Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Week 5

What to do this week:

Now that we have seeds and soil, we need some sort of system for planting. You can use anything you want as your system — you just need containers that hold soil. You can use yogurt containers with holes in the bottom, cut-down milk cartons or make little pots from strips of newsprint. I prefer homemade newsprint pots to peat pots. Many people think peat pots reduce transplant shock but I find that they often dry out once planted, and strangle the roots. If you plant them with the lip of the pot above the soil, that just helps to dry out the pot and everything in it.

soil blocks

Soil blocks (Photo via My Watering Can)

The newsprint pots are easy to make. You just cut long strips of last week’s paper and wrap them around a jar. A baby food jar is the perfect size. Start below the lid and wrap around and around until the paper hangs over the bottom. It is multi-layered by that time. Then you squish the overhanging paper over the bottom of the jar to make a bottom for your pot. Take it off the bottle, fill it with soil, and you have your pot ready for seeds.

You could always buy little plastic pots. They are made of recycled plastic now but they cannot be recycled easily after use. They get dirty or break down in the sun and end up being thrown away. I don’t like to use them. The world is already covered in plastic.

My solution is to make soil blocks. It is a much better system than anything else listed so far. For years I made them one by one with an old pot with the bottom cut out. Fill it with the soil mix you prepared and make a bunch of “soil castles.” The main thing is that you squeeze the soil together. You have to use your hands and get a little muddy, but it is fun and very relaxing. The blocks will not fall apart even though you do have to handle them gently at first. If your first one crumbles just moisten the mix and try again. Place the blocks gently in a water proof tray, or even a cardboard box lined with a plastic garbage bag. Place the seeds. You don’t have to bury small seeds at all. You do have to bury large seeds like squash because they have to absorb a lot of water before they germinate, but you can just plop small seeds like onion on top. I put six onion seeds in a 2.5-inch cube block. I use 3-inch blocks for tomato seeds.

You can’t let these blocks dry out. Always water your seedlings from the bottom so that the water is absorbed upwards by the block and the roots are always growing down to get it. Once the roots start to grow, and that will happen very quickly, the roots will hold the blocks together. When you are ready to plant outdoors you just need to scoop the block up with a spatula and place it in the hole you have prepared. Pat the earth around it, and the plant doesn’t even know it has been transplanted. It just realizes that it suddenly has more room to grow. There is no transplant shock at all.

When you buy seedlings you will often find that the roots have been circling around and around inside the pot because they hit the plastic wall and kept trying to find a way out. In the soil blocks, the roots hit the air and don’t have anything to grow against. They just start making more and more little hair roots within the block. You get a nice dense root ball that is not strangling itself trying to get out, and a healthier root system.

You can buy soil block molds with presses at garden stores. There are lots of videos on YouTube if you are a little nervous. I recommend that you try to make soil blocks the economical way first. I have a homemade blocker press now, but until I got up to well over 600 blocks, I was making them one by one just as I described above. You will have more fun, less waste and healthier seedlings.

Next week we will get into care of seedlings.

leaf border




Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.



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