Garlic scapes, upcoming events, hoophouse seed crops

Garlic Scapes
Photo courtesy of Small Farm Central

I always know when garlic growers in slightly warmer or more southern climates are starting to find scapes (the edible firm flower stems of hardneck garlic) because my posts about scapes suddenly become popular! My posts “Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest,”  and “Garlic scapes to cheer us up” have been reread a lot recently, and Harvesting garlic is due for attention any time now. My Growing Great Garlic slideshow is here. Click the diagonal arrows to view it full screen.

And sure enough, our own scapes are ready too, even though this is a week earlier than usual.We harvest two or three times a week until there are no more. I love garlic scapes as one of the first outdoor crops of the spring, and a flavor different from leafy greens and stored roots, the staples of early spring.

Our tulip poplars are flowering now too, also early. Our average date for those is 5/1, and we’re a few days ahead of that. When I was a beekeeper it was important to be ready for the tulip poplar flowers, because that was our big nectar flow of the year, and I had to dash out to the beeyard and stack up 5 supers on each hive. I had to give up on the beekeeping because the combination of lifting heavy boxes and twisting was hurting my back too much. Oh, and those heavy boxes were full of thousands of stinging insects, but I didn’t mind that bit as much. The flowering of tulip poplars and the germination of ragweed are both phenology signs that signify that the Growing Degree Days have reached 200 (on a base of 50F) and that conditions are warm enough to sow sweet corn. Myself, I watch the young leaves on the white oaks and when they are the size of a squirrel’s ear, I decide it’s warm enough for corn.


This weekend I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Click the link to see the location, the workshop schedule and the list of vendors who’ll be there. I’m presenting two workshops, Growing Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish on Saturday 5/6 at 12.30on the Yanmar Sustainable Agriculture Stage, followed by book-signing and chatting at the Mother Earth News Bookstore; and Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Sunday 5/7 at the Heirloom Gardener Stage.

Of course, you’ll need to be there and  hear me speak to get the most out of it. I’m also doing short demonstrations of How to String Weave Tomatoes at booth 2800, New Society Publishers (near the Bookstore) on Saturday at 10 am, 11 am and 5 pm, and on Sunday at 10 am and 11 am. They’re half-hour time slots. My table top demo kit uses #2 pencils and pink tinsel.

At the New Society Publishers booth at the Pennsylvania Mother Earth News Fair, demonstrating how to string weave tomatoes.
Photo Ingrid Witvoet/New Society

The May issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, including my article about growing seed crops in hoophouses. I interviewed Clif Slade, founder of the 43560 Project at Virginia State University, about several creative sequences of food crops and seed crops he has grown in a high tunnel. (Collards, okra) as well as plant starts (sweet potatoes, onions). He farms in Surry County, Virginia.

Also in this GfM, Simon Huntley of Small Farm Central encourages small farmers to set aside two hours a week for a quick and efficient bit of online marketing “One Photo,
One Paragraph”. His goal is to help farmers stay in the spotlight with their products, without having to spend a great deal of time on it in the busy season.

Conor Crickmore has an article about preparing and laying out no-till permanent raised beds very precisely in a hoophouse. He uses the Quick Cut Greens Harvester to mow off over-size baby salad crops to clear the bed prior to broadforking and adding needed soil amendments.

Spencer Nietmann writes about what it really costs to start a farm. Jesse Frost discusses various types of plastic to cover hoophouses  (high tunnels), and lastly, Jane Tanner writes about native perennials for flower farms

Sustainable Farming Practices slideshow, garlic planting, annual crop review

Here’s my updated slide show Sustainable Farming Practices (for Vegetable Growers). You can view it right here, clicking on the white arrowhead, or you can click the diagonal arrows to get a full screen version. This is the second workshop I presented at the Carolina farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference. The handout for the workshop is on the CFSA website as a pdf.


We’ve just completed our annual Crop Review meeting. We prepared a spreadsheet of all the crops we grew, when we planted them, what varieties and so on. We went down the list alphabetically and shared what we could remember about how well each planting did. I’ve written about this process a couple of years ago, in my book, and also in Growing for Market magazine back in December 2007.

This year we had a hard spring, with El Nino. Cold wet weather prevented us planting everything we planned to. We didn’t grow spring potatoes or turnips this year. We did sow snap peas but I think they all rotted in the ground. We had good spring crops of carrots and beets (once germinated, things grew well!). Our spring broccoli and cabbage were good, but our fall ones got lost in weeds, when we didn’t have enough workers. We failed to get a timely delivery of the pedio wasps to deal with the bean beetles, and our beans had low germination rates this year. Our sweet corn did well all season, after the flooded end of the first sowing was forgotten.

