July 26 – Week Two Organic Farming Certificate
Firstly, let me say, I have no idea how Rachel and I survived last week. We were both exhausted, and are still trying to catch up on rest. But enthusiasm will take you along way in life! And we are loving what we are doing…
I’m letting enthusiasm drive today’s blog, because we did some really fun stuff that I want to share. First up this morning (after meeting several new classmates) we headed over to the Greenhouse to check on our seeds from Week One. I think we were all amazed to see little plants already sprouting, some were quite large.
Rachel’s Zucchini’s were enormous (see photo) and most of mine were coming along splendidly. Mark our teacher loves to perform little experiments as a way to teach and learn, and so he pointed out that most seedling trays were laid on a heated shelf, whilst a selection of other were not on a heated shelf. And whilst all seedlings were in the controlled warmth of the greenhouse, it was those little seedlings on the the heated shelf that had grown bigger and stronger than those without heat. Mark then explained that this is a great way to get things off to a flying start, but that you don’t want to keep them in this way for very long. This is because if a plant grows too quickly in its initial stages, it will become too long and gangly, and if that’s the case they don’t usually grow into a healthy plant. Too much upward growth and not enough sideways growth is not a good thing. Also, it could mean your seedlings fall over or lay down when placed in the garden beds and this could cause them to get sunburnt and die!
Growing Tip: Remove seedlings from heated beds after a brief stint to get them started, then place them out doors (but not in full sun) for another week. A bit like English tourists, we need to gradually expose our little seedlings to the harsh Australian sun.
Today we planted more seedling trays and had a few more hands (I think we had 10 or 11 in class today). We are being taught to keep records of everything we plant, including date planted, batch number (found on packet) and number of seeds planted, as well as any special techniques or pre-treatments we used. I found a great technique today for sowing seeds which basically involved using the plastic labels or even the seed packet to draw little rows in punnets and this made sowing a bit faster.
General Tip: Keep a record of the batch number of any seeds you plant because if you have a bad crop you can tell the seed company and perhaps get a replacement! All seeds have a Germination Rates listed on the packets (say 85% or 98%) which can be used as a rough guide of what to expect. If you repeatedly get only a 25% germination rate then something is fishy!! Could be the seeds, could be something else!
Today, I planted Kale, Pak Choy, Onion and two varieties of Lettuce. On every punnets we create a little plastic tag which records what we have planted (Botanical name, common name) and the date planted as well as our name (that’s because we are in a class, but if there are a few of you planting at home, it is worth recording who planted what as some people have a greener thumb than others!)
Once in the Greenhouse, our new seedlings needed a drink, so a fine spray with a good handheld hose until the first few drops of water started to drip from the bottom. You don’t want to drown seeds, or water them too strongly, as some seeds are so small they will float right off the punnet and end up growing in your drain. Also, if you give them too much of a soaking with water, you will only be leaking nutrients, and this is just a waste of money…
Morning class came to an end and so we headed across the campus and enjoyed a gorgeous lunch overlooking the valley. Lunch today consisted of produce that we have harvested out at Summit Organics (like Spinach, Beetroot, Radish and Parsley), or that we have picked up at local farm stalls in this area (like Pumpkin). I made my most excellent Pumpkin, Spinach & Feta Lasagna on the weekend and we combined that with a beautiful Roasted Beetroot Dip that Rachel made, with some freshly cut Radish slices on the side.
Back to class in the afternoon, where we study principles of Crop Production, and today this entailed thinking about our own garden beds on campus and what crops we wanted to plant, and when and where we would plant our various seeds and seedlings. Mark was keen to get us sowing some seeds directly into the soil today. During the week he had already added some Compost and Sulphate of Potash to the naturally red and somewhat Acidic soil to bring the PH to a desirable level (this is usually between 6 and 6.5 for growing veggies). He did this for us so that we could start planting today, and later in the course Mark will guide us through applying Organic Fertilizer to our soil. We haven’t got our Soil Test results yet, but Mark knows the soil at the Campus very well, so he is pretty confident he knows what it needs to make it ready for growing.
We decided to plant corn at the back as it is the tallest crop and we don’t want it shading other veggies. Corn also needs to be planted in a bunch as it is pollinated (sexual reproduction) by the wind, so if you plant it in rows it won’t get pollinated. We decided to lay some rows East-West and some North-South. The reason for this was to stop the water from washing the top soil away as the garden bed is on a slightly sloping site. Now the result of our decision to plant corn at the southern end of our patch in a block was that we had to put in some new rows, and this meant getting out the heavy machinery!! That’s right, Week Two and we are already into the Tractors – Excellent. Of course, Mark dug these in because most of us don’t have a clue (or even a license) to drive a beast like this….
Before heading out into the field we looked at a few other factors which you may want to consider before planting, such as Companion Planting, as well as the different sun and water needs of different crops. We learned that it is not good to plant potatoes in the same soil twice. They are fussy and prefer new soil, or they might get diseases (such as Blight which destroyed Irish Potato Farmers and killed 1 million people in the mid 1800’s).
Then we were ready for some direct sowing (this means planting straight into the soil). Of course, Potatoes were the first crop to go in the soil. We had three varieties (Sebago, Banana Seed and Royal Blue), and the special thing about potatoes is that you plant them from the actual potato. And just like in the image to the left, you need to plant potatoes in the furrows rather than in the mounds of soil in your veggie patch. This way you can bury them deeper and then cover up with soil quickly. And as your potatoes grow, you just keep piling more soil on top, so they keep growing up and out.
If you have grown potatoes before (or know someone that has) you can pick out the smaller ones from last seasons crop and let them develop an eye or four (see photo above). Or you purchase them ready to grow from someone like The Diggers Club.
After this, we planted some beans (although there was some debate about whether it was too early in the season) and some peas. Ooh, and I forgot to mention, that we did test both the soil and air temperature and the soil PH levels today before we started planting. We wanted to know what crops we could plant based on soil temperatures (this is super important or things just wont germinate and grow, and you may loose your seeds to birds, rats or rot as they lay dormant in the ground.
Our soil temperature was around 13 degrees C so we decided we could make a start on our beans and peas. We had a fun afternoon and we planted about 5 rows of potatoes and 5 rows of beans and peas. And in a few weeks our seedlings in the nursery will be ready to transfer to our Veggie patch (the soil temp in the patch should be higher again by then) and then the fun will really begin (or should I say the weeding will really begin!!)
Okay, I reckon that’s enough from us for one night. Hope you have found this little post helpful. And if you ever have questions or comments, please don’t be afraid to write. I’m not saying we will have an answer for you, but who knows, it might start a dialogue…
Happy farming 🙂