It’s planting season! Despite the mud, rain, winds, snow, and maybe even hail (?!) that have marked the last several weeks, our seed-starting operation is warm, calm, and surprisingly productive. That’s because the vast majority of our crops are started inside, in pots and trays of soil. Starting with onions, tomatoes, and peppers in February, each tiny seed is removed from an envelope or container, dropped into a small compartment of soil, and set upon a shelf in the propagation greenhouse (which is conveniently attached to our winter farm store and kitchen; we like to multi-task)), where it receives lots of light and a steady dose of water.
As the seeds germinate, they grow towards light. This year Noah developed a new growing system in the prop house that includes bars of LED full-spectrum lights; the amount of natural sunlight in that space just isn’t enough at this time of year to give plants the start they need before going into the ground. Full spectrum lights "mimic the emphasis of wavelengths of sunlight enough that plants are stimulated to grow” (wikipedia) and when positioned close enough to the seedlings, prevent them from growing tall and spindly, a common problem with starting plants indoors. If you’ve driven by The Pod and wondered if an ‘80s-themed dance party is happening in the greenhouse - no, it’s just the hot-pink glow of our lights! (We still suspect that the basil, snapdragons, and shishitos are partying late into the night.)
As for watering, we are focusing on bottom watering, adding water about once a week to the shallow trough-like shelves the trays sit on. With small holes in the bottom of the trays, the water wicks up into the soil and keeps the trays evenly moist. Compared with overhead watering (think of a shower coming out of a hand-held hose), this system of watering is more efficient and less disruptive to the seeds and young seedlings.
The trays we plant our seeds into generally have anywhere from 50-288 cells, or compartments, in them. As the seedlings grow bigger and need more space for their roots to develop, we “bump” them up into bigger trays or individual pots. At this point, they are moved into our original greenhouse, called Sunny, which is a lot bigger and features a broader and stronger amount of natural daylight. We continue to care for these plants until they are ready to be transplanted into the ground - this happens as early as April and May for cool-loving crops such as spinach, kale, broccoli, etc. (they are covered with special fabric on cold nights) and then June when the soil warms enough for tomatoes, peppers, and more. What about carrots and beets, you might ask? Those are two crops whose seeds are planted straight into the ground- a topic for another day!