After living in a climate where I was lucky if I got 100 frost free days, it’s such a strange thing to have an entire extra MONTH of growing season here in Walla Walla. And that’s just frost free days. Of course, there’s at least an additional month of growing cool season crops like lettuce and spinach that can take a light frost. Which means that when we do finally get a frost sometime in early October, rather than running around covering everything and trying to eek out a few more days, I just let it come, say “phew” and breathe a sign of relief. Let’s face it, after starting onions from seed indoors around March 1st, I pretty much just keep gardening and after 8 months, I’m bloody tired.
I once read an interesting piece in which a gardener was thinking about how long they had left to live, and how much of that time they would still be able to continue to garden, and then said something like “I may only have 20 more gardens in me”. It’s a strange thing to ponder, this passage of time. Every year we strive toward perfection in the garden. Every year, we tweak a method, or choose a different variety to plant. Every year we pray to the weather gods to be kind and not give us yet another weird year. We slowly hone in on what works and what doesn’t for our particular patch of ground, repeating what works and discarding what doesn’t. Every year we’re pretty much mentally done by the time the season ends, only to have our enthusiasm renewed with the first crocus we see in the spring. Will we ever reach perfection before we have to stop? Can anyone?
So, with that thought in mind, here’s what worked and what didn’t on my small patch of ground this year. I’ll start with the cool season crops (that can be planted before the last frost date – which here is in early May), and then do a separate post for the warm season crops.
Beets – I grew mostly Early Wonder Tall Top this year, and had great success with the mid April and early May plantings. The third planting, mid May, didn’t germinate as well. As the weather warmed up, it was more difficult to keep the tiny seedlings well watered when they did come up. The June 11th planting didn’t even germinate. It was too hot. Beets sell really well at farmers markets, and so I increased my production considerably from last year. Take home message – plant every 10 days or so from mid April to mid May, and then call it good.
Broccoli – Small Miracle, a mixed blend variety, and Green Sprouting. I started broccoli indoors in early March, planting out in early April. I had a second batch I planted out in late May. Both plantings did OK, but I really need to find a larger headed broccoli for market. The Green Sprouting variety produces tiny heads, even in the beginning. But they did keep producing a little something all season. I had one customer who bought a bunch from me every week, and that was just about all I had to sell. Judicious spraying with BT for cabbage moth larvae worked well on all the early brassica crops (cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, broccoli). So far, the Romanesco I planted has been an epic fail. Leaves massively embedded in the heads early in the season, and the second planting has yet to form heads. Just not the right climate for this one, I suspect.
Cabbage – Charmant, Gonzales, Super Red 80 and Red Acre. Gonzales does not appreciate warm weather, and my second planting didn’t even germinate in trays. But the first batch was beautiful, and one of the plants resprouted after being cut and formed a new head this fall. Charmant did well. Both Charmant and Gonzales form nice sized head that are not too large. I try to keep my cabbage heads to around 3 lbs for market sales. Red Acre was a huge plant, and took longer to form heads than the green varieties, but did well once it got going. I’ll give it more room next year. I didn’t find the Super Red 80 seed until later in the season, so it was a late May transplant, and it HATED the heat of summer. Will try it again earlier in the season next year. A friend grows it and its one of the prettiest red cabbages I’ve ever seen.
Carrots – Atomic Red, Over the Rainbow Mix, Yaya, Danvers Half Long. Oh the carrot saga. I’m used to growing carrots in a raised bed, with very little weed competition. I’d mix the seed with soil and scatter it in the bed, lightly cover, and then cover with burlap until it germinated. Simple and relatively full proof. Well, that just doesn’t work well in a row/field situation. The grass seedling situation is epic, and one small bit of grass, which looks so harmless and small, and is so hard to pull up without pulling up the delicate carrot seedling, takes over the whole bed in about a month. I finally resorted to a special grass herbicide to give me a fighting chance, because hand weeding 3′ x 90′ of carrots just wasn’t realistic. I had poor germination as well. So, next year, I’m planting with my Earthway seeder and pelleted seed in rows, with room between for weeding. And I’m finally going to try flame weeding early in the season.
