Transplanting season!

Cow Horn okra seedlings in a WInstrip 50 cell flat in our greenhouse in April. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Cow Horn okra seedlings in a WInstrip 50 cell flat in our greenhouse in April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

This is our busiest time of year for transplanting. We’re beyond frosts, and we have thousands of warm weather plants to get in the ground. Sure, we were busy in spring and will be again in July with cabbage and broccoli. But this time of year the transplanting includes many different crops, and involves setting out drip systems and biodegradable plastic mulch as well.

Growing sweet potato slips, using an old fridge as an insulated chamber. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Growing sweet potato slips, using an old fridge as an insulated chamber.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’re part way through setting out sweet potatoes. We are using ridges, drip irrigation and biodegradable plastic mulch. We grew all our own sweet potato slips, and this allows us to spread out our planting over several days. We used to mail-order slips, and when they arrived we always had to scramble to get them in the ground, so they could recover from their travel stress.

 

What we're looking forward to - Malabar spinach. Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
What we’re looking forward to – Malabar spinach.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

 

At the beginning of May we planted out Redventure celery, Cow Horn okra, and Malabar spinach, a new trial crop for us. A different warm weather cooking green.

Young tomato plants with their first round of string-weaving. Photo Wren Vile
Young tomato plants with their first round of string-weaving.
Photo Wren Vile

We’ve already planted out slicing and cherry tomatoes.We’ve got our big planting of Roma paste tomatoes in, and our peppers. They’re also on drip irrigation and biodegradable plastic. I find it helpful to take a copy of the crop map for each garden and make a Drip Irrigation Map, using a waterproof red pen to draw in each run of drip tape and header pipe. This helps me identify which pieces of header pipe I can reuse and how many lengths of drip tape to bring from the barn. We try hard to make storing and reusing drip irrigation supplies easy, using shuttles to store tape and coiling and labeling the header pipe.

We haven’t planted out our eggplant yet. We’re also behind with cantaloupes and watermelons, and a bit behind with our weekly planting of 120 lettuces.

We like to have lettuce all year, so I have experimented, planned and tweaked until we can usually get a continuous supply. In winter we have leaf lettuce and baby salad mix from the hoophouse. From mid April we aim to have lettuce heads from outdoors. We reckon on growing 120 lettuce/week for 100 people. This inevitably involves some losses and wastage, as we don’t control the weather or the appetites of our diners!

This year we made a late start on harvesting the outdoor lettuce as it was growing slowly and we still had good supplies in the hoophouse. Now we have started outdoor harvests and suddenly have lots ready at once. So it goes! generally we sow 4 varieties each time, to spread the risk and increase the diversity. Our first sowing was 1/17, transplanted 3/31. The Hyper Red Wave wasn’t a good choice – it has bolted and become bitter. Reliable old  Salad Bowl is holding well, and Bronze Arrow looks good. The second sowing, 1/31, is mostly ready, and some of the third also (2/14). I see our labeling wasn’t so good this spring, but the Outredgeous looks surprisingly good for May and there’s a lovely green Bibb too.

Bronze Arrow lettuce. Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Bronze Arrow lettuce.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

 

Busy week: Asian Greens slideshow, Growing for Market, packing for PASA Conference

Here’s the updated version of the Producing Asian Greens presentation I gave last weekend at the Virginia Biofarming Conference for those who want to watch again, or those who missed it:

I thoroughly enjoyed the VBF conference. I think about 60 people came to that workshop, and 80 to my other presentation, Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests. I enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new fellow vegetable growers.

Now, almost without a break, I am packing for the PASA Conference.

There I will also do two workshops, Growing Great Garlic and Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, and some book signing. Hope to meet some of you there – do come and introduce yourself as one of my blog readers!


Transplanting bare-root spinach. Drawing by Jessie Doyle
Transplanting bare-root spinach.
Drawing by Jessie Doyle

The February issue of Growing for Market magazine has just come out. It includes my article about bare-root transplants, where I hope to encourage more people to try this technique. Bare-root transplants are plants dug up from a nursery seedbed outdoors or in a hoophouse and transplanted elsewhere. Plants grown this way have a lot of space to grow big sturdy roots, which to some extent drought-proofs them, compared to those in plug flats, which need watering multiple times a day in sunny weather. This can save valuable greenhouse bench space for more delicate plants. Starts grown in outdoor seedbeds are already acclimated to outdoor weather. We grow bare-root transplants in the ground in our hoophouse during the winter, to plant outdoors in spring. In spring and summer we grow transplants in an outdoor seed-bed to plant out with more space elsewhere later. In the fall we sow crops in an outdoor seed-bed to move into our hoophouse later, when the summer crops are over, and the conditions inside have cooled down a bit. Additionally, bare-root transplants have more flexibility about exactly when you move them out to their field space, because the open ground is not going to run out of nutrients if you need to wait an extra week. So – have a go! And let me know how it goes.

