Thursday, January 14, 2016

End of Season Review - Brassicas - Part 1


Yes, I’m very tardy in reviewing my veg – 2015 was one of those years.

I thought I would start my veg specific end of season reviews with the brassicas.  This was a strange year for brassicas – many were a flop while others shone.  Since I prefer to get the bad news out of the way first, I decided to do my first review on those brassicas that didn’t have a particularly good year.

Collards & Kale

All of the collards and kale and some of the Chinese greens were situated in Bed #8, which was found to be overrun with willow roots during the course of the summer.  This little disaster so completely overrode any other factor, that there is little to say on the crops grown in that bed.  The willow was cut down and I applied a good quantity of compost to the bed in August.  Hopefully it recovers enough to be of use next year, perhaps as a legume bed.

Bed #8, just before pulling everything up
 
So on to the rather depressing numbers for the collards and kale which were only grown in that bed this year.

The collards were especially pathetic, giving us just over 1/2 pound of leaves from four plants (right side of the photo above)...and that's after waiting 3.5 months for that one and only harvest.




Last year, I transplanted the collards 2 weeks later, started picking leaves on June 1st and harvested 3,421 grams (7.54 pounds) from just 3 plants - a night and day difference.

The kale did slightly better than the collards and we were at least able to harvest several meals worth of greens:





Chinese Greens

The Chinese greens were a mixed bag of results.




Of those grown in bed #8, only the tatsoi produced anywhere near a decent harvest.  The Mei Qing was a total failure with zero harvestable leaves.  You’ll notice the “n/a” under the Kai Lan as well.  My notes indicated that I did transplant a bunch of seedlings but I have no idea what happened to them.  All I know is that I didn’t get a harvest.

I also learned a valuable lesson when I did my fall sowing of brassicas in bed #7:  Cover the seedlings as soon as they are planted.  I left the bed uncovered for about a week after transplanting thinking the 1” tall plants were too small for cabbage whites to land on, much less lay eggs.  Yeah, completely wrong on that front.  I was picking caterpillars off the leaves for the rest of the season & their damage significantly reduced the harvest.

I tried to keep up with the cabbage worms,
but ended up losing a good chunk of the choy crop
 
Later in the season, aphids also became a problem, once again on the choys.  I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth growing choys in the fall.  Interestingly, the komatsuna and the rapini which were in the same bed were not bothered by either the cabbage worms or the aphids.

The Chinese green newcomer that impressed me the most this year was the mizuna – it was outstanding!

The fall planting of mizuna kept producing until extended sub zero
temps and snow finally did in the unprotected patch in late December
 
It grew into a floppy mop that kept producing greens for quite a long period of time.  I gave each seedling a 12" square and the plants ended up overshadowing neighboring crops as they grew much larger than I anticipated.  Both the spring & fall sowing were equally impressive & it even survived some hard frosts with no protection at all.  Something else I quite liked was that it was a dual purpose veg, equally enjoyable raw in salads or tossed into a stir fry.

Tatsoi was another newcomer and I had fairly good success with both the spring and fall planting:

Large tatsoi's harvested in November
 
Of course, one of the first things that strikes you is how beautiful those heads are.  We enjoyed tatsoi in stir-fries & Thai curries, but I did find that the stems on the larger ones tended to be a bit stringy, so we only used the leaves on those.

Rapini

Another brassica with lackluster performance was the rapini.

Fall harvest of Zamboni rapini
 
I did a spring and fall sowing & neither did particularly well.




Last year I harvested almost twice as much per square foot.  Neither planting was in bed #8, so that wasn't a factor.  I'm thinking they were perhaps a bit shaded by neighboring plants or they needed more water than they were getting.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

It was a tough year for all of the brassicas in this post, but that's the way it goes sometimes.  Problems, both expected and unexpected, arise every year and you do what you can to deal with them.  Sometimes you meet with success while other times you decide to cut your losses, pull everything up and call it a day.  As with many other crops that didn't flourish this year, I learned a few lessons and am hopeful for much better results next season.

