Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, ripening tomatoes

A few scenes from the farmer's market, my greenhouse, and this week's CSA:

 This past Saturday, one of the few sunny market days so far this season.

 Ha!  I finally found a sungold tomato with color last week in the greenhouse... there are more like this...

 There's also plenty of this: heavy fruitset that is solid green.  Someday these will make luscious slicers.  Someday.

1/2 lb. salad greens
1/2 lb. snap peas
3/4 lb. summer squash
1/2 lb. broccoli sideshoots
1 lb. Copra onion
1 bunch kale or chard
1 bunch herbs: oregano and summer savory
1 half-pint raspberries


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, simultaneous garlic harvest

1/2 lb. salad greens
1/2 lb. squash
1/2 lb. broccoli
1/2 lb. snap peas
1 bunch kale
1 bunch chives
1 onion

Today's theme seemed to be "things in quantities of half a pound" and "alliums."  I pulled a few of my spring-planted Copra onions for today's share.  While this variety is technically a storage onion, the fact that it has been sending up scapes makes me doubt it's long-term storage capacities.  So enjoy the fresh onion this week!  Pungent but not too spicy, it can be sliced raw into cole slaw or slowly cooked as a base for sauteed kale or broccoli.

My CSA harvest also coincided with the rest of my garlic harvest, which I started yesterday afternoon.  These days of long rain mean I needed to take advantage of dry weather while it was around - it is preferable to pull garlic when it has "dried down."  Thankfully the farmhands, Sara Joy and Owen, were able to pull, bundle, and hang the last six beds of garlic while I harvested for CSA customers.  I am deeply grateful for their help.

A sunny afternoon also meant I was able to mow; the grass just hasn't stopped growing.  Tomatoes look strong and healthy, and also still hard and green.  Sometimes I fear they will never ripen, but maintain their teasing presence in the greenhouse.  I know I just need to be patient.  Snap peas, however, continue to grow up and above my head; the zucchini and summer squash are starting to take off; raspberries set ripe fruit on the canes.  I can wait for tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, it's July already?

Today's harvest:
1 head lettuce
1 bunch beets
1 bunch kale
1/2 lb. onion scapes
1/2 lb. snap peas
1 lb. shelling peas
a petite summer squash

Recent weather has been balmy and overcast.  I must continually remind myself that we are almost halfway through July.  This time last year I was eating tomatoes, with the first Early Girl picked on the 4th.  Now, however, I am just entering into full-swing of my pea harvest (usually considered a spring/early summer crop) while tomatoes sit stubbornly hard and green on short, bushy vines.  I am just starting to pick zucchini and yellow summer squash, so today's bag includes a taste of what will be more to come.  For dinner tonight I sliced a handful of the tender little squash on the diagonal, heated butter in a cast iron pan, and tossed the rounds in.  Cooking them over medium-high heat and flipping them just once with a spatula means a little browning without mushy squash.  I shelled a basket of peas and threw everything together in a bowl with salad greens and grated carrot.  I love summer salads!

As for beets, they also make a lovely addition when grated fresh into salads.  Or one could try my mom's roasted beet salad, which is how I first remember eating these deep, earthy vegetables.  Trim and cube each beet, and oven-roast until easily pierced with a fork.  Dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt.  Sprinkle with toasted walnuts and chevre.  I could eat mountains of beets prepared this way.  Mountains.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, a visit to Doe Bay

The end of June is bringing more and more produce of substance to the garden... strawberries, beets, artichokes, the first peas.  I ate a tender young carrot the other day.  Here's what today's harvest looked like:

1/2 lb. salad greens
1 bunch kale
1 bunch beets - finally sized up after a few thinning harvests
1/2 lb. broccoli sideshoots (tender stems that grow after cutting the crown)
1 bunch garlic scapes
1 pint Seascape strawberries

Garlic scapes are the attempt at flowers that hardneck garlic makes mid-summer.  Snapping off the green stem means energy is not diverted from the bulb up into seed production.  Lucky for us, these tasty green stalks are fantastic when drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grilled.  I also will pickle these whole; the consistency and texture are somewhat similar to a bean or asparagus.  The scapes have a mild garlic flavor and can also be stir-fried whole or in cut diagonal pieces.  A unique, one-time crop!

