Garden Planning, Winter Harvests and Speaking Events

Garden Planning Field Manual
Photo VABF

‘Tis the season – after the relaxation of the holidays – time for garden planning. Inventory your seeds left from last year, peruse the catalogs and prepare your seed orders. The earlier you get them in, the more likely you are to get the varieties you want, before anything is sold out.

I notice that readers of my blog have been looking up the Twin Oaks Garden Calendar,  also known as The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month. You can search the category Garden Task List for the Month, or you can click on the linked name of the month you want. At the end you can click on “Bookmark the Permalink” if you might want to refer to this in future. Remember, we’re in central Virginia, winter-hardiness zone 7a. Adjust for your own climate.

Meanwhile, despite the turn to cold weather, we are not huddled indoors all the time. Each day, one or two of us sally forth to harvest enough vegetables to feed the hundred people here at Twin Oaks Community. Outdoors, in the raised bed area, we have winter leeks, Vates kale, spinach and senposai. We could have had collards but we lost the seeds during the sowing period, so we have lots of senposai instead. Senposai leaves (the core of the plant may survive 10F), are hardy down to about 12F. I noticed some got a bit droopy when we had a night at 15F. Collards  are hardier – Morris Heading (the variety we grow) can survive at least one night at 10F.

Hoophouse December View
Photo Kathleen Slattery

In the hoophouse, we have many crops to choose from: lettuce, radishes, spinach, tatsoi, Yukina Savoy, Tokyo Bekana, turnips and turnip greens, scallions, mizuna, chard, Bull’s Blood beet greens.

Hoophouse scallions ready to harvest.
Photo Pam Dawling

Pak Choy and Chinese cabbage heads are filling out, ready for harvest in January.

Tokyo Bekana, a non-heading Asian green,  has large tender leaves, which we are adding to salad mixes. It can be used as a cooking green, but only needs very light cooking. It will bolt soon, so we are harvesting that vigorously, not trying to save it for later.

The kale and senposai in the hoophouse are being saved for when their outdoor counterparts are inaccessible due to bad weather. The spinach is added to salad mixes, or harvested for cooking when outdoors is too unpleasant, or growth slows down too much.

Hoophouse winter lettuce: Green Forest and Red Salad Bowl, two of our fifteen varieties.
Photo Wren Vile


Another kind of planning I’m doing right now is scheduling my speaking events for the coming year and practicing my presentations. Last week I updated my Events page, and this week I’m adding a new event: The September 21-22 Heritage Harvest Festival.

I might pick up a couple of events in late April and early June, but that’s just speculation at this point.

Right now I need to practice for the CASA Future Harvest Conference January 11-13. Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and a 10-minute “Lightning Session” on using graphs to plan succession plantings for continuous harvest. Click the link or my Events page for more on this.

Hoophouse winter greens, transplanting spinach, crocus flowering

Russian kale, yukina Savoy and lettuce from our winter hoophouse .
Photo Wren Vile

Our hoophouse is bursting with winter greens. We just decided to hold back on harvesting our outdoor Vates kale and focus on the greens  which are starting to bolt in the hoophouse. That includes the last turnips (Hakurei, Red Round and White Egg), Senposai, tatsoi, Yukina Savoy, mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Scarlet Frill and Golden Frills mustards. Big but happily not yet bolting are the spinach, Rainbow chard and Russian kales. A row of snap peas has emerged. Time to stake and string-weave them!

The lettuce situation is changing as we are eating up more of the overwintered leaf lettuce in the hoophouse. The lettuces in the greenhouse have all gone, to make way for the flats of seedlings. Plus, we needed the compost they were growing in, to fill the flats. More about lettuce in February next week.

We have also cleared the overwintered spinach in one of our coldframes, so we can deal with the voles and get them to relocate before we put flats of vulnerable seedlings out there. The voles eat the spinach plants from below, starting with the roots. We had one terrible spring when they moved on to eat the baby seedlings when we put those out there. After trial and error a couple of years ago, we now clear all the spinach from one frame, then line the cold frame with landscape fabric (going up the walls a way too), wait two weeks, then put the seedlings out on top of the landscape fabric. The voles by then have decided nothing tasty is going to appear there, so they move on.

Spinach over-wintered in our cold frame
Photo Wren Vile

Outdoors, we have just started transplanting new spinach. We have four beds to plant, a total of  3600 plants, so we have to keep moving on that! We are trialing several varieties again, as we did in the fall. We have the last Tyee, alongside Reflect and Avon this spring. Inevitably things are not going perfectly according to plan. Yesterday I forgot to follow the plan, and we started with Avon and Tyee at opposite ends of a bed we had planned to grow Reflect in! Anyway, we are labeling everything and hoping to learn which have best bolt resistance. Watch this space.

We have grown our spinach transplants (as well as kale and collards) in the soil in our hoophouse, sowing them in late January. I wrote about bare root transplants in early January this year. You can find more links and info in that post. Growing bare root transplants saves a lot of work and a lot of greenhouse space.

For those relatively new to this blog but living in a similar climate zone, I want to point you to The Complete Twin Oaks Garden Task List Month-by-Month. It includes a link for each month’s task list. I notice from the site stats that some of you are finding your way there, but now there are so many years’ worth of posts it’s perhaps harder to find. Happy browsing!

Following on from last week’s mention of harbinger weeds of spring: chickweed, hen-bit and dead-nettle, I can now report that I’ve seen a flowering crocus (2/17), another marker on our phenology list. The average date for first crocuses here is February 8, so they are later than usual. I did notice however, that the foot traffic over the patch of grass has been heavier than usual.

Anne Morrow Donley sent me a link to WunderBlog®, the blog from Wunderground, my favorite weather forecast station, to an article by Bob Henson: This is February? 80°F in Denver, 99° in Oklahoma, 66° in Iceland, 116° in Australia. It includes a map of the Daily Spring Index Leaf Anomaly, Figure 1.

Image credit: USA National Phenology Network via @TheresaCrimmins.

Figure 1. An index of the seasonal progress of leafy plants shows conditions 20 days or more ahead of schedule over large parts of the South and Southwest as of Sunday, February 12. Image credit: USA National Phenology Network via @TheresaCrimmins.

The post has lots of other interesting weather info too. Thanks Anne!


I remembered another of the items lost in the hacked post a few weeks ago: My Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blogpost on Heat Tolerant Eggplant Varieties made it into their 30 Most Viewed blogposts for 2016. I’ll be writing up more about those varieties, linking the 2016 results to the weather each week (especially the temperatures) and adding what I learn in 2017.

Mid-winter hoophouse harvests

December 29 hoophouse crops Photo Kathleen Slattery

December 29 hoophouse crops
Photo Kathleen Slattery

Here we are in the shortest days. What are we harvesting from our hoophouse (high tunnel)?  Many different crops, mostly leafy greens, but with the addition of radishes, turnips and scallions. I’ll start with those.

White Icicle radish Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

White Icicle radish
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We’re harvesting our third sowing of radishes, sown on 10/30. We like the vari-colored Easter Egg radishes and the long White Icicle for this time of year. Cherry Belle also works in this sowing, but not later. Like Sparkler, it gets too fibrous in winter.

Our favorite scallions are Evergreen Hardy White, which are extremely cold tolerant. They are also slow to grow. We are starting to harvest the ones we sowed 9/6. The second sowing (which followed the first radishes on 11/18) are just spindly little blades so far.

Hakurei turnips Photo Small Farm Central

Hakurei turnips
Photo Small Farm Central

The turnips (and their greens) which we are starting to harvest at tangerine-size, are Hakurei and Red Round, from a 10/14 sowing. We made a second sowing of turnips on 10/26, but we over-watered them and got patchy germination. We filled the gap with a late sowing of brassica salad mix. This is a mixture of random leftover brassica seeds (varieties we didn’t like, seed that is getting a bit old) which we sow and then cut with scissors about an inch above the soil once they get to about 4″ tall.

Baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse. Photo Twin Oaks COmmunity

Baby lettuce mix in the hoophouse.
Photo Twin Oaks Community

Just like baby lettuce mix. We are on our second cut of our 10/24 lettuce mix. We buy the mix already made, although if we get close to running out of seed, we have been known to mix in some seed of basic varieties like the Salad Bowls, that do well in the winter high tunnel. We also have lots of big lettuce plants. We take leaves off those for our salad mixes when we don’t have baby lettuce mix at the right stage for cutting.

Ruby Streaks beside green mizuna. Credit Ethan Hirsh

Ruby Streaks beside green mizuna.
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Into the salad mix we add chopped mizuna and its spicier cousins Golden Frills, Ruby Streaks and Scarlet Frills. These add loft, visual interest and flavor. For color we also add chopped Bulls Blood beet leaves and chopped small leaves of Brite Lites chard. As well as mixing the colors and shapes, I try to have at least one representative of each of three crop families: spinach, chard and beets; lettuce; brassicas such as mizuna, baby kale leaves, small leaves of Tokyo bekana, Yukina savoy, tatsoi.

Tatsoi in the hoophouse Photo Wren Vile

Tatsoi in the hoophouse
Photo Wren Vile

For cooking greens we are harvesting leaves of Russian kale (transplanted 10/22), our first chard  (transplanted 10/16), spinach (sown 9/6 and 10/24), senposai (transplanted 10/24), Tokyo bekana (transplanted 10/9) and Yukina savoy (transplanted 10/24). it takes 10 gallons of greens to provide 100 people with a healthy serving each. We aim to provide the cooks each day with a choice of two or three different cooking greens.

We are also harvesting some greens as whole heads now. We are clearing our first planting of tatsoi (sown 9/7), which has been getting ready to bolt for a couple of weeks now.  Likewise the Tokyo bekana, which starts to bolt at the end of December.

Hoophouse Yukina savoy at the end of November. Photo Ethan Hirsh

Hoophouse Yukina savoy at the end of November.
Photo Ethan Hirsh

 

We are also cutting big heads of Chinese cabbage and Pak Choy.  As we harvest these, we fill the gaps at the end of the day with replacement plants. My current favorite is senposai, as it is very quick to grow and can be eaten at any stage. (And of course, it’s very tasty, otherwise I wouldn’t even mention it!) We reckon 12/31 is the last worthwhile date for us to do this gap filling with Asian greens. After that we use spinach or lettuce transplants up till 1/25, then only spinach (up till the end of February). We’ve found that planting after those dates doesn’t produce harvest, just wasted time!

The Yukina savoy doesn’t really start bolting until the last week of January normally, but with the freakish warm weather we’ve had this December, we might get early bolting. I don’t know if this crop bolts mostly in response to day length or to temperature. I guess we’ll find out.

We’ve ordered our seeds, we’re planning our next hoophouse crops and our schedule for sowing seedlings in the greenhouse. And this is the slow season!

Bulls Blood beets add intense color to salad mixes. Photo Wren Vile

Bulls Blood beets add intense color to salad mixes.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

 

Chert Hollow Farm on Organic certification, More Snow, Feed the Soil presentation.

Chert Hollow Farm's photos of their farm gate before and after.

Chert Hollow Farm’s photos of their farm gate before and after.

For some time I have been following the blog of Eric and Joanna Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm near Columbia, Missouri. I admire their commitment and creativity. Recently they have posted a three-part series on why they have decided to drop their USDA Organic certification. I found it a very thought-filled and coherent piece of writing and want more people to read it and ponder the points they make.

