Planting spring broccoli, farmscaping, BMSB

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’re mid-way through transplanting spring broccoli. It’s been a challenging “broccoli-planting season” with two very cold nights (20F and 22F) since we started, some high winds (very cold and drying, hard to keep the rowcovers in place). In order to have as long a broccoli harvest period as possible, we use several varieties with different days-to-maturity, and do two sowing dates. This spring we are using the following varieties:

Tendergreen broccoli Credit Fedco Seeds
Tendergreen broccoli Credit Fedco Seeds

Tendergreen (47 days from transplanting),

Green King broccoli Credit Fedco Seeds
Green King broccoli
Credit Fedco Seeds
Green Magic broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Green Magic broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds

Green Magic (57 days), Green King (65d), Arcadia (68d) and Diplomat (also 68d).

 

 

 

Arcadia broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Arcadia broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Diplomat broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds
Diplomat broccoli Credit Johnnys Seeds

These are all varieties we’ve grown before and had success with. Tendergreen is exceptionally fast, and gets us off to a good start. It’s not heat tolerant, however.

Note that the catalogs give different days to maturity. Sometimes these are from sowing. We’ve calculated our own for comparison.

We sowed our first round of broccoli on February 10 to transplant April 4, and our second round (a repeat of the first) on February 24 for transplanting April 10. For insurance we do a (smaller) third sowing of the two fastest varieties on March 6 to fill gaps on April 25. Well, the plants in the flats looked great! We delayed the start of transplanting because of the weather. We transplanted on April 4 and April 9. The first planting suffered  from the two very cold nights I mentioned, even with thick rowcover. So last week we replaced casualties with plants left over from the initial planting. (We spot out 20% more plants than calculations say we need.) We had 20 flats of 40 plants for each of the two plantings. Today we will plant the second half of the patch, over a week later than originally planned.

The third sowing has been in the cold frame for about a week. We like to give them two weeks to harden off. In another week we’ll go through and replace casualties throughout.

Sweet Alyssum Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Sweet Alyssum
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

At the same time we’ll transplant Sweet Alyssum in the centers of the broccoli and cabbage beds, about one plug every 6ft (it’s easiest to count 4 broccoli plants, then plant an alyssum). These little plants attract beneficial insects. You can read about Virginia State University research into Farmscaping. ATTRA also has a good publication.

Alyssum attracts the Syrphid fly and the Tachinid fly, predators of aphids and caterpillars.

 


We do other farmscaping too. We sow rows of sunflowers wherever we find space and nasturtiums with cucumbers and squash. We also transplant “Insectary Circles” with a mix of borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia, dill, zinnias and cleome. We sow these in the greenhouse in plug flats in late April or early May and transplant in late May. If we had more time we could do it earlier. We found that sowing earlier was a mistake for us, as we don’t get around to finding time to transplant them until after the warm weather vegetables have been planted out. We choose beds with long season crops, (meaning ones that will be there a long time) to avoid problems trying to till around the circles. We cut bottomless circles from old plastic buckets, sink these in the soil at the end of a bed, and plant into them. This helps avoid the problems that can come with novice weeders!

Harlequin bug nymphs on spider flower (Cleome); note, white flecks in the leaf typical of feeding by true bugs Credit Missouri Botanical Garden
Harlequin bug nymphs on spider flower (Cleome); note, white flecks in the leaf typical of feeding by true bugs
Credit Missouri Botanical Garden

Cleome (spider flower) can be used as a trap crop for Harlequin bugs.(You still have to deal with the infested cleomes, but it keeps your brassicas free). The Missouri Botanical Garden has great info on Harlequin bugs.


Adult female brown marmorated stink bug. Credit Rutgers New Jersey Ag Station
Adult female brown marmorated stink bug.
Credit Rutgers New Jersey Ag Station

While one the subject of bugs and stink bugs in particular, I read some recent information on Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs in an eOrganic article on the eXtension site. They even have a video. The good news is that jumping spiders, ground beetles and earwigs have been observed eating the egg masses of BMSB, assassin bugs attack the nymphs, and  the predatory spined soldier bugs eat both the eggs and the nymphs of BMSB. This is so much better news than the early days of the invasion, when it seemed like nothing would touch them.

But I don’t want to close with a picture of a pest, so here’s more broccoli. Yes, it’s under the rowcover!

Spring broccoli under rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Spring broccoli under rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons

 

Hoophouse covered! Frost expected Sunday and Monday nights!


Photo credit Luke Stovall

Well, after two weeks exposed to the elements,  our hoophouse finally got its renovations finished, and we put the new plastic on this morning. I haven’t yet got the photos to prove it, but take my word for it, the stress is over! Two people are out there right now, finishing inserting the wiggle-wire in the channels round the edges, and trimming off the spare plastic. We’d all forgotten how hot it gets in there with plastic on! Suddenly no-one wanted to go inside.

This morning’s work went smoothly till we got to the second layer of plastic. Last night was cool and dewy, and the grass wet. As we pulled the second layer of plastic up and over the hoophouse, it got a film of dew on the underside – bad planning! The top layer than stuck to the bottom layer and was really hard to pull over. We turned on the blower to try to push some air between the layers, and we also wafted it ourselves. Eventually we were successful, but we did make a few holes in the edge of the plastic in the meantime.

Those who’ve never put plastic on a hoophouse might wonder how it’s done. Here’s our method: we tied ropes (thank you Twin Oaks Hammocks) around tennis balls pushed up in the edge of the plastic, like little Halloween ghosts. We used five along the 100′ length of plastic. Then we put more tennis balls inside colorful odd socks (thank you Twin Oaks Community Clothes) and tied the other end of each rope to one of these. Someone then threw the balls-in-socks over the top of the hoophouse to the far side. Hilarity at how many of us never learned to throw well! The first layer slid on quite easily, and we “tacked” it into position every ten feet or so with a piece of wiggle-wire. Then we repeated the ball-in-sock throwing exercise with the outer layer. That’s when it got difficult. And our bag of chocolate chips had to be moved to the shade because they were starting to melt!

After we got both layers of plastic in position, we pulled out the slack and fastened the wiggle-wires fully in the channels. The shiny new plastic looks beautiful in a techno-sparkly kind of way. And it promises to help us grow tons of delicious food for the winter. Thank goodness it’s done.The weather forecast suggests we’ll have frost on Sunday and Monday nights. We’ve got ginger and cowpeas growing in there – we don’t want them frosted.

Ginger growing in our hoophouse.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

The Asian greens, spinach and radishes can take it, but not the warm weather crops.

We’ll still have some odds and ends to finish up: one of the windows needs a repair to the frame, and the bubblefoil stuff along the north wall needs tacking back into place. All in all, though, a happy conclusion to this project.

It’s time to put rowcover over the late beans to extend the season beyond the first frosts. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors, we are bringing out rowcovers to cover late plantings of squash, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce. It’s goodbye to the eggplant, okra, sweet corn, tomatoes. It’s time to harvest the sweet potatoes and peanuts. Maybe it’s goodbye to galinsoga and other tender weeds. Maybe goodbye to harlequin bugs. The brown marmorated stink bugs are starting to seek shelter for the winter, in our sweatshirts hanging on the shed door.

Goodbye eggplant!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Goodbye to all that. And hello to sweet potatoes, boiled peanuts (a seasonal tradition here), kale, spinach and leeks.

Hello kale!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons