The (W)Rite of Spring, or Seedlings in the Snow

Winter Wonderland
March came in like a lion with a tree sized thorn in its paw. But damn if it doesn’t make for a picturesque landscape (that’s our driveway tucked somewhere in there)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of his partner …

I’m not entirely sure what I want to use this space for. Laura is our Social Media Liaison, keeping our throng of followers up to date with regular photos and quips. I figured that since we have this site we may as well have some sort of rambling long form style updating system as well. It’s less instant. It’s less regular. It’s a lot more reading … and writing. I don’t want to call it a blog, because ugh. So let’s call it “Farm Thoughts”, or FARTs for short. I don’t have any sense of how regular my FARTs will be, maybe weekly, monthly, or just sporadically whenever I feel a thought bubbling up. They likely won’t explode with quality and depth, but I’ll at least try to keep them clean. And now I’ll stop making fart jokes.

The Very Hidden Caterpillar (Tunnel)
Our caterpillar tunnel after some recreational snow removal. We plan to have a flush of greens, radishes, and turnips in nestled inside by mid-April.

I guess we’ll start with a Haiku

Spring buds creep nearer
as the snow melts with leisure
squelching mud is here

I would say that it’s been a long winter but I’m pretty sure winter in Maine is usually this long. So it’s been a winter. This was the first winter that Laura and I lived in our new-to-us rented tiny cabin. It’s very cozy and the wood stove has kept us roasty toasty through even the coldest weeks in December and January. We had some snow, then it melted. Then we had a bit more snow. And that melted. Then, two Nor’easters later, we find ourselves waiting for the final thaw. Once we thaw out and the mud dries up we’ll be in business.

Dylan Strides Solemnly
This was taken shortly after we moved in. I assume I’m looking at the ground because I was still unfamiliar with the terrain.

Though technically we’re in business now. Stubborn Ox Farm has made it’s first official sales of the season. We’ve sold baby kale and spinach harvested from our high tunnel – we call it the Fig House … because there are two (plus a runt that might be dead) fig trees in there [the farmers who established our permaculture oasis, built our sauna-turned-home, and constructed the two hoophouses on site had originally planted the Fig House to all figs, which is awesome].

Over-Wintered Spinach
These stout spinach seedlings have endured sub-zero temperatures and an onslaught of leaf-miners but have preformed laudably. And they’re delicious.

We didn’t get much in the way of spinach and kale planted last fall but what we have has been a delight. We were able to harvest from the plantings here and there during the stark winter months to add fresh greens to our otherwise meaty, buttery, starchy diet. And now we have a small, yet admirable, amount of greens to sell to our local co-op, which is fantastic.

The prospect of this season is overwhelming in a thrilling, exciting, and terrifying sort of way.

Bed Raking
Laura rocks a bed rake while de-rocking the raked bed. This is the interior of the caterpillar tunnel (full disclosure, it was not buried in snow when we made the beds)

This is Laura’s and my first season farming together and while we have inherited a great deal of infrastructure and have access to a tractor we are still going to be a pretty bare-bones operation. The whole off-grid thing makes for a uniquely interesting challenge, and we may have limited irrigation at our upper field (depending on what Rainflo has to say about it). Our primary field for this season was freshly broken and limed in the fall. We have grand ideas and an even grander excel spreadsheet map outlining our enterprise. Our original talk of a half-acre plot ballooned into a full on acre to sate our hopes of fulfilling a twice weekly Farmer’s Market, a few smaller wholesale accounts, and another season of Fedco Seed trials. We plan to build a fortress wall around our field and dig a moat filled with sharpened tree branch spikes to deter deer. Okay, the latter part not so much but we are going to install a beefy, electrified fence. Our field is surrounded by dense woods so it lends itself nicely to being feasted on by the neighborly woodland creatures. We are going to try to be on farm five days a week, with one day slated for off farm work and one day set aside for lazing about (the picture on the right depicts Laura lazing about).  Laura and I have a goodly amount of farm experience between us but this feels like a whole new beast. It’s our project and our vision driven by our stubborn will and perseverance. It will be beautiful, regardless of what happens.

To the now. We have begun seedling season in earnest. We started our onions in open flats at the beginning of the month. Nearly everything else we seed into soil blocks. We build our own flats using 1/4″ hardware cloth for the bottom to allow the plants’ roots to “air-prune” – the roots stop growing once they hit the air, so air-pruning theoretically prevents the plants from becoming root bound. So far we have started greens to go into our caterpillar tunnel and the tomatoes and peppers that will end up in Fig House. This week marks our largest seeding week with our first round of field brassicas, field tomatoes and peppers – along with our first round of Fedco peppers for trials – and a smattering of other crops. Laura does a better job managing our seeding dates than I do. I find that it’s good to realize strengths and defer to them whenever possible.

Flats of soil blocks patiently await seeds in the sun room off the side of our house.
Tomato Babies!!
The first round of tomato seedlings basking in the sunlight. These babies are destined for the high tunnel where they will grow to more than 100 times this size.

I think that’s all I have for now. I felt a need to get something written as an introduction to summarize our winter and lead in to the growing season. The transitional article as it were. Only time will tell how regularly my thoughts come. It’s generally not that often 🙂

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