Friday, April 11, 2014

Garden Dreams Urban Farm & Nursery Opens Tomorrow!

I work at a great little urban farm and nursery in Wilkinsburg (East End of Pittsburgh, PA) called Garden Dreams Urban Farm & Nursery.  Tomorrow is our opening day for the season and I am looking forward to it.  We sell seedlings April - September, though we have been at work planning, ordering, and preparing since last fall and seeding since January.  Now the plants look robust and it all pays off.  Good Deal!

I came to Garden Dreams 4 years ago.  Jason actually found the place when he was scouting out a place for us to lived when we moved here.  It was late fall and he found brussels sprouts alive in the frozen ground that my (now) coworker Bob had planted.  He had been looking for apartments all day and he just stumbled upon this little oasis of calm.  "It's a magical place" he told me.  And it is.  I am lucky enough to get to spend my days there now!  
It's a small operation, started by Mindy Schwartz in the year 2000.  Mindy works behind the scenes keeping the business operating smoothly after she comes home from her other job.  I run the nursery production of 45,000 seedlings and the garden that provides a demonstration garden for our customers and produce for a 16 week neighborhood CSA.  Bob manages our wholesale accounts, delivering thousands of seedlings to Whole Foods and The East End Food Co-op to sell, as well as running classes and tours and coordinating with the many community gardens and nonprofits that we donate and sell seedlings to.  Several part time folks also bust their behinds from March - July helping us pot up, seed, and plant and harvest the garden crops.  Of course this all overlaps and we all do whatever need to get done to GET THE SEEDLINGS UNDER COVER IT'S GOING TO BE 26 DEGREES TONIGHT!  Pretty damn cool place, if I do say so myself.

So what they heck have we been up to these days?  The last month and a half at Garden Dreams has seen us potting up seedlings from Echinacea purpurea to Red Russian kale to Horehound to French Thyme and now they are ready to go to their new homes.  We start all the seedlings under lights in a basement of a nearby building and then harden them off slowly to the elements.  Although certain vegetable plants are considered tender and others as hardy, any seedling will wilt and even die from stress of sun, wind, or cold if it isn't slowly introduced to it.  Since March, we have been hardening off hardy herbs and vegetables.  

Seeded trays for farm planting hardening off on a sunny day.
In the past week of mild weather, I have been hardening off our first 30 trays of tomato, pepper, eggplant, and basil seedlings to pot up.  10 of those trays got potted up yesterday.  They start in a sheltered hoop house that only lets in 37% of the sunlight, so it won't burn their tender leaves not ready for sun.  After a day, they can move into the clear plastic hoop house if its a cloudy day, or spend more time in the opaque hoop house if the sun is blaring.  Gradually they get used to the sun, and then on nice days, they come outside and get used to the wind and breeze.  You can tell if you overdid the sun or wind exposure as the seedlings get small white patches on their leaves from cell damage.  As long as it is not severe, they will recover if moved to shelter and shade.  Also I try to avoid watering these tender new seedlings in the heat of the day.  I water in morning or evening.  

A few nights ago, when the overnight forecast predicted a low of 40 degrees, I wasn't worried for the tomatoes and peppers that had been outside all week.  They were in an unheated hoop.  When I woke up the next morning, the temperature was 31 degrees.  Ack!  When I got there to check on them, they were totally fine.  No wilt, no cold damage.  Perfect, because they had been gradually aclimated.  However, if they had been out in those temperatures and been whipped around by a wind, I think it would have been a different story!  I'd like to do a whole post on hardening off, since it is so intersting.  Soon!

3 and 4 week old tomato seedlings.  128 to a tray.  Over 100 varieties total (mostly heirlooms).  They are looking forward to more root room in their own pots!
Tomato seedlings gettin' some sun.  It was windy this day and they were getting whipped around a tad but it was very warm, in the upper 60s.  They were out in the elements for several hours and then back in the hoop to recover for the late afternoon and night.  
In any case, I am ready for folks to come take these well-rooted, hardy little seedlings off our hands.  It's not time to plant tomatoes or peppers yet, but all our kales, lettuces, mizuna, pak choi, spinach, onions, strawberries, hardy herbs and the like are raring to go in the ground!

Seedling 6 packs
Chard, Collards, Kale seedlings
One of our hoop houses

Didn't intend for this post to near short-story length, but I'm just so excited.  Horray for spring and for gardening.  It just makes ya feel good.  

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