The Seedling Dance

This time of yearly is truly all about seeds and seedlings. Flats of seed trays are being seeded for future plantings on a weekly schedule, and then the germinated seedlings are cared for, coddled, worried and fretted over, watered (but not too much), checked for slugs, and generally watched closely for any signs of trouble. And for a farm like mine, still in its beginning stages with some seriously lacking infrastructure, where the earliest or most cold sensitive seeds get their start on life in my kitchen, there is also a lot of constructing shaky seedling areas, and shuffling the young plants around due to temperature requirement and available space (or lack thereof). Then, certain crops need to be potted up into larger pots, so they can continue growing, getting a jump on shorter or cooler seasons – this is common in northern growing areas for heat loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

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Tomato seedlings, germinating in the warmth of the kitchen.

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Brassica seedlings, going for gold.

It can all feel a bit daunting, and, at times, annoying – these delicate seedlings can be so needy – they don’t want it too wet (this can cause fungal disease and a condition called “damping off” where seedlings rot at the base of the stem where it meets the soil), or too dry, they need a good and nutritious potting mix, and with temperatures fluctuating from frosty nights to the mid 40’s during a sunny day in the seedling greenhouse, it can be hard to get it just right. But still, any mixed veggie farmer I know will spend whatever energy necessary to try to meet the needs of their plant babies, as so much of the season to come (and our subsequent income for the year) hinges on getting this right.

And so this is why I have spent many a night for the past several weeks going out to the seedling greenhouse with a headlamp to check the temperature, tucking them in under additional cover and putting a heater on if necessary, and then doing it all in reverse each morning. This is why I sprayed unpasteurised milk (for the beneficial bacteria), and sprinkled cinnamon (for the anti-fungal properties) on my allium seedlings recently to halt the beginnings of damping off. It is because these little plants are important to me, extremely so.

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Allium seedlings after they were first moved out into the seedling greenhouse.

Despite sometimes feeling shackled to these trays of seedlings, it is also an exciting time of year, watching the uncurling of green from the seeds, the magic of growth and life they embody.  It also means that soon plants will be in the ground, and good food will be growing there for future harvests that will sustain me and my community. It can be hard to imagine looking at the fragile, delicate plants what they will become (if I, as a farmer get it right, and they make it to planting). Like so much in farming, this part of the year can feel a lot like taking a leap of faith (even though the schedule is set, and plans are laid) – to plant seeds before the ground is ready, to plant seeds when there are still killing frosts. But it is also awe-inspiring and beautiful to see the beginnings of another farming season unfurling right before your eyes.

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