May at Twin Oaks in central Virginia

Hoophouse tomatoes in early May Photo Bridget Aleshire

Hoophouse tomatoes in early May
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Last night (May 15) we had a low temperature of 35F. This seems oh-so-late. I put rowcover over our two beds of outdoor tomatoes but forgot the two beds of beans! But the heavy rains are over for now, and we are tilling where we can and getting ready for lots of transplanting.

We are currently harvesting kale, collards, garlic scallions, garlic scapes, rhubarb, lettuce and the last of the spinach outdoors. From storage we have sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.Our spring senposai failed (probably not enough watering after transplanting). Soon we’ll have broccoli and early cabbage and radishes.

Our first yellow squash in the hoophouse mid-May. Photo Bridget Aleshire

Our first yellow squash in the hoophouse mid-May.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Hoophouse Snap peas 5 Winnie web

Sugar Ann snap peas in our hoophouse. Photo Bridget Aleshire

From the hoophouse we have our first squash and our last spinach, as well as snap peas. I have lots more photos but this morning our internet service is being very very slow, and I’m out of time. Before closing I’ll just tell you about the Twin Oaks Herb Garden Tour and Tea:

Twin Oaks Herb Garden Photo Bridget Aleshire

Twin Oaks Herb Garden
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Join Hildegard and Ira for a Guided Tour of the Twin Oaks Herb Garden in Louisa, Virginia, on Saturday, May 21, 2016.

Choose from two times:

  • with Morning Tea (10 am to noon)
  • with Afternoon Tea (1 pm to 3 pm)

Tour our verdant herb garden and enjoy assorted sweet & savory herbal treats and teas. You’ll receive recipes and have time to chat with our herbalist. Plants from the garden will be available for purchase. 

For more information or to reserve your space email:
hild@twinoaks.org

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.

Adapting to a wet spring, using cold frames

Our greenhouse full of seedlings in spring. Photo by Ira Wallace

Our greenhouse full of seedlings in spring.
Photo by Ira Wallace

Our greenhouse is full of flats of seedlings. Today is warm and sunny. At last! The soil is still too wet to till, but we are feeling more optimistic. The forecast still has possibilities of rain Tuesday night (only about 0.1″) and snow Friday night (less than an inch). Soon we will start moving flats from the greenhouse to our cold frames so the plants can harden off in preparation for transplanting in the raised beds. Usually we would have done this earlier, but it has been cold.

Our greenhouse construction is a masonry north wall and double-paned glass windows and insulated walls. Until last winter we didn’t use any additional heating, just the sun. But we now use an electric heater with the thermostat set so heat comes on if the temperature drops below 45F. We decided our seedlings are too precious to risk freezing them, and the weather is more extreme. We also put row cover over the seedling flats if the night temperature could fall below 18F outdoors. Once we have frost tender plants outside the plastic tent (which has a heat mat), we put row cover over those if the outdoor low temperature could be below 28F.

Our cold frames are built from loose set cinder blocks, higher on the north than the south. Following advice from Eliot Coleman in one of his older books, I think Four Season Harvest, we slope the soil in our cold frames. It’s higher at the north, by about 7 degrees, so the plants get better sun exposure.

In late summer, we dig compost into the soil in the frames, rake it up to the angle we want, and sow the spinach in mid-September.

Digging compost into our cold frames in early September. Photo by Wren Vile

Digging compost into our cold frames in early September.
Photo by Wren Vile

The spinach grows in the ground in the cold frame all winter.When it gets cold enough, we cover with row cover. During cold spells we add lids which are wood frames with fiberglass glazing. For very cold nights we cover the cold frames with quilts which are made from reject scraps of the quilted hammocks Twin Oaks sells. Because they are made for outdoor use, the fabrics are very durable.

