some tomatoes are starting to grow. I heard in a youtube video that their size is basically directly related to how much water they get (they’re mostly water) so definitely keeping an eye on that.
ate some chard today. first time I really thought about the stuff I’m growing as food. I have no idea if influencing the flavour is possible aside from healthier plants = better taste but it’s something I’m thinking about now.
if somebody were to ask me what the most enjoyable thing to grow is (weird that nobody has asked that yet) the answer would be swiss chard.
okay so here's the new look. it's ugly (and actually I've realized that aesthetics are a massive part of what brings my joy in growing things) but it is more functional.
here are some changes I made and why:
- pulled out the broccoli plants. since they weren't edible anymore they were just there for aesthetics. they were sucking up resources like water and space for roots and making it hard for other plants to get sun.
- pulled out 90% of the kale. giving the kale more space will allow them to get more sun and more water. basically I expect these to start growing very well now that there's so little competition for resources.
- put in those ugly green poles to hold up the tomatoes. again this is something that doesn't look great but optimizing for yield especially since they're the only fruit I'm growing.
now watering is so much easier because I can get directly to the root of the plants. will keep you posted on the changes.
okay futureland let's talk about spacing.
at the beginning of this experiment there was a lot to learn so I was really just trying to follow my instincts and do what felt right to me.
the garden above looks dope as fuck, I'll admit, but there's actually a lot going wrong here. but that's exciting because it also means that I learned a lot.
those really long things that I was super proud of (lol) are broccoli flowers. broccoli isn't supposed to flower. or at least you're supposed to harvest it before it does. broccoli flowers when it is too hot or doesn't have enough water. I went away for like 4 days without watering these plants during a heatwave and I came back to these huge flowers that were really beautiful. lesson learned.
the other thing here is that kale jungle at the bottom of the photo is basically the opposite of the conditions that kale are supposed to grow in. my partner didn't like the idea of cutting out plants that were already growing so I agreed to see what would happen if we just let them grow wild. it sucked. each of those kale plants has about two viable leaves on them. they're very sick and not doing well because they're competing for light.
plants need sun and water. that's basically what I've learned. check the next post for adjustments that I made.
hey futureland. we made it.
had to build a cover for these vegetables to keep the squirrels out. going to give it some vertical height soon.
I planted onions specifically to keep the squirrels away. Last night patches ate the onion seedlings that had just sprouted. So now this is what the raised bed looks like. Interestingly enough there’s been no issue on the front patio. Thinking maybe the mint (which I also planted up here) has something to do with it.
things are happening fast
lettuce coming up. going to be really tough to thin these but wanted to see if there was anything to be learned from broadcast planting the seeds instead of spacing them.
put some chicken wire over the bed last night to keep patches (our squirrel) from eating the crops. got our first seedlings popping through the soil this afternoon.
this happened yesterday. weird that seeds are a miracle that I've stopped celebrating on a conscious level but that the anticipation of germination is still as intense as it ever was.
on another note the size of this garden seems huge when you're actually sewing seeds so I hope it feels that way when it comes to harvest.
this really beautiful thing is the first flower from my tomato plant. I'm not sure how to hyperlink but if you scroll down you'll see how tiny this huge thing once was. I didn't plant the seed potato deep enough to get actual good potatoes from this but it's still my favourite plant in the house.
Finally got some seedlings outside now that the last frost of the year seems to be behind us. These are bush tomatoes that need to be 24" away from one another but I only realized that after planting them 3" apart from one another.
Going to see which ones do best out there in the rain tonight and will thin tomorrow.
a long overdue update. planning on getting these seedlings outside this weekend after the last frost. lost a lot of seedling and learned a lot. I've now become pretty decent at growing healthy seedlings from seed.
one of the most interesting/important elements of growing healthy seedlings is having them in full light the moment the seed cracks open. the seedling uses the amount of light it's getting to estimate how far under the soil it is and how tall it has to grow to reach sunlight.
really excited to start growing some things from seed outdoors and seeing how natural lighting conditions change the way that things grow.
doing some garden planning. trying to use more rounded, natural shapes and mixed planting to make the garden somewhere that feels more alive.
also considering just making the whole thing wildflowers. who knows.
wow technology is wild. this little greenhouse has sprouted seedlings way ahead of schedule. the seed packets said 7-10 days for these seeds to germinate and now, 3 days later, there's already a crazy amount of growth happening.
