Crop review time, harvesting potatoes, frosts and foliage

Beech tree in November foliage, Credit Ezra Freeman

Beech tree in November foliage,
Credit Ezra Freeman

We’ve had a night of 24F and two of 26F, so the season is really changing. Here’s a photo from Ezra’s blog A Year In the Woods of a beech, one of the last trees with good foliage.

In the garden we’ve been setting up the spinach beds for the winter, weeding and filling gaps. We had really good spinach germination this fall, but then the seedlings got eaten by grasshoppers or something, so we have been moving plants from where they are closely spaced to where there are gaps. Spinach is an important winter crop for us. Kale is another, and happily we finally got a good stand of that, after resowing.

We’ve also finished screening compost into our cinder block greenhouse beds. This will be our spring seedling compost and we like having it all ready to use (not frozen in a lump as it would be when we start in mid-January if we stored it outside). Over the winter we grow lettuce in the compost in the beds, and the roots and the watering help mellow the compost into a lovely condition.

Yesterday we had our annual Crop Review meeting where we gather to talk over the successes and failures of the past season and start to consider what to do differently next year. Us five Full Crew were there, along with a few of the more casual helpers and also our Food Processing Manager and our Cooks Manager. This was a horribly hard season, starting with losing a couple of key people and having a very wet spring which grew lots of weeds and got us off to a very late start. We had to cancel several crops we had planned to grow (celeriac, lots of onions, kohlrabi, peanuts) and we lost several more to weeds after we’d planted them (leeks, Chinese cabbage, winter radish, some of the turnips and beets). Unsurprisingly, we are planning on a more manageable garden next year, so we can build up our strength and be more successful with what we do grow. Plus we’ll have a substantial bank of weed seeds to cope with.

We also used the meeting time to pop garlic cloves in preparation for planting later this week. I suppose most of you would call it next week. At Twin Oaks our weeks start on Fridays and end on Thursdays, for reasons almost lost in the mists of time. Nowadays I suspect we just like the quaintness of it.

Now we are starting to harvest our second potatoes (“Irish” potatoes) which we planted in July (late, like much else this year). We bush-hogged the tops two weeks ago, so that the potato skins could thicken up and be ready to harvest before it got too, too cold. Today we will remove the hay mulch and the dried up vines and weeds, to the compost pile, and tomorrow we’ll start harvesting.

We have a Checchi and Magli SP100 potato digger, which you can see in action on YouTube. Here’s ours

Our Checchi and Magli potato digger

Our Checchi and Magli potato digger

The other main work going on in the garden is getting cover crops planted. Here are before and after photos of one plot:

Late sweet corn and sweet potatoes Credit Ezra Freeman

Late sweet corn and sweet potatoes
Credit Ezra Freeman

Late corn undersown with oats, noew mowed high, and the sweet potato patch now sown in winter wheat and crimson clover. Credit Ezra Freeman

Late corn undersown with oats, now mowed high, and the sweet potato patch now sown in winter wheat and crimson clover.
Credit Ezra Freeman

Eggplant variety trials, first frost

Nadia eggplant. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Nadia eggplant.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Last December I wrote about trying new eggplant varieties

After my experience in the hot summer of 2012 with our Nadia eggplant refusing to set fruit in the heat, I started looking for heat-tolerant varieties. We like large, classic purple-black Italian types. For a while in early summer 2012 the Nadia didn’t grow at all – no new flowers, never mind new fruit. I looked at growing some combination of Nadia (67d, good set in cool conditions) with some of 

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Epic eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Epic 61-64d (early and huge!), from Osborne, Stokes. Recommended in Florida and Texas.

Night Shadow 68d, (size claims vary from “similar to Epic” to “smaller”), Osborne, Stokes, Siegers.

Traviata (variously recorded as 55-60d, 70d and 80d), small but good flavor. Osborne, Johnnys, High Mowing. Recommended in Florida.

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Traviata eggplant from Osborne Seeds

Irene  (mid-early). Large, shiny purple, traditional-shaped fruit 5″ x 6-7″. Great flavor, big plant, productive. Seeds from Italy.

Classic 76d, heavy yields, high quality, does not perform well in cool conditions. Harris. Recommended in Florida and Texas.

Santana 80d, large, continuous setting. Siegers. Recommended in Florida.

These are all hybrids, but I also found a couple of promising -sounding OPs:

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida High Bush eggplant from Seed Savers Exchange

Florida High Bush 76-85d, reliable, large fruit, drought and disease resistant. Seed Savers Exchange, Cherrygal/Sustainable Seed Co.  Recommended in Florida and Texas.

Florida Market 80-85d, large, excellent for the South, not for the Northeast. Baker Creek. Recommended in Florida and Texas.