Here’s how we look after our cold frames in spring:

  • If there is only spinach in the frames (no flats), use rowcover for temps >10F, rowcover and lids for <10F. No need to open and close every day, just remove or add lids if the weather is changing. See below about windy nights.
  • When there are flats in the frames, at night, use the rowcover for temperatures 32-40F, rowcover+lids for 15-40F, rowcover+lids+quilts for temps below 15F. If winds are forecast to be more than 20mph, weight down the lids with wood. If you’re using the quilts, weight them down for winds more than 5mph.
  • In the morning, if the temperature is over 20F, roll up the frame quilts if used.
  • If the air temperature is over 50F, or over 45F and rapidly warming, open the cold frame lids if used, and remove any rowcover over flats, until it cools down again. Seedlings need to harden off, to prepare them to survive outdoors.
  • Keep cabbage and broccoli over 40F, tomatoes, eggplant, celeriac over 45F, peppers over 50F.
  • Flats of seedlings which have been up for a couple of weeks usually need to go to the cold frames for the last two weeks before their transplant date. Good to check about this though, and don’t do it if the weather is about to turn colder. Don’t put celery, eggplant, cucumbers, squash or hoophouse starts in the coldframe at all.
  • If the soil surface is dry, run the drip irrigation for the spinach, or use the hose and sprayer for the flats. If frost is possible, disconnect the hose from the faucet and the sprayer head from the hose when finished, so that they do not freeze and burst at night. Please store the sprayer head in the blocks, don’t get sawdust or dirt in it, it’s a pain to clean. If the outdoor faucet is drained, carry water in cans from the greenhouse. Keep soil surfaces damp, not wet.
Our greenhouse and cold frames in spring with flats of seedlings. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Our greenhouse and cold frames in spring with flats of seedlings.
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

For a few years we have had trouble with voles eating the roots of the spinach. We found that if we replaced the spinach with flats of seedlings, they ate all the seedlings! So now, we leave the frames empty for a few days after clearing the spinach (any day now). Then we cover the soil with landscape fabric and put the flats on that. it saves our seedlings.

 

Peterson Pawpaws Success, more cold weather, sturdy seedlings

ffac5b6bec40f9b6194c44df0fe3126d_originalphoto-1024x768A few weeks ago I wrote about Neal Peterson’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money to pay for trademarks for the six varieties of pawpaw he has been breeding during the last 38 years. This will enable him to export the plants to nurseries in japan and Europe, which are enthusiastic to stock his varieties. The great news is that the Kickstarter Campaign has been successful, with less than 22 hours to go. He’d still accept more donations, naturally, to help defray costs. The website has lots of interesting information, including his video, an NPR video report, the history of this project, some photos of pawpaws from his varieties, press reviews, and an explanation of why trademarks are necessary and important for exports like this. Congratulations Neal! And all the best with the enterprise!


Snow Yucca. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Snow Yucca.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Yes, more cold weather! We had been planning to have garden shifts four times a week, with up to ten people working for three hours each shift. None of this has happened since it started to snow on Monday 16 February. The garden has been inaccessible, under snow and ice. That’s 180 hours of work we haven’t done, and the prospect is for losing another 180 and even then the soil will be too wet to till.

Oh well! This gives us time to sharpen tools, repair them and cold frame lids and wooden flats. On that subject, Cindy Conner has written about using wood flats on her blog Homeplace Earth. She writes about different sizes of wood flat. Her choice would be 8 x 18¾” x 3-4″. We make two sizes: 12 x 24 x 3″ for seedlings and 12 x 24 x 4″ for spotted out seedlings, as I said in my reply to the comment by Jeff. I prefer cedar or pine, rather than oak (which we have lots of). This is mostly about the weight, but also that oak gets splintery, and I’ve had too many hand injuries while enthusiastically spotting seedlings. After we decided No More Oak Flats we made a new batch in cedar. We made them 15 x 24 x 4″ and those are now heavier than I care to lift once they are full of compost and plants. They (along with other flats) make great sweet potato storage boxes, though!

