SIFT Production Notes for 2018

By John Wallace, SIFT Farm Manager

Each winter, I combine yield data with my field notes from the previous season. This helps to better prepare myself for the next year. I can alter my crop plan to address the problems we have encountered. This helps me reduce risk of major crop failures. The obvious production-limiting issues were caused by deer eating our cabbage, and a fungal disease on our tomatoes. Another issue was poor germination caused by a timer malfunction during a drought. This had consequences for our beans and green onion. It also affected the carrots, but eventually we got a sizeable crop thanks to seasonably warm fall. Though some of those will be unforgettable, it helps to record these notes. I then take it all into consideration and suggest changes to the production plan for each crop.

Figure 1
Figure 1.
Figure 2
Figure 2.

Yield data (Figure 1) reflects low yields of beans, green onion, and the Brassicas, and large yields of squash, garlic, and lettuce. Market value (Figure 2) shows that garlic was actually our highest-value crop, despite growing more than 120 pounds of squash. One thing we are looking to address is community needs. Lower-value crops that can be harvested in bulk can be distributed to more people. We want to find more crops that will perform like squash. To do this, we will work on addressing some of those major issues that limited our tomato, cabbage, and carrot yields.

Following are my combined field notes and recommendations for next year’s production plan:

Lettuce: Grown in Hoop House 1, we had a large crop of lettuce totaling nearly 60 pounds. The majority of this was donated to the local food bank. It was washed and bagged prior to donation to ensure it was safe and had a longer storage life. The brown butter leaf tended to bolt early making it difficult to harvest by the head. However, the coastal star romaine lettuce held together nicely and could be harvested by the head. Overwatering caused difficulty in harvesting and led to browning on the outer leaves later on.

Kale harvested October 29.
Kale harvested October 29. Photo: NCAT

Specialty Greens: This includes kale, chard, mizuna, spinach, purple mustard greens, and bok choi. Packaged primarily as braising greens, they were mostly delivered to the community café. We had a large harvest late into the year. Previously these greens were harvested younger and more tender. However, we found that wider spacing and allowing the plants to mature resulted in multiple cuttings and better yields. Next year we will look into growing larger kale plants spread further apart, rather than broadcasting seed for baby greens.

Beans: There was poor germination of beans due to an irrigation mishap. The timer that ran the outer zone had a system error that caused the cycles to not turn on properly. Once we corrected the issue and applied overhead water, the bean came up. Weed pressure and spotty germination caused for low yields and a late crop pushing into the end of our allowable warm-crop season. Adjustments should be made to guarantee full germination next year.

Brassicas: This category includes all brassicas grown in block 6 (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage). We had a deer infestation early in the year. This has not happened in the past. Typically deer do not enter the property until later in the fall when it has started snowing. To address this, we will be moving brassicas into Hoop House 5 to guarantee protection. Heat may become an issue and cause cabbage to split early. This also gives us a chance for an early spring crop of brassicas. It has been noted that there is an excess of lambs quarters growing in Hoop House 5, which could be a sign of low calcium.

Cucumbers in the attached greenhouse having less spider mite presences with the overhead misters.
Cucumbers in the attached greenhouse
having less spider mite presences with
the overheadmisters. Photo: NCAT

Carrots: Carrots were planted a few weeks too late. The same water-timer issues mentioned above caused poor germination. Coupled with high quack grass pressure, carrot growth was suppressed and a lot of time was spent weeding. In the end, the carrots were able to be harvested before the ground froze. Carrots should be moved to block 1 where the weed pressure is low. We will begin seeding carrots in April and follow with a second seeding in June.

Cucumber: Cucumbers were planted in Hoop House 5, as well as the attached greenhouse. Those in Hoop House 5 did not have high production. Issues with insufficient watering and spider mites dwarfed the plants. They should be planted at a much higher density, as were those in the attached greenhouse. Despite minimal pollinators having access to the greenhouse, we still had a great crop. The pickling cucumbers produced late into the year and once again were our best yielding variety. Yellowing and mild spider mite pressure was cut and removed, extending the life of the plants. Next year we will direct seed and transplant to ensure consistent yields across the season.

Garlic: Every year, garlic is one of our most reliable crops. This year was no exception with a total yield of 63 pounds of cured garlic bulbs. Eighteen pounds of seed were reserved and planted for next year’s crop. NOTE: This may cause an anomaly in the data. This is a large increase from previous years. We were able to expand production into the southern tier of the cover crop trial plot, which will free up some room to include better cover cropping strategies for our rotation plan. The extra seed was planted in block 4, giving us a total of seven beds of garlic rather than the previous four beds. There was an emphasis in selecting the music variety, which performs the best each year with larger bulbs. We will need to monitor watering on the outer block since we will be expanding the irrigation to this area for the first time.

