Experimental farming

Farming is an experiment. Especially in the beginning, though I expect we will continue to experiment for the rest of our lives. I wonder if experiment is the right word, though, since we often don’t understand what we’re testing for or why something works or doesn’t work. Farming involves guessing, intuition and flexibility.

I have to remind myself that failure is a learning experience, which can be a hard thing to do. It’s hard not to feel disappointed when our seedlings are stunted. What if this whole experiment is a failure?

It’s a test of our relationship, too, seeing how we deal with things not going right. I might be exaggerating a bit, since I’m just talking about tomato and pepper seedlings, but there is some stress when neither of us know what is the best action to take.

I know everything will work out fine in the end. We can buy seedlings if we need to. We could even buy our wedding dinner ingredients (we’ll have to buy at least some). But it would be nice to have a beautiful, healthy garden.

Our sad tomato seedlings

Here’s what’s happening with the seedlings… We planted three kinds of tomatoes and two kinds of peppers on April 15. We put them on a table in Beth’s greenhouse. They germinated fairly well, got to be about an inch high and stopped growing all together. Many of them still haven’t grown their first true leaves (meaning they only have two tiny leaves).

Our happy scavenged tomato seedlings

It’s a mystery. Beth gave us some reject tomato seedlings that were also very sad looking at the beginning of this month. We re-potted those and they have far surpassed our own tomatoes. We kept those under grow lights in our spare room. This would lead me to believe that our seedlings don’t like Beth’s greenhouse. But she has tomatoes in her greenhouse that are doing great. Hmmmm… curious. Let me know if you have any ideas.

We started potting up some of our pepper seedlings, thinking that might help them, but then we ran out of space under our lights. So we decided to build one of our chicken tractors early and use it as a cold frame for our seedlings.

Potting up tomatoes and peppers

The base our our chicken tractor/cold frame

We used scrap wood we got through Midcoast Freecycle, but we did buy screws, corner brackets and a roll of metal strap hanger (which we joked is the novice carpenter’s best friend). With the brackets and strap hanger, our joints hold firmly together even if our cuts aren’t perfect and the wood splits a little as we put in screws.

Finished structure

Since we didn’t have very much wood, we decided to make a 59-square-foot A-frame. We’ll probably put 20-25 chickens inside, depending on whether we choose to give them two or three square feet per bird. We’ll have to build another structure for the rest of the meat birds (we ordered 50 chicks).

Completed (for now)

We made panels and covered them with plastic to make a cold frame, or small unheated greenhouse. It’s not perfect, and the plastic doesn’t do much to keep the inside warmer than the outside. We’re still experimenting with it. We might put blankets over the whole structure overnight. We also plan to move it somewhere sunnier than our driveway. But in the meantime, we have our brassicas and some herbs inside the structure and out of the wind at least. Check out the Photos page for more pictures of us building the chicken tractor/cold frame.

Cucumber seedlings

Still under lights in the spare room we have beautiful cucumber seedlings, loads of tomatoes, some lettuce and newly planted watermelons and cantaloupes! We love melons!

In the garden we’ve planted onions, potatoes, carrots and beets. Soon the danger of frost will pass and we’ll plant many more crops in the garden. In the meantime, we’re still trying to figure out where to put all our seedlings as we pot them up into any sort of plastic container we can find. The tomatoes really seem to take off when they have more space for their roots.

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3 responses to “Experimental farming

  1. Boy can I relate to gardening being a never-ending experiment with lots of failures to learn from! After many years, it’s still that way for me. A thought about tomato and pepper seedlings – my experience has told me that they need heat and light. Is the greenhouse heated?
    Love the use of free materials for the tractor/coldframe

  2. Yeah– we have failed with apple trees, cherry trees, one raspberry planting, nut trees, some years’ tomato crops,….. I could suggest from bitter experience of being too stubborn that once heat loving plants like tomato and pepper and eggplant plants are stunted and set back past a certain point they don’t ever recover and it’s time to dump them and get new ones….. Hard to know where that point is but it does happen…. Hang in there- there are important failures and unimportant ones…..

  3. Sarah Bockian

    This is why gardening breaks my heart. It seems like you can do everything right and then at the last minute you turn your back for a second and a rabbit and a slug team up and eat your whole garden. It gives me a real appreciation for people whose livelihoods depend on their crops.

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