We finally got a break in the weather to start planting! Besides the wintered over spinach that is starting to grow again with the warmer nights, we finally put together our first tunnel. Lettuce is the first seeding so the tunnel will protect it from frost which we tend to get at this time of year. Our last frost has been known to be as late as Mother’s Day!
Since it worked out so well last year to grow lettuce through succession planting, by only planting only one section at a time, one week apart, we started the first section of our row with 4 internal rows of various lettuces. Every week we will seed another section and by the time we finish seeding the last section, the first section will be full size. This results in lettuces at different stages so customers can always get perfectly ripe lettuce instead of all old lettuce at the end of the season. We just pull out any bolting lettuce (old and going to seed), and replant with new seed. We managed to keep good lettuce into November!
First row in means the rest are not far behind! Wish us luck with the weather!
We are happy to say that although it is mid November we still have edible lettuce, spinach cilantro and a large variety of root vegetable. Leaving covers over low growing caterpillar tunnels has greatly extended our growing season this year.
When there is a nice day we just open the tunnels, harvest what we would like for the next couple days and give the row a sprinkle of water so the vegetables do not dry out.
In the end we had lettuce into February, carrots and beets in March and the spinach never died. It continues to grow! Even the cilantro roots are starting to grow again.
It just takes a little persistence to keep vegetables protected and lightly watered to have fresh veggies all winter!
We completed succession planting the lettuce resulting in a very full lettuce row! It was so impressive that grasshoppers and other insects moved in. Can you see that grasshopper on our red lettuce? That is just one of Many! On top of a grasshopper infestation, the lettuce started to bolt from the heat. Even the wild birds couldn’t keep the grasshoppers under control!
This all resulted in a decision to pull the bad lettuce and replant before it got too late in the season. According the Farmers Almanac we can plant new lettuce up to August 1st and it will still have enough time to grow full size before the first frost.
Some of the lettuce had already bolted, or went to flower and to seed. We collected seed from those plants to replant, and left a few other plants to grow so we could collect seed later for next year. This is the ultimate succession planting!
Spoiler alert…..Not only did we get a great second crop, it lasted almost all winter!
As is the theme of the year, we planted the lettuce and spinach early by using row tunnels covered in agricultural fabric. What we learned is the native plants around the garden do not grow as fast as the lettuce which is making the lettuce more desirable to the pests right now. If I had to guess I’d say what was doing the most damage is slugs, caterpillars and grubs.
Something I learned after living in the Northwest is that soft bodied pests do not like sharp objects. I used to crumble egg shells around my hostas which were prone to be devoured by slugs. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try them in the vegetable garden. Unfortunately it’s not as easy to surround individual plants in a 50 foot row of lettuce! We ended up taking the time to do it right by setting up the egg shell pieces vertically resulting in a sharp edged fence around the row of plants.
While there were already some pests within the perimeter, there was a reduction in activity long enough to give the lettuce and spinach a fighting chance. And in the end the shells decay and add nutrients to soil. I’ll be planting tomatoes in that bed next year. They Love calcium.
It’s March 2020 on the high plains dessert and we finally planted our first row of the season! We expect to have another snow or two but are well prepared with our covered tunnel that will keep the plants up to 20 degrees higher than the outside. Planting has started early!
We are working from home due to the Covid 19 Pandemic so we have an extra 1-2 hours during the day to work on the garden. In addition, being home, we are able to monitor the weather. While working away from home we would take less risk in exposure to extreme heat, cold or hail by adjusting the tunnel covers prudently. Working from home we can leave tunnels wide open, closing it at the perfect time during a weather episode. The plants get more sun and light rain than they would if we had over protected them.
Lettuce and Spinach is the first planting. We are succession planting so that when the initial planting starts to bolt from the heat, there will still be a younger planting that is still crisp and green. The bolted plants are pulled out and reseeded for another young crop. We currently have 3 sections of lettuce and spinach at different growth sizes.
The goal is to see how long we can grow lettuce before the heat causes seedlings to bolt too early.
Finally after weeks of bad weather we finally have right sized lettuce and spinach up for sale! The snow, thunderstorms and hail went on for so long we were getting worried we might lose one of our best selling crops.
The light colored lettuce at the top is Black Seeded Simpson Leaf Lettuce. It’s an heirloom variety that is so tender, commercial processors can’t sell it because it would bruise before getting to the customer. That’s why you need to buy local produce. You’ve never tasted anything so good.
Behind that lettuce is an Bloomsdale, an heirloom spinach. Seeds were collected at the end of a growing season. We are very happy with how well it is growing in the cool moist weather!
You can see some slow growing red lettuce and next to that is polka dotted heirloom from more collected seed. Those are 4th generation seeds!
At the end front we have Little Gems which is a small romaine that is very crispy and has a nice crunch. There is a lot of flavor in this one. This is our favorite!
