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.

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

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.

Ordering seeds! Seed Viability and Varieties New to us

I’ve been busy putting our seed orders together. As we grow so many different crops, it’s quite a time-consuming process. And I hate to buy too little and be out in the field on planting day, looking at an almost empty packet. Equally, I hate to buy too much, which either wastes money (if we throw the extra away), or else causes us to risk sowing seed that really is too old, and won’t do well. I keep a chart of how long different types of seed last:

Seed Viability

(From Sustainable Market Farming, (c) Pam Dawling, New Society Publishers, 2013)

     

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   “Opinions vary a bit about how many years seeds of different vegetables are good for. The fuller story is that storage conditions make a big difference. You can make your own decisions, weighing up the information supplied, your knowledge of how carefully you stored the seeds, the information on each packet about percentage germination when you bought it, and the economic importance to you of that particular crop. If you always transplant lettuce, as I do, you can risk one of your four varieties in that sowing coming up poorly, and just plant out more of the other three if it fails. Many seed catalogs include information about seed longevity, and so does Nancy Bubel in The Seed Starters Handbook.

www.chelseagreenFrank Tozer in The Organic Gardeners Handbook has a table including minimum, average, and maximum.

A simplified version is as follows:

  • Year of purchase only: Parsnips, Parsley, Salsify, and the even rarer Sea Kale, Scorzonera
  • 2 years: Corn, Peas and Beans of all kinds, Onions, Chives, Okra, Dandelion, Martynia,
  • 3 years: Carrots, Leeks, Asparagus, Turnips, Rutabagas
  • 4 years: Spinach, Peppers, Chard, Pumpkins, Squash, Watermelons, Basil, Artichokes and Cardoons
  • 5 years: most Brassicas, Beets, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Cucumbers, Muskmelons, Celery, Celeriac, Lettuce, Endive, Chicory.”

Rather than deteriorating with age, some very fresh seed has a dormancy that needs to be overcome by chilling (lettuce). Other seed contains compounds that inhibit germination. These can be flushed out by soaking in water for about an hour (beets).

Another of the challenges with seed ordering is converting between grams, ounces and seed counts. Here’s a helpful table of 1000 Seed Weight for 13 crops.

Our main seed suppliers are FedcoJohnny’s and Southern Exposure. Fedco has great prices, especially on bulk sizes, great social and political commentary in the catalog, and no glossy pages. Johnnys has some good varieties that Fedco doesn’t, and a ton of useful information tucked away on their website. Southern Exposure is best on southern crops and heat tolerant varieties which we can’t expect seed companies in Maine to specialize in. Plus, SESE are my friends and neighbors.

This year we are trying some new varieties. Generally we like to have some reliable workhorses that we know well, and trial a few new things, especially if we hear our favorite varieties are no longer available. Last year our Nadia eggplant couldn’t cope with the heat. For a while in early summer they didn’t grow at all – no new flowers, never mind new fruit. So next year, alongside Nadia I’m trying 3 that should deal better with heat. Florida Highbush is open-pollinated, from the Seed Savers Exchange. Epic and Traviata are hybrids from Osborne Seeds.

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

Sugar Flash Snap Peas from Osborne Seeds

I also bought some Sugar Flash snap peas from Osborne. We have been big fans of Sugar Ann, but I’ve heard Sugar Flash is even better on flavor, yield and harvest period. We’re going to find out!

For a couple of years we really liked Frontier bulb onions as a storage variety for this climate and latitude (38N). Frontier disappeared from the catalogs of our usual suppliers and we tried Gunnison and Patterson. This year – no Gunnison! And we didn’t get a good test of Patterson last year, as we failed to weed our onions enough, after an initial enthusiastic good go at it. We were looking again at Copra, one we grew some years ago (before we found Frontier). I lucked out when I decided to see if Osborne had Gunnison, while I was shopping there. they didn’t, but they had Frontier! And then when I was shopping at Johnny’s, I found they did have some Gunnison for online sales only. So I ordered those too!