Dropping organic certification, part I talks about some of their concerns with the USDA Organic system as a whole, and how some of the Organic rules are increasingly at odds with their “beliefs and standards for sustainable and ethical food production.” Their work creating a diverse deeply-sustainable farm with minimal bought-in inputs isn’t easily reconciled with the USDA certification process. “Trying to use our own resources in a creatively sustainable way created an unusually-shaped peg that the organic system’s round holes don’t expect. And thus there’s a lot of subtle pressure on organic farms just to buy stuff rather than be more diversified and creative in their farming approach.” According to their Organic inspectors over the years, they have been star poster-child Organic farmers for five years, and their decision to leave Organic certification will be “a major loss to the organic certification community/process in this part of the country”.

In addition to the differing philosophy and practice between Joanna and Eric’s approach and the USDA, the costs are too high and the benefits too few.

Dropping organic certification, part II  goes into some of their specific issues with the certification. Concerns include costs, including the uncertainty of whether the government will continue the cost-share program; bureaucracy (why don’t chemical farmers have to track and report their inputs and applications??); and the degree of usefulness of USDA certification for direct marketing. As a CSA farm, Eric and Joanna are no longer competing for customers with self-proclaimed “organic” farmers at the market.

Dropping organic certification, part III looks at the benefits of dropping certification, while acknowledging what they learned by being part of the certified system, specifically the value of good record-keeping, good compost-making and careful sourcing of inputs. They credit being certified (and needing to check potential herbicide use on hay and straw they brought in for feed and mulch) with helping them avoid the “killer hay” incidents which are, sadly, all too common around the country. They write about what they are looking forward to, freed from the certification restrictions. They are increasing biological diversity on their farm, getting off mailing lists (!), and communicating more with customers and CSA members, know they’ll save time on certification paperwork. Finally, they discuss some of their regrets about no longer being part of “something bigger, a known collection of farms and consumers that stood for something different from the conventional agriculture model” they oppose. They will no longer have the support of USDA if they suffer from spray drift. They will no longer have an easy label to describe their farming practices to customers. Their hope is that more direct, personal communication with CSA members and the rest of the world will take over in addressing that need.

Meanwhile, here at Twin Oaks, we’ve had More Snow. Only about 3″, following rain. But it has brought a halt to our outdoor gardening pursuits for a while. Just before the snow we managed to get some disking done – the first of the year! We had got some raised beds tilled a few days earlier, so we managed to prepare those bed and sow beets, turnips, radishes and scallions, as well as the last of the snap peas. We haven’t transplanted anything except lettuce, scallions and spinach, because it has been so cold. We got beds ready for kale, cabbage, senposai and collards, before I realized the plants were too small to go outside! All our transplants have been growing slowly. We have postponed planting our tomatoes in the hoophouse because the weather is so unsettled (which is a mild way of saying scarily cold).

On Sunday 3/16, I co-taught Feeding Ourselves Sustainably Year Round with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. I spoke about Feeding the Soil. Here’s my slide show from that event:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/feed-the-soil” title=”Feed the soil. Pam Dawling” target=”_blank”>Feed the soil. Pam Dawling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

Crop Planning presentation, weather and resilience

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/crop-planning-60-min-presentation” title=”Crop Planning. Pam Dawling 60 min presentation” target=”_blank”>Crop Planning. Pam Dawling 60 min presentation</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming” target=”_blank”>Pam Dawling</a></strong> </div>

My presentation on Crop Planning to the CSA Expert Exchange Online Conference on Friday 3/7 went well, after a short delay due to slow website loading. Joys of rural living! I just learned that our Internet runs slow on rainy days because the water in the soil affects the underground cables. A s a farmer, I’m very used to considering the effects of the weather, But I never would have guessed this one. Now I realize I jinx myself when I work outside in nice weather and do my desk work while it’s raining!

Spinach bed with a row of peas in the middle. Photo

Spinach bed with a row of peas in the middle.
Photo Kathryn SImmons

This week has been challenging in the garden because of snow followed by very wet soil. On Monday we managed to transplant a bed of spinach and the first week’s round of lettuce. That felt like great progress! Even though it is a month later than we would “normally” hope to do those tasks! We chose to work on the driest section of the raised bed area. Before that we had been weeding the grapes and spreading compost. Having some perennials to take care of makes good use of our time in the winter, early spring, and whenever cultivated soil is too boggy to step on (in).