If anyone has any comparisons of two or more of these, I’d love to hear more. (Also if you have others of purple-black, classic shape to recommend.)  I can see the sense of planting several varieties, including a fast-maturing one, followed by more heat-tolerant (but slower) ones.

This year we tried three new varieties. Generally we like to have some reliable workhorses that we know well, and trial a few new things, especially if we hear our favorite varieties are no longer available. So alongside Nadia, we trialed: Florida Highbush is open-pollinated, from the Seed Savers Exchange. Epic and Traviata are hybrids from Osborne Seeds.

Ironically, this summer was not hot. One of the coolest we’ve had in a long time. We just did a final harvest in preparation for our first frost, which happened Sunday night October 20/21, and I crunched the numbers. Our record-keeping was a bit spotty, some days we didn’t write anything down. But the relative yields should be about right.

We planted 38 Nadia, 10 Florida Highbush, 10 Traviata and 12 Epic. Harvests started on July 25, later than our usual July 10, because of the cool weather. We harvested three times a week until 10/17. I was surprised how few fruit each plant provided – about 6. We only recorded the number of each variety harvested each time. I started out noting size and number of cull fruit, but that didn’t last long! Initially, Nadia was providing by far the largest fruit, with Florida Highbush the smallest. Traviata doesn’t claim to be big. In the first week of harvests, Nadia produced most per plant, but this leveled off pretty soon.

Final figures were 7.3 fruits/bush for Traviata, 6.3 for Florida Highbush, 6.1 for Nadia, and only 4.4 for Epic. In all fairness, Epic was the variety nearest the road, where the soil is drier and pebbly, and the sprinklers don’t reach so well. I wish I’d recorded weight as well as count, as Traviata’s 7.3 might not be such a good deal as it sounds.

In conclusion, I’d like to try all three varieties alongside Nadia next year, and keep records on weight as well as number of fruits from each variety. Maybe it will be hot, and I’ll learn what I originally set out to discover..

Planting kale, catching up on weeding and reading

Vates kale Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Vates kale
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Our weather has been dry and sunny (no hurricanes in September this year!) and we’ve had a chance to catch up somewhat on weeding. It’s also meant lots of irrigation, more than usual at this time of year. And consequently, running repairs. This morning I switched out three sprinkler heads – one was stuck and wouldn’t rotate; one leaked too much at the stem and one old one had ground away its brass nut over years of use and finally fell through the hole in its stand, meaning it couldn’t rotate any more either. I fixed two, still not sure how to deal with the old one. Its homemade stand is also breaking up. I’ve also been replacing hose ends and connectors – we were the lucky recipients of a donated pile of about nine hoses, some in better condition than others.

Transplanting kale has kept us busy this week. We direct sow our kale, two beds every six days in August, to make it easier to keep them well watered – we only have to hand water two on any one day to get the seeds germinated. This year we’ve had disappearing seedlings, and we’ve been moving plants around in the beds to get full rows at the right final spacing. This means even more watering, but we all love kale so much, so it’s very worthwhile. Some of the disappearing seedlings were due to cutworms, some may have been grasshoppers, and some maybe rabbits.

I’ve also been pulling up drip tape from our watermelon patch and second cucumbers, rolling it on our home-made shuttles which I described last year. I found myself salvaging 23 late watermelons, I just couldn’t resist! Watermelons in October usually get as much demand as last week’s newspaper, but while the weather is so warm (85F yesterday), people are still grateful for juicy fruit. I’m looking forward to getting more of the gardens into their winter cover crops, so that this year’s weeds can become just a memory. I also like how the garden gets smaller and smaller in the process of putting the plots into cover crops. Less to deal with. (Although I am needing to water the cover crops areas overnight with the sprinklers).

I’m in the process of writing about no-till cover crops for Growing for Market magazine. We really like using no-till winter rye/hairy vetch/Austrian winter peas before our Roma paste tomatoes. We mow the cover crop in early May, when the vetch is starting to flower, then transplant into the dying cover crop, which becomes our mulch, and also supplies all the nitrogen the tomatoes need. Anyway, that’s for the winter double issue.