in the last test I did the broccoli (labelled BR here) took 5 days to sprout and even it was a pretty precious but pathetic performance.
the main difference here is that these seedlings really feel like they have conviction. they're bursting with life instead of fighting for it. they're also much more erect and make me realize that round 1 really stood no chance.
the main issues with the previous batch were humidity, moisture, and light - all of which were much too low in the first test.
once all the seedlings come up I'll remove the top off the container, drop the room temp to 16c, give them 10 hours of LED light a day, and use a fan to give them some gentle air circulation that'll make them stronger and more ready to survive when they're transplanted outside.
doing some research about this little potato plant (left) which is growing incredibly well. turns out potatoes grow at the root of the plant so you have to pull the whole thing up to get them when it's time to harvest.
in other news we've started to see some germination on the seeds we started the other day - should be another 3 days or so before we're ready to pop the top and let them receive light.
worried about the weather implications on the growing season but also aware that this is probably the first time that I've really thought about what the weather is doing this time of year.
spent some time outside today weeding and clearing part of a bed for wildflowers while waiting for the seeds to germinate.
not exactly farming but cool to be more involved with soil and to get a better look at roots (while pulling up weeds). Always felt like our front hard was wasted potential so I'm looking forward to using this as another avenue to test and learn about growing things.
Pour one out for the dead homies.
One of the cool things about this project is how quickly you can learn even though the timescales for things are quite long.
Starting a new, more modern method of farming today after the passing of the v1 seedlings. Planted in these jiffy starters, they're now germinating in a small greenhouse and will be grown with a grow light once they sprout.
Also tossed in some non-edible plants in there for the garden.
started culling some of the dead seedlings and thinning away some of the weaker ones to allow for strongest ones to survive.
I'm going to be experimenting with more artificial methods of germinating seeds and growing seedlings.
I want to experience as much poetry as possible without letting romanticism about an idealized process get in the way.
I'm not sure if death swept through or if life just never took hold but as the population of seedlings has grown so has the number of things that have lived a life so short that there should probably be another word for it.
anyway youtube doesn't care that I brought to life and was directly responsible for the death of another living thing and so I found a bunch of other experiments I can be doing to explore ways that are going to make my seeds more successful.
one of the things I'm going to test immediately is a method of germination that uses damp paper towels instead of actual soil. supposedly nature isn't very fooled by our attempts to trick it into thinking soil is the same thing as their natural habitat and so you may as well go all the way on artifice.
the second point is related to the first - that we need to do what fooling we can because simulation of nature (or some idealized version of it) actually does lead to better, more successful, and stronger seedlings.
I'm going to try using a grow light to give a new batch of seedlings 12 hours of artificial light and a few hours a day of an artificial breeze, which supposedly (and quite logically) helps the roots become stronger and more sturdy.
if anything I think one of the things I learned through planning these next experiments is that getting strong seedlings into the ground, I can only imagine, is just the beginning of the challenges.
I'm going to take my time to enjoy living in each moment of awe, learning, and ignorance. I want to keep a forcefield of magic around the process. I want to experience it on a floral timescale.
still super early in experimenting with sun orientation but my guess from the results so far would be that there's a period early in the life cycle of the seedlings where the direction of the sun strongly influences the angle of growth and once they're past that stage the effects are pretty irreversible or, at least, harder to change.
the sun is at the bottom of this photo and as a result most of the seedlings are leaning heavily in that direction. the seedlings in the top left corner aged with the sun in the other direction and seemed pretty unaffected by the directional change - which is to say that they're still leaning at an extreme angle.
leaning in any direction at an extreme angle isn't something I want to encourage (and is probably why professional growers have lamps directly above their seedlings to ensure that they grow strong and straight during the early stages of their lives). leaning too much in any direction is probably a waste of good energy and is probably going to have negative long term effects on the overall strength of the plant.
for now I'm going to rotate the seed tray every day and see if that can correct some of the lean.
also crazy to look back to three days ago when there were almost no seedlings in this tray. nature is wild.
okay so now that the seedlings are growing fairly well (only one has died that I know of) there's the issue of which ones to keep. you only get to keep one per square pod. which is obviously complicated considering that many of the pods have three or more perfectly good seedlings in them.
so first, why are there so many? honestly I was under the impression that seeds were much less successful than they've turned out to be. I thought seeds were more of a numbers game. and that's turned out to be both true and false. the germinating (sprouting) seeds battle one another for resources like water and nutrients in the soil so it's theoretically unlikely that more than one per pod makes it above ground. I was almost sure that I'd sewed no more than 3 seeds in each pod but it turns out that a) I was wrong - a lot of pods have 4 seedlings in them and b) the success rate of these seeds has been so high that any more than two would have been overkill.
