Getting the Growing Season Planned Out

I found a small parcel of land to lease for the 2019 season. My plan for this season is to stay small so that I can get accustomed to the Eastern Shore’s growing season. I will be growing a wide range of seedlings for the home gardener and in the field I will have tomatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, and heirloom popcorn.

This year’s field

 

It has been cold and windy here, the perfect weather for staying inside to plan out the growing season. I use a series of spreadsheets to turn my ideas into a workable crop plan. The first spreadsheet is used for seed calculation. I make a list of the crops I want to grow and how much I would like to harvest each week. This allows me to figure out exactly how many seeds I need, then I add an extra 20% to cover poor germination and more importantly human error.

Seed calculation

 

The second spreadsheet is the seed order. I take the crop and seed need columns then I break down which varieties I want of each crop, what seed company I will purchase it from, and the amount of seed I need to order (every company is different some sell by the individual number of seeds, some sell in grams, ounces, pounds, etc.). I just placed all my seed orders last week. I will continue to grow many heirloom varieties but this year I will be trying some hybrid varieties that have disease and pest resistance. Also I will be experimenting with three grafted tomatoes varieties.

Seed order

 

The third spreadsheet is the planting schedule. I take the crop, the variety, and seed need columns from the seed order spreadsheet into this one. Then I add a column for seeding date, transplant date, and first harvest date. The planting schedule is the spreadsheet that I will be using almost everyday to know which seeds need to be started or transplanted. So I add two columns to write in the actual date for seeding and transplanting. This spreadsheet takes the most time as you have to cross reference a calendar and take into consideration frost dates, desired harvest, and/ or market outlets.

Planting schedule

 

Making a crop plan requires that you know where you will be marketing your crops. I am applying to a local farmers market. As this is my first year growing in Maryland I know that it is possible I will run into more challenges than I normally do in the field. This could result in low yields or unexpected delays in harvest dates. I feel a farmers market is a great venue when you are unsure of what you will have ready when and at what amount.

 

The next task on my ever growing to-do list is getting the greenhouse set up and gathering supplies for starting seeds.

 

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Summer Plants Are Coming

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.

Sprouts and Germination

The greenhouse is coming to life, sprouts are popping up everywhere I look.

My favorite cherry tomato Esterina

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.

Kale

Kale

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.

Lots of Seeds

This week I began working in the greenhouse. To start the season, I picked up a truck load of seed starter mix.

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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.

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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.

Greenhouse Time

Last week I was finally able to spend long hours in the greenhouse starting seeds. I still have a bit more seeding to do before I’m officially caught up but I can feel my stress melting away with each seed I place in the germination mix.  Moving the farm to different land has put me about a month behind in my crop plan.

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Greenhouse work has a certain rhythm to it. Scooping germination mix into the seedling trays, scraping the excess mix off to make the tray level, finding the right seed packet, placing a tiny little seed in each cell, covering with a layer of vermiculite, labeling the tray, placing it on the shelf, and gently watering it. Then you repeat all these steps for each seedling tray.

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I go through about a 100 trays each spring and each of my trays contain 72 cells, so that’s about 7,200 little baby transplants to raise and nurture in the greenhouse.

Tiny mustard seedlings

Tiny mustard seedlings

Starting the Crop Plan

This week I started working on my crop plan for the 2016 season. This begins by looking at what I grew last year, what sold well last year, and what new things I think I might want to add to the mix. To able to clearly review last year I must look over my records. I look through the 2015 crop plan rereading any notes I might have written in the margins, seeing what date I really did start planting a crop vs when I had planned to start planting. I look through my sales records seeing what sold well at the farmers’ market or to restaurants. I also make note of things grown and harvest that ended up in the compost instead of being sold. Looking at these records help me to focus in on what crops and varieties I should be growing this coming season.

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For my farm I start all my own transplants. But since I also sell transplants to home gardeners, I have to make sure I grow enough for everybody plus my own field. Before I start flipping through seed catalogs and drooling over amazing descriptions of crop varieties, I need to see what I already have. So I do a seed inventory, which involves me pulling out all my seeds from past seasons and organizing them by crop type. After I have the seeds organized I compare what I have with what I need. If I need more than I have, then I will head over to the seed catalogs.

Popcorn Research

While visiting family over the holidays I had the opportunity to go to the National Agricultural Library in Maryland. The National Agricultural Library is one of four national libraries of the United States and houses one of the world’s largest collection devoted to agriculture and its related sciences.

You can see my parent's reflection as they take my photo

You can see my parent’s reflection as they take my photo

I made an appointment to go into the special collections with the purpose of researching old popcorn varieties. When I arrived the librarian presented me with a cart full of seed catalogs dating back to the late 1800’s and glass negatives of images captured during field tests in the early 1900’s. I spent the afternoon with the help of my mom looking through every document on that cart.

