Category Archives: Brassicas

Further Adventures with “Perennializing” Brassicas

This week’s post continues a story that we first posted June 10, 2021. Here is a link to that story. (You will need to scroll down on that page to the June 10 posting.)

Our author is again Sequoia Ferrel, of Gaia Rising Farm on Guemes Island.

Further adventures with “perennializing” brassicas

By Sequoia Ferrel

posted September 10, 2021

  1. After you have harvested your brassicas — broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. — if you don’t pull it up, it will often try to regrow. Even if you cut it down to a stump but leave it in the ground, like this kale plant, it may make new shoots. For this kale plant I would cut it down to one shoot.

Picture 1 (above): Kale sprouting

2. Another kale plant that was completely cut off but you can see it really wants to come back.

Picture 2 (above): coming back!

  1. This is a cauliflower with old seed heads at the left and multiple new shoots coming up. I have had this plant for three or four years now giving me early cauliflower.

Picture 3 (above): multiple new shoots

  1. This is the same cauliflower after I cut out most of the shoots. I decided to leave four shoots for now, but I could have left just one or two. I can decide to cut some of these out later. It is good to keep checking on these things because they are likely to keep adding new shoots. You don’t want too many or you will get lots of tiny cauliflower heads instead of a few bigger ones.

Picture 4 (above): pruned

  1. I don’t remember if this is a broccoli or a cabbage that went to seed. In the same spirit of experimentation I will wait to see what happens.

Picture 5 (above): what to do with this?

  1. Here is what I did with that one. I just cut out several stems. I’ll probably take another look at it in a while and choose the strongest shoots and cut out some more.

Picture 6 (above): after…

So if you like to experiment and don’t immediately need the space, try growing some of your brassicas as perennials. Their roots are established, and they are hardy. You don’t have to fuss with seeds and small tender seedlings that can get chomped by slugs. And they will reward you with an earlier harvest than you would otherwise get.

Plan Ahead for Winter Brassicas

by Julia Frisbie

posted July 6, 2021

If you left any kale plants in your garden over winter, and neglected to pull them out this spring, you probably noticed the wonderful tall spray of yellow flowers, followed by loads of tiny purple/green seed pods. In my garden, the birds have been eagerly checking these seeds for ripeness.

Birds and kale work together in wonderful ways to support each other’s next generations. Right as baby birds are leaving the nest, kale spreads her arms open wide and offers several weeks worth of high-protein food, packaged neatly so only birds can get it, and stored on perches high enough to offer protection from ground predators. The fledglings visit again and again as they learn their way around the neighborhood, and as they go, they disperse whatever seed they don’t metabolize in an ever-widening radius. They leave it in warm, moist bundles of fertilizer under every appealing perch, often along hedgerows and under trees. Kale seedlings spring up in apparent delight. Baby birds and baby kale both get off to a good start. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass, “all flourishing is mutual.”

Following kale’s lead, we know that late-June to mid-July is a good time to plant her seeds. I learned from Linda Gilkeson’s Backyard Bounty that the same holds true for many frost tolerant biennials in the brassica family: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, raab, and cabbage. If you plant them in June or July, they become the backbone of your winter garden. It’s hard to think of winter just as our temperatures begin to climb… unless you notice the dance happening between birds and kale.

Once you watch the dance long enough, you learn the steps and get to join in. Last year I cut down a few of the seed stalks (leaving plenty behind for the birds) and let them dry on my shady front porch until they were light brown and rattling. Then I wrapped them up in a big cotton sheet and jumped on them for a while. After unwrapping them, I grabbed the sticks and the empty pods up by the handful for mulch, and was left with a slick pile of perfectly black, spherical seeds in the bottom of the sheet. I tipped them out into a pint jar.

