Transplanting sweet potatoes, Sword leaf lettuce

Cow Horn okra seedlings in a Winstrip 50 plug flat in the greenhouse. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Cow Horn okra seedlings in a Winstrip 50 plug flat in the greenhouse.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

We’re making good progress with catching up on our big transplanting tasks. We’ve planted the Roma paste tomatoes, peppers, melons, okra, eggplant, yet more lettuce and over half of the sweet potatoes. After this there’s “just” the watermelons and leeks to go. Then only the roughly weekly lettuce planting until the fall brassica transplanting shifts in late July and August. In order to give our transplants the best chance of thriving, we never plant in the mornings (except leeks), and prefer to make the extra effort to plant late in the day. That way, the plants have the cool of the night to get established before being called on to photosynthesize, transpire, extract water and nutrients from the soil, deter bugs and all the many plant tasks we don’t even know about. Currently we are transplanting 4-6 pm each day, with just a small group of people so that everyone focuses on planting and we are not training new people (a feature of our big morning work shifts).

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand Photo Wren Vile

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

This year we are once again planting our sweet potatoes on ridges with drip tape and biodegradable plastic mulch (bioplastic).   Here’s a photo from last year:

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch
Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potato vines grow to completely cover the area and the plastic is out of sight and being digested by the soil micro-organisms. Very little hand-weeding is needed. I think last year we did one walk-through (wade-through!) weeding.

The deer have reappeared and as sweet potato leaves are one of deer’s favorite foods, we got ourselves prepared, installing two Scare Crows, one at each end of the patch. These are water sprinklers activated by motion detectors. We’ve found Scare Crows quite effective against deer. They seem to have dropped off the market. Havahart is selling the Spray Away which looks similar but I haven’t tried. They can only be used during the frost free period, because you have to leave the water supply hooked up. As sweet potatoes will only be in the garden during the frost free period, this is a good match!


Sword Leaf Lettuce Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Sword Leaf Lettuce
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This spring we are trying a new lettuce variety: Sword Leaf (Yu Mai Tsai) Looseleaf Lettuce.

This is a fast growing, productive Asian lettuce. It has a sweet flavor and plenty of crunch. In our climate, I think it would not do well in summer. Better for spring and fall. We bought seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange You can read about it here, on this TaiwanFinn Blog. “Taiwan (and Luxembourg) Through the Eyes of a  Finn”. one comment says this is known in the English-speaking world as Celtuce. But Kitazawa Seeds sells both. With celtuce, the stem is the main part eaten. With Sword Leaf it is the leaves. So I’m doubting they are the same.

Chert Hollow Farm on Organic certification, More Snow, Feed the Soil presentation.

Chert Hollow Farm's photos of their farm gate before and after.

Chert Hollow Farm’s photos of their farm gate before and after.

For some time I have been following the blog of Eric and Joanna Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm near Columbia, Missouri. I admire their commitment and creativity. Recently they have posted a three-part series on why they have decided to drop their USDA Organic certification. I found it a very thought-filled and coherent piece of writing and want more people to read it and ponder the points they make.

Dropping organic certification, part I talks about some of their concerns with the USDA Organic system as a whole, and how some of the Organic rules are increasingly at odds with their “beliefs and standards for sustainable and ethical food production.” Their work creating a diverse deeply-sustainable farm with minimal bought-in inputs isn’t easily reconciled with the USDA certification process. “Trying to use our own resources in a creatively sustainable way created an unusually-shaped peg that the organic system’s round holes don’t expect. And thus there’s a lot of subtle pressure on organic farms just to buy stuff rather than be more diversified and creative in their farming approach.” According to their Organic inspectors over the years, they have been star poster-child Organic farmers for five years, and their decision to leave Organic certification will be “a major loss to the organic certification community/process in this part of the country”.

In addition to the differing philosophy and practice between Joanna and Eric’s approach and the USDA, the costs are too high and the benefits too few.

