We like to pretend it’s spring here.

Spring has been here for six days already – not that you can tell from all this terrible, cold, dreary weather.

It’s certainly holding up some fairly important tasks – prepping the fields, direct seeding some peas and other crops, etc. It’s just too wet. But soon enough we’ll be rocking and rolling. As my dairy boss regularly reminds me, there’s no point in being upset about the weather.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other tasks to attend to. You’ve seen the new marketing – things like that are perfect on bleak days.

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I’ve been field planning, attending pre-season market meetings, cleaning, packing, unpacking and watching the babies grow.

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The day the first onions germinated – a few weeks ago now – I stood in the greenhouse and did a seriously happy dance.

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Red Russian Kale Babies!

My friends and family are networking me with restaurants and food hubs looking for local food. I’m working on picking up another Philly market – on a weekday! A little cold weather can’t cramp my style too much.

seeded trays

The greenhouse is toasty enough to feel like the appropriate season for growing. Special Thanks to Teena from Red Cat Farm for the adopted rhubarb and parsley babies. Huzzah!

Nom nom nom. Spinach.

Nom nom nom. Spinach.

 They’re growing a lot slower than they have been. But, hey – they’re growing. And thankfully, I have a spectacular team that likes to proactively seek out tasks at the farm – like seed dozens of trays for hours at a shot.

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Mom Wags and Aunt Susie, killin’ it in the greenhouse.

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Welcome to the jungle.

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Susie placates our needy sidekick.

Strider

Exhausted from a day of greenhouse guarding. Those plants sure do need a lot of protecting.

I’ve had some time to catch up with friends before falling off the grid in another month or so. Steve and I bottled our beer and man, is it delicious. Things like “Belgian tripel” didn’t mean anything to me a couple months ago – I knew I liked IPAs and that was that. But that seems to be changing. On Tuesday we picked up the ingredients for a coffee porter and saw the new Muppet movie. Before 6pm! Success!

And with a pile of organic hops ready to be planted from The Thyme Garden, it looks like we’ll have a fun and thrilling saga ahead of us with that project.

Happy times, hoppy times

Happy times, hoppy times.

My dear friend Sarah can up from Philly for some Lehigh Valley adventures. Armed with a camera and her charming attitude, we drank, we frolicked, we watched Dirty Dancing: Havanah Nights. Sarah is one of the coolest and most collected humans I know, and I’m so grateful and happy to have her in my world.

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Sarah photographs the seedlings – can’t wait to see the pictures.

No, I didn't strategically place this thyme in such a way that you could see the sweet pedicures we went and got. Oh, wait.

No, I didn’t strategically place this thyme in such a way that you could see the sweet pedicures we went and got. Oh, wait.

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We meander through the field on one of the warmer days.

Sarah lounges in a tree at the dairy with her sleepy new friend, Memphis.

Sarah and Memphis the dog lounge while I finish up my dairy chores.

I even had a brief chance to catch up with Stef out in Fleetwood as she preps her spaces for a season of cheese-making. She is setting up shop in a space with amazing potential, and she’s a workin’ girl who has her game plan in place. Listening to her map out where her pasteurizer and her other equipment will be and her plans for this season and in the long-term future is thrilling.

Stef visualizes her cheese room space with Angie from Oley Valley Mushrooms.

Stef visualizes her cheese room space with Angie from Oley Valley Mushrooms.

Beautiful Stef on a swing at the amazing property she'll be making her cheese at.

Beautiful Stef on a swing at the amazing property she’ll be making her cheese at.

I’m about to embark on my last adventure before I’m settled in for the season – my darlingface Elizabeth Adler, freshman year roommate and concert adventurer, got us tickets for Neutral Milk Hotel‘s tour. And I do love me some adventures to Pittsburgh. Hopefully I can catch  up with some other lovelies in the neck of the woods as well.

And even though the weather has been questionable, the plants are ready. I was wandering around the edge of the field the other day, trying to figure out how and where to push back the woods, and I found my thyme, sage and sorrel. It was all mulched naturally with fall leaf cover and survived the winter with next to no help on my end. What an awesome discovery. It’s little catches like this that make all this learning and trial and error so much more exciting.

