Asian Greens for July: Maruba Santoh, plus sowings for fall

Young Maruba Santoh plants
Photo by Ethan Hirsh

In June I told you about Tokyo Bekana, a light green tender-leaved, white-stemmed green which can be cooked, or used as a substitute for lettuce in hot weather. Because summer in Virginia is a hard time for leafy greens, July’s Asian green is very similar – Maruba Santoh. Maruba Santoh has smoother, wavy, less ruffled leaves than Tokyo Bekana.

To show you I’m not being a slouch, I’ll include some pointers on sowing Asian greens for fall, because now is the time – in our climate at least. Here’s what one of my favorite seed suppliers, Fedco Seeds has to say:

Maruba Santoh (35 days) Brassica rapa (pekinensis group) Open pollinated. With Maruba you get four vegetables in one. The loose round vibrant chartreuse leaves provide a mild piquant mustardy flavor while the flat white stems impart a juicy crisp pac choy taste. High-end chefs like to use the blossoms. Market grower Scott Howell finds the flavor more subtle and complex than that of other greens and cuts Maruba small for his mesclun. Fairly bolt tolerant, so plant after the early spring flea beetle invasion subsides.

Fedco is in Maine and we’re in Virginia, so things are a little different. The information on their website about pests and diseases is good. Our worst brassica pests are harlequin bugs.

We grow our summer brassica seedlings and transplanted Asian greens under ProtekNet on hoops. On the Dubois link, study the Dimensions and Specifications tab, then download the brochure from that tab. Study the Descriptions tab – it tells you which insects are excluded by each size mesh. Be sure that you choose the right size mesh for the bugs you want to exclude. Flea beetles and thrips are small – you need a small mesh. Johnny’s is now marketing the close-mesh ProtekNet as  “Biothrips” insect netting, and they also have a comparison chart of rowcover and insect netting on their site.

Adolescent Maruba Santoh plants bunched for market.
Photo Kitazawa Seeds

Kitazawa Seeds also sells Maruba Santoh seed, under the Chinese Cabbage heading. Like most brassicas, Maruba Santoh does best in cool weather, although it is somewhat heat tolerant (or “warm tolerant” as we call it in Virginia.) It tolerates heat better than Napa Chinese cabbage does. To avoid bolting, keep the plants above 50F (10C) at all times, but particularly avoid prolonged spells below this “bolting trigger” temperature.

Maruba Santoh will germinate at temperatures between 50-85F. Seedlings emerge in just 3 days in summer. For summer use, direct sow, thin the rows for baby salad mix, then let the “heads” (it doesn’t actually head up) develop to full size (6-10″ tall) after about 35-40 days. Or transplant two week old starts. We tend to grow our plants quite big (12″ tall) and harvest by the leaf, several times over. Maruba Santoh makes a fine substitute for lettuce, and a tasty quick-cooking green.

To calculate sowing dates, work back 40 days from when you want to harvest, and sow more every week or two until you run into the fall slowdown temperatures, or you go back to eating lettuce in salads and cooking chard and kale. If you still have Maruba Santoh growing in the fall, know that it will be frost tolerant to 25°F (-4°C). No hurry.

Newly transplanted Maruba Santoh.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Maruba Santoh can also be grown at other times of year: spring and fall outdoors, winter in the hoophouse. The seedlings have large cotyledons and make good microgreens too.

Kitazawa’s  Culinary Tips include: Use in salad, sukiyaki, ohitashi, yosenabe, stir-fry, soup and pickling. Kim chi here we come! (If we had surplus.)


Next month I will talk more about Asian greens outdoors in fall. Now is the time to sow for fall harvests. We start in late June, and sow more in early July. We always make two sowings a week apart, for insurance.  We are aiming for greens to feed us in early fall, before the kale is ready, and into the winter, harvesting by the leaf. But Asian greens can be sown all the way up to two months before your first fall frost date. For us, that means August 14-20.  If you want to make sowings now, consider senposai, komatsuna, pak choy, tat soi, Yukina Savoy, and Chinese cabbage.


An insectary circle with borage and sunflower in a chard bed.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

I have two posts on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog that I haven’t told you about yet. So if it’s too hot out, or it’s raining (don’t make me envious) seek shade and read more. The newer post is Insectaries: Grow Flowers to Attract Beneficial Insects, and the previous one is Planting Leeks. 

Bare Root Transplants

Lettuce seed bed, with Muir, Jericho, Sierra lettuces. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Lettuce seed bed, with Muir, Jericho, Sierra lettuces.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Last week when writing about Lettuce Varieties for January I mentioned how we grow all our outdoor lettuce as bare root transplants. From January through to the end of April, we sow lettuce seed in open flats. After that date, we sow in outdoor nursery seed beds, and simply dig up the transplants when big enough and replant them in our raised beds. We transplant 120 lettuce outdoors each week until early October and then transplant in our greenhouse and our hoophouse. We also grow many other crops (all the easy to transplant ones) in open flats, or in nursery seed beds.

This method has gone “out of fashion”, but perhaps it will come back in! Atina Diffley (Author of Turn Here Sweet Corn and Wholesale Success) has written a blog post about bare-root brassica transplants at atinadiffley.com/blog/. She has written a thorough-and-concise 9 page manual Seed Beds: Bare Root Field-grown Brassica Transplant Production.  It includes a chart of pros and cons of bare-root transplants compared to container-grown greenhouse transplants.

Using bare-root transplants does require a bit more attention to technique than popping plugs into the ground. But it’s not that difficult and we train new people every year with success.

Why bare-root transplants?

Bare-root transplants save a lot of time and money, compared to growing in flats. They also save on valuable greenhouse space. The plants get very sturdy, because they have the full depth of soil in which to develop big roots. Starts grown in outdoor seedbeds are already acclimated to cooler conditions than plants in your greenhouse. They are less prone to drying out than seedlings in flats, but do be ready to protect them from bugs.

Which crops work best?

Bare-root transplants can suffer more transplant shock than plugs, so start with “easy to transplant” crops, such as brassicas (cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi), lettuce, onions and leeks. Tomatoes and peppers are worth trying next. See the Chart “Relative Ease of Transplanting Bare-Root Vegetable Seedlings” free online in Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers. Avoid trying bare-root cucurbits (squash, melons, cucumbers).

Bare-root transplants can be used on any scale, from backyard to large farm. See the impressive photos of huge beds of cabbage transplants in Atina Diffley’s manual. They can be used at various times of year, and from indoors to outdoors and vice-versa.

Spring bare-root transplants started in a hoophouse, planted outdoors.

For the earliest spring transplants, bare-root hoophouse starts are a nice option. For us, onion seedlings overwintered in the hoophouse have worked very well. Seedlings outdoors or in a cold-frame suffer too much winter-kill. We don’t want to fuss with flats in November-February. We’re in zone 7, at 38̊ N. We sow onions in the soil in the hoophouse November 10 and 20, with a backup sowing on December 5. We plant them outdoors as early in March as we can. The onions get to thin-pencil-size by March 1, which we couldn’t do from a spring sowing. Onion roots are tough and thick, not thread-like – they are easy as bare-root transplants.

We sow spinach, collards and kale in the hoophouse in mid-late January and plant them outdoors in early March. This is a lot less work than using flats, and our comparison trials with bare-root spinach showed results were just as good as spinach in Speedling plug flats. We have tried early lettuce transplanted from the hoophouse, but the plants were not as sturdy as those in flats.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Outdoor bare-root transplants

See my book Sustainable Market Farming, for more details of growing outdoor bare root transplants. We grow lettuce this way from April to September, and fall brassicas in June and July, in one of our permanent raised beds where the soil is friable and free-draining. Also see Atina Diffley’s manual for cultivation tips.

We grow outdoor cabbage, broccoli, collard, senposai and Yukina Savoy transplants in seedbeds for 3-4 weeks in June and July, covered with ProtekNet on hoops. We transplant in July and early August for harvest in October and November. We prefer this to direct sowing, because it is much easier to keep the relatively small seedbed watered and bug-free. For large amounts use an EarthWay seeder. Atina Diffley recommends the leek seed plate for brassicas.

