We are busy this time of year (July), preparing new fields and planning for our fall planting. One of the challenges is the dry soil during this time of the year which makes any bed preparation a major challenge. When you receive any amount of rain, you need to be prepared to work the soil.One advantage that you have is that it is easier to eliminate Bermuda grass if you can lightly till or disk the area regularly, every other week, which finally exhausts the noxious weed in preparation for fall planting.
After testing the soil, we generally fertilize a new one acre field with 100lbs. dried molasses, 50 lbs. Humate and 600lbs, cotton seed meal (or whatever is economically/locally available) as early as possible when we prepare the field. To simplify things, each bed is 4 feet wide and 100 feet long. Two to four weeks before we are ready to plant, we like to have the beds prepared with 10lbs. colloidal rock phosphate and 10lbs. organic fertilizer (there are many name brands out there, or you can use feather meal, poultry manure, etc…)
Fall Tomatoes and Peppers (June-July): By July we start our final crop of tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. Be prepared to protect them in the field from the first fall frost in mid-Nov, and you might have a harvest past the New Year. We choose early producing varieties like Early Girl, Valley Girl and sweet peppers that can add to our fall shares. Be prepared to transplant into the field after 6 weeks from starting. You will not have the major crop as you did in the spring/summer but still plan for 200 tomatoes and 200 sweet peppers, about 3 beds total. If you think a hard frost might take the crop, go out and harvest all you can. We have had tomatoes ripen almost a month later, or offer green tomatoes or tomato relish. Come up with something.You need to turn lemon into lemonade.
Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers (Aug-Sept): Direct seed at least one bed of each. You can plan on harvesting beginning 6 to 7 weeks from sowing and should choose early varieties. It helps to cover the new beds with a light frost cloth until the plants flower; this keeps off the insects and provides a little shade during the extreme heat.
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Head Cabbage (Aug): Start these in your greenhouse before mid-Aug. Plan at least 100 plants of each, and 200 of the broccoli. They will be available to your members by late January. Be prepared to protect these plants with a light frost cloth to prevent any cosmetic damage during a freeze. Before they set heads, you can harvest their greens which are wonderful. Foliar sprays work well throughout the growing season. We use fish emulsion, molasses and Bt to prevent worm damage before they set heads.
Swiss Chard, Kale, Collards, Mustard, Cauliflower and Chinese Cabbage (Sept.): Start Napa Cabbage, Bok Choi and others in the greenhouse by mid-Sept. and transplant out into the field as early as possible. Swiss Chard can also be direct seeded for baby greens.
Lettuce (Sept-Oct): Choose at least 3 varieties (100 plants each) and start in the greenhouse in Sept. for head lettuce. Lettuce mixes can be directly seeded in four rows down your bed. Repeat a second bed of Lettuce Mix every two weeks throughout Oct. and be prepared to protect with a light frost cloth to keep it looking pretty. Foliar spray with Bt for the worms, but keep the fish emulsion out of the mix on any of these greens to prevent an off flavor.
Beets and Turnips (Sept.-mid Oct): Direct seed a lot of beets and turnips in Sept. to mid-Oct.You can harvest their greens throughout the fall, and thin them out to form beet and turnip roots for the spring. These will be important crops in early spring to add bulk to your shares.
Carrots (Sept.): Direct seed at least 2 beds of carrots in 4 rows in the first part of Sept. Carrots take a few weeks to germinate and need to be kept moist until they emerge. Deep sandy soil produces the best carrots and will be available next spring for your CSA shares.
Onions (Aug – Nov): Start your own onion seed in the greenhouse in late August, or buy onion sets to be put into the fields from Oct – Nov. You can’t plant too many onions for your spring shares. Choose short day varieties like TX 1015, Candy, TX Early White, Grano, Blanco, Yellow Granex and others. Keep moisture consistent until the first evidence of top falling, which is your sign to harvest large onion bulbs. Mulching is a big benefit and fertilizing regularly before bulbing.
Spinach (mid Sept – mid Nov): Spinach has not done well for us, but we still give it a try every year. Direct seed in 3 to 4 rows and thin out to give room to grow. High fertility needs, and good drainage is essential.
Peas (mid Dec): Direct seed English and Sugar Snap peas during the last week of December.We generally do not plant peas any more because of the low yields and high labor to harvest, but members love them when you have them available in early spring. You will need to have at least a whole bed planted to make it worth your time.
Leeks and Bulb Fennel (Aug-Sept.): Start your transplants in the greenhouse in late Aug. and put into the field as early as possible in Oct. Mulching is a big benefit as these plants grow all winter for your spring shares. One bed of each should be plenty, spaced 4 to 6 inches a part.
Fava Beans (mid Sept.-mid Oct.): Fava beans make an excellent cover crop with edible leaves and large pods relished by chefs. Available in late winter, they hold up well unless it gets below 20 degrees. They also make a great habitat for beneficial insects in the early spring.
