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


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