Tips for Growing Starts

Farmer Sarah, AmeriCorps service member

This time of year, one of the top priorities of farmers and gardeners alike is starting seeds and caring for plant starts. We know that folks have a lot of questions about how to grow starts indoors, so this week we thought we’d share some tips and tricks for all of the seasoned and aspiring home gardeners out there.

First, why do we start some seeds indoors (to be planted outside later), while others we seed directly outside?

1. By starting seeds indoors, we can provide them with optimal growing conditions that will encourage seeds to grow at a faster rate than they would outdoors. These conditions include warmer temperatures and more light exposure, as well as protection from harsh elements like the sun and wind.

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Posted in Americorps, Covid-19 school closure

Welcoming the new Farm Team!

~~From Farmer Sarah, AmeriCorps service member, March 23 – 27, 2020

Greetings from the School Farm! We had another busy and productive week and are eager to share some highlights of what we accomplished.

First, we welcomed an amazing group of classified staff from the school district to help us with our daily operations at the elementary and high school farms. We are taking the utmost care in ensuring that we all follow strict safe working practices and appropriate social distancing while we work to keep our farm up and running. Their help has been invaluable, and we are so incredibly thankful for everything they have done this week!

One of the most exciting projects of the week was prepping and planting our new strawberry bed! This new bed next to our hoophouse started with the help of some of our awesome student Farm Teams, and our equally awesome classified staff crew (our new Farm Team) finished the project by clearing out the rest of the sod and prepping the bed for our little strawberry plants.

Planting and mulching out our little babies always feels like a such a hopeful investment in our future, and this certainly felt no different!

This winter, the students put in a lot of energy digging up the grass along the east fence line where a new bed would go (we will be forever grateful for, and amazed by, our students’ enthusiasm to dig), trench composting, and refilling the trench with soil. This was a massive undertaking that started back in the fall, and would not have been possible without all of the work that our garden classes and farm teams accomplished over the course of several months! But the students had to leave it unfinished!

Our new Farm Team finished off the project by chopping in remaining clods to create a fluffy soil texture and mixing in a final layer of finished compost. We planted the inside of this fence bed with delicious sugar snap peas last Friday, and are looking forward to planting the outer bed with flowers!

Along with these projects, our Farm team also moved the hay pile, fixed up our worm bins, and worked away at some necessary weeding.

And when Whidbey Island Nourishes needed help preparing meals, they jumped at the opportunity. They are the best!

Among the other weekly tasks, we continued with our daily work of seeding and caring for the starts. Around this time of year, one of the top priorities each day is taking care of all of our plant starts, and we sure have been cranking out starts this week! Right now we are focused on a few cool weather crops that do well when started indoors and transplanted out, so our light racks are filled with kale, lettuce, bok choi, and pea starts. We start these seeds indoors to provide them with the best conditions for starting off (warmth and plenty of light), then gradually expose them to outdoor conditions once they are big enough. This hardening off process prepares them to be transplanted outside.

While we have certain tools at the farm that allow us to grow starts on a large scale, it is incredibly easy to start your own plants indoors at home without that equipment. Keep an eye out for another post soon with plenty of tips on how to grow your own starts indoors!


Over at the two gardens at the High School, the new Farm Team has also been busy! They did a heroic job of turning over all the cover crop in these beds in the back garden, and preparing them for planting potatoes, carrots, kale and broccoli.


And a big THANK YOU to the fourth graders who planted all the daffodils and tulips that are blooming now and brightening our day!

We hope you all had another happy and healthy week! We have some exciting tasks on the list for next week, so check back in for more updates from the farm!

Posted in Covid-19 school closure, Updates from the garden!

School Farms during the Covid-19 school closure

What is happening at the South Whidbey School Farms during this time of Covid-19 school closure, and stay-at-home?

Are the School Farms still being cultivated, planted and maintained?
Yes. K-12 education, food and agriculture are essential services, and the School Farms support all these. You can follow our work here (scroll down link for posts.)

    • Education:  We are collaborating with John LaVassar, garden science specialist, by making instructional videos for online learning. These videos will keep the students connected with the farm and what they would normally be learning there. This remote learning, as well other online resources and practical tips, will also help students and their families grow food at home.
    • Food:  We are harvesting overwintered crops of kale and carrots for delivery to the school lunch program, Whidbey Island Nourishes and the Good Cheer Food Bank. We will be delivering spring greens as soon as they are ready.
    • Agriculture: We are expanding our spring season production so as to feed students and their families asap: kale, bok choi, spinach, lettuce, snap and snow peas, turnips and carrots. In addition, we are growing starts to be distributed to families for home gardens, as well as providing growing instructions.

With the students not at school, how are you keeping it all going?

    • Eight classified staff have been assigned to the School Farms to help with all the tasks that the students would normally be doing: preparing beds, planting, weeding, composting and farm maintenance. AmeriCorps service members are growing starts, cultivating and planting, and assisting with online learning and community outreach/education. The School Farm Manager, and the Readiness to Learn assistant Farm Manager are coordinating this work at the Elementary and High School gardens (1.25 acres under cultivation).

How are you staying safe?

    • We practice stringent social distancing, sanitation and hygiene protocols for a safe working environment.
    • Since the schools are closed, we ask that people not visit the school farms at this time.
    • We are also not able to accept offers to help volunteer at this time.

