Cooking Greens in June: Chard is the queen!

Young Fordhook Giant chard plants in mid-May.
Photo Pam Dawling

Cooking Greens in June

Summer has arrived here in central Virginia, and most of the spring-planted cooking greens have bolted and been cleared to make way for warm weather crops. And it’s already time to start work on the fall greens, sowing most of them this month. We have no cooking greens to transplant this month (it’s going to be too hot!).

See the chapter Other Greens: Chard and Other Summer Cooking Greens in Sustainable Market Farming for more about chard relatives and amaranths.

Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in June

Winstrip tray with chard seeds.
Photo Pam Dawling

Chard is our queen of summer cooking greens! Because it is a biennial it will not bolt in the summer heat. We can eat it whenever we get the urge, until winter. Apart from the flavor, this is why I value chard: it is always there, always harvestable, from late May to late December. It’s so easy to care for, and nothing bad happens if we ignore it. Some years it even survives our winters. This year we have planted two beds instead of our usual one. We have Bright Lights multicolored chard and Fordhook Giant green chard. We also planted some Lucullus this year, to try. Some years we grow Perpetual Spinach/Leaf Beet, a chard with thin green stems and more moderate-sized leaves. This crop is the closest hot-weather alternative to actual spinach that I have found.

Bright Lights chard in our garden in July. Behind the chard is a new bed of beans with sunflowers and a bed in buckwheat cover crop.
Photo Pam Dawling

In addition to chard, we are harvesting beet greens as we pull our biggest spring-sown beets. By the end of June we will have harvested all the beets, putting the excess into cool storage over the summer. And so the beet greens harvest will end then too. Some years, the quality of the beet greens does not hold up as late as the end of June. We’ll see.

We continue to have broccoli until the end of June or early July, when we expect it to get bitter, and to only have tiny side-shoots left. We have started harvesting our early cabbage. This year we grew Early Jersey Wakefield, a pointed 2-3 pound (1-1.5 kg) OP cabbage that matures in 63 days. We sowed this in our greenhouse in late January and transplanted it around March 10.

A bed of Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage in mid-May.
Photo Pam Dawling

Later we will harvest Farao (F1, 60d, 3lbs, 1.5 kg), more Early Jersey Wakefield, and flat, mid-sized, Tendersweet (F1 71d) from our April 1 transplanting. We store cabbage beyond our immediate needs in net bags in the refrigerator. None of these spring varieties are long-storers, but they should see us through the summer until mid-October when we have fresh outdoor fall cooking greens.

We do still have two beds of collards, Georgia Green and Lottie’s, which we bare-root transplanted from our hoophouse in mid-March. We also have two beds of kale, but these are past their prime and due to be clear-cut any day. June 5 is our usual end-date for kale.

Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in June

Sow the fall brassicas – see the Special Topic below for all the details.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli is ready for harvest in early spring but needs sowing in late May or early June.
Photo Baker Creek Seeds

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, is one of the broccoli staples in the UK, and is hardy down to 10°F (–12°C). I’m not sure it would survive in our winter-hardiness zone 7 climate, but one of these years I want to try it, as it’s a wonderful crop.

Early Purple Sprouting broccoli has an extremely long growing season, needing 220-250 days to reach maturity. It is grown overwinter for late winter/early spring harvest. Late spring/early summer is about the right time to be sowing it. If you decide to try it, know what to expect. These are big tall plants, and they produce florets, not big heads.

Other Cooking Greens Tasks

Maybe bushhog the spring broccoli (after harvest is finished) to reduce the habitat for harlequin bugs, our worst brassica pest. The cabbage will continue to grow and mature until mid-July, so we cannot disk up the plot until it is all harvested. We often sow a short-term cover crop such as buckwheat after clearing our spring brassicas.

Special Cooking Greens Topic for June:  fall brassica sowing, field planning and preparation

Fall brassica seedlings under netting on July 4.
Photo Pam Dawling

In May, I described our planning for our fall brassica nursery seedbeds. In the third week of June we start the weekly sowings, hooping, netting, watering and weeding. We sow around a foot (15 cm) of seed row for every 12′-15′ (4-5 m) of crop row, aiming for 3-4 seeds per inch (2.5 cm). When I’ve been responsible for this job, I set aside an afternoon a week on a regular day. It takes a surprisingly long time to get all the details right. It is important to be timely, because a one-day delay in sowings for fall can lead to a one week (or longer) delay in harvest date. The shortening daylight slows down the growth.

