It’s April, and for the last month we’ve been busy in the greenhouse starting many of the vegetables that will be in our CSA shares this coming season. There are of course, many crops that are seeded directly into the field; carrots, beets, squash, parsnips, spinach, mustards, and arugula are a few, but a great number of our vegetables are started in the greenhouse and then transplanted into the fields. Before we can even work the soil thousands of seeds are planted in the greenhouse. Each year we start by planting onions, leeks, and celeriac, the first week of March. After that we’re onto kale, collard greens, broccoli, lettuce, kohlrabi and more. The warmer season crops, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are all get started in early April.
The bulk of our seedlings are sown, one seed at a time and by hand into 10 inch by 20 inch trays with 98 plug holes in each tray. We don’t use the standard commercially available potting mix which contains synthetic fertilizers and a chemical “wetting agent” and believe it or not it is sold as “sterile” and contains no actual soil. Instead, we use a special blend of potting soil that contains compost, peat, and other organically approved ingredients. This mix is the opposite of sterile, it’s teaming with healthy microbial soil activity and helps our little seedlings thrive.
We have one larger greenhouse where we start all of our seedlings, we keep this house heated and fairly warm. The warmer temperature helps keep the soil in the trays warm and makes our seedlings pop up quickly. Once the crops are up and begin to get established, we move them to one of our “overflow” houses to make room for more seedlings. We keep the overflow houses cooler and heat them minimally, just enough to keep the temperature above freezing at night. This helps the plants to acclimate to their future life in the field.
Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are started in open trays with tight spacing. The trays are placed on heated mats to raise the soil temperature, this greatly aids in germination. After the seedlings sprout, we carefully transplant each seedling into trays with more room for the plants to mature before we plant them outside at the end of May.
As soon as the soil can be worked in the fields, we begin planting. Often, this is as much as six weeks before our last frost date of May 31. Many of the veggies we are planting at this time can withstand a light frost, and we cover most of our early spring plantings with a fabric row cover to help protect the young starts. This spring has been quite cool so far, but we are hoping for a break in the weather soon – we have kale, collard greens, onions, leeks, and more that will be ready to transplant in a few weeks!