All summer I scattered pinches of seed in city easements and along our favorite walking routes, but I still had too much left over. I thought to myself: what would the birds do? So I packed them up into little coin envelopes and mailed them all across the country as Christmas gifts to my far-flung loved ones. (If you got one of those, this is your reminder: scatter your kale seeds now!) I put the rest in Transition Fidalgo’s seed bank. Email info@transitionfidalgo.org if you’d like some. You have nothing to lose; only leafy greens and songbirds to gain.

Potatoes, Making Beds, and Snails and Slugs

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted April 5, 2021

Potato Planting

With the unsettled weather of late, my low-lying, lakeside garden plot is still a bit too wet to plant potatoes. The winter ground cover of annual rye has been tilled twice during the sunny days in between the bouts of rain. Once the soil is somewhat drier, and the last of the rye has decomposed, the tubers can go in. To avoid having to cut large potato sets into smaller pieces, I try to select egg-sized starts. I think of laying the small ovals into the deep furrow, and carefully covering them up with soil, as a post-Easter hiding-the-eggs ritual.

Later on, the harvest of all the full-sized spuds is a delayed treasure hunt. The hope is to dig up good-sized potatoes with as little disease as possible, either black scab on the outer skin or soft brown rot inside.

Planting Potatoes (Video Guide) - BBC Gardeners' World ...

Given our relatively mild, wet winters, potato diseases tend to linger on in the soil. To prevent buildup of disease, it’s especially important to plant disease-free seed, to rotate plantings each year, and to promptly remove any potentially diseased seedlings that may sprout from unharvested tubers, missed by the potato fork in the fall. Potatoes are the one carbohydrate reliably grown in the home garden, so guard the crop each year against the spread of disease.

 

Remaking the Beds

One of the few dry spots in the spring garden are the raised beds of the over-wintered leeks. Once the last of the alliums are harvested, the soil on the high mounds dries out quickly and can be worked up easily with a fork. The soft, white leek roots will dissolve easily back into the soil, maintaining the airy tilth of the ground. Since I grow various brassicas year-round, I have to make sure there are beds opening up that were not previously planted with any member of the cabbage family. Thus, my leek beds become the first place for starts of early cabbage and broccoli. At the opposite end of the cycle, the last of the over-wintered cabbages are just being used up. The cut stalks left in the ground are pushing out small side sprouts that are perfect for stir-fries, late additions to soups, or eaten fresh.

Brassicas are easily grown in each season, but they do require protection from insects in the spring. The cabbage root maggot fly appears early in the year and it will decimate seedlings. The only protection is to cover the plants completely with floating row material such as Agribon, carefully sealing all the edges on the ground with boards, metal fence posts, or soil. The plants must be kept isolated from the small fly, which lays its eggs near the stalk of any young brassica. The maggots then migrate through the soil to feed on the soft roots, causing seemingly healthy six-inch starts to suddenly keel over.

Factsheet - Brassica club root (283)

As the brassicas grow under the protective tent, the white material can be supported by metal or plastic hoops and secured in the wind by clamps. You can water plants through the row cover, but you will need to lift the cover to remove weeds, which thrive under the slightly warmer temperatures under the small hoop house. Once the brassica plant is full-sized, and the stalk is thick, the plant is relatively safe and the cover can be taken off.

But, the next insect soon appears, the white cabbage butterfly, dancing over the leaves, looking for a mate. As long as the throng of butterflies is not too thick, I don’t mind a small number of green caterpillars that will show up later on. If it’s a problem, keep the maturing plants under the row cover until it is time to harvest.

Actually, it’s quite a thrill to finally remove the row cover and reveal mature, healthy broccolis or cabbages underneath. Almost like magic.

