Photos and text by Debbie Roos, Agricultural Extension Agent.
A healthy crop starts with a healthy transplant. Most vegetables at Perry-winkle farm are transplanted except for beans, okra, carrots, beets, and salad greens which are are direct-seeded. The majority of the flowers are also transplanted, except for zinnias and sunflowers.
In the photo above, Perry-winkle farmworker Chris opens the compost tumbler which they use to mix their own special blend of potting mix. They augment commercial soilless mix (Fafard #2) with vermicompost (worm castings), rock phosphate, and bloodmeal for their transplant mix. Perry-winkle employs 3-5 part-time farmworkers throughout the season.
Cathy instructs volunteer Corrie-Lynn on how to fill the seeding flats with the fresh soil mix. Perrywinkle benefits from several volunteer farmworkers throughout the season, usually people who want a rural farm experience. They get paid in veggies and flowers!
All the transplants at Perrywinkle are grown in this passive solar greenhouse constructed from Hebel block – aerated autoclaved concrete that is very strong and lightweight with excellent insulating properties.
Greenhouse interior in early May. No supplemental heat is needed, even during the winter when day-time interior temperatures can reach in the 80s on a sunny day. At night the greenhouse keeps temperatures above freezing.
Summer interior temperatures can be kept comparable to the outdoors by opening vents in and over the doors and with a series of vents across the front of the house at bench height.
The roof and glass sides of the greenhouse were oriented so that the low angle of the winter sun would fully penetrate the interior. In summer, the house is kept cooler since the high angle of the sun does not reach all the way into the interior.
Winstrip flats are used for growing seedlings such as these tomatoes and leeks because they are durable and last many years.
Close-up of basil seedlings. Vermiculite is sprinkled on top of the seeded flats to cover the seed for germination. Vermiculite helps prevent the soil surface from staying too wet and helps combat algae growth and damping-off disease.
These eggplant transplants are ready to be hardened off before going to the field. The small spots on the leaves are aphid mummies (see below).
Close-up of underside of eggplant leaf with aphid mummies.
Because no synthetic pesticides are used at Perry-winkle, they have a large and diverse population of beneficial insects, both in the field and in the greenhouse. This parasitic Aphidius wasp is a natural enemy of pest aphids which damage crops. This adult wasp on an eggplant leaf in the greenhouse just emerged from the aphid mummy at left – notice the “trap door” exit hole. The adult wasp lays its egg inside the live aphid, then the wasp larva hatches and consumes the aphid. The wasp pupates inside the dead aphid, finally cutting an exit hole when it has completed its life cycle and emerges from the aphid’s carcass. Pretty cool, huh?
A cold frame on the south side of the greenhouse is used for hardening off transplants before going to the field. It provides a transition zone between the greenhouse and the “real world” conditions of the field. Plastic is rolled down at night to protect the plants from the cold temperatures in spring.
Cathy secures the plastic covering so the plants can enjoy the sunshine for the day. Plants normally spend at least a week in the cold frame before being planted in the field.
Chris loads a flat of eggplant transplants into the sink where they will soak in a fish emulsion fertilizer prior to planting in the field.
The fish emulsion provides a nice boost of nitrogen to the plants to give them a head-start after planting. Each flat soaks until fully saturated, ensuring that the transplants are well-watered before planting.