Together we will get through this! Be safe!
And email us at if you have any questions… either about the program, or how to grow food at home.

~~Cary Peterson, School Farms Manager

Posted in Covid-19 school closure, Updates from the garden!

Spring has sprung!

From Farmer Sarah, AmeriCorps Service Member
March 16-20, 2020

Wishing you all a very happy spring from the school farm! The official start of spring has come early this year, and this week of warmer temperatures and beautifully sunny weather was deeply appreciated by all at the farm this week. With so many changes happening in these uncertain times, the sure signs of spring bursting all around the farm are a welcome and grounding reminder that life continues to march on.

As we all continue to navigate the effects of the current coronavirus outbreak, we at the farm are prioritizing the health and safety of our students and community above all else. We dearly miss our student farmers, but we are committed to keeping the farm up and running while they are away! There is still so much work to be done to ensure another bountiful season, and as we continue to prep the farm for this coming season we are brainstorming new ways to stay connected to our community and provide delicious and nutritious local food.

One of the ways we hope to stay connected is through more frequent postings here and on our other social media outlets. We’re aiming to provide weekly updates on what’s happening on the farm, so you can still share in all of the joys of the changing seasons on a farm with us! We’re even planning to start posting some videos in the near future, so stay tuned.

So what happened this week at the school farm? Planting, planting, and more planting of early spring crops that love the cool weather!

At the Elementary School Farm and CAFE garden, Farmers Cary and Sarah focused on doing lots of bed prep and planting some of our early cool weather crops – lettuce, bok choi, kale, and brokali (a delicious cross between broccoli and kale). The process for preparing the beds included edging, using our trusty broadfork to loosen the soil, then raking the beds to flatten them out and create a nice surface to plant our little starts. Since the nights are still pretty chilly, we covered everything with a nice protective layer of row cover to keep the plants cozy!

We also seeded one of our most popular spring veggies, peas! On Wednesday we seeded nine trays of snap peas and snow peas – that’s 702 pea plants. We have lots of crunchy and juicy peas in our future and are oh so excited about it!

Over at the high school, Farmer Kylie was also busy with bed prep and planting kale and lettuce starts. Look at those beautiful beds, just waiting to be filled with all sorts of delicious veggies! In addition to planting, Kylie also did some important upkeep to make sure our plants stay healthy and thriving, like weeding the carrots and giving onion starts a little haircut.

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Sunshine and plants = one happy farmer!

Check back next week for another update on all that’s going on at the farm! You can even subscribe to our blog at the top of the right hand side bar to make sure you get all the latest news.

From all of us at the farm, we hope that you stay healthy and safe, and remember to get outside and enjoy these beautiful spring days!

Posted in Covid-19 school closure, Updates from the garden!

Carrots for kids and their families

500 pounds of carrots were harvested from the Big Acre field behind the old Bayview School on Tuesday, March 17th! These carrots will be used by Whidbey Island Nourishes, and the School District Lunch program, to feed a lot of children and their families.

A big thank you to Good Cheer and the School Farm program for helping to grow these carrots for our community!

To sign up for School Lunch program meals, click HERE for the week of March 23 – 27, or email for later weeks.

For more info about Whidbey Island Nourishes’ programs (WIN), and to sign up, click HERE.

Together we will provide healthy nutrition to children and families!

Posted in Covid-19 school closure, Updates from the garden!

The first two weeks of March were busy!

We were full-on with spring activities and classes when school was closed for “corona-break”, as the students dubbed it.

We planted more peas and lettuce,

And ate lots of kale!

Made more soil blocks for bok choi and other starts,

Built fertility in the soil by sifting compost to spread on new beds, and mulched with straw and grass clippings,

Did lots of measuring and observation,

And cleaned up the shed (many times)!

We were on a roll!

During this time of school closure, farm staff will continue to grow the crops the students began, and plant even more, to ensure there are plenty of fresh veggies for the students and their families.

With no garden nibbles or culinary classes for now, we are delivering all the school farm produce to the school lunch program, and to Whidbey Island Nourishes. Click HERE for the student meal request for March 23-27, or email

Stay tuned for more information, and be well!

Posted in Updates from the garden!

Signs of spring!

Spring isn’t quite fully here, but peas love it cold, and bok choy, lettuce, spinach and carrots love the hoophouse. It’s always wonderful to be on the other side of a long winter, planting the starts that the students began inside under lights.

Second graders started their peas in January, Pea anatomy is always part of the spring curriculum, and the peas don’t mind being drawn and then planted again!

Farm Team students made soil blocks and grew the spring greens for the hoophouse. Thanks to all the 2nd – 6th graders who helped plant them!

The students also grew 10 flats of Sugar Ann peas for the Good Cheer Food Bank Garden, with soil blocks made by Farm Team. They learned about helping the wider community be able to eat the same fresh food they do at the farm.

Wherever you look now, beds are getting prepped, cover crops are decomposing and being mulched, the newly planted starts are being watered.

As it got a little warmer, and the kale began growing again in the longer days, the students spontaneously began asking if they could have kale for garden nibbles. Yes!

Soon the sour plant (french sorrel) will be big enough to eat, too. The students are measuring it and patiently waiting until the leaves are 5″ long.

Posted in Children in the garden, Farm Team, Updates from the garden!