 

Snails and Slugs

Snails and slugs are an important part of the natural composting cycle in nature. Think of them as digesters of the plant or organic material that accumulates on the ground. In the garden, however, if you have too many, they can become a problem. They’re especially attracted to young vegetable starts, so it’s important to start removing the initial spring buildup of these creatures. I find the easiest method is to lay boards by the side of the garden beds, or near any particularly wet spot. After their nighttime forays, the snails and slugs will hide out under the boards during the day. Flip the boards over, remove or squish the critters and replace the flat traps for the next accumulation. Also, keep an eye out for any nest of small, pea-sized, translucent slug eggs in your garden soil, most likely in an undisturbed spot, hidden just under the surface. Squish again, to prevent a new wave. With the advent of dry summer weather, the population of slugs and snails diminishes.

Pin by Sandy Camp on Yard | Snail, Photo, Ipm

But it’s wise to keep the numbers in check all season long.

Snails will also gather on the large stalks of over-wintering cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts, hidden by the thick layer of leaves and protected by their hard shells. My understanding is that the local population, which arrived here as an invasive species a few decades ago, are Asian land snails, not the edible variety consumed in Europe. Nor are they the small, but tasty Turk’s Head snails served along with sushi in Japan. A flock of free-range ducks would gladly eat the snails in your garden, but that involves another level of animal husbandry.

Note: I use Sluggo pellets in small amounts only when necessary to protect small starts during very wet weather. Any paste or liquid snail bait can be fatal to birds, who pick up the chemical on their feet.

Harvest Season

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted September 14, 2020

 

Harvest Season

During the high levels of smoke locally from all the forest fires on both sides of the state, I’ve been spending my extended time indoors processing the garden harvest.

To date I’ve made three kinds of sauerkraut: first, a plain or ‘Naked Kraut,’ as the fermenting book labels it, just green cabbage and sea salt; second, a Middle Eastern style kraut made with Za’atar, an spice blend that includes sumac, a tart lemon-flavored herb; and third, Curtido, a Latin American style kraut with carrots, onions, garlic, oregano, cumin, and dried chiles. So far, while fermenting in the cool pantry, the krauts have withstood the recent high temperatures that might spoil them. The key is to check the large gallon jars everyday, tamping down the cabbage back into the brine, to vent all the bubbling.

And of course tasting a bit each time to see how close it is to being done.

Next up to try will be a German Blaukraut made with red cabbage, tart apples and caraway seeds. After each kraut is sufficiently fermented, between 7 to 14 days, it is ladled into quart jars, topped with fresh grape leaves, the lid is tightened, and the jar can be stored in a fridge for up to a year. When the garden gives you lots of cabbage, make sauerkraut.

The last of the pickling and Persian cucumbers have been put in salt brine to ferment for 12 days, along with garlic cloves, dried cayenne chilies, bay leaves, and both mustard and dill seeds. A grape leaf goes on top to keep the cukes submerged in the brine. Hopefully a New York style deli sour pickle will develop. Again, daily monitoring is needed to clean off any scum on top and to add fresh brine as needed. After fermenting is done, the pickles can be stored in the fridge for a year, all the while maintaining their probiotic levels since they were not heat processed. Old style fermentation is now back in style as the latest in diet health.

Finally, the tomatoes all got very ripe due to the hot winds that initially brought in the forest fire smoke. To deal with the full flats of tomatoes, I used a high speed food processor to pulp the cored tomatoes and I froze the pulp in quart containers. I combined all the tomato types into one all-purpose puréed sauce: the Early Girls and the Big Beefs, the Romas and San Marzanos, and the soft heirlooms such as Mortgage Lifter and Old German Mennonite. The regular table tomatoes supply lots of juice, the Italian varieties add thick flesh, and the heirlooms provide sweetener and flavor. Very similar to mixing varieties of apples to make a good, balanced fresh cider.

 

Return of the Aphids

After the rainfall in late August the aphids returned to their favorite site, the brassicas. White, translucent aphids reappeared hidden inside the top buds of the Brussels Sprouts, so this time I broke off the bud tip and doused the area with a mild detergent soap spray. I also removed some bottom sprouts lower down that had turned black or were beginning to open up into small off-shoots, and gave the entire lower stem area a squirt of soap to deter any other aphid colonies. In contrast, black aphids appeared on the fall cabbages, collards and broccoli starts that were just taking off. Again, a dose of soap spray will hopefully keep these aphids in check. There’s always an insect waiting to dine on the garden before you get to eat.