GFM-February2015-web-cover-300pxRichard Wiswall (of the Organic Farmers Business Handbook fame) has written an article on how to make your CSA more profitable. Lynn Byczynski has analyzed the current state of farmers’ markets across the US. Andrew Mefford has an a article about high-yielding greenhouse peppers, especially good for those in cold climates. Lynn Byczynski has an article about a newly fashionable crop, celtuce, or stem lettuce. Anyone who has grown Cracoviensis has probably noticed how it can bolt without getting bitter. Stems from varieties such as this are served as a vegetable in their own right. Gretel Adams has a useful article on the top cut flowers for supermarket sales and florists. Something for everyone!

Cracoviensis lettuce, or "red celtuce" Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Cracoviensis lettuce, or “red celtuce”
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Events I’ll be speaking at in 2015, more new varieties

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmondLast week I listed four events I’m booked for for next year. I’ll fill you in a bit and tell you about some more I hope to be at. My first is

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. Early registration (hurry! ends 12/20) is $130 for members, $190 for non-members. So why not become a member if you aren’t already? You’ll get news all year. Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch;

There are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages (3pm Friday); and  Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting (10.30 am Saturday). I’ll also be signing and selling books.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I also hope to be doing book-signing and sales.

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. That workshop will either be Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, or Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests.

2012-festival-slideshowThe fourth booking I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic.

MENFairLogoAs far as events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Asheville, NC April 11-12, 2015, Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015


 

Carioca Batavian lettuce. Credit Johnnys Seeds
Carioca Batavian lettuce.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

And meanwhile, this week on the farm we finished our seed ordering and started some shopping for tools and supplies. In 2015 we will repeat our variety trials to try to find a heat-tolerant eggplant variety. We were happy to find another Batavian heat-tolerant lettuce to try: Carioca from Johnny’s. With the addition of a few exceptions, we rely on Batavian lettuce varieties once the weather gets hot, to grow without bolting or getting (very) bitter. the exceptions are Jericho green romaine, De Morges Braun and New Red Fire, a looseleaf red lettuce which nearby grower Gary Scott told me about.

We are also growing some Eden Gem melons alongside our Kansas and Sun Jewel melons (and the individual-serving size Tasty Bites that I mentioned in my last post.

Peacework sweet pepper. Credit fedco Seeds
Peacework sweet pepper.
Credit fedco Seeds

We have high hopes for Peacework sweet pepper from Fedco, a very early (65 day) OP medium-thick-walled pepper “with good flavor and full-bodied sweetness.” We are always on the look-out for fast-ripening bell peppers. Because of the seed-growing business at Twin Oaks, at the end of the season we have tons of ripe peppers, but if you are growing a seed crop, there is no incentive to try to push the planting date early. So our main pepper-focus in the vegetable garden is on earliness and flavor – never forget the importance of flavor!

We are also trying Donkey spinach this year. For years we have been very happy with the reliable performance and productivity of Tyee, but Fedco tell us the producer of Tyee is a Multinational engaged in genetic engineering. If Donkey can replace Tyee we’ll be very happy!

 

Cold-hardy vegetables, carrot harvest, maybe snow on the way.

 

Wintry garden beds. Credit Ezra Freeman
Wintry garden beds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

For some years, I have been keeping a list of temperatures at which various crops get killed by cold weather. I update it each winter, and with two nights in the past week below the 14F we experienced on Saturday 11/15, I’ve started on this year’s update.

You can download a pdf here: Winter-kill temperatures 2014

See my 2013 posts about what survived when:

What’s still standing after two nights below 0F?

What’s alive at 14F?

Cylindra beet. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Cylindra beet.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

After the night at 14F (10F degrees colder than any previous night this season), the Cylindra beets were still OK, the Danvers carrots too. Our Tribute and Kaitlin cabbage were OK. All our broccoli shoots were rubbery, and knowing colder weather was coming soon, we went ahead and did one last harvest. We also harvested all the beets (we didn’t have many this year).

On the night of Tuesday/Wednesday 11/18-11/19 we got a brutal 10F. As often happens, our cold-weather low was 5F degrees colder than our nearest weather forecast station at Louisa Northside. After the 10F, there was a lot of damage. Some of the Tribute and Kaitlin cabbage had freeze damage. We made a big batch of kimchee from the cold-damaged cabbage. The Melissa savoy and the Deadon cabbage looked OK.Some of the senposai leaves have frost-killed patches, and most of the bigger chard stems got frozen. None of the plants are dead though.The Ventura celery under thick rowcover sustained quite a bit of damage. The Morris Heading collards are fine.

