Happy planting, harvesting and eating!
by Neal & Marie Curran
Spring is coming and so is our garden! Here at Nine Acre Farm, we are incredibly busy planting our spring/summer garden. Most of this work as of yet is indoors. Our plants go through quite a journey to make it from seed packet to the field. We are trying our hardest to keep conservation-intensive methods in mind even as we work indoors. We hope our process will be helpful to you as you begin your 2011 garden.
1) A garden-ready greenhouse
Our greenhouse is small, but can fit many plants. We built tables for our plants. On two of our tables we have plastic tubing (a waste material) arched over the tables to support insulating plastic at night. To warm the greenhouse when it’s cold and at night, we have use an old wood stove and a homemade chimney. Discarded fencing posts from the property fit perfectly in the stove. When it gets too warm in the greenhouse, the walls double as windows that lift open from the bottom.
Also, we make our own potting soil in our greenhouse. It is a mixture of homemade compost, peat, and perlite (available at most Lowes).
2) Seed packet to greenhouse
In late December and throughout January we started plants such as broccoli, artichokes, celery, kohlrabi, beets, lettuce, leeks, brussels sprouts, and many more. Instead of using plastic trays, which aren’t always space efficient and are wasteful when they fall apart, we use soil blocks. We use the soil blocks to punch out a mold of soil. Each block mold contains 20 1-inch spaces: one for each seed. After seeding, we sprinkle our homemade potting soil over the block and water.
Currently we have begun seeding our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Because these members of the Nightshade family require higher germinating temperatures than our winter crops would find agreeable, we start them on soil blocks on an electric heat mat. This is an excellent way to get a jump start on summer crops!
3) Greenhouse rotation
When our seedlings begin to grow out of their one-inch cubes, we move them to two-inch cubes made with a larger soil blocker. The two-inch blocks remain on the tables to be covered with plastic at night, just as the one-inch blocks. After a couple of weeks, we move them to our uncovered table. Here they begin the process of hardening off. The lack of plastic covering at night exposes them to lower temperatures.
4) The Cold Frame
After plants have spent a week or two on the uncovered table, they are moved to the cold frame outside our greenhouse. The cold frame is a wood frame on the ground with a tarp covering the soil. At night, the plants are covered with plexiglass (a waste material available to us). They are uncovered during the day but sheltered with sheet when it gets to warm/sunny. Plants spend about one or two weeks in here.
4) Greenhouse to field
I’m not going to talk much about this part, but I will tell you that once plants leave the nursery and go into the great adult garden, they still receive a little help. They are sheltered nightly with a light row cover. So far we have a few rows of transplants and additional direct-seeded vegetables (snap peas, carrots, turnips, beets, leaf lettuce, radishes, etc.) growing in our garden.