Hoophouse greens in November. Credit Ethan Hirsh

Hoophouse greens in November.
Credit Ethan Hirsh

Meanwhile, the October issue has just come out, including my article about how to minimize unhealthy nitrate levels in winter greens. During winter, when there is short daylight length and low light intensity, there is a potential health risk associated with nitrate accumulation in leafy greens. Nitrates can be converted in the body into toxic nitrites, which reduce the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Additionally, nitrites can form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Green plants absorb nitrates from the soil during the night and in the process of photosynthesis during the day, combine them with carbon-based compounds into protein (plant material). It takes about six hours of sunlight to use up a night’s worth of nitrates. In winter when the day-length is short, the nitrate accumulated can exceed the amount that can be used during the day, and the excess nitrate builds up in the plant, mostly in the leaves, stems and roots. Leafy vegetables can then exceed an acceptable adult daily intake level of nitrate in just one small serving of greens, unless special efforts have been made to reduce the levels. My article lists which vegetables are more likely to be higher in nitrates, and which circumstances are most likely to make the levels high. I give a list of 16 steps you can take to reduce the levels of nitrate in your crops. 

There are also articles about farms getting financing from crowdfunding websites (Lynn Byczynski), customizing CSA shares using LimeSurvey to let each sharer indicate what they want by email (Eric and Joanna Reuter whose blog I have mentioned before), building a seed germination chamber (Ben Hartman), and  making cash flow projections to avert disaster (Nate Roderick). A fine batch of useful articles, and I’m especially happy to see Eric and Joanna Reuter have “joined the crew” at GFM. They impress me with their attention to details and creativity.

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Summer reading

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The August issue of Growing for Market magazine is out (the June-July issue was the most recent previous one). This one includes my article on Last Chance Sowings.

In line with my advice, at home we are busy preparing beds and sowing beans, bulb fennel, cucumbers and squash. As well as being our last chance with these warm weather crops, it’s now our first chance to start again with the spring and fall crops such as carrots, beets, kale, scallions, turnips (no rutabagas for us these days – it needs extra time to grow to a good size, and we’re never ready soon enough). It’s too soon for us to sow spinach (although the weather is surprisingly cool for August!) – we wait till the fall chickweed, dead nettle and henbit germinate before sowing spinach. we’re also out in the garden every evening transplanting broccoli and cabbage. We’re over half way, and the mild weather is really helping.

Cutting Zephyr yellow summer squash. Credit Brittany Lewis

Cutting Zephyr yellow summer squash.
Credit Brittany Lewis

Also in this Growing for Market issue are valuable articles by other growers, such as Ben Hartman on arranging their farm’s CSA into two separate seasons, spring and fall, with a two week gap in the middle. What a great idea. I got a two week gap myself, thanks to our stalwart crew keeping the crops happy while I was gone.

There’s encouragement from Lynn Byczynski, the editor,  to comment to the FDA on the proposed food safety rules for produce. cover4Jonathan Magee (author of the book Small Farm Equipment) writes about irrigation pumps, which will likely be a big stress-saver for anyone who has stood in exasperation over a non-working pump. Andrew Mefford writes about useful tools for the hoophouse, including some nifty little Harvest Scissors, worn like a ring, freeing up the hands to alternate with other tasks while working.Erin Benzakein, the regular writer on cut flowers, covers ideas for early spring blooms, and, as always, has some beautiful photos.

For the next issue I am writing on strawberry production systems, including our latest method – using landscape fabric with holes burned in it.

2013-berry-veggie1-80x300My presentation on Planning Fall Crops at the Virginia State University Commercial Berry and Vegetable Field Day  on June 27 is now a full blown video. you can view it at their website, along with those of the other presenters; Reza Rafie on specialty crops such as baby ginger, Steven Pao on food safety and Debra Deis from Seedway Seeds on their variety trials.

I’ve recently found a website I think will be very useful for help in predicting pest outbreaks, as well as counting accumulated Growing Degree Days and recording the weather. It’s called My Pest Page. It’s for the technically minded. To modify our page for your area, start with the map and zoom out then in again on your area, using your nearest weather station. Then you can choose which pieces of information to have displayed, by clicking on the plus button by each topic to expand the list of options. Then click on the big Refresh button and bookmark the site. I see we’re now at the point when Late Blight infection is possible. . . , so I’ll keep my eyes open.A few years ago when we thought we had Late Blight on our tomatoes we spent a lot of time removing infected leaves into trash bags. When we sent a sample to the plant diagnostic clinic they said we didn’t have Late Blight. I think it was a heat stress condition caused by us using the wrong kind of drip tape. (We had too much on at once, so not all the plants were actually getting the irrigation we thought they were.)

Talking of irrigation, It’s time I left my desk and went to switch over to today’s fourth sub-system.

 

 

 

Harvesting Garlic

The crew harvesting garlic.  Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

The crew harvesting garlic.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

We’ve harvested about half our hardneck garlic in the past three days, a job that we always enjoy and find satisfying. I was surprised at how early the garlic was ready, given the late spring. Usually harvest is about three weeks after the first scapes are ready to pull, and we started pulling those on 5/10, so I should have been more ready. I know garlic maturity is day-length dependent, but temperature is also a factor. I just looked back at my post 6/6/12 Garlic harvest. Ha! I see I was surprised at the earliness of the harvest date last year too. Time to learn from that and not be surprised next year! Anyway, can’t argue with plants, so here we are, digging them up!