We’re also trying Sparkler bicolor sweet corn from Fedco and a drying bean I won’t name, as the seed is in short supply. And this year we’re hoping Red Express cabbage will prove to be a reliable little worker. We used to like Super Red 80, but had several years of poor results. Since then, none of the other red cabbages we tried have satisfied us in terms of size, earliness, productivity and flavor.

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

West Indian Gherkin Seeds (Cucumis anguiria) from Monticello

After a few years of poor pickling cucumbers, we’re going outside the box and trying West Indian Gherkins from Monticello, where they were grown by Thomas Jefferson (and some of the enslaved people, no doubt). These are not closely related to actual cucumbers, but are used similarly. I saw them growing in the Monticello garden when I was there for the Heritage Harvest Festival in September, and they are certainly robust and productive in hot humid weather. We’ll see how the pickles turn out!

My only other “impulse buy” was the Salanova Lettuce new at Johnny’s. They are 6 varieties of head lettuce designed to be used for salad mix at a single cutting. Quicker than  snipping rows of baby lettuce with scissors. More fun than plain lettuce heads. They are loose heads of small leaves in various shades of green and red, and two “hairstyles”: frizzy and wavy.

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny's Seeds

Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s Seeds

Crop review, harvesting roots

Large Smooth Prague Celeriac
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

This week in the garden we have started fall clean-up. We packed away the rowcovers preserving the last rows of green beans, squash and cucumbers, and harvested the last of those crops. Two nights with lows of 22F made it clear it was time. We removed the okra and eggplant “trees”, and pulled up the t-posts from the tomato rows and the asparagus beans. We bundled the asparagus bean trellis netting, along with the bean vines, and tied it up in the rafters of our greenhouse. It will stay there till spring when we will dance on the bundle in the parking lot and shake out the dried bits of vine, so we can use the netting for the 2013 crop.

We discovered we can use our power-washer to clean the t-posts before storing them. This saves a lot of time, and converts the job from a tedious chore with knives and wire brushes into a “power rangers” opportunity. We like to get the posts really clean before storing them to reduce the chance of carrying over soil-borne tomato diseases to next season.

White Egg turnip
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We have started clearing crops which are less cold-tolerant. This week we are working on the vegetables that get killed at temperatures of 25°F and 20°F. Fall weather in our part of Virginia doesn’t usually get this cold this early, but there’s no arguing with it. We’ve got the Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage) in and we’re going for the small bit of bulb fennel soon (both 25°F crops). We’re picking the broccoli twice a week as long as it lasts, although yields are right down now. Next we’re after the celeriac, turnips (no rutabagas this year), and winter radishes. Sadly our fall beets all failed, so we don’t need to dig those. We still have some from the spring crop in good condition in perforated plastic bags in the fridge.  Kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots and parsnips are more cold-tolerant, so they can wait to get harvested in a few weeks. We still have lettuce and celery outdoors under rowcover and hoops. And some of the greens and hardier leeks will feed us all through the winter. Twin Oaks is now in Climate Zone 7a. This means the range of the average annual minimum temperature is 0°F to 5°F.

Popping garlic cloves in preparation for planting
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exhcange

We’re getting ready to plant garlic. The soil has certainly cooled down enough this year! We decided to cut back our total amount of garlic planted this year for two or three reasons. One is that we think we’ll still have enough if we plant 16% less, and maybe we’ll be less wasteful. Another is that we hope the time we’ll save at harvest and curing will enable us to take better care of what we have got, and less will get wasted that way. Another is that it will help our crop rotation in the raised beds, where we grow a lot of alliums – garlic and potato onions over the winter, onions in spring, shallots and scallions in the mix, and leeks from mid-summer to late winter. Sometimes doing a smaller amount well is more productive than over-extending ourselves  with a big crop.

