‘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.
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.
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 senposaiin 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.
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.
Our salad mix season has started! Very exciting! During the summer we have heads of lettuce and the warm weather salad crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. But now we’ve had a couple of frosts and we are starting to harvest mixed salads, mostly from our hoophouse. This involves snipping the outer leaves of various crops into ribbons, cutting small individual leaves from other crops and mixing the ingredients. In the photo above are spinach, Tokyo Bekana, Bull’s Blood beet leaves and a speck of Ruby Streaks. There is no lettuce in the picture. In October and early November we harvest the last of our outdoor lettuce and mix that in.
Our general salad mix harvesting approach is to mix colors, textures and crop families. I like to balance lettuce of different kinds with chenopods (spinach, baby chard, Bull’s Blood beet leaves) and brassicas (brassica salad mix, baby tatsoi, thinnings of direct-sown brassicas, chopped young leaves of Tokyo bekana, Maruba Santoh or other Asian greens, mizuna, other ferny mustards such as Ruby Streaks, Golden Frills and Scarlet Frills).
I prefer to harvest and chop as I go, mixing everything at the end. It might seem easier to harvest first and then cut and mix, but that requires handling the greens a second time which causes more damage. Incidentally, tearing damages more than cutting, so just get a good pair of scissors and keep them sharp. I cut and gather until I have a handful of leaves, then roll them lengthwise and cut into ribbons. The width of the ribbon depends on the crop. I like to have different size shreds. Mild flavor and plentiful items I cut on the wider side, stronger flavors narrower. I also want every bowlful to get some red highlights, so if red leaves are in short supply that day, I cut those thin.
Use knives to cut whole heads, if you are doing that. Ceramic or serrated plastic knives cause less rapid browning to cut leaf edges, but almost all growers I know use metal knives.
Brassica salad mixes are easy to grow. There are various mustard mixes you can buy, to complement your baby lettuce mix. It doesn’t work well to mix lettuce seed and brassica seed together when sowing, as the crops grow at different rates. It is better to grow separate patches and customize your mix when you harvest. Wild Garden Seed has Wild Garden Pungent Mix, and the mild Pink Petiole Mix. Some seed companies now sell individual crops for mixes (see Johnnys Selected Seeds or Fedco Seeds Asian Greens for example). We mix our own Brassica Salad Mix from leftover random brassica seeds. For a single cut, almost all brassicas are suitable, except very bristly turnips. We sow in early February for March and early April harvests. Even if you don’t plan to grow brassica salad mix, keep it in mind as a worthwhile backup plan if other crops fail, or outdoor conditions are dreadful and you need a quick crop to fill out what you have.
To harvest baby lettuce mix or brassica salad mix (also called mustard mix), use scissors, shears or a serrated knife, and cut an inch (a few centimeters) above the soil to spare the growing point of the plants for regrowth. Some growers use a leaf rake to pull out debris after each harvest of baby leaf lettuce, and minimize the chance of including bits of old rotting leaves in the next cut. For small plants, it works fine to pinch off individual leaves, provided you are careful not to tug–small plants may not be very firmly anchored in the soil! Small leaves can go in the mix whole
Baby lettuce mix can be cut 21 days from seeding in warm weather, but from November to mid-February, it may take two or three times as long from sowing to first harvest. Cool season lettuce mix may provide four or more cuttings, but in warm weather it will only provide a single harvest. Excessive milkiness from the cut stems is a sign of bitterness. You can also test by nibbling a piece of leaf. Our winter salad mixes end at the end of April, when our outdoor lettuce headsare ready for harvest.
In the hoophouse we are perhaps half way through our bed preparations. The Tokyo Bekana was the first crop we transplanted from our outdoor nursery bed, and it’s looking very sturdy now. We’ve also transplanted some Yukina Savoy and the first of the lettuces.
Cherry Belle radishes in the hoophouse, early October.
Photo Pam Dawling.