I checked for maturity on Tuesday, not expecting them to be ready. I look for two things:

  • The sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50% of the crop. 
  • There are air spaces between the round stem and the cloves, visible when bulbs are cut horizontally.

Here’s our system:

  • If the soil is very dry, water the night before – Very hard soil can damage the bulbs
  • Plan 15 mins per bucket to dig garlic and 15 mins per bucket to hang it up. It’s important not to get left with garlic still in buckets at the end of the shift.
  • Carefully dig the garlic. Treat the bulbs like fragile, sun-sensitive eggs. Bruised bulbs won’t store well
  • Loosen them with digging forks, without stabbing them. Pulling on unloosened garlic damages necks, they won’t store well
  • Don’t bang, throw or drop the bulbs
  • If they have a lot of soil on the roots, use curled fingers to “brush” soil out
  • Try not to rub or pick at the skin. Bulbs need several layers of intact skin to store well.
  • Don’t wash the bulbs, no matter how dirty. They need to dry, not get wetter. Dirt will dry and drop off
  • Put the bulbs gently into buckets to shade the bulbs. Air above 90F can cook the bulbs, sun can scorch them
  • Take the buckets to the Allium Emporium and hang up the garlic.

The “Allium Emporium” is our pet name for the upstairs barn (an old, well ventilated tobacco barn) where we hang our garlic to dry. We hope one day to have a purpose-built ground level barn where we can wheel in the carts. Meanwhile we haul the garlic in buckets up a ladder, and later haul it down again in bags! Less than ideal, but workable.

Hanging up the garlic:

Hanging garlic in vertical netting. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

  • Start immediately to the north east of the ladder, and concentrate the garlic hanging in a narrow stretch of the netting. We want to have the garlic arranged in date order, to make it easier to find dry garlic to trim when the time comes.
  • Start at knee height and work rows back and forth, taking 4-6 ft per person. Continue upwards as high as you can reach, before moving left to another section. The netting will stretch down with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower will cause garlic to pile up on the floor.
  • People hanging garlic need to work right next to each other. We want walls covered with garlic, and arranged consecutively each day. As well as simplifying trimming, this makes best use of the fans.
  • Take a garlic plant, bend over the top third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through a hole in the netting. The leaves should open up behind the netting. They shouldn’t be poking through to the front. This gives the garlic the best chance of drying nicely.
  • Any damaged bulbs are “Use First” quality and should be laid flat on the wood onion racks to dry.
  • Set fans to blow on the garlic. In our humid climate, fans are essential.

After two-four weeks, the garlic bulbs will have cured and be dry enough to store. We test by rubbing the necks between our fingers, sensing either a dry rustling, or a slightly damp, slippery or mushy feeling. Once they’re dry we trim the roots and tops off and sort for replanting , for storage and cull ones to use right away. And compost material, of course!

Other than harvesting garlic this week, we’ve been finishing up transplanting our warm weather crops (sweet potatoes and watermelon, and replacing casualties in the tomatoes, peppers, melons.) No casualties in the eggplant this year! The okra we had direct-sown, back before the cold wet weather and they all drowned, along with our first sowing of sweet corn, so we started some okra in a plug flat to pop in when the situation improved. Now we’re on to transplanting lettuce and leeks. We love leeks! Maybe I’ll write about them next time.

Meanwhile, the 17-year cicadas are in full force. The sound ramps up in the morning, but goes quiet in the evening. We now have clumsy flying adults landing on us and finished dead adults littering the paths. I’ve seen mating pairs, neatly end-to-end with overlapped wings, and found it is not too difficult to tell the males from the females if you look.

Today we have Tropical Storm Andrea, and have had about 3″ of rain so far. A tree has fallen on our road, so we have to remember to turn left put of the driveway, rather than right, and go the long way round.

Too much rain! But garlic scapes to cheer us up.

Having plenty of 5 gallon buckets is important. Credit Bridget Aleshire

Having plenty of 5 gallon buckets is important.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

We had 4.6″ rain over a few days and nights. We had to dig trenches across the potato patch to drain out the water, which had reached the tops of the hills (thank goodness we got the first hilling done before the rain!) We also dug “:flood abatement” ditches at the low end of our raised bed area. Even so, we have been really restricted in where we could work. I tell people to harvest or weed at the dry ends of the beds, and back out as soon as their feet start to sink in mud. I don’t want us to compact the soil and make future drainage worse, and give the roots have a hard time growing. To use the rainy weather, we washed our work gloves and started tackling our “Stuck Buckets” stacks. I don’t think we unstuck any at all last year. We had about 50 or so stuck in pairs or triplets. After wrangling them and trying various back-muscle-risking maneuvers, we run them through our commercial dishwasher. When the plastic is hot, the wet buckets come apart more easily.