In Week 1, we sow the fall cabbages – this year Tendersweet F1 71d; Tribute F1 83-103d, 10-12lbs (4.5-5.5 kg); Ruby Perfection F1 85d, 4-7lbs (2-3 kg);  and Storage #4 F1 80-90d, 4-8lbs (2-3.5 kg). In Week 2, we repeat the cabbage sowings and sow the first broccoli. Weeks 3-6 fall in July, so I’ll tell you more next month. Weeks 7 and 8 are in August. See the schedule in May’s Cooking Greens post.

In summer weather, brassicas are the right size for transplanting (5 true leaves) in just three weeks, so we need to have the field ready for July 14. We disk in the winter cover crops, and if we didn’t have enough legumes in the mix, we spread compost. Or we spread some anyway, for the micro-organisms more than the plant nutrients. Then a week later, when the cover crops have started to break down, we disk again. Then we measure and flag the rows, and out up stakes and ropes to mark the rows. This helps us get the plants in a straight line (better for quick efficient cultivation), plus the ropes can support the netting we need to use for the first 4 weeks to keep the bugs off.

Next we make a fall brassica transplanting map, or field map, to show where we intend the various varieties to grow. We plan to have the broccoli varieties planted out in order of days to maturity, to make harvesting easy. We make the maps to scale so that if we switch variety in the middle of the row, we can show where the transition happens. Here I have chopped off some row length (extra bare space) at the right, so you can read the text.

Our map for 2016 shows rows of 265′, except for cabbage in rows 3 and 4. This is because the garden edge curved round and there was less space for those rows.

Sowing fall brassicas, thoughts on Organic certification and organic farming

Brassica seedlings under insect netting.
Photo Pam Dawling

Sowing fall brassicas

We sow our fall broccoli and cabbage in mid-late June, followed by our outdoor Asian greens and collards. These will all get transplanted from nursery seedbeds covered with insect netting, to growing beds covered with insect netting. In the summer we try to have a No Visible Brassicas Month to break the lifecycle of the harlequin bugs. Once our spring kale is finished, the spring cabbage gathered in and the spring broccoli mowed down, the only brassicas are hidden under netting. Our hope is to starve out the harlequin bugs or at least deter them from making too many more.

Brassica transplants under ProtekNet.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I wrote a short piece about sowing our fall broccoli and cabbage in 2014 here

I wrote about our long evenings of transplanting in July and August in 2015 here:

Fall broccoli rows.
Photo Kati Falger

This year we have a simplified plan: one broccoli variety, one cabbage variety, Morris Heading collards, Koji (a hybrid Asian green a bit like Yukina Savoy) and Senposai.

The broccoli is an OP variety, Umpqua. It takes 96 days to maturity, has dark green 5-6″ heads and makes lots of side shoots. That’s a long wait compared to 54d Tendergreen and 60d Green Magic, so I hope it’s good! It’s certainly highly rated compared to other OP types.

The cabbage is Storage #4 a 4-8 lb 90-95d hybrid, for fresh use and storage.

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Zipper spider catching pest bugs on our hoophouse squash.
Photo Pam Dawling

After worrying about the challenges with our early squash in the hoophouse, I realized today that at least half of the plants are still producing, while the younger first outdoor planting has given up, before the second planting is ready to take over.

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Is Buying Organic Worth It?

An interesting blog post cones from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, exploring the meanings of “organic”, and I will summarize it here. Paying the higher price for organic products is always a personal decision, and whether buying USDA Organic food is “worth it” depends on the relative value that the consumer puts on food The Real Organic Projectbeing produced in accordance with USDA Organic standards.

The word “organic” is used to mean different things:

Formally: When used to advertise and sell a farm product, the word “organic” is regulated by federal law—the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the related USDA Organic regulations. This legal meaning of the word “organic” as defined by Congress and the USDA has only been around since 1990 (when OFPA was signed into law). USDA Organic standards are the same from state to state and from store to store. Because the USDA tracks the sales of certified Organic products, buying USDA Organic food is a great way to vote with your dollar.  The core principles of organic agriculture were initially developed by organic farmers, not the USDA.

Informally: In daily life, many people use the word “organic” for agricultural products that were grown using methods that are similar to or even completely consistent with the USDA Organic standards but are grown by uncertified farms.  The cultural practice of farming using organic methods has been around for a at least a hundred years. Many outstanding organic farmers were growing organically before 1990 and either have never bothered to become USDA certified Organic or have given up their certification since then. However, after 1990, they could no longer market their products as organic. 

What exactly does USDA Organic certification mean? Continue reading “Sowing fall brassicas, thoughts on Organic certification and organic farming”