Komatsuna: Asian greens for September, plus Chinese Kitchen Garden book

Komatsuna Asian green.
Photo Fothergill Seeds

Komatsuna is a large, upright, hardy, leafy green, also known as mustard spinach (so is Pak Choy!), and Summer Fest (a popular hybrid). It’s available in green,  or red (purple) from Kitazawa. it grows into a large plant 18″ (45 cm) tall, with tender deep green leaves, sturdy petioles and a flavor that is mildly peppery, not pungent. You can pick and bunch individual leaves, or harvest the whole plant. You can instead harvest at baby salad size 21 days from sowing. It reaches full size in only 35 days. The days to maturity lengthen as the weather cools.

The hybrid variety Green Boy is preferred by Japanese growers because of its cold tolerance, meaning it can be grown year round in mild areas.  Green Boy is good for hoophouse production in winter. The hybrid variety Summer Fest is best for growing in late spring into summer, rather than in fall and winter. Open-pollinated komatsuna is available from Evergreen Seeds. These two Asian seed companies sell the dark green glossy type. Some other companies have paler green unglossy vegetables called komatsuna that look different to me: Baker Creek, (who call it Tendergreen, which is sometimes considered a separate vegetable), StokesHudson Valley.

Komatsuna is cold-tolerant to 15°F (-9.5°C), perhaps 10°F (-12°C). For seed-savers and botanical Latin geeks, it’s Brassica rapa var. perviridis (Kitazawa) or Brassica rapa var. komatsuna (sources vary in their classification.) Komatsuna is one of the parents of my all-time favorite Asian green, senposai.

Komatsuna transplants.
Photo Gardening Know-How

Amy Grant writes about komatsuna on the Gardening Know-How site

Like all Asian greens, komatsuna has similar care requirements to other brassicas. Very fertile soils grow the best Asian greens, and they are shallow rooted, so pay extra attention to providing enough water during hot weather to prevent bitter flavors and excess pungency. Sowing in the fall will mean most of us won’t have to worry about too much hot weather. For central Virginia we would sow 8/20-9/15 for outdoors, 9/15-10/15 outdoors to transplant into a hoophouse. It could be sown later in the hoophouse for filling gaps as they appear during the winter. Or sow indoors in early spring to grow in a hoophouse or greenhouse. Komatsuna is relatively bolt resistant, but don’t wait for hot conditions to harvest, or you could end up with a bunch of yellow flowers instead of tasty leaves.

Cover the sowing with insect net or rowcover if you have a lot of late summer brassica pests (harlequin bugs, I’m talking about you!). If direct sowing, you can thin to 4″ (10 cm) apart for adolescent leaves to use like spinach. Thin to 8″ (20 cm) for mature plants, which can be cut as “heads” to be  stir-fried or steamed. Komatsuna does not form true heads, so don’t wait for that!

If you are sowing to transplant, do that when the plants are 3-4 weeks old (in spring they would need 5-6 weeks). Give the plants 8″ (20 cm) of space all round, or as much as 12″ (30 cm) if you plan to harvest after the plants reach full size. Water well, depending on rainfall. Aim for an inch a week.


At the Heritage Harvest Festival this past weekend, I went to a great workshop by Wendy Kiang-Spray, with show-and-tell vegetables. She has a book, The Chinese Kitchen Garden, published by Timber Press, who say:

“she beautifully blends the story of her family’s cultural heritage with growing information for 38 Chinese vegetables—like lotus root, garlic, chives, and eggplant—and 25 traditional recipes, like congee, dumplings, and bok choy stir-fry. Organized by season, you’ll learn what to grow in spring and what to cook in winter.”

I haven’t read it yet, and I’ve no idea if she mentions komatsuna, but for lovers of Asian vegetables this book is a valuable new addition, and I appreciate that it is seasonal and combines growing with cooking.

Asian Greens for July: Maruba Santoh, plus sowings for fall

Young Maruba Santoh plants
Photo by Ethan Hirsh

In June I told you about Tokyo Bekana, a light green tender-leaved, white-stemmed green which can be cooked, or used as a substitute for lettuce in hot weather. Because summer in Virginia is a hard time for leafy greens, July’s Asian green is very similar – Maruba Santoh. Maruba Santoh has smoother, wavy, less ruffled leaves than Tokyo Bekana.