Dropping organic certification, part II  goes into some of their specific issues with the certification. Concerns include costs, including the uncertainty of whether the government will continue the cost-share program; bureaucracy (why don’t chemical farmers have to track and report their inputs and applications??); and the degree of usefulness of USDA certification for direct marketing. As a CSA farm, Eric and Joanna are no longer competing for customers with self-proclaimed “organic” farmers at the market.

Dropping organic certification, part III looks at the benefits of dropping certification, while acknowledging what they learned by being part of the certified system, specifically the value of good record-keeping, good compost-making and careful sourcing of inputs. They credit being certified (and needing to check potential herbicide use on hay and straw they brought in for feed and mulch) with helping them avoid the “killer hay” incidents which are, sadly, all too common around the country. They write about what they are looking forward to, freed from the certification restrictions. They are increasing biological diversity on their farm, getting off mailing lists (!), and communicating more with customers and CSA members, know they’ll save time on certification paperwork. Finally, they discuss some of their regrets about no longer being part of “something bigger, a known collection of farms and consumers that stood for something different from the conventional agriculture model” they oppose. They will no longer have the support of USDA if they suffer from spray drift. They will no longer have an easy label to describe their farming practices to customers. Their hope is that more direct, personal communication with CSA members and the rest of the world will take over in addressing that need.

Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we’ve had More Snow. Only about 3″, following rain. But it has brought a halt to our outdoor gardening pursuits for a while. Just before the snow we managed to get some disking done – the first of the year! We had got some raised beds tilled a few days earlier, so we managed to prepare those bed and sow beets, turnips, radishes and scallions, as well as the last of the snap peas. We haven’t transplanted anything except lettuce, scallions and spinach, because it has been so cold. We got beds ready for kale, cabbage, senposai and collards, before I realized the plants were too small to go outside! All our transplants have been growing slowly. We have postponed planting our tomatoes in the hoophouse because the weather is so unsettled (which is a mild way of saying scarily cold).

On Sunday 3/16, I co-taught Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. I spoke about Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slide show from that event:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/feed-the-soil” title=”Feed the soil. Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Feed the soil. Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

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.

 

Fall vegetable production – my presentation

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/fall-vegetable-production-60min” title=”Fall vegetable production (60min) – Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Fall vegetable production (60min) – Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

Here’s the presentation I gave at the VSU  2013 Commercial Berry and Vegetable Filed Day at Randolph Farm, Petersburg on Thursday (6/27). Actually this slide show has some extra slides that I had to cut out to fit the time available. Registration for the field day had doubled compared to last year and reached 500. I don’t know how many were at the presentations, maybe 250. The other option was to continue the outdoor exploration of the research plots.

One section I would have loved to have seen, if I hadn’t been signing and selling books, and answering questions about VABF, was Clif Slade’s “43560” (Forty-three five sixty”) plot. He is aiming to demonstrate the viability of earning $43560 per year from one acre (43560 square feet) of intensive vegetable production. There are some You-Tubes about this project on http://www.youtube.com/user/VSUCoopExtension/videos

Around mid-July, check out http://www.vsuag.net/
for a video compiled by Michael Clark, combining my slideshow and me speaking.

Our sweet potato plot doesn't look like this yet. We're weeding as the vines start to run. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Our sweet potato plot doesn’t look like this yet. We’re weeding as the vines start to run.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Meanwhile, back at the farm, I’m sowing fall broccoli, cabbage and senposai, weeding sweet potatoes, sowing another succession of beans and one of edamame. More of our time is spent harvesting these days. Today we pulled a bag of beets, 2 buckets of beans, 2 buckets of lettuce (we’ll have a short gap until the next bed comes in), 6 buckets of broccoli, one bucket each of cukes, squash, zucchini, turnips and kohlrabi. Most of our crops are getting harvested every two days at this point (except lettuce, cukes and zukes). So no cabbage, kale, chard, scallions, blueberries or celery today.

