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Sprouts - Stories from a Young Farmer

Farm School: It's Over, and Now It's Time to Start a Business

A photo of Alison Spaude-Filipczak with a farm shareHooray for Spring!

Sunshine. Long days. Another growing season right around the corner. Yahoo!

The last six months have flown by.  Here is a brief update of what Alan and I have been up to.

November: Alan and I graduate from the Greenbank Farm Training Center on Whidbey Island in Washington State.  We leave with a business plan in hand and as much smarter farmers and gardeners then when we started.  It was eight-months well spent.

December:  We settle in northern Wisconsin along the south shore of Lake Superior. We moved to the town of Washburn, population 2200, and are renting a house that is near Alan’s family. We have intentions to start a business in 2011.

January: Alan and I are both employed! Alan, a man who loves vegetables, is working in produce department at the Chequamegon Food Cooperative, and I have several positions working with youth in the community.  We settle into the idea that we will not become land owners this year, and we look into options for farming this growing season.

February and March:  High Five Produce LLC is formed.   Alan and I are starting our very small business.  We intend to grow and sell vegetables to our local community at a market stand every Friday from the June trough October. Much of our free time is spent doodling in notebooks, paging through farm supply and seed catalogues, and creating a crop plan and business goals.  We have also networked with other farmers in the area and have taken part in Lake Superior Farm Beginnings, a program sponsored by the Land Stewardship Project.

April: Wow! April is here. The snow is almost gone. Our onion and leek starts are getting tall.  Alan is enjoying taking notes on the germination success of different varieties of lettuces—we are growing 21 varieties this year! Our to-do list is getting long, and we are digging up our front yard, one of three places we will be growing this summer.

My hibernation from the blog world is over.  New this year, my husband Alan will be joining the blog.  We hope to keep you all up to date with news from our small farm business and garden life on a weekly basis.

Stay posted for future blog entries on the following topics:

  • On starting an LLC
  • Conducting your own variety trail
  • Tool review of the Vashon Broad fork
  • Our experience making our Wizbang Wheel hoe
  • And many more exciting farm topics

Happy seed starting everyone!

Alison and Alan Spaude-Filipczak 

Growing Seed

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakOne unique project at the Greenbank Farm Training Center this year was growing seed for the retail market. Our farm manager landed a contract with High Mowing Organic Seeds to grow 35-50 pounds of Golden Frill Mustard.  We were to take this specialty green that is typically harvested somewhere between 21 to 45 days and see it through its entire lifecycle. From seed to tender green to bolting plant to full, mature seedpods.  We watched this annual give its best at the reproduction cycle.

We stared in spring. High Mowing Organic Seeds sent us a packet of seeds that we started in cell trays in our greenhouse. At three weeks, a time when Golden Frill Mustard is perfect as a baby salad green, we transplanted the seedlings outdoors. We put three hundred plants in each one hundred foot bed and planted five beds. This put us at roughly 1,500 plants. That is a lot of mustard!

Young Mustard 

It was an easy crop to forget about.  We weeded and irrigated the mustard of course, but the vegetables we were growing for our CSA stole our attention.  As summer progressed the plants began to bolt, one at a time like popcorn popping in a pan. Suddenly all of the small ruffled greens that were so cute had shot up over our heads, creating a forest of flowering mustard plants. Enormous tubers that looked like ugly kohlrabi showed above the surface. One could see how much energy the plant was putting into setting flowers.

This was bee heaven. A hum of buzzing echoed throughout the mustard square, and when the yellow flowers gave way to long skinny seedpods, the bird moved in.  They wanted what we wanted: ripe, mature seed. Flash tape decorated the t-posts that we put up to help support the voluminous plants, a scarecrow was erected, and a few rocks were thrown to try to keep away the birds as the seed became more and more ripe.

