Sowing kale, finishing planting cabbage, more on zipper spiders

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

This is what we’re aiming for – healthy kale plants to feed us during the winter! I reported last week that we had got one bed of kale sown. It’s up nicely under the rowcover, so we can use some of those plants as transplants to get more beds established when we do manage to get more beds tilled and prepped. Yesterday we sowed more kale – three partial beds which had held our fall broccoli and cabbage transplants.

We have at last got our final row of cabbage planted out, so the nursery seed beds are fairly emptied out. Not entirely though. Our next transplanting job is to fill gaps in the rows. We have 8 rows of broccoli and 4 of cabbage, 265 ft long. A hundred people eat a lot of food! Meanwhile, we raked around the remaining broccoli and cabbage transplants, and sowed more kale. A bit chaotic, having beds with big old plants and freshly sown ones, but manageable. all are covered with spring steel hoops and ProtekNet insect exclusion netting made by Dubois Agrinovation., which I have raved about previously. It keeps Harlequin bugs and flea beetles out.

We like Vates as it’s the most cold-hardy kale we’ve found and we can leave it outdoors without protection in our zone 7 winter and harvest from it about once a week. One year we did try covering it with floating row cover, to boost production, but it was a sad mistake! The fibers of the polypro row-cover got snagged in the frilled crinkled leaves, which made the cooks very unhappy!

Last winter we grew some Beedy’s Camden kale from Fedco

Beedy's Camden kale. Credit Fedco SeedsBeedy’s Camden kale.Credit Fedco Seeds

It was faster growing than Vates, and the leaves are wavy rather than frilled, and some people liked a change from our usual. Rated as hardy to zone 5, it wasn’t as cold-hardy as Vates in our garden. We are growing some more this winter.

We had planned to try Blue Ridge kale from Osborne Seeds, but they had sold out by the time I tried to order. It has done well for Clif Slade at his 43560 Project at Virginia State University, where the climate is a little milder.

Blue Ridge kale. Credit Osborne SeedsBlue Ridge kale. Credit Osborne Seeds

While shopping, I bought some Black Magic kale. We have tried these Lacinato kales in the past, both outdoors and in the hoophouse, without much success. We’ve had aphids building huge colonies in the curled back leaf edges. We’ve had indifferent growth. I’ve tasted great Lacinato kales at friends’ houses, outside our region. But every few years it come time to try a previous failure again, and we have some new crew members enthusiastic about this one, so we’re giving it our best!

Black magic kale. Credit Osborne Seeds

Black magic kale.
Credit Osborne Seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 


Two weeks ago I asked if anyone knew if zipper spiders ate hornworms. I did some reading, and I think it’s possible they do. The Latin name for these spiders is Argiope aurantia. I found out that all the many, many zipper spiders I’ve been looking at are females. The males look quite nondescript. I also confirmed that the 3/4″ brownish sacs we had hanging all over the hoophouse all last winter were indeed egg sacs of the zipper spider. Each one held over a thousand eggs! Golly! This is better than science fiction! Wikipedia says prey can include not only insects, but also small vertebrates such as geckos, so it seems likely that hornworms could be on the menu. Does anyone have a good source of information? There’s a YouTube of a spider eating a hornworm. I haven’t got enough bandwidth to watch it. Let me know if it’s good.

Zipper spider on tomato plant.  Credit Wren Vile

Zipper spider on tomato plant.
Credit Wren Vile

 

My article on blueberries in the May Growing for Market

 

GFM_May2014_coverThe May issue of Growing for Market is on its way, and in there is my article about growing blueberries (and protecting them from all the other critters that want to eat them too!) I’ve mentioned our blueberries before, when we were weeding and mulching them this spring. Also they feature in my Twin Oaks Task List for the Month for April and June. And I wrote about the netting support structure we created for our new blueberry bushes. Here’s Bridget’s photo of that:

The netting on big hoops over our new blueberries. Credit Bridget Aleshire

The netting on big hoops over our new blueberries.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our older blueberry patch in the spring. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our older blueberry patch in the spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Highbush blueberries are our most successful fruit crop. Our old patch of 40 bushes has some over 20 years old, still doing well. Our younger patch of 20 bushes is 6 years old. Right now they are all weeded, composted and mulched, and they are flowering. Soon we’ll think about putting the netting over the top to keep the birds out. It’s best to get the netting on before the fruit is anything like ripe, or else the birds learn that there is something really good in there!

Here’s our Twin Oaks Schedule for blueberry care

Late winter (January/early February for us):

1. Weed

2. Add soil amendments such as sulfur, if soil test indicates a need.

3. Add compost around the base of each bush if this wasn’t done in fall. Bushes will need 20lbs N/acre in the first year, rising by 20lbs/acre a year to 80-100 lbs annually for mature bushes. If the foliage becomes generally yellow (not just between the veins) then your plants are short of nitrogen. Another sign of nitrogen shortage is less than 6” of new growth on mature bushes. A third is reddening of the leaves, although this can also be caused by water stress.

4. Renew the mulch: we use two layers of cardboard topped by 3” of woodchips or sawdust. 6-12” is a better depth, if you don’t use cardboard. Cardboard works in humid climates, but could be too much of a challenge for the roots in a dry climate.

5. Plant new bushes if needed.

6. Repair fencing if needed.

Early spring (April. March if there’s a drought):

Check irrigation and run it twice a week. Foliar feeding with fish and seaweed emulsions can be helpful if the plants seem stressed. Weed.

Late spring (May-June):

When flowers are setting fruit, install the roof netting.

Harvest.

Summer (August):

Weed. Water (root growth is greatest in August and early September in our climate)

After harvest, remove and store roof netting, check that perimeter fencing will keep groundhogs and deer out.

Fall (September/October/November):

Prepare new beds if needed. Plant new bushes in November (or wait till February)

Weed, spread compost, add to the mulch, take soil tests.

Blueberry flowers. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Blueberry flowers.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

A cluster of blueberries. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

A cluster of blueberries.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

As well as my article there are plenty of other good ones, of course. Andrew Mefferd has written about hoophouse tomato pruning. Not something we worry about here in steamy central Virginia summers, but people in colder climates do have to work quite hard to get good yields of presentable tomatoes. Pruning is part of that.

Chris Blanchard writes about determining farm labor costs and how to get good value for money spent on workers’ wages. Liz Martin writes from New York State about a new emerging pest – the swede midge – and how she has dealt with it. (Swedes are rutabagas by another name, in case you didn’t know). The Swede midge attacks broccoli heads as they are forming, not just rutabaga plants. Liz describes the lifecycle, and which broccoli varieties are most susceptible. The solution for their farm has been the 25gm weight ProtekNet insect exclusion netting made by Dubois Agrinovation. They got the best broccoli ever! The netting kept out fleabeetles and cabbage worms, as well as the Swede Midge. We, too, are big fans of ProtekNet for brassicas especially. It lets air and light throughbetter than row cover does, and so it is less likely to pick up and blow away in a strong wind.

And lastly, Gretel Adams writes about planning and organizing for sales of wedding flowers.

Lots to read, and plenty to do outdoors too. More on that next time!