What This Warm February Means for Crops & What’s in the Greenhouse

It might feel like May, but it is still February, and even in California there aren’t too many crops that want to be planted outside.  February is a suckers month — especially when it’s this warm.  You can plant potatoes, for example, in February.  And some people do.  But just because the air is warm doesn’t mean the soil is, and just because it’s not raining today doesn’t mean it won’t pour in two or three weeks.  Those potatoes will just sit in the chilly ground and then rot into mush if it does.  And even if they don’t, the fact is that spuds planted in March in warmer soil will sprout quickly, grow fast, and end up being ready for harvest just a few days later than the ones planted in February.

The same is true with many other crops we grow.  Beets planted in January will take until April to size up, while those planted in March will mature just a week or so later.  There’s not much reason to plant any in February — unless perchance you were unable to do so in January.  Most years, rain keeps us out of the fields for at least part of the winter, but as dry as this winter has been, we haven’t missed any planting dates for any crops.  This is the first time I can remember this happening; an indication of exactly how little rain we have gotten this year.

Unfortunately, humans are not the only suckers in the world.  Because of the warm days we’ve been having, our two earliest varieties of tree fruit have started to bloom, one nectarine and one peach.  The trees are only 6 years old, but this is definitely the first time they’ve blossomed this early.  It’s not a good thing, as cold temperatures at night can damage both the blossoms themselves and the tiny fruit that form after bloom.  On Saturday morning we had a heavy frost, and by noon, I found damaged blossoms on the trees.  The likelihood of most of those blossoms and/or fruit surviving the rest of February and early March — which is often even colder — is slim.

One place that is both warm in the day and during the night right now is the greenhouse, where February is always a busy month.  Our first planting of tomatoes is up and running, and the second round has just finished sprouting.  This week the first watermelons and melons are getting planted, and next week it will be time to start planting summer squash and peppers (and more tomatoes).Sunny days are always a blessing in the greenhouse, even if the clear cold nights mean we have to crank up the heater and buy lots of propane.  Endless rain like we have had the last two years in February and March creates the perfect environment for diseases and fungi.  It’s relatively easy to control the temperature in a greenhouse, but it’s impossible to control the humidity.  Our little plants are off to a good start and we’ll do our best to keep them growing happily until it’s time for them grow up and move out (of the greenhouse).Thanks,Pablito

In Your Boxes

It’s been a while since you’ve seen Arugula in your boxes, but it makes a mid-winter appearance today — much to our surprise.  Maybe you noticed a year or so back when we changed the variety of arugula we were growing?  Well, the new variety seems to handle both hot and cold weather better than the old one.  It also maintains good flavor and color even when the leaves get fairly large — the old one got very bitter and turned purplish.

The arugula in your boxes today was harvested several times for baby leaves back in late fall, and has now regrown to a size where we were able to cut and bunch it.  It will take a little more washing to remove all the dirt from it — along the lines of the bunched spinach last week.  Otherwise, the leaves are ready for a salad or for tossing with pasta or roasted vegetables.

You may noticed the Broccoli has gotten much smaller than it was a month ago.  These are not the “side shoots”, or regrowth that we sometimes put in your boxes, but rather the primary heads.  This is due to the long period of cold weather in December and January, which shut down the growth of the plants and damaged the leaves.  It didn’t stop the plants from producing heads — they have an internal clock that tells them when to do this.  But if the plants aren’t as big as they should be, then neither are the heads.

If you don’t eat the stems of broccoli this size, you are really missing out.  Simply peel the tough outer layer with a paring knife and then slice the whole thing — stem and head — in half or quarters lengthwise and cook it.  The stem is crisp, tender and sweet.

This is likely the final week of Asian Pears in your boxes.

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