Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Played With the Soil Block Maker!

If you google “soil block recipe” you will find there are many different recipes for soil block makers. The recipe Johnny’s sent me with the soil block maker I purchased is Eliot Coleman’s soil block recipe:

BLOCKING MIX RECIPE From The New Organic Grower, by Eliot Coleman

A standard 10-quart bucket is the unit of measurement for the bulk ingredients. A standard cup measure is used for the supplementary ingredients. This recipe makes approximately 2 bushels of mix. Follow the steps in the order given.

3 buckets brown peat (standard peat moss, use a premium grade)
1⁄2 cup lime. Mix ingredients together thoroughly.
2 buckets coarse sand or perlite
3 cups base fertilizer (equal part mix blood meal, colloidal phosphate, and greensand). Mix.
1 bucket garden soil
2 buckets well-decomposed compost. Mix ingredients together thoroughly.

Sourcing out these individual items this time of the year is difficult. I checked the ingredients of seed starting mix and found it was made from approximately 80% peat moss, 19% perlite, 1% lime, and a wetting agent. So by adding some compost and using some balanced fertilizer, I am hoping to be close enough to the original recipe. I would probably be ok with most potting mixes too if I screened out the larger pieces. They usually are made from composted forest products, peat moss, perlite, and fertilizer.

I gathered my materials on the workbench in the basement which will now be my seed starting area:

I’ve been saving plastic produce and bakery containers to use a mini humidity domes:

First I added some hot water to the seed starting mix and let it sit for a while so the peat could absorb the water:

Then I added a few handful of compost and mixed well until it seemed to be the consistency of wet cement:

Some water oozed out when I squeezed a clump of the mix together like the instructions describe:

I filled the soil block maker by first mounding the mix, then pushing the blocker into the mix firmly until it reached the bottom of the container. Then I twisted the soil block maker, lifted it up, and scrapped the excess soil level with the soil block maker:

Then I moved it to the container:

And squeezed out the blocks in a neat row of four 2x2 inch blocks:

Some turned out better than others, but any rejects were just plopped back into the mix:

Twelve blocks fit snuggly in these repurposed salad containers:

And eight in this one:

All stacked up and ready to seed:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seed Starting Schedule 2010

I’ve been gardening for many years now. However, in the past I have mostly purchased my plants as transplants and planted them into the garden. This year I have decided to grow from seed. There are so many additional things to think about and plan out.

I have plotted out the garden and know how many plants to plan on. I have purchased my seeds. I have also decided to try soil blocks for growing my seedlings.

Last weekend, I spent several hours obsessing planning my seed starting schedule. I have no idea what will work and what won’t. Do I go by the individual seed packages? Do I follow Maine Organic Farmers and Gardners Association (MOFGA) suggestions in this article, “Huge Growth Potential, Pounds of Dividends: It’s Time to Order Seeds” by Jean English? Do I take Elliot Coleman’s advice and try to extend my growing seasons?

Eventually, I settled upon the seed schedule listed below:

Seed Planning 2010 (Last Frost Date: May 20)
Description Seed Starting Transplant Date
Parsley (curled) 2/8/10 5/3/10
Parsley (flat leaf) 2/8/10 5/3/10
Copra Onions 2/21/10 4/25/10
Patterson Onions 2/21/10 4/25/10
Evergreen Bunching Onion 3/7/10 4/25/10
Lettuce Blend 3/14/10 4/25/10
Simpson Elite Lettuce 3/14/10 4/25/10
Red Salad Bowl Lettuce 3/14/10 4/25/10
Marvielle of 4 Seasons Lettuce 3/14/10 4/25/10
Bib Butterhead Lettuce 3/14/10 4/25/10
Fernleaf Dill 3/21/10 6/6/10
Tyee Spinach 2/21/10 4/18/10
Indian Summer Hybrid 2/21/10 4/18/10
Japanese Eggplant 3/28/10 6/6/10
San-Marzano Tomato 3/28/10 6/6/10
Roma VF 3/28/10 6/6/10
Early Girl Hybrid 3/28/10 6/6/10
Calabrese Broccoli 3/28/10 5/10/10
Cayenne Pepper 4/4/10 6/6/10
California Wonder Bell 4/4/10 6/6/10
Jalapeno Chili Pepper 4/4/10 6/6/10
Anaheim Pepper 4/4/10 6/6/10
Sweet Basil 4/5/10 6/6/10
Snow Peas 4/18/10 N/A Direct Seed
Cilantro 4/18/10 6/6/10
Mesclun Mix Lettuce 4/25/10 N/A Direct Seed
Little Finger Carrots 4/25/10 N/A Direct Seed
Nantes carrots 4/25/10 N/A Direct Seed
Sugar Snax 4/25/10 N/A Direct Seed
Charantais Melon 5/2/10 6/6/10
Fastbreak Melon 5/2/10 6/6/10
Sugar Baby Watermelon 5/2/10 6/6/10
Cilantro 5/2/10 6/20/10
National Pickling Cucumber 5/2/10 5/30/10
Sumter Cucumber 5/2/10 5/30/10
Potatoes (soil temp at least 50F) 5/9/10 N/A Direct Seed
Zucchini Hybrid 5/30/10 N/A Direct Seed
Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans 5/30/10 N/A Direct Seed
Purple Trionfo Violetto Pole 5/30/10 N/A Direct Seed
Neon Lights Swill Chard 5/30/10 5/9/10

