Friday, February 17, 2012

Now the Fun Begins: Practicality meet Creativity


The decrease in sunlight and heat during the winter season creates some interesting relationships in the greenhouse.  Although all growth slows down, some plants are much more sensitive to these climatic changes than others.  By observing these growing patterns over time, we must adjust our seeding patterns to increase the ecological and economic efficiency of the greenhouse.  Each week The Captain and I get together and sort through a list of all the open soil beds that were prepped and rested for at least a week; these are beds that are ready to be seeded.  In order to keep a lively and healthy soil system we maintain a rigorous crop rotation that ensures we never seed the same plant family in the same soil bed twice in a row.  Once a plant family like a lettuce (Compositae) has its final harvest, we move on to a new plant family which may include a carrot (Umbelliferae) or a spinach (Chenopod) for example.   To be doubly sure that no pests or pathogens can multiply or develop colonies in the soil, we make sure to rotate in at least 3 other plant families before we go back to a lettuce.  One complete cycle may look like this:  1st a carrot, 2nd a spinach, 3rd arugula and once all three of those crops have been seeded and harvested respectively we can start thinking about planting another bed of lettuce.  With 7 different plant families and plenty of diversity, this rotation offers a lot of options.  In winter the amount of weekly open beds is somewhere in the 4 to 6 range, in summer it's generally up in the 12+ range, so a major difference here.  When deciding what to plant, we take many factors and people into consideration.  The amount of sunlight, the phase of the moon we are in and the phase of the moon we are approaching, the rate of the seed's germination and growth, the plant family, the restaurants that we want to sell to and the market we want to be prepared for.  Each of these factors help us determine what and when we should seed.  After many years of observing and experiencing, The Captain has a great understanding of how we can proseed (too easy) most efficiently.  So here in January and February we know that certain vegetables such as...

turnips are in no rush to form their sweet, juicy roots, but we also know that they are very fussy vegetables and need a lot of space to put out these perfectly round, spherical refreshingly delicious turnips.  If they are planted too closely together we will end up with oddly shaped oblong turnips, so to counteract this we like to plant 6 rows instead of 12.  Now in a space as economically sensitive as the 1/2 acre greenhouse I work in at Stone Barns, we want to make sure we use as much bed space as we can as ecologically and economically efficient as possible.  So what do we do with those 6 other rows or 324 bed feet that would otherwise be empty?   

Well what about something that grows quicker than the turnips?  This way we can cut out the other 6 rows even before the turnips start forming their root.  

In each soil bed we do our best not to mix plant families which would in-turn hurt our crop rotation.  Since Turnip is in the mustard family, we were able to experiment by planting another mustard, which is a leafy salad mustard and one of my favorites named Ruby Streaks.  Ruby Streaks doesn't require a lot of space, grows much quicker than the turnip and most importantly is purple and looks pretty incredible in this bed.

The more I dive into farming the more I realize it's such an all encompassing industry.  You can find everything from art, architecture, food, health, spirituality, business, individuality, math, physics, chemistry and biology in any given day.   

Cool and getting cooler.