Fast Growing Vegetables

Lettuce bed in May.
Photo Wren Vile

Maybe part of your response to Covid-19 is to grow more of your own food, and you are wondering what can bring fastest results. Or maybe you just want to leap into spring and have early harvests. Either way, here is information on some vegetable crops that offer fast returns; ways to get crops to grow faster; ways to get more crops from a small space and some sources for more information.

Vegetable Crops That Offer Fast Returns

In my blog post If Spring is Too Wet in March 2019, I included a paragraph on fast crops.

  • Ready in 30–35 days from sowing are baby kale, mustard greens, collards, radishes, spinach, chard, salad greens (lettuce, endives, chicories) arugula, and winter purslane. Beet greens from thinnings can be cooked and eaten like spinach.
  • Many Asian greens are ready in 40 days or less: Chinese Napa cabbage, Komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, mizuna, pak choy, Senposai, tatsoi, Tokyo Bekana and Yukina Savoy). See my Asian Greens of the Month category of posts. There’s a huge range of attractive varieties, they’re better able to germinate in hot weather than lettuce, and faster growing than lettuce. Most reach baby salad size in 21 days, full size in 40 days. Transplant 4-5 weeks after spring sowing, or direct sow. Nutritious as well as tasty. Flavors vary from mild to peppery; colors cover the spectrum: chartreuse, bright green, dark green and purple. A diversity of crops without a diversity of growing methods! Grow when you normally grow kale. Be aware that Asian greens sown in spring will bolt as soon as the weather heats up, so be ready to harvest a lot at once (if you planted a lot, that is!) You can make Kim Chee.
  • Tatsoi and our August sown catch crop of Tokyo bekana.
    Photo Pam Dawling
  • One summer we sowed Tokyo Bekana as a lettuce substitute. 20 days to baby size, 45 days to a (large) full size. We have also grown this at other times of year, when faced with an empty space we hadn’t planned for.
  • Mizuna and other frilly mustards are very easy to grow, and tolerate cold wet soil to 25°F (-4°C). In addition, they are fairly heat tolerant (well, warm tolerant). Use for baby salads after only 21 days or thin to 8″–12″ (20–30 cm) apart, to grow to maturity in 40 days. Mild flavored ferny leaves add loft in salad mixes and regrow vigorously after cutting.
  • Also ready in 30–35 days are spinach, chard, salad greens (lettuce, endives, chicories) and winter purslane.
  • Ready in 35–45 days are baby carrots (thinnings or the whole row), turnip greens (more thinnings!) endive, corn salad, land cress, sorrel, parsley and chervil. Some of the faster smaller turnip roots can also be ready in 45 days or less.
  • Ready in 60 days are beets, dwarf snap peas, broccoli, collards, kohlrabi, turnips and small fast cabbages (Farao or Early Jersey Wakefield).
  • Also ready in 50-60 days once we are past frosts: zucchini, yellow squash, bush beans, small cucumbers can grow fast.
  • Garlic scallions can be grown over-winter, but will grow quickly in spring. Plant scrappy little garlic cloves you don’t want to cook with in close furrows and wait till the leaves are 7” (18 cm) tall before digging up the plant and preparing like onion scallions (spring onions). Can be eaten raw, but more often cooked. You can also plant whole bulbs without separating the cloves. This is a good use for extra bulbs that are already sprouting in storage.
Our garlic scallions in February. we usually space the rows much closer than this. We’ll start harvesting when they reach 7″ in height.
Photo Pam Dawling
  • See other blog posts in my Cooking Greens for the Month series, and Asian Greens for the Month, as well as Lettuce of the Month
  • Try Eat-All Greens, an idea form Carol Deppe. Patches of carefully chosen cooking greens are sown in a small patch. When it reaches 12″ tall, Carol cuts the top 9″ (23 cm) off for cooking, leaving the tough-stemmed lower part, perhaps for a second cut, or to return to the soil.
Twin Oaks Eat-All Greens on October 19.
Photo Bridget Aleshire
  • Spinach is good for salad or cooking uses. Be aware that the fastest biggest spinach may not last long once it warms up! We have found Acadia and Reflect have good bolt-resistance from outdoor spring sowings.

Fast Varieties of Lettuce and Greens

Bronxe Arrow lettuce.
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
  • Grow the right lettuce variety for the conditions. Ones that do well in early spring are often useless here after the end of March, or even mid-February. I like to sow 4 varieties each time (for the attractive harvests, and to reduce the risks if one variety bolts or suffers disease): at least one red and one romaine. We have 5 lettuce seasons, with different varieties:
    • Early Spring (Jan – Mar), 6 sowings
    • Spring (April – May 15), 5 sowings
    • Summer (May 15 – Aug 15), 17 sowings (lots of seed!)
    • Fall (Aug 15 – Sept 7), 9 sowings
    • Winter Sept 8 – 27, 9 sowings
  • Baby lettuce mix can be ready in as little as 21 days from mid-spring to mid-fall. A direct-sown cut-and-come-again crop, the plants regrow and can be harvested more than once in cool seasons. Weed and thin to 1″ (2.5 cm). When 3″–4″ (7.5–10 cm) tall, cut 1” (2.5 cm) above the soil. Gather a small handful in one hand and cut with using large scissors. Immediately after harvesting, weed the just-cut area so the next cut won’t include weeds
  • Leaf lettuce can be harvested by the leaf much sooner than waiting for a whole head of lettuce.
  • Small-leaf lettuces (aka Eazyleaf, One-Cut, Multi-Cut, Multileaf): Johnny’s Salanovas, Osborne’s and High Mowing’s Eazyleaf; Tango, Oscarde, and Panisse (older varieties) too. Full-size plants can be harvested as a head, or harvested with a single cut, providing a collection of bite-sized leaves. Or just one side (or the outer leaves) of the plant can be cut and the plant will regrow for future harvests. Growing multileaf heads takes 55 days, compared to 30 days for baby lettuce.
Buckley red oakleaf single-cut multi-leaf lettuce.
Photo High Mowing Seeds
  • Other greens can be sown in close rows for harvesting as salad crops at a height of 3”-4” (7-10 cm). These are called mustard mixes or brassica salad mixes.
  • Many cooking greens can be used as salad crops while plants are small, as you thin the rows of direct-sown crops.