For 2016, I’m not planning any changes in culture.  I’ll likely do a bit of refining here and there, but that’s about it.  I will give a fall sowing of choy another try, but if I still have aphid issues, I may discontinue that in the future.

As for varieties, I’ll be sticking with all those that I already grow for the most part.  I would like to replace the NCK kale (an off-type kale that was supposed to be a curly kale), which everyone seems to think most closely resembles Siberian kale.  I’m hoping to include a "proper" Siberian kale in the garden next year.  In addition, Dave's post on growing mixed kale has me intrigued.  I really enjoy salads with baby kale so may give this a go as well.

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

23 comments:

  1. I think it's just as well that I don't record my harvests in as much detail as you do - it would be too depressing! I have a problem with tree roots too - my neighbour's Leylandii Cypress sends out roots into MY garden.

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    1. Well, that first sentence made me burst out laughing :) It is true that sometimes the numbers are pretty bad, but other times they are amazing - I'm not great at gauging these types of things by eye (or memory!), so the numbers really help when it comes to seeing which methods/varieties work best for me.

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  2. Hello, Margaret, it's nice to read one of your posts again.

    Aphids are the main cause of failure of winter brassicas down here, too. Aphid magnets. That and bolting, one warm day and they are gone.

    However, there is one super-hero not affected by either of these two competitors and that is giant red mustard. It is an absolutely beautiful plant looking gorgeous in the garden, wilts a little with heat/sun later in the season when the leaves are big but comes back right away. (We don't have cold). Tastes good, too; not bitter. I wonder why nobody tries it?

    Willow comes back from roots. I hope you got every last one of them!

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    1. Hi Jane - I'd not heard of giant red mustard, but it does sound good, especially as a fall crop when aphids are at their worst it seems. I'll have to add it to my ever expanding list of veg to try.

      Oh yes, we got rid of another willow tree a few years ago and it just kept sending out suckers - this past year we placed heavy duty black plastic over the area and then covered it with a thick layer of mulch. We did the same in the area of the newly removed tree - fingers crossed that this takes care of both of them!

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  3. Interesting--it sounds like Jane has provided part of your answer regarding the Brassicas. I suppose the mild autumn and early winter contributed to the lower yield? Still, you have an impressive harvest! Congratulations!

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    1. Oh, thanks Beth - any harvest that ends up on your dinner plate is a good harvest, right? I think the problems with yield were mainly due to inadequate irrigation (especially as our summer was so hot) and those willow roots, although the pests certainly didn't help matters at all!

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  4. Good summary of your season. Are you considering the Tronchuda Beira a collard? I thought I could substitute it for collards but it was pretty unproductive. This year I will go back to a more robust collard and skip the Beira.

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    1. I do use Beira Tronchuda as a collard in the kitchen - we really love it. Last year, when there was plenty of rain and it was not in a root infested bed, it was a huge producer (7.5 lbs from 3 plants spaced 12" apart). Perhaps you had an off year with it. I've grown lots of veg that did really well only to do poorly in a subsequent year - had that been the first time I grew them, I may have dropped them thinking that's the best they could do. I may be worth growing one or two in your patch next year, together with other varieties, just in case.

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  5. Better late than not at all, I'm still working on my 2015 reviews as well. I know how that tree root thing goes, the oaks totally sucked the life out of my peppers a few years ago, it was so disappointing. The mizuna and tatsoi were winners! I don't know what it is about rapini, sometimes it grows like gang busters for me and other times it all wimpy and wispy, I have not figured it out yet, and I didn't even bother with it last year. It's interesting that you have to go to such lengths to protect your brassicas from cabbage whites, they aren't generally that big of a problem for me. But on the other hand, I have to cover everything to keep the birds from pecking them to death. I was looking at my garden and laughing at how white it is, and it ain't snow, it's agribon and tulle and micromesh covering about 90% of what's out there now.

