Cooking Greens in August

 

The vine tips of sweet potatoes make good summer cooking greens.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Cooking Greens to Harvest in Central Virginia in August

Chard leaves and sweet potato vine tips can be harvested here all month. It really isn’t the season for new cooking greens. We have cabbage in storage, to get us through the “dead center” of the summer, until we can start the fall green harvests. In late August we can start to harvest senposai, turnip thinnings, Yukina savoy, komatsuna, Maruba Santoh, pak choy, Tokyo Bekana. Turnip thinnings can make a tasty dish, if the small plants with marble-sized turnips are cooked together with their attached tops. Wash well, of course.

If we had grown them, we could harvest molokhia (Egyptian spinach, related to okra), manihot (aibika, also related to okra), and okra leaves themselves, if the Japanese beetles have left enough! See the special topic below for more on these.

Cooking Greens to Sow in Central Virginia in August

Fall broccoli patch.
Photo Kati Falger

We sow our fall brassicas weekly throughout late June and July – see the Special Topic for June for all the details. If we have had big trouble, we might need to resow some broccoli, cabbage, or Asian greens in August, but hopefully not. If we do need to resow this late, we choose only the fast maturing varieties, to make up for lost time.

Although sowing the fall greens in nursery seedbeds comes to an end, we are not slacking. August is our month to establish 6 beds of Vates kale. We use ProtekNet against flea beetles. Our method is a hybrid between direct sowing and transplanting. With over 2160 row ft (660m) to establish in the sometimes brutally hot and dry conditions, we would not want to transplant this number of plants. Direct sowing all at once would be impossible for us to keep sufficiently watered. We focus on two neighboring beds (720 row ft, 220m) at one time. We direct sow the two beds, cover with netting, and water by hand every day. In 4 days the seedlings will have emerged, and they can survive on less than daily watering after 6 days. So every 6 days we sow two beds. Our dates are August 4, 10, and 16. Sometimes we sow by hand, sometimes with the EarthWay seeder, with plate 1002-24. Our last date for this round of sowings is September 7.

On August 20 we revisit the first two beds and resow if the survival rate is really poor, or we plan to move plants around to fill gaps, if there are not too many. On August 24 we revisit the second two beds and resow sections if needed. On August 28 we revisit the last pair of beds sown. Our last date for resows is September 15. We only grow one variety outdoors, and we can use plants from any of the beds to fill out any other. We tackle this task when the plants are about 3-4 weeks old, in late August and early September. We eat the extra plants.

Vates kale.
Photo Nina Gentle

We grow Vates kale, a very cold-hardy dwarf Scotch curled type. I’d love to find a bigger equally-hardy curled variety, but I have not found any. We don’t rowcover our outdoor kale, so it needs to be very hardy. We tried rowcover one year, but it was a bother to deal with, and fibers of the rowcover caught in the curly leaves and we were not appreciated by the cooks.

For the second pair of beds, we often repurpose the first of our brassica seedling beds, as the broccoli, cabbage and Asian greens are all planted by then, the bed has clean soil, and netting and sticks at the ready.

Thinned turnip seedlings.
Photo Pam Dawling

We sow turnips from early August to mid-September, and beets from early August to late August, for both roots and greens. It is hard to get beets germinated in hot soil, but if you delay, they don’t have time to grow big roots before the cold weather. You can sow beets dry or presoak 1-2 hours (not longer, and not in too much water, as they easily drown); sow 1/2″-1″(1-2.5cm) deep, tamp the soil, keep the surface damp, water daily for the 4-6 days they take to emerge. We use netting for turnips, but not for beets, unless the grasshoppers are bad.

Young beets.
Photo Pam Dawling

It’s also possible in warmer areas to sow Swiss chard or leaf beet for a fall crop. This is a useful Plan B if some other crops have failed. The last planting date is ten weeks before frost. Our average first frost here is October 20. This is an average over the past 13 years. We can only sow chard until August 11 or so. It’s not that the first frost will kill the chard, far from it, but the frost date is an indicator of when growth starts to slow down.

Cooking Greens to Transplant in Central Virginia in August

Morris Heading collards.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

June is the time to prepare a plot for the fall broccoli and cabbage. July and August are the time for transplanting them. See the July cooking greens post for details of how we tackle this big transplanting job. In early August (if not done in late July) we transplant two beds of collards. By late August we want to really finish transplanting the fall broccoli, cabbage, and the kale from the August 4 sowing.

