Posts Tagged ‘seedlings’

A Farmer’s New Year

IMG_6156January has come and gone. Ok, so has February. It is past time to be thinking about what I learned last year and what I’m going to be doing this year. We are well into the season of seed catalogs and getting into the season for starting those seeds. Farming is a highly seasonal occupation, so it’s also time to order bees, chicks, and poults for the coming summer. Unfortunately, I have only just been given permission to put a little weight on my broken ankle and I don’t have an ETA for being functional.

One of the things I learned, after losing my flock to predators, is that I can acquire chickens who are between a few days and a few years old pretty much any time over the summer. However, the older they are, the more habits they’ve established. My current flock is made up of older hens that came from a stationary coop and run that had been scratched down to dirt and younger hens who had been raised in a strictly indoor coop for four months. This has left both groups far less likely to do things like attack the pumpkins I chuck in to them as treats or do serious scratching for bugs. They were getting better at it before it snowed, but they weren’t up to the level of the girls I raised myself and chucked out on grass the minute I could. I also learned that I need to move their mobile coop very regularly to keep the ground clean. That will need to start as soon as it’s warm enough to be planting in the garden where they are currently living. Two strong legs really help with moving the coop.

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Maybe ducklings again? They are adorable.

The latest I can order chicks through the Paris Farmer’s Union is early May. My preferred place to start the chicks, however, is the bathroom upstairs. I should be doing stairs again by the pickup in June, I think. Of course, I also thought I’d be going back to work a month ago. At my bee meeting on Saturday I sat beside a fellow small farmer and we commiserated over broken legs. She broke hers in a February and wasn’t in physical therapy until that August. I was promptly sorry I’d asked about the healing time. There’s not much point in getting chicks in August, since they probably won’t be fully feathered by the first snow. They certainly won’t be big enough to stick up for themselves in the winter coop that is a bit undersized.

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Dead hive in the fall. I think I did the powdered sugar treatment too late. They got damp and caught a chill, most likely.

The real sticky situation is the bees. I have a line on a full 20-frame local hive, but I have to pick it up and do so no later than early May. Because of where my apiary is located, the hive has to be hand carried, and we can’t really break an active hive into smaller pieces to make it lighter. I think my brother will help me with the actual lifting, but it has to be something he can carry, since there’s no way I’ll be able to walk across uneven ground carrying 70# or more of hive and colony by May. The bees are even more time-sensitive than the chickens. If I don’t get them this spring, I won’t stand even half a chance of splitting over the summer to maybe, hopefully, have multiple colonies going into the fall. The other option is to order a box or two of bees. They’re much lighter to handle, but they also won’t have as strong a start and I’ll need to be installing them in mid-April. Of course, they’ll be going into hives with drawn comb, unlike the last batch, so that will help. On the other hand, I’m still going to be on at least one crutch, I’m sure, so checking the queens and feeding them will be extra challenging. Either way, I need to make my decision this week.

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This is last year, this year these are wintering over in the garden.

I had hoped to start a patch of nettles in the yard. I’m not going to be able to get to the boggy parts until it’s too late to plant the seeds. I haven’t even thought about any plants I might want to start for the garden, in no small part because I can’t get down the stairs to our nursery in the cellar. I’ve been struggling with the sprouts I’d like to be feeding my hens before there’s grass available because there is a limited amount of space that I can get to at the moment where there’s both a sink for water and warmth.

Spring is well on its way, the farming year is about to hit its stride, and I am trying to figure out when I’ll be walking again. Happy new year.

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Starting Seeds

I really need a potting shed. On the other hand- it's nice to sit inside and watch a movie when it's snowing outside on a planting day.

I really need a potting shed. On the other hand- it’s nice to sit inside and watch a movie when it’s snowing outside on a planting day.

On March 11, I started my second round of seeds. I also repotted my first round of young plants. I still have a lot to learn.