The crops we direct sowed in early September are growing well, and we are harvesting the radishes and some of the tatsoi and Bulls Blood beet greens (thinning to 6″ apart). The spinach is big enough to start harvesting but we haven’t needed to yet.
The newer sowings (the second radishes and the first brassica baby salad mix (mustards) have emerged and are ready to thin to 1″. Sometimes we use thinned seedlings as a salad garnish, but it takes more time than simply pulling them out, and it takes attention to keep them clean.
This summer we grew more cover crops rather than seed crops, which we have been growing in summer for several years, because we were short of workers. In the photo below you can see some healthy cowpeas I’m going to be pulling up later today, as well as some pulled up and dried buckwheat. We don’t dig our cover crops under, just let them die on the surface for as long as possible, shedding bits of dead leaf, then haul them to the compost pile. With the cowpeas, we hope to leave the nitrogen nodules from the roots, by ripping the plants up roughly!
These cowpeas have been cut back two or three times over the summer, to keep them manageable. At one point, they were black with sooty mold growing on aphid honeydew. We wondered if it was going to be a bigger problem, but after we cut the plants back, most of the aphids seem to have died. We also got a healthy population of ladybugs.
I gather readers are planning for winter, as many folks have been visiting my Winter-Kill Temperatures List of hardy crops. I update this list every spring, with the info from the previous winter. It’s useful for planning harvests based on forecast temperatures, and it’s useful for planning which winter crops will grow in your location, either inside or out.
On the same theme, I just discovered the WeatherSpark website which provides “The Typical Weather Anywhere on Earth”. Enter your nearest town or airport and you get clearly explained info with fascinating graphics of how the weather goes over the year in your locality. Note this is not a forecast site, it’s about average weather for each place. Useful to people who’ve recently moved and want to know what to expect this winter, or to new gardeners who haven’t paid so much attention previously. Or to those who want to check their assumptions (I really thought the wind was out of the west more of the time than records say). There are charts of high and low temperature, temperature by the hour each month, cloud cover, daily chance of precipitation (both rainfall and snowfall), hours of daylight, humidity, wind speed and direction and solar energy. A big help in making wise decisions. I know that climate change is going to cause havoc with averages, and we’ll need to learn to become better weather forecasters individually, and to use soil temperature and other metrics to decide when to plant. But this website explains things well.
The October Growing for Market is out. Flower farmer Erin Benzakein writes about getting to grips with the marketing side of running a farm. She encourages farmers to get good photos, step out from behind the camera, and dust off their website. I could use some of this advice! (I’ve been very busy writing a hoophouse book, and have necessarily paid less attention to giving presentations and to rejuvenating this website!
Kai Hoffman-Krull writes about on-farm trials of bio-char. I’m looking forward to reading that. Jesse Frost writes about winter CSAs and profiles some he visited. Chris Bodnar covers Italy’s thriving agricultural co-ops and asks if this could be a model for the next phase of the locally-grown movement. Lastly Zach Loeks offers the first of a two-part series on Transitioning to a permaculture market garden.
The September/October issue of Organic Broadcaster is also out. Articles include attending to soil health to improve production; the top reasons customers buy organic foods (accountability, environment, health); interseeding cover crops in cash crops; an interview with farmers in the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program; designing an efficient pack shed; and selecting the right meat processor.
Lastly, the campaign www.keepthesoilinorganic.org has posted a letter a letter recently sent out by farming mentor Eliot Coleman about the travesty of allowing hydroponics to be certified as Organic. Hydroponics is a system of growing plants anchored in holes in plastic tubes, or in blocks of inert material, and feeding them with a liquid solution of things that work to produce mature plants. The arrogance of imagining we know everything a plant needs is astounding! The idea that all the many complex ingredients of soil can be replaced with a synthetic concoction is staggering!
Eliot Coleman’s letter includes these quotes:
Organic farming is best defined by the benefits of growing crops on a biologically active fertile soil.
The importance of fertile soil as the cornerstone of organic farming is under threat. The USDA is allowing soil-less hydroponic vegetables to be sold as certified organic without saying a word about it.