To show you I’m not being a slouch, I’ll include some pointers on sowing Asian greens for fall, because now is the time – in our climate at least. Here’s what one of my favorite seed suppliers, Fedco Seeds has to say:

Maruba Santoh (35 days) Brassica rapa (pekinensis group) Open pollinated. With Maruba you get four vegetables in one. The loose round vibrant chartreuse leaves provide a mild piquant mustardy flavor while the flat white stems impart a juicy crisp pac choy taste. High-end chefs like to use the blossoms. Market grower Scott Howell finds the flavor more subtle and complex than that of other greens and cuts Maruba small for his mesclun. Fairly bolt tolerant, so plant after the early spring flea beetle invasion subsides.

Fedco is in Maine and we’re in Virginia, so things are a little different. The information on their website about pests and diseases is good. Our worst brassica pests are harlequin bugs.

We grow our summer brassica seedlings and transplanted Asian greens under ProtekNet on hoops. On the Dubois link, study the Dimensions and Specifications tab, then download the brochure from that tab. Study the Descriptions tab – it tells you which insects are excluded by each size mesh. Be sure that you choose the right size mesh for the bugs you want to exclude. Flea beetles and thrips are small – you need a small mesh. Johnny’s is now marketing the close-mesh ProtekNet as  “Biothrips” insect netting, and they also have a comparison chart of rowcover and insect netting on their site.

Adolescent Maruba Santoh plants bunched for market.
Photo Kitazawa Seeds

Kitazawa Seeds also sells Maruba Santoh seed, under the Chinese Cabbage heading. Like most brassicas, Maruba Santoh does best in cool weather, although it is somewhat heat tolerant (or “warm tolerant” as we call it in Virginia.) It tolerates heat better than Napa Chinese cabbage does. To avoid bolting, keep the plants above 50F (10C) at all times, but particularly avoid prolonged spells below this “bolting trigger” temperature.

Maruba Santoh will germinate at temperatures between 50-85F. Seedlings emerge in just 3 days in summer. For summer use, direct sow, thin the rows for baby salad mix, then let the “heads” (it doesn’t actually head up) develop to full size (6-10″ tall) after about 35-40 days. Or transplant two week old starts. We tend to grow our plants quite big (12″ tall) and harvest by the leaf, several times over. Maruba Santoh makes a fine substitute for lettuce, and a tasty quick-cooking green.

To calculate sowing dates, work back 40 days from when you want to harvest, and sow more every week or two until you run into the fall slowdown temperatures, or you go back to eating lettuce in salads and cooking chard and kale. If you still have Maruba Santoh growing in the fall, know that it will be frost tolerant to 25°F (-4°C). No hurry.

Newly transplanted Maruba Santoh.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Maruba Santoh can also be grown at other times of year: spring and fall outdoors, winter in the hoophouse. The seedlings have large cotyledons and make good microgreens too.

Kitazawa’s  Culinary Tips include: Use in salad, sukiyaki, ohitashi, yosenabe, stir-fry, soup and pickling. Kim chi here we come! (If we had surplus.)


Next month I will talk more about Asian greens outdoors in fall. Now is the time to sow for fall harvests. We start in late June, and sow more in early July. We always make two sowings a week apart, for insurance.  We are aiming for greens to feed us in early fall, before the kale is ready, and into the winter, harvesting by the leaf. But Asian greens can be sown all the way up to two months before your first fall frost date. For us, that means August 14-20.  If you want to make sowings now, consider senposai, komatsuna, pak choy, tat soi, Yukina Savoy, and Chinese cabbage.


An insectary circle with borage and sunflower in a chard bed.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I have two posts on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog that I haven’t told you about yet. So if it’s too hot out, or it’s raining (don’t make me envious) seek shade and read more. The newer post is Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects, and the previous one is Planting Leeks. 

Planting spring broccoli, farmscaping, BMSB

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Flats of broccoli seedlings in our cold frame.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’re mid-way through transplanting spring broccoli. It’s been a challenging “broccoli-planting season” with two very cold nights (20F and 22F) since we started, some high winds (very cold and drying, hard to keep the rowcovers in place). In order to have as long a broccoli harvest period as possible, we use several varieties with different days-to-maturity, and do two sowing dates. This spring we are using the following varieties:

Tendergreen (47 days from transplanting),

Green Magic (57 days), Green King (65d), Arcadia (68d) and Diplomat (also 68d).