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Good morning, starshine. The sorrel says hello!

Thyme! How I missed you.

Thyme! How I’ve missed you.

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We’re ready.

I still get to see my cows fairly often, and the lovely folks at the dairy – though I know that time is winding down until the fall. And a couple weeks back I had another round of farm-sitting – hand-milking the cow, drinking milk for every meal, minding the chickens, making cheese with my dear friend Lauren annnnnd checking in on the baby Jacob Sheep!

Lambs are new to me. Thankfully, only one needed real assistance – the lamb Rivel was having trouble nursing so the farmer’s in-laws and I began a bottle-feeding routine. If you know me, you know I like itty bitties, so hanging out with the lamb (and making sure he got fed every three to four hours, and taking it with me on my day-to-day adventures).

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The thing about Jacob Sheep? They are awesome looking. This is Rivel at half a day old.

lamb lap

Lamb lap!

And it didn’t hurt that Strider liked him, too.

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After an initial ear-cleaning, Strider decided he wanted to keep him.

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Strider: “What a strange dog.”

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I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

Willow Haven Farm‘s market will have an adorable addition this year with their tame little Rivel – come out and meet him if you have the chance!

If you haven’t signed up for the CSA but are thinking about it, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I’ve gotten some calls from folks who don’t know me personally – I understand the skepticism of sending a check out into the void if you don’t know the person you are sending it to – and I’m happy to meet up, talk about the farm or give you a tour at any point. Just drop me a line or give me a call.

Sun Dances, Beet Seedlings and Maybe a Market in Germantown(!?),

Liz

Farmer Liz out.

Farmer Liz out.

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Rebuilding, Replanting, Reliving.

On Wednesday morning I rolled into the greenhouse at 7am and started to seed some herbs while I waited for my soul twin and partner in crime, one Matthew LaVergne, to arrive from Philadelphia for a day of major seeding projects.

The greenhouse was already warm enough for T-shirt attire. I could hear the woodpeckers in the woods all around. And for the first time since this frigid winter began, I could see the end. And for the first time since packing in Season 2013, I felt like I was home.

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Home sweet home

Two weeks ago my crew of beloved friends and neighbors assembled to help me finally get the greenhouse up at the new place. Stefanie Angstadt, seasoned Eckerton Hill vet and fledgling area cheesemaker (and, let’s be honest, my first farmer crush of 2012) arrived to help put in the center pole and side boards. And she brought coffee, because my friends are the sort of folks who bring breakfast when they come to do favors. I am a blessed human.

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I, on the other hand, am a terrible friend and failed to take a good action shot of dear Stef. But here she is in all her glory.

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Stef documents my successful use of power tools.

The next day my carpenter/substitute/pirate/beer-brewer childhood affiliate Steve rode up to help post up the end walls and make fun of my poor carpentry skills (which, hey, we blamed on the other guy who helped, because we could). After some sketchy work with a hand saw, we got everything where it needed to be. And then we brewed some beer.

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Not only is Steve great at putting up walls and brewing a tasty beer, but he is currently wearing a shirt with an anchor on it and sporting Badfeather, his bird, on his shoulder. At one point as we transferred our beer to the glass container to further ferment, he looked down at himself and said, “Hey, I’m dressed as a pirate!”

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No, this is not the correct order of things in terms of beer making. But my blog, my streamlined memoir. The point is, there is beer. Good beer. And it will be bottled soon, so if you want a happy homebrew, don’t sass me about logistics.

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Notice a pattern here? Next come’s the plastic. The following day Matthew slept in…but thankfully Teena Bailey, local farm-woman extraordinaire and mentor, did not. And as she ran off to collect our neighbor Reuben of Willow Haven Farm for some extra hands and an actually-functioning staple gun, my dear friend and Health Habits co-worker Gina Medvedz arrived with her adorable self to pitch in. Matthew did arrive in time, and the greenhouse finally became a greenhouse.

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Having four of my favorite people in such close proximity created this massive force of good energy across the fields. They were like superheroes.

