Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crazy Spring Weather

After the record-high averages set during the month of March, it seems that we're back to typical weather for Michigan.  The days are warm and the nights bring periodic frost/freeze.  This is wreaking havoc on many plants and putting pressure on others.  Things that are abnormal about this year:
  • The fruit blossoms are under extreme pressure.  If you look at the center of a blossom and see a black spot in place of a viable bud, that means trouble.  Most of our apple trees have this problem.  Our plum tree is entirely black along with the service berry.  A few of the apple trees still haven't blossomed - maybe they'll make it.
  • We have a small planting of strawberry plants and many of these have suffered frost damage as well so we'll have to see how this year's strawberry farmers in the area do.
  • We also have a few asparagus plants and even these plants were showing stress (curling, misshapen stalks) about a week ago when we had that snowfall.  I spoke with the MSU Extension office the other day and he said that he's receiving calls from all over the region with reports of damaged asparagus.  It appears that many farmers have not experienced this phenomenon before.
  • This past Sunday I was doing a routine garden walk (where I just check on things - how are the plants growing, how are the seeds germinating, are there any pests) and I noticed strange yellowing of the leaf tips in the garlic patch.  It looked like water damage.  And since we had just had a steady rain, I thought for sure that the garlic was water-logged.  So I started peeling back the mulch, exposing a good 4" of tender stalks on some of the plants. I peeled back about 125' of a 30" bed before Dave called me in for dinner.    Then I slept on the problem.  It just doesn't make sense that, after a period of such dry conditions, followed by less than 1" of rain, the garlic would rot even though it is so heavily mulched.  The plants that are higher up in the field (more exposed to the cold winds) show more damage.  So, I asked our extension agent whether he thought it was frost/freeze damage.  That's when I heard the asparagus story.  So, to protect it from further frost damage, the garlic is now re-mulched.  I'm glad I didn't get through the remaining 375' before I stopped!  I try to remind myself to sleep on things that just don't seem to lead to a logical conclusion instead of trying to fix the problem on the spot.  I've got to keep working on this.
  • The brassicas in the hoops are doing their best to go to seed.  Spring members have been munching on (and hopefully enjoying) bunches of kale, etc. which have buds and blooms.  Broccoli and cauliflower are brassica plants that have developed huge flower stalks that take time to go to bloom.  So, miniature buds from kale, arugula, choi, tat soi, yukina savoy, etc. are all similar to the broccoli shoot.  Yes, the flowers are all edible and I've been mixing them into salad mixes when we prepare them.
Other updates:
  • Many tomatoes are in our newest hoop!  We planted about 150' of tomatoes Tuesday.  More will go in today and tomorrow.  We might bring some plants to the market Saturday as I am pretty sure I'll have extras.
  • Also on the agenda, peppers will go into the hoops soon.
  • The peas in the hoop are starting to bloom.  I'm not sure what the yields will be but at least everyone will have a few peas to soon.
  • I planted green beans in the middle hoop and there's a bean bug that's munching on the seedlings.  I'll keep planting and try to hit the timing right (between emergence of the worm and emergence of the seedling).
  • The fava beans in the field have almost all germinated, as well as the peas.  That's a great thing.  I think we got them all in a good 3 weeks ahead of last year.
  • The onions are also popping up.  I planted twice as many as last year so hopeully we'll have more to sell this next winter.
  • I planted many rows of choi, arugula, tatsoi, yukina savoy, etc. last week and they're germinating.  We'll be transplanting cauliflower, broccoli, etc. today and tomorrow into the field, under cover.  The flea beetles are out already so I'm covering all brassicas as soon as it's planted.  They chowed through a full bed of yukina savoy, mizuna and tatsoi in the newest hoop (which I planted over 30 days ago). Maybe 20% of those plants made it.  Again, the little beetles will kill seedlings but, if the plants do make it, the result will be holy leaves.  The holes really aren't a problem unless maybe someone doesn't like the appearance.  The most effective spray against flea beetles is pyrethrin (which is an extract from chrysanthumums).  Pyrethrin will kill bees, lady bug larvae, etc. so I use this on rare occasions and haven't used anything to date this year.  I will say, the toad population in the hoops is amazing.  I've even seen peepers in there.  I noticed a praying mantid egg case on one of the hoop baseboards the other day.  Hopefully some predatory beetles will come in and help out with the flea beetles. 
  • The parsnips are in the ground as well.  They take 21 ish days to germinate so we have about 2 1/2 weeks to see if they'll pop up.
  • Surprisingly, despite the high temperatures in the hoops, most of the lettuce is holding its own.  I recently heard that the bitter flavor in lettuce will go away if you store it in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.  I've never tried this - generally we pull the plants when they start to get bitter.  But I will say that the leaf lettuce that we harvested yesterday tasted better than 2 or 3 weeks ago.  So, if you ever find lettuce a little bitter, try the refrigeration method - it might work.
We have many flats of plants in the small barn.  If you haven't had the opportunity to take a tour and would like one, please let me know.  Most of what's growing in flats right now are the field tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, etc. along with some brassica that I generally direct seen but that I've started inside this year because of the flea beetles.  We have days and days, maybe weeks, of transplanting ahead of us.  So, if you don't see us at pick up or if we're not at market for some reason, it's because we're trying to get the plants into the ground so that we'll have some tasty veggies to eat in June and July and beyond.

Enjoy spring!