawling

Chard is our queen of summer cooking greens! Because it is a biennial it will not bolt in the summer heat. We can eat it whenever we get the urge, until winter. Apart from the flavor, this is why I value chard: it is always there, always harvestable, from late May to late December. It’s so easy to care for, and nothing bad happens if we ignore it. Some years it even survives our winters. This year we have planted two beds instead of our usual one. We have Bright Lights multicolored chard and Fordhook Giant green chard. We also planted some Lucullus this year, to try. Some years we grow Perpetual Spinach/Leaf Beet, a chard with thin green stems and more moderate-sized leaves. This crop is the closest hot-weather alternative to actual spinach that I have found.

Bright Lights chard in our garden in July. Behind the chard is a new bed of beans with sunflowers and a bed in buckwheat cover crop.
Photo Pam Dawling

In addition to chard, we are harvesting beet greens as we pull our biggest spring-sown beets. By the end of June we will have harvested all the beets, putting the excess into cool storage over the summer. And so the beet greens harvest will end then too. Some years, the quality of the beet greens does not hold up as late as the end of June. We’ll see.

We continue to have broccoli until the end of June or early July, when we expect it to get bitter, and to only have tiny side-shoots left. We have started harvesting our early cabbage. This year we grew Early Jersey Wakefield, a pointed 2-3 pound (1-1.5 kg) OP cabbage that matures in 63 days. We sowed this in our greenhouse in late January and transplanted it around March 10.

A bed of Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage in mid-May.
Photo Pam Dawling

Later we will harvest Farao (F1, 60d, 3lbs, 1.5 kg), more Early Jersey Wakefield, and flat, mid-sized, Tendersweet (F1 71d) from our April 1 transplanting. We store cabbage beyond our immediate needs in net bags in the refrigerator. None of these spring varieties are long-storers, but they should see us through the summer until mid-October when we have fresh outdoor fall cooking greens.

We do still have two beds of collards, Georgia Green and Lottie’s, which we bare-root transplanted from our hoophouse in mid-March. We also have two beds of kale, but these are past their prime and due to be clear-cut any day. June 5 is our usual end-date for kale.

Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in June

Sow the fall brassicas – see the Special Topic below for all the details.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli is ready for harvest in early spring but needs sowing in late May or early June.
Photo Baker Creek Seeds

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, is one of the broccoli staples in the UK, and is hardy down to 10°F (–12°C). I’m not sure it would survive in our winter-hardiness zone 7 climate, but one of these years I want to try it, as it’s a wonderful crop.

Early Purple Sprouting broccoli has an extremely long growing season, needing 220-250 days to reach maturity. It is grown overwinter for late winter/early spring harvest. Late spring/early summer is about the right time to be sowing it. If you decide to try it, know what to expect. These are big tall plants, and they produce florets, not big heads.

Other Cooking Greens Tasks

Maybe bushhog the spring broccoli (after harvest is finished) to reduce the habitat for harlequin bugs, our worst brassica pest. The cabbage will continue to grow and mature until mid-July, so we cannot disk up the plot until it is all harvested. We often sow a short-term cover crop such as buckwheat after clearing our spring brassicas.

Special Cooking Greens Topic for June:  fall brassica sowing, field planning and preparation

Fall brassica seedlings under netting on July 4.
Photo Pam Dawling

In May, I described our planning for our fall brassica nursery seedbeds. In the third week of June we start the weekly sowings, hooping, netting, watering and weeding. We sow around a foot (15 cm) of seed row for every 12′-15′ (4-5 m) of crop row, aiming for 3-4 seeds per inch (2.5 cm). When I’ve been responsible for this job, I set aside an afternoon a week on a regular day. It takes a surprisingly long time to get all the details right. It is important to be timely, because a one-day delay in sowings for fall can lead to a one week (or longer) delay in harvest date. The shortening daylight slows down the growth.

In Week 1, we sow the fall cabbages – this year Tendersweet F1 71d; Tribute F1 83-103d, 10-12lbs (4.5-5.5 kg); Ruby Perfection F1 85d, 4-7lbs (2-3 kg);  and Storage #4 F1 80-90d, 4-8lbs (2-3.5 kg). In Week 2, we repeat the cabbage sowings and sow the first broccoli. Weeks 3-6 fall in July, so I’ll tell you more next month. Weeks 7 and 8 are in August. See the schedule in May’s Cooking Greens post.

In summer weather, brassicas are the right size for transplanting (5 true leaves) in just three weeks, so we need to have the field ready for July 14. We disk in the winter cover crops, and if we didn’t have enough legumes in the mix, we spread compost. Or we spread some anyway, for the micro-organisms more than the plant nutrients. Then a week later, when the cover crops have started to break down, we disk again. Then we measure and flag the rows, and out up stakes and ropes to mark the rows. This helps us get the plants in a straight line (better for quick efficient cultivation), plus the ropes can support the netting we need to use for the first 4 weeks to keep the bugs off.

Next we make a fall brassica transplanting map, or field map, to show where we intend the various varieties to grow. We plan to have the broccoli varieties planted out in order of days to maturity, to make harvesting easy. We make the maps to scale so that if we switch variety in the middle of the row, we can show where the transition happens. Here I have chopped off some row length (extra bare space) at the right, so you can read the text.

Our map for 2016 shows rows of 265′, except for cabbage in rows 3 and 4. This is because the garden edge curved round and there was less space for those rows.

Book Review: The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution: High Production Methods for Small-Scale Farmers, Andrew Mefferd,

The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution: High Production Methods for Small-Scale Farmers, 

Andrew Mefferd, New Society Publishers, January 2019, $29.99

Organic No-Till has been an unachievable goal for many of us, but there’s no need to feel guilty or ashamed! We may understand the biology, and even the physics and chemistry of it, and why it’s a Good Thing. We can see how it can be done on a domestic scale, especially by those who can grow or buy lots of mulch, and especially if there’s no need to account for time and money invested.  There is equipment (roller-crimpers and no-till planters) that makes large scale organic no-till possible and efficient. But for those of us growing food in the middle scale, it’s proving harder. Giant equipment works for acres of soybeans but not for market farming. How to keep the weeds away while tending forty sowings of lettuce? The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution provides very practical information for those who want to increase the amount of no-till growing on their small-scale farm.

Andrew Mefferd says in the introduction, “No-till is as much about climate change as it is about soil health as it is about farm profitability.” Work on all three at once with this book. 50-70% of the world’s carbon in farm soils is off-gassed due to tillage (according to a Yale study). This decreases soil fertility at a time when we need to grow more resilient crops to cope with climate change. Global food production could be reduced by up to 17% by 2100 due to climate-induced crop failures. All steps in a good direction are worth taking.

Andrew is not a proselytizer and this is not a religion. You don’t have to commit to permanent no-till everywhere to benefit from some very practical new skills, enabling you to increase the area in no-till practices. Different strategies work for different farms and different crops. Not inverting the soil layers is important. Any reduction in tillage is a good step; shallower is better than deeper; less often is better than after every crop. The tilther and power harrow on a shallow setting are used by some no-till farmers. One last tilling before setting up permanent beds is OK if that’s what you need to do! Think in terms of doing more no-till and take away any pressure to feel bad if you continue to do some tilling. One step at a time towards healing the earth, the climate; improving your soil and your crops.

The first part of the book explains the concepts and presents various methods: mulch grown in place; applied cardboard, deep straw or compost; occultation (tarping) and solarization (clear plastic). The main section consists of in-depth interviews with seventeen farmers about what works for them. After reading the first part, you can dive into the chapters with the methods that most appeal to you. The book is written so it doesn’t have to be read sequentially to make sense.

Andrew worked at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Research Farm on organic no-till vegetable production, using roller-crimpers and no-till drills. The next year he moved to a 3 acre farm and temporarily forgot about no-till because the methods he’d seen were not applicable to that scale. Ten years later, in 2016, he read articles in Growing for Market magazine, and attended conference workshops by farmers who were succeeding with organic no-till on smaller farms. These growers were using various different methods, and Andrew decided to visit them and write up the interviews.

“Want to build organic matter and soil biology because of the way you grow, instead of despite it?” Andrew asks. Increasing the organic matter in the soil will help the soil hold more water, suffer less from run-off and need less applied water per year (1″ (2.5 cm) of water saved per 1% increase in OM has been quoted). Carbon is stored in the soil, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Paying attention to the soil biology and feeding the soil is the heart of organic farming. We must farm more ecologically if we want to survive. At the same time, small-scale farms must be profitable to sustain the farmers. This book has many examples of farmers that started small with limited resources, and are able to make a decent living. Avoiding the need to buy heavy machinery is a big saving.

I love this surprise quote: “Tilling the soil is the equivalent of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado and forest fire occurring simultaneously to the world of soil organisms.” Which outspoken radical farming group made this proclamation? The USDA-NRCS! Taking care of the soil biology reduces the urge to compensate with chemistry. The less tillage, the better-off we can be. OM levels can rise quickly when tillage is reduced. Cover-cropping, adding compost and organic mulches are all ways to achieve this. The churning of tillage burns up OM. As Bryan O’Hara of Tobacco Road Farm, Connecticut, says, “Tillage is a nutrient flush from all the death you just wrought on the soil…Tillage doesn’t give nutrient balance, it gives you nutrient release.” More OM must be added every year just to maintain levels that were there before tilling.

Tarping is a rediscovered method that lets the soil digest the plant material without any tilling. This is especially useful when you have several weeks to spare after a harvest, but not enough time to grow a cover crop. The soil biology breaks down the residue, weed seeds germinate then die. The soil is left ready to replant.

After listing all the many benefits of no-till, Andrew explains the disadvantages. Weed control without cultivation is the main issue, especially perennial weeds. The slowness of mulched soil to warm in the spring is another. A third is that high OM can lead to more slugs. If you mulch with tree leaves, you might find squirrels and chipmunks rummaging for acorns. Grass creeps in from the edges. These problems are all addressed in the book.

Andrew Mefferd
Photo by Ann Mefferd

The Overview of Organic No-Till Techniques is a summary of methods, biodegradable mulches and plastic sheet materials.

Biodegradable mulch grown in place is the method we used for many years for our large planting of paste tomatoes. We sowed winter rye, hairy vetch and Austrian winter peas in early September, following our spring broccoli and cabbage. At the beginning of May we mowed down the cover crop with our hay cutting machine and the next day dug holes and transplanted the tomatoes. We used a small shovel for our big transplants. Shawn Jadrnicek suggests using a stand-up bulb planter. The legumes provided all the nitrogen the crop needed, and the long-cut cover crop kept the weeds at bay for maybe 6 weeks. By then we had trellised the tomatoes and were able to unroll big round bales of spoiled hay between the rows. This dealt with the weeds for the rest of the season. One year in ten in our row crops rotation was no-till. We tried a few other applications of this method but generally they didn’t work as well. We were unable to direct-seed into cut mulch, for instance. Our watermelons didn’t like the cold soil, and we wanted watermelons in August, not October! To grow big enough cover crops for this to work, the food crop has to be planted no earlier than late April in central Virginia. Paste tomatoes worked well because we didn’t need an early harvest. Transplanted Halloween pumpkins and winter squash work. Fall cabbage and broccoli (on German millet and soybeans) can also work.

Bringing in biodegradable mulch (hay, straw, cardboard, paper, compost, tree leaves, wood chips, spent brewers’ grains) is the second method. The material needs to be spread thickly, usually 3″ (7.5 cm) or more and used appropriately (don’t switch plans and till in raw wood chips!). Straw can cost $750 per acre covered. A round bale covers about 200′ by 5′. We use hay bales or biodegradable plastic on annual crops, cardboard and wood chips around our fruit plantings. The existing weeds and crop residues will need to be removed first. Flaming works for small weeds, otherwise use one of the sheeting methods. Read the book to get the all-important details on how to be successful.

The non-biodegradable mulch methods are tarping (occultation) and solarizing. Tarping was introduced to most of us by Jean-Martin Fortier in The Market Gardener. For annual no-till crops, first tarp the soil using an opaque material such as silage tarps (or solarize in hot weather). After killing the weeds, uncover, spread mulch and transplant into it. Tarps will not kill docks or nut-sedge. Tarping takes from 3-6 weeks, (the shorter time in hotter weather). Allow longer if you’re bringing new land into production. Plan ahead, and tarp all winter. Silage tarps warm the soil for early spring plantings, and also prevent soil moisture from evaporating.

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!

The growers interviewed explain which methods they use and why, helping readers weigh the pros and cons for the various crops we are growing, and our resources, climate and soils. Andrew offers some pointers on which methods are likely to work best for which situations. Several farmers tell how they transitioned into organic no-till for various crops, for instance buckwheat, compost and Weed Guard Plus paper mulch for a garlic crop, followed by two crops of lettuce. Mossy Willow Farm in Australia has a designated area for direct-seeded crops, where they use sprinklers, and the tilther if needed. The rest of their farm (transplanted) uses drip irrigation, but the soil does get too clumpy for direct seeding, and is slower to improve.