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    1. When I saw your reviews popping up, I did feel much better about being late with them this year :)

      I'm glad I'm not the only one that has issues with rapini. I'll likely keep a patch going in the garden each year as my son and I love it - even if it does only give us a couple of meals. And based on your experience, I definitely won't stress about it anymore, but just let it do it's thing & enjoy whatever we do get.

      Oh, your "white" garden - that made me smile :) Every year I've had to purchase more rebar, more netting, more clips, etc., as it seemed that I was always covering more and more beds. It's quite the hassle, but the veg we harvest as a result are more than worth it. I'm wondering what new crop will have to be covered this year...

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  6. Wow, this is so interesting and what a great way to analyze the success of your plants. I thunk we should start doing this, I wish we had weighed our produce last year. I just about freaked out at the grocery store- cauliflower is $7 a head, good grief!! We are determined to plant more!

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    1. Prices at the grocery store have gone a bit crazy, haven't they? I must say that I CAN'T WAIT to see what you grow in the bales next year. I'm planning on giving them another go but this time, conditioning them properly in the spring - hopefully I'll end up with a rambling lawn of squash too!

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  7. It's always interesting to see which plants will be the star of the show....and which will disappoint. I guess we're lucky that it works that way--it would be terrible to have a full fail in the garden.
    Hope you're having an enjoyable winter so far. We FINALLY got ample snow so we've been doing a ton of skiing.
    And since I'm missing the dirt, I've started a few ornamental grasses, just to give me a smidge of garden time in the depths of winter.
    Have a great week

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    1. Every year there are surprises, but as you say, MANY are good surprises - and these always outweight the the disappointments.

      I can't believe that we are FINALLY in a winter wonderland - I LOVE it! I'll be starting my onions and peppers in about a month but have to sort out the seed situation first. You are using fresh seed for those grasses this year, right? ;)

      Have a wonderful week too and enjoy all this glorious snow!

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    2. Ha---you remembered!! And yes, I am. Lesson learned!!
      Thanks for the chuckle

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  8. Keeping such detailed notes of your harvests must help you to understand what works and what doesn't. It's such a shame about those tree roots in the bed, I'm sure you'd have had better luck with the collards and kale if they hadn't had competition for nutrients.

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    1. My notes are a godsend - I can't tell you how many times I'll "think" that things happened a certain way or a crop did poorly or well and then see that I was competely wrong when I look at my notes.

      I have had wonderful harvests in the past from both the kale and collards and am certain that it was those nutrient sucking willow roots that resulted in their dismal performance this year. But that's one of the great things about gardening - you always get a fresh start next season :)

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  9. I don't grow collards and am giving up growing Kale I think! I have not come to like it yet! Since I only have so much room I am trying to pick and choose what we like even though that would be a good colder weather crop. You do so well at keeping track of everything! Nancy

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    1. Thanks Nancy - I think you're making a good decision. No point in growing something you don't like just because you can, especially when you are short on space. Better to grow a veg that you actually enjoy in that spot & there are lots of cool weather crops to choose from.

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  10. Those tatsoi look like beautiful green blossoms. Love them, even though I have no idea what they taste like. I only grow carrots so use in a carrot cake and sweet potatoes to eat at Thanksgiving.

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    1. The tatsoi is beautiful, isn't it - too pretty to eat....almost:) It's a Chinese type cabbage & the flavour is similar to bok choy (which is often served in Chinese restaurants as "Chinese greens").

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  11. It's funny how some things seem to be a magnet for one pest, and others go completely unscathed. Aphids are usually my biggest pest of the Asian greens, but caterpillars not so much. And I'm not surprised by the mizuna performance, since it always produces for me. I sometimes make my own 'mix' of the Asian greens and plant them closely together to use for salad or soup greens. The choys, mizuna, tatsoi,etc all work wekk for me like that.

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    1. Aphids were not much of an issue until last year, it seems. Not sure if it's the weather or what, but one interesting theory is that they are more interested in my greens because I removed a couple of trap crops that used to be covered in them each year (a weedy area & a (another!)willow tree). Maybe I should just let those weeds grow back :)

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