Freshly mulched and seeded garlic beds for next year’s crop.
Freshly mulched and seeded garlic beds
for next year’s crop. Photo: NCAT

Garlic Scapes: This is recorded as a separate crop though it is part of the same plant. They stored very well and were able to be used by multiple organizations over a period of 4 weeks. Eventually, everyone who we donated scapes to was maxed out on what they could use. This could leave us with an opportunity to sell a portion of what is harvested next year. We could also give a demonstration on ways to use or add value to garlic scapes. Two ideas for such a demonstration are pickling, or blending into a pesto.

Green Onion: The green onion also suffered from the timer mishap and a lack of irrigation. The remaining scallions were left in place to overwinter. This should allow for an early harvest of green onion next year. In past years I have noted that overwintered green onion tends to flower early.

Herbs: Includes mint, parsley, oregano, thyme, dill, sage, chives, cilantro, and basil. The mint was harvested for Headframe Spirits. Parsley proved to be the hardiest herb. It was overwintered in the attached greenhouse and keeps coming back. The perennial herbs received a good mulch layer. The larger perennial herbs are ready to be separated and to propagate more. Oregano was very successful this year. Cilantro has still proven to have issued. Next year we will direct seed into a hoop house or outdoors in rows to allow successions. This will allow us to have large harvests in succession. It will also help with harvesting before bolting. The hydroponic system will fully in operation early spring to allow for basil production. We will continue to trial mediums for germinating and transplanting basil into the hydroponic system.

Onion: This year we used a set of onion starts. There were three varieties included. Of the three, the walla wallas performed the best. Onions starts should not be planted more than one inch deep. Those that were planted slightly deeper did not bulb well. They matured in time to allow for late cover crop that was well established. This cover crop will be terminated mid-summer by being cut and tilled. This spot will be planted with late outdoor greens. For larger kale and chard plants we should start transplants in doors by July.

Healthy oregano plant in our perennial herb plot.
Healthy oregano plant in our perennial
herb plots. Photo: NCAT

Peas: This year we expanded our pea production significantly. It is important to harvest all peas when ready to avoid having to sort through what is edible. Though the water timer issue affected growth on many beds, we still had large harvests of peas weekly. They should be planted a few weeks earlier to allow for earlier harvests before the weather gets too hot. Shelling peas were successful; however, snap and snow peas were in larger demand for the organizations that were taking our donations. Next year we will phase out shelling peas by using the rest of our seed stock and not purchasing any more.

Radish: Radish was seeded between lettuce rows weeks after the lettuce had been seeded. This allowed for highly productive area. Hoop House 1 was put to great use this year with an early seeding. Hoop House 1 was later pulled down. We can use this same method in Hoop House 2 where the strawberries are growing. Hoop House 2 will also be taken down this year to make way for a new greenhouse. Outdoor radishes faced weed pressure and cold temperatures later in the year.

Squash: Squash was our top yielding crop by pounds this year. This has been selected as one a crop that will benefit all organizations. We will increase the amount of squash grown next year and focus on harvesting multiple times a week to make sure that none of it becomes overgrown and full of seeds.

Strawberries: With the closing of our strawberry trials with MSU, only two strawberry plots are left. Both plots will be removed after this year. We should look into propagating strawberries to sell or transplant on the farm. The outdoor plot has become over ridden with weeds. This area will be cover cropped after this year’s harvest completes. The indoor plot will be removed as well to make room for the new greenhouse.

Tomatoes: The tomatoes developed a fungal disease in Hoop House 3. The disease was identified as septoria leaf spot. This fungal disease is not as aggressive as blight; however it is advised to quarantine the area and to not plant any crops in the Solanaceae family in the same area. This includes eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. Though the cause is not known, we will be very careful next year with compost incase that is where it originated. Also, we may want to separate the tomato starts in case the disease is prevalent inside the freestanding greenhouse. Everything in the freestanding greenhouse has been taken out to help with pest and disease management.

Turnip: High weed pressure caused issues with yields. Also there needs to be much more concentration on thinning out these crops properly. In the past the hakarei, or Asian turnip has been ranked having the best flavor. With our redirection towards reaching the community’s needs, we will focus on the purple top globe turnips which have much higher yields. Turnips and beets will be paired together and seeded much earlier.

Posted on: January 8th, 2019