Celebrating the Sun
After several days of minus temperatures, it seemed that we would continue into one of the coldest winters, we have had on the farm in Mukaishima. Reports of pipes freezing and bursting around our community were coming in high numbers. Our shower nozzle expanded creating a leak in the plastic material. Fortunately, we were able to turn it off since there is a shut off valve on the unit where the water flows through. The inner ring will need to be replaced in the unit. Usually it is never this cold in our region, inside the home we keep the wood stove going and often sit at the Kotatsu(Japanese heated table) to keep warm.
Looking at the forecast for January 13-15th it was going to get warm. I began to clean and prep in and around our greenhouse. Although it is hard to imagine warm days ahead with the recent cold weather, spring will be approaching soon. Many plants can be started early to get an early harvest. These past few days have led up to Makar Sankrati, a Hindu festival day celebrated in certain parts of India and Nepal. This is related to the sun entering into the Capricorn zodiac, signifying longer days ahead. The sun is essential for all life on the earth, and is critical for plant germination. As seeds lie dormant, the suns energy and rays help them to spring back to life after the cold months.
From January 14th, we seeded pumpkins, beans, cucumbers, watermelon, eggplant, tomatoes, chili peppers, sweet peppers, okra, lettuce, cabbage, and onions. We may not have complete success with these early seedings, however, I am always willing to experiment on the farm.
We use an electric seed mat(pictured left), in the greenhouse, and cover with one layer of plastic folded over to create two layers of plastic. The seed mat is raised off the ground, sitting on a metal mesh table. Keeping the seed mat off the ground is important to keep the slugs from getting to the plants so easily. We have used some sticky traps, hanging in the center of the germination chamber to catch aphids and other pests, who might feed on the young plants. Many plants like peppers, okra, tomatoes, watermelon, eggplant, and cucumbers require 20-30 degrees celsius to germinate. Our day time temperatures should reach this within our germination zone. Some farmers and gardeners use artificial light as well, but we have not used this at our farm.
Instead of using plastic cups, I am using a soil block tool I purchased many years ago, made in the UK. The soil-blocks reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic on the farm and can help to naturally prune the roots of young seedlings. As plants grow upward their roots grow at a corresponding rate. The soil blocks help to prevent the plants` roots from outgrowing themselves. I seeded the lettuce and onions in paper pot cells, seeding over 250 lettuce plants in a few minutes, and seeding nearly 600 onions, in a matter of seconds.
Many of the seeds sown, were seeds that we have collected over the past three years at the farm. Seed saving is an integral part of the "sustainability" aspect of our farm. Seed saving, though time consuming is a lost art/skill. In certain parts of the world this is with out a doubt one of the most essential means of feeding a persons family and community. Though it is difficult to know whether or not our seeds will germinate with success, each year we have improved upon this process. As we improve upon these skills of seed saving, and growing plants from seed, I believe that they will be incredibly important for our community in the future.