These considerations are all part of a list we keep to help us choose tasks suited to the conditions, so we can make best use of our time without doing damage. A lot of our garden work is done on 3 or 4 hour shifts with up to 11 people. The honcho needs to be on the ball to keep all those people gainfully employed! Our honchos/honchas are the more experienced people, and will usually prepare for the shift beforehand, making a list of possibilities.

Some of the shift time is harvesting (only spinach currently, apart from getting potatoes from the root cellar and sweet potatoes from the basement). That’s our top priority. We try to get some harvesting done even if it’s very cold or raining lightly. The crops that wilt fastest get picked close to the end of the harvesting period, so they don’t deteriorate while we get other crops.

We have a Task List for the week, and our sequence of priority is generally harvest, plant, mulch, prepare beds for planting, hoe, hand-weed. “Prioritize planting during the planting season” is one of the mantras we embrace. Sometimes other factors come into play. A new member pointed out that all my answers start with “It depends. . . ”

We try to do the more aerobic jobs (especially jobs involving shovels) in the coolest part of the shift, or on the cooler days. We also try to offer each person some options, because people do better when doing tasks they prefer. Sometimes we just have to grin and bear it: “This is the job we need to finish today.”

We are often including visitors in our work, so we need to make sure we mix up members and visitors on each task, so that visitors get enough directions and help. We also need to check in to see how they’re doing with the heat/cold and level of physical activity. We don’t want them to collapse! We also need to be firm about pulling them off a job if they are causing damage, and trying to find some other task that might suit them better.

Having the entire crew finish the shift at the same time is complex choreography! Putting tools away as we go along helps reduce a mammoth task at the end, although having some people cleaning and storing tools as the finish time approaches can be a good way of evening out the workload. The honcho needs to pace the planting, watering and rowcovering. It’s no good transplanting 500 feet if you don’t get it watered and covered before leaving the scene.

Our root cellar for potatoes. Photo McCune Porter

Our root cellar for potatoes. Photo McCune Porter

Sometimes it’s easier to start everyone on a big hoeing or weeding project, then leave an experienced person in charge of the straightforward task and most of the crew, while you pull out a couple of people to get a complicated task started. Next add more people once it’s up and running. Or send one or two experienced people over to set up, and then send more crew over as the set up work is done It’s awful having 9 people stand there while you try to figure out how to do a planting!.

We have contingency plans for specific situations:

If the day is likely to be very hot, have an “aerobic segment” at the beginning of the shift and get the physically taxing tasks done first (especially anything involving shovels).

If the morning starts out with a heavy dew, postpone harvesting cucurbits, nightshades, strawberries and legumes until the leaves dry, to reduce the spread of disease.

After heavy rain: mulched perennials (fruit and asparagus) are the easiest places to work without getting bogged down. Don’t work in sinking mud, it compacts the soil, which means the plants go short on air, and the soil will be slower to drain after future rains.. Standing on boards is an option for harvesting or planting..

If heavy rain is expected and you might have to stop in a hurry, do weeding, not planting. Don’t hoe if it’s about to rain, it’s a waste of time. Hoeing is best done in an area that won’t get irrigated that night. Likewise don’t leave pulled weeds on the beds before rain. They’ll re-root.

If you feel frazzled, choose a big simple task lots of people can do, like weeding strawberries, or hoeing corn. Or choose two tasks geographically close, so it’s easy to keep an eye on everything happening.

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.

 

What’s still alive after two nights at 4F?

Recently I reported on which crops were still alive after two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. We’ve now had the Arctic Vortex, which in our part of central Virginia, meant two nights at 4F, last Monday 1/6 and Tuesday 1/7 nights. How did it go?