In the afternoon I took a field trip with my helper Serena and our 4-year-old friend to the east side of the island to deliver broccoli and a few pounds of scapes to Doe Bay Cafe.  This restaurant is supported by an amazing on-site garden and also serves local produce from various farms around the island.  Their commitment to local agriculture is strong and the food is awesome; a few weeks back I ate one of those meals that makes you think, "This will be remembered as one of the best ever."  I am glad to contribute to that continued awesomeness.
A mile up the road lives one of my dear friends and farming inspirations, George of Orcas Farm.  I always love visiting this farm.  George's use of interplanting and cover crops is just incredible, the beds are beautifully formed and maintained, and his produce is lovely.  At the end of the day we drove home quiet and tired, bellies full of berries and waiting for the rain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, happy Summer Solstice.

I celebrated the longest day of the year with this week's beautiful CSA harvest.  Happy Solstice!

1 head Red Sails or Red Butterhead lettuce
1 bunch kale
1/2 lb. spinach
1 bunch broccoli
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 bunch chives AND a handful of onion scapes
1 pint Seascape strawberries

The past couple weeks of sunshine are resulting in a great beginning strawberry harvest.  Feels so good to eat fruit from the garden!  Unfortunately, heat or stress or both mean my Copra onions are pushing "scapes."  These flowering tops are not a good sign on a storage onion, but I am snapping them off and hoping the bulbs will grow to a good size.  At least the scapes have a sweet, mild onion flavor.  They were a nice addition to yesterday's cabbage slaw.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, Tilth Farmwalk adventures

I headed off-island yesterday with my friend and fellow farmworker Jay for a Tilth-sponsored "Farmwalk" tour of the WSU research station in Mt. Vernon and a trip to Viva Farms, a farm incubation project.  Both were exciting and inspiring, but more on that in a moment.  First, a visual tour of this week's produce:

1/2 lb. salad greens
1/2 lb. spinach
1/2 lb. braising mix

Lately, my favorite way to prepare cooking greens (kale, chard, collards, or mustard greens) is by sauteeing half an onion until soft and translucent and then throwing in handfuls of roughly-chopped greens.  Some advise removing the stems from the leafy foliage and either composting or cooking them first, but personally this is a step I find time-consuming and unnecessary.  Leave everything.  Still tastes good.   Increase the heat, stir, then add a splash of water and cover the pan to steam-soften the greens.  After a minute or two remove the pan lid, cook off any remaining water (you don't need to add much to begin with) and turn off the heat.  I add a few shakes of sesame oil, tamari or soy sauce, grated ginger, and sesame seeds.  Delicious.

When I stopped in town today to drop off CSA bags my friend and CSA member Jenny asked excitedly, "What is there today?"  I adore Jenny for many reasons: she owns a great local business (Darvill's bookstore), grows her own garden AND supports local farmers, and is always enthusiastic about her weekly delivery.  When I reported that this week meant more leafy greens, we chattted for a few minutes about the lack of vegetables with "substance" that are coming from the garden.  I love cooking and fresh-eating greens, but this spring has had a dearth of vegetables that pack a crunch.  Peas are late, beets are slow, and I had to pull all my radishes last week due to pest damage.  I will always enjoy salad and cooking greens, but look forward to harvesting something from the garden that I can actually bite into...