Farmers also address the things that went wrong while they were learning (thin stands of cover crops, cover crops not dying, getting the timing wrong on seeding or roll-crimping, weed seeds blowing in from elsewhere). They describe equipment they found helpful (drop-spreaders to lay down even layers of woodchips or compost, landscape fabric, the stand-up bulb planter, Tilther, Jang seeder, paperpot transplanter, broadfork). They also address timing of cover crop sowing to avoid warm-season and cool-season weeds; extending the weed suppression period of cut or crimped cover crops by adding tree leaves; pre-irrigating before digging transplant holes; and many other tips to success. A strategy for tall crabgrass is to mow it down, cover with newspaper and compost. A border of comfrey plants all-round the garden does a great job of keeping grass out. You can quickly see how this book will pay for itself many times over!

No-till beds are ready for early spring crops, even in wet regions, if the beds are mulched overwinter. Because no-till builds soil upwards, it is a good technique for land that is very rocky or with shallow topsoil. Another advantage of no-till is that you can install fairly permanent irrigation (drip or sprinklers). And you can farm intensively on small areas without needing to cater to the turning radius of large machinery. Getting high productivity from small areas is becoming an essential factor to consider.

Potatoes are a soil disruptor, and can bring up new weed seeds, so it’s worth covering the beds as soon as the potatoes are harvested. At Four Winds Farm in New York State, they plant garlic in the fall after potatoes, then mulch over the top of the garlic with a thick layer of compost. In their bigger plan, they only plant garlic in every other bed (although composting all). The following spring they plant winter squash in the empty beds, which can take over all the space after the garlic is harvested.

As I read the interviews, I started to worry: were none of these farmers having a problem using such high amounts of compost? The first problem is making or buying the sorts of quantities they are using, but the second is a build-up of phosphorus, which we have experienced on our farm. Singing Frogs Farm has studied this, testing the water run-off in the ponds at the low-point of their land. The phosphorus stays in place in their system, it does not leach. Nor does the nitrogen. The soil biology sponges up the nutrients, the 3-8 crops they grow in a year absorb them. They don’t rely on compost for fertility, but now   use pelleted feather meal, calcium and rock dusts. Their compost use is 0.5″ (< 1 cm) per year, very different from the many farmers using much more.

Daniel Mays at Frith Farm in Maine believes cover crops provide a more active kind of organic matter, which is tailored to the soil. He is seeing better results than with compost. Roots in the Ground! Hedda Brorstrom, of Full Blossom Flower Farm, Sebastopol, CA is trending in the other direction. She points out that a lot of the compost for sale is made with lots of animal manures, which does send the phosphorus levels way up. Because growing cover crops was not working for her, she researched available composts carefully. High-carbon compost is a way to avoid sending the phosphorus levels up too much. She has used 4-8″ (10-20 cm) of compost per year.

Neversink Farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains point to intensive production (“the greenhouse mentality writ large”), 5 people working on 1.5 acres of permanent (not-raised) beds, and direct sales to customers, as factors in their success. As Conor Crickmore says proudly, “Our farming practices may be radical but they have resulted in our farm being one of the highest production farms per square foot in the country.” Close to $400,000 gross on 1.5 acres!

The collected wisdom and experience in The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution can save newer no-till farmers from a lot of frustration and wasted time, money and mental and emotional energy.

Winter Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables 2019

Baby greens in a cold frame in January.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I keep records of how well our crops do in the colder season, both outdoors and in our double-layer hoophouse. I note each increasingly cold minimum temperature and when the various crops die of cold, to fine-tune our planning for next year. We are in zone 7a, with an average annual minimum temperature of 0-5°F (-18°C to -15°C).  We had some extremely cold temperatures of -8°F and -9°F (-22°C and -23°C) in early January 2018. The winter of 2018-2019 was not as brutal. Our lowest temperatures were 6°F (-14°C) 1/31/19, 8°F (-13°C) 12/11/18 and a couple of 11°F (-12°C). This year I found that senposai is  more cold-tolerant than I had thought. otherwise I haven’t got much new news here. My results from other years hold up.

Unless otherwise stated, these are killing temperatures of crops outdoors without any rowcover. All greens do a lot better with protection against cold drying winds. Note that repeated cold temperatures can kill crops that can survive a single dip to a low temperature, and that cold winds, or cold wet weather can destroy plants quicker than simple cold. Your own experience with your soils, microclimates and rain levels may lead you to use different temperatures in your crop planning.

Hoophouse Notes

Our double-plastic hoophouse keeps night time temperatures about 8F (4.5C) degrees warmer than outdoors, sometimes 10F (5.5C) warmer. Plus, plants tolerate lower temperatures inside a hoophouse. The soil stays warmer; the plants recover in the warmer daytime conditions (it seems to be the night+day average temperature that counts);

Winter crops snug in our hoophouse in a December snowstorm.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the hoophouse (8F warmer than outside) plants without extra rowcover can survive 14F colder than they could survive outside; with thick rowcover (1.25oz Typar/Xavan) at least 21F colder than outside.

For example, salad greens in our hoophouse can survive nights with outdoor lows of 14°F (-10°C). Russian kales, lettuce, mizuna, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, turnips, Yukina Savoy survived a hoophouse temperature of 10.4°F (-12°C) without rowcover, -2.2°F (-19°C) with. Bright Lights chard got frozen leaf stems.

Lettuce varieties for a solar-heated winter greenhouse or hoophouse in zone 7a: (hardiest are in bold) Buckley, Ezrilla, Green Forest, Green Star, Hampton, Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Marvel of Four Seasons, Merlot, New Red Fire, North Pole bibb, Oscarde, Outredgeous, Pirat, Red Cross bibb, Red Sails, Red Salad Bowl, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Rouge d’Hiver, Salad Bowl, Sylvesta bibb, Tango, Winter Marvel, Winter Wonderland.

Hoophouse lettuce Red Tinged Winter and Tango (and senposai) in our hoophouse in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

Outdoor killing temperatures of crops (unprotected unless stated)

35°F (2°C):  Basil.

32°F (0°C):  Bush beans, cauliflower curds, corn, cowpeas, cucumbers, eggplant, limas, melons, okra, some pak choy, peanuts, peppers, potato vines, squash vines, sweet potato vines, tomatoes.

27°F (-3°C): Many cabbage varieties, Sugarloaf chicory (takes only light frosts).

