One of the best things about the gardening community is the sheer willingness to share information, walk through step by step how to solve a problem, and the overall good-natured support provided.
This Spring, there have been a bunch of solid guides for making seed starting soil blocks. While I’m content with making use of my Aerogarden for its hydroponic seed starting or the Jiffy pods, one of the most common methods for getting gardening going is by using soil blocks (pictured below).
Here are five links that you should read, use, and bookmark:
1. Daphne’s Dandelions – Soil Block Tutorial: I’m hesitant to use this word, but what an epic post by the Harvest Monday ringleader. She really covers the process, end to end, everything from soil to using a commercial blocker.
2. Annie’s Kitchen Garden: I’m sharing this one because she goes through, step by step, on how to make a soil blocker from pieces from your local hardware store or that you might have in your basement. As a huge supporter of ‘found-gardening’, I recommend this since it re-purposes discarded items.
3. From my bookmarks, Instructables has another guide for making a beefier soil blocker. Another potential for re-purposing.
4. Treehugger.com’s John Laumer has another great step-by-step guide with clear and concise photography.
5. Gardening Channel’s post has a great list on how to improve the longevity of your soil blocks.
While I love soil blocks for their use-of-use factor, they do take time to make. However, they help reduce clutter and waste that you would get from buying seed flats, from your local hardware store or gardening center. Soil blocks are extremely easy to transplant. Plus, you can make bigger blocks and transplant the smaller cubes to fit inside the bigger ones. It’s like a puzzle! Or not.
While it’s great to receive free seeds, what should you do with them after receiving them? Should you plant them directly in the ground? Should you run out and buy some Jiffy pods? Should I get some potting mix and used my saved yogurt containers? Do I need to add special nutrients to my soil?
The answer to all of those is ‘yes, you can do that’. As you get more acquainted on the topic of gardening, a topic that comes up every year is how can you prep soil or soil-free mix to plant in.
Everyone has an opinion, on the matter, and there really is no right or wrong answer. Here are five resources to help you get started down the path of seed starting:
1. Colleen Vanderlinden, a great organic gardening writer, over at About.com, shares her recipe on The Perfect Soil-Less Recipe for Seed Starting. For the most part, the recipe can be extended to container gardening, in general.
2. Sharon Astyk, at Scienceblogs.com, takes a more philosophical, thoughtful approach to her process. She shares her thoughts, not only on seed starting mix, but the entire starting business.
3. One of the biggest controversies in gardening is the use of and diminishing of peat moss. If you read any blogs about gardening and homesteading, you need to add Root Simple to that list. Here’s a great Peat-free Planting Mix Recipe With Coconut Coir. The post does a FANTASTIC job of explaining the different ingredients that they use, many of which you should consider, for your garden (especially the worm castings).
4.Of course, the Gardens Alive website has a great Q&A/FAQ on preparing soil for window boxes.
5. A big question for Year Two and beyond, especially for container gardeners: Can I Reuse Old Potting Soil? Gayla Trail AKA YouGrowGirl writes about one of the tougher topics and how she recycles her soil. Nutrients need to be replenished and adjusted, based on what you’re growing. Many plants have different needs.
Here’s an organic potting mix recipe, if you have about 10 minutes:
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Are you an anal gardener? Do your plants have to be a certain distance apart? Especially your flowers? Are you a carrot or a radish planter? Are you bored in the winter, and you’re looking to interact with gardening, in some way?
Well, then seed tape is for you!
Over at HGTV, there’s a quick and easy guide on how to make seed tape. Materials you’ll need:
- toilet paper (paper towels and napkins also work)
- Elmer’s white glue
- toilet-paper tube or paper-towel tube cut into thirds
Then it’s as easy as cutting, measuring, adding a dab of glue, and then placing the seeds. You can plant the tape immediately or store it until you’re ready.
One of the most popular question that came my way, when I announced the Great Seed Giveaway of 2012, was “Which tomato type should I consider growing? There are so many out there!” I’m growing around a dozen different kinds, this year. Why not?
I did a little research, and the conclusion that I came to is “it really depends on what you’re looking for, in a tomato.” Do you want them for taste? Do you want them for salads? Do you want them for canning and/or paste?
One of the articles I came across, that I thought worth sharing, is a 2011 taste-test, in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. To be honest, I don’t think I’d even heard of any of the ones on the following lists. Sakura Honey ranked in the top slot. Here’s the list:
1 Sakura Honey 665.50
2 Red Pearl 623.50
3 Five Star 608.00
4 Principe Borghese 555.50
5 Old Brooks 535.50
6 Arbason 525.00
7 Fabulous 521.50
8 Heritage Hybrid 518.50
9 Cherokee Green 499.50
10 SX 605 493.50
11 Copper River 493.50
12 Ceylon 492.00
13 Lyn’s Mahogany Garnet 491.50
14 Green Zebra 475.50
15 Big Beef 469.00
16 Tribeca 466.50
17 Delicious 466.00
18 Defiant 457.50
19 Rocky Top 451.50
20 Dr. Carolyn 436.50
21 BHN 876 432.00
22 Scarlet Red 429.00
23 Bison 417.00
24 BHN 189 412.00
1 Red Pearl 713.50
2 Sakura Honey 670.50
3 Big Beef 656.50
4 Old Brooks 631.00
5 Rocky Top 629.00
6 Principe Borghese 613.50
7 Arbason 613.00
8 Scarlet Red 611.00
9 Tribeca 603.00
10 Heritage Hybrid 602.50
11 Five Star 591.50
12 Dr. Carolyn 578.50
13 SX 605 578.00
14 Delicious 573.00
15 BHN 189 568.50
16 Defiant 563.50
17 Fabulous 558.50
18 Green Zebra 552.50
19 Lyn’s Mahogany Garnet 550.00
20 Copper River 541.50
21 BHN 876 534.00
22 Ceylon 525.50
23 Cherokee Green 499.50
24 Bison 477.00
164 people can’t be wrong, can they?