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Gina, Teena (inside) and Matthew shore up the sides while I clearly do no work and just take pictures.

Teena and Reuben are pivotal folks in the area when it comes to small-scale, low-budget, sustainable vegetable farming. The two of them use composting manure bunkers for passive solar heat to start their seeds and keep their greenhouse warm,  and after some coaching from them, I decided to follow suit. Thus began a several day operation of leaving the dairy after work and picking up truckloads of cinder blocks, building four-foot walls inside the greenhouse for the manure bunker with said blocks, returning to the dairy for work and to collect truckloads of manure, and then up to unload the manure.

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One of the perks of working at a dairy (and having kind and generous bosses), by the way, is free manure. Thank you Excelsior Farm, for once again being awesome.

Repeat this a couple of times, with literally about three tons of manure and 120-some cinder blocks, and you get a bunker.

A bunker that is toasty warm for the onions nestled on it. A bunker that, though a bit smelly at the moment, will continue to heat and break down and become really lovely compost in time. A bunker that provides more room and heat than the manufactured grow cables or heat mats. And all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel to change its size and shape to suit my needs throughout the season.

SCIENCE.

So, there’s a greenhouse. And a bunker. Now it needs to be filled!

Grandma Wagner is always up for a trip to visit our Mennonite friends and supply vendors out in Berks County. We saddled up on a Friday morning and drove out to Meadow View Farm in Fleetwood to pick up a big order of potting mix, tomato stakes and ground cover.

We took Glenn’s truck because it’s cozier, and because his 80-year-old, 4’8″ mother is too short to get into my truck easily. It led to a morning of her shouting things like “Let’s burn rubber, kid!” and me repeatedly shouting back, “Yeah! Not my truck!” Because we are adults.

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Grandma chummed it up with Jay, the nice boy who pulls our orders, and then we dumped everything off at the farm and went for one last truckload of manure. While I stacked blocks of potting mix, Grandma Wagner tried her hand as a graffiti artist and spray painted some water barrels that we then filled in the greenhouse for extra heat retention.

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After a quick call in to my aunt, we reconvened at the house and loaded up my dad’s truck with the greenhouse tables and seeding trays and flats and other greenhouse supplies that had been lingering (much to Glenn’s chagrin) in the garage. We tied it all down and caravaned back to the greenhouse to unpack and settle in. My mom returned the next day to help finish the job, and all of a sudden we had a fully furnished greenhouse.

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With my crew of retired and semi-retired bored women, and a handful of crust punks, we will rule Pennsylvania.

In the midst of all these other things, some other work got done as well. I made business cards; I took a shank off the cultivator and drug it around with me to tractor supply stores and Internet searches until I procured the missing parts I needed for a full set; I finished Season III of Game of Thrones and didn’t cry all that much; I had a Tony Luke’s breakfast sandwich with broccoli rabe in it and missed South Philly. We’re chalking all these up as wins.

I’m talking to a food hub in Philly about selling them lots of greens for their CSA shares. I keep failing to rendezvous with my awesome extension agent to catch up and talk about building my cold storage unit. PASA posted my blog post about the conference on their pages – which was a totally amazing experience when a new friend mentioned how much she liked what she saw on the PASA Facebook Page. Next week I have a phone call with the membership coordinator of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition to discuss opportunities in this area.

What do you do at one in the morning? I replace sweeps.

What do you do at one in the morning? I replace sweeps.

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And so Matthew arrived, ice coffees in hand (see my earlier note about awesome friends), and we cranked out a full day of seeding. He kept seeding when I left him for two hours, and when I returned he had installed a doorknob and organized the space. And added a root vegetable to my 2014 wall (by the way, friends and neighbors mentioned in this post today – you all need to come back and sign the wall).

And that’s the thing. Mom Wagner and I got it done last year, and successfully, but I didn’t realize how lonely and exhausted and overwhelmed I felt so often until these folks were in my life asking what they could do to help. It is awesome to have this kind of community, and it is one that got built in the midst of the insanity of last year.