In week 7 of our fall greens schedule (the first week of August): We transplant week 4 sowings of senposai, Yukina Savoy, and anything we resowed in week 4. We also fill any gaps in week 4 transplantings (= week 1 sowings). Cover: hoop and net or rowcover.

In weeks 8 & 9 (the second and third weeks of August): We transplant anything we didn’t keep up with, and replacements in weeks 5 and 6 transplantings (weeks 2 & 3 sowings), Cover: hoop and net or rowcover.

Other Cooking Greens Tasks in Central Virginia in August

Broccoli undersown with clover.
Photo Nina Gentle

If things are on schedule and we haven’t needed to replace many casualties in the big brassica patch, we roll and store the covers, wheelhoe or till between the rows and weed. Then we undersow with a broadcast mix of mammoth red clover, white Ladino clover, and crimson clover. This will become our all-year green fallow next year.

August is our worst month for grasshoppers and crickets, so we watch for them and either use netting, or postpone sowings until the end of August.

To improve germination next month, we put spinach seeds in the freezer now, for at least two weeks.

No visible brassicas month comes to an end. To disrupt the lifecycle of the voracious harlequin bugs, we have only netted brassicas in our gardens from early July, when the last of our spring brassica crops get mowed down and disked in, and we sow seedling brassica crops under netting. When we transplant the young brassicas, we cover those all with netting or rowcover for a few weeks.

Special Cooking Greens Topic for August: More Unusual Hot Weather Cooking Greens

See Cooking Greens in July for details about the chenopods – amaranths, Aztec spinach, orach, Good King Henry, Magenta Lambsquarters, strawberry beet and also celosia. Many of these can be sown again in August to provide a succession of tender young greens. Here are some other hot weather greens. Like July’s unusual cooking greens, all the following are warm weather crops, so don’t try to grow these in early spring or into late fall. If sown in August, they can follow an earlier crop such as lettuce, peas, or early sowings of beans, squash or cucumbers.

Sweet Potato Leaves, Ipomoea batatas

Plant sweet potatoes for a fall root harvest, and get the bonus greens crop all summer! You can harvest the leaves and young shoots for cooking greens at any time during growth (just don’t take too much at once). For cooking ideas, find Water Spinach recipes and substitute sweet potato shoots. Chili and shrimp or peanut sauce feature in many recipes.

Water Spinach, Ipomoea aquatica; aka Kang Kong, Ong Choy, Phak Bung.

This tropical, semi-aquatic plant is cultivated for its tender shoots and leaves. It is easy to start from seed or you can root cuttings (roots show in 2-3 days) from bunches bought at an Asian supermarket. The long stems will readily root from the nodes. The leaves are quite large: 2”-6” by 1”-3” (5-15 by 2.5-7.5 cm). The tender shoots are cooked along with the leaves. The flowers look just like sweet potato flowers.  It is a USDA Class A noxious weed in Hawai’i, Florida and California, where it has escaped into the wild. Check your state regulations, and grow this in some sort of container to be sure.  A safer bet is to eat sweet potato greens instead.

New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia expansa, Tetragonia tetragonioides)

New Zealand Spinach tolerates heat and drought beautifully. It is salt-tolerant and will even grow in sand. This sprawling bushy plant with small, succulent, triangular leaves is generally free of pests. The flavor is very mild, not particularly like spinach, despite the name.

Soak the seed for 4-24 hours before planting to speed germination – it can take 8 weeks to emerge. Direct-sow from mid to late spring (bean-planting time), or sow indoors about 6 weeks before last frost. It takes 65-75 days to maturity. Thin to at least 6” (15 cm) apart. It needs hot weather to really get going.

Regular trimming encourages lush growth. Use scissors to harvest the shoot tips. Picking the individual triangular leaves would be tedious, as they are fairly small.

Like true spinach, Tetragonia leaves contain oxalic acid, so should be eaten in moderation, mixed with other greens.

It can become invasive as it sets seed readily. This happened to me the first year I grew it – I thought some self-sowing would be a good thing, but I seriously under-estimated both the number of seedlings I’d get and the distance the seeds could ping.

