March 30, 2012

An outdoor low tunnel in action!

My dad and brother built an outdoor low tunnel using 1/2" pipe and the same heavy weight spunbonded row cover I used during the germination trials.  They bent the pipe around a big tree in the yard a held the row cover down with rocks.

Since I had 144 plants I've been giving away lettuce, mizuna and spinach seedlings to anyone that can plant them.  They were planting a few weeks ago before the spring heat wave.  My dad says they grew like crazy last week and they have been eating fresh salad everyday.

March 29, 2012

Mark your calendars for April 2nd!

March 27, 2012

UNH greenhouse open house

Why be excited about this event - besides that it is about plants which are always worth getting excited about?  Because I am going to have a poster and some plants from the germination trials experiments!  I printed the poster out today and it's all shiny and official looking.  You can see it below.  Many of the pictures should look familier if you've been following me.  To actually be able to read the words you'll just have to come to the open house on Friday and Saturday!

plant profile: tatsoi

During last week's heatwave it took only three days for most of the brassica species I've planted to sprout. Three days!  Tat soi was one of those greens.  Until last year I thought tat soi, pak choi and and bok choi were the same thing.  Obviously then this is a variety of green I need to know a bit more about.

image from

Tatsoi is a another green in the Brassicaceae family.  It makes up the Narinosa group (Maybe - apparently there is some debate - see the comment below.  This kind of debate is typical in organizing plants which is why I don't study botany!)  It forms a head of compact spoon shaped leaves at maturity.  We'll be growing it as baby greens, not as a head.  It can be grown as a microgreen too.  It likes cool weather which is why we are growing it for the wintergreens project.

image from

Tatsoi is apparently really easy to grow.  I followed the sowing directions from Johnny's for baby greens when I planted last week.  In a few weeks I'm hoping for some spoon shaped leaves to photograph and eat!

March 22, 2012

American grown

To be published May 29th! For a full story look here.

March 19, 2012

vitamin green

*Edit 5/19 - When I ordered seeds earlier this spring I couldn't get any vitamin greens seeds.  Johnny's batch of seeds had some noxious weed seeds in it so they couldn't sell it.  I will be growing this green in the coming fall - it's still the one I'm most excited to grow!

*Edit 11/28 - I've grown some (and eaten some) vitamin green!  See them here!

I think gardeners all over are giddy with excitement.  It's the time of year boxes of seeds come in the mail.  I got my box of seeds in their clean white envelopes last week.  Tomorrow I am going to plant eleven varieties of greens.  Many are species you have heard of - spinach, kale and arugula - but some I have never heard of before.  So, I've done a bit of investigating. 

photo from

The first green, and the one I might be most excited to grow, is called vitamin green.  It is in the Brassica rapa napa group which means it's a loose-headed cabbage-y type green.  They are a common Japanese green that grow vigorously and are cold tolerant.  The name vitamin green comes from their high vitmin A content.  According to Johnny's the "tender leaves are flavorful, but not at all mustardy."  On a blog I read that they are "sweet and bright with just enough bite to bring them down to earth."

I couldn't find much else about them, so it seems like measuring their growth rate (part of my next experiment) will be useful as well as tasty.  If you know anything about this green let me know! 

March 16, 2012

The Obama State Dinner in honor of Prime Minister David Cameron

picture from

This week the English prime minister came to visit.  Above is a picture of White House chef's collecting greens from the garden for the dinner.  The climate in Washington DC is much warmer than here in New Hampshire- you can tell because they have greens growing outside already! (Also you can see cherry blossoms blooming in the background.)  Nonetheless, the White House vegetable garden still has low tunnels - maybe to keep bugs off the brassicas?

Everything on the menu from the event sounds delicious.

State Dinner Menu in Honor of 
Prime Minister David Cameron
and Mrs. Samantha Cameron
First Course
Crisped Halibut with Potato Crust
Shaved Brussels Sprouts
Applewood Smoked Bacon

Second Course
Spring Garden Lettuces
Shallot Dressing, Shaved Breakfast Radish
Cucumbers and Avocados

Main Course
Bison Wellington
Red Wine Reduction
French Beans, Cipollini Onion

Warm Meyer Lemon Steamed Pudding
with Idaho Huckleberry Sauce and Newtown Pippin Apples

March 15, 2012

Germination trials: Recap

It's come time to wrap up the Germination Trials so we can move on to the next experiment before the winter season is over.  I won't finish analyzing the data until this summer when I have more time, but  there are a few conclusions that can be made now:

 1.  The different treatments did have an effect on % germination rate and days to germination for all three varieties of seeds.

 2. The three species of greens responded differently to the cool, wintery conditions in terms of germination rate. 

3.  How all the temperature and light data tie into the germination rate will have to wait until I have more time.

As with all experiments, new questions for further experimentation arise.  The questions I'd like to explore in the next experiments are:
  • How do the tunnels affect growth rate?  I showed that there seemed to be differences in growth post-germination.  Now it's time to actually measure it.
  • What about other species?  We only looked at three species of greens.  What about green leaf lettuce, arugula, kale or tat soi?
  • Would combining treatments be advantageous?  Putting heat mats inside clear plastic tunnels seems a good combination to provide root zone heat, above ground heat and a humid environment.
  • What questions do you have?