In other news, the Tilth event was a welcome and encouraging change from my usual Monday fieldwork.  I find myself in great appreciation of the state of Washington and the WSU extension services for dedicating so much support and research to organic farming.  We walked the grounds of the research center and I was impressed by how many plots were managed organically, with researchers studying everything from organic wine grapes to no-till cover crops to alternatives to plastic mulch.  Thank you, WSU.  In the afternoon we visited Viva Farms, a nearby 33-acre plot of land that is currently "incubating" ten farmers by providing access to land, equipment and markets, low-interest loans, and technical support.  I encourage a visit to their website at  I could write for a long time about how inspiring these farmers, the director of the program, and the program itself are, but I think the site speaks for itself.  Plus, I have a chicken waiting to be roasted in the oven.

Exciting things are happening in my own garden and in the farming community around me: strawberries blush deeper red each day, peas set their flowers, a researcher develops a new organic management practice, young people and immigrants gain access to land to farm.  I consider myself a tired and lucky girl to be a part of this movement.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, how I wash lettuce

The harvest station!  I soak salad greens in a large cooler before spinning them dry in an old honey centerfuge.  Note how the centerfuge is mounted on an repurposed pressure-washing cart, which gives it an eerie resemblance to R2D2.  I give thanks to Casey McKenzie, Ruthie Dougherty, and Vern Coffelt for making this contraption a reality.  I must note that rinsing greens like this, since not done in a commercial kitchen, does not make them technically ready-to-eat.

 Looking down into the basket of the centerfuge.

Today's harvest: 
1/2 lb salad greens
1/2 lb large-leaf spinach - tear up for salad or cook whole
1 bunch kale or swiss chard
1 bunch amethyst radish
1 bunch chives
1 green garlic


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CSA Harvest

Today's harvest:

1/2 lb salad greens
1 bunch red russian kale
1 bunch amethyst radishes

The lettuce bed has finally outgrown most susceptibility to wireworm damage and my outside spinach is catching up, too.  Kale, chard, cabbage, and broccoli are loving these warm, overcast days.  I am loving being able to harvest outside.  Today's lunch: cumin and ginger-spiced yellow split peas with wilted kale.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CSA Harvest! And, cute children in the garden.

A hazy morning followed by a glorious sunny afternoon, here is what my day looked like in pictures:

 First radish harvest.  Amethyst radishes are my favorite for their color and sweet flavor.

Stella naps in between the cabbage, radishes, peas and strawberries.

CSA harvest!  Green garlic, rhubarb, radishes, first lettuce harvest, parsley, chives, and braising mix.  For lunch I sliced green garlic, cooked it until soft, and tore handfuls of kale and chard into the pan.  Top with butter and salt.  The life force.

Serena came over in the afternoon and then we had visitors: Sommer and her two daughters, Olive (with the backpack) and Hazel.  Olive is getting ready for her big trip to San Diego in two weeks.  She packed her bag today.

Olive and Hazel show me their "moves."  Hazel's moves usually involve staring.  Olive likes to kick and twist.  We all were amused.

Is their a better way to end the day than by tossing an adorable baby in the air?  I think not.  All in all, a great day.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Great Transformation

After days of chipping away at my greenhouse, I am happy to report that it is now fully planted out in tomatoes!  What an exciting end to a week of beautiful weather - the clear skies and long, sunny days made moving tables and hauling flats of plant starts quite enjoyable.  While I was sad to lose the last of the spinach and and pea shoots, the arrival of a greenhouse of tomatoes means summer has really begun.  Here are some pictures of the transformation...

 goodbye, greenery.

 tables put outside, spinach and peas pulled.

 beds raked and broadforked.  One bed here is covered with a light-reflective red plastic that Casey brought back from the Exchange.  It's supposed to help with early fruit set, and at the very least will act as a weed barrier.

 Serena arrives to help me put the first plants in the ground!  Each start is soaked in a fish emulsion solution, then the bottom leaves are pruned off.  The plants are placed on their sides in shallow holes, with most of the developed stalk buried sideways.  Tomatoes produce what are called adventitious roots, meaning that fine hairs on the stem will turn into roots if buried underground.  This results in an overall more vigorous root system.  While at first the exposed plants  may lean a little, a few days of sunlight have them growing straight and true.

