The importance of a farm mentor

It’s starting to feel a lot like spring around here! Despite the 6″ of snow received the other day, farm activities are getting into full swing at Bay Branch Farm. Yesterday, we had a great day gathering supplies for the season and learning valuable skills from our farmer friend and mentor, Bruce Cormack. Here’s the scoop.

E&M Produce Supply

I’d offer a web link, but there isn’t one and good luck finding anything online about this shop. It is owned and operated by the Amish and is well worth the trip given the knowledge of the vendors and the price of materials. You can find E&M at 15266 Hayes Rd in Middlefield, OH 44062. It is a bit off the beaten path and the sign on the mailbox is no bigger than a standard ruler. Again, well worth the trip just for the experience. We pulled up in our diesel VW Jetta next to buggies and a group of Amish talking in their own language. It was like visiting another country. After a gruff start with one of the men, we ended up with a car load of goods at a fraction of the price and even got a friendly send off (I think…). We went there for drip tape and all the fittings, 6 mil anti-condensate / infrared plastic for the hoop house, and floating row covers. We even got a gallon of fish and seaweed mix for foliar feeding our garlic, which our new Amish friend fully endorsed. Just for reference the cost of the greenhouse plastic (32′ x 50′) is $133 at E&M. Our research found it at about $300 other places (not including shipping). Will post updates on the drip irrigation system and the hoop house once we get started.

Soil blocking

Our afternoon took us out to Cormack’s Market Garden in Mentor where Bruce Cormack showed us how to start transplants using soil blocks. Soil blocks are compressed blocks of soil formed by a metal mold. They are great for germinating and starting seeds for transplanting and allow farmers to get their goods to market more quickly than those who only direct seed. You do need a place to germinate your seeds such as a greenhouse, high tunnel or indoors by a window that gets light and isn’t too cold. Some seeds need warmth to germinate, so a heat pad underneath may be needed. While you can watch videos of this on YouTube, there is no substitute for seeing this in person and being able to ask questions and try your hand at it. Soil blocking tools are pretty pricey, so the hands-on demo was important to us before making the investment. Soil blocks can be created very quickly; the process of creating 80 blocks (using a 20 block mold), planting each block with one lettuce seeding and placing in the greenhouse took about 5 minutes. Well, at least that is how quickly Bruce, a seasoned farmer, does it. It is great to have another farmer share his/her experience, and I hope this info we are sharing through this blog also helps others. Here are a few pics:

You want the soil to be wet. Bruce uses pro-mix and wets it the night before and then again before making the soil blocks.
The soil blocker and the blocks already formed by it.
The results! This is spinach.

0 thoughts on “The importance of a farm mentor

  1. Greg says:

    Thanks for the info on soil blocking. I had never seen it done until today! I don’t know what one of those “stampers” costs, but it looks like you could save some money over time by using one.

    We’re having a bit of cold snap here in TN, it’s putting a damper on my spring gardening.

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. Beth says:

    Very cool. I use a 4-block maker and prefer the block-makers over plastic cells any day. Will definitely check out E&M!