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Set in My Ways, or So I Thought

February 3, 2017

It’s been a long time since I have seen such fervor surrounding much of anything since the wave of electric pressure cookers has swept across the kitchen landscape.

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When my slow cooker gave up the ghost last summer, I bought an electric pressure cooker, specifically an Instant Pot.  I have not looked back since.  However in that time I have been chided, and praised equally.  People either love or hate the idea of this small kitchen appliance. I did not “sell out”, rather I have a new outlook on cooking that I’ve haven’t felt in years, decades to be exact.  I am a reluctant cook.  I would rather be outside, doing anything.  Instant Pot, thank you, cooking is kind of fun now. I’ve convinced a few farming friends (men) to get one and they love it too.

A good friend of mine has had an electric pressure cooker for a good many years, and she loves it, and always raved about it.  Dinner would be ready when she got home from work, and if she had to work late which was often, the smart electric pressure cooker would switch to the keep warm setting after the cooking time was completed.  No! I don’t want a hot meal waiting for me when I come home from a long, trying day at work.  Said. No. One. Ever.  Stop that you damn pot!!!

I have to admit I was a little skeptical while she raved, but she kept on raving and posting about her delicious meals.  So over the years an idea was planted, and I did some research.  I too was chiding myself.  You don’t need this said the little voice.  I already have a stove top pressure cooker, I have a slow cooker, I have good stock pots, and a cast iron collection that would boggle your mind.  But, I wanted this new pressure cooker.  So the struggle in my mind went on for a long time.  I am not a gadget person.  How many people do you know that don’t own a Kitchenaid mixer?  Be truthful.  Not many I bet.  Well, I don’t own one.  I bake bread, I bake pies, I bake just about anything, I do not own a stand mixer.  It would just be a waste because I really don’t bake that much, and as much as I want one just to look at the colors, that would be a colossal waste of money for me.  Plus I couldn’t pick which color to go with my Fiestaware anyway, so that’s that. Just not into kitchen stuff. But an Instant Pot isn’t just another gadget that will languish in your kitchen.

Six months in now, I find that I am using the Instant Pot more and more.  I don’t see myself ever making a cheesecake or something like macaroni and cheese in an electric pressure cooker.  There are a few settings I probably will never use, maybe.  But who knows.  Where it excels for me is cooking meats, bone broth, beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Soups and stews are a close second.  The sauté function is nice, you can brown your meat, remove the meat, add your mirepoix, cook that a bit, add the meat back in, a cup or so of liquid, close ‘er up, set the timer, or function button and bye, bye.  You can leave.  (And I don’t know about you but I am that person who has blown the weight off the stovetop pressure cooker when cooking beans while I got distracted :p) When you come back you have a meal, or the makings of one.

The bone broth is a work of art every single time.  BIP (before Instant Pot) my broth making sessions were always hit and miss.  Too cloudy, too smelly for hours on end in the kitchen, (cue vomiting sounds, sorry it just isn’t appetizing to me) mostly due to the fact that I am a reluctant cook.  I’d boil it a little too much, and the results were just not consistent enough for my liking.  I’m into nuances of a field to table meal as much as any bona fide foodie, but wow, Instant Pot you take the guesswork out of it.  Consistent to die for broth every single time, and no kitchen smell.  I’m in heaven.

So if you know of anyone who is busy, likes to make great meals for their loved ones, and is open to try new things I would highly suggest this as a gift.  If that someone is you, don’t wait.  The Instant Pot has truly been a gift to myself.

Feeding Shed Particulars

January 30, 2017

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Since we’re in the thick of the winter feeding period, this is as good a time as any to talk about the whys and hows of deep bedding.  And believe me I have a shit ton of thoughts about this system.

