by Erin Jakubek and Katy McCoy
Time to start your starts! Last week, the earliest Midori plant starts arrived and in another 1-2 weeks, Red Dog starts will join them. Both Midori and Red Dog starts are special in that the varieties have been chosen for their adaptability to our climate and unlike starts you see in most nurseries, the starts have been grown locally in unheated greenhouses, so the plants are hardy and ready to put in the ground the day you buy them. The plant starts will arrive in waves and only be available when it’s time to plant. Takes a lot of guesswork out of it for us novices!
You’ve probably noticed all the new shelving on our front patio — this season we’ll be devoting more space than ever to plant starts. It’s the first year we’ll be selling Red Dog in addition to Midori starts. Whereas Midori specializes in vegetable and herb starts, Karyn will be supplying us with more ornamental plants. Read on to learn more about the farmers and when different starts will arrive for planting. And by all means don’t miss the companion article about Roger Short’s Magical Soil into which your starts would love to stretch their roots.
MIDORI: Midori farmers Hanako Myers and Marko Colby, who met and married while farming in Port Townsend, have been growing and selling plant starts for the past seven seasons. Passionate about growing food in the Maritime Northwest, they have specifically chosen plant varieties [for their plant starts] that thrive in the Olympic Peninsulaʼs growing conditions. Hanako’s primary focus in the spring is greenhouse work (while Marko prepares the fields), and she makes sure that in every step of the start-growing process, her plants remain stress-free. From seeding, to watering schedule, to up-potting (moving the plants from small containers to the larger ones that you see at the store), the plants receive timely and gentle care and are planted into a coconut coir (a more sustainable alternative to peat moss) based mix that includes mycorrhizal fungi.
As small-scale farmers, working a 7-acre piece of land outside Port Townsend, Midori is required to maximize their space both in the fields and greenhouses in order to make their living. Excitingly, their plant start business has expanded with each year of operation. Currently they are able to supply the Port Townsend Food Co-op, Chimacum Corner Farmstand, Hadlock Building Supply, the PT Farmers Market, and now Nashʼs Farm Store in Sequim with a full seasonal line of veggie, herb and flower starts. With the expansion of their new 29 acre farmland in Quilcene, they should be able to keep up with the market demand beautifully.
When picking up your starts, be sure and also grab Hanako and Marko’s invaluable book “Vegetable by Vegetable: A Guide to Gardening Near the Salish Sea” and check out their website which lists all of their plant start varieties (~100 types) along with dates when each should become available for planting. The first wave of “early spring” plants, now on the shelves, includes peas, lettuces, various greens, onions, strawberries and artichokes.
Besides producing well climatized and stress-free plant starts, Midori grows fresh vegetables for local farmerʼs markets, and a line of deliciously healthy and mouthwatering raw fermented krauts and kimchis that they grow and process themselves, but more about that in another article.
RED DOG FARM: Just a quarter mile down the road from us in Chimacum, Karyn Williams of Red Dog Farm, mainly known for her amazing vegetables and flowers, is also each year growing more plant starts for sale, trying to find a start niche where she’s not overlapping too much with Midori. Although she sells a much wider variety of plant starts at her farm stand and her farmers market booth, this first year we’ll mainly be selling her ornamental starts. In a brief walk through her greenhouse, amongst the vast sea of vegetable starts, I saw sweet peas, nasturtiums and calendula.
Karyn, like Midori grows her plants “hardy” in an unheated greenhouse using certified organic methods. Judging from the quality of everything she touches with those green thumbs of hers, we’re confident these starts will flourish in your garden.
Although brought up in a Seattle suburban environment with little other than an occasional “you pick” experience, Karyn has in a decade and a half gone from high school graduation to owning and managing her own successful 23 acre certified organic farm which besides feeding Jefferson County, provides mentoring and jobs for many. The trajectory took root during her 2 years of WWOOFing — volunteering on farms in Germany, England and Spain in exchange for food and lodging. Upon return, sold on rural living and farming, she enrolled at Evergreen and earned her bachelor’s degree in sustainable agriculture while managing the college’s farm. Her next step: leasing and farming Tarboo farm for 2 years with a friend during which she familiarized herself with the area and the players, and got a lot of practical farming and business experience under her belt.
Then the coup de grace: navigating an ingenious path by which she was able to buy herself 23 acres of prime agricultural land without a wad of money. It involved a new model set up with the coordinating help of Jefferson Landworks Collaborative where the Jefferson Land Trust made the down payment which Karyn paid back over 5 years with interest (now complete). The bank got paid; the Land Trust got interest plus an agricultural and riparian protection easement; Karyn got her farm; and we get fed!
I realize Karyn’s success story is a little off the topic of plant starts, but if Karyn is able to pull this off, I’m inspired to think I can at least buy some starts and grow myself a garden! We hope to see you many times over the next 3-4 months out on our patio perusing the plant racks.
Don’t Miss our other gardening articles: