Luck and Heaven’s Favor

Yesterday I seeded celery and celeriac, tiny seeds sown into tiny cells and then placed on heat mats to germinate. To save on propane, which has become crazy expensive this winter, Aaron rigged up a germination chamber within his greenhouse, warmed by electric heat mats and space heaters. It seems to be working, though space is at a premium. After next week, when the seeding kicks into a higher gear, we’ll have to bite the bullet and fire up the big heaters, high propane prices or no.

Finally, I’m feeling the season accelerate. Usually I sense the momentum around Groundhog Day, but this year I’ve had my attention focused on the ongoing farmhouse renovation, so it’s taken a couple of days in the greenhouse to reorient myself.

The First Transplanting Last Spring

What’s more, the season just feels different to me than from previous years. I’m usually elated to enter again the cycle of the farming year, but this time around the joy is mixed with worry. This time around, because this season is my show to run, there is more at stake. I have been humbled by peoples’ faith in this farm, pledged by their paying upfront for produce that exists right now only as a box of seeds, and I am determined to deliver. But because I have the benefit of experience, I know full well the 147 ways things can go crosswise, and unless I am disciplined, my mind will swiftly review all of them, all at once. And that’s no way to be.

One of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry is his “Contrariness of the Mad Farmer.” There he writes of reaping by “luck and Heaven’s favor, in spite of the best advice.” And here I am reminded again that this is the heart of the matter: I will do what I can as best I can, but the final yield is ultimately and fundamentally out of my hands. Which is both sobering and freeing.

One of the things I ask our CSA members to pledge is to receive the season’s harvest with gratitude and delight, so it’s good here at the beginning to be reminded that I, too, must each year make this same promise.

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It Begins

The First Flat of the Season

The farming season started last Thursday when I seeded this year’s allium crops: three varieties of leeks, five of onions, and one of shallots.

Alliums are all about patience. I’ll pull the onions and shallots late in the summer, and some of the leeks will be among the last crops harvested, staying in the field until just before the ground freezes. Fortunately, alliums aren’t bedeviled by a great variety of pests or diseases, though they do need to be kept weeded and irrigated so they size up nicely. On a small scale, mulch helps, both suppressing weeds and conserving moisture, and if I can find an economical way to cover four-hundred row-feet of beds, I will.

To propagate the alliums, I’m trying something new. In past years, I would sow individual seeds into each compartment of a ninety-eight-cell nursery flat. This year, to save space, I am sowing the seeds into furrows in open flats, five furrows to a flat. Once the seeds germinate, I’ll then gently transfer the small plants into their individual cells in divided flats, a process called “potting on.”

There are trade-offs, of course. Potting on adds time to the process, but it also allows me to use a soil mix richer than what I would use for germination, which means more available nutrients for the plants and ought to yield stronger transplants out in the field.

I am trying this new method at the suggestion of Aaron over at the Blandford Nature Center, where I am leasing greenhouse space for this season. One of the great things about being a CSA farmer in West Michigan is the camaraderie and cooperation among growers, and I am thankful for it.