I’ve always planted nantes varieties of carrots, because they are always reported to be the sweetest. And I do love them. My all time favorite nantes is Napa from Territorial (though don’t believe them on the strong top claim – I’ve never found a nantes that had a really strong top). I like my nantes shorter and rounded on the end. But carrot seed is expensive and I’m covering quite a bit of ground. Napa from Territorial: 1 gram = $3.25. Yaya from Fedco Seed: 1 gram = $2.00. So I grew mostly Yaya this year. It’s a fine carrot. A friend gave me some Danvers Half Long seed. Danvers are conical shaped, less sweet and more fibrous than nantes. But they are also strong growers with truly strong tops that don’t easily break off, and I had less splitting and less wireworm damage in the Danvers. So I may be planting them again next year. By the way, typical “carrots in a bag at the store” carrots are Imperator type, and Chantenay type is generally used in processed carrots, as they are not all that tasty raw.
Cauliflower – Early Dawn. I got beautiful heads from transplants planted out late April and harvested in early June. The second planting (late May) is still out in the field and I’m waiting to see if it will still form heads this fall. A very good seller at market. Wish I had planted more. I have it on good authority from a local gardener friend of mine that the Purple of Sicily variety, which is very purple, will hold its flavor in the summer and not get hot (spicy), so am planning on growing a few of those next year.
Swiss Chard – Rainbow. I jumped the gun on planting these a bit. I ended up replanting a lot of holes from an early April planting about the first of May, and aside from a few that tried to bolt from exposure to the early cold weather, they did just fine all season. I’m personally not really much of a chard eater. I’d rather have kale any day. But it’s easy to grow, relatively pest free, with the exception of leafminers, looks gorgeous bunched, and has a dedicated following at market. Since I’m planning on continuing to grow beets and spinach, I’ll probably continue to grow a small patch of chard as well. Neem and pyrethrins both work on the leafminers.
Kale – Red Russian, Lacinato and a mixed variety. Normally, kale is pretty trouble free for me until the aphids get the better of it late in the season. This year, the aphids were bad early in the year, and I fought them back with pyrethrin and won, much to my surprise. Then they got them again in August, and I just wrote off the patch. And now, they seem to have fought off the aphids by themselves and are getting new growth in late September. Go figure. I’ll always grow kale for the same reason I grow chard. Easy, has a dedicated following at market, and most importantly, I like it myself, and so will blanch and freeze anything that doesn’t sell. We use it in soups and as a substitute for spinach in any recipe that calls for frozen spinach in the winter. I’m not wild about the Lacinato variety (also called Dinosaur, Tuscan, Black or Italian kale). It doesn’t germinate as well and takes longer to mature. And since most people who buy kale are putting it in smoothies or juicing it, they don’t really care about its milder flavor.
Kohlrabi – Early White Vienna. I direct seeded this in early April, and again in mid May. Weirdly, I just harvested the last one a few days ago. It’s supposed to mature in 50 days, but instead had this really strange staggered maturity. Which was fine, as I grow it mostly for the novelty at market. (“What IS that?” – It’s a conversation starter). But I have turned a lot of people onto it this year. Shredded and cooked like hash browns, with a little cheese of your choice on top…well, you just can’t beat that. We love it, and can eat an entire 12″ skillet of the stuff in a sitting.
Lettuce – too many kinds to list, but generally loose leaf or butterhead varieties, often a mesclun mix. I always let a few lettuce go to seed in the garden, as I love finding the seedlings as a surprise early in the spring and transplanting them to where I want them. I did have a few that did that this year, but not as many as I expected. Germination was sporadic all season, and I had the same problem last year. It’s either a problem with keeping the soil moist enough, or with the soil crusting over. I’m going to have to start planting lettuce in trays and transplanting them out after a few weeks in order to get a more consistent harvest.
