Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of Season Review - Spinach & Swiss Chard


Spinach

This was my first time growing spinach and it was, without question, the crop that I had the most trouble with.

I grew three varieties of spinach – Monstrueux de Viroflay, Galilee, and Tyee - and I had problems with all of them.  These issues ran the gamut from seeds not germinating (Viroflay), to seedlings bolting before or shortly after transplanting (Galilee), to spider mites (Tyee).  And all of the varieties were decidedly sparse in their growth.

My overall favourite in terms of taste was Viroflay.
 
Monstrueux de Viroflay
 
Galilee came in second, although I was only able to harvest a handful of it - literally.
 
Galilee - Bolting shortly after transplanting
 
I liked Tyee as well - it came in a close third.
 
Tyee
All three varieties of spinach were grown in succession in the same 2 x 3 ft. spot.  And my overall yield was paltry to say the least.


 
 
Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year

Even with all the issues this year, I have high hopes that I can someday grow a good stand of spinach.  I will persist and next year will be better…I hope.

The spinach area was in a shadier bed overall.  This was then compounded by being overshadowed by the peas for most of the summer.  I'm guessing that the lack of direct sunlight had a lot to do with the lackluster growth.  Next year the spinach is being placed in a sunnier bed so we shall see if that makes the difference.  I did add manure, organic fertilizer, etc., to the spinach bed each time I planted a new set of seedlings so I don't think that the lack of growth was due to inadequate fertility.

As for seed germination, only the Viroflay had issues so I will be purchasing fresh seed next year (although this year they were newly purchased from Baker Creek as well, so I'm doubtful that stale seed was the cause of my issues).  I will likely try two or three germination methods for this variety next spring.  If I didn't love the taste & texture of Viroflay so much, I would likely drop it.

So both Viroflay and Tyee are on the list for next year.  I may also try to grow Galilee again in the shorter days of early spring as its bolting was likely a day length issue.

I purchased Winterbor this past summer in the hopes of overwintering some spinach for an early spring crop.  Unfortunately, I never did get around to sowing it, so that will be part of the plan for next fall.  In addition, I want to try at least two other varieties.  I figure that that more varieties I try, the greater the chance of my coming across one that grows well for me.  I suppose the same can be said for most crops....


Swiss Chard

I only grew one variety of Swiss chard – the same variety I have grown for the past three years – Forkhook Giant.  In the early part of the summer, I had some leaf miner damage so I covered the bed with netting.  This bed is also near some trees that have branches that extend over the bed and birds were sitting on those branches and pooping on the chard.  So I placed a layer of Agribon over the netting to keep the chard relatively poop free.

By the third week in June, I took the netting off the bed.  Other than a tiny bit of damage at the end of July on a couple of the leaves, I didn’t have any more significant miner damage and the netting stayed off for the rest of the season.

I didn't make a note of when I removed the Agribon, but I'm thinking it wasn't until August.  At that point, I didn't see much poop on it anymore and was hoping to increase the amount of light that was reaching the chard as I was already noting that their growth was slowing down.
 
Fordhook Giant
 
The 2014 yield was ok, but not great.  There was enough for me to put a few packets in the freezer for eating over the winter, so that was good.



 
The chard grew quite well earlier in the season, but then it slowed down over the summer.  Even with the slow down, I was really surprised when the per square foot yield turned out to be similar to last year, especially as I started harvesting the chard one month sooner & continued to harvest for two weeks longer in the fall.  And other than the leaf miners in June, the chard was a fairly easy crop this year - unlike last year when I had a whole whack of issues (which I talk about below).

The bottom line is that if I had not weighed my harvests, I would have guessed (with a good degree of certainty) that this year was much more productive than last year.  Obviously, my perceptions were way off.


Prior Year Comparison

2012

My first year of growing chard was a total failure.  I sowed the seeds directly in the bed, they germinated, grew a bit and then just sat there for the rest of the summer.  The largest plant was only 5” tall, if you can believe it!  I then realized that I had forgotten to incorporate compost or any other soil amendment into that bed – mystery solved.

2013

I sowed both a spring & fall round of chard in 2013 – I have since learned that one spring sowing is usually enough as chard will continue to produce all season long and into the fall.

The spring sown transplants were doing fine until the rabbits came along and had a meal.  They munched the plants practically to the ground.  I subsequently put up fencing, leaving the plants as they were, & they slowly recovered, but I didn’t get a first harvest until August 1st.

Three Swiss Chard Plants in early June 2013
- On the road to recovery after being munched to the ground by rabbits -
 
I didn’t incorporate any manure into the beds but did add plenty of compost, so, unlike the prior year, I did get some good growth.

