Tiny Farm Blog
Lettuce, under a hoop-supported layer of medium weight row cover in the unheated greenhouse, is crisp, colorful, and fresh as daisies. This lettuce mix was planted in October, and some of it cut once in December, and now it’s waiting out the winter. Outside low so far: not bad, around -22°C. Kind of the same picture every time – dead or alive – but still always exciting when you’re there… (:
[From 3-Jun-2016] Not the best place for them to be, basking in the sun, but it’s only for a moment, fresh in from the field, and they’re also bathing in chilly well water. Mustards, mizunas, lettuces, kales, bok choi, more… Salad mixes are what’s up for the moment, hanging in there and quite delectable, even as the heat and near total absence of rain continue for the third week straight!
A tiny landscape of lettuces: Especially with the hot, dry weather we’ve been having, you can’t go wrong with a few trays of leaf lettuce seedlings, lending support to the baby greens in the field! Transplanted at 8-10″ spacing, lettuces in a variety of colors and shapes—oakleafs, salad bowls, lollos—can be picked at least a couple of times as leaves for a bigger-leaf greens mix, or thinned as they start to really fill out, with two or three varieties bundled and the rest left to grow all the way. Lettuce options!
The season’s first field planting of salad greens, making a brief public appearance from under row cover, where they’re in flea beetle protection – we’re weeding today. Mustards, bok choi, arugula (a brassica relative), mizunas and more. So perfectly tasty, plucked straight from the ground, with a little dirt garnish for good measure…
Floating row cover, weighed down and made semi-transparent by water, is all that stands between fine young brassica greens and the scourge of the flea beetle. The cover is placed right after seeding, weighed down by rocks every 12.5′ feet, briefly rolled back for weeding, and progressively loosened as the greens grow—we use 14′ wide sheets on 10′ wide beds. This medium-weight cover has worked as a good all-round solution, offering a few degrees of frost protection, and more durable than a lighter, insect-only weight, which would allow better light transmission (this medium weight one is 85%) and better air circulation, but also be more likely to tear.
[From 4 May 2016] Cheap! To truly appreciate tiny farming, you have to embrace the humble tools that make it all possible, like these cheap ($6) plastic lawn sprinklers that work with the well pump’s low pressure (maybe 20% of normal urban tap psi), where better quality models are too well-built (heavy) to move. On the hunt for more replacements, I picked up a couple of versions on the second try, after a failed attempt at the sprawling garden center in a giant hardware store, where they’d stopped carrying the cheap stuff. Overhead watering is inefficient, what with evaporation and water being blown off target, but it’s still an effective time-saver for watering in new seedings…
[From 29 Apr 2016] Everyone loves the greenhouse! The warmth, the wind break…crops, weeds, all plants love it in here. Now it seems flea beetles have acquired the taste as well. For whatever reason, the FBs usually stayed out of the (much smaller) little greenhouse, but here in the new big house—munch, munch, munch—bok choi is under attack. Hoped for a free pass on FBs in here as well, instead, it’s row cover. Learning as we go…
[From 28 Apr 2016] After a couple of early spring weeks in the greenhouse, transplanted lettuces and totally uninvited weeds are all doing exceptionally well! The sun climbs and the growing picks up speed…
[From 25 Apr 2016] In the last week, warm, sunny days, a field dry enough to start working, and the first round of seed is in the ground. Today’s sudden little blizzard, as full-on winter wonderland as it looked coming down, hardly got in the way—quick as it arrived, only six hours later, and all trace had vanished (helped along by a little rain). The weather: never anything less than exciting!
[From 20 Apr 2016] The low-riding late afternoon sun shines through lettuce leaves for quite the vivid show of color. (This is also great light for revealing carpets of the tiniest emerging weeds that are otherwise easy not to notice or to ignore—seeing so clearly what’s to come really motivates you to get weeding early.)
Adding a pinch (5g) of fairly pricey Rushmore (a beautifully deep-red oakleaf) to a batch of salad mix. This is the basic all-lettuce summer blend: seven varieties, selected mainly for color (greens to reds), texture (flat to frilly), and to some degree, seed cost (the price range of lettuce varieties is quite extreme). This inexpensive digital gram scale makes it easy to add relatively small quantities of certain varieties, and keep each batch consistent. Weigh out, shake up in bottle, ready to go. Here: 100g – that’s a lot of little lettuce!
[From yesterday] Leftovers, really, as bok choi and mizuna make their way toward producing seed, with bursts of cheerful little flowers. Normally, these plants would be tilled under way before this stage, making way for a new seeding, but since the ground is still too wet to work where they are, we’ve left them in for a bit, to harvest and toss into salad mix at the market. The stems can get woody at this point, the farther down you go, snipping off the tops or only the petals will do the trick. Mildly flavorful, mainly for the color!
[From 12 Apr 2016] Today’s transplants: Still steadily plugging in seedlings in the greenhouse, waiting for more ground to dry out. This round, lettuces (above) and bok choi (elsewhere). All this transplanting is pretty straightforward—taking the photo, I might wonder, “What’s the difference between these seedlings stuck in the ground, and any others…why bother posting the same thing over and over?” Well, I don’t literally ask myself that, but I can see how some folks may think that. There’s no good answer, it really is in the eye of the beholder.
For me, on a tiny farm, where weather runs everything, and the little decisions we make are critical, like, let’s put up this greenhouse on slow-drying ground and see what happens (because the alternatives are too expensive), and fix or work around any problems we may run into, THIS lettuce planting, in mucky ground, in conditions that may in a few days get infernally hot and downright lettuce-unfriendly if we don’t finish the end-wall windows for ventilation, is entirely different from every other lettuce transplanting I’ve ever done. New story, ending unknown, let’s see how it turns out! It’s never really the same… :)
[From 8 Apr 2016] Friday harvest and the main green going right now is LETTUCE, appearing as small leaf salad mix. We’re waiting to do new greenhouse seeding – it’s still way wet in there – but a bunch of lettuce transplants are already in, some bok choi, too. So the season’s ramping up and the weekly look around to see what the weather has delivered for market…begins!
[From yesterday] Parsley, curly and flat-leaf, overflows its 72-cell plug sheet. Time to trim it back (again), so they still fit under the lights. To be unfussy and safe, a quick shear of only 2-3″ off the top literally takes a few seconds and does the trick. Snip-snip-snip-snip-snip! This is what you have to do when you start seedlings extra early, and then wait on the weather!
Wormwood of some sort, this weed from the greenhouse, according to our best guess from a selection of possibilities offered up by the smart smartphone plant identification app I’ve been playing with/trying out. There are several such apps for Android: this one, Like That Garden—”See a plant, take a photo, and find out what it is – instantly!”—got the highest ratings, and is free, so I grabbed it.
Like the advertising says, it’s that simple to use. You use the app to take a snapshot of the mystery plant, the saved-in-low-rez photo (above) is sent off into the ether, several possibilities soon return, with multiple images for each, and you pick the one most likely (I suppose in some cases, there’s just one choice, but so far, that hasn’t happened). The technology is all about advanced image recognition algorithms and visual searches, very…digital. After a few tries, this one works quite well.
In any case, I have a great (effective) weed book, but this app is doing fine, too. So is it a novelty toy, or a serious tiny farming tool? Or will the smartphone be dropped in a puddle and destroyed before we get a chance to decide? Only time will tell…
Overnight snow turned our muddy browns of spring back to white, and after a spell of welcome warmth, it’s cold days and freezing nights again for most of the next week or two, if forecasts turn out to be right. Waiting for the field to dry out enough to work, which in recent erratic-weather years has been anywhere from early April to late May, makes it hard to plan things in general, but this is not unexpected, it’s just what it is. And spring weather has been known to suddenly and dramatically change from one day to the next. Surprise!