Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the Greenhouse-Thinning

Yesterday afternoon Lee and I found time to work in the greenhouse. It gets tougher this time in the season now that the CSA is in full weekly operation, the farm stand is open Tues-Sat, and the farm fields demand more time than all of us could ever devote all on their own.

There are small plants in the greenhouse that demand attention too. These are mostly those we seeded a couple of weeks back including celery, amaranth, and a slew of new brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, etc).

As Lee set to work sowing another round of celeriac seeds for the fall, I focused my efforts on thinning the current inventory of seedlings. Above is cabbage (I think, could be broccoli, I wasn't paying full attention after a while as I was in high speed thinning-mode in an effort to accomplish all we could in our single greenhouse afternoon). When seeding, you can drop one seed per cell assuming this one seed will grow and produce the plant you are attempting to have come transplant time down the road. Sometimes the seed packet contains a less than ideal germination test rate on the label as a warning that this might be a bad idea. At least two seeds per cell doubles your chances of having that germination success. This also uses up twice the seeds. In some cases, a small pile of a few seeds is better when it comes to things that are prone to poor or slow germination. This is the case with the celery and celeriac. Additionally, sometimes the seeds are so small that it is nearly impossible to drop in just one seed, like the amaranth. One must juggle the seed success rate, with personal ability and experience, with seed supplies, and then optimal greenhouse conditions and watering to follow through and make all this effort worthwhile. Lots to consider at once as usual and this is just in the seeding stage of farming!

So, my job yesterday was to thin all these plants down to singles to prepare for their new phase of growth and life prior to transplanting. Now that the seeds are up, we can see the success, in this case the cabbage seeds popped up ideally and we are thinning it down to one plant to eliminate the growth competition and have the single seedling ready for transplant when that time rolls around. I could have just sown one seed, but what if that seed never came up? Then I'd be here three weeks later with no plants. A little extra insurance is good when you are providing food for people who are relying on you to do so.

I snipped away the small stem of the brassica-type plants, lettuces and amaranths. I found the celery plants a little easier to simply weed down to one plant as the disturbance was minimal to the roots. This is moves along much quicker since I can drop the cumbersome scissors and work with two hands, doubling my efficiency. Technique with this task aims to optimize growing conditions for the plants you will save, that means the least amount of root disturbance while you eliminate the competition.

The tiny little celery plants above now have all the room their roots systems need to grow big and strong to prepare to go out into the wide-world that is the farm field.

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