Sweet potatoes stored in off-duty wood seed flats. Credit Nina Gentle

Sweet potatoes curing in off-duty wood seed flats.
Credit Nina Gentle


All the plants in our hoophpouse and our greenhouse have survived the horrific weather (down to -12F one night!). We have been covering the plants at night with thick rowcover, which we have only needed to do on occasional super-cold nights in the past few years. We have also started using an electric heater in the greenhouse, with the thermostat set to 45F, to fend off the worst. Our efforts have been worthwhile, and we have a hoophouse full of food (very fortunate considering that we can’t get at the spinach, leeks and kale in the outdoor garden). We also have very sturdy seedlings in the greenhouse. The tomato plants (for the hoophouse in mid-March) are in the greenhouse on a heating mat under a poly tent. They look very good indeed. Here’s a picture from a previous year.

This time next week? Tomato seedlings potted up in the greenhouse.  Credit Kathryn Simmons

This time next week? Tomato seedlings potted up in the greenhouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Recent garden work

The heart of a Chinese Cabbage in our hoophouse. Photo Ethan Hirsh

The heart of a Chinese Cabbage in our hoophouse.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

Today we have a snowstorm again. Tonight is forecast to be much colder than usual for this time of year – 0-4F. I’ve been out in the hoophouse bouncing snow off the roof with the bristle end of a broom. I did harvest a bucket of salad mix and two buckets of Chinese cabbage, which was starting to bolt. I set the buckets of produce outside for a short while and the veg started to freeze! I was busy rolling out rowcover over the beds. This is the first winter we have needed rowcover for winter crops, sigh.

Meanwhile, over in the greenhouse we have thousands of small seedlings. I covered all those with rowcover too, and put the potted-up tomatoes back in the germinator-fridge cabinet, where they can get some warmth (if the power doesn’t go out). I plugged in an electric heater set at 45F. I have never ever needed to do this before. Climate change does add stress to the farmer’s life, and more possibility of losing crops. Sigh again.

Before this snow though, we managed to make good progress outdoors. While the soil was still really wet from the last snow-melt we pruned blueberries and grapes.

Our grape rows from the north.  Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our grape rows from the north.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

This photo of our grapes was taken a couple of years ago, slightly later in the year. You can see the vines are budding out, and the rhubarb is coming up. Our grapes are mostly Concord, a variety good for juice and jelly, which is disease-resistant (important on the East Coast). We use the Geneva Double Curtain training style, which lets more sunlight and air in, a distinct advantage in our humid summers.

Our older blueberry patch in the spring. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Our older blueberry patch in the spring.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

As soon as the soil dried out, we tilled all the beds we’d spread compost on, and started prepping them for planting. Because of the cold weather forecast, I didn’t want us to start transplanting spinach or onions, even though we are later than most years with those. We did sow two beds of carrots, so we’ve made a start! It felt good to make so much progress, even though I knew we’d have to sit indoors again today and probably tomorrow too. The only other thing we’ve planted outside this year is a small patch of shallots. But we’re on our way!

What’s still standing after two nights below 0F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?  We’ve now had the Polar Vortex, which brought us two nights at 4F, on 1/6 and 1/7. Then it got even colder.We got the Big Round 0F 1/22-1/23, then a few nights at 5F or 6F, and then the big insult: -4F on the night of 1/29-30.

What’s still standing?

The Tyee spinach under thick rowcover has sustained big damage, showing as patches of beige dead cells. It will recover. Meanwhile we can eat from the more-protected spinach in the coldframes and the hoophouse.

The Vates  kale without rowcover is still alive, but badly damaged. The big leaves are crunchy and brown round the edges, and some of the inner leaves are dead. I hope it will grow back, but we won’t be able to pick that for a while. The Beedy’s Camden kale looks worse – the big leaves have died and flopped over. Not sure if it will recover.

Many of our strawberry plants look dead – very disappointing!

Our hardneck garlic and Polish White softneck tops are killed back to about one inch up from the mulch. Equally hardy, it seems. 

We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. After the 4F assault we still had life in the centers of the Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest. Now only the Winter Marvel shows any signs of life. So that variety gets the prize for cold-tolerance here!

