This spring is a bit of waiting game, it feels like you are at the starting line, standing by for the race that is the growing season to begin. You are focused and ready to run but you get jittery as you wait for the starting pistol to be fired. I know there is a lot of work to be done in the field and I just want to get started but the weather is in charge of this race.
Stormy weather makes for a wet field that can’t be worked without ruining the soil structure and forming bricks. Clear cold April nights still allow frost to easily show up. So I stand on the sidelines with my trays of tomatoes which are waiting to go into the ground.
While I wait I continue starting seeds in the greenhouse and potting up seedlings to get them ready to take to the market. I know the rush of planting will start soon but my list of tasks to complete, continues to grow longer as I wait.
The weather is keeping us farmers on our toes this spring. Just when I thought sunny skies were here to stay, in blows another storm. Before this current storm is over we will get about an inch of rain, so my field will need about a week to dry out before the tractor can get back in. Sunny days are in our forecast but they are followed with another late week rain event. So just as my field drys out it will get wet again. It is too early to tell if my tomato planting will be delayed but it’s highly possible.
As a farmer no matter how many seasons you’ve experienced or fields you’ve worked you will never be fully in control of your crop plan. Mother nature always has the upper hand, there is no point in fighting to be in charge as that will only cause frustration. Your energy is better spent learning to dance with Mother nature and remember to expect the unexpected.
The tomato seedlings have been enjoying their time in the greenhouse but these tiny tomato plants have grown up and they are ready to be welcomed into their forever home. So at Friday’s farmers’ market I had my full selection of 17 different varieties of heirloom tomato plants for sale. With the likes of Sweetie, Gold Nugget, Cherokee Purple, and Garden Peach; just to name a few.
Some may ask, isn’t it a bit early for transplanting tomatoes? Well, that depends, if you are an experienced tomato grower and determined to have the first ripe tomatoes in the neighborhood, then now is a great time to transplant as long as you protect the plant from frost. Here in Sonoma Valley our last average frost date is April 15th. But if you are a beginning gardener or don’t want to wake up each chilly morning stressed that your tender tomato plant was attacked by frost, then you should wait until tax day, April 18th to transplant tomatoes.
I’m still sweating it up in the greenhouse. Potting up thousands of tiny seedlings into fiber pots takes a lot time.
Garden Peach Tomatoes
But it’s so rewarding to see how the seedling quickly gets comfortable in its new home. There’s more space so it stretches out its roots checking out all the nooks and crannies. With more space I have to add more germination mix to fill up the fiber pot and this gives the seedling a little boast, like drinking a green smoothie in the morning. After the seedlings are tucked into their new pot they head outside, to enjoy the sun unfiltered, no more greenhouse plastic standing in their way of absorbing pure UV rays.
Rainbow Lacinato Kale
They also get to experience the fresh windy air. Blowing around in the breeze allows them to develop strength and toughen up for what nature will bring. After a mere week outside of the greenhouse in their new fiber pots, the seedlings are almost double in size, are richer in color and are downright perky.
Various Heirloom Tomatoes
Sprouts of summer crops are starting to fill the greenhouse. The various basils are teeny tiny. I’m still waiting for crops like cucumbers and summer squash to germination. While the eggplants and peppers are starting to grow their first true leaves.
But the tomatoes plants are vigorous growers and I have been busy potting them up into 3-inch pots. At the market this year I will have five different cherry tomato varieties and twelve different heirloom tomatoes.
Many of the varieties I have grown since I started my farm. But like always, I have added a few new ones to spice things up. With cherries you will see two newcomers named Black Cherry and Be My Baby. The newbies in the heirloom department are Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye and Paul Robeson. I can’t wait to grow these myself and I know home gardeners will love these new varieties for their color variation, great flavor, and their suitability to our growing conditions. I expect to have the full selection of tomato seedlings for sale at the Friday market in about two weeks time.
Things are heating up in the greenhouse. With the return of the sun, seedlings have been growing much faster than the previous grey rainy weeks. I have been busy potting up 6-packs full of lush spring crops that are begging to go outside into your home garden.
With all the rain some garden beds are still soaked making the soil too wet to work. To get some seedlings in the ground quickly remove any weeds or old plants from your garden beds, then put a thick 6-inch layer of compost on top of the existing soil and plant directly into that. The plants will get established in no time.
After enjoying this beautifully wet winter, I loaded up the truck on Friday and headed back to the farmers market. Since now is a great time to get your spring garden started I had lots of different leafy green seedlings for sale. Crops like collards, chard, and cress really enjoy these sunny but sometimes chilly and cloudy March days.
This week I had the chance to attend the California Climate and Agriculture Summit. The day was filled with farmers, scientist, and policy folks. The various workshops and panels dealt with the effects of climate change and strategies to improve our climate through agriculture.
An ecology and justice workshop discussed integrating social equity into the rural farming communities. From years of studies, the panelist showed how soil health and human health improve with reduced exposure to pesticides.They pointed out that life expectancy for a California farm worker still hovers around 49 years old.
In a talk about tilling farmland, a researcher showed the potential value of reduced tillage for increasing soil carbon sequestration. While a farmer gave first hand experience on his efforts to implement these different low till techniques. Summits like this are a great reminder that even in these modern times, agriculture’s effects touch all aspects of our world.
This past week I’ve been busy working on my taxes, the stormy wet days are perfect for hacking away at paperwork. But there has been a break in the rain and the sun shining. Even though the soil is soaked, the sun is great motivation to get outside and leave the computer work behind. So Thursday I headed for the greenhouse to start more herbs, arugula, and sugar snap peas. I couldn’t help but notice how big the mustard greens and cress had gotten since I last checked on them.
Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress (seriously that’s its name)
They are quick growers and were ready for more room. To give these greens more space I potted them up into six-packs. This involved gently dividing the clumps of tiny seedlings and placing two seedlings in each cell with new potting soil.
Purple Rapa Mix Gene Pool Mustard
With the new space to stretch out and additional nutrients from new soil these tiny seedlings should size up nicely and be ready to move into someone’s backyard garden in a few weeks.
The greenhouse is coming to life, sprouts are popping up everywhere I look.
My favorite cherry tomato Esterina
No matter how many years you’ve farmed or how many seedling trays you’ve filled its alway a relief to see that your seeds have germinated. Some seeds are quicker than others; mustard and kale pop up almost overnight, tomatoes take about two weeks, and crops like celery take much longer.
Everyday I go into the greenhouse, I carefully inspect each tray to see what new seeds have awaken and are stretching their first leaves towards the sun. It puts a smile on my face to see the recently germinated seeds and I pat myself on the back for doing a good job to provide the seeds with their ideal conditions to come to life. I still have many more seeds to start but soon I will be potting up these first sprouts into larger containers as they continue to grow into healthy seedlings.
This week I began working in the greenhouse. To start the season, I picked up a truck load of seed starter mix.
After dusting off the growing trays and wiping the cobwebs off of my various greenhouse supplies I was ready to go. Just within the first day I started over one thousand two hundred seeds.
Most of these will be spring seedlings that I plan to sell to home gardeners in March at the farmers market. Then yesterday I started hundreds and hundreds of tomato seeds. I will plant over six hundred cherry tomato plants in my field along with another five hundred fifty heirloom tomato plants. Leaving three hundred or so tomato seedlings to be available for sale at the farmers market this spring. Working in the cozy dry greenhouse is a perfect way to spend wet and windy days.