Cooking Greens in December

Reflect spinach in the open got damaged but not killed at -9F one January. Photo Pam Dawling

Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in December

In December there’s chard, collards, kale, komatsuna, senposai, , spinach, tatsoi, and Yukina savoy, Eat-All Greens from the outdoor garden and also stored cabbage. The most cold-hardy greens start to come into their own.

From the hoophouse we continue harvesting chard, kale, senposai, spinach, tat soi thinnings or leaves, Tokyo bekana/Maruba santoh leaves (if we have not yet harvested whole plants because we saw signs of bolting), turnip greens, Yukina Savoy.

From late December we keep a close eye on the Chinese cabbage and pak choy, for signs of bolting. Normally these will bolt in January, so we harvest the whole plants that month. But we have sometimes needed to harvest the plants before we get to January.

Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in December

Outdoors, we sow nothing

Brassica (mustard) salad mix in our hoophouse in late November.
Photo Pam Dawling

In the hoophouse, on December 18 we sow brassica salad #2. Sometimes called mustard mixes, these are mixed brassicas to cut like baby lettuce mix when they are still small. Often we make our own mix at this time of year, using leftover seeds that we don’t want to keep for next year. We are busy working on our seed inventory and seed orders, so it gives us a use for odds and ends of packets. Just avoid bristly-leaved radishes and turnips! Using random seeds works for us because we do not expect yield-miracles. We will not get a lot of cuts from these plants before they bolt in March or early April. Our first round of Brassica Salad Mix is sown October 2 and is harvested several times between October 29 and December 21. Much faster growth in October and November than in December and January! We make a third sowing on New Year’s Day.

Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in December

Outdoors, we transplant nothing

In the hoophouse, we transplant spinach, senposai, Yukina Savoy, Frills (frilly mustards) to fill gaps that occur in the beds. We replace spinach with spinach, brassicas with brassicas wherever possible, filling gaps caused by either harvesting whole plants or Bad Things (those are usually fungal diseases).

Our Filler Greens are sown October 10 and October 20 (brassicas) and October 24 and November 9 (spinach). December 25 is our official last date for using the brassica fillers because there is not enough time for them to make worthwhile growth before they bolt. After that date we fill all gaps with spinach plants.

Short rows of filler greens, lettuce and spinach in the north edge bed of our hoophouse in December.
Photo Kathleen Slattery

Other Cooking Greens Tasks in Central Virginia in December

While watching the temperature forecasts, we continue to harvest the hardier greens, such as chard, yukina savoy, collards, kale, spinach and tatsoi. If low temperatures are forecast we might add rowcover to some of the beds, or decide to clear the vulnerable crops and put them in the cooler.

See Cooking Greens for November for more details on winter-kill temperatures

This winter we have already had 16°F (-9°C) and 18°F (-8°C) in mid-November. As temperatures drop, we clear these crops before their winter-kill temperatures happen:

15°F (–9.5°C): kohlrabi, komatsuna, some cabbage, red chard (green chard is hardy to 12°F (-11°C)), Russian kales, rutabagas if not covered, turnip leaves, most covered turnips.

12°F (-11°C): Some beets (Cylindra,), some broccoli, Brussels sprouts, some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), most collards, senposai, some turnips (Purple Top).

10°F (-12°C): Covered beets, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest (too cold in central Virginia for us to grow that), a few cabbages (Deadon), chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), some collards (Morris Heading can survive at least one night at 10°F/-12°C), probably Komatsuna; Senposai leaves (the core of the plant may survive 8°F/-13°C), large leaves of savoyed spinach (more hardy than smooth-leafed varieties), Tatsoi, Yukina Savoy.

5°F (-15°C): some collards, some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), smaller leaves of savoyed spinach and broad leaf sorrel. Some tatsoi. Many of the Even’ Star Ice Bred greens varieties are hardy down to 6°F (-14°C).

0°F (-18°C): some collards (Blue Max, Winner), Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf kale, some spinach (Bloomsdale Long Standing, Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia). Vates kale survives.

Vates kale outdoors. An oleracea type, Vates is very cold-hardy.
Photo by Nina Gentle
Russian kale (napus type) gives us good yields in our hoophouse in January.
Photo Pam Dawling

Special Cooking Greens Topic for December: Understanding kale types

Russian and other Russo-Siberian kales (napus varieties) do better in the hoophouse than Vates blue curled Scotch (and other European oleracea varieties). Napus kales will make more growth at lower temperatures than oleracea kales, although they are not as cold-tolerant. “Spring” kales (napus) will persist longer into warmer weather than Vates (oleracea) can, from a spring sowing. The vernalization requirement for napus kales with about eight leaves is 10–12 weeks at temperatures below 40°F (4°C). Brassica oleraceae kales will start flowering after 10–12 weeks below the relatively balmy spring temperature of 50°F (10°C).

Special Cooking Greens Topic for December: Ordering Seeds (Adapted from Sustainable Market Farming)

Every year we try to introduce a new crop or two, on a small scale, to see if we can add it to our “portfolio.” Some-times we can successfully grow a crop that is said not to thrive in our climate.(Brussels sprouts really don’t). We like to find the varieties of each crop that do best for our conditions. We read catalog descriptions carefully and try varieties that offer the flavor, productivity and disease resistance we need. Later we check how the new varieties do compared with our old varieties. We use heirloom varieties if they do well, hybrids if they are what works best for us. We don’t use treated seeds or GMOs, because of the wide damage we believe they do.

Calculating the seed order

When we figure out how much seed to order we add in some extra for some things – crops that can be difficult to germinate, or we really don’t want to cut too close. We add 20 percent extra for most crops, but only 5 percent for kale, 10 percent for onions and collards and 30 percent for melons. These numbers are based on our experience – yours might be different. We also know which seed we can buy in bulk and use over several years. This gives us an additional security against poor germination, or plagues of grasshoppers or caterpillars. For me, a big bag of broccoli seed for each of our main varieties gives some kind of warm glow of horticultural security!

This is the time of year we adjust the “seed rate” (seed/100′ or /30 m) column of our spreadsheet using information from our past year, and we feed in the next year’s crop plan for varieties and succession plantings – everything we have decided so far about next year. We make notes about any problems or questions we need to resolve later, and we’re sure to order enough seeds to cover these eventualities. We have found it worthwhile to proofread our inventory and order form carefully before making our final decisions, as mistakes not discovered until planting day can be a big problem.

Sowing Rainbow Chard. in the greenhouse
Photo Pam Dawling

Formatting and placing seed orders

On the Seed Order version of our spreadsheet, we include columns for the name of the supplier we buy each variety from (we just use the initial), the item number in the catalog, the packet size and the price. (Be careful though, if you carry this information over from year to year – prices change.) Once we have composed our total seed order, we sort the orders by the name of the supplier. Then we can calculate the total price for each supplier. This also gives us the opportunity to look at price breaks for large orders and move an item from one supplier to another, if that makes sense. At this point we usually make a cup of tea and reward ourselves with an “impulse buy” or two, if that doesn’t push us up into a higher shipping cost bracket or blow the budget. We place our orders online these days, nice and early, to increase the chances of getting exactly what we want.

 

Tomatoes, watermelon, grapes, carrots, conferences

This week I feel we’ve turned a corner as far as being overwhelmed by the workload. We have been able to make progress on several projects, and the complete lack of rain since August 10th means that we are gaining on the weeds.

Days of yore: carts of harvested tomatoes. Photo Wren Vile
Days of yore: carts of harvested tomatoes.
Photo Wren Vile

Our sorry Roma tomatoes have come to an end, but it’s not all bad. We got 270 5-gallon buckets. Last year we harvested 313 buckets, picking until October 16. By this point last year we had harvested only 225 buckets. It took us till September 17 to get beyond today’s 270, and then another month to get the last 40 buckets. Most of those were picked in a single day when we expected frost. The plants survived the light frost and we picked twice more.

Here are the silver linings of an early end to the Roma tomatoes:

  1. Lots of time we won’t have to spend harvesting them any more.
  2. We can get a good cover crop in, because we can clear the plot earlier.
  3. No green tomatoes to deal with. (We usually store them and sort ripening ones out weekly – there is a demand for fried green tomatoes, but only so many. . . )
  4. I was able to do good seed selection for Septoria tolerance or resistance. Some plants were much better at surviving than others.
Crimson Sweet watermelon. Photo Nina Gentle
Crimson Sweet watermelon.
Photo Nina Gentle

We’re also winding down on watermelon harvests. We’ve picked 522, within our goal-range of 500-600. We’ve eaten a lot, given some away, dropped a few by accident and saved plenty of seed for the next couple of years.

Our groundhog tally went up by 4 this week, one of them caught by a dog, the rest by us. We had a raccoon in the corn, but after a groundhog occupied its trap and ate its can of cat food, it hasn’t been back. We’ve had very good sweet corn yields. Bodacious, Kandy Korn and Silver Queen are our big three favorite varieties. We’re trying a few others on a small scale: Early Sunglow, Incredible, Sparkler, and Tuxana. No collated comments on those yet. We gave up on Sugar Pearl (early, white) after trying it last year. We much prefer Bodacious (early, yellow).

Ripening Concord grapes. Photo Kati Falger
Ripening Concord grapes.
Photo Kati Falger

Our grape harvest (mostly Concord) is almost over. Usually we harvest once a week for four weeks in August, sometimes running into September if a late spring frost froze off the flower buds and they had to develop new ones.

We watched in dismay as our June sowing of carrots suffered from Alternaria blight, which blackens the leaves. Now or never, harvest or till under? Today some of the crew, more optimistic than me, dug a third of them, and found plenty of good carrots. Some not so good, it’s true. But worth digging. No, the flavor in the hot weather is never as good as in cooler weather, but these won’t wait for cooler nights. We’re cutting our losses.

Flame weeding carrots. Photo Brittany Lewis
Flame weeding carrots.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Another of our pressing projects is hoeing the big planting of fall carrots, which we sowed in early-mid August and flamed before the seedlings emerged. The flaming was well-timed, thanks to the “Indicator Beets” – a few beet seeds sown at he end of the bed. Beets germinate a bit quicker than carrots, so as soon as the beets emerge, it’s time to flame the carrots. This year, the bit that hasn’t worked so well (apart from the drought), has been the emergence of self-sowed buckwheat, resulting from the summer cover crop we planted there, and didn’t till in in time before it set seed. So the hoeing has become urgent (buckwheat grows so quickly!). We have made a good start.

We’ve finalized our plans the outdoor winter cover crops and next year’s main crops and also the hoophouse winter crops. We have spinach seeds sprouting in a jar in the fridge while we prepare the bed. This morning in the hoophouse I pulled buckwheat and shoveled 7 wheelbarrows of compost. I was motivated by the hope that if I got the compost spreading done, others would do the broadforking and raking before my next day in there on Friday!! The broadfork is a great tool, but energetic. I’d rather barrow compost!

SSAWG Conference
SSAWG Conference

I just got confirmation that I will be a presenter at the Southern SSAWG Conference January 29 and 30. I’m presenting Intensive Vegetable Production on a Small Scale.

Now, time to switch over the drip irrigation and water the blueberries.

 

2015 Events Calendar and pawpaws

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmond

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors.

Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder
Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder

Speaking of tools, I hope to sell our (long-unused) Cole Planet Junior push seeder at the conference. They are $760 new. Ours is in working order with all the seed plates and an attached bag to keep them in. I’ll sell it for $350 cash or check. Should you ever need them, spare parts are readily available, for instance from Woodward Crossings. It’s not a museum piece or lawn ornament, it’s a working piece of equipment.

At the VBF Conference, there are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops. Friday at 3pm: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages  and on Saturday at 10.30 am, Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting. I’ll also be signing and selling books during Saturday lunchtime.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.


 

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I will also be doing book-signing and sales.


 

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. My workshops will be Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Saturday 2/28 at 9.30 am and two new ones on Friday 2/27, Hoophouse Summer Crops at 9.30 am and Hoophouse Winter Crops at 10.30 am. They are currently listed as High Tunnel workshops. Some say that researchers and Extension agents call them High Tunnels and growers call them Hoophouses, but whatever you call them, high tunnels and hoophouses are the same thing.


 

MENFairLogoMy next booking is at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina, April 11-12, 2015. I haven’t firmed up my workshops and book signings yet, but I might do the hoophouse workshops again (from WVSFC)


HHF Save the Date_2015The next booking after that that I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic. Maybe Crop Rotations and Asian Greens. And I expect to be doing book signings at the Monticello Bookshop.

