Strawberry propagation, Heritage Harvest Festival

 

 

GFM-September 2013-cover-300pxThe September issue of Growing for Market is out. For this issue I wrote about our efforts to find a sustainable method of growing strawberries. We now use landscape fabric with holes melted in it, and keep the plants for two years. We are rebuilding after some years when the weeds overcame our previous beds, which had organic mulch (newspaper and hay). Our plan is to have two patches, and till in the two-year old one after harvest (after removing the landscape fabric and drip tape of course!), and make one new patch each summer. We’re a bit late this summer, but the system has promise, and I am optimistic!

Our new strawberry bed, using landscape fabric.  Credit Wren Vile
Our new strawberry bed, using landscape fabric.
Credit Wren Vile

In the past we have tried buying dormant plants in the spring (disadvantage: needing to weed the plants the first year and getting no fruit until the following year); buying plugs in fall (disadvantage: expensive) and various methods of propagating our own plants (mixed results).

We have tried keeping the plants for four years (disadvantage: way too much weeding); keeping the plants for two years (better); and accidentally keeping the plants for one year only (disadvantage: expensive).

We have tried organic mulch (disadvantage: lots of weeding); black plastic (disadvantage: unsustainable use of fossil fuels, and disposal was a pain); and now – landscape fabric. You can read all about how we do that in GfM.

As for the various methods of propagation, our current favorite is to grow our own plug plants from runner tips, using a home-built mister/fogger system. Our traditional method of propagating was to prepare new beds in late summer, then dig up runners from the paths or beds of the established plants and move them directly to the new beds. Success with these “Fresh Dug” plants relies on two weeks of intensive watering after planting. We also tried a method that worked well for me in England – pegging runners (still attached to the mother plants) down into small pots of soil for a few weeks until they had rooted, then snipping them from their mother plants and setting out a new bed. This works in rainy climates, or with overhead irrigation, but it didn’t work for us once we switched to drip irrigation. What a lot of trial and error!

New strawberry plants popped into the holes in the landscape fabric. Credit Wren Vile
New strawberry plants popped into the holes in the landscape fabric.
Credit Wren Vile

In my article, I mentioned cutting “runner tips.”  These are small unrooted runners, that need potting up and keeping alive for 4-6 weeks to grow into plugs. Here are instructions for the 6-8 week method we use when we propagate our own plants:

  • July 1-7: Fill 50-cell plug flats with screened compost. Water to activate the soil
  • July 8-14: Harvest runner tips or young runners, using pruners. Clip with ½” of the runner attached, to act as an anchor for the young plant. Choose runner tips with
    • 2 or 3 open leaves 2½-4” long (not more, not fewer, the researchers say).
    •  “Pegs” or nubs of developing roots, or roots up to ½” in length.
    • Large diameter crowns – pencil thickness if possible. Large = more flowers next year.
    • First or second position on the runner, not more distant from the mother.
    • Clip off any secondary runners coming from the daughter plants.
    • Sort the tips by size, planting that same day in 50 cell plug flats with like-sized tips, for best results.
    • Put the flats in a coldframe, water well, cover with thin white poly sheet (bin liner type), lightly perforated. Add shadecloth. Keep moist by watering daily as needed.
  • July 15-21: Continue daily watering. Remove shadecloth. Count live plants, harvest and pot more as needed.
  • July 22-28: Continue daily watering. Remove plastic, replace with rowcover. Harvest and pot more as needed.
  • July 29-Aug 4: Continue daily watering. Remove rowcover. Harvest and pot more if needed.
  • Aug 5-11: Continue daily watering. Harvest and pot more if needed. Remove shadecloth, plastic, rowcover from later harvested plants when appropriate.
  • Aug 12-Sept 1: Plant two staggered rows with plants 12” apart in all directions. Choose the biggest healthiest plants – it makes a lot of difference to the yield!

I reckon in our climate mid-September is about the last date for planting out new strawberries. If we miss that date, we should probably wait till February and lose a year’s production. Sad thought.

