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).
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!
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.
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:
3/4″ PVC water pipe,
20′ rebar inside PVC piping
Fiberglass poles fixed to T-posts
Galvanized steel tubing, as sold for small hoophouses.
Metal electrical conduit bent into a curve, connected at the ridge.
Other tubing, such as chainlink fence top-rail, metal water pipe, curved.
“Spider-House” temporary framework
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Garlicbulbing is initiated on/after April 10 (13 hours daylight), and soil temperature above 60°F.
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 uppotatoes 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.
Transplantbroccoli #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.
Install stakes every 8-10’ for peas and fava beans, and stringweave them to final height of that variety.
Weedgarlic [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).
in greenhouse sow lettuce #9; watermelons #1 & 2 in soil blocks or plug flats; calendula and various insectary flowers, filler corn & Romas.
Sowcorn #1 (1/2-3/4” deep) in two phases, and peanutsif 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.
Transplantlettuce #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.
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.
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 involvestracking 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.
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.
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.
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.
Planning: Week 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. Transplantspinach 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.
Sowcarrots #1 outdoors with indicator beets. Flameweed. Finish planting spinach, (direct sow if not enough transplants).
Buyseed 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,sowcarrots # 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.
Yes, really! On January 17, I sowed flats of cabbage, lettuce and mini-onions (cipollini), and the cabbage and lettuce are already up. Onions usually take 10 days, so I’m not surprised not to see them yet. It’s fun to see new seedlings, even though my energy isn’t ready for taking on another growing season yet. I’m still enjoying hibernation!
The cabbage varieties are Early Jersey Wakefield, a quick-growing small pointy-head open-pollinated variety, and Faroa, a quick-growing fairly small round hybrid that has been very reliable for us. These are for a bed of early cabbage, to eat after our stored winter cabbage is all gone. We’ll sow our main-crop cabbage on 2/7, in much bigger quantities.
I sowed two lettuces: reliable old Salad Bowl and the unusual Cracoviensis, a pink veined sturdy leaf lettuce, that we have found is only useful for us at this first sowing. It bolts too easily once it gets even faintly warm. It tends not to get bitter even when bolting, but our diners aren’t going to believe that!
We’re also still busy with various stages of our garden planning. yesterday I updated our harvest calendar, which tells our cooks which crops they can expect when, and also our food processing calendar to tell the food processing crew when to be ready to tackle large amounts of broccoli, beans or paste tomatoes, for example. I’m part way through revising the document we call our garden calendar, which is really a month-by-month task list. If you were following this blog in the fall, you’ll remember some of those monthly garden task lists. We’ve planned which crops are going in which of the 60 permanent raised beds and identified the ones we need to spread compost on and till first. And then we twiddle our thumbs – lots of rain last week (and a bit of snow) mean it will be a couple more weeks before the soil is dry enough to till.
Here’s our short Twin Oaks Garden Task List for January:
Planning: Prune the catalogs, do the filing, consolidate notes on varieties and quantities.
Week 1: Finalize seed orders, if not done in December. Revise Seedling Schedule using seed order.
: Revise Outdoor Planting Schedule. Plan labor needs for the year.
: Revise Raised Bed Planning Chart. Plan raised beds for Feb-June.
Week 4: Revise Garden Calendar, Lettuce List and lettuce Log.
Order Bt, spinosad and predatory beasties, coir. [sweet potato slips for shipping 5/12-5/17 if not growing our own] Repair greenhouse and coldframes and tidy. Check germinator-fridge and heat mat. Repair flats, and make new if needed. Make stakes. Clean labels.
Check equipment: rototiller, discs, and mower – repair or replace as needed. Repair and sharpen tools.
Freeze out greenhouse to kill pests, or spray with soap or cinnamon oil every five days. Import ladybugs. Check potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash in storage.
Mid-Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #1, early cabbage, mini-onions, early broccoli, onions.
Late Jan: In greenhouse sow lettuce #2, scallions #1, spinach, tomatoes, peppers for hoophouse Plantsmall potato onions, 4-5″ apart, ½-1” deep, in a mild spell. Remove mulch to plant, then replace it. Plant shallots & mulch.
Perennials (see November list). Weed blueberries, raspberries, asparagus (spread compost), grapes, rhubarb, strawberries. Add soil amendments, fertilize (not strawberries) and mulch. Prune blueberries, (take cuttings if wanted). Fall raspberries: cut all canes to the ground, remove canes from aisles. Summer raspberries: remove old fruiting canes & canes from aisles.
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:
(From Sustainable Market Farming, (c) Pam Dawling, New Society Publishers, 2013)
“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.
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 Fedco, Johnny’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.
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.
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.
Today we revisited the hoophouse and loosened up the outer layer of plastic. We’d accidentally pulled it too tight in our eagerness to get the task finished, and it couldn’t really inflate properly. (The air between the two layers provides insulation as well as structural strength – it stops the plastic flapping about and wearing out by rubbing on the bows). We only had a few inches spare because we had already trimmed the extra plastic off (did I say we were keen to get the job finished?) Hopefully, when it finishes re-inflating the result will be better than it was.
I’ve been busy proof-reading my book Sustainable Market Farming and I’m tired of sitting at the computer, so this post will be short on words and long on photos!
We were lucky with the weather. You can see from Robbie’s picture that we had cowpeas, peppers and ginger growing at the time, and didn’t want a frost.
In case it’s not obvious, this amount of plastic is heavy! Our hoophouse is 96′ by 30′. The plastic was 100′ by 50′.
The first layer was exciting, the second frustrating. The inner plastic is made to keep Infra-red radiation inside the hoophouse and also to disperse condensation, so water-bombs don’t drop down on the workers (or plants). It seems to have a slightly sticky, textured surface, which makes the second layer harder to pull over it. Our real downfall, though, was that the grass was dewy and we thoughtlessly pulled the outer layer over the wet grass before it went over the hoophouse. This made the two layers stick together.
So, now we have the plastic on, we have been busy inside the hoophouse, sowing turnips, transplanting lettuce and chard. And harvesting radishes, tatsoi and peppers. We’ve pulled up the cowpeas, which are a seed crop, and sown turnips in their place. We’ve started pulling up the pepper plants and soon we’ll harvest the ginger. Next week!
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).
Watch the forecast and if frost is expected that night
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.
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).
Transplantlettuce #37 to fill cold frames; #38, 39 in Greenhouse (9″ spacing).
Roll updrip tape from winter squash and sweet potatoes.
Movestored 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.
5thfall 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).
Harvestpeanuts mid-late Oct after a light frost. Wash, dry, cure 6 days in solar dryer facing east (don’t heat over 85°F), store.
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.
Clearwinter 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.
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.