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.
This time of year is all about crop planning. I start by determining how many pounds per week I would like to harvest of each crop. From there I can determine exactly how many seeds I will need for each crop. Then I do an inventory of all the seeds I currently have, as most seeds stay viable for many years.
Next up is the seed order where I break down each crop by variety and order new seeds if needed. Finally I create the planting schedule which spans the whole season with the date for each crop variety planting and how many seeds will need to be started or transplanted. When the days become long and crazy I don’t have to do any calculations to figure out what needs to be started in the greenhouse, I just look down at my planting schedule find today’s date and the many tasks that need to be done are listed right there. Keeping good notes from year to year of what you sell and how much you sell, is extremely important in determining what you should grow in future seasons. Farming is a business, so farmers must look towards their numbers when making decisions around their crop plans. All of this work requires a lot of time in front of the computer staring at spreadsheets but it is well worth it.
Last week I returned from a cross country train trip. My husband and I hopped on the California Zephyr train in Davis and rode for three days to Chicago.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Then switch over to the Capitol Limited train which took a day to get to Washington DC. After a week in Maryland we took the same trains back across the country.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
The American landscape that passed by my train window was beautiful, it was hard to do anything other than stare out the window, there was so much to see. The train takes you through urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness areas. I of course was interested in spotting farms.
Cattle somewhere in Illinois
I saw many different working farms throughout every landscape. I also saw a lot of old barns falling down, farm houses that had long been abandoned, and surrounding acres overgrown. I can’t say that I was surprised by these sights, over 150 years ago 90 percent of Americans were farmers and today less than 2 percent are involved in agriculture. But I still wondered what happen to that farmer that once built that grand farmhouse and large barn. As a farmer you need a long term view of your farm business and it takes a lot of work and dedication to build it. So these quick glimpses I caught of the past out my train window reminded me of the farmers that came before and the farmers that will come after me.
Farm somewhere in Iowa
Except for bagging up popcorn, I have not been doing much farm work. This time of year the labor does not involve heavy lifting. It’s the end of the year and I’m spending time reflecting on this growing season.
Thinking about what worked well, what was annoying, and what was fun. Work enjoyment, is high on my list of how I evaluate the success of Quarter Acre Farm. No one forced me to farm and at the end of the day I became a farmer because I enjoy agriculture and farm life. I have not gone into full planning mode for next year as I still have one more farmers’ market on December 30th before the farm is officially done with 2016.
After which I’ll spend my days flipping through seed catalogs, calculating how many plants I need to grow, placing seed orders, and figuring out a detail schedule for the 2017 season. Oh and I will do so much needed relaxing.
It is the gift giving time of year. I’ve been busy making most of my holiday gifts. It can be tough to figure out what to give friends and family but I have always found handcrafted items bring a smile to anyone’s face no matter how big or small the gift is. The trick, is finding the time to sit down and craft during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I’ve been getting crafty since mid-November and I still have a gift or two to finish. This year I have been making tasty cookies, cozy hats, simple ornaments and some top-secret handmade pieces. I’m not gonna lie, not everything I wrap up is an intricate handcrafted item that took me hours to complete. I do give a lot of people popcorn, cause who doesn’t love organic heirloom popcorn.