Blueberry bush with green berries. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Blueberry bush with green berries.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We’ve had to be creative in finding work we can do. Tempting as it is to take a big nap, I know we will be scrambling later, as soon as it warms up and dries out. So yesterday we put our blueberry netting up. The berries are still green, in some cases they are still blossoms, but it’s one job we won’t have to do later. We’ve also pre-emptively been organizing our drip tape and setting up systems we won’t need for at least a week.

This is how we usually sow our leek seedlings in an outdoor nursery bed. Credit Kathryn Simmons

This is how we usually sow our leek seedlings in an outdoor nursery bed.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

We’re also starting our leek transplanting. Normally we do this in early June, but this year we sowed our seeds in flats rather than in an outdoor nursery bed, and the plants are big earlier, especially the faster growing King Richard and Lincoln. So we’re going to transplant those today. They are nice and cold-tolerant (we’ve got a forecast low of 34F in a few days!), and will keep us from putting tomato plants out too early and regretting it later.

Starting to harvest garlic scapes lifts our spirits because it is a tasty attractive new crop for the year, and pleasant work. Here’s what I wrote about them for my book, Sustainable Market Farming (c) Pam Dawling 2013.

Garlic plants in late spring. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Garlic plants in late spring.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Garlic scapes are the firm, round seed stems that grow from hardneck garlic and start to appear three weeks before harvest, as the bulbs size up. If these are removed, the garlic bulbs will be easier to braid, if you want braids from hardneck varieties. Scapes also make an early-season visually attractive crop. Contrary to ideas mentioned by some sources, leaving scapes in does not increase the storage life of the garlic.

Most people who remove scapes cut them where they emerge from the leaves. We prefer to pull ours, to get the most out of them. We don’t wait for the top of the scape to loop around, as the scapes will have begun to toughen and reduce the final yield of the garlic. As soon as the pointed caps of the scape have cleared the plant center, grasp the round stem just below the cap and pull slowly and steadily vertically upwards. The scape emerges with a strange popping sound and you have the full length of the scape, including the tender lower portion. Sometimes the scapes will snap rather than pull right out, but the remainder of the stem can be pulled next time, when it has grown taller.

We gather into buckets, with the scapes standing upright, so we can put a little water in the bucket and the scapes are aligned, easy to cut up. They will store well in a refrigerator for months if needed. Late morning is a good time to pull scapes (or early afternoon). The wound heals over in fifteen to twenty minutes in the heat of the day, whereas otherwise it could drip for up to 24 hours, increasing the risk of disease, and losing water from the plant.

We harvest scapes two or three times a week, for about three weeks in May. The crew always enjoys this task, partly because it’s a stand-up job and partly because we encourage a friendly competition to see who can get the longest scape of the day. This encourages everyone to perfect their technique too. Scapes can be chopped and used in stir-fries, pesto, garlic butter, pickles and other dishes in place of bulb garlic. They can also be frozen for out of season use. Searching the Internet will reveal lots of recipes. Scapes sell in bunches of six to ten. One acre (0.4 hectare) of hardneck  garlic can produce 300–500 lbs (140–225 kg) of scapes.

Goodbye winter, hello summer!

Rhubarb season is almost here. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Rhubarb season is almost here.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

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

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

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

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting. Credit Kati Folger

Chitting seed potatoes ready for planting.
Credit Kati Falger

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring Credit Kathryn Simmons

Newly emerging potato plant in the spring
Credit Kathryn Simmons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mar 2013 Growing for Market

Mar 2013 Growing for Market

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

Florence bulb fennel. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Florence bulb fennel.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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

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Twin Oaks Garden Task List for April

Asparagus in early April.Credit Wren Vi

Asparagus in early April.
Credit Wren Vile

All Month:

Lettuce Factory: In flats, (on greenhouse bench) sow lettuce #7, 8, 9 (romaines & small varieties to interplant with peanuts). Transplant 1/3 bed lettuce (120 plants)/week. Plant #4, 5, 6 this month.
Compost Needed for April: 6-9 tractor buckets for beds, 24-30 bkts to disk in.

Early April:

In greenhouse, sow lettuce #7;

Keep celery above 55°F, and celeriac above 45°F (don’t put in coldframe). 10 consecutive days <55°F for celery, <45°F for celeriac, causes bolting.