As lettuce is always a popular market item, I’m determined to get more consistent on this. I purposely bought some warm season slow-to-bolt varieties to try for a summer harvest, and then never got them planted. Sigh. Best laid plans. Next year! What I HAVE learned is that I have no patience for cut and come again harvesting. Too much washing and spinning and bagging, and too fragile once it’s picked. So I grow small to full-sized heads, and put a mix of two or three in a bag if they are small. Cut at ground level, pull off a few outer leaves and rinse. Done. My limitation is not growing area. My limitation is my own time. This is what works for me. I’m also not crazy about the deep red varieties, as they have a much shorter shelf life once picked, and honestly, I don’t think they taste as good. So will look for red blushed and speckled varieties next year to fill in the color gap.
Onions, Leeks, Shallots – Copra, Redwing, Rossa Lunga di Tropea, Borrettana Cipollini, Evergreen Hardy White Scallion, King Richard and King Sieg Leek, Ambition and Santé Shallots. I started all of these except the scallions and the Santé shallots in seed blocks in early March indoors. I planted them out the second week of April, and started harvesting in early August. I grew the Copra (yellow storage) and Redwing (red storage) onions mostly for me. The Tropea and Cipollini were both heirloom Italian onions that I thought would be fun for market. And they were. After letting the grass seedlings (see carrots above) get the best of me last year in the onion bed, which tanked production, this year I was DETERMINED to keep the onions weeded. And I did. And it worked. And they are gorgeous. And it was exhausting.
Planting 250 onion seedlings by hand takes FOREVER. (And actually, it was more than that, as a lot had two in the pot, and I divided them when planting). It took so long that by the time I got to planting the leeks, I left the doubles in the pot, so they are a bit smaller than they would have been otherwise. The Sieg leeks are supposed to be able to overwinter, so I may leave a few in the ground if I don’t end up harvesting them all for market.
There is something so ridiculously gratifying about having a pantry full of storage onions that you know will last you the winter. Which is doubly ridiculous because I live in the heart of onion growing country and onions are super cheap, grown locally and generally fairly pesticide free to buy at the store. But these are MY onions. Ha.
When I was in Spokane, everyone wanted green onions (scallions), and I couldn’t grow enough of them. Not so here. But I did plant a row in between the garlic, and then later another row in front of the garlic, and have sold them in bunches of 3-5, a few at each market. Besides, I need to keep some on hand for this recipe.
The Santé shallots I grew this year from bulbs (I ordered them from Territorial when I ordered garlic last fall) all sent up flower stalks. They were planted in October last year, along with the garlic, which is what Territorial indicated I should do. I dutifully cut off the stalks, but the bulbs, which I may have waited too long to get out of the ground in late July, have almost all rotted. This is disappointing, as this is something you hope to buy once and perpetuate forever. Sigh. I may throw the few I have left into the ground and just let them go to seed next spring, then start them from seed after that.
The Ambition, which I planted from seed this spring, did much better, and seem to be holding well. I’ll plant a few of the bulbs this fall when I do my garlic.
Radish – Easter Egg Mix. Radish is a quick crop (40 days) and radishes sell. You can’t charge much for them (I charge $1 for a bunch of 8-10), but they are showy and quick to grow, and get people to come to your booth early in the season and so keep coming the rest of the year. I planted radishes 4 times, the first way back on April 9th, in anticipation of the early May markets. My first harvest was May 11th. I came into some free seed late in the season and so planted some on June 11th, just to see what would happen. They came up in four days, but were spicy enough to not really be all that edible. I SHOULD plant them about every 10 days for a continuous harvest until mid to late May. What a great idea! Ha. Need to look into different varieties. I’m not much of a radish eater myself, so the differences are kind of lost on me, but I hear the purple ones are quite good.