Cicadas, transplanting and blueberry netting

Pepper transplants waiting to be set out. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Pepper transplants waiting to be set out.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

At last we are getting our warm weather crops transplanted! We finished our 530 Roma paste tomatoes and I’ve just seen this afternoon’s crew of two go past the office window with watermelon starts on a cart. We’re late, but we’re getting there! We have about 260 Crimson Sweet watermelons to go in, and cover to keep the bugs off. This morning, working with the large crew, we set out the ropes and the sticks to hold down the rowcover. Our method is to use the big morning crews to harvest and to get ready whatever will be needed for the small late afternoon transplanting shift, so all they have to do is plant, water and cover. This makes best use of the cooling temperatures later in the day.

After the watermelons, we’ll still have peppers, eggplants, muskmelons (cantaloupes), okra and lots of sweet potatoes to go in. And more lettuce every week.

Meanwhile the brood II 17-year cicadas are in good form. So loud. The ground around the trees is riddled with holes from the emerging juniors. The cast-off shells/exoskeletons are crunchy underfoot. Someone here saw squirrels eating cicadas but I haven’t seen it yet myself.

The other thing I want to write about is our blueberry netting and its seasonal hooped structure. I think this is a good method that more people might like to use. Our older blueberry patch has a rectangular framework made of posts with wires joining the tops. the netting is a fairly rigid square plastic type that is a challenge to put up. This new type is a big improvement – easy to put up and get the netting over, and removable so we don’t have to look at the framework all year.

Our new blueberry area is 16′ x 65′ approx. The height of the netting supports needs to be 7′ or more for most of the space. The 20 blueberry bushes are 66″ apart, in two rows.

We looked at these options, then found a few more:

  1. 3/4″ PVC water pipe,
  2. 20′ rebar inside PVC piping
  3. Fiberglass poles fixed to T-posts
  4. Galvanized steel tubing, as sold for small hoophouses.
  5. Metal electrical conduit bent into a curve, connected at the ridge.
  6. Other tubing, such as chainlink fence top-rail, metal water pipe, curved.
  7. “Spider-House” temporary framework
  8. Wood-framed structure
  9. Bamboo

We chose PVC Electrical conduit. Plastic electrical conduit, unlike water pipe, is UV-inhibited for outdoor use. Lengths have swaged (flanged) ends, so can be joined without any separate connectors. Lightweight, no bending tools needed (unlike for metal conduit or fencing top-rail). Packs flat for out-of-season storage. Relatively cheap.

 We use a “Spider-House” temporary framework – an idea used for temporary “field hoophouses”. It consists of pairs of bows fastened together at the apex, in a way that spreads out into a 4-legged structure. A row of these make up the frame. An advantage is that the spiders are stronger than simple bows, and that the whole thing can be dismantled relatively easily. Helps add strength to lightweight bows.

Blueberry Hoops diagram0001

 I’ll tell you how we did it, then talk about the options we didn’t choose.

  • We bought very nice flexible nylon netting from Lee Valley. We chose the 12’ x 117’ ½” mesh, and I stitched two lengths together using nylon thread, making a piece 24’ wide. It should last a long time. It isn’t cheap. It does not ravel when cut, or snag on itself. At the end of the season it can be stuffed in a bag, with just one end poking out of the neck of the bag. Then next year, drop the bag at one end, pull the free end of the netting up over the piping and along the length of the berry patch. Our netting is longer than the patch, but we plan to extend the patch one day. . .
  • For our 16’ x 65’ patch, we decided on three “spiders.” Our calculation was that 30’ hooped into a half circle would have a diameter of 19’ (divide circumference by pi to get radius, then multiply by two). So we reckoned having the ends of each pipe 19’ apart, crosswise across the patch. A bit of Pythagoras leads to a spacing along the length of the patch of just over 10’ for a width of 16’ and a diagonal of 19’. We don’t need perfect half-circles, but we did need a rough idea of a workable length.
  • We bought 18 pieces of 3/4” PVC electrical conduit in 10’ lengths with swaged (belled) ends.
  • We glued them in threes to make 30’ lengths.
  • We marked the center point of each length, matched centers of two lengths, then tied a pair of lengths together to form a cross shape. If you were in the scouts, square lashing is the type of knot you need.
  • We got 12 4’ lengths of rebar and hammered them halfway in the ground along the long edges of the plot, 12’ 6” apart (six rebars, 5 spaces of 12’ 6” equals 62’ 6”). Close enough.
  • We popped the spider legs over the rebar, making sure all the lumpy knots were on the underside of the tubing crossovers, to make it easier to pull the netting.
  • When we had all three four-legged spiders in position, we pulled over the netting, and pinned it down every 18” round the edges with 1” wide sod staples/landscape pins.
  • We have a doorway along the central seam, simply held closed with clothes pins.

