Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Soil Blocking: We're Game to Try a New Method!

Last fall Kathy M. came back from a Zone VII GCA Meeting in Virginia Beach.   Kathy is always enthusiastic and eager to try new things  She RAVED about hearing Lisa Ziegler, one of the keynote speakers.   
Lisa's career is her garden.  She started by selling cut flowers to local florists and to Colonial Williamsburg. Her business expanded and soon included Farmer’s Markets, a garden share program and a subscription service.  She also started speaking to various gardening groups including garden clubs, master gardeners and others.  Lisa's Story can be found here.  Kathy says what blew her away and what she loves about Lisa is her infectious "can-do attitude" and her "over the top information."
Kathy's seed starter kit.
Kathy came back to Charleston with the Soil Blocking Starter Kit that she purchased through Lisa at The Gardener's Workshop and couldn't wait until spring to star her new found knowledge.  
Bottom of blocker - see all the tiny squares
that will make the planting 'blocks.'
Kathy's positive comments about the method include:
  • Fast emergence
  • Quick to be able to transplant
  • Cuts the growing time in half 
  • Can have blooms the entire season
  • It's all about the timing
Kathy gave two of us a brief demo in early spring.  She brought trays of annuals, herbs and perennials that she had started on April 5.  We ordered a few additional trays and soil to share.  Mary, Kathy and Tori then had a follow up session where they started seeds using the method. 
Below are photos and comments on their experiences.

Kathy started with lots of seeds.  She managed to get them through the germination stage, but then left for a few days and they lacked water.  A few lettuce, tomato and basil plants survived and are now doing great.  Soon to be eaten tomatoes!
Mary writes that she, Tori and Kathy had a small workshop on May 11.  She tried some seeds let from a Shirley Meniece conference as well as the Texas Bird Pepper that has a post all of its own.  She used a heating pad and also enclosed in some zip lock baggies to try to prevent the trays from drying out while she left town for a few days. 



Mary reports on June 15, 2016 that her trays have been under full light 24/7 and now coming out of the baggies. There was some loss due to mold inside the bag, but lots of survivors.  She is growing crocosmia and Texas bird peppers as you can see written on the side of the tray.



Tori adds: "

Menta spicata
I started several types of seeds using the block method 5/11/2016. I wanted some plants for my own yard, so used Digitalis purpurea f. Albiflora, white fox glove Thalictrum rochebruneanum, Meadow Rue and Mentha Spicata spearmint."  She did use a heating pad underneath and raised up close to the lights. 

Unfortunately, vacation interrupted and she lost what she started.

I'd like to post some information from Lisa.  I emailed her this morning with a few questions and asked permission to use her information sheet "Seed Starting with Soil Blocks."  (I can't upload .pdf's to the blog, so have saved it as a .jpg and it appears at the bottom of this post.)  She replied immediately with the following great answers to my questions about watering and legginess.  So, if you wind up trying this method and purchasing things from her, I know you will have great responses from her to anything you need to know! 

  • Watering; blocks should dry out between daily waterings. Best case is that the growing area is warm, so the blocks are dry each morning to be water. This is encourages strong root growth and just good growing conditions. Drying out also helps to eliminate disease problems--fungus such as damping off, algae, etc. all associate with cool, wet soil. Here is a link to  a video showing how I water, scroll to the 2nd video: http://www.thegardenersworkshop.com/how-to/tgw-tv/ 
  • We do not cover our trays with domes because that is a perfect growing environment for disease and other undesirables.
  • Leggy plants are result of low light. For plants to remain short, stocky and beautifully green they need 16 hours of light a day. A grow light placed inches above the seedlings on for 16 hours a day grows very healthy transplants. See photo attached of 3-5" seedlings ready to go to the garden.
  • Size to plant; our goal to have a 3-5 inch seedling to plant in the garden. This can take 2-5 weeks depending on the variety and growing conditions provided (zinnias 2 weeks, tomatoes 4 weeks, cockscomb 4 weeks, etc.) 
  • Soil blocks provide such an amazingly healthy environment to grow in plants grow faster without restrictions. You can count on cutting 1/3 of the growing time off other methods. It's all about timing and not starting to early so the plants are left in blocks to long.
  • A link to Frequently Asked Questions about Soil Blocking:  http://www.thegardenersworkshop.com/how-to/faq-seed-starting-with-soil-blocking/
Giant marigolds ready to go into the garden

Lisa's web site is terrific - take the time to browse the many different pages and look at the photographs of her gardens!  In addition to the tips she sent two photos of her blocks.

14 Week Old Cockscomb Peach


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Pollinators In Peril: Our Pollinator Projects

Last year our club tackled the GCA's Pollinators in Peril challenge in several different ways.

We worked through our Hort Committee and propagated several varieties of milkweeds.  You may read about these by browsing the 2015 posts on milkweeds.  A new post from May 27 titled 'May and our Milkweeds' gives updates on this project.  We will continually update this post throughout the summer and post comments that will be sent to those of you who follow our blog.  If you have not subscribed to get our updates, just scroll to the bottom of any of our pages and submit your email address to follow. 
In addition to the seed propagation a few of us planted milkweed plants also obtained from Prairie Moon Nursery.  We ordered flats of 38 plants and put in our gardens in the spring of 2015.  As these were young plants, many did not flower.  They did, however, bring caterpillars.  I have about a dozen plants and had close to two dozen caterpillars.  We brought one caterpillar inside, put in a container with a screen on the top and within 24 hours the chyrsallis formed and then emerged a few weeks later.  Another friend, Lynn,  had great success.  This year those plants are flourishing. Milkweeds are slow to break dormancy here.  Daily checks finally showed tiny red sprouts breaking through.  The plants have grown rapidly and some are now over two feet tall in my yard.  They are producing blooms already so we are anticipating many more monarchs this fall. 