Ways to Get Crops to Grow Faster

  • Sow when the conditions are right. Soil temperature is important. I have a table of soil temperatures in Year-Round Hoophouse on page 208. Vegetable Seed Germination: Optimum soil temperatures for germination and days to emergence, where known.
  • Grow transplants. By starting your plants in a place with close-to-ideal temperatures, rather than direct-seeding when it’s still a bit too chilly outside, you’ll get bigger plants sooner. You’ll also buy time to prepare the soil where you are going to plant out.
  • Find warm sheltered micro-climates, in front of a south-facing wall for example.
  • Make your own warm sheltered micro-climates with rowcover or low tunnels.
  • Take advantage of plastic mulch to warm the soil, for crops that like warmth. Regular black plastic mulch will need to be removed at the end of the growing season, but biodegradable mulch does not. However, if you are taking over part of your yard near your house, I should tell you that you will see shreds of the bioplastic next year. See Setting out biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile
  • Consider landscape fabric with planting holes burned in, as a reusable alternative to throw-away or biodegradable mulch.
  • Use mixes for salads: Our general salad mix harvesting approach is to mix colors, textures and crop families. I like to balance lettuce of different kinds with chenopods (spinach, baby chard, Bull’s Blood beet leaves) and brassicas (brassica salad mix, baby tatsoi, thinnings of direct-sown brassicas, chopped young leaves of Tokyo bekana, Maruba Santoh or other Asian greens, mizuna, other ferny mustards such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills). See Making salad mix
  • Microgreens: See Andrew Mefferd The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook.
  • When the weather warms up, consider using shadecloth for heat-sensitive plants, particularly lettuce, but any of the cool weather greens you still have by then.
  • In warm weather, greens and lettuces inside a tipi of pole beans will benefit from the shade.

Ways to Get More Crops from a Small Space

  • With transplants, you can fit more crops into each bed throughout the season, because each crop is occupying the bed for less time than if direct-sown.
  • Transplanting can help you grow more successions of summer crops, as each one needs less time in the garden or field.
  • Grow a vertical crop on a trellis and something short in the space below it. You can even use the same trellis twice, growing tomatoes after peas, for instance.
Spinach and peas in a relay planting scheme.
Photo Twin Oaks Community
  • Relay Planting is a method of growing short crops alongside taller ones. We have often sown peas down the center of a bed of overwintered spinach. As the peas grow tall, we trellis them, and continue harvesting the spinach. When the spinach bolts, we pull it up. This overlap of bed use lets us get more crops from a bed in less time than if we sowed the crops one after another. We have also sowed peanuts down the middle of a bed of lettuce on the same date we transplant the lettuce. We make sure to use vertical romaine lettuces rather than sprawly bibbs or leaf lettuces. We have transplanted okra down the middle of a bed of early cabbage. This does involve breaking off outer leaves of the cabbage if they are about to smother the okra.
  • Sow some slower-maturing crops the same time as you sow the fast ones, so you have food later as well as sooner! Carrots, turnips, cabbages, broccoli, collards, kohlrabi,
  • Sow some multiple-harvest crops to save work later. Greens that are harvested by the leaf, rather than the head, offer good value.

Sources for More Information

  • In High-Yield Vegetable Gardening, Colin McCrate and Brad Halm point out that when planning what to grow, it’s important to consider how long the crop will be in the ground, especially if you have limited space.
  • Cindy Conner in Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth, leads you through the process of identifying suitable crops for food self-reliance, and provides a worksheet to help you determine Bed Crop Months. For each bed, determine how many months that food crop occupies that bed and so assess the productivity value of one crop compared with another. Short season crops grow to harvest size in 30-60 days, allowing series of crops to be grown in the space, and feeding people quickly. If all your nutrients are to come from your garden, you will need to pay attention to growing enough calories. Otherwise you’ll lack the energy to get to the end of the season!
  • Curtis Stone, in The Urban Farmer, distinguishes between Quick Crops (maturing in 60 days or less) and Steady Crops (slower maturing, perhaps harvested continuously over a period of time). He has designed a Crop Value Rating system based on 5 characteristics. To use this assessment, you look at each characteristic and decide if the particular crop gets a point for that characteristic or not. Then look for the crops with the highest number of points. Spinach gets all 5 points; cherry tomatoes only 3. The smaller your farm, the higher the crops need to score to get chosen. His 5 are:
  1. Shorter days to maturity (fast crops = chance to plant more; give a point for 60 days or less)
  2. High yield per linear foot (best value from the space; a point for1/2 pound/linear foot or more)
  3. Higher price per pound (other factors being equal, higher price = more income; a point for $4 or more per pound)
  4. Long harvest period (= more sales; point for a 4 month minimum)
  5. Popularity (high demand, low market saturation)
  • Steve Solomon in Gardening When it Counts provides tables of vegetable crops by the level of care they require. His Easy List: kale, collards, endives, chicories, spinach, cabbage, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, all cucurbits, beets, chard, sweet corn, all legumes, okra, tomatoes (followed by the more difficult eggplant, peppers).
  • See my blog post How to Decide Which Crops to Grow
  • See my article Intercropping: Minimize Your Effort While Maximizing Yields, in the Heirloom Gardener of Spring 2018.
  • Jennifer Poindexter on the Morning Chores Site has a nice simple web post on 16 Fast Growing Vegetables That Will Give You a Harvest Quickly
  • Steve Albert on the Harvest to Table website has a good post on Quick-Growing Vegetable Crops. It includes recommended fast-growing varieties of 29 crops.

Growing and Saving Seeds: my Seed Garden Slideshow and a Cuban Bean Seed Bank

 

At the Organic Growers School Spring Conference I gave my presentation The Seed Garden, about combining growing some seed crops alongside lots of vegetable crops – a way for vegetable growers to diversify and grow seed of a few special crops either for themselves or to sell for some extra income and to keep a chosen variety available. I included information on selecting desirable characteristics and making an improved strain of that variety.

You can watch the slideshow here, by clicking on the diagonal arrow to increase the screen size and then the right pointing triangular arrow:

I also took the opportunity to add a few more of my slideshows to my collection on SlideShare.

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Meanwhile I’ve been sorting out more photos from my Cuba trip, and I want to tell you about a bean seed bank at Finca Hoyo Bonito I visited during our day traveling from Havana, west for three hours to the Viñales Valley in the province of Pinar del Rio.

The seed farm has a bank containing 250 varieties of bean seed. It’s a hobby for the retired woman growing and saving the beans. Her goal is to get a hundred pounds of each variety. She gives bean seed to any farmer who asks, with no requirement to return the investment. (this is different from some seed banks, which require growers to repay the “loan”)

Finca Hoyo Bonito bean seed bank, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
250 bean seed varieties are kept in this tiny seed bank.
The Seed Conservator, or Banker at Finca Hoyo Bonito. Note the reuse of ubiquitous plastic water bottles to store some of the seeds. Tourists need to drink only bottled water.
Bean seed has a limited shelf life, and so must be grown out frequently.
Here is a display of just some of the bean varieties.
Finca Hoyo Bonito Bean Seed Bank, Pinar del Rio, Cuba

Here is a short video about Finca Hoyo Bonito. It’s in Spanish, naturally!