China Rose winter radish. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
China Rose winter radish.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The winter radish (daikon, China Rose and Shunkyo Semi-long red-skinned radishes) were all OK, and we decided it was time to harvest them anyway, rather than risk forgetting them.

We have one bed of outdoor lettuce left, with thick rowcover. The Outredgeous was a slimy mess, the Olga romaine damaged but good inside. Still looking good were Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Red Cross, Winter marvel, Sylvesta and Pirat. Add those to your list of cold-hardy lettuce varieties.

Rouge d'hiver lettuce. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Rouge d’hiver lettuce.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Various patches of oats sown in August and the first half of September as winter cover crops have all suffered some damage. Not a complete kill, but some bleached downed stems. For many years, I mistakenly believed 20F was the kill temperature for oats, and repeatedly forgot to track what actually happened.  Now I’ll think of 10F as the beginning of the end for oats.

Our biggest worry was the carrots.We had 5 beds 180′ long with 5 rows in each. 4500 row feet of carrots, with one every 3″ – 18,000 carrots to dig by hand. We considered what to do during the day on Tuesday, before the cold night. We had cancelled the shift on Monday due to rain, and Tuesday was very cold and windy. If we harvested some on Tuesday, it could only be a small percentage of the total. and then we’d have to deal with them on Wednesday. We considered putting a load in the truck and driving the truck into the garage for the night, where there is a woodstove. (Meanwhile we were part-way through planting garlic). I didn’t want people to be outdoors for longer than necessary on Tuesday. The forecast was calling for 17F, meaning 12F was likely here. That’s the temperature I expect carrots to die at. But rowcovering them all in windy weather didn’t seem like an option. Overhead irrigation was almost unthinkable, as we’d stored away all the hoses and sprinklers. I watched the forecast. It crept up one degree. I decided to do nothing except cross our fingers, hoping the foliage would protect them for one night, and that the forecast might be “warming” slightly. But by 7pm the forecast was for 16F. I felt quite stressed. Losing all our winter carrots was an awful possibility.

Were the carrots frozen? After the 10F night, the leaves were very flopped over. I pulled a few carrots and sliced them. It was hard to tell. They did have a glassy margin around the edges. It takes a bit of time for frozen plants to “declare themselves”, so I looked again on Thursday. Many leaf stems showed bleaching caused by the cold temperature, and the leaves remained flopped over. I consulted with two of our main crew people, and we decided to wait till Monday, by when it should be obvious. We considered and discounted various versions of trying to harvest them in a hurry and finding a use for so many frozen carrots before they started to rot.

Meanwhile I went to the fridge and got some carrots we’d had in storage since the summer. When I sliced them, they looked just the same as the ones outdoors – translucent edges are normal!! So we decided to start harvesting as soon as possible (Friday). We’ve had crews on the job for three afternoons now, and we have harvested about three-quarters of them. They look great! Very little bug damage. (For some years we’ve been wondering whether we have carrot rust fly). No rodent damage. And happiest news yet – our soil has improved enough that we rarely needed to dig them. Mostly we could pull them, which is so much faster.

We’ve been debating the relative efficiency of several methods. My favorite is to pull the carrots, put the handfuls straight into carts, haul them to the washing area. Then snip the tops off with scissors and wash the carrots. Others favor laying the pulled carrots in piles in the field, cutting the tops off there, and bringing the trimmed carrots to the washing station. We have been timing ourselves. It’s a question or reducing how many times we handle them versus hauling the carrot tops away then bringing them back. (We spread the tops thinly over the beds to protect the soil from heavy rains, as it’s too late to sow cover crops now).

danvers-carrotNext, we may get snow tomorrow night. But I’m not worrying. A cover of snow won’t hurt any remaining carrots. I’m done worrying for this week!

Potato yields, Salanova lettuce review, Yet more snow!

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons
Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

After my Feed the Soil presentation at Lynchburg College on 3/16, one of the participants emailed me to ask the relative potato yields from our twice a year plantings. The question sent me back to my records. Interestingly (to me) I’d recorded yield almost every time, but never compared the two. Now I know:
15 years of records on spring plantings (mid-March) gave yield ratios from a very low 3:1 to a happy 13:1. The average was 8.2:1 and the median 8:1.
16 years of records on the mid-June planting gave yield ratios ranging from a miserable 3:1 to a high of 10.7:1. The average was 7:1, and the median the same.

We used to plant at 10″ in-row spacing and have shifted to 12″. These figures contain both, with no obvious difference.

Looking at these results points out to me an advantage of doing two plantings that I didn’t mention during my presentation: a poor spring result can be followed by a good summer result. And vice versa. The 13:1 spring result was followed by 4.8:1 in the summer. The 3:1 spring yield was followed by 7.2:1 from the June planting. Doing two plantings spreads the risk.