*an interesting note: it seems that the lettuce acted pretty much as I expected, with only one seed becoming a seedling, where almost every seed has germinated successfully. not sure yet if that's a result of the seeds or the plant itself.
anyway, now that we have all these seedlings we have to thin them (i.e. kill some of them) so that we're left with only one per pod. to be honest it's pretty upsetting that this is the way it works but I guess when it comes to crops you don't get to be that precious about life. either way I'm going to try my best to avoid this kind of waste going forward.
so how do you decide who stays and who goes? how do you tell who the most viable candidate is?
well here's another thing that doesn't work the way I would have expected. I would have thought that the tallest seedlings are the most successful. but those actually aren't the ones that you want.
imagine it like creating a video game character. you have 10 points to spend on attributes. the attributes you can choose are height and resourcefulness.
now imagine that resourcefulness is the only quality that you want from a seedling and you have a lineup of 10 of them. how will you tell who's the most resourceful one? well resourcefulness isn't a visual characteristic like height is, but you can use some pretty simple deductive reasoning to work out where the seedlings spent their points. which is to say that if a seedling spent all its points becoming tall, you know that it's not very resourceful.
the way that this actually translates to real life is that seedlings that are suffering to gather nutrients underground, at the root level, spend all their energy growing tall to compete for sunlight above ground. so they're spending all their energy in the short term trying to survive rather than spending it becoming a stronger seedling that's more likely to survive outside.
so the tall ones go. you just cut them right out of the soil. and you keep the ones that are the most compact viable seedlings (where viable just means not dead looking).
the issue that I have right now is that I have no baseline for how tall a seedling of this age should be. so the seedlings that are most compact (in comparison) now might just be runts and the ones that are tallest might not necessarily be struggling - they might just be earlier growers.
I'm going to need to wait a couple more days until I can get a good idea of what the actual situation is in each pod.
for now I'm working on solving the other issue visible in the photo - the fact that the seedlings are leaning so heavily towards the sun. I've rotated them 180 degrees so hopefully they grow in the other direction - eventually leading to straight, strong seedlings. I imagine that the rotation will also give me a good idea of which ones grew too tall too quickly as they'll probably have a hard time growing in the other direction if they're already spent all their energy.
a huge day of growth here on the farm. yesterday only one of these pods had seedlings in it. now there are 13 pods that have seedlings in them.
I did the planting in a bit of a haphazard way so it's tough to see patterns but the most developed seedlings are the broccoli, followed by two iceberg lettuce (which have just started to come to the surface). I think tomorrow or the next day we can expect to see a few more lettuce come through and the broccoli rows fill out.
learning a lot about seedlings, how to tell how healthy they are etc. so that I can prepare to thin them out before they start to compete too much with one another.
I'll talk more about thinning tomorrow, as well as some experiments that I'm going to conduct around having a couple "wild" pods that are allowed to compete with one another the whole season to see how that impacts the resulting vegetables.
more exciting news from around the farm (and the least expected of all). I've started planting vegetables we meant to eat that have "gone bad" - ones that have continued on the natural course of their life before we could eat them.
this is a potato that we found at the back of our cupboards at the beginning of quarantine. potatoes, strangely enough, can grow without soil. this one had some pretty impressively long roots so I decided to plant it instead of tossing it out. knowing nothing about potatoes I assumed we'd passed the point where it could grow into a plant. I don't think I'd even remembered to water it.
And then today my eye caught this little fleck of green coming out from the dirt. To be honest I'm not sure if this is a new thing or if I only noticed it today. I'm going to have to get much better at documentation if I'm going to learn and pass on any meaningful knowledge.
woke up to a common miracle this morning. 5 days after they were planted these little broccoli seedlings reached out of the soil and into the sunlight.
