Behind the plant sale scenes

This weekend has been approaching, steadily in the background, all season.  As I've pruned fruit trees, seeded veggies for the farm, transplanted 150-foot beds of onions and made batch after batch of potting soil, I've felt it getting closer.  The anticipation felt light and abstract in early February, when we had a series of seeding parties with Grassroots volunteers.  Lettuce and chard seeds were dropped carefully into six-pack trays, covered with soil, and arranged on our nursery benches to germinate.  As the weeks passed, I got to watch them grow as I passed through the nursery with a sprayer hose every day.  When the nursery filled up, we moved the cold-hardy seedlings next door to the overflow greenhouse, and kept seeding more and more.  I spent days with interns and volunteers thinning and pricking out the trays to make sure every six pack was full, and every plant had the space it needed.  Soon after that process, we started labelling each little pot with a white tag to identify its species and variety.  The plants grew slowly at first in this cold spring.  We managed the greenhouse doors carefully to keep them as warm as possible, and just a week or two ago, they finally popped.  They're beautiful.  They're ready for the annual Spring Plant Sale tomorrow.

And the forecast calls for 20-30 mile per hour winds and an inch of rain.

Oh, well.  At least we got to enjoy the sunshine today while it lasted.

After all that anticipation and work to grow such gorgeous starts, today felt like both a burst and a relief.   After an hour of just a few of us preparing and puttering, volunteers from both the Youth Farm and Grassroots Garden started trickling in around ten o'clock.  Most joined in the work of cleaning up the donated perennials: deadheading, labeling, pulling off yellow leaves. 

 Preparing perennials for the plant sale

Preparing perennials for the plant sale

A few others helped Ted gather plywood, lumber, and tools.  We rent a giant moving truck for this event and build temporary shelves as we load to be able to fit all the hundreds of flats of plants.  It might sound crazy, but it actually makes the process really smooth.  There's some stop-and-go whenever the shelves fill up and a new one needs to be built, which allows everyone to rest, chat, and get to know the plants a little better.  

 Building plant shelves in the truck

Building plant shelves in the truck

This year we planted almost a hundred more flats than usual, since we've nearly sold out the past two years.  We leave many behind for back-up in case the sale is really busy, and those we don't sell go out to FOOD for Lane County partner agency gardens or pantries, as well as local garden education organizations.  Because of the extra amount of plants this year, we decided to make two trips with the big truck.  In the first load, we fit all the annual flowers, herbs, artichokes, rhubarb, and onions on the floor and a couple shelves in the very front of the cargo area.  The loading of plants is a huge team effort: I'm usually around the nursery selecting the healthiest, fullest trays to send, and I hand them off to volunteers to load onto covered garden carts.  We wheel around 12 trays at a time to the truck, and have another crew unloading and arranging there.  I find myself letting go more and more throughout the day, as I realize that everything's in motion, people understand how the process works and are having fun, and we're getting all these plants off the farm in good shape.

 Two new interns from UO Environmental Studies hauling a cart full of tomatoes to the truck

Two new interns from UO Environmental Studies hauling a cart full of tomatoes to the truck

 Plants ready to be loaded up

Plants ready to be loaded up

After loading the first round into the truck, we managed to tetris all but one load of the perennial plants into various pickups and flat bed trucks.  Several volunteers offered their vehicles for this part, and we utilized three of the four garden program trucks to get everything over to Grassroots.  While a few people stayed back to continue moving six-pack trays alongside the roadway, most of us left in a convoy (which made me feel like I was in a heist) to unload everything at the garden.  It's amazing what so many arms can carry and re-carry in a short amount of time.  We were unloaded and heading back before I knew it.  Lunch (prepared by Grassroots and delivered and heated up by their staff, Rachel and Merry) awaited, and we all seemed ready to take a break after such an active morning.

The rest of the loading went by quickly: once we had the flow going again, I started to step away and think about farm projects unrelated to the plant sale.  With all the great people that had come to volunteer, we tried to make the most of the afternoon: moving more plants, loading all the infrastructure for the sale, and toward the end of the day, once most people had left, we even managed to pot up more peppers and basil for the summer plant sale.

 Potting up basil starts for the summer plant sale, before the spring sale's even begun

Potting up basil starts for the summer plant sale, before the spring sale's even begun

Ah yes, even before the excitement and relief of the spring sale has hit, we're already starting to plants seeds, pot up seedlings, and start the whole process over again for the summer sale in May.  After watering in the trays of cucumbers we planted yesterday for the next sale, I finished off my day inundated by the aroma of basil as I re-planted little plugs of green and purple herbs into bigger pots.  By this time next month, they'll be itching to get into gardens around town and the farm fields will be brimming with neat rows of transplants.  The anticipation continues.