Flowering Mustard 

As we inched into fall, our mustard crop became more of a priority. Here was a crop that we had been growing all season long. We had a contract to fulfill, and a good portion of income riding on the success of this seed. Every other day, we checked the maturity of the plants. Were the seeds green or brown?  Were the pods beginning to burst open at the slightest touch?  We watched the weather, as the fall was becoming rainy and wet.   We consulted our friends at the Organic Seed Alliance.  With more bad weather on the horizon, we pulled the plants early with only ten percent of the seed pods filled with ripe seed.  No worries though, several sources told us our crop would continue to ripen indoors.  We cut the plants low to the ground, so that the plants would send the last of its energy up to the pods.  It was final attempt at completing its reproductive cycle.

We moved our 1,500 plants to an attic barn to let them dry for thee more weeks. Then, we had two long days of inside work. First, we stripped the pods from the plants.  Then we stomped on small batches of pods, sending the ripe seed from the pods onto a tarp.  The final step was to winnow the seed and clean it.

Bunching Mustard Plants 

We sent a sample to High Mowing Seed where they preformed a germination test.  89% of our mustard seed germinated.  High Mowing was happy and so were we. We let the remainder of our clean seed dry for a few more weeks before the final cleaning. We ended up with 40 pounds of seed.  It was enough to make it worthwhile endeavor.

Stomping on Mustard  

The 2011 seed catalogues have already started to arrive. Although I have yet to get the High Mowing Seed catalogue in the mail, I know the first page I will look at will have Golden Frill Mustard on the page.  I don’t know if our seed will be divided up into 1/32 of an ounce packets or sold in bulk by the pound to farmers, but I can’t help but wonder into what earth our mustard will be sown. Hats off to his spicy braising green, great in salad or as a garnish! It was a pleasure seeing your lifecycle.

Farm School Week 28: The Grain Harvest

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakWe have hit the six-month mark at the Greenbank Farm Training Center. We spent the spring planning, prepping and planting. In the summer we watered and weeded. And now, with the onset of fall, we are in full harvest mode. Each day the zukes and cukes seem to double in size, the green beans generate new fruit by the bushel-full, and the tomatoes redden and ripen into globes of goodness.

Many of these crops are under our constant supervision. Zucchinis the size of baseball bats don’t sell, and if we don’t pick the beans they will stop producing all together. We check on our vegetable crops daily and tend to their ever-present needs. We weed. We trellis. We sucker. If a crop is ripe, we harvest it for our CSA or try to sell it at the farmers market. We move the goods we grow from farm to table. Or farm to grocery store to table if you count the produce we sell to independently owned grocery stores. We check radishes to make sure they don’t get to pithy, peas to make sure they aren’t too fibrous, carrots for crispness and arugula for spice.

We do a good job keeping on top of our game, but there are those few projects that get forgotten about during the deep of summer. It took me by total surprise when I finally noticed that the experimental grain crop we had planted in spring was losing color and the little grain heads were hardening up and falling to the ground.

In June, we planted one-hundred feet of two-row barely and one-hundred feet of hull-less oats. This was strictly for fun. None of us, with the exception of our program director, had ever grown grains. This was one of the experiential learning projects that we were not going to have to sell at market or give to our CSA members.

My memories of the grains’ life cycle are vague. We planted. A few weeks after the grains germinated we had some issues with Canada geese, but the grain bounced back. We watered throughout the summer and a flock of birds made the thigh-high grain an afternoon hang out spot. At some point we tasted the grains, taking in the milky, under-ripe taste of oats and the chewy hulls of barely. Those grains seemed to grow themselves, and they made farming seem easy.

This was a small operation. You don’t use a combine to harvest two hundred feet of grain. You can imagine that we had to be innovative with our harvesting method. We cut down the grain with a hand sickle and tied armloads into bundles. We let the bundles dry in our barn house for a few weeks.

Then came time to thresh and winnow the grain. Thresh: to separate grain from a plant. Winnow: to remove chaff from the grain. These are age-old practices, taking us as far back to the earliest days of humanity’s agricultural roots.