img_1407

Here’s our thoughts about the ideas we didn’t take up:

PVC water pipe. A small experimental structure at Twin Oaks, made from 3/4″ pipe collapsed in the winter, (but need not have). Cheap, easy to bend, easy to replace. Can install for seasonal use on rebar pieces in the ground (which could be an off-season hazard….). Using PVC glue is smelly and unhealthy. Not cheaper than PVC electrical conduit. See Constructing a Simple PVC High Tunnel by Jim Hail, Robbins Hail, Katherine Kelly, and Ted Carey for a 30’ x 18’ hoophouse from 1” PVC.

There is a smaller design “Portable Field Hoophouse”, using 3/4″ rigid white schedule 40 pvc in 18′ lengths to give a 10′ wide frame for an 18-42′ length hoophouse with no ridgepole.

PEX water pipe tubing: Too bendy

Metal electrical conduit bent into a curve, connected at the ridge. Conduit is cheap and readily available. It can be bent with purchased pipebenders (if the right shape is available), or on a wooden jig, or round stakes hammered into the ground. Lost Creek  sells pipebenders. Johnnys sells Quick Hoops Benders but they make 12’ x 7’ high tunnel or caterpillar tunnel hoops only. They have a video on the site.

Other metal tubing, such as chainlink fence top-rail, or metal water-pipe, bent into a curve. Either use the commercially available pipebenders, as above, or make your own jig. There are good plans by Jamie and Tod Hanley using square tubing, and a home-made bending jig. Square is easier to bend without twisting, but that might not be important for this project.

More plastic tubing (1” x 20’) hoophouse frames and a metal tubing frame as well as photos and details of a bending jig for metal water piping, on the New Farm website, using 3/4″ galvanised piping in 21′ lengths. Their jig consists of 20 short pieces of 2×4 lumber screwed down on the bed of a hay wagon.

Pre-curved galvanized steel tubing, as sold for small hoophouses. Farmtek  has a wide range of ready-made hoop parts, including tall, round-topped styles. Shipping adds to the cost. More expensive than other options.

20′ rebar inside PVC piping. Idea from Cindy Connor for small hoophouses. Stronger than PVC pipe alone. 5/8″ rebar could be used alone (but hard to pull fabrics over).

Fiberglass poles fixed to T-posts. T-posts would stay all year, fiberglass poles stored out of season. Straightforward to do. Splinters from fiberglass could be a problem long-term.

Wood-framed structure. A lot of work, but cheap. Clunky. Might take too long to make.

Bamboo. Free if you have invasive bamboo, but a bit of work. The nodes would snag on the netting. Saw then sand them off? Duct tape?

Our new blueberry netting on its hooped frames, Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our new blueberry netting on its hooped frames,
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Goodbye winter, hello summer!

Rhubarb season is almost here. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Rhubarb season is almost here.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Spring in Virginia is so variable in temperature! But this year is more so than usual. We’ve just had three days with high temperatures of 90F (31C) or more. Not so long ago we had night-time lows of 20F (-6.5C). Late February and all of March was full of snow and rain.