 

Smoke in the Air

I was interested in the effect of the extended days of smoky air on the garden plants. The newly sprouted fall greens, turnips, and miner’s lettuce seemed unaffected but still needed their daily watering to keep from drying out. In the hoop house, with an outside temperature staying around 60F degrees most of the day, the ambient solar radiation still managed to raise the interior temperature to 79F degrees with the sides closed. The heat will help ripen the last of the peppers: the Italian Red Roasters, the Early Jalapeños, the Padrones and Anchos, as well as the small but potent Cherry Bombs. Not to forget the North Stars, the regular green peppers that if given the chance will eventually turn red on the stem.

The Summer Pivot

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted August 3, 2020

The end of July is the mid-point in the growing season: most of the early spring crops such as peas and lettuce are succumbing to the heat; the broccoli and cauliflower are just about done for now, along with the artichokes. The main summer produce, such as beans, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are about to come into full production. All the gardening energy that previously went into raising and cultivating plants switches at this point to immediate plans for harvesting, consuming and preserving.

In August, when I’m working in the garden, the first thought each day is which vegetables need to be picked right now. Then, how am I going to prepare them once they’re in the kitchen, and finally how can I put up the inevitable surplus into storage jars or freezer packets. My first step is always dealing with the most fragile thing I just picked, usually the constantly flowering tips of the basil plants. Since the delicate leaves turn black very quickly, they go right into the blender along with garlic, olive oil and a little lemon juice, to make a base for either pesto (with Parmesan) or a pistou (without Parmesan) sauce. Both versions can be easily frozen in pint jars for a year-round supply of fresh basil. At this time of the year I keep a fresh jar in the fridge, mostly of a quick pistou, and put it on everything from toast to roasted eggplant.

My standard way of preparing crunchy vegetables such as snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower or green beans is to blanch and then immediately chill them in very cold water. They’re ready to serve cold along with a preferred dip, or just plain, since they have that touch of sweetness that comes with fresh picked produce. I think of them as vegetable antipasti, to be accompanied by a few olives and some cheese.

The snap peas are blanched for only a minute or two, the broccoli flowerets and green beans a bit longer. Wait for the green vegetables to turn a brighter, slightly iridescent green and then quickly remove to the cold water bath to stop the cooking process. A few ice cubes always helps, especially for the snap peas. Cauliflower needs to blanch a bit longer, to when it just starts to get soft, before transferring it to the cold bath.

The benefit of the blanch and chill process is that the vegetables are also now ready for freezing. Except for the snap peas, which are too delicate, any surplus can go straight into a freezer bag. To prevent ice build up make sure to dry the chilled produce off first and then squeeze out as much air from the filled bag. In the deep of winter the green or white bits of summer are welcome additions to soups or stews.

The flow of peppers has begun as well, led off by the sweet yellow Gypsy variety. Besides having them fresh, I also roast them for a Provençal style appetizer. Cut them in half, remove the seeds and stem, brush the skins with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and place skin side up on parchment paper in a roasting pan. I let them brown or char slightly under the broiler for a smokey flavor. I freeze the extras, stacked flat in quart bags for later use.

Currently in the garden, the Blue Lake pole beans have reached the top of the three parallel 8-foot high x 8-foot long trellises and are trying to go higher still. To keep the beans within reach, I am training the ever upward spiraling stems to go horizontally onto connecting rafter poles laid between the tops of the trellises. It is a daily task since the leaders, following the call of heliotrophism, constantly keep growing towards the sun. The aim is to have a leafy arbor between the trellises, with the later ripening beans from the upper parts of the plants hanging straight down overhead, making for easy picking, though it will take a step ladder to reach them. But the initial rush of beans will start lower down on the side walls of the trellises. An Arch of Beans.