Red Round Turnip. Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Red Round Turnip.
Photo Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover every night it looked like dropping below 10F inside. Almost everything survived – we only got some minor stem freezing on some turnips and Asian greens. We have been eating Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana, Yukina Savoy, various turnips and their greens (Hakurei, White Egg, Oasis, Red Round), also plenty of lettuce leaves, radishes, scallions, and some spinach. We lost our second sowing of spinach in there to over watering and flooding, and we are really noticing the lack right now. We’re short on spinach. We have small amounts of mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Bright Lights chard, Bulls Blood beets to add to salad mixes, and Red Russian and White Russian kale growing slowly.

In January we have taken to sowing spinach, kale and collards in a hoophouse bed to transplant outdoors in early spring. We back this up with sowing some in flats if we don’t get good emergence for some reason. This year emergence is late. Is it just late, or is there a problem? We’re holding our breath for a few more days. . .

GFM_February2014_cover_300pxWe are not the only people tracking the effects of the unusually cold weather. The February Growing for Market magazine opens with an article by Ben Hartman “Testing the Limits of Cold Tolerance”. He farms in Goshen, Indiana, using two double-layer plastic greenhouses heated to 30F (yes. I said heated!) and two unheated. They planted kale, carrots, spinach, salad greens and arugula in their greenhouses for winter harvest. Their outdoor temperatures fell to -16F on 1/6 and 1/7. I imagine they’ve had worse since. They used mid-weight rowcover over their beds. Ben reports that baby greens and young spinach survived, as did their rosemary and their 3 fig trees (all farmers deserve some thrills!). They lost baby salad greens that had already been cut previously (all those cut edges didn’t do well). Crops in the outer beds were lost. The tips of full-grown kale leaves froze, but the plants survived.

In their unheated, single-skin plastic hoophouses, the soil froze down to 4″. They used two layers of mid-weight rowcover suspended over the crops. Despite this cold,  tiny salad greens less than 1″ tall survived. Spinach survived under just one layer of rowcover. The carrot tops froze and the roots may or may not be marketable. The (uncovered) fully mature kale looks dead. The mature salad with two layers of rowcover didn’t survive.

From this experience, Ben points out that salad greens and spinach less than 1″ tall are very cold-tolerant. Spinach and kale once larger, benefit from more protection than they got this time. Beware the outer beds!

My own article in this issue is about matching crop spacing with desired goals, such as maximum yield, optimum size, or convenience for cultivation.

Andrew Mefford has written some greenhouse tips for hoophouse growers, including tomato grafting, trellising. Chris Blanchard has written the second part of his piece on growing herbs – this is about harvest and maintenance. Erin Benzakain has undertaken a 59-variety trial of celosia.

 

Sowing beets, radishes and kale, transplanting cabbage.

Cylindra Beets. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Cylindra Beets.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

In line with my advice in the August issue of Growing for Market magazine, we are working on our First Chance to start again with the spring and fall crops. We sowed beets, and I found out I meant to order more seed before this point. In spring we sowed our beets with the Earthway seeder,EarthWay rather than our more usual manual sowing of lightly soaked seed. I was working on my own and rain was approaching, so I just used the seeder with dry seed. The radish plate was best for the Cylindra beets, if I remember right. Consequently I used more seed. We’ve managed to sow of the three beds we intended.

I put in a hasty online order to Fedco. After clicking Send I remembered we need more carrot seed too. Argh! Happily the people at Fedco are so helpful that they agreed to my email request to add carrot seed to the order. We love buying from Fedco. They don’t waste our money on glossy catalogs. They offer great bulk discounts. And the newsprint catalog is full of pithy comments on food politics. Fedco is one of the main three seed companies we buy from – along with Johnny’s and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We did have enough carrot seed to complete our large fall planting (3 beds of five rows at 265′ – almost 4000ft). But we want to try a slightly later bed of carrots to overwinter. It worked well last year – the voles stayed away. Last August I blogged about fall carrot planting in my post Risking zombie carrots. The year before we ended up not managing to weed all our fall carrots, so we mowed them for weed control, then left them overwinter. We were able to harvest them in the early spring.

