Early Winter in My Outdoor Refrigerator

A good rule of thumb for winter edibles is to have your vegetables large enough for harvest by mid-December, which I achieved with some of my plantings. Carrots, beets and kohlrabi are ready anytime.

The goal is to use the garden as an outdoor refrigerator, planting crops that will store well in situ and can be harvested as needed. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale are on that list.

With leafy greens, I have some ready now, and some smaller plants under good protection that will hopefully give me a very early harvest when the days begin to get noticeably longer a month from now, well after the solstice.

Here are some images of my garden right now.

cold frame open

Airing out the lettuce, spinach and mustards growing in one cold frame.

Cold frame greens

Greens in a cold frame: two types of lettuce ready for picking, spinach on the right, and a row of seedlings in front that promises a future harvest.

Beets

A winter beet harvest is just what the doctor ordered.

Carrots

The soil for these carrots could have been lighter. Heavy soil with rocks can lead to deformed roots. Still, how sweet they are!

In the foreground is my carrot bed, protected by floating row cover.

In the foreground is my carrot bed, protected by floating row cover and straw mulch.

Kohlrabi and turnips

A kohlrabi ready for harvest sits between a glass cloche in the foreground and a window A-frame in the back that is covering Japanese turnips.

Parsley

Parsley makes a thick cover crop — and of course we can eat it!

Pest Hunting: A Brassica Task

My many fall and winter Brassicas are sizing up nicely, but the ones not tented with floating row cover are showing a little chewing and some curling leaves. The culprits are cabbage butterfly larvae, snails and aphids.

Predator insects are still plentiful in the fall, but these pests can stunt the growth of young plants at a time when they need to be powering into winter with a strong growth spurt. To ensure robust, healthy plants, I am going hunting.

Cabbage butterfly

The larvae of the cabbage white butterfly or imported cabbageworm (Pieris rapae), often called the cabbage moth, are my first prey. Mostly what I’m finding right now are the slender green worms. They can hide — almost — by stretching out for an afternoon nap in the stem of a young leaf. They are further protected from my predatory grasp by secluding themselves inside the youngest leaves, the curled and furled ones sprouting from the plant’s center.

Cabbage butterfly larva

Cabbage white butterfly larva, on a fingertip.

Cabbage butterfly on leaf

Can you spot the green cabbage butterfly larva on this leaf? Hard to get a good camera focus, but it’s on the lower right edge.

Carefully, so as not to snap the tender growth shoots, I unfurl the rolled green shoots and lightly scoop through the inside with a fingertip.

Then I bend back the plant’s slightly larger leaves and unfold them one at a time, checking the base of the stem for the pale green body. Finally, I flip the leaf over between fingers and eye the back, in case one of them is on the move. (I look also for the elongated eggs, white or yellowish, on the undersides of the leaves. Those get squished too.)

Just the act of inspecting the plant can cause these critters to fall to the soil below, where they would pretty promptly inch under a leave and climb back on the plant, so I scan the soil surface too.

These pests can go through 3 to 5 life cycles per year, and can be in the garden from April through October. The jerky white butterflies with black wing dots flit around from plant to plant. Amazingly, they mate in the air. Their eggs take 4 to 8 days to hatch, and the green worm larvae lives for 3 weeks before pupating, where they cocoon themselves for a couple more weeks before emerging as a butterfly and beginning again.

I think — I hope — they’re on the year’s last life cycle.

 

Aphids

Green and grey aphids are a regular presence in my garden, and I’m finding small colonies on the broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale. They take up residence on a stem or in the folded end of a leaf, and as they suck the juices out of the tender leave edge, it curls, providing them a cozy home.

Ones hiding in the leaves are fairly easy to spot, as the leaves also turn slightly purple on the edges when attacked in this way.

Aphids curling leaf

A colony of aphids on a fall broccoli start has caused the leaf to curl due to their feeding.

predator and aphids

Predator to the rescue! This native bee, just peeking over the leaf edge, happened to be checking out the aphid supply as I took pictures. I did not see him feed on them, but I hope he came back for dinner.

Again, my preferred method is to gently curl back the edges of the leaf and expose them. As they are also soft-bodied insects, they also will get quickly smooshed in between a thumb and forefinger. There is a little inevitable damage to the leaf area that was their home, but it’s much preferable to letting them form a stronghold there and begin to feed farther down the leaf and fill the stem, as they would like to do.

Aphids on Russian Red kale

These aphids crowding the stem of a Russian Red kale are doing plenty of damage.