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WHY:  For many years we fed our cows outside by hauling the feed to them and feeding on clean ground (where we hadn’t fed yet) and by far that is the simplest way to feed cattle in winter.  Throw the hay in pickup and drive along dropping hay.  I used to do this by myself, put the truck in low-range, first gear, and head for an open spot, get out of the cab and climb in the back.  I am no longer nimble enough to do this by myself.  So this job requires two people, or one if you’re willing to pack the bales and spread them by hand.  Feeding outside does distribute the manure and leftover hay well (yeah! fertilizer and re-seeding), but there is a price for convenience, lots of vehicle and animal impact on wet soil. And the worst in my opinion is that the cattle are constantly nipping at the plants.  Of course I am talking about non-brittle Western Oregon, the ground doesn’t freeze much at all, and we rarely have snow cover to protect the pasture.  Even though the grass isn’t growing this would be considered over-grazing and if you consider over-grazing costs you 30% of your pasture growth the following growing season, that is a sobering thought.  Feeding outside works great in brittle or cold areas, but that is not my farm’s makeup.  I think sadly that the biggest thing missing these days in the information era of farming is the ability to discern.  Joe Blow is bale grazing in the North Dakota prairie and it seems to work, so Nita in Western Oregon thinks, hey I need to do that… well, one size does not fit all.  Each farm and each farmer is different, do your homework.

April 2016

April 2016

These days we do a little of both.  The first few years with the feeding shed, we strictly kept the cows in a small sacrifice area and didn’t allow them access to the pasture at all in the winter.  I really didn’t like that (and the cows didn’t either.) it was just too muddy.  Our farm lies on both sides of a county road, and it is difficult due to traffic to rotate through all the pastures during the grazing season.  So the pasture in the zone one area is always reserved for hay and the house cow.  Not much true animal impact and only one use, hay.  It’s good to change things up in the rotational grazing world, different species or different uses, and the timing of those uses bring in more diversity. One use repeated the same time every year stalls the landscape and adapts the plants there to that one use. It’s always good to mix things up. So with that in mind, we decided to allow the cattle into the hay-field/pasture in the off-season while still feeding and bedding in the feeding shed.  Our thinking was that the cattle using the pasture for a while in the off-season would get some much-needed disturbance going.  We also needed them as bushwhacker supremes to work on the hay-field edges as the brush was starting to encroach due to just cutting hay each year in that pasture.  Not only do cattle like to browse to balance their diet, they love to itch and scratch on brush.  A small thicket can be destroyed by cattle if that is what you want. So these days, when we are done with the rotation of stockpiled forage and need to start feeding hay we move the cows across the road and onto the pasture in the photo above which is adjacent to the hay barn and feeding shed.  We allow access to the pasture during the winter months if there is no grass growth, but once we start to see the tiniest bit of new green (usually about the first or second week of March) we restrict the cattle to a sacrifice area.  A sacrifice area is an area that basically you’re okay trashing in order to save an area of pasture you don’t want to trash.

I feel it’s only to fair to mention that no matter how you choose to feed your livestock there is no free lunch, it’s all work, just different work at different times.  Setting up a deep bedding system is not a time-saving practice, it is a on-farm fertility capture practice. Basically protecting high value manure and urine from being wasted during the wet months when it will just degrade in the weather and possibly runoff.  Proper manure handling makes economic and ecological sense.

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HOW: The term deep bedding simply means allowing bedding to build up during the winter months. A marriage of manure, urine and carbon that keeps the cattle clean and comfortable since it heats up as the bedding pack builds, and keeps manure odors at bay.  We use straw, but any carbon material that you can easily procure and store is fine.  Low carbon materials like straw can’t absorb as much moisture as high carbon materials like sawdust, so we need to bed almost daily.  If you have access to, or want to spend the money wood chips, sawdust or shavings work well and since the carbon content is higher you won’t need to add bedding as often.

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Also just because you have barn and animals doesn’t mean that deep bedding is a good fit.  The barn design is very important.  We built this barn in the photo above exactly like the barn that was here before.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I love this barn, but one season of deep bedding and we realized that we were in danger of ruining our wood siding with bedding buildup, and it was a bugger to clean out.  Scratch that idea.

