Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Week of March 29 2010 : Lights

(Here is a picture of our Mandarin bell peppers, 6 days old. These peppers are orange bells but not the standard sweet bells. These are elongated European-style bells that are 6" long and are a deep pumpkin orange. Of course the texture is crunchy and taste is very distinct! Only one flat wanted to pose for the photo. Dont worry, we have a lot more.)

I wish I had a photo of a green house to show you. The problem is not so much getting a photo, the problem is there is no greenhouse to pose for that photo. Obviously greenhouses are ideal for getting transplants started during cold weather. Greenhouses are also great for starting transplants during warm weather too. HUngry bugs prefer the tender leaves of a seedling to the leaves of a more mature plant. And each bite inflicts more injury to a seedling than a mature plant. So there is a benefit to transplants even when soil temperatures would support direct seeding.

We dont have a greenhouse, so do we buy transplants?

No. We start everything from seed.

So how do we get our seeds started, keep the transplants safe, and get to market early?

Lights and mini hoop houses.

Over the years I have accumulated grow lights of all sorts. The standard fluorescent shop lights are amazingly versatile. They are used to germinate the seeds. Covering the moist seed trays with black plastic serves two purposes. First, the plastic retains moisture. Second, the plastic warms the soil temperature. Start with the lights about 2" about the plastic then use a soil thermometer to measure the temperature. Gradually lower the lights until the the soil reaches the target temperature. The shop lights also supply enough light for sprouts without the over drying effects of high intensity lights.

Once the seedlings start showing their first true leaves, they are switched to the high intensity lights. I have two 400W metal halide systems. One is a no frills Sun System V. The other is a P. L. Light Systems, the Netherland's finest. Both systems produce ample light and heat. Fans are used to cool the lights. The circulating air helps keep the grow room warm as well as strengthen the seedling's stems. The soil dries quickly so it is necessary to water the plants often, perhaps every day. Although its important not to over water either.

That is the basic process to start the heat-loving seedlings. Getting the transplants out into the field and keeping them safe is a very different matter. Next week I will write about our mini hoop houses.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Week of March 22 2010 : Plow

This winter has been dedicated to capital improvements. When people think of farms they usually think of big, green John Deere tractors. I am certainly one of those people! But once you really get involved with growing, on a personal, local market scale, then you realize that tractors are not necessary.

So the capital improvements this year have focused on post-harvest produce quality and marketing. Food-grade transportation totes. Refrigeration. A legal for trade scale. Side walls for our canopy.

But there was one operations improvement: a new plow.

Three years ago, after I gave up adjusting the cone clutch on my 1970 Sears Rotospader, I bought a BCS 732 2 wheeled tractor with a rototiller and snow thrower. Each year I try to add one implement. Of course I buy my implements from Earth Tools.

Last year was a Palladino flail mower to chop cover crops like sorghum sudangrass and cash crops like sweet corn. Yeah it lives up to the hype. Not only does it shred corn stalks, it shreds cobs too.

This year is the Berta rotary plow. It will be used as primary tillage and to build raised beds. One feature I discovered is the quick hitch is reversible. The plow can be attached in a fixed position such that the plow is level when one wheel is in the open furrow. The plow can also be attached so it swivels. Nice.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Week of March 15 2010 : Geauga!

Yeah for Geauga Fresh Farmer's Market!

Our application to participate in the Geauga market has been accepted! I started growing in Geauga soil when I was a little boy. Well, my mom had a garden and I helped pull weeds but mostly swatted bugs. The market is well rounded and very competitive. And we have many friends and family in the area. So participating in this market is gratifying from many perspectives.

In other news, we started the Scotch Bonnet habanero peppers. These seeds need to be started about two weeks earlier than other peppers. We have grown this variety for more than ten years and every year I marvel they actually set fruit and ripen to maturity. Its an angry little pepper. Whether we use them for cooking or sauces, we always include honey too. The honey suppresses the searing heat just long enough to taste the flavor.

What do they taste like? Visit our stand and discover for yourself! The Habaneros are usually ripe towards the end of August.

For people who need heat sooner, we will also have Anaheim, Jalapenos and Serranos towards the end of July. The Jalapenos are particularly awesome!