I have been interested in the idea of starting my own seeds for a while. It’s less expensive than buying plants, and you can grow more exotic varieties. It’s also the only way to grow things like tomatoes from seeds you have saved. However, it can be a bit pricy to start. There isn’t a single south-facing window in this house, and I’m not sure we’d get good light even if we had one. That means I have to buy and somehow set up grow lights. The house isn’t kept all that warm, since it’s more energy efficient, but that means I really need a warm spot to help the initial germination. I also needed to buy a couple of seed-starter flats along with starting medium and potting soil. The lights in particular add up fast.

Squash seeds are so much easier to photograph than tomato seeds.

Squash seeds are so much easier to photograph than tomato seeds.

I did decide to start plants this spring for a couple of reasons. I had bought and hung a grow light in my bedroom for my own mental health. The combination of a gentle wake-up, since the light is on a timer, and the guarantee of at least a little full-spectrum light has helped to temper my seasonal issues a bit. Since I had made the first big purchase for the project, why not put it to more complete use? The plant heater is also doubling as a worm heater. My African nightcrawlers are not happy with a cool house, and there just aren’t any warm spots to keep them. I am also hoping to make at least some of my investment back by selling some of the plants that I don’t need for my own garden. (Let me know if you want to buy any . . . )

Too long in the starting medium plus erratic watering means that I don't think all the squash will make it.

Too long in the starting medium plus erratic watering means that I don’t think all the squash will make it.

Pro Tips:

  • Don’t start small perennials and large annuals in the same flat. You have to raise the light too fast for the perennials to keep up as they are slower to germinate and, in my case, just shorter.
  • Water daily. Check on them at least twice a day. Once they flop over, they may not recover.
  • Have enough lights to give even light to all of the plants. More plants means more or bigger lights.
  • If you write out a schedule, mind it.
  • Don’t wait too long to transplant out of the starting medium. It doesn’t have many nutrients.
  • If you live with a dog that eats anything and your potting shed is the living room floor- make sure you don’t have to dash to the store for more potting soil in the middle of the planting project.
  • Make sure you have enough pots for all of the plants.
  • Be willing to thin the herd if some of the plants aren’t up to snuff. (I need to improve on that.)
  • Start more than you need. They won’t all make it.
  • Just because the top of your seed-starter is all fogged over, it doesn’t mean the soil is all evenly moist.
  • Lable! New England Sugar Pie and Watham Butternut look a lot alike until they set their fruit!
Apple trees start pretty well in egg shells in the fridge.

Apple trees start pretty well in egg shells in the fridge.

I am starting plants on the early side for two reasons. One- we have a short growing season and I want them to have as many productive days as possible. Two- people like to buy bigger plants, so bigger ones should sell better. To set up my schedule, I went by the days to maturity for each variety. It broke them up nicely into a logical progression. The first to go in were squashes. The last will be my peppers. Tomatoes happen in between. Things like herbs and flowers  can be started on a less stringent schedule, so they can be fit in around the food plants.

Gently crush the shells so the roots can grow through. Starting them this way leaves a calcium source right at the roots.

Gently crush the shells so the roots can grow through. Starting them this way leaves a calcium source right at the roots.

My squash  went in right on schedule in early February, sharing the flat with some chives and calendula. I think the chives will be ok, but the calendula are so leggy that I don’t think many, if any, will recover. I’m going to need to just try them again. The round currently sitting on the heater should have been planted around February 25. Being two squash and two tomatoes, they should grow at a similar enough rate to share the flat. The moment they’re well enough sprouted to go under lights, I need to plant the round that should have gone in around March 5. If I’d done them as planned, it would be much less rushed. However, scheduling them as early as I did also gives me some leeway for being slow. The last round will also be a bit behind, as the heater won’t be ready by March 19th. If I get a chance, I also want to do a round of herbs and flowers sooner rather than later to give them a decent head start.

Before my next round of transplanting, I need to do a bit more planning. Specifically, finding a bunch more pots for the 36 seedlings that will need a new home!

What’s Old is New

I have a passing interest in history, mostly to fuel my interest in stories. I have been working on a story set in Boston in 1705. It is a part of our history that isn’t very well known, since there weren’t any major land discoveries or wars at that point. That makes it a little hard to get into the minds of the characters, since I can’t go to Gettysburg as I could for a Civil War story or Lexington, Massachusetts for a Revolutionary War story. Two major sticking points for me to really understand the main character’s life are a town house that produces much of its own food and the associated chores as being social occasions. I got to experience both this weekend with the Heirloom Gardens Meetup Group.

