This week’s schedule includes transplanting the first group of seedlings, as well as planting round two, which consists of nearly 7000 new seeds to be planted. This highlights one of the key differences between market gardening and home gardening, namely the succession planting that is required. Beginning in early February and continuing until about the 4th of July, seeds are started every 10 days to ensure a season long harvest that our customers expect. Fall and winter crops are started beginning in late July and continuing right up until Christmas. It is one of the most challenging aspects of what we do (yes even worse than the dreaded weeds). In order to pull this off we have to develop and follow a rather intimidating looking spreadsheet that details planting, transplanting and then finally garden planting into assigned rows for a specific number of days, then start the process all over again. The planting assignments have to take into account the complete grower calendar for the next 12 months in order to keep things straight. It can get a bit crazy but I don’t think I would have it any other way.
Today as I look back I think I could say it has been 40 years now since I first became fascinated with the idea of growing things. Each summer our family would can peaches into those wonderful mason jars (same jars we use today) and the leftover pits would go to the compost pile, which was really, yes, just a pile. The next spring most of the seeds would germinate from this pile and there were literally hundreds of little peach trees. Since most fruit is hybridized, the volunteer tree’s fruit does not resemble the parent and so they are discarded. As an ambitious ten year old I was unaware of this fact so I dug them out of the pile and planted them everywhere. At the time we lived in town on ¾ of an acre, so it was quite a site as these trees grew.
Fruit trees usually take 5 seasons to begin bearing fruit so this turned into quite an adventure. When it was all said and done about 10 trees survived to bear fruit. Of those 10 trees- one had an unbelievable peach, probably the best I have ever eaten, even to this day. While that tree is long gone, I learned the lesson early on that for me, the adventure was in the growing process, not the end result. I was 10 when I started, 15 before the end result and a lot happened in that 5 years. When our family moved to the farm a couple years later I started planting new trees and eventually stopped counting at 500 trees that I had planted just in close proximity to the house and barns. Many of those trees 30+ years later, now provide wonderful shade and limbs for climbing. In recent years have I started hybridizing my own daylilies. Somehow this season I ended up with over 3000 seeds to plant this spring, most of which won’t bloom till 2020 if I am lucky- seems some things never change.
Other than a brief detour into corporate America, I have always had a job growing things. I am a grower and oddly enough not really a harvester. Now don’t get me wrong, that first red ripe tomato is a wonderful experience each season, but truth be told I think it only taste that good to me because it has been about 5 months in the making. Folks are often surprised at the price of early season tomatoes but I assure you that the invested time and effort more than justify the cost. You see, that tomato began with a warm January fire, a hot coffee and a catalog, the easy part. Since the tomato is a heat & sun loving plant it is quite a process to turn that little dried up seed into a delicious tomato by early June here in Ohio. Heat and light are required for early season germination as well as several nights of limited sleep during that late cold snap we always seem to get and the daily routine of covering and uncovering them to protect them from even the good weather we have this time of year. They will be transplanted three times, staked, pruned and once they start blooming, shaken each morning to move the pollen from blossom to blossom, not to mention watered and talked to, and that is just the tomatoes. For me however this is the adventure, and it makes the taste that much better.
It is important for us to control the growing process as much as possible so that we can be confident in the product we deliver to you. There are 352,000 seeds to plant in the first season which runs through the 4th of July. Growing our own transplants as well as our direct seeding allows us to know where each and every plant came from and bring a harvest to folks that we can talk about. We believe this adds integrity to our process and overall value to our products. I hear a lot of conversation about getting to know your farmer and I encourage that. I also encourage you to do your homework so you know what information you really want and what questions to ask to get that information. Familiarize yourself with the harvest timeline for our area so you too can share in the adventure and rest assured as your grower, I am happy this morning to go water your tomato plants for you and I can’t wait to share them with you as soon as I can. Be informed, be curious and share a conversation with a farmer, many that are really still 10 years old at heart.