Even on a rainy April day, Dave’s greenhouse is a pleasant place to work. Ducking in from a chilly spring rain that pattered loudly on the plastic, our coats came off and we got right to it. Ross and Richie and Dave built another row of drop-down shelving for seed flats along the sidewalls above the beds Dave created underneath the shelving along both sides. He’ll soon be growing lettuce, greens and other vegetables under there.
As the shelving went together, I began filling flats with potting soil in another area of the greenhouse. By the end of the day, we had filled another 20+ flats-full of delicious vegetables that will soon sprout and grow in the warmth and protection of the greenhouse. So far we have filled over 40 flats that contain: 13 varieties of tomatos, 10 kinds of hot peppers and five sweets, four eggplant varieties, five different melon types, five zinnia varieties, and brussels sprouts. Still to be planted, more flowers such as calendula, larkspur, cosmos, ageratum, salvia and stocks; all the cabbage varieties, herbs, and tomatillos. A few weeks after that, the first wave of brocolli and cabbage will go in. A second wave will follow about five weeks after the first ones go into the ground.
Greenhouse season starts about 12 weeks before last frost, a variable date in the Northeast that involves some guesswork. What’ s it going to be this year? Only a crystal ball can tell when “last frost” will be. (If you remember last year, a frost in early June, right after all the crops went in, had us scrambling to cover everything up for a few nights in a row.)
As I begin poring through the seed catalogs in January and February, I usually order many of the tried-and-true plant types that I know grow well in my garden, such as Brandywine heirloom tomatos, and Big Bertha peppers, but I always try new varieties. I look for the rare, heirloom and open-pollination types. It’s critical to use the seed types considered old fashioned, to keep them from becoming endangered. An heirloom variety is any type of vegetable seed that has been saved and grown for a period of years and passed down by the gardener to preserve it. It has a provenance, of sorts. Large agribusiness companies produce tremendous quantities of vegetables with good keeping properties that have been hybridized not for taste, but to ship well. We’ve already lots thousands and thousands of seed varieties to this practice. Enlightened farmers are fighting to preserve heirlooms. This helps to challenge today’s “normal” practices around growing food that’s dangerously narrowing the field of vegetable types available.
About 12 weeks out, the first vegetables to go in are celery and leeks, which are already up. At about 8 weeks out we plant the bulk of the rest: tomatos, peppers, flowers, eggplant, etc. This year I ordered most of my seed from a more or less local company in Maine: PineTree Garden Seeds, of New Gloucester. Their excellent catalog descriptions sold me on tomato types like: Druzba, Opalka, Prudens Purple, Oxheart Pink, Sub-Arctic, Rainbow Cherry, and Red Currant (a tiny, sweet cherry tomato) and Polish Linguisa. I planted giant sweet peppers from seed saved from last year called Aztec Reds, that last year grew to 8 inch proportions in my garden. I also planted a large variety of hot peppers with names like: Holy Mole, Super Thai (those devilishly hot tiny peppers you find in General Gao’s Chicken!), Dancing Spirit, and Red Hot Cherry, to name a few.
Only certain vegetables need to be started in the greenhouse. Many things, such as beans, lettuces, greens, squashes, cukes, etc., are planted directly in the ground at the proper time, usually in the weeks around Memorial Day. Peas go in the ground by mid-April to early May, depending on the year and the weather. In a sense, gardeners are gamblers, taking bets on the weather. You’ll see farmers planting peas in the middle of April but the seeds respond to the proper temperature, and if the ground is cold, seeds won’t sprout any faster than peas planted a few weeks later when things have warmed up. The later plantings often do better than peas that were planted too early in the cold. Then again, with so much to do on a farm, and such a short season to do it in, farmers often have to make decisions based their limited time and resources.
It’s always a miracle to me that each tiny seed shaken out of a pack in April , will grow by mid-July into a full-blown, vegetable-bearing plant that puts food on your table.
Mehaffey Farm still has shares available for the 2010 season. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Click on the link Mehaffey Farm 2010 CSA Brochure on the left, to view our brochure.