May 31, 2012
The pesky cabbage butterfly is invading all over gardens everywhere right now. Last week, I was 3000 miles away from my own garden, but I saw these butterflies (not moths) in action. When I got home, there they were flying through my garden too.
Fortunately, my brassica crops (cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc…) are well protected from them. Plastic-sheeted hoop houses keep out the egg-laying adult butterflies. Though, it is time for me to exchange the plastic for floating row cover, which is more ideal in warmer temperatures. But that’s another post for another day.
For now, take a close look at these adult butterflies I found at Tricycle Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. And, if you’ve seen these flying around in your garden, be sure to read more in our earlier post that shows photos of their caterpillar phase and the damage those green, wormy creatures do so very fast in a brassica patch. And, yes, we’ve shared tips for keeping them out of your crops without a drop of ‘cide!
March 30, 2012
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to pick up onion starts before they’re all sold out for the season. Nurseries sell bundles of young onions in late winter through early spring.
Bulb onions are also available, but quite often here in Western Washington, I find these more likely to rot in our soggy, cold spring soils. Too, seed is an option, but ideally those seeds would have been sown last fall to grow over the winter for transplanting this spring. (Maybe we’ll do that this fall.)
This year, we’ve already put in two succession plantings of Walla-Walla Sweet onion starts in the garden. They’re in a bed that will soon be planted with starts from the brassica family — cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and various forms of broccoli. These are companions in the garden — while aphids love to invade the brassicas, they abhor alliums (onion family members). Hopefully, the onions will keep these nasty little suckers away from my beloved broccoli and family.
To plant & cultivate bundled onion starts: After you purchase your banded bundles of onions at the nursery, be sure to have time to get them into the ground shortly after. Begin by separating each onion start from the others. Plant the individual onions such that the white portion of the onion is beneath the soil, and be sure to plant into well-drained soil in full sun. Clip off an inch or more of the top green growth when you plant; this will encourage the plant to put more energy into the bulb. If you’re tight on space — like we are — you can choose to plant the onions about 3″ apart. Then, as they begin to mature, harvest them by removing every other onion at a time. This will give the remaining onions more room to get larger over the growing season. Onions begin to show their “shoulders” above the soil as the bulbs mature. Once this happens, they can be harvested at any time. Be careful not to overwater them, which can lead to rot. And, keep an eye out for any that show signs of flowering. If they begin to send up flower spikes, cut these out and harvest soon after. And, if some of the onions seem to disappear, they may just be going dormant. Last year, although I didn’t plant any onions, I found a few that had gone dormant in the prior summer only to grow stronger and larger over the winter. It was delicious!
And, unlike last year, I hope not to be crying over our lack of onions in the garden. I cook with onions almost daily, so even if these Walla Walla’s aren’t good storage crops, we’ll have no trouble gobbling up over the summer ahead.
March 06, 2012
Cotyledons are the leaves that emerge from a seed. They precede “true leaves”, and quite often they look very different from the leaves that later clothe the entire plant in food factory goodness.
Right now my greenhouse is filling up fast with tasty edibles I’ve seeded successively over the last month or so. And, watching the seed leaves hint at what’s to come is my latest joy.
My kales, broccolis and brussels sprouts are all emerging with deep green embryonic seed leaves. Pretty, but nothing terribly special.
Napa cabbage and bok choi is showing up in slightly paler greens with whites stems below. Even less exciting.
Sugar snap peas, sweet peas and fava beans are bolting upward fast, which is exciting if not a technicolor rainbow.
Purple cabbage and purple cauliflowers are slightly more interesting with hints of purple on the top side of their emergent leaves. Too beets & chards are popping up in greens and reds, but that’s nothing terribly new to me. Neither are the brown-ish speckles of color showing up in some of the mesclun mixes.
It’s the Ruby Streaks Mustard from Botanical Interest seeds that have really struck my fancy. Known for a spicy bite, this plant shows off mottled tones of deep purple flecked against green right out the gate. Even its tiny seed leaves are striking. I can’t wait until its barely showing true leaves begin their reddish-purple, feathered growth form. How pretty, right?
