Last winter was our first on the farm, and the blog posts concerned the experience of starting with little: creating a greenhouse, mucking out a barn for transformation to a wash/pack space, and acquiring small tools and equipment to begin managing the land we will have in cultivation. The winter was cold, and snow accumulation didn’t really occur until late winter and early spring.
Now our understanding of this place is hugely improved, and I’ll give a sense of what early season preparation looks like!
With only the winter to work with last year, we built a 50-foot long, far-too-flimsy greenhouse against the big barn/machine shed. Last fall, we rebuilt using lumber and are excited for the change, except that yesterday there was an avalanche (small-scale, admittedly). We are fortunate that the greenhouse plastic had not yet been put up, but this does all mean that our limited number of seedlings are in the house, receiving inadequate sunlight.
This is a primary challenge for growers: maintaining a warm and safe environment for newly sprouted seedlings in early spring, ideally with a dependable water source (still working on it). Finally accepting the bad idea that is our lean-to greenhouse, we realize we must build a freestanding structure in order to get through this season in coming years.
It is possible to contract with other growers and have them grow our seedlings, but we tend to do things ourselves (to a fault?), and we also value being able to tell the story from seed to plant or produce, all occurring on our farm.
Seed starting can be done a number of ways, and our production is small enough that we are able to use a modified refrigerator to create an ideal seed germinating environment. An open container of water provides just enough humidity to the space, and heat is supplied by a string of holiday lights. A temperature controller turns the lights on and off to maintain a temperature of 72 to 75 degrees, depending on what is in the chamber. The fridge is used because it was free and is well insulated!
Germination can also be carried out in a greenhouse, or any humid and warm space, though humidity and heat are more constant in a setup like ours, and germination is excellent as a result. For now, at quite a small scale, this works well for us.
In late February and early March, we start seeds of cold-weather crops as well as crops that will take a number of months to reach maturity and thus need a head start. Some examples are:
kale, collard greens, and kohlrabi
allium family: onions, shallots, leeks, and scallions
herbs (rosemary, lemon balm, borage, lovage)
garden seedling sales:
herbs (borage, lovage, basil, lemon balm, anise hyssop, thyme, lavender)
flowers (strawflower, black cumin, dahlia)
Both years we have occupied this farm, winter weather has defied our intentions for February and early March. Late winter is not a very glamorous time to be a farmer: it often means infrastructure upgrades, repairs, building projects, and the like, sometimes in the rain and cold. The cold of this February prevented us from doing almost any productive farm labor. Products like PVC cement and protective outdoor paint do not function properly at 10 degrees, and the depth of snow made it unsafe to do things like cut down select trees (for farm management and firewood).
It isn’t actually spring yet, but the cold weather broke in a dramatic way and certain tasks cannot be avoided.
Since the greenhouse is distinctly inaccessible, we are able to focus some time on diverting water from its original path straight to the basement.
That’s a little dramatic, to be honest. Yes, there is water in the basement, and yes, that is running water underneath Nicholas; but it is in fact fairly easy to manage, especially since we are no longer fresh from the city!
That’s the early season scoop from here. We remain very excited to get growing and are enjoying the stark winter scenery (turning goopy and gray as I write). And STILL watching the dairy barn’s shockingly slow demise.
Thank you for reading!