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

Colleen D_2
5/23/2010 9:47:44 PM

Hi Alison Your Mom has been keeping me updated on your adventures. I had a share in a CSA last year and never realized all the planning the goes into it. We built a fence today to keep the rabbits out and now I'm too tired to do the planting. Keep up the good work.

S.M.R. Saia
5/22/2010 5:53:24 AM

This is so interesting and informative. It gives me some ideas for making our garden a little less slapdash and a little more scientific as we move towards trying to produce all our own produce. I've really been enjoying following your progress.

Nebraska Dave
5/21/2010 1:13:02 PM

Alison, you have this down to science. I never knew that there would be so much planning and calculations involved with just growing food. I’m impressed with the school and things being taught to sustain a 50 CSA growing season. I have a one CSA, which would be me, garden right outside my back door. It’s probably about 50 feet from the kitchen and can be viewed quite nicely out my computer room, which I call the war room, window. I am hoping for a good year and so far it’s looking quite good. Next year I hope to expand the garden from three raised beds to five raised beds. Next year will be the year of salad greens. I’ve never taken on the task of growing salad greens and will have to contend with the rabbit population somehow. I am thinking I will have to erect a bunny fence around the bed with the wild rabbit buffet growing in it. It has been quite interesting to see how you have progressed through the Winter planning into the Spring doing. Thank you for sharing your learning experiences. Keep us updated on the growing season.

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