Threshing Experiment One included holding a bundle of grain like a bat and beating it over the edge of a wheelbarrow. This was somewhat successful, but quite an arm workout. Threshing Experiment Two included jumping, dancing, and sliding on top of the bundles of grain. This was very successful. If you danced on the grain for a few minutes you could not only get in a little bit of a cardio, but also get 95% of the grain to fall off.

After we threshed the grain, we pushed it through the two screens we use to sieve our potting soil in the spring. This removed any large pieces of straw that had made their way through the threshing process. We set up a few Rubbermaid containers outside on a tarp. We poured buckets of grain from shoulder height into the containers. The wind blew away the chaff while the force of gravity sent the grain right into the container. After a few passes with this technique, the grain was almost entirely clean. It took six of us an hour and a half to process and clean one-hundred feet of barely. Not bad, eh?

I don’t want to make this process sound too easy, but, from start to finish, this process was easy. Call it beginner’s luck. Call it case of sowing seeds in the right place at the right time. All I know is that I will do this again. I encourage any home gardener with a little extra space to try planting a few seeds in the spring. Who knows, you might be able to bake that homemade loaf of bread with homegrown wheat. Or what about brewing a batch of beer with homegrown barley. Now could be your chance to make that morning bowl of oatmeal really special!

What about for me? For now, I will take my share of grain home. I’ll probably put it in the pantry and forget about it for a few months, just like how I forgot about the grain as it was growing. There are other things fighting for my attention. Like the zucchini about to go soft in the crisper, the fresh basil that it starting to wilt in the fridge. I could never let a late-season strawberry go moldy, and lettuce doesn’t last long, no matter how you store it. I already feel the grains drifting away, only to come back on a cold winter day as a nice porridge when the cucumbers and cabbage are months away.

Oats doing their thing in the midst of summer.

Sebastian demonstrates threshing technique number one.

Threshing technique number two turns into a dance party.

Abigail winnows the barely with the help of the wind.

Farm School Week 24: The Joy of Pleasure Beds

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakOur field is one big grid. It is divided into rows and columns — into numbers, and letters, and more numbers. Organized. Mathematical. Necessary. The tomatoes are in C3 beds five through ten; the first planting of broccoli is in B5 bed nine while the second planting is in C2 beds three and four. If you were looking at our log book, you would know that you could find Shiraz beets, planted on June 17th, in the first 30 feet of the of the second bed of row three in section B. They will need to be harvested on July 31st, and they should all be out of the ground by August 14th. This is all good information ... if you need to weed, water, harvest, plant or prep.

When farming five acres, it’s good to have a plan. It’s good to be organized. It’s good to be a little bit anal retentive about it all. Grid. Map key. Logbook. This keeps a farm functioning. But, there is one important food that doesn’t grow well in these conditions, and that is food for the soul. Get rid of that map, we’ve got to keep the creative spirit alive.

This is where I believe the home gardener has one up on the production farmer. Inventiveness. Imagination. Artistry. A vision free from the constraints of yield and maximum efficiency. I’m not saying it’s a free-for-all out there in the home gardening world. I know many home gardeners who are highly organized and create their garden plans months ahead of time, taking in a complex variety of considerations from companion planting to water requirements. However, there is an element of originality and freedom that is difficult to duplicate on a larger scale.

Joe in his unpredictable personal plot.

Born out of the necessity to express ourselves as individuals and creative beings, it was decided to give each participant at the GFTC a one-hundred foot long by three and half foot wide bed to do whatever our hearts desired with. Yes, this was just one long and skinny bed, but suddenly we all had options. You could almost see the visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.

Seed catalogues were obtained. Unique and obscure growing methods were researched. Extra transplants that had been thrown into the compost weeks ago were rescued. Our creative spirits began to manifest themselves. Our personalities popped like the poppies in bloom.

