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What's Growing in the Greenhouse?

Updated: Apr 11

City Green's farmers (Emily Jacobi, Joe Lynch, Henry Anderson & Isabel Anderson) sowing the first seeds of 2024

From all of us at City Green, happy spring! At the Clifton Farm Eco-Center, daffodils have emerged to brighten up the gardens with their cheerful yellow blooms and the trees are budding all around us. While the rest of the property has begun its yearly greening, the farm fields are still in their winter coats- covered in the black tarps and leaf mulch that allow the soil to rest and regenerate during the cold months.

But the farm won't be resting for much longer! The first seeds of the 2024 growing season are already being sown in the greenhouse by City Green's farmers.

Clifton Farm Manager Isabel Anderson explains how it feels to enter another growing season: "It truly never gets old! Witnessing the first seedlings pop up in the greenhouse and adding compost to our early spring beds ignites such an energy in us as we patiently monitor the weather and gear up to sow the first direct seeds on the farm."

On its two farms in Clifton and Mt. Olive, City Green grows over 170 varieties of organic fruits and vegetables. June through November, they sell fresh produce at farm stands in Clifton, Paterson, Passaic and Bloomfield. From leafy greens and melons to squash and tomatoes, it's hard to beat the taste and quality of the farm-fresh New Jersey produce that has market shoppers eagerly awaiting the start of the season each year.

As a nonprofit food access organization, City Green provides neighboring communities with equitable access to healthy foods. At the core of its market program is the Good Food Bucks nutrition incentive program, which doubles the value of federal benefits (SNAP/EBT and WIC and Senior FMNP) at all of City Green's farm stands. Each week, fresh produce leftover from markets is sent directly to food pantry partners in Clifton, Paterson and Passaic.

"Top Bunch" collard greens will be among the first produce available at City Green's markets starting June 4th

Before markets can start, there is a serious amount of forethought that goes into planning a farm season at City Green. The farmers have their planting schedule down to a science, creating meticulous field maps and greenhouse spreadsheets detailing each crop's seeding date, number of trays seeded, future field location, days to maturity, required spacing, and dozens of other important factors.

Even with all this preparation, Mother Nature will still play a huge, unpredictable role in the season. When asked what is his least favorite vegetable to grow, South Branch Farm Director Joe Lynch says, "Broccoli stresses me out. We plant 5-6 successions during the season, and last year we promptly lost our first planting overnight to groundhogs. 600 plants or so. Every few weeks we plant a new succession and try to sleep at night knowing this."

City Green's farmers source most of their seeds from Johnny's, a quality seed company that has been in business for over 50 years. In late February, they begin preparing by sterilizing seed trays and filling them with quality organic potting soil. In March, the farm team starts the time-consuming task of sowing the tiny seeds by hand into 50, 72 or 128 slot trays, depending on the crop.

Heat-loving plants, such as these "Red Ember" cayenne peppers, are placed in a custom-made heated sandbox to help stimulate growth

Constant moisture is crucial at this growing stage, and after seeding, the plants are watered daily via an automated overhead sprinkler system. The greenhouse must also maintain cozy temperatures above 50 degrees to keep the tiny plants happy.

In a few weeks, the seedlings will be strong enough to leave the greenhouse for their new home in the field. Fast-growing lettuce seedlings are among the first to be transplanted, as soon as April 1st.

Some of the first seeds to be sown are the more time-consuming crops, like yellow and red onions, which will not be ready to harvest until mid-summer. Others, like scallions, kale, and collards, will be ready just in time for City Green's first market on June 4th.

Also on the early seeding list this year are native perennials being grown for a special hedgerow project at the South Branch farm in Mt. Olive, researched and managed by farm manager Emily Jacobi. Yarrow, witch hazel, chokeberry, and elderberry, among other plants, will act as a wind barrier for vegetable crops, add biodiversity to the farm, and feed pollinators and beneficial insects.

"In turn, the wildlife will contribute to the bounty of the farm by providing the pollination necessary to produce vegetables, aiding in the control of harmful pest populations, and helping to make the ecosystem more stable overall," Emily explains.

Henry Anderson, City Green's Director of Agriculture, reveals exciting changes are happening on the Clifton farm this year as well: "We are making the leap towards a complete ‘deep mulch’ no-till system this year, meaning taking the tractor out of our fields completely and focusing on soil building. I am excited to see how this new approach improves our weed pressure, reduces compaction issues, and improves overall soil health!"

In the coming months, all the farmers' hard work and planning will come to fruition in the form of beautiful green fields and delicious, healthy food. Here's hoping for a great growing season!



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