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Planting winter crops too early

Mustard greensI'd heard tidbits of Eliot Coleman's wisdom secondhand, which is what tempted me to plant extra mustard greens and leave them be through the fall in hopes of a winter harvest.  I planted several beds on August 20, then planted more on September 9.  Both sets of greens grew beautifully, but the August-planted mustard greens reached and passed peak maturity before our Persephone Days began, and soon the oldest greens were absolutely loaded with aphids.

I subscribe to the belief that insect infestations are a sign that I'm doing something wrong, especially when it comes to aphids.  The question is, which of the three factors that separate the aphid-covered greens from the healthy greens is the cause of the infestation?

  • Early planting --- Eliot Coleman advises that crops for winter harvest should just be reaching maturity as the Persephone Days begin, and the buggy mustard was overmature.  Mustard in the later-planted beds is aphid-free and vibrant.
  • Protected microclimate --- I used row cover fabric over the buggy plants earlier than I used it over the non-buggy plants.  I wonder if the fabric helped the aphids survive freezing temperatures.
  • Aphids on mustard greensPoor soil and shade --- Even though all of the aphid-coated mustard was planted early, one early-planted bed skipped the aphid infestation.  The buggy beds are at the west end of the mule garden where they get more shade and where the soil is much thinner --- the plants were probably already struggling a bit before the aphids moved in.  The happy but elderly mustard is in the better soil of the east end of the mule garden and receives the most winter sun.

Since I don't know which factor is the primary cause of my aphid infestation, I'll try to correct all three for next year.  Meanwhile, I've discovered that you don't even notice the aphids once the greens are cooked --- extra protein.



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