We all took different approaches. Joe (above) chose to be resourceful and sporadic, only planting things that otherwise would have been turned into compost and placing them in no predictable order whatsoever. Jordan and Kelly teamed up (below), turning their twin-sized beds into a queen-size, and they built large mounds to replicate the traditional growing methods of the three sisters crops.

Kelly and her traditional method three sisters crops.

Mary planted flax. Taryn planted miniature sunflowers and the same variety of fava beans that her father grew when she was a child. Alan (below) planted uncommon winter storage vegetables, such as salsify, scorzonera, and celeriac.

Alan and his potatoes

And although there are thousands of acres of it growing across the country, I planted corn. However, this was special corn — heritage varieties of popcorn and dent corn from all over the world. I have hopes that it will store well for the upcoming winter.

All eight participants at the Greenbank Farm Training Center are proud of the plants we grow together. The carrots of A4 bed eight are well weeded. If any one of us sees a runner on a strawberry plant sprinting for dear life, we will bend down to cut its race short. We all care for the thousands of heads of lettuce, and we are sure to water the kids in the cabbage patch when they need it. But I think it is safe to say that our true babies are tucked into the soil of our personal beds.

What we have grown in the one-hundred foot strips has somehow become an expression of ourselves. To plant a seed and see it germinate. To watch it grow its first true leaves. To take in the same sunshine as our plants each day. There is a deep pleasure that blooms within this relationship. Maybe this is why gardening is so loved. It gives us a chance to nurture our whole selves — body, mind, and spirit.

The main reason my husband and I joined this program is because we envision having a farm in our future. We needed to learn how to farm, so that when we do set out on our own land, we have the knowledge and work ethic needed to run an economically viable farm and farm business. That being said, I know there will be plenty of log books, maps, and spreadsheets in our future. However, when the time comes, it will be just as important to the survivability of our farm and family that we maintain time and space for creativity so that we can sow the seeds of healing and joy. We will need to keep the pleasure beds alive.

Farm School Week 20: The Halfway Point

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakThe beets are round and beautiful, the chard is stunning with its bright rainbow colored stems, and the carrots are magnificent — pulling one is like unearthing a gem.  There are hundreds of feet of lettuce ready to be picked, the cabbage and broccoli are starting to head up, and last week, our first snap peas snapped and we joyously tossed them into our mouths.  Our field is starting to look like a farm.

July 1st marked the halfway point of the 2010 program at the Greenbank Farm Training Center (GFTC), and it is amazing to think back to four months ago when the field was barren — unfortunately, not even planted with a cover crop — and our infrastructure was limited.

Greenbank Farm Training Center Garden in March of 2010.  Photo taken from the north.

Since then, the crew of eight participants at the GFTC has built two greenhouses, installed a deer fence, added needed electric and irrigation systems to the field, started thousands vegetable starts from seed, and prepped and planted a over a hundred and twenty one-hundred foot-long beds with annual vegetables.

Greenbank Farm Training Center Garden in July of 2010.  Photo taken from the south.

This is on top of starting a 45-member CSA, growing vegetables for three wholesale accounts, and selling at the Sunday farmer’s market.  Not to mention all of the marketing energy we put into building a positive relationship with our customers and community.

It has been a busy but gratifying last four months.  I am starting to understand the rewards that come to a person from working the land and growing your own food. The back of my neck has developed quite a nice tan, my arms are getting stronger, and my feet have become permanently caked with a layer of dirt.  Almost anytime of the day, I can look up to see herons or harriers flying in the sky.  Ladybugs hide out in the veggies and occasionally a snake slithers by reminding me that we humans share the earth with all.  The sweetness of a salad turnip, the crunch of a fresh pea — these are few of the simple pleasures of life.