Outdoors to indoors

In September we make an outdoor seedbed for crops to transplant into our hoophouse in October. The late summer hoophouse crops get a few extra weeks to finish up. Because the hoophouse can be warmer than ideal for lettuce germination until well into fall, it often works better to start plants in a cooler location, then move the plants. In September in our climate, four-week old lettuce plants will be a good size.

As well as ten varieties of lettuce, we sow various Asian greens and Brite Lites chard. Nine days later we sow another ten varieties of lettuce, white and red Russian kales, senposai and frilly mustards such as Ruby Streaks, Red Rain, Golden Frills, Scarlet Frills as well as green mizuna. We cover the seedbeds with hoops and ProtekNet and water daily. Transplanting these plants starts October 1 with the fast-growing pak choy, Chinese cabbage and Tokyo Bekana. The other transplants follow, as they reach the right size.

Brassica seedbed protected from insects with ProtekNet and hoops. Photo Bridget Alsehsire

Brassica seedbed protected from insects with ProtekNet and hoops.
Photo Bridget Alsehsire

Stay indoors in winter

In October in the hoophouse we sow short rows of “brassica fillers”, mostly senposai, Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh. These grow fastest, which becomes more important in the dark winter days. We fill gaps in any brassica bed, that occur either because of disease, or of harvesting. In late October and early November we sow filler leaf lettuce varieties and filler spinach. These extra plants help us out if something goes wrong, and give us the chance to grow some extra crops after the first ones have been harvested.

How much to sow

Our formula for sowing seedbeds in the hoophouse is to divide the final row length of brassica plants by 10 to give the minimum length of seed row to sow. These plants will be transplanted 10″-12″ (25-30 cm) apart. For onions (to be transplanted 4″ (10 cm) apart), we divide the number of plants wanted by 20 to give the row feet (67/m), but we sow this amount twice, about 10 days apart. Outdoors for the fall brassicas, we sow around a foot (30 cm) of seed row for every 12′-15′ (3.6-4.6 m) of crop row, aiming for 3-4 seeds per inch (0.75 cm apart). These plants will be transplanted 18″ (46 cm) apart. It’s important to weed and thin the seedlings to 1″ (2.5 cm) apart soon after they emerge.

Transplant age and size

There is quite a lot of flexibility about when a start can be transplanted, but there are accepted ideals to be aimed for. The University of Florida Vegetable Horticulture Program Vegetable Transplant Production page  has a wealth of transplant information. Transplants grown over winter or in very early spring in a hoophouse will take longer to reach plantable size than those sown in spring or summer.

Suitable conditions for transplanting

The ideal conditions for outdoor transplanting are mild windless afternoons and evenings just before light steady rain. Transplanting late in the day gives the plant the chance to recover during the cooler night hours when transpiration is slower. Shadecloth or rowcover can reduce the drying effects of wind and sun. Damp soil is important before, during and after transplanting.

Bare-root transplanting technique

When you dig up your bare-root transplants, leave some soil clinging to the roots, to help the plants re-establish quicker. They don’t need a full handful of soil for each plant. Just dig up a clump and give it a light shake, to leave the majority of the soil behind, and some still on the roots. This means less damage to the root hairs. Be sure to dig deep enough so you don’t damage the tap roots. Water your plants the day before and an hour before lifting (pulling) them. In hot weather, keep the plants as shaded as possible while transplanting.If necessary water the soil ahead of planting.

