For the last month I have been busy doing some of the unseen work of farming … computer stuff. The mundane tasks that any small business owner need to do like updating the website, making sure the sign up forms are functioning, checking that everything looks the way you want the customer to experience it, etc. It is important work that takes time so that you as the farmer can get your products to your customer. Then there is the more farmy computer stuff, like the planting schedule.
This is the spreadsheet I will use throughout the season, looking at it weekly if not daily. It is organized by the seed date, that way I just look at the date and without much thought I know what seed I need to start. This spreadsheet with all its numbers and crops is what keeps me sane during the growing season. Another important spreadsheet has been comparing my cash flow projections to actuals. Since the end of the month just past it is a great time to see where your money went compared to what you predicted might happen to your businesses cash. All this computer work is what allows a farm to be financially sustainable.
Also all my seeds have been arriving. The first order to show up was Southern Exposure Seed Exchange with the cuteness of their ingenious packaging. This company is based in Virginia and has an amazing selection of crops that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic region and further south. Some of my favorite tomato varieties from last year came from this wonderful catalog. For my Maryland folks I recommend trying their Large Red, Mortgage Lifter, Paul Robeson, Barnes Mt Orange, Lollipop, and Red Pisa Date tomatoes.
The second order in the door came from a new to me seed company, Restoration Seeds. I stumbled upon this gem of a company on the hunt for certified organic Fish Pepper seeds. But I couldn’t help but order a few seed varieties I have never heard. So I’m particularly excited to try these seeds this year: Bosque Blue tomato, Jersey Devil tomato, and Fatalii hot pepper.
Next we got lots of packets of seeds from High Mowing Seeds. I always place a big order with High Mowing Seeds because they only carry certified organic seeds and this is not true of most seed companies. Quarter Acre Farm has been certified organic since 2010 and it is extremely important that we only use certified organic seeds. Not only do these seeds create the best plants but it is important to us to know that we support a supply chain that doesn’t increase the usage of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or GMOs.
Last but not least the Johnny’s Seeds order arrived. Johnny’s also has a nice selection of seeds. I’m particularly excited to try their Sunrise Bumble Bee tomato variety this year. Not seen here are the Covington sweet potato slips that will arrive at the end of May. If you recall my giant 5 pound sweet potato from this past fall, it is this deliciously resilient variety.
It finally feels like spring is coming to the farm. The birds are chirping, the sun is out, and all the ice has melted. So during the last week of February it was time to get the first seeds planted indoors. To start seedlings you need germination mix aka potting soil aka seed starter aka growing mix. Since I have been farming in Maryland I have used Pro-Mix’s omri-listed growing mix with great success. It comes in a compressed bale that I break apart and store in clean trash cans. To fill the seedling trays I place them in a concrete mixing tray, this keeps any mess contained. Then I scoop the growing mix using a dedicated dustpan. The flat edge of the dustpan makes it easy to level off the top. Sometimes you gotta look outside of the gardening section to find the right tools for the job. After I add seeds to the seedling trays, I cover them with vermiculite instead of using more growing mix. Vermiculite is a natural product made from compressed dry flakes of a silicate material which is absorptive and spongy. When water is added to vermiculite, the flakes expand into a worm-like shape and act like an absorbing sponge. Using vermiculite as the top layer prevents a crust from forming across the trays, this makes it easier for seeds as they are going through the germination process.
I love when it is finally time to start my tomato seeds! I start my tomato seeds in trays with about 300 tiny cells. This allows me to save space while I wait for them to germinate. The cells are so tiny I can’t fit my normal plant markers so I make little labels using toothpicks and tape. Once the tiny seedlings have their first true leaves they will get moved into a bigger tray with 72 cells. Where they will have more room to grow and develop their roots. Between the seeds I start to sell as seedlings and the seeds I start to plant out in my field, I do many plantings of tomatoes. This way the transplants will be the ideal size when they are needed. This batch of tomatoes I started at the end of February are intended to go to home gardeners and they should be ready by late April.
Each week we are starting more and more seeds to have a diverse mix of vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings available from April through September. Before we know it the greenhouse will be filled to the brim with lush plants!