Most of my 2nd round of transplants got  hit with damping off and keeled over.  Those that did make it into the ground were fine until the early fall, when they started to disappear.  I wasn’t sure if the culprits were slugs or earwigs, but with my recent experiences in the slug department, I’m pretty sure that slugs were in fact to blame.  All in all, 2013 was a trying Swiss chard year.  At least I got a decent harvest for my efforts.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

The slowdown in growth starting in mid-summer may have been due to the fact that I only added supplemental fertilization (fish emulsion) a couple of times over the entire season.  The chard could likely have done with a much more frequent fertilizing schedule.  On the other hand, this year I added plenty of manure & organic fertilizer to the bed when I was prepping it (unlike last year when I only added compost), and the per sq. foot yield in both years was roughly the same.

This convinces me that the most important factor in the lack of growth this year was likely the location, as the chard was in the shadiest bed in the garden.  And I'm sure the poop catching Agribon didn't help matters in the sunshine department either.

Next year, I plan to fertilize the chard patch every 3 weeks.  I will also cover the bed with netting in May in an effort to avoid that early flush of leaf miners.

As for shade, the chard will be rotated to a different bed next year, so it will receive much more sun and there will be no need for the Agribon.  I have three beds in the garden that are shadier than the rest so I am trying to come up with a crop rotation plan that will place plants that tolerate some shade (such as chard) in these beds.  Unfortunately, that will impact on how much they produce, especially in those years when they are in the shadiest spot which is bed #8 – where the chard was this year.

As for varieties – Fordhook Giant is good but all season I was envious of the lovely colourful chards being grown by others in the blogosphere.  I will probably grow a few Fordhook Giants, but will also add at least one colourful variety to the mix, probably Bright Lights.
 
This is the last post of the year, so I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year - see you all in 2015!!!

Till next YEAR!

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

21 comments:

  1. You aren't alone Margaret--I can never seem to get a decent crop of spinach. Both my spring and fall sowings (direct) had poor germination, and what did sprout seemed to bolt almost immediately. Chard is just a better growing plant, and makes in my mind a good cooked alternative (not raw of course). Happy New Year!

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    1. You know, nothing makes a person feel better about a bad harvest than knowing that they are not alone! And I completely agree on using chard as an alternative to fresh - I've done that several times already and it's great.

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  2. At least the birds only poop on your chard, around here they eat it too. I think you're going to have fun with the colorful chards. You might be interested in reading a Mother Earth News article about growing fall spinach, it has a good explanation about why spinach bolts. http://bit.ly/1tlhljwfallspinach They also have another article about growing spinach that covers spring planting as well (I didn't copy the link). I found both of them very helpful when I started growing spinach, I've only had success at it the last couple of years myself.

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    1. Thanks for the links! After reading the one on fall planting, I'm thinking that I won't have much luck with the spring planting of Galilee. I can't see getting the plants into the ground much sooner than the beginning of May & the article says that day length may encourage bolting as early as mid-May - yikes! I'll probably give it a go anyway but at least I'll know it wasn't entirely my fault when the plants bolt...I love Mother Earth News!

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  3. Happy New Year! I forgot to add that to the last comment.

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    1. Thanks Michelle - hope that you have a wonderful evening tonight!

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  4. I tried the Bright Lights chard this year---my first attempt at growing chard. It did fantastic---to the point I couldn't find enough neighbors to take it all.
    The spinach I tried did well---it was the variety 'Space'. I have heard that you NEED to buy FRESH seed yearly for it. I don't usually have a germination problem--it's more of a slug problem this year--something I thought I'd never have (NEVER say never!!)
    I so love your notes and always look forward to them. No New Year's Resolution needed by you !! I know I need to do a much better job on mine......
    Happy New Year!

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    1. Oh - Thanks so much Sue! Hopefully a sunnier bed gives them the boost they need & next year I'll be in the "too much chard" boat myself!

      I've heard of Space - I'll be putting that one on the list for next year. And since the garden is so new, I wasn't sure if all the slug issues we had in the late summer were normal or not - hearing that you had issues when you normally don't gives me hope on that front.

      I hope that 2015 brings you and your family LOTS of good things!

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  5. Spinach is a tough one, it is hit or miss. I think weather is a big part of it and you can't control or predict it. One year you will luck out and have a good crop, which will put the hook in and you will forever try to repeat that awesome crop. For chard, I prefer the colored ones because green and white is kind of boring. They also have the healthy anthocyanins. I get some leaf miners early on but just pick and destroy the leaves and it seems to go away. Later on I usually get some Cercospora leaf spot, which is a fungus. You can spray but I just destroy leaves and wait it out. Happy New Year and good luck with your garden next year.

