For Nev-R-Dun Farm, the 2013 year really began on February 15. Yes, there were greens overwintering in the greenhouses, but for the actual “new” farming year of 2013, it did not start until February 15. Why? On February 15, as is done every year, the onion, leek, celery, celeriac, parsley, and early tomato seeds are started in the “grow” greenhouse. (What a terrible name for that greenhouse. And to think, I just now named it that!) Many trays of soil blocks are made and seeded and placed on the grow racks which contain heating coils covered with sand, and the entire area is kept warm with a portable heater. Everything was planted on time, so 2013 was a go!
Unfortunately, 2013 was not a go. Quite the opposite, actually, but it took quite some time to figure out all that was involved in the difficulties. And I am by no means certain I have figured them all out. But it started like this…
The first seedings germinated as expected. The leeks, first onions, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, celery, etc., all germinated as expected. The tomato seeds, however, did not. And this was the beginning of the “strange situation” of 2013. Why did the tomatoes not sprout? A few did. A VERY few did. Instead of the one hundred and fifty plus expected, only a couple did… Why was that? The early spring/late winter season was rather cold, and I suspected that that was the reason. Perhaps the “grow” greenhouse heat situation was not sufficient. So I waited…
A week later, still no more tomatoes sprouted. On top of that, the later plantings of onions had an extremely poor germination rate as well. The outside temperature had dropped to quite low temperatures in comparison to last year, which was the first year for the “grow” greenhouse. As I was taking in the different variables for the season, I thought that the outside cold must have been significantly affecting the inside temperature for the greenhouse. I feel the need to explain here that tomato seeds tend not to germinate unless the average temperature of their soil situation is… and I don’t actually have a temperature decree here… but, the temperature tends to need to be above fifty degrees. With the heating racks heated to seventy plus degrees… in theory, that should have been sufficient. And yet it was not. Something was amiss in the land of…
And why had the later onion seedings germinated so poorly? And yet the brassicas, the broccoli, cabbage, etc. seemed to thrive? I will pause here again…
Farming is such a wonderful occupation! It does not matter how many years of experience one may have earned through the constant toil required, nonetheless, something “new”, something “different” will inevitably arise to cause us farmers to once again question… WHY DO WE EVEN TRY TO DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE?!!!
Alright, so I have a bit of experience, as well as a bit of analytical skill, so what was happening to the early seedings? Why did the brassicas succeed and the later onions and tomatoes did not? Temperature-wise it did not make any sense… until… I realized I left some of my seed packets in a cardboard box in the “grow” greenhouse…
I have to pause here also. One of the aspects of vegetable farming is that there is a relatively small framework of time the vegetable producer must deal with in order to start those transplants that will eventually grow into the delectable produce of the spring/summer/fall. While us farmers are gauging how the weather is flowing, etc., the seedings in the greenhouse are an almost expected situation, if that makes sense. To have such a situation of plant failure like what was experienced that early on in the season was not good. Germination of crops is expected. The extent of germination will vary, and that is also to be expected. But to have 6 tomato sprouts out of over 150?!
So, I left a box of seed packets in the “grow” greenhouse. Somehow it slipped from my attention until I needed to move the box for room. As I did, I noticed loose seeds in the box… and mouse droppings! There was a mouse in the vicinity! And that mouse had eaten into the packets of seeds in that box! Damned mammals! What is one to do with them?
And I will pause again here to reassert that the intensity of activity required of the produce farmer leaves little time to dwell on particular situations… unless the situation becomes dire. And dire it had become! The second planting of onions was negligible at best! Other plantings that had sprouted soon disappeared! What the… was happening? And then, I saw this!
The yellowish/green thing in the middle of the photo used to be a tomato sprout, one of the few that actually “germinated”. Something had clearly eaten the top off of the tomato plant. Here is what a tomato transplant normally looks like.
They look something like this, but this also reflects one of the trays that had been assaulted. Very few tomato plants actually survived.
