Whats coming on the farm:
Every Saturday until May - our Farmstore is open 10-3.
April 30th - SEEDLING SALE - snacks and drinks on the farm, a new play structure, and plants for all!
June 21 - CSA Starts (sign up here if you havent!)
A little tour of what's in store from our magic tunnels.
Did we tell you were growing ginger this year? Of all the crazy things to use a greenhouse for, I definitely wouldn't have considered ginger a few years back. Many of us small-scale farmers have a similar approach to greenhouse growing. We find a cheap used greenhouse on Kijiji, spend an inordinate amount of time taking it down, moving it, and putting it back up, and then we use it as not much more than a covered growing space. For the effort put in, the immediate returns are astonishing - much earlier crops, much later crops, and crops like spinach throughout the winter.
But as we carry on, you start to notice a few things - like tomatoes and peppers from an unheated greenhouse aren't ready that much earlier than those from the field. You start to see a build up of soil-borne diseases and airborne pests that hit your crops much harder than in the field. Even the soil in the greenhouse tends to get salty from all the nutrients and water minerals applied without the cleansing effect of rain.
So you add a little heat, start to trellis your tomatoes and peppers, and then you notice the super-clean, beautifully pruned plants at a friend's farm. So you start pruning, suckering, and training on a weekly basis. Pretty soon, you have a lot of time and money invested in the greenhouse crops, and you're noticing its becoming a bit more of a science than an art. We are very much in this stage of things, like a high school physics grad who just walked into the physics section of the U of T library. There seems to be literally endless tools, techniques, and time to be spent on these crazy greenhouses, and we are trying to find our happy medium, to produce the best tasting and earliest crops with the least inputs, while affecting the environment as little as possible.
Ginger is something that becomes possible when we commit to heating the greenhouse from an early date. And so are very early cucumbers and tomatoes. But it's more than just heating, you have to heat in the right way, at the right place and at the right time.
Ideally, the heat in the greenhouse comes from the ground up. So rather than just blowing hot air all over the place, it comes from tubes that run the length of the greenhouse. In our biggest greenhouse, these tubes are 200 feet long! That means the holes have to be punched at a calculated spacing - the farther from the furnace, the more holes there are, to ensure that the whole length of the greenhouse receives even heat.
In the old days we'd seed a tomato plant, and then carry it out to the field on the 24th of May and drop it in a hole. Now we start in January, graft the plants onto hardy rootstock, and jump through a million hoops to get (hopefully) the tomatoes in your first baskets. This week we had to move all the plants out of the seedling greenhouse as we've run out of room. So we're heating a section in the tomato greenhouse and the plants are in there waiting for there first flower clusters before we'll plant them. We've been assured that this is the better strategy than just planting them in the ground right now!
While it is a steep learning curve, it's definitely exciting, and it feels like we're part of a bigger movement that is bringing all this science to small-scale, organic farms. All the while ensuring that what we do meets the ethical and environmental standards of ourselves and our community. Is it tough, considering the amount of produce that flows in from other jurisdictions that may not be concerned with our ethics or environment? Of course, it is, but what could be more worthwhile when it feels our entire community is behind it?!!?
Stay tuned next week for news on CUCUMBERS!!