The Wet and the Dry

By Peter Heffelfinger

June 29, 2020

 

The Wet

It certainly has been a wet month, with hard rains causing germination or mold problems. I am still waiting to see if my third planting of corn will sprout enough to fill in the bare soil in the rows from the first two disappointing seedings. As well, some of the 6-inch high onion plants developed mold around the bulbs and had to be discarded. But the peas soaked up all the rain and kept climbing up what seemed like an endless water spout.

Another sign of the high moisture level was the arrival of aphids, hiding in their usual beginning spot, deep inside the tender central growing tips of brassicas, in this case a bed of young Lacinato kale. An easy treatment is to spray the leaf cluster area with a light solution of detergent and water. The soap attacks the soft exoskeleton of the aphids that are sucking out the juices of the plant. Once aphids are present on a crop, keep a constant watch for their reappearance and keep spraying them at first sight. The soap solution does not affect the plant tissues, and is easily washed off, usually by the next garden watering. Check the site for several days to make sure there are no remaining aphids present, keep an eye out for any re-occurrence, and have the soap spray bottle at hand.

Aphids often spread to other plants, especially inside the top buds of Brussels sprouts. Check the long-standing plants often, carefully unfolding the tightly wrapped central growing cluster of leaves at the top of the stalk. Drench with the soapy solution if there are aphids hiding deep inside, and make sure to check the lower side-buds as well, once they start to form over the summer. In general, if the stems of any plant do get covered with aphids, discard the entire plant, in order to immediately to check the infestation. Aphids are endemic here, and will keep reappearing at intervals; but careful, organic pest management will control them.

There’s a good side to all the rain, though. The early broccoli crop has been abundant, the spring cabbages are already reaching full size, and the first small white crowns of cauliflower are forming. With our extended daylight hours of summer, cauliflower heads may start to sprout or discolor prematurely before getting full-sized. Lightly cover the central area of the plant by cracking, but not completely severing, the stems of a few of the outer cauliflower leaves and then folding them over the emerging heads. Complete the makeshift parasol by adding on top a few large, aged cabbage leaves. Keep the cauliflower heads in the dark. Wait for the head to grow to full size and pick while the curds are still tight. Fresh, homegrown cauliflower eaten straight from the garden is incredibly sweet compared to the commercial product that has been aging in transport.

A note on the garlic harvest. Some gardeners in the Dewey Beach area had to pull their already-mature garlic last week. For my crop out in the Valley, the last of the scapes have just been removed. Hopefully there will be a dry spell of our Mediterranean-style summer to properly mature the plants just before lifting in mid-July. For more information on when to harvest garlic, see the link below to the recent New York Times article on Filaree Garlic Farm, a commercial garlic seed grower in the Okanogan. Nice to know an extensive seed bank of the many types of garlic from all over the world exists on the dry side of our state. (Thanks to Jan Hersey for sending me the link.)

 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/realestate/grow-garlic-garden-organic.html?smid=em-share

[ A subscription to the NY Times is required to read this article]

 

The Dry

Inside the hoop house, the main issue is watering, given the heat buildup that starts each morning as soon as the early sun hits the walls. I try to conserve water since I rely on an Artesian well that slows down in late August. Over the years I’ve tried various mulches, including black plastic and biodegradable paper mulch, to keep the soil moist, but I now prefer to leave the soil open to the warm air. I currently water using the half-gallon black plastic pots the tomato plants came in to make individual mini-cisterns half-buried next to the stems of each plant. The pots create an efficient deep-watering system.

For tomatoes, I cut the bottom off the thin-walled rectangular pots and drive the edges halfway down into a small, excavated area next to the plant and berm up soil around the outer sides of the pot. I fill the pots with a hose, letting the water seep down to the roots, with no leaks off the side of the raised mound. I do water the surface soil around the stem as well, but the pots supply the bulk of the irrigation.