Working the dairy has taught me all sorts of things about farming in this area and animal care. I’m so much stronger now, and Andy and her family have been nothing but kind and generous with their time and aid. Jerry, the herd manager, is constantly bringing out newspaper articles about small farms and farm-to-table operations. The store gave me my first local following and my cohorts there love to promote the farm, and now even my parents’ chiropractor has joined the CSA.

My parents have tolerated a myriad of things parents shouldn’t need to deal with once their kids move out the first time. They’ve allowed me to stay here and work as much and often as possible to accrue some more business funds. Mom Wagner feeds me and helps fill in the watering, heating and covering gaps in our once again crazy schedule. My college friends, my runner friends, my office friends and now my sister’s college friends are ready for me to be back in Philly, and local caterer Dina at My Grandmother’s Table is the first person asking for spring greens.

Things are going to be crazy again for awhile. I wake up and drive to New Tripoli to uncover the trays. In the middle of the day, sometimes between jobs, they need to be watered. At night, also sometime between jobs, they need to be covered again. There is so much seeding to be done. Once I’m working outside I will be leaving the dairy (or at least incredibly cutting back my time there, because I may miss my new friends and the cows to much to really leave). With the help of Derek, Matthew and some other Philly friends, I am trying to pick up another Philly market.

There’s a lot of good people in my corner. And I’m not the scared, sad, indecisive girl of 2013. There is always the nervous feeling before the plunge, but there is too much excitement overriding everything else.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading, and for listening, and for sharing this adventure.

-Farmer Liz

Get ready. We are.

Get ready. We are.

Small Farm Paradise: The 2014 PASA Conference

I’ve had a couple conference experiences – a small business conference and then a journalism conference, full of museum tours, guest speakers, bus trips and a round table chat with Al Neuharth. Then there was the month-long and much beloved PA Governor’s School for the Arts, may it rest in peace and awesomeness forever. In college there were service trips weeks and city events, and a lot of extracurricular nights that replaced the conference experience.

All of these shaped me in some way, and helped me expand my passions at all of these times. I met a bunch of like-minded strangers, and that was always the most exciting part of everything for me – the new friends, the feeling of togetherness united by writing, the world, being a teenager and all that good-vibe stuff.

Last week I headed out to the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Conference, which was my first conference experience as an (arguable, I know) adult. I had yet to attend a formalized farmer event – Farm Hack in Ithaca was awesome in 2012, but I was still head-over-heels infatuated with farming and didn’t take a lot of practicality and logistics planning into that weekend. Now I was attending two days of small farm workshops with hundreds (thousands?) of other folks from my state and the surrounding area to learn how to streamline my practices, expand my growing opportunities, see what other folks were doing to maintain good yields and soil health, and get super jazzed for this season. I packed a pile of notebooks, some snacks and clean clothes, hopped into Glenn’s Silverado – another awesome caveat to the weekend – and headed out to Penn State.

Look! I got a name tag with the name of the farm - like a legitimate person!

Look! I got a name tag with the name of the farm – like a legitimate person!

Thankfully, I had some seasoned friends in attendance who knew what to expect. Teena Bailey, our area pioneer veggie and small grains farmer, has a lot of experience with this conference and secured us a sweet hotel room at The Penn Stater, the hotel attached to the conference center. Along with our friend Theresa, we visited a couple workshops together, wandered the vendors and picked up growing literature from another available kiosk, attended two mornings of TriYoga and reconvened for lunch and at night to rehash our experiences. Theresa and I kept our eyes peeled for herb workshops and cute, single men (I had a very proactive and supportive fishing team that weekend, providing entertainment and some comic relief after hours of brain overload from the workshops). The ladies had come a day before me for the all-day intensive tracks in grains growing (Teena) and biodynamic farming (Theresa).

But I was here on a mission: to soak up the knowledge of the experience folks around me and hopefully retain some of it to use on my own fields this springs. And judging by the notes I took over the course of the two days, I’d say that was a huge success.

It will take me days to sort through all this info - good thing it's about to snow forever again, right? Now I'll HAVE to do it.

It will take me days to sort through all this info – good thing it’s about to snow forever again, right? Now I’ll HAVE to do it.