I want to explain how the 1/2″ of runner acts as a peg to hole the runner tip in the soil. No-one explained this to me when I first tried it, and at first it made no sense. Push the anchor at about a 45 degree angle into the soil in the plug flat. When the anchor is all in the soil,  press down with your thumb on the side of the crown of the plant opposite the anchor and turn the plant to stand it up. When you get it right it’s a wonderful thing – quick and elegant.

And I should say that propagating from unpatented varieties is fine, but propagating from patented varieties, even for your own use, is annoying illegal.

home-hhf-2013Meanwhile, I’m preparing my presentations for the Heritage Harvest Festival. If you are anywhere in central Virginia, consider going to this lovely event at Monticello, near Charlottesville. The weather forecast is very pleasant, the setting is delightful. Saturday 9/7 is the day. Click the link to read about the schedules, the vendors and the fun events. On Friday at 9am I’m doing a presentation on Asian Greens (there’s still some $10 tickets available for that one) and on Saturday at 10.30 I’m doing Succession Planting. That one is sold out. I’ll also be doing book signings at the Monticello Store after each of my workshops.

After the weekend, I’ll post my slideshows on SlideShare.net, and probably embed one in my next blog post, for those who miss the live show, and those that want to watch it again.

 

Frost, tomatoes, sun, rain, mistakes and future events

Tomato Seedlings in the greenhouse earlier in spring. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Tomato Seedlings in the greenhouse earlier in spring.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

What a week! With the forecast for low temperatures on Sunday and Monday nights this past week, we back-pedaled on our transplanting plans. The tomato plants in our coldframe were very tall. In order to cover them we extended the cold-frame height by balancing plastic crates on top of the blockwork walls. Setting the lids on top of this construction was a bit precarious, but it worked well. Only a few of the taller tomatoes got nipped at the very top on Monday night when the temperature plummeted to 30F. 5/14 is very late for a last frost for us. Our average for the past ten years is 4/30, but in 2009 it was 5/19. In 2011 it was 4/14. Farming is full of surprises!

Tomato Transplants in the cold-frame. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Tomato Transplants in the cold-frame.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

On Tuesday we started transplanting tomatoes. Hot dry windy weather. On Wednesday 5/15 it reached 90F. On Thursday afternoon we planned to continue the big transplanting of our Roma paste tomatoes. Three rows are in mowed no-till rye, vetch and winter peas cover crop and one row is on black biodegradable plastic mulch. (Here’s an interesting link to a comparison of the two biggest brands of biodegradable plastic mulch. http://extension.udel.edu/ag/files/2012/03/2012DegradableMulchWM.pdf) But Thursday’s shift was inauspicious. We started with only 5 of us (we plan for 7). One person had to leave at 4pm. One person was called away to bale hay. Another person agreed to provide childcare for the person baling hay, from 4-6pm. Then another person started to feel ill, and left the scene. The 3 of us still working at 3pm started to sow our second zucchini and summer squash. We each used two dowels to make holes every 6″ in the biodegradable plastic mulch. We got the holes popped through, but then another community member cycled by and warned us of a strong thunderstorm heading right for us. Discretion being the better part of valor, we retired for a tea-break and to consult the local radar on Wunderground. An intense “red and yellow” storm, not very wide (ie not very long-lasting), was due any minute. Once it started to rain we decided to quit trying to garden for the day. good thing too. We got an inch of rain in an hour. Too bad the soil hadn’t dried out enough for us to do a second hilling of the potatoes before this new rain. or make ridges for sweet potatoes. Now we’ll have to wait another week, during which there is 20-80% chance of some rain every day except Monday, when it is forecast to be foggy. So I’m getting closer to finishing reading my library book. . .

April 2013 Growing for Market
April 2013 Growing for Market

Meanwhile, in the Mental Gardening Department, I found I had made mistakes in my Growing for Market articles on parsnips and fennel, about which plants can cross-pollinate each other. So I wrote an apology and correction. One of these mistakes is in my book. In case you are reading my former, deluded, beliefs, here is the correction: On parsnips, the facts are that parsnips can cross with wild parsnip, but not with carrots or Queen Anne’s Lace, as I wrongly claimed.

