CSA Week 11: Part II

Hey all!

Thanks for your patience and for coming back to take a look at what’s happening on the farm!

As I told you all last week, we are having some issues with our fall seedlings – stunted growth. We speculated it to be an issue brought on by either the heatwave that passed through a few weeks ago or a problem with the fertility of our potting mix. Well friends…speculate no more! Shout out to the 4th grade science fair and the scientific method. We have successfully hypothesized, experimented/controlled, analyzed and have come to a conclusion: Fertility is the culprit and here’s how we know that.

To get you up to speed…each spring we start off with a supply of potting mix for our seedlings that is primarily comprised of on farm compost. This compost spends an entire season in our greenhouse drying out and breaking down before it gets sifted and mixed up for seeding in the spring. (For reference: right now our potting mix compost for next spring is drying in our greenhouse).

Fast forward to about May of this year – we had planted and potted so much we had already worked through our allotted supply for this season (note: Potting mix is shared with Four Winds) but still had a lot of seeding left to do this season. Our options at this juncture were to either 1. buy in potting mix or 2. make our own. Having access to compost here on farm and for the sake of consistency and maintaining a closed loop farm, we chose the latter although this meant a little more labor for us. This labor was loading up trays of compost to dry out in our greenhouse for a few weeks, screening it free of clumps and debris and then mixing in the other potting mix elements.

We got through all of these steps…started using it…things started to grow…and then it got hot…and then our plants started looking sad. And now we are here: post heatwave and no breakthroughs to be had. Until…we did a little experiment. Last week while potting-up our seedlings we decided to use a half-tray of our potting mix side by side with a half-tray of last season’s potting mix – what we were using in the Spring (Four Winds still had some and let us use a bit) The results we saw the next day were astounding.

The left half of is our ‘new’ potting mix…the right is what we used from Four Winds.
These are the same plants seeded at the same time: the top two rows broccoli and the bottom two rows chard.

Following up these results with a bit of research, Sam made some further discoveries: it’s said that unfinished compost made with wood chips (like ours) can sometimes work against the plants – while trying to break down they end up competing for any available nitrogen. So the issue isn’t that our compost isn’t rich in nitrogen it’s simply that using compost that isn’t fully broken down wont have nitrogen yet available for the plants to use. That time in the greenhouse the compost gets each year is essential in finishing out what becomes our super nutrient rich potting mix in the spring. The compost we have been using straight from the pile and drying out just hasn’t been aged quite enough to be up to the task of becoming potting mix. Case closed.

What now? We’re working really hard to supplement our nitrogen deficiency by dunking our plants in Fish Emulsion each week. We’re also talking to farmer friends who might have some spare seedlings hanging around that we could buy. It’s been a confusing and frustrating road, but we’re glad we got some answers and we’re grateful (and humbled) to be learning and we’re extra grateful to be supported by you all on that journey.

On a light note free of farming words: We made some time to get off the farm all together last weekend to catch a HV Renegades game and we had such an amazing time 🙂

And in other really good news – our tomatoes totally here and doing some amazing work and we are very proud of them 🙂

Thanks for being here!


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