One of the most fun changes that has happened as a result of my time in the garden has taken place in the kitchen.  As a farmers-in-training at the GFTC, I have access to all of the fresh produce a person could ask for. For the past few weeks, when my husband and I sit down to dinner we are in wonderment at the localness and freshness of our meals.

Fresh lettuce, radishes, Asian greens, arugula, salad turnips, and a few berries make a delicious fresh and healthy salad—only the ingredients for the dressing are outsourced.  As a side-dish, we often eat sautéed chard and kale or roasted beets and carrots.  One of my favorite sides is Alan’s specialty of candied carrots — sliced carrots simmered with honey and butter, two ingredients we can pick up at the farmer’s market.  And, speaking of the farmer’s market, we can get humanely raised beef or pork, line-caught salmon, free-range eggs, and fresh wheat all from farms within 30 miles of our house.  What else does one really need, besides coffee, of course.

Eyeing up some Swiss chard for dinner.

A few years ago, the localvore movement was a hot topic. Barbara Kingsolver published Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon published Plenty, both excellent memoirs on a year of eating locally. “Farm fresh” and “local” became buzz words seeking a lot of attention in the media, and the idea of tracking a person’s “food miles” came to consumers’ attention.  You couldn’t turn on the radio or go into a natural food store without hearing mention of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. This issue is no longer in the spotlight; however, I strongly believe that supporting our nation’s farmers is critical to our country’s food security and to building healthy economies.  We need more farmers growing healthy food.

However, I am not here to push these ideas on anyone. Yes, eating locally supports a local economy, and yes, it often times uses less natural resources.  What I have found in eating locally has gone beyond the material.  Independence and freedom.  This is what I have gained.  To grow one’s own food, to eat the fruits of your neighbor’s labors, to become connected with one’s land and community — these are immeasurable.  This is why I want to continue to grow food for my family and community.

There are four more months of the program. Four more months to learn, to work the land, to grow in spirit and stature.  There is still so much work to be done.  In the next weeks we will sow our winter vegetables and till in the last of the cover crops we planted in March. We have tomatoes to trellis — the tiny green fruits will grow heavier by the day.  Any day the zukes will ripen and we will have to run out into the fields and pick them before they look like baseball bats.  The new potatoes are almost ready for digging. And always, there is still so much more to learn about becoming a farmer.

Joe runs between beds of broccoli. The Greenbank Farm Training Center is growing healthy food and healthy farmers.

Farm School Week 14: Welcome, June, We Have Your CSA Veggies

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakThe first week of June marks a transition here at the Greenbank Farm school. We have officially started our CSA. This is what we have been working toward for the past three months. Our members are the reason we have planted one hundred hundred-foot beds (to date) filled with annual vegetables. They are the reason we have the pleasure of growing so much good food. It’s week one of twenty, and our excitement is bursting so much that if we don’t let it out we will swell up and crack like the radishes. The time for harvest is now.

What has made it into this week’s box? Asian greens, salad turnips, radishes, spinach, head lettuce, kale, and arugula. Spring is the time of leafy greens — nutritionally dense, delicious, and somewhat overwhelming. Even as a self-proclaimed vegetable lover, I admit that our first box has lot of greens in it. However, that is eating with the seasons, and, for the sake of our CSA members, let’s hope they like salad.

Taryn proudly displays the contents of our first CSA share.Taryn proudly displays the contents of our first CSA share

Tuesday morning was the first harvest. My job was to pick Asian greens and salad turnips. Kelly and I used the salad knives that we had purchased from Johnny’s Seed catalogue to cut the greens right below the soil at the roots. We artfully bunched the home-mix of komatsuna, Tokyo bekana, and turnip tops, then twist-tied them together.  After picking and bunching the greens, we brought them to the washing station (a used sink with a hose attached to it) and hydro-cooled and washed the veggies in potable water before putting them in a box kept in the shade. I had never put too much thought into the need to keep vegetables cool and fresh until this experience, but man, fresh greens don’t look too good if they are left in the sun.