Winter-Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables 2020

Overwintered Vates kale in central Virginia in March.
Photo Nina Gentle

At the Organic Association of Kentucky Conference, I gave a a presentation on Winter High Tunnel and Outdoor Vegetable Production. You can see it here. Click on the diagonal arrow icon to see it full screen, then click on the right pointing triangular arrow

Winter-Kill Temperatures of Cold-Hardy Vegetables 2020

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). 

The winter 2019-2020 has been mild, with our lowest temperature being a single night at 12°F (-11°C). The Koji became completely unmarketable but did not completely die. Yukina Savoy is indeed hardier, being OK down to 10°F (-12°C). We had one night at 13°F (-10°C) and two each at 17°F (-8°C), 18°F (-8°C also) and 19°F (-7°C).

This winter I noted the death of rhubarb stems and leaves at 25°F (-4°C), rather than 22°F (-6°C), as I noted a year or two ago.

In early January 2018, we had some extremely cold temperatures of -8°F and -9°F (-22°C and -23°C). The winter of 2018-2019 was not as brutal. Our lowest temperatures were 6°F (-14°C) in late January, 8°F (-13°C) in December 2018 and a couple of 11°F (-12°C). I found that senposai is more cold-tolerant than I had thought. Averaging our winter low over those three winters gives 3.2°F (-16°C), completely within the zone 7a range.

My other results from other years still hold up.

I also learned that there is more damage when the weather switches suddenly from warm to cold. And that the weatherman in Raleigh, NC says it needs 3 hours at the critical temperature to do damage.

Radicchio seeds from Seeds from Italy

Notes on Chicories and Endives

We gave up growing chicories and endives because we really didn’t like the bitterness. I decided to do some more online research to make sure I wasn’t spreading untruths. Chicories and endives fall into two groups, but they are confusing because the common names sometimes suggest the opposite group than they are botanically. Here’s the best info I have. If you know differently, please leave a comment.

Cichorium intybus, commonly called chicories, are mostly heading crops. The group includes radicchio, both Treviso and Chioggia (hardy to about 20°F (-7°C). Belgian Witloof endive (the kind for forcing chicons) is also a chicory. It dies at 25°F (-4°C). Sugarloaf chicory is the least hardy chicory, and dies at 27°F (-3°C).

Cichorium endivia, commonly called endives, are mostly loose-leaf crops, less cold-hardy than intybus types (chicories). This group includes Frisée types and escaroles, which are also known as Batavian endives. They generally survive down to 22°F (-6°C), although Perfect and President endives can survive down to 10°F (-12°C) – can anyone confirm or deny this?

Using the List

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 beds in November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Hoophouse Notes

Our double-plastic hoophouse keeps night time temperatures about 8F (4.5C) degrees warmer than outdoors, sometimes 10F (5.5C) degrees 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);

In the hoophouse (8F (4.5C) degrees warmer than outside) plants without extra rowcover can survive 14F (7.7C) degrees colder than they could survive outside; with thick rowcover (1.25oz Typar/Xavan) at least 21F (11.6C) degrees 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.

Young Bright Lights chard.
Photo Pam Dawling

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.

Outdoor killing temperatures of crops (unprotected unless stated)

35°F (2°C):  Basil.

32°F (0°C):  Bush beans, some 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, Belgian Witloof chicory roots for chicons, and hearts, Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), dill (Fernleaf), 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, rhubarb stems and leaves.

Tokyo bekana in our hoophouse.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

22°F (-6°C): Some arugula (some varieties are hardier), Bright Lights chard, endive (Escarole may be a little more frost-hardy than Frisée), large leaves of lettuce (protected hearts and small plants will survive colder temperatures).

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), some cauliflower varieties, celeriac, celtuce (stem lettuce), some head lettuce, some mustards/Asian greens (Tendergreen, Tyfon Holland greens), flat leaf parsley, radicchio, both Treviso and Chioggia, 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).

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, 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), broad leaf sorrel, most covered turnips, winter cress.

Young Cylindra beets.
Photo Wren VIle

12°F (-11°C): Some beets (Cylindra,), some broccoli perhaps, 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, Koji greens, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln, King Richard), large tops of potato onions, covered rutabagas, some turnips (Purple Top).

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, Blue Ridge kale, 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.

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 savoy 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).

Garlic shoots in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

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

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

-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).

Cooking Greens in March

 

White Russian kale in our hoophouse in March.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in March

Eat Your Greens! More Bolting Greens in the Hoophouse, Sigh.

Outdoors, we can still harvest collards, kale and spinach. We also have very nice spinach in our coldframes, where the crop gets better protection from the cold than the outdoor beds.

From the hoophouse, in the cooking greens department, we still have plenty of Bulls Blood beets (the leaves are getting a bit big and leathery for salads), chard, frills (frilly mustards such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills, Scarlet Frills), White and Red Russian kales, and spinach.

In the hoophouse, the extra warmth (at last!) and the considerably lengthening days are causing lots of the greens to bolt. This year our turnips, tatsoi, senposai, and the Koji were all bolting before the end of February, although other years these have not bolted until mid-March (or the later sowings at least). We are harvesting lots of greens, trying to eat them all before we lose them!

We are keeping an eye on our Russian kales, chard, beet greens and later spinach sowings. They usually last till late April or even early May, but this milder winter may mean they will bolt earlier this year.

Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in March

Outdoors in early March, or preferably mid-February we direct sow spinach if our January transplant sowings failed. This year, we have plenty of transplants. In early March we sow turnips, and give them rowcover.

In the greenhouse in early March, we sow broccoli #3, in open 3” (7.5 cm) flats. This sowing is intended as a gap-filler for the first two sowings, if any plants die after transplanting, or if we don’t get enough plants from the first two sowings.

Winstrip tray with chard seeds.
Photo Pam Dawling

In late March, we sow sow chard and leaf beet. Leaf beet, also known as perpetual spinach, is a chard, with thinner stems and smaller leaves than most Swiss chard. It is the closest in flavor to spinach for growing in hot weather that I have found. Because it is a biennial, it will not bolt the first year.

In the hoophouse, we do not usually sow any cooking greens. Because the hoophouse is much warmer on sunny days, annual greens (all the brassicas) will quickly bolt. We do better to focus on outdoor planting.

Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in March

Outdoors, we transplant cabbage #1 from flats in early March (3/10). These are fast-growing early varieties such as the hybrid Farao (65 days) and the OP Early Jersey Wakefield (63 days). This year we are also trying the larger but slower Early Flat Dutch (85 days)

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

In mid-March, we transplant collards, mustard, kale (last date 4/1), and senposai. We use rowcover over all our early transplants outdoors, for a few weeks until the weather is milder. By then, we usually need the rowcover somewhere else for new transplants or sowings.

