December 18, 2012

Peronospora farinosa - downy mildew

 I left the spinach in the greenhouse for a few weeks after discovering downy mildew to watch what would happen.  I was not disappointed.  Besides turning fuzzy, the spinach leaves turned yellow and eventually shriveled up and died.
The above picture shows downy mildew sporangia, which I think must be what I called the 'fuzzy' grey stuff on the spinach leaves.  The sporangia is where the spores are formed.

The fungus 'ate' through these leaves! Gross!
What is the plan of attack for next semester?  Not growing spinach is not an option.

  1. Leave the greenhouses spinach free for at least two weeks.  Downy mildew is specific to spinach.  Without a host it should die.
  2. Sanitize the flats I use to grow greens in.  At the end of the season they are pretty dirty and the plant residues on them could harbor spores.
  3. Use a spinach variety that is resistant to more strains of downy mildew.  Since it is such a widespread problem, new varieties of spinach are bred to be more resistant.  Space, the variety I have been using, is resistant to strains 1-3.  In the spring I'll use a variety that is resistant to at least strains 1-7.

December 15, 2012

Salad mix for the end of the semester

I know salad and the end of the semester don't really have anything to do with each other.  It's not as though not having to go to class makes me really, really want kale or something.  The end of this semester is worth celebrating because I am done taking classes - forever!  (Unless I decided to get another degree sometime.)  Of course, the class part is fun, it's the exam part that isn't.
Most of my salads contain something red because it is just so pretty.  Cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and all other summer time vegetables seem a memory in the distant past.  Right now red greens (ha!) are what make salad more interesting.  And feta cheese, which has renewed my salad consuming capabilities to an all time high.  

December 13, 2012

Baby pak choi, a semi-failure

I have been putting off writing about baby pak choi for a week.  Maybe because they fall in my semi-failure category of greens.  The variety is Shanghai, a green stemmed variety from Kitazawa (High Mowing also supplies it).  I don't totally remember why I picked it except that it is a 'high yielding, cool season annual.'  It forms an hourglass shape and is pretty much grown for its flesh petioles (the bit that connects the leaf to the stem). 

 Growing a sexy, hourglass figure when you're crammed into a tray is kind of hard.  This is why I called it a semi-failure.  I got to eat some hand selected, delicious baby pak choi, but no one else did.  They variety just did not work as a baby green for the growing system we use.  I bet if they were grown in-ground with a bit more space instead of in trays they would be a brilliant (and high grossing?) crop.

*What is the proper way to spell pak choi?  Recently, I've been using a 'K' as Kitazawa does, but High Mowing using a 'C'.

December 11, 2012

The greenhouses

All the greens I grow are in these two identical greenhouses.  I think they were built before I was born.  This summer their plastic coverings were replaced.  Proper greenhouses have two layers of plastic covering them.  On these two the top layer is regular greenhouse plastic and the  bottom layer is fancy IR plastic with an anti-condensation coating. Air is blown through the two layers to help insulate the greenhouse from the outside.  It's like a big, clear, puffy coat for the greenhouse instead of just a raincoat.

                                           Which would you rather wear in the winter?

The heater and fans are controlled by a complicated control board (above right) which I only have to set once and then it does all the work.

At either end of the greenhouses are great big fans which turn on in a three step process if the temperature gets above 75 degrees.  (I also measure the light with the little box on a stick on the left and hourly temperature with the white boxes four benches down on the right.)

If the temperature is lower than 75 degrees two little fans (in the upper right hand corner above) are always on to circulate the air.  This is one way the powdery mildew spores got spread around.  Since one set of fans is always on, it is always noisy.  

Circulating the air is super important on hot and cool days.  Right now air circulation is very important for spreading hot air from the heater around.  Each greenhouse has one of these propane heaters.  Hot air blows out the round part on the right.  On cold days I stand right in front of it to warm up. 