We use plastic dish-pans to carry our plants from seedbed to field, and I tell people to only dig up what they think they can transplant in half an hour, so that plants don’t sit around for too long. Push the trowel into the soil, using the dominant hand, push it forwards, shake a plant loose from the clumps in the dish-pan with the other hand, and slip a plant in behind the trowel. Pull out the trowel, keeping it in your hand while you close the soil against the stem with your planting hand and the trowel. (Efficient workers keep a hand on the trowel at all times, never setting it down.) Move to the next spot and repeat. When setting out a large number of plants, water every 20-30 minutes if you don’t have drip irrigation running (a bit less often if you do) regardless of the number of plants set out. If the person is skilled and moving fast, and the weather is not outrageously hot or windy, I might let an hour go by before pausing to water. The advantage of getting a lot of plants in the ground proficiently and quickly might outweigh the need to water more often, as the plants are not having their roots exposed to the air for as long when they are planted fast. The hand-watering really helps the soil settle around the roots, and after that the damp soil can wick moisture from the irrigation towards the plant.

Aftercare: water, rowcover, shadecloth

Water your plants the day after transplanting, on days 3, 7 and 10, and then weekly, if it doesn’t rain when you’d like it to. Shadecloth draped over recently transplanted crops can help them recover sooner from the shock in hot sunny weather. We use 50% shade, in 6′ (1.8 m) width, with wire hoops to hold the shadecloth above the plants. This improves the airflow as well as reducing the abrasion or pressure damage done to the plants. The airflow through shadecloth is better than with floating rowcovers. ProtekNet allows good airflow too, and keeps bugs off.

Shade cloth on lettuce seed bed. Photo Nina Gentle

Shade cloth on lettuce seed bed.
Photo Nina Gentle

 

 

 

Insect mesh, shadecloth, crimson clover, sowing corn, too much rain

May2016_cover_300pxThe May issue of Growing for Market is out, including my article about protecting crops in the summer, using shadecloth and insect mesh (netting).

If you want to grow lots of summer crops in buggy places, net houses (hoophouses covered with insect mesh rather than poly) may be your answer. If the bugs are not tiny, small mesh shade cloth may be an even better choice than insect mesh, because it cools while keeping the critters out. Search for project FS13-275 at http://www.southernsare.org. The document High Tunnel Pest Exclusion System: A novel strategy for organic crop production in the south is available from a link in that report.

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer. Photo Nina Gentle

Shade cloth on a bed of lettuce in summer.
Photo Nina Gentle

I write about using shade cloth for cool weather crops like lettuce during the summer, and also about research into the improvements to yields of peppers when using shadecloth. 30% shade cloth can increase pepper yields by 100% (yes, double the yield!). See the University of Georgia paper Shading helps south Georgia pepper farmers beat the heat. For hot weather lettuce, we use 45-60% shade cloth on spring hoops 6-8 feet apart, with a plastic clothespin to attach it at each hoop.  Shadecloth lets air through better than row cover does, so it’s less likely to blow away. We don’t use any weight to hold the edges down. We keep the shade cloth on for 2-3 weeks after transplanting, then move it on to the next planting, in a single operation. 2 or 3 people pull up the hoops with the shade cloth still attached, and parade it like a Chinese dragon procession.We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth. Photo Kathryn Simmons

We cover our hoophouse from mid-May to mid-September with shadecloth.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Rowcover (white polypro or polyester non-woven fabric) is often used by growers in cold weather to extend the season. There are also lightweight rowcovers for insect exclusion. These can be fragile, and holey row cover doesn’t keep insects out! We switched to only buying thick rowcover and use it  for some crops even in summer. It doesn’t heat up as much as people fear. Johnnys Seeds has a helpful row cover comparison chart

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August. Photo by Bridget Aleshire

ProtekNet over kale transplants in August.
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

But even better for protecting plants against bugs in summer is ProtekNet, a translucent polyamide (nylon) fabric which comes in different mesh sizes. it allows better airflow than rowcover, and better light permeability (from the plants’ perspective) – visibility from the human perspective. Dubois offers free shipping on online orders over $200. ProtekNet is also available from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland, and  Johnnys Seeds in Maine.


Also in this issue of Growing for Market Jane Tanner writes about the benefits of no-till farming, in building topsoil, encouraging soil micro-organisms and reducing weed pressure.  She writes about several farms, all following the model of small acreage, intensively farmed, mostly with manual tools. This system, advocated by Jean-Martin Fortier in The Market Gardener, includes “occultation”, the practice of covering damp soil with heavy black plastic for several weeks to kill weeds. This article includes photos of occultation and a clear explanation. Cover crops are another important feature of this system. I found this a particularly information-packed article, one I will return to.