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Today we sowed winter radish and two beds of Vates kale. Next up are turnips and more kale. We sow two beds every four days until we have enough established. The rain today is perfect. I think the first two beds should have no problem germinating. The rain will also help the big carrot planting. I have been running a sprinkler overnight on them, but it takes five nights to get all the way to the bottom of the patch. And one night the well meter stopped working and it stopped the water running. So that night was a loss as far as irrigation went. We did the pre-emergence flame-weeding of the carrot beds on Saturday, thinking they might germinate Monday (and no-one wanted that flaming job on Sunday), but in fact they only started germinating this morning.

Flame Weeding. Credit Brittany Lewis

Flame Weeding.
Credit Brittany Lewis

Our evening transplanting shifts have gone very well. If it isn’t raining too hard this evening, we should be able to finish tonight. That’s a mere ten shifts. Sometimes it takes us a lot longer. The unknown is how much time we’ll need to spend replacing casualties, but I think 3 evenings max. We have run the drip irrigation every evening while we are working there, and some more on dry days. We’ve had some rain too, which helps. I haven’t had a thorough look under the rowcovers, but there are shadowy green things in most of the right places, so I’m optimistic. The peculiarly mild temperatures have made transplanting the overgrown plants easier than it could have been. Feels like we are making up for lost time.

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

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.

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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 May

Turnips interplanted with radishes - two spring crops from one bed. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Turnips interplanted with radishes – two spring crops from one bed.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

During the Month:

Lettuce Factory: Sow heat-resistant lettuce outdoors, every 8 to 6 days, #10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Transplant 120/week (1/3 bed). #7, 8, 9, 10, 11 this month.

Deal with potato beetles with Spinosad [or Neem] once larvae are seen, if >50 adults/50 plants or >200 larvae/100 plants. Spinosad: Spray when bees not flying (early morning or late evening.) Shake well, 1-4 Tbsp/gall. Expect to need 1.5-2 hours and 9-10.5 galls. Clean and triple rinse the sprayer. Do not flush in creek or pond. Repeat if needed in 6-7 days – could spot spray where larvae are seen. Flame weed potatoes before 12” high, if needed.

Deal with asparagus beetles, if necessary. See notes under April.

Early May:

Flat of home-grown sweet potato slips. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Flat of home-grown sweet potato slips.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Continue cutting sweet potato slips until we have enough.

Transplant when hardened off: celery, celeriac, lettuce #7, main tomatoes (2’).

Set out drip tape & bioplastic mulch , transplant Romas (2’),  peppers (18” when soil 70°F, dogwood blooms dropping), hot peppers, and melons #1, sweet potatoes

Sow peanuts (120d), asparagus beans in bed w/ celery, okra, sunflowers. limas #1, cow peas #1 (68d)

Roll out driptape and bioplastic mulch for watermelons.

Cover Crops: Sorghum-Sudan, soy, buckwheat, or pearl millet as summer cover crops, now frost is past.

Mid-month:

Plant sweet potatoes, 16″ apart, with 4-4.5′ between ridges, 5’ at edges of patch. Install drip irrigation on ridges and plant at every other emitter. Ideal if soil temp is 65°F for four consecutive days before planting.  If weather dry, dip roots in mud slurry before planting.  Plant 2-3” deep, with at least 2 nodes in ground, and at least 2 leaves above ground.  If slips are long, plant horizontally to increase production.

Transplant lettuce #8, eggplant (2’ apart, single row in center of bed, spray off flea beetles with jet of water & cover immediately), watermelon, insectaries, (okra if not direct-sown – mulch later, when soil warm).

Set out drip tape and biodegradable mulch and transplant melons and watermelons at four weeks old max. Cover for 3 weeks. Move rowcover off broccoli (12 pieces) and strawberries (~8 pieces) Watermelon needs 12 pieces.