My first thought was slugs. I searched for those nasty critters and only found a few, and they could not have damaged the plantings in such a manner, especially the beheadings of the tomatoes. Then, when I moved one of the trays, I discovered not only a mouse trail in the sand beneath the trays… but the mouse as well. I instantly realized the culprit. For those unfamiliar with mice, they are extremely quick, and it darted away beneath the wooden framework of the grow racks before I could even think about how to attack it.
By that time, I realized that that mouse… had to go, get evicted, however one wants to think about it. In the meantime, I NEEDED to have sprouting tomato plants! Instead of seeding an exact amount of 400 or so, I planted thousands! And I purchased every type of mouse trap I could find… except one, but I will get back to that.
Now back to the farming aspect of things. There is a timeline of attack when it comes to planting. The seasons are quite unpredictable in the Mid-Maryland region in which I farm, and even more so now that the extreme weather situations have become… predictably EXTREME. Nonetheless, having lost the first planting of tomatoes set me back. And I have to pause here again.
I have been farming, more specifically starting all of my produce from seed for over fifteen years now. Never… NEVER have I had an issue with something eating tomato transplants! Here is another picture.
This was yet another tomato that had been beheaded, and yet still attempted to survive. And while I appreciated that tomato’s fortitude, it would eventually amount to nothing… due to… What eats tomato sprouts? I have never had this issue before! And here is the crazy part of the situation as one analyzes from an organic farmer’s point of view. It was that damned mouse! One damned mouse that found a home in that little green house! Mice don’t eat tomatoes! They eat brassicas! They… okay… nibble on… broccoli and cabbage, etc… but tomatoes… NEVER! And yet the brassicas were untouched. What the…?
I will pause here to present the reason why organic farming will NEVER be easy. There is a statement I have used for longer than I can remember: “If organic farming was easy, everybody would be doing it.” It ain’t. Reason number one? Evolution. With all of the other variables in front of the organic farmer, and I’ll keep it simple with the crazy climate and bug infestation, evolution is also another constant guest at the table. Evolution is an equation that takes two plus two to equal 1/16 plus 100/7 minus 3.23% over a… sine curve I have no idea how to relay over a keyboard… Anyway, it can tweak and disrupt everything in no time at all… and it has no concern over how one’s profession cares about it!
So back to the mouse. More seeds were planted. A lot of more seeds were planted. Frustration is an incredibly weak term for what I personally experienced. The more seeds I planted, the more the mouse ate! But I had no other area in which to germinate the new seedlings! My only recourse was to plant more and more, and then more and more. (And set more traps.) Celery, chard, ALL the peppers, sweat peas, CALENDULA EVEN were devoured by that damned mouse… and yet the brassicas remained untouched. What an odd… and VERY crafty mouse! All of those seeds were covered with more grow mix, so the mouse sifted through the soil to find the seeds. And yet… the brassicas survived!
The more I thought about it, the more my thought dwelled on that mouse being of an “evolutionary” mentality. That was no “normal” mouse. That mouse was wired for a different approach, if you will. And that different approach devastated my early produce seedings! And I tried every trap I could find… humane, inhumane… mouseane, inmouseane… I did not care, (without using any type of synthetic chemical or mouse poison of course). And then… I finally reverted to the old spring trap with the wooden base that my parents used in the farm house when we were kids to eradicate, okay, diminish the mouse population within the abode.
And it worked. And it worked the very first night it was set. I will eschew the gory details of the “kill”, but that mouse was definitely “different”. The manner in which it met its demise… was strange to say the least. But, the mouse is dead. Call me a murderer. I can deal with that. And to anyone who would deal me that verdict, I will remind them that the entity I murdered… the ONE entity that I murdered…(although it ultimately committed suicide in a trap, but I digress)… was a MASS MURDERER on a level never experienced before at Nev-R-Dun Farm!
Adieu, mouse. I will not miss you. The amount of stress you have caused was indescribable. Thankfully, we, in theory, have a long enough grow season to salvage all the “eaten” vegetable transplants, perhaps even the peppers…
Enough on the mouse! I am over that! Eesh! Let the growing season begin already!!!