Lynn's plants spring of 2016 - great growth and bloom!

Lynn May 11
Lynn May 23

Lynn May 27 in bloom!

Sara's plants and monarch from fall 2015!

Lots of caterpillars on one tiny plant.
How many can you see?
Caterpillar just about
the right size to bring in.
Within 24 hours the chrysalis formed.
Chrysallis was given to Anna to
babysit while I was on vacation.
Close to emerging.

Photograph by Anna Forbes
 Our third Pollinator Project involved a partnership with The Carriage Trail.  The trail is described below and is a tremendously popular walking trail.  It is listed as a National Recreational Trail.
"The Sunrise Carriage Trail gently zigzags 0.65 mile and descends 180 feet from the Sunrise Mansion located at 746 Myrtle Road to Justice Row, which is adjacent to the south end of the Southside Bridge. The Trail property is a peaceful and varied landscape of towering trees, wildflowers, ornamental plantings, and historic masonry remains. The Carriage Trail was originally constructed in approximately 1905 by former Governor William A. MacCorkle for the use of oxen-drawn wagons carrying massive stone building materials for the Mansion. Later, Governor MacCorkle used the Trail for his horse-drawn carriage"
An add-on to the trail was the acquisition of Justice Row made possible by a gift from the Hess brothers.  Justice Row was formerly a short spur road with several very small buildings that served originally as offices for local Justices of the Peace.  These were demolished many years ago and the property was acquired and added on to the trail.  At the end of the property there is a small parking area and just beyond that an area approximately 15x15 that receives enough daily sun to host a monarch garden.  In the fall of 2015, our Conservation Committee proposed the establishment of a Monarch Garden.  Accepted by both our board and The Carriage Trail, trays of plants of three varieties of milkweeds were reserved through Prairie Moon.  We ordered Asclepias sullivantii, Asclepias incarnata and Asclepias tuberosa.  We received our plants in May, 2016 and on June 1 members of our Conservation Committee as well as members of The Carriage Trail installed the plants.  Future plans include signage explaining the importance of milkweeds in the life cycle of monarchs and the establishment of a Monarch Waystation.

Newly planted site June 2016
Site in summer 2015.
Approximately 15x15 with lots of
sun.  The site was cleared and prepared
with help from The Carriage Trail and
the City of Charleston.

Carriage Trail and Kanawha GC
members after planting.

Popping the plants out of trays and placing
on the site.

Carriage Trail & City of Charleston
with the watering truck.
An additional tray of plants was provided to the City of Charleston Stormwater Department and planted in a dry creek bed educational project in downtown Charleston.

Friday, June 3, 2016

"Seeds of the Land Grant": A Follow up on the WV 63 Tomato

We are still growing and growing and spreading the seeds of our WV 63 tomatoes and keeping the heritage alive! If you remember 2 years ago we posted about the WV 63 tomato.  The tomato is now 53 years old.  Seeds were shared at the 2014 Shirley Meniece conference - we would love to hear from any of you that took these seeds home and tried them.

To refresh your memory the tomato was created in 1963 by Mannon Gallegly, a professor and researcher at WVU. 
"You could say that the West Virginia ’63 is living proof that the land-grant mission remains alive and well at WVU. Before the introduction of the land-grant institution, higher education was viewed as an elite enterprise exclusive only to wealthy white males. The 1862 Morrill Act knocked down those barriers, and paved the way for WVU’s founding four years later. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Act, granting each state 30,000 acres of land for each member it had in Congress, with the land and gross proceeds used to fund educational institutions focused on agriculture, science, and engineering."   Excerpted from Mannon Gallegly’s WV ’63 Tomato: The People’s Tomato
Fonda is our gardener extraordinaire and is a major contributor to keeping these wonderful heirloom plants going!  She collects and saves the seeds, propagates, shares her plants and then does it all again...and again.  For the past few years she has been providing our membership with beautiful young plants in May.  This year she grew 50 plants to share. 

Here is her story and her photographs:

I saved the seeds in August 2015.  The tomatoes I used were over -ripe!  It only took 2 days for the mold to grow.
I rinsed, drained, dried on paper towels and then put in zip lock bag into the freezer.
I started propagation the middle of March in the peat pellets. I kept them in a warm place, did not put them under grow light until they sprouted. Next year I will use a warming mat.
Planted 72 seeds, 68 germinated - 94%!!
I transplanted April 5 into 4" pots, next year I will put into larger pots.
I used commercial potting soil with fertilizer in it.
I only transplanted 50 seedlings, into the pots, simply because I ran out of time, energy and space under the grow lights.
I put into the garden Mothers Day weekend.  They survived that  long rainy spell and seem to be thriving now.

A beautiful plant in the garden!

 And from those of us lucky enough to be recipients of the tomatoes:

From Debbie on May 28: (she is one of our newest members who won a blue ribbon and best of show at our spring Hort Flower Show)

This is one planted in the garden - we have had weeks of rain, now finally stopping.  The plants are perking up and have blooms.

The one on the right is in a pot - blooms on it, too.

This is their home and I will update you soon.

Read about growing tomatoes and how temperatures play into blossom drop at About Home - a lot of weather plays into making the perfect tomato!

From Lynn on May 27 - and Lynn's husband still thinks these are the best tomatoes he has tasted - small but mighty!