This week's sun has brought new life to Snowdrift Farm. In the glass greenhouse, carrots, spinach, arugula, and tat soi germinated and put on their first true leaves. Onion seedlings are emerging from their flats, stretching out their crooked necks. Basil starts needed some coaxing with heat coils, but now reach for light with their developing cotyledons. Meanwhile, the sound of chirping chicks permeates the air as if spring had already arrived.
Over at the plastic hoop house, kale from last fall is holding strong. These resilient Brassicas were sown last October along with pea shoots, spinach and Swiss chard. Each of these crops germinated and put on its first leaves before winter truly settled in. Over the course of the winter, mice and voles devastated everything but the kale and a little spinach, but the weather had little effect. By enduring cold at such a young stage, the plants were able to acclimate to the harsh winter conditions that dipped well below zero during a January cold snap. Now that they have made it through the darkest part of the winter, they are taking off as light becomes available.
Along with successes, we have had some challenges. The greenhouse in early February is not warm enough for most seeds to germinate, so it took nearly a month for some of them to emerge. Carrots require temperatures above freezing to germinate, but they may take up to 50 days if the soil temperature is around 40°, which ours was. Optimally, the soil temp for carrots should be around 85°. Spinach has similar preferences but can tolerate colder conditions. It may only take about a week for spinach seeds to germinate at 50-60°. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until a streak of sunny days, beginning last week and continuing into this week, that our crops really began to take off. If you are unsure what your own plants require, seed packets usually explain temperature requirements for a specific crop. The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel is another great resource.
Stove rack with seedlings
The glass greenhouse is an excellent way to start seedlings and grow early season crops, but not everybody has access to one. Another option available to the home gardener is to start crops in the house. Our greenhouse is still too cold to start our tomatoes and peppers, so we decided to put the wood stove and refrigerator to good use. The top of the fridge is one of the warmer spots in the cabin while the wood stove stays warm (but not hot) for hours. In an effort to avoid melting our trays on the stove, we constructed a small rack out of 2”x lumber that fits up to six flats. You may consider building a similar rack depending on the heat source in your house. Once seedlings have emerged, trays will go back in the greenhouse.
Though the first week of March is early to start tomato and pepper plants in this climate, we intend to plant most of them in the glass house after our first flush of greens stops producing. We will start another batch later this month for plantings elsewhere. If you plan to grow at least a portion of your tomato plants outside in “wall-of-waters,” low tunnels, or an unheated greenhouse, it is important to start them roughly 6-8 weeks before the last frost. In Teton Valley, planting around the beginning of April is a safe bet.
Our stock of canned goods and root cellar veggies is running low, but budding rows of green plants bring new energy to the farm. With the spring equinox fast approaching, the excitement of the farm season is already upon us.