Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring Planting

The greenhouses and fields of Clarion River Organics are a storm of action and change this month. Every day seeds are being planted, fields are being plowed, and rows of vegetables are getting set for production. 

Almost everything starts in the greenhouse. The first seeds were planted into cells trays about eight weeks ago: cool weather greens like lettuce and cabbage, as well as tomatoes and peppers that will be grown in plastic-covered high tunnels. These days it is the summer crops like zucchini and field tomatoes that are being seeded into trays

Below on the left are baby cabbage plants and on the right are broccoli transplants.

On the left is a close up of the broccoli transplants, and on the right a whole table full of romaine lettuce.

Each farm in the Clarion River Organics co-op has it's own home-made green house. Our biggest farm has a new greenhouse of the standard type, seen below on the left. On right is the greenhouse one of our smaller farms built from scratch. It is sunk into the ground about three feet to conserve heat and it can be accessed from their basement for convenience.

Once the transplants have grown sturdy and almost big enough to put into the field, they are moved into cold frames as an intermediate step. Here they 'harden off,' getting used to the colder temperatures and drier air they will face in the field. Pictured below are fennel, swiss chard, and red cabbage in the cold frames on two of our farms.

While the transplants are growing in the green house, the farmers are getting the fields ready to receive them. First they plow down the thick cover crop that has grown over the fall and winter. A cover crop is a mix of plants put into a field just for the purpose of increasing the nutrient level and organic matter of the soil. It takes a team of eight horses to pull a two bottom plow.

Next they smooth out the ground with two pieces  of equipment: a cultimulcher, and a pile of heavy boards nailed together. Seriously, it's just some boards they stand on as the horses drag them around, breaking down the remaining dirt clods so the soil is ready for bed making and transplanting.

The bed-maker then comes through and makes raised beds, lays irrigation lines, and covers it all in plastic in one pass. The farmers consider field plastic a necessary evil - it prevents weeds and it warms the soil, so it allows us to produce a lot more veges a lot earlier. But we realize it costs us and the earth something to use and we'd like to get away from it if we can.

Then they bring the transplanter along and punch the little plants through the plastic into the warm soil. They then put metal hoops of the rows, as you can see above to the left. These hoop hold up the row cover, which is a synthetic cloth that keeps insects and wind from harming the plants and keeps them warmer too. The plants are now set to provide us a great crop of organic vegetables in a couple months.

Below are some pictures of the early tomatoes, planted into the high tunnels. These plants will bear fruit at least a month earlier than the field tomatoes, and they are all heirloom varieties. Since we're still getting nights below 20 degrees, this farmer has a small wood stove in there to supplement the protection provided by the tunnel and the layer of row cover fabric you can see draped over the plants.

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