The farm is an ever-changing landscape, it can seem as though we are almost always in transition here. The beautiful part of this time of year is that it starts to really feel like all of our hard work from the winter is paying off. At times, with the endless weeding of veggies being out grown by chickweed, the covering and uncovering each day and night, and the low tunnel repairs after a windy day, it’s easy to question whether or not all this winter farming is really worth it. But about a month ago, loud and clear, the answer came. Yes! It is so worth it! Those plants who laid dominate all winter came back to life. The carrots are sizing up, lettuces are growing into their mature, crunchy goodness, kale, chard, and bok choys rejoice, radishes and turnips swell up, the chickweed still grows too but it doesn’t seem to matter as much now that our bellies are full!
The reality is we only have a moment to stop and take in a deep breath of gratitude. That’s because we aren’t the only ones looking to fill our bellies. Familiar acquaintances like flee beetles, cabbage loopers, and deer eagerly await the harvest, as much as (or even more so) than us. So we replace heavy row cover with the light stuff in hopes to deter them as much as possible, so far so good…
Much change has already taken place in the main field. We have taken down the low tunnels and have been transplanting and seeding outside for nearly 2 months. It’s important not to let our excitement and enthusiasm get the best of us. After all, we did see some snow flakes mid-April, and a May frost is not an uncommon event. We must be ever diligent by checking the weather forecast daily, keeping in mind that the farm is always a degree or 2 colder than predicted, and be ready to deploy heavy row cover at a moments notice. Winter farming teaches us that many vegetables are surprisingly cold hearty. We keep our excitement at bay by making sure to restrict our outside plantings to just those varieties. ( For the most part that is, sometimes we just can’t resist.) Inside the high tunnels, that’s a different story. Sunflowers are sprouting, and cukes and squash will be in the ground later this week. Tomatoes and pepper won’t be far behind.
If you know Star Light, you know we love our garlic as much as we love our tomatoes. Garlic has a life stage that fits into every season, acting like a barometer for where we are at in the year. Fall, garlic is the seed, and we plant it. Winter their first roots start to grow and we tuck them away under a mulch of leaves. You know Spring is getting closer when you start to see their first leaves peak out from the under that mulch. As the temperatures rise, garlic starts to grow less timidly and begins to reach out to greet its fellow garlic bothers and sisters, and grateful farmers. As it reaches a height of 3 or 4 inches we know it’s time to fertilize (organically, of course) and start to mange the weeds. Soon enough we will be harvesting some Spring Garlic, Scapes behind that. And in the peak of summer, traditionally Joel’s birthday, we will begin to harvest.
April Showers Bring May Flowers, but Over Wintered Brassicas Feed and Nurture Beneficial Insects..
True to farming in any season, thing’s don’t always go as planned. Not every seed we sow in the Fall works out to be a beautiful winter harvest. The increase in sunlight can be too much stress for some plants to bear, triggering them to flower and set seed. These plants not fitting into our original hope for them doesn’t mean we still can’t benefit from them. We do our best to make the most of these flowers. In some cases, eating them, either before they flower fully in the form of Turnip Rabe. for instance, or enjoying the flowers themselves like the Green Lobo Radish flowers that has been in our Braising Greens the last couple weeks.
Sure, a house full of flowering brassicas on a sunny, Spring day smells like heaven on Earth and makes for a cute photo shoot when your friends baby comes to visit, but these flowers are serving a far greater purpose. They are an important factor to the farms ecosystem. These flowering veggies provide an early source of food for our friends, the bees and wasps. Come tomato season, we need all of the beneficial insects we can get. Wasps are especially good allies in the fight against hornworms. More on that in the summer blog.
Starting from Seed
We do a ton of starting and transplanting all year round. However, this time of year we do it in a huge way! This is because we are not just sowing seeds for ourselves, we are starting plants for all you home gardeners out there. The Plant Sale is an important part of our Spring. As early as February we start tomatoes, peppers, herbs, eggplants, flowers, and more for Plant Sale. Currently our nursery is full, full, full of seedlings ready to be planted! From seeding flats, to making our own soil mix, to repoting, to watering, to transplanting and transporting, it’s a lot of work! Gardening is a labor of love, and it is our hope that by giving a lot of love to the plants, you get a head start in your growing adventures, and that makes all the work put into them well worth it. On that note, we love talking about plants and gardening so feel free to reach out with questions, success stories, concerns, hopes, dreams, pictures of cute animals in your garden, etc.
