Cool season crops have begun

transplants-2-weeks-old

When I was looking through what I plant each year, I realized I actually grow many varieties of cools season crops (like greens/lettuce). I started some seeds of cool season crops inside under lights but no heat on Jan 17!  I never put the heat mats on for cool season crop seeds, only for warm season crops and it is way too early for them just yet.

I started:
Asian greens: bok choy, pak choy, Wasabi arugula

Lettuces: 4 Season Lettuce butterhead, Yugoslavian Red butterhead, and Santoro butterhead lettuce. Can you tell I like butterheads?!

Leeks: Solaise, King Richard and American Flag

Onions: Candy (it is an intermediate or neutral variety) which is they type of onion we have to grow here.

Spinach: Carmel-Just planted the seeds today. Still have some spinach plants that have overwinter nicely outside in a raised bed with only winter weight row cover on it. By planting a crop of spinach last fall, I’m hoping I get a bumper crop of spinach in March! The variety of spinach I like the most is called Carmel which overwinter last year and looks to do the same this year. You can get seeds from Johnny’s or plants from Agua Fria Nursery.

4-season-lettuce

four season lettuce is looking good

Today I transplanted up lettuces and Asian greens to pony pots from seed trays. The plants are looking good but need to grow more before I put them out in my green house or cold frame. You can plant outside in sunny raised beds in March but all-greenhouse, cold frames or just plain old beds will need winter weight row cover on the little starts to protect them from our cold nights.  I’m hoping to put them out by beginning of March. The varieties I grow at this time of year are very cold hardy. I’m trying to get a head start as our cool season crop season is pretty short here before it gets too hot and everything bolts. And there is nothing better than spring spinach or lettuce!

More daylight hours/plants start to grow again

Growing Spinach and Lettuce in a Cold Frame

The Persephone period is over. Elliot Coleman in his Winter Harvest Handbook, coined this name. When daylight hours are less than 10 hours per day, the plants that are in the ground slow down or stop growing altogether during this time. This means that the spinach or mache you planted last fall had slowed down and by Thanksgiving stopped growing. The Persephone period can be longer or shorter depending on what latitude you live in. For us in Santa Fe, it is from Thanksgiving to Jan 14th.  In states that are further north, they are still in the Persephone period. As the daylight hours continue to get longer and longer, you should notice the plants starting to grow again. I grew ‘Carmel’ spinach last fall in one of my beds up by my house and it is still alive, covered with winter weight row cover. I did this the year before and it survived and gave me beautiful spinach by March that I was able to harvest 4 times before it became too warm. If you didn’t grow anything to overwinter, you can now start spinach, Asian greens like ‘Tatsoi‘ and ‘Baby Bok Choy’, mache and some very cold hardy lettuces like ‘Winter Wunder’ and ‘Marshall Red Romaine’ once the soil warms to 40•F+. If you keep them covered with winter weight row cover to protect them from our cold nights, you will be able harvest them in early spring barring any devastating deep freezes. If you can’t wait and want to speed up the process, start the seeds under lights inside now and transplant them next month in February. To find other extra cold hardy crops to grow, go here.

My favorite tomato for 2016!

lucky-cross1

I always plant several new varieties of tomatoes each year and the winner hands down for 2016 was:

LUCKY CROSS

lucky-cross-insideIt is a fantastic yellowish tomato with pink blush outside and inside as well. Sometimes they were more yellowish with pink overtones and sometimes more pinkish with some yellow overtones. No matter the color, it has an exceptional sweet flavor like a Brandywine. It never cracked or got diseases and was very prolific. It is a potato leaf variety. I haven’t been this excited about a tomato for a long time. It now beats my beloved Virginia Sweet tomatoes which are prone to cracks and diseases.

When I did some research on this tomato, the variety originally came from Craig LeHoullier (author of Epic Tomatoes). He stated it came from a Brandywine and an unknown bee-produced cross and had the luck to grow it out with these great attributes.  You can read the story of it from him here. No wonder I thought it tasted like a Brandywine! It is now a stable open-pollinated (OP) tomato and will grow out the same each generation. I saved some of the seeds from this beauty and will definitely grow it next season.

