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.