We've been spending a lot of time in our "Germination Station" these days. That's because it's bathed in shades of green and the smell of new life - quite a contrast to acres and acres of brown mud outside the window.
Germination Station is our new set-up for germinating seedlings to be transplanted into the high tunnel and summer garden. (Yes, we have a quirky habit of naming all the "destinations" on our farm- such as; "The Taj", "7-11", "Lil Georgia"...)
Our germination set-up will remain in operation throughout the growing season (but will change location once the Wwoofers move into the bunkhouse).
We'll plant flats of seeds in waves (every week or two). This makes sense for us, since we run a 20-week CSA and members pick up a box of fresh produce every week. Staggered plantings= staggered harvests.
Plus, the backup trays of seedlings could save us if we have a particularly destructive bout of flea beetles or other pests. Sometimes, once the first onslaught of pests comes through, a replanting has a chance to make it with a fresh start and some adaptive pest management tricks.
So, first he covered the bunkhouse walls and carpet with plastic (looks like a scene from Breaking Bad to me :-) ) Then he constructed the water/planting table next to the seed tray table under grow lights. The planting table is a great place to fill trays with potting soil, plant seeds, and then set them in water for that first good soaking. After the trays get moved under lights, the water table continues to water the trays through a wicking cloth that lays 1/2 in the water and 1/2 under the trays. Brilliant! Prevents the risk of fungal "damping off" that can occur from top watering. And bottom watering encourages roots to reach downward creating strong, stable plants.
The heated seedling table warms emerging seeds from the bottom.... a layer of sand under and on top of heating coil keeps the moist sand warm. A thermostat regulator maintains the temp at a perfect 70 degrees. Josh said he adapted this design from Lynne Pugh at Cane Creek Farm.
Once the plants get their true leaves (second set of leaves that begin photosynthesis), we'll add fish emulsion or other organic fertilizer to the water. We really like the products from FoxFarm.
Fertilizing can inoculate the potting soil with beneficial microbes which, in turn, get passed to the garden beds during transplanting. If you can create a really healthy population of microbial life in the garden soil, incidents of plant disease decrease and pathogen resistance increases.
What we're really trying to do is grow the bottom level of the soil food chain (really a web), because we want our garden to support LIFE... and in order to do that you need to FEED EVERYTHING! By feeding the microscopic world, you are ultimately feeding the bugs, plants, birds and humans who get nourishment from the garden.
While those red spectrum fluorescent lights seem to be just what the emerging plants need... there is nothing like a bath of sunlight to make them strong and healthy as they grow taller.
I'm guessing I was a plant in a former life... because I'm feeling the same way these last few days with the first warm spring sun on my face.
Here's to a healthy growing season for all of us sun-loving creatures!