Ate more Eat-All Greens; Changed vegetable crop rotation

Eat-All Greens radishes on October 19. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Eat-All Greens radishes on October 19.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Our Eat-All Greens are still alive, if not exactly thriving. The peas have been harvested to death; the kohlrabi, beets and chards are never going to amount to anything; some of the more tender Asian mustard greens are showing some frost damage.

On 12/10 we made one last crew foray to harvest – not greens, but roots! I’d noticed in the wet mild weather of late November the radishes and turnips had fattened up. We can always use a few more turnips, I thought. Plus, I was inspired by the quick-pickle radishes we’d had recently. See sustainexistence sustainable sustenance for our existence, the local foodie blog written by one of my fellow Twin Oakers. 

As we were harvesting the two and a half buckets of radishes, someone came by who said he was planning to pickle radishes, so I told him we’d keep him busy! (Actually, ten days later, there are many left to deal within the walk-in cooler.) The daikons predictably did well, as they are a fall crop. Other good varieties included Crimson Giant, which I picked up at a seed swap, and White Icicle. Sparkler (a small radish was unsurprisingly tough and woody at this overgrown stage.

We also pulled a 5-gallon bucket of delectable small turnips, including some rather pretty Mezza Lunga Bianca Colletto Viola from Seeds from Italy.

41nGSQFqh1L


Meanwhile we have been working on our garden planning for next year. Back in 1996 we devised a 10-plot crop rotation, which has generally served us very well for 19 years. The first few years we tweaked it a bit, but we haven’t needed major changes. You can see our pinwheel rotation plan in my book Sustainable Market Farming and in my slideshow Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops  on SlideShare.net.

Here you can see the original card version, complete with modifications. The central card disk is fastened with one of those brass-legged paperclips and can be turned one notch each year.

Original Twin Oaks Garden Crop Rotation Pinwheel
Original Twin Oaks Garden Crop Rotation Pinwheel

The bit we want to change is the fast-turnaround where the spring potatoes are followed by the fall broccoli and cabbage. This has worked well in terms of getting high usage from our land, and freeing up one plot in ten to be Green Fallow (all-year cover crops). We did that by undersowing the fall brassicas with clover about a month after transplanting, and then letting the clovers grow for a year and a half before disking in. The difficulties with such a fast turnaround in July are

  1. If we have a wet spring, and we plant the potatoes late, we have to terminate them early (by mowing the tops) and the yield isn’t as good as it might have been. Climate change suggests we might be in for more wet springs, and with El Nino upon us, this is a good time to switch.
  2. If the weather doesn’t co-operate in July, the soil might be too wet to harvest the potatoes when we want to, and too wet to disk in preparation for the transplanting. We need to build more climate resilience into our rotation!
  3. July is stressful enough – it’s hot and humid, people are taking their turn at having a vacation.
  4. If we are late transplanting the broccoli and cabbage, the plants are oversize and don’t do well, so we get reduced yields of broccoli and cabbage that year.
  5. We prefer transplanting in the evenings in the summer (cooler for us and for the plants), and if we get late into August, the daylight is getting too short to get much done.

And so, we are seizing the opportunity to make the switch. The opportunity comes because for the last several years we have not needed to grow winter squash in the vegetable garden because it is grown elsewhere on the farm by the Twin Oaks Seeds.

Fall broccoli undersown with clover. Photo Nina Gentle
Fall broccoli undersown with clover.
Photo Nina Gentle

Our crop rotation contains several sequences of crops that we want to keep. For example, Fall brassicas/Green Fallow/early spring crop (Could be corn or potatoes, but not the spring broccoli and cabbage). Another sequence that works well for us is the Early corn/Garlic next to spring brassicas/fall carrots in one half, rye vetch and peas for no-till cover crop in the other half/paste tomatoes on the no-till the next year.

What we’ve planned for next year (a transition to our new plan) is to use the former winter squash plot for the fall brassicas/clover bit. This involves snipping that plot out of the pie and moving it after the corn #6/sweet potato and the spring potato/cantaloupe (which had morphed into 100% potatoes over the years), so that the newly housed fall brassicas can be followed by the clover year.

But that leaves potatoes only two years after other potatoes, and the late corn only two years after the middle corn, so we don’t want to do that more than once! So for 2017 onwards, we plan to insert the late corn & sweet potato/spring potato sequence after the clover, and move the early corn after the spring potatoes (when we have time to plant a winter-killed cover crop and make cultivation for the early corn easy). And switch the watermelon piece of the pie with the 3rd, 4th and 5th sweet corn successions to even out the years between corn patches.

June planted potatoes with hay mulch. Photo Twin Oaks Community
June planted potatoes with hay mulch.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

This will give potatoes, tomatoes, potatoes 3 or 4 years before the plot is nightshades again. With the corn  we get 3 years, 5 years and 2 years. Not ideal. But we don’t get much in the way of corn diseases (compared to tomato diseases) so it seems the best place to compromise.

