Late carrot sowing, plenty of corn and okra, spotty tomatoes.

Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Newly emerged carrots with indicator beets.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We finally got our big planting of fall carrots sown. Much later than I’ve ever sown carrots before. Our goal is early August, so we are a month behind. We usually harvest all our carrots at some point in November and store them for the winter. If carrots take 75 days to grow and we’ve lost 30, how big will the carrots get? The rate of growth will slow as it gets colder.We can’t just harvest a  month later and expect the same size carrots as usual. It’s not a linear rate of increase. Some crops double in size in their last month of growth. if that’s true of carrots, we’ll get about half the yield we usually do, if we harvest at our usual date.

We had challenges preparing the soil (too much rain, too many grass weeds, not enough rain, not enough time. . . ). This morning we finally got it all raked and rocks picked out, and seeds put in. We mark the beds with the Johnny’s rowmarker rake five rows in a four foot wide bed. Then we sow with an EarthWay seeder. It’s very quick and easy. We sow about 12″ of beet seeds at one end – these are our “Indicator Beets”. When the beets germinate, we know the carrots will be up the next day and it’s time to flame weed the carrot beds.

Flame weeding carrots. Photo by Kati Falger
Flame weeding carrots.
Photo by Kati Falger

Once you get over the hesitation about using a fiercely hot propane burner, flame weeding is also quick and easy. And boy, it saves so much hand weeding! We bought our Red Dragon backpack flame weeder from Fedco. As you see, we decided to use wheelbarrow rather than carry the propane tank on our backs, and include a second person (and in this picture, a third!). The second person is the safety monitor and looks out for unwanted things (like hay mulch burning).

We do hope our carrots will have ideal growing weather and catch up a bit. We’ve sowed 4000 feet of them. Here’s a picture of fall carrots from a previous year:

Fall carrots. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Fall carrots.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

I did a bit of research on last sowing dates for carrots in our area.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in their useful Fall & Winter Vegetable Gardening Quick Reference suggests 8/31. We’re five days later than that. The National Gardening Association on their customizable Garden Planting Calendar for our zipcode comes up with September 4. The news is getting better! They have planting dates for spring and fall, in a very user-friendly format. The How Do Gardener Page says August 31 is the last planting date for carrots in Virginia. Fingers crossed!

Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Sweet corn plantings 3, 4 and 5 (left to right, 4 rows of each) earlier this summer. Planting 5 is under the ropes to the right.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Meanwhile our sweet corn is doing very well. We’re eating the Bodacious sweet corn and the Kandy Korn of our fifth sowing. In a couple of days the Silver Queen of our fifth sowing will be ready. After that we have sowing number 6, the same three varieties. That’s it: six sweet corn sowings through the season.

Another crop being very successful is okra. We grow Cow Horn okra from Southern Exposure. We like it for its tall plants, high productivity and the fact that the pods are tender at 5-6″. We do find it hard to convince our cooks that we have specially chosen this “commune-friendly” variety so they don’t have to deal with fiddly little okra pods when cooking for 100. We used to harvest at 5″, we’ve had to compromise and harvest at 4″.

Cow Horn okra. Photo by Kathryn Simmons
Cow Horn okra.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

And then the not-so-good news – spotty tomatoes. We have been getting anthracnose,

Anthracnose spot on tomato. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Anthracnose spot on tomato.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

small water-soaked spots. The Vegetable MD Online site is one I often turn to. I go to the “Diseases by crop” page, then click on the vegetable I’m worrying about. Sometimes the vitally helpful photos are down the page, below the horizon. Here’s the info which I think tells us where we went wrong:

” In late spring the lower leaves and fruit may become infected by germinating sclerotia and spores in the soil debris. “

While we were determining what was wrong when our plants got hit with some hot weather herbicide drift, we didn’t touch the plants in case it was a viral disease.  We didn’t do the string weaving. The plants sprawled on the ground. Later we made a bit of an effort to catch up but failed. The plants were a sprawly mess, even though the foliage recovered and the plants were loaded with fruits. Far too much contact with the ground! (Even though we used the biodegradable plastic, each plant had a hole in the plastic, and soil ‘appeared’). I also noted that anthracnose is more prevalent on poorly drained soils, and the area we had planted in was one of the lower lying plots, and July had lots of rain.

Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit. Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Water-soaked circular sunken spots of anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) usually appear on the shoulders of mature fruit.
Photo courtesy of T.A. Zitter, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Well, lessons learned! Fortunately our other tomatoes on higher ground didn’t get anthracnose, and some of them will feature in Southern Exposure‘s Tomato Tasting at the Heritage Harvest Festival this weekend.

An amazing array of tomaotes. Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier
An amazing array of tomatoes.
Photo by Epic Tomatoes author Craig LeHoullier

 

 

Upcoming workshops, winter weather, preparing seed orders

First up, note this change of location for my workshop on December 11th. Adrianna Vargo from the Local Food Hub sent this notice of a change of location:

“Due to overwhelming demand (and a few grumpy farmers!) we have moved the location of next week’s workshop with Pam Dawling to accommodate more people.

The new location is:
Albemarle County Office Building
Room A
1600 5th Street Extended
Charlottesville VA 22902
Other details remain the same:

Providing for the Full Eating Season: Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests of Summer Vegetables, and Growing and Storing Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables

Date: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 6:00 pm
Location: Albemarle County Office Building, Room A (1600 5th Street, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22902)
Cost: $25 (free for Local Food Hub Partner Producers)
Questions: [email protected]

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Secondly, I am planning a workshop with Cindy Connor, author of Grow a Sustainable Diet and Ira Wallace, author of the Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. It’s at Lynchburg College, in SW Virginia, on Saturday February 15. I’ll give more details once we have them sorted out.

Cindy has written a blog post about Ira Wallace’s new book, Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. See http://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/

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The weather here has turned wintry. We are bracing for the big ice storm expected Saturday night and Sunday, likely followed by power outages, during which the electric lines-people struggle to restore power over a big area, as this storm looks (on the radar) like it covers a big swath. Here’s the regional radar from Weather Underground this afternoon

Weather Underground regional radar for December 7 2013
Weather Underground regional radar for December 7 2013

In case you couldn’t tell from my slack blogging recently, I’ve been on vacation. My fellow communard, Ezra Freeman, has been tracking the weather here, and reported in his blog on a low of 10F on Saturday 23 November. The previous low had been 18F on November 13, reported to me by Ken Bezilla at Acorn Community and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Here are some seasonal photos of our gardens taken by Ezra:

East Garden with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman
East Garden with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman
Raised beds November 2013 Credit Ezra freeman
Raised beds November 2013
Credit Ezra Freeman
Ice on the pond. Credit Ezra Freeman
Ice on the pond.
Credit Ezra Freeman
Blackberry leaf with frost. Credit Ezra Freeman
Blackberry leaf with frost.
Credit Ezra Freeman

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Meanwhile, our garden work turns towards planning for next year. We have done an inventory of our remaining seeds and decided what to keep and what to throw out. Opinions vary a bit about how many years seeds of different vegetables are good for. The fuller story is that storage conditions make a big difference. You can make your own decisions, weighing up the information supplied, your knowledge of how carefully you stored the seeds, the information on each packet about percentage germination when you bought it, and the economic importance to you of that particular crop. If you always transplant lettuce, as I do, you can risk one of your four varieties in that sowing coming up poorly, and just plant out more of the other three if it fails. Many seed catalogs include information about seed longevity, and so does Nancy Bubel in The Seed Starters Handbook. Frank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.

A simplified version of how long to keep seeds is as follows:

Year of purchase only: Parsnips, Parsley, Salsify, and the even rarer Sea Kale, Scorzonera

2 years: Corn, Peas and Beans of all kinds, Onions, Chives, Okra, Dandelion, Martynia,

3 years: Carrots, Leeks, Asparagus, Turnips, Rutabagas

4 years: Spinach, Peppers, Chard, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, Basil, Artichokes and Cardoons

5 years: most Brassicas, Beets, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Cucumbers, Muskmelons, Celery, Celeriac, Lettuce, Endive, Chicory

Rather than deteriorating with age, some very fresh seed has a dormancy that needs to be overcome by chilling (lettuce).

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We are working towards ordering seeds. The catalogs are starting to appear in my mail box. The early bird catches the preferred varieties! The main companies we order from are Fedco, Johnny’s and of course, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We like SESE for regionally adapted varieties, Fedco for great prices on bulk sizes, and Johnny’s for some varieties we really like that aren’t available from the other two. If you are ordering from Fedco and don’t yet have my book, they are now selling it at a very decent price (cheaper than signed copies direct from me). If you need to economize, but don’t want to buy from the big online company that doesn’t pay its workers much, try Fedco, who are a co-operative.