It’s officially the season where the days are getting longer and our to-do list follows suit. It seems that for every task we cross off the list, we add on at least two more. With the increasing daylight hours and our abundance of spring projects, we’ve been left with no time for typing. So, here’s a little farm update for you on the last week and a half-ish:
In the greenhouse: since our last post, we’ve started all of our March greenhouse seeds including beans, okra, eggplant, basil, marigolds, and nasturtiums. We decided this year that we are going to try to direct sow the majority of our flowers and herbs which has drastically cut down on our greenhouse seed starting. Don’t get me wrong, I love starting seeds and caring for them in the greenhouse, but I’ve found over the past few years that a lot of the flowers we grow do better when direct sown versus transplanted from the greenhouse. Over the past week, our beans have germinated and taken off – we’ve had nearly a 100% germination rate between our heirloom pole bean seeds as well as the pole bean seeds we ordered from Baker Creek. It’s looking like we will have an abundance of pole beans once again this year if all goes well between the greenhouse and garden transplanting.
The okra has also started to germinate, but it is a bit slower than the beans. We had poor okra germination rates last year so we decided to sow two seeds into each soil block this year just in case. Well, both seeds have germinated in almost every block which means that our poor germination rate last year was likely from something we did, and my bet is on overwatering. We installed an automatic timed misting system in our greenhouse last year thinking that it would help cut down on the time spent watering the seedlings. And that it did; however, we realized after a week or so that we were majorly overwatering which led to many of our seedlings rotting. Another element in this situation is that I’ve also been using the same okra seeds for the past four years because I bought WAY too many bulk seeds from a local seed store when we first started gardening. I thought maybe the poor germination rate last year was because of the seeds being so old, but judging by this year’s germination rate, it turns out it was probably just because of us. Having to thin so many okra seedlings this time around feels like a waste and makes me wish that I hadn’t sown double seeds, but how do you know? Our improved okra germination rate this year also goes to show that soil blocks that are watered appropriately are great mediums for starting seeds, even four year old ones.
A little over a week ago, we thinned all of the tomatoes which are now growing like weeds. It’s safe to say that thinning is by far my least favorite part of gardening. Talk about pressure! How do you choose which seedling to thin? Which seedling will produce better than the other? Which seedling has the most potential? Which seedling will grow to be a thriving, vegetable producing plant? Sometimes it’s obvious, but sometimes you just have to snip and hope for the best. Speaking of thinning seedlings in soil blocks, I learned yet another important lesson: even if the seedlings are tiny, snip the one you want to thin instead of trying to pull it out of the block. I knew better, and I had even read about this numerous times, but I didn’t have my scissors in the greenhouse and I wanted to thin the last block of tomatoes. So I tried to pull out the smaller of the two seedlings (even though I knew not to do this), and I ended up damaging the remaining seedling in the process. Said seedling is still alive, but hasn’t grown at all since the assault. We will see if the seedling can recover from the damage I did to its roots or if there will be one less tomato in the patch. Take it from me: don’t be lazy! Thin your soil block seedlings with scissors! There is now a pair of scissors that reside in the greenhouse in case anyone was wondering.
The tendril peas have grown so vigorously in the soil blocks that we started hardening them off last week and they are now officially the first transplanted crop from the greenhouse into the 2021 garden. Our snap varieties of peas (sugar snap, sugar daddy, and Oregon sugar pods) are all growing strongly but are a bit smaller than the tendril peas, so we decided to wait until this upcoming weekend to transplant them into the garden. So far, the tendril peas look great with no sign of transplant shock! Woohoo! In other gardening news, we have started pulling our kale and the rest of our leafy greens in order to begin turning over the garden beds and adding compost to prepare for summer crops. We did tons of weeding and prepping in the raised bed garden last weekend, and we also direct sowed two large raised beds with beets. We will be direct sowing our “tea garden” – a mix of bee balm, agastache, hyssop, mint, coneflower, and other medicinal herbs and flowers – this coming weekend.
Soil block update: so far so good! We have learned a few lessons along the way, but for the most part our soil blocking endeavor has been an overall success thus far. Watering in particular has been going really well! In our greenhouse setup, we use heat mats to aid in seed germination, so all of our soil blocks sit in trays with holes in the bottom. To water the blocks, we pour a bunch of water into a separate solid tray and then carefully lower the tray full of soil blocks into the water tray. The water flows through the holes in the soil block tray and the blocks absorb the water from the solid tray. This allows the blocks to get saturated with water but also enables us to ensure that the blocks are never left in standing water. This method of watering has also drastically cut down on the time it takes for us to water our seedlings. In the past, we would spend a ridiculous amount of time using a spray bottle to mist each and every seedling from above so as not to damage them. As you can imagine, this was very tedious and time consuming. So far, soil blocks seem to be prevailing in every aspect despite some of our own growing pains and learning curves.
As for the rest of the barnyard, the hens have been steadily increasing the amount of eggs they are laying each day. A usual day provides 11-14 eggs for us right now, which has allowed us to start dry storing eggs in the pantry and supplying my parents with eggs again. The little chickies in the garage are continuing to grow like crazy and are friendly as ever! Each time we open the brooder, they come running in anticipation of receiving Grubbly treats. We are really looking forward to seeing how this round of chicks turns out as adult hens because there seems to be some big personalities in their little flock already. The goats and Maya have been spending all of their time outside lately which has made barn chores a breeze. Another thing that has helped expedite barn chores is our new goat barn broom. If you know me, then you know that I have a reeeeaaallly hard time throwing away anything that still works, even if it is in bad shape (you should see our wheelbarrow) – what can I say? I am Polish after all. Our original goat barn broom was found at our local transfer station, so it wasn’t in the best condition to begin with. Over the past few years, all of the bristles have frayed and the dust pan recently got stepped on and cracked (thank you, Winston), but it still worked so I continued to use it. I knew I needed a new dust pan, so in my travels to Tractor Supply I started looking for a new dust pan and came across a brand new shiny broom and dust pan on sale for only six dollars. That was a deal that I couldn’t pass up, so I decided to splurge on a new dust pan AND broom. And wouldn’t you know that the new broom cuts sweeping time in half, probably because the bristles are all fully functional. Don’t worry though, the old broom has been re-homed to the feed shed where it will live out the rest of its days.
It is starting to look more and more like spring around here as each day passes. The daffodils have made their appearance and our peach tree has exploded with blooms. While in the garden the other day, I heard a familiar deep humming noise and as I got closer to the peach tree I realized that it was loaded with honey bees. Before we brought bees to our farm, we rarely saw a honeybee in our garden and around the property. We had a plethora of native pollinators, but not many honey bees. Even though we lost both of our hives last year, we’ve had a theory that our colony that absconded is still living close by. Seeing all of the bees on the peach tree makes me think that our suspicions are true, which would be awesome! After all, the point of keeping bees is to try to help potentiate the species, so we hope that our absconded colony is thriving and reproducing and adding to the local honey bee population. Either way, we are thrilled to have the bees around and we are looking forward to starting over with new bees in a couple of months.
That’s the short version of everything we’ve been up to around here. Many hours in the coming days and weeks are going to be spent prepping our various gardens and our orchard for spring and summertime. This is historically our busiest time of year as far as garden prep and maintenance is concerned, and we will undoubtedly be spending all of our free time amending soil and tending to the garden spaces until it is time to transplant our summer crops. We hope that springtime is treating everyone well, and we will try to check in with updates the best that we can in between checking off all of the things on our list.