Before the Prelude to the Big Chill, when we got 9F, I harvested the odds and ends of small cabbages left in our main patch. Quite worthwhile, I got two 5-gallon buckets. Between the 9F and the 4F nights, I decided to gather the Deadon cabbage, which we grew with January harvests in mind. There was some freeze damage, so in future I’ll say that Deadon is good down to 10F, but not lower. I got two full net bags and two more buckets of small ones. I left one smaller and one larger cabbage as sacrificial victims in the cause of better information for next year. When we got 4F, the smaller one died and the larger survived.

Deadon cabbage Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

Deadon cabbage
Credit Johnnys Selected Seeds

One of the other gardeners harvested the last of the outdoor senposai. Another couple of buckets of tasty food.

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green, Credit Kathryn Simmons

Senposai, the Thousand Wonder Green,
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I took another walk round the frozen garden after the Big Chill, to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates and Beedy’s Camden kale without rowcover. They are all still alive! There’s some freeze damage in spots on the spinach leaves, but plenty of good meals still to come!

Our hardneck garlic tops suffered some damage but didn’t get killed back to the mulch level. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and they too are still alive. They will grow back if they have died. 

Garlic planting in November. Credit Brittany Lewis

Garlic planting in November.
Credit Brittany Lewis

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. A good chance to see which ones are hardiest! Here’s the scoop:

Still alive in the centers – Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest.                  No longer alive – Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Winter Wonder, Red Tinged Winter, Merlot, Red Sails, Outredgeous, Roman Emperor, Revolution.

At nearby Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, they had some young but mature heads of cabbage outdoors. The Late Flat Dutch, Early Flat Dutch and Chieftain Savoy all survived one night at 6F. (It’s usually two degrees warmer there than at Twin Oaks on winter nights).

Meanwhile I’m tracking the Blue Ridge kale grown by Clif Slade in his 43560 project at Randolph Farm, VSU. The Blue Ridge survived. It got down to 9F there. Not as cold as Louisa County! Blue Ridge is taller than the Vates we grow, and I’d like to try it here, if it can survive our winters. Otherwise not!

In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover on Monday afternoon, and didn’t roll it up till Thursday, after the warmer weather returned. There was a tiny bit of freeze injury on some turnip greens that poked out the side of the rowcover, and some on some stems of Tokyo Bekana. I think the rowcover saved the crops! Also, a bad thing happened. it was very windy Monday night and the west window blew open. Argh! Of all the nights to have an open window. Memo: fix the latch to make it stronger.

I didn’t enjoy the really cold weather. I was anxious about the crops and the plumbing! But I can see two silver linings: I now have more information about cold-hardiness of various crops, and hopefully some pests will have died. Now we’re getting ready for another two cold nights, tomorrow and Wednesday.

When we placed our seed orders we gave up for this year on our quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less). We’re having a red-cabbageless year. We’re still open to recommendations (OP or hybrid) – please leave a comment. 

What’s still alive at 14F?

Winter garden scene. Credit Ezra Freeman

Winter garden scene.
Credit Ezra Freeman

One of my ongoing topics of interest in the garden is how cold-tolerant various vegetables are. We’ve now had two nights at 14F (-10C) and several others in the teens. I took a walk round the frozen garden this morning to see what is still alive. We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates kale. The senposai is still alive, but some of the midribs have brown streaks. Sadly we don’t have any leeks this winter, as we lacked enough workers to tend them in late summer. We have a nice bed of Deadon cabbage, and I notice that some small heads of Melissa savoy that missed the bulk harvest are also alive. The Gunma cabbage stumps have some leaves and tiny heads still alive, but the Tendersweet are done in.

Our ongoing quest for a reliable red cabbage of at least medium size and fairly speedy maturity (90 days or less) yielded no success story this year. We grew Super Red 80 happily for many years, but then it stopped working for us – variable heads, slower maturity. If you have any recommendations (OP or hybrid) please leave a comment. We are working on our seed orders now, and this would be a great time to have some suggestions.

Back to today – our chard had all the leaves cut off in November, and seems to be dead. Some winters it hangs on later, if we leave some foliage to help it regenerate. We have also some years deliberately kept it alive for spring by using rowcover on it. We do that if we go into winter short of spinach beds.

The oats cover crop we sowed in August and early September look pretty much dead. All the broccoli looks dead. That’s as expected for the temperatures. Often we don’t get nights this cold till January – the cold came early this winter.

Our hardneck garlic tops look to be in good shape. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and look like they are suffering. They will grow back if they have died. Some of our Chandler strawberry plants look dead. Either that or they are extremely dormant! The deer were killing them off by eating the leaves. Too many deer!

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

Garlic shoots emerging through the mulch in November

The hoophouse is still bursting with great food. Plenty of salad greens: lettuce; various kinds of mizuna and ferny mustards like Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills and Bulls Blood beet leaves. And for salads or cooking we have spinach, chard, tatsoi, radishes, scallions, baby Hakurei turnips and their tasty greens, Red and White Russion kales, and more senposai. Soon we’ll start on the heading Asian greens: pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo bekana and Yukina Savoy. The first sowing of tatsoi (9/7) is starting to bolt, so we’re clearing that. The second sowing (11/15) needs thinning to an inch. The first round of baby lettuce mix (10/24) is ready for its second cut. In a few days we’ll make a second sowing of that. I love working in the hoophouse on sunny winter days. This afternoon I plan to complete the transplanting of an 11/9 sowing of spinach. We just love the sweet nuttiness of winter spinach!

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

The hoophouse winter crops are an important part of feeding ourselves year-round

Workshops, weather and slideshow tribulations

Overwintered Vates kale. Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Overwintered Vates kale.
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Yesterday I gave my three hour presentation “Providing for the Full Eating Season” to the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville,VA. I’d guess there were 50 people there, and 11 of them bought copies of my book!

A question came up that I don’t know the answer to, and now it has me curious. Do leave a comment if you have an answer. Some professional growers need to know how to allow for the slowing rate of crop maturity going into winter, when deciding how much of a crop to grow. Because we at Twin Oaks don’t sell our food, we can simply provide a transition from warm (or cool) weather crops to cold weather crops, without worrying exactly on the quantity of each. Those selling at farmers’ markets or CSAs could possibly do similarly. But those selling wholesale need a certain amount of a crop – either a box or no box – but not half a box. Naturally, all growers need to look at what is worthwhile.

I think in our gardens we have simply made our decisions based on experience, without a numerical base. I can say that 7 x 4 x 90ft of kale will provide 10 gallons of leaves at least three times a week in November, December, February, March. Not January maybe. I’ve never actually counted. And five outdoor beds of spinach (each 4 rows X 90ft) under thick rowcover, combined with about 700 row feet in the hoophouse will be plenty for 100 people for the winter. And we can eat more than 700 leeks per month from October to February. But’s that’s about all I know. Per person, that’s about 25 feet of kale, 20 feet of spinach and maybe 20 feet of leeks for winter in Virginia.

A bed of overwintered leeks Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

A bed of overwintered leeks
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

In my last post I said we’d had an overnight low of 10F, but in reality it only dropped to 14F. We were lucky with the last winter storm. We didn’t get snow, only got a thinnish build up of ice from freezing rain, and din’t lose power except for 15 minutes on Monday, presumably due to our supplier switching off while reconnecting those who had lost power. Now it looks like we’re in for more cold winter-storm weather.

I have in the past uploaded my slideshow presentations to SlideShare.net, but they closed down my account saying I was guilty of “violating SlideShare’s Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines.” I can’t imagine what I can have done wrong, so I’ve appealed. The wheels of progress grind slowly. Meanwhile you can find my June 2013 presentation on Planning Fall Crops at Virginia State University; my Growing Great Garlic presentation at CFSA, uploaded by Fred Broadbent. VABF has my Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops presentation.

If anyone knows other ways I can upload slideshows, please speak up.

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