The questioner also asked if we get potato beetles. We do get them in the spring and spray once, occasionally twice, with Spinosad, which is organically acceptable. In the summer we get no potato beetles. I think the mulch helps. Adult potato beetles emerging from the soil have to walk to find potato plants, and I bet the mulch is very challenging!

We use the same varieties in both plantings, Red Pontiac and Kennebec. Kennebec stores better, Red Pontiac gives higher yields, but isn’t good for long term storage. That said, we recently finished eating Red Pontiacs from our October harvest. I haven’t done much research into trying other varieties because we just buy what’s available locally.The Irish Eyes catalog has descriptions of varieties better for certain conditions. Moose Tubers (Fedco Seeds) has a useful comparative chart of varieties.

Salanova Lettuce Review

My impulse buy when ordering seeds last year was the full set of Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s. These are varieties of lettuce bred for baby salad mix. You grow them as transplanted heads, and when the head is mature you cut the whole thing and bingo – you get a bowlful of small leaves. They do not grow big leaves, just more and more small leaves. Some of them have a core which you need to cut out in order to make the leaves fall apart. Others you just cut across at the base .If you’ve ever grown Tango, you’ll now the kind of thing.  As well as being very pretty, these lettuces are said to save you time at harvesting compared to cutting along a row of baby lettuce mix. This aspect really appealed to some of our crew.

Johnny's Foundation Collection of Salanova. Photo from their catalog
Johnny’s Foundation Collection of Salanova. Photo from their catalog

Because the seed is expensive (100 pelleted seeds for $15.95), we decided to grow these for our hoophouse “filler” heads, which we transplant into gaps that happen in our beds of head and leaf lettuce. That way we’d get them at the time of year (late winter/early spring) when we grow baby lettuce mix and we could do a direct comparison.

We bought the full set, 100 seeds of the Foundation Collection (the more frilly types) and 100 seeds of the Premier Collection (the more flat and lobed types). Each collection is 25 seeds each of four varieties. We sowed each type in a 4′ seed row (seeds 2 inches apart) on 10/23. They came up well, and we transplanted them 1/2/14. We just started using them 3/20, so the jury is still out. Some unfortunately got cut before reaching full size. I’m not sure what full size is yet. Next year, I’d sow them earlier, so that the heads mature sooner. This winter has been very cold, they may have grown slower than they could have – some other seedlings are certainly slowed down.

A couple of them are exceptionally pretty. The Red Butter type has beautiful very dark red simple shaped leaves. The Red Sweet Crisp reminds me of a fine seaweed in looks – green at the base and intense dark red at the tips. The Green Sweet Crisp is surprisingly sweet, in a good way. Winter lettuce mixes are not usually crisp or sweet.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.
Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Also next year, I’d like to compare these with some “Multileaf” varieties from Osborne Seeds. They have 7 varieties, 3 green and 4 red. It took me a little while to realize “multired” was “multi-red” and not the past tense of “to multire”, a verb I was pondering the meaning of! They are $7 – $7.47 for 500 pelleted seeds. Some are back-ordered right now, but I’d want them next winter anyway. I’d also like to do a side-by-side comparison with Tango, Oscarde and Panisse which are inclined towards packing in many small leaves without further marketing.

And finally, yes, we’re expecting some more possible snow tomorrow morning. Can you believe it? Maybe we’ll just get rain.

What’s still standing after two nights below 0F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?  We’ve now had the Polar Vortex, which brought us two nights at 4F, on 1/6 and 1/7. Then it got even colder.We got the Big Round 0F 1/22-1/23, then a few nights at 5F or 6F, and then the big insult: -4F on the night of 1/29-30.

What’s still standing?

The Tyee spinach under thick rowcover has sustained big damage, showing as patches of beige dead cells. It will recover. Meanwhile we can eat from the more-protected spinach in the coldframes and the hoophouse.

The Vates  kale without rowcover is still alive, but badly damaged. The big leaves are crunchy and brown round the edges, and some of the inner leaves are dead. I hope it will grow back, but we won’t be able to pick that for a while. The Beedy’s Camden kale looks worse – the big leaves have died and flopped over. Not sure if it will recover.

Many of our strawberry plants look dead – very disappointing!

Our hardneck garlic and Polish White softneck tops are killed back to about one inch up from the mulch. Equally hardy, it seems. 

We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. After the 4F assault we still had life in the centers of the Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest. Now only the Winter Marvel shows any signs of life. So that variety gets the prize for cold-tolerance here!

