Yes, it's finally time to transition from the book keeping and planning back into the "dirty" work. Our indoor nursery is already at full capacity and we still have many more transplants to start, so I will be working on enclosing our small backyard greenhouse this next week to help expand our protected growing space. I hope to have some photos of that finished greenhouse project for you all next month. For now, I'll stick to updating you on what is growing indoors.
The first seeds to plant indoors are onions, leeks, peppers, and celery. The photo above shows a few of our onions in their current state. It's hard to believe that their thin grass like stems will eventually swell to produce a bulb up to a pound in size for some varieties. The easiest way to grow onions is to buy a bag of onion sets and plant them straight into the ground, but we have found from experience that starting onions from seed results in healthier plants and larger bulbs in the end and that's what we are after. The challenge of starting onions from transplants is that the process is much more labour intensive, so I will likely always be experimenting with possible ways of improving our efficiency.
One strategy for reducing our labour input is planting multiple seeds in each soil block. For example, we have found that our cippolini and pearl onions still perform well when planted 4 seeds to a block. This reduces the space required in the nursery, the resources needed to make soil blocks, and the transplanting time all by a factor of 4. You can see why I wish this would work with every crop! Unfortunately it doesn't, but the potential reward is enough motivation for me to continue experimenting to optimize our use of labour and space for each crop.
Our peppers will be the focus of one such experiment this season. I enjoy growing and eating peppers, but our current market does not value the high cost of the space and labour peppers require to produce a small amount of fruit in our climate. Therefore, we need to make some changes to our growing process in attempt to get more peppers for our time. In past years, we have started pepper transplants indoors 8 to 10 weeks before planting in the field. They are first seeded into 3/4 inch blocks, then potted up into 2 inch blocks, then potted up again into 4 inch blocks. In my winter studies, I have occasionally come across suggestions that peppers don't mind growing in pairs and that they may even benefit in some ways from the close company. So this year, we are going to try growing all of our peppers with a buddy. I also skipped the 3/4 inch blocks altogether and seeded the peppers into 1.5 inch blocks to begin with. Once they have used up this space, they will still be transplanted on to 4 inch blocks for a few more weeks and finally into the field at the end of May. If this new process works, it will result in a big gain in efficiency which means a more productive farmer and continued sweet pepper production for our members.