March 14, 2012

Obesity rates

 I hope everyone already knows the obesity rate in the US is increasing, so this map showing the adult obesity rate won't shock anyone.  If you remember the post earlier this week on farmers markets and direct sales you can see areas with high obesity rates are usually places where there are fewer farmers markets and not very many farms that make direct sales

While the first map today didn't surprise me, this next one really caught me off guard.  The obesity rate of low income preschoolers is up to 36% in some places!  The slogan of the Lets Move! program is "America's move to raise a healthier generation of kids." According to this map it is apparent that school programs like this will be crucial to improving people's health.
white areas have no data to map

March 13, 2012

Price ratio of leafy greens to starchy vegetables

In our house we disagree on the true nature of the potato.  I say it does not really count as a vegetable (like kale or green beans).  This map helps show why I think potatoes shouldn't be considered a true vegetable.  Dark brown areas are where green leafy vegetables cost $1.64-1.86 compared to $1.00 for starchy vegetables.  Notice that Maine and Idaho, two states with high potato industries, still have high ratios.

Map from Food environment atlas

March 12, 2012

Farmers markets and direct sales

Yesterday I was pointed in the direction of a really cool website.  The Food Environment Atlas is another USDA project that is full of interesting information (you should really visit it!).  So, this week I'm going to look at a little bit of the vast amount of information published.  Today, because it is Monday and the first day of spring break, I'll start with a few that are cheerful.

I love this map showing the number of farmers markets in 2010 because it illustrates how plant biologists count.   The dark green areas have lots of farmers markets- somewhere between 4 and 102!

This map showing the number of farms with direct sales [to the consumer] shows a similar trend as the first one.  Places where there are a lot of direct farm sales also have a lot of farmers markets.  As with many maps like this I want to know more - how is the population distributed?  what about price differences?

March 9, 2012

Friday inforgraphic: growing companions

The past few days have definitely felt spring like.  I heard a woodpecker and saw a beaver on my biweekly walk to the farm.  Farmers and home gardeners are ordering seeds and organizing for this years growing season. 

March 7, 2012

Lettuce and mizuna at 42 days old

Lettuce seedlings at forty-two days of growth.

I am still thinking of different ways to compare the seedlings as they grow.  Here, I pulled the seedlings straight from a cell without being delicate at all.  They are lined up from left to right by treatment: control, clear plastic, white plastic, plastic with holes, row cover, heat mat.  Most of these little lettuces have wimpy little root systems.

Look at that last one on the right!  It is nearly a plug!  I suppose it seems obvious that using heat mats to keep the soil warm will stimulate root growth.  The leafy part of this plug seems to be about the same size as three of the other treatments.

The biggest leaves come from the clear and white plastic treatments.  Because of the non-porous nature of plastic water was retained in these two treatments making them pretty humid.  My data collection notebook was often spattered with condensation falling from the ceiling of these tunnels.  If I had any forethought I would have used my super cool waterproof notebook and a pencil to do all the data collection, but I didn't and have lots of crunchy, dried out pages of data to prove it.

Mizuna seedlings at 42 days old.

In contrast here are mizuna seedlings lined up in the same way: control, clear plastic, white plastic, plastic with holes, row cover, heat mat.  They all have strong root systems and look pretty similar.

March 5, 2012

You named it! Poll results

Most people correctly identified the two greens.  The tokyo bekana was a bit harder to identify because it looks a lot like green leaf lettuce or arugula.  That was the point!  If it was in a salad you probably wouldn't think twice and assume it was lettuce.
I think that's a good thing.  For winter growing tokyo bekana seems like a little know substitute for lettuce in salad mixes.  My top three reasons why:
  1. It germinates and grows faster than lettuce
  2. It has thicker, crunchier leaves 
  3. It has a consistent mild flavor (unlike lettuce which can be bitter)
Tokyo bekana poll results

Lettuce poll results

March 2, 2012

Name that green

If you received this blog via email subscription and the above text looks like nonsense click on the title to visit the actual blog.   

March 1, 2012

plant profile: tokyo bekana

Brassica rapa cv. Tokyo Bekana

Appearance - Tokyo bekana has light greens leaves with curled, ruffled edges that can cause it to be mistaken for green leaf lettuce. Despite its appearance tokyo bekana is in the Brassica rapa, or Chinese cabbage family and is considered a loose leaf cabbage.

Uses - Tokyo bekana can be used as a salad green or in stir fry's.

Varieties - I've only found one, but 'Fun jen' is a very (very) similar green.

Culture - Treat tokyo bekana green like any other in the Brassica rapa family. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in moderate temperatures between 60-85.  Once the seeds have sprouted temperatures a bit lower, between 55-75 degrees, is sufficient for growth.  

For baby greens seeds should be sown in 2-4 inch bands with 60 seeds per foot.  For larger leaves sow only 15 seeds per foot in 2-inch wide bands in rows 18 inches apart.

Harvest - During the summer baby greens should be ready for harvest in about.  Full sized leaves should be harvestable in 40 days.  In the winter baby greens can be harvested in 40 days (at least that's what I have seen so far.)  Tokyo bekana is a cut-and-come-again crop and will produce multiple harvests.  It has a good shelf life once harvested.

Pests - Like all Brassicas flee beetles are a major pest of toyko bekana.  Using floating row covers is an easy method of controlling these pests.  For more information check out the UNH Cooperative extension's page on flee beetles.