On fennel, the facts are that fennel does not cross with anything except other fennel. It is widely said (even by some seed companies!) that dill and fennel cross, and some even describe the terrible flavor of the resulting crosses. Clearly this is a superstitious belief that continues because acting on the belief produces good fennel (or dill) seed. Similar to how someone might snap their fingers to keep away tigers – no tigers – complete success! I’ve long believed dill and fennel crossed. It’s good to know I don’t need to worry about that any more.

This is the first error I’ve found in my book. Soon New Society wants a list of corrections from me, for when they do a reprint. I’ve only found this and one formatting glitch so far. Embarrassing, but I repeat my Mantra for Consolation: “The only people who never make mistakes are those who don’t do anything.” On Monday I did an interview for Lightly on the Ground Radio on wrir.org (Richmond Independent Radio) with Sunny Gardener. I’m learning how to find and download the podcast (so many technical skills to learn!) I’m working on a powerpoint presentation on Planning Fall Vegetable Production, for Virginia State University’s Summer Vegetable and Berry Field Day on June 27 at Randolph Farm. This will lead nicely to my Last Chance Sowings article for the August Growing for Market and a Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables presentation for the Mother Earth News Fair in September

Here’s my list of upcoming presentations and workshops:

June 27 VSU Randolph Farm. Planning Fall Vegetable Production

August 19-20 Allegheny Mountain School, VA

September 6-7 Heritage Harvest Festival, Monticello, near Charlottesville, VA. Asian Greens, and Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests

September 20-22 Mother Earth News Fair, Seven Springs, PA. Cold-Hardy Winter Vegetables

October 12-13  Mother Earth News Fair, Lawrence, KS perhaps

December 12 Local Food Hub, Scottsville, VA. Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests, and Winter Hardy Vegetables

Three cheers for Ruby Streaks!

Ruby Streaks beside green mizuna
Ruby Streaks beside green mizuna

This week I’ve been marveling at Ruby Streaks, a beautiful ferny dark red leafy salad vegetable growing in our hoophouse. It brings a smile to winter salad mixes, a refreshing change from all the earnest shades of green. It’s beautiful, fast-growing, productive, easy to grow, cold tolerant, sweet-tasting,slightly pungent, and the seed is not expensive, what more need I say?

Ruby Streaks is so much more colorful and interesting than actual purple mizuna. For the botanists of Asian Greens among us, Ruby Streaks is a Brassica juncea, not B. rapa var japonica, like actual mizuna.

It can be grown and used as a microgreen (cut at small seedling stage), or a baby green after 21 days, and full size after 40 days. You could lightly braise it if you wanted it cooked. The leaves are finely serrated at the baby size and very similar to mizuna at full size. The stems are green and the leaf color ranges from dark green with red veins in warmer weather, to dark maroon in winter. Right now the color is incredible.

We harvest full size leaves by “crew-cutting” one side of each plant with scissors, then chopping them into short lengths. The plants regrow quickly.

It germinates quickly. Fedco warns that it bolts more readily than mizuna. We only grow it in the winter, when nothing is inclined to bolt, so this hasn’t been an issue for us. If you want to sow for spring, I’d recommend starting early in flats or pots indoors, and then transplanting at 4-5 weeks of age, about a month before the last frost date. Use rowcover for a few weeks.

To start in summer for a fall outdoor crops, you could again use flats, or you can make an outdoor nursery seed bed, protected with hoops and rowcover or ProtekNet insect netting from Fedco or from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland. In hot weather it’s easier to keep outdoor beds damp compared to flats with a small amount of soil in them. We start ours 6/26 – the same dates we use for sowing fall broccoli and cabbage. The last sowing date is about 3 months before the first frost date. Transplant at 3-4 weeks of age, preferably not older. We haven’t tested out the cold-hardiness of Ruby Streaks, but I would expect it to survive at least down to 25F (-4C), the temperature mizuna is good to.