This Meetup Group is an extension of Sundari Kraft’s Heirloom Gardens. It is to help with those times when she needs more hands than

Garden Beds

her apprentices have. I think it’s a great idea for letting people that can’t be apprentices due to time or distance restrictions, like myself, still participate and learn. I happened to be up in Denver on Saturday for a class, so I signed up to help plant garlic. It is usually planted in the fall, but this was an experiment to see if it could be planted in the spring for those of us that didn’t manage to plant it in the fall for whatever reason.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the yard we would be working in. The houses in that part of town tend to be modestly sized, with town-sized yards. I was expecting a couple of beds, mostly. Possibly raised beds, surrounded with grass or mulch of some sort. I wasn’t expecting the miniature farm that she has. It is the most efficient use of a back yard I have ever seen. The animals, goats, chickens, and a couple of ducks, live on one side, and the other is given over to garden beds. When I think yard, and I am sure I’m not alone in this, I think grass, shrubs, maybe some flowers. However, I believe this yard is put together the way far more yards used to appear for most of civilization. In times before you could just pop down to the corner store when you needed a dozen eggs, it

made sense to keep the egg-makers in the back yard. They are also excellent non-fossil-fuel-using garbage disposals. Of course, not everyone would have every kind of animal, but when you don’t have neighbors on one side with a milk cow or goat and a neighbor on the other side raising ducks to trade with, it does help to have them all yourself.

The work itself was not hard. We had to pay attention to the spacing for the garlic bulbs and make sure we were putting them in their holes pointy-side up. That was about the extent of the mental challenge. However, it was a really nice break from my regular job in front of a computer and all the time I’ve been spending in class to sit on the ground and dig in the dirt. It also let the three of us, Sundari, a young man in college, and myself, chat. There was no deep philosophy discussed, nor did we compare which Housewiveswe thought was the best. We discussed weather and

Ooh, comfy garlic bed . . .

mountain biking along with gardening and small-business challenges. We also talked about the goats that were out and about in the yard so they didn’t feel left out. Naturally, they insisted on being in the middle of what we were doing more often than not, since that had to be the most interesting part of the garden. Once all of the cloves were planted, and the end of the bed was marked so that something else could be planted in the balance of it, all we needed to do was mulch it with straw and return the goats to their pen.

I was particularly interested in the seed-starting meetup on Sunday. This was even less physically demanding, since we spent most of the time sitting in chairs around the table. It was slightly more mentally demanding, though, as we had to make sure that we got all of the even slightly sprouted seeds off of the wet paper towels and into the seedling trays and not break any of the ones that had sprouted with abandon. The goats were out again to hang out with us. One of them determined that the freshly planted and mulched garlic bed was perfect for a nap in the sun. It was a different group dynamic, being a larger group and all women this time. I could almost see the starched collars and long skirts as

Seedlings to be covered

we sat around chatting about gardening and, there were a couple of mothers present, children, among other things. The plastic seedling trays and PVC-pipe greenhouse are modern inventions, but the conversation could have been held just as easily over quilts or shelling peas. I was the newest addition to the group, and some of them had been doing these things together for a while so they had a shared history. I am starting to see articles in various places about activities you can do for entertainment for free, since so many people are more strapped for cash than they were just a few years ago. However, chores seldom make the list. They should, though. Sundari mentioned that we probably planted about a thousand seeds. Those will become a thousand plants that will feed her CSA. All of this while trading ideas and getting to know one another in a far quieter atmosphere than a bar or a club and a far less expectant atmosphere than a networking event.

I expect community is something that I will be spending a lot of time thinking about and musing about on here. I am finding that the homesteading community

Staying warm to grow

is an interesting blend of modern techniques including blogs and meetups and good, old-fashioned chore-sharing and swapping. There are some things that just can’t be explained in a tweet or taught in a blog post. There are some experiences that still have to be, well, experienced.