Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Last week, we were a team of five. Clad in muddy raingear, hunched against the persistent showers, we willed our chilled hands to continue pulling out the long roots of spring weeds. The garden beds before us were awaiting brassica starts – a morning’s worth of weeding ensured an afternoon’s worth of transplanting.
On this particular morning we were situated in our upper field, across the logging road from our largest hoop house. It wasn’t particularly cold, nor remarkably windy. Nevertheless, the rain was steady and our layers soaked well through despite the mismatched collection of ponchos, jackets, slickers, and rainpants. By midday our hands were stiff and the garden beds threatening to become mudflats. We called an end to the weeding and took lunch. Our morning’s work, in combination with other weed-free beds in our eastern field, would provide enough row footage to spend the afternoon transplanting.
Slightly more active than weeding, transplanting proved more manageable in the rain. Wielding trowels and hori-horis, hundreds of cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, and kohlrabi went into the ground that afternoon. We were able to keep warm as we moved flat after flat of plants out of our “big coldframe” greenhouse, and smiled to see our collection of starts freed to the open air and fields of dirt. After weeks of careful care, we now had to trust to biology and climatic good fortune. With luck, each plant will grow into the best-case scenario.
To get to this point in the season, however, was the result of much indoor seeding work. Through February and March we seeded thousands of cold-tolerant plants into flats. (Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collards, chard, and kohlrabi fill our seeding shelves early in the season; warmer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash come later – contact us if you have questions on seasonal timing!) These were kept under lights in our basement and watered every few days. As seeds germinated, grew sprout leaves, and slowly developed their true leaves, we monitored them closely. As they sized up, we moved flats to our cob animal-house/greenhouse combination building. Here plants were introduced to natural daylight and the temperature fluctuations between day and night. As they began to outgrow their original cells, plants were potted up into 4” pots and shifted to our “big coldframe.” This building has less thermal mass than the cob greenhouse, and thus temperatures fluctuate to a greater degree. Moving plants into this building was another step in the process of accustoming plants to natural conditions. As time and space allowed, we shifted plants outdoors during the day and back inside at night for greater acclimation. Once plants are out in the field, we have prepared them as best we can for the vagaries of our climate.
These cloudy days and re-occurring showers are beneficial despite the wet clothes and cold hands. Both overcast conditions and steady moisture ease the plant’s shock at being in a new environment. When the sun does shine the plants are ready for growth, eased into their garden locale and ready for a healthy season.
Transplanting is an exciting step in the spring gardening process. It represents a turning point between the equinox and solstice, a phase of transition in which gardens shake off their dormancy and suddenly come alive with the colors and vibrancy of a lush season. Spring will lead us to summer in rapid fashion.