Then, it was off the pick the salad turnips. Until this summer, I had never had a salad turnip in my life. Unlike the turnips we are all used to, these are a spring treat and eaten fresh like a radish. These are delicious. The turnips are white and golf ball size, they are so sweet I almost think of them as a fruit rather than a root. The greens, although not as sweet as the root, are also edible. I enjoy the greens lightly pickled or sautéed with oil and garlic. For the past few weeks I had been sneaking undersized turnips from the field when others had their backs turned. They are so good that they have brought me to thievery.

I can only describe my feelings as heartbreaking when we began to harvest the turnips on Tuesday.  Each beautiful round globe we pulled from the earth had been munched on the bottom and destroyed to a point that we could no longer salvage them for our members. On average, five out of six turnips and been spoiled. The culprit was the cabbage-root maggot. Another terrible reality about farming hit me: Pests can destroy entire crops. Fortunately, we were able to find good enough turnips to give our members a (small) share of this delicious veggie. Fortunately, the cabbage-root maggot has only had the chance to destroy our first fully mature crop of turnips. We plant twenty feet of salad turnips every week, and, in hopes the cabbage-root maggot does not strike again, we will be covering our crop with row cover. Hopefully, our members understand. It’s a difficult crop to only get a teaser taste from.

Joe and Jordan harvest spinach.
Joe and Jordan harvest spinach.

In March, we set a goal of finding fifty members. In mid-April, we decided to shoot for forty-five. (We had taken on a few more wholesale accounts to make our financial goals.) June 1st we had thirty-six members, and by Friday we were up two more. Hopefully a few more will roll in throughout the coming weeks, but, for now, we have decided to focus on the members we have and be content with thirty-eight.

Our members live all over the island. The Greenbank Farm Training Center is located roughly in the middle region of Whidbey Island. We have two drop off points for our CSA shares in the north end of the island, three sites in the south end, and, of course, a drop site right here at the farm. So as not to overload ourselves with a massive harvest day, we have chosen to harvest shares twice a week. And this is where we are going to have to make our biggest adjustment. Time management.

Picking, washing, and packing take most of the morning on a harvest day. Then someone has to drive the shares to the drop points in the afternoon. We are including a newsletter each week with recipes and information about the farm. Some of us have to write the content while others of us edit and take photos. All of this takes time--one of the most precious resources of all.

Participants of the Greenbank Farm Training Center excited for first CSA harvest. Participants of the Greenbank Farm Training Center excited for first CSA harvest.

Somewhere in the day we still have to take care of all of the tasks we were doing before we started our CSA. We are still starting seeds in greenhouse. Other plants need to be transplanted into the fields. And, being a training center, we still need to have our time in the classroom so we can learn all things farm related. There is weeding, of course. Not to mention having to balance the books and making sure our members are getting their produce boxes while the arugula still looks good. And we still want to look good too, so we need to make a few minutes for stretching, and maybe even some time to drink some herbal tea. As I write this, the to-do list is getting longer. Oh no ... it’s almost going off the page!

Farming is starting to be a little more work than I first expected. I think it’s time to get my beauty sleep and get ready to go back into the fields. Week two of our CSA shares is only two days away.

Farm School Weeks Six and Seven: Finally Planting Time

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakSpring is in full swing, and here at the Greenbank Farm Training Center we have been swinging ourselves between the greenhouse and the fields. The time to plant is now, and it has been a constant dance between planting seeds in the greenhouse, direct seeding in the field, and transplanting. If anyone is curious, I thought I would share our method or organization here at the farm.

Crop Plan

This is where we use our Excel spreadsheets.  First, we figured out how much food we need to grow to support our 50-member CSA, farmers market, and wholesale accounts. Then we figured out how much space we needed to grow that much food, along with how much time each crop needs to reach full maturity. This process took a lot of math – from counting back days to maturity to days of desired harvest to figuring how many chard plants make a bunch.  We also calculated how often we need to plant our staple crops that we intend to harvest bi-weekly, like radishes and lettuces, and how long those crops can stay fresh in the field.  After doing the hard work, we determined what plants would be planted where on our five-acre field, laminated the crop plan, and headed to the fields.