Leeks and scenery Kati Falger

Leeks, sunflowers and buckwheat
Kati Falger

We had plentiful cucumbers, and enough zucchini and yellow squash; our leeks this winter are the best ever (thanks to attention to weeding, and to side dressing with compost in the late summer). The lettuce supply was good all through the spring and early summer, and is great now. We lost lettuce to cutworms in August. Okra was very abundant, as were eggplant – the hot summer was good for them. Our peppers did well, our Roma paste tomatoes were a bust, mostly because we didn’t keep up with string weaving. Sweet potatoes and June-planted potatoes yielded poorly. Our cherry and slicing tomatoes did well, but came to an early end. The fall greens (kale, spinach, collards, senposai, Yukina Savoy, turnip greens) are now doing really well, after an early battle with baby grasshoppers. Our fall turnips are the best in many years.

Purple top turnips. Photo Small Farm Central

Purple top turnips.
Photo Small Farm Central

At the Crop Review meeting we popped our hardneck garlic bulbs apart for planting. On the next two days we planted that (3180 row feet). The day after that we popped our softneck garlic and planted that (1080 row feet) and also planted all the reject tiny cloves for garlic scallions. Click the link to read about growing and harvesting these yummy spring treats. We’re up to date with preparing for the end of garden shifts and the transition to one person each day taking care of the hoophouse, greenhouse, weather station and harvesting the remaining outdoor crops. We’ll work that way until the end of January, and then start pruning blueberries and grapes.

Garlic planting crew. Photo Valerie Renwick

Garlic planting crew.
Photo Valerie Renwick

Covering garlic cloves. Photo Brittany Lewis

Covering garlic cloves.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Garlic scallions in April. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Garlic scallions in April.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Garlic harvest, new barn plans, Mother Earth news post on sweet potatoes

Harvesting garlic by hand, Photo by Marilyn Rayne Squier

Harvesting garlic by hand,
Photo by Marilyn Rayne Squier

We have been harvesting our hardneck garlic for the past week, and the end is not in sight! Back in November, we accidentally planted more than we intended. I can’t remember now if our planting schedule had the numbers wrong, or the planters misunderstood the schedule. Anyway, we intended to increase our ratio of softneck:hardneck, but ended up planting the same amount of softneck garlic as in recent years, and more hardneck than we had grown for at least three years.Those good at math will already realize this means we decreased our ratio of softneck:hardneck!

A word to the wise – don’t plant more than you need! It leads to more weeding, more tending, more harvest than you have use for, and less time to keep up with everything else! Plus you have the heart-rending dilemma of when to cut your losses and how. We were considering tilling in the remaining hardneck garlic before it deteriorated any further, to prevent ourselves from being distracted by the siren-song it was singing, so we could get on with harvesting the softneck before it started to go downhill. Plus of course, garlic is not the only crop! Now we are looking at a mutually beneficial arrangement with some neighbor-friends who don’t have enough garlic – their mistake was not to plant enough! We are offering them a You-Dig arrangement. (Please don’t anyone else contact us hoping to dig some – we can cope with only one set of friends coming and digging!)

Garlic hanging in netting to dry and cure. Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Garlic hanging in netting to dry and cure.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

 

 

 

I wrote in Growing for Market magazine my checklist for harvesting, curing, snipping and sorting garlic in August 2015. Here’s the sections on harvest and hanging:

Garlic Harvest Step by Step

  1. Very hard soil can damage the bulbs, so water the night before If the soil is very dry,.
  2. Plan for an average of 15 minutes per 5 gallon bucket for digging up garlic and 15 minutes per bucket for hanging it up.
  3. Bruised bulbs won’t store well, so treat the bulbs like fragile, sun-sensitive eggs. Don’t bang them together, or throw or drop them.
  4. Use digging fork to loosen the bulbs, without stabbing them. Don’t pull on unloosened garlic, as that damages the necks, and they won’t store well.
  5. If there is a lot of soil on the roots, rake the soil out with your fingers
  6. Don’t rub or pick at the skin. To store well, bulbs need several layers of intact skin.
  7. Air above 90F can cook garlic bulbs, sun can scorch them. So don’t leave them out on the beds. Put them gently into buckets or crates angled to shade the bulbs.
  8. No matter how dirty they are, don’t wash the bulbs. They need to dry out, not get wetter. The dirt will dry and fall off later, or if bulbs are not clean enough for market, the soil can be gently brushed off.
  9. Keeping the containers shaded, load them on carts or a truck and take to your barn for drying. It’s important not to leave garlic in plastic buckets for long, because of condensation.

Drying and Curing Garlic Step by Step

  1. We like our garlic arranged in order of harvesting, to make it easier to find dry garlic  when the time comes to trim it. We hang our curing garlic in vertical netting hanging around the walls of our barn. Some growers use horizontal racks, others tie garlic in bunches with string and hang the bunches from the rafters.
  2. We start at knee height, threading one garlic plant in each hole of the netting. (The netting stretches downward with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower would lead to garlic piling up on the floor.) Take a garlic plant, fold over the top quarter or a third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through the netting. The leaves will unfold behind the netting. Leaves shouldn’t poke through to the front.
  3. We work back and forth in rows, filling a 4-6 ft wide strip per person, working upwards.
  4. We continue as high as we can reach before moving to the next section. We make walls covered with garlic, day by day until done. This sequential arrangement simplifies trimming, and makes the best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly.
  5. Damaged bulbs are “Farm Use” quality and are set on horizontal racks to dry.
  6. Arrange box fans to blow on the drying garlic. Even in an airy old tobacco barn, fans are essential in our humid climate.
  7. Wait 3-4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, strawy. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90% of the necks are dry.