Spot lettuce, harden off in coldframe. Spot peppers, tomatoes, & eggplant. Protect new pepper seedlings from mice.  Keep tomatoes above 45°F at night, eggplant above 55°F.

Cut sweet potato slips at 6-12”, put in water.  Once a week, plant rooted slips in 4” flats.

Sow outdoors: carrots #5, beets (see March notes), parsnips with radishes #2, (in celery bed), sunflowers.

Weed and thin early crops. Side dress or foliar spray over-wintered spinach to boost production.

Take rowcover from turnips, senposai, cabbage #1, kohlrabi, little alliums, onions as needed for broccoli.

Transplant lettuce #4, main cabbage & broccoli under rowcover (12 pieces) within 6 weeks of sowing.

Till beds for mid-April. Compost beds for late April plantings.

Garlic bulbing is initiated on/after April 10 (13 hours daylight), and soil temperature above 60°F.

Mid April:

In greenhouse sow melons #1 in soil blocks or plug flats, replacement paste tomatoes, lettuce #8, and okra.

Sow beans #1 when lilac in full bloom, sunflowers. Sow edamame #1, corn#1, if warm, and soil >60F.

Till beds for late April (chard, cowpeas, peanuts). Compost beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7,8,9, asparagus beans)

Hill up potatoes when 6” high. Cover half the vine. Repeat after 2 weeks. (Flameweed if too wet to hill.)

Take rowcover from kale, collards, early lettuce for raised bed tender crops.

Transplant broccoli #2, insectary flowers #1, bulb fennel, lettuce #5, cukes #1 w/nasturtiums, zukes #1; use spring hoops for cucurbits. Take rowcover from spinach to strawberries.

A fine bed of fava beans. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A fine bed of fava beans.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Install stakes every 8-10’ for peas and fava beans, and stringweave them to final height of that variety.

Weed garlic [or flameweed it early in the morning after a good rain. Direct flame at base of garlic plants]

Harvest lettuce as heads rather than leaves, from 15 April

#3 Spring Tractor Work (mid April) – Disk areas for sweet potatoes, winter squash, watermelons, (Romas and peppers if no-till cover crop insufficient). Bush-hog late food crop plots when rye heads up, to help clover or peas develop. Also clover patches, eg Green Fallow (All Year Cover Crops).

Late April:

in greenhouse sow lettuce #9; watermelons #1 & 2 in soil blocks or plug flats; calendula and various insectary flowers, filler corn & Romas.

Sow corn #1 (1/2-3/4” deep) in two phases, and peanuts if soil temperature is 65°F. Also cowpeas #1, and sesame.

Sow more leeks if needed in Little Alliums bed outdoors. If not, sow more mini-onions and scallions #3.

Transplant lettuce #6, leaf beet, chard, insectaries; finish transplanting gaps in the main broccoli & cabbage plot, plant Alyssum. Take rowcovers from broccoli & cabbage for new crops.

If mild, plant tomatoes. Harden off nightshades by restricting water.

Till beds for early May (okra, toms, melons, celeriac, lettuce 7/8/9, asparagus beans). Compost beds for mid-May (edamame, eggplant, limas).

Store spring and fall seeds (spinach, peas, beets) in the basement for the summer.

Foliar feed the potatoes, ideally the morning before hilling up, and every 2 weeks.

Roll out Driptape and Biotelos corn plastic mulch for peppers and Romas where no-till cover crop not used.

Cover crops: sow rye to wimp out. Sow buckwheat in any beds not needed for at least 5 weeks eg. leeks limas; add soy if bed not needed for 7 weeks. 

Haybine or bush-hog vetch & rye for no-till planting of Roma paste tomatoes, late in the month (or very early in May). (Mow strips; or till strips through the cover crop for the rows, with narrow-set tiller). Water the area before digging holes, if dry.

Perennials: Weed blueberries, asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, grapes as needed. Mow aisles. If asparagus weeds are getting out of hand, mow down one or more rows to keep control. Monitor asparagus beetles, spray spinosad when bees not flying, if >10 adults/100 crowns. Spinosad: Shake well, 1-4 Tbsp/gall (1fl.oz=2Tbsp=30ml.) Repeat in 6 days.

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.Credit Kathryn Simmons

The black center of this strawberry flower show that it was hit by frost and no berry will develop.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Cover strawberries if frost threatens – take rowcovers from spinach. (Pick flowers off any new spring  plantings.)

Visit grapes, log progress, remove flower buds from new vines. Note deaths and where replacement arms are needed.  Check and repair fruit drip irrigation, thin raspberries to 6/foot of row.

Harvest and weed: Asparagus, chard (hoophouse), collards, garlic scallions- pull at 8″, kale, leeks, lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, senposai, snap peas in hoophouse, spinach.