Revised: Feb 6, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

2010 Garden Planning: SFGs F, G, & H

Last year was my first time trying Square Food Gardens (SFGs).

I was very pleased with how well things grew. I split some crops up and planted some in the traditional gardens and some in the square foot gardens to compare.

Up until the tomatoes were struck with late blight, the growth was the same. Peppers too grew and matured at the same rate and seemed to have similar fruit production in both the traditional garden and the SFG.

Many things grown in the SFGs had better growth than years past. Lettuce, eggplants, onions, garlic, and herbs did remarkably well considering the rainy weather we had. I believe this can mostly be contributed to the lack of competition with weeds and the draining properties of Mel’s Mix. I also found the SFGs are also much easier to work in. I can kneel on the side and easily reach in on all sides.

It was an easy decision for me to add three more 4x4 SFGs to the garden spot. Here are the plans for the new SFGs F, G, & H (click to view larger image):

Like SFGs C and D, the north squares will have a trellis that will support three San-Marzano Tomatoes each. The squares in front of the tomatoes will have Little Fingers Carrots and Nantes Carrots planted via Granny’s Seed Mat method. Peppers and Eggplant will be planted in the squares in front of the carrots.

SFG E will have mostly herbs: Parsley, Basil, Dill, Cilantro, Patterson Onions, and two bell peppers. The green shaded spot is to represent the shade that falls in this spot in the early morning from a nearby tree. I hope it won’t inhibit the growth too badly.

That’s it for the 2010 garden plan. It will probably change, but at least it will give me a general idea of how many seedlings to plan on.

2010 Garden Planning: Intro
2010 Garden Planning: Traditional Bed A
2010 Garden Planning: Traditional Bed B
2010 Garden Planning: SFGs C, D, & E

Friday, January 22, 2010

Soil Block Maker Arrives With an Added Bonus

As most of us know, things rarely go as planned when gardening. Part of my goal with developing a garden plan early was for seed planning. I took inventory of seeds I had on hand from last year, and made a list of seeds I needed for this year. Then I placed my seed order. I was hoping that the process would satisfy my craving to purchase more seeds wherever I saw them.

Then Monday, I decided that I wanted to purchase a soil block maker from Johnny’s. I had a discount code that helped justify the purchase. Once it was in my shopping cart, I thought it would be nice to start some seeds early since I was in the gardening mood. Onions need to be started early, maybe I should try growing them from seed instead of planting onion sets as I originally planned?

So I added a package of Copra onion seeds to my order. Just one package of onion seeds, what harm could that cause?

When my order arrived, there were TWO packages of seeds.

One for Copra onions and another for Patterson onions. A note on my packing slip stated: "Free sample of Patterson onion added to your order. Copra to be discontinued in 2011."

Looks like I’ll be squeezing in onions wherever there is space in the garden….Maybe I’ll even plant some in my flower gardens. Oh the possibilities….Hmmmm…..

ETA: Johnny's just added a really good Soil Block instructional video to their blog. Click here to go to Johnny's blog, Growing Ideas.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Garden Planning: SFGs C, D & E

Earlier, I blogged about my garden plan for traditional gardens Bed A and Bed B. This entry is the plan for the Square Foot Gardens (SFG) that I tried for the first time in 2009.

Three 4x4 SFGs were introduced to the garden spot spring 2009. I was impressed at how well they worked and will be adding three more this year. Here is the plan for the 2nd year SFGs (Click for larger image):

SFG E is filled with garlic planted last fall.

Garlic Planted Fall 2009

SFGs C & D have trellis structure on the north side of each box. Carouby de Mausanne Snow Peas will be planted on these trellis structures early spring, then three San-Marzano Tomatoes along each trellis. The Snow Peas should be finished by the time the tomatoes will need the trellis.

