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Seed Starting Experiments

Seed starting is now well underway, and as we head into April my planting schedule really begins to speed up.  This week, our main crop of tomatoes and peppers will be seeded along with some transplants for a few other cold hardy early crops like lettuce, cabbage, and beets. The onions and leeks that we started several weeks ago have just transitioned to our outdoor nursery greenhouse and that frees up valuable space under our grow lights for these next crops we need to start indoors. 

One technique we use for onions occasionally is seeding multi-plant blocks. That means we aim to grow more than one plant per soil block. This technique saves us space and resources in our nursery and makes transplanting quicker in the field. So in terms of efficiency, it's great. The cost of multi-plant blocks is that the bunching of your plants together forces them to compete more with each other for resources like sunlight, moisture, and nutrients. As a result, a cluster of onions is rarely uniform. There always seems to be one that dominates, and sometimes one that's left behind. This season, I felt like shifting the balance back in favour of consistency so I am going to take a bit of extra time to transplant our onions one at a time. The goal is larger and more consistently sized bulbs. The payback for this upfront transplanting labour comes later in the washing station because larger bulbs are easier and quicker to wash and handle. To make sure I had one onion in every block this year, I planted two seeds in each and thinned to the strongest one after 3 weeks. Of course, doubling up my seeding rate meant that they germinated almost perfectly, but if I had just planted one seed per block, I'm sure that wouldn't have been the case! So sometimes I just put in a little extra effort to avoid dealing with Murphy's Law.

The first crop I direct seed outside is carrots.  This isn't because they are the best crop to grow when it's cold, but rather because it's necessary to get them going early if we are going to have any to harvest for the first week of our membership boxes.  I am thankful that the snow has already receded because thawed soil will make this task much easier than last season!  Still, I will need to take some extra measures to get these first carrot beds to germinate this month.  Since that germination process is a challenge I couldn't help but experiment with some extra early carrot transplants in the high tunnel.  I wouldn't normally suggest transplanting carrots because they really can't handle any interference with their taproot, but it's hard for me to resist an experiment.  I am curious to see how this goes.

Farm work in March also had a large educational component. This included a presentation about our urban farm as a kick off to the Saskatoon Food Council's urban agriculture series, and a workshop at Gardenscape in Saskatoon last weekend that covered the essentials of seed starting for home gardeners.   It was a pleasure to share my experience with such keen audiences in both instances.  Since our farm can only serve a relatively small group of people, education is important to help more people understand the potential of urban food production and gain the confidence to get their own hands dirty. 


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