Lettuce for March and all year

Bronze Arrow lettuce is a beautiful and tasty early spring variety.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We’re continuing to have enough lettuce. We have pulled the first baby lettuce mix in our hoophouse, and have started pulling some heads in there.  Of course, we want to harvest the hoophouse head lettuce before it gets too bitter, but we also don’t want to get too far ahead with the harvesting and run out! Our second baby lettuce mix is now ready for cutting, and the third sowing is not far behind.

March 9 is our goal for a transplanting date outdoors for our first 120 heads of lettuce (about one week’s worth for 100 people). We sow four varieties each time, some green, some red, different shapes and textures, different numbers of days to maturity. This way we hope to have a constant supply, and hedge our bets if something goes wrong with one variety.

In our first sowing we have Parris Island green romaine, Buttercrunch green bibb, and Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, a very red leaf lettuce, as well as Bronze Arrow, shown above. Our second sowing includes Cosmo, another green romaine, Star Fighter, which I wrote about last June, Oscarde, a red wavy leaf lettuce and one of our work-horses, Red Salad Bowl. Our third sowing has Panisse, a green wavy-leafed variety, Revolution, a red leaf lettuce, Swordleaf, which I wrote about last spring, and green Salad Bowl.

Ezrilla Tango-type one-cut multileaf type lettuce
Photo High Mowing Seeds

Buckley red oakleaf one-cut multi-leaf lettuce.
Photo High Mowing Seeds

Our fourth sowing includes New Red Fire and three Eazyleaf lettuces ( Ezrilla, Hampton and Buckley) sold by High Mowing Seeds. We are simply trying these out this spring, to find out if we want to grow them next winter. In our climate these are unlikely to stand for long in the spring, and much more likely to grow well in our hoophouse in winter.

 

Hampton one-cut multi-leaf lettuce.
Photo High Mowing Seeds

These are varieties that produce lots of small leaves (no big leaves) enabling growers to get an instant salad by cutting a whole head. We are more likely to harvest them multiple times, taking some leaves each time. It’s exciting to see more lettuces of this type on the market. I wrote previously about Osborne’s Multileaf lettuces and Johnny’s Salanova varieties.

Here’s a link to our Lettuce Log, our schedule of lettuce planting and harvesting dates, that provides a succession of outdoor lettuce from April to November:

http://file:///X:/GARDEN/Planning/Lettuce%20Log%202017%20in%20Htm.htm

Gardening is not all about lettuce! We have sowed two beds of carrots outside and also a bed of turnips (Purple Top White and White Egg), with a row of radishes to pull before the turnips need the space. And we are still “recovering” from transplanting 3600 spinach plants. They are all doing well, despite my mix-up about which varieties were intended to be planted in which bed. We are comparing three varieties this spring: Tyee, Avon and Reflect.

Purple Top White Turnips.
Photo Small Farm Central

White Egg Turnips.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Lettuce in February, Growing for Market, open seed flats

Baby lettuce mix in our winter hoophouse.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

We still have plenty of lettuce to eat, although our first sowing of baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse has come to its bitter end, and the second sowing isn’t quite ready (I think we sowed it a bit later than intended). We are still harvesting leaves from the large lettuce we transplanted in October.  Soon we’ll have the second and third baby lettuce mix sowings to bring a welcome change. We are about ready to transplant our first outdoor lettuce, to feed us mid-late April.

Here is a month-by-month planting and harvesting narrative for our hoophouse lettuce in Zone 7, from September to April:

September: Sow cold-hardy varieties in the second and third weeks (outdoors or in your greenhouse) to transplant into the hoophouse at 4 weeks old .

October: 4 weeks after sowing, transplant those lettuces at 8” spacing to harvest leaves from mid-November to early March, rather than heads. In late October, sow the first baby lettuce mix, for up to 8 cuts from early December to late February, and sow a small patch of “filler lettuces” to replace casualties in the main plantings up until the end of December.

November: 11/9 sow more filler lettuce, to be planted out in the hoophouse during January. Transplant the first “filler lettuce” to replace casualties. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce.

