Longer Days – Early Fast Growth

Early May – we are past the equinox and heading quickly to June 21st summer solstice.  the days are getting longer, with first daylight beginning at 5:30am.  The plants know it – transplants still in the greenhouse, transplants recently planted into the garden, newly emerging seedings, fruit trees, berry bushes and others.  It is time to get on with the business of growing!  Even though its still cool at night, with a risk of frost, the gathering day length and warmth signals an urgency of the season.

At Transition Garden, we are putting out cold hardy transplants, like peas, lettuce, chard, radicchio, spring turnips, onions, collards, kale, bok choy and others.  We are seeding radish, cilantro, dill, arugula, beets, parsnips and carrots into freshly prepared beds.  Potatoes went in almost 3 weeks ago, with more to follow.  Some of the earliest lettuce transplants, cold hardy leaf lettuces, will be ready to pick in another 1-2 weeks.  Our first radishes are only 2 weeks away as well.

The garlic is going gang-busters after pushing through the straw when there was still snow on the ground.  We will be foliar feeding it with a spray of sea weed emulsion for an extra boost, which will pay off with larger bulbs at harvest time.

And we are keeping an eye on the peach tree, trusting that the blossoms will make it through any late threats of frost.  I think the bees may be concerned as well, since they are all over them for the nectar and pollen.

An important aspect of gardening and farming is the need to stay intimately tuned to the cycles of nature.  As our society returns to this connection, and nurtures it as a teacher, the more we will learn the true meaning of sustainability.  And, not just sustainability, but of regeneration and renewal of all the forms of life around us.

 

Gardening Is An Essential Life Skill

At Transition Garden, we are hosting Eleanor, a Workaway.info worker for 12 days.  While taking a year off between her undergraduate degree and a Masters degree, she has decided that learning about food production is important for the future, and the career work she may be doing in architectural planning.  Like Eleanor, countless others are feeling the same way – knowing somewhere deep in their bones that getting your hands into the soil is an essential skill to know.  People are seeking out this learning, finding and listening to skilled teachers, and knowing they will in turn have to pass it on to others.

One of my favorite examples begins with Helen and Scott Nearing, who I consider some of the original back-to-the-landers when they left New York City in the 1930’s and went to farmstead in Vermont, and eventually in Maine.  One of their more popular books Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World describes their ability to live a simple yet productive lifestyle.  One of their students was Elliott Coleman, who learned deeply from their gardening techniques and went on to publish many books on his own.  One in particular, The New Organic Grower, turned many heads about the power of four season gardening.  Again, in turn, one of Elliott’s students, Jean-Martin Fortier, learned deeply and proved the small scale business viability of market farming in Quebec.  He published the best seller The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming.

Learn deeply from the best teachers you can find, and know you will be passing these skills on into the future.  The future will need your advice.  Small scale community food production is an essential like skill, now and for the future of humanity.

Cooperative Gardening

At Transition Garden, we are working towards creating a cooperative gardening community, all co-managing the effort, learning together and all sharing in the harvests.  The goal is that these gardens will become owned and operated by a cooperative group.

In this way, more people are able to learn and share their insights – not just about gardening but also their related lifestyle values for self-sufficiency and personal agency in our increasingly fragile times.  The future will be build by tight knit communities like these, who are actively supporting each other, and learning new valuable skills.

One of our favorite sayings is that “gardening is a life skill.”  Our other favorite saying is “the future is rural,” which means that there is more ability outside of urban density to reconnect with natural processes, gardening and farming.

On most Fridays we gather, work together in the gardens, share a hearty farm lunch from garden harvests and enjoy stories.  Things are picking up quickly now.  We have started seeding beds with radishes, arugula, cilantro, spring turnip, potatoes and other early crops.  The number of seedling trays are quickly expanding in the greenhouse, and we are just beginning to transplant out into beds.  Fruit tree pruning is also underway.

It’s still the first half of April, and we need to be careful.  Its an early spring this year, with many tree and perennial buds swelling and breaking dormancy.  A hard freeze (3-6C below) could cause significant damage.  It seems like things are more out of kilter compared to previous seasons. There’s more unpredictability and potential crop damage.  Is this the new reality with climate change?

“The Spring Quickening”

I love that phrase – “the spring quickening.”  Its that time of year when winter has lost the battle to spring, which is quickly gaining momentum.  Everything starts to come to life, out of its winter dormancy, and quickens with almost a pace of urgency.