Deep doodoo - four feet to be exact

Deep doodoo – four feet to be exact

Like most things farmstead related, the beginning and the daily doing is pretty easy.  It’s the harvesting and processing that will kill you.  Most crops are pretty innocent as seeds or starts but when ten pounds of seed potatoes turns into one hundred pounds that need digging, packing and storing it’s a whole other ballgame.  Likewise with a deep bedded manure pack that you and the cows work on a daily basis.  You put in the bedding, the cows add their manure and urine and then proceed to compact the material into a nice tidy chunk of material that is hard to clean out without equipment.  And a good equipment operator.  Because this is a task that cannot be done by hand labor, you need to take into consideration the best way for equipment access.  We built this shed exactly the opposite way we did on the other barn.  Open entrances on the ends instead of the side.  Cows are flexible like that, tractors are not. The shed is much easier to clean when you can drive straight through. Confession time here too, I have never cleaned out this deep bedding, either my husband does it, or my daughter,  my hat is off to them, it is a big job and takes some finessing with the equipment.

Deep bedding 2016

Deep bedding 2016

A few key points:

♥  Don’t deep bed if you don’t want to use equipment to clean out the barn.  You don’t have to own a tractor, but you do need to be able to borrow or rent the necessary equipment to do the spring clean out.  The task is just too great to manage by hand unless you only have one cow or at most two. And personally I wouldn’t recommend deep bedding for dairy cows just because of udder cleanliness issues.

♥  Using pigs to loosen the deep bedding before clean out works too, you just need to be prepared to have about 25 feeder pigs on hand when you turn the cows out.  We just weren’t that into selling pork and had disappointing results with a handful of porkers.

♥  Deep bedding will require some cash outlay to obtain carbon for bedding.  Plus you need a place to store the bedding to keep it dry.  One way to offset this in your mind is to think of this as your fertilizer expenditure.

♥  Don’t be tempted to use hay as bedding because the whole idea is to provide a clean, manure free space for your stock to eat.  Bedding should be unpalatable, in my opinion.  Cows by instinct are able to avoid soiled bedding when they eat, but calves don’t always have their repugnance zones established and may eat soiled bedding and pick up parasites.  It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.  DON’T FEED YOUR CATTLE HAY ON THE BARN FLOOR despite what you see on the internet.

♥  Allow for a feeder in your design plan, see previous note. Feeder design depends on your hay supply.  We use manufactured feeder panels that the cattle have to put their heads through in order to eat.  We use small square bales so this works for us, if you buy in hay you’re at the mercy of the hay seller, it may be round bales, or large squares.  We designed our feeder panel to raise and lower to accommodate bedding depth, so take that into consideration too.

♥  If possible have your feeding shed next to your hay and bedding storage.  We just added a shed to the side of the hay barn so the hay is right where we need it.

Every farm is different so take all these ideas and personal thoughts with a grain of salt when reading this post, what works for me, may not work the best with what you have to work with.  Just my two cents.

 

A New Year, and an Amended Plan. Sort of.

January 28, 2017
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Jude

Jude

Well, long time, no write.  I’ve been absent from this space so long, it’s hard to know where to start.  Maybe with a Hi (insert waving hand).  Many times I have sat down and got to the point of transferring photos to the gallery for a blog post and then writer’s block or blogger’s block sets in.  So many things have changed, and stayed the same it’s hard to know what to write about.  Jane and Jude need a proper blog post, the garden reduction plan needs a blog post, and since many “readers” on Instagram are new I think the whys and hows of why we use a feeding shed in the winter is a good candidate also. Instagram is great and more real-time, but you can’t really get into the nitty-gritty of much of anything.  Plus typing is just so much more enjoyable than texting.

We miss our old doggie, Melvin, but I have to honestly say two dogs is a good fit.  Especially two dogs that get along.  Melvin and Grady wanted to fight to the death every single day.  Many times I wanted to strangle the both of them, and I am sure Trace did too. Trace pushing ten is showing signs of age, and Grady, at three is getting, let’s just say, more mature.  I’ve had mostly Aussies in my life, so I have no idea if their propensity for turning into a calm dog at age four is the same with other breeds or not.  But, sigh, we’re almost there with Grady.  He acts about 20% pup, and 80% dog now.  And he loves his big brother Trace (sometimes too much according to Trace) so not a hint of any kind of aggression.

