January is the month for new starts! For me that meant, planting the little summer garden seeds in makeshift trays on the windowsill. Guess this was a holdover from my favorite school activity of growing a bean on a paper towel in a plastic bag taped to the window.
Over the years, starting seeds has become more sophisticated. For many years, I used recycled egg cartons and chose the south window for the best sunlight. A yearly ritual that brought hope in the first seedlings starting to show new growth. It connected me to the natural cycle of the seasons and the expectation of bounty to reap later this summer.
Just like clockwork, January 17th (the first new moon of 2018) I planted for a new year. And now, I am beginning to see the first velvety sprout push up out of the soil. With all this wonderment, there is a reality; it takes four months for a plump red tomato to grow from seed!
In north Texas, there is a small window to plant between the last freeze (Mid March) and the hot days (90+degrees). This is why farmers and gardeners know they need to get their tomatoes, peppers, eggplants started indoors to have enough time in the ground before the hot days.
I wanted to catch up with some of the farmers to understand their seed starting rituals, so local food advocates can appreciate that first tomato harvested in hopefully May but may be more like June.
How do some of the local farmers start seeds?
This time of the year, Chance Demases is starting double decked tables full of transplants. Right now he has mostly early spring plants like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower then will move into the warmer season crops.
The seeds are planted in a grow box then when the plants the first true leaves they are transplanted to trays with plant cells. We are use to the 6 pack from a nursery, but Chance uses a 36 cells per tray. The soil is a mix that is bought in bulk from the metroplex.
To control the climate, Chance has a 12’x 20′ greenhouse he built with electric heaters…when it was really freezing he had to use his propane heater. He can also open the doors at both ends and turn on the fans to control humidity and also cool off two days later when it reaches 70 degrees. With close to 10,000 transplants at stake, Chance keeps a close watch on the thermometers and does not leave anything to chance.
No vacations, no down time. All the trays are watered by hand with a mist sprayer. Plus Demases Farm is growing in the field this winter and can be found at several farmers markets. When the plants are ready to go into the fields they use a tractor ride called a transplanter to drop them in the cultivated ground.
In the past, Doug Williams bought his first round of transplants from Holder Hill in Athens, TX. He now starts to germination in a warm germination house, then moves the sprouted trays to his hoop house. His top three crops started indoors are a couple thousand plants each of tomatoes, peppers and squash/zucchini.
Because Grow it Forward Farm grows sustainably, Doug mixes his starter soil with a base and vermicompost (from worm castings) and then adds liquid fish emulsion to his watering schedule once a week. He, too, waters by hand with a breaker nozzle to gently moisten the soil surface.
Grow it Forward Farm will be at a couple of farmers markets this summer, but their big debut will be opening The Farmacy in downtown Edom, Tx. Watch their facebook page for details.
Aaron Reeves is known for his wholesale okra, but over the years has been diversifying his crops to sell at farmers markets and chefs. This year some of his top transplants are kale, pickling cucumbers and cantaloupe. He has started them in a 20′ x 20′ greenhouse which has been warmer to work in on the cold days in January.
Equipped with some of the strongest 128 cell trays in the industry, plus a vacuum seeder, Aaron is set up to start 500-3,000 of each crop in a lighter planting medium with more bark mulch. Much faster than seeding by hand like in year’s past!
However, watering is done by hand because as we all know, the farmers shadow is the best fertilizer!
Let’s hear from you?
Add your seed starting ritual in the comments below!