9221576_origKarin Tifft writes about IPM tools (Integrated Pest Management) for small and organic farms, making the topic accessible to those of us with only a short amount of reading time! We can read enough now to make some actual differences to our pest levels. Later we’ll want to read more, as results pile up.

Nikki Warner writes with advice for managing a farmers market, and Ralph Thurston and Jeriann Sabin write about starting a flower farm (Excerpted  from their book Deadhead: The Bindweed Way to Grow Flowers with their permission.)


We sowed our first corn on Thursday. the soil temperature was 60F, so we were OK on that score. But then it rained and rained. The soil is saturated. I wonder if the corn seed will rot in the ground? Also the bean we sowed last week. Was I too hasty? We’ll see.


Meanwhile, a cheery sight has been the flowering crimson clover cover crop

Crimson clover cover crop Photo by Bridget Aleshire

Crimson clover cover crop
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

This patch is where our fall broccoli was last year. We under-sowed with a mix of crimson clover, Ladino white clover and medium red clover. If you look closely you can see the white patterned leaves of the red clover and the tiny leaves of the white clover in the understory. Also the seeding chickweed, which will disappear as soon as we bush hog the patch. Our goal here is to maintain the clovers all year, adding nitrogen to the soil for next year’s food crop and swamping the weeds. We’ll mow every time it looks weedy.

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop Photo by McCune Porter

Winter rye and crimson clover cover crop
Photo by McCune Porter

In this second picture, you can see a patch where we sowed winter rye mixed with crimson clover in late October as a winter cover crop. In most places the rye is taller than the clover, so it’s not as overwhelmingly pretty as the first patch, but it’s packing a lot of biomass to feed the soil. It will get disked in soon (when the soil dries enough!), in preparation for later sweet corn sowings.

Summer Reading: Mother Earth News, Organic Broadcaster, Finding a Place to Grow

Fall broccoli undersown with a mixed clover cover crop. Photo Nina Gentle.

Fall broccoli undersown with a mixed clover cover crop.
Photo Nina Gentle.

Here’s some leads to some summer reading on gardening and farming. First, my blog post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog. It’s my third post in a series about intercropping (planting a second crop around or beside a first, to take over after the first crop finishes. In this case, I’m writing about undersowing cover crops in vegetable crops.  We like to undersow our fall broccoli and cabbage about 4 weeks after transplanting, with a mix of crimson clover, medium red clover and Ladino white clover. First we remove the rowcover or ProtekNet we have been using to keep the bugs off the crops, then cultivate with our BCS tiller or our Valley Oak wheelhoe. And hand hoes in the row. Then we broadcast the clover and hope for rain. (Huh! We’ve had plenty so far this summer!). If no rain, we use overhead sprinklers every other night for a week.

The MEN blogpost includes other examples, advantages, challenges and so on.


 

broadcasterlogowebI just received the July/August edition of the Organic Broadcaster. Good thoughtful articles on keeping organic livestock healthy; why organic certification doesn’t have the same attractiveness it once had and what can be done to re-energize enthusiasm for the guarantees that certified organic brings; inspiring stories of mentors who are contenders for the MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year award; advice about getting crop hail insurance; dealing with pesticide drift, using mob grazing of cattle; strengthening the bonds between women farmers by holding potlucks; a review of Jean-Martin Fortier’s The Market Gardener; news about an open-source network of seed growers, plant breeders and researchers; an article about how climate change is impacting agriculture and lots of news snippets about resources, opportunities, reports, and tools for organic farmers; classified ads (bargains!),and an events calendar. This paper is free, in either the electronic or the paper format. It’s based in the Mid-west, with information relevant to us all.


R1IsO4E6fviHqxAg8gx8rIJ42tz3oOygTkNRzqXDhapu5gfQta-a7McKdqgJEFZDDTtYP-F9DxxOKJEbHn5ymsHdGn-CCdiW=s0-d-e1-ftI recently heard from the Piedmont Environmental Council about a publication containing  eight stories of beginning farmers and landowners working together to craft affordable leases that enable committed new farmers to establish themselves in farming, and landowners to put land they are not using into good hands. You can read the stories online or Download the PDF.