December: Use the “filler lettuce #1” to replace casualties or fill other hoophouse space, for lettuce leaves in January and February, or heads in February. At the end of December, make a second sowing of baby lettuce mix, to harvest from late February to the end of March. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix.

January: Use the “filler lettuce #2” to fill gaps in the lettuce beds up until January 25. After that is too late here for hoophouse lettuce planting, and we use spinach to fill all the gaps, regardless of the surrounding crop. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the first baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches the right size.

February: 2/1 sow the third baby lettuce mix, to provide up to three cuts, from mid-March to late April. In mid-February, consider a fourth sowing of baby lettuce mix, if outdoor conditions look likely to delay outdoor harvests. Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Harvest the first baby lettuce mix, clearing it at the end of February before it gets bitter.

March: Harvest leaves from the transplanted lettuce, and cut the second baby lettuce mix whenever it reaches size. Cut the third baby lettuce mix when it sizes up.

April: In the first half of the month, harvest the last of the transplanted lettuce as heads . Continue to cut the third baby lettuce mix until it gets bitter. Cut the fourth baby lettuce mix when it sizes up. Outdoor lettuce heads are usually ready for harvest mid-April. Plan to have enough hoophouse harvests until the outdoor harvests can take over.

Lettuce transplants in soil blocks, on our custom-made cart. We don’t use soil blocks for lettuce any more (too time-consuming!) but I love this photo. Photo Pam Dawling


The February issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article How to decide which crops to grow which I previewed some of here last August. I also included some of the material in my slideshow Diversify Your Vegetable Crops. Click the link to see the slideshow. This past winter we used this kind of process to reduce the amount of garden work for 2017. I’m retiring from garden management and the new managers  want to stay sane and not be exhausted all the time. We have fewer workers this year (the past few years actually), so we needed to slim down the garden and not go crazy trying to do everything we’ve done in the past. I’ll still be working in the hoophouse, the greenhouse, and doing some outdoor work, as well as being available to answer questions and provide some training when asked.

Back to Growing for Market. There’s a great article for new small-scale growers, from Katherine Cresswell in northern Idaho, Year One Decision Making, about starting a farm with only one implement. Careful planning lead Katherine and her partner Spencer to focus on fall, winter and spring vegetables, as no-one else around them provided these, and they had experience of winter growing from working on other farms. Clearly a high tunnel (hoophouse) needed to be in the plan. It was essential that they hit the ground running and have saleable produce within six months. The expense budget was very tight. They bought a BCS 739 walk-behind tractor (which they both had experience of) and a rotary plow. A very down-to-earth article to encourage any new grower with limited means.

There are reviews of three new books by GfM writers: Compact Farms by Josh Volk, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden and The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Growers Handbook by Andrew Mefferd, the editor of GfM. Brett Grohsgal has written a valuable article about his 15 years experience with on-farm breeding of winter-hardy vegetables, both in the field and under protection of hoophouses. Informative and inspiring. Erin Benzakein has written about rudbeckias, the unsung heroes of summer bouquets, and Gretel Adams has written on new flower varieties to try in 2017.


I have a new post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, Using Open Flats (Seed Trays) to Grow Sturdy Seedlings Easily – How to make reusable wood flats (seed trays) for seedlings, and use them to grow sturdy vegetable starts to transplant into your garden. This is a way to avoid contributing to the problem of agricultural plastic trash and be self-reliant in gardening equipment. You can also grow stronger plants by giving them a larger compost volume than plug flats or cell packs provide.

Open flat of broccoli seedlings.
Photo Wren Vile

I heard that my MEN blogpost Green Potato Myths and 10 Steps to Safe Potato Eating was very popular in January, coming sixth in their table of most-viewed posts on all topics. This has been out there in the blog-iverse for almost 18 months, so clearly there is a lot of concern about eating healthy food and not wasting what we’ve grown.

