Friday, August 27, 2010

Product Spotlight, September 2010

Bright Lights Swiss chard

Bright Lights:
This chard was an
All-America Selections
winner in 1998.
Bright Lights Swiss chard is one of the most beautiful vegetables, as useful in the flower border or patio container as in the field and hoophouse. The colorful stems, in shades of pink, gold, orange, purple, red, and white, are made more vibrant by cool temperatures. The lightly savoyed leaves are succulent and sweet. Baby leaves, ready to harvest just five weeks after seeding, add color and substance to salad mixes.

Plant Bright Lights seed outside or in a hoophouse two months before the frost date. Plant 1/2" deep and keep the soil moist. If you want to grow full-size leaves, thin to 4-6" between plants, in rows 18-24" apart. Leaves can be harvested from the outside of the plant as soon as they are big enough; new leaves will grow from the center. For salad mix, direct seed in a 2-4" band about 1" apart. Cut the leaves when they are 4-5" tall.
For ornamental use, start the seeds inside and transplant the colors you want. Bright Lights looks great in a mixed flower and vegetable container; try it with pansies and nasturtiums for a colorful, cold-tolerant fall accent.

Bright Lights is moderately frost tolerant and will produce into December in the North if protected with row cover on Quick Hoops™. In the South or Pacific Northwest, it can be harvested all winter. Overwintered chard will send up a seed stalk in spring that signals it's time for the remaining leaves to be harvested and a new crop to be started from seed. Spring-started chard can be planted out early and, because it is also heat tolerant, will produce tender leaves longer than spinach.

Swiss chard is highly nutritious, loaded with Vitamins A, C, and iron. It can be chopped and eaten raw or lightly steamed and used in any recipe that calls for spinach. For a special treat, saute sliced garlic in butter or olive oil and add chopped chard leaves and stems. Cook for 2 minutes, until the chard is wilted and hot.

Jerusalem artichoke
Stampede Jerusalem Artichoke
Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke is a tall, attractive sunflower (Helianthus tuberosus) native to North America. It has been grown for centuries as a food plant; several Indian tribes grew it before European settlement.  In 1605 Champlain took the tubers back to France where it was soon widely grown for human and livestock food.

Johnny's variety, Stampede, is extra-early, maturing more than a month ahead of native varieties. Our large, white tubers are grown organically here at Johnny's research farm and are shipped in October for fall planting.

Jerusalem artichoke is perennial in Zones 3-8. A word of warning: it is a robust, spreading plant that can take over, so plant it in a place where it can be contained and permanent.

Stampede flowers in July, and by August the tubers are ready to be dug. However, they can be left in the ground and dug only as needed. The tubers' carbohydrates are in the form of inulin rather than starch, making them good for diabetics and dieters. After storage, either in the refrigerator or left in the ground, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tuber develops a much sweeter flavor. They can be sliced thin and eaten raw or steamed. The flavor is similar to water chestnut, but sweeter and nuttier. Jerusalem artichokes are high in potassium and iron.

Fall broccoli

Arcadia, Bay Meadows, and Marathon are especially cold-tolerant varieties, so they are good choices for planting in September to mature in November.

Arcadia is a tall, vigorous plant with a medium stem and heavy, medium green heads with a frosted appearance. 63 days to maturity.

Bay Meadows
Bay Meadows is a new variety that is getting good reviews from around the country. It was bred for cool spring and cool fall weather, but it also has done well in summer in spite of heat and some drought stress. The heads are extremely attractive and uniform, blue-green and well-domed. 60 days to maturity.

Marathon is a medium-tall plant with high domed, heavy, blue-green heads. This variety is widely planted in California for winter harvest, and has been successful in the Northeast for fall harvest. 67 days to maturity.

Fall sunflowers
Sunflowers are a quick crop and their bright colors make them popular in fall decorating up until Thanksgiving. The bicolors are especially autumnal. They don't mind cool weather but will be killed by a heavy frost, so plant them in a hoophouse if frost is likely before maturity. For the most uniform flowers, start the seeds inside and transplant the plugs as soon as the root ball holds together. If you have grasshoppers, cover with row cover until the plants are several weeks old.

The key to success with fall sunflowers is to choose day-neutral varieties that won't be affected by the declining day length of autumn. We recommend:

Pro Cut Series, which is available in six colors, including Pro Cut Red/Lemon Bicolor, with red rings around the center of the flower. Pro Cut Orange is the most familiar color, with gold petals surrounding a dark brown center. Pro Cut sunflowers bloom 50-60 days from seeding. They are single-stem and pollenless.

Sunbright Supreme is another popular sunflower with gold petals and a brown center. It blooms in 60 days under the short days of autumn. It is a single-stem, pollenless variety.

Row cover
Johnny's has a good selection of spunbonded polypropylene row covers to keep your crops thriving as the weather gets colder. All allow rainwater to pass and keep insects out. In choosing row covers, remember that there is a tradeoff between frost protection and light transmission. If you want to keep plants growing, choose the lightest weight (the best light transmission) that will still provide the frost protection you need. For overwintering crops, where fall growth is less important, choose a heavier weight for more frost protection. Support hoops are recommended for all of these heavier row covers:
  • Agribon+ AG-19 provides frost protection down to 28˚F/-2C with 85% light transmission.
  • Agribon+ AG-30 has frost protection to 26˚F/-3C with 70% light transmission.
  • Agribon+ AG-50 protects to 24˚F/-4 with 50% light transmission.
  • Agribon+ AG-70 protects to 24˚F/-4 with 30% light transmission. Its heavier weight makes it the most durable of the Agribon row covers.
  • Typar Xavan is a more durable spunbonded polypropylene fabric that provides frost protection down to 26˚F/-3C with 70% light transmission. It will last 3-4 seasons or more. Used for overwintering crops such as strawberries and spinach. Because of its weight, it should be held above the crop on support hoops.

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