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.

 

Planting kale, catching up on weeding and reading

Vates kale Photo credit Kathryn Simmons
Vates kale
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Our weather has been dry and sunny (no hurricanes in September this year!) and we’ve had a chance to catch up somewhat on weeding. It’s also meant lots of irrigation, more than usual at this time of year. And consequently, running repairs. This morning I switched out three sprinkler heads – one was stuck and wouldn’t rotate; one leaked too much at the stem and one old one had ground away its brass nut over years of use and finally fell through the hole in its stand, meaning it couldn’t rotate any more either. I fixed two, still not sure how to deal with the old one. Its homemade stand is also breaking up. I’ve also been replacing hose ends and connectors – we were the lucky recipients of a donated pile of about nine hoses, some in better condition than others.

Transplanting kale has kept us busy this week. We direct sow our kale, two beds every six days in August, to make it easier to keep them well watered – we only have to hand water two on any one day to get the seeds germinated. This year we’ve had disappearing seedlings, and we’ve been moving plants around in the beds to get full rows at the right final spacing. This means even more watering, but we all love kale so much, so it’s very worthwhile. Some of the disappearing seedlings were due to cutworms, some may have been grasshoppers, and some maybe rabbits.

I’ve also been pulling up drip tape from our watermelon patch and second cucumbers, rolling it on our home-made shuttles which I described last year. I found myself salvaging 23 late watermelons, I just couldn’t resist! Watermelons in October usually get as much demand as last week’s newspaper, but while the weather is so warm (85F yesterday), people are still grateful for juicy fruit. I’m looking forward to getting more of the gardens into their winter cover crops, so that this year’s weeds can become just a memory. I also like how the garden gets smaller and smaller in the process of putting the plots into cover crops. Less to deal with. (Although I am needing to water the cover crops areas overnight with the sprinklers).

I’m in the process of writing about no-till cover crops for Growing for Market magazine. We really like using no-till winter rye/hairy vetch/Austrian winter peas before our Roma paste tomatoes. We mow the cover crop in early May, when the vetch is starting to flower, then transplant into the dying cover crop, which becomes our mulch, and also supplies all the nitrogen the tomatoes need. Anyway, that’s for the winter double issue.

Hoophouse greens in November. Credit Ethan Hirsh
Hoophouse greens in November.
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Meanwhile, the October issue has just come out, including my article about how to minimize unhealthy nitrate levels in winter greens. During winter, when there is short daylight length and low light intensity, there is a potential health risk associated with nitrate accumulation in leafy greens. Nitrates can be converted in the body into toxic nitrites, which reduce the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Additionally, nitrites can form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Green plants absorb nitrates from the soil during the night and in the process of photosynthesis during the day, combine them with carbon-based compounds into protein (plant material). It takes about six hours of sunlight to use up a night’s worth of nitrates. In winter when the day-length is short, the nitrate accumulated can exceed the amount that can be used during the day, and the excess nitrate builds up in the plant, mostly in the leaves, stems and roots. Leafy vegetables can then exceed an acceptable adult daily intake level of nitrate in just one small serving of greens, unless special efforts have been made to reduce the levels. My article lists which vegetables are more likely to be higher in nitrates, and which circumstances are most likely to make the levels high. I give a list of 16 steps you can take to reduce the levels of nitrate in your crops. 

There are also articles about farms getting financing from crowdfunding websites (Lynn Byczynski), customizing CSA shares using LimeSurvey to let each sharer indicate what they want by email (Eric and Joanna Reuter whose blog I have mentioned before), building a seed germination chamber (Ben Hartman), and  making cash flow projections to avert disaster (Nate Roderick). A fine batch of useful articles, and I’m especially happy to see Eric and Joanna Reuter have “joined the crew” at GFM. They impress me with their attention to details and creativity.

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