Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March/April 2014 Newsletter

Farm Update

Well, finally some spring weather has come and the busy season begins at the farm!  Our first round of field transplants are up in the greenhouse and doing well.  Three out of our four coldframes are now seeded and the first seedlings are starting to pop up.  Fred got our mix of organic fertilizers and compost from Morgan’s Composting on Saturday which will be applied to our fields. It has been a challenge to spread since the soil has been thawing more than we expected.  The strawberries have been greening up a little and have wintered over very well since they had so much snow on them.  Fred applied some straw to the strawberries to protect from hard late freezes and to eventually keep the berries clean when they form in June.  Most of our field spinach also survived the winter under our low tunnels, and it will be interesting to see if it has a second crop or not this spring.  Our blueberries have wintered over well and we will be finishing up our pruning this week.  We will also begin pruning the apple trees this week, which will be a new experience for us.  Our seed potatoes have arrived and we are in the process of cutting up the seed potatoes.  It is a hopeful time of year as the season finally starts after a hard winter.

Even with all the snow we had, our spinach survived under the plastic
low tunnels!  The snow melted, and Fred pulled off the plastic, and this
is what was underneath.  Amazing!

Just a reminder:  If you want to be in the CSA this year and you haven’t signed up yet, please do that as soon as possible so you can secure your spot in the program this year!  If you need to send in your payment, you can make checks out to Monroe Family Organics, and our mailing address is 8911 Ferris Rd, Elwell MI 48832.  Thanks!
It is so nice to see the field not under several feet of snow!

Spring Seedings

This time of year is when the season starts to pick up for us, and the next few months will be all about starting seeds, whether in the greenhouse, coldframes, or field.   Right now it’s too cold to plant in the field, so our focus is on the heated greenhouse and the unheated coldframes.  The ways in which we do these two seedings are very different, and the crops we are planting are also different.  In the heated greenhouse, we hand plant the seeds in plastic flats with 128 cells, which are aptly called 128s.  We first fill the flats with a mixture of peat moss and many other organic ingredients to promote fast and healthy seedling growth.  Then after filling the flats with this mix, we seed by hand into each hole and then cover the seed with a small amount of soil.  Then the flats are watered and we wait for the seeds to germinate.  It is important to have a high germination rate since we are paying for the flats, heat of the greenhouse, etc.  This is our most expensive growing space per square foot to operate, so having great germination by regulating temperature, moisture, and air movement is critical.  When these seeds grow up into little plants, we’ll transplant them in the field when the weather warms up.
These little guys were seeded in the greenhouse on March 15th, and they are really starting
to grow! When the weather is warm enough, we'll transplant them into the field.

After we seed the flats in the greenhouse, we move on to our coldframes.  This is also more expensive per square foot to operate than field production (because of infrastructure costs, and also because of labor costs, as most of the work in the coldframes has to be done by hand).   It is more expensive than regular field production, but not nearly as much as the heated greenhouse space.  In these tunnels we use a Korean Jang seeder that is pushed by hand and is similar to what we use in the field.  This seeder puts down an adjustable rate of seed into row in the soil in closely spaced rows.  The seeder is like a more professional version of an Earthway Seeder, which is used by many home gardeners.  We seed when soil and air temperatures are starting to rise but while it is still cold so that weed seed germination is low.  Since we are seeding into cold soil we have to plant more seeds to compensate for slightly lower germination than we would get in the temperature controlled greenhouse.  Since it has been cloudy and cold, we also put some clear plastic over the seeded soil until the seeds sprout.  This plastic keeps the seeds a little bit warmer, and thus helps speed germination and maturity of the crop.  In these tunnels we plant more densely than in the field, and feed the plants more compost mix to get as many vegetables as we can from this coldframe space.  These coldframe plantings yield harvestable crops like lettuce mix, spinach, cilantro, radishes, and other fast-growing cold weather crops.  This year three out of the four coldframes were seeded on March 25th, 10 days after the initial seeding in the heated greenhouse.
We put clear plastic over the seeds in the coldframes to give them an extra layer of
 warmth so they will germinate more quickly.  Kind of like a solar coat for plants.

In the field, we wait until the soil is dry enough to work with the tractor and not get stuck, usually around the 2nd week of April.  The first spring field seeding is the most anticipated field event of the year, and we seed many beds with a bigger version of the Jang seeder pulled behind a tractor.  We then cover the planted rows with a small mini greenhouse called a low tunnel.  The low tunnels are put in by a simple machine pulled behind a tractor, and they will speed and improve germination by warming the cold soil.  These tunnels are only about 16 inches high and around 32-36 inches wide.  Rows of seeds under these tunnels are planted less densely than either the coldframes or greenhouse, and germination is more variable due to having the most exposure to what the weather brings.  It is also much cheaper per square foot than the coldframes or greenhouse.  Total yields are much greater as well, since we can easily plant larger areas.  These low tunnel crops are lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach, and other cool season crops.  The first carrots for our CSA drop-offs are from these low tunnels, as are a few other crops, depending on what the weather does in a given year.

All of these techniques help get our crops off to a faster start and allow us to have all of our veggies earlier in the year than we would otherwise, so in a few short months we’ll be harvesting yummy food from the seeds we’re planting now!