Seed Starting in Soil Blocks

I finally started the seeds for my vegetable garden. A true sign of spring! I ordered almost all of my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They specialize in heirloom varieties that perform well in the mid-atlantic and southern states, although they sell seeds to gardeners from all parts of the United States. Whenever possible I choose varieties that are old southern heirlooms: proven southern performers that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Plant Labels in Soil Blocks.JPG

If my seed starting pots look to you like clumps of dirt, you are right! That is exactly what they are. For about three years now I have been starting seeds in soil blocks. Soil blocks are made by compressing a damp seed starting medium into a "block" shape with an indentation for the seed. Once the plant is ready to be moved to the garden you can simply plant the block into the gournd without having to remove a pot. The benefits of using soil blocks include less root-disturbance for your young starts, and no pots to buy, make or store. The soil blocker I use makes four blocks at a time. So far, I have had great success using method.

In our old house, I started my seeds under a grow light in our basement (which was basically a dirt cellar) . In our new house we don't have a basement, or a cellar, or extra room anywhere for starting seeds. I considered buying or making a small greenhouse or cold-frame to start them outside. I found some cute ideas on Pinterest.

As usual, I ran out of time and inclination for these ideas. I ended up putting them in the bathtub we use for washing the dog.

Bathtub Seed Starting Set Up.JPG

Maybe next year I'll build or buy something cute. For now, rub-a-dub-dub the seeds are in the tub.


Simple expanations of heirloom open-polinated seeds can be found here and here.

This site has lots of information about soil blocks including sections on making your own blocking mix and soil blocker. They also sell soil blocking supplies. I believe this is where I bought my soil blocker years ago.

Johnny's Seeds also sells soil blocking supplies. I have purchased their soil blocking mix before. also sells soil blocking supplies.

How do you start seeds?

Congratulations, It's a Beet!

We read books. We tilled the ground. We added compost. We read more books. We ordered heirloom seeds. We read more books. We planted. Then we waited...

Five days later, little sprigs of green began to appear in our plot. What is that? Are those weeds? No! Weeds don't grow in straight lines...

It's a miracle! Our seeds sprouted!

We told people of the amazing events that were occurring in our garden and they looked at us like we were idiots.

"Duh. That's what happens when you plant a seed."

© Look and Learn Magazine Ltd

We were simple and childlike in our surprise and glee over our garden accomplishments, like children at a magic show wondering, how did he do that?  Now, we are feeling a little stupid. What exactly did we think was going to happen? Seed germination is nothing new; it's happening all around us all the time. It is the stuff of kindergarten classrooms (literally, this is what my 5 year old is currently learning in school). We should be a little more sophisticated, shouldn't we?

The more I think about it, though, there is something beautiful and wonderful about experiencing such things as new again. Yes, even the most basic among us can stick a seed in the dirt, add some water and watch it grow. But there is a miracle going on and it's good for us to stop and wonder at it once in awhile.

" He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head." (Mark 4:26-28, NIV)

Or, as my favorite Baptist explains it (doesn't everyone have a favorite Baptist?):

Can you make a seed germinate? You may place it under circumstances of damp and heat which will cause it to swell and break forth with a shoot, but the germination itself is beyond you. How is it done? We know not. After the germ has been put forth, can you make it further grow, and develop its life into leaf and stem? No; that, too, is out of your power. And when the green, grassy blade has been succeeded by the ear, can you ripen it? It will be ripened; but can you do it? Yon know yon cannot; you can have no finger in the actual process, though you may promote the conditions under which it is produced. Life is a mystery; growth is a mystery; ripening is a mystery: and these three mysteries are as fountains sealed against all intrusion.1

As do many things in nature and life, these "small" miracles happening around us everyday point us to the greater more important things in life - the things that really matter. An ugly seed, gathered from a dead, dried up plant, can be transformed into something new and green and lovely.

Praise be to God, who makes all things new, even our garden, and even me.

1 Spurgeon, Charles H.:Spurgeon's Sermons: Volume 27. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1998 (Logos Library System; Spurgeon's Sermons 27)

Scary Scarecrow

I've been spending most of my time the past few weeks in the garden. Mama Blanca and I have planted a few rows to hoe in her backyard. This past Friday we decided to christen our endeavor with a scarecrow. After all, birds were getting to be a problem and we wanted to involve the kids in some way. We decided that a Blanca-Weasel joint family scarecrow building event was just the ticket. Never mind that we ended up ordering the kids inside to watch a movie, while she and I finished the scarecrow, as though we were set dressers for the Wizard of Oz - carefully placing hay to have just the right disheveled oops-my-hay-is-falling-out look about him. It reminded me of how all our family tree-trimming events go at Christmas-time. They start with my visions of holiday bliss: the kids carefully picking ornaments out of boxes, tenderly unwrapping them from tissue paper and thoughtfully finding the perfect spot to place them on the tree, all while sharing the memories of Christmases past that each ornament evokes. The reality, of course, is that the boys end up breaking even the most seemingly unbreakable ornaments, and place the survivors within one eye-level square-foot area of the tree. Before we are finished, I summarily excuse them from the room and ban them from looking at another ornament or even thinking about the tree for the rest of Christmas. This was kinda like that.

Meet Cletus.

So what makes a Scarecrow scary? Could it be the "Delta Airlines" shirt? Dedicating 13 years to a company that cuts your paycheck, hours, and benefits - that's scary. Could it be the Army issued desert camouflage pants? Spending time in Iraq during the first Gulf War, those pants surely saw someone die - that's scary. Or could it be that our scarecrow is dressed like a working/military man, but has the face of a blow-up doll? Totally disturbing.

We were never really banking on Cletus scaring any crows (we had already covered our plot with bird netting). Now we are just hoping he doesn't attract something even more undesirable to the garden.