Snow, no electricity, now rain!

Our Herb Garden emerging from the snowCredit Bridget Aleshire

Our Herb Garden emerging from the snow
Credit Bridget Aleshire

What’s new in the garden? Not much! We got snow last Tuesday night, at least 7″. That’s a lot for us, especially in March. Then on Wednesday morning the power went out. Lots of trees and limbs fell on powerlines. I was part way through preparing a slide show on Sustainable Farming Practices for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Farm School for new and beginning farmers and ranchers. No chance of doing that. Or of gardening.

So I went to help our Dairy Crew hand milk five Dutch Belted cows. Usually they are machine-milked. Most people are not adept at hand-milking, so the job can take a long time. But I hand-milked a couple of Jersey cows at a community I was part of in England years ago, and milked goats at another. Hand-milking is one of those skills you don’t forget. Although my shoulder and arm muscles did complain! In between milkings I read a lot. I made use of my solar lantern from d.light, which had been sitting on my windowsill, waiting to be needed.  Back in November I bought several of their smallest model (S2, $13.95) and gave most of them as gifts. 10% of the net proceeds of online purchases go to their Give Light Program, which provides solar lanterns to kids without electricity. They’re built to be easy to use as a flashlight or a task light or desk lamp in the fields or the home. The first evening I was able to use it for 3 hours! Next day, I can’t believe I forgot to put it back on the windowsill! Sigh!

Young Blueberry bush in snowCredit Bridget Aleshire

Young Blueberry bush in snow
Credit Bridget Aleshire

As the snow started to melt, we were able to do some garden tasks. We’ve been pruning blueberries, redcurrants and grapes. Sunday and Monday were warm and melted most of the snow, but today it’s raining again. When will we ever get any tilling or disking done? We have planted absolutely no new crops yet this year! We scratched two beds of carrots from our spring plans, because we still have plenty of stored carrots, and we need to reduce the (theoretical) work load. Well, it’s a real work load, but theoretical while we can’t do it. Today I decided to scratch the bed of fava beans as 3/14 is our last date for planting here in central Virginia. Next to go will be the onions, if we can’t get to them soon. Bulbing of onions is controlled mostly by daylength (and a bit by temperature, which has been lower than usual). Soon they will start to make bulbs even if they are still in their seedbed in the hoophouse. Our last date for transplanting kale and collards is 4/1. I’m starting to think about scratching some of those. We won’t be able to make up for all the lost time, and there’s no point in doing a load of work for what, by then, could be a very short-lived crop. In May it gets hot and kale and collards start to bolt. Mid-June is the latest they ever survive. We’d do better focusing on our broccoli and cabbage.

Enough moaning! Time to get back to work preparing for the Farm School presentation and the Virginia Festival of the Book. Come and see me Thursday March 21 at 6-7pm at the downtown public library, Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ll be on the Locavore Panel with Jackson Landers. See my Festival of the Book post at the top of my blog page.

Climate Change, or just Weather?

We just had a cold night of 17F, considerably colder than our previous coldest this year (22F). Several people remarked how cold this November has been. Perhaps even colder than any month last winter? I decided to find out.

November 2011 had a low of 22F on 11/12, 11/18 and 11/19. The highest low was  56F on 11/21. The average low was 35.3F. December 2011 had a lowpoint of 18F on 12/12, a warmest night at 60F on 12/7, and the average low was 29.2F. January 2012 had a low point of 9F on 1/25, a “warmest” night of 39F just two days later on 1/27, and an average night low of 22.5F. February 2012 had a coldest night (10F) on 2/13, a warmest night (49F) on 2/2, and an average low of 29.3F.

Young blueberry bush in snow.Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

Young blueberry bush in snow.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

So how does this November compare? Our coldest night has been 17F on 11/29, our warmest night 44F on 11/19, with an average of 27.5F. So, November 2012 has had colder nights than Nov 2011 and Dec 2011, but not January 2012.

What about the daytime? Has it been chillier than usual? This November has had a max of  78F on 11/11, a coldest day on 11/27 (46F) and an average of 58.4F, not counting today. November 2011 had a 78F day too (11/14) and much warmer days, the lowest was 50F on 11/17 and 11/18. The average daytime high was 65.9F. Positively balmy! Dec 2011 had a high of 68F on 12/15 and a coldest day at 44F just two days later. The average daytime high was 55.2F. Colder than this November. January 2012 had a high point of 72F on 1/31, a coldest day of 34F on 1/21 and an average daytime temperature of 53F. Also colder than this November.

