Summer draws ever nearer.

Busy.  I think the word is so short because whoever came up with it didn’t have more time.  I know the feeling.  Mid spring on the diversified farm is a time when time is short.  That’s certainly the case at our farm.  There is so much to do at this time of year it can be hard even to keep track of it all.  I have to have a pack of note cards in my shirt pocket and a pen always at the ready to jot down things I need to remember as I think of them.  I’ve found that if I don’t stop and do it instantly, no matter what I’m doing at the time, whatever task I was supposed to remember is horribly lost.

Of the many new arrivals at the farm in the spring time (new arrivals means one more thing to do) is a yearly batch of baby chickens.  I like diversity in all things.  Our current flock of laying hens consists of Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons and a Rhode Island Red.  This year I’ve added some more Buffs (the blond ones in the photo below) and some Black Australorpes.  They are now safely at the farm cheeping and skittering merrily beneath their red heat lamp.

The chicks have arrived!

The chicks have arrived!

Something else that tends to draw my attention and suck up a lot of time at this point in the Spring season is the making of our soil blocks.  We use very little in the way of plastic plant pots.  What I do have at the farm is reused as much as possible.  I also reuse old containers like those for yogurt and such.  But for the most part our plant pots are pot-less.  I adopted the soil block method from the get-go and have always liked it.  Soil blocks are exactly what they sound like.  A block of soil.  The trick is to make the soil mix in such a way that it naturally holds it shape after being molded into one.  I have several soil blockers, each of which performs a different function, often for different types of plants.  Sometimes I get some help from the kids.  Making soil blocks, my children noticed, is very similar to playing in the mud…and that sounds like fun.

While the boy was working on his soil blocks I was working on some larger ones.  Our blockers are designed to allow for successive ‘potting up’.  This is the term we farmer types use to describe the process of giving an ever growing plant more and more room by moving it to ever larger pots as it needs space and nutrients.  Growers in warmer climates don’t have to do this quite as much.  But here in the Northeastern part of the U.S. I have to start seedlings way before it’s warm enough to plant them out in the garden.  They outgrow their original pots (or in my case – blocks long before they can be set outside int eh garden).  Again, I don’t use many pots.  I just make bigger soil blocks.  In this way I am able to further reduce the waste stream from our farm.  Today I started making 4″ blocks to ‘pot up’ eggplant and tomatoes.

Speaking of tomatoes, here is an example of another way in which I try to close the loop at our farm.  I want to bring in as few ‘off-farm inputs’ as possible.  The more I can produce on the farm to meet our needs and those of the soil, the better.  I grow a lot of tomatoes.  I love them.  Not just the fruit but the plants themselves.  But tomatoes can be tricky to grow in our climate.  One problem is cracking.  This is caused by calcium deficiency that manifests when there is suddenly too much or not enough water.  Rather than purchase limestone to give our tomatoes more calcium (limestone is a mined mineral that is therefore, by definition, created through degradation of the Earth somewhere and then shipped around the globe using fossil fuels, further degrading the Earth) I use a calcium source grown right here at the farm.  Eggshells.  I save them and essentially ‘bake’ them in the hoop house for several weeks.  Once they’re extremely dry I crush them and add a bit to each hole when planting out the tomatoes.  This acts as a calcium source for the delicate tomatoes, hopefully resulting in less splitting.

Homegrown calcium.

Homegrown calcium.

Always things are moving forward in the seedling house.  I long ago finished planting the Alliums (Onion Family) and they are now growing rapidly by the thousands, literally.  That many onions takes up a lot of horizontal space, each residing in a 2″ block for a couple months until it’s warm enough to plant out into the garden.  While the onions were started before practically anything else, I’ve been working on creating lots of companions for them in the seedling house.  Broccoli and chard, kale, choi and lettuce by the hundreds.

It is a sure sign Summer is just around the corner when I start planting the Cucurbits (Cucumber and Squash Family).  I planted them only the other day and they are already bursting up through the tops of their soil blocks.  This, while a welcome site, means there is one more thing to do tomorrow.  Cucumber plants don’t like to sit in the 2″ blocks very long.  Their roots are looking for more soil right away and unlike many other types of plants, cucurbits can’t stand being transplanted if their roots get disturbed.  Gotta get up early and get them potted up.  No rest for the weary…or those who like to eat good, real food.  Local food.  Eat well – be well.

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Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.