The encouragement of “pseudo-organic” hydroponics is just the latest in a long line of USDA attempts to subvert the non-chemical promise that organic farming has always represented. Without soil, there is no organic farming.
Eliot Coleman will be a speaker, along with Fred Kirschenmann, Enid Wonnacott, Jim Riddle, Will Allen, Jeff Moyer, Dave Chapman, Anaise Beddard, Lisa Stokke, Tom Beddard and Linley Dixon at the Jacksonville Rally of the Keep the Soil in Organic movement. Oct 31, 2017 at 12:45 pm – 2:00pm EDT. Omni Jacksonville Hotel, 245 Water St, Jacksonville, FL 32202, USAThis Rally will be a gathering of organic farmers and eaters from all over the world. The march will begin at the Omni Jacksonville during the lunch break from 12:45 to 2 PM on Tuesday, the first day of the NOSB meeting. There will be a 5 minute march to The Landing from the Omni. Lunch will be available at the Rally. For more information, call Dave Chapman at 802-299-7737.
In June I told you about Tokyo Bekana, a light green tender-leaved, white-stemmed green which can be cooked, or used as a substitute for lettuce in hot weather. Because summer in Virginia is a hard time for leafy greens, July’s Asian green is very similar – Maruba Santoh. Maruba Santoh has smoother, wavy, less ruffled leaves than Tokyo Bekana.
To show you I’m not being a slouch, I’ll include some pointers on sowing Asian greens for fall, because now is the time – in our climate at least. Here’s what one of my favorite seed suppliers, Fedco Seeds has to say:
Maruba Santoh (35 days) Brassica rapa (pekinensis group) Open pollinated. With Maruba you get four vegetables in one. The loose round vibrant chartreuse leaves provide a mild piquant mustardy flavor while the flat white stems impart a juicy crisp pac choy taste. High-end chefs like to use the blossoms. Market grower Scott Howell finds the flavor more subtle and complex than that of other greens and cuts Maruba small for his mesclun. Fairly bolt tolerant, so plant after the early spring flea beetle invasion subsides.
Fedco is in Maine and we’re in Virginia, so things are a little different. The information on their website about pests and diseases is good. Our worst brassica pests are harlequin bugs.
We grow our summer brassica seedlings and transplanted Asian greens under ProtekNet on hoops. On the Dubois link, study the Dimensions and Specifications tab, then download the brochure from that tab. Study the Descriptions tab – it tells you which insects are excluded by each size mesh. Be sure that you choose the right size mesh for the bugs you want to exclude. Flea beetles and thrips are small – you need a small mesh. Johnny’s is now marketing the close-mesh ProtekNet as “Biothrips” insect netting, and they also have a comparison chart of rowcover and insect netting on their site.
Kitazawa Seeds also sells Maruba Santoh seed, under the Chinese Cabbage heading. Like most brassicas, Maruba Santoh does best in cool weather, although it is somewhat heat tolerant (or “warm tolerant” as we call it in Virginia.) It tolerates heat better than Napa Chinese cabbage does. To avoid bolting, keep the plants above 50F (10C) at all times, but particularly avoid prolonged spells below this “bolting trigger” temperature.
Maruba Santoh will germinate at temperatures between 50-85F. Seedlings emerge in just 3 days in summer. For summer use, direct sow, thin the rows for baby salad mix, then let the “heads” (it doesn’t actually head up) develop to full size (6-10″ tall) after about 35-40 days. Or transplant two week old starts. We tend to grow our plants quite big (12″ tall) and harvest by the leaf, several times over. Maruba Santoh makes a fine substitute for lettuce, and a tasty quick-cooking green.
To calculate sowing dates, work back 40 days from when you want to harvest, and sow more every week or two until you run into the fall slowdown temperatures, or you go back to eating lettuce in salads and cooking chard and kale. If you still have Maruba Santoh growing in the fall, know that it will be frost tolerant to 25°F (-4°C). No hurry.