 

 

 

These are all varieties we’ve grown before and had success with. Tendergreen is exceptionally fast, and gets us off to a good start. It’s not heat tolerant, however.

Note that the catalogs give different days to maturity. Sometimes these are from sowing. We’ve calculated our own for comparison.

We sowed our first round of broccoli on February 10 to transplant April 4, and our second round (a repeat of the first) on February 24 for transplanting April 10. For insurance we do a (smaller) third sowing of the two fastest varieties on March 6 to fill gaps on April 25. Well, the plants in the flats looked great! We delayed the start of transplanting because of the weather. We transplanted on April 4 and April 9. The first planting suffered  from the two very cold nights I mentioned, even with thick rowcover. So last week we replaced casualties with plants left over from the initial planting. (We spot out 20% more plants than calculations say we need.) We had 20 flats of 40 plants for each of the two plantings. Today we will plant the second half of the patch, over a week later than originally planned.

The third sowing has been in the cold frame for about a week. We like to give them two weeks to harden off. In another week we’ll go through and replace casualties throughout.

At the same time we’ll transplant Sweet Alyssum in the centers of the broccoli and cabbage beds, about one plug every 6ft (it’s easiest to count 4 broccoli plants, then plant an alyssum). These little plants attract beneficial insects. You can read about Virginia State University research into Farmscaping. ATTRA also has a good publication.

Alyssum attracts the Syrphid fly and the Tachinid fly, predators of aphids and caterpillars.

 


We do other farmscaping too. We sow rows of sunflowers wherever we find space and nasturtiums with cucumbers and squash. We also transplant “Insectary Circles” with a mix of borage, cosmos, calendula, tithonia, dill, zinnias and cleome. We sow these in the greenhouse in plug flats in late April or early May and transplant in late May. If we had more time we could do it earlier. We found that sowing earlier was a mistake for us, as we don’t get around to finding time to transplant them until after the warm weather vegetables have been planted out. We choose beds with long season crops, (meaning ones that will be there a long time) to avoid problems trying to till around the circles. We cut bottomless circles from old plastic buckets, sink these in the soil at the end of a bed, and plant into them. This helps avoid the problems that can come with novice weeders!

Harlequin bug nymphs on spider flower (Cleome); note, white flecks in the leaf typical of feeding by true bugs Credit Missouri Botanical Garden

Harlequin bug nymphs on spider flower (Cleome); note, white flecks in the leaf typical of feeding by true bugs
Credit Missouri Botanical Garden

Cleome (spider flower) can be used as a trap crop for Harlequin bugs.(You still have to deal with the infested cleomes, but it keeps your brassicas free). The Missouri Botanical Garden has great info on Harlequin bugs.


While one the subject of bugs and stink bugs in particular, I read some recent information on Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs in an eOrganic article on the eXtension site. They even have a video. The good news is that jumping spiders, ground beetles and earwigs have been observed eating the egg masses of BMSB, assassin bugs attack the nymphs, and  the predatory spined soldier bugs eat both the eggs and the nymphs of BMSB. This is so much better news than the early days of the invasion, when it seemed like nothing would touch them.

But I don’t want to close with a picture of a pest, so here’s more broccoli. Yes, it’s under the rowcover!

Spring broccoli under rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Spring broccoli under rowcover. Credit Kathryn Simmons

 

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

 

Phenology – What happens when

Flowering Purple (or Red) Dead Nettle, with honeybee.Credit Kathryn Simmons

Flowering Purple (or Red) Dead Nettle, with honeybee.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

For ten years I have been keeping phenology records, as a guide to when to plant certain crops, and as a way of tracking how fast the season is progressing.

Phenology involves tracking when certain wild and cultivated flowers bloom, seedlings emerge, or various insects are first seen. These natural events can substitute for Growing Degree Day calculations. Certain natural phenomena are related to the accumulated warmth of the season (rather than, say, the day-length), and by paying attention to nature’s calendar you will be in sync with actual conditions, which can vary from year to year, and are changing over a longer time-scale..

