The Season Begins at Bear Creek Farm: Getting Ready to Plant

The last few weeks have been busy ones at Bear Creek Farm. The tractor has been a godsend, and has already been earning its rather exorbitant keep.

In the past week or so, we’ve prepared the soil for the 2016 dahlia crop and removed the tubers we stored last fall from the root cellar.

Getting ready to plant tubers

Getting ready to plant tubers

Most of the tubers received the warmth and comfort they needed from nestling side by side in the cellar. The main thing about storing tubers is that you want to keep them at a relatively stable temperature around 40F-55F and humidity around 90 percent. Too much cold: the tubers die. Not enough air circulation: they rot, and you have no choice but to throw the whole lot away—because once infected with certain bacteria only the germs grow and they’ll infect healthy tubers. Too much air circulation around each individual tuber can also cause it to dry out, so if you have small quantities, it may be a good idea to pack them in peat moss.

I also checked the tubers we purchased last fall but were just shipped this spring. Buying tubers six months in advance of planting them is a necessary but risky expense. Necessary because there’s stiff competition for some of the rare dinner plate varieties we’re growing at Bear Creek, so into order to secure a sufficient number of tubers, I have to buy early to make sure we’ll have as many as we need. Of course, as my crops expand, I’ll have my own tubers to store and replant. But for now, until the farm’s crops are established, it’s a must to purchase them so I can expand the varieties we want to carry.

I think another risky part of being a new dahlia farmer is being able to trust that the tubers you order will arrive in good, ready to plant condition. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know your suppliers. Most of mine were great but a few took my money and sent me nothing in return.

Before we do any planting, we put a cover crop in the ground that’ll surround the dahlia field.

buckwheat cover plant for dahlias

Using buckwheat as a cover crop

I chose buckwheat because it’s ideal in many ways. It’s easy to grow because it doesn’t require a lot of attention or soil amendment and buckwheat is a good complimentary crop for dahlias. Dahlias don’t like nitrogen; buckwheat puts very little nitrogen into the soil, preventing spindly dahlias so they’ll be able to bear the weight of their large dinner plate blossoms. Slugs love to eat dahlia tubers; buckwheat helps keeps slugs away and at the same time attracts honeybees and other beneficial insects. There’s more, the buckwheat flower is very pretty and to see a field of them is a lovely sight.

Although I’m not growing buckwheat as a cash crop, the idea has some appeal: its edible seeds are gluten free and can be milled to flour or toasted after which they become delicious kasha. Maybe next year!

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