 25°F (-4°C): Some cabbage, chervil, chicory roots for chicons, and hearts, Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), dill (Fernleaf), endive (Escarole more frost-hardy than Frisée), some fava beans (Windsor), annual fennel, some mustards (Red Giant, Southern Curled) and Asian greens (Maruba Santoh, mizuna, most pak choy, Tokyo Bekana), onion scallions (some are much more hardy), 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 and leaves.

20°F (-7°C): Some beets (Bulls Blood, Chioggia,), broccoli heads (maybe OK to 15°F (-9.5°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 (Tendergreen, Tyfon Holland greens), flat leaf parsley, radishes (Cherry Belle), most turnips (Noir d’Hiver is the most cold-tolerant variety).

Large oat plants will get serious cold damage. Oats seedlings die at 17°F (-8°C)

Canadian (spring) field peas are hardy to 10-20°F (-12 to -7°C).

Closing rowcovers after a winter spinach harvest.
Photo Wren Vile

15°F (-9.5°C): Some beets (Albina Verduna, Lutz Winterkeeper), beet leaves, some broccoli, some cabbage (Kaitlin, Tribute), covered celery (Ventura), red chard, cilantro, endive, fava beans (Aquadulce Claudia), Red Russian and White Russian kales, kohlrabi, some lettuce, especially medium-sized plants with 4-10 leaves (Marvel of Four Seasons, Olga, Rouge d’hiver, Tango, Winter Density), curly leaf parsley, rutabagas (American Purple Top Yellow, Laurentian) if not covered, broad leaf sorrel, most covered turnips, winter cress.

12°F (-11°C): Some beets (Cylindra,), some broccoli, Brussels sprouts, some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), carrots (Danvers, Oxheart), most collards, some fava beans (mostly cover crop varieties), garlic tops if fairly large, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln, King Richard), large tops of potato onions, covered rutabagas, some turnips (Purple Top).

Using a sturdy digging fork to harvest leeks in December.
Photo Pam Dawling

10°F (-12°C): Covered beets, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest, a few cabbages (Deadon), chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), some collards (Morris Heading can survive at least one night at 10F), Belle Isle upland cress, some endive (Perfect, President), young Bronze fennel, probably Komatsuna, some leeks (American Flag, Jaune du Poiteau), some covered lettuce (Pirat, Red Salad Bowl, Salad Bowl, Sylvesta, Winter Marvel), covered winter radish (Daikon, China Rose, Shunkyo Semi-Long survive 10°F/-12°C), 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.

Oats cover crop of a medium size die around 10°F (-12°C). Large oat plants will die completely at 6°F (-17°C) or even milder than that.

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

5°F (-15°C): Garlic tops even if small, some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), some leeks (Bulgarian Giant, Laura), some bulb onions, potato onions and other multiplier onions, 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), a few unprotected lettuces if small (Winter Marvel, Tango, North Pole, Green Forest).

0°F (-18°C): Chives, some collards (Blue Max, Winner), corn salad (mâche), garlic, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf  kale, a few leeks (Alaska, Durabel, Tadorna); some bulb onions, yellow potato onions, some onion scallions, (Evergreen Winter Hardy White, White Lisbon), parsnips (probably even colder), salad burnet, salsify (?), some spinach (Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia). Walla Walla onions sown in late summer are said to be hardy down to -10°F (-23°C), but I don’t trust below 0°F (-18°C)

Crimson clover is hardy down to 0°F (-18°C) or slightly colder

Vates kale with a freeze-killed center January 19 2018. Photo Pam Dawling

 -5°F (-19°C): Leaves of overwintering varieties of cauliflower, Vates kale survives although some leaves may be too damaged to use.

Many of our Vates kale plants survived those cold temperatures Photo Pam Dawling

-10°F (-23°C) Austrian Winter Field Peas and Crimson clover (used as cover crops).

-15°F (-26°C) Hairy vetch cover crop – some say down to -30°F (-34°C)

-20°F (-29°C) Dutch White clover cover crops – or even -30°F (-34°C)

 -30°F to -40°F (-34°C to -40°C): Narrow leaf sorrel, Claytonia and some cabbage are said to be hardy in zone 3. I have no personal experience of this.

 -40°F (-40°C) Winter wheat and winter rye (cover crops).

A hardy cover crop mix of winter rye, hairy vetch and Austrian winter peas.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

What can you do if spring is too wet?

Our kale beds after heavy rain. Photo Wren Vile

As growers, we do not have control over everything that happens. The main thing outside of our control is the weather, and it’s only going to get more chaotic as climate change bites. Heavy rain events can leave soil impossible to work, because the water can’t drain away fast enough. What can we do when it’s too wet?

Laura Lengnick in Resilient Agriculture views climate change as yet another production risk to assess and prepare for. The vulnerability of your farm has two components: exposure and adaptive capacity. As far as exposure, the most immediate key exposure is water issues (too much and too little). As for adaptive capacity, the main feature is our personal capacity to respond and plan. We need to pay greater attention to the climate as a critical factor in our decision-making.

Be Prepared

  • See Weatherspark.com for easy-to-understand graphics showing the average weather in your locality. Figure out which crops are most marginal already in your climate, and decide whether they are worth keeping in your crop portfolio, and whether they are important enough to be worth providing more protection for.
  • Using raised beds can help excess water to drain sooner.
  • Raised beds will drain and be ready to plant sooner after rain.
    Photo Ezra Freeman
  • Increasing the organic matter content of the soil helps it absorb more water in a manageable way, without compacting and going anaerobic. Compost improves the soil structure, organic matter and humus. The effects last longer than cover crops and crop residues, especially in humid conditions where the breakdown of plant material is very rapid.
  • Maximize the volume of living roots (food crops and cover crops) throughout the soil profile (use both deep-rooted and shallow-rooted crops).
  • Cover crops. The root channels improve the soil structure — fine roots make up 70% of the root biomass of crimson clover, vetches, and field peas, and when the cover crops are mowed, these roots support microbial growth, form active organic matter, and rapidly release N to the plants. Keeping roots in the soil all the time, or as much of the time as possible, will help prevent erosion.
  • Consider no-till cover crops which become mulch.