Sorting potatoes two weeks after harvest to remove problem potatoes before rot spreads.
Photo Wren Vile


The false spring has been barreling along. Last week I reported that we’ve seen a flowering crocus (2/17). Since then, we’ve seen daffodils and dandelions flowering, heard spring peppers and already the maple is flowering (2/25). These are all markers on our phenology list. The maple flowers on average 3/12, with a range (before this year) of 2/28 in 2012 to 4/2 in 2014. A 9-year record broken!

Lettuce growing in October

 

Outredgeous lettuce at an adolescent stage. Photo

Cold-hardy Outredgeous lettuce at an adolescent stage.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We’re just about to get our first real frost, and our lettuce planting has moved indoors, while our lettuce harvesting is straddling outdoors and indoors. As I reported in September, we had cutworms eating our outdoor lettuce seedlings. We sowed (and resowed on 9/16) some outdoor baby lettuce mix to play catch-up and help feed us salads until the hoophouse lettuce are ready. Yesterday, day 38 since sowing, we cut our first lettuce mix. We could have started a few days earlier. We have had a warm spell, which helped them grow faster. Because we usually only grow lettuce mix in our winter hoophouse and hadn’t planned to sow the mix outdoors, we didn’t have enough “official” lettuce mix seed. I simply made a mix of seasonally appropriate leftover fall varieties that we wouldn’t need for the second hoophouse sowing on 9/24.

Lettuce mix seedlings Photo Ethan Hirsh

Lettuce mix seedlings
Photo Ethan Hirsh

For those unfamiliar with baby lettuce mix, this is a cut-and-come-again crop. We like Fedco’s 2981LO Lettuce Mix OG or Johnny’s Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix #2310. For those with challenging growing conditions, both companies offer other specialized selected mixes. 1 ounce of seed sows about 600 ft, and you can sow rows 4″ (10 cm) apart. Here’s how we grow baby lettuce mix: We weed and thin to 1″ as soon as we can see the seedlings well enough to do so. Once the plants are 3-4″ tall, we cut them about an inch above the soil, with large scissors or shears. I usually gather a small handful with my left hand, cut with my right. After putting the harvested leaves in a crate or bucket, I weed the just-cut area so that there won’t be weeds in the next cut. I have also read the recommendation to rake over the rows after harvest with a fine leaf rake to remove outer leaves and cut scraps. If you want to make more than one cut, you will need to remove anything that isn’t top quality salad while you can see it.

Yesterday, as well as the baby lettuce mix, we made up our salad mix with spinach which we had sowed in the hoophouse 9/7, and brassica salad mix sown in there 10/2 (which was already plenty big enough to harvest after only 20 days. The brassica seed mix was put together by us, and was high in mizuna, I noticed.

Greenhouse with young Lettuce transplants in early October. Photo Wren Vile

Greenhouse with young lettuce transplants in early October.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Before the weekend, we were making salad mixes using spinach from our cold frames sown on 9/8. The leaves had grown very big, helped by having drip irrigation and cinder block walls as well as a slight southward slope to the soil in the cold frame, as recommended by Eliot Coleman. We added lettuce leaves from the plants in our greenhouse, which were sown in early to mid-September and transplanted in there early October. We will keep these plants alive all winter, just harvesting leaves. When we need the greenhouse space for seedlings at the end of January, we ‘ll start clearing the lettuce.

Our home made double hoop system for holding row cover in cold windy weather. Image (c) Pam Dawling

Our home made double hoop system for holding row cover in cold windy weather.
Image (c) Pam Dawling

We’ve covered our outdoor lettuce mix and our last bed of leaf lettuce (still waiting for it to get to harvestable size) with row cover on double hoops. We roll the long edges of row cover between hoops on to reject hammock spreader bars. They are about 5 ft long, and by setting the hoops about 6 ft apart we have the right amount of space to comfortably roll the edges under. Having the row cover nice and taut over the hoops not only helps it stay in place, but also holds the row cover above the leaves and makes the likelihood of bits of row cover in your lettuce unlikely.

