Friday, June 06, 2008

Shoestring Victory: Never enough space

Ricky's and my struggle to begin our microfarm was proving difficult at every turn. No materials. No space. No money. Somehow we'd managed to plow our field, make our potting mix... and now, finally, on a cool February evening, we filled nine 128-cell flats with seed. Dwarf Thumbelina Zinnias… Blue Scotch Kale… the names brimmed with promise. As I swept off the porch, Ricky went off in search of the watering can. She came back, lugging it full of rainwater.

Gingerly, she tipped it forward to water the first tender tray. Immediately, the spray-end fell to the ground, blasting a few cells of dirt with an undiffused jet stream of water. She looked at me reproachfully. “It’s broken!” she said in a tone of surprise.

“Oh, yeah…” I said vaguely. “It’s cracked, but you can just stick it back on there liiiike…. oh. Crap. I guess it really is broken.”

That night we watered the trays with mason jars. That worked until the dirt formed a hard crust from having thick layers of water poured over it. Then it was time to upgrade to a drugstore watering can for $1.29.

In addition to gentle watering, seedlings need steady, constant temperature and light. I kept remembering the farm I’d worked on: the warm, humid greenhouses with their automatic watering systems and gently humming fans. How could I replicate that here?

In the back yard, we have a small hoop house that one of my housemates built out of a pallet and some scrap plastic. It does a great job of converting lukewarm spring sunshine into steamy heat – at least while the sun’s out. But I wasn’t confident it would protect delicate seedlings at night, or when the temperature got below freezing.

Meanwhile, Ricky was in the process of moving into a house under construction. All her possessions were in boxes; her house was full of tools and sheetrock dust. She couldn’t take the seed trays.

No, it was up to me. I prowled through the house with an appraising gaze. South facing windows… wait, that just might work!

I ran to the kitchen for an armful of plastic shopping bags and old newspapers. Then to my bedroom. Clearing off my desk, nightstand, and dresser – all within reach of the south-facing windows’ light – I spread out bags and covered them with a thick layer of newspaper. With a little rearranging, I fit five trays on my dresser, three on my desk, and one on my nightstand. I didn’t really need my lamp. My alarm clock could go on the floor. Perfect!

Well. Maybe not perfect, but functional at least. Hopefully. Would anything grow?

by Sadie Kneidel

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