Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Perfect for plants, perfect for insects!

     This week saw the final big transplanting sessions in the garden.  Our biggest job in the spring is taking all of the babies we’ve started in the greenhouse and getting them out to the field.  We want to get them in nice and early so they will be ready to harvest sooner.  But we can’t plant too soon or they may get nipped by cool weather.  For each crop cool weather is a little different.  Cool season crops like lettuce and kale don’t even mind a light frost very much.  But peppers will complain if the nights get below 50.

                Besides transplanting seedlings the other method we use to plant is to direct seed crops.  We do this for crops like lettuce mix, arugula, beets, and radish.  These small, quick growing crops don’t appreciate the root disturbance that comes from transplanting.  To direct seed a crop we have to start with a totally weed free, nicely loosened garden bed.  We can’t have any weeds because they will quickly out compete the crop that is trying to sprout from seed.  The soil has to be the right texture so that the vegetable seed will come into contact with moist soil for water and nutrients.  But we don’t want to pack it down too tightly or else it’s like asking the seed to grow in a brick. 

                This week the seeds we planted: lettuce mix, arugula, and radish all came up in about 2 days!  This is incredibly fast germination because the temperature and moisture conditions were ideal.  Back in the early spring when the soil was still cool (probably about 55 degrees) lettuce mix took a solid week to germinate.  We like it when the vegetables germinate faster because it gives them an edge over the next round of weeds (there’s always a next round of weeds).  It also means that it will be ready to harvest sooner.  The tricky part about accelerated germination and growth is that a later succession of a crop can catch up to an early one providing and over abundance one week and leaving a hole in the harvest the next.  For example: we might plant lettuce mix 1 week apart.  But the weather is so much better for growth the second week that that planting comes up only a few days behind the first.  Now that its up and the weather is nice it might even catch up.  To help solve this problem we try to space out the planting longer and longer as the spring goes on.  So the early successions might be 1 week apart while later successions space out to almost 2 weeks.

                A downside of this perfect plant growing weather is that it is also perfect insect growing weather.  We’ve had our hands full with several of our common pests.  Squash bugs are starting on the squash, cucumber beetles have enjoyed their favorite appetizer of swiss chard and are now headed to the cucumbers themselves.  In the potatoes a herd of potato beetles was munching until we got out there with one of our biological controls and took care of them!  The other big muncher is a small insect: the flea beetle.  The fleas beetle got its name form its small dark look as well as its habit of leaping away form threats.  It particular enjoys eggplant (which we think we saved just barely) and certain cabbage family plants like arugula, mizuna, and tatsoi .  You may notice small holes in the spicy salad mix leaves-that’s the handiwork of our friend the flea beetle.

                Out in the big vegetable field we are enjoying a subtle flower show.  Our potatoes are blooming!  We grow a nice variety of potatoes for the CSA and for ourselves.  This year we are trying a purple variety as well as a red, white, and gold type.  After the plants have grown for a month or so they send out delicate flowers at their tops.  The flowers are not necessary for crop production because the potatoes we eat are all clones of the mother seed potato.  This year the purple type has one of the nicest flowers: a lavender petal with a rich buttery center.  We’re looking forward to the potatoes later this summer!

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