That’s the round-up on what salad we’re harvesting in October and how. Now on to this month’s planting. I already mentioned transplanting lettuce into our greenhouse. In September’s lettuce article I listed the varieties we sow for the greenhouse and the hoophouse. This month we have been transplanting those into the hoophouse. On 10/15 we transplanted the first sowing (9/15), about 230 plants at 10″ spacing in 4 rows in a 48 ft length of bed (half the length of our hoophouse). We expect to harvest leaves from these from 11/16 all the way to 3/1. Today (10/25) we are transplanting our second sowing (9/24), a similar sized planting. We hope to harvest from these from December to mid-April. We plan to start harvesting our outdoor lettuce heads from 4/15.

We have also just sown our first lettuce mix in our hoophouse (10/24). 10 rows 4.5 inches apart, 30 ft long. That will give us a lot of lettuce! We’ll get our first cut somewhere in the 12/5-12/22 range and might even get as many as 8 cuts during the winter. It will get bitter and need to be pulled 2/26-3/15. We’ll have some later sowings to take over before that happens.

We have also just sowed some “lettuce filler” in our hoophouse. This is a small are of a few crosswise rows of the varieties we have sown to grow full-size. We’ll use the fillers to replace casualties.or if we don’t have any casualties, we ‘ll use the rows as baby cutting lettuce like our intentional baby lettuce mix.

Where we're headed: Winter hoophouse lettuce Photo Kathryn Simmons

Where we’re headed: Winter hoophouse lettuce
Photo Kathryn Simmons

 

Lettuce in September, Bean borers,

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Freckles lettuce is a cheering sight in spring or fall.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

September is a month of change, when it comes to lettuce. We sow and transplant a lot of lettuce. The September 1 sowing is number 34 in our annual series, which runs to number 46 on September 27.

When to sow to eat lettuce in September

In September we are normally eating lettuce which we sowed from late June to mid-July. That’s a tough time for growing lettuce here, and this year was tougher than usual. We got fine seedlings up, but then they were mowed down by cutworms lurking under the shadecloth. We started new sowings in flats, up off the ground on a frame. We tried sowing baby lettuce mix to feed us during the gap. Although we sowed it in a cooler spell, it didn’t come up. We just resowed on 9/16. Now we are having a deluge – of rain, not of lettuce!

Sowing lettuce in September

From September 1-21 we sow head lettuce every 2 days. This is because the rate of growth will slow down when the weather cools, and the harvest dates of those sowings will spread out. They will all feed us through to the spring, if we protect them from cold temperatures. Before we got our hoophouse, we grew lettuce outdoors through the winter under double rowcover. It did stay alive, but we couldn’t harvest very often. Rowcover will provide a temperature gain of 4–6 degrees F (2.2–3.3 degrees C), depending on the thickness. It also reduces light transmission and airflow, but the trade-off can be very worthwhile. Lettuce can survive an occasional dip to 10°F (–12°C) with good rowcover outdoors — but not 8°F (–13°C), as I’ve seen! Adolescent lettuce are more cold-hardy than full-sized plants.

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting. Photo Wren Vile

Digging compost into our cold frames in preparation for fall planting.
Photo Wren Vile

Sowings in the first week of September are for planting in cold frames in central Virginia. These days we have switched to growing spinach all winter in our cold frames, rather than continue these lettuce plantings. We get better value from spinach. It grows faster than the outdoor (rowcovered) spinach, but slower than our hoophouse spinach.This means that after the last sowing for transplanting outdoors, on August 29, we get a short break on lettuce sowing.

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

October greenhouse with transplanted lettuce.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

We resume with number 38 on September 9. The sowings from 9/9 to 9/17 will be transplanted in our greenhouse. We also sow on 9/15 and 9/24 to transplant into our hoophouse. The sowings from 9/19-9/27 are “insurance plantings” in case something goes wrong with an earlier [planting, or we don’t get the greenhouse beds refilled with compost soon enough, and want smaller plants.

Lettuce varieties to plant in September.