When the aphids have colonized the base of a set of leaves, or the stem of a plant, a hard spray of water from the hose, straight down into the center of the plant, will wash them all off and drown a lot of them. Most of the rest are too weak to climb back onto the plant. I find that I need to return and do this again in 3 days to make sure I’ve gotten them all.

 

Snails

I used to see a lot more slugs, but the garden ecosystem has evolved to be more hospitable to snails. They are moving from my dying summer plants into my winter beds. It’s happening at a snail’s pace, but that’s fast enough for me to put on my camo gear and start stalking them.

These guys are a lot more visible than the others, as their brown shells stand out on a green leaf, even at a smaller size. They especially come out on a cool or rainy day, or right after dark.

Sometimes I’ll find their gelatinous, round white eggs in a cluster on the edge of a bed, usually near a rockery or some other good hiding place.

Snail eggs

These snail or slug eggs were found about six inches down along the inside edge of my stacked-stone raised bed.

But the hatched snails, or slugs, are most often found on the underside of the leaves, and they are quickly transferred to the underside of my foot on the path. Score another one (or ten) for the big guy.

These creatures are fascinating, and are all part of nature’s plan. And I don’t mind sharing a bit of my food with them. But this time of year, when the tastiest things on their menu are the young plants that will comprise my winter dinners, I am in a less permissible mood. Fall is for hunting.

 

Fall Planting Continues

In my last post, at the height of a summer hot spell, I thought it would be fun to say “Winter Begins Now” and show the garden with snow on it. Well, the heat has abated, and I’m not in any hurry to slip out of summer mode. However, I am still pushing forward on fall planting.

The Japanese turnips — first sowing July 15, second sowing July 27 — are coming along.

Succession planting of turnips

Succession planting of turnips — the ones in front were planted first — will give me a longer harvest.

Japanese turnips

Japanese turnips will be harvested young, when their white bulbous roots are only 1-2 inches around.

A sowing of beets was less successful, as I had some three-year-old seed. But some of them sprouted, as did a nice row of  Rainbow chard.

Rainbow chard starts

Rainbow chard, seeded three weeks ago, is small but healthy.

Rainbow chard

Rainbow chard planted in June, sizing up nicely.

The first sowing of Brussels sprouts got potted up to 4-inch pots about 10 days ago, so they were ready to be planted out. The second batch is still in pots.

Brussels sprouts in pots

Brussels sprouts are starting to size up and be ready for transplanting into their winter home.

So today I sowed in some more beets, transplanted those Brussels sprouts, sowed two rows of Black Spanish radish and two rows of overwintering red onion.

I covered all the crops except the onions with hoops and floating row cover. This helps shade them a bit if we get another heat wave, but I did it more to keep the pests off the young plants. The white cabbage moth can lay a lot of eggs and wreak havoc on brassicas, and the spinach leaf miner loves to attack the young beets and chard. (Soon I’ll plant fall and overwintering spinach, and will have to cover that too, to thwart the leaf miner.)

Here are some more images from today’s gardening:

Brussels sprouts transplanted

The first batch of Brussels sprouts, sown on 6/24 and potted up on 7/27, got planted in the garden today. I put fiberglass hoops over their bed, then covered that with floating row cover.

Beets planted on July 15 came up sporadically - some old seed. After thinning to proper spacing, I sowed more seed today to fill in the rows. These will be covered by hoops and floating row cover to deter flying pests.

Beets planted on July 15 came up sporadically – some old seed. After thinning to proper spacing, I sowed more seed today to fill in the rows. These will be covered by hoops and floating row cover to deter flying pests.

Beds with floating row cover

Turnips, Brussels sprouts, winter radishes, chard and beets are all under floating row cover to give them a better start.

Flies courting

Uh-oh, what’s going on here? Cue the Barry White music – there’s some colorful fly courting happening.

Mustard seed pods

Seed will be collected from this drying Ruby Streak mustard for next year’s crop.

Little Gem lettuce flowering

Little Gem lettuce has flowered and is going to seed. I’ll collect it for next year.

Kongo kohlrabi

Kongo kohlrabi, ready for harvest.

Start Now for Fall, Winter Harvest

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? What you want is this:

Brandywine in hand

and if you want to feed yourself this winter, you should be thinking also about this:

Lacinato kale

Oh boy, kale!

Yeah, right now I’m feeling that too.

But consider: plan ahead now, not just for kale, but for the Asian greens, beets, carrots, endive, European greens, lettuce, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.

Some of those foods will taste very good long after the last tomato has been sliced open. And some take a very long time to cultivate.

