Transplanting sweet potatoes, Sword leaf lettuce

Cow Horn okra seedlings in a Winstrip 50 plug flat in the greenhouse. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cow Horn okra seedlings in a Winstrip 50 plug flat in the greenhouse.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’re making good progress with catching up on our big transplanting tasks. We’ve planted the Roma paste tomatoes, peppers, melons, okra, eggplant, yet more lettuce and over half of the sweet potatoes. After this there’s “just” the watermelons and leeks to go. Then only the roughly weekly lettuce planting until the fall brassica transplanting shifts in late July and August. In order to give our transplants the best chance of thriving, we never plant in the mornings (except leeks), and prefer to make the extra effort to plant late in the day. That way, the plants have the cool of the night to get established before being called on to photosynthesize, transpire, extract water and nutrients from the soil, deter bugs and all the many plant tasks we don’t even know about. Currently we are transplanting 4-6 pm each day, with just a small group of people so that everyone focuses on planting and we are not training new people (a feature of our big morning work shifts).

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand Photo Wren Vile

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

This year we are once again planting our sweet potatoes on ridges with drip tape and biodegradable plastic mulch (bioplastic).   Here’s a photo from last year:

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch
Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potato vines grow to completely cover the area and the plastic is out of sight and being digested by the soil micro-organisms. Very little hand-weeding is needed. I think last year we did one walk-through (wade-through!) weeding.

The deer have reappeared and as sweet potato leaves are one of deer’s favorite foods, we got ourselves prepared, installing two Scare Crows, one at each end of the patch. These are water sprinklers activated by motion detectors. We’ve found Scare Crows quite effective against deer. They seem to have dropped off the market. Havahart is selling the Spray Away which looks similar but I haven’t tried. They can only be used during the frost free period, because you have to leave the water supply hooked up. As sweet potatoes will only be in the garden during the frost free period, this is a good match!


Sword Leaf Lettuce Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Sword Leaf Lettuce
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This spring we are trying a new lettuce variety: Sword Leaf (Yu Mai Tsai) Looseleaf Lettuce.

This is a fast growing, productive Asian lettuce. It has a sweet flavor and plenty of crunch. In our climate, I think it would not do well in summer. Better for spring and fall. We bought seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange You can read about it here, on this TaiwanFinn Blog. “Taiwan (and Luxembourg) Through the Eyes of a  Finn”. one comment says this is known in the English-speaking world as Celtuce. But Kitazawa Seeds sells both. With celtuce, the stem is the main part eaten. With Sword Leaf it is the leaves. So I’m doubting they are the same.

Heritage Harvest Festival, corn, more raccoons, stray cat.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/succession-planting-for-continuous-vegetable-harvests-2013-pam-dawling-26037044″ title=”Succession planting for continuous vegetable harvests 2013 Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Succession planting for continuous vegetable harvests 2013 Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

You can watch my Succession Planting slide show here, and my Asian greens slideshow at SlideShare.net. I presented both at the Heritage Harvest Festival this weekend.

While at the festival I also did two sessions of book-signing at the Museum Shop, toured the booths, and attended several other workshops.

Cindy Connor ‘s workshop was entitled Grow a Sustainable Diet, which is the name of her book. It will be published by New Society in March 2014.

Also busy at work on a book is Criag LeHoullier, aka NCTomatoman. he spoke on Tomatoes for Southeast Gardens. He has grown hundreds of tomato varieties, mostly in 5 gallon pots along his driveway. Here are some of the open pollinated varieties her recommends for the southeast:

Reds: Red Brandywine (not the pink one!), Livingston’s Favorite (a canner), Aker’s West Virginia (delicious and disease tolerant), Nepal (salad size from Johnny’s).

Pinks: Salzar’s Ferris Wheel, Anna’s Russian (heart-shaped, wonderful and very early), Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, Cherry Pearl (pretty pink cherry with so-so flavor)

Purple/black: Cherokee Purple, Black Cherry, Purple Calabash

Chocolate: Cherokee Chocolate (really good)

Green: Cherokee Green, Green Giant (great flavor), Aunt Ruby’s (wonderful).

