Floating row cover, weighed down and made semi-transparent by water, is all that stands between fine young brassica greens and the scourge of the flea beetle. The cover is placed right after seeding, weighed down by rocks every 12.5′ feet, briefly rolled back for weeding, and progressively loosened as the greens grow—we use 14′ wide sheets on 10′ wide beds. This medium-weight cover has worked as a good all-round solution, offering a few degrees of frost protection, and more durable than a lighter, insect-only weight, which would allow better light transmission (this medium weight one is 85%) and better air circulation, but also be more likely to tear.
Checking in on the winter greens mini-experiment. These guys have been through six weeks of up and down weather, balmy days well above zero (reaching 60-70°F/15-20°C on a sunny day in the hoophouse) , and many extreme freezing nights. So, how did it all do? The Bloomsdale spinach, uncovered (above), is fine, although after all that freezing and thawing, the taste and texture changes (good to eat, but probably wouldn’t sell). It wasn’t the plan, but this spinach can be trimmed back to see how new growth does in spring. The other beds, all brassicas (tatsoi, mizuna, arugula, mustards), left half uncovered, are completely toasted. Meanwhile, under a single layer of medium-weight row cover, arugula (below) is good, perky and quite tasty. Not the most extensive and scientific testing plan, but combined with the experience of harvesting through December and in mid-January, it’s a solid starting point for next winter’s goal of full-on, unheated winter greens production!
Brassica greens in perfect, flea beetle hole-free shape, thanks to good weather and…floating row cover. Rochelle is cutting mizuna—in the pic, there’s green and purple mustards, mizuna and tatsoi. Our extra focus on salad mixes this season continues to go over well, with a Mild Mix, Zesty Mix, and Mix of the Week, plus everything bagged individually. To fill the line-up, we have our own lettuce blend, the brassicas just mentioned plus arugula, all grown separately and as a mustards-mizuna-tatsoi mix (the tatsoi tends to be too small to easily cut in, so that’ll be out next round), spinach, and chard and beet greens (both grown tightly spaced). The greens harvest bin of choice this season is bushel baskets lined with a new clear bag each time (easy to toss into, hold a lot, the bags stay put even in wind and can be easily lifted out). Will be fun to expand the greens line-up and tweak the planting and harvest next year!
A pretty satisfying second installment of our “experimental” Weekly Harvest Share: “Like CSA, but one week at a time…”! Satisfying because, for the first time this season, harvest day felt kinda normal, with around 20 items harvested, enough variety to have to pick what went into the shares. And the winners, the veggies that made it through thick and thin: kale (Red Russian—no worries about running out of RR…), beets (Kestrel), carrots (Nelson), zucchini (Golden Dawn III, always there in numbers), cukes (Fanfare, Lemon), baby leaf lettuce (house blend, and a nice first cut!), beans (Jade, Indy Gold, first picking of this planting), assorted cherry tomatoes, green onion (Ramrod), sweet pepper (Cubanelle, picked young and green), onion (yellow cooking, from sets, kinda…compact), peppermint & spearmint (bagged, for tea!), and eggplant (old reliable Dusky). So, better late than never!
The star by far of the last planting of brassicas, that mostly didn’t size up in time for market or CSA, is without at doubt this unusual Nero Di Toscana strap kale. This Italian heirloom, apparently from Tuscany, is hardly better looking than the cold-beaten rest of the motley-looking crew: tiny cauliflower, mini savoy cabbage, some collards and this kale. But it’s growing back—been picked twice since October—and it’s amazingly, distinctively tasty. In the post-freeze veggie garden, looks aren’t everything! I’ve had the seed for a while, but grew it for the first time this season. It’ll definitely be back.
Harvested a few tiny (tennis ball to softball-sized, like, orange to grapefruit…little ones!) cauliflower from the last-planted section of brassicas that also has kale and broccoli. It’s still producing in home-consumption quantities, but with the exception of some strap kale, they entirely missed sizing up in time for CSA or the farmers’ market at the end of October. This is the normal. I usually take a chance on a final, extra-late planting—sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t. Now, growth is so slow, the field is really just convenient live storage.
Not ideal storage, though. These plants are hardy, but the cold—many sub-zero nights—does take its toll on the parts you want to eat. Kale fares the best, broccoli is quickly savaged, and exposed heads of cauliflower get cold-burned to an unappetizing, mushy in spots, brown. BUT, with self-blanching varieties (this one is Minuteman), the leaves curl close to cover the heads, protecting them from sun discoloration (so our white cauliflower can be…snowy white), and this works fine against cold as well.
Then there’s the eating. The summer’s abundance of fresh-picked veggies has been over for a while, and every little taste of what remains becomes more of a treat as winter approaches, supplies dwindle, memories fade. The wheel keeps on turning…! :)
Another big Friday showing of people in the field: Chris, Libby, Jordan and Lynn transplant broccoli and cauliflower, while Andie is on a solo rototilling mission in the other field. Later, everyone got together to plant a few hundred onion seedlings and sets. And some other stuff got done.
Although we’re in the thick of it as far as timing and weather and urgency to get things out, our spring schedule is slower than it could be, and the field days are so far fairly laid back. Slowing things down is the start-up stuff: a ton of tillage to do (working in the grassy remnants of last year’s hay field), water for irrigation to put in place, electricity to run, chickenhouse to build, and a long list of other basic things that we have to put in place along with starting the season’s crops. Getting it all rolling together on this new farm, now that’s fairly intense!