A busy fall week

Senposai, a delicious leafy green that grows fast and is fairly cold-hardy

This week has gone by in a flash. The weather has been conveniently dry, so we have been able to make progress on some of the weedy crops. We’ve uncovered turnips, senposai, kale, Chinese cabbage, Yukina Savoy, winter radishes, and a whole new sowing of beans that already have big fat beans on them! I noticed them a few days ago, but we ran out of time on Tuesday and didn’t harvest them.

The nights have been so chilly (one was 45F!) , and the mornings so dewy that it has been impossible to get everything harvested before lunch. So many of the crops at this time of year are best not touched while the leaves are wet, to minimize the spread of fungal diseases. Our crew only works in the mornings in summer, although some of us still have garden work during the rest of the day too. Today was our last morning shift, and tomorrow we start afternoon shifts, until next May. Not everyone relishes gardening in the afternoons, but it makes the most sense in terms of harvesting and also transplanting.

This year’s fall kale doesn’t look as good as this yet.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

We had to resow all of our beets and some of our kale – I think they were eaten by baby grasshoppers or crickets. Possible because our lack of timely mowing around the edges of the plots this summer led to tall grass which is good habitat for grasshoppers. or possibly we over-watered in our effort not to under-water! The new kale is up and I’m keeping an eye on it in case it disappears. Some of our spinach seedlings have also disappeared, I fear. But there is still time to resow spinach. We reckon if we sow it before 9/20, we’ll get some to eat in late fall and during the winter. if we miss that date anmd sow 9/20-9/30, the plants will over-winter small, and we can start harvesting from them in the spring. Spinach makes some growth whenever the temperature rises above 40F in winter, and in our climate (and under the rowcover), it will get plenty of sunny days during the winter.

We started harvesting our broccoli last weekend – it’s over a week earlier than usual, this year. That’s good news, but it caught us hopping, because we are participating in the NOVIC variety trials, and need to record data each time we harvest. A comical event was that when I printed the rating sheet on our only color printer, it ran out of blue ink, and the broccoli colors came out in sunset shades! Luckily, I’d asked for some printed copies in the mail and those arrived later that day. Our color printer is in our Tofu office, and those who know our tofu know that blue features prominently in our tofu packaging and marketing – take a look at the webpage here. I guess that’s where the blue ink went!

Twin Oaks September Garden Calendar

Welcome to Twin Oaks!
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

THE SECOND SPRING

Here’s our Garden Task List for September: 

During the month

Weed and thin carrots and brassicas (kale to 12”).

Lettuce Factory: Sow hardy lettuce every 2 days till 21st, (3 rows/planting) then every 3 days. Sow #34-46 this month. Transplant 120 every 3-5 days (1/3 bed) #27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 for last outdoor planting (Dec harvest). Transplant  #34, 35, 36  9/24-9/30 for frames

Root cellar: air and cool to 60°F by mid-September

Collect seed from Roma tomatoes if necessary.

Screen compost and fill old greenhouse beds before October, for winter lettuce and spring seed compost.

Early Sept: Prepare and plant new strawberry beds if not done in late August, using rooted potted runners or plants carefully thinned from last year’s beds (see August for details).

Transplant collards and kale if necessary. Transplant lettuce #27, 28, 29, 30.

Retrieve spinach and onion seeds from the freezer. After acclimating spinach seeds, sprout 4oz/bed (1 cup/10,000 seeds) for spinach #1 in fridge for one week, then direct sow (if <68°F, and dead nettle has germinated). If still hot, sow (preferably pre-sprouted) spinach in Speedling flats in float tank. 9/20 is last sowing date for fall harvesting. [Could broadcast oats into spinach at planting time for weed control & cold weather protection.]

Sow if not done already: kale and collards by 9/15; turnips by 9/30; radishes, kohlrabi, daikon and other winter radish, miscellaneous fall greens, scallions.

Plant large potato onions this month or early in October, at 8” (wider if supply limited). Cover with ½-1” soil, mulch with hay.

2nd fall disking: Watermelon plot when 800 have been harvested. Roll up drip tape first, or move to new strawberries.

Mid Sept: 7-14 Sept is the best time to sow vetch & rye, 1:2, 2# of mix/1000 sq ft (75#/acre) on old spring broccoli patch; crimson clover and rye, 1:2, at 55#/acre.

Transplant lettuce #31, 32.

Sow 1st sowing of hoophouse seedlings (hoop and cover).

Bring 6 tractor buckets compost to hoophouse for fertilizing fall and winter crops.

Move stored onions from basement to fridge, after apples peak in mid-September, and space available.

3rd fall disking: corn #3, #4, #5. Part of corn #3 plot may be used for new strawberry beds.

Late Sept: Sow spinach #2 for spring harvesting (9/20-9/30), and 2nd sowing of hoophouse seedlings and cover.

Transplant kale for spring, filling gaps; lettuce #33, finishing up the last outdoor bed; [#34, 35 & 36 in cold frames?] Plant large potato onions (>2”) if not done earlier.

Move garlic from basement to fridge late September-late Oct as needed to make room for winter squash.

Weeding: this is a good catch up time on weeding in the raised beds.

4th fall disking and seeding: Sow cover crops wherever possible (in unused raised beds too). The last chance for oats is early Sept (9/15??). Can sow winter wheat (winter-killed in zone 4) or winter barley (dies in zone 6) if oat planting date missed. (Oats winter-kill in zone 8). Can sow hardy Austrian winter peas in late Sept at 8oz/100sq.ft. with rye. Can sow red clover this month.

Bush-hog late corn if undersown with oats and soy cover crop.

Perennials: New strawberry beds: Prepare and plant by mid-September if not done in late August. Weed strawberries. Could till up grass in grape alley & sow clover if not done in March. If clover sown earlier, let it seed.

Harvest and store winter squash: Acorn (pepo) types (stem still green, ground spot “earthy” or orange), store 1-4 months; Maximas: Cha Cha, Jarrahdale, Kabocha (stem 75% corky) store 3-5 months; Moschatas: Butternuts, Cheese (peanut colored skin, no mottling or streaks) store 4-8 months, or more. Leave on live vines as long as possible, avoiding frost on fruits. Cut leaving long stem using pruners; handle gently.

September Harvests: Asian melons, asparagus beans, beans, beets and beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, Chinese cabbage, corn, cow peas, cukes, edamame, eggplant, horseradish,leeks, lettuce, limas, maruba santoh, okra, pak choy, peppers, hot peppers,radishes, Romas, scallions, senposai, summer squash, Tokyo bekana, tomatoes, turnips, watermelons, winter squash, yukina savoy, zucchini.  It is possible to lightly harvest rhubarb during September, if wanted.

 

Wow! Weeds!

 When we have massive big harvests, it’s hard to get much else done on the garden shifts. This week we’ve made a lot of progress on the two big projects of the broccoli patch and the carrot thinning and weeding.

Crimson clover flowers in early May
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

The whole of the broccoli and cabbage patch except the very edges has been cleared of weeds. After tilling the edges, the next job there is to broadcast a mix of medium red clover, large white clover and crimson clover, and water it in until it germinates, if nature doesn’t deal with that. Hurricane Isaac is forecast to curve round towards Virginia by the middle of next week, but lots can change with weather systems. If all goes well, we’ll get the clovers established before we need to start walking in there harvesting (usually mid-September onwards).

This fall (as I reported in my post on July 5) we are taking part in the Novic broccoli variety trials, growing twelve different kinds of broccoli and eleven of cabbage. We have received our report sheets to write down our data and comments each time we harvest them. We’ll benefit from the comparisons and next year just grow the best varieties. We want varieties that provide a long broccoli season, and sideshoots are as important to us as main heads. Quantity and flavor are important to us as well, of course! We want cabbage to store for the winter, as well as cabbage that is ready quickly. We’re feeding the hundred members of Twin Oaks Community, and just about everyone here likes broccoli and cabbage. George Bush would be out of place!

The carrot thinning is making good progress. From the top of the 265′ rows, it looks like we are very, very close to the end. There is what I call a “curvature of the earth effect”: when you walk down there to weed, you see we’re not as close to the end as it seemed. But – the end is in sight! Next, we’ll hoe between the rows, then leave this crop alone until the baby carrots are salad size. Then we’ll weed and thin again, this time to 3″. And we’ll be able to eat those tender little carrots! Then we’ll leave them alone again until November, when we dig and bag them all.

