The theme on the farm this month has certainly been transplanting. After weeks of waiting and tending to our young seedlings, it is with some mixed feelings that we set them out into the wild of the outdoors. While we have cared for them diligently, we have reached the limit of what we can do inside so nature has to take the reigns from here out. I have hauled many loads of transplants like the one below out to our plots where the small plants are subject to stronger winds, increased temperature and moisture variation, and insects galour. Like it our not, it is their time to flourish or perish.
While the transistion from indoors to out is not always easy, the benefits of transplanting far outweigh the risks for many crops. In fact, with our short growing season of only 116 frost free days, transplanting is the only way to ensure a harvest of crops like tomatoes and peppers. We started these two crops back in March in 3/4 inch soilblocks. After a few weeks, they were potted on to 2 inch soilblocks, and then finally to 4 inch soilblocks. The process of potting on gives the roots a sufficient amount space to expand as the leaves grow. A surge of growth and overall vitality was noticed after each step up in soilblock size. In one case, some tomatoes that had outgrown their 2 inch blocks and started to show signs of nutrient defficiency returned to pristine condition once they were potted on to the 4 inch blocks.
When it comes time to plant in the ground, we make sure to dig a big hole and bury the tomatoes and peppers extra deep so more roots can develop and the stems are less susceptible to wind damage. This final transplanting is usually a time of shock for the plants but the transition is more gentle with soilblocks. Note how few roots can be seen on the outside of the pepper and tomato soilblocks below. Believe me that these blocks are packed with roots but they have not ventured to the drier outside of the blocks and this protects them during transplanting. With a good intial soak of water in each hole, these transplants are off and running, and the drip irrigation can take care of them for the rest of the season.
The crops we have been transplanting include onions, lettuce, kale, celery, squash, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, cucumber, parsley, cilantro, and even some experimental beets and peas. Our small nursery was busting at the seems for the month of April so it was a relief to be able to put some of these crops in the ground. Thankfully, the transplanting work can be drawn out over several weeks because of the variance of frost tolerance in these crops. We began with onion transplants back in mid April and will end with squash and cucumber in the next week or two.
At times, actually many times, I questioned the practicality of all of the seed starting work because the tasks are so far removed from the end benefits that it is difficult to trust that there will be a return for all of the investment. However, now that I am seeing the rewards of large healthy plants, some very early harvests, and a surge of green in our plots to start off the season, I am appreciating the process a little more.