Yes, this probably isn’t an ideal crop to pre-grow in pots, but with hail still thundering down and slugs in unprecedented numbers, I decided to get them going with a bit of protection this year. And, they seem to be doing just fine after potting up from sterile mix to 4″ pots filled with standard potting soil. If they decide to bolt before I feel they’re strong enough to survive in the open fields, I’ll just snip’m and eat’m young!
(Botanical Interest Seeds supplied these seeds for complimentary test growing. No compensation has been received for this post. But, hey, I’d gladly take some more seeds guys! Maybe some Shiso? Hint! Hint!)
September 28, 2011
Earlier this month, I enjoyed an afternoon with friends at the National Heirloom Expo in Northern California. And let’s be honest, one afternoon wasn’t nearly enough time to take in everything at the show. I was mid-way through my summer vacation, so I decided to approach the fair more for fun than as a work trip. (But let’s face it: with me, anything earthy is going to be work.)
Rather than sit inside and watch movies or listen to lectures during my precious few hours, I chose to wander the fair grounds where I met some incredible farmers, ate some delicious heirloom crops, and found myself inspired by a number of inventions at the show.
One of the coolest tools I spied was a seed tray hole punch. If you’ve ever found yourself seeding flat after flat in your journey toward a garden full of great plants, you know how hard it is to stick your finger into moist soil and then pick up a seed to drop into that hole. Your finger gets wet and covered with soil, so when you pick up that little seed, you end up with several of them, and they stick to your fingers. And, they refuse to drop into the hole. It isn’t pretty — especially if you’re seeding in cool weather and your hands are half frozen!
So, when I saw a lonely table with a seedling tray filled with soil that had perfectly aligned and ideally deepened holes for seeds, I took a closer look. What was going on here?
Low & behold – simplicity and recycling at its finest! Some brilliant gardener had taken a piece of wood, cut to the standard size of a seedling tray, and they’d affixed corks to one side. The corks were lined up perfectly for creating holes in a tray of soil. And, the use of small corks mean that the holes wouldn’t be very deep or terribly wide.
Who made this? I really don’t know. Only other show gawkers like me were nearby when I snapped my shot. Kudos whoever you are. I can’t wait to take your idea into my own garden next late winter when its time to plant all those tiny brassica seeds.
Looking ahead, I’ll be spending winter saving up old wine corks, which I’ll whittle down to just the right size for my seeding depth. Perhaps I’ll make a couple of punches — one for big squash seeds and one for the little seeds I don’t bury very deeply.
Hmmm…with all that wine to drink, I guess that means I can take this farm fresh idea right to the couch – just like the sign says.
June 13, 2011
One parent pest landing on one food crop start can lead to disaster. Even well protected crops can still be at risk. But, with regular monitoring, it is possible to save even an infested crop before the pests win out. And, you still won’t need a bottle of poison.
This weekend I noticed some damage on my brassica crops — broccoli, dino kale and purple cabbage. I knew right away that despite my best efforts to protect these plants, somehow a pesky cabbage butterfly momma had gotten to them. And, she laid her eggs. And, they hatched. And, the baby caterpillars were eating my crops!
All it takes is one. One day when the greenhouse is venting, and a butterfly gets in. One hot afternoon when the cold frame where they’re hardening off is cracked to cool, and a butterfly gets in one. One day when the plastic hoop house blows open, and a butterfly gets in. That’s all it takes. She lands. She lays and egg, and she’s off. And, what’s really unfortunate? These white butterflies (not moths) hatch and fly in cool, moist temperatures (as well as hot ones), so they’re out earlier than many other flying insects looking for their favorite cool season crops like cabbage on which to lay their eggs.
So, what happens when you’re got cabbage caterpillars? Well, they eat your crops, and they chow them down fast. They eat with chewing mouth parts, so the damage looks like a chewing. They poop blackish-green all over the interior of of the plant, if they haven’t eaten that part first and really killed the plant. Those are the signs; look for them. Often they’re much easier to see than the the green caterpillar itself.
