Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Plant Cold Tolerant Crops

I have been feeling the pull to start planting for several weeks now, but today I received an automated email reminder from myself. It said "Plant cold tolerant crops". I guess I can't procrastinate any longer... It just so happens that a friend asked me to help make soil blocks this weekend for a community garden that she is helping to start. I wrote her an email describing my experience with soil block making and thought that I would copy it here since it provides a good summary of the equipment and methods that I have adopted.

"Dear Kristin,
Do you know what will be planted in the 1200 blocks? I plant different seeds in different sized blocks for optimal use of potting soil and grow light space. For instance, peas work well with the 1.5" blocks because they can be transplanted immediately into the garden as soon as they get a few inches tall. The 1.5" blocks are too small to receive the 3/4" blocks, so anything started in 3/4" blocks will need to go into 2" blocks as the next step.

I have four different models of soil blockers:

3/4" blocks 20 blocks at a time, 224 to a tray ($29) - this is where I start with smaller seeds. However, the seedlings quickly outgrow the small block and need to be transplanted into 2" blocks. (

1.5" blocks 5 blocks at a time, 48 to a tray ($33) - this is great for peas and anything else that just needs a start under optimal conditions and then can be planted immediately into the garden. For larger operations, you can also purchase a (

2" blocks with 3/4" square dibble 4 blocks at a time, 20 to a tray ($33) - these receive seedlings started in the 3/4" blocks that need to grow on under lights. These can then be transplanted into the 4" blocks or 1 quart yogurt containers when the seedlings get a few inches tall. They can also be planted directly into the ground if appropriate. (

4" block with 2" square dibble 1 block at a time ($92) - I just got this at the end of last season and haven't used it yet. This is typically used for receiving the 2" blocks once the seedlings have reached a few inches. This would be for plants that need a long start indoors before planting out, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

For commercial operations, Johnny's makes soil block makers that make medium sized blocks 12 and 35 soil blocks at a time.
 - ($204)
 - ($235)

Here is the tray that I use:

For a large operation, it might be better to use a tray like this:

Working very efficiently with the 35 soil blocker, two people could make 1200 blocks in an hour (34 stampings). One person would need to be mixing soil while another is stamping and placing the blocks. In my experience, it takes me about 10-15 minutes to fill a tray working by myself. Doing rough math, if we were making all 1.5" blocks, that would translate into using 25 of my small cafeteria trays and would take about 6 man-hours. So, with 3-4 soil block makers (depending on whether we choose to use the smallest one), we should be able to make 1200 soil blocks in about 2 hours.

Here are my posts from last year where I felt that I developed a good system for starting seeds for my garden: 

I am looking forward to working with you all!

ST Gardener

Monday, February 19, 2018

Starting to Think About the Garden Again

The 2017 garden was one of the most productive and pleasurable that I have had. However, that was not reflected in the quantity or quality of my posts.

Probably the greatest lesson last year was the importance of regular feeding of the plants. I had always figured that if you make the soil rich enough at the beginning of the season, that should be enough. But after experimenting with regular fertilizing during the season, I am a strong believer in the practice.

2017 was unusual for the absence of insects. I had no problem with slugs, cabbage moths/green caterpillars or cucumber beetles as in the past, and mosquitoes and bees were rarely a bother. In one sense, that is nice, but as Joni Mitchell sang, "put away that DDT and leave me the birds and the bees please".

After putting in the effort to build a greenhouse structure, I have hardly visited it this winter. Early on, we had several periods of deep freeze which prevented me from doing anything productive with it, but there have been several weeks now where it was warm enough to get started and I have been involved in other projects. It probably would have helped if I had easier access via a door on the greenhouse, currently I have to pull up the plastic on the end and duck under.

Hopefully, I will get some seeds started this week so that I am able to take advantage of having the greenhouse for an early start. Also, there will be some plants like kale, parsley, celery and lettuce that will be reviving as long as the roots survived the winter.

Last year was a strange year with regard to the blog. There are many drafts of posts that were never completed. Mostly this was due to having trouble getting photos uploaded to accompany the posts. I am still hoping to get this backlog of posts completed before the 2018 season begins in earnest. As I review the unposted photos, my enthusiasm for the coming spring garden is growing.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

First Hard Frost

We woke up this morning to our first hard frost. Fortunately, I brought the peppers and tomatoes that are still ripening into the garage a couple of days ago and covered the greens outside with ag-cloth (except for the kale which is extra hardy). I cut the tomatoes off at the base and carried them entwined in their cage into the garage where they are hanging upside down. I read that they will ripen better when attached to the stem. The green peppers were rolled in on two wheel dollies since they are in grow boxes.

Before the frost we harvested all of the new green tips from our mint plants. We ate the last cucumber from the garden today and the last green beans a few days ago, though both of them stopped producing in abundance a few weeks ago. I have been eating handfuls of raspberries for months now, they seldom make it to the kitchen for a photo shoot. We have been harvesting kale, chard, lettuce, celery, tatsoi, parsley and cilantro and expect to continue for many more weeks with the help of a new greenhouse. The new greenhouse structure is almost ready. I had some trouble bending the ribs consistently last weekend but expect to get it right this weekend.

Frost on kale

Garden tucked in below new greenhouse structure

Tomatoes hanging upside-down in garage

Friday, June 16, 2017

Early Midsummer Update

The mulberries are becoming ripe now, this is one of my favorite berries. I like the way they melt in your mouth and they are very sweet. Last year, the birds picked the bush clean before I could enjoy them. Tomorrow morning, I will cover it with netting.

The chard has been harvestable for a couple of weeks. I am looking forward to a dinner of steamed chard with tamari rice. One of my favorite dishes.

Three productive frames

The daikon radishes will be harvested and pickled this weekend. Parsley, cilantro, and basil are ready to be added into tabouli, salsa and pesto respectively.

The peas are producing abundantly, four cups this morning, three cups yesterday, a couple handfuls the day before that. Almost all of the spinach has bolted at this point. The leaves never grew large. perhaps due to being crowded, but nothing that grew was wasted.

Cucumbers and pole beans were planted under the pea vines on Tuesday. If I were on top of things, I would have started lettuce three weeks ago that could be planted in place of the spinach and radishes that will be harvested. Something is eating leaves in the first frame, time to bring out the beer traps.

The marigolds that I started from seed in April all have at least one flower blooming now. The clematis, rhododendron, lupine and columbine are finishing blooming. Veronica, hosta, azalea, and [?] are blooming.

Cucumber and echinaceae seedlings

Cucumbers planted under pea vines next to radishes

Sweet peppers in a grow box