Posts Tagged Red Ace Beets

It’s all about temperature

If the soil temperature is too cold, forget about it.

If the soil temperature is too cold, forget about it.

Some decades back, I remember an experienced gardener telling me that it’s time to plant corn when emerging oak leaves are the size of squirrels’ ears.  Being of a more scientific bent, I did a bit of research and discovered that corn likes a minimum soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve since found that corn germinates better for me when the soil is closer to 60 degrees.

But there’s truth to that old gardener’s advice. Over the years, I have observed that my soil temperatures reach 55-60 degrees just about the time the leaves of my tall oaks reach the size of squirrels’ ears. It varies a bit, depending on which species of oak and whether the oak is growing anywhere near the garden plot, but, in truth, oak leaf size and soil temperatures do seem to reliably correlate, proving once again that a gardener always fares better when she pays attention to the environmental cues surrounding her.

Especially in late winter/early spring (I can’t tell them apart this year), soil temperatures are critical to the success of my spring vegetable garden. Spring vegetables have a lot going against them in my region most years. Winters are often very wet, making for soils too wet to work. Or, like this year, repeated blasts of icy precipitation keep the soil not only too wet, but also too cold for planting. The sun is supposed to return with warmer temperatures just in time for tomorrow’s vernal equinox, and I know I speak for all frustrated southeastern gardeners when I say, Hallelujah!

But that’s the other tricky part of southeastern springs. Most years, they don’t last very long, instead morphing into summer by late April. Spring vegetables dislike summer heat as much as they are averse to freezing rain. It’s a flat-out gamble whether I reap much edible at all most years. But to be without the crisp freshness of just-picked greens or carrots, or the earthy sweetness of a red beet or onion — that’s too cruel a fate for my winter-worn green-craving palate to contemplate. And so I gamble/plant.

My lettuce and spinach seedlings in the greenhouse were mostly large enough for transplanting a week ago, but another round of freezing rain forced yet another delay. I am determined to plant them out in the next few days. I’ll pray that the row cover I enclose the transplants in will protect them from any last-minute jokes from wintry weather. Here’s what they looked like last Friday:

Eager greens ready for transplanting.

Eager greens ready for transplanting.

The local agricultural college near me publishes all kinds of useful information about gardening, including this handy chart of vegetable varieties and the minimum soil temperatures required for germination. From it, I see that lettuce and spinach seeds need 45 degrees. If you look at the top photo in this post, you’ll see that the soil temperature in my future lettuce bed was hovering at around 50 degrees last Friday. The ice storm of yesterday may have dropped it a bit, but for transplants, I’m not worried. In a couple of weeks, I’ll direct-sow additional seeds into this bed for what I hope will be a more prolonged harvest — if summer temperatures delay their arrival long enough.

This year, I’m growing a few varieties that I’ve had success with before, and a few new ones. I’m always looking for more heat-resistant varieties of greens. Here’s what I’m trying this year, all from Johnny’s Selected Seeds:

  • Red Cross — A heat-tolerant butter head lettuce that produced spectacularly for me last year. It was also delicious and really handled the heat well. As the name hints, its leaves are a beautiful red, which I love.
  • Buttercrunch — Really tasty and sweet, and reasonably slow to bolt. Leaves have enough body to work well as lettuce wraps, but are tender and sweet enough to eat by themselves. Yes, I’ve grown it before.
  • Annapolis — This is new for me this year. I couldn’t resist the description of what is supposed to be their darkest red romaine lettuce. Who doesn’t love romaine lettuce?
  • Coastal Star — Another romaine, one I’ve grown several times now because it is reliable and wonderful. Sweet, dark green leaves that stand up to warming springs better than I could have ever hoped.  I love this lettuce!
  • Corvair — Spinach comes in two forms. Some are smooth-leaved, and Corvair is one of those. This is a new variety for me. It is purported to be a slow-bolter and resistant to mildews. Less wrinkled spinach leaves means less washing required, so I’m giving this one a try.
  • Tyee — This is a savoy spinach — the wrinkled-leaf kind. I’ve grown it for years because it is tasty and vigorous. Its rapid leaf production compensates for its tendency to bolt when temperatures begin to warm.
  • Arugula — The standard salad arugula. I’ve grown all sorts of mesclun greens in past years, including this arugula. They all bolt at the first hint of 80 degrees. Despite my fondness for these tangy greens in my spring salads, I confined myself to just this type this year. I’ve composted way too many bolted mesclun greens in past seasons. This year, the arugula will have to suffice to provide that contrasting zing to the sweetness of the lettuces and spinaches in my salads.