The only thing we managed to plant in the garden for the whole of March was a small amount of shallot bulbs. We’ve been doing an impressive amount of scrambling in the first ten days of April, to make up for lost time. Some crops we had to cut back on, because it got too late to plant. We only have a quarter of the onions we planned, half of the peas, a fifth of the spinach, and no fava beans this year. I realize it would be useful to have “last worthwhile planting dates” for all our spring crops, to help decision-making.

To add insult to injury, a Beast ate half of our early broccoli transplants in the cold-frame one night. Because there were big surface tunnels, I think it was Eastern Moles. They are insectivorous, not vegetarian, but they do use leaves to line their nests, which they make at this time of year. I bought a trap – no luck. I covered the remaining broccoli and lettuce flats as best I could with rat wire “lids” and clear plastic domed food covers – things I had handy from previous depredations. What seems to have worked is to line the coldframes with landscape fabric and set the flats on that, tightly up against the edges, leaving no wiggle room. Wisely, we do a later, third, sowing of broccoli to cover emergencies, so we spotted those out into bigger flats. We’re going to need them this year.

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting. Credit Kati Folger

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Falger

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We have at last got our potatoes in the ground, three weeks later than ideal. On the positive side, they had been chitting (green-sprouting) in crates under lights in the basement since the beginning of March, so I could console myself that they were growing anyway. And probably they will come up quicker in the (suddenly!) warmer soil. We cut them for planting once the area was disked for planting and we were pretty sure we could get them in the ground in a few days.

We’ve busily transplanted spinach, kale, lettuce and scallions, and sowed carrots, more scallions and the third bed of beets. We used the Earthway seeder for the beets, and found the radish plate worked better than the beet plate for Cylindra seed, which were smaller than the Detroit Dark Red. We also tried the popcorn plate with some success, when the beet plate jammed.

We flamed one of our first two beds of beets, to kill the weeds that didn’t die properly with our hasty delayed rototilling. We would have flamed both, but the Cylindra popped up overnight earlier than I expected (going by soil temperature), so we’ll have to hoe those really soon, maybe this afternoon.

Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Next we’ll be prepping our cabbage and broccoli beds. We make temporary raised beds, roll out round hay bales over them, then transplant into the mulch. We do this by first measuring and making “nests”, using our hands to open up the mulch down to the soil. The brassicas appreciate the mulch to moderate the soil temperature and keep some moisture in the soil.

Our big weeding projects have been the raspberries and the garlic.(Goodbye, henbit!)

 

Mar 2013 Growing for Market

Mar 2013 Growing for Market

Today we might sow our parsnips. I just wrote an article about them in the March issue of  Growing for Market. This issue also contains articles about increasing hoophouse tomato production, adding solar panels, equipment for tracking the weather, food safety and new interesting cut flowers.

Florence bulb fennel. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Florence bulb fennel.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The April issue is also out. For that, I wrote about fennel – bulbs, leaves, seeds and pollen. Other articles include one about Johnny’s Salanova lettuce, others about training cucumbers and tomatoes up strings in the hoophouse, a tractor implement for rolling out round hay bales (which is only fun to do by hand the first ten times, max), more on food safety, and an interview/field trip to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers. 

GFM-April 2013-cover-300px

Twin Oaks Garden Task List for April

Asparagus in early April.Credit Wren Vi

Asparagus in early April.
Credit Wren Vile

All Month:

Lettuce Factory: In flats, (on greenhouse bench) sow lettuce #7, 8, 9 (romaines & small varieties to interplant with peanuts). Transplant 1/3 bed lettuce (120 plants)/week. Plant #4, 5, 6 this month.
Compost Needed for April: 6-9 tractor buckets for beds, 24-30 bkts to disk in.

Early April:

In greenhouse, sow lettuce #7;

Keep celery above 55°F, and celeriac above 45°F (don’t put in coldframe). 10 consecutive days <55°F for celery, <45°F for celeriac, causes bolting.