Finding a Place to Grow: How the Next Generation is Gaining Access to Farmland.

land_leasing_stories_web_banner_2000xThe biggest hurdle for beginning farmers is usually finding land they can afford. This publication encourages us to think more broadly about what might be possible. The eight stories include

  • land slated for housing development that became instead an incubator farm for half a dozen small farming enterprises (Each tenant negotiates his or her own rent with the landowner, maybe starting out with a reduced rate and building up to what is affordable and realistic as the business grows);
  • another new farm is building up their herd by leasing cattle to make full use of the acreage, until they can afford to own their own big herd;
  • others leased form like-minded farmers who needed to take a break from the intensity of full-time farming;
  • others farm on a public nature preserve owned by a non-profit (as part of the deal, the farmers serve as caretakers for the property, keeping the paths cleared for visitors);
  • another started by using family land that had not been actively farmed, then added leases on neighbors’ lands to expand the farm;
  • Waterpenny Farm has been the model and the training ground for many new farmers (they started their lease by paying the landowner in sweat equity, restoring a house);
  • another leaser points out the advantages of having like-minded people around, and a landowner who wants them to succeed;
  • and finally there’s the story of Willowsford, a planned neighborhood including a working farm to grow food for the development’s residents and others.

So, if you or your friends are hoping to start in farming but can’t afford to buy land, here are ways to farm without ownership – although still with commitment, hard work, variable weather and all the ups and downs of dealing with real live plants or animals.

Sowing kale, finishing planting cabbage, more on zipper spiders

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

This is what we’re aiming for – healthy kale plants to feed us during the winter! I reported last week that we had got one bed of kale sown. It’s up nicely under the rowcover, so we can use some of those plants as transplants to get more beds established when we do manage to get more beds tilled and prepped. Yesterday we sowed more kale – three partial beds which had held our fall broccoli and cabbage transplants.

We have at last got our final row of cabbage planted out, so the nursery seed beds are fairly emptied out. Not entirely though. Our next transplanting job is to fill gaps in the rows. We have 8 rows of broccoli and 4 of cabbage, 265 ft long. A hundred people eat a lot of food! Meanwhile, we raked around the remaining broccoli and cabbage transplants, and sowed more kale. A bit chaotic, having beds with big old plants and freshly sown ones, but manageable. all are covered with spring steel hoops and ProtekNet insect exclusion netting made by Dubois Agrinovation., which I have raved about previously. It keeps Harlequin bugs and flea beetles out.

We like Vates as it’s the most cold-hardy kale we’ve found and we can leave it outdoors without protection in our zone 7 winter and harvest from it about once a week. One year we did try covering it with floating row cover, to boost production, but it was a sad mistake! The fibers of the polypro row-cover got snagged in the frilled crinkled leaves, which made the cooks very unhappy!

Last winter we grew some Beedy’s Camden kale from Fedco

Beedy's Camden kale. Credit Fedco SeedsBeedy’s Camden kale.Credit Fedco Seeds

It was faster growing than Vates, and the leaves are wavy rather than frilled, and some people liked a change from our usual. Rated as hardy to zone 5, it wasn’t as cold-hardy as Vates in our garden. We are growing some more this winter.

We had planned to try Blue Ridge kale from Osborne Seeds, but they had sold out by the time I tried to order. It has done well for Clif Slade at his 43560 Project at Virginia State University, where the climate is a little milder.

Blue Ridge kale. Credit Osborne SeedsBlue Ridge kale. Credit Osborne Seeds

While shopping, I bought some Black Magic kale. We have tried these Lacinato kales in the past, both outdoors and in the hoophouse, without much success. We’ve had aphids building huge colonies in the curled back leaf edges. We’ve had indifferent growth. I’ve tasted great Lacinato kales at friends’ houses, outside our region. But every few years it come time to try a previous failure again, and we have some new crew members enthusiastic about this one, so we’re giving it our best!