Maruba Santoh can also be grown at other times of year: spring and fall outdoors, winter in the hoophouse. The seedlings have large cotyledons and make good microgreens too.
Kitazawa’s Culinary Tips include: Use in salad, sukiyaki, ohitashi, yosenabe, stir-fry, soup and pickling. Kim chi here we come! (If we had surplus.)
Next month I will talk more about Asian greens outdoors in fall. Now is the time to sow for fall harvests. We start in late June, and sow more in early July. We always make two sowings a week apart, for insurance. We are aiming for greens to feed us in early fall, before the kale is ready, and into the winter, harvesting by the leaf. But Asian greens can be sown all the way up to two months before your first fall frost date. For us, that means August 14-20. If you want to make sowings now, consider senposai, komatsuna, pak choy, tat soi, Yukina Savoy, and Chinese cabbage.
Last week when writing about Lettuce Varieties for January I mentioned how we grow all our outdoor lettuce as bare root transplants. From January through to the end of April, we sow lettuce seed in open flats. After that date, we sow in outdoor nursery seed beds, and simply dig up the transplants when big enough and replant them in our raised beds. We transplant 120 lettuce outdoors each week until early October and then transplant in our greenhouse and our hoophouse. We also grow many other crops (all the easy to transplant ones) in open flats, or in nursery seed beds.
Using bare-root transplants does require a bit more attention to technique than popping plugs into the ground. But it’s not that difficult and we train new people every year with success.
Why bare-root transplants?
Bare-root transplants save a lot of time and money, compared to growing in flats. They also save on valuable greenhouse space. The plants get very sturdy, because they have the full depth of soil in which to develop big roots. Starts grown in outdoor seedbeds are already acclimated to cooler conditions than plants in your greenhouse. They are less prone to drying out than seedlings in flats, but do be ready to protect them from bugs.
Which crops work best?
Bare-root transplants can suffer more transplant shock than plugs, so start with “easy to transplant” crops, such as brassicas (cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi), lettuce, onions and leeks. Tomatoes and peppers are worth trying next. See the Chart “Relative Ease of Transplanting Bare-Root Vegetable Seedlings” free online in Knott’s Handbook for Vegetable Growers. Avoid trying bare-root cucurbits (squash, melons, cucumbers).
Bare-root transplants can be used on any scale, from backyard to large farm. See the impressive photos of huge beds of cabbage transplants in Atina Diffley’s manual. They can be used at various times of year, and from indoors to outdoors and vice-versa.
Spring bare-root transplants started in a hoophouse, planted outdoors.
For the earliest spring transplants, bare-root hoophouse starts are a nice option. For us, onion seedlings overwintered in the hoophouse have worked very well. Seedlings outdoors or in a cold-frame suffer too much winter-kill. We don’t want to fuss with flats in November-February. We’re in zone 7, at 38̊ N. We sow onions in the soil in the hoophouse November 10 and 20, with a backup sowing on December 5. We plant them outdoors as early in March as we can. The onions get to thin-pencil-size by March 1, which we couldn’t do from a spring sowing. Onion roots are tough and thick, not thread-like – they are easy as bare-root transplants.
We sow spinach, collards and kale in the hoophouse in mid-late January and plant them outdoors in early March. This is a lot less work than using flats, and our comparison trials with bare-root spinach showed results were just as good as spinach in Speedling plug flats. We have tried early lettuce transplanted from the hoophouse, but the plants were not as sturdy as those in flats.
Outdoor bare-root transplants
See my book Sustainable Market Farming, for more details of growing outdoor bare root transplants. We grow lettuce this way from April to September, and fall brassicas in June and July, in one of our permanent raised beds where the soil is friable and free-draining. Also see Atina Diffley’s manual for cultivation tips.
We grow outdoor cabbage, broccoli, collard, senposai and Yukina Savoy transplants in seedbeds for 3-4 weeks in June and July, covered with ProtekNet on hoops. We transplant in July and early August for harvest in October and November. We prefer this to direct sowing, because it is much easier to keep the relatively small seedbed watered and bug-free. For large amounts use an EarthWay seeder. Atina Diffley recommends the leek seed plate for brassicas.