Our winter this year has been like the winters of my childhood, lots of snow and our usual transition from cold spells with a whopping ice storm.  We’ve had two, and I have to honestly say, I don’t like it much.  Too much work just to maintain the heat, water, and livestock.  We have definitely gotten spoiled these past few mild winters.  We went into winter with a full barn of hay, and an overflowing woodshed so I shouldn’t really grumble too much.

So, I’ll leave off now with hopes to try to blog on a regular schedule.

Farm Dogs

August 31, 2016
Shan 9/23/01 - 8/31-16

Shan 9/23/01 – 8/31-16

Long time no post for sure.  While it has seemed like for a long time writing about the day to day, year to year farm stuff here is pretty boring, once in a while milestones are passed.  We made the decision this past week to put down our faithful Mel before life for him became undignified.  It’s awful hard to let go of a pet, especially a velcro dog like my Shan.  He absolutely could not relax unless he knew where all of his humans were.  He definitely was no cattle dog, not in any sense.  But we didn’t buy him to be a cattle dog.  Our cows are pretty much confined, never need herding or chasing, but having a dog that has a smidgen of cow sense can be helpful.  House calf un-tethered or out of bounds?  Shan would bark, not just any a bark, a bark that told you to listen, something is awry in the barnyard.  Our dogs are companion dogs plain and simple with a little garden guard dogging on the side.  Cheaper than a tall deer fence and much easier to look at.

We will miss our old boy terribly, but he really resented old-age and having to be helped to get up every single time he needed to go outside, or up and down the stairs.  A few months ago Bill at Practicing Resurrection wrote an obituary for one of his goats, Penny Lany Guerrant and I thought that was a nice touch, I wish I had thought of the idea myself.  Thanks Bill, for writing that. Here is Mel’s obituary.

Trapper Creek Blue Moon Mel

9/23/01 – 8/31/16

Blue Moon Mel (Shan) was born in Gresham, Oregon and moved to a farm in the Egypt area of Larch Mountain at age 7 weeks. Mel is survived by his human parents and sister, and his adopted brothers Tracey Darryl and Grady Badger. His wife Belle preceded him in death, they had no children.

Mel’s first job on the farm was to plant garlic and he continued to do so each year until this year. One of his favorite pastimes was gardening, but his true calling was farm security and half-hearted barn cat chasing. He was a natural at knowing just where to stand to get an errant cow to go the absolute wrong way… however; he made up for that by barking when the milk cow was headed for the corn patch each time the milkmaid forgot to secure the gate. Mel never met a foe he couldn’t keep at bay, and notches in his collar included bobcat, bear, raccoon, numerous skunks, countless deer and elk, and possibly a cougar or two steered clear because Mel was on duty. Mel worked full time in farm security until the age of 6 when he began splitting his time between guard dog duties and teaching his younger brother Trace to be his replacement in the garden and orchard.

At his request there will be no service, and he will be buried in the orchard near the deer trail where he can keep guard.

Changing Scale

April 13, 2016

Nothing like an injury to bring you up short, and make you reassess.  It’s been six months since I hurt my knee, and with lots of gingerly stepping here and there, and physical therapy under my belt, I feel ready to spring into action…he, he well sort of.  Over winter, with more time to think, and pretend to be wiser, I have come to the conclusion that I need to, want to, cut back on my gardening endeavors.  A variety of factors came together in my mind this winter, perusing garden notes, pantry inventory, and just plain being tired of being stressed out about weeding, etc., brought to my current garden plan of cutting back in some ways and changing how I am gardening. I grew a lot of food last year that we just didn’t eat.  Sure I can feed the surplus food to the hens or now the piglets, but in reality it represents waste, and a waste of effort that may be better spent in other areas.

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I am going to make good on my yearly threat of using half my space for gardening and half my space for fallow/cover cropping.  Using drip irrigation last year was a freeing practice.  After years of doing dryland and bioextensive gardening, I am ready to give up change to more intensive plantings and drip irrigation.