Happy young zucchini plant
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

So, now we can look at other projects. We are removing rowcover from the crops we sowed at the beginning of August. Today we uncovered a bed of turnips, one of squash, one cucumbers and three kale. In the next few days we can weed and thin those. In fact I already thinned the big squash plants as I walked by on my way to the hoophouse after lunch. I just couldn’t resist! The plants, sown on August 5, are already two feet tall, pushing at the rowcover. I thinned to about 18″-2′ apart, and also pulled out a few handfuls of galinsoga, our most common summer weed in the raised bed area.

One of the signs we look for in deciding whether the season is cooling down enough to sow spinach is the re-emergence of the cool weather annual weeds, especially dead-nettle and henbit. I usually look for them while harvesting paste tomatoes, as that soil has not been disturbed for a while. I saw seedlings of one or other of these key weeds on 8/18 this year, a bit earlier than usual. We were certainly having cooler nights and even cooler days, so it all felt right.

This morning we prepped four beds for spinach. The beds had just been tilled yesterday afternoon with our walk-behind BCS 732, and today we shoveled paths and raked the tops. We’re due to sow 5 beds of spinach on Saturday (9/1), and I’ve already got the seed sprouting in a plastic jar in the fridge. It’s hard to get spinach to germinate in hot weather, so we always pre-sprout in the fall. Just soak the seed overnight, then drain and put the jar in the fridge. I go by once a day to roll the jar so all the seeds get a chance of light and moisture. It’s not much work while they’re sprouting. Hand-sowing is a bit more fussy. Sometimes the damp seeds clump together, so we mix them with a dry, non-sticky food item like dry grits, oatmeal or bran.

We mark five rows in each bed, and sow spinach in the outer four. in spring we sow snap peas in the middle row, and get double value from the bed, the weeding we do, and the winter rowcover.

Looking forward to Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Winter Hardiness

It can be hard to find out just how cold a temperature various vegetable plants can survive. Reading books written in different parts of the country can be confusing: “survives all winter” is one thing in the Pacific Northwest and another in Montana. So for some years I have been collecting data and exchanging information with my friend and neighbor Ken Bezilla at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Each winter I try to record what dies at what temperature. Below is my current list, which should be treated as a work in progress.

Your own experience with your soils, microclimates and rain levels may lead you to use different temperatures. If you have data from your garden, please leave a comment. Likewise if you have found particular varieties to be especially cold-tolerant, I’d love to learn more. Central Virginia isn’t the coldest spot in the US, but if I can grow something without rowcover, I’m happy to hear it!

Here’s our temperature list at which various crops die:

 35°F (2°C):  Basil.

32°F (0°C):  Bush beans, cauliflower curds, corn, cowpeas, cucumbers, eggplant, limas, melons, okra, some Pak Choy, peanuts, peppers, potato vines, squash vines, sweet potato vines, tomatoes.

27°F (-3°C): Most cabbage, Sugarloaf chicory (takes only light frosts), radicchio.

 25°F (-4°C): Broccoli heads, chervil, chicory roots for chicons, and hearts, probably Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), dill, endive (hardier than lettuce, Escarole more frost-hardy than Frisée), annual fennel, large leaves of lettuce (protected hearts and small plants will survive even colder temperatures), some mustards and oriental greens (Maruba Santoh, mizuna, most pak choy, Tokyo Bekana), onion scallions, radicchio. Also white mustard cover crop.

22°F (-6°C): Arugula, Tatsoi. (both may survive colder than this.) Possibly Chinese Napa cabbage (Blues), Maruba Santoh, Mizuna, Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana with rowcover.

20°F (-7°C): Some beets, cabbage heads (the insides may still be good even if the outer leaves are damaged), celeriac, celtuce (stem lettuce), some corn salad, perhaps fennel, some unprotected lettuce – some OK to 16°F (-16 °C), some mustards/oriental greens (Tendergreen, Tyfon Holland greens), radishes, turnips with mulch to protect them, (Noir d’Hiver is the most cold-tolerant variety).