December 7, 2012

Salad mix of the week

This week has got me a bit blue.  Maybe because it's cold and grey outside.  Maybe because all the spinach is dying.  Or maybe because all the tat soi is gone.  Tat soi has such lovely small round leaves.  When paired with frilly fun jen and bright red beets I am cheered right up!
In this mix tokyo bekana could easily be exchanged for fun jen.  With age beet greens get even redder, and taste more beet-y.  If you took out the lettuce, all of these could be quickly wilted in a hot pan.  I'm starting to get hungry.

December 4, 2012

Early morning at the greenhouse

Sometimes it still feels dark when I get to the greenhouse early in the morning.  The past few warm days have caused lovely fog over the fields, and wetlands.

November 30, 2012

Salad mix of the week

 I wanted to focus on spinach this week due to the evil spores that are slowly killing all of the spinach I have growing.  This weeks salad mix features spinach with two other dark green leaves: komatsuna and vitamin green.  I've already written about both of these greens, so they should sound familier.

I used baby sized vitamin green in these pictures.  Since taking them I've found 'grown up' sized leaves are better because of the stems.  This salad mix has no spice and would really benefit from exciting, colorful toppings like feta cheese, radishes, pomegranate seeds or all three.  (Last week I bought some feta and my salad eating life has changed!  Also, calling it a 'topping' sounds like I'm making an ice cream sundae.  Dried cherries in salad wouldn't be such a bad idea. . . )

Right now there are spinach seedlings that are not yet showing signs of downy mildew.  I know it is only a matter of time before they will, but until then I'm holding on to them.

November 28, 2012

Tragedy in the greenhouse

My favorite green of all time is spinach.  And I have had no problems growing greens - until now.  It figures spinach would be the green to succumb to a pretty gross fungus. 

A few weeks ago I saw a leaf that looked like this.  Pretty gross huh?  It's downy mildew, or Peronospora farinosa, and is one of the biggest diseases that spinach has.  It spreads by spores so it travels fast.  How fast you ask?  When I came back after the weekend it was everywhere:

Gross!!!!  What you're seeing are the spores of the fungus and yellowing leaves that are a result of it.  I haven't had time to do proper research yet, but here are a few facts:
  1. If you've been eating the greens I grow don't worry!  I haven't been putting any spinach in for a while.  I'm pretty sure you'd be ok if you ate some downy mildew - but I'm not sure.  You should wash your greens anyways.
  2. This species of downy mildew is specific to spinach.  There are other species of downy mildew that attack lettuce but I forget the name right now.  Because of this I can leave the spinach in the greenhouse and watch it slowly die.  It's sad, the upcoming spinach crops were some of the best.
  3. Downy mildew likes moist, cool environments.  It's pretty happy in the greenhouses.   

November 26, 2012

fun jen or tokyo bekana?

I'm growing a number of copy cat greens this fall.  These two greens definitely fall into this category.  I wouldn't be able to tell them apart unless they were labeled. 

Tokyo bekana (on the left of the top picture) might have slightly bigger leaves.  Since everything is grown densely in containers I can't really say this for sure.  

Fun jen leaves might be slightly more ruffled.  Again, I can't really say for sure.  Either way, they are both really good, fast growing, crunchy, mild flavored greens.  I would grow either in my theoretic garden, but probably not both.  

November 23, 2012

viridescent vitamin green

Many weeks ago I took the baby vitamin green plants, which I posted about here, and transplanted them out of their small cells and into a big tray of compost.  I want to grow some greens and see what all the fuss was about.  Recently, I commented on how I preferred komatsuna as a baby green compared to vitamin green.  That's still true, but I am getting on board the vitamin green boat too.

