Tuesday, April 29, 2014

darwinism on the farm

In many ways, as a farmer I strive to mimic the natural world. But it's an idealized natural world, which favors my crops over other species. In my perfect little farm world, plants get started in the best soil possible (i.e. potting soil or well-cared-for farmland), are watered by the gentlest and most evenly spaced rain events (irrigation), have their competitors removed as soon as they appear (weeding), find the most optimal nutrition to meet their needs (fertilization), find all the physical support they need (trellising), and generally live the best life possible. In return, they will hopefully reward me with an abundance of beautiful, delicious, and healthy produce.

Another way in which my farm mimics nature is with the rule "survival of the fittest." This philosphy starts early on in my plant's lives, in the greenhouse. When I plan my plantings for the year, I always start by seeding more plants than I will actually need. That not only helps make up for the occasional seed that doesn't germinate at all, but it also allows me to select the most vigorous plants for my farm.

Two weeks ago, I transpotted my tomatoes and peppers. "Transpotting" is when you move a plant from a smaller pot to a larger one, to allow more room for growing. I start my tomatoes and peppers in smaller-celled flats for a few reasons, including saving space in the greenhouse, using less potting soil, and reducing the risk of damping off, a fungal disease that especially affects plants in cooler, wetter conditions. After they've grown, they need to be moved to larger pots so they have enough space to keep growing until it's warm enough to transplant them outdoors.

Transpotting is an important time, because it gives me the chance to select the plants that will bear my future crops. Some things I'm looking for include tall plants, thick stems, the most number of leaves per plant, and vigorous roots.

Difference in root growth between two plants of the same tomato variety
Tomato seedlings moving into their new roomier pots
Once again, I'm transpotting more plants than I will need to plant out in the field. This will give me another chance to select for the best plants on transplanting day. The reward for this extra care will hopefully be happy, strong plants and lots of amazing produce!

Newly transpotted romas: April 10
Romas on April 27: What a difference two weeks can make!

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