But  the hoophouse in winter is where Ruby Streaks really shines! Double layers of inflated plastic provide enough protection in our climate for Ruby Streaks to grow all winter. And I do mean make actual growth, not just rest up waiting for spring! For winter salad mixes, we sow on 9/24 in an outdoor nursery bed, then plant into the hoophouse 10/24 (4 weeks old). We harvest that 11/1-1/25, by only cutting down one side of the plant at a time. After we clear that crop, we sow radishes in the space. We sow a second round of Ruby Streaks and mizuna inside the hoophouse 11/9, thin it into the salad, and then harvest from it 1/27-3/6.

Seed is available from FedcoJohnny’s Seeds, Territorial, High Mowing, Kitazawa, and other seed suppliers. Fedco sells 1/2 oz Organically Grown seed for $5.20.

Ruby Streaks from Fedco
Ruby Streaks from Fedco
Ruby Streaks from Johnny's Seeds
Ruby Streaks from Johnny’s Seeds

There are relatives of Ruby Streaks, such as Scarlet Frills, Golden Frills, Red Splendor (Johnny’s) and Red Rain,and the beautiful Wild Garden Pungent Mix

 

12/4/12 Progress update on my book

Image front cover

Since my last update on November 13, we’ve continued to make progress and yet the press date has had to be postponed until December 10. The publication date remains February 1st, even though the off-press date is now more like mid-late January. I still hope to have some books to sign and sell at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference.

The photos for the color section, the extra photos for some of the chapter ends and the late additions to the drawings for heading the crop chapters are all being incorporated by the design and layout people at New Society Publishers.

Kathryn is busy on the index – I looked through that this morning and made some suggestions. She’s a very good indexer and a very good gardener. Sadly, we have to shrink down the index to make up for the extra-long text. The whole book has a maximum number of pages, so some things had to give way. I already wrote about pulling out a few chapters and editing down some of the others. This is a big book – 436 pages last time I looked.

The other task I had this morning was to reconfigure two charts and graphs that had got corrupted by the computer gremlins. It’s been a while since I worked with Excel charts, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find out how to fix it. But after a search and some experimenting, they came out OK, apart from an issue I had with the format of the dates. As an ex-pat Brit, I prefer the Day/Month approach, which is the opposite way round to the American Month/Day system. I also believe that written out month-names are easier to grasp than an endless stream of numerals. So my copy-editor and I agreed on a convention of “April 16”, which is in the normal US order of information, and still keeps the words in. But Excel hasn’t heard of that system. . .

This past week or so I also reviewed the text for the back cover, fixed a crop rotation diagram that had gone awry and read the foreword written by Lynn Byczynski, the editor of Growing for Market magazine.

Some of my endorsers, the people writing advance praise based on reading an electronic uncorrected proof, have sent me copies of what they’re sending in. That’s a nice gift to receive, enthusiastic approval. I’ve also had helpful suggestions: Mark Schonbeck, one of my beady-eyed endorsers, spotted some errors and confusions remaining. I checked what he wrote, and fixed the previously unspotted ones without messing up the page flow, as it’s too late for that, now the index is underway.

I’ve been thinking about how many bookmarks I want as give-aways, and exactly how many books I’ll buy on my initial order (probably 200-300, depending how many fit in a carton).

Once the index and all the fix-its are done, I’ll get the whole thing as a pdf for 24 hours, to look through, hoping not to find any big troubles.

Meanwhile I’m working on my next article for Growing for Market , and planning slideshows for my presentations in the New Year. I’ll be at Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in January presenting parts of three workshops. One on my own on Producing Asian Greens for Market (I’ve been gathering photos for that one);

An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh
An inviting patch of tatsoi. Photo credit Ethan Hirsh

one co-taught with Edwin Marty of the Hampstead Institute, Alabama on Intensive Production on a Small Scale; and as part of a panel on Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is it Right for You?

I’ve also agreed to do a workshop at a Virginia university in January on Planning for Successful Sustainable Farming. Then at the Virginia Biofarming Conference in Richmond, Virginia on February 8-9, I’m giving a workshop on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops.

I’m negotiating a  possible March booking too.

The slide show from my workshop on growing garlic at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference is on www.slideshare.net. It is tagged by cfsa12, cfsa 12, growing garlic, for anyone who wants to look at that.