Plug sheets, get ready!

Stacked plug sheets and trays

It’s getting near that time when a whole lotta seed gets started—company is on the way for the onions and parsley! I’m still sorting and setting up around here, doing a bit of this and a bit of that every day (an INCREMENTAL approach to the many different things to do on the tiny farm that would drive some people…nuts, but works for me right now! :). On the getting-ready-for-seed-starting front, today I unpacked all of the plug sheets and trays from inside the composting toilet home where they made the farm move. It’s a stack about 5-1/2′ (1.7m) high, still dusty from months of storage on the Big Shelf. It’s a bit of a head rush to imagine all of them being filled, tended, and then moved out to the field in the next three months. Crazy.


Kubota compact tractor loaded with insulation

The Kubota compact tractor is a real work horse, it can do just about anything you set it to. On a tiny farming scale, of course. It’s had to winter outside this time around, but it’s been starting no problem, on first try, after the recent battery change. Who knew that a fresh, premium battery could make such a difference (well, many know, and now I’m one of them!)? Today’s beast of burden mission: moving a dozen bales of rock wool insulation—a last bit of the new seedling room—from the lower barn, up a slope, to the upper level doors on the other side of the building. Three trips instead of 12. They’re not particularly heavy, just big and bulky, so no problem wedging them on the hood. When loading up like this, it’s important not to mess with the hydraulic lines that run along the arms and across the front of the loader. Besides that, just pile ’em on!

Parsley pops up

First parsley appears

Parsley, seeded 11 days ago, began popping up over the last couple of days, so that’s the second crop of the season, underway. Four varieties this year, two each of flat-leaf (Plain Dark Green Italian, Hilmar) and curly (Forest Green, Green Pearl). They’re 18 cells per variety, in a 72-cell plug sheet, around 4-6 seeds per cell—I’ll eventually thin them down to two. They’ve already started to stretch because they’re sharing a light rack shelf where the lights are set higher to accommodate a tray of onions. Parsley is easy to start, I’ve had no problem with transplants, but my  seedlings have always tended to stretch and tangle in the trays before transplant time. Last year, I snipped them back quite a bit so they wouldn’t tie themselves to each other. They seem to like their light strong. These are just early season details that I won’t be much concerned with a little later on, but I’ll see what I can do. I’m gonna hang lights on another shelf for them right now!

Hitting the books: Composting!

The Rodale Book of Composting

Winters on the tiny farm have always been a time for research and a bit of book learning. My first two seasons were crazy for reading, especially the winter before Year 1, when I had four months to pick up enough, from zero knowledge, using books and the Net, to map out the initial one-acre plot, order seed, get some gear, and “pass” the initial organic certification inspection, in order to start the market garden that spring. That was fun!

Over the last six years, though, a curious thing happened. My original urge to find out how everything worked, to soak up endless technical detail, full of labels and scientific explanations, died down quite a bit—often I’d rather watch a squash decay than read about it…

It seemed more fun to find specific, practical solutions on the farm: how to fix this or improve that. At the same time, I’ve become more and more aware of the growing process as a whole (and really, how relatively little I have to do with it…), not so concerned about its parts. It’s a little hard to explain, though real easy to feel. Maybe it’s just…a phase!

MEANWHILE, this year, Year 7, is a bit of a shake-up. Compared to the old farm, the new farm is pretty bare-bones. One big change: I don’t have the tons of well-aged, almost completely composted cow manure that was available there.

Every year, I made manure-based compost in 50′ (15m) windrows, incorporating crop residue and culled veggies, turning it with the tiny tractor, checking it out, but it wasn’t CRITICAL to fertility. A fall spreading of fine, on-farm, composted manure always did the trick!

Now, with no on-farm animals yet (chickens to come first!), and no prospect of generating huge amounts of manure, compost that relies more on plant sources will be my new friend. Composting and green manure are on my mind.

New necessities require…new learning! So along with everything else over the last 2-3 months, there’s been a more intense hitting of the books, thinking over, chatting, scouring the Net. It’s not exactly like starting over, but it’s definitely…FRESH. I’m excited. More as it happens!

Fava beans test OK

Broad bean germination test

It’s that time of year again when obsession with seedlings somehow takes hold for a short while. I wonder if I’ll ever get over it, that almost overpowering feeling that you don’t want to waste even a SINGLE seedling. Here, I germination tested a few Witkiem fava beans (broad beans) from an overlooked 4-year-old supply. Bean seed viability is often rated at 3 years, but I didn’t doubt that these were fine, they looked and felt great. I tested some anyhow: wrapped them in a paper towel, misted them with water, popped them in a clear ziploc plastic bag, put them in a warm spot. That was about three weeks ago. Sure enough, a week later, the not-so-little white radicles were poking out of all of these big beans. Excellent! So I put them back in the bag and kinda forgot about them, moved them and all. Today, they were unpacked, and even without any light for at least a week, the seedlings were lustily struggling to break free. Now the kinda obsessive part is, I FEEL BAD ABOUT THROWING THEM OUT! This is pretty crazy. There is no good reason to pot them in February and have ’em hanging around for three months until it’s warm enough to transplant. After three months in a pot, they’ll be useless as proper transplants, anyhow. And in a couple of weeks, there’ll start to be so many seedlings around here, this keep-’em impulse I’m having now will be gone without a trace. So I stuck ’em in some water, just for now… I thought this beginning of the season hang-on-to-every-seedling thing would wear off after a few years, but apparently not yet. Maybe I don’t take this business of tiny farming seriously enough! :)

Seedling room settling in

New seedling room mainly packed up

Things are moving along on all fronts, some less visible on the farm than others, like calls to locate various local suppliers, supply runs to the nearby village (pop. 2,400) and the bigger nearby town (pop. 70,000), and so on. The actual UNPACKING is going at a steady pace. The photo above pretty much sums things up so far for the new seedling room. There’s still a fair bit of finishing to do,  and for that, we’re going to have to work from one side to the other, moving things back and forth. The computer is online, which is good, being able to check things out on the web is a big part of my tiny farming this time of year. I set up a couple of light rack shelves for the seedlings that’ve been started, but most of the lights are still packed away with the composting toilet. Around 25 harvest bins, doing moving duty, are still stacked, contents waiting for shelves—I labeled each one, so it’s not too hard too find stuff needed now. And the calendar is getting ready to flip again!