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Winter Greens

October 7, 2011 by Uta Brown filed under Columns No Comments
From the Farm

I am trying to out maneuver the stinkbugs.

They are supposed to start going inside or hibernating around the middle of September. ( I don’t believe it.) However, now is the time to plant your fall greens, in the early/mid part of September, when the nights start to cool down so that the temperature of the soil isn’t too hot for the seeds to germinate.

This is a bit tricky but if you hit the timing just right, the seeds can germinate in as little as three days, provided they are fresh. Many people leave their gardens unused once the last of the tomatoes and peppers are picked. But,Virginia has a long growing season and many greens can overwinter. Spinach, romaines, kale, collards. Even without protection these greens will make it through to spring and start to regrow. With a little added protection they should make it easily through November and even beyond.

With a simple covering of clear plastic sheeting, held up by plastic hoops, you can heat the air space your greens are growing in by thirty or forty degrees above the ambient temperature. They will be toasty on the coldest days of winter if the sun is out. During the coldest and shortest days they will survive and go into a dormant state. Either way, you can have your greens most of the year. Seeds planted anytime in the fall will vernalize and come up the next spring. This gives you two or more weeks ahead of seeds planted in the spring, since the seeds resting in the soils have been “primed” for the warm weather and will germinate at lower temperatures.

I am growing bitter melons. I love this odd tasting vegetable. So far the stinkbugs seem to be leaving it alone, and that makes me wonder if, since it’s been grown historically in exactly the area from which the stink bugs came, perhaps it has developed some form of resistance. If not, I will find out soon, as the melons are forming.

When growing greens for winter pick the lettuces that do well up north. Most romaines are good winter growers. Bloomsdale spinach is fine, but so are many other types of spinach. Any kales, chicories and broccolis, especially the sprouting kind, can be grown now. Even vegetables with a sixty-day maturity date will mature sufficiently to harvest. Beets and chards can also be grown but expect that you will pick them very young for salads.

I’m growing several types of cichoriums, types of dandelions that chemical companies love to eradicate. The bitter greens, along with herbs and nuts, berries and other leafy greens are among the “super foods,” so you should try to include them in your diet for as long as possible, and as long as you can possibly pick them fresh from your garden, before you start to depend on the greens in the store. Store produce can never be as good as your own, especially if you grow them organically.

Since the stinkbugs climb over everything, probe everything and lay waste to everything, they will, hopefully, be gone by the time your greens are large enough to attract them. As I was preparing the old chard bed, I noticed them scurrying over the ground. I buried some, but they seemed to come right out of the soil!

Planting herbs all around and between your crops has always been an organic device to shoo away insects. Insects loathe anything in the mint family, and many herbs, including perennial ones, are “mint” species. Gina Faber, who organizes the Round Hill (Organic) Community Garden, and Julia Brizendine from FeedLoudoun stopped by, and Julia suggested using mint extracts in sprays for stinkbugs. This was very smart. While they have eaten or infected many other crops in my garden, the stinkbugs haven’t touched any of the herbs!

To speed up the germination of the seeds … fill a 50- or 72- cell tray with potting soil, or good compost, plant several seeds in each cell and keep the tray at between 65 and 75 degrees, which is what most people keep the temperature of their house. If your seeds are fresh they can germinate in three days. Immediately after they germinate, put the trays outside in the sun so that the cool air and bright sun will assure that the plants don’t get leggy. (Even without sun, outside is better.) Putting the tray by a window, unless it is a very sunny window, provides insufficient light. As long as the temperature remains mild – in the fifties or forties at night – the tray can remain outside. Most seeds germinate at temperatures about ten degrees warmer than they like to “grow on”. Keep the seedlings growing until they are a couple of inches high, then transplant into the garden. Most of these greens will do fine until heavy frosts, after which they can be protected by any number of different kinds of cloth or specialized covers sold in the garden catalogs.

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