So here’s a quick list of what to plant when, with a few suggestions of varieties to try for fall and winter:

  • Asian greens: Plant July-September, harvest October-April. Try Green-in-the-Snow, my friend Carl Elliott’s favorite.
  • Beets: plant July-August, harvest October-March. Try Boro, a flattened globe that is very reliable. Mulch these guys if you’re leaving them in the ground over winter.
  • Carrots: Plant August-October, harvest May-June. Try Merida. Cloche or cover with floating row cover in the coldest part of winter.
  • Endive: Plant June-September, harvest October-May. Try Tres Fine Marichiere. Treat like carrots in winter.
  • European greens: Plant August-October, harvest October-May. Try arugula, corn salad (mache), cress, miner’s lettuce. Treat like carrots in winter.
  • Lettuce: Plant August-September, harvest October-March. Try Black-seeded Simpson, Green Deer Tongue, Little Gem, Continuity, and Red Oakleaf. Cover with a cloche for fall, or protect with a cold frame into winter.
  • Parsnips: Plant March-mid-July, harvest December-March. Try Cobham Improved, Gladiator, or Javelin. They take forever to sprout, and forever to mature, but will sit in the bed a long time and be there when you want a sweet roasted root veggie dish in mid-winter.
  • Peas: for fall, plant by July 10, says my friend Lisa Taylor, author of Your Farm in the City. I agree. You can try shorter-season varieties into early August, for an October feast. For overwintering peas, plant by early September for a harvest between March and May. Cover with floating row cover in fall, or a cloche in winter.
  • Radishes: Plant the winter radish Black Spanish in July and early August for a harvest in May and June. Might need protection from floating row cover or a cloche if we get a hard winter. Let them go to flower, then eat the pods when tender and green.
  • Spinach: Plant July-September, harvest February-April. Try Bloomsdale, Giant Winter or Tyee. Cover with a cloche for winter, and don’t eat the biggest outer leaves.
  • Swiss chard: Plant June-September for harvest in September-May. Try Bright Lights/Rainbow, or Fordhook Giant, the king of the winter chard. Cover with floating row cover or cloche in mid-winter.
  • Turnips: Plant July-August for harvest in October-March. Try Gold Ball or the small Japanese varieties. Mulch in winter. Later plantings may produce only greens.

But, you might ask, where is the kale on this list? Chill out, kale lover. I’ll tackle the Brassicas (kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) in a future post.

Look at all that food! You have plenty of opportunities to try new vegetables in your garden this year. When a bed comes open as you harvest your summer crops, try one of these as a culinary experiment.

Bon jardinage and bon appetit!

Rock Springs Eternal

We didn’t have Earth Day when I was growing up. But we had plenty of earth on our North Dakota farm. We called it dirt.

About this time in the spring, as ground would warm and the snow would melt off, we’d start the planting season by picking rocks.

I’d join my many siblings on a walk behind the tractor, which slowly pulled a shallow steel bin. We’d fan out, each grabbing a stone the size of his or her ability, the older kids teaming up to grapple with the larger rocks. We’d toss them into the bin and enjoy the satisfying clang.

Boy and his dog

Fritz and me, on the farm.

When we came across a particularly stubborn or hefty boulder, Dad would stop the tractor, get out the crowbar, and as many as were needed would grab onto it and heave it or roll it into the bin.

When the bin was full enough, Dad would back the bin up to the rock pile at the edge of the field and dump the load. Every year, the rock pile grew as the frost heaved the stones up from the deep.

That the earth spit rocks at us every year, we did not take personally. It was not a metaphor for the hard life of farming, even if it could have been. It was not a hated chore, although it was a difficult one.

This was just something that had to be done in order to grow wheat. You could not subject the cultivator’s tines or the discer’s blades to a soil full of rocks.

Quinoa

Quinoa going to seed.

My two main vegetable beds in the front yard are ready for planting. I’ve cleared the winter vegetables, forked dolomitic lime into the soil to restore a neutral pH, and covered the bed with a wire mesh to keep the cats out. I even cleared a few rocks that had sunk into the dirt, and placed them in a little pile on the edge of the garden.

This year, the larger bed is going into grain. Not wheat, although varieties are being tested for the western Washington climate. Rather, I’ll be planting amaranth and quinoa, two amazing, colorful and very different edible seeds. I saved the seed from my small stand of each last year, so now I can cover the bed.

It will be great to watch it wave in the summer breeze. It will remind me of the visible wind on the prairie, swathing through the amber grain, flowing like a river.

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