Earlier this week, my onion plants arrived. The Yellow Granex plants will get tucked in at the same time I transplant the greens. Again, I would have popped them in before now, but all was ice again just yesterday.

According to that chart link above, carrots only need 40 degrees to germinate, while beets need 50 degrees. I’ve found that when I plant carrots when my soil is 40 degrees, they sit and wait until the soil is warm enough for the beets to germinate. I’ll use my handy dandy soil thermometer to check their future beds this weekend. If I’m at 50 degrees or better, I’ll try to get those seeds in the ground too. This year, I’m trying:

  • Romance — This is a new carrot variety for me, advertised as delicious, high-yielding, and uniform. I couldn’t resist.
  • Nelson — This consistently sweet early carrot (Romance should mature later) is a reliable old friend in my garden.
  • Red Ace — I’ve tried other beet varieties, but this is the one we love. Always productive, magnificently sweet and tender. We love these beets!

That’s it for the spring garden. If I see any healthy broccoli plants at the local agricultural supply store, I may grab a few, per Wonder Spouse’s request. I rarely have great success with spring broccoli — that summer heat problem again. But it will be easy to add a few beneath the tented lettuce bed, where cabbage moths can’t reach them to deposit eggs.

I’ve also given up on spring peas. They are so very heat sensitive, and our winters are so up and down that I rarely get a crop worth my effort. If we have a craving for spring peas, we can always grab a few at the local farmers’ market.

The greenhouse is getting full of seedlings. All my tomatoes and peppers are well up, but still small, of course.

Tomato seedlings and friends

Tomato seedlings and friends

I’ll tell you about them another time. I’ve got lots of flower seedlings growing too. Some kinds take almost two months to reach transplanting size, so I must start them early.

flower transplants

Wonder Spouse will be creating his potato bags this weekend. He would have planted them sooner, but that pesky ice slowed him too.

Every year, my blog view count increases as people search on things like, “When can I plant spring vegetables?” You will find charts of average last frost and freeze dates, but I consider those rough ballpark estimates. Every yard is different, thanks to variations in microclimate. The best way to know when to plant your spring vegetables is to pay attention to what your garden area looks like during late frosts. Is it snowy white? Then you’re in a cold spot. Err on the later side of the planting range.

To be much more confident, invest in a soil thermometer and use it. They are not expensive. Mine even comes with its own little case with a clip for attaching it securely to a pocket.

If the soil is too cold, forget about it.

Every gardener needs one of these.

I know that the wildlife in my yard is even more ready for spring than I am. Two days ago, as a cold rain began morphing into freezing rain, a frustrated Red-shouldered hawk actually parked itself on top of my bird feeder for about ten minutes. It looked so hungry and frustrated that if I had had something to feed it, I would have tried.

Hold on, Hawk. Spring arrives tomorrow!

Hold on, Hawk. Spring arrives tomorrow!

We’ll make it, friends. Spring is tantalizingly close now!

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Charge of the Lettuce Brigade!

Here they come!

Here they come!

Can you feel it? The Spring Peepers can; they sing in my swamp with more vigor every day and night. Even the House Finches are feeling it. One came to the bird bath on my deck this afternoon with his mouth full of nesting material. He dropped the bundle of grasses beside his feet to drink, but the strong March winds blew it away before he’d taken a sip. I don’t think he was really ready to build a serious nest anyway. Perhaps the imminent Vernal Equinox (March 20) has him a bit addled.

I’ve been waiting for below-normal temperatures to abate so that I can start preparing my spring vegetable beds. It looks like this weekend will finally bring proper preparation conditions — and the amazing Wonder Spouse has even agreed to lend a hand. The timing is good. The seven kinds of greens growing in the greenhouse will be transplanting size very soon. And I need the room — it’s nearly time to start sowing tomato and pepper seeds.

I did not originally intend to grow seven kinds of greens this year. I had settled on five from my favorite seed supplier — Johnny’s Selected Seeds. But then I got my complimentary seed order form from Renee’s Garden (courtesy of my membership in the Garden Writers Association), and temptation overcame me.

