The last time we talked I wrote about how I started grad school unexpectedly in May with an 8000 level food science class. The class was intensive and amazing and I finished it on June 3rd. The rest of the summer I have been working full-time at the UGArden farm, and have officially started my research on holy basil.
So far, this summer has been equally amazing and challenging and I have learned a few things. First, farming is HARD. It is no wonder you rarely see farmers on social media and blogs. It is because they are so dang tired. I have probably 30 posts I could have written in the last few weeks but after working a full day on the farm, I don’t have energy for much else besides showering and getting dinner on the table.
Secondly, research is HARD. I can’t just put plants in the ground and hope for the best. I have to review the literature and see what everyone else is doing to compare and build my study around accepted norms in the field of horticulture research.
Thirdly, and this is the most important, I learned that I love being outside and working with plants. I love being challenged, and I love learning new things. I am so thankful for this experience in spite of the tiredness. It just means I have to prioritize my time and energy, and accept that I can’t do it all. Even if I really really want to :).
So, that is the reason I have been away from the blog this summer. But I am back, at least for today, so I can tell you about my little holy basil babies that are finally in the ground!
For any horticulture research to be successful, you first have to be able to grow plants and keep them alive. So, as soon as my maymester class ended I planted all of my holy basil seeds. I have 14 different varieties (5 from Horizon Herbs, and 9 from the USDA Germplasm system) that I seeded. I will test the essential oil content and antioxidant content of each of these 14 different varieties. The varieties with the highest values will be chosen for next year where we will try different planting times, growing practices, etc to determine the ideal methods for holy basil cultivation.
With a variety trial like this, it is very important to keep everything separated so the plants don’t get mixed up. Proper labeling and documentation is essential. I took pictures of all the seed packets in a certain order and labelled them 1-14. Then I made tags with the number and the variety for the starting row and ending row of each variety. Then I left 3 blank rows between varieties to make sure the seeds didn’t get mixed up.
After 5 days things started to sprout.
A week after that, they began to show their true leaves and it was time to transplant into a tray with bigger cells so the roots could stretch out.
Over the next four weeks the plants got bigger and stronger by the day.
Interestingly, some varieties grew much faster than others. It was noted.
But they were all looking great. Once we were a week away from planting we began prepping the field.
My research plot at UGArden is right next to our medicinal herb garden. It started as grass so we had a lot of work to do to get it ready for planting. The first step was to use a ripper attachment on the tractor to slice through the grass and loosen things up.
We went one way on the tractor and then the other way to make a criss-cross in the dirt and break up some of the roots and hard clay soil.
Then we tilled the plot and stapled down landscape fabric in the walkway between the two plots to cut down weeds and make it look nice.
Then we used a BCS walk-behind tractor with a rotary plow attachment for shaping the raised beds. Each bed was roughly 32 inches across.
Once the beds were shaped with the BCS tractor we had to go through the aisles and shovel any loose dirt onto the beds.
After shoveling the aisles, and cleaning up the end of the rows, we had to go through and pick out any clumps of grass.
Out of a 30 ft X 30ft bed we picked out 2 full wheelbarrows of grass clumps and weeds. It makes the beds look nice and keeps the grass and weeds from re-rooting in the soil, which saves me from having to weed them out later.
Then it was time to set up the irrigation. We use drip tube to water our plants on the farm. It is the most effective form of watering because it goes straight to the roots of the plants and you don’t lose as much to evaporation as overhead watering.
We are doing two rows of holy basil plants in each bed so we had to run two drip tube lines. The first step was to roll all the tubing out.
Then we had to make a header line to connect all the tubing.
Once we had the header line connected to the drip tube, and we went to connect the header line to the spigot we realized we had a problem. Because my research plot is next to the medicinal herb garden we share a spigot. We needed a way to water both gardens separately with one source of water, and our header line was 3/4 in and the medicinal herb garden header line was 1/2 in. We scrounged and found a piece that converted 3/4 to 1/2 in and had a shut off valve between the two gardens so we can water them separately when we need to.
Once everything was assembled we had to test our handiwork and flush out the drip tube lines to make sure there was no dirt in the tube.
We did this by taking the end caps off and running it until the water came out clear.
One of the last steps before planting was to roll back the drip tube to add fertilizer to each bed and till it in. We found a research paper that gave a nitrogen recommendation of 120 kg/hectare. We had to figure out how much nitrogen was in our organic chicken feather meal fertilizer and make the necessary conversions to figure out how much to add to each bed. I have an excel sheet with all of that information if you are interested :). We figured out we needed 22.5 oz of feather meal per 30 ft. bed.
So I measured out 6 containers of feather meal since we had 6 beds and it was sprinkled evenly all over.
Then we used the BCS tractor with a tiller attachment to till it in. My professor showed me how to do the first row, and then I did the rest. It was a lot of fun!
This post got too long, so I am going to break it up into two parts. As you can see, there was a lot of steps to get the beds ready for planting. Tomorrow I will post Part 2 where we talk about designing randomized 3 rep variety trials and planting the holy basil!