It is important to protect young cabbage and broccoli with 5-8 true leaves from cold stress (<40°F/4.5°C for a few days, or longer at 50°F/10°C). At this stage they are particularly sensitive to cold, which can cause early bolting (and very low yields).

In the hoophouse, after February 20 we use young spinach transplants to fill gaps only in the outer thirds of the beds, leaving the bed centers free for tomatoes, etc. in mid-March.

Other Cooking Greens Tasks in Central Virginia in March

Open flat of broccoli seedlings.
Photo Wren Vile

In the greenhouse, we are busy spotting (see February Special Topic) all our plants to give them two weeks of greenhouse protection and 10-14 days in the coldframe before their transplant date. During early to mid-March, this means the senposai, mustard, broccoli and main crop cabbage, as well as collards and kale (if we don’t have enough of those for bare-root transplanting from the hoophouse).

Special Cooking Greens Topics for March: Trap Flea Beetles, Extra Month of Greens in the Hoophouse

A row of mustard greens can be used to lure flea beetles.

They like the pungent compounds in brassicas.  Once you have lured the flea beetles you need to deal with them before you create a flea beetle breeding ground. Flaming the mustard plants is one possibility. If you have poultry that likes eating flea beetles, you could cut off some of the leaves and carry them to the chicken run. Bug vacuums are also a possibility. Another approach is to hold an inverted bucket lined with sticky trap compound over the plants and rap the stems with a stick. If you’re lucky, the pests will stick in the bucket.

North edge bed in our hoophouse flagged up for digging holes to plant peppers.
Photo Pam Dawling

Hoophouse transition to give an extra month of greens.

Preparing our hoophouse beds for our early tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash is very different from our fall bed prep for winter greens. We stretch a long tape measure down the center of each bed, and put a flag every 2 ft (60 cm). All our transplanted crops in spring are at this spacing. We then prioritize harvesting the greens which are close to the flags. A day or two before transplant day, we dig a hole at each flagged spot and add a shovelful of compost to each hole. After transplanting the new crop plants, and watering them in, we start harvesting the greens directly to the south (in front of) the new plants. As the plants get larger, we pull more of the greens between the transplants. Anything that is touching leaves is too close and has to go. After a few weeks we also need to harvest the last of the greens, to the north of the transplants, which by then have reached a good size. This method gives us an extra month of greens and initially the relatively large greens protect the small transplants from too much direct sun or from cold breezes. If the night will be frosty, we pull rowcover over the beds – the greens hold the rowcover off the tender plants.

Tomato plants in our hoophouse, in early April, planted among the winter greens
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Garlic drying and curing methods

Hanging garlic of many varieties (and onions) in bunches.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I’m prompted to write about garlic drying and curing by an inquiry from a reader in Idaho. Their family has a new garlic business and they need to upgrade their drying and curing method. This year they have planted 3 acres (12 varieties), so they really need a method that will be reliable. Do leave a comment if you have suggestions. Here I’ll review methods I know about, for areas from backyard to small commercial size.

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

I also think this is a good time of year to plan and construct infrastructure you will need later in the season, when planting, cultivating and harvesting have top priority. First, so you know when you’ll need the space ready, here are some links to information to help with that.

When and How to Harvest Garlic

Garlic bulb cut horizontally to check maturity (good now or soon).
Photo Wren Vile

Signs of garlic maturity: Alliums for May

Alliums for June: planting leeks, harvesting garlic and bulb onions

Garlic bulb initiation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by daylight increasing above13 hours in length (April 10 here at 38°N). Soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) and air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) are secondary triggers. The drying down process is started by hot weather above 91°F (33°C) which ends bulb growth. In tropical latitudes where daylength does not vary much, it may be that temperature is a bigger trigger and daylength is less important. See Alliums for May for more

Harvesting garlic: Garlic Harvest step by Step

Methods for Drying and Curing Garlic

Faragut Farm in Alaska dries their garlic in a hoophouse (but beware of over-heating )
Photo Chris Blanchard

Growers of small amounts of garlic (or complicated harvests of relatively small amounts of many varieties) sometimes tie the garlic plants in bundles and hang them from nails or hooks in beams. This method takes a lot of twine, and can be slow.

Garlic spread to dry on an upper story wood barn floor.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We once spread a single layer of garlic on a wood upstairs floor of the barn, when our harvest exceeded our storage racks. “Shingle” the garlic plants so that the bulbs and roots are all uppermost, for best airflow.

Garlic hanging in vertical netting.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We hang our garlic in nylon netting fastened vertically around the walls of our old tobacco barn. This is a good method for humid areas as the garlic is in a single layer and can get good airflow. Other growers have used chicken wire or snow fencing. We have considered making free-standing frames covered in netting, so we can deal with higher yields. The walls of the barn limit the amount we can hang there. It’s a slower method than laying plants on horizontal racks.

Garlic in vertical netting and onions on stackable wood racks.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier.

Horizontal racks need to be sturdy. We made stackable wood slatted racks to dry our bulb onions, as onion necks are not strong enough to hang onions by. Later we made larger netted wood frames that we hang from a pulley in the beams. We can fill them layer by layer, starting at the lowest one, and gradually lower the upper racks as we need to fill them. This kind of system would work for garlic too, but is not practical on a large scale.

Bulb onions curing on a rack.
Photo Wren Vile

Horizontal racks can either have the garlic threaded bulbs up through the holes of the netting (as we do for onions), or the plants laid flat, shingled. Shingling saves space (racks can be closer to each other vertically) but it is harder to dry garlic this way in a humid climate.

For a nice design of racks for drying onions, and perhaps garlic, see this post about the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Virginia

Onion racks at the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Virginia (their photo)
Drying and Curing Garlic Step by Step with Vertical Netting

Hang your garlic to cure for 3-6 weeks or even longer, with fans if the humidity is high. Don’t set the fans too close to the garlic, your goal is to improve the air flow, not blast the bulbs and shrivel them up. See my book Sustainable Market Farming.

  1. We like our garlic arranged in order of harvesting, to make it easier to find dry garlic when the time comes to trim it. We hang our curing garlic in vertical netting hanging around the walls of our barn. Some growers use horizontal racks, others tie garlic in bunches with string and hang the bunches from the rafters.
Garlic threaded into vertical netting.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

2. We start at knee height, threading one garlic plant in each hole of the netting. (The netting stretches downward with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower would lead to garlic piling up on the floor.)

3. Take a garlic plant, fold over the top quarter or a third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through the netting. The leaves will unfold behind the netting. Leaves shouldn’t poke through to the front.

4. We work back and forth in rows, filling a 4-6 ft wide strip per person, working upwards.

5. We continue as high as we can reach before moving to the next section. We make walls covered with garlic, day by day until done. This sequential arrangement simplifies trimming, and makes the best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly.