These caterpillars are quite well camouflaged for most brassica crops. They’re a bright green worm that tends to blend very well with their favored food crops. A large portion of the brassicas are tones of grey-greens that allow these little wormy critters to blend into. Think broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and the like.
If you see the signs, guaranteed you’ve got the pest. Start by looking at the interior of the plant and along the up-side mid-rib of each leaf. Those are their favored spots when at rest. If you don’t find a caterpillar on one plant, move to the next, and you may find it there. If you happen to find a cottony looking casing, that’s likely the caterpillar getting ready to metamorphosis into another of the white butterfly parents that will be flittering about the garden.
So, what to do when you find one of these worms? Well, if you’ve got a kid with a butterfly cage, go ahead and collect a leaf and a caterpillar. Watch it finish its life cycle. Then kill the butterfly. Yeah, sounds cruel, right? If you don’t, that butterfly will kill your crops…or your neighbor’s crops. Really, I’d skip the whole “watch it grow up” thing and just advocate for squishing each green, creepy crawler as you find them.
And, if you find one caterpillar, odds are momma laid several eggs, so check your crops every day over the course of several days until you are certain that you’ve gotten rid of all of them. Odds are, if your crops have been well protected, it was just one day when the butterfly laid her babies in your veggie garden. So, within a few days all of her progeny should have hatched and, under your careful watch, been dispatched with a quick pinch between the fingers. Guaranteed you’ll have a green thumb after this kind of work!
Too, usually, I try to cut out the most damaged outer leaves on my crops, so I can easily keep track of the signs of new damage. (This isn’t always possible if you find the problem after a lot of damage has been done; if you remove too much living material from your crop, you may take away its ability to rejuvenate. This is a balancing act!)
Now, if your cabbage is purple like mine, these suckers just can’t hide. They stand out & are really easy to see and kill quickly. Just pinch’m and let their juicy guts mingle with the soil where hopefully they’ll give back some of those nutrients they’d drawn from the plant above.
April 26, 2011
When Renee’s Garden Seeds offered to send me some samples to try out, Watercress went on my list. At the time, I had no idea at the time that this tasty, nutrient-packed little weed has some amazing, newly discovered virtues. Although I’ve grown veggies for decades, cress has never been one of them, and I rarely see it offered at the farmer’s market. Here in Seattle, I’m certainly not lacking for the water that cress loves, and the peppery tang of these delicate greens brightens salads, soups and sandwiches. So, I figured why not try it?
I seeded this Brassica family plant in February, and within just a few days in my unheated greenhouse, it had germinated. I potted it into 4″ pots filled with recycled potting soil cut together with a lot of mucky worm compost, and the plants thrived immediately. Other brassicas, like broccoli and cabbage I’d seeded & potted up at the same time and into the same soil and environment did okay, but they still haven’t grown anywhere as fast as their cousin cress. Once the cress had formed multiple nodes on its hollow, floatable stems, roots formed at nearly every juncture. The plant clearly wants to cover some serious ground!
Last Sunday, as my stomach began to rumble while I was working in the greenhouse, I spied the watercress ready to be tipped back to feed me.
I grabbed my snips, and tipped a few plants for harvest (and to encourage its spreading growth). I’d been to the farmer’s market early in the morning where I’d picked up a fresh loaf of local sourdough bread from Tall Grass Bakery and a round of Camembert cheese from a local creamery. The idea of watercress topping slices of this fresh bread and cheese got my tummy rumbling even more. Paired with a warm cup of white tea with Goji berries (also from the farmer’s market), my afternoon tea break was delicious and truly healthy!
Watercress is filled with vitamins, anti-oxidants, iodine & folic acid (source). But, perhaps the most striking surprise for me was learning that this tiny little weed has proven capable of turning off breast cancer growth. If you’ve ever questioned the saying, “A weed is a plant whose virtue has yet to be discovered.” (Emerson) well, look no further than the simple aquatic edible weed cress for validation.
Now, if I make t-shirts that read “Eat your Cress; It’s Good for Your Breasts!” who wants one?