Red Malabar Spinach.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Malabar Spinach (Basella alba, Basella rubra)

This tropical plant is from Asia and Africa.. The gorgeous twining vines are very tall, so they need to be trellised or caged, which has the bonus of keeping the leaves clean. One technique is to plant them on the pea trellises and let them take over as the peas finish. There is a green-leaved Malabar spinach with red stems, but the red is exceptionally beautiful, so I recommend that one. This crop also does well in partial shade.

The crinkled heart-shaped leaves look like spinach, although more crisp, glossy, and slightly succulent. They have a flavor similar to beet greens. They stay mild and maintain healthy growth all summer. Bees love the blossoms.

Sow in late spring, when it’s warm enough for beans. Germination is slow – even at their preferred temperature of 70-80°F (21-27°C) the seeds can take 10-14 days. Soaking the seed in warm water before sowing may help. You could start them indoors and transplant at 3-6 weeks old, or older, as much as 8” (20 cm) tall. Plant or thin to at least 6” (15 cm) apart and, to promote a more branched plant, pinch out the central shoot after the second set of leaves.

The plants need 60-90 days to maturity, and then will produce an abundance of moderately small leaves all summer, until cut down by the slightest frost. Harvest individual leaves as needed, or cut the vine tips to use as cooking greens. (Young leaves can be added to salad mixes.) Lop the vines when they are as tall as you want to deal with – they will regrow even if severely cut back.

The taste is slightly seaweedy (it’s also known as “land kelp”), and the texture is somewhat mucilaginous in the way that okra is. It can be eaten raw if you like the chewy texture. It is excellent for stir-fries or for thickening summer soups and stews. William Woys Weaver reports that it cooks beautifully in a microwave, but on a hot day eat the refreshing leaves raw. The leaves store for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

This crop is pest-free, but watch out for the staining properties of the black berries (good for dying fabric). Malabar spinach does self-sow, but this is only likely to be a problem for those in tropical climates

Okra leaves
Yes, okra ;eaves are edible.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Yes, okra leaves are edible. See Chris Smith’s amazing book The Whole Okra

Egyptian Spinach, Corchorus olitorius (Jute, related to okra)

Aka Melo Khiya,  Molokheiya, Molokhia and similar attempts to render the Arabic name in our alphabet. This  Arabic summer cooking green grows well in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas and everywhere with hot summers.

This versatile, continuous-harvest vegetable can survive both dry and wet conditions in warm or hot weather. GrowerJim has good details.

Only the small leaves are cooked and eaten. The dried leaves can be used to thicken soups or for tea. It’s not a vegetable to be eaten alone in big cooked heaps – it’s just too mucilaginous.

Jute fiber is extracted from the mature plants, suggesting a) don’t try to eat over-mature plants, and b) paper-making and various fiber arts could be in your future.

Depending on your climate and preferences, you can direct sow fairly heavily and thin, or start seeds in flats and transplant 12″ (30 cm) apart in all directions. Plant after danger of frost is past and the soil is warming steadily. Egyptian Spinach likes full sun, warm to hot weather and steady moisture – mulch will help keep the soil moist.

It takes 70 days to maturity, then holds well in the field, providing several cuttings. If you prefer to harvest the whole plant, succession-sow for future supplies. Continue to give compost or nutrients throughout the season, to encourage tender new growth.

It grows 2’-3′ (60-90 cm) tall or more, and then bears yellow flowers if you don’t keep it clipped back. The flowers are followed by seed pods which are edible and tasty when young, with more flavor than the leaves.

The mature seeds can be saved for replanting. Seed is available from Sandhill Preservation and  Bountiful Gardens (who reassure buyers that the seed is naturally green in color and is not treated.)

Manihot (aibika, Sunset hibiscus, also related to okra) Abelmoschus manihot – (L.)Medik.

It is a hardy perennial in US zones 8-11. Green Harvest has growing information. Plants for a Future also. Seeds are sold by Monticello as an ornamental, but Floral Encounters say: “However the importance of this plant is that it is one of the world’s most nutritious leafy vegetables because of its high protein content.”

Squash leaves and shoots, Cucurbita spp.