Red Round Turnip. Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Red Round Turnip.
Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover every night it looked like dropping below 10F inside. Almost everything survived – we only got some minor stem freezing on some turnips and Asian greens. We have been eating Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana, Yukina Savoy, various turnips and their greens (Hakurei, White Egg, Oasis, Red Round), also plenty of lettuce leaves, radishes, scallions, and some spinach. We lost our second sowing of spinach in there to over watering and flooding, and we are really noticing the lack right now. We’re short on spinach. We have small amounts of mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Bright Lights chard, Bulls Blood beets to add to salad mixes, and Red Russian and White Russian kale growing slowly.

In January we have taken to sowing spinach, kale and collards in a hoophouse bed to transplant outdoors in early spring. We back this up with sowing some in flats if we don’t get good emergence for some reason. This year emergence is late. Is it just late, or is there a problem? We’re holding our breath for a few more days. . .

GFM_February2014_cover_300pxWe are not the only people tracking the effects of the unusually cold weather. The February Growing for Market magazine opens with an article by Ben Hartman “Testing the Limits of Cold Tolerance”. He farms in Goshen, Indiana, using two double-layer plastic greenhouses heated to 30F (yes. I said heated!) and two unheated. They planted kale, carrots, spinach, salad greens and arugula in their greenhouses for winter harvest. Their outdoor temperatures fell to -16F on 1/6 and 1/7. I imagine they’ve had worse since. They used mid-weight rowcover over their beds. Ben reports that baby greens and young spinach survived, as did their rosemary and their 3 fig trees (all farmers deserve some thrills!). They lost baby salad greens that had already been cut previously (all those cut edges didn’t do well). Crops in the outer beds were lost. The tips of full-grown kale leaves froze, but the plants survived.

In their unheated, single-skin plastic hoophouses, the soil froze down to 4″. They used two layers of mid-weight rowcover suspended over the crops. Despite this cold,  tiny salad greens less than 1″ tall survived. Spinach survived under just one layer of rowcover. The carrot tops froze and the roots may or may not be marketable. The (uncovered) fully mature kale looks dead. The mature salad with two layers of rowcover didn’t survive.

From this experience, Ben points out that salad greens and spinach less than 1″ tall are very cold-tolerant. Spinach and kale once larger, benefit from more protection than they got this time. Beware the outer beds!

My own article in this issue is about matching crop spacing with desired goals, such as maximum yield, optimum size, or convenience for cultivation.

Andrew Mefford has written some greenhouse tips for hoophouse growers, including tomato grafting, trellising. Chris Blanchard has written the second part of his piece on growing herbs – this is about harvest and maintenance. Erin Benzakain has undertaken a 59-variety trial of celosia.

 

Twin Oaks Garden Task List for June

Admiring a cluster of blueberries. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier
Admiring a cluster of blueberries.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Throughout the month of June

  • Lettuce Factory: Sow VERY harvest garlic, harvest potato onions, s, every 6-5 days, under shade-cloth, #15, 16, 17, 18, 19.  Transplant 120/week (1/3 bed) under shadecloth. Transplant #12, 13, 14, 15 this month. Could store seed in fridge.
  • Deal with Colorado potato beetles, if necessary, every 7 days with Spinosad (or  Neem.)
  • Mulch tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, cukes, asparagus, & watermelons (if not already done).
  • Mow buckwheat before flowering, and sorghum-sudan at 3-4’ (cut high) to encourage deep rooting.
  • String weave tomatoes once a week, first 3 rounds with thicker baler twine, then thinner binder twine.

    String weaving tomatoes. Credit Kathryn Simmons
    String weaving tomatoes.
    Credit Kathryn Simmons

Early June:

  • 1st June: Chit (pre-sprout) seed potatoes for 2 weeks in trays in the light. Let all sprouts grow.
  • Harvest garlic and potato onions (see Task List for late May)  
  • Sow corn #3, edamame #3, beans #3 (6/7, 24 days after #2). Sow cauliflower 6/1.
  • Finish planting watermelons (transplants or sprouted seeds).  Remove rowcover after 3 weeks.
  • Transplant leeks, lettuce #12, late tomatoess, (cukes & zukes #2 6/7, if not direct sown). Replace casualties in Roma paste tomatoes, okra & peppers.
  • Look for Mexican Bean Beetle on the first cloudy day in June. Order Pediobius foveolatus wasps when larvae seen . Maybe predators too (Lacewings, Nematodes).
  • Weed asparagus in this last week of harvest. If possible give more compost. Mulch again. 
  • Weed cukes & zukes #2 if direct sown. Clear spring-sown collards, kale, if not done already.