Yesterday we started separating the garlic cloves (“popping” the cloves) at our annual Crop Review meeting. This is when the crew gathers to work through an alphabetical list of crops we grew and talk about what worked and what didn’t and what we want to do differently next year. We plan to try a small amount of West Indian gherkins as an alternative to pickling cucumbers, which seemed plagued by disease. (I saw some very robust gherkins growing at Monticello in September.) We’re looking for a heat-tolerant eggplant variety to trial alongside our well-liked Nadia, which shut down during the early summer heat. We intend to make smaller plantings of edamame next year, and harvest smaller amounts more often, so less goes to waste. We want to try Sugar Flash snap peas and another dwarf early-yielding type of snow peas. (Dwarf Grey works for us, but Oregon Giant didn’t). We’re going to try some purple bush beans to see if that helps us get harvests of nice small beans and fewer ugly giants in the buckets. We debated the harvest size of okra and asparagus too. We vowed to grow fewer different varieties of broccoli and try to find a decent red cabbage. This year we tried Integro, Ruby Perfection and Mammoth Red, but none produced a good amount of nice sized heads. We used to be happy with Super Red 80, but gave it up after two bad years. next year we’ll try Red Express. We strategised about to get red sweet peppers as early as possible.

As the tasks to do outdoors start to wind down, we’re upping the pace of our winter planning season. Our next tasks include doing an inventory of the seeds we still have and figuring out our garden plan, so that we can work towards ordering the seeds we want in sensible quantities.

Hoophouse covered! Frost expected Sunday and Monday nights!


Photo credit Luke Stovall

Well, after two weeks exposed to the elements,  our hoophouse finally got its renovations finished, and we put the new plastic on this morning. I haven’t yet got the photos to prove it, but take my word for it, the stress is over! Two people are out there right now, finishing inserting the wiggle-wire in the channels round the edges, and trimming off the spare plastic. We’d all forgotten how hot it gets in there with plastic on! Suddenly no-one wanted to go inside.

This morning’s work went smoothly till we got to the second layer of plastic. Last night was cool and dewy, and the grass wet. As we pulled the second layer of plastic up and over the hoophouse, it got a film of dew on the underside – bad planning! The top layer than stuck to the bottom layer and was really hard to pull over. We turned on the blower to try to push some air between the layers, and we also wafted it ourselves. Eventually we were successful, but we did make a few holes in the edge of the plastic in the meantime.

Those who’ve never put plastic on a hoophouse might wonder how it’s done. Here’s our method: we tied ropes (thank you Twin Oaks Hammocks) around tennis balls pushed up in the edge of the plastic, like little Halloween ghosts. We used five along the 100′ length of plastic. Then we put more tennis balls inside colorful odd socks (thank you Twin Oaks Community Clothes) and tied the other end of each rope to one of these. Someone then threw the balls-in-socks over the top of the hoophouse to the far side. Hilarity at how many of us never learned to throw well! The first layer slid on quite easily, and we “tacked” it into position every ten feet or so with a piece of wiggle-wire. Then we repeated the ball-in-sock throwing exercise with the outer layer. That’s when it got difficult. And our bag of chocolate chips had to be moved to the shade because they were starting to melt!

After we got both layers of plastic in position, we pulled out the slack and fastened the wiggle-wires fully in the channels. The shiny new plastic looks beautiful in a techno-sparkly kind of way. And it promises to help us grow tons of delicious food for the winter. Thank goodness it’s done.The weather forecast suggests we’ll have frost on Sunday and Monday nights. We’ve got ginger and cowpeas growing in there – we don’t want them frosted.

Ginger growing in our hoophouse.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

The Asian greens, spinach and radishes can take it, but not the warm weather crops.

We’ll still have some odds and ends to finish up: one of the windows needs a repair to the frame, and the bubblefoil stuff along the north wall needs tacking back into place. All in all, though, a happy conclusion to this project.

It’s time to put rowcover over the late beans to extend the season beyond the first frosts. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors, we are bringing out rowcovers to cover late plantings of squash, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce. It’s goodbye to the eggplant, okra, sweet corn, tomatoes. It’s time to harvest the sweet potatoes and peanuts. Maybe it’s goodbye to galinsoga and other tender weeds. Maybe goodbye to harlequin bugs. The brown marmorated stink bugs are starting to seek shelter for the winter, in our sweatshirts hanging on the shed door.

