As Margaret illuminated last week, many of us on the Hearty Roots crew have been assigned “areas of specialization”. She’s the “Reemay Queen” and I’m in charge of the greenhouse. (I like to think “Greenhouse Guru” which has great alliteration and is a little tongue in cheek about my level of knowledge.) Last year during our inaugural year of farm work after leaving the city, my partner Luke and I worked on a farm in Columbia County. There I was also in charge of watering, seeding and other aspects of greenhouse production. This year I’m happy to be honing those skills.
Greenhouse management can seem fairly simple. You may have grown seedlings at home on a windowsill and had them grow wonderfully. When we were home gardeners, we started seeds in yogurt containers like kindergartners. Many of them grew happily and fed us for months. Some of them did not grow at all. Now I have a much better idea of why some of those seeds did not germinate. Water, humidity, soil temperature and light all affect how well seeds germinate and how well seedlings grow. Celery seeds want to be 70 degrees, but cooler than 60 at night. Corn, on the other hand, germinates at 95 degrees and it happy up to 105. Even watering, which in my pre-farm life seemed so basic, feels impossible to do perfectly. I’m aiming to have plants that are evenly wet but dry enough between waterings to keep down algae. Also, I have to be careful not to over-water, which can lead to the valuable minerals in their small soil blocks leeching away. These are small details, but they can make a difference in the health of our seedlings, eventually putting more food on your dinner table. Plus, doing this kind of work well and efficiently feels like a challenge that I’m going to spend the rest of my farming career trying to improve.
The greenhouse is a sweet separate zone of the farm in many ways. At Hearty Roots our greenhouse is kindly donated by a local school and so it is literally separate, located a mile or so from our fields. Some days the greenhouse feels like a haven—dry, warm and either peaceful or rockin’, depending on my daily decision regarding the radio. Other days it is a chore to remember and its separateness is frustrating; when we have a busy harvest day, taking time in the morning to drive there and water or move flats means that we are short one harvester. As the weather gets hotter, the humid air of the greenhouse is uncomfortable and I try to make sure that I seed in the morning when it is cooler. Nonetheless, it is always a pleasure to walk through the door and see all the seedlings and run my hand over a grassy flat of corn or check on lettuce as it starts to sprout. When I look over the full greenhouse, I often think of the dual uses of the word nursery and feel strangely protective over these tiny plants I’ve grown.