    A no-till cover crop mix of winter rye, hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas and crimson clover.
    Photo Bridget Aleshire
  • Avoid “bare fallow” at times of year when you could get a lot of rain. That might mean not just hurricane season, but year-round. Low-growing non-invasive cover crops can be planted in pathways.
  • Minimize tillage because tilling accelerates nutrient burn-up and hence the loss of organic matter. Avoid tilling or disking right before a forecast of heavy rain.
  • If water drainage is a big issue where you are, you may need to consider a “grassed waterway” Your NRCS office can help with the design. See their publication Grassed Waterway and Vegetated Filter System, Conservation Practice Job Sheet 412. This is really a very large gradual swale with a grassed surface, which you can mow (think home-grown mulch!).
  • Another option is a “drywell” or French drain, a big hole full of rock. We calculated that for our hoophouse, ours would need to be 11′ × 11′ (3.4 × 3.4 m) and 4′ (1.2 m) deep. It would have been a big area and a lot of rock (and money), and not inconsiderable maintenance to keep it free of sediment and leaves.
  • Field tile drainage
  • Keyline plowing (along contours).
  • Swales (also called “infiltration trenches”) allow water to gradually seep into the soil, while sending sudden large volumes downhill to an area which can absorb more water. A swale 18″ (45 cm) wide by 8″ (20 cm) deep in averagely draining soil can infiltrate approximately 1.6″ (4 cm) rain per hour per 20 ft2 (1.86 m2) of contributing area.

    A caterpillar tunnel and a plastic mulched bed at Potomac vegetable Farms in November.
    Photo Pam Dawling
  • Physically cover the soil: hoophouses and caterpillar tunnels can help keep crops from deluges. Large structures do have the issue of runoff, but you can plan ahead for that and make a drainage system. When we built our hoophouse, we made a ditch around three sides of it, to channel runoff downhill. Some people who have roll-up or drop-down sidewalls install plastic guttering on the “hipwall” lumber that these structures need, and collect the rainwater for irrigation. Bear in mind that the water catchment barrel will be low down and the water will need pumping or dipping and hauling to be useful. Read the NRCS Code 558 Roof Runoff Structure.
  • Before the storm moves in, cover the soil where you plan to plant: temporary caterpillar tunnels (field houses), low tunnels, plastic mulches and tarping (occultation) can keep some of the soil dry, at the expense of causing runoff that makes other areas wetter. This can help get crucial plantings done in a timely way, leaving the wider problem to resolve later.
Fast-growing Red Salad Bowl lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

First Aid if you can’t plant when you want to

  • Consider transplanting instead of direct seeding. We did this one year with our winter squash, when the plot was hopelessly too wet. We were able to transplant the squash fairly young, and did not have a big harvest delay.
  • Consider a different, faster, variety that you can sow later and catch up. Some leaf lettuces only need 46 days (Salad Bowl, Bronze Arrowhead, Tom Thumb), while Romaines can take a lot longer (Crisp Mint, Winter Wonderland 70 days, Webb’s Wonderful 72 days). Baby lettuce mix can be ready in as little as 21 days from mid-spring to mid-fall.
  • Consider a different, faster, crop that you can sow or transplant later. Keep your crop rotation in mind, as well as the next crop you intended to plant in that spot. Here are some fast-growing crops:
    • Ready in 30–35 days are some Brassicas such as kale, arugula, radishes (both the fast small ones and the larger winter ones); many Asian greens (Chinese Napa cabbage, Komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, pak choy, Senposai (40 days) tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy). See my Asian Greens of the Month category of posts
    • One summer we sowed Tokyo Bekana as a lettuce substitute. 20 days to baby size, 45 days to a (large) full size.
    • Also ready in 30–35 days are spinach, chard, salad greens (lettuce, endives, chicories) and winter purslane.
    • Ready in 35–45 days are corn salad, land cress, sorrel, parsley and chervil.
    • Ready in 60 days are beets, collards, kohlrabi, turnips and small fast cabbages (Farao or Early Jersey Wakefield).
  • The International Cooperators’ Guide Grafting Tomatoes for Production in the Hot-Wet Season recommends using eggplant rootstocks for tomatoes when flooding is expected.

First Aid if you can’t till

  • Could you mow? This will prevent weeds seeding, and prevent the cover crop or previous food crop from getting any bigger. It will be easier to till once that does become possible.
  • If you can’t get a mower across the beds, can you use a weed whip (string trimmer) or a manual weed whacker or a scythe? This will buy you some time.
  • Could you use a broadfork? This will open up the soil, allowing it to dry faster.
  • Could you lay tarps over the whole mess, and wait for the cover crop or weeds to die?
  • Could you use a flame weeder to kill the existing vegetation? Flamers are intended to kill small weeds, not big ones, but we successfully used our wand-type flamer to kill weeds in the potato patch one spring when it was too wet to hill the potatoes.
Flaming (pre-emergent)
Photo Brittany Lewis

Dealing with Floods

  • If your soil floods, drain it promptly, or you may end up with drowned plants (insufficient air) and with a high salt level caused by evaporation. Dig shallow trenches to let the flood water flow away.
  • After the flood recedes, you could lose yield from loss of soluble nutrients. The soil may have become anaerobic, reducing available nitrogen. If you have a suitable source of nitrogen, apply some. You may also get a flush of weeds, competing with your slow-to-recover crop.
  • See How to Rehab Your Soil after a Flood on the Hobby Farms website for five steps to repairing the damage: Clean Up, Remove Water, Beware of Contamination, Level the Land, Rebuild the Soil with Cover Crops. See also the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Expert Tip: How to Handle Flooded Fields for information about food safety.
  • Consult your local Extension service before selling any produce that has been in standing water, as the water may have become contaminated. See the US Food and Drug Administration Guidance for Industry: Evaluating the Safety of Flood-Affected Food Crops for Human Consumption
  • There is more about dealing with floods  and disasters in general, in The Year-Round Hoophouse.

Sustainable Farming Practices slideshow, Mother Earth News blogposts, Modern Farmer

Greenhouse interior with early spring seedling flats.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

I just got home from the Organic Growers’ School Spring Conference near Asheville, NC. On Friday, I gave an all-day workshop with Ira Wallace, on Year-Round Growing on the Farm and Garden. The classroom at Creekside Farm, Arden was packed. This farm also has an educational center, which made a great setting for our workshop. The weather was awful, so we didn’t explore the very wet farm much. We had plenty of indoor teaching material including show-and-tell. The funniest part was my Julia Child chicken-on-the-floor moment when I dropped a freshly -made soil block on the nice wood floor.

On Saturday and Sunday, I gave  my Sustainable Farming Practices presentation, which is now on www.SlideShare.net, and posted here for convenient viewing. Just click the diagonal arrow icon to see it full screen.

Now I have a couple of lovely days at home, working in the hoophouse and greenhouse. The crew is steadily composting more beds, sowing peas and transplanting endless spinach beds (our spring is short and then heats up, so to get a longer spring spinach season, we do all transplants.)