I really can't explain how happy this made me.
there were a whole bunch of seedlings pushed through on the same day and it's incredible to see the different paths they all took to the same destination.
this picture is from a cluster of three seeds that somehow all survived. most pods have only one seedling in them (but they might be joined by their slower siblings very soon for all I know).
broccoli is the only seedling that's made it above ground so far but hopefully that bodes well for the other crops.
today I started to plan the layouts of the garden. For some reason that seems impossible now, I thought the only consideration would be the layout.
The method of farming I'm using is called squarefoot gardening. Basically just farming in small, planned out grid instead of the rows that big farms use.
There's an app (pictured above) that tells you how many of each plant you can plant in a single square foot. The moment I saw those numbers was the moment I realized just how hasty I was in jumping into this project. Which is to say that I hadn't given any thought to the amount of food that I actually wanted to get out of my crops - I just wanted to farm.
Here's the 100% true story. I was eating a caprese sandwich and I had this thought: everyone we know is making their own bread. If we could make our own cucumbers and tomatoes then we'd be able to make our own caprese sandwhiches. I honestly a caprese sand which once every three years at most. But the idea stuck.
It's an oversimplification to say that I started farming because I wanted a caprese sandwich in the same way to say that WWI was started by an assassination. 2020, even before it got weird, had been filled with thoughts about our collective relationship with nature as well as my own personal one.
Which is all to say that farming, like everything else in life, has been imbued with so much meaning that it didn't start with or ask for that it's more a symbol than anything else. It's been almost exclusively an emotional, physical, poetic pursuit. And it feels like pendulum is starting to swing.
Planting cucumbers and tomatoes, as was the initial plan, doesn't make much sense when you consider the opportunity cost. If meaningfully providing food for our household was the starting objective then I'd have a 4' monoculture of onions and garlic - our two most frequently used ingredients. My intuition says that yields for the sake of sustenance shouldn't be an objective for the first year of this journey.
Now I understand how menacing and foreboding the saying "you reap what you sow" really is. I'm running out of time to find and plant seeds so I need to come up with a plan over the next couple of days.
half researching half writing today.
evolving and expanding on a theme of 2020 about the relationship between humans and plants. the idea that farming is framed from a human perspective (we sow the seeds, we harvest the crops) when the plants are actually the ones that dictate most of the relationship.
again not sure what the outcome of this will be (if only a philosophy about farming itself) but trying not to be prescriptive about it.
also I planted an onion today.
(posting this late)
today was a little different. I planted some seeds. It was a huge moment on the path towards actually growing something - to actually creating something living - but on camera it didn't look like anything at all.
I was surprised by the way that industrialization has divorced us so far from the actual magic of what farming is that most content on youtube etc. doesn't actually talk about what is happening when we're planting seeds.
I started writing about seeds themselves and how they relate to and embody all the most interesting parts of growing your own food in 2020. Half of it was answering the questions about the process of growing seeds that most people seem to gloss over and the other half was putting some of my own interest into words in a way that helps other people understand what's so appealing about the process.
I'm not sure what the end result or output is going to be but I know that I'm going to focus on seeds this week and see what I can do to spread some marvel in the world.
Things I did today:
Added the wire support to the bottom of the box so that the soil can't sag through. Added the landscaping fabric to contain the soil. Added the soil only to realize that I only have about 1/4 of the amount that I need.
I find leaving the house pretty anxiety inducing these days so it's a bummer to have done so only to have to do it again tomorrow. On the positive side of things I was able to pick up some organic seeds for broccoli, dill, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, and basil. So I'll be able to start some of those inside tomorrow.
Bringing things to life is what I'm really excited about so it'll be nice to take a break from construction for a little while.
A lot of slow tedious stuff today that isn't sexy on camera so don't really love this film but documentation is documentation.
Time and lack of tools got in the way a bit today. Finished up the bottom of the box.
The only thing remaining is to use wire mesh on inside of the bottom (so that the soil doesn't sag through the wood slats), add the landscaping fabric, and fill it with soil.
Doesn't look like my seeds are arriving any time soon so I might build a separate test environment to try planting existing vegetables and see if they take.
Day one: construction.
Today I started building a raised bed to grow vegetables on my patio. This is the first time I've ever built anything with my own two hands. Still need to finish up a few details tomorrow.
The premise of this project is not really to learn how to be good at farming but to see what I can learn about growing living things and what observations there are to be made through the scope of my own experience. That means I'm using google as little as possible and just trying to see what results I find.
The future will undoubtably involve more self-sustainability so now seems like a good time to get started.