Goodbye eggplant!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Goodbye to all that. And hello to sweet potatoes, boiled peanuts (a seasonal tradition here), kale, spinach and leeks.

Hello kale!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Twin Oaks October Calendar (Slowing Down)

Morris Heading Collards – our favorite
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Here’s our list of tasks for October. If you garden in zone 6 or 7, your list might be similar. If you live in a very different climate zone, leave a comment about your list for October, and how many weeks different your area is from ours.

During the month

Weed and thin fall crops in raised beds, especially spinach and kale. Thin carrots to 3”, kale to 12”.

Lettuce Factory: Transplant sowing #37 to fill cold frames; #38, 39, 40, 41, 42 in Greenhouse beds (9″ spacing).

Frost Alert:

Watch the forecast and if frost is expected that night

When frost threatens, harvest all peppers exposed to the sky. Corona is one of our favorite orange peppers. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Harvest peppers facing the sky, tomatoes, cauliflowers, corn, cowpeas, limas, eggplant, melons, cukes, okra, winter squash, Blues cabbage (hardy to 25°F), if not already done.

Double hoop and cover: lettuce, celery (hardy to 16°F with row cover).

Spring hoop and cover: squash, cucumbers.

Cover celery to extend the harvest into mid-winter. We like Ventura.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Rowcover (no hoops): beans, Chinese cabbage, pak choy, Tokyo bekana, seedlings for hoophouse, collards  (hardy to 10°F, but cover keeps quality).

Cold frames:  Row cover between 32-28°F.  Add lids between 28-15°F.  Add quilts below 15°F.

Foliar spray greens with seaweed a few days before frost, to toughen them up.

Use overhead irrigation on peppers & tomatoes at night and some raised beds with tender crops.

Early Oct: Finish sowing spinach, kale by 7th for overwintering (last chance).

Transplant lettuce #37 to fill cold frames; #38, 39 in Greenhouse (9″ spacing).

Roll up drip tape from winter squash and sweet potatoes.

It’s time to roll up the drip tape from the watermelon, winter squash and sweet potato patches, in preparation for disking and sowing winter cover crops.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Move stored garlic from basement to fridge – store below 40°F or above 56°F, never 40-50°F.

Mid Oct: Till finished raised beds and sow wheat or rye before the end of the month.

Garlic Beds: Compost (5-6 tractor buckets), till and prepare beds.

Transplant lettuce #40, 41, 42, 43 in Greenhouse as needed, filling any gaps.

Get soil tests done, when soil is not too wet.

5th fall disking: By mid-month disk and sow cover crops where possible. Sow wheat or rye as covercrops – too late for oats or most clovers (Austrian Winter Peas Sept 15-Oct 24).  Could sow winter wheat mid-Sept to early Nov (good for small plots that are hard to reach with the tractor) and after sweet potatoes).

Harvest peanuts mid-late Oct after a light frost.  Wash, dry, cure 6 days in solar dryer facing east (don’t heat over 85°F), store.

A well-covered sweet potato patch.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Harvest sweet potatoes before soil temps go much below 55°F, or night air goes below 50°F: on 3 mild days – generally in the week that first frost usually occurs (10/7-14). Even a few hours exposed to temps below 50°F will cause chilling injury. (Frost on the leaves does not of itself damage the roots). Clip vines, dig carefully, set tubers in plant-clusters to dry on the soil. Select seed tubers (med-size tubers from high-yielding plants).  Save 100 Georgia Jet, 100 Beauregard, 20 each White and Jubilee. Cure in boxes with wood spacers and cover with newspaper, in basement with furnace going full time, for 7-10 days (85-90°F, 80-90% humidity).  Use fans. Splash water on floor. Curing is complete when skin is undamaged after rubbing two together. Restack boxes in storage cage.

Harvest white potatoes before the first frost (average Oct 14) if possible. Cure in root cellar at 60-75°F for 2 weeks, with good ventilation, then cool the cellar to lower temperatures: 50°F by 10/31, then 40°F for the winter.