Summer Lettuce Nursery Seedbed with Concept, De Morges Braun, New Red Fire and Loma lettuces.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

My post 20 Tips for Success in Germinating Seeds in Hot Weather was #8 in the top blogposts for 2018. My newest post on Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog is

We transplant all our spring spinach, to maximize the length of the harvest period
Photo Denny Ray McElyea

The Pros and Cons of Direct Sowing and Transplanting

One of the pages in our Field Manual, which we revise each winter.
Photo VABF

In early January I posted 13 Steps to Planning your Vegetable Garden

Elsewhere for interesting gardening and farming reading, I am enjoying The Modern Farmer an online and digital subscription magazine with lots of thought-provoking and useful articles. Some recent ones I really like include

Can Hydroponic Farming Be Organic? The Battle Over The Future Of Organic Is Getting Heated.

Does Milk Actually Make Kids Grow Taller?

Trump Administration Rolls Back School Nutrition Standards

Ten Great Farming Podcasts to Listen to Now

America’s First Cash Crop: Tobacco

Urban Gardening 101: How to Deal with Contaminated Soil

My next speaking event is the Virginia Festival of the Book,and then the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. There I’m presenting Lettuce Year Round and Cool Season Hoophouse Crops. Here’s the probable schedule. This is a change from what I posted earlier. I”m replacing Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables with a new one, Cool Season Hoophouse Crops.

Hoophouse beds in November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

 

Alliums for March: transplant bulb onions, harvest garlic scallions, ramps, minimize onion bolting

Flats of March-sown leek seedlings in our coldframe in early April.
Photo Pam Dawling

Allium Planting in March

  • Divide and replant Egyptian onions and perennial leeks, during March or April
  • Sow leeks in flats, coldframes, or raised beds. See below
  • Transplant fall-sown bulb onions early in the month. see Alliums for November and February. More info below
  • Transplant cipollini seedlings. Cipollini, also known as pearl or boiling onions, are varieties of short day onions sown in spring, planted at high density, which form small bulbs and mature in a couple of months.
  • Plant shallots Jan-Feb.
  • Plant softneck garlic cloves or bulbs for garlic scallions. See Alliums for February
Garlic scallions ready for harvest.
Photo Wren Vile

Allium Harvests in March

  • Start harvesting garlic scallions (3/10 to 4/30 in central Virginia). See below for more details
  • Harvest hoophouse scallions (our 10/20 sowing Feb 20- mid-Mar and our 11/18 sowing from mid-March.)
  • Harvest leaves of Egyptian onions & perennial leeks, Sept- April
  • Harvest winter leeks Dec- March. See Alliums for January and Alliums for November
  • Harvest ramps, sustainably for one month, from when tree buds appear (late March or early April in the Appalachians). Ramps are a spring ephemeral of deciduous forests. By late May, the leaves die back and a flower stem emerges. Wild ramps are being over-harvested, and it is important to make sure that not all these wild culinary delights vanish and they are still able to find their way onto plates in a sustainable fashion. See
Harvested ramps.
Photo Small Farm Central

Alliums to Eat from Storage in March

  • Eat softneck garlic from storage once all the hardneck has been used (softneck stores longer)
  • Eat bulb onions from storage, including bulbils from Egyptian onions if you stored those.

Alliums to Weed in March

All overwintered alliums will need weeding in March and once a month after that until harvest. Mulched crops can be weeded during wet weather, if necessary, and the pulled weeds can be discarded on top of the mulch, where they stand a much better chance of dying then weeds discarded on bare soil! It is helpful to have a list of tasks that can be done when the soil is wet, in case of a wet spring (or any season really). Perennial crops and annuals with mulch are the main jobs for this list (along with tool repair and sharpening).

Newly planted alliums in bare soil will benefit from hoeing during dry weather before the weeds get very big at all. Hoe every 1-4 weeks as needed until harvest. Because of their vertical tubular or strap-like leaves, alliums do not compete well with broadleaf weeds and can easily become stunted in high weeds. We learned the hard way one year when our leek beds grew very big weeds. Even though we did pull the weeds, the leeks never grew very big. As well as the competition for light, we think our huge weeds pulled too many nutrients from the soil. After that, we acknowledged the wisdom of growing fewer leeks and taking care of them better, rather than over-extending ourselves.

A fine bed of onions in spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Special Allium Topics for March: Sowing leeks, transplanting onions, harvesting garlic scallions, onion bolting factors

Sowing leeks

Calculate how many leeks of each variety you want to harvest, add a margin. Each of our 90 ft (27.5 m) raised beds takes 4 rows of leeks, with plants 6″ (15 cm) apart. That’s 720 plants per bed. We sow in 24″ (60 cm) long flats, aiming for 3 seeds per inch (<1 cm apart). With 6 rows per flat, we need 1.67 flats/bed with no extras. We’ll call that 2 flats per bed.

We don’t need heat to start the leek seedlings, only time, so we put the flats directly into the coldframe. The minimum temperature for leek germination is 35F (), the optimum 65-85F () and they take 8-16 days just to germinate, even at the ideal temperature. Alliums are so slow! I always allow at least 10 days.

Leeks take 10-12 weeks to grow to transplant size. We sow ours March 21 for June 1 transplanting, which is only 10 weeks. When we grew them in a raised bed, it took 12 weeks. We like Lincoln and King Richard for leeks to eat in October and November and Tadorna for over-wintering, to eat December-February.

Transplanting onions

Transplant fall-sown onions as early in spring as possible, and those sown after New Year once they have at least three leaves (four or five is better). The final bulb size is affected by the size of the transplant as well as the maturity date of that variety. The ideal transplant is slightly slimmer than a pencil, but bigger than a pencil lead. Onion seedlings are slow-growing: even in spring they can take ten weeks to reach a size suitable for transplanting. Overly large transplants are more likely to bolt. If seedlings are becoming thicker than a pencil before you can set them out, undercut two inches (5 cm) below the surface to reduce the growth rate. Or use them as scallions.

Some books recommend trimming the tops at transplanting time, but I used to avoid this because I believed it reduces the yield. I forced myself to test out this idea one year, and found I got the same yield from trimmed and untrimmed onions. Trimmed ones are easier to plant. Transplant 4″ (10 cm) apart for single seedlings or 12″ (30 cm) for clumps of three or four (not more than four). Set plants with the base (stem plate) 1/2″–1″ (1.3–2.5 cm) below the soil surface. Some books recommend as deep as two inches (5 cm). Don’t plant too shallowly. Give plenty of water to the young transplants: keep the top 3″–4″ (8–10 cm) of the soil damp for the first few weeks to prevent the stem plate from drying out.