What to say about tomato grafting? Let’s start at root of the problem, and in organic farming that means in the soil. We have been planting tomatoes in our high tunnels for many years, and because our high tunnels don’t move that means we are planting tomatoes in the same spot every year. Farming 101 tells you that’s a no-no. A lack of crop rotation results in a build up of disease in the soil that can effect the plants, and therefore their yield. What’s a farmer to do on a small plot without moveable tunnels? Well, one thing is grafting. Grafting is a process in which we grow a tomato Root Stock, a disease resistance tomato plant, along side a tomato scion. That is the delicious yummy flavor, we’ll use our favorite Paul Robeson as an example. The key is that the Root Stock and the Paul Robeson must be the same size. Once they get big enough to operate on we prep our healing chamber and get snipping. Basically, you cut the top of the Paul and using a silicon clip, you paste it onto the Root Stock. Sounds simple as I write it but it is a laborious, unforgiving task. Having the environment right in the healing chamber is of upmost importance to having any success. The healing process takes 10 days of controlling the humility and gradually adding light. In the end, you’re left with a Super Paul who can resist any disease you may have in your soil and produces a larger volume of tomatoes than had you not grafted.
This is our 3rd year grafting. The past 2 years we have had limited success. It took us a while to figure out the right space to set up the healing chamber, gather the right tools and techniques, and figure out a good seeding schedule to make sure the scion and the root stock matched up in size. As David would say, we are only reporting, not bragging, that this year, grafting has been an over all success! Not 100% probably closer to 65-70% but that’s still passing in our book!
A typical tomato we plant a foot and a half a part. Because grafted tomatoes have a much bigger root system they get planted 3 feet apart. Only a few are planted in the ground now, but that will change once we convert the houses from winter greens to summer crops. Sven, our green house, is almost 100% planted for the summer! In Sven is a large variety of cherry tomatoes, Sun Golds, Citrines, Artisans, Black Cherries, Juliets, and some grafted Sakuras. They are mostly strung up and many already have flowers! The general rule of thumb is a tomato will form about 45 days after the flower appears. According to our calculations that means maybe by June 9th we can be snacking on some cherries.
Farmers and Their Toys
We got a few new toys this Spring. If you are a market customer you might have noticed one of them. Big Bad Truck, BBT for short, is an old Uhaul we bought from a fellow farmer friend early this Spring. As much as we all love the little red Transit, an upgrade has been long over due. Most weeks during the peak season, we had to drive two vehicles, and even though Joel is the undisputed packing champion, sometimes there still wasn’t enough room to bring everything we had to offer to the markets. BBT means more tomatoes, more flowers, more overall goodness to the markets each week. Also the transit’s radio was broken, so now there’s more WPKN (our favorite community radio station) on our way back and forth to the market.
The other new toy, the Jang seeder. This investment has been on our minds for a while now. Yes, in organic farming the foundation is the soil, but just above that foundation is the seeding and transplanting. We upgraded to the Paper Pot Transplanter about 2 years ago, and wow what a difference it has made for us. But our seeding tools have left a bit to be desired. Not anymore, the Jang seeds at a level of procession and accuracy that farmers dreams are made of. This is going to help pay itself off in saved seeds and better seeded beds, meaning more food to offer to you all!
Spring to Summer
While we hold our breath till the tomato waterfall, we will be soaking in all the glory Spring and Early Summer have to offer. It’s a lot of dirty, hard work but we are more than happy to be doing it. Lately, onions, potatoes, flowers, kales, collards, and chard have been going in the ground. Pea plants are starting to reach their tendrils out for a trellis and we’ll probably be swimming in Snap and Snow Peas before you know it. The Jang has been busy seeding radishes, turnips, carrots, and greens. The farm animals are starting to lose a bit of their winter weight and are having fun frolicking around the farm. No eggs from the chickens yet, but surely it must be soon, we are also very surprised at how easily they an fly over the fence.
There is something so special about eating with the seasons. Just as we are running out of storage beets, last years potatoes soften, and the remainder of our garlic molds, we get flooded with a green wave. So far the Spring bounty has been sweet, juicy, crunchy, and wonderful and something tells us, the best is yet to come!