Preparing for spring, sowing seeds, planning

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings Photo Kathryn Simmons

A flat of newly emerged lettuce seedlings
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Last Saturday, January 17, I made our first sowings in the greenhouse. I switched on the germinator cabinet made from a broken fridge, and the old incandescent light-bulb came back to life. Before I run out of incandescent light-bulbs, I’ll have to make a germination cabinet with a different form of heating. But I’m shelving that problem for now. On Saturday I sowed some early cabbage, the first lettuce, some scallions and some Red Marble mini-onions. I’ve been checking twice a day to make sure the light-bulb is still working and the temperature in the germination chamber is still OK. Nothing has needed watering. Today one of the cabbage varieties is emerging, so this afternoon I will clear some space for the flat in the greenhouse near the window. Ah! Signs of spring! Even if I did manufacture them, so to speak!

Our system is to screen compost in September, to fill the cinder-block beds in the greenhouse. Then we pop lettuce transplants at 10″ spacing into the beds. Those lettuces are big now, and we have started harvesting leaves from them for salad mixes. On Saturday, I pulled a few lettuces and scooped out some compost to fill the flats for my sowings.

As we need more space in the greenhouse, we’ll pull more of the lettuce. This system works well time-wise – lettuce is still only growing slowly, and we can benefit from this supply right now. It also works well in providing us with a large quantity of mellow screened compost for seed flats, that is indoors and not frozen. The tiny critters have had time to colonize the compost, so it is full of life. (Some of that life will be big white grubs, but I’ll kill those.)

Overwintered Vates kale. Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Overwintered Vates kale.
Photo credit Twin Oaks Community

Meanwhile, we’re spending more time planning than doing production work. We are still harvesting from the hoophouse, making new sowings there (mostly spinach, some to plant in the hoophouse, some to plant outdoors), and harvesting the remaining outdoor crops. We had to rest the kale as we were in danger of over-harvesting it. We had some very cold weather, including one night at 3F.

The planning this week has included finishing up our Outdoor Planting Schedule (Field Planting Schedule) and doing the complex assigning of crops to our permanent raised beds. We managed to find a home for everything we want to grow, partly by employing some tricks. We will transplant our okra in the middle of beds of existing crops, one spinach and one kale. The okra starts will grow up tall and we’ll finish harvesting the kale and spinach, hoe off the debris, add some more compost and mulch around the okra plants. We’re going to have to finish off one bed of kale sooner than we might like to make way for the following crop, but by then we should have had plenty of kale (three spring beds added to 7 fall-planted beds).

Next week we’ll spread compost on the future spinach, turnips and the first couple of carrot beds. Then we’ll be ready to till those beds when the soil and weather suggest it’s time.

A bed of young transplanted lettuce. Credit Wren Vile

A bed of young transplanted lettuce.
Credit Wren Vile

While writing an article for Growing for Market magazine I came across the website on Vegetable Transplant Production from the University of Florida Vegetable horticulture Program. It has a collection of great articles developed by Charles Vavrina in the late nineties. Plants still grow the same way! Check out the site for lots of useful tips about growing and using transplants. This is a good time of year to make plans to do something in a different way, to avoid repeating last year’s less successful episodes!

My reading material has included the Jan/Feb issue of the Organic Broadcaster. This issue includes exciting news about a new open pollinated bi-color sweet corn variety Who Gets Kissed which has been developed for organic growing by co-operation between farmers, breeders and researchers. It is available from High Mowing Seeds. Next year Abundant Bloomsdale spinach, a variety bred with collaboration from eight organic farms, will be released by the Organic Seed Alliance. I’m looking forward to trying that.

The Organic Broadcaster includes an article about pesticide drift by Harriet Behar, arguing for compensation for organic farmers whose land is polluted by pesticides. This topic is a hot one for Joanna and Eric Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm. They are writing a three part blog post about experiencing pesticide drift. So far, the crop testing they had done has been paid by taxpayers, and the perpetrators seem to be getting off with just a reprimand. No fine to balance the costs of testing. The injustices stack up.

Other articles in the Broadcaster include one about John Jeavons’ GrowBiointensive method, another advising offering free-choice minerals to livestock, rather than a commercial mix, as this can cause animals to over-consume the mix to try to get the one mineral they are short of, and one on wholistic poultry welfare. There’s a book review of Farming with Native Beneficial Insects from the Xerces Society. I’m adding this to my wish list. There’s more we could be doing to encourage more beneficial insects in our garden. There’s an article recommending grain farmers add small grains to their crop rotations, and there’s information from a potato variety trial on Midwest organic farms. There’s another about “cottage food laws” which allow some home-made food products to be sold to the public, and more about value-added products of different types. And there’s advice from some “second career” farmers to others choosing farming after retiring from their other jobs. And one about how good record-keeping will pay fro itself when it’s time to prepare your taxes.

A honeybee on deadnettle weeds. Credit Kathryn Simmons

A honeybee on deadnettle weeds.
Credit Kathryn Simmons