6. Damaged bulbs are “Farm Use” quality and are set on horizontal racks to dry.

7. Arrange box fans to blow on the drying garlic. Even in an airy old tobacco barn, fans are essential in our humid climate.

After curing, this garlic has dry necks and is ready to snip and store. Photo Wren Vile

8. Wait 3-4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, strawy. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90% of the necks are dry.

In 2016, we pondered whether a ground floor shed or an upstairs barn offers the better airflow, and whether better airflow is worth hauling all the garlic upstairs and down again. We didn’t come to a conclusion, but we didn’t find time to build a new barn.

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic 

You won’t need this for  a while, but it’s helpful to have next steps in mind when designing your hanging and curing space – see the link to Garlic harvest, new barn plans, Mother Earth News post on sweet potatoes which includes the question of how to tell when the garlic is cured, and setting up, snipping and sorting garlic into three categories for replanting, for storing and for using soon. Garlic can be stored in the same high temperature range as bulb onions, provided it has never dropped into the sprouting temperature range of 40-55°F (5-13°C). The key to good storage is dry necks

For pictures of our onion drying racks see Alliums for July: harvest minor alliums, finish harvesting bulb onions, snip and sort garlic and bulb onions.

If weather prevents gardening and farming, knit your own garlic potholders and felt them! Photo Pam Dawling

Book Review: The Farmer’s Office by Julia Shanks

Book Review: The Farmer’s Office: Tools, Tips and Templates to Successfully Manage a Growing Farm Business,  Julia Shanks, New Society Publishers, 2016

Farmers don’t go into farming because they want to do accounting or develop their business skills, and yet these skills are vital to success. We all want success! Get Julia Shanks’ book, quickly understand what you need to do, make time to do that as often as you need to, and move on to your next production task. You can save the time you would have thrown away on exhausting but wasted work. Be more successful, be less exhausted! This book review will be shorter than my usual ones. Just because I’ve no intention of leading you through the technicalities step-by-step. It’s an extremely useful and well-written book.

This is a very user-friendly book. Julia understands that farming is exhausting work. Julia understands farming, and has earned her stripes growing vegetables. Julia understands accounting and business management too. She explains concisely, very clearly, and provides examples and little stories to help us get to grips with the subject. She leads us to take a clear-eyed look at where we make money and where we don’t, which empowers us to make the decisions that are ours to make. We owe it to ourselves to stop the magical thinking that if we only work harder, everything will come out OK. Too many farmers have crashed and burned that way.

Cow Horn okra pods.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Julia tells how (in her first year of business school) she used a computer model to help a farmer friend determine how much of each of ten crops to grow. The silly computer program answer was to grow only okra and sweet potatoes! But behind that foolish suggestion was the information that his tomatoes were only earning 12 cents/case! Now that is useful information! What would you do if that’s what your tomatoes were earning? Raise the price and explain to your customers? Stop growing tomatoes? Knowingly sell tomatoes at that low profit as a way to attract customers? Any of these decisions might be the right one for your farm.

Like all money management texts, this book has warnings: Julia has used a simplified approach good enough for agriculture but not for taxes! She tells us when we should consult an accountant, tax advisor or payroll service provider. This 250 page book has 10 chapters of 6-30 pages, a glossary and 5 appendices. Everyone is advised to start with chapters 1 and 2. After that you can pick the ones you need and plan your own DIY course of study. Always eat your elephants one bite at a time! See the chart on page xxi, which points out lines of inquiry depending on your situation.

And here’s another aspect that makes this book special: there are pointers towards videos and webinars that Julia has made, on her website. But buy the book first, and know where you’re going! The price of the book includes the download price of many of the templates. Julia tells how she took a business class for farmers, after her first year of farming. She had kept absolutely no financial records! The instructor told her to guess, so they could make a cash flow plan for Season Two. Julia used that as a road map, and it saved her from ruin. She could see what she could afford, what she couldn’t, when she needed to hustle to bring in a bit more income. It wasn’t a coincidence that she ended up so close to where she needed to be!

Glacier early tomatoes.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This book will help you determine whether to prioritize tomatoes or cucumbers, eggs or chickens. You’ll need three primary financial statements: the income statement, the balance sheet, and the statement of cash flows. Don’t panic! There’s a webinar and a very readable chapter, with diagrams. There’s a video on depreciation! One of my colleagues calls depreciation “an enforced savings fund” – it pushes you to pace your spending and saving so you can replace a worn-out tractor. At the end of the chapter are instructions on which chapter to read next, according to your situation (creating projections about the future, or statements about your past)

Julia Shanks

Chapter 3 includes a set of questions and worksheets to ensure you have the skills you need to set out in starting your own farming business. The questions cover skills, knowledge, access to mentors or farming partners, your own energy levels, money to float your first year, tolerance of risk and uncertainty.

Chapter 4 covers the business planning process. Follow the stories, diagrams and instructions and choose between a Level One “Quick and Dirty” plan, a Level Two more detailed plan and a Level Three full business plan. You might not need the full plan to get started. Remember “A plan is just a plan” – don’t expect everything to go according to this plan! But the plan still has real value – writing it nudges you to think everything through, providing you with the resources you need to think on your feet and solve the problems that come up on the way. Julia leads us step-by-step through the process of writing a business plan, financial projections, operating assumptions (including the “Gut Check”), a list of funding sources, and an executive summary. Scale back your projections to see what it would be like if something went wrong. Test out a worst case scenario. Could you survive? What would it take?

Chapter 5 is all about financing: savings, loans from family and friends, loans from institutions, prepayments from customers and supporters. Be professional, look as professional as needed when asking to borrow money!

Chapter 6 is on setting up QuickBooks, the industry standard accounting software for small businesses. Other small non-farming businesses using QuickBooks could find this useful too. Julia has two webinars, and this chapter includes sample spreadsheets with the relevant bits circled. Chapter 7 shows how to use QuickBooks daily for cash management. It opens with Aesop’s fable of the Grasshopper (living in the moment) and the Ant (stashing grain for the winter). Just as we can tomatoes in summer for eating in winter, we need to set aside cash we earn during peak season for the slower times of year. 10 minutes a day, plus 30 minutes a week, plus 1-2 hours at year end. Doesn’t sound too bad.  And it’s going to help with saving time and money next year!

Chapter 8 digs into managerial accounting – how to get meaningful information about your business. It includes determining the costs of producing various products/crops. There are several examples. Inventory management is also important, and requires a quick, smooth and simple system of tracking. Here are examples.

Chapter 9 covers stabilizing your business, so you don’t fall into a hole. There are some sad stories in this chapter. Chapter 10 has the more upbeat title “Growing Your Business”. Here’s help in making thoughtful decisions when considering new projects, or expansion of old ones. This is like having an older and wiser experienced farmer at you side. One who will be very honest with you, will share your excitement, and question things you seem to be ignoring.