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My experiment with sudan grass last year as a winter-kill cover crop was the cat’s meow.  So much biomass and so dead.  I am weary of green manures that never die.  Too much tillage, and always the potential that you get a wet year and end up with cover crop like this back one in 2010.  No thanks.

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Intensive is the word this year.  I quickly learned last year that I was still planting too much at one time despite my strict succession planting schedule.  Tiny baby seeds are so innocent, even tiny plants are innocent, my biggest downfall was harvesting and processing, those innocent little seeds and transplants grow up to be big demanding plants.  So this year, I may plant as many plants or row feet of a vegetable over the course of the growing season, but I am going to break the successions into smaller bites.  Smaller bites means less to harvest and freeze or eat, and represents a change in my mindset of freezing 10 gallons of snap peas (or whatever), I may end up with 10 gallons, but they will be in more manageable quantities spread out over time, not several gallons at a whack.

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So without further ado, here are my plans (not set in stone, my family still doesn’t believe that I will actually plant less) but I’m pretty much sticking to the paradigm shift and breathing a sigh of relief.  One less guilt trip to contend with.  I’ll start with the main garden pictured above and just move from west to east to give you an idea of our layout.  I use my tiller for my bed shaping/row width so in my garden binder I just use ruled notebook paper, and each line represents a row.  It’s easy to jot down variety notes and dates with this format, and the margins are wide enough for more long-winded notations.  This garden has nine rows including the fallow outside rows, leaving seven rows to plant if we choose.  In this garden we will only plant two rows and work on stale seedbeds (weed the soil not the crop) for the remaining rows and sow to a late summer sudan/field pea cover crop for winter.

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Next up is Greenhouse 1, we usually start planting in this greenhouse because it has power, and we can consolidate seed starting and planting.  It’s a nice space to be in during late winter, while unheated there is still some solar gain even on a cloudy Pacific Northwest winter day.  We treat this growing space just like an early garden, greens successions, early potatoes, snap pea, carrots and beets planted in successions, and some summer onions like Walla Walla Sweets and Red Long of Tropea that can just be harvested as needed.

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Sugar Sprint peas from transplants.

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This entire row is devoted to quick succession salad blocks, and some later maturing early cabbages, kale and broccoli.  I just move south down the row when the next succession is ready for transplanting, in this row is arugula, tokyo bekana, joi choi, kohlrabi, cabbages (3 varieties), kale (4 varieties) broccoli, and one small block of romaine lettuce.  As blocks age out, I will just amend and plant again to a fast growing crop.

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Succession planting keeps you moving, these little plants will soon be ready to transplant.

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Directly adjacent is Greenhouse 2, which suits warm weather crops better, although I do grow some cool weather crops in here on occasion.  This greenhouse has six rows also to play with.  The plan this year is to work on the cleaning up the weed bank in rows one and six and planting those to overwinter brassicas.  Not so much for winter protection because the poly will come off come November, but more to neaten up the outside garden space and allow us to plant a complete cover crop outside, without a row in the middle needing harvesting.

In order to use plastic mulch and drip irrigation we prepared the entire space even though we have only planted about two and a half rows.  The tomatoes (red row) and strawberries are all planted, and a few zucchini and slicing cucumbers are planted in the cucurbit row, leaving room for later successions of melons, butternut squash and a few more cucumber plants at a later date.  I have to say I am not entirely convinced that the red mulch makes a difference over other colors, but I have a roll of it, and I am determined to use it up.  Truth be told, I am so enamored with the results of the Sunbelt weed barrier I am using, that I will at some point probably invest in that, something that can be used for many years.

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The final space is our square garden that consists of twenty-two rows, and will be easy to divide in half.  One half will be planted, and the other half fallowed and cover cropped.  Next year we can swap.  The plan is to plant less potatoes and winter squash, and probably skip a year of flint corn, since we just didn’t eat as much of those items this past winter.  The jury is still out on sweet corn too, I’ve got two months to decide on that one, and possibly the corn space just may go to popcorn this year.