From September 1-7, (the coldframe ones we used to grow), we use cold-hardy varieties Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Pablo, Red Salad Bowl, Salad Bowl, Winter Marvel (a Bibb) and Winter Wonderland (Romaine). Pablo is a hold-over from the summer Batavian lettuces. (Heat-tolerant varieties also tolerate cold.) There are also specialized cold-hardy varieties that do not tolerate heat (because they have a relatively low water content). Sow these in fall and winter only.

Salad Bowl Lettuce. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Salad Bowl Lettuce.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The salad bowls do fine in the greenhouse and the hoophouse, although I remember they are not cold-hardy enough for growing outdoors here. During the winter we will be harvesting lettuce by the leaf, rather than cutting heads. Green Forest, Kalura and Winter Wonderland are romaines that do well in the winter for us. Note that we don’t grow butterhead lettuce (bibbs) after the end of August.

Once we reach September 8, we are sowing lettuce for planting in the (unheated) greenhouse. We use Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Kalura, Merlot, Midnight Ruffles, New Red Fire, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Salad Bowl, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Tango and Winter Wonderland.

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

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

For the hoophouse winter lettuce, we sow Osborne multileaf lettuce types (Multigreen 57, Multired 4, Multired 54), Green Forest, Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Oscarde, Panisse, Red Tinged Winter, Revolution, Tango, Red Salad Bowl, Outredgeous, Salad Bowl, Winter Wonderland Romaine. For the second sowing on 9/24, we use Include all the same ones except Oscarde, which has given us trouble in the past when started that late.

Small and medium-sized plants of Marvel of Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density, and Tango can take 15F (-9.5C). I’ve seen some small unprotected lettuces survive down to 5F (-15C) – Winter Marvel, Tango, North Pole, Green Forest. Other particularly cold-hardy lettuce varieties include Brune d’Hiver, Cocarde, Esmeralda (a bibb),  Lollo Rossa, North Pole (bibb), Outredgeous, Rossimo, Sunfire and Vulcan.

I’ll address winter lettuce in some future post.

Cultivating winter lettuce in the hoophouse. photo McCune Porter.

Bean Borers

I enjoy Charley Eiseman’s blog Bug Tracks, even though I’m nowhere near in his league of paying attention to insects. It’s inspiring to read his posts! This week he wrote about Gray Hairstreak caterpillars as bean borers.

 

Mid-winter hoophouse harvests

December 29 hoophouse crops Photo Kathleen Slattery

December 29 hoophouse crops
Photo Kathleen Slattery

Here we are in the shortest days. What are we harvesting from our hoophouse (high tunnel)?  Many different crops, mostly leafy greens, but with the addition of radishes, turnips and scallions. I’ll start with those.

White Icicle radish Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

White Icicle radish
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We’re harvesting our third sowing of radishes, sown on 10/30. We like the vari-colored Easter Egg radishes and the long White Icicle for this time of year. Cherry Belle also works in this sowing, but not later. Like Sparkler, it gets too fibrous in winter.

Our favorite scallions are Evergreen Hardy White, which are extremely cold tolerant. They are also slow to grow. We are starting to harvest the ones we sowed 9/6. The second sowing (which followed the first radishes on 11/18) are just spindly little blades so far.

Hakurei turnips Photo Small Farm Central

Hakurei turnips
Photo Small Farm Central

The turnips (and their greens) which we are starting to harvest at tangerine-size, are Hakurei and Red Round, from a 10/14 sowing. We made a second sowing of turnips on 10/26, but we over-watered them and got patchy germination. We filled the gap with a late sowing of brassica salad mix. This is a mixture of random leftover brassica seeds (varieties we didn’t like, seed that is getting a bit old) which we sow and then cut with scissors about an inch above the soil once they get to about 4″ tall.

Baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse. Photo Twin Oaks COmmunity

Baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Just like baby lettuce mix. We are on our second cut of our 10/24 lettuce mix. We buy the mix already made, although if we get close to running out of seed, we have been known to mix in some seed of basic varieties like the Salad Bowls, that do well in the winter high tunnel. We also have lots of big lettuce plants. We take leaves off those for our salad mixes when we don’t have baby lettuce mix at the right stage for cutting.