The appendices give examples of questions to consider at each step of the way, sample spreadsheets and a list of the templates used in the book, which can be accessed from Julia’s website. What a wealth of information for just $24.95. It will pay for itself, I’m sure! And remember, if you feel out of your depth, Julia also works as a consultant, providing technical assistance and business coaching. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather ask for help! Go to https://thefarmersoffice.com/ for more info, including a free basic accounting course, and a 6-course free Self-Paced Farmer’s Office Basic Course, available 24/7, including videos, quizzes and case studies. There’s also fuller Farmer’s Office courses for $49/month.

Alamar Urban Organic Farm

I mentioned before that I took part in the Organic Growers School Cuba Agroecolgy Tour in January. I’ve made some progress sorting through my photos, and this post is about Organopónico Vivero Alamar (Alamar Urban Organic Farm) on the outskirts of Havana. Alamar is one of the largest and most successful urban farms in Havana, and it is very impressive. It was founded in 1997.

Alamar Urban Organic Farm, Havana, Cuba

During the Special Period in Time of Peace in Cuba (1991-2000), an extended period of economic hardship following the collapse of the Soviet Union combined with a US trade blockade, Cubans were thrown back on their own resources.  This was described to me as “Cuba went to bed with privilege and woke up with nothing.” Food, fuel and equipment were not imported, and people began producing food wherever they could. Because there were no fertilizers or pesticides, vegetables and fruit were grown organically. In time, Cubans came to see the superiority of organic farming, and today the urban farms and small-scale food-producing farms continue to be organic (Cuban organic standards are not the same as USDA requirements). Commodity crops (tobacco, coffee, sugar) however, are not usually organically grown.

Farm manager and educator Isis with a lettuce plug

Alamar Urban Organic Farm covers 11 hectares (27 acres) in a residential dormitory suburb, surrounded by  grey prefabricated concrete apartment blocks in the classic Soviet style. Like many Cuban farms, there are many and varied tropical tree fruits, and permaculture is easily practiced. Sadly, it wasn’t mango season when I visited, although early-ripening mango varieties were in flower. Here is a fruit tree I lost the name of:

Alamar and other organic farms have many tree fruits. I forgot the name of this one

Alamar has 125 workers, with an average age in the “upper middle age” bracket. They produce vegetables and ornamental plants for sale, as well as medicinal and spiritual plants. 90% of their sales are to the public and 10% to hospitals.  The Cuban government ensures that hospitals and schools get provided for, I think. They keep bulls (steers?) and rabbits for manure, and oxen and horses for cultivation. Rabbit meat is not popular.

A large screen house at Alamar Organic Farm

Many of the crop plants are inside shade and/or screen houses, which took quite a hit from Hurricane Irma. Agricultural buildings are mostly pole barns thatched with leaves of the Royal Palm. Thus they can be rebuilt after hurricanes destroy them.

A large shade house for landscape plants at Alamar Urban Organic Farm

Vegetables are on raised beds. Almost all seed has to be imported and is not organic. Cubans we spoke with generally thought the humid climate would be too hard for seed growing. Personally, I wonder if that’s true. I think a home-grown seed business would be a good step towards more food sovereignty, but it’s not for me to say, really!

Alamar makes their own potting soil from 50% humus, 25% compost and 25% rice hulls. Cubans eat a lot of rice, and annually import 300,000 tons of cheap Vietnamese  rice which needs a lot of cleaning.

Alamar urban organic Farm vegetable beds

Alamar is trialing biochar as animal bedding, to reduce smell, and charge the biochar with nutrients and micro-organisms before it is used on the fields. They have insectary plantings (flowering plants to attract beneficial insects and birds) at the heads of many vegetable beds. They use mung beans as a cover crop and to grow bean sprouts.

Hot climate version of oregano at Alamar Urban Organic farm

The tropical “oregano” in the photo above looks nothing like our temperate climate oregano. It is almost a succulent, and the leaves are much bigger than we are used to .

Alamar has tried growing mushrooms, but they are not commonly eaten in Cuba. They also make value-added products: condiments, garlic paste, tomato sauce and pickles.  Canning is not easy, as glass canning jars are not available and there are regulations against plastic jars.

Beautiful bed of pak choy at Alamar Urban Organic Farm
Large shade house and vegetable beds at Alamar Urban Organic Farm

They make for use and sale both compost and vermicompost. Below are two photos of open air concrete worm bins, which they cover with tarps.

Alamar Farm manager Isis shows us some of their worm bins
Large worm bins under shade at Alamar Urban Organic Farm

Alamar also has a Beneficial Insect Breeding Laboratory.  Click the link to watch a short video.

Alamar Urban organic Farm has its own Beneficial Insect Rearing Lab

Another source of income for Alamar is workshops and courses in organic agriculture and tours such as ours. Cuba geared up for a big increase in American tourists during the Obama administration but has seen fewer tourists since Trump introduced stricter criteria for Americans visiting Cuba.

There are several types of agricututal co-operatives in Cuba. Alamar is a Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa (Basic Unit of Cooperative Production). In 1993, the Cuban state handed over agricultural land to co-operatives “in usufruct”, which means “the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of the destruction or waste of its substance.”

Cooking Greens in February

Plentiful spinach in our cold frame in winter.
Photo Wren Vile

Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in February

Harvest in Time! Lots of Bolting Greens in the Hoophouse!

Outdoors, we can still harvest collards, kale and spinach. This winter our chard has died. Remember that red chard is hardier than multi-colored and green chard is hardier still. To maximize your chance of keeping chard alive over the winter, use hoops and rowcovers (in zone 6-8) or, in colder zones, cut the tops off the plants (above the growing point) before it gets much below 15F (-9C), remove those leaves, then cover the bed with a mulch of thick straw, hay or tree leaves. Mulching doesn’t work in milder climates, especially those with back-and-forth temperatures) because new growth forces up out of the mulch and gets killed.

From the hoophouse we continue harvesting chard, Frills, kale, senposai, spinach, tat soi, turnip greens, and also yukina savoy (if we had it). We normally grow the Frills as salad crops, but once they get large and plentiful, we can cook some.

Bolting Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the hoophouse, the extra warmth (sometimes!) combined with the reliably lengthening days causes some of the greens to start bolting. In January, I told you the order of bolting of our hoophouse greens. Our Koji has all bolted by February 1, and I pine for Yukina Savoy which usually lasts till early-mid March here, from our second winter sowing. We didn’t have any this winter.

We are keeping an eye on our turnip greens #1 (they will bolt in mid-February); tatsoi #2, spinach #1, and turnip greens #2 (usually bolt in early March). Our senposai and our turnips #3 usually don’t bolt till mid-March. Our Russian kales, chard, beet greens and January spinach sowings last till late April or even early May.