Meanwhile, we need a new barn. The one where we cure our garlic is the upstairs floor of an old dairy barn, formerly a tobacco drying barn. I’ve long looked forward to a single-story barn, with no need to haul the garlic upstairs just to haul it down again later. The old barn is seriously riddled with rot and insect chewing. We’d also like a new tool shed, as our old one leans north considerably, and is too small and dark. A small group of us has been meeting sporadically to plan the new barn, and we are divided on whether to go for one story or two. Here’s three questions for other garlic growers reading this:

  1. Do you cure your garlic upstairs in a barn or on the ground floor/first floor?
  2. Do you think one is better than the other in terms of airflow?
  3. Is any extra airflow worth the extra hauling garlic up and down stairs?

We have been drawing floor plans and making scale models, and thinking about storage of tools, seeds and supplies. Does anyone have a good solution for storage of rolls of agricultural fabrics? We roll our shadecloth, rowcover and insect mesh on 5 ft sticks. We’re thinking of slightly inclined shelves (or arms) with adjustable height settings. We want to be able to see what’s what and to keep various different types of fabric separate, rather than in a big heap as at present.

If anyone knows a good book or web resource on storing garden gear, please leave a comment. Using existing ideas beats reinventing the wheel!


My blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, about growing sweet potatoes is out. Our plants this year are looking good. I appreciate how much delicious and nutritious food sweet potatoes provide for so little work!

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable mulch. Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Garlic harvest finished, fall crop planning, tomato bug heads-up

Hanging garlic in vertical netting. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Today we finished harvesting our garlic. It’s a good feeling to have it all safely hanging to cure in the barn. Our climate is humid so we use lots of box fans to help the drying process. We started harvesting our hardneck garlic about ten days ago, and worked on that (among other tasks) for 4 or 5 days. We were short of workers, so progress slowed, and the softneck garlic took us parts of 5 days too, although there is much less of it. We grew 2880 feet of hardneck and 1080 feet of softneck.. This year’s crop looks good, both in size and condition. In about three weeks, when the necks are dry, we’ll start trimming, sorting and storing.

In our enthusiasm, we decided to grow more softneck next year, 1520 feet, and a little more hardneck, 3200 feet. The latter is just because the crop rotation brings the garlic to the central garden next year, where the rows are 200 feet long, compared to 180 feet in our west garden.

This leads directly into my next topic: fall crop planning. We are past the peak of planting things now. In the row crop areas we have the summer-planted potatoes, three more sweet corn sowings, and several more rows of beans, squash and cucumbers to go. The area in permanent raised beds will still see quite a lot of changes, and yesterday afternoon, while it was 97F outside, several of us sat down indoors to plan the raised bed crops until the end of 2015.

In early spring, we plan where to put the crops beforel August 4th, then in mid-June we plan the rest of the year. Usually we review the June-August 4th plans too, in case we want to change those for a better idea. In preparation for the group planning session, I toured the raised bed area and updated the map to reflect reality. For instance, our first bean sowings were a failure (it was just too cold!), so I whited out all reference to those. This makes crop rotation easier, as we don’t worry about crops we didn’t actually grow! I also prepared a chart of crops we might grow, along with quantities and start and finish dates. I divided the list by crop family (rotation, rotation, rotation!). And I updated our quirky Colored Spots Plan (here’s a version from two years ago)

Twin Oaks Garden Colored Spots Plan for crop planning

Twin Oaks Garden Colored Spots Plan for crop planning

It’s a map of our raised beds, with a colored dot for each crop grown, and a vertical line for each Winter Solstice. It’s a visually easy way to check if any given bed has had, say, brassicas in the past few years. A lot of information in a small space.

We started with the carrot family, as we usually grow up to 10 beds of carrots in our 60 beds in any given year. This year our first three beds did very well, so then we skipped a couple of plantings. We have one new bed of carrots, sown in late May. We decided to skip the next two Carrots are only sown here in June and July if we really must – hot weather carrots just don’t taste that sweet. We agreed to do our usual big planting of fall carrots on August 4th, in the row crop plot where we’ve just dug the garlic from. Hopefully we can grow a round of buckwheat between now and then. We were persuaded by a carrot enthusiast to grow a bed of over-wintered carrots, which we haven’t done for a couple of years. it’s a bit risky, they could all freeze to death. But if they don’t die, they are so delicious!

Ruby chard. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Ruby chard.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Next we moved on to the brassicas. Nothing new here. We debated the pros and cons of turnips, and the pros won, so we’ll do two beds of turnips. We raised the question of kohlrabi – no-one keen. Beets and spinach next – we all love those. This group challenges our rotation, because we grow so much winter spinach, and spring and fall beets, and a bed of Swiss chard, all to be taken into account.