Many people know to sow sweet corn when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear. By this point, regardless of date, the season has warmed enough to get oak leaves to that size, which happens to be warm enough for sweet corn seed to germinate and grow well. Some people transplant eggplant, melons and peppers when irises bloom; sow fall brassicas when catalpas and mockoranges bloom; and know to look for squash vine borers laying eggs for the two weeks after chicory flowers. Some transplant tomatoes when the lily of the valley is in full bloom, or the daylilies start to bloom.

Lilac is often used to indicate when conditions are suitable for various plantings:

  •   When lilac leaves first form, plant potatoes
  •  When lilac is in first leaf (expanded), plant carrots, beets, brassicas, spinach, lettuce
  • When lilac is in early bloom, watch out for crabgrass germinating
  • When lilac is in full bloom, plant beans, squash, corn. Grasshopper eggs hatch.
  • When lilac flowers fade, plant cucumbers.

Also, recording the dates of the same biological events each year can show longer term climate changes. In Europe, 500 years of recorded dates of grape harvests provide information about summer temperatures during that time. Project Budburst is a citizen science field campaign to log leafing and flowering of native species of trees and flowers across the US each year. Each participant observes one or more species of plant for the whole season.

 Here’s our Twin Oaks Phenology Record so far:

(c) Pam Dawling, 2013

Event 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Notes
Crocus blooming 26-Jan 25-Jan 6-Feb 10-Feb 28-Feb 17-Feb 30-Jan
Chickweed blooming 8-Feb 1-Jan 5-Mar 10-Feb 13-Mar 19-Feb 13-Feb 15-Feb
Robins arrive 27-Feb 31-Jan 20-Jan 26-Feb 2-Mar 14-Feb
Henbit blooming 14-Mar 7-Mar 12-Jan 6-Jan 7-Feb 20-Feb 22-Mar 2-Mar 15-Feb 15-Feb
Daffodils blooming 17-Mar 9-Mar 7-Mar 1-Mar 22-Feb 3-Mar 5-Mar 15-Mar 3-Mar 17-Feb Plant potatoes
Dead-nettle blooming 18-Mar 6-Mar 7-Mar 8-Mar 14-Mar 9-Feb 24-Feb 13-Mar 21-Jan 22-Feb 10-Feb
Spring Peepers first heard 4-Mar 11-Mar 10-Mar 3-Mar 3-Mar 6-Mar 11-Mar 28-Feb 23-Feb 5-Mar Plant peas
Overwinter Grasshoppers seen 26-Feb 4-Apr 25-Feb
Maples Blooming 10-Mar 6-Mar 15-Mar 12-Mar 28-Feb
Dandelion blooming 16-Mar 16-Mar 24-Jan 1-Jan 3-Mar 17-Mar 9-Mar 8-Mar 19-Mar Sow beets, carrots
Forsythia blooming 13-Mar 12-Mar 28-Mar 10-Mar 23-Mar 13-Mar 17-Mar 21-Mar 15-Mar 12-Mar 15-Mar Plant peas. Crabgrass germinates.
Peach blooming 15-Mar 25-Mar 26-Mar 25-Mar 13-Mar
Cabbage White Butterfly 25-Mar 20-Mar 7-Mar 8-Mar 11-Mar 6-Apr 24-Mar 12-Mar 14-Mar Dutch white clover blooms
Harlequin bugs 10-Apr 13-Mar 26-Mar 12-May 16-Apr 29-Apr 14-Mar
Johnny Jump-up blooming 16-Mar 30-Mar 14-Mar 20-Mar 3-Apr 17-Mar
Flowering Cherry blooming 27-Mar 4-Apr 3-Apr 1-Apr 6-Apr 25-Mar 17-Mar 18-Mar 20-Mar