For peppers, which don’t need quite the same volume of water, I use the thicker-walled cylindrical pots as is. The bottom drainage holes are buried 2-3 inches deep; the pot is located in between the plants, which are spaced 18” apart in the row. As with the tomatoes I water the soil surface around the stem of the plant a bit as well, to keep the surface moist, but most of the irrigation filters down to the roots. 

For both the tomatoes and peppers I let the cold well water warm up for a day in a 50-gallon barrel before applying it, via a gravity-fed hose, to what are originally tropical plants now being grown in a northern temperate zone. Keep their feet warm and wait for that first red tomato or full-sized pepper.

How to Perennialize Brassicas

Story and Photos by Sequoia Ferrel

June 10, 2020

I know. I made that up. It isn’t a verb. But in the relatively mild winters of the Pacific Northwest, we can sometimes grow brassicas as perennials, hence I like to “perennialize” some of mine.

After you harvest a cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and the like, if you leave the plant in the garden, most often it will continue to grow for years. I once had a purple-sprouting broccoli plant growing for multiple years before I cut it out.

The basic strategy is this: after you harvest your crop, you leave the plant to do its thing, which is flower and set seed. If you try to interfere by cutting off the sprouts it will be futile because the plant won’t give up on making its seed. But once the seed is made, eventually the plant will put out lots of new growth, usually around its base, and you can prune off all the old growth.

If you leave all the new sprouts, the plant will dissipate its energy and you might get 20 tiny cauliflowers (or whatever it is you’re growing). So you’ll want to thin the new growth by breaking or cutting them off.

You may have to keep thinning if the plant is determined to make lots of shoots. If you want, just leave one shoot or try for 2 or 3 (or more). Multiple shoots will sometimes still create good-sized stalks and maybe you’d rather have smaller heads anyway. Then next spring, you’ll get your second harvest much earlier than if you had planted new starts. And you can do this again and again each year.

I’ve had the best results with cauliflower, possibly because it doesn’t seem to make flower stalks once you rob it of its main flower (the cauliflower). I’ve sometimes been able to cut a cabbage in the fall and have the plant make a new cabbage but sometimes it will want to make a flower stalk. I haven’t quite figured out the timing on that, but you should be able to coax another cabbage out the next season.

So if you don’t need the garden space for something else and you like to experiment, go ahead and try to “perennialize” some of your favorite brassica veggies.

 

Above: Big Cauliflower

The second picture (below left) shows one plant that put up 3 good sized cauliflower stalks, one of which had already been cut. The two pictures on the right below show the new shoots coming up after a broccoli (or some brassica) has been cut back. And next, the same plant after being pruned back to the two strongest shoots

A New Backyard Pest; and much more

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted June 8, 2020

A new backyard pest

I spent several days this week dealing with an infestation of what looked like tiny, black, leaf-eating caterpillars that swarmed over a mature stand of highbush cranberry shrubs and also onto one nearby snowball bush. The leaves were skeletonized, leaving the stems and veins intact, by what resembled tiny leeches with legs, crawling up the main trunks to get to the foliage. The only solution was to cut down the tall shrubs completely and take them to the burn pile for immediate incineration. I am hoping I got rid of enough of the pests before they invade a nearby prized Japanese maple or a Korean dogwood that is in full bloom.

The soft cranberry shrub leaves were more susceptible than the thicker leaves on an adjacent shiny laurel, which was also covered by what looked like sticky frass, the technical term for insect droppings. So the laurel went as well, just to be safe. The recent heavy rains and lush undergrowth may have been part of the cause, but it is the first time I have seen such an invasion on mature shrubs that I have been growing and pruning for several decades. It certainly felt like an outbreak that had to be dealt with firmly. I will be on the lookout for further signs and will try to identify the critters specifically.