I took two commercial herb workshops with Beth Lambert, the CEO of Herbalist & Alchemist. H&A has been a quality herbal company for over 30 years, and we carry a lot of their products at the health food store. Beth discussed adding yourself to the herbal supply chain, the legalities and quality issues herb buyers expect from their producers and, in the advanced class Saturday, some of the specific needs of her company in terms of herbs and quantities. Though I don’t see myself in a position to expand to commercial herbs this year, Beth recommended trialing herbs for some time to be able to provide an estimate yield when in talks for contracts with buyers, and that is what I will be doing in part of my fields this season. And her business partner David Winston teaches herbalism classes, so we’ll see if there’s a world where I can squeeze something like that into my life. I’d love to.

Eric Burkhart, the Program Director of Plant Science at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Penn State, offered a workshop called “Good from the Woods,” about foraging and wild crafted products. Beth touched on this in terms of some desirable but difficult to find products – Indian Pipe, etc. – and Eric discussed the specifics of finding, selling and sustainably harvesting ramps and morels from your woodland areas. I have always been vaguely intrigued by consuming and using foraged goods, but I’ve also always been way too terrified to try it because I didn’t want to accidentally poison myself and my family. But if you check out the notes section from this workshop and do a bit of outside research (specifically some photos of these things), you too can feel a little more confident when you dive into the trees to look for seasonal mushrooms and wild leeks. Yum.

Mac Mead of the Pfeiffer Center and Jeff Poppen held a number of workshops on biodynamic farming – and at some point I’ll write an enormous post about these farming methods, because it’s a little much to explain in the midst of other things. I went to two of these – in a poor summation of this practice, biodynamic farming is a “method of organic farming originally developed by Rudolf Steiner that employs what proponents describe as ‘a holistic understanding of agricultural processes'” – thanks, Wikipedia! To expand, these practices focus on microbial soil diversity through some semi-ritualistic compost and manure practices to enhance plant growth, germination rates and stimulate field health. These farmers plant and seed in tandem with lunar and astronomical patterns and, though some of these farmers seem steeped in mysticism, most have come to pick up these practices because they’ve seen major results in their fields. Hard to argue with that, right? There are some composting practices I’d like to explore, but these practices need more study on my end and will be on the back burner until the next off season.

The keynote speakers throughout the weekend were sharp, informative and personable. Tom, of conference sponsor Lady Moon Farms, talked about his dive into farming after “meandering for eight years after college,” – hey, Mom, I only did that for two! He talked about farmers as optimists and how he “always felt a certain privilege to be making my living off the land in the 20th century.” The PASA board member who spoke touched on the joining of PASA and CASA (the ‘C’ being for Chesapeake), to join watersheds, food sources and other resources, and reminded us how grateful we should all be for having the opportunities for small and earth-friendly farms. After a visit to Thailand, she experienced a world of chemical farming with little alternatives.

PASA President Brian Snyder stressed the fact that “separate but equal” will not work for much longer in the world of sustainable and conventional farming. In a world where 24D-ready crops are about to be approved for the market, herbicide drift for up to a mile has been found to decimate tomato and other vegetable crops. The industry has suggested that small farmers need to take out crop insurance in case of such destruction – but why is that okay? But he stressed the need to open the lines of communication between farmers across the spectrum – we need to learn to get along and live together, and to not act with hostility because some farmers follow the “industry guidelines and recommendations.” Manufacturer interests “would rather let nature die than let it lead us to a better tomorrow,” and that cannot be allowed to happen.

Keynote speaker Daphne Miller, MD., made me want to beg her to be my primary physician. She was so cool and such an open, enthusiastic spirit. Miller has written articles and books about all sorts of doctoral things, but Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing is her journey into the health and wellness of farmers and their goods for the world. She founded WholefamilyMD, which is a primary care practice across an entire person’s lifespan. She spent a slew of time working on small farms and believes that sustainable farmers can teach her how to be a better doctor. In her presentation, she discussed the farm as vitamin, immune support, community support and a model for stress management. Microbial activity and diversity in farm kids is off the chart compared to others; urban gardens and farms cut down on crime in parks; in her experience, lack of biodiversity in nature and in our bodies leads to increased allergies, diseases and lack of immunity. Happy animals, happy people, kids playing in the dirt. This is the key to societal health. If you have a moment, you should check her out. She’s got amazing insights.