Behind the Little Gems is a new variety of spinach I wanted to try called Renegade which does not bolt as easy as your standard spinach. We thought it would be worth a try since the heat here will cause early bolting in the summer. This spinach grew enormous, thick leaves about 6 inches long! They are great for steaming but are very delicate. We are eating most of this ourselves due to tearing of the leaves. We probably will not grow it again .
We are doing succession planting by planting a new single row every 3 weeks so we always have new, young and tender lettuce to sell. It will last into October if the weather doesn’t get too hot or cold through the season.
To build the salad leaves of greens are collected one leaf at a time and field rinsed before being packed in gallon sized bags. Customers order as they want and we deliver directly to them. This has been one of our most successful crops.
We immediately planted all the seeds once the beds were ready. We did not want to lose any time since we have such a short growing season. The picture shows a new tactic we’re taking to prevent the birds from eating the peas this year. We hooped some fencing over the planted area as a deterrent. It would require a desperate bird to work it’s way through the fence to even realize what type of plants they are. There is plenty of greener plants around to peak their interest. Spoiler alert….it worked!
Next, the lettuce seedlings came up quickly. Since we never use weed block fabric on the lettuce rows it’s also the beginning of weed pulling! Be honest. Take a look at this picture. Can you tell me which are weeds and which are the lettuce? No? And this is why the woman of the house is stuck weeding the lettuce and root vegetables until they are 2 inches tall!
Beets and carrots take longer to surface. We hand water the carrots in particular as soil dries quickly here, seeds are shallow and they seem to take forever to take a hold and leaf out. Unfortunately they initially look like blades of thin grass. Another reason the man of the house will never weed the carrots this young. Bean seeds come up quickly and we can use weed block since they grow farther apart. Luckily another reduction of manual labor. We try to minimize it as much as possible. In the next few weeks we will be able to bring out the transplants we have been growing inside. Until then we have hand watering and weeding to do!
This year we tried planting different lettuce. In previous years we planted an heirloom mix with small leaves that was labor intensive and sometimes turned bitter early in the season. Tiny polka dotted leaves were very attractive but not practical.
This year we planted Black Seeded Simpson green leaf lettuce, a red leaf lettuce, and really excited about Little Gems, a dwarf Romaine lettuce. Like every year, the lettuce quickly grew.
These varieties allowed us to sell to the customer as a head or individual leaves. Customers like a variety of color in a mixed bag of lettuce.
The lettuce was a hit all spring, but as summer sets in we find more insects and the lettuce starts to bolt leaving the leaves bitter and leathery. We are considering growing under cover as the heat increases in the summer.
We will plant even larger varieties next year hoping to sell more as heads and further reducing labor.
We are getting into late fall so it’s time to collect seeds for next year before they blow away or are ruined by bad weather. This picture is of bolted lettuce that was left to bloom and as you can see it’s loaded with seeds. They are a lot like dandelions where if you blow them the seeds float away. You collect them by carefully pulling them off the stalk and removing the white propeller top that usually helps them float in the air. They are tiny seeds.
I collected spinach seed which also grow on a stem that bolts up from the plant. They don’t have propellers. The seeds dry in litter clusters on the side of the stem Once dry, they are easy to just peel off pop into an envelope.
Bean and pea seeds are easy. You have a bean or pea pod full of beans or peas, they dry, you pop the pod open and pull the dried beans or peas out. It’s as simple as that.
Cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and peppers have seeds inside the fruit. Collect the seeds, rinse them and dry them on a paper towel before storing.
Unfortunately my carrots and beets did not bolt which means I will need to purchase more seeds for next year. I’ll have to do a little more research on how to promote bolting on these root vegetables. I’ve only been successful with radishes. Here is crossing my fingers for next year,
If you want to view how to do a little seed collecting, you can watch a video on the farm’s Youtube channel:
I know you haven’t heard a lot from us lately. That’s because we’ve been very busy! Most of the work is keeping the weeds at bay. We are also carefully managing the water with the alternating hot and bone dry weather to heavy thunderstorms. Lots of extra hand watering one day and then turning off the irrigation the next day.
So, what’s coming up in the garden? We’ve been tasting items out of our test plot before selling to be sure they are good. Some are good enough we aren’t willing to let go of them! Our favorite is beets. We’ll eat our fill before letting them go.
The biggest seller is the beans. At first we were pulling them so fast we couldn’t sell them fast enough, but now we are begging the plants to grow more.
The lettuce mix just keeps growing no matter how much we sell. The collards are finally at a good size, although I don’t think they grow very well outside of the south.
The snap peas and cucumbers are on a roll now.
We are finishing harvesting the corn for ourselves. It takes too much space and resources for what little you get.
The heirloom celery is amazing! It’s thinner than the grocery store celery but the flavor is strong so you don’t need as much. We’ve also been harvesting broccoli, basil, gold squash and zucchini.
Finally, the tomatoes are starting to turn red, the peppers are taking off and the Okra is just starting to get to a size of harvest.
There is still a lot more that is growing and we can’t wait to share it with our customers!