Alliums next. As I said, we decided on more softneck garlic. On to legumes. No cowpeas this year. No late successions of edamame. As usual, we’ll grow our last succession of green beans in our raised beds, where access is easiest, soil drains quickest, and we can keep an eye out for problems as the weather gets colder, and perhaps windier. We also plant our last successions of slicing cucumbers and summer squash and zucchini in the raised beds too, for the same reasons. It also lets us get the big row crop areas put into cover crops in a timely way.

A bed of young transplanted lettuce. Photo Wren Vile

A bed of young transplanted lettuce.
Photo Wren Vile

The planning task ends with finding homes for our last three beds of outdoor lettuce for the year. We plan these last because lettuce is such a quick turnaround crop, and only needs short-term openings of space between other crops. We transplant 120 lettuce roughly each week, fitting three plantings into each 90 ft long bed. After that we transplant into our greenhouse (until spring when we need the space and the compost they’re growing in, for our spring seedlings).

Lastly I want to mention a post I saw on Growing Small Farms by Debbie Roos in Chatham County, North Carolina. It’s about the tomato bug, a pest newly discovered there. It can do a lot of damage, so I, for one, will be keeping my eyes open for any sign of it arriving here in central Virginia. Click the link for lots of good photos and information about this pest. This website is a great source of information, and includes Farmer Resources, Web Resources, Crop Production and Pest Management.

Garlic scapes! Three weeks to bulb harvest!

Garlic beds looking good. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Garlic beds looking good.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

July 2018 update: This is one of my most popular posts. I’ve written much else about garlic too. Just put “garlic” in the search box and you can read much more.


Our garlic scapes are just starting to appear! Garlic scapes are the firm, round flower stems that grow from hard-neck garlic, starting (on lour farm) to appear 3 weeks before bulb harvest, as the bulbs size up. If these are removed, the garlic bulbs will be bigger and also easier to braid, if you want braids from hardneck garlic. Contrary to ideas mentioned by some sources, leaving scapes in does not increase the storage life. Most people who remove scapes cut them where they emerge from the leaves. We prefer to pull ours, to get the most out. Scapes also make a visually attractive early-season  crop.

Day-length as well as accumulated growing degree days determines when scapes appear as well as when bulbs are ready to harvest. Hot weather above 91°F (33°C) ends bulb growth and drying down starts. It’s irreversible. It is important to get plenty of good rapid growth before hot weather arrives. Garlic can double in size in its last month of growth, and removing the scapes (the hard central stem) of hardneck garlic can increase the bulb size 25%.

This is a good time to be paying more attention to your garlic crop, and what better way than walking through pulling scapes?

Harvesting scapes

  • We harvest ours two or three times a week, for three weeks in May.
  • Late morning is a good time to pull scapes (or early afternoon). The wound heals quickly then, reducing the risk of disease, and the water-loss from the plant.
  • We don’t wait for the top of the scape to loop around (as seen in the photo to the left), as the scapes begin to toughen and reduce the final yield of the garlic.
  • As soon as the pointed caps of the scape have cleared the plant center, grasp the round stem just below the cap and pull slowly and steadily vertically upwards. The scape emerges with a strange popping sound and you have the full length of the scape, including the tender lower portion. See the photo from A Way to Garden at the end of this post.
  • It’s an enjoyable task – a stand-up job, and there’s a friendly competition to see who can get the longest scape. (Encourages everyone to perfect their technique.)
  • Sometimes the scapes will snap rather than pull right out, but the remainder of the stem can be pulled next time, when it has grown taller.
  • We gather them into buckets, with the scapes upright, and put a little water in the bucket.
  • The scapes are aligned, easy to bunch or cut up.
  • They store well in a refrigerator for months if needed.
  • Scapes can be chopped and used in stir-fries, pesto, garlic butter, pickles and other
    dishes in place of bulb garlic. They can also be frozen for out of season use. Searching the Internet will reveal lots of recipes.
  • Scapes sell in bunches of six to ten.
  • 1 acre (0.4 ha) of hardneck garlic produces 300-500 lbs (136-226 kg) of scapes.
  • Take the opportunity to remove any diseased plants from the patch at the same time.

20While harvesting scapes, monitor the plants for signs of maturity. Garlic is ready to harvest when the sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50 percent of the crop. See Ron Engeland’s excellent book Growing Great Garlic for more on this. For some years I was confused about which was the “sixth leaf,” and I confess that I was counting up instead of down. The point is to have five green leaves still on the plant, to provide the protection of five intact skins over the bulb. Each leaf corresponds to one wrapper on the cloves or bulb; as the leaf dies, the skin rots away. Keeping five intact skins on the garlic is a challenge in our humid climate, and because we are not shipping our garlic anywhere, it seems less crucial. So I also use a second method of deciding when to harvest: I pull three or four plants and cut the bulbs across horizontally and look at the center of the bulb. When air space becomes visible between the round stem and the cloves, it’s time for the garlic harvest. Usually that’s June 7–June 14 for our main crop of hardneck garlic, but it has been as early as May 30, and as late as June 18. Harvesting too early means smaller bulbs (harvesting way too early means an undifferentiated bulb and lots of wrappers that then shrivel up). Harvesting too late means that the bulbs may “shatter” or have an exploded look, and not store as well.