Ruby Streaks beside green mizuna. Credit Ethan Hirsh

Ruby Streaks beside green mizuna.
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Into the salad mix we add chopped mizuna and its spicier cousins Golden Frills, Ruby Streaks and Scarlet Frills. These add loft, visual interest and flavor. For color we also add chopped Bulls Blood beet leaves and chopped small leaves of Brite Lites chard. As well as mixing the colors and shapes, I try to have at least one representative of each of three crop families: spinach, chard and beets; lettuce; brassicas such as mizuna, baby kale leaves, small leaves of Tokyo bekana, Yukina savoy, tatsoi.

Tatsoi in the hoophouse Photo Wren Vile

Tatsoi in the hoophouse
Photo Wren Vile

For cooking greens we are harvesting leaves of Russian kale (transplanted 10/22), our first chard  (transplanted 10/16), spinach (sown 9/6 and 10/24), senposai (transplanted 10/24), Tokyo bekana (transplanted 10/9) and Yukina savoy (transplanted 10/24). it takes 10 gallons of greens to provide 100 people with a healthy serving each. We aim to provide the cooks each day with a choice of two or three different cooking greens.

We are also harvesting some greens as whole heads now. We are clearing our first planting of tatsoi (sown 9/7), which has been getting ready to bolt for a couple of weeks now.  Likewise the Tokyo bekana, which starts to bolt at the end of December.

Hoophouse Yukina savoy at the end of November. Photo Ethan Hirsh

Hoophouse Yukina savoy at the end of November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

 

We are also cutting big heads of Chinese cabbage and Pak Choy.  As we harvest these, we fill the gaps at the end of the day with replacement plants. My current favorite is senposai, as it is very quick to grow and can be eaten at any stage. (And of course, it’s very tasty, otherwise I wouldn’t even mention it!) We reckon 12/31 is the last worthwhile date for us to do this gap filling with Asian greens. After that we use spinach or lettuce transplants up till 1/25, then only spinach (up till the end of February). We’ve found that planting after those dates doesn’t produce harvest, just wasted time!

The Yukina savoy doesn’t really start bolting until the last week of January normally, but with the freakish warm weather we’ve had this December, we might get early bolting. I don’t know if this crop bolts mostly in response to day length or to temperature. I guess we’ll find out.

We’ve ordered our seeds, we’re planning our next hoophouse crops and our schedule for sowing seedlings in the greenhouse. And this is the slow season!

Bulls Blood beets add intense color to salad mixes. Photo Wren Vile

Bulls Blood beets add intense color to salad mixes.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

 

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.

 

What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. We’ve now had the Arctic Vortex, which in our part of central Virginia, meant two nights at 4F, last Monday 1/6 and Tuesday 1/7 nights. How did it go?

Before the Prelude to the Big Chill, when we got 9F, I harvested the odds and ends of small cabbages left in our main patch. Quite worthwhile, I got two 5-gallon buckets. Between the 9F and the 4F nights, I decided to gather the Deadon cabbage, which we grew with January harvests in mind. There was some freeze damage, so in future I’ll say that Deadon is good down to 10F, but not lower. I got two full net bags and two more buckets of small ones. I left one smaller and one larger cabbage as sacrificial victims in the cause of better information for next year. When we got 4F, the smaller one died and the larger survived.

Deadon cabbage Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

Deadon cabbage
Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

One of the other gardeners harvested the last of the outdoor senposai. Another couple of buckets of tasty food.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I took another walk round the frozen garden after the Big Chill, to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates and Beedy’s Camden kale without rowcover. They are all still alive! There’s some freeze damage in spots on the spinach leaves, but plenty of good meals still to come!

Our hardneck garlic tops suffered some damage but didn’t get killed back to the mulch level. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and they too are still alive. They will grow back if they have died. 