Late Oct: Transplant lettuce #44, 45, 46 as filler in Greenhouse. Double hoop and cover spinach.

Planning: List successes & failures from labels. Prepare Garden Planning Schedule, Crop Review Sheets. Clean labels after info is recorded. Pray for a killing frost. File crop record info. Audit labor budget and plan endgame. Plan main garden layout. Hold Crop Review meeting.

Clear winter squash, tomatoes and peppers in order to sow cover crops, by 10/24 if possible. Sow rye alone or with crimson clover or winter peas. Crimson clover by 10/14; AWP, wheat by 11/8

6th fall disking: After the killing frost, or end of Oct if no frost: pull up tomato stakes and roll up drip tape, disk nightshades, melons, winter squash, sweet potato and white potato patches.

Check through veg in storage, squash once a week, white potatoes two weeks after harvest.

Perennials:Last mowing of clover in grapes in early Oct, not too short, and not too late in the year. Weed & mulch strawberry beds, and remove extra runners. Renovate if not already done. Start weeding, fertilizing and mulching the blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb and grapes.

Time to say goodbye to the rhubarb until April.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

October Harvests: Asparagus beans, beans, beets and beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, corn, cow peas, cukes, edamame, eggplant, horseradish, hot peppers, kohlrabi, komatsuna, leeks, lettuce, limas, maruba santoh, okra, pak choy, peppers, radishes, Roma paste tomatoes, scallions, senposai, spinach, tatsoi, tokyo bekana, tomatoes, turnips and turnip greens, winter radishes, winter squash, yukina savoy, zucchini.  Could lightly harvest rhubarb before frost.

Asparagus beans, okra and edamame

Cow Horn Okra

This week in the garden we have started harvesting some new, warm weather crops. Our okra is producing a few pods each day, even though the plants are still quite short. We like Cow Horn okra, which can get relatively large without getting fibrous. We cut at 5″, using pruners. Some years we have attached a card to the handles of the pruners we use for this job, with a life-size drawing of a 5″ pod. This helps new crew get it right.  We have a 90′ row, with plants about 18″ apart in the row. This will be enough for the hundred of us (some people never eat okra despite the cooks’ best efforts!)

Chinese Red Noodle Asparagus Bean

We grow asparagus beans (yard-long beans) to add variety to stir-fries, not as a major crop. To me, the flavor is not as good as bush green beans, but the shape and color, and the easy-care nature of this crop make them worthwhile. We grow Chinese Red Noodle or Purple Podded, which both keep their color when cooked. We harvest them at pencil-thickness, not at the yard-long puffy and stringy stage. Cut into one inch lengths, they brighten up any dish of mixed vegetables. Once the tall trellis is in place, this crop needs little work. They like the heat and are fairly drought-tolerant – they are more closely related to southern peas (cowpeas) than to green beans. They are not much troubled by Mexican bean beetles, and they’ll go on producing beans until the frost.

Normally we’d start picking sweet corn about now, but this year our first sowing suffered in the unusual early hot dry weather of our spring. We even plan for some degree of failure with our first sowing, because we do sow it early, which is always risky. We sow some seeds in Styrofoam Speedling flats on the same day we make our first outdoor sowing. The Styrofoam flats float in a water tank, needling little attention from us. Our plan is to use the seedlings at 2-3″ tall, to fill gaps in the rows. This year even this plan B didn’t work out. We were very busy and the seedlings got too big for successful transplanting. So we have very little early corn this year, sigh.

Next up, any day now, will be our first harvest of edamame. This is a kind of soy, which can be eaten fresh. We like Envy, a fast-maturing kind on short plants. We pull them up and strip the pods as soon as they are a bright green, moving towards gold, and the beans are a good size inside the pods. Some gardeners prefer a taller variety, and harvest several times from the same plants. We tried this, but found we prefer the once-over harvest. We make a succession of five or six sowings, to provide a new harvest every few weeks until frost.