 

Tomato pollination

As the tomatoes climb up their supports and start to flower, it is important to remember that in order to set fruit the plants need to be kept above 50F degrees at night. When closing up the hoop house in the evening to maintain the heat, I give the tomato cages a quick shake to get the pollen out into into the air. Hopefully the small green buttons of nascent tomatoes will soon start to appear. The cherry tomatoes always come first, given their small size, leading the way for the larger standard varieties.

 

Vegetable perennials: artichokes and asparagus

I grow a bed of the standard Green Globe artichokes, which are just coming on. They are a welcome treat, but somewhat bland-tasting, and must be picked before they get too tough. I do have one bush of purple artichokes, Violetta de Provence, an Italian variety that produces smaller chokes, but with a much more delicate flavor. When picked early, you can eat almost the entire bud. Gourmet thistles.

The other garden perennial is the bed of asparagus, which is just reaching maturity in its third season. It has been worth the wait. Now one can pick a high percentage of the stalks, which are decidedly sweet when eaten straight from the garden. A key to a sustained harvest is to keep the bed well watered as the roots send up the shoots.

 

Broccoli

The first rush of ripe broccoli is also here, having recently emerged from their floating row cover. I blanch the flowerets for a few minutes just until they turn bright green, then quickly chill in cold water. I like them as an appetizer dipped into a sauce of mayonnaise mixed with a bit of dry mustard and a spritz of lemon juice. I have also found that the plain stems can be eaten as well if you cut them into small slices or julienned strips and blanch them a bit longer than the tops before chilling. If the stem is particularly tough, use a vegetable peeler to get rid of the thick skin. Eat the whole vegetable.

Late Spring in the Garden

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted June 1, 2020

 

First Brassicas

The early spring plantings of brassicas finally emerged this week from their protective cocoon of floating row cover, revealing small heads of broccoli that will be cutting size soon, as well as cabbages just starting to head up. It’s always a pleasure to free up the maturing plants straining against the white cloth, having successfully avoided any root maggot fly infestation, and only a few snails hiding out on the lower leaves. It is also a reminder that the late spring/early summer crop of brassica starts will need to go in soon. The cycle of year-round cole plants keeps turning.

Corn

I usually wait until June 1st to plant corn, allowing the soil to heat up to 60F degrees. Too often early sowings succumb to seed rot and poor germination. This year I jumped the gun a bit during the sunny week after Memorial Day and got my corn planted. Hopefully the day of rain that came soon after will be just enough to start the seed growing, but not too much to cause a problem.


Corn is always a favorite crop, if you have the space to grow it, as well as a reliable supply of water. Corn plants require consistent watering for their tall stalks, large leaves and the eventual ears. I enjoy the sound of the rustling leaves in the wind, and am always amazed at the process of the tassels shedding pollen down to fertilize the delicate hairs that lead to each individual kernel.
With the recent pattern of warmer summers, sweet corn has become more reliable to grow in the Northwest garden. I plant three varieties, a standard yellow such as Bodacious, a bi-color called Peach & Cream, and my favorite, a long-season white such as Silver King.
Corn is one of the easiest vegetables to process for freezing. I blanch the ears for several minutes in boiling water, quickly chill in cold water to stop the cooking, and then slice off the kernels with a sharp knife. To preserve the real sweetness of fresh corn, use the back of the knife blade to scrape down all the milky juice from the cob and mix it in with the cut kernels. When defrosted and cooked for just a few minutes you will have the taste of fresh corn, almost as good as ears of corn fresh picked from the garden.

Tomatoes, Peppers, and Cukes

In the hoop house, tomato plants are leafing out vigorously and climbing up the rungs of the cages and a few flowers are appearing. The important thing is to trim off any lower leaf stems touching the soil, to avoid fungus infections. Consistent watering is required to promote steady growth as well as to avoid leaf curling, which can be a sign of either too much or too little water. To complicate matters, individual varieties may show different levels of water tolerance. Out of my 20 tomato plants, only one variety, a Sweet Million cherry tomato, has signs of leaf curl but still looks healthy, so I eased up on the water a bit. Gardening is always a mix of monitoring and adjusting.