Outdoors to indoors
In September we make an outdoor seedbed for crops to transplant into our hoophouse in October. The late summer hoophouse crops get a few extra weeks to finish up. Because the hoophouse can be warmer than ideal for lettuce germination until well into fall, it often works better to start plants in a cooler location, then move the plants. In September in our climate, four-week old lettuce plants will be a good size.
As well as ten varieties of lettuce, we sow various Asian greens and Brite Lites chard. Nine days later we sow another ten varieties of lettuce, white and red Russian kales, senposai and frilly mustards such as Ruby Streaks, Red Rain, Golden Frills, Scarlet Frills as well as green mizuna. We cover the seedbeds with hoops and ProtekNet and water daily. Transplanting these plants starts October 1 with the fast-growing pak choy, Chinese cabbage and Tokyo Bekana. The other transplants follow, as they reach the right size.
Stay indoors in winter
In October in the hoophouse we sow short rows of “brassica fillers”, mostly senposai, Tokyo Bekana and Maruba Santoh. These grow fastest, which becomes more important in the dark winter days. We fill gaps in any brassica bed, that occur either because of disease, or of harvesting. In late October and early November we sow filler leaf lettuce varieties and filler spinach. These extra plants help us out if something goes wrong, and give us the chance to grow some extra crops after the first ones have been harvested.
How much to sow
Our formula for sowing seedbeds in the hoophouse is to divide the final row length of brassica plants by 10 to give the minimum length of seed row to sow. These plants will be transplanted 10″-12″ (25-30 cm) apart. For onions (to be transplanted 4″ (10 cm) apart), we divide the number of plants wanted by 20 to give the row feet (67/m), but we sow this amount twice, about 10 days apart. Outdoors for the fall brassicas, we sow around a foot (30 cm) of seed row for every 12′-15′ (3.6-4.6 m) of crop row, aiming for 3-4 seeds per inch (0.75 cm apart). These plants will be transplanted 18″ (46 cm) apart. It’s important to weed and thin the seedlings to 1″ (2.5 cm) apart soon after they emerge.
Transplant age and size
There is quite a lot of flexibility about when a start can be transplanted, but there are accepted ideals to be aimed for. The University of Florida Vegetable Horticulture Program Vegetable Transplant Production page has a wealth of transplant information. Transplants grown over winter or in very early spring in a hoophouse will take longer to reach plantable size than those sown in spring or summer.
Suitable conditions for transplanting
The ideal conditions for outdoor transplanting are mild windless afternoons and evenings just before light steady rain. Transplanting late in the day gives the plant the chance to recover during the cooler night hours when transpiration is slower. Shadecloth or rowcover can reduce the drying effects of wind and sun. Damp soil is important before, during and after transplanting.
Bare-root transplanting technique
When you dig up your bare-root transplants, leave some soil clinging to the roots, to help the plants re-establish quicker. They don’t need a full handful of soil for each plant. Just dig up a clump and give it a light shake, to leave the majority of the soil behind, and some still on the roots. This means less damage to the root hairs. Be sure to dig deep enough so you don’t damage the tap roots. Water your plants the day before and an hour before lifting (pulling) them. In hot weather, keep the plants as shaded as possible while transplanting.If necessary water the soil ahead of planting.
We use plastic dish-pans to carry our plants from seedbed to field, and I tell people to only dig up what they think they can transplant in half an hour, so that plants don’t sit around for too long. Push the trowel into the soil, using the dominant hand, push it forwards, shake a plant loose from the clumps in the dish-pan with the other hand, and slip a plant in behind the trowel. Pull out the trowel, keeping it in your hand while you close the soil against the stem with your planting hand and the trowel. (Efficient workers keep a hand on the trowel at all times, never setting it down.) Move to the next spot and repeat. When setting out a large number of plants, water every 20-30 minutes if you don’t have drip irrigation running (a bit less often if you do) regardless of the number of plants set out. If the person is skilled and moving fast, and the weather is not outrageously hot or windy, I might let an hour go by before pausing to water. The advantage of getting a lot of plants in the ground proficiently and quickly might outweigh the need to water more often, as the plants are not having their roots exposed to the air for as long when they are planted fast. The hand-watering really helps the soil settle around the roots, and after that the damp soil can wick moisture from the irrigation towards the plant.