This year, I’m focusing on whatever tomato varieties that I am able to can and make paste from. I spend a lot of time and money picking up tomato sauces, when I go to the grocery store. Making my own, at this point is crucial to my family budget, especially if I ever have a tomato harvest of 20 pounds again, this year.
With so much to choose from and even more to give away, I’ve narrowed down what I am going to grow, in Summer 2012. My focus is on canning and pickling, as well as making small jars of baby food for future consumption.
Started – 03/06/2012
1. Dill (x6- Sprouted 4)
2. Spinach (x6)
Started – 03/14/2012
1. Roma VFN Tomato
2. Sausage Tomato
3. Porter Tomato
4. Banana Legs Tomato
5. Chico III Tomato
6. Lydia Pepper (Czech Republic)
7. Fuszer Paprika (Hungarian)
8. Feher Ozon Paprika (Hungarian)
1. King Crimson Sweet Pepper
2. California Wonder Bell Peppers
3. Padron Hot Pepper
4. Lipstick Sweet Pepper
5. Gretel Eggplant
6. Blue Spice Basil
9. Summer Squash
10. Dark Green Zucchini Squash
11. Sugar Baby Watermelon
12. Lemon Cucumber
This is going to be my largest endeavor yet. With the temperatures reaching into the high 70s and low 80s, it sure feels like I should already have my peppers and tomatoes sprouted and prepared for outside love.
Today, I had planned to finish cleaning and prepping my containers for the inevitable filling of soil, putting some old seed-starting materials into recycling, and starting a few more summer crops.
Well, plans just never go the way I’d like.
Instead, I spent most of my waking hours putting seeds into tiny envelopes. I didn’t mind doing any of this; in some ways, it’s quite cathartic for me to focus on something, develop an end-to-end process, and just get it done. On the other hand, my psychosis requires me to count every seed (except for basil; fuck counting basil), and each clear, plastic packet must receive the same number of seeds.
I could just be happy with “here’s some for you! and here’s some for you!” Nope. Has to be as even a count as possible, or, else, it’s just not fair.
What else I learned about “not being fair” is just running out of seeds, of some things. For instance, the Gretel Eggplant, I only had three extra seeds. I fight a compulsion to run out and buy more to fulfill people’s requests. I remind myself that this is about sharing and thinning down what I already have; many of these seeds aren’t good for another year.
I also fret about the seeds not being good, now, that I’m sending everyone duds. I can’t trust the seeds until I can see the little bastards sprout. I can store them as properly as possible, but, until their little tails start breaking out, they’re no longer viable, in my head.
Well, tonight, my brain is no longer viable. This is more of a journal entry to get some thoughts out of a cluttered brain. Sometimes, I just need that.
Worms are awesome creatures.
Yeah, they might appear icky; boys love them, and they use them to taunt girls, at young ages. And sometimes, when older.
In gardening, worms serve a huge purpose. They’re part of a vast ecosystem of minute organisms that drive soil life. Yes, folks, your soil is alive, and if you have dead soil, then you have dead plants. Plain and simple.
Worms produce some of the best organic plant food/fertilizer in all of Mother Nature. Their abilities to convert materials into plant food is simply mind blowing. As a gardener, you can elect to raise worms, typically red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), Red Earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus), white worms, and earthworms; they’re a great way to process vegetable and fruit scraps, paper, and other products into a useful garden product called vermicastings.
Vermicastings (AKA worm castings) are worm poop; it’s waste, produced by the worms, with no additional organic material. It’s a rich, crumbly material that is very reminiscent of soil. Vermicastings contain high levels of plant nutrition and are ready to be used on plants immediately; this is the end result.
The vermicasting material is harvested by hand, from worm bins. It’s a messy job, sometimes a stinky job; after all, you’re playing with poop. However, for the benefit of your plants, it’s worth it.
Now, let’s take a step back. This entire process is called vermicomposting. Vermicompost is the process of using worms to compost a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable and food waste, bedding materials, and vermicastings. In addition to the worms, there also exist microbes and bacteria, which occur as part of the natural cycle of organic material.
Vermiculture is a vast process; in a world full of buzzwords and terminology, it’s important to learn what they mean.. I’ll try to explore it a bit more, in further posts.