Vitamin green

Why? Mainly because of the stems.  Usually stems are considered Undesirable in salad.  They stick out in unpleasant ways, making it hard to get bites into your mouth and then have they have the audacity to poke you.  Vitamin greens stems are totally different.  They are thick, crunchy and contain so much water that I would even call them juicy.  I frequently graze while I'm working, and they are now my favorite snack. 
Vitamin green
The fun part is definitely the stem, but the leaves are great too.  They are tender and in their old age seem to have lost the brassica, mustard-y flavor that I tasted in the baby leaves.  I've read people call vitamin greens 'bitter' but haven't found that at all - yet.  Perhaps if they are grown outside they could become bitter.  I brought the bunch of greens above home with the thought  of eating some raw and some stir fried, but I never made it past the salad.  The leaves disappeared into my usual mix of lettuce, spinach and mizuna, and the stems added perfect crunchiness.

Have you used vitamin green before? Did you cook it? Was it bitter? Tender?

November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving salad mix of the week

No one wants to eat salad on Thanksgiving.  Or so I heard on a radio program a few days ago.  I totally understand that there are already plenty of foods to eat during Thanksgiving dinner.  And, if you're a purist, the pilgrims and indians probably did not have salad at their dinner (but I'm sure they didn't have marshmallows on their sweet potatoes either).  There are still plenty of opportunities for salad eating in the next few days.  Namely, the snack before Thanksgiving when you're hungry, but want to save your appetite for the Main Event, or the day after Thanksgiving when you're feeling guilty for eating those marshmallowed sweet potatoes and calling them a vegetable.
This weeks salad mix is full of such pretty greens.  My mom says the best thing about beet greens is that they taste like beets.  I think their color is the best part (maybe you've noticed by the number of pictures I've taken hereherehere and here).  Swiss chard is almost as beautiful, if not quite as photogenic.  Vitamin green adds volume to the salad, without adding distracting flavor or color and tatsoi leaves are perfect, small circles.

November 19, 2012

vitamin green or vitaminna?

Vitamin green is the number one thing people are searching for when they find this blog.  When I found another green that had 'vitamin' it's in name I knew I had to try it out.  Can a tell a difference?  Nope.  Do I really know if they are the same variety? Not at all.

Perhaps vitamin green leaves are rounder than vitaminna.  
They both are mild tasting brassicas that I would use interchangeably.     

November 16, 2012

Photo friday

This spinach leaf seemed to be waving as I took pictures yesterday.  The later planted greens are just beautiful with wide leaves, and good germination.  These ones here were planted October 15th.  The photos below show their growth from seedling to baby green size.

November 15, 2012

Salad mix of the week

The hurricane blew away all the remaining fall leaves, and now it looks like winter in New England.  Namely, there are bare, brown trees, empty fields and bleak skies, which, secretly I like as long as I can spend lots of time reading books.  
This salad mix isn't really that summery since it has kale and spinach in it, but the muted colors made me think of late August.  I don't really think of lettuce as very hardy winter green either, more of a fair-weather-only kind of green.

November 13, 2012

Red violet pak choi

Red violet pak choi is one of my favorite 'greens' this fall.  
I keep trying to take pictures of it, but it just doesn't seem to be very photogenic.

It's a hybrid in the B. rapa narinosa group of the brassica family.  It's cold tolerant and a vigorous producer.  It has spoon shaped leaves that can get pretty big (as big as my hand for example).  Leaves are always mild flavored, and tender, at least when grown in a greenhouse like I am.  

 There is great variety in leaf color from green with reddish viens, to red to deep purple.  I'm not sure if temperature or location has anything to do with this.  The seeds came from Kitazawa and their picture shows very dark purple plants grown outside.

November 7, 2012

Salad of the week

  Red violet pac choi is my favorite of the many pac choi's I'm growing.  The round, red-veined leaves are just so pretty!  I haven't been able to take a photo of it that really does it justice yet.

This salad mix has another red-veined green in it.  So far, the red russian kale I'm growing hasn't gotten very red.  Maybe because it hasn't been very cold?  I'm growing some in my garden (because I really need more greens in my life) and it is plenty red.

Arugula adds some zing to the salad and komastuna is just crunchy and kind of sweet.  I would put pears and pomegranate seeds in too, but I would put them in every salad so there isn't anything really special about the combination of this salad mix and those fruits.