Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Seeding: The Beginning of the Veggie Journey

Farm Update

Jessamine "helping out" at the farm
on Friday!  What a lovely day for
field work!
The surest sign every year that winter is really ending and spring is really coming is when the frogs across the road from the blueberry patch start making their froggy noises.  We started hearing this week, so rest assured, the winter to spring transition is about to happen for good!  And that means a lot of work on the farm!  We’ve been seeding flats for transplanting for the last several weeks, and our greenhouse has been pretty packed!  We actually lost a bunch of onion, shallot, and leek transplants a few weeks ago when a friend who was letting us use some of his greenhouse space had a fire break out and destroy his small greenhouse.  In the end, it could have been much worse; it will only set us back about three weeks on the onions, and while Reuben’s small greenhouse was destroyed, his larger greenhouse is still intact.  But it definitely reminded us about the precariousness of small-scale farming.  We also lost the plastic off of one of our coldframes during that big wind storm a few weeks ago. But in other news, our season is taking off!  We’ve been delivering spinach to Green Tree Co-Op in Mt. Pleasant for a few weeks now, as well as microgreens to a few local restaurants.  The first of the greenhouse lettuce is really starting to grow, and should be ready for harvest in a few weeks.  Before we know it, we’ll have a wide variety of things coming out of the greenhouse and coldframes! 

Another thing to note if you’re in the Mt. Pleasant area:  another local farmer, Chris Swier, is no longer doing his vegetable CSA, but he is continuing to do his mushroom CSA, and he’s going to be using our Mt. Pleasant drop-off for folks to pick up their mushroom shares.  So if you’re interested in some high-quality, locally grown mushrooms, you can get more information here.  He also raises pastured pork, which people actually order in the spring (so now's the time to contact him), and then pick up in the fall.  You can find out more about that here.  You can also give him a call at 989-382-5436.  So it seems that all the local small farms have hit the ground running in preparation for summer!  We look forward to seeing you all then!

Spring Seeding:  The Beginning of the Veggie Journey

Long before all of our farm’s produce ends up on your plate, and even before it becomes pretty rows of vegetables growing in the sunlight, it begins its life as a tiny seed.  The first seedings of the year are a really big deal to us, because they determine the timetable the veggies will follow for the rest of their life cycle.  We generally start planting a lot earlier than most farms, because we want to begin harvesting as soon as possible, and there are a number of factors that go into getting the timing just right.

After we seed our transplants into black plastic flats, the
plants grow up in the greenhouse for a while before we
plant them in the field.
We do two types of seeding at the farm: transplants and direct seeding.  The seeds are destined to be transplanted are first seeded by hand into black plastic flats filled with potting soil, covered with vermiculite, and watered.  Some are placed in our homemade germination chamber (really just a tent of greenhouse plastic with a heater in it) to help speed up the germination of the seeds.  We usually start this in early March, so the plants can get a head start growing long before the weather outside the greenhouse is suitable for growing plants.  Once the baby plants begin poking out of the potting soil, we check each cell to make sure there is only one seedling growing in it, and move any doubles into empty cells where the original seeds never germinated.  The goal is to have one plant per cell and no empty cells, because having as few flats as possible saves space in the greenhouse, and it also makes our jobs more efficient when we eventually transplant them (when they’re about two inches tall)  into the field. 

We also have some raised beds in the
greenhouse, in which we have seeded
these little lettuces.
Also around this time, we plant some seeds directly into raised beds in the coldframes, so we can begin getting things like radishes and greens earlier than the outside weather would allow.  Once the nighttime low temperatures are consistently out of the single digits, we can work the ground with our tractor and apply our organic fertility mixes.  Then we shape raised beds in the coldframes and plant the seeds with our 5-row push seeder.  We irrigate these plantings with drip line, which is like a thin perforated plastic tube that we lay down right next to the plant.  The water seeps out of the perforation and waters where the plants need it, and avoids watering any weed seeds that might be lurking in the soil.  We also cover these plantings with large sheets of perforated clear plastic to act as another layer of insulation for the plants until it gets warm enough to uncover them.  We also have created raised beds in our heated greenhouse this year, in which we have planted lettuce and spinach.  These stay a lot warmer than the coldframe plants, so they aren’t covered with the additional layer of plastic.

Then, after the first round of seeding the transplants, coldframes, and greenhouse, there is the first field seeding of the year.  This usually takes place in April when the weather is fair enough and the soil is dry enough to support the weight of the tractor, but we actually were able to get these seeds in the ground a few days ago!  The first field seeding is a huge deal, because this is where the majority of the veggies for the first few weeks of the CSA come from.  This seeding usually includes cold-tolerant crops such as spinach, lettuce.  Immediately following this seeding, we set up wire hoops that resemble large croquet wickets, and cover the hoops with perforated clear plastic to insulate the seeds.  These will also serve to protect the plants from the wind when they emerge from the soil. 

Although the weather is extremely variable this time of year (and today is cold, nasty, and rainy), we are thinking forward to May and June, when all these seeds we’ve put in the ground will be food on our plates, and those of our friends and customers.


Springtime is asparagus time!  Pretty soon, we'll start to see local asparagus popping up in our gardens and food co-ops, so here is a great recipe just in time for asparagus season.  The recipe directs you to bake it, but you could also pan fry it to make it even faster, which is what we usually do.  Enjoy!