Workshops on Crop Rotations, Hoophouses in spring, summer, fall and winter.

I had a good time at the Heritage Harvest Festival this past weekend. My Friday workshop  on Crop Rotations for Vegetables and Cover Crops in the Woodland Pavilion had about 56 participants. If you missed it or want to see it again it’s here. Most of my slide shows are on SlideShare.net. Search for Pam Dawling and click on the one you want to see.

Brite Lites chard in our hoophouse. Photo credit Pam Dawling

Brite Lites chard in our winter hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

On Saturday I did my presentation on Asian Greens. And this morning I sowed Blues Chinese cabbage, Yukina savoy, Tokyo Bekana, and pak choy, as well as Brite Lites Chard and ten kinds of lettuce, to transplant into our hoophouse for winter greens.

Last winter we tried the Osborne Multileaf lettuces compared to Salanova types, and were well pleased with the Osborne ones. And so we are growing more of those this winter, along with Tango, Panisse, Oscarde, Merlot and Red Tinged Winter. Next week I’ll sow another ten lettuces (some of the same and some others), along with Russian kales and senposai, more Yukina Savoy and the first round of mizuna and fancy frilled mustards, such as Ruby Streaks.

Pam Dawling. Photo Denny Ray McElya

Pam Dawling.
Photo Denny Ray McElya

Next weekend (September 18-20) I will be speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. I”l be one of the Keynote Speakers, talking about Fall and Winter Hoophouses on Friday 4 – 5 pm on the Mother Earth News Stage. Then I will sign books in the MEN Bookstore immediatley following the workshop.

On Saturday 10 – 11 am on the GRIT Stage I will speak about Spring and Summer Hoophouses. That pair of workshops should give plenty of ideas for the whole year.

I’m also doing off-stage demos of tomato string-weaving (using a table-top model) twice a day at the New Society Publishers booth 104.

Because printing 600 handouts is out of the question (too many trees would have to die, and so on), I have made pdfs of my handouts to post here. Click on the links.

Hoophouse winter greens. Photo Kathleen Slattery

Hoophouse winter greens.
Photo Kathleen Slattery

Fall and Winter Hoophouses  Handout

Cucumbers and squash in our hoophouse. Photo Nina Gentle

Cucumbers and squash in our early summer hoophouse.
Photo Nina Gentle

Spring and Summer Hoophouses Handout

 

Potato yields, Salanova lettuce review, Yet more snow!

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

After my Feed the Soil presentation at Lynchburg College on 3/16, one of the participants emailed me to ask the relative potato yields from our twice a year plantings. The question sent me back to my records. Interestingly (to me) I’d recorded yield almost every time, but never compared the two. Now I know:
15 years of records on spring plantings (mid-March) gave yield ratios from a very low 3:1 to a happy 13:1. The average was 8.2:1 and the median 8:1.
16 years of records on the mid-June planting gave yield ratios ranging from a miserable 3:1 to a high of 10.7:1. The average was 7:1, and the median the same.

We used to plant at 10″ in-row spacing and have shifted to 12″. These figures contain both, with no obvious difference.

Looking at these results points out to me an advantage of doing two plantings that I didn’t mention during my presentation: a poor spring result can be followed by a good summer result. And vice versa. The 13:1 spring result was followed by 4.8:1 in the summer. The 3:1 spring yield was followed by 7.2:1 from the June planting. Doing two plantings spreads the risk.

The questioner also asked if we get potato beetles. We do get them in the spring and spray once, occasionally twice, with Spinosad, which is organically acceptable. In the summer we get no potato beetles. I think the mulch helps. Adult potato beetles emerging from the soil have to walk to find potato plants, and I bet the mulch is very challenging!

We use the same varieties in both plantings, Red Pontiac and Kennebec. Kennebec stores better, Red Pontiac gives higher yields, but isn’t good for long term storage. That said, we recently finished eating Red Pontiacs from our October harvest. I haven’t done much research into trying other varieties because we just buy what’s available locally.The Irish Eyes catalog has descriptions of varieties better for certain conditions. Moose Tubers (Fedco Seeds) has a useful comparative chart of varieties.

Salanova Lettuce Review

My impulse buy when ordering seeds last year was the full set of Salanova Lettuce from Johnny’s. These are varieties of lettuce bred for baby salad mix. You grow them as transplanted heads, and when the head is mature you cut the whole thing and bingo – you get a bowlful of small leaves. They do not grow big leaves, just more and more small leaves. Some of them have a core which you need to cut out in order to make the leaves fall apart. Others you just cut across at the base .If you’ve ever grown Tango, you’ll now the kind of thing.  As well as being very pretty, these lettuces are said to save you time at harvesting compared to cutting along a row of baby lettuce mix. This aspect really appealed to some of our crew.

Johnny's Foundation Collection of Salanova. Photo from their catalog

Johnny’s Foundation Collection of Salanova. Photo from their catalog

Because the seed is expensive (100 pelleted seeds for $15.95), we decided to grow these for our hoophouse “filler” heads, which we transplant into gaps that happen in our beds of head and leaf lettuce. That way we’d get them at the time of year (late winter/early spring) when we grow baby lettuce mix and we could do a direct comparison.

We bought the full set, 100 seeds of the Foundation Collection (the more frilly types) and 100 seeds of the Premier Collection (the more flat and lobed types). Each collection is 25 seeds each of four varieties. We sowed each type in a 4′ seed row (seeds 2 inches apart) on 10/23. They came up well, and we transplanted them 1/2/14. We just started using them 3/20, so the jury is still out. Some unfortunately got cut before reaching full size. I’m not sure what full size is yet. Next year, I’d sow them earlier, so that the heads mature sooner. This winter has been very cold, they may have grown slower than they could have – some other seedlings are certainly slowed down.

A couple of them are exceptionally pretty. The Red Butter type has beautiful very dark red simple shaped leaves. The Red Sweet Crisp reminds me of a fine seaweed in looks – green at the base and intense dark red at the tips. The Green Sweet Crisp is surprisingly sweet, in a good way. Winter lettuce mixes are not usually crisp or sweet.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Osborne Seeds Multileaf Multi-red Lettuce. Photo from their website.

Also next year, I’d like to compare these with some “Multileaf” varieties from Osborne Seeds. They have 7 varieties, 3 green and 4 red. It took me a little while to realize “multired” was “multi-red” and not the past tense of “to multire”, a verb I was pondering the meaning of! They are $7 – $7.47 for 500 pelleted seeds. Some are back-ordered right now, but I’d want them next winter anyway. I’d also like to do a side-by-side comparison with Tango, Oscarde and Panisse which are inclined towards packing in many small leaves without further marketing.

And finally, yes, we’re expecting some more possible snow tomorrow morning. Can you believe it? Maybe we’ll just get rain.

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.