Mid June:

  • Seed potatoes: cut into pieces, with approx 2 sprouts per piece.
  • Plant & mulch potatoes,  Flag end of each row. 1.3 hours for 2 tractor passes.
  • Sow carrots #7, corn #4, drying beans, limas #2. Consider sowing sunflowers in leek beds to flower in late July/early Aug for grasshopper predators (to protect kale).
  • Transplant lettuce #13 & 14, zinnias. Clear turnips and kohlrabi.
  • Weed and thin to 24” winter squash as soon as they have 3 true leaves.
  • Till between rows of winter squash and sweet potatoes, if not using bioplastic mulch.
  • Curing onions in a net-covered rack. Credit Wren Vile
    Curing onions in a net-covered rack.
    Credit Wren Vile

    Harvest bulb onions when >50% tops have fallen, (6/11-30), cure indoors for 14 days with fans. Store at 77-95°F or 32-45°F. Take non-storers to walk-in refrigerator after trimming, weighing and recording yield of each variety.

  • Stop watering spring potatoes to encourage them to finish up. Bush-hog July 1st at the latest.
  • #5 Spring Tractor Work – by mid-June disk the rest of the garden: Corn #6 &7, any odd areas not done earlier. Get mulch for asparagus, Roma paste tomatoes. Bushhog  broccoli, and sorghum-sudan 4’ tall or more (as well as spring-planted potatoes)

Late June:

  • Sow drying beans, cucumbers #3 (slicers only), zukes, summer squash #3, 6/23, beans #4, edamame #4 melons #2 by 6/25, cowpeas #3.
  • Sow brassicas for fall, (use fall brassicas spreadsheet). 2 or 3 sowings of each variety (each enough alone), a week apart, as insurance.
  • Transplant lettuce #15, “filler” leeks to make up for any shortfall in earlier sowings.
  • Undersow corn #3, 4 at 2nd cultivation (when 6-12” tall) with soy, or just till.
  • Clear beets. Clear pea stakes if not done earlier
  • Get program for Louisa County Ag Fair, (1st w/e of August), to enter produce.
  • Sort Potato Onions 6/20-6/30 (without breaking clusters), starting with the biggest, and remove rotting ones. Remove ones >2” for eating, or refrigerate for September planting; or sell to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange before 7/31. Continue to cure small and medium ones for 2 months or more in total, with fans. Use Worksheet and Log Book. Be sure to write down where you store them!
  • Store any seeds not needed until fall (okra, nightshades, peanuts, melons) in basement
  • Snip, sort and store garlic after curing 2-4 weeks. Store at 60-70°F (basement), never 40-50°F. Seed garlic is best stored in garden shed (or 32-35°F).

Cover crops: can sow buckwheat, millet, soy and sorghum-sudan during June. Japanese millet is good for small equipment. Sorghum-sudangrass is not!

Perennials: Water all.

  • Till in oldest strawberry beds after potting up any needed runners.  Bushhog or mow, weed and mulch strawberry beds, mulch paths. Don’t compost until August.
  • Mow aisles in grapes and raspberries.
  • Weed, compost and tuck mulch round asparagus, (late June/early July).
  • Weed and mulch rhubarb.
  • New grapevines: remove side branches and fruitlets. Late June/early July:
  • Make a visit to the new blueberries and grapes, log progress, tie in, prune if needed. Water, weed, & harvest blueberries & select plants to propagate.
  • Blueberry Harvest: 12 person-hours 2 x week from 5/30 to 7/8, then 6 person-hours 2 x week till 7/27. 7 weeks total.

Harvest: Beans, beets, beet greens, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, chard, cherries, cucumbers, fava beans in one harvest mid-June, fennel, garlic, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, hoophouse peppers (green), potato onions, raspberries, scallions, squash, hoophouse tomatoes, turnips, zucchini. Harvest early potatoes from 6/15.

Store for 100 people,1 bag cabbage/week until 9/25 when fall cabbage matures. – say  from 6/25, store 12 bags.  Store ½ bag beets/week until 9/20 when fall beets mature – say 6 bags from 6/20.

Grapevines and Solar Panels. Credit Bridget Aleshire
Grapevines and Solar Panels.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Goodbye winter, hello summer!

Rhubarb season is almost here. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Rhubarb season is almost here.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Spring in Virginia is so variable in temperature! But this year is more so than usual. We’ve just had three days with high temperatures of 90F (31C) or more. Not so long ago we had night-time lows of 20F (-6.5C). Late February and all of March was full of snow and rain.

The only thing we managed to plant in the garden for the whole of March was a small amount of shallot bulbs. We’ve been doing an impressive amount of scrambling in the first ten days of April, to make up for lost time. Some crops we had to cut back on, because it got too late to plant. We only have a quarter of the onions we planned, half of the peas, a fifth of the spinach, and no fava beans this year. I realize it would be useful to have “last worthwhile planting dates” for all our spring crops, to help decision-making.