Asparagus spears 6-Apr 4-Apr 4-Apr 5-Apr 6-Apr 6-Apr 21-Mar 19-Mar
Redbud blooming 5-Apr 13-Apr 9-Apr 3-Apr 2-Apr 7-Apr 9-Apr 7-Apr 4-Apr 19-Mar Expect flea beetles
Smartweed germinating 15-Apr 10-Apr 15-Apr 6-Apr 11-Apr 1-Apr 23-Mar 20-Mar <149 GDD base 48F
Lambsquarters germinating 20-Mar 20-Mar <150 GDD base 48F
Violets blooming 29-Mar 26-Mar 28-Mar 6-Apr 22-Mar 20-Mar
Morning Glory germinating 27-Apr 10-Apr 3-Apr 26-Apr 24-Apr 25-Apr 22-Mar >349 GDD base 48F
Tiger Swallowtail 19-Apr 29-Mar 15-Apr 16-Apr 18-Apr 10-Apr 28-Mar
Apples blooming 18-Apr 20-Apr 14-Apr 7-Apr 12-Apr 28-Mar
Dogwood (Amer.) full bloom 5-Apr 21-Apr 13-Apr 28-Mar Plant peppers; soil 65 F
Strawberries bloom 13-Apr 11-Apr 14-Apr 12-Apr 4-Apr 2-Apr 15-Apr 6-Apr 8-Apr 30-Mar
Lilac full bloom 16-Apr 20-Apr 21-Apr 22-Apr 19-Apr 21-Apr 14-Apr 18-Apr 1-Apr Plant beans, squash
Crimson Clover blooming 29-Apr 2-May 16-Apr 22-Apr 23-Apr 27-Apr 18-Apr 25-Apr 4-Apr
Whippoorwill first heard 1-May 22-Apr 15-Apr 24-Apr 17-Apr 25-Apr 8-Apr 14-Apr 5-Apr
Galinsoga germinating 1-May 22-Apr 16-Apr 20-Apr 6-Apr
White Oak “squirrel’s ear” 20-Apr 26-Apr 23-Apr 26-Apr 25-Apr 14-Apr 23-Apr 12-Apr Plant sweet corn
Tulip Poplar blooming 2-May 10-May 3-May 26-Apr 3-May 6-May 26-Apr 28-Apr 17-Apr Plant sw corn 200 GDD base 50F
Ragweed germinating 20-Apr 16-Apr 25-Apr 26-Apr 21-Apr Plant sw corn 200 GDD base 50F
Last Frost 24-Apr 4-May 3-May 1-May 8-May 17-Apr 19-May 10-May 14-Apr 25-Apr Average 4/30 (10 yrs)
Fireflies 7-May 2-May 1-May
Colorado Potato Beetle adult 22-May 3-May 7-May 29-Apr 27-Apr 3-May 25-Apr 2-May
Strawberries ripe 10-May 17-May 12-May 10-May 7-May 15-May 3-May 10-May 7-May
Purslane germinating 26-May 8-May 22-May 5-May 20-May 15-May 8-May
Baby Grasshoppers 12-Jul 30-Jun 26-Jun 17-Jun 16-May
Cicada first heard/seen 14-May 5-Jul 3-Jul 29-Jun 17-May
Hardneck garlic mature 14-Jun 19-Jun 13-Jun 5-Jun 4-Jun 30-May 9-Jun 11-Jun 6-Jun 31-May
Foxgloves bloom 6-Jun 11-Jun 8-Jun Bean beetle eggs hatch
Bean Beetle eggs 4-Jun 16-Jun 10-Jun 6-Jun 20-Jun Hatch when foxgloves bloom
Japanese Beetle first seen 16-Jun 21-Apr 15-Jun 20-Jun 29-Jun 21-Jun 850 GDD (base 50F)
“June” Bugs first seen 5-Jul 11-Jul 2-Jul 12-Aug 10-Jul 30-Jun 29-Jun 30-Jun 23-Jun
Corn Earworm first seen 28-Jul 8-Jul 12-Jul 10-Jul 14-Jul 150-490 (base 54F)
Fall Dead-nettle germinating 1-Sep 20-Aug 30-Aug 20-Aug 16-Aug 20-Aug 15-Aug 29-Aug 18-Aug Plant spinach
Fall Henbit germinating 28-Aug 20-Aug 29-Aug 18-Aug
Fall Chickweed germinating 7-Sep 7-Sep 5-Sep 6-Sep Plant spinach
First Fall Frost 3-Oct 6-Nov 27-Oct 13-Oct 29-Oct 20-Oct 19-Oct 23-Oct 30-Oct 22-Oct Average 10/22 (9 yrs)
Harmonia Ladybugs migrate east 18-Oct 12-Nov 21-Oct 27-Oct
Garlic planted (hardneck) 25-Oct 20-Oct 9-Nov 3-Nov 11-Nov 1-Nov 5-Nov 11-Nov 15-Nov 6-Nov Soil temp 50 F
Event 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Notes