Game on! There are now, suddenly, about 170 flats of seedlings waiting to germinate in the greenhouse. We sprung into action today-- a bit late, by commercial standards, but just in time nonetheless-- and set in motion a process that will continue for months to come. The onions we seeded could be sitting in your pantry at this time next year. The hot peppers will be dried and still spicing up local gardeners' salsas in the cold, darkening days of the coming winter. All those cabbages may turn into sauerkraut that bubbles well into summer. All that, and so much more, started in a few hours on a sunny day in early February.
We arrived a bit early to set up: boards and tables for prepping seeding trays, seeds and tags for labeling each variety, the vacuum seeder to speed up the process, and the seeding chart, which might as well be called the Farm Bible. Right at ten o'clock, a pair of our consistent volunteers drove up and said they'd been waiting all winter for February to roll around so they could come back to the farm. They were a heart-warming start to the day, and a reminder that my experience with volunteers gives me back exactly how much I invest in it. If I slow down my to-do-list-brain, work alongside the wonderful people that show up, and let go of the amount we're accomplishing, the real work of educational farming starts to blossom: a shared memory, an exchange of ideas, a connection that sparks our imaginations, a reassurance that this is what matters.
So I kept at it with volunteers this morning while Ted interviewed three internship applicants. The pile of over a hundred flats to be vacuum seeded-- a task that so far only staff has been trained on-- loomed in the corner all morning. The trick is, vacuum seeding is an incredible time saver. The machine sucks seeds onto tiny holes in a metal plate, and keeps them in place while I turn over the plate onto a tray. When I block the suction, the seeds instantly drop into their places on the tray, turning a 5-15 minute job into 30-60 seconds. It's fun! It's also really loud, and means that I'm working alone, and any volunteers are left to themselves. That can work, of course, but when it's the beginning of the season and reconnecting is just as important as getting seeds in their places, I push the vacuum seeding aside until most everyone has gone home. Then one of our neighbors, a teenager that started volunteering alongside the youth crew last August, is comfortable working on peppers by herself, and I step outside the now steamy greenhouse into direct sunlight, pop on our industrial ear muffs, and start in on those onions.
Ted took over while the last internship applicant worked alongside me hand-seeding green onions and greenhouse tomatoes. When the young man said goodbye, we gradually picked up our pace as the sky turned from grayish blue, to gold, to orange, and then faded. I made up a few more trays to finish seeding all the Swiss chard flats we need while Ted scrambled to keep the seeder running. Minus a few trays of tomatoes and eggplants that can wait until next week, we miraculously finished our long seeding list. Onions, scallions, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, kale, kohlrabi, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and that Swiss chard that slipped in at the final hour. Fitting for the first day of planting: work until night falls.
I road my bike home under stars.