Black magic kale. Credit Osborne Seeds

Black magic kale.
Credit Osborne Seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 


Two weeks ago I asked if anyone knew if zipper spiders ate hornworms. I did some reading, and I think it’s possible they do. The Latin name for these spiders is Argiope aurantia. I found out that all the many, many zipper spiders I’ve been looking at are females. The males look quite nondescript. I also confirmed that the 3/4″ brownish sacs we had hanging all over the hoophouse all last winter were indeed egg sacs of the zipper spider. Each one held over a thousand eggs! Golly! This is better than science fiction! Wikipedia says prey can include not only insects, but also small vertebrates such as geckos, so it seems likely that hornworms could be on the menu. Does anyone have a good source of information? There’s a YouTube of a spider eating a hornworm. I haven’t got enough bandwidth to watch it. Let me know if it’s good.

Zipper spider on tomato plant.  Credit Wren Vile

Zipper spider on tomato plant.
Credit Wren Vile

 

Who likes my blog?

It’s the time of year when I start to review what’s working well and what needs tweaking for the next growing season. I’m applying this to my blog as well. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Favorite topics are growing sweet potato slips and harvesting sweet potatoes, winter hardy crops, reviews of books by Janisse Ray and Bill Best, trimming and sorting garlic, and garlic planting, weeding zombie carrots (I suspect some non-gardeners check that one!), climate change and winding up driptape for reuse.

Top searches (other than things directly related to my book) include:

sweet potatoes, quick-cut greens harvester, crop rotation chart, Growing for Market, cicadas, slideshare.net, Proteknet, senposai, and market farming.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Someone in almost every country has visited my site. Hopefully people in Greenland, the Svalbard islands of Norway, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, Azerbijan, and twelve countries in central and western Africa will find it useful at some point!

The past few weeks in our garden

I’m just back from vacation. It’s a very lucky farmer who gets two weeks away in the height of summer – one of the benefits of living in community. (See the Twin Oaks website for more on that). The rest of the crew took care of things, and I missed the hottest week of the year (so far). Here’s some of the jobs I missed:

A much delayed planting of the summer potatoes on 7/18 (a whole month later than usual). Our smaller tractor was out of commission for a month, and when it came back, people were lining up to use it. We bought some new furrowers In June, but I missed seeing them in action. Our previous equipment didn’t make deep enough furrows, leading to potatoes popping up above the soil and turning green. We mulch our summer potatoes immediately after hilling, which is immediately after planting, so there is no chance of hilling again later. We like to mulch (with hay) to keep the soil damper and cooler in the hot weather.

Our Cecchi and Magli potato digger

Our Cecchi and Magli potato digger

Potatoes lifted Oct 09

An October 2009 picture of our lifted potatoes.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I also missed the harvest of the spring potatoes. We had hoped to do this earlier too, but mowing the tops was delayed and so the skins didn’t thicken up till 7/22. The potatoes are now safely in the root cellar, and I’m opening the door at night to cool them and to provide fresh air. Newly harvested potatoes are still live plants, still respiring and so still need oxygen.  I learned this the hard way years ago, when I didn’t ventilate the cellar enough. The potatoes died in the centers (the condition is called Black Heart). A very disappointing waste of good food. Later the potatoes will go dormant, and won’t need daily air exchanges.

Our root cellar. Credit McCune Porter

Our root cellar.
Credit McCune Porter

We follow the spring potatoes with the fall broccoli and cabbage, a slightly hair-raising fast turnaround. We have composted and disked the patch, set out driptape, stakes and ropes, rowcover and sticks to hold it down. Because of Harlequin bugs, we need to cover the new transplants for a few weeks until they have the strength to withstand the bugs. So we plant rows 34″ apart, under ropes on stakes. One piece of 84″ rowcover will form a square tunnel over two rows of brassicas. The rowcover is held up by the ropes.

This evening will be the first of many transplanting shifts. Because we are late, the transplants are larger than ideal. Ironically, this year the first sowings germinated very well, grew very well, and the bugs didn’t get under the ProtekNet. Fabulous transplants and they’ve had to wait and wait. Hopefully we can make up for some lost time by really putting our shoulders to the wheel and planting efficiently. having driptape really helps. We turn it on while we plant and so the plants get a drink as soon as they are in the ground. Watering is not a separate job.

While I’ve been away, the eggplants, pickling cucumbers, cantaloupes and okra have all started to produce. We are trying some West Indian Gherkins this year for the first time. I’ll let you know how the pickles turn out. They are strange things, like miniature prickly watermelons. Very prolific, disease-resistant and heat tolerant. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, though.

West Indian Gherkins

West Indian Gherkins
Credit Monticello Store

Sowing greens for fall

Senposai – a delicious, cold-tolerant leaf green

One of my tasks this week has been sowing fall greens. I start sowing in the third or fourth week of June, and set aside time once a week for about six weeks, to sow more and weed and thin the older seedlings. The first two weeks are the most intense, and if I’m successful with those, I have a lot less work in the weeks following. If something goes wrong, I resow whatever didn’t come up, or died.

For fall greens, we don’t sow in flats but directly in a nursery bed, covered with rowcover on hoops to keep the harlequin bugs and flea beetles off. It’s less work, easier to keep them all watered, and they are not cramped in small cells: they make good roots and are more tolerant of hot conditions.

This year we are growing twelve different varieties of broccoli and eleven of cabbage! We hope to compare them and next year just grow the best few varieties of each  crop. We are growing to feed the hundred members of Twin Oaks Community, not to sell to a wholesaler, so we want a long broccoli season, and sideshoots are as important to us as main heads. We want cabbage that stores, as well as cabbage that is ready quickly. Our broccoli patch is part of the Novic trials, so we hope others will learn from our plants too.

To organize all these different sowings I have a spreadsheet and a map of the nursery beds. I prepare the bed, make the furrows, write a plastic label for each variety, measure the rows, set the labels in place, then water the furrows very thoroughly before sowing the seeds and covering them with (dry)soil from the sides of the furrows. This is a good way to help seeds germinate during hot dry weather: the seeds sit in the mud, where they have enough water to germinate and get up above ground. It’s much more successful than watering after sowing, when you sprinkle water on a dry surface and hope in goes down deep enough and doesn’t evaporate. And, contrary to some myths, brassica seeds can germinate very well at high temperatures. They just need the water right there where the seeds are.

We’ll transplant our seedlings when they are 3-4 weeks old, watering first, then

Kohlrabi is another of the less-common brassicas. We like to mix the purple plants with the green ones

digging them up and setting the bare-root transplants out in their rows. We’re planning 2000 ft of broccoli, 1300 ft of cabbage, 540 ft of senposai (a delicious tender leaf green with some frost tolerance), 360 ft of kohlrabi, and 90 ft each of Chinese cabbage and Yukina Savoy (a cold-tolerant giant tatsoi). That’s plenty of plants to rehouse in a short time and keep alive and happy.

This year we are trying two new things. One is Proteknet in place of rowcover. It’s a fine mesh nylon fabric that keeps bugs out, but lets more light in than most spun-bonded rowcovers, and has much better airflow. We think we’ll have healthier plants. Also, we can see them through the mesh, so we know they’ve germinated and can spot problems early. One year we checked under our rowcover and found fleabeetles had got in and had a busy week, chomping along the rows. We got the ProtekNet from Purple Mountain Organics in Maryland, suppliers of good tools with the personal recommendations from the company.

The second new thing we’re trying is drip irrigation in the field. We use drip for some of our crops, but previously we used overhead sprinklers for the fall greens. We’ve had trouble in recent years with the extremely hot weather in late July and early August when we transplant. We think setting out the drip irrigation and running the water while we plant will help the plants get over their transplant shock. And we’ll be able to give them an hour of water in the middle of each day for the first week, to help them face this brutal weather we’re having. And the best bit is: they can get their mid-day watering without me walking up and down dragging a hose. I can be indoors blogging!