Extending the Season-Making a Low Tunnel

low-tunnel-2016

These broccoli transplants were put in on Aug 24, 2106

I taught a class in late August on Planting for a Fall Harvest where I showed the students you don’t have to have a Greenhouse to extend the season. You can also have a cold frame or even simpler is what I call a low tunnel. Now with the cold nights, you definitely need something over your new fall transplants.

low-tunnel-before-row-cover

Here is the frame of the low tunnel before row cover-just fencing material curled into a u-shape ready for plants underneath it

I like to make my low tunnels out of 2″ x 4″ fencing or even concrete reinforcement wire.  I just open up the fence roll, cut off enough so it will be curved above my plants and turn it upside down on the soil.

img_3998_1024

row cover over the low tunnel protects crops at night

Cover it with winter weight row cover (1.0 ml).  I put rocks on mine to keep it from blowing away. Now you have a secure low tunnel that will protect your plants during the shoulder season that is closing in on us quickly. What is a shoulder season? It is the time of year when the temperatures can drop quickly at night near freezing and then heat up in the day. The temperature shifts can swing wildly during the shoulder season. We have a shoulder season in spring and fall. By making a low tunnel, you can extend the season and grow vegetables like spinach, arugula, kale, lettuce, bok choy, mustard, mesclun, radicchio and other cool season crops much later. Fall is a great time to plant cool season crops and it’s not too late if you get transplants now. It might be too late if you start from seed unless it’s lettuce. Try to pick varieties that are cold tolerant.

Tomato Hornworms – finding them with UV light at night

tomato-hornworm1

I read that you can see tomato hornworms with a UV (ultraviolet) light. Two nights ago we went out to see if we could spot them. I had gotten a UV flashlight last year but didn’t receive it till after the first freeze so there wasn’t much to see. But not that night!  In the daylight I could only see the chewed up leaves on 2 plants but could not find the hornworms. But at night they are easy to spot with the UV light. We found many small ones as well as big ones that we would have missed if not for the UV light.

tomato-hornworm-bitemarks

Also we noticed that there seem to be either fluorescent bite marks or trails where they had been so if we saw these we would see if any were hiding. We probably got 30 tomato hornworms in all. What a great way to find them.

What’s with all these green tomatoes?

tomato_green tomatoes

I’ve lived here for 21 years and have never seen the tomatoes ripen this late. In fact the majority of them in my garden are still green. I have a few sungolds and black cherry tomatoes and one Pink Berkley Tie Dye and a couple of red ones ripen but that’s it-the rest are still green on the vine.

tomato_healthy plants

The plants are big and healthy. So what’s happening here?

Problem #1
The first problem was we had a hot June (except for one weekend) and an unbelievably hot July here with day after day of 92+°F. Why does that matter? Tomatoes won’t pollinate themselves over 92°f-they drop their blossoms, which is commonly known as blossom drop. They will keep producing blossoms but won’t set them producing tomatoes until it’s cooler. So we lost a whole month, putting us behind schedule.

Problem # 2
So once the monsoons thankfully came in, it got cooler and now we have green tomatoes in various stages of ripening. But suddenly, it got even cooler. So much so that it is starting to feel like autumn in August with temperatures dropping at night into the 50’s and daytime temps are much lower in the 70s. So although the tomatoes can’t have extreme heat to set fruit, they need heat to ripen. With cooler temps, it takes longer for tomatoes to turn red, or yellow, or black or whatever color they should be when ripe.

Normally I show up at the Farmers Market middle of August with 6-8 boxes of tomatoes that then increases to 15-20 boxes every week.

tomatoes_first harvest

Here is what I have now. Only 2 little bowls of tomatoes, getting a bowl a day-hardly enough to go to market with.

Now it is a race to get some tomatoes to ripen before our first frost which usually comes in October but one year it came in early September. Let’s hope not this year!

Last year I decided to slow down and take a little time off (farmer’s burnout) and that I might not go to the market as much nor grow as many tomatoes either. I have 40 tomatoes this year (lost three to curly top virus) so now I have 37 compared to 125 tomato plants last year. I guess I made a good choice as I’m not sure how long into Sept it will be before I have enough to go to market if at all before a frost.

What’s wrong with my tomato plant?

This has some excerpts from an earlier post in 2015 in June and new info as well in 2016. We are experiencing heavy pressure from the Beet Leafhopper which transmit a virus called Curly Top Virus (CTV) to tomato plants now in 2016. Please read below.

Photo credits: curly top disease - photo courtesy of http://ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=3352

Curly Top Virus (CTV) on tomatoes
Last year, the Beet Leafhopper which transmits ‘Curly Top Tomato Virus’ was rampant in our gardens and devastated many of our tomato plants. I lost only 1 plants out of 125  in 2015 to it but only because I take extraordinary measures to protect them. Here is some information on the beet leafhopper, how to identify it, symptoms and how to protect your plants.

The Beet Leafhopper flies in on the winds in early June through early July, jump on the tomato plants and taste them. It is a big problem in the Southwest and inland in California where it is hot. They don’t even like to eat tomato plants but sample them, transmitting the disease in the process, then fly off to visit other plants.