Two crows are guarding their nest in the tall white pine outside my window, kicking up a big commotion one afternoon when a hawk came by looking for an easy meal.  The early bloomers like the crocuses and coltsfoot are up, and the bees are bringing in the first n

ectar and pollen.  Spinach in the greenhouse, long dormant over the winter, now seems on a tear for growth, providing many salads and spinach pies.  The garlic has jumped out of the ground, beginning it growth just as the frost left and there was the first sign of warmth.

This week we will start doing more intensive work in the garden beds, doing spring cleanup, spreading compost and adding some soil amendments.  We will start some direct seeding of cold hardy plants like arugula, cilantro and radish.

 

Our seedlings are growing well in the transplant production greenhouse, as they put on new sets of leaves and begin to fill out the plug trays.  We will be upgrading the ultra-hot chilies from 2″ pots to 4″ pots.  These were started back in mid-February and are coming along well.

Greenhouse Activity Is Picking Up Quickly

Activities are picking up quickly in the greenhouses at Transition Garden.

The three dormant fig trees were moved out of cold storage.  They were in our workshop, which we keep at 3C during the winter to act as a root cellar and cold storage area).  They will leave out quickly and we will move them into the lower greenhouse in May, where we plant the pots into the ground and let the roots grow out through the holes in the pot during the summer.  In the fall, when they go dormant again, we pull out the pots and prune off the roots.  This year, we may get 3-4 new figs trees by rooting shoots that came up from the bases of two tree.  We planting these shoots in small pots after dusting the ends with rooting powder.  Exciting!

Over the past few days, we thinned cabbage and Swiss chard seed trays that had germinated and had more that one seedling per cell.  We took many of these ‘extras’ and transplanted them into another tray, leaving a few seedlings doubled up in some cells.  You always want to have a few extra seedlings in case there was poor germination or other problems, but over-seeding can give you too many and is a waste of seeds.  Last year, a mouse was happily munching seedling right down to the stub until we finally caught it in a live trap and took it for a relocation drive.

Our onions, seeded about 4 weeks ago, are well on there way.

We are seeding more varieties of crops into seed trays. Today it was the eggplant (2 types), ground cherry and radicchio.  Last week we did tomatoes (8 varieties) and peppers (4 varieties).  Our ultra-hot chilies which we started in mid-February are now growing well in 2″ pots and we moved them from under the grow lights into the ‘hot box’ in the greenhouse.

Seeding Time !!

Mid-March is the best time to begin seeding for transplants which will go into the garden in early May or grown further in a greenhouse of planting out in June.

At Transition Garden, we plant seeds, let them germinate inside the house, and then put them out into our ‘workshop’ greenhouse the moment that they start to emerge from the soil.  The greenhouse is mostly unheated.  The tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, being heat loving plants, would go into our insulated ‘hot box’ in the greenhouse that has a heating pad on the bottom.  The other early seedlings are fairly cold tolerant and can withstand the cold nights in the unheated portion of the greenhouse.

Assess your own situation carefully.  Unless your have good grow lights, a greenhouse or at least a cold frame, the common error is to start seeding too early and not be able accommodate the plants properly as they get bigger. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are particularly sensitive – it is good to start them early, but they will need lots of light and warmth.

Here is what we would plant during the middle of March:  Onions, Leeks, Chives, Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Celery, Kale, Chard, Bokchoy, Leaf lettuces and Parsley.

Lettuce seedlings just emerging from the potting mix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onions germinated 3 weeks ago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our beehive on a warm March day.  We checked them for honey stores and they have plenty to get through to first nectar flow.

 

Early Seeding for Transplants

It’s March 2nd.  Even though it’s -13C degrees with high winds and drifting snow outside, we are starting to seed plant trays for spring transplanting.  When to start?  It is a question with a multi-layered answer as it depends on the crop, when it is intended to be transplanted outside and what growing infrastructure you have to keep them happy and growing until they are set out.  The risk is to start too early, especially if you cannot keep them under proper conditions as they get bigger.

We use a grow light indoors for small amounts of specialty items, such as our ultra-hot peppers.  These were seeded two weeks ago and germinated on a heating pad.  They are now happily up and just now producing their second set of leaves.  As they get bigger in about 2-3 weeks, they will be upgraded to 2″ pots and kept under the grow light for a week or two more, and then moved out to a heated pad in the greenhouse.