This is also a good time to remove the mulch to help the bulbs dry down, and to prevent fungal diseases.

In our rotation, the spring broccoli is usually next door to the garlic, and we move the old garlic mulch to the broccoli to top up the mulch there. It helps us stay on track with getting the broccoli weeded too.

The value of mulching garlic and how-to

  • Organic mulches will protect the cloves from cold winter temperatures, and frost-heaving to some extent.
  • In the South organic mulches keep the soil cooler once the weather starts to heat up. It is hard to add mulch after the garlic has started to grow.
  • We roll big round bales of spoiled hay over our beds immediately after planting in November.
  • Once we have ensured the shoots are all growing free of the mulch, we leave the garlic plot alone until late February,
  • In February, we start weeding (and repeat once a month for four months).
  • Weed control in garlic is important -Weeds can decrease yield by as much as 50%. First kill the spring cool-weather weeds, then kill the summer weeds.

Understanding garlic stages of growth

It is important to establish garlic in good time so that roots and vegetative growth are as big as possible before the plant turns its attention to making bulbs. The start of garlic bulb formation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by day length exceeding
13 hours (April 10 here at 38°N). Air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) and soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) are secondary triggers.

We all have 12 hours of daylight on the spring equinox. After that, the farther north you go, the longer the day length is. Northern latitudes reach 13 hours of daylight before southern ones, but garlic does not start bulbing there at 13 hours because temperatures are not yet high enough. For example, in Michigan, bulbing begins in mid-May. In warmer areas, temperatures cause harvest dates to be earlier than in cooler areas at the same latitude. We have no control over when garlic starts to make bulbs, only over how large and healthy the leaves are when bulbing starts, and how large the final bulbs can be. Small plants here on April 11 will only make small bulbs!  Watering should stop two weeks before harvest to help the plants dry down.

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What’s still standing after two nights below 0F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?  We’ve now had the Polar Vortex, which brought us two nights at 4F, on 1/6 and 1/7. Then it got even colder.We got the Big Round 0F 1/22-1/23, then a few nights at 5F or 6F, and then the big insult: -4F on the night of 1/29-30.

What’s still standing?

The Tyee spinach under thick rowcover has sustained big damage, showing as patches of beige dead cells. It will recover. Meanwhile we can eat from the more-protected spinach in the coldframes and the hoophouse.

The Vates  kale without rowcover is still alive, but badly damaged. The big leaves are crunchy and brown round the edges, and some of the inner leaves are dead. I hope it will grow back, but we won’t be able to pick that for a while. The Beedy’s Camden kale looks worse – the big leaves have died and flopped over. Not sure if it will recover.

Many of our strawberry plants look dead – very disappointing!

Our hardneck garlic and Polish White softneck tops are killed back to about one inch up from the mulch. Equally hardy, it seems. 

We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. After the 4F assault we still had life in the centers of the Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest. Now only the Winter Marvel shows any signs of life. So that variety gets the prize for cold-tolerance here!

Red Round Turnip. Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Red Round Turnip.
Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover every night it looked like dropping below 10F inside. Almost everything survived – we only got some minor stem freezing on some turnips and Asian greens. We have been eating Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana, Yukina Savoy, various turnips and their greens (Hakurei, White Egg, Oasis, Red Round), also plenty of lettuce leaves, radishes, scallions, and some spinach. We lost our second sowing of spinach in there to over watering and flooding, and we are really noticing the lack right now. We’re short on spinach. We have small amounts of mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Bright Lights chard, Bulls Blood beets to add to salad mixes, and Red Russian and White Russian kale growing slowly.

In January we have taken to sowing spinach, kale and collards in a hoophouse bed to transplant outdoors in early spring. We back this up with sowing some in flats if we don’t get good emergence for some reason. This year emergence is late. Is it just late, or is there a problem? We’re holding our breath for a few more days. . .

GFM_February2014_cover_300pxWe are not the only people tracking the effects of the unusually cold weather. The February Growing for Market magazine opens with an article by Ben Hartman “Testing the Limits of Cold Tolerance”. He farms in Goshen, Indiana, using two double-layer plastic greenhouses heated to 30F (yes. I said heated!) and two unheated. They planted kale, carrots, spinach, salad greens and arugula in their greenhouses for winter harvest. Their outdoor temperatures fell to -16F on 1/6 and 1/7. I imagine they’ve had worse since. They used mid-weight rowcover over their beds. Ben reports that baby greens and young spinach survived, as did their rosemary and their 3 fig trees (all farmers deserve some thrills!). They lost baby salad greens that had already been cut previously (all those cut edges didn’t do well). Crops in the outer beds were lost. The tips of full-grown kale leaves froze, but the plants survived.