To add insult to injury, a Beast ate half of our early broccoli transplants in the cold-frame one night. Because there were big surface tunnels, I think it was Eastern Moles. They are insectivorous, not vegetarian, but they do use leaves to line their nests, which they make at this time of year. I bought a trap – no luck. I covered the remaining broccoli and lettuce flats as best I could with rat wire “lids” and clear plastic domed food covers – things I had handy from previous depredations. What seems to have worked is to line the coldframes with landscape fabric and set the flats on that, tightly up against the edges, leaving no wiggle room. Wisely, we do a later, third, sowing of broccoli to cover emergencies, so we spotted those out into bigger flats. We’re going to need them this year.

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting. Credit Kati Folger
Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Falger
Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons
Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We have at last got our potatoes in the ground, three weeks later than ideal. On the positive side, they had been chitting (green-sprouting) in crates under lights in the basement since the beginning of March, so I could console myself that they were growing anyway. And probably they will come up quicker in the (suddenly!) warmer soil. We cut them for planting once the area was disked for planting and we were pretty sure we could get them in the ground in a few days.

We’ve busily transplanted spinach, kale, lettuce and scallions, and sowed carrots, more scallions and the third bed of beets. We used the Earthway seeder for the beets, and found the radish plate worked better than the beet plate for Cylindra seed, which were smaller than the Detroit Dark Red. We also tried the popcorn plate with some success, when the beet plate jammed.

We flamed one of our first two beds of beets, to kill the weeds that didn’t die properly with our hasty delayed rototilling. We would have flamed both, but the Cylindra popped up overnight earlier than I expected (going by soil temperature), so we’ll have to hoe those really soon, maybe this afternoon.

Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Next we’ll be prepping our cabbage and broccoli beds. We make temporary raised beds, roll out round hay bales over them, then transplant into the mulch. We do this by first measuring and making “nests”, using our hands to open up the mulch down to the soil. The brassicas appreciate the mulch to moderate the soil temperature and keep some moisture in the soil.

Our big weeding projects have been the raspberries and the garlic.(Goodbye, henbit!)

 

Mar 2013 Growing for Market
Mar 2013 Growing for Market

Today we might sow our parsnips. I just wrote an article about them in the March issue of  Growing for Market. This issue also contains articles about increasing hoophouse tomato production, adding solar panels, equipment for tracking the weather, food safety and new interesting cut flowers.

Florence bulb fennel. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Florence bulb fennel.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The April issue is also out. For that, I wrote about fennel – bulbs, leaves, seeds and pollen. Other articles include one about Johnny’s Salanova lettuce, others about training cucumbers and tomatoes up strings in the hoophouse, a tractor implement for rolling out round hay bales (which is only fun to do by hand the first ten times, max), more on food safety, and an interview/field trip to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers. 

GFM-April 2013-cover-300px

Twin Oaks January Calendar – Starting a new garden season

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlingsPhoto Kathryn Simmons
A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Yes, really! On January 17, I sowed flats of cabbage, lettuce and mini-onions (cipollini), and the cabbage and lettuce are already up. Onions usually take 10 days, so I’m not surprised not to see them yet. It’s fun to see new seedlings, even though my energy isn’t ready for taking on another growing season yet. I’m still enjoying hibernation!

The cabbage varieties are Early Jersey Wakefield, a quick-growing small pointy-head open-pollinated variety, and Faroa, a quick-growing fairly small round hybrid that has been very reliable for us. These are for a bed of early cabbage, to eat after our stored winter cabbage is all gone. We’ll sow our main-crop cabbage on 2/7, in much bigger quantities.

I sowed two lettuces: reliable old Salad Bowl and the unusual Cracoviensis, a pink veined sturdy leaf lettuce, that we have found is only useful for us at this first sowing. It bolts too easily once it gets even faintly warm. It tends not to get bitter even when bolting, but our diners aren’t going to believe that!

We’re also still busy with various stages of our garden planning. yesterday I updated our harvest calendar, which tells our cooks which crops they can expect when, and also our food processing calendar to tell the food processing crew when to be ready to tackle large amounts of broccoli, beans or paste tomatoes, for example. I’m part way through revising the document we call our garden calendar, which is really a month-by-month task list. If you were following this blog in the fall, you’ll remember some of those monthly garden task lists. We’ve planned which crops are going in which of the 60 permanent raised beds and identified the ones we need to spread compost on and till first. And then we twiddle our thumbs – lots of rain last week (and a bit of snow) mean it will be a couple more weeks before the soil is dry enough to till.

Here’s our short Twin Oaks Garden Task List for January:

Planning: Prune the catalogs, do the filing, consolidate notes on varieties and quantities.

