Starting up a start-up
Every new farmer has their “beginning” story, so does every plant. We thought we would give you a behind the scenes look at how we start our Plant Sale seeds.
These little guys will be ready for pick up May 25th. You can pre-order yours by visiting our 2019 Plant Sale link.
Starting up a new business is difficult. Starting up a new farm business is a whole different can of worms. We have had a few hiccups but I think that for the most part Chris and I have done pretty well in the face of our new business challenges.
Last year the search for our own piece of property ended with a minor defeat. We were unable to find our dream farm but were lucky enough to find a nice little acre of land to rent for the 2019 season. As our quest for land continues, we have had to adapt to life using a rented piece of land and make adjustments to work around the obstacles that a rental property can bring. Coming home from our trip down south for the winter we returned to a beautiful snowy landscape out in the country. Enter our first obstacle; a lack of running water; still frozen solid from a harsh Canadian winter (or so we heard). Travelling and living out of our car for the past 5 months meant we ourselves didn’t care much about the lack of water situation but the seedlings that we needed to start had a few things to say about it. We found ourselves bringing buckets of water to a nearby natural spring and then hauling our buckets inside by the toasty wood fire to warm up. They enjoyed it and were accompanied by the bags and bags of our seedling mix compost that we forgot in the garage and were frozen solid. Nothing a few hours by a fireplace can’t cure. Once the water was warm and the bags of compost thawed it was seed starting time.
Each farm has their own variations, procedures, and setups available to them. So, what’s our specific operation for seed starting? Being on a rental piece of land meant that setting up a greenhouse before we left for our trip wasn’t a feasible option for just one season. We made a loose plan before we left to start all of our seedlings indoors under lights. This set up was best for us because we already had a good investment in an indoor light setup and it also gave us some extra growing time inside in case of poor spring weather conditions. The house we are living in has an unfinished basement and this was made the designated seed starting room. It has been a lot of work and taken a bucket full of elbow grease but we have transformed this cold, boring area into a balmy birthplace for thousands of seedlings.
Our first step was to build our table set-up. We constructed 4’x8’ foot tables with 6” high edges. The tables were then filled with sand and a waterproof heat cable was spread out on top, then covered with another layer of sand. The sand is then wet and is used as the heat conductor, which warms up all the little plants. In the past we have used heat mats but these are often small, expensive, and are all made out of plastic, something we are trying to get away from as much as possible. In continuing with the theme of low waste we made all of our seedling trays out of wood instead of using standard plastic trays. After their life is complete these trays are easily biodegradable or make nice wood for a cozy fire.
Next comes our seedling starts. At our farm we use soil blocks instead of plastic trays to start all of our seeds. We have a specific soil block formula in order to make the mix filled with rich, mushroom compost, and organic amendments. The mix is made and then wet using our nice warm spring water and pressed into blocks using a stainless steel block maker designed by farming legend, Elliot Coleman. These seed blocks get one seed per block (with the exception of herb bunches) and covered lightly with sand. The sand works well as a cover because it allows airflow in the seed hole, good water infiltration, and an easy escape when the sprouts break free from their seed shell. The blocks are then placed in our wooden crates and onto our heat tables under high intensity grow lights. A little water, the right temperature and humidity, and Mother Nature works her magic.
The next task of transplanting our seedlings and direct seedling into the ground will, I’m sure, be another rollercoaster adventure. One in which we really don’t have any control over. We will sit and wait patiently for the snow to melt and the rain to subside and hope that we can use the patience being taught to us in all aspects of life and not just starting up a farming business from scratch.
Have a great long weekend and happy garden planning!
Jennie and Chris