So the plan is loose, but it feels right at least for this year.  As long as I take care of my garden space by cover cropping, it would be easy to scale up if the need arises.  Even though I will be doing less gardening it is kind of exciting to be doing something different with the garden spaces this year.

 

Garden Notes March 13, 2016

March 13, 2016

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All those little tiny seeds I wrote about back in February had to be dealt with this past week. Either by transplanting in their final home or in the case of teeny tiny little herbs and flowers, potted up to the next size with fresh soil.

plastic reinstalled

plastic reinstalled

 

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Greenhouse winterkill cover crop – March 2016

A true testament to how wet our winter has been, it took almost two weeks for the soil to dry out enough for basic tillage after reinstalling the poly cover.  Last year after our extremely dry winter, the soil dried out in about 5 days.

I experimented last year with sorghum sudan grass as a cover crop in the greenhouse and in part of the garden.  My early planting in the greenhouse was perfect, it supplied a good smother in late summer early fall and kept weed seeds from germinating or getting much of a foot hold and grew tall enough to provide a good amount of biomass.  One note of interest is that an early summer cover crop of buckwheat suppressed the growth of the following sorghum sudan cover crop.  The sorghum sudan on that side germinated fine, but grew much slower and was about twelve inches shorter than the side of the greenhouse that had grown vegetables all spring and summer when the first hard frost knocked it out.

First and final tillage for the year 3/11/2016

3/11/2016

A weather year like this is pretty typical, and where the greenhouse really shines as garden.  Going back through my garden notes, some years we haven’t been able to plant outside until mid or even late June, more typical though is mid to late May.  Two or three months on the early end is a lot of season extension, and well worth the expense if you want to avoid going to the store for your produce, and you like to garden.  A recent ad in our farm paper for hoop houses like these were priced from $1.20 to $2.00 per square foot depending on style.  Not bad considering how much food you can grow in a structure like these during the shoulder seasons.

Tokyo Bekana

Tokyo Bekana

 

Joi Choi

Joi Choi

 

Desiree potato

Desiree potato

Planting list:

Early potatoes – Dark Red Norland, and Desireé

Transplants
Packman Broccoli
Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage
Joi Choi Bok Choy
Kolibri kohlrabi
Parris Island Romaine lettuce
Basic Arugula
Almost Black & Chocolate Flake Sweet Pea

Direct Seed
Detroit Dark Red beets
Napoli carrot

Pot on
Gem Marigolds – Red, Tangerine, Lemon
Chocolate Lace Queen Anne’s Lace
Sage
Oregano
Thyme
Celeriac

Now that seeding and planting season has begun, my goal is to start or plant something each week.

 

Some Seed Starting

March 6, 2016
plastic reinstalled

plastic reinstalled

Now that my daughter and I wrestled the plastic back on one greenhouse – ugh – we are waiting for the soil to dry enough to work for planting, and for a day when we have more help for the next one.  Too. Much. Work.

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The sorghum sudan cover crop winter killed as I had hoped and really protected the soil from our heavy winter rains.  In December we received 25.4″ of rain, it’s a blur now, but I don’t think we had more than a handful of days without rain that month.

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Now the tedious seed starting season commences.  Lists of varieties and succession dates will be the job now.

February 10, 2016

February 10, 2016

Plants I seeded in early February are almost ready to transplant in the ground or be potted on in the case of slow growers like herbs and flowers.

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Heat mat real estate is at a premium so I have to be on my toes when planning how to best use the heat mat to my advantage.  The heat mats I have utilize 1020 flats, which means the flats are 10 x 20 inches.  You can purchase inserts with many different cell sizes to maximize the use of each flat. I most commonly use 200 cell, and six-pack size that give me 48 cells per flat. Determining cell size depends on what each type of plant needs.  Or actually how long that seedling going to be in the cell before you transplant or pot on is the most important.  The heat mat supplies bottom heat for germination and usually runs about 20°F more than the ambient temperature.  We start our seeds in an unheated greenhouse, where the temperature ranges from 30°F at night to as high as 100°F during the day with a few sun breaks.  We don’t use a thermostat, so we have to rely on our wits and paying attention to the weather to keep from freezing or burning up our plants.  Most days the heat mat is off due to higher temperatures during the day even if it’s cloudy or rainy.  Definitely not a hands off system.