Last year, I had peppers growing in the squares in front of the tomatoes and found that I am not very good at pruning the tomatoes and some branches reached out towards the squares in front of them crowding the peppers a bit.

Peppers Crowded by Tomatoes in the 2009 Garden

So this year, I will plant peppers in squares towards the south of the boxes. Different types of lettuce will be planted in the squares in between beginning in early spring. If there are any lettuce plants still growing by the time the tomatoes are large enough to spread their branches, they will probably not mind a little shade.

I didn’t have very much luck with spinach last year, but I am going to try again in early spring. I am also trying evergreen bunching onions for the first time. Both will be planted much earlier than last year.

I already see a place where I will have to make a change. At first, I wasn’t planning on growing onions from seed, but I added a package of Copra Onion seeds to my Johnny’s order. I will want to plant these onions out in early spring. So four squares of peppers will be moved to the new 4x4 SFGs that have not been built yet so I can use that space to transplant out early onion seedlings.

Next: Three New SFGs!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Soil Block Maker

Ok, I finally did it. I purchased a medium 2-inch soil block maker from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I’ve been wanting one for about a year now, but had difficulty justifying the cost plus shipping. Until I visited the shed over the weekend and found my seed trays crushed and broken.

PLUS there is a Coupon Code that takes $10.00 off an order of $20.00.

*Update: The coupon code above did take $10 off my order at the time, but I just tried it again after reading the comments to this post and verified that it is only taking 20% off orders up to $250 now.

Whenever I shop online, I do a google search for discount codes. For example: Johnny's Selected Seeds coupon. Then give the code a try to see if it works. Sometimes I am lucky :)

Snow Surprise!

Ok, so either I didn’t pay much attention to the weather forecast yesterday, or the weather predictions were off. I was expecting around 4- inches of snow to fall today. I woke up to at least 8-inches and it is still falling!

I'm glad I am working at home today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

2010 Garden Planning: Bed B

Last Friday, I blogged about my garden plan for Bed A. Bed B is also a traditional in ground garden bed (Click to view larger image).

This year I am planning to plant potatoes, pole beans, cucumbers, and maybe carrots too if there is enough space.

The potatoes are new to the Garden Spot. It is my first time trying to grow potatoes. Laura’s blog post at The Modern Victory Garden on "Raised Bed Potatoes" gave me the courage to give these a try. I will be growing them in the traditional garden, but the trenching process will be the same. Thanks Laura!

I have purchased my seed potatoes from Pinetree Garden Seeds right here in my home town. I will be picking them up in March.

I will be planting two varieties, Dark Red Norland is an early season variety and Kennebec is a mid season variety that is also late blight resistant.

Kennebec & Dark Red Norland images from Pinetree Garden Seeds

There is some extra space in the garden plan for wiggle room as I am not sure how much space the potatoes will require. The general rule of thumb seems to be one-pound of seed potatoes will plant a five-eight foot row. Any extra space will be filled with a few rows of Sugar Snax Carrots. Daphne at Daphne’s Dandelions blogged that these were her favorite out of the other varieties she grew last year. So I wanted to give them a try. Thanks Daphne!

Pole Beans will be planted at the base of the two trellis structures at the north section of Bed B. I will be growing two rows of Kentucky Wonder pole beans and Purple Trionfo Violetto on each trellis. One on each side. I found that pole beans don’t mind being crowded a bit.

I was not planning on any Bush Beans this year as we seemed to have an over abundance of beans last year and can use the space for new things. However, last year the Pole Beans didn’t start producing until mid-August so I may have to squeeze in a row or two of Bush Beans so we can enjoy them a little sooner.

I was very pleased with the Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans last year. In fact, we just had some last night from the freezer. They still taste very good.

Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans from the 2009 Garden

This is the first year I am growing Purple Trionfo Violetto and must admit that I was intrigued by the color and vigorous growth promised in the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog description.

Purple Trionfo Violetto image from Pinetree Garden Seeds

There is an archway trellis between the two beds where cucumbers will be grown. I currently have seeds for Sumter Cucumbers, but may pick up another variety to try too.

Sumter Cucumber from the 2009 Garden

Up Next: Square Foot Gardens (SFG) C, D & E!

Friday, January 15, 2010

2010 Garden Planning: Bed A

Bed A is one of the two traditional in ground garden beds (click to view larger image):

Bed A will mostly be the melon patch where Charantais Melon, Fastbreak Melon, and Sugar Baby Watermelon vines will run wild and intertwine. Black solar mulch will be used like last year for both soil warming and weed control.