In their unheated, single-skin plastic hoophouses, the soil froze down to 4″. They used two layers of mid-weight rowcover suspended over the crops. Despite this cold,  tiny salad greens less than 1″ tall survived. Spinach survived under just one layer of rowcover. The carrot tops froze and the roots may or may not be marketable. The (uncovered) fully mature kale looks dead. The mature salad with two layers of rowcover didn’t survive.

From this experience, Ben points out that salad greens and spinach less than 1″ tall are very cold-tolerant. Spinach and kale once larger, benefit from more protection than they got this time. Beware the outer beds!

My own article in this issue is about matching crop spacing with desired goals, such as maximum yield, optimum size, or convenience for cultivation.

Andrew Mefford has written some greenhouse tips for hoophouse growers, including tomato grafting, trellising. Chris Blanchard has written the second part of his piece on growing herbs – this is about harvest and maintenance. Erin Benzakain has undertaken a 59-variety trial of celosia.

 

What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. We’ve now had the Arctic Vortex, which in our part of central Virginia, meant two nights at 4F, last Monday 1/6 and Tuesday 1/7 nights. How did it go?

Before the Prelude to the Big Chill, when we got 9F, I harvested the odds and ends of small cabbages left in our main patch. Quite worthwhile, I got two 5-gallon buckets. Between the 9F and the 4F nights, I decided to gather the Deadon cabbage, which we grew with January harvests in mind. There was some freeze damage, so in future I’ll say that Deadon is good down to 10F, but not lower. I got two full net bags and two more buckets of small ones. I left one smaller and one larger cabbage as sacrificial victims in the cause of better information for next year. When we got 4F, the smaller one died and the larger survived.

Deadon cabbage Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

Deadon cabbage
Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

One of the other gardeners harvested the last of the outdoor senposai. Another couple of buckets of tasty food.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I took another walk round the frozen garden after the Big Chill, to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates and Beedy’s Camden kale without rowcover. They are all still alive! There’s some freeze damage in spots on the spinach leaves, but plenty of good meals still to come!

Our hardneck garlic tops suffered some damage but didn’t get killed back to the mulch level. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and they too are still alive. They will grow back if they have died. 

Garlic planting in November. Credit Brittany Lewis

Garlic planting in November.
Credit Brittany Lewis

We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. A good chance to see which ones are hardiest! Here’s the scoop:

Still alive in the centers – Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest.                  No longer alive – Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Winter Wonder, Red Tinged Winter, Merlot, Red Sails, Outredgeous, Roman Emperor, Revolution.

At nearby Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, they had some young but mature heads of cabbage outdoors. The Late Flat Dutch, Early Flat Dutch and Chieftain Savoy all survived one night at 6F. (It’s usually two degrees warmer there than at Twin Oaks on winter nights).

Meanwhile I’m tracking the Blue Ridge kale grown by Clif Slade in his 43560 project at Randolph Farm, VSU. The Blue Ridge survived. It got down to 9F there. Not as cold as Louisa County! Blue Ridge is taller than the Vates we grow, and I’d like to try it here, if it can survive our winters. Otherwise not!

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover on Monday afternoon, and didn’t roll it up till Thursday, after the warmer weather returned. There was a tiny bit of freeze injury on some turnip greens that poked out the side of the rowcover, and some on some stems of Tokyo Bekana. I think the rowcover saved the crops! Also, a bad thing happened. it was very windy Monday night and the west window blew open. Argh! Of all the nights to have an open window. Memo: fix the latch to make it stronger.

I didn’t enjoy the really cold weather. I was anxious about the crops and the plumbing! But I can see two silver linings: I now have more information about cold-hardiness of various crops, and hopefully some pests will have died. Now we’re getting ready for another two cold nights, tomorrow and Wednesday.

When we placed our seed orders we gave up for this year on our quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less). We’re having a red-cabbageless year. We’re still open to recommendations (OP or hybrid) – please leave a comment. 

What’s still alive at 14F?

Winter garden scene. Credit Ezra Freeman

Winter garden scene.
Credit Ezra Freeman

One of my ongoing topics of interest in the garden is how cold-tolerant various vegetables are. We’ve now had two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. I took a walk round the frozen garden this morning to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates kale. The senposai is still alive, but some of the midribs have brown streaks. Sadly we don’t have any leeks this winter, as we lacked enough workers to tend them in late summer. We have a nice bed of Deadon cabbage, and I notice that some small heads of Melissa savoy that missed the bulk harvest are also alive. The Gunma cabbage stumps have some leaves and tiny heads still alive, but the Tendersweet are done in.

Our ongoing quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less) yielded no success story this year. We grew Super Red 80 happily for many years, but then it stopped working for us – variable heads, slower maturity. If you have any recommendations (OP or hybrid) please leave a comment. We are working on our seed orders now, and this would be a great time to have some suggestions.