 Cherry tomatoes ready to go in the ground.  Note boombox in the background playing French pop music.  Tomatoes love French pop music.


I still have flats and flats of beautiful heirloom and thoughtfully-chosen hybrid tomato starts: Stupice, Legend, Sungold, Sweet Million, Black Cherry, Black, Black Krim, Druzba, Moonglow, Dagma's Perfection, Big Beef, Yellow Beefsteak, Red Brandywine, Taxi, Persimmon, Early Girl.  Please contact me if you're interested in purchasing some! 

In other news, our new farmhand arrived today from Austin, Texas.  Sara Joy reported that she left HER tomato plants with nearly ripe fruit on the vines.  So interesting to think that here I am on Orcas Island just waiting for my first harvest-worthy crop of radishes while folks down south are about to eat tomatoes, squash, and other hot crops that are still months away here.  I'm looking forward to spending Fridays in the garden with Sara Joy and picking her brain about what else she's already eaten that I'm dreaming about. 

Tomorrow represents the first time I will be at the farmer's market without produce to sell.  I am thankful to have bountiful starts, meat, wool, and honey, but it is a blow to the ego to have an otherwise empty table.  Another reminder of how far behind this season is from last year, when I had baskets brimming with salad greens, cilantro, kale, and radishes.  I tilled and planted as soon as I could, so now all I can do is encourage the starts that are already in the ground.  Oh well.  In the meantime I will rub some lotion on my sunburned shoulders and continue to encourage my tomatoes with the French radio station they have grown to love.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

CSA Harvest

It has been my intention to post each week's CSA harvest online so members (and friends and family) can see what is growing in the garden, and get ideas for how to use fresh produce.  It's taken me a few weeks to put my intention into practice.  In the meantime, here's what was picked today:

1/2 pound spinach - the last of my greenhouse harvest

1/2 pound pea shoots - toss fresh in salads, or lightly stir fry over high heat
1/2 pound braising mix - last season's kale tops, plus the first cut of this years kale and chard
1 bunch green garlic - mild garlic flavor, slice like a scallion or leek

Today I cleared out beds in the greenhouse with my dear helper Serena.  We are prepping to plant out tomatoes!  Temperatures over 60 degrees felt practically tropical, and the feel of sun on bare shoulders was absolutely delightful.  Keep posted for pictures of the transformation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

tomatoes! tomatoes! tomatoes!

Tomato seedlings in their trays, April 14th.  Seeds started in my bedroom March 15th.

 Tomato seedlings "potted up" into 4-inch pots, April 14th.  Watch them grow!

Tomatoes in the greenhouse, May 14th.  Strong and sturdy little plants.

I recently found a letter I had written during my first season working on Maple Rock Farm.  I described pruning and trellising tomatoes to my sister, how they are a little finicky and ultimately so rewarding.  Four years later and my love for tomatoes has only grown...  I might even say they are my favorite crop to work with.  I love their mystery, their persistence, and of course their fruit. 

All signs point that this season may be a challenging one for this heat-loving crop.  I grow all tomatoes in my 50-foot greenhouse, not even chancing a few varieties outside.  Our intermittent summer rains make unprotected plants more susceptible to blight, a fungus that in part is encouraged by water splashing up onto the leaves.  Sheltering them in a greenhouse not only protects them from wind and increases soil and air temperature, but means that I control exactly how and when they are watered.  Using soaker hoses drips water directly down onto the roots without spraying the plants themselves, and also allows me to "dry up" the soil in the fall to encourage more fruit set.  All in all, I am a strong advocate for greenhouse tomatoes in this zone of the Pacific Northwest.  Even home gardeners can construct simple shelters with tubing, greenhouse plastic, and sturdy clips to reap the benefits a larger greenhouse would offer.

