Seed Starting at Blackberry Blossom Farm
Seed Starting Our Way
We've been gardening for most of our lives, mostly backyard vegetables,
nothing fancy, nothing too big. When we moved to Blackberry Blossom in
1999, we knew we'd be ramping up our garden space to include as much as
we could grow (sanely) and try to preserve much of what we grew for
year round consumption.
This was no easy task, and if you've read any of our other web pages, you'll
get the bigger story, gardening in rocks and clay was a huge challenge.
You Wanna Buy a Rock?!!!
This is a good picture of one of the many piles of rocks we've moved from
all over the farm. Check out our
Homemade Farm Equipment
page for Ed's rock mover invention. Pretty slick for those really big rocks.
Okay, back to Seed Starting...
Start them off right, grow them with less effort
Because seeds need very fine starting medium, special nutritional requirements,
and a soil texture that holds water but not too much, we've found the
perfect starting soil.
There are two parts to this puzzle. The medium in which you place the seeds
and the container in which you place the medium. Of course the simplest
method is to wait until the growing bed or garden soil warms up enough
and plant the seeds directly where the plant will grow. On our farm the
last frost date is mid April and we have seen snow falls after that.
Waiting for the earth to warm takes a real chunk out of our growing
season. So, like most other people, we plant our seeds early in hopes
of having plants to transplant when the beds are ready.
Bags of ingredients which will make our seed starting medium
We have adopted the method prescribed by Eliot Coleman in his book "The
New Organic Grower". The mix we use is straight out of his book. This
man has done more research and testing than I could ever hope to do, so
why try to re-invent what already works well. As for seed starting
containers, the best container is no container. Mr. Coleman describes a
method using "soil blocks" which creates containers out of the soil
itself. What could be simpler?
You can order these soil block makers at
Eliot's book and the soil block maker gizmos
So here's how we do it using 2 inch soil blocks. We have a mixing pan which is
nothing more a piece of plywood with 2" x 6" sides nailed to it. I
usually place the pan on a table to help save my back. In the pan I mix
the following using a 1 gallon bucket and a 1 cup measure: (reference
page 141 of Eliot's book).
3 buckets peat moss
1/2 cup lime
2 buckets course sand
1 cup colloidal phosphate
1 cup greensand
1 cup blood meal
2 buckets compost
1 bucket soil
I mix these together using a child's hoe which is just the right size
tool. After mixing, I wet it until it holds it's shape. I make a set of
test blocks and if they are too dry, I just return them to the pan, add
some more water and try again. Nothing wasted!
You can find Eliot's book
The New Organic Grower
and his other wonderful books here at Amazon.
The Soil Mixing table. Simple, easy seed starting.
The mixing tray just sits on top, can be moved out of the way when more
space is needed for potting.
Ed making soil blocks
Press hard and really fill these babies up. We push this back and forth on
the bottom to make sure it's packed well. Keep the mixture moist enough
that it sticks together.
We're almost ready to plant a seed!
On page 143 of Eliot's book there is a drawing showing wooden flats with
three sides on which the soil blocks are placed. This is exactly what
The Soil Blocks ready to go into the plant propagation hoop house
The soil block maker has a small pin in it which creates a little hole in
the top of the block for placing seeds. Depending on the plant, the
seeds are not covered at all or just sprinkled with the mix.
The soil blocks are rather fragile, but they aren't handled directly so
they hold together quite well. They must be watered of course. Because
they don't have any hard containment, heavy watering will just blast
them apart. A fine mist is the best way to water these guys. I use a
1/2 GPH misting nozzle on a garden hose. I get mine at "Grower Supply"
but they are readily available. If the soil blocks are not in direct
sun, misting a couple of times a day seems to be sufficient.
I've had very good success germinating seeds inside using the soil blocks
without any bottom heat. This year I am planning on placing the trays
in the hoop house until they are ready for transplanting. The nights
are still pretty cool here even in April, so we'll be putting them into
the plant propagation hoop house for a while before hardening them off.
Check out our
page for the next step in seed starting.
I tried the sawhorse arrangement shown in Eliot's book for holding the
flats. It worked great for holding the flats but after the plants
started growing, it also provided a seed starting smörgåsbord for some
local mice. They seemed to know that I wouldn't strike at them while
they were among my plants, so they just sat there staring at me while
they nibbled away. I finally ran the mice off by spraying them with
water. They were probably full by that time anyway.
Seed Starting Failure Tip below!
I ended up building a cage to hold the flats. I even put grow lights in
it thinking I was being real inventive. All that did was cause the
plants to grow real tall and spindly trying to reach the lights. Not a
good seed starting tip!
I must admit though, the cage was ideal when we started raising chickens.
We raised about 60 chicks in it until they were old enough to turn
loose in the chicken pen (that is a tale for another day and another