Back to today – our chard had all the leaves cut off in November, and seems to be dead. Some winters it hangs on later, if we leave some foliage to help it regenerate. We have also some years deliberately kept it alive for spring by using rowcover on it. We do that if we go into winter short of spinach beds.

The oats cover crop we sowed in August and early September look pretty much dead. All the broccoli looks dead. That’s as expected for the temperatures. Often we don’t get nights this cold till January – the cold came early this winter.

Our hardneck garlic tops look to be in good shape. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and look like they are suffering. They will grow back if they have died. Some of our Chandler strawberry plants look dead. Either that or they are extremely dormant! The deer were killing them off by eating the leaves. Too many deer!

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

The hoophouse is still bursting with great food. Plenty of salad greens: lettuce; various kinds of mizuna and ferny mustards like Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills and Bulls Blood beet leaves. And for salads or cooking we have spinach, chard, tatsoi, radishes, scallions, baby Hakurei turnips and their tasty greens, Red and White Russion kales, and more senposai. Soon we’ll start on the heading Asian greens: pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo bekana and Yukina Savoy. The first sowing of tatsoi (9/7) is starting to bolt, so we’re clearing that. The second sowing (11/15) needs thinning to an inch. The first round of baby lettuce mix (10/24) is ready for its second cut. In a few days we’ll make a second sowing of that. I love working in the hoophouse on sunny winter days. This afternoon I plan to complete the transplanting of an 11/9 sowing of spinach. We just love the sweet nuttiness of winter spinach!

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

Harvesting Garlic

The crew harvesting garlic.  Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

The crew harvesting garlic.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

We’ve harvested about half our hardneck garlic in the past three days, a job that we always enjoy and find satisfying. I was surprised at how early the garlic was ready, given the late spring. Usually harvest is about three weeks after the first scapes are ready to pull, and we started pulling those on 5/10, so I should have been more ready. I know garlic maturity is day-length dependent, but temperature is also a factor. I just looked back at my post 6/6/12 Garlic harvest. Ha! I see I was surprised at the earliness of the harvest date last year too. Time to learn from that and not be surprised next year! Anyway, can’t argue with plants, so here we are, digging them up!

I checked for maturity on Tuesday, not expecting them to be ready. I look for two things:

  • The sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50% of the crop. 
  • There are air spaces between the round stem and the cloves, visible when bulbs are cut horizontally.

Here’s our system:

  • If the soil is very dry, water the night before – Very hard soil can damage the bulbs
  • Plan 15 mins per bucket to dig garlic and 15 mins per bucket to hang it up. It’s important not to get left with garlic still in buckets at the end of the shift.
  • Carefully dig the garlic. Treat the bulbs like fragile, sun-sensitive eggs. Bruised bulbs won’t store well
  • Loosen them with digging forks, without stabbing them. Pulling on unloosened garlic damages necks, they won’t store well
  • Don’t bang, throw or drop the bulbs
  • If they have a lot of soil on the roots, use curled fingers to “brush” soil out
  • Try not to rub or pick at the skin. Bulbs need several layers of intact skin to store well.
  • Don’t wash the bulbs, no matter how dirty. They need to dry, not get wetter. Dirt will dry and drop off
  • Put the bulbs gently into buckets to shade the bulbs. Air above 90F can cook the bulbs, sun can scorch them
  • Take the buckets to the Allium Emporium and hang up the garlic.

The “Allium Emporium” is our pet name for the upstairs barn (an old, well ventilated tobacco barn) where we hang our garlic to dry. We hope one day to have a purpose-built ground level barn where we can wheel in the carts. Meanwhile we haul the garlic in buckets up a ladder, and later haul it down again in bags! Less than ideal, but workable.

Hanging up the garlic:

Hanging garlic in vertical netting. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

  • Start immediately to the north east of the ladder, and concentrate the garlic hanging in a narrow stretch of the netting. We want to have the garlic arranged in date order, to make it easier to find dry garlic to trim when the time comes.
  • Start at knee height and work rows back and forth, taking 4-6 ft per person. Continue upwards as high as you can reach, before moving left to another section. The netting will stretch down with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower will cause garlic to pile up on the floor.
  • People hanging garlic need to work right next to each other. We want walls covered with garlic, and arranged consecutively each day. As well as simplifying trimming, this makes best use of the fans.
  • Take a garlic plant, bend over the top third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through a hole in the netting. The leaves should open up behind the netting. They shouldn’t be poking through to the front. This gives the garlic the best chance of drying nicely.
  • Any damaged bulbs are “Use First” quality and should be laid flat on the wood onion racks to dry.
  • Set fans to blow on the garlic. In our humid climate, fans are essential.

After two-four weeks, the garlic bulbs will have cured and be dry enough to store. We test by rubbing the necks between our fingers, sensing either a dry rustling, or a slightly damp, slippery or mushy feeling. Once they’re dry we trim the roots and tops off and sort for replanting , for storage and cull ones to use right away. And compost material, of course!