This is the third year that Fastbreak Melons have been grown in the Garden Spot. Last year the yield was impressive even with the abnormal rain and colder temperatures we experienced. Last years harvest was 12 fruit from three plants. There would have probably been more if our summer has been more normal.

Fastbreak Melon from the 2009 Garden

Both the Charantais Melon and Sugar Baby Watermelon are new to the Garden Spot. I am hoping they will both do as well as the Fastbreak Melons have in the past.

A row of Self Watering Containers (SWC) with Roma Tomatoes will frame the north edge. I want to be more careful about leveling the SWCs as I had problems with excess water wicking into one of the unlevel containers last year because the corner dipped into the water reservoir. The SWC can be located elsewhere if I decide I need the garden space.

Tomato SWC from the 2009 Garden

There will be one hill of three zucchini plants which is the same amount of plants that were in the 2009 Garden Spot.

Zucchini from the 2009 Garden

The bottom of Bed A in the half moon shaped section has several perennial herbs, Greek oregano, chives, garlic chives, and hopefully thyme (if it survives the winter). I usually plant other various herbs among these.

Greek Oregano and Chives from the 2009 Garden

Next: Bed B

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010 Garden Planning: Intro

I don’t know what it is about gardening, but even when there is snow outside and the temperatures are very cold, the task of planning next years vegetable plot warms my heart and lifts my spirits. I know that soon there will be new life sprouting and growing into fresh vegetables to enjoy again.

Last weekend I was finally able to sit down and concentrate on plotting out the 2010 Garden Spot. This is such an exciting process as I am looking forward to this growing season more than any others. In the past, I have purchased transplants and direct seeded most of my garden. This year I am attempting to grow from seed requiring much earlier planning and growing.

I gathered up the seeds I have on hand and merged these with the list of seeds I need to purchase. Then I plotted out the general garden plan. This will change as it always does. But it gives me a general idea on how many plants I will need to plan on.

The garden spot it divided into two traditional in ground garden beds (A & B) and three 4x4 Square Foot Gardens (C, D & E). I was so pleased with my first season with Square Foot Gardens, that we will be adding three more 4x4 boxes (F, G & H).

Below is my seed list so far for the Garden Spot:

Fernleaf Dill
Sweet Basil
Parsley (Curled)
Parsley (Fat Leaf)
Cilantro (Large Leaf)

Japanese Eggplant

Charantais Melon
Fastbreak Melon
Sugar Baby Watermelon

San-Marzano Tomato
Roma VF
Early Girl Hybrid

Cayenne Pepper
California Wonder Bell
Jalapeno Chili Pepper
Anaheim Pepper

Little Finger
Sugar Snax

Dark Red Norland

Kentucky Wonder Pole
Purple Trionfo Violetto Pole

Grand Rapids Leaf Lettuce
Mesclun Mix
Simpson Elite
Red Salad Bowl
Marvielle of 4 Seasons
Burpee Bib Butterhead

Romanian Red Garlic
Purple Glazer Garlic
Evergreen Bunching Onion
Onion Sets

Sumter Cucumber

Zucchini Hybrid

Bloomsdale Spinach
Indian Summer Hybrid

Snow Peas:
Carouby de Mausanne

I will show more detailed plans over the next week.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gardens Alive Catalog with $25 off Coupon has shared a special offer from Gardens Alive and I wanted to pass this on to my gardening friends. Gardens Alive is offering up a FREE catalog with a $25 off ANY order coupon included!

Click here to sign up for your Gardens Alive Catalog and coupon. This may be for new customers only. I've never ordered from Gardens Alive, so I can't vouch for their products, but what a great way to try them out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Windowsill Tomatoes in the Winter - It CAN be done

My experiment with the Super Marzano tomato growing inside continues.

The vines are unruly, the pot is too small requiring daily watering, but somehow the tomato plant continues to grow. It has recently produced a new flush of blooms. I made sure they were hand pollinated and have been rewarded with several bunches of small tomatoes growing.

This experience has convinced me to try growing a small patio tomato plant next winter.

Here are some previous posts that show the progress of this tomato plant:


Saturday, January 2, 2010

The First Snowstorm of 2010 Continues

The snow is continuing to fall. Although this is a significant storm, so far it looks like it will not match the hype that has been building all week.

K went out to do a bit of shoveling and snowblowing this morning before it gets too deep. So far there are 6-inches of sticky snow out there. The storm is supposed to intensify later tonight with heavier snowfall and high winds.

Today is the perfect day to curl up with a good book: