Spring 2015 – Welcoming the new growing season!

Spring crops in our propagation barn.

Spring crops in our propagation barn.

The spring growing season is upon us once again here at Wildfire Fellowship Farm, the winter hoop house spinach crops have gone by and we are ready to start the new season!

Soil block seed starts in the barn.

Soil block seed starts in the barn.

Soon the propagation area of the barn will be full of trays containing hundreds of soil blocks, each is the starting medium for a seed. Some of the seeds are no larger than a fleck of pepper, they will soon be growing into vigorous plants ready for transplant.

Permanent raised beds in the hoop house growing area.

Permanent raised beds in the hoop house growing area.

Outside on the land our permanent raised beds stand ready for transplants. Our first outside plantings have started this week with the aid of fabric row covers to help control for the cool spring temperatures. We have introduced the permanent raised beds as a way to intensify soil health and reduce mechanical tillage.

The garlic crop for this season has awoken!

The garlic crop for this season has awoken!

As the days get longer and the soil warms our nearly 1000 cloves of garlic that were planted last fall begin to crest the surface. Their green whips remind us that some plants need the harshness of winter to grow into their full character.

Thyme, Leeks, and Onions transitioning to the outside weather in one of our hoop houses.

Thyme, Leeks, Onions and other seedlings transitioning to the outside weather in one of our hoop houses.

Now that the winter spinach crop has gone by we cover the beds with black landscape fabric to weaken the plants before they are cleared for the another crop. We also use the hoop houses to transition seedlings to outdoor weather before they are transplanted.

The spring fed watering point for our new cattle.

The spring fed watering point for our new cattle.

In addition to preparing for the new growing season we are getting ready for our new Scottish Highland cows Polly and Bronwen. We have established a spring fed water source and are in the process of setting up paddock fencing. We will be practicing intensive rotational grazing with our herd. Simply put we will be moving our cows around the property frequently, even daily! A combination of fixed and portable fencing will guide our small herd to their grazing location every day. This practice closely mimics the natural grazing pasterns of animals such as wild buffalo. This natural grazing method will help enrich and build our soil for years to come.

Polly, our four year old Scottish Highland cow who will be giving birth to a calve on our farm this spring.

Polly, our four year old Scottish Highland cow who will be giving birth to a calve on our farm this spring.

Bronwen our two year old Scottish Highland cow.

Bronwen our two year old Scottish Highland cow.

We expect the cows to be on the farm in early May, they will be coming to us from Stan Maynard’s Orchard Hill Farm located just outside Caribou Maine.

Spring on the farm wouldn’t be complete without picking a few rocks out of the growing beds. They say we grow great rocks here in Maine!

Always plenty of rock picking to do every spring!

Always plenty of rock picking to do every spring!

Our spring growing season is off to a great start here on the farm, we look forward to seeing new customers this year in our CSA and at market.

 

 

Raising Vegetable Seedlings at Wildfire Fellowship Farm

In the 1975 Farmstead Magazine “Commonsense Planting Calendar,” the first “Planting Tip” on dealing with Maine’s short growing season was to “sprout early.” By that is meant starting vegetable seedlings weeks or months before it is time to set them out in the garden. Here at Wildfire Fellowship Farm we have constructed a “Propagation House” for that purpose and it is the center of farm activity at this time of year.

Barn

Our propagation house is the front third of a well insulated barn. Triple wall polycarbonate glazing allows ample light and solar heat gain while retaining warmth at night. We use a pellet stove for nighttime heat and automatic ventilation fans for daytime cooling. During the very cold, but sunny days of late, temperatures in the propagation house reach 90o by mid-day unless the house is vented. On cold nights we burn 40-80# of wood pellets to keep temperatures above the 65o threshold for tender plants like peppers and eggplants.

Pellet Stove

High quality seedlings begin with quality seeds. We buy from three suppliers: Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com), Fedco Seeds (www.fedcoseeds.com), and Highmowing Organic Seeds (www.highmowingseeds.com). The second key to success is the potting soil. We have been very impressed with Lite Mix produced by Living Acres in New Sharon, Maine (www.livingacres.com). Lite Mix is available at retail from Johnny’s as their “512 Mix.” We began using this potting mix because it was recommended for making “soil blocks” and experience has shown that it grows strong, healthy seedlings that hold well if transplanting must be delayed.

Soil Blocks

The twelve and four block makers rest on Lite Mix

Most of our seeds are sown into soil blocks, made by forming a very moist potting mix using “block makers” that compress the mix into two inch cubes. Fifty of these fit just right into a standard greenhouse tray facilitating production count. The benches in our propagation house were sized to accommodate the trays with no waste of space. We have enough bench space to hold 6,000 soil blocks. We also seed directly into loose Lite Mix in deep flats (onions and leeks) and use three inch square pots for direct seeding of cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, melons) and “potting up” of peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Electric heat mats under the flats and trays are used to speed germination for the heat loving plants like peppers and squash.

 

Eggplant (right) and Red Sweet Peppers (left) just sprouted on the heat pad

Eggplant (right) and Red Sweet Peppers (left) just sprouted on the heat pad

 

Our first year of using the propagation house in 2013 taught us that conditions are so ideal that the seedlings grow very fast, so this year we have delayed the planting schedule. It is very important that seedlings not be so mature at transplanting that they will be set back. The trick is steady, active growth from seed to garden soil. We use an Excel spreadsheet to schedule and track greenhouse and garden activity and keep things flowing smoothly. For me, working with seeds and potting mix in a toasty greenhouse while the wind howls and the snow is still deep on the hillside is one of my favorite seasonal activities.

Thyme, Scallions, and Onions (Left) and Lettuce (right)

Thyme, Scallions, and Onions (Left) and Lettuce (right)