Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Starting Seeds Under Grow Lights

The mortality rate of seeds that I plant directly into the garden is high. I blame it on the arid climate, because it is difficult to keep the soil moist for the time it takes to get the seeds well-sprouted.  The solution is to start seeds inside in soil blocks and plant them out when they have a couple of good leaves and some roots.

LED grow lights are fabulous for this. They are low-power and don't produce much heat so they don't cook the plants.

Don't let articles about basements full of reflectors and lights scare you off. There is a difference between growing plants all the way to flowering and fruiting and just getting seedlings started.  My setup won't get tomatoes from seed to harvest.  It will get them from seeds to seedlings and do it inexpensively.

This was the first "OMG, I need LIGHT, and I need it NOW" setup.  Two inexpensive grow lights are dangling from some steel tubing over my workbench. They have a timer set to provide about 14 hours of high intensity light every day.
Temporary Grow Light Area
You can see the mini greenhouses of salvaged transparent pastry and salad green boxes labelled with painters tape and permanent marker pens. The seedlings are in the boxes, protected from drying out.

The next version will have two more lights and more space, but will not be any fancier.  
WARNING and update: The air inside the plastic boxes CAN reach temperatures too high for successful seed germination.  I did not have problems when the workshop was a chilly 55 degrees, so I assumed that the set-up was working.  Later I started having entire boxes fail to germinate.  I was puzzled, then realized that I was not monitoring the temperature inside the boxes.  It was NINETY-TWO degrees in the box I measured.  That explains it.

I need to figure out how to keep the soil blocks moist and the temperature down.  There will be an update.

Why I don't use a sunny window

Sunny windows are for cats, not seedlings.
Read more!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Starting Seeds in Soil Blocks: Part 3, After They Sprout

They sprouted!  Now what? 

Unless you want the seedlings to die from lack of space for their roots, you have to do something with them.  You have three choices:
  • Direct planting out to your garden
  • Moving the sprouts to a larger soil block to grow larger
  • Moving the sprouts to a pot, either permanently or to grow larger
Read more!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Starting Seeds in Soil Blocks Part 2, Making and Planting the Blocks

Collect your trays for the soil blocks.  I use salvaged  clear plastic containers that salad greens or pastries are sold in. I also use small freezer containers to hold a 20-block set of seeds.  If you will be making large quantities of blocks, cafeteria style trays or nursery trays would be convenient if you have some way to retain moisture in the blocks.

You will also need a sturdy trowel, a drywall mudding blade, and a pair of tongs with flat 1-inch tips.
The tools: drywall knife, mason's trowel and salad tongs

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Starting Seeds in Soil Blocks Part 1, Making the Mix

Soil blocks - just a cube of compressed dirt - have advantages for gardeners who grow their vegetables and flowers from seed.
40 lettuce seedlings in 3/4" soil blocks
in a scavenged plastic deli tray
There is no plastic except for the reusable, perhaps scavenged, trays for the blocks.  The micro blocks shown here take a very small amount of space compared to other seed starting methods. If a seed fails to sprout, the block can be tossed into the garden or compost bin. When well-sprouted, after a couple of true leaves have developed, the seedlings are ready for planting out or moving into a larger soil block or a pot.
Read more!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Raised Bed: REV 2.0 Bigger and Better

The first raised bed was done in a hurry because it was already October and I needed to get something finished for winter vegetables.  It was about 6x9 feet, occupying the available space between a fence, shed, and compost bins.
Six feet is as deep as it can be without getting in the way of traffic through the side yard. However, six feet is too big to weed in the middle without crawling into the growing area. Four feet wide would have been much better, because a comfortable reach for me is 2 feet.

Geometry to the rescue! The new bed is a fat E-shape, 6x16 feet, with two indented areas to keep the entire growing area in my reach distance. It is, however, no longer "tool-free".
Old (top) and new (lower) bed outline

Read more!

Monday, April 10, 2017

My Father was a Passover Goy. Was Yours?

What do an atheist family's children do for Passover? If the children are lucky, there will be a nearby observant Jewish family with "chametz" that is also in need of a "Passover goy".

What is "chametz"? When I was a child, I thought chametz was Yiddish slang for cookies, rye bread, and bagels. It's really almost any product that contains one or more of these five grains - wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye. Chametz includes not only bread and bagels, but the flour they are made from.

According to their religion, Jews may not own, eat or benefit from chametz during Passover. They must consume it, destroy it, or sell it before Passover starts. Not a single crumb can remain in a house (except for a few that are hidden for Jewish children to find and bring to be destroyed), or a warehouse, or a business.

What or who is the Passover goy? There is a loophole in Jewish ritual law big enough to fit wagonloads of chametz through. The Passover goy is a reliable non-Jewish person who takes posession of chametz for the duration of Passover.

Why would my father, a well-known atheist, choose to be a Passover goy? Why not? Helping neighbors is a mitzvah. Looking back, he was also the only person in the community who was not a member of a church that actively sought converts. If you want a no-hassle, no sermons Passover goy, atheists and pagans are probably better choices than someone from the high-pressure Christian religions.

I also realize now why there were fresh-made cookies, challah, and rye bread in the boxes the Jewish families brought to him. It's not as though the families were unaware that Passover was coming and accidentally made bread. It was an unspoken "thank you" for respecting their beliefs.

What are the duties of the Passover goy? Every year, my father made room in our house and garage for the chametz, and did the following:
  • Bought and stored their flour and leavening agents. 
  • Bought their baked goods. 
  • Bought and stored any other goods that had chametz in the ingredient list, such as the wheat noodles in canned ravioli, or the wheat starch in a condiment.
  • Bought and stored any wheat-based liquor and beer. 
  • Stored their dishes and cooking utensils that were used during the year, because the Jewish family was using their special Passover set. 
  • Sold it all back after Passover ... minus the baked goods. We ate those.
He had to buy the chametz? Yes. The payment was a tiny amount, but it ritually passed ownership from the Jewish owner to my father. As I recall, a dollar bill changed hands for each family. Read more!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Weed Control Methods: Herbicides Series

I will be publishing a series of posts on herbicides for weed control, explaining in a non-technical manner how to select the correct one for your problem and use it effectively.

It's a bit more complicated than grabbing a bottle of "weed killer" and spraying the yard.
WARNING: If something will kill "weeds", it might also kill "flowers", "lawns", "vegetables", "shrubs", "trees", "animals", and you.
Read the labels before you buy a product or open the container. Follow the instructions. What has been sprayed can't be unsprayed.
As I complete the posts, I'll update this, or click on the tag "herbicide" to see them and any other posts on herbicides. Read more!

Friday, April 7, 2017

PRO and CON: Expanding Pot-Pellets for Seed Starting

I sometimes start seeds in expanding starter pots. The most widely available brand is Park Seed Company "Jiffy-7" pots. The Jiffy pots are widely available in garden centers, the garden section of large retailers and hardware stores. They don't work for all seeds, but it's a product that is worth considering for starting some of your seeds.

The poker-chip size disks inflate into seed starting pots when you soak the discs in warm water. After the disk has soaked up water and is about 1 1/2 inches tall, drop a couple of seeds into the hole in the pot and wait for something to grow. I haven't had this much fun since I was a kid and had those flat animal sponges that puffed up into horsies.
Expanding Pots: as purchased on the left, after soaking on the right

Read more!