This season’s spring garden will consist of the seven greens currently growing in the greenhouse:

  • Lettuce, New Red Fire
  • Lettuce Salanova Home Garden Mix (more about this another time)
  • Lettuce, Coastal Star
  • Spinach, Emu
  • Vitamin Green Greens
  • Spinach, Summer Perfection
  • Asian Greens Mix

The first five are from Johnny’s, Summer Perfection is from Renee’s, and the final Asian greens mix was a freebie seed package from some other supplier, whose name I’ve managed to lose track of.

Also currently growing are seedlings of Bouquet Dill from Johnny’s and Blue Boy Cornflowers from Renee’s. Ideally, dill is best direct-sowed, but unpredictable weather — mostly in the form of hard rains — usually gives me sparse results when I direct-sow. As long as I transplant these herbs while they’re small, their somewhat temperamental tap roots should adjust without difficulty. One can never have too much dill, in this gardener’s opinion.

The Cornflowers are gorgeous blue annuals that bloom early, laughing at late frosts. I love the intense blueness of the flowers, so when I saw Renee was offering some, I jumped at the chance.

Because these are early spring plants, I didn’t use my germination chamber with the propagation mat to warm them. They don’t need the help. Even my cool greenhouse (I set the heater to come on at 45 degrees Fahrenheit) didn’t slow them down. All but the dill germinated in under five days. The dill took seven. The cornflowers won the contest, sprouting in less than 24 hours — now that’s enthusiasm!

Dill seedlings in the right foreground, cornflowers in the right background, spinach front left, Asian greens mix left back.

Dill seedlings in the right foreground, cornflowers in the right background, spinach front left, Asian greens mix left back.

When the garden beds are ready (i.e., weed-free), I’ll tuck in the greens, mulch with some fibrous compost mix I picked up from a local supplier, and enclose them in garden cloth supported by wire hoops. The cloth will protect the greens from all but the hardest of late freezes, and will also discourage rodents, who have learned to slip through my fence and help themselves — either field rats or meadow voles — or both.

I’ll be direct-sowing several varieties of carrots and two varieties of beets as well. Carrot seeds are as hard as dill seeds to germinate reliably, but Johnny’s offers pelleted seeds. They encase the seeds in little balls of clay, which dissolve when exposed to moisture. It is vastly easier to place these little clay balls where I want them — and to keep them where I put them. This year’s root crops will include:

  • Beet, Red Ace
  • Carrot, Early Nelson
  • Carrot, Sugarsnax
  • Carrot Nantes Starica
  • Carrot, Snacking Rotild
  • Beet, Dutch Red Baron

The last three are more freebies from Renee’s Garden that sounded too good not to try. Those carrots aren’t pelleted, so I’ll have some side-by-side data for comparison.

The only other spring crop this year will be Wonder Spouse’s potatoes. The order is due to arrive next week. I’ll keep you posted on that experiment, which I mentioned previously here.

I’ve given up on peas, either English or Sugar Snap varieties. Weather patterns have grown too unreliable for them, no matter how early I get them in the ground. Early heat waves destroy pod production just as flowering grows enthusiastic.

Early heat is the main enemy in a North Carolina Piedmont spring garden. Most of the greens I picked were chosen specifically because of their purported resistance to early summer heat. Carrots and beets are less affected — unless the heat leaps in the 90s in April — and heaven help us all if that happens!

Even after the spring garden is planted, there will be no time to rest. The summer beds will need to be prepared to receive the tomatoes and peppers that I haven’t even started yet (another week or two). As soon as the ground is warm enough, I’ll direct-sow the beans. I’ll start the squash seeds after the tomatoes and peppers are well germinated. They need less time to reach transplanting size.

So much to do, and an aging body to do it with. But Wonder Spouse and I will persevere, knowing that the rewards are delicious and good for us too.

But first, all those vigorous winter weeds must be removed from the planting beds. Charge!

Winter weeds have responded with frightening enthusiasm to recent rains.

Winter weeds have responded with frightening enthusiasm to recent rains.

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Cloudy Morning Skies Mean Foliar Feeding Time

Tools for foliar feeding

The vegetable garden is enthusiastically growing; visible increases are evident daily. Even so, I’ve been trying to find a good day for foliar feeding for about a week now. For those who may not know, foliar feeding is the application (via a sprayer) of a dilute solution of fertilizer directly onto the leaves of plants. Leaves directly absorb nutrients from the droplets, thereby giving the plants an almost instantaneous boost — much faster than plants receive via soil applications of fertilizer.

