Early on in my farming adventure, or should I say career change with a huge learning curve, I learned that plants need a job. Nothing I have ever attempted has been as hard as farming. Even the simplest task of transplanting a little lettuce or cabbage start can go sideways. Is the ground temperature warm enough? Is the soil worked up enough? Did the plants get planted straight down or laid in sideways? Did they get firmed in enough when planted to reconnect capillary action? So many things that can be learned in a textbook, but really sink in when you have 3000 plants “talking to you.”
The last few weeks we have been in transplant mode with lots of lettuce, cabbages, kohlrabis and onions being transplanted out, plus peas and beans were directly seeded and thousands of more plants are getting seeded to be transplanted at a later date. I have learned over the years that once you “open the soil” the next few months are going to be anything but normal.
As an example, when we planted out those first transplants, we didn’t expect a mini heat wave. I have gotten more steps in a couple of days last week than I did all January. Those little plants went from a warm and coddled environment in the greenhouse, with daily watering, to being socially distanced and placed into soil. As hard as we try, those little plants rarely take off without some coddling. And coddling for us usually means filling up 2 gallon watering cans and walking up and down 200’ foot long rows watering every plant. Back and forth, back and forth, we could fire up the irritation (aka irrigation), but this early in the season it would be wasteful and efficient.
Joanna, our intrepid 11 year old, is a tireless worker. When she is not designing doll clothes, she can be found outside roller-blading or in the case of the last few weeks, walking alongside us watering little plants with those 2 gallon watering cans. She fills up 2, sets one down where she last stopped watering, empties the other and then gets the full one and empties it and heads back to the watering station. 20 trips later her row is finished. The other day I came home from the pack and she was out watering the newly planted cabbages.
At that moment, I smiled, she got it. Each of our children have had their own moment when farming became real. So I told Joanna that I have affectionately renamed these first few crops Jo-abbage, Jo-rabi and Jo-ettuce. And as we were walking by the onions and lettuce transplants, she asked if we needed to water these. I told her that just the onions needed water and that she could do the half row and then go play. She didn’t ask about why we weren’t going to water the lettuce, but I will tell you. Early on the lettuce plants struggled a bit and we were watering every other day, but when I looked at them, I knew that they were at the critical stage, where continued watering would actually set them back. They needed a job and that job was to begin to establish deeper roots.