The problem I am currently facing is that my greenhouse is packed with beds of harvest-worthy spinach and pea shoots.  My tomato starts are just rooting out through their 4-inch pots, meaning I need to either put them in the ground or pot them up into larger containers; this requires more time, more potting soil, and more space to store them.  While I may dream of multiple greenhouses, my reality is quite different.  I think I will do a final thorough harvest of all my greens and then clear them out to make space for the Great Tomato Transition.

It's always an exciting change, from the lush, jungle-like foliage of springtime greens to the early summer placement of tomato starts.  Maybe if I start planning for summer the weather will take notice and adjust itself accordingly... lately we have had days of driving rain and cool temperatures.  The other morning I had to remind myself that we were in the middle of May, not February or March.  Everything is growing, it is just growing... extremely... slowly.  At least my kale, chard, broccoli, and cabbage are happy.  I am thankful I took advantage of the dry days to till, set beds, and sow beets, carrots, and radishes.  They will catch up.  Someday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

(almost) felt like Summer

Thank you, sun!  A chilly weekend was bookended by two glorious days of sunshine, and last week marked my first outdoor transplanting and seed-sowing.  I transplanted peas along trellises I had set up on a soggy Friday a few weeks back.  Generally, it is not advised to transplant peas but rather to direct sow them as early as the ground can be worked.  While that idea is cute in theory, waterlogged, clumpy beds and low soil temperatures are not the most encouraging place to tuck in spring's first crop.  Last year I experimented by sowing three or four peas in each cell of a 6-pack tray.  The peas got a jump start in the greenhouse while I waited for beds to dry out, and were moved out as soon as that happened.  By doing so, I "earned" weeks on my pea harvest - if I had waited to direct sow, I would have lost that time.  The idea that peas cannot be transplanted is an example of farming lore that needs to be challenged to see it is not necessarily true.

Since peas run down the middle of the bed, ample space on either side left me enough room to sow beets and carrots next to them.  One of the advantages of being such a small-scale grower is that I can interplant or "mix" crops within a bed.  This space-maximizing practice works well if cultivating is done early on so you aren't left with a weedy, tangled mess.  Examples of interplanting I've used are radishes, calendula, and beets around peas; nasturtiums around kale; and onions and basil around tomatoes.  Interplanting can be beneficial in a few ways: it increases the yield in each bed, and generally, the more ground cover you have the better.  Interplanted crops act as a living mulch that outcompete weeds, prevent erosion from rain in the spring, and lower soil temperatures in the summer.  A little fussier to deal with, but overall worth the investment for me.

Yesterday I transplanted kale, cultivated beds, and potted up tomatoes and brassicas.  In the sun.  All day long.  Since this week was forecast to be rainy and grey, Monday was quite a treat. 

Potting up means moving seedlings from smaller plug trays to larger (usually 4-inch) pots.  A start is ready to be "potted up" if its roots are peering out from the hole in the bottom of the tray.  Usually, that coincides with the setting of the first true leaves.  Potting up allows the roots to expand and the plant to grow much bigger that it would if left in a small plug.  There is a certain calming rhythm to the act of potting up, and it is especially rewarding because starts respond quite quickly to having more space.  The only downfall is that the tables in my greenhouse were already full, and each flat of 72-cells turns into four flats of 4-inch pots.  Time to get spatially creative...

Thank you to Serena, Amanda, Olive, and Owen for helping me along on the sowing and potting up adventures!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


watering the greenhouse-within-a-greenhouse

peas!  heavily sown as cover crop and for pea shoot harvest


spinach that the wireworms left behind

garlic patch with cows looking on

garlic!  recently fish-emulsioned and re-mulched

Monday, March 28, 2011

bed preparation

Rain was forecast for the past five days, but so far it has remained suspiciously dry.  Thinking that this luck will not last much longer, I spent the morning pushing the tiller through some beds that I had been working by hand.  The days of uninterrupted dryness assisted in turning in the last bits of cover crop with smooth ease.  While not technically perfect, a good raking will be enough to get some bed space ready for my first sowing of beets and radishes.  A fine, even seedbed is important for good germination; soil contact on all sides is one of the best ways to ensure that a seed will start successfully.  Clods, rocks, or decaying green matter in the bed all prevent this from happening.  The goal is to eliminate as many obstacles as possible before planting out.

Which brought me to my next task, the one that I named my garden blog after: picking stones.  Picking stones from the garden is an endless job.  It seems that one can spend hours, seasons, years pulling rocks from the same garden beds.  No matter how thorough you are, the stones persist.  They are like kinks in the hose or slugs in your lettuce.  Some things just don't go away, and the challenge as a grower is to learn to be at peace them.  Luckily, I had helping hands in the form of my friends Serena and Theodore to speed things along.  I was thankful for their assistance, especially after I made the mistake of watering a block of garlic with buckets of watered-down fish emulsion BEFORE we combed through it for field stones.  Consider the lesson learned. 

We spent the end of the day tossing down another layer of straw mulch over bald spots in the mulch that the wind had blown away.  Now I'm actually hoping for some rain to tamp things down.  If any of the forecasts are true, that will be tomorrow.  But if not, I'm sure there will still be some stones waiting for me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

thank you, sunny day

The earth seems to have celebrated Vern Coffelt's birthday by giving us all a few days of sunshine.  Thank you, Vern, and thank you, springtime.  Almost overnight the daffodils have doubled their blooms, the plum tree above my car is alive with honeybees as the change in seasons makes itself known.  Even when the rain persists, a certain sweetness is present that wasn't there just a week ago.  Each day I am thankful for the small changes.

Today was sunny and dry enough to cultivate outside and chop in some cover crop that hasn't wanted to die back after repeated flipping and tilling.  For more than a moment it was warm enough to merit working outside in a t-shirt!  Glorious!  Meanwhile, preparing for the fact that SOME day beds will actually dry out enough to plant into, I continue filling my greenhouse with flats of lettuce, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and flowers. I moved my tomato starts from my bedroom to the greenhouse earlier this week when I saw cotyledons unfolding from the seed tray.  Now the flats are fully germinated and look beautiful.  While fantasizing about tomatoes sliced with salt my mouth actually started watering... I need to remind myself there is still a long path to travel between seed germination and edible tomatoes.  Still, a girl can dream.

I covered a bed of onions with reemay after discovering that some critter (birds, most likely) had been plucking the plants from the soil and dropping them down next to where they had been planted.  It feels like they are just teasing me by moving but not eating the crop.  As I stretched out the first length of row cover I noticed that it was surprisingly shredded - upon closer inspection I found a mouse nest and telltale tears along the entire piece.  I guess if I was a mouse the soft, woven white fabric would look pretty enticing to build my den with, too.

Since wind and rain are forecast for the next handful of days, I spent the last few minutes of the day laying down in a mulched greenhouse path, wool shirt padding my head as I closed my eyes to the warm sun.  A necessary thing to commit to memory.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

and the sowing begins!

If someone walked into my kitchen after lunch today they would have found me crouched over seeding trays, an open bag of seed-starting mix spilling out onto a tarp covering half the floor, and tomato packets everywhere.  The unreliable (or reliably cold) weather had me move my tomato propagation inside... and into my bedroom.  Yes, for the next week or so I will be sleeping next to flats of Stupice, Early Girl, Dagma's Perfection, and Red Brandywine until the first cotyledons appear.  The optimum soil temperature for tomato seeds to germinate is at least 50 degrees, and preferably higher.  With ambient nighttime temperatures still in the high thirties, it seemed a safer bet to start them in a heated room.  After germination, I will transfer the seedlings (currently in flats of 72 cells) to a mini-cloche inside my greenhouse.  Eventually they will be "potted up" into 4-inch pots - but that is a long ways away.  Right now I am happy enough to have the seeds starting on their journey.

In the greenhouse the first trays of kale, chard, broccoli, and cabbage were laid out a few days ago.  Lettuce is soon to follow.  I am thankful for the donation of a rubber heat mat from my friend Myla which will encourage and speed up seed germination.  Since it only fits two trays at a time, I am rotating seeding flats from covered plastic (a mini-cloche, or the "greenhouse within a greenhouse" idea which just adds an extra few degrees of insulation) to the heat mat and back again.

The spinach I sowed in the greenhouse beds is coming up, and the sight of something growing that is not a grass or weed is quite a welcome one.  I need at least one bed outside to dry out enough to transplant some storage onion starts that have been patiently waiting to go in the ground.  Hopefully the sun forecasted for Thursday and Friday will hold true.  Even just a day or two without rain would be enough.  I'll try not to hold my breath.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

After sunshine, the rain

From my window I can see where the back side of Turtleback Mountain ought to be, but right now it's covered by thick grey sky and wind-whipped trees.  After a few days of hesitant sunshine, the storm that everyone previewed would return has done so with rainy insistence.  I am thankful that I spent the weekend hand-turning cover-cropped beds and then tilling them on the last clear day.  Now at least the fall-planted oats, vetch, field peas, clover, and fava beans will be decomposing and make it much easier to till a final, plantable bed the next time it dries out.

Right now my greenhouse is sown with peas and spinach.  I'm hoping that the cloud cover these stormy days brings and resulting warmer night-time temperatures will encourage the first seeds of the season.  My approach to sowing the first lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, and even tomatoes in seeding flats is somewhat non-traditional.  At this point, the windowsills and greenhouses of many other growers are already stacked full of transplants that were started as early as February.  Last year my experience was that everything I sowed mid-March easily surpassed what I had started at the beginning of the month in terms of speed, health and vigor.  When it's cold like this it can stress young plants, causing them to grow slowly.   Then their roots fill the transplant cell without much top growth.  By waiting just a little longer I will get faster growth, healthier starts.  I'm planning a seeding date on the next sunny day, which right now looks like it will be Friday.  We'll see if my hypothesis holds true this season.

In the meantime I'll drink my tea and look out at the rain.  I remember what Vern Coffelt said on Monday as we stood with our faces to the sun, "In March, I'll be grateful for sun any time we can get it."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring is here... kind of

After an extended absence this winter, returning to the island and my garden is exciting and overwhelming.  Yesterday I walked through with my 3-year-old friend Olive.  Last year Olive helped me pull garlic, pick flowers, and generally looked adorable any time she stood next to a wheel barrow.  On this wet March day she asked me where the raspberries and strawberries were.  "They're right here, Ollie," I said, pointing to mulched beds of scraggly plants and tied-back canes.  "But where are the BERRIES?!" she insisted.  I explained that the plants are taking this time to pull energy and nutrients from the soil, and that in the summer they would grow new leaves and flowers.  Once the flowers dropped their petals, we would be able to eat the fruit that was left behind.  "Oh," she said, looking down at her yellow rain boots.  As we squished through the muddy field in the grey cold, it was hard to imagine that first sweet summer berry harvest.  I couldn't even imagine the saturated beds drying out enough to prep and plant, or my greenhouse being warm enough to nurture the first starts of the year.

I returned Olive to her mom, and set about working on exercising my imagination.  I started small: with seeds.  There is nothing more encouraging than receiving your first seed order of the season.  Everything is neat and orderly: the clean, hopeful little packets, the visions of bountiful, weed-free beds in my mind.  As I organized and rubber-banded and planned out beginning crop rotations, I knew that I would be ready as soon as the beds decided they were, too.  I thought of Olive, who told her mom when I dropped her off, "Hey momma!  Someday the petals will fall off the flowers and then we can eat strawberries!"  Growing food is an act of hard work, determination and faith.  Olive has the faith part down, so now I will follow her lead.

Today there is wind and hail instead of rain. At least I can stay dry in the greenhouse.