Growing the good stuff in Athens, GA since 2006

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Soil Blocks, Snow Day

January 14, 2010

Last Friday we seeded our first plants of the season. We make soil blocks, which is an Eliot Coleman (New Organic Grower) idea that we've adopted. And to make soil blocks, we mix our own mix. Our current recipe:

3 buckets peat
1 cup lime --> mix
2 buckets sand
9 cups fertilizer
2 cups greensand
2 cups rock phosphate
1 cup kelp meal
4 cups bat guano --> mix
1 1/2 buckets compost
1 1/2 buckets soil --> mix

We sift all these ingredients through a small screen first, then add them together and mix them on the concrete basement floor using a straight-edge shovel and a traditional hoe. I like to mix clockwise to infuse the blend with good juju, adding some soil love. After it's all mixed up good, we take the hose to it.

You have to wet the mix quite a lot to make it damp enough to stick together, and peat sure can hold a lot of water. So this step is a combo of someone spraying the pile of dirt down with a water while another person mixes to get an even damp consistency. You know it's wet enough when you can squeeze a fistful and produce a drop or two of water. I also like to take the block-maker and make a few, then toss them in my hand to see if they hold together. Then, the blocking commences.

Our soil blocker makes 4 blocks at a time. The trays we have hold 8 or 9 rows of blocks for a grand total of 32-36 blocks/tray. Friday, we seeded 37 trays, or about 1200 blocks. Takes a while to make that many blocks, but thankfully, we borrowed Jim's soil blocker and got 2 going at once. Thanks Jim! Now, we have 800 or so kale seeds (2 kinds!) and 500 or so chard seeds tucked into their little soil block homes, soaking up dampness and preparing to sprout.

A note on chard seeds. FYI, swiss chard and beets are really closely related. Chard has been cultivated for the greens while beets have been cultivated for the roots. Both are biennial plants, producing seed in the second year. The seeds, though, are actually fruits! Hard, small, weirdly-shaped fruits. So if you ever wondered why you planted one seed in that cell and 2-3 plants appeared, it's because each chard/beet "seed" was actually a FRUIT that contained a number of seeds. Yet another agricultural riddle explained.

Back to soil blocking. Big seeding day Friday. Also big snow. They had been predicting 80% chance of snow Friday. I wasn't convinced. But the sky that morning was thick and grey, and sure enough, around 2pm the flakes began to fall. A mild dusting at first, followed by bigger, sticker snow. We sat in the garage, plugging away at making soil block trays, watching the world outside get whiter and whiter. Around 4pm, we decided that the best way to celebrate was with a round of frisbee golf after work. Patrick was particularly excited about the winter fest, native of Southern California that he is. Snow rookie. Not like I'm much more than that being from South Georgia and therefore privy to about 1 light snow every 5 or 10 years, though we have seen a decent snow almost every year since I moved to Athens. Anyway. We gathered up Chris and Phil and tossed discs until it got too dark to find them anymore. Then we retired inside for tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Happy snow day everyone!

1 comment:

Farmer Sara said...

By the way, the 9 cups fertilizer = greensand, rock phosphate, bat guano and kelp meal. Sorry if that wasn't clearer.