Hoophouse turnips have delicious greens too!
Photo Wren Vile

Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in February

Outdoors in mid-February, we sow spinach if our January transplant sowings failed. We presprout 4oz/bed spinach for 1 week before sowing. This rarely needs to happen, as we have a backup transplant sowing date to seed in flats in the greenhouse, if our first-line hoophouse sowing of transplants doesn’t come up well. This year, those look great!

In the greenhouse in early February, we sow: kale, cabbage, mustard, collards, senposai, broccoli #1, kohlrabi in open 3” (7.5 cm) flats.

In late February, we sow broccoli #2. This year we have reduced the size of our planting to make it more manageable.

In the hoophouse, December 15-February 15 is the slowest growing time. We do sow some salad crops, but not usually any cooking greens. if the January hoophouse sowings of kale and collards have come up well, we don’t need to sow those in the greenhouse this year.

We have a couple of unexpected gaps this year. We followed Radish #2.5 (an extra sowing we squeezed in on October 20) with Frills (frilly mustards) and we plan to follow some of our Koji #2 with a quick catch crop of Tokyo Bekana, marking five rows in the bed, but leaving the central row unsown. This will hopefully let us leave the greens growing after we transplant the warm weather crops down the centerline of the bed.

Young Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills provide continuous harvest after the older ones bolt.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in February

Outdoors, we transplant spinach from hoophouse [or flats] in early February

In the hoophouse, from January 25 to February 20 we fill gaps that occur in the beds with spinach wherever the gaps are, using the spinach Filler Greens which were sown October 24 and November 9 (spinach). We’re careful not to fill any places that will be sown in new crops in February, such as where we sow a row of early snap peas, or the salad crops I mentioned earlier.

From February 20, we only transplant spinach to fill gaps on the outer thirds of the beds, leaving the bed centers free for tomatoes, etc. in mid-March.

Other Cooking Greens Tasks in Central Virginia in February

Flats of cabbage in our greenhouse in February.
Photo Pam Dawling

In early February in the greenhouse we spot cabbage and kale. In late February, we spot senposai, cabbage #2 and collards. See the Special Topic below for more about the task we call ”spotting”. Other names for this task include “bumping up”and “pricking out.”

We really try to finish transplanting spinach outdoors, as our springs are short and quickly heat up, taking the spinach plants with them.

We weed our over-wintered spinach, kale and collards. Hoeing isn’t so effective in early spring, as the chickweed, henbit and dead nettle too readily re-root on damp soil. Hand-pulling weeds is slow, but more effective. Another approach is to hoe several times, choosing dry breezy sunny days.

During January we had two nights at 13F (-10.5C) and 12F (-11C). The Koji are looking quite damaged, beyond marketable but not beyond salvageable for home use. We grew too much of this, so we still have plenty to eat! The outdoor senposai is also damaged, but as this is a loose-leaf crop it could recover if it doesn’t get colder.

As I reported in January, we didn’t cover the spinach this winter, because of issues with rowcover fibers getting in the food. The plants are looking quite small, while those in the coldframes (with rowcover) are growing well. I have been expecting the growth of the uncovered spinach to be a lot slower, as spinach (like kale and lettuce) makes some growth whenever the temperature is 40°F (4.5°C) or more. 10°F (-12°C) could kill the large leaves and 5°F (-15°C) can kill spinach entirely. So far, temperatures haven’t get that cold this winter.

Weeding rowcovered spinach in winter. This winter we tried not using rowcover.
Photo Wren Vile

Special Cooking Greens Topic for February:

Planning our Field Planting Schedule.

In January we prepare our new Seedlings Schedule, then our complex Fall Brassica Spreadsheet and Map, Field Planting Schedule, Hoophouse Schedule for March to September crops (those are not cooking greens!), and then our Raised Bed Plan and our monthly Garden Calendar.

Field Planting Schedule:

We allow 6 hours. We bring the previous year’s greenhouse copy of the Seedlings Schedule, the shed copies (the copies we wrote notes on) of the previous year’s Field Planting Schedule and the shed and seed bucket copies of the Lettuce Log. We also bring the new (current year’s) Fall Brassica Schedule, Seedlings Schedule, Seed Order, Garden Plan, Rotation Plan, Maps, Succession Crop Plan, Sweet Corn Plan, Brassica Plan and Tomato Plan and any notes we made while doing the year’s planning so far.

  1. We work in Excel, copying last year’s Schedule to a new Worksheet and modifying that.
  2. We highlight and clear the contents of the“Location” column (Crop rotation in action!)
  3. We check against last year’s Shed copy and Field Manual copy of the Field Schedule. As we go, we make a list of questions or points to fix later.
  4. We check against the Seedlings Schedule for last year and the current year, for transplant date and varieties, row feet of the transplanted crops. (Leave the direct seeded crops varieties and row feet for step 6).
  5. Next we highlight the data, sort alphabetically by Vegetable, Variety to make the next stages easier.
  6. We check against the Seed Order (and Succession Plan as needed) for varieties and row feet of direct seeded crops.
  7. We check against the Tomato Plan for main crop and late bed.
  8. We check against the Garden Rotation Plan, Maps and Succession Crop Plan.
  9. We fill gaps in the Location column, in In-row Spacing and Space Between Rows cols.
  10. We check against Fall Brassica Schedule from the current or previous year, revising sowing dates, row feet, transplanting dates.
  11. We check against the Lettuce Log.
  12. We check against Hoophouse Schedule, for transplants in and out.
  13. We clean up the Notes column keeping useful info, adding any new useful info, checking against running list of things to fix.
  14. With all that done, we sort by Transplant date; then by Vegetable, then by Variety.
  15. We tidy up the page layout and print a draft copy
  16. We proofread and fix anything that didn’t make sense.

 

Hoophouse Musings, Bugs, Okra, Edible Landscaping Workshops in Maryland

Hoophouse beds in December. This is why we have a hoophouse!
Photo Wren Vile

Winter hoophouse posts in Mother Earth News newsletter

Sowing and Transplanting Winter Crops in a Hoophouse

Grow Great Lettuce in Winter

Winter hoophouse lettuce
Photo Kathryn Simmons

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A photo of a Tiny House from Wikipedia

Would you live in a hoophouse?

A reader wrote in:

“I have actually been thinking of building a tiny house and putting it inside a big hoophouse, creating a living area that would include a yard, trees, and gardens – allowing me to snowbird in place in northern New England – but I’m concerned about outgassing, since I’d be there almost 24-7 most days (I work out of my home). Have you done any research on outgassing of hoophouses?”

