Late carrot sowing, plenty of corn and okra, spotty tomatoes.

Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We finally got our big planting of fall carrots sown. Much later than I’ve ever sown carrots before. Our goal is early August, so we are a month behind. We usually harvest all our carrots at some point in November and store them for the winter. If carrots take 75 days to grow and we’ve lost 30, how big will the carrots get? The rate of growth will slow as it gets colder.We can’t just harvest a  month later and expect the same size carrots as usual. It’s not a linear rate of increase. Some crops double in size in their last month of growth. if that’s true of carrots, we’ll get about half the yield we usually do, if we harvest at our usual date.

We had challenges preparing the soil (too much rain, too many grass weeds, not enough rain, not enough time. . . ). This morning we finally got it all raked and rocks picked out, and seeds put in. We mark the beds with the Johnny’s rowmarker rake five rows in a four foot wide bed. Then we sow with an EarthWay seeder. It’s very quick and easy. We sow about 12″ of beet seeds at one end – these are our “Indicator Beets”. When the beets germinate, we know the carrots will be up the next day and it’s time to flame weed the carrot beds.

Flame weeding carrots. Photo by Kati Falger
Flame weeding carrots.
Photo by Kati Falger

Once you get over the hesitation about using a fiercely hot propane burner, flame weeding is also quick and easy. And boy, it saves so much hand weeding! We bought our Red Dragon backpack flame weeder from Fedco. As you see, we decided to use wheelbarrow rather than carry the propane tank on our backs, and include a second person (and in this picture, a third!). The second person is the safety monitor and looks out for unwanted things (like hay mulch burning).

We do hope our carrots will have ideal growing weather and catch up a bit. We’ve sowed 4000 feet of them. Here’s a picture of fall carrots from a previous year:

Fall carrots. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Fall carrots.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

I did a bit of research on last sowing dates for carrots in our area.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in their useful Fall & Winter Vegetable Gardening Quick Reference suggests 8/31. We’re five days later than that. The National Gardening Association on their customizable Garden Planting Calendar for our zipcode comes up with September 4. The news is getting better! They have planting dates for spring and fall, in a very user-friendly format. The How Do Gardener Page says August 31 is the last planting date for carrots in Virginia. Fingers crossed!

Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Planting 5 is under the ropes to the right.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Meanwhile our sweet corn is doing very well. We’re eating the Bodacious sweet corn and the Kandy Korn of our fifth sowing. In a couple of days the Silver Queen of our fifth sowing will be ready. After that we have sowing number 6, the same three varieties. That’s it: six sweet corn sowings through the season.

Another crop being very successful is okra. We grow Cow Horn okra from Southern Exposure. We like it for its tall plants, high productivity and the fact that the pods are tender at 5-6″. We do find it hard to convince our cooks that we have specially chosen this “commune-friendly” variety so they don’t have to deal with fiddly little okra pods when cooking for 100. We used to harvest at 5″, we’ve had to compromise and harvest at 4″.

Cow Horn okra. Photo by Kathryn Simmons
Cow Horn okra.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

And then the not-so-good news – spotty tomatoes. We have been getting anthracnose,

Anthracnose spot on tomato. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Anthracnose spot on tomato.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

small water-soaked spots. The Vegetable MD Online site is one I often turn to. I go to the “Diseases by crop” page, then click on the vegetable I’m worrying about. Sometimes the vitally helpful photos are down the page, below the horizon. Here’s the info which I think tells us where we went wrong:

” In late spring the lower leaves and fruit may become infected by germinating sclerotia and spores in the soil debris. “

While we were determining what was wrong when our plants got hit with some hot weather herbicide drift, we didn’t touch the plants in case it was a viral disease.  We didn’t do the string weaving. The plants sprawled on the ground. Later we made a bit of an effort to catch up but failed. The plants were a sprawly mess, even though the foliage recovered and the plants were loaded with fruits. Far too much contact with the ground! (Even though we used the biodegradable plastic, each plant had a hole in the plastic, and soil ‘appeared’). I also noted that anthracnose is more prevalent on poorly drained soils, and the area we had planted in was one of the lower lying plots, and July had lots of rain.

Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Well, lessons learned! Fortunately our other tomatoes on higher ground didn’t get anthracnose, and some of them will feature in Southern Exposure‘s Tomato Tasting at the Heritage Harvest Festival this weekend.

An amazing array of tomaotes. Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier
An amazing array of tomatoes.
Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier

 

 

Transplanting season!

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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