If you get bored with holiday jigsaw puzzles and TV offerings, you could draw up your own version of our rotation, chop it up and rearrange it, and send us you suggestions. Remember to plan the winter cover crops too! Have fun!

Winter radishes, planting garlic.

Our main task this week has been planting garlic, both hardneck and softneck. As we separated the cloves for planting, we put all the tiny cloves (which wouldn’t grow big bulbs) into small buckets. We use these to grow garlic scallions. Planting them is next on our list.

Garlic scallions are small whole garlic plants, pulled and bunched in the spring like onion scallions. They are chopped and cooked in stir-fries and other dishes. They are mostly green leaves at that point, although the remains of the clove can also be eaten. Hard-core garlic lovers eat them raw like onion scallions. They provide an attractive early spring crop.

To grow garlic scallions,  plant small cloves close together in furrows, simply dropping them in almost shoulder to shoulder, any way up that they fall. (If you’ve just finished a large planting of main-crop garlic, you’ll probably be too tired to fuss with them anyway!) Close the furrow and mulch over the top with spoiled hay or straw.

A healthy patch of garlic scallions in spring
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

You could plant these next to your main garlic patch, or in a part of the garden that’s easily accessible for harvest in spring. Or you could plant your regular garlic patch with cloves at half the usual spacing and pull out every other one early. Think about quantities, though. If we double planted, we’d have over 7000 scallions, far more than we could use. The danger with double planting is stunting the size of your main crop by not thinning out the ones intended for scallions soon enough. We plant our small cloves for scallions at one edge of the garden, and as we harvest, we use the weed-free area revealed to sow the lettuce seedlings for that week.

With a last frost date of 20-30 April, we harvest garlic scallions from early March until May,  depending on how long our supply lasts out, and when we need the space for something else. Harvesting is simple, although depending on your soil, you may need to loosen the plants with a fork rather than just pulling. Trim the roots, rinse, bundle, set in a small bucket with a little water, and you’re done! Some people cut the greens at 10″ (25 cm) tall, and bunch them, allowing cuts to be made every two or three weeks. We tried this, but prefer to simply pull the whole plant once it reaches about 7-8″ (18-20 cm) tall. The leaves keep in better condition if still attached to the clove. Scallions can be sold in small bunches of 3-6 depending on size. If you do have more than you can sell in the spring, you could chop and dry them, or make pesto, for sale later in the year.

Misato Rose winter radish
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This week we also harvested our winter storage radishes, which we sowed in July. Winter radish varieties have large roots that may be round or long, with white, red, pink, green or black skin. They can be eaten raw, pickled, mixed in stir-fries or cooked like turnips. Our favorites are:

  • Shunkyo Semi-long  (32 days, OP), 4-5″ (10-12 cm), smooth, cylindrical, attractive rose-pink roots with crisp white flesh. The flavor is hot and sweetly nutty. The pink-stemmed leaves can also be eaten. This slow bolting variety can be sown throughout the year in mild climates.

The other varieties in this list are all day-length sensitive, for summer to fall sowing only. They bolt if sown in spring.

  • China Rose (55 days, OP). AKA Rose Colored Chinese, Scarlet China Winter. About 5″ (12 cm) in diameter. Round, with white flesh, pink skin. Cosmetically, this variety is more variable and less beautiful than Shunkyo.
  • Red Meat (50 days, OP). AKA Watermelon. Large round roots, 2-4″ (5-10 cm), depending on how long you let them grow. Green and white skin, with sweet dark pink flesh. Large leaves.
  • Misato Rose (60 days, OP). AKA Chinese Red Heart. Green and white skin, rose and white “starburst” flesh. Beautiful when sliced for salads. Unlike many radishes, this one will still bulb properly if crowded, according to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Attractive, spicy, not sharp, with “a rich sweet vegetable undertone.” Can grow as large as a big beet if given sufficient space. A good keeper.
  • Shinden Risoh Daikon (65 days F-1 hybrid). Daikon (pronounced “dye-kon”) is the Japanese word for radish. Daikon are huge long white roots which store very well and stay crisp for months under refrigeration. They can be grated or sliced thin for salads, pickled, or sliced and chopped for stir-fries. Kim Chee is a traditional Korean pickle made with daikon and napa Chinese cabbage. Daikon can also be harvested small.
  • Miyashige Daikon (50 days, OP). 16-18″ (40-45 cm) long by 2.5-3″ (6-8 cm) in diameter. These “stump-rooted” cylindrical white radishes are pale green near the crown. Very crisp and tender for pickling and storage.
China Rose winter radish
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This year we grew 45′ each of Shunkyo Semi-Long, China Rose, Red Meat and Shindin Risoh Daikon. In terms of yield, the China Rose is the clear winner: 54 lbs from 45′.

And they look very smooth and attractive. Next best in yield was the other pink one, Shunkyo Semi-Long at 25 lbs. The daikon came in at 21 lbs, lower than I expected. Maybe we should have thinned more drastically. A big disappointment was the Red Meat at only 15 lbs. Mind you, this one sells itself on its impressive looks. See the picture above.

Miyashige White Daikon,
Picture credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange