specialty soils

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Our greenhouse measures 25 feet by 50 feet, not much of a footprint, even for a microfarm like ours. But at this time of the season it is the hub of the universe–at least our universe–the place where nearly everything gets its start.

It is still cold outside–close to or below freezing most nights. With all the apprentice yurts occupied,and their wood stoves fired up and wafting gentle smoky plumes, one side of the yurt meadow has the look of a busy small factory. But the real factory–a food factory–is running inside that greenhouse on the other side of the meadow. No smoke there.
More like fog. It was so warm in the greenhouse this morning that when we came in from the cold to take this picture of Louisa tending some pepper starts our camera lens fogged up.
But fog or no, it’s a pleasant place to work on a chilly morning and the farmers and apprentices are spending lots of time in there whipping up our soil mix–actually a soil-less, sterile seed-starting mix made with coir, perlite, and, in various permutations, lime and organic fertilizer. We don’t reveal the exact composition of that special sauce, we’re kind of like McDonald’s and Coke in that respect.

We’re also experimenting with a new sterlile soil mix we got from Specialty Soils  in Covington. Plus, we’re trying a variety of growing platforms this year–plug flats, seedling trays and regular open flats to see which work best for different crops. Some flowers, for instance, dont like their roots disturbed and we’ve got them in the plug flats and seeding trays. Other things like cauliflower, basil and some herbs we plant in open flats.

baby Chinese Cabbage in plug flats

In recent years, many farmers have switched completely to plugs and seedling trays because they use less mix. We still go with the open flats because…well, because they work and you don’t usually mess with success. Also, plug flats need more water, which can tie you down to the greenhouse in the early spring when they need a lot of tlc.

We’ve put more emphasis this year on growing starts for home gardeners–more variety and more diversity. Hard to say whether its the sagging economy, rising gas prices, or people just are getting more interested in growing some of their own food, but there is a noticeable boom in home gardening taking place.

We’re all for that, even if it means losing some of our Farmers Market veggie sales to home gardeners. But it should also prove instructive to those newbies–coaxing produce from the ground up is a lot trickier than it looks in the seed catalogs. Nice to get a running start with a tomato, pepper or basil start. We figure the trend will help make people appreciate what we do too.

In truth, however, we think the world would be a better place if a lot more home gardeners experienced the pleasure of nurturing and tending their own starts. We’d gladly cede some of that business–right now, our own little food factory is maxed out.


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