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    1. When I know a crop is particularly finicky, as experienced by others, it's much easier to simply brush off a bad year as simply that. Everyone's re-assurance that spinach is not a cinch to grow goes a long way on that front...and I can't wait until I have that stellar year!

      I had to look up Cercospora - that's one I've never heard of before and, thankfully, not encountered (yet). Have a wonderful New Year & good luck with your garden as well!

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  6. Another possible reason for the slowing down of growth is you put agribon on them. I've found that agribon really keeps the rain from getting to the plants. It is one of the reasons I've gotten away from that kind of row cover. So it could also be a water problem (unless of course you use soaker hoses and don't rely on the rain).

    BTW I've found spinach works best really early in the spring. If I plant at the end of March just as soon as the soil can be worked (early April in bad years). I can get a good harvest (around a quarter pound per square foot) before they are removed before June. Then I can plant summer crops in that space. So the yield might looks small, but they are only there for a couple of months and more can grow later on. I chit my seed until I just start seeing roots coming out of some of them (don't let them go any longer, timing is critical), then I plant. I've found transplanting doesn't do as well for me and it is a pain in the ass to do so many transplants. And the chitting solves the germination issues for the most part.

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    1. Your right about the Agribon - I only have drip in the original 4 beds, so the chard bed had to be manually watered - I'm not the most diligent when it comes to watering, so that definitely could have been a factor.

      I've made some notes and will be following your advice on the spring planting of spinach for next year although I have yet to figure out when "as soon as the ground can be worked" is in my garden. This past year I was planning on getting the transplants into the ground at the beginning of May. My "notes" said to start the transplants in mid March but I thought that it was too cold then so waited until April. The "direct sowing" date I had down was even later, in early May, which seems to be way off, based on when you sow (although I guess pre-germinating the seeds allows for earlier sowing). This year, I will be much more observant of the conditions in the garden in early spring & adjust my timing accordingly.

      And Happy New Year to you too, Daphne!

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  7. I will also chime in and say spinach is always a temperamental crop to grow. I had so many problems with germination when sowing outside I have gone to starting them inside. I have been doing that the last couple of years with good success. One issue I always have getting spinach to germinate is temperature. Spinach just doesn't sprout well when temps are warm (over 70F). And starting it inside and transplanting out later gives me a higher percentage of germination.

    Happy New Year to you too!

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    1. I went through that whole temperature issue this past spring & it was so frustrating. I don't have the best of luck with direct seeding & usually only do it when I absolutely have to (like with carrots), but I think I will give Daphne's method of sowing pre-germinated seeds a try in the spring - since the seeds are already germinated, I look at that method as sort of halfway between direct sowing & growing transplants. Maybe I'll do a little experiment and do transplants as well to see if there is a difference? Now you got me thinking... ;)

      Hope you & your family are having a wonderful start to the New Year today!

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  8. Happy new year Margaret! I also struggle with spinach and haven't bothered recently with it. My plot is sandy and dry which the spinach doesn't seem to like. If I eventually improve my soil enough I will try again sometime. Chard works much better for me, fortunately seeing as that's our blog name!

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    1. Since it's my first year growing spinach, I'm not ready to give up yet.

      I just laughed when I read your comment about chard and your blog name...it is a good thing that chard works well in your garden! And I'm so glad you are feeling better...Happy New Year, Lou!

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  9. Happy New Year Margaret! I've used "Rainbow Chard" (from William Dam Seeds) the past two years and it grows very well for me. Direct seeds in a raised garden bed with nothing but some store-bought sheep manure dug in (that's my usual spring fixing of the soil). I also direct seed spinach so I don't really know if germination is an issue as I just toss a bunch of seeds down. Both the chard and spinach are in wide open sunny spaces (I always harvest spinach as "baby" so don't get bolting much). Ugh ... bird poop on your chard? Oh my.

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    1. I never seem to have much luck with direct seeding. The only time I direct seed is when I have to, like with carrots, but it really is an effort to remember to keep the bed watered. The hybrid of pre-germinating and then sowing the seeds sounds like it might work since it reduces the wait time from sowing to emergence. We shall see if it works for me. I buy a lot of seeds from William Dam, so I'll make sure to see if they still carry Rainbow Chard.

      Happy New Year Susie!

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  10. Hi Margaret, I don't do real well with spinach either but I would like to be able to grow a lot so I keep trying! I have not posted for a couple weeks. Not a lot going on and I have a little flu bug so no energy. Nancy

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    1. I hope I have better luck with it next year & it's not another veg like squash which I just can't seem to grow well, even after 3 years of trying!

      Everyone seems to be coming down with something lately - I hope you feel better soon, Nancy!

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