I’m an organic gardener, so I use a dilute solution of a mixture of fish emulsion and sea weed. That gallon bottle in the photo above has lasted me several growing seasons, and will last me several more. The empty gallon water bottle on the left is where I mix my solution. I use that old metal tablespoon in the foreground to measure out three tablespoons of fertilizer into the water bottle, then I fill the bottle with water and shake. Measurements are not exact, nor do they need to be. Fish emulsion is stinky and messy — wear gloves.

I pour the dilute solution into that little yellow hand sprayer in the photo. I used to use larger back-pack sprayers, but they are heavy and cumbersome. And now that I’ve downsized my veggie garden, this little sprayer works just fine for me.

The only trick to foliar feeding is finding an ideal moment for spraying. You absolutely can NOT spray the plants when the sun is shining on them. Water droplets magnify the power of the sunlight, and you will end up with damaged, even burned-looking leaves. Your garden must be in full shade, or you must wait for a cloudy day.

Unfortunately for me, my garden doesn’t go into full shade until quite late in the day. Foliar feeding just before nightfall is less than ideal, because you run the risk of the leaves not drying, which can lead to mildew issues. And the mosquitoes are ferocious that time of day, which makes application quite an ordeal. This morning I got lucky. Clouds ruled the sky until about 10:30, so I hustled outside, picked ripe fruits, tied a few tomatoes, then foliar fed my garden.

Today’s harvest: 2 Spineless Perfection zucchinis, 1 Raven zucchini, 1 Y-star patty pan squash, 3 Red Ace beets, and 2 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes

Even though my veggies were growing well, I knew it was time for a foliar feeding application because of the bugs. I have removed seven young tomato hornworms from my tomatoes, and today I discovered and removed a mass of bronze eggs laid by a squash bug. Foliar feeding makes leaves less appealing to insects who chew on them, and more disease resistant. The dilute sea weed extract in the mix contains a number of trace elements that work to fortify the leaves against intruders.

Sometimes when I have foliar feeding solution left over, I spray plants outside my fences. When I do that to daylily buds, I’ve noticed the deer pass them by. I guess sea food isn’t their favorite.

The entire garden smells faintly of the ocean after I apply this fishy goodness, but only until the droplets dry on the leaves. Today that happened very quickly; our humidity is uncharacteristically low. On a more typical humid summer day, drying might take an hour or so.

No matter how careful I try to be, I always end up smelling like the solution, so if you try this technique, plan on time for a shower when you’re done.

As I mentioned, the veggies are cranking bigtime, as evidenced by the first tomato harvest of the season today — 2 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes. Last year, these were just turning red on June 21, so I’m about three weeks ahead on tomato season. Squashes are producing regularly. The Y-Star Patty Pans have really great flavor. We’ll definitely grow those again.

Y-Star Patty Pan squash plant is producing tasty results.

 

The Fortex pole beans clearly plan on world domination this year. I took this shot of their trellis this morning:

Fortex pole beans

Fortex flowers have been blooming for about a week now, and the vines sport many tiny new beans.

Fortex is just starting to produce baby beans

The Jade bush beans got off to a slower start, but they are making up for it in productivity. Here’s what their small row looked like this morning:

I’ve found the Jade bush beans produce better with a little support from bamboo stakes.

The new fruits on the Jade bush beans are about three times longer than the Fortex babies:

Jade beans are growing very quickly.

More Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes will be ready for harvest in a day or so:

Sweet Treats tomatoes are ripening quickly.

And the two paste (roma) tomato varieties are sporting reddening fruits:

Super Marzano tomatoes will be ready for sauce soon.

Viva Italia paste tomatoes will be ready soon after the Super Marzanos.

As you might imagine, there’s much more going on in the garden and yard these days. I took a lot of pictures today. Soon I’ll show you some new current bloomers and some coming attractions.

Now I go to bake the season’s first batch of zucchini bread. Soon the house will be filled with spicy cinnamon goodness.  And thanks to the return of the clouds that are holding down our temperatures well below seasonal levels, the warmth from the oven won’t be unpleasant.

I love any excuse to play in the dirt with plants, but I find it’s equally satisfying to cook and devour the fruits of my labor. I hope the gardens of my readers are as productive as mine, and that they provide you with delicious meals all season long.