 


 

As far as future events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015.


Now then, about pawpaws. Neal Peterson has worked for years developing superior flavored pawpaw varieties, and he wants to go global! That is, he wants to secure contracts to sell plants of his varieties worldwide. To do this, he has to have trademarked varieties. So he has set up a Peterson Pawpaws Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $20,000 by . If you’ve tasted pawpaws and if you support fruit diversity, consider if you can back up your support with some hard cash.

You can watch his video here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1750376414/peterson-pawpaws-go-global?ref=card

photo-1024x768

 

Hoophouse revisited

An old photo from the first time we pulled plastic in 2002.
Photo credit McCune Porter

Today we revisited the hoophouse and loosened up the outer layer of plastic. We’d accidentally pulled it too tight in our eagerness to get the task finished, and it couldn’t really inflate properly. (The air between the two layers provides insulation as well as structural strength – it stops the plastic flapping about and wearing out by rubbing on the bows). We only had a few inches spare because we had already trimmed the extra plastic off (did I say we were keen to get the job finished?) Hopefully, when it finishes re-inflating the result will be better than it was.

I’ve been busy proof-reading my book Sustainable Market Farming and I’m tired of sitting at the computer, so this post will be short on words and long on photos!

Fresh air hoophouse waiting for its plastic.
Photo credit Robbie Sproule

 

 

 

We tied the edge of the plastic round old tennis balls, so we could pull without tearing the plastic

We were lucky with the weather. You can see from Robbie’s picture that we had cowpeas, peppers and ginger growing at the time, and didn’t want a frost.

Here we are after throwing the ropes over the top, getting ready to pull the plastic over.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Here’s the plastic rolled out along the length of the hoophouse, all tied to ropes. We’re on the far side, ready to pull.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Starting to pull from the far side.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Another view of the crew starting the pull.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

In case it’s not obvious, this amount of plastic is heavy! Our hoophouse is 96′ by 30′. The plastic was 100′ by 50′.

The plastic starts to move up.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Progress!
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Halfway!
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

The first layer was exciting, the second frustrating. The inner plastic is made to keep Infra-red radiation inside the hoophouse and also to disperse condensation, so water-bombs don’t drop down on the workers (or plants). It seems to have a slightly sticky, textured surface, which makes the second layer harder to pull over it. Our real downfall, though, was that the grass was dewy and we thoughtlessly pulled the outer layer over the wet grass before it went over the hoophouse. This made the two layers stick together.

Here’s a great picture of the tennis-ball-in-sock being thrown over the top to pull the second layer.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire.

So, now we have the plastic on, we have been busy inside the hoophouse, sowing turnips, transplanting lettuce and chard. And harvesting radishes, tatsoi and peppers. We’ve pulled up the cowpeas, which are a seed crop, and sown turnips in their place. We’ve started pulling up the pepper plants and soon we’ll harvest the ginger. Next week!

 

 

 

Fresh air hoophouse, seedling winter crops

Well, it’s the weekend, and I said I’d let you know how it’s gone with our hoophouse renovations. the answer is – we haven’t got the plastic on yet, check in again next weekend! We have got the west wall braced with diagonal tubing. We have got the old blower replaced with a new one.

For the geeks, here’s the air intake for our hoophouse blower.
Photo credit: Kathryn Simmons

We have got screws in some of the connectors holding the purlins and bows together. We have got all the south-side baseboard off and the rotten bit from the north side. We have got new baseboards (Eastern Red Cedar) cut to length. Unfortunately they ended up a bit thicker than the old ones, not sure why, so the bolts we bought are too short. More hasty shopping! We have got all the old duct tape off the bolt heads and metal connectors and replaced it with shiny new duct tape. It’s to protect the plastic sheeting when we pull it over. We’re planning a little crew party for when it’s done.

Brite Lites chard in our hoophouse.
Photo credit Pam Dawling

Meanwhile we are harvesting our seed crops of Mississippi Silver cowpeas and Envy edamame from in there, and we are prepping beds for the winter crops. We have sown seedlings in one of the outdoor raised beds, to plant out in the hoophouse starting in a few days. Our first round of sowings, on 9/15, included some Brite Lites chard and ten varieties of lettuce, 75cm of each.