Spot lettuce, harden off in coldframe. Spot peppers, tomatoes, & eggplant. Protect new pepper seedlings from mice.  Keep tomatoes above 45°F at night, eggplant above 55°F.

Cut sweet potato slips at 6-12”, put in water.  Once a week, plant rooted slips in 4” flats.

Sow outdoors: carrots #5, beets (see March notes), parsnips with radishes #2, (in celery bed), sunflowers.

Weed and thin early crops. Side dress or foliar spray over-wintered spinach to boost production.

Take rowcover from turnips, senposai, cabbage #1, kohlrabi, little alliums, onions as needed for broccoli.

Transplant lettuce #4, main cabbage & broccoli under rowcover (12 pieces) within 6 weeks of sowing.

Till beds for mid-April. Compost beds for late April plantings.

Garlic bulbing is initiated on/after April 10 (13 hours daylight), and soil temperature above 60°F.

Mid April:

In greenhouse sow melons #1 in soil blocks or plug flats, replacement paste tomatoes, lettuce #8, and okra.

Sow beans #1 when lilac in full bloom, sunflowers. Sow edamame #1, corn#1, if warm, and soil >60F.

Till beds for late April (chard, cowpeas, peanuts). Compost beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7,8,9, asparagus beans)

Hill up potatoes when 6” high. Cover half the vine. Repeat after 2 weeks. (Flameweed if too wet to hill.)

Take rowcover from kale, collards, early lettuce for raised bed tender crops.

Transplant broccoli #2, insectary flowers #1, bulb fennel, lettuce #5, cukes #1 w/nasturtiums, zukes #1; use spring hoops for cucurbits. Take rowcover from spinach to strawberries.

A fine bed of fava beans. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A fine bed of fava beans.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Install stakes every 8-10’ for peas and fava beans, and stringweave them to final height of that variety.

Weed garlic [or flameweed it early in the morning after a good rain. Direct flame at base of garlic plants]

Harvest lettuce as heads rather than leaves, from 15 April

#3 Spring Tractor Work (mid April) – Disk areas for sweet potatoes, winter squash, watermelons, (Romas and peppers if no-till cover crop insufficient). Bush-hog late food crop plots when rye heads up, to help clover or peas develop. Also clover patches, eg Green Fallow (All Year Cover Crops).

Late April:

in greenhouse sow lettuce #9; watermelons #1 & 2 in soil blocks or plug flats; calendula and various insectary flowers, filler corn & Romas.

Sow corn #1 (1/2-3/4” deep) in two phases, and peanuts if soil temperature is 65°F. Also cowpeas #1, and sesame.

Sow more leeks if needed in Little Alliums bed outdoors. If not, sow more mini-onions and scallions #3.

Transplant lettuce #6, leaf beet, chard, insectaries; finish transplanting gaps in the main broccoli & cabbage plot, plant Alyssum. Take rowcovers from broccoli & cabbage for new crops.

If mild, plant tomatoes. Harden off nightshades by restricting water.

Till beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7/8/9, asparagus beans). Compost beds for mid-May (edamame, eggplant, limas).

Store spring and fall seeds (spinach, peas, beets) in the basement for the summer.

Foliar feed the potatoes, ideally the morning before hilling up, and every 2 weeks.

Roll out Driptape and Biotelos corn plastic mulch for peppers and Romas where no-till cover crop not used.

Cover crops: sow rye to wimp out. Sow buckwheat in any beds not needed for at least 5 weeks eg. leeks limas; add soy if bed not needed for 7 weeks. 

Haybine or bush-hog vetch & rye for no-till planting of Roma paste tomatoes, late in the month (or very early in May). (Mow strips; or till strips through the cover crop for the rows, with narrow-set tiller). Water the area before digging holes, if dry.

Perennials: Weed blueberries, asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, grapes as needed. Mow aisles. If asparagus weeds are getting out of hand, mow down one or more rows to keep control. Monitor asparagus beetles, spray spinosad when bees not flying, if >10 adults/100 crowns. Spinosad: Shake well, 1-4 Tbsp/gall (1fl.oz=2Tbsp=30ml.) Repeat in 6 days.

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.Credit Kathryn Simmons

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Cover strawberries if frost threatens – take rowcovers from spinach. (Pick flowers off any new spring  plantings.)

Visit grapes, log progress, remove flower buds from new vines. Note deaths and where replacement arms are needed.  Check and repair fruit drip irrigation, thin raspberries to 6/foot of row.

Harvest and weed: Asparagus, chard (hoophouse), collards, garlic scallions- pull at 8″, kale, leeks, lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, senposai, snap peas in hoophouse, spinach.

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

Starting Seedlings

Seed flats in the greenhouse

Seed flats in the greenhouse

We’ve been starting seedlings since late January, and the greenhouse is filling up with flats of lettuce, cabbage, kohlrabi, spinach, scallions and broccoli. We’re eating our way through the lettuces that grew overwinter in the compost in the block-work greenhouse beds, and shoveling out the compost to fill our flats. All our seedlings are grown in 100% home-made compost. We screen compost to fill the beds in September and transplant lettuce there in October. When we need the compost for the seedlings, it has mellowed nicely and has plenty of worms. This beats buying in bags of compost, or chipping lumps off a heap of frozen compost outdoors in January! Our greenhouse has a masonry north wall and a patio-door south wall. It has no heating apart from the sun (this is Zone 7). This space is warm enough and just big enough for all our seedlings once they have emerged. For growing-on the very early tomatoes and peppers, destined for our hoophouse, we use an electric heat mat and a plastic low tunnel in one corner of the greenhouse. Many seeds benefit from some heat during germination and are then moved into slightly less warm conditions to continue growing. This means it’s possible to heat a relatively small space just to germinate the seeds in. We use two broken refrigerators as insulated cabinets, with extra shelves added. A single incandescent lightbulb in each supplies both the light and the heat (we change the wattage depending on what temperature we’re aiming for). Some people construct an insulated cabinet from scratch, with fluorescent lights suspended above the flats.

Our coldframes and greenhouse

Our coldframes and greenhouse

We use traditional coldframes for “hardening-off” our plants (helping them adjust to cooler, brighter, breezier conditions). They are rectangles of dry-stacked cinder blocks, with lids of woodframed fiberglass. Having heavy flats of plants at ground level is less than ideal for anyone over thirty-five! Shade houses and single-layer poly hoop structures with ventable sidewalls and benches for the flats are a nicer option. Some growers report that some pests are less trouble when flats are up on benches. Others say flats on the ground produce better quality plants. According to the nighttime temperatures, we cover the coldframes with rowcover for 32°F–38°F (0°–3°C), add the lids for 15°F–32°F (–9°C–0°C) and roll quilts on top if it might go below 15°F (–9°C). For brassicas, lettuce and our paste tomatoes (a big planting), we use open flats — simple wooden boxes. The transplant flat size is 12″ × 24″ × 4″ deep (30 × 60 × 10 cm). It holds 40 plants, “spotted” or pricked out in a hexagonal pattern, using a dibble board. For sowing, we use shallower 3″ (7.5 cm) flats. Usually we sow four rows lengthwise in each seedling flat. We reckon we can get about six transplant flats from each seedling flat. This allows for throwing out any wimpy seedlings, and lets us start a higher number of plants in a smaller space. Because we transplant by hand, and because we hate to throw plastic away (or spend money when we don’t need to), we use a range of plastic plant containers. For crops where we are growing only a small number of plants of each variety, we use six- or nine-packs, or a plug flat divided into smaller units.

One year we tried soil blocks for early lettuce transplants, shown here on our custom-made cart

One year we tried soil blocks for early lettuce transplants, shown here on our custom-made cart

The first crops sown are not necessarily the first ones planted out. Our spinach gets sown Jan 24 and transplanted out 4 weeks later. The early tomatoes get planted in the hoophouse at 6 weeks of age (slower-growing peppers go in at 7.5 weeks with rowcover at the ready!). Lettuce goes outdoors after 6.5 weeks, cabbage after 7.5 weeks, cipollini mini-onions after 8 weeks. These are early season timings and as the days warm up and get longer, seedlings grow more quickly. Being a few days later sowing something in early spring makes little difference, as later sowings can catch up by growing faster in the warmer weather. If the spring is cold and late, you may find your greenhouse packed to the gills with flats you don’t want to take outside. We try to put the faster-maturing crops near the doors and keep the open flats, which will need spotting-out, near the accessible north side. But let’s not complain about the bounty of so many plants! Spring is an exciting time of year, full of new growth and new potential. Working in the greenhouse with tiny plants on a sunny day when it’s cold outside is a special treat.

Twin Oaks Garden Task List for February

Greenhouse interior with early spring seedling flats.Photo Kathryn Simmons

Greenhouse interior with spring seedling flats.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

PlanningWeek 1:  Revise Crop Planting Quantities chart, Perennials worksheet, Harvest and Food Processing Calendars, Veg Finder, and Phenology Chart. Week 2:  Revise Fall Brassicas Spreadsheet, Onion Plan and Log, Sweet Potato Plan. Revise and post Paracrew Invitation. Week 3: Write Seed Saving Letter. Revise Blueberry Map and Log, Grape Map and Log. Week 4: Revise Crop Planting Specs sheet, revise Garden Planning Calendar, File notes, prune files.

Lettuce Factory: Sow lettuce #3, 4 in flats (short-day fast varieties, every 14 days).

Spread compost & till beds for spinach, beets, favas, lettuce, onions, little alliums, turnips, senposai, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, collards when soil dry enough.  Till beds for carrots 1-3, with or without compost.

#1 Spring Tractor Work  – Compost and disk areas for broccoli and potatoes when dry enough, or till.

Early Feb: in greenhouse sow: cabbage, collards, senposai, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli #1, celery, celeriac

Sow spinach outdoors if Jan sowings fail: 4oz/bed pre-sprouted. Transplant spinach from hoophouse [or flats].

Sow fava beans (seed is in peas bucket). Plant small potato onions if not done in January.

Mid-month: in greenhouse: Sow lettuce #3, and resow hoophouse peppers as needed. Spot cabbage, lettuce#3, hoophouse peppers, kale, collards, and harden off.

February pepper seedlings in the greenhousePhoto Kathryn Simmons

February pepper seedlings in the greenhouse
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Sow carrots #1 outdoors with indicator beets. Flameweed. Finish planting spinach, (direct sow if not enough transplants).

Buy seed potatoes mid-month and set out to greensprout (chit) before planting: 65°F (19°C) and light.

[Strawberries: plant new bought plants, if applicable.]

Late Feb, sow carrots # 2 (flameweed);

Really finish transplanting spinach. If needed, presprout 4oz/bed spinach for 1 week before sowing.

Till and sow areas for clover cover crops (eg grapes, eggplant beds), or oats, from 2/15.                    

Transplant fall-sown onions ½-3/4” deep, when no thicker than pencils. Weed over-wintered spinach, kale, collards.

In greenhouse sow broccoli #2 (2 weeks after 2nd), (shallots), lettuce #4, hoophouse cukes.

Perennials: Finish weeding. Give compost, if not done in fall, including strawberries and grapes.  See list for January.  Transplant bushes, canes, crowns if needed. Mulch. Finish pruning blueberries, ribes. Prune grapes before 3/21 – see last year’s log notes about replacement limbs needed, etc. Summer raspberries: cut out old canes. Install irrigation. Prepare sites for new grapevines, if needed.

Vates kale over-wintered Photo Twin Oaks Community

Vates kale over-wintered
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Harvest: (Chard?), collards, kale, spinach, leeks.