soil blocks

Transplanting extravaganza

This weekend was a beautiful weekend full of hard work.

Things accomplished:

  • Compost applied to a quarter of the planting beds
  • Broadforking of carrot beds
  • Tillage of onion and cabbage planting beds
  • Weeding of garlic beds
  • Compost applied to garlic beds
  • Transplanting of onions and cabbages

We transplanted 16 flats of onions….that’s 1344 soil blocks. Each soil block was triple seeded. Not all seeds germinated, but we figured we had an average of two seedlings per block, meaning we planted around 2688 onions!

Jordan transplanting onions

Jordan transplanting onions

Onions seedlings - just look at those beautiful roots!

Onions seedlings – just look at those beautiful roots!

We worked hard and had our butts kicked by the sunny, warm days….only to have a reality check that those warm temperatures were fleeting. The forecast for Tuesday night = blustery with gusty winds and temps in the 20s! Great. Yesterday afternoon was a frantic dash to put row covers over everything that was just planted. Here’s hoping they survive the possible freeze……

Mad dash to cover transplants - cold front coming :(

Mad dash to cover transplants – cold front coming 😦

New beginnings!

Now that I’ve bored you with repeated images of snow…followed by more snow….and a bunch of funny dogs…I will proceed to begin inundating you with images of new beginnings.

It is always fascinating and thrilling to track the progress of a seed. I hope you will indulge me.

Just think about it….a dry little speck of a thing gets encased in a block of soil, gets spritzed with some water, gets shown some fluorescent lights and wham-mo….a plant emerges.

Miraculous, I tell you.

AND…in several weeks time, this newly emerged plant gets introduced to the sun and wind, gets transplanted into the earth, gets some sips of water from me or from rain, and then BINGO…we are eating deliciousness.

It’s crazy and constantly blows my mind! I love new beginnings!

Candy onions emerging

Candy onions emerging

Red Acre Cabbages emerging

Red Acre cabbages emerging

Now for some technical info in case you are interested…this bit is going to be wordy:

  • Using transplants in the garden is a way to have a little control over things (i.e. you KNOW if a seed has germinated…if it doesn’t, you’ve time to try again) and to get a jump-start on the season by putting a (hopefully) healthy plant into the ground, ready to rock and roll.
  • For seed starting, I prefer using soil blocks.
    • Using soil blocks allows me to avoid plastics (though plastics are reusable and relatively long-lasting)
    • Soil blocks seem to give plants an edge by surrounding the seed with nutrients from the get-go (of course you have to start with a good quality growing medium/soil)
    • Soil blocks allow for air pruning – as roots grow through the soil, the root tips stop growing when they are exposed to air, causing secondary roots to grow (i.e. a strong root system)
    • Soil blocks make for easy transplanting – no popping plants out of plugs or flats…just put the block into the ground! Can’t get much easier than that.
  • I use an all-purpose mixing tub (black plastic, about 20″ W x by 28″ L x 6″ H) to prepare my soil and water for making the soil blocks, usually to a cake batter consistency. You can certainly BUY soil block making tubs, but why? A Rubbermaid tub of a size comfortable to the user would work, too.
  • The soil block maker I use the most is the 1 1/2″ size (ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds). It makes 5 blocks with one press. I do use plastic trays to hold the formed soil blocks – I can fit 84 blocks in one tray. I think I got these trays from Johnny’s, too. 100 pack. Standard greenhouse flat – 11″ x 21″. I also purchased soil block propagation trays (Johnny’s) which are a mesh tray unlike the more solid greenhouse flat. I did not like the mesh trays because the soil blocks dried out too quickly…you do NOT want your soil blocks to dry out. They become concrete. Not good.
  • Trays of soil blocks are placed on shelves under fluorescent lights – simple shop lights from Lowes. The lights are suspended on chains from the ceiling and are about 4″ above the trays.
  • Seed starts are housed in our Blacksburg basement at the moment. They eventually will have their own growing area at the farm. The temperature in the basement is a constant 63-64 deg F. The temp could be better. I am considering purchasing a little heater for the area. It’s be nice to bump the temps up to 68-70 deg F.
  • Most of the seeds I use are ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Seed Saver’s Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Fedco. I also order a few varieties from High Mowing Seeds and Territorial Seed Company. I am using more pelleted seeds for things like onions, carrots and lettuces. The pelleted seeds are a JOY to work with…and well worth the extra dollar or two.
  • I am using a new organic growing mix (Black Gold Organic Potting Soil) supplied by Seven Springs Farm out of Floyd, VA. This soil has a much different texture than the growing mix I used last year (more perlite). I think my soil blocks are ok with it so far.
  • For the onions, I am starting 3 seeds to a block. That means each tray has 250 seeds. This idea was introduced to me at the recent Virginia Biological Farming Conference by Jean-Martin Fortier and is a method of intensive planting. I will be experimenting with more intensive spacing this year for several things we’ll be growing.
  • Things being started in February:
    • onions
    • cabbages
    • kohlrabis
    • parsley
    • spinach
    • lettuces

2014 underway

Exciting progress (well, to me)…our seed starting spring adventure tour is officially underway.



Tray 2 out of 3…I know, not overwhelming, but it is a start. Two-hundred and fifty organic candy onion seeds per flat, lovingly tucked into their organic soil blocks and ready for pampering. Go germination go!

Candy onions. Yum! More to come of those and several other amazing varieties…it is nice to get started again despite the cold, dreary doldrums that happen about this time of year.

Here’s to spring dreamin’ and garden preparations!