Aftercare: water, rowcover, shadecloth
Water your plants the day after transplanting, on days 3, 7 and 10, and then weekly, if it doesn’t rain when you’d like it to. Shadecloth draped over recently transplanted crops can help them recover sooner from the shock in hot sunny weather. We use 50% shade, in 6′ (1.8 m) width, with wire hoops to hold the shadecloth above the plants. This improves the airflow as well as reducing the abrasion or pressure damage done to the plants. The airflow through shadecloth is better than with floating rowcovers. ProtekNet allows good airflow too, and keeps bugs off.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
You might think I wrote a typo for crop insurance, but no. There are some reliable vegetable crops that grow without much attention and quietly wait until needed. Chard is one of those. We sow chard in April, after the early spring rush. We plan for it to provide us with leafy greens in the summer, after the brassicas have bolted. We prepare a bed, unroll hay mulch over it, then make “nests” in the hay for planting. Nests are holes in the hay down to soil level, at each spot where we want to plant. After transplanting. we water and tuck the hay tight around the plants to keep the weeds at bay.
Some years there isn’t much demand for chard and we just leave it growing. If we need it, there it is with a generous supply of leaves. If we ignore it, nothing goes wrong. It’s worth having some crops like this in the garden, to help ensure there’s always something to eat.
This year we grew Malabar spinach and it played a similar role: hot weather leafy cooking greens. Malabar can be used when small for salads, or when larger for cooking. It wasn’t hugely popular in either role, but it was beautiful. To be fair, I don’t think we did the best by it. Because it was new, and because it had the word “spinach” in its name, some cooks served large leaves for salad. Alone. I don’t recommend that.
Another insurance crop for us is asparagus beans, also known as yard long beans. Once trellised, the plants need no attention, other than regular picking. If not picked, the pods grow puffy and useless, so this is not a crop to ignore for too long. Asparagus beans are related to cowpeas, and are more resistant to Mexican bean beetles than regular green beans are. They do need trellising, but once you’ve done that, the same plants will feed you all season. Very little seems to trouble them.
While we’re on the topic of crops that do need trellising, but can then produce all season, I’ll add in the West Indian gherkins. I found I did need to tuck these plants into the netting, so they weren’t work free. But the plants were disease-free and very productive. If you have trouble with regular pickling cucumbers, you might sow some of these as well, to be sure of being able to have something to pickle.
Another insurance crop is Tokyo bekana, or its cousin Maruba Santoh in late summer as a substitute for lettuce. It can be hard to germinate lettuce in hot weather, but these tender brassicas germinate under hot conditions and produce fast-growing very tender leaves with crunchy stems. Some people don’t know they’re not eating lettuce!
And for leafy cooking greens,senposai does well in spring and fall outdoors, and in our hoophouse in the
winter. It’s fast-growing, productive, disease-resistant, easy to cook and delicious to eat. In spring it needs an early start in our climate, so that it has time to be productive before it bolts. In fall it’s cold-hardy down to 12F. This fall, though, we found its Achilles Heel – the senposai became an unplanned trap crop for Harlequin bugs! We did spend time every day for a while squashing the bugs on the senposai leaves, and we made a difference in the number of bugs. But we lost the senposai.
Well, I hope this has given you some thoughts about ordering seeds of some insurance crops for next year, when you plan your seed order.
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.
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.
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!
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. . .
We 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.
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.
One of the other gardeners harvested the last of the outdoor senposai. Another couple of buckets of tasty food.
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.
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 projectat 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.