Yellow: Lilian’s Yellow Heirloom (delicious), Hugh’s, Yellow Bell (Roma type)

Orange: Yellow Brandywine, Annie, Orange Strawberry, Jaune Flamme, Kellogs Breakfast

White: Coyote (cherry)

Bicolor: Lucky Cross (tastes like Brandywine)

Stripes: Don’s Double Delight, Striped Roman

I’m sure I didn’t write down all the good ones, but these ones appealed to me.

Next I went to hear Clif Slade talk about his $43,560 project. Clif’s goal is “to demonstrate that farmers working with limited resources and using organic methods can make an average of $1 per square foot growing and marketing vegetables from one acre (43.560 square feet)” as explained in the Virginia Association for Biological Farming document I’ve linked to here. The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote up the project in early July. Clif used to grow 10 acres of vegetables, but it didn’t pay much. He once planted two GMO corn varieties and 18 non-GMO. The deer ate the non-GMOs, but didn’t touch the GM ones. Since then he has gone Organic, grows some seed crops for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and has developed his 43560 project, finding crops that produce a head or a pound of crop per square foot. As well as growing the most suitable crops (and ignoring the others), he stresses the importance of building good soil, putting a quarter of the land into cover crops at any one time, and paying attention to marketing.

Later, On Saturday, I went to an inspiring presentation by Cory Fowler, a founder of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. His slideshow includes pictures of the village of Svalbard and the vault, outside and in, and the surrounding ice, snow and wildlife. Norway donated the structure, including the Norwegian requirement that every construction project includes 2% (I think) of art. The daily workforce on-site is zero – they monitor from close-by and remotely, but they really don’t want people coming and going!

Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Credit Mari Tefre, andCroptrust.org

Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Credit Mari Tefre, and Croptrust.org

He spoke about the incredible achievement of setting up this “fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time – and of natural or manmade disasters.” Each country (and a very few non-governmental seed-saving groups) can submit sealed boxes containing 400-seed samples of each variety of each vegetable and grain crop they can obtain. This is as a backup to their national seed bank. The vault at Svalbard steps aside from political and individual self-interest. They are holding the boxes in safe-keeping, and do not open them, but will return them to the source if asked. There are some false stories circulating about what Svalbard is all about, so I encourage everyone to read the website – it’s an impressive project and a heart-warming success story.

The presentation ended with a beautiful short video Polar Eufori which you can see on YouTube.

Meanwhile, back at home, we are using the dry weather to start to catch up on hoeing and weeding. Here’s our fall broccoli (These photos are from Ezra’s blog ObserVA, which I’ve mentioned before.)

Fall broccoli rescued from weeds. Credit Ezra Freeman

Fall broccoli rescued from weeds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

and here’s our late corn and our sweet potatoes:

Sweet potatoes next to our last corn planting.  Credit Ezra Freeman

Sweet potatoes next to our last corn planting.
Credit Ezra Freeman

We are planning to set up a solar-powered electric fence around this corn, before the raccoons find it too. Maybe also to keep the deer out of the sweet potatoes. The previous corn still has new raccoon damage, but the most recent animal to go in our live trap was a stray cat! Not the first stray I’ve caught this year (I think it’s the third). Our spinach came up well this year, thanks to the cooler weather. We’re still working on getting enough kale established. Soon we’ll plant our new strawberries (a bit late, but the best we can do).

 

Corn planting time!

Last year's young sweet corn plants with a fiber banana plant to the right. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Last year’s young sweet corn plants with a fiber banana plant and a sunflower to the left.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

A week ago, I showed a group of local Master Gardeners around our gardens. At that point, the raised bed area was a mixed portrait of rowcover and weeds! All the crops were sheltered under cover and all the visible beds were full of weeds. So much has changed in a week. We mowed all the weedy beds, tilled many of them, and removed the rowcover to our strawberry beds and our new cabbage and broccoli planting. We’ve even found time to hoe the planted beds and weed and thin the three beds of beets.

