Spring Planting In Northern Michigan
Planning, Prepping, Planting
This week Zac’s Grandmother shared with us a 1988 Stokes Seeds catalog which had belonged to his Grandfather. The seed catalog is dated the same year that we were born. It’s almost like a time machine to take us back to what it would have been like to farm 30 years ago. Zac’s Grandfather is no longer with us, but finding this treasure allows us to have a conversation with him and to hear a story about the price of seeds and the varieties that were available and popular at that time. One of the pages is earmarked. The page is all about watermelon seeds with varieties like Sugar Baby and Crimson Sweet both of which we’ve grown in the past and plan to grow again this year.
There are so many things Zac wishes he could ask his Grandfather such as how to successfully plan out a growing season or ways to simplify tasks. Even though he is not here with us; each season we know he sends us clues, hints, tools and helpful people to guide us along our way.
We are going into our third year on the farm, and this will be the first year that we were able to truly plan and prep for spring planting during the fall. At the end of our last harvest we planned field expansions, a new greenhouse location, disked the fields and planted cover crops. This winter as we were planning for spring planting we got a jump start on ordering seeds in order to avoid “sold out” and “back-ordered” notifications like in years past. Each year we learn more about the benefits of planning ahead, mostly out of trial and error.
See how Jenna from Homesteaders of Michigan planned way ahead for spring planting with her seed saving tips, here.
This fall Zac was able to use the disk and cul-de-packer that his Grandfather once used to prep the soil for his spring planting. It was truly incredible to see 30-year-old tools being used on a 30 year abandoned cherry orchard all formerly owned by Zac’s Grandfather. After 30 years of neglect, this type of prep work is essential for us. It will significantly reduce weed pressure for the upcoming season, saving our backs and valuable time.
Now that spring is just around the corner we’ve got our seeds inventoried with trays and pots ready for spring planting. We still have another few weeks before we begin seeding most of our transplant varieties. Vegetables like lettuce and spinach will get a head start before an early spring transplant in the greenhouse.
With our surprisingly warm winter the greenhouse soil is already workable. We have spread a layer of compost and prepped nursery tables to begin filling for spring planting! We know from years past that it is a delicate window when it comes to spring planting. If you are starting indoors you do not want to start too early and risk the plants getting too big before you are able to transplant. You also do not want to put your plants and seeds out too early and risk damage or loss to frost.
During the fall we prepped our greenhouse with a double layer of plastic for added insulation. Last spring, we lost a lot of our seed starts in the greenhouse because of the lack of insulation,we did not want that to happen again.
Planning and Prep for spring planting significantly reduces the amount of work you will have to put into the garden during a growing season. We learned this from experience the last two years. Our first year on the farm began November 2017, which meant no fall prep work. We had to clear land, cultivate it, construct greenhouses, lay irrigation all during the couple short weeks of spring that we had in 2018. Then in fall of 2018 we had a new born baby so we had very little extra time on the farm to prep before the fast and hard winter we had that year. So as we rounded out 2019 we finally had the tools and the time to prep for a much larger chunk of land for 2020 spring planting.
Zac was raised right here on the land that we are now farming. He grew up from a very young age riding on the tractor with his Grandfather and sitting under cherry trees while his Grandfather worked. Even though he was just a baby, Zac experienced something that not everyone does. He felt the dirt in his hands and the taste of warm strawberries straight out of the field. He developed a love for growing and a passion for fresh fruits and vegetables. When he is on the farm he feels a connection with his Grandfather.
As hard as farming is, it is also easy to overthink it. We get caught up on the potential risks and failures we may encounter along the way. In years past we questioned how many seeds to plant because we didn’t know if anyone would want to eat the produce. Will it taste good, will it look good, will people want to buy it? We limited ourselves out of fear. There is always going to be potential risk but with each year we gain a little more experience and with that confidence in our farming know-how. We know to plant only what we are capable of maintaining. As a small family farm with no employees, we have to be mindful about the sheer number of hours it takes to maintain a farm. It is easy to become overwhelmed by weeds when you plant more than you are able to maintain by hand. When you follow organic growing practices there are few ways to control weeds, and for the first two years on the farm, we did not have many tools or resources to aid in weed control other than by hand. We want to plant smarter not harder this year.
We are heading into our spring planting with well cultivated, cover cropped land and yards and yards of reusable weed barrier. We know that if we reduce the hours spent on weed control we can increase our production and quality of life. We have taken many tips from Curtis Stone on weed management, click here, to hear one of his podcast episodes on it.
We know when it comes to spring planting you just have to plant the seed, try new things and take the failures as learning lessons and try again. What are your tried and true tips for successful spring planting?
Written by Nicole
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