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It was amazing to handle and flip through seed catalogs that are over a hundred years old. We found many varieties of popcorn I have never heard of before like Monarch White Rice, Queen’s Golden, and Mapledale Prolific which claims to grow 5 to 12 ears per stalk!

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Just like modern day seed catalogs reading the seed descriptions was very intriguing and mouth-watering, I wish I could place an order with these bygone companies. My hope is to be able to track down these old varieties through the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation aka the USDA seed bank.

Now theres a cover girl!

Now theres a cover girl!

Spring is Busy

I have been busy this spring both in and out of the field. Right now the greenhouse is still packed with seedlings waiting to find their forever home.

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Out in the field the tomatoes and tomatillos are growing tall, with flowers starting to develop.  I expect to begin harvesting tasty tomatoes by mid to the end of July.

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This past week I finally planted potatoes, dried beans, winter squash, and pumpkins in the field. I’m hoping to get the popcorn planted early next week.

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I’m a few weeks behind schedule in my plantings but this seems to happen every year. Things take longer than you expect, something breaks that needs fixing, your errands out-of-town end up taking all day, and sometimes you just can’t start your day as early as you’d like because your body is too tried to get out of bed.

Sunlight and Warm Temps

Things are starting to pick up at the farm.  The cover crop is getting pretty tall and some is even beginning to flower.

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The garlic is sizing up and I will start harvesting green garlic next week.  With more daylight and warm temperatures everything is coming out of dormancy and really starting to grow again. This includes the insect and animal kingdom too.

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The honey bees have been very active, rushing from every blossom they can find then back to the hive, and back out again for more pollen.  The quail are venturing from their home under the blackberry bushes and marching single file through the field. The ground squirrels are leaving their burrow and climbing up the large oak tree to survey the land. There is even a robin squeezing through a small gap in the greenhouse door to eat my seeds.

I added bird netting to the doorway

I added bird netting to the doorway to deal with the sneaky robin

Right now the greenhouse is full of seedling trays.  I am still waiting for most of them to sprout. But the kale, chard, mustard greens, leeks, green onions, arugula and sugar snap pea seedlings are ready to hit the garden. So next Friday, March 13th I will be back at the Sonoma Valley farmers’ market selling certified organic seedlings and green garlic.

Spring Gardening Classes

I am very are excited to announce my 2015 spring gardening classes.  All the classes will be taking place at The Stone House, the office of HWY 12 Properties, at 147 East Spain St. in Sonoma.

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Reservations are required as space is very limited.
You may RSVP to quarteracre.sonoma@gmail.com or Brown Paper Tickets


How to Start Seeds

Sunday, March 8th
11:00am to 12:30pm

Want to start your own transplants?
Join Andrea of Quarter Acre Farm for a hands-on demonstration of starting seeds.

Topics to be covered:
Finding seed sources
What seeds to start
Basic tools & supplies needed
Seedling maintenance
Transplanting your plants
Q&A

Cost: $20 per person
When: Sunday, March 8, 2015
11:00am to 12:30pm
RSVP: quarteracre.sonoma@gmail.com
or through Brown Paper Tickets


 Basic Vegetable Gardening

Sunday March 22nd
11:00am to 12:30pm 
Andrea of Quarter Acre Farm will discuss how to simply start
a successful edible garden
Topics to be covered:
Choosing what plants to grow
Deciding on location of garden
Basic tools & supplies needed
Quick way to prepare soil
Transplanting & direct seeding plants
Maintaining your plants
Harvesting your bounty
Q&A
Cost: $20 per person
When: Sunday March 22, 2015
11:00am to 12:30pm
RSVP: quarteracre.sonoma@gmail.com
or through Brown Paper Tickets

 Tasty Tomato Talk

Sunday March 29th
11:00am to 12:30pm

Join Andrea of Quarter Acre Farm for a morning of Tomato Education
You’ll learn the ABC’s of successfully growing the most delicious tomatoes at home

Topics to be covered:
Choosing which varieties
How many plants
Deciding on their location
Transplanting tomatoes
Watering for healthy plants & tasty fruit
Pruning for less leaves & more fruit
Providing support for upward growth
Harvesting your bounty
Q&A

Cost: $20 per person
When: Sunday, March 29, 2015
11:00am to 12:30pm
RSVP: quarteracre.sonoma@gmail.com
or through Brown Paper Tickets


  Gardening Struggles

Sunday, April 19th
11:00am to 12:30pm

Love gardening but run into problems every season?
Andrea of Quarter Acre Farm will discuss how to overcome
common edible gardening troubles

Topics to be covered:
Bad bugs & Good bugs
Diseases
Soil health
Building better soil
How & when to fertilize
Irrigation
General troubleshooting
Q&A

Cost: $20 per person
When: Sunday, April 19, 2015
11:00am to 12:30pm
RSVP: quarteracre.sonoma@gmail.com
or through Brown Paper Tickets

Have an idea or topic for a gardening or farming class, let me know!