Tag Archives: Soil blocks

Apple blossoms

Earth Day Update

Apple blossomsIt’s a beautiful sunny day out here at Maya Creek and it seemed like a nice time to update everyone on the goings on with it being Earth Day and all.

The Garden

I’m a little surprised to report that it looks like we may have had our last spring frost on the average last frost date for the area(April 15).  Given the erratic start to the year I’m not making any assumptions, but the weather has turned into really nice typical spring weather, sun interspersed with rain storms.

Many of the plants that were bashed by the large hail have bounced back, though the fruit trees may still be susceptible to disease from their wounds.  Still, they’ve leafed out and are flowering beautifully.

asparagus

The asparagus, which got set back slightly by the frost, is now back at good harvesting size.  The spinach that miraculously over-wintered and then battered by hail is exploding and ready for copious salads which we’ve been gearing up for (we’ve been using mixing bowls for personal salad bowls).

Billy and I have spent a lot of time the last couple of weeks in the garden taking out the first wave of weeds and generally cleaning things up.  I’ve pushed a bunch of brush back from the garden fence to stop plants from growing on it and through it into the garden.  I also reinforced the fence with some more fence posts.

potted plantsI also potted up some of the gooseberries, comfrey, elderberry, and thyme that had begun propagating themselves as I had several people express interest at a recent potluck I held out here.

Anyway, they’re ready now, so come and get them!  I can maybe drop them in CoMo too.  If you’ve got more small pots laying around I’ll definitely take those.  I’ve got quite a few gallon sizes ones already though.

tomato soil block startsThe soil block experimentation continues.  It turns out that the trays I planned to use to soak the blocks with are just a tiny bit too small.  I’m now thinking that I’ll just build a large tray to hold a number of the smaller trays and line it with some old billboard vinyl to make it water proof.  That way instead of taking out each tray and soaking it every day I can just pour some water in the one big tray and be done.

That aside, a number of the soil blocks have sprouted and though they’re a little behind where they’d ideally be since I started them a little late and didn’t keep them inside very much for germination, but they look healthy and had a good germination rate despite that.

billy making absorption finsSolar Hot Water System

Yesterday was the first day we’ve really worked on the solar hot water system in the last few weeks.  Billy cut up the aluminum flashing and bashed the metal into a form to make the heat absorption fins.  He also cut a number of thinner strips that go behind the copper tubing to help transfer the heat to the pipes and then to the water.

I attached the insulation to the back of the panel and got the copper manifold installed into the frame.  I also soldered on a valve to empty the panel so I can drain it when frosts are eminent and it won’t burst the copper pipes.  I also built the legs and attached the front ones.  I left them loose so we can adjust them as we position it.  The next step is going to be attaching the fins and painting it black.  Then I’m going to stain the outside, attach the polycarbonate glazing, and we should be just about ready to roll it out!

organized-workshop-2-26-14

Sputtering towards Spring

Organized workshop

In between the unusual arctic blasts that continue to pummel the area I’ve been quietly preparing for the inevitable coming thaw. We’re now back in another round of near record-low temperatures, but before that happened I got some much needed clean-up done as well as set up a really simple coldframe/mini-greenhouse for seed starting.

Ever since I brought my first load of stuff out to the property there’s essentially been an amorphous pile of stuff including everything from private affects and clothes to tools and materials all piled together with little rhyme or reason. It was under tarps strung between trees for the first 3 years, and then about a year ago it moved underneath the protection of the new shed.

Organized shed

Well, I finally went through ALL of the boxes of stuff and organized at least roughly. I can’t tell you how many things I found that I’d spent crazy amounts of time looking for.

The shed is a long way from done, and I’ll have to move some of the stuff again to work on the root cellar, but it’s so wonderful to easily find the tools and materials for projects and then know exactly where they go when I’m done. There’s an actual place for that kind of object now!  Also, I finally have space to pull in a vehicle to work on it when I need to.  Will wonders never cease!

Simple Coldframe

Hay and straw bale cold frame mini-greenhouseI made a rectangle from 8 old hay bales someone gave me and then stacked another 3 bales on the north wall of it.  Then I put down about 6″ of straw within a rectangle to insulate the floor and then draped a clear plastic drop cloth over a few 2×2 boards.  I secured the drop cloth with some of the scrap chunks of granite I have for various projects, mainly the footing around the straw bale buildings.

I also put a couple of the bigger dark pieces of granite inside of it, propped up against the back wall.  These chunks of granite are thermal mass that moderate the temperature, absorbing heat and keeping it from getting too hot during the day, and then re-radiating that heat back out at night.

Opened coldframe with onion trays

Today the outside temperature topped out at 26F, but inside the bale greenhouse it was 80F.  I’ve been bringing the seedlings inside at night since it’s been getting into the single digits and it gets below freezing inside the greenhouse, but soon it’ll protect against mild frosts and I can start getting tomato and pepper soil blocks started in there along with the onion trays I’ve already got growing.

Eventually there will be a greenhouse attached to the front of the common house and I won’t need to set a variation of this up every year.

 

Seed Starting with Soil Blocks

This is my second year using soil blocks to start transplants from seed.  A soil blocker allows you to press soil blocks out of a sort of potting mix specially made to hold together on it’s own.  The benefits are that no plastic trays, which inevitably breakdown and make a mess, are needed. Biodegradable pots made out of peat or newspaper is a good option, but another reason makes soil blocks tempting.

Because the blocks are separated by air only, when the roots reach the air they stop growing. This is called “air-pruning” the roots and avoids the plants becoming “root-bound”, which is when the roots hit the side of their container and wrap around.  When those roots grow they essentially choke the plant.

There are various sizes of blockers and the plugs that make the indentations for seeds in each block can receive smaller blocks.  For example these 2″ blocks we’re using for tomatoes and peppers fit into the large 4″ blocker.  We likely will plant them out before they outgrow the 2″ block, but you never know and some people have shorter growing seasons and need a bigger head start.   We’ll be using the micro 1″ blocks for starting our greens in a few weeks.

John studies the blocker, blocking mix, and empty tray
John studies the blocker, blocking mix, and empty tray
First tray blocked.
First tray blocked.
The mix could have been drier.
Finished soil blocks
Finished soil blocks
Tomato and Pepper seeds with associated trays
Tomato and Pepper seeds with associated trays
The two trays on the left are for only 3 varieties of pepper. Each row in the tomato tray will have a different variety of tomato. Also, tomatillo and ground cherry are together.
Record keeping for seed trays
Record keeping for seed trays
I ran out of seeds for the Anaheim peppers so I had to adjust. Note to self: It's better to write in the notes during or after you've seeded the blocks.
Pepper seeds in the soil block indentions
Pepper seeds in the soil block indentions
Seeds covered in the soil blocks.  Trays on thermal mass rocket bench.
Seeds covered in the soil blocks. Trays on thermal mass rocket bench.

The mistakes I made last year were to put to many different kinds of plant in one tray.  Tomatoes and broccoli have different temperature, light requirements, and germination times.  This year,  I put them together.

Last year we had a late frost and we lost most of our first planting and didn’t have enough for a complete 2nd planting.  This year looks to have an early spring, but just to be sure I’ll be starting at least 2 different batches several weeks apart to insure we have enough transplants and don’t have to buy any.

One thing I’ve already noticed that I’ll do next year is to write down what I plant in each row.  The rows are marked A-I on trays that are numbered.  I ran out of seeds for one of the peppers and had to go back and change my notes.

Also, in case you missed the video I made last year, you can check it out below.