Plug Trays and Soil Blocks

We have been planting many of our starts in 72- and 98-cell plug trays. Crops such as kale, chard, lettuces, Asian greens, and many of our flowers and herbs do well starting in plug trays. There are several advantages to using this method, including uniformity of the seedlings size, time efficiency, and basic ease in the transportation of starts. Plug trays are also very easy to use. Drawbacks to the plug trays mainly consist of the fact they are made out of plastic, which is always a bit tough on the environmentally-minded conscience. Also, plants have the potential to become root bound, where roots begin to circle around the plug tray when they no longer have space to grow downward.

We started our tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers in soil blocks. Announcement: Soil blocks are incredibly fun!  If you liked making sandcastles as a child (or as an adult) than you will love making soil blocks.  Soil blocks come in a variety of sizes. We have started all of our tomatoes and pepper using the smallest blocks (three-quarter-inch cubes), and now we are in the process of transplanting the three-quarter-inch cubes into two-inch cubes. (It’s like a puzzle!) Advantages to using soil blocks include the benefit to the environment (no plastic), less of a chance for plants to become root bound, and lastly, hours of fun. Disadvantages are that they use more potting soil and take more time. (As my husband Alan, a fellow Greenbank Farming Training Center participant, proof-read this blog entry, he asked me to emphasize that soil blocks take a lot of time.)

Placing small soil blocks into larger ones

A Recipe for Potting Soil

With all of the soil blocks we have been making and the plug trays we have been filling, we also need to be making potting soil.  Here’s our recipe:

4 parts peat moss
2 parts vermiculite
2 parts perlite
1 part soil (sifted)
optional 1-2 parts compost (sifted)
2-4 cups fertilizer mix (equal parts bone meal, fish meal, green sand, kelp meal)

* A note of interest: on the first several trays of chard that we planted, we noticed we were having issues with damping off. The roots to our baby chard were brown and dying – a definite cause for concern. Our crew came to the conclusion that our compost was still too “hot” and causing our root damage. After removing the compost from our potting soil, we were problem free.

Hardening Off in our Makeshift Cold Frame

Our greenhouse is only so big, and we have a lot of food and flowers to grow. On a limited budget, we built two cold frames to shelter our plants as we harden them off – transition them between the greenhouse and their future home in the field. Sebastian, the farm school coordinator, compared these plants to teenagers. “We don’t want to kick them out of the house quite yet, but we don’t want them hanging on to us for too much longer.” We keep them under row cover and resting on reused wood pallets.

Mary, Alison and Taryn get plugs ready for the field.

Transplant Time

This is the fun part.  We’ve coddled and canoodled our babies past the cotyledon stage.  Their true leaves have appeared, and if we leave them any longer in the plug trays, their roots are going to start growing upwards or round and round. We gently release the plugs from their trays and carefully plant each plant with its proper spacing. We created spacing poles – long pieces of wood and old pipe that we marked in one-foot increments. Very easy.

Direct Seeding

Several of our crops we have seeded directly into the earth. This includes our weekly planting of SARTAC, which stands for Salad greens, Arugula, Radish, Turnip, Asian greens, and Cilantro. This method is both time-efficient and easy, especially with the use of our seeder.

Weeding, Watering, and Waiting

After planting and transplanting, we let the plants do what they are meant to do: grow. We weed between the rows, and do our best to make sure the plants have the best environment to thrive. If the plants need water, we have rigged up an irrigation system using a nearby duck pond. Some crops we have tucked in with row cover to protect them from the birds and the wind. Others, we let be. We will have to deal with complications as they arise, but, luckily, there haven’t been many issues so far.

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