Ask Your Local Farmer - A Monthly Column
Seth Terramane is the Farm Manager of Medway Community Farm. (Courtesy photo)
Hi Seth. I understand you’ve been the farmer at Medway Community Farm for a few years now. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure, I’ve been a commercial farmer for over 10 years now and the Farm Manager at Medway Community Farm for the past 3 years. It’s been a great community to live and work in. The people in town are so supportive of their local farm. At MCF, we grow in a sustainable and organic way, which I’d love to spend some time on in a future article. But not only is farming important at Medway, it’s about community, education, and enjoying the great outdoors.
It looks like you’re in the middle of putting up quite a large greenhouse at the farm. If someone doesn’t have a greenhouse, what do you need to start seeds indoors?
Yes, we’re in the middle of expanding our greenhouse capacity. With this new greenhouse and an adjacent one we’re planning in the fall, our propagation area will quadruple in size. But that’s if you’re growing to the extent we are at the farm. In one form or another, we put over 2 million seeds in the ground over the course of a season. For the average home growing operation, a few simple things will get you started in the spring. Most seeds like a warm, moist environment to get started. I’d highly recommend heating mats, kept at a constant temperature of around 75 degrees to get your seeds germinated. Until they germinate, it’s a good idea to keep them lightly misted and covered loosely to maintain a moist environment. The cover can be removed once the seeds germinate. In addition, the seeds need really good lighting. You can purchase grow lights but fluorescent shop lighting will work just fine. The key is to provide 16-18 hours of light per day for these seedlings and then allowing them some darkness at night, which is important for a plant’s healthy growth. The advantage of greenhouse growing is that it extends the growing season, especially for plants with a long growing season.
But do all seeds need to be started in this way? Can some be planted directly in the ground?
Many seeds actually do much better directly sown in the ground rather than under lights. The best approach is to read about your particular plant that you’re trying to grow. Typical plants that are better direct-sown are those with a tap root such as radishes and carrots. Some plants don’t transplant well and are better direct-sown such as morning glories and sunflowers.
I know sometimes the seeds are planted too close together or there are too many of them. Is it better to pull them out or cut them off?
To avoid disturbing the roots of the seedlings that you DO want to save, it’s better, and easier, to just snip them off at the soil line. It’s always a good idea to plant more than you’re looking to grow because the germination rates vary from anywhere between 70 and 90%. You can always use the thinned lettuce in your salad too!
What if you have a shady yard? Are there any vegetables that you can grow in a partly shaded area?
Most herbs and vegetables grow best in full sun but if part shade is all you have, be sure to start with good soil and select veggies that will do the best in this situation. Some of the leafy vegetables like spinach and chard will do ok in part shade, especially if they can get a few hours of direct sun. Root vegetables too can be grown in part shade. Smaller tomatoes can also be grown with fewer hours of direct light.
When you’re ready to bring the plants out of the greenhouse, how do you get them ready for the “real” outdoors? What is the best way a home gardener should harden off seedlings?
That’s a great question. You’re absolutely right that you don’t want to bring plants from indoors to outdoors without a transition period to harden off. This period is to get the plants used to the direct sun, wind and rain which they’re not exposed to indoors. We use a cold frame at the farm and ideally, this period should be started 1-2 weeks before you are ready to plant outdoors. Typically, this is after the last frost date in your region. In this region, that’s May 15. Once the temperatures outside reach 45 degrees, gradually expose the plants to more and more sun going from dappled shade to morning sun to full sun. Increase the exposure by an hour a day, as long as it’s not really windy and it’s above 45°. Within a couple of weeks, your plants should be ready to be planted outdoors.
If folks out there have questions, how do we reach you so we can get our questions answered?
I’d love to hear from members of the community and if I can be of help, that would be wonderful. I can be reached at [email protected]