Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Seed Starting!

Feb 29 -Planting begins.
This year, I invested in a couple of seed blockers to start my seeds:   rectangular moulds divided into small compartments that are pressed into the seed-starting mix, then the blocks are ejected into a tray and seeds are planted into them. The smaller seed block create 15 3/4-inch soil blocks. The larger blocker, for larger seeds, creates five 2-inch blocks. Getting the soil blocks was a strategy to reduce costs and  avoid plastic -no pots required.  Also, by using the smallest size blocks, I can start 300 seeds in one tray and fit 2 trays on the heated mat, speeding germination of  600 seeds at once.

I ran into one complication with the blocker. I intended to use Eliot Coleman's recipe for seed starting mix, but it called for "green sand" and I could not find that anywhere. I ended up concocting my own mix, with organic potting soil, seed starting mix, and compost. (approximately 1:2:1), adding water until a handful of soil would hold the shape when squeezed tightly. That mix seems to be working just fine.
The first tray of seed  blocks, planted. The mould forms a little divot  in the top of the block for the seed.The hardest part is placing just one seed in each block (especially with those teensy flower seeds - today I planted  Night-Scented Tobacco and those seeds were like dust specks.)
March 7 - Eight days later! The  tomatoes are  seeking the light, and the slower onions and peppers are just starting to germinate.  At this point I moved the tray from the heated mat to wire metal shelves in my office. I hung 4-foot fluorescent shop lights from the shelving and set the trays under the lights, very close to the lights.
March 13
A second tray of tomatoes was started a day later on March 1st -- this is how they are looking today. Not quite so leggy - I think they appreciated being moved under the lights sooner.
The seed blockers come in graduated sizes, with idea that you can just pop the smaller block into the next size block as the plant grows bigger.  The larger soil blocks get more expensive. I haven't ordered the medium size mould yet, so I decided to create little pots by recycling old paper towel rolls and the corrugated paper tubes the fluorescent bulbs came in.
I labeled each "pot"with the tomato variety, filled it with soil, poked a hole in with my finger and set the  small soil block into it. I will just set the cardboard tube into the ground when I transplant so the roots aren't disturbed. The tube should decompose quickly.
A silver antique butter server turned out to be the perfect tool to lift the mini soil blocks out of the tray. (Please don't tell my mom I used it this way.)
Tomato in a light bulb box pot. The repotting of all these tiny plants is rather labor intensive, Perhaps popping them into the next size soil block would be worth the investment in the bigger mould.
More seeds started that will very soon need potting.  And still more on the heating mat. A lot of  work ahead.
The crazy thing is that I am starting my seeds at the appropriate time to be able to  transplant outside on our traditional frost-safe date, Mothers day, almost two months away.  But we have 80-degree weather right now!!    The weather is just too, too weird  these days.


gz said...

Good to see things growing.
Too right about crazy weather..who knows what She'll throw at us next!!

Maria said...

Wow, 600 seeds! I dream of having that kind of space someday. I also try to avoid plastic pots so I've been using newspaper starter pots, but the seed blocker might be fun to try.

Jocelyn said...

Yep, this has been a really weird winter, I agree.

It's beautiful to see all that green. I love the soil blocker idea. I haven't tried that yet--maybe one day.

katiegirl said...

Wonderful!!! I've been wanting to buy one of those soil block makers for a long time now!