Onion bed in late April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Harvesting garlic scallions

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

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

Onion bolting factors

Onions are cool-season plants. They have three distinct phases of growthvegetative, bulbing and blooming (bolting), and the switch from one phase to the next is triggered by environmental factors. It does not work to plant onions at a random date in the year without taking account of these environmental factors. Success depends on understanding what this crop needs during each of the three phases. To get a full understanding of the three phases and the factors that cause plants to switch to the next phase, see the Bulb Onions chapter of my book, Sustainable Market Farming.

Continue reading “Alliums for March: transplant bulb onions, harvest garlic scallions, ramps, minimize onion bolting”

Succession Planting Slideshow, Organic Growers School, Virginia Festival of the Book

Here’s an updated version of my slideshow Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvest, which I presented at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference a couple of weeks ago. The website lists the 2020 conference now, which will also be at the Lancaster Convention Center.

My next speaking event is the Organic Growers School at Mars Hill University, Asheville, NC on Friday–Sunday, March 8–10, 2019. It’s their 26th Annual Spring Conference. On Friday I’m giving an all-day workshop with Ira Wallace:

Year Round Growing on Farm & Garden

Pam Dawling & Ira Wallace

Join experienced vegetable, herb, and seed growers Pam Dawling & Ira Wallace for a step-by-step approach to growing year-round. Learn the tools to manage space effectively, grow the quantities of crops when you want them, and efficiently meet your growing goals.

Where: Creekside Farms Education Center, 339 Avery Creek Road, Arden, NC 28704

When: Friday, March 8, 2019, 9:30 to 4:30

Cost: $55 with Saturday and/or Sunday conference registration, $70 without.

Register here.

Here are more details about what we hope to cover during the day:

  • Defining your Market: Are you growing for yourself or for others? When and how much do you need to harvest? Learn about yields of common crops and begin to create a growing plan.
  • Season Extension: From transplants and row cover in the spring, to hoop houses in the winter, learn to keep crops alive through the seasons. Calculate the last worthwhile planting date in your area, and choose a suitable combination of warm weather crops, cool weather crops, storage crops and cold-hardy crops appropriate for your scale.
  • Temperature Resilience: Discover tips to deal with extreme hot and cold temperature ranges including getting seeds germinated, identifying crops that do well in both extremes, and the importance of crop diversification. Climate change necessitates adaptive growing practices. We will incorporate soil building and water management, as well as the importance of seed saving and variety trials.
  • Crop Rotation: Keep roots in the ground at all times! Learn the art of crop rotation using planting calendars, observation, and garden planning. Discover relay planting, cover cropping, isolation distances, plants to attract pollinators, as well as tricks for fitting minor crops into available spaces.

On Saturday and Sunday at 9.00-10.30 am I will be teaching Sustainable Farming Practices, with a primary audience of beginner farmers. (Everyone is welcome!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An intro to year-round vegetable production; crop planning; record-keeping; rotations; cover crops; compost; and mulch. Also direct sowing and transplanting; crop spacing; succession scheduling for continuous harvests; efficient production strategies; season extension; pests, diseases and weeds; determining crop maturity and harvest methods.

The Organic Growers School Spring Conference is for farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and sustainability seekers.The Spring Conference offers practical, region-specific workshops on farming, gardening, permaculture, urban growing, and rural living and includes a trade show, a seed exchange,special guest speakers, and a Saturday evening social. More than 150 classes—both 90-minute sessions and half-day workshops—are offered on Saturday and Sunday in 17 learning tracks:

1.Community Food

2.Cooking

3.Earth Skills

4.Farmers: Beginning

5.Farmers: Experienced

6.Gardening

7.Herbs

8.Homesteading

9.Livestock

10.Mushrooms

11.Permaculture

12.Pollinators

13.Poultry

14.Soils

15.Sustainable Forestry

16.Sustainable Living

17.Thinking Big

“The Spring Conference features a trade show on Saturday and Sunday that showcases a wide array of exhibitors and products from local farms, gardening suppliers, and cottage industries that specialize in organic products and resources. Also featured on Saturday and Sunday is the annual Seed and Plant Exchange booth which offers the opportunity to preserve genetic diversity and protect regionally adapted varieties. Attendees may bring excess seeds and small plants to share, barter, or trade.For 25 years, the Spring Conference has allowed OGS to reinforce Western NC’s role as a regional leader in sustainable food and farming. Attendees come from 18 states and Canada and have described the event as the kick-start to the growing season. The event has grown exponentially—from a small gathering of 100 growing enthusiasts in 1993 to a regionally recognized conference drawing over 2,500 attendees, exhibitors and speakers.“The 25th Anniversary of the OGS Spring Conference is really a celebration of our regional wisdom and commitment to land stewardship, sustainable food systems, and local farming,”says OGS Executive Director, Lee Warren.“The conference is a gathering place, a source of inspiration, and a reminder of the richness of our community,”

The 25th annual Virginia Festival of the Book will take place Wednesday, March 20 through Sunday, March 24, 2019 in venues across Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia. For more, click Virginia Festival of the Book 2019 Schedule.

I have two talks:

“Pam Dawling (The Year-Round Hoophouse) and co-authors Claudia Kousoulas and Ellen Letourneau (Bread & Beauty) discuss their personal approaches to preserving, cultivating, and enjoying land responsibly in the Mid-Atlantic region. Book sales and signing will follow. FREE to attend and open to the public.”

Tanya Denckla-Cobb

The panel will be moderated by local author Tanya Denckla-Cobb

 

Claudia Kousoulas

 

 

Ellen LeTourneau

 

Year-Round Hoophouse Vegetables slide show, and the decision between transplanting and direct sowing

I’ve feeding in a flurry of slideshows I’ve been presenting at conferences this winter. You’ll notice a lot of them have a hoophouse theme, although not all. Here’s one from the four hour course I gave at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming conference.

To view the slideshow full screen, click the diagonal arrow icon. You can then hop, skip and jump through it, choosing the bits you are interested in.

My other main topic this week is choosing when to transplant and when to direct sow. I am a big fan of transplanting, so I’ll start with that.

Watermelon transplants in a Winstrip plug flat. Watermelons give earlier harvests from transplants, and plants in plug flats transplant easier than from open flats.
Photo Pam Dawling

Advantages of transplanting:

  • You can start earlier in the year than you can outside, and so get earlier harvests
  • By starting seed in more ideal conditions in a greenhouse, (or on a kitchen windowsill), you’ll get better growth, more satisfaction!
  • It is easier to care for new seedlings indoors – major weather events stay outdoors!
  • 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. This helps you always have good quality fresh produce for harvest.
  • If you don’t want or need to plant more food crops, you can use those time windows for quick cover crops, such as buckwheat in warm weather, mustards in cold weather.
  • You will save on seed costs, because you’ll be sowing and spotting or potting up, then transplanting, not sowing long rows and thinning most of the plants out.
  • Using transplants fits (better than direct sowing does) with using plastic (or paper) mulches, which can help with weed control and soil warming (or cooling).
  • Using transplants fits well with no-till cover crops. Mow or roll-and-crimp the cover crops, transplant into it, and the dead mulch keeps the weeds away for 6-8 weeks in our climate, longer in cooler and drier climates.
  • Transplanting works well for crops where you want several varieties, such as tomatoes and peppers.

    Amy’s Apricot tomato from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Transplanting works well for crops where you want a few plants each of several varieties.
    Photo Pam Dawling
  • You have more flexibility if the weather turns bad, for example if spring is cold and/or wet. You can delay transplanting. Your plants still grow, provided the roots have enough space. If you know they won’t, you can pot them up to provide more root space.
  • At transplanting time, you can select the sturdiest plants, and compost the rest, meaning you have the best chance of good yields.

Disadvantages of transplanting:

  • If you extend the season and start earlier, you will have more work. . .
  • You’ll need to spend extra time caring for the starts indoors, as they won’t get water if you don’t provide it.
  • Transplant shock can delay harvest, so be sure to learn and practice good techniques
  • More attention is needed to watering new plants after transplanting, (compared to direct seedling) as some root damage is almost inevitable. (Plug flats and soil blocks minimize root damage)
  • If you don’t have a good irrigation system or water supply, growing many transplants will be a challenge.
  • Likewise you do need a good greenhouse set-up to grow many transplants.

Advantages of direct seeding:

  • See the disadvantages of transplanting.
  • Direct seeding is less work than transplanting. Put the seed in the ground, water as needed and stand back!
  • You do not need a greenhouse or special transplanting equipment
  • Compared to buying starts, direct sowing has lower costs
  • Direct sown crops have better drought tolerance – the roots grow without damage
  • Some crops just don’t transplant easily: melons which have fragile stems and roots for instance, or carrots which get distorted roots if transplanted.
  • Some crops have millions of plants and you couldn’t possibly transplant enough:  (Carrots)

    Carrot rows thinned to 1 inch. Carrots are too numerous to transplant and transplanting stunts and distorts the roots, so they are best direct sown.
    Photo Kathryn Simmons

Disadvantages of direct sowing:

  • See the advantages of transplanting.
  • Direct sowing uses more seed than transplanting.
  • Direct sowing requires more time thinning
  • Direct sown crops occupy the land longer than the same crop transplanted.
  • Some direct-sown crops may be harder to get started in cold (or hot) conditions.

There are probably others, do let me know!

For those wanting to sow large-seeded crops through plastic mulch, see below for how we planted beans.

To sow beans through biodegradable plastic mulch, we made this dibble from bamboo, dowels, a culled hammock stretcher bar and plumbing strapping. Photo Nina Gentle
Using the bean dibble to punch holes through the plastic mulch (the soil is holding down the edges of the mulch).
Photo Brittany Lewis
Sowing beans through holes we made in the biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Nina Gentle
Beans growing on biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Nina Gentle

Preparing for spring, sowing seeds, Crop Planning slide show

 

Here’s my updated Crop Planning slideshow, which I presented last weekend at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference. To view it full screen, click the diagonal arrow in the lower right.

I will upload my other presentations bit by bit. January and early February are choc-a-bloc with conferences and slideshows, so there will be plenty to see in the next couple of months!

———————————————————————————-

Seed flats in the greenhouse in early spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Spring starts in January in Virginia! On January 17 we make our first sowings in the greenhouse. We sow some early cabbage, the first lettuce, and some scallions. The week after that we sow our hoophouse tomatoes! Ah! Signs of spring! Even if we did manufacture them, so to speak!

Our germinator cabinet is made from a broken fridge, warmed by an incandescent light-bulb. We’ve got maybe one more year before we run out of incandescent light-bulbs. Then we’ll have to get a different form of heating. But we’re shelving that problem for now. We check twice a day to make sure the light-bulb is still working and the temperature in the germination chamber is still OK.

By the end of February, we’ll have sown tomatoes and peppers for growing in our hoophouse, and spinach, kale, collards, cabbage, lettuce, scallions, broccoli and senposai for planting outdoors.

When the cabbages emerge, we’ll need to make space for the flat in the greenhouse near the window. When the hoophouse tomatoes have germinated, they will go in a plastic tent on a seed heating mat by the greenhouse windows. We have the 48″ x 20″ size mat, and we extend the plastic tent and graduate the older seedlings off the mat, but still under the tent for extra protection.

Screening compost to fill our greenhouse beds in September.
Photo Wren Vile

Our system for seed compost is to screen a big pile of our homemade compost in September, and fill the cinder-block beds in the greenhouse. Then we pop lettuce transplants at 10″ spacing into the beds. Those lettuces give us salad from November to February. As we need space in the greenhouse, we pull the lettuce. We can then scoop out the compost to fill the flats for seedlings. This system works well time-wise –we benefit from this lettuce supply in the winter. It also works well in providing us with a large quantity of mellow screened compost for seed flats, indoors and not frozen. The soil organisms have had time to colonize the compost, so it is full of life.

Walking the gangplank to fill greenhouse beds with compost in September. Photo Wren Vile

As the seedlings grow, we spot them out into bigger flats, with about 2.5″ between plants. My favorite tool for this job is a butter knife! For lettuce we use 3″ deep flats, but for most crops we use 4″ deep flats, so the roots have plenty of space. We use a dibble board to make the evenly spaced holes in the compost in the bigger flats, to move the tiny seedlings into. It’s a piece of plywood with fat dowel pegs glued into holes at the right spacing, 40 in a 12″ x 24″ flat. On the other side of the board are two small wood handles to make it easy to use.

A flat of scallions to transplant in April.
Photo Pam Dawling

There is a great website on Vegetable Transplant Production from the University of Florida Vegetable horticulture Program. It has a collection of excellent articles developed by Charles Vavrina in the late nineties. Plants still grow the same way! Check out the site for lots of useful tips about growing and using transplants. This is a good time of year to make plans to do something in a different way, to avoid repeating last year’s less successful episodes!

You can see our Twin Oaks Month-by-month Garden Task List here on my website.