Peas – Oregon Giant (snow), Serge (shelling), Sugarsnap (edible pod). Had huge issues with bunny foofoo in the peas this year (and the beans). He/she loved those new sprouts, and often took the tops off without completely killing the seedling, leaving me debating whether I should replant or let the plant try to recover. I ended up replanting three or four times, and by the time the plants really got going, it was late June for heaven sakes, and too hot to get much of a harvest. I also suspect that the crud on my peas that I have been attributing to some kind of mildew type fungus for the last three years is actually damage caused by an insect. I’m still not sure. But long story short, peas are kind of a pain for me to grow, their season is short, they take FOREVER to pick, and I can’t charge enough for them to make up my labor. In short, I’ll be skipping the peas next year. I do, however, have a few that have reseeded themselves this fall from left over spring pods. We’ll see if they make any headway before I let the critters into the garden for clean up in a few weeks.
Potatoes – Pontiac (red), Yukon Gold (yellow), Purple Majesty (blue), plus a few early red’s (Sangre?) to fill in some space. A couple of years ago, I ordered a mixed batch of potatoes from Peaceful Valley, and I’ve just replanted from that harvest the last few years (gasp – seed companies will have you believe this is a terrible terrible thing to do, which is why they can charge so damn much money for something that costs less than a dollar a pound at the grocery store). The red potato they sent me (not sure if it was the Sangre or another variety, as this was a few years ago) tends to sprout really early in storage, and so doesn’t store well. So this year, looking for a better storage variety, I planted some Pontiac to round out the harvest.
I ALWAYS plant potatoes too early, and they come up, and I get excited, and then they get frosted. I’m like Charlie Brown and the football, me and potatoes. This year I planted in mid March, mostly because they had so many sprouts I didn’t think they were going to store any longer. And we did get a pretty good frost in late April. I lost and replanted a few due to gophers. I did a pretty good job of keeping the grass/weeds down until mid July or so. And then I finally dug them just last week, after fighting my way through the weeds and the next door neighbor squash vines that were trying to take over the world. But overall, the harvest was MUCH better than last year. Some for us for winter. Some for market. It’s all good. The purple variety is very good baked by the way. Similar texture to a russet.
Spinach – Space, Tyee and Bloomsdale. Spinach is one of my favorite things to grow. I harvest it the same way I do lettuce. Cut at ground level, remove any damaged leaves, quick rinse, shake off, done. I bring it to market in big tubs (in a big white plastic bag that I can store in the fridge) and sell it by the pound. Easy peasy, looks great, people love it, and it holds well because all the leaves are still attached to the crown. Bloomsdale is often called “Bloomsdale Long Standing” which would seem to indicate that it is slow to bolt. It’s not. Grow it during cool weather and harvest the whole plant at once, and then replant, rather than trying to do a cut and come again on this one. Space is also a spring/fall variety. Tyee is supposed to be better in the heat, slower to bolt as the weather warms. I plant Bloomsdale/Space early in the season and switch to Tyee later in the season (May/June here). I like them all. I’ve learned that spinach plants very well with the Earthway seeder. I’m trying a fall crop this year, just to see how it does. I’m hoping it overwinters and I get a really early spring harvest!
Turnip and Rutabaga (both in the broccoli family). I had some free seed from both of these this year, and had heard that they do better when planted going into fall. Well, how exactly are you supposed to plant anything for the fall when the proper time to plant is early to late August, when its still 95 degrees? I did give it a shot around the 1st of September, and not a dang thing came up. Either the seed was bad, or it was still too hot. I thought it would be fun to have a few for fall market. So much for that plan.
General game plan for next year’s early market: focus on spinach, beets and lettuce. Plant the rest in small quantities as they offer variety and don’t take up too much time. Skip peas all together. Give myself one more year to perfect growing carrots here, and if I can’t master it, just plant a few for us (in a raised bed!). They are a lot of work to dig, clean and bunch and don’t sell as well as I expected they would.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2013, where we feel like we’re ALMOST done with the harvesting. I love this time of year because everything has a shelf life at room temperature. Lets hear it for winter squash!