Week 1: Finalize seed orders, if not done in December. Revise Seedling Schedule using seed order.

Week 2

    : Revise Outdoor Planting Schedule. Plan labor needs for the year.

Week 3

    : Revise Raised Bed Planning Chart. Plan raised beds for Feb-June.

Week 4:           Revise Garden Calendar, Lettuce List and lettuce Log.

Order Bt, spinosad and predatory beasties, coir. [sweet potato slips for shipping 5/12-5/17 if not growing our own]
Repair greenhouse and coldframes and tidy. Check germinator-fridge and heat mat. Repair flats, and make new if needed. Make stakes. Clean labels. 

Check equipment: rototiller, discs, and mower – repair or replace as needed.  Repair and sharpen tools.

Freeze out greenhouse to kill pests, or spray with soap or cinnamon oil every five days.  Import ladybugs.
Check potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash in storage.

Mid-Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #1, early cabbage, mini-onions, early broccoli, onions.

Late Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #2, scallions #1, spinach, tomatoes, peppers for hoophouse
Plant small potato onions, 4-5″ apart, ½-1” deep, in a mild spell. Remove mulch to plant, then replace it. Plant shallots & mulch.

Perennials (see November list). Weed blueberries, raspberries, asparagus (spread compost), grapes, rhubarb, strawberries.  Add soil amendments, fertilize (not strawberries) and mulch. Prune blueberries, (take cuttings if wanted). Fall raspberries: cut all canes to the ground, remove canes from aisles. Summer raspberries: remove old fruiting canes & canes from aisles.

Harvest: (Chard?), collards, kale, (senposai?) spinach, leeks, (Yukina Savoy?).

Our freshly mulched asparagus patch.Photo Kathryn Simmons
Our freshly mulched asparagus patch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Fresh air hoophouse, seedling winter crops

Well, it’s the weekend, and I said I’d let you know how it’s gone with our hoophouse renovations. the answer is – we haven’t got the plastic on yet, check in again next weekend! We have got the west wall braced with diagonal tubing. We have got the old blower replaced with a new one.

For the geeks, here’s the air intake for our hoophouse blower.
Photo credit: Kathryn Simmons

We have got screws in some of the connectors holding the purlins and bows together. We have got all the south-side baseboard off and the rotten bit from the north side. We have got new baseboards (Eastern Red Cedar) cut to length. Unfortunately they ended up a bit thicker than the old ones, not sure why, so the bolts we bought are too short. More hasty shopping! We have got all the old duct tape off the bolt heads and metal connectors and replaced it with shiny new duct tape. It’s to protect the plastic sheeting when we pull it over. We’re planning a little crew party for when it’s done.

Brite Lites chard in our hoophouse.
Photo credit Pam Dawling

Meanwhile we are harvesting our seed crops of Mississippi Silver cowpeas and Envy edamame from in there, and we are prepping beds for the winter crops. We have sown seedlings in one of the outdoor raised beds, to plant out in the hoophouse starting in a few days. Our first round of sowings, on 9/15, included some Brite Lites chard and ten varieties of lettuce, 75cm of each.

Our winter hoophouse lettuce has challenges with a disease we call Solstice Slime (as it arrives around the winter solstice), although it’s generally called Sclerotinia Drop. The best slime resistant ones for us are  Merlot, Oscarde, Tango, Winter Marvel, Hyper Red Wave. Next best: Outredgeous, Winter Wonderland, Salade de Russie, Red Salad Bowl, North Pole. Less good: Roman Emperor, Rouge d’Hiver, Devil’s Tongue, Salad Bowl.

We also sowed some Asian greens, enough to transplant 50-60 each of Pak Choy, Blues Chinese Cabbage, Yukina Savoy and Tokyo Bekana.

Tokyo Bekana
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

On 9/23 we sowed a short row of Pumba onions in the hoophouse as an experimant – they are a more southern variety. Our hope is to get some earlier onions this way. We tried this last year, but many of them bolted, so I’m starting later this time around.

Mizuna
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Our second outdoor sowing for the hoophouse was 9/24 and we sowed more lettuce:  Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Red Salad Bowl, Outredgeous, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Tango, Winter Wonderland.  Our notes sternly say “Not Oscarde” for this sowing, although it does fine from the first sowing. Details! We are trying Panisse and Red Tinged Winter this year.

Red Russian Kale
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We also sowed Red Russian Kale (132 plants) White Russian Kale (117plants) Kale Galega de Folhas Lisas (15 plants) Senposai (140 plants) Yukina Savoy #2 (50 plants) and Mizuna #1 (40 plants). We are growing some green mizuna and some purple, also some Ruby Streaks, which is like mizuna but more mustardy.