Ahh sweet fall! What a beautiful and relaxing time of year—at least in some moments :). In this moment I love it, I just had a huge farm-fresh bacon and egg breakfast, it's still warm enough to sit outside, and we just finished our last Saturday market of the summer season. Awesome!
So, there's time for reflection. I've been pouring back through the notebooks and old blogs thinking about what I'd like to write down before I forget. Ironically, in reviewing the blog I found that I wrote almost exactly this same post on October 29th of last year... hmm must be something about this time of year :).
Taking advantage of my own efforts here's an annotated review of what I recorded last year with some new dates added to the mix:
- April 15th, 2015 (part 1). Broccoli will not bring a good harvest in the southern heat if it is planted after the 15th (or maybe the 20th if I'm pushing it). Plantings in mid-April will give you a harvest by the first week in June. After that the heat and the sun will be such that the broccoli heads will turn yellow and bitter. Also at that point the cabbage moths will be in full flourish! Update 2016: our spring broccoli was awesome this year! We had a super warm and dry March-April that allowed us to make beds and plant them quickly and successfully. Both successions of Brassicas came to a full harvest this spring with no trouble.
- April 15th, 2015 (part 2). April 15th is also the earliest date to plant cucurbits. This is a risky planting because of frost. However, this we found that if the plants make it past the frost you will get a long beautiful first succession before the squash bugs and striped cucumber beetles show up. This year our first cucurbits succession bore fruit for 9 weeks, compared to the next three successions of cucurbits all of which only bore fruit for 3-5 weeks. Update 2016: perhaps because it was a warm spring and most certainly because we planted so many cucurbit successions in the Main Field in 2015 our first cucurbit crops of 2016 were a disaster. The cucumber beetles and squash bugs were on the plants immediately! They did finally grow through the damage and produce some fruit, but no with near the abundance of the first year—crop rotation is key for pest management!
- Redbuds, 2015. When the redbuds come into bloom so will the flea beetles. This will mark the beginning of the pest battle. Greens (and almost everything else) will have imperfections from this point until the 1st of October. Update 2016: the early spring brought the flea beetles even before the redbuds. Our precious greens had holes in them starting in April all the way until just this month. Ugh.
- April 20th, 2015. This is the time to start adding summer crisp lettuces to the lettuce successions. After this planting the lettuce will start growing much faster as the days warm up. If successions are kept tightly to 10 days or less you can still keep harvesting throughout the summer. However, oak leaf varieties will not grow to full size before bolting and butter heads will also begin showing signs of heat damage. Leaf lettuces and summer crisp varieties will do the best through the hot months. Update 2016: it was so hot this year! In July and August even some of the summer crisps were turning bitter. However, we found some new varieties that worked well and increasingly I think we can push non-summer crisp varieties through the heat by harvesting them small, watering constantly, and planting relentlessly. I love lettuce!
- May 1st-15th, 2015. The first two plantings of Spinach in May may or may not make it to harvest. It is worth planting Spinach all the way through May in case the weather is cool (especially the nights), but this is when they will start turning yellow and dying before full harvest size. Update 2016: May spinach plantings did not make it to harvest this year, it was just too hot. Increasingly it seems spinach is only a late fall/winter crop around here. But, we will continue to push for it during the spring and summer regardless 'cause it's just so dang delicious.
- August 31st, 2015. After this point the spinach should make it to harvest. However, it's probably worth starting successions in early to mid August just in case the weather shifts and the spinach makes it in early. This fall though, we lost our first few fall plantings to the heavy rains. It's worth noting for next year that the spinach needs good drainage especially at this time of year. Update 2016: Still true. We didn't get much out of our first late summer/fall planting but it seemed worth the try and very possible that some years with different weather conditions it might work.
- September 1st, 2015. This is about the time the light begins to change and we start seeing a real slow down in crop growth. It's worth starting to double up on lettuce plantings the last week or two of August and tightening up the successions into September. Update 2016: this fall light change is such an ambiguous and challenging thing to figure out. But, we did better this year. We started planting in the hoop houses much earlier and tightened up successions more successfully. However, we should have planted a much bigger succession of spinach when we first moved greens back in to the hoop houses in September.
- 2nd week in September, 2015. After this date cole crop plantings probably won't come in for a full harvest in time for the last markets. It's worth having two fall brassica plantings, but I wouldn't plant the first one much before the 1st of September (otherwise it will be too hot and buggy for good growth) but after the second week in September growth slows down and therefore the 50-70 day crops won't make it to harvest for the end of market season. Update 2016: True. Our first fall brassica succession was killed by late summer heat and harlequin bugs :(. Now our 2nd succession is barely producing for the end of market season and it's not at all clear if the third succession will produce any fruit before heavy frosts.
- October 1st, 2015. This is the latest date to plant greens in the hoop house in time for fall harvest. Spicy greens and Arugula planted October 1st were ready for harvest this year on the 29th of October. Lettuce planted at the same time will not be ready for another 2 weeks (which makes it very marginal for fall harvest). Better to plant the lettuce in the hoop house in early-mid September. Lettuce this time of year will hold much longer without bolting, so it seems better to get larger quantities in the hoop house early. Update 2016: Well, we made the winter farming leap, so this year I'm worried less about having everything ready before the "end" of market season... This year I'm proud to say we have two hoop house chock full of the most beautiful produce! Please be sure to come share it with us all winter long :)
Well... I'm out of time for today. More dates coming soon! PS—I love my job!