Our winter hoophouse lettuce has challenges with a disease we call Solstice Slime (as it arrives around the winter solstice), although it’s generally called Sclerotinia Drop. The best slime resistant ones for us are  Merlot, Oscarde, Tango, Winter Marvel, Hyper Red Wave. Next best: Outredgeous, Winter Wonderland, Salade de Russie, Red Salad Bowl, North Pole. Less good: Roman Emperor, Rouge d’Hiver, Devil’s Tongue, Salad Bowl.

We also sowed some Asian greens, enough to transplant 50-60 each of Pak Choy, Blues Chinese Cabbage, Yukina Savoy and Tokyo Bekana.

Tokyo Bekana
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

On 9/23 we sowed a short row of Pumba onions in the hoophouse as an experimant – they are a more southern variety. Our hope is to get some earlier onions this way. We tried this last year, but many of them bolted, so I’m starting later this time around.

Mizuna
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Our second outdoor sowing for the hoophouse was 9/24 and we sowed more lettuce:  Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Red Salad Bowl, Outredgeous, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Tango, Winter Wonderland.  Our notes sternly say “Not Oscarde” for this sowing, although it does fine from the first sowing. Details! We are trying Panisse and Red Tinged Winter this year.

Red Russian Kale
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We also sowed Red Russian Kale (132 plants) White Russian Kale (117plants) Kale Galega de Folhas Lisas (15 plants) Senposai (140 plants) Yukina Savoy #2 (50 plants) and Mizuna #1 (40 plants). We are growing some green mizuna and some purple, also some Ruby Streaks, which is like mizuna but more mustardy.

Grasshoppers and hoophouses

This week I did some research into grasshoppers, as we have have been losing lots of new seedlings (kale, spinach, beets and turnips), and the beds are leaping with little jumping critters. Definitely bigger than flea beetles, I think they are baby grasshoppers. usually we get them in mid-August, not the first part of September, but climate change is here, so things are not “as usual” any more.

I learned that we had inadvertently been providing ideal grasshopper habitat by two things we have been doing. Or rather, two things we have not been doing. Grasshoppers like tall unmowed grass, and yes, we have been very slack about mowing around the edges of the gardens this year.Next I read that if you want to keep grasshoppers away from your vegetables you could sow a small patch of grains nearby, but not too close. The light-bulb lit up! We use a lot of buckwheat and soy as summer cover crops in our raised beds and for one reason and another, some of them got over-mature and the buckwheat set seed. No doubt the grasshoppers were having a feeding frenzy there! We paid in other ways too – the self-sown buckwheat has come up in our fall crops, and been a challenge to remove before it swamps the crops. Next year, more timely mowing and tilling. (We have a mantra not to repeat the same mistake two years running.)

I read up about Nosema Locustae bait. It’s a parasite of grasshoppers that you can spray in the spring when there is a growing population of young grasshoppers. Some of them eat the bait and incubate the parasite, then other grasshoppers eat those ones, and the disease spreads. It’s an organic answer, and doesn’t give an instant result. Some people say it’s the following year after applying it, that you’ll see a diminished horde. Sounds worthwhile, to me.

ImageMeanwhile, our main task this week has been replacing the plastic and doing major renovations to our 30′ x 96′ hoophouse (high tunnel). We scheduled this last week, but got too much rain and wind. It’s time to replace the plastic, and we also need to replace the baseboards and shore up the west wall, which has been leaning in for some time. The two layers of plastic came off fairly easily, but it’s been tough going since. All the screws and bolts are rusted up, of course.

In order to stabilize the framework, we decided to put a screw in each connector where the purlins join the bows. That’s 25 x 6! And to prop the west wall up, we got some steel tubing to make diagonal braces. Dim-wittedly, I bought connectors that only work on two pieces of tubing at right angles to each other, not on a diagonal. So I had to do some hasty shopping. We had hoped to finish before rain and before Tuesday, but I think we’ll be there longer than that. Every little thing that doesn’t go according to plan sets us back a bit more. I’ll tell you how it’s gone next weekend.

It’ll be a joy when it’s all done and cozy in there for the winter, and we have lots of salads and cooking greens. Can’t wait!

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