Vendors lined the halls with lady-friendly tools from Green Heron Tools, a couple of hometown heroes from the area who sell and promote lighter, shorter and more easily-usable tools for us. Folks promoted  milking products, BCS tillers and tools, seeds and fertilizers and agriculture advocacy groups. On Friday night we trekked back downstairs (and, for some, with wine in hand) to watch Symphonies of the Soil or one of the other movies being shown throughout the center.

And then, in the books section of the the PASA shop, I found Keith's book! And then I picked it up and did a little happy dance in the aisles with it.

And then, in the books section of the the PASA shop, I found Keith’s book! And then I picked it up and did a little happy dance in the aisles with it.

And then I got to do something I haven’t done in awhile. I met up with an acquaintance from an extension class and we headed into downtown Penn State to rendezvous with a couple of folks from New Morning Farm.  Young people talking about farms over beers. A new friend offered some scientific explanations for biodynamics and, despite the mental fatigue of information overload, I felt myself getting so very excited for spring.

Thank you, ZBar, for an awesome evening.

Thank you, ZBar, for an awesome evening.

My friend, neighbor and fellow farmer Reuben of Willow Haven Farm popped up every now and again, also excited and mentally exhausted by the end of the conference. My dear friend Stef, previously of Eckerton Hill and now a fledgling cheese maker, attended every cheese and microbial rind class she could get her hands on. Even my friends/bosses/partners from Farm to City were in attendance, checking out workshops concerning GAPs training information and SNAP opportunities at farm markets.

An excellent weekend. An informative couple of days before the snow trapped us in. An exercise in excitement. A stellar conference. Thanks, PASA, for being incredible.

Onion Babies!

Working in the dirt.

Working in the dirt. You know, sort of.

The season has officially begun!

Yesterday after some bribing and coercing (just kidding) I wrangled my mom and aunt out for some farm work. We set up on a future greenhouse bench in the back garage at the house and spent the better part of the morning and afternoon seeding onions.

We mixed the Pro-Mix Organik potting mix with a pit of Gard-N-Tone organic soil amendments for an added kick.

We mixed the Promix Organik potting medium with Garden-tone soil amendments for an added boost.

And what better to do on a rainy Wednesday in February? Armed with Keith’s new book, a radio and a Frankie Valli CD, we drilled holes in the bottoms and some of the lids of piles of old salad containers Mom’s been collecting for a year or so, covering the excess clear patches with black tape. We then filled the containers with potting mix from the wheelbarrow, moistened the soil with a spray bottle of water, made little furrows in the containers (about 1/4 in deep, one in apart), and dropped in something like 20-35 seeds in each furrow depending on length.

What a ham.

What a ham.

Here are all the onions we'll (hopefully) be offering!

Here are all the onions we’ll (hopefully) be offering!

We then labeled the sides of the container with the seed’s variety, company, organic status (some of the Fedco and Johnny’s seeds aren’t certified organic), and date seeded. I set them up in our newly-erected heating mat (more on that later), dragged out a hose and misted the flats. This may sound simple enough, but all told we ladies were chugging away for a few hours (with lunch breaks, of course),  and seeded something like 5,000 onions! I’ve got a bit more to do today now that I’ve made some space and know that the heating coils won’t burn down the greenhouse (there was some concern, if only from my insane brain, that that might happen, which led to many visits to the mats throughout the day and night).

Seed those onions!

Seed those onions!

We also seeded a few cells of basil and lemongrass for fun. The lemongrass seed smells great, and I’m going to start some basil and other herbs soon to sell in Jiffy Pots over at Health Habits, where I’m working part-time (or to any of you who want some!).

My little babies. all waiting to be tucked in to bed.

My little babies. all waiting to be tucked in to bed.

