This is one of the best things about the Texas summer.When it is hot, dry, and miserable, we get to work in the shade of the greenhouse dreaming about cooler weather and preparing for fall.
The fun starts in the greenhouse mixing our soil for propagation. Rather than a native soil or compost based mix, for better consistency we use a peat based soil mix with high porosity. We have found that over-watering is a common issue when we have different people trading off on the chore. Herbs are also very sensitive to over watering. We mix our own soil in small batches using different organic amendments and rock powders to give the seedlings a good start. After years of observation and trials, we have come up with what we call “Farmer Brad’s Super Soil”:
40 lbs. Soil Mix (inoculated with mycrozial fungi)
10 lbs. Worm Castings (for added micronutrients and biology)
10 lbs. Lava Sand (for aeration and Paramagnetism)
5 lbs. Colloidal Rock Phosphate (for root development)
2 cups Bat Guano, Feather Meal or Poultry Manure (for nitrogen, but do not over do it!)
2 cups Kelp Meal (micronutrients and aids in germination)
2 cups Humate (added organic mater)
2 cups Green Sand (iron and magnesium)
5 gal. Water (it is important to pre-wet your mix)
This is all mixed together by hand or with a small concrete mixer. We then use 72ct trays and prepare ready stacks for the work of seeding ahead.
This is when you want the whole family or friends to help to get the work done faster. Before seeding you can use a pencil to dib holes about a ¼” deep into each filled cell of the plant tray, a board can be made with nails to dib the whole tray at one time as well. We drop 2 to 3 seeds into each dibbed cell and then tamp the soil down carefully to cover the seeds and to insure that they are making good contact to the soil. Smaller seeds like delphinium may need to be lightly sprinkled on the surface of the filled cells rather than buried.
Be sure to label and date your trays, then place them into the shade and water them in (very important), repeating daily (if not more) before the heat of the day. You want to keep the soil moist for germination, but you also want the soil to not be continuously wet and growing algae.
Ants can be a problem in the greenhouse as they will literally harvest the seed from your trays.You can place your trays on tables that have their legs standing in water and use one of the organic ant baits regularly to deter the problem.
By the end of July we start broccoli, cauliflower, winter cabbage, kale, collards, brussels sprouts, pak choi, Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi. These will be transplanted out into the field as soon as the weather cools off, hopefully by lat Sept. In mid August we will begin seeding the more tender leafy greens like head lettuce, swiss chard, dill, and other herbs.
Before planting into the field you need to place the plant trays into the full sun and wind to harden off for at least a week. This is called “tough love” preparing the babies for real life outdoors. Pray for rain after planting, cover with a light cloth if possible for earlier transplanting and be sure to water them in deeply either by hand or irrigation and repeat as necessary until the plants are well established.
Originally published July 2008 by Brad Stufflebeam, Home Sweet Farm LLC
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Farmer Brad Stufflebeam, "A local food pioneer in the Lone Star State", has served as President of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc., Advisory Board Member for USDA Southern SARE, President of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Chairman/Founder of the Texas Arts and Music Festival. In 2012 Brad received the Houston Mayor's Award: Champion of Food Justice and 2015 edibleHOUSTON's Local Hero Award.