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!

Goodbye winter, hello summer!

Rhubarb season is almost here. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Rhubarb season is almost here.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Spring in Virginia is so variable in temperature! But this year is more so than usual. We’ve just had three days with high temperatures of 90F (31C) or more. Not so long ago we had night-time lows of 20F (-6.5C). Late February and all of March was full of snow and rain.

The only thing we managed to plant in the garden for the whole of March was a small amount of shallot bulbs. We’ve been doing an impressive amount of scrambling in the first ten days of April, to make up for lost time. Some crops we had to cut back on, because it got too late to plant. We only have a quarter of the onions we planned, half of the peas, a fifth of the spinach, and no fava beans this year. I realize it would be useful to have “last worthwhile planting dates” for all our spring crops, to help decision-making.

To add insult to injury, a Beast ate half of our early broccoli transplants in the cold-frame one night. Because there were big surface tunnels, I think it was Eastern Moles. They are insectivorous, not vegetarian, but they do use leaves to line their nests, which they make at this time of year. I bought a trap – no luck. I covered the remaining broccoli and lettuce flats as best I could with rat wire “lids” and clear plastic domed food covers – things I had handy from previous depredations. What seems to have worked is to line the coldframes with landscape fabric and set the flats on that, tightly up against the edges, leaving no wiggle room. Wisely, we do a later, third, sowing of broccoli to cover emergencies, so we spotted those out into bigger flats. We’re going to need them this year.

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting. Credit Kati Folger
Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Falger
Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons
Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We have at last got our potatoes in the ground, three weeks later than ideal. On the positive side, they had been chitting (green-sprouting) in crates under lights in the basement since the beginning of March, so I could console myself that they were growing anyway. And probably they will come up quicker in the (suddenly!) warmer soil. We cut them for planting once the area was disked for planting and we were pretty sure we could get them in the ground in a few days.

We’ve busily transplanted spinach, kale, lettuce and scallions, and sowed carrots, more scallions and the third bed of beets. We used the Earthway seeder for the beets, and found the radish plate worked better than the beet plate for Cylindra seed, which were smaller than the Detroit Dark Red. We also tried the popcorn plate with some success, when the beet plate jammed.

We flamed one of our first two beds of beets, to kill the weeds that didn’t die properly with our hasty delayed rototilling. We would have flamed both, but the Cylindra popped up overnight earlier than I expected (going by soil temperature), so we’ll have to hoe those really soon, maybe this afternoon.

Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch. Credit Kathryn Simmons
Spring bed of cabbages planted into rolled hay mulch.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Next we’ll be prepping our cabbage and broccoli beds. We make temporary raised beds, roll out round hay bales over them, then transplant into the mulch. We do this by first measuring and making “nests”, using our hands to open up the mulch down to the soil. The brassicas appreciate the mulch to moderate the soil temperature and keep some moisture in the soil.

Our big weeding projects have been the raspberries and the garlic.(Goodbye, henbit!)

 

Mar 2013 Growing for Market
Mar 2013 Growing for Market

Today we might sow our parsnips. I just wrote an article about them in the March issue of  Growing for Market. This issue also contains articles about increasing hoophouse tomato production, adding solar panels, equipment for tracking the weather, food safety and new interesting cut flowers.

Florence bulb fennel. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Florence bulb fennel.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

The April issue is also out. For that, I wrote about fennel – bulbs, leaves, seeds and pollen. Other articles include one about Johnny’s Salanova lettuce, others about training cucumbers and tomatoes up strings in the hoophouse, a tractor implement for rolling out round hay bales (which is only fun to do by hand the first ten times, max), more on food safety, and an interview/field trip to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers. 

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