Herbs (Sept-Oct): Direct seed cilantro, dill, lovage, salad burnet and chamomile by late Sept. when it begins to cool down. Parsley can be started in the greenhouse in early Sept. and transplanted as early as possible. Any perennial herb like rosemary, oregano, sage, lemon grass and others transplant well in the fall as well, when mulched.
Strawberry Plants (Nov.): Start out with no more than 1000 plants. This is where black plastic and straw mulch is a real benefit. Space 8 inches apart in 3 staggered rows down your bed. Be prepared to protect from frosts once the fruit is set with either overhead watering or a heavy frost cloth. Choose “June Bearing” varieties for large marketable fruit like Camarosa, Chandler and Sequoia. Watch for diseases which can be suppressed with foliar sprays including seaweed and neem oil or hydrogen peroxide.
Winter Cover Crops (Oct): Any bare soil or fields that you plan to put into production next spring/summer needs to be planted into a winter cover crop. This will add organic matter, prevent erosion, add nitrogen for the following season, suppress weeds and provide a habitat for beneficial insects. Some plants also provide interest for your CSA shares including pea tendrils and crimson clover bouquets for tea. Our basic one acre cover crop mix for the winter includes crimson clover (10lbs.), Austrian field peas (25lbs.), Vetch (25 lbs.), and oats (50 lbs.). This needs to be worked into the soil when at 80% bloom or before it sets seed, ideally 6 to 8 weeks before you are ready to plant the field for the spring/summer season.
Originally published July 2008 by Brad Stufflebeam, Home sweet Farm LLC
This is one of the best things about the Texas summer.When it is hot, dry, and miserable, we get to work in the shade of the greenhouse dreaming about cooler weather and preparing for fall.
The fun starts in the greenhouse mixing our soil for propagation. Rather than a native soil or compost based mix, for better consistency we use a peat based soil mix with high porosity. We have found that over-watering is a common issue when we have different people trading off on the chore. Herbs are also very sensitive to over watering. We mix our own soil in small batches using different organic amendments and rock powders to give the seedlings a good start. After years of observation and trials, we have come up with what we call “Farmer Brad’s Super Soil”:
40 lbs. Soil Mix (inoculated with mycrozial fungi)
10 lbs. Worm Castings (for added micronutrients and biology)
10 lbs. Lava Sand (for aeration and Paramagnetism)
5 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate (for root development)
2 cups Bat Guano, Feather Meal or Poultry Manure (for nitrogen, but do not over do it!)
2 cups Kelp Meal (micronutrients and aids in germination)
2 cups Humate (added organic mater)
2 cups Green Sand (iron and magnesium)
5 gal. Water (it is important to pre-wet your mix)
This is all mixed together by hand or with a small concrete mixer. We then use 72ct trays and prepare ready stacks for the work of seeding ahead.
This is when you want the whole family or friends to help to get the work done faster. Before seeding you can use a pencil to dib holes about a ¼” deep into each filled cell of the plant tray, a board can be made with nails to dib the whole tray at one time as well. We drop 2 to 3 seeds into each dibbed cell and then tamp the soil down carefully to cover the seeds and to insure that they are making good contact to the soil. Smaller seeds like delphinium may need to be lightly sprinkled on the surface of the filled cells rather than buried.
Be sure to label and date your trays, then place them into the shade and water them in (very important), repeating daily (if not more) before the heat of the day. You want to keep the soil moist for germination, but you also want the soil to not be continuously wet and growing algae.
Ants can be a problem in the greenhouse as they will literally harvest the seed from your trays.You can place your trays on tables that have their legs standing in water and use one of the organic ant baits regularly to deter the problem.
By the end of July we start broccoli, cauliflower, winter cabbage, kale, collards, brussels sprouts, pak choi, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi. These will be transplanted out into the field as soon as the weather cools off, hopefully by lat Sept. In mid August we will begin seeding the more tender leafy greens like head lettuce, swiss chard, dill, and other herbs.
Before planting into the field you need to place the plant trays into the full sun and wind to harden off for at least a week. This is called “tough love” preparing the babies for real life outdoors. Pray for rain after planting, cover with a light cloth if possible for earlier transplanting and be sure to water them in deeply either by hand or irrigation and repeat as necessary until the plants are well established.
Originally published July 2008 by Brad Stufflebeam, Home Sweet Farm LLC
Farmer Brad Stufflebeam, "A local food pioneer in the Lone Star State", has served as President of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc., Advisory Board Member for USDA Southern SARE, President of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Chairman/Founder of the Texas Arts and Music Festival. In 2012 Brad received the Houston Mayor's Award: Champion of Food Justice and 2015 edibleHOUSTON's Local Hero Award.