A Tiny House is generally a residential structure under 400 sq. ft

First off, No I haven’t done any research about hoophouse off-gassing, but I wouldn’t worry about out-gassing from the polyethylene of the hoophouse. Other products  are much closer to your nose: All the materials used to construct, preserve and decorate the house and all the products within the house, such as furniture,  fabrics, soaps, appliances etc.

There are some other things I’d wonder about:

1.      Temperature. When the sun shines, the interior of the hoophouse warms up. When the sun doesn’t shine, it doesn’t. Would you heat the tiny house? You’d have to avoid heating systems that could damage the plants.

2.      Snowfall. When it snows, you need to remove the snow from the roof of the hoophouse. Some snow can be carefully pulled down from the outside. Usually we also walk around inside the hoophouse bouncing a broom on the inside of the plastic to move the snow off. You can’t do that if you have a house in the way.

3.      Humidity. In the winter we grow cold-tolerant hoophouse crops. We are aiming for 65 F (18C). We need fresh air for the plants and to deter fungal diseases. It doesn’t work to keep the hoophouse sealed up and “cozy”!

4.      Strong winds. In hurricanes and gales, hoophouses sometimes collapse or get destroyed. You don’t want to be inside when that happens.

5.      Height. Our hoophouse is less than 14 ft (4 m) at the apex.

In conclusion I’d say it’s better to have a small patio seating area within your hoophouse for suitable sunny days, rather than plan to live inside all the time.
Brassicas in a nematode-fighting hoophouse crop rotation in Hawaii.
Credit Gerry Ross, Kupa’a Farms

Do you value crop rotation in your hoophouse?

A reader in the Pacific Northwest wrote: “This winter I have been re-thinking my crop rotation plan after having some issues (with flea beetle larvae in the soil outsmarting my diligent insect netting of my brassica salad crops). These days I see intensive market gardeners seeming to not worry so much about rotation (i.e. Neversink farm, etc), and yet I’ve always been taught that it is such an important principle to follow. I reviewed your slideshows on crop rotation and also cool crop planning in the greenhouse (which briefly addresses salad brassica rotation with other crops). With how much space I have and the high demand I have for brassicas, for salad mix (mustards) and also the more mainstay cole crops, I had settled on a 2.5 yr between brassica crop rotation (but planting two successions of mustards in the same bed within one year, in the year the bed was in mustards, with a lettuce or other crop breaking up the successions, with the idea that they were very short day and also light feeder crops). Wondering if you think this just doesn’t sound cautious enough, or if this sounds like a reasonable compromise with not having more space to work with (and wanting to satisfy the market demand for brassicas).”

I replied: “Yes, I do think crop rotation is important. I do know some farms seem to have given it up. I think what you are seeing shows one reason why rotation is important. In our hoophouse, we do as you do, allocating brassicas to a space for that winter season and perhaps doing more than one round of brassica crops. Then moving away from brassicas for the next two winters. If doing that doesn’t get rid of the flea beetle problem, and you are being thorough about netting with small-enough mesh netting (sounds like you are, but maybe check the mesh size), then my next step would be spinosad when the flea beetles appear. You can spray the inside of the netting too, and close it quickly. It’s that or a longer rotation, which it sounds like is not financially viable. You could also try farmscaping and/or importing predatory insects (not sure if there are any), Are there beneficial nematodes that attack flea beetle larvae? These are things I don’t know about, but might be worth looking into.”

 

Late sweet corn and sweet potatoes
Credit Ezra Freeman

Sweet Potato fends off bugs

Modern Farmer has this fascinating article about sweet potato plants alerting their neighbors to pest attacks.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute and the National Taiwan University found that when sweet potato plants are attacked by insects, they emit a bouquet of odors and start production of a protein called sporamin that makes them unappetizing. Neighboring sweet potatoes sense the odors and start their own production of sporamin.


 

A new Tokyo bekana transplant attacked by vegetable weevil larvae October 10
Photo Pam Dawling

Insect damage cause stress-response production of anti-oxidants

In a related piece of news, Agrilife Today from Texas A&M AgriLife Research has found some evidence that wounded plants produce anti-oxidants as a stress response, which may make them healthier for human consumption. Read the report here.

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist Spring Series

Michael Judd in cooperation with Common Market CO+OP is presenting a combination of hands-on workshops at Long Creek Homestead and evening talks at the Common Market, Frederick Maryland.

Click here for info on Spring Workshops/Talks/Tours

·        Inoculating Mushrooms

·        Fruit Tree Grafting

·        Herb Spirals

·        Creating Growing Beds- Swales and Hugelkultur

·        Edible Landscaping & Straw Bale Home Tour

·  For the Love of PawPaws


 

Fire Ants have reached Toronto

A reader wrote in that the European Fire Ant is now found in Toronto.


“There were two nests of these in my allotment garden 2018.
They actually moved the nest in order to be closer to the zucchini
plants.  Hand on heart: I never had  any cucumber beetles develop past
the instar stage.  The ants did not eat the eggs but they ate the larvae
as soon as they hatched.  Same for potato beetle.  My neighbours had
the best cucumber harvest in history. 
What I’ve read is these Fire Ants kill colonies of native ants.  Summer 2019 I had a Pavement Ant war that went on for days.  Clearly the Fire Ants did not wipe them out.  There are black ants and other smaller red ants
in my garden.  The Fire Ants appear to have moved on for some reason known
only to themselves.   Perhaps they too have enemies.”
“There’s a guy with a Youtube channel who keeps ant colonies.   AntsCanada although he is in the Philippines.  What happened was the feral Pharaoh Ants invaded his colony of Fire ants and killed them.  Pharaoh Ants are much smaller but perhaps that’s what gave them the advantage.   We have Pharaoh ants in Toronto also.   I spend a lot of my time looking at the little critters in my garden.  Like red velvet mites:  there were many in 2016.  Have not seen a single one in two years now. “

Video of Okra Taste Testing

Chris Smith, author of The Whole Okra

Chris Smith, author of  The Whole Okra: Chris has a video of
the taste testing on  Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAy0pouxlME

My Cuba farming trip. Conference season!

I’ve just got back from a wonderful Agroecology Tour of Cuba with the Organic Growers School. Click the link to sign up for the 2021 tour. I have lots of photos and much to say, but so little time today! In 9 days we visited 9 farms, had several speakers address aspects of life (and particularly farming and environmental issues) in Cuba, had a couple of walking tours, ate many delicious farm-to-table type dinners and still had time for a salsa lesson

We are having trouble with our internet connection today, so this post will either be short or very short.


I’m headed to the Little Rock, Arkansas conference of the Southern Sustainable Working Group

Go to my Events Page for a full list of where to look for me. Not long after getting home from SSAWG I’m headed to PASA in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Then the West Virginia Small Farms Conference

Then OAK, in Louisville, Kentucky,

Then Organic Growers School in Mars Hill, North Carolina