Hello everyone! Although it seems like another dreary winter-the farm feels like it is in full swing. I am now working with a Dynamy intern for the duration of the winter and spring. Today we worked with craftsman/woodworker Ian Anderson to learn a a few things in his woodshpp, and build seedling flats out of rough cut lumber. These will allow us to carry seedlings around more easily, water less, and have overall healthier plants. The alternative is the standard hard-to-recycle plastic cell packs that are brittle, hard to reuse, and flimsy. They are convenience, admittedly, but according to Eliot Coleman, Organic Farmer guru, cell packs are not the best option for the seedlings (or the environment.) Each little cell where a seed is planted is tapered, which means less potting soil, and less room for the delicate seedlings to do their thing before they finally get to live their life out in the ground. What we do instead, using the seedling flats we’ve constructed, is make soil blocks with a nifty soil block maker that poops out 2 inch square blocks with a mini-square divot in the top. This divot is used for planting larger seeds directly, or, placing mini soil blocks inside the bigger soil blocks. The mini soil blocks are used simply to germinate seeds. I do this in standard beverage coolers heated by glass jars filled with super hot water. This heats up inside the box and provides optimal germination temperatures for the seeds. Last year, I found I had to change the water every 1.5 days-so pretty low maintenance. This is done instead of purchasing expensive electric heating pads, or heating the air in a room, rather than just super heating a small area (the tiny soil blocks don’t take up much room!). So as far as I can tell, as long as I don’t drop the sell blocks when removing them from the cooler (I’ve done this, it’s heart breaking…), then I’d say it works great for our scale, which is about 1/4 acre.
Another thing to think about in terms of seeding is lighting. Many farmers use artificial lighting to make up for the minimal amount of light provided in either a greenhouse or indoors. Since I am growing them indoors until they are ready to go to the hoop house, and I don’t have giant windows, artificial lighting works well to stimulate plant growth. This time is so critical for seedling health and development that it is a necessary expenditure of electricity. Since it’s indoors in an already heated house, that means we don’t have to heat the greenhouse, a much larger space. Hooray. Sharing space with baby plants, what could be better?
Lighting has turned out to be quite an interesting thing–I am learning a lot about fluorescent lighting-two different kinds-what works better for short term or longer term use, which bulbs, ballasts, tombstones…etc etc. I know, this isn’t something everyone needs to know, but I can replace a plug in no time, and will soon be replacing all of our ballasts with instant start ballsts instead of rapid start (better for short term use) since I’ll have the lights on for more than 3 hours a day (probably about 12-15!). This means that the bulbs will last longer, we will use about 20% less electricity…and, the good thing is, all of the materials we’re using are recycled! Member and finder and keeper of useful things extraordinaire, Ted Conna, has a brother who works in lighting-which means he has access to perfectly good ballasts that would otherwise have been recycled-but we can reuse them first. And they have plenty of life left. So, a lot of work has been done already on these lights, but there’s more to be done! Another few more hours, and we’ll have more brightly, more efficiently lit, happier seedlings in no time.