Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale

A few of my customers buy market baskets each week. Eric buys a $40 basket of certified organic vegetables, my choice of items, although I do know what he likes and try to accommodate him. Today he got 20 lbs. of tomatoes since I know he is canning, Russian kale, collards, about a dozen hot peppers of various kinds, zucchini, lots of patty pan squash (one of his favorites) and some leeks. I should have a cabbage or two for him next week so he can make more sauerkraut.

It took me about a half hour to pick and put his basket together. Nice to earn $40 in a half hour. It is easy to forget what went into that harvest at this time of year, when the garden is overflowing and the heavy mulch is keeping the weeds down.

  1. In the spring, bending over seedling trays dropping individual seeds in each cell.  Not so bad for flat seeds like tomatoes and peppers.  I have a handy little gizzy-whiz that allows me to drop one seed at a time into each cell.  However, those round seeds are a pain!  That would be collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale.  The gizzy-whiz has a little shoot that the seeds travel down on their way to the seedling tray, and the round seeds go flying down the shoot like a kid on a water slide!  There is nothing to do but to shake a few seeds into my palm and pick them up one at a time to plant.
  2. Tending the greenhouse plants.  Watering is the big thing, and my little greenhouse doesn't have an automatic watering system.  Too much water will kill 'em.  Too little water will kill 'em.  I do the best I can and try not to mourn too long over the ones that don't make it. 
  3. Transplanting.  Popping those little seedlings out of the trays to "pot up" into 2" pots can only be characterized as a pain in the neck - literally.  Sometimes I even wear a neck brace while I am potting up seedlings.  However, here is where the round seeds win.  All of those collard, broccoli, cabbage and kale seedlings can be planted directly into the garden from the seedling trays.  No intermediate growing season in 2" pots in the greenhouse.  They can withstand spring's chill and a little abuse while handling, even when they are very small.
  4. Planting in the garden.  I use heavy mulch, and there is plenty left over the following spring.  I pull back last year's mulch to plant the seedlings, then tuck the mulch back around them.  Now all there is to do is to take out any weeds that grow up close to the plant and keep the mulch coming.  I use grass clippings, old hay out of the barn, and straw.  The neighbor boy comes down for about an hour most mornings during the summer and helps with that.
  5. Picking.  Not really as easy as it sounds - especially if it is something like green beans.  $15 a pound is not enough for those things!  It takes a long time to pick a pound of beans.  The hardest thing with the tomatoes - all delicate heirloom strains with thin skin - is being careful not to damage them while harvesting.  But of course here is where the collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale shine yet again.  One whack with a butcher knife and a head of cabbage is lying on the ground.  Ten snapped leaves and a rubber band from my wrist to secure them make a nice bunch of collards or kale.  Snapping off heads of broccoli and dropping them into a cellophane bag as I dance down the row isn't exactly work. 
  6. Watching plants die.  :(  Squash, melon and pumpkin plants are notorious for dying before their time, while they are still heavy with fruit.  There is some kind of worm that gets into the stems and does them in.  I hear that you can slice open the stem, pull out the worm and tape the stem back together -- the plant MAY survive.  I just simply do not have time for that.  A bug that kills a plant?  That never happens with collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale.  There may be some worm holes in the leaves here and there, but I figure if it is good enough for the worms to eat, then it is good enough for me!
Okay, I'm convinced.  Next year my whole garden is going to be collards, broccoli, cabbage and kale.

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