Garlic planting in November. Credit Brittany Lewis

Garlic planting in November.
Credit Brittany Lewis

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. A good chance to see which ones are hardiest! Here’s the scoop:

Still alive in the centers – Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest.                  No longer alive – Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Winter Wonder, Red Tinged Winter, Merlot, Red Sails, Outredgeous, Roman Emperor, Revolution.

At nearby Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, they had some young but mature heads of cabbage outdoors. The Late Flat Dutch, Early Flat Dutch and Chieftain Savoy all survived one night at 6F. (It’s usually two degrees warmer there than at Twin Oaks on winter nights).

Meanwhile I’m tracking the Blue Ridge kale grown by Clif Slade in his 43560 project at Randolph Farm, VSU. The Blue Ridge survived. It got down to 9F there. Not as cold as Louisa County! Blue Ridge is taller than the Vates we grow, and I’d like to try it here, if it can survive our winters. Otherwise not!

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover on Monday afternoon, and didn’t roll it up till Thursday, after the warmer weather returned. There was a tiny bit of freeze injury on some turnip greens that poked out the side of the rowcover, and some on some stems of Tokyo Bekana. I think the rowcover saved the crops! Also, a bad thing happened. it was very windy Monday night and the west window blew open. Argh! Of all the nights to have an open window. Memo: fix the latch to make it stronger.

I didn’t enjoy the really cold weather. I was anxious about the crops and the plumbing! But I can see two silver linings: I now have more information about cold-hardiness of various crops, and hopefully some pests will have died. Now we’re getting ready for another two cold nights, tomorrow and Wednesday.

When we placed our seed orders we gave up for this year on our quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less). We’re having a red-cabbageless year. We’re still open to recommendations (OP or hybrid) – please leave a comment. 

What’s still alive at 14F?

Winter garden scene. Credit Ezra Freeman

Winter garden scene.
Credit Ezra Freeman

One of my ongoing topics of interest in the garden is how cold-tolerant various vegetables are. We’ve now had two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. I took a walk round the frozen garden this morning to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates kale. The senposai is still alive, but some of the midribs have brown streaks. Sadly we don’t have any leeks this winter, as we lacked enough workers to tend them in late summer. We have a nice bed of Deadon cabbage, and I notice that some small heads of Melissa savoy that missed the bulk harvest are also alive. The Gunma cabbage stumps have some leaves and tiny heads still alive, but the Tendersweet are done in.

Our ongoing quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less) yielded no success story this year. We grew Super Red 80 happily for many years, but then it stopped working for us – variable heads, slower maturity. If you have any recommendations (OP or hybrid) please leave a comment. We are working on our seed orders now, and this would be a great time to have some suggestions.

Back to today – our chard had all the leaves cut off in November, and seems to be dead. Some winters it hangs on later, if we leave some foliage to help it regenerate. We have also some years deliberately kept it alive for spring by using rowcover on it. We do that if we go into winter short of spinach beds.

The oats cover crop we sowed in August and early September look pretty much dead. All the broccoli looks dead. That’s as expected for the temperatures. Often we don’t get nights this cold till January – the cold came early this winter.

Our hardneck garlic tops look to be in good shape. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and look like they are suffering. They will grow back if they have died. Some of our Chandler strawberry plants look dead. Either that or they are extremely dormant! The deer were killing them off by eating the leaves. Too many deer!

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

The hoophouse is still bursting with great food. Plenty of salad greens: lettuce; various kinds of mizuna and ferny mustards like Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills and Bulls Blood beet leaves. And for salads or cooking we have spinach, chard, tatsoi, radishes, scallions, baby Hakurei turnips and their tasty greens, Red and White Russion kales, and more senposai. Soon we’ll start on the heading Asian greens: pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo bekana and Yukina Savoy. The first sowing of tatsoi (9/7) is starting to bolt, so we’re clearing that. The second sowing (11/15) needs thinning to an inch. The first round of baby lettuce mix (10/24) is ready for its second cut. In a few days we’ll make a second sowing of that. I love working in the hoophouse on sunny winter days. This afternoon I plan to complete the transplanting of an 11/9 sowing of spinach. We just love the sweet nuttiness of winter spinach!

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round