17°F (-8°C): Barley (cover crop)

15°F (-9.5°C): Some beets (Albina Verduna, Lutz Winterkeeper), beet leaves, broccoli leaves, young cabbage, celery (Ventura) with rowcover (some inner leaves may survive at lower than this), cilantro, endive, fava beans (Aquadulce Claudia), garlic tops may be damaged but not killed, Russian kales, kohlrabi, perhaps Komatsuna, some covered lettuce, especially small and medium-sized plants (Marvel of  Four Seasons, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density), curly leaf parsley, flat leaf parsley, oriental winter radish with mulch for protection (including daikon), large leaves of broad leaf sorrel, turnip leaves, winter cress.

12°F (-11°C): Some cabbage (January King, Savoy types), carrots (Danvers, Oxheart), multi-colored chard, most collards, some fava beans (not the best flavored ones), garlic tops if fairly large, most fall or summer varieties of leeks (Lincoln, King Richard), most covered lettuce (Freckles, Hyper Red Rumpled Wave, Parris Island, Tango) , large tops of potato onions, Senposai, some turnips (Purple Top).

10°F (-12°C): Beets with rowcover, Purple Sprouting broccoli for spring harvest, Brussels sprouts, chard (green chard is hardier than multi-colored types), mature cabbage, some collards (Morris Heading), Belle Isle upland cress, some endive (Perfect, President), young stalks of Bronze fennel, perhaps Komatsuna, some  leeks (American Flag), Oriental winter radish, (including daikon), rutabagas, (if mulched), tops of shallots, large leaves of savoyed spinach (more hardy than flat leafed varieties), tatsoi, Yukina Savoy. Also oats cover crop.

5°F (-15°C): Garlic tops if still small, some kale (Winterbor, Westland Winter), some leeks (Bulgarian Giant, Laura, Tadorna), some bulb onions (Walla Walla), potato onions and other multiplier onions, smaller leaves of savoyed spinach and broad leaf sorrel.

0°F (-18°C): Chives, some collards (Blue Max, Winner), corn salad, garlic, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, Vates kale (although some leaves may be too damaged to use), Even’ Star Ice-Bred Smooth Leaf  kale, a few leeks (Alaska, Durabel); some onion scallions (Evergreen Winter Hardy White, White Lisbon), parsnips, salad burnet, salsify, some spinach (Bloomsdale Savoy, Olympia, Tyee). Also small-seeded cover crop fava beans.

Even Colder: Overwintering varieties of cauliflower are hardy down to -5°F (-19°C).

Many of the Even Star Ice Bred varieties are hardy down to -6°F (-20°C).

Walla Walla onions sown in late summer are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Winter Field Peas and Crimson clover (used as cover crop) are hardy down to -10°F (-23°C).

Hairy vetch and white Dutch clover cover crops are hardy to -30°F (-34°C)

Sorrel and some cabbage (January King) are said to be hardy in zone 3, -30 to-40°F (-34 to -40°C)

Winter wheat and winter rye (cover crops) are hardy to -40°F (-40°C).

Peak Watermelon Day?

This morning we picked 99 watermelons. I hope this is the peak day of harvest! We’ve been harvesting on Monday and Thursday each week since 7/30 or maybe 7/26, I’ve already forgotten! Numbers have leapt up: 10, 34, 37, 99. We need 22 melons a day during hot weather, to keep 100 people happy. So for all of August, September and a few days of October, we need 700-800.

But today’s 99 is not our all-time record. In 2010 we picked 120 on 7/31. And in 2008 we picked 320 on 8/20. That was too many and too late in the year. I’ve only got records back to 2000.

2000 was a bad watermelon year. We used to transplant into hay mulch, for weed control. Of course, we knew hay would cool the soil, and watermelons love heat. But we just couldn’t deal with the weeds any other way. We hadn’t started using drip tape irrigation back then, so our overhead sprinklers watered all the weed seeds in the aisles between the rows too. We used a vast space, with 10′ between the rows. We didn’t get ripe melons till well into August. 2001 wasn’t much better.

In 2002 I did some research into plant spacing and found we didn’t need to give the plants (and weeds) so much space. So we cut the row spacing down to 5.5′ and planted twice as many melons. 5.5′ is just the right width for unrolling big round hay bales between the rows. We started harvesting 8/3. Much better! We got 60/week in the middle of August and 100/week by the end of August. Still peaking much later than sensible. Watermelon in October is like yesterday’s newspapers – there’s not much demand.

2003 had a wet spring, we planted into mud. The harvest peaked 9/16. In 2004 transplanting dragged out. Our new rowcover had a manufacturing defect and disintegrated like wet toilet paper all over the field. We got our money back but the plants were set back by the lack of cover when they needed it. We started saving our own seed that summer, selecting for early ripening and good flavor. Also presumably for spring cold-hardiness as they were from plants that didn’t die.

In 2005 I did more research into spacing, and we planted 2.5′ apart in our 5.5′ rows. It seemed wiser to plant closer and go for more plants and so more first melons (one on each plant), as it is early ones that we want. Keeping geriatric vines alive to produce a third melon or so seemed to be missing the whole point of eating watermelon in hot weather.

At this point in our history, we were still harvesting up until frost (average mid-October here). We were planting about 1260′. We started to track how many melons we had on hand and what rate we were consuming them, so we could decide when we had enough and stop picking.

In 2008 we had no hay mulch available. From this disaster came a wonderful thing: we discovered biodegradable plastic mulch. We have used two brands: Eco-One Oxo-Biodegradable mulch  (made in Canada) and Bio-telo (made in Italy). This product is made from non-GMO corn and it starts to disintegrate after a couple of months in the field. It’s very thin and easily torn if the soil underneath is not smooth. It’s perfect for vining crops, because it stops the weeds growing and doesn’t disintegrate much until after the vines cover the whole area. And the big plus is that the bio-mulch warms the soil, rather than cooling it. Biodegradable mulches are now available in smaller pieces for backyard growers, from Johnnys Selected Seeds and Purple Mountain Organics.

We planted 1800′,  more than usual because the area the rotation brought them to was a bowl shaped garden where crops sometimes drown in wet years. We started harvesting 7/31, and numbers rose rapidly.We didn’t get any floods.  By 8/20 we had harvested 1000. That was the year we decided not to wait for frost, but to disk the patch in early and get a good cover crops established for the winter.

2009 had a peak harvest of 174 on 8/15. I think we stopped at 835 total on 9/2. 2010 records show an early start with 2 harvested on 7/18. We stopped at 665 on 9/8. We tried to experiment with various row spacings and plant spacings, but once the vines all meshed together and the weather got hot, our enthusiasm for science waned! We were planting 1060′. August had an inhuman workload, and we decided to see what we could do to reduce August tasks for future years.

In 2011 we decided to plant less, as were short of workers. We planned on 1080′ but then cut back further, and only planted 900′. This year we only planted 800′, with plants 36″ apart, so a lot fewer plants than in the old days of 1800′ and 30″ spacing. The melons are huge this year – I bet we don’t eat 22 of these a day!

So, having looked at the numbers here in the relatively cool office, I deduce that we haven’t picked anything like enough yet, and need 5 more 99-harvest days before we think about quitting. Time to start using the truck rather than the garden carts, for hauling them away. We’ve found the hard way that even though we can get 20 or so melons in a garden cart, it damages the carts and wrecks the tires. So now we keep to a 16-watermelon limit and save the carts.

Last Chance Sowings

This week we’ve been busy tilling and raking beds in preparation for some Last Chance sowings.

In our climate zone, with an average first frost date of October 14, the first half of August is the last chance to sow several vegetables and get crops from them before winter. It’s important to know the last date for planting each crop so that you have a reasonable chance of success. For this part we got help from the Virginia Tech Extension Service: Fall Vegetable Gardening. 

The first group of Last Chance sowings are the warm weather crops, such as green beans, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash.

Here’s the formula (for frost tender crops), for figuring the number of days to count back from the expected first frost date; add the number of days from seeding to harvest, the average length of the harvest period, 14 days to allow for the slowing rate of growth in the fall, and 14 days to allow for an early frost. For example, yellow squash takes maybe 50 days from sowing to harvest, and the plants are good here for 21 days, so the last date for sowing would be 50+21+14+14= 99 days before the first frost. For us that means 99 days before 10/14, so 7/7. But with rowcover to throw over the last planting when it gets cold, the growing doesn’t slow down, and the season is effectively 2 weeks longer, and we can ignore the 14 days for an early frost. So our last planting of squash is 8/5, a whole month later than if we didn’t use rowcover..