We had more struggles with our broccoli.  A couple of weeks ago, I told you all about the moles gathering nesting material from our first broccoli flats. We dealt with that, planted out what we had left, and moved our second planting to the coldframe. Something browsed on them. Deer? Rabbits? Groundhogs? We sprayed the plants with a stinky deer repellant and scattered hot pepper on them. And covered them at night. Now we’ve planted those out and put the third planting in the cold frame. So far, so good. . .

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop. Credit Kathryn Simmons

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We’ve had a couple of cold nights (hence the need to move the rowcover to the strawberries to protect the blossoms from possible frosts.)

Healthy unfrosted strawberry flower. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Healthy unfrosted strawberry flower.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

But overall the season is warming up. After lots of waiting we are finally getting asparagus. Many of the signs of spring all happened in rapid succession: the lilac is blooming, morning glories and smartweed have germinated, the crimson clover cover crop is starting to flower and I’ve heard the whippoorwills at night.

Crimson clover is a beautiful and useful cover crop. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Crimson clover is a beautiful and useful cover crop.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

The white oak leaves have definitely exceeded the size of squirrels’ ears. This is our sign to sow sweet corn. We did that yesterday. Bodacious, 77-days to maturity, yellow, great flavor for corn this early. These days we hedge our bets and also extend the harvest period by sowing the second half of the patch 3 days after the first half. Contrary to myths you might have heard, it is quite possible to transplant sweet corn, so those in marginal climates don’t need to give up hope. We usually prepare some plugs the same day we sow our first corn outdoors and use these to fill gaps at the first cultivation.  If disaster doesn’t strike and there are no gaps worth worrying about, we give the transplants away to local gardeners who were less lucky, or didn’t get round to direct sowing their own.

We use 200-cell Styrofoam Speedling flats (1″, 2.5 cm cells) with one corn kernel in each cell. We float them in a tank of water until we set them out. Some vegetable seedlings would drown if continuously in water, but corn does not. It is important to transplant the corn before the plant gets too big and the taproot takes off. Two- to three-inch (5–7.5-cm) plants seem OK. The plugs transplant easily using butter knives.

Corn has no tolerance to frost. However, escape from a late spring frost is possible if the
seedlings are less than two weeks old and not yet very tall, as the growing point may still be underground.Thus, in a spring that promises to be warm and dry, it is possible to risk an early planting as much as 2–3 weeks before the last frost date. Having some transplant plugs for a backup helps reduce the risk level.

Here’s an aspect of hybrid corn varieties that confuses many people: There are several genotypes, and if you inadvertently plant a mixture of different types, it can lead to starchy unpleasant-flavored corn. Ignore those cryptic catalog notes at your peril! here’s the Cliff Notes:

Normal sugary (su or ns) types have old-fashioned corn flavor but are sweeter than open pollinated varieties, although the sweetness disappears fairly rapidly after harvest. Not a problem for home gardeners who can cook the corn they harvested earlier that day. Most can germinate well in cool soil. 

Sugary-enhanced (se) and sugary enhanced homozygous (se+ or se-se) types are more tender than (su), and slower to become starchy after harvest. Most, especially the (se+) types, are sweeter than (su) types. We grow (se) and (su) types, and avoid the others – sweetness and simplicity!

Nearly all newer sweet corn types rely on one of two recessive genes, su or sh2. Cross-pollination with other corn groups will produce the dominant genetics of field corn, that is, starch not sugar. Don’t mix Super Sweet sh2 types with any other corn. Also don’t plant Indian corn, popcorn or any kind of flint or dent corn within  600′ (180 m) of your sweet corn. For this reason we grow only sweet corn in our garden. In case you are tempted by variety descriptions of the newer types, though, here’s more about them:

The Super Sweet (sh2) varieties, also known as shrunken, are very sweet and slow to become starchy. They have very poor cold soil germination. The kernels are smaller than other corns, giving this type its name.

Synergistic (se-se-se-sh2) types are combinations of genetics from several genotypes. Each ear has 75 percent (se) kernels and 25 percent (sh2) kernels. They are flavorful, tender and sweet, but only when they are ripe. If picked too soon, they are a watery disappointment. 

“Augmented shrunken” types contain the sh2 gene and some of the tenderness from the se types. 

We’re looking forward to plenty of sweet corn this year – we’re off to a good start!