Other than harvesting garlic this week, we’ve been finishing up transplanting our warm weather crops (sweet potatoes and watermelon, and replacing casualties in the tomatoes, peppers, melons.) No casualties in the eggplant this year! The okra we had direct-sown, back before the cold wet weather and they all drowned, along with our first sowing of sweet corn, so we started some okra in a plug flat to pop in when the situation improved. Now we’re on to transplanting lettuce and leeks. We love leeks! Maybe I’ll write about them next time.

Meanwhile, the 17-year cicadas are in full force. The sound ramps up in the morning, but goes quiet in the evening. We now have clumsy flying adults landing on us and finished dead adults littering the paths. I’ve seen mating pairs, neatly end-to-end with overlapped wings, and found it is not too difficult to tell the males from the females if you look.

Today we have Tropical Storm Andrea, and have had about 3″ of rain so far. A tree has fallen on our road, so we have to remember to turn left put of the driveway, rather than right, and go the long way round.

Too much rain! But garlic scapes to cheer us up.

Having plenty of 5 gallon buckets is important. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Having plenty of 5 gallon buckets is important.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

We had 4.6″ rain over a few days and nights. We had to dig trenches across the potato patch to drain out the water, which had reached the tops of the hills (thank goodness we got the first hilling done before the rain!) We also dug “:flood abatement” ditches at the low end of our raised bed area. Even so, we have been really restricted in where we could work. I tell people to harvest or weed at the dry ends of the beds, and back out as soon as their feet start to sink in mud. I don’t want us to compact the soil and make future drainage worse, and give the roots have a hard time growing. To use the rainy weather, we washed our work gloves and started tackling our “Stuck Buckets” stacks. I don’t think we unstuck any at all last year. We had about 50 or so stuck in pairs or triplets. After wrangling them and trying various back-muscle-risking maneuvers, we run them through our commercial dishwasher. When the plastic is hot, the wet buckets come apart more easily.

Blueberry bush with green berries. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Blueberry bush with green berries.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We’ve had to be creative in finding work we can do. Tempting as it is to take a big nap, I know we will be scrambling later, as soon as it warms up and dries out. So yesterday we put our blueberry netting up. The berries are still green, in some cases they are still blossoms, but it’s one job we won’t have to do later. We’ve also pre-emptively been organizing our drip tape and setting up systems we won’t need for at least a week.

This is how we usually sow our leek seedlings in an outdoor nursery bed. Credit Kathryn Simmons

This is how we usually sow our leek seedlings in an outdoor nursery bed.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We’re also starting our leek transplanting. Normally we do this in early June, but this year we sowed our seeds in flats rather than in an outdoor nursery bed, and the plants are big earlier, especially the faster growing King Richard and Lincoln. So we’re going to transplant those today. They are nice and cold-tolerant (we’ve got a forecast low of 34F in a few days!), and will keep us from putting tomato plants out too early and regretting it later.

Starting to harvest garlic scapes lifts our spirits because it is a tasty attractive new crop for the year, and pleasant work. Here’s what I wrote about them for my book, Sustainable Market Farming (c) Pam Dawling 2013.

Garlic plants in late spring. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Garlic plants in late spring.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Garlic scapes are the firm, round seed stems that grow from hardneck garlic and start to appear three weeks before harvest, as the bulbs size up. If these are removed, the garlic bulbs will be easier to braid, if you want braids from hardneck varieties. Scapes also make an early-season visually attractive crop. Contrary to ideas mentioned by some sources, leaving scapes in does not increase the storage life of the garlic.

Most people who remove scapes cut them where they emerge from the leaves. We prefer to pull ours, to get the most out of them. We don’t wait for the top of the scape to loop around, as the scapes will have begun to toughen and reduce the final yield of the garlic. As soon as the pointed caps of the scape have cleared the plant center, grasp the round stem just below the cap and pull slowly and steadily vertically upwards. The scape emerges with a strange popping sound and you have the full length of the scape, including the tender lower portion. Sometimes the scapes will snap rather than pull right out, but the remainder of the stem can be pulled next time, when it has grown taller.

We gather into buckets, with the scapes standing upright, so we can put a little water in the bucket and the scapes are aligned, easy to cut up. They will store well in a refrigerator for months if needed. Late morning is a good time to pull scapes (or early afternoon). The wound heals over in fifteen to twenty minutes in the heat of the day, whereas otherwise it could drip for up to 24 hours, increasing the risk of disease, and losing water from the plant.

We harvest scapes two or three times a week, for about three weeks in May. The crew always enjoys this task, partly because it’s a stand-up job and partly because we encourage a friendly competition to see who can get the longest scape of the day. This encourages everyone to perfect their technique too. Scapes can be chopped and used in stir-fries, pesto, garlic butter, pickles and other dishes in place of bulb garlic. They can also be frozen for out of season use. Searching the Internet will reveal lots of recipes. Scapes sell in bunches of six to ten. One acre (0.4 hectare) of hardneck  garlic can produce 300–500 lbs (140–225 kg) of scapes.