Overwintered Vates kale.Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Overwintered Vates kale.
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

We record our daily max and min temperatures and rainfall, enabling us to compile the weather data from the past several years into some interesting graphs. Each year around this time we write up a report for the community about how our gardening year has gone, which crops were successful, which not. We also include an appendix about the weather that year and previous years. The appendix gets longer with each added year, so we shorten the reports from the oldest years, so as to give prominence to weather most people can remember. Here I’ll include just the past four years.

The Weather Appendix

As always, the weather changes –

  • Our 2012 earthquakes numbers 61-82 were recorded between January and July 31. No more aftershocks of the Aug 23 2011 big quake have been recorded since, although I felt two in August. It’s nice to have that piece of history behind us after a year of nervousness. Our last frost was on 4/24, a very patchy light frost. The previous frosts were 4/11-4/14. This fall we had a patchy frost on 10/13, but no serious one till 11/1. January was cold and dryish with freezing rain on 1/20. February was mild and wet, with one 5″ snowfall. March and April were warm. May was twice as wet as average (7.4″), and warm. We had four days of 90F or more from 5/25. June heated up, with temperatures of 99F on 6/20, and 105F on 6/29. Seven days of 92F or more. July was brutally hot, with 17 or 18 days at 95F or hotter, nine of them 100F or more. The hottest was 107F. Slightly more rain than normal. And of course, the impressive/oppressive humidity. August had “only” six days above 95F, September was milder and rainier, with 5.5″, and no major hurricanes for us. October was warm, with daytime temperatures of 70-86F until the last week (the Hurricane Sandy week). We were extremely lucky with that, only getting about 3″ of rain. In my memory, there were long drought periods when the need to irrigate was relentless, but the data don’t support this memory. Funny, that. We actually had 2-7.4″ every month and the longest dry spell was the first two weeks of April.
  • 2011 was often too rainy. January 1st had a high of 62°F, then the month cooled, with several nights of 10°F, one at 4°F, and two snowfalls. February included 6 days with highs over 68°F, (80°F on 2/18), a dusting of snow, a few nights in the teens and a normal amount of rain (1.9”). March was wet with 6.7” rain (twice normal), 7 days at 70°F or more, 6 nights below 25°F. April had 7 very hot days (90°F or more), average rain, and a patchy last frost on 4/14. May was very wet (6.6”), and warm, ending with a string of days above 90°F. June was also wet (6.2”, including one deluge of 4.1”), hot at each end , two days at 100°F, and milder in the middle. July had a brutal two week drought at the end, and a string of 14 days (including 8/1-8/2) with temperatures above 95°F. The highest was 104°F. August continued with high temperatures, but only 7 days over 95°F. We got too much rain (7.7”), including Hurricane Irene, which gave us 2.8” but could have been so much worse. And there was the 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered a few miles from us on 8/23, and the 59 aftershocks registering 1.8 or higher between then and the last for the year on December 24 (mag 2.4) . November gave us a 17 day gap in aftershocks, up until the 5 in 48 hours 11/19-20. September brought another huge 7.7” rain, including Tropical Storm Lee. Temperatures were nice, although it was often hard to work with the soil getting saturated so often. October was pleasant, if still wet (5.5”), delaying harvest of our potatoes and rotting our winter squash. The first frosts came decisively at 25°F on 10/30 and 10/31. November had 3.9″ of rain, December 5.4″.
  • The winter of 2009-2010 was remarkable for heavy snowfalls. The lowest temperature of the winter was –5°F (1/30). There was a series of 22 Nor’easter storms December to March. The last frost was 5/9, long after the first days above 95°F (4/6 &4/7). 2010 had a brutally hot summer. The days above 95°F were 13 in June, 19 in July, 14 in August, 10 in September. Days above 100°F were 2, 11, 2, 2 for those months. The hottest day was 107°F on 7/24. No major hurricanes affected us, although Nicole gave us 2.5” rain 9/29. Statistically speaking, the rain was a normal amount, but when temperatures are so hot, much more evaporates. On 10/2 there was a magnitude 3.0 earthquake with an epicenter between Mechanicsville and Fredericksburg, and another at Ashland, magnitude 2.4 on 10/30. First frost was 10/23. November was mild, but the cold weather kicked in 12/4/10.
  • 2009 started mild then got extremely cold in mid-January, with temperatures below  –5°F.  We had the first significant snowfall in a few years, and the pond froze over for the first time in at least 3 years. Last frost 4/18. We had average precipitation overall, but it was flood or drought, which isn’t good for the garden. We lost the new Ag Well pump and tank in the Tobacco Barn fire, and had difficulties with irrigation. The hottest day was 98°F.  We had a heat wave in early June, but only eight days of 95°F or higher all year. In early November it rained for about four days straight.  First frost was 10/18.