Some of my peppers, bought early on from one source, were lagging behind others purchased later, so I dosed the smaller plants one time with liquid fish fertilizer, 2 tbsp. per gallon of water, to green them up a bit. I also pinched back all the peppers after they were planted, removing the first solo top buds in order to encourage branching and a greater number of secondary buds.

The cucumbers are finding their way onto their wire trellis, from the early Marketmore slicers, to the later planted Persians just starting appear, as well as a few pickling cuke starts just added to round out the collection. At some point in the summer there will be a first salad featuring homegrown cukes, tomatoes, and peppers to go with all the fresh lettuce that has been growing outside the hoop house.

A Potato Problem; and a Perennial Brassica

By Peter Heffelfinger

Posted May 25, 2020
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I’ve grown potatoes successfully for many years, always making sure to rotate my plantings each year, and to avoid disease using new potato seed instead of the last of my stored potatoes. I try to get mostly egg-sized seed potatoes to plant whole, and cut any larger ones into separate pieces with at least 2-3 eyes. I dry the cut ones for a day, to let the cut surface dry out.

This year, however, whole sections of the rows never sprouted, particularly the favorite Yukon Golds, with failure also in parts of the Cal Whites and a few of the Red Lasodas. When unearthed, the affected seed potatoes were all rotted, with no sprouts, particularly the ones that had been cut. Was the problem in the seed itself or in the soil? Or did the cutting open them to fungi? The area had been in pole beans and winter squash last year, and corn the year before, so soil rotation should not have been a concern. Plus, I had grown potatoes there in prior years. Very disappointing, since potatoes are as an easy and usually reliable crop.

Although there would be plenty of time to replant, the supply of seed potatoes is long gone, given this year’s surge in gardening interest. When a garden setback occurs, the best thing is to fill the gap quickly. So I planted winter squash starts to cover the bare soil: Cinderella‘s Coach, Kabocha, and Sweetmeat. Hopefully the fact that winter squash and pumpkins had been planted in the same area last year will not be an issue. Plus, the plot had a winter cover crop of annual rye that had been tilled in. Gardens are always an experiment and often an exercise in overcoming adversity.

Note: if anyone else had problems with their seed potatoes this year, please let me know. As in past years, my seed came from the hardware store in town.

A Perennial Brassica

Many years ago I received a gift packet of seeds from a pair of pilgrims who had walked the Camino and then returned the next year to serve as hostel hosts on the Path. The seed was an extremely frost-resistant variety of Kale, with large flat leaves like collards, and commonly grown in gardens in Galicia, thriving in the rainy winter coastal climate similar to the Maritime Northwest. Most unusual for a brassica, it was a perennial, not dying back after going to seed the second season. Each year the plant gets larger and bushier, makes flowers for seed, and surrounds itself with multitudes of seedlings. Fittingly, the tall, thick stalks are fashioned by local craftsmen along the Camino into lightweight walking sticks for the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella. Holy Brassica.

Sadly, the couple who had originally brought me the seed have now both passed on. So, in their memory I maintained several of these everlasting Spanish kales, until finally the plants got too large and had to be removed to make space. But the original plants left behind a store of viable seed in the soil. Even after several years, I found numerous seedlings sprouting up where the parent plants had been. So, as a way of perpetuating the variety, I transplanted them this year into super-sized pots meant for small trees and installed them as mementos in my non-vegetable backyard, hoping they will survive the deer who graze there each evening. I look forward to seeing the large green leaves, as emblematic to me of the Camino as the mileposts there marked with the sign of the pilgrim’s scallop shell.

Note: the variety is officially known as Cabbage-Kale, and originated in the Isle of Jersey.