Last night I brought out some leftover greenhouse plastic and tucked the little onions in for bed. Covering them at nights keeps some of the heat from escaping. But when you lift up the containers the bottoms are warm, which is just what we wanted! Thank you, ladies.

"Goodnight, onions," she said in her best Christopher Walken voice.

“Goodnight, onions,” she said in her best Christopher Walken voice.

And thank you, Keith. His book is intricately outlined and details propagation, transplanting and harvest for most of what I’m growing. And I hear his voice with that light New Zealand  accent as I’m reading, which is awesome and hilarious.

Our dear friend Anthony supplied us with drum caps for our passive solar heat!

Our dear friend Anthony supplied us with drum caps for our passive solar heat!

Yesterday was also a big day for mail! My friend and farmer compadre Anthony ordered some cap samples for me for our water barrels, which I’ve covered with black trashbags and which we hope we can use as passive bottom heating for our trays as the water in them heats up. Caps are trickier to find than the barrels themselves, and it was great to have such a helpful resource to procure them.

Two other recent purchases arrived – one was a riveting book about manure, that I feel will be helpful but know I’ll already have a really difficult time reading.

This looks like a college desk - this is why I DIDN'T go to grad school, ahhhh.

This looks like a college desk – this is why I DIDN’T go to grad school, ahhhh.

The other arrival was more fun – A walk-behind Earthway Seeder. These guys are perfect for direct seeding all sorts of produce, from beans and peas to turnips and radishes. You change the metal plates to the size of seed and – well, I haven’t even assembled it yet. So we’ll talk more about this awesome gadget when I gear up to use it.

Isn't mail great? Earthway Seeder arrived!

Isn’t mail great? Earthway Seeder arrived!

Now, to take a closer look at that heating system:

So when Matt was still here we spent a fair amount of time researching the best way to create a heating area for germinating seeds. Keith had a number of heat mats that the user would plug in and set at a certain temperature, and it was a good system because of it’s simplicity for the user and it’s ability for temperature control, but it’s an expensive one and now something I can use right now. So we searched around and Matt found some Gro-Quick soil warming cables and I found some online instructions from a farm that has been using them successfully.

Our heating bed!

Our heating bed!

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These are the warming cables sticking out at the end. Despite some questionable customer reviews, they are warm to the touch, and I could feel the heat in the sand and in the bottom of the seedling containers. We’ll see how they do!

We built a wooden frame, braced the bottom with some old board fencing from the Papa Wagner scrap collection and some cinder blocks, and then attached hardware cloth and 1/4  sheet of insulation on the bottom. We ran over to a supply store for buckets of sand and then dumped 1/2 of sand over the insulation. We then took one set of the cables and laid them back and forth in the sand in an S-shape sort of pattern, and then covered the cables .

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Two of these cables were the cost of one heating mat (which only holds three trays). We are stretched them over a space a bit further than suggested, but the sand seems to be helping in the transfer of heat. Of course, lots of people use all sorts of methods to start seeds. My aunt is going to give us some windows to set up some little warming spots in our old garden to see how that works.

And Teena Bailey, local farmer and grain grower extraordinaire of Red Cat Farm,  uses these incredible cinder block bunkers packed with manure and bedding and covered with compost, to heat her seedlings. Teena opened her farm to me yesterday morning and showed me her area where she cleans and stores her cold produce and eggs, and her big and beautiful greenhouse that can fit a truck inside and where she has her enormous and impressive bunkers. It was great to speak with her – she’s a local legend and just the spunkiest lady farmer I’ve ever met – and it’s exciting to know that folks like these are so close at hand.

All in all, this has been a great week. Still looking for equipment (and am thus far empty-handed), and applying to markets. I re-applied through The Food Trust with a more extensive and articulate application, and I’m making strides toward finishing the momentous Greenmarket application (which is daunting but has really made me organize my field planning, which has been great). Must finish seeding onions and starting some more herbs.

And I’m thinking about a small Philly and local experimental CSA, as I may have mentioned before. I’ve already had some folks express interest, but if you’re up for an adventure in vegetables, drop me a line at liz.m.wagner@gmail.com. I’ll have more specific details and plans in the next week or so to share.