But August is way to soon to be thinking about frosty weather, except to ensure we have enough rowcover on hand when the time comes. Here, and in many parts of the country, a frost or two will often be followed by a few more weeks of warm weather, so getting past the first few frosts is the effort. It’s easy to get extra harvests for a month or two from mature plants you already have.

We sow our #6 planting of beans 8/3, 15 days after #5; cukes #5 (slicing), by 8/5 at the latest; and zucchini and summer squash #5 by 8/9.

The second group of Last Chance sowings are cool weather crops that grow here in spring and fall, but don’t thrive in the summer. Beets, carrots, chard, turnips and radishes all fall in this group. It can be hard to get some of these to germinate when the soil is still hot.

On 8/1 we sow beets dry or presoaked for 2-12 hours in a little water – not too much water or for too long, as they need to breather air, or could drown. We sow them 1/2″-1″ deep, tamp the soil, and keep the surface damp with daily watering for the 5 or 6 days they take to emerge. We have tried using shadecloth to help keep the soil moist, but it does cut down the airflow and our climate is humid and fungus-inducing. I like the Formanova/Cylindra/Forono beet. The shape is long (good for slicing), and the flavor is very sweet and the texture tender.

Very early in August, or sometimes in late July, we sow a large planting of fall carrots, enough to store and feed us all winter. Danvers 126 is our workhorse carrot. We use an EarthWay seeder, which is light, easy to use and to empty, and comes at a reasonable price. There are more expensive precision seeders that put the seed out more evenly, and so don’t require the amount of thinning that using the EarthWay does, but we’re happy with our choice. We use pre-emergent flame weeding to remove the first flush of weeds, making it easy to then hoe between the rows.

Carrots and beets are ideal crops for this technique. The goal is to flame the bed the day before the expected emergence of the crop. use a soil thermometer and a table of how many days the crop needs to germinate at various soil temperatures, to figure out which day to flame. For carrots it’s possible to sow a few “indicator beets” at one end of the bed, and as soon as you see the red loops of the beet seedlings breaking the surface, flame the carrots. (But look for carrots too, just in case!) Beets are always a bit quicker than carrots to germinate. Tables of Days to Germination can be found in Knott’s Vegetable Growers’ Handbook (Wiley, 2006), by Donald Maynard and George Hochmuth, and Nancy Bubel’s New Seed Starter’s Handbook. (Rodale, 1988)

We use a handheld flamer attached to a propane cylinder that is in a wheelbarrow pushed by a second person behind the first. this person also acts as a “fire warden”. Some growers mount the propane on a backpack frame. Walking along the aisle between the beds, and wafting the wand diagonally back and forth across the bed takes about 10 minutes for a 100′ (30 m) bed. Flame weeding alone can reduce the hand weeding to one hour/100′. Hand weeding can be reduced to 6 minutes/100′ by flaming after using stale beds which have been hoed 3 or 4 times.

Swiss Chard can also be sowed here in August, for a nice fall harvest. We sow ours in April and just keep it going all summer, fall and (if covered) winter too.

At the beginning of August we sow winter storing radishes, China Rose, Red Meat, Shindin Risoh Daikon and Shunkyo Semi-Long. We also sow Easter Egg small radishes. We can have trouble with flea beetles as well as harlequin bugs on our fall brassica sowings, as the pest numbers have built up over the summer. To avoid these troubles, we put rowcover over the beds until the plants are big enough to stand up for themselves against “pest bullying”.

We sow 6 beds of kale, two each every 6 days, (8/4, 8/10, 8/16, 8/24) until we succeed in getting enough established. Often we’ll get patchy emergence and end up transplanting plants from one bed or one end of a bed to fill out the blank areas.

We sow our turnips 8/15 or up until 9/15 (our absolute latest). Rutabagas need longer than turnips, and we’ve given up growing them because late July weather is just too hot and dry. Brassicas will germinate just fine in hot temperatures – the challenge is keeping the soil moist.

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!