Two days ago, we seeded 3 trays with onion seed – yellow storage onions, red onions and green onions.  We seed 4-7 seeds per cell in a 50 cell tray.  Onions don’t mind growing in clumps and they separate easily when transplanting into the ground in early May.  These are germinated indoors next to the wood stove where it is warm – it takes about 5-7 days.  When they just start to emerge from the potting soil, we will put them out into the greenhouse in an insulated box which has a heating pad on the bottom.  The box is covered with bubble wrap on cold nights. 

Stay tuned – in two more weeks we will begin seeding many of the other transplants to be used in Transition Garden.

Consider knowledge of gardening to be an essential life skill.  Teach young children and students at every opportunity, as they will need to have these skills in the future as the world grows increasingly crowded and resources increasingly scarce.  It is possibly to grow a huge amount of food on small amounts of land.  This is evidenced by the many many small scale farmers who still today produce most of the world’s food supply.

Over-Wintered Spinach

The days are getting markedly longer now at the end of February.  We are about 3 weeks away from the spring equinox, when the days and nights are the same length.  Nevertheless, there are still significant cold snaps (last night on the full moon for example it got to 15C below!).

Despite these cold snaps, the days are routinely starting to get above zero.  Low pressure fronts tend to bring snow which changes to rain – that is the forecast for tonight.  (As an aside, this is a new pattern of weather for February compared to 15-20 years ago.  Is this caused by climate change?  One would certainly think so.  It is getting difficult in our area to do winter sports, like cross-country skiing or snow shoeing.  Even ice skating on ponds and lakes can get risky.)

With the increased day length, our spinach in the unheated greenhouse is starting to come out of dormancy and show signs for growth.  Three greenhouse beds over-wintered under row cover (held up above the plants by a thin frame of wire and bamboo).  Spinach is incredibly cold-hardy.  Very cold nights never seem to cause any damage.

In a few more weeks, we will begin to have a bumper crop of spinach for everyone who helps in the gardens!

The only over wintering damage to the spinach was caused by moles or voles in one of the beds (we discovered their tunnels under the soil), who chewed the plants right down to the base of the stems.  Anyone have suggesting on how to catch voles in a live trap?  Fortunately the plants will survive and begin to re-leaf in the coming weeks.

 

Winter Chores – Prepping for Bee Season

Winter is the time that many beekeepers sort through their inventory of supplies before things get busy in the spring.  At the Transition Garden, we are planning to expand our apiary to two hives this coming year, and we purchased new hive boxes. We also ordered a new colony (a ‘nuc’) from a respected bee breeder in the area.

The prep work includes painting the new boxes, lid and ‘bottom board’ as well as preparing frames with new beeswax foundation for the bees to build out new comb for storing their honey.  Painting in an empty greenhouse is perfect because the heat drys the paint quickly!

Soil Amendments and Wood Ash

Some questions have come in about soil amendments and using wood ash.  I can provide more perspective here, but the topic of soil amendments in particular is huge and ultimately depends on your existing soil’s condition. Do your homework as there is always more of a learning curve.

In Transition Garden, we send soil samples most years off to the Nova Scotia Analytical Testing Lab in order to get a full run down on nutrients, pH and other characteristics.  Alternatively, you can buy soil test kits at most garden centres.  This information is your best guide to understanding how to build your soils.

It is always a good idea to increase the level of organic matter in the soil as much as possible.  Compost, well rotted manures and leaf molds are some of your best sources.  Soils high in organic matter will have a rich soil ecology of microorganisms that will in turn increase a plant’s health.  They also retain moisture better during summer dry spells.  Through the use of tons and tons and tons (literally) of composted manures, we have built Transition Garden soils to a 12-15% organic matter content.  For a gardener, rich soils are literally your main capital asset.

Some of the better and more common organic soil amendments include bone meal, blood meal, seaweed or fish emulsions, green sand and rock dusts.  Investigate each for their levels of N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) which are the 3 main nutrients required by plants.  They are generally lower in these levels than chemical fertilizers, but are better at building soil ecosystems.

One suggestion that came in:

Leafy greens: need nitrogen

Fruit bearing (like tomato, peppers, potatoes, cucumbers, squash):  need less nitrogen and more phosphorus and potassium

Root veggies: need lots of phosphorus and not much nitrogen

Wood ash is good in soils, but not too much – use sparingly – 10 to 15 pounds per 1,000 square feet.  This is the amount you may get from one cord of firewood.  Also, stir some thoroughly into compost piles.  It adds phosphorous, calcium and reduces soil acidity.

Happy planning, Bob