Identifying Beet Leafhoppers
The beet leafhopper is very small-about 1/8 inch long, pale green to light brownish green and has wings that look like a tent when folded up vs spread out like a moth. See photo on left. They come when conditions are dry, hot and windy. Sound familiar? This is typical June-early July weather here in the greater Santa Fe area.

You will know if they are in your garden as they come in and when you walk around your garden, you’ll see jumping little green bugs that fly off when you walk by. Then they leave—flying to the next garden. Because of this, you can’t really spray anything to get them because they hop so fast and only stay in the garden a short time—here today, gone tomorrow. By the time you notice something is wrong with your tomato plant, they are long gone. It takes about 2 weeks for symptoms to show up.

 

Symptoms
Your tomato plant leaves will start to curl and the underside of the leaves and veins will turn a purplish color.

curly top virus_helthy plant

Tomato Curly Top Virus-beginning stages on left and advanced stages on right


The leaves then start to wilt and the plant will look stunted. You might think it needs water but it doesn’t, it is sick and won’t recover. There is no cure for tomato plants with this disease. ‘Curly-Top Virus’ is only transmitted from bug to plant and is NOT transmitted from plant to plant hence you will see a healthy plant next to a sick plant. The pictures above show 2 plants with curly top. The first one is beginning to be sick with curly leaves and the veins will turn purple.  The second plant in the picture is advanced.

There is NO CURE for this virus and if your tomato (or pepper for that matter) shows signs of the disease, you should pull the plant. You could leave the plant in BUT if another wave of leafhoppers come by and a healthy leafhopper bites your sick plant, it only takes 10 minutes in 90°F weather for it to be able to transmit the disease to one of your healthy plants. The best thing to do is pull any sick plant and dispose of it. I don’t compost ANY tomato plant that shows disease.

Here are some remedies:
• Leafhoppers do not like shade and if your plants are partly shaded, that may help keep them off but since most of us grow tomatoes in full sun that might be difficult.

Create a physical barrier with row cover

Put row cover over tomato plants

• The main thing I do is create a physical barrier between the bugs and the plants.  I now cover all tomato plants with row cover until the bugs leave. Wrap the row cover around your tomato cage and put a piece on top of the cage BEFORE they come. I observe they either leave or are suppressed after the monsoons come in July when it is cooler and wetter. After the monsoons roll in, I take off the row covers BUT NOT UNTIL THEN.  I hope they come in soon as they are late right now. Tomatoes are self pollinating so they aren’t pollinated by bees or other pollinators. Another thing I’ve noticed is many of my purple or black tomato varieties seem to get hit hard. I wonder if they give off something that attracts the leafhopper? Right now all of my tomatoes are covered.

• Lastly you could put out some tomatoes later in the season after the bugs leave but you’ll have to put in early season varieties so you can still harvest before the season ends. I buy gallon size at that point so as not to be too far behind. Agua Fria Nursery still has 1 gallon tomatoes as of now. A couple of years ago when I was out at the Santa Fe Community Garden, I noticed many rows of sick tomato plants but one row of perfectly healthy plants and when I asked about them, it turned out they were put out about a month later than the rest of them and by then the leafhoppers were gone.

Dry, sunny, windy weather are perfect conditions for the leafhoppers so look out this summer-conditions are ripe again until the monsoons come!

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IMPORTANT NOTE:Now there are three cases where you may think you have curly top virus but may or may not have it.

Denver Downs Farm, Anderson, SC; High temperature on black plastic; lower leaves only.

Physiological Leaf Roll-Photo courtesy Clemson University

The first condition that may not be Tomato Curly top Virus is Physiological Leaf Roll that can happen on some tomatoes and could be caused by various factors including stress and that is not necessarily curly top-if you plant has rolled leaves but no purple veins as shown above, it possibly has physiological leaf roll and look for why it may be stressed. It is getting enough water, too much water, too much nitrogen? Also drought, pruning, root damage and transplant shock can all be reasons for leaf roll. For more info on this condition go here.

purple tomato_purlple leaves

Phosphorus deficiency in tomatoes happen when the weather is still cold-not in June.

The second condition is early in the season, not now. Sometimes the leaves turn purple when it is still cold outside. This is a phosphorus deficiency. This never happens in June or later when it is warm but more in May if you plant early and it is still cold outside.

The third condition (no pic) is if you are growing a purple or black variety of tomato your plant may have purple veins  so don’t pull it unless it start to looks sick with the curly leaves and looks like it needs water.