If your squash are being too rambunctious, or you are thinning a row a bit late and have sizeable plants, consider a harvest of vine tips and leaves. Or grow some just for this purpose, if you need a quick-growing summer green with novelty appeal. Stir-fry or gently braise – good with eggs for breakfast, says Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Blackeye peas and other crowder peas:

The tips and leaves are edible. Garden Betty writes about many of these less usual greens, from a salad perspective, in Summer-Lovin’ Salad Greens

 

Growing for Market May issue; this week in the garden

GFM_May2015_cover_600pxThe May issue of Growing for Market magazine is out, along with my article about hot weather salad crops. This follows my article last month about hot weather cooking greens.

My salad greens ideas include quick-growing Tokyo Bekana, Maruba Santoh and mizuna; purslanes; baby salad mixes including komatsuna, Yukina Savoy and Jewels of Opar; and garnishes like Spilanthes cress, red shiso, saltwort and microgreens. For years I have been perfecting the techniques needed to grow year round lettuce in Virginia (you can read about that in my book Sustainable Market Farming). It’s good to have more strings to our bows so we can be resilient in the face of unpredictable weather and changing climate.

The crop I am most excited about this summer is Jewels of Opar, also known as Fame flower. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells the seed, and have an interesting blogpost about this crop by Irena Hollowell. She heads her post “A Heat-Tolerant Leafy Green Vegetable Disguised as a Flower”. As you see in the July photo below, the plants continue to produce fresh leaves even as they make light sprigs of pretty little flowers and attractive fruits.

Jewels of Opar Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Jewels of Opar
Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The cover article of this Growing for Market issue is Know Your Knots by Joanna and Eric Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm who I have mentioned before (Eric commented about frosted strawberry flowers on my previous post.) This is an example of the hands-on useful articles in Growing for Market – written by farmers for other farmers, with information that is sure to save time, and even materials. I’m looking at the square-lashed storage rack for keeping rottable things off the ground. I damaged our cold frame lids last year by leaving them stacked on edge on the ground all summer. We used to store them in the shed, but an increase in the other stuff stored in the shed meant no room left for seasonal storage of bulky coldframe lids. Now I know how to store them outside without damage. One of our mantras is “Never make the same mistake two years running!”

In this same GfM issue, Patty Wright has an article about Community Supported Agriculture Farms (CSAs), encouraging us farmers to look at our aspirations and celebrate the diversity of CSAs. The two principles of shared risk and community support are at the heart of the CSA movement, and there are different ways that these are put into practice. The more common aspirations we can share, the stronger the movement will be.

Gretel Adams has an article about attractive foliage for cut flower arrangements in spring, summer and autumn.

Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, who I meet periodically as fellow presenters at the Mother Earth News Fairs have a new book Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up
and Market a Food Business From Your Home Kitchen, published by New Society Publishers. An excerpt from the book is in this issue. It covers how Cottage Food Laws apply to people making food products and selling them to neighbors and community. Many growers would like to process some of their crops for sale in the quieter parts of the season. This book will give inspiring examples and help you stay on the right side of the law.


Working in the greenhouse. Photo by Ira Wallace
Working in the greenhouse.
Photo by Ira Wallace
Early tomato plant in the hoophouse in late March. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Early tomato plant in the hoophouse in late March.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

The season of tending millions of seedlings is winding down. We are planting out more every day. yesterday we planted our maincrop slicing and cherry tomatoes. (The early crop is in the hoophouse).

We’re continuing our relentless schedule of planting out 120 lettuces each week. It’s time for us to set out celery, Malabar spinach and okra. And we’re about to launch out into the row-crop area of the garden again. First the big planting of 540 Roma paste tomatoes.

Re-using drip tape, unreeling it using our shuttle and garden cart system. Photo credit Luke Stovall
Re-using drip tape, unreeling it using our shuttle and garden cart system.
Photo credit Luke Stovall

We have measured and flagged the six 180′ rows. We need to run the drip tape, test it, fix problems, then unroll the biodegradable plastic mulch, then stake and rope where we want the rows to be, so we plant in straight rows. Then we’ll install the metal T-posts without spearing the hidden driptape (easiest if we run the irrigation while we do that, so the drip tape is fat and easier to locate.)

We’ll be transplanting for two hours a day for the next 4 weeks.