Editing onions, counting peppers

Thinning onion seedlings

The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? That’s how it seems, in a soothingly familiar way, as seed starting 2010 really gets in gear at this new farm location. A little over two weeks since we set up the seedling room, and the fairly intricate task of managing dozens of crops and varieties and thousands of seedlings is on!

It can be a little complicated, keeping track of all the details, but it’s also…simple. Kendall, trying her hand at tiny farming-style veggie production for the first time, shows no fear with the sharp, little snips, as she learns about thinning onions (above). We’re multiplanting this set of onions, aiming for four per plug sheet cell. Since I used seed from last year—a common rule is that you should get allium (onion family) seed fresh each year to ensure good germination, but why waste?!—we went a little generous in the seeding. Germination was great, and now we need to remove the extras.

Next, Kendall’s on to another kinda critical seed-starting task: taking inventory of what exactly we’ve got going. That means a lot of counting and note-taking, and making sure the markers in the trays don’t get pulled out. Below, she tallies some of the 20 or so varieties of sweet and hot peppers that’re on for this season. For the new girl, it’s business as usual!

Counting pepper seedlings


Great Pyrenees vs Australian Cattle Dog

The farm this year is an animal farm, for sure! I farmed alongside cows and goats for a few seasons, raised chickens for meat and eggs for the last two years, BUT, this is the year I’m plunging headfirst into the world of FARM ANIMALS EVERYWHERE, critters of all shapes and sizes (and breeds), woven into the daily tiny farming experience.

The relationships between the seven dogs and two cats alone is complex, entertaining…and useful. The four Great Pyrenees are working livestock guardian dogs, living outdoors (and in the barn) year round, keeping watch and patrolling the property. They keep predators out, killing intruders when necessary (you don’t want foxes in the henhouse!). This is a critical job because there are also free-ranging chickens, turkeys and geese, baby pigs, sheep about to lamb…lots to look out for, lots to EAT.

Meanwhile, with all that protection work, at least one of the Great Pyrenees still finds lots of time to kick back and mess around. In the pic, Rollie, the youngest GP, and just a huge puppy at around 8 months, tugs it out with Pi, an Australian Cattle Dog, also under a year old (it’s just a stuffed animal they’ve got there). Business as usual!

Seeds still work!

Red Globe onions emerge

If you’re journaling your gardening seasons, on paper, online, or simply in your head, you just HAVE to take note of the very first seedlings to emerge. Of course, you can’t actually catch the VERY first one, unless you’re kind of mono-focused and a little…obsessive. But a few always come up at about the same time, and a little ahead of the pack. On this tiny farm, I’m there to snap ’em.

This season, the Red Globe onions take the prize. There is garlic out in the field from fall, here and at another location, and tiny tips may already be poking up, especially with the UNSEASONABLY mild, warm and low-snow winter we’ve had so far. For 2010 purposes, though, I’m not stalking the garlic patch, only peering at the plug sheets.

So there we are, four days after first seeding. Some seed exposed at the surface did show up yesterday, the white radicles looking unnaturally glaring and exposed, but today’s the day for “proper” first seed action. They still work!

Farm animals

Montana with horses, sheep, dog

After only chickens last season, it’s farm animals in full force this time around. In the pic, Montana with the new-to-the-farm pair of Percheron work horses, the Shropshire sheep, and Rollie, the youngest of four Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs, looking on. Elsewhere, there are heritage breeds of pig, chicken, turkey and goose, plus other dogs, and two cats, as well. I’m looking forward to learning a lot. And if I ever fall behind in posting to the blog, quick and easy photo opportunities are…everywhere! :)

Percheron drinking

1440 onions

1440 onions

I’m sure I’ve taken this photo before, but somehow, it’s still new—the first transplants of the season! This is the look of 1,440 onions, starting out. These are 72-cell plug sheets, and the plan is to multi-plant four onions in each spot. Do a little multiplication—5 trays, 72 cells, 4 onions per—and the results are clear. Whether things will turn out exactly like this, perfect bushels of Red Globe red and Utah sweet Spanish, is anybody’s guess, but I’m quite confident we will get…something! :)

All the usual tools and methods for this tiny farm are back for another run. There are still at least a couple of years left on the roll of donated food-grade plastic wrap that I use (and re-use for the season) to hold moisture and increase heat, just until the tiny seedlings emerge. To check temperatures in this new seedling room, on the lowest shelf of the light rack, where it’s coldest, is one of the minimum/maximum digital recording thermometers. And of course, there are the trusty, home-built light racks themselves, with an assortment of T-12 and T-8 fixtures and Cool White fluorescent tubes, providing the bare minimum of heat and light to get things started.

I’m always up for trying new approaches and new gear, but a lot of the time, if it gets the job done and you’re already having fun, what more could you need?!

In the beginning, again

Seedling room set-up

There is really no one absolute moment when a new growing season begins, so I guess today is as good as many to make the call. All the familiar gear is in a new farm home (there’s a bit of backstory here, that I’ll eventually get to in the About…), and right now,  we’re setting up the light racks and getting ready to seed. This will be my eighth season of tiny farming, and it should be an interesting one!