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First Fruits of Summer

Two Raven Zucchinis, Three Spineless Perfection Zucchinis, and Two Y-Star Patty Pans

Yes, it’s that time, folks, when squash shows up nightly on the dinner menu, and the aroma of baking zucchini bread fills the house with cinnamon-squash goodness. With today’s harvest, summer produce is officially in the house.

Wonder Spouse and I have been working hard to get the vegetable garden weeded and mulched for the season, and we’re nearly done, I’m happy to report. That’s good, because as you can see above, the summer vegetables are cranking bigtime.

And well they should be. Our high temperatures are mostly hovering in the mid to upper 80s, with nighttime lows in the middle to upper 60s. Combined with heavy, humid air and occasional thunderstorm rain, these are close to ideal growing conditions for the summer garden. We did get a bit of pea-sized hail the other afternoon, but it wasn’t heavy enough to do any harm that I could see. Compared to areas near me, I’m still low on rainfall, so I am providing extra water to the squashes (big moisture consumers) and the last of the spring veggies still struggling to hang on.

Here’s a shot of the Rainbow Chard, which is all that’s left of my lovely bed of greens. The lettuces and spinaches all bolted for the sky when the 80-degree temperatures settled in.

Rainbow Chard is still productive

After I took this picture, I harvested almost all of the big leaves you see here. I’ve never grown this veggie before, and I’m not sure how much longer it can withstand summer weather, so I figured I’d pick as much as I could while it still tastes good.

I haven’t pulled up the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas yet, but their productivity has slowed to a crawl. If I stop seeing any flowers, I’ll compost them. The beets still seem to be growing well. I’m trying to keep them moist, in the hopes that the beet roots will expand a bit more before I must harvest them.

Beets and carrots in front, rainbow chard in back, and a basil in the middle

The tomatoes are all taller than me now; their fruits grow larger — and more numerous — daily. I find I must tie new growth to the trellises every other day. My tomato experiment this year is a new variety called Indigo Rose. The amount of purple pigment produced in the fruit depends entirely on how much sun reaches the fruit. Here’s one plant that gets a lot of sun:

Note how the fruits are mostly purple

Compare that picture with a shot of another plant of the same variety that is sited where it gets more shade:

Only the very tops of the fruits of this shaded Indigo Rose are turning purple.

Whatever degree of purple these fruits attain, I think they’ll look amazing in salads. I sure hope they taste good.

Meanwhile the Fortex Pole Beans have already shot over the top of their 6-foot trellis. Last year, these beans grew up and over the trellis, and then some of the vines started back up again. Given how early we are in the season, I’m thinking this year’s beans may overwrap the trellis multiple times. This makes for very challenging bean-harvesting conditions, because it’s hard to spot the beans hiding deep within the mass of foliage. A taller trellis wouldn’t solve my problem; I can barely reach the top of this one.

You can just about hear them shouting, “To infinity and beyond!”

The Jade Bush Beans were slow to get going, but are now starting to look fairly respectable. We love the flavor of these beans, which is why I still grow them, despite the complaints my knees make when I’m harvesting them.

Jade Bush Beans in foreground, squashes behind

And, as you can see from the first shot of this entry, all three squash varieties are producing with almost frightening enthusiasm.

Y-Star Patty Pan Squash

Raven Zucchinis have darker skin than most other varieties, including:

Spineless Perfection Zucchini — it does seem less prickly

That concludes this vegetable garden update, but I want to close with two more photos I took this morning.

First up is this young cottontail rabbit that was dining on clover growing in my driveway. Apologies for the blurriness, but the bunny was wiggly. Note the dark spots on its ears. Those are ticks, which is not only gross, but also explains why my front flower garden is so full of ticks that I can’t walk through it without picking up several. Yikes!

Young bunny with tick-infested ears

And I’ll close on a more aesthetic note. I grew this yarrow from seed years ago, and because, like most yarrows, it tends to spread itself around, its pretty pink flowers still adorn the edge of my vegetable garden every year. The nice thing about yarrow is that you can hack it back as much as you need without ever killing it.

Pink yarrow — tough and pretty

As Memorial Day weekend begins, I hope all my readers will be enjoying their yards and gardens as much as I am enjoying mine. Happy Summer, everyone.

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