In greenhouse sow tomatoes #3, filler watermelons & Romas. Sow cukes & squash #2 if spring is late and cold, and direct-sowing not wise.

Sow beans #2 (5/14, 28 days after #1), edamame #2, carrots #6, sunflowers.

Till between rows of corn #1 & transplant in gaps and/or thin to 8”.

A bed of various varieties of onions. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A bed of various varieties of onions.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Weed onions 3 weeks before expected harvest date, and broccoli.

Garlic: Harvest garlic scapes, remove mulch from garlic, and weed.  Move mulch to weeded broccoli.

Check maturity of potato onions and garlic. Likely harvest order is fall potato onions 5/25-6/10, hardneck garlic 5/30-6/15, spring potato onions 6/3-6/18, bulb onions 6/11-6/30, softneck garlic 6/5-6/15.

#4 Spring Tractor Work mid-May – Disk areas for June potatoes, corn 3,4,5, & later succession plantings of beans, squash, cucumbers.

Late May:

Mow between no-till paste tomato rows before mulching with hay. Fill gaps, weed, tuck mulch.  Set up posts and string weave the tomatoes, using thick baler twine for lower 3 rows. Really try to keep up with weekly string-weaving.

String weave 1 row around peppers, using short stakes.

Clear empty coldframe and mulch with cardboard or plant something.

Till each corn twice, undersowing at 2nd tilling (30 days), when 12” high, with soy for #1-5, oats/soy for #6. Thin corn to 8”. Avoid cultivating corn after it’s knee-high—roots are shallow.

Sow corn #2, cowpeas #2; cukes #2 (picklers and slicers), summer squash & zukes #2 5/24 (or in greenhouse 5/14, transplant 6/7), watermelons #3, winter squash 5/26 (put woodash with seeds to deter squash vine borer). If squash sowing is late, don’t sow Tahitian butternut – slow.  Cover cucurbits (perhaps not winter squash) against cucumber beetles. Max. cuke beetle population is mid-May; keep susceptible plants well-covered until flowering.

Transplant lettuce #9, 10, 11; Roma paste tomato replacements for casualties, insectary flowers. Fill gaps in eggplant, peppers, melons, watermelons.

Store any seeds not needed until fall or next spring, in basement (radishes, onions, winter squash, watermelon).

Harvest fall planted Potato Onions in dry weather, after tops have fallen, (5/25-6/10, spring planted 6/3-18).  May not all be ready at once. Handle gently. Dry as clusters in barn on wooden racks for 1-2 months, using fans. Service fans or buy new as needed. Eat potato onions >2.5” without curing, unless yield is very low, in which case label & refrigerate, then plant in September. Weight after drying for 1 week is approximately twice the final weight. First sorting is late June. Use the Worksheet and Log Book

Hanging garlic in vertical netting. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Harvest garlic when 6th leaf down is starting to brown on 50% of the crop (ie .5 green leaves, so that 5 skins cover cloves), or cut open horizontally- when air space is visible between. stem and cloves it’s time to harvest.  [Could replant small cloves immediately for garlic scallions.] Allow 15 mins/bucket harvesting and 15 mins/bucket for hanging in netting in barn,.

Till garlic area, sow soy & buckwheat to control weeds until fall carrot planting.

Plan fall and winter crops for raised beds.

Cover crops: can sow buckwheat, soy, millet, and sorghum-sudan during May.

Perennials: Put up blueberry netting before fruit sets. Weed & water & top up mulch. Mow grape & fall raspberry aisles. New grapevines: remove side branches and fruitlets. Weekly: visit grapes and log progress 4/20-5/30. If asparagus weeds are getting out of hand, mow down one or more rows to keep control.

Our Concord grapes in late May. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Our Concord grapes in late May.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

Harvest: Asparagus, hoophouse beans, beets, beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, first carrots, chard, collards, garlic scallions, garlic scapes, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, senposai, spinach, hoophouse squash, strawberries, turnips, hoophouse zucchini. (Clear spinach, senposai, collards, kale, probably in that order)DSC03323