Home from PASA Conference, starting seedlings

Where we're headed - our greenhouse with flats of seedlings. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Where we’re headed – our greenhouse with flats of seedlings.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Today is our day for sowing the first broccoli, and also the celery. This year we are trying Redventure celery from Fedco Seeds. We’re hoping Twin Oakers will like the red color and still find it tender enough for their palates.This spring we are growing five broccoli varieties with varying days to maturity, so we can get a long season. We also do two broccoli sowings two weeks apart, to further extend the season. We’re growing Tendergreen (47 days from transplanting), Green Magic (57 days), Green King (65 days), Arcadia ( 68 days) and Diplomat (also 68 days). Green Magic and Green King are fairly new to us. The others are tried and tested here.

Our hoophouse tomatoes have already germinated, and are in a plastic tent on a seed heating mat by the greenhouse windows. We have the 48″ x 20″ size, and later we’ll extend the plastic tent and graduate the older seedlings off the mat, but still under the tent for extra protection.  Also germinated, but getting no special coddling, are lettuce, cabbage, scallions, cipollini, more cabbage, spinach and collards. Sown, but not yet germinated are the hoophouse peppers, some kale and senposai.

We’re about to spot out the first lettuce and cabbage into bigger flats, with about 2.5″ between plants. My favorite tool for this job is a butter knife! For lettuce we use 3″ deep flats, but for most crops we use 4″ deep flats, so the roots have plenty of space. We use a dibble board to make the evenly spaced holes in the compost in the bigger flats, to move the tiny seedlings into. It’s a piece of plywood with fat dowel pegs glued into holes at the right spacing, 40 in a 12″ x 24″ flat. On the other side of the board are two small wood handles to make it easy to use. Here’s a photo of the result:

Where we're at now; Flats of spotted out lettuce seedlings. Credit Kathryn Simmons

Where we’re at now: Flats of spotted out lettuce seedlings.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Many of you are finding your way to our Twin Oaks Month-by-month Garden Task List without special help. It’s my goal when I have more time to make a permanent link to useful lists and charts from our garden on my website. One day. . .


Here in central Virginia, we have no snow, just flurries of icy stuff that isn’t settling. This past weekend, though, I was up in State College, Pennsylvania, where they had piles of old snow. We were lucky with the weather at the conference and on our travel days. The PASA Farming for the Future Conference was a lot of fun and very inspiring. I don’t know how many were there. I did a rough count of chairs when Frances Moore Lappe was speaking and got to 1500.

I gave two workshops: Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables and Growing Great Garlic. Both went well and had about 70 participants. The bookstore sold 18 copies of my book, and I also signed other copies that people brought with them. Rhino Technologies made sound recordings of the workshops for sale, and they will soon be available via their website. My slideshows are available to view at SlideShare.net, so if you weren’t able to get to the conference, you can still catch up!

I also got the chance to go to some great workshops by other people too. Clara Coleman from Four Season Farm Consulting gave an inspiring presentation on the Latest Innovations in Four-season vegetable production from a Maine perspective. Yes, she is a daughter of Eliot Coleman, a great pioneer in extending the seasons growing vegetables sustainably. I love getting new ideas, and it’s also useful to me to be able to compare growing in different climate zones, so I don’t say something silly when someone asks me about growing a crop, and I forget Maine is not Virginia! I also enjoyed Lee Reich‘s presentation on No-Till Vegetables. Mostly for homestead scale gardens, but including photos from a a nearby farm using the same principles. I got a lot of inspiration from Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens‘ workshop on Finding Your Cover Crop Repertoire. I’ve heard them speak before, and I know they have a wealth of carefully-observed information and a clear way of explaining how to put it into practice. At this conference I didn’t go the workshops by Jean-Martin Fortier, even though they are so inspiring. It’s always great to meet him at events, and I did eat dinner with him, and exchange progress reports in the elevator one day.

Now, back to farming.

Wintry garden beds. Credit Ezra Freeman

Wintry garden beds.
Credit Ezra Freeman

4 thoughts on “Home from PASA Conference, starting seedlings

  1. Hi Pam,
    I want to build some seedling flats like yours and was wondering if you drill holes on the bottom of them for drainage or if they have a solid board on the bottom.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Jeff,
      Our flats don’t have holes drilled in the bottom, but we do make sure to use several slats for teh bottom and leave small gaps. We line the flats with two layers of newspaper before putting the compost in. we like 12x24x3″ for seedlings and 12x24x4″ for spotting out transplants. Bigger is too heavy for me! Pam

  2. Pingback: Events I’ll be presenting at | Sustainable Market Farming

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