Monday, May 7, 2018

Planting Time: The Beginning of the Veggie Life Cycle

Farm Update

Fred in the greenhouse placing flats of microgreens.
Hi everyone!  Well, like every spring at the farm, this one has been up and down.  It took quite a while for things to start growing since it was so cold for so long, but things are really starting to take off.  We have been planting like crazy to get things in the ground for later in the season, including our 50,000 onion plants!  This is the first time we’ve ever grown something on quite such a large scale, and it has been a pretty huge project, since each onion plant has to be planted by hand.  All in all, we’re putting in about two miles worth of onion beds!

Along with the planting, we’ve also been harvesting for a little while for our store and restaurant customers.  Although we don’t have enough volume or enough variety to start the CSA yet, we are able to provide some veggies (like spring mix, spinach, radishes, pea shoots, and microgreens) to local stores and restaurants throughout most of the spring.

Another thing we’ve been doing lately is repairing and reinforcing the coldframes and greenhouse.  We’ve had several days of high winds in the last few weeks, so we’ve been doing our best to minimize damage by making sure everything is as secure as possible.  However, we did have a strong wind Friday blow the plastic off our heated greenhouse, so it was in pretty bad shape.  Fortunately, Fred was able to save all of our flats of microgreens and transplants from blowing away by jerryrigging some of the ripped plastic up on the west side of the greenhouse to protect the plants from the prevailing wind.  Then he made an emergency trip to Grand Rapids that evening to get some new greenhouse plastic, and he and Ben put it on the house Saturday.  It’s a huge job that kind of came out of nowhere, but that’s one of the realities of farming.  And fortunately none of our plants were ruined.  So that’s a win, I suppose.

These days at the farm, there is always something to be done to get everything up and running for the summer season.  There are flats to seed, transplants to put in the ground, veggies to harvest and pack, coldframes to tend, irrigation to manage, greenhouses to fix, and a barn to be set up and organized, as well as a million other small tasks that make up the body of work on the farm.  And after a long winter, it is so nice to be back out there in the sun doing all of it!

Planting Time:  The Beginning of the Veggie Life Cycle

In the greenhouse, there are flats of microgreens, as well as
transplants waiting for the day they can be planted in the field.
Long before all of our farm’s veggies end up on your plate, and even before they become pretty rows of plants growing in the field, they begin their life as tiny seeds.  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, although this year many of our plantings were pushed back significantly by the extended cold weather. There are a number of factors that go into getting the timing just right.

We do two types of seeding at the farm: transplants and direct seeding.  The seeds that are destined to be transplanted are first seeded into black plastic flats filled with potting soil.  Traditionally we’ve seeded all of these transplants by hand, but a few weeks ago, we got a new seeder that can do about 15 times the number of flats in the same amount of time, so that has been a huge time saver!  Once the flats are seeded, we cover them with a layer of vermiculite, water them, and place some of them 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. 

When it becomes time to plant the transplants in the field,
we put all of our little plants into the field by hand.  Here I am
 planting some lettuce transplants.

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 with our overhead sprinklers during the day when it is above freezing so our water lines don’t freeze up. We also cover these plantings with large sheets of perforated clear plastic to act as a secondary greenhouse to get the soil temperature high enough to germinate the seeds.

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 late March when the weather is fair enough and the soil is dry enough to support the weight of the tractor. 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 and lettuce.  Immediately following this seeding, we set up wire hoops that resemble large croquet wickets, and cover the hoops with perforated clear plastic with an implement that we pull over the hoops with the tractor.  These serve to protect the plants from the wind and excessively cold temps when they emerge from the soil so early in the year. It is amazing that this year these first plantings seeded around March 25th were able to survive out in the field with these simple hoops. These plantings actually look great despite being snowed on and frozen too many times to count!

So that is the beginning of the veggie journey, and before we know it, all those veggies will be ready to harvest and eat!


Now that the cold weather is finally behind us, there is a much larger variety of local produce around us than there was a few months ago!  But for me, one of the first signs of real spring is the radishes.  Radishes are one of those veggies that you either love or hate; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone whose feelings about radishes were ambiguous.  Personally, I love them sliced really thin on a salad or on top of a stir-fry.  So if you’re looking for a few new ideas for an old favorite, or you’re thinking of giving this lovey spring veggie another shot after dismissing it decades ago, here are 13 Tasty Radish Recipes from Real Simple to give you some inspiration!