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My goal always is to get the seeds germinated and off the heat mat as soon as possible and use that heat mat space to start more plants.  If I use the 200 cell flats as opposed to the 48 cell for instance I can start 200 plants in the same time that I can start 48, and the sooner you can get the flats off the heat mat, the less it costs to use the heat mat.  To make sure I am not wasting time though by being so efficient with my 200 cell inserts, I have to make sure I group my seeds in groups of plants that need the same temperatures to germinate and most importantly, seeds that have the same germination times.  I does me no good to plant slow germinating celeriac that may take 21 days to germinate in the same insert with quick germinating bok choy or something of that nature.  To remedy this, I simply took some of my 200 cell packs and cut them in half length-wise to give me 100 cells, and that will take up only half the flat.  Many times I use the home-made 100’s with each other and simply remove the fast germinating 100 insert when it’s time, and then I can replace it with another, or 6 packs and still use that heat or actually not waste it.

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Size does matter in determining what and how many seeds to plant.  Fast germinating and fast growing peas can be started in a 200 cell insert too, we just need to move them out sooner than some other plants.  By starting peas in a flat instead of direct seeding we can shave off about a week of worry in case the weather turns on us.  With a hoophouse you make your own weather, so to speak.  And a 200 cell flat works out perfect for our pea system.  We use hog panels for pea trellising, simple to move and install, a couple of t-posts and some scrap twine and you have an instant trellis that lasts for years, and can even keep a hog in too.  Note: if you are growing tall peas you might want to use a cattle panel to give your peas enough trellis height.

pea plugs in the furrow last summer

pea plugs in the furrow last summer

Hog and cattle panels come in 16′ lengths, and it just so happens that 32 row feet of peas (a row on each side of the panel) is about all I can keep up picking during the growing season.  So how many peas do I need?  First I determine plant spacing which can be found either on the seed packet or in a seed catalog under the culture box.  I usually plant peas about 2″ apart, so I need to know how many inches I have to work with.  I figure it out like this:  16′ (hog panel length)  x 12″ (number of inches per foot) = 192″ / 2″ = 96″  Perfect, I need 96 pea plugs (or seeds if direct seeding) per side of my hog panel trellis.  If you round up, and I always do with live things, a 200 count cell insert is perfect for pea starting.  Simplified, one flat of 200 starts is needed for each panel, this is good to know if I want to increase my plantings, or if I need to squeeze another succession of peas in on the heat mat.  I could use less cells and give the peas more room, but then I would need 2 or 3 more flats to germinate the same amount of starts.

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Our peas we planted the other day are already showing signs of germinating, so we really have gained about a week with just this crop alone.

I learned my lesson long ago to not be in too much of a hurry, one year with grow lights on my plants allowed me to start plants too early.  I ended up with a lot of plants and cool, inclement weather.  Now I wait until our greenhouse has enough natural light to sustain the seedlings and it seems to coincide with proper conditions for planting when the plants are ready.

A couple of rules I stick by:

♥  Organic potting soil for seed starting.  It has a little bit of organic fertilizer and when the plants get started they don’t miss a beat.  It also is less troublesome than seed starting mix when it comes time to keep the flats properly watered.  For plants that will be in the cells for a month or so, we add extra fertilizer to the mix before filling the flats.

♥  I make sure my heat mat is working before I want to start seeds.  Hard lesson learned by the Queen of Procrastination.

♥  I buy extra and seed more than I think I need so in case of some type of failure, I will have enough plants to fit my planting plans.

♥  Keep good garden notes, so I can see what worked and what didn’t.

I think the hardest part of writing a blog post is a conclusion…no way to conclude a post about seed starting except to say Happy Seed Starting!