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Archive for February, 2015

Homemade wooden flats for seed starting.

Homemade wooden flats for seed starting.

If you have been following my work, you know that I start my seeds outdoors in coldframes, rather than indoors in flats. However, it was not always that way and, since I have fielded questions about seed starting lately, I thought I’d pass on the seed starting methods I employed when I did use flats.

For many years, when I started seeds for transplants I would use recycled containers or plastic flats and their inserts for the soil mix and seeds. In 1992 I became a market gardener, selling produce to two local restaurants. I knew I needed a better way to produce seedlings and followed Eliot Coleman’s advice in New Organic Grower to use soil blocks. I made wooden flats to the specifications in the book. We have a table saw and plenty of scrap wood, so the only out-of-pocket cost for the flats was for nails. The flats had only three sides to facilitate removing the soil blocks.

After a few years of working with soil blocks I decided I needed to produce more transplants in the same space, plus I didn’t want to buy sand and peat moss for the mix. In fact, I didn’t even want to bother making the mix. I did like the idea of wood flats, though. So, I turned to the advice of John Jeavons in How To Grow More Vegetables (HTGMV). The soil mix he recommends is half soil and half compost, which I already have in the garden. Fill a wooden flat, level it off, and plant the seeds—much easier than making soil blocks. I put a fourth side on all my soil block flats and made some new flats to the specifications in HTGMV. The flat on top in the first photo is a Coleman flat with the fourth side added.

You can make flats any size you want, but first think of how and where you will use them. The Coleman flats were sized specific for soil blocks with the inside dimensions 8 x 18¾” and 2” deep. That was just right for 36 two-inch soil blocks. The inside dimensions of a Jeavons flat is 14” x 23” and is 3” deep. There are Master Charts in HTGMV that indicate how many transplants of each crop that can be started in a flat that size. If you depended on those Charts for your planning, you would want to make that size flat. Filled with moist soil, the Jeavons flat would weigh about 45 pounds.

The depth of the Coleman flat is 2”. The depth of the Jeavons flat is 3”. That might not seem like such a big deal, but it is. Although I continued to use the Coleman flats, I preferred the Jeavons flats for the depth and saw that the plants did better with the extra space for their roots. If I used the Coleman flats, I had to pot-on the transplants to deeper containers sooner. I think my ideal flat would be closer to the Coleman dimensions, but 3-4” deep. However, the deeper the flat, the more soil mix is needed. Jeavons recommends making 6”deep flats half the size of his regular flat to transfer seedlings to that need to grow for a few more weeks before planting in the garden, such as tomatoes and peppers. A full size flat that was 6” deep would be too heavy to manage easily. You could also make 3” deep half-size flats.

wooden flats-BLOG

Summer transplants enjoying the shade under the tree.

I stopped experimenting with flat sizes when I realized that I could just plant the seeds in the coldframes and dig up the transplants to plant in the garden. Sometimes I use wood flats to put my coldframe grown seedlings in until time to set out into the garden. I might do that if I need the space in the coldframe or to protect the seedlings from insects. Caterpillars occasionally take out my peppers in the coldframe, so I watch for the seedlings to come up, then transfer the seedlings to a flat. I want the seeds to germinate in the coldframe and begin to grow there so they will be acclimated from the beginning. When I pull out the seedlings for the flats I can choose only the best and wouldn’t have wasted flat space on ungerminated seeds or poor seedlings. Sometimes, however, if the seedlings need more space and I have it in the coldframe, I’ll spread them out there until time to go into the garden. If I do put seedlings in the flats, they stay outside until transplanting.

Peanuts started in wood flats ready to be transplanted in the garden.

Peanuts started in wood flats ready to be transplanted in the garden.

I transplant corn and peanuts and have to be careful about where I start the seeds to make sure voles don’t eat them before they germinate. Sometimes I’ll use wood flats for that. The photo with the peanuts shows flats 6” deep, but with Coleman’s dimensions. Peanuts germinate quickly and were not going to be in there long so I didn’t fill the boxes with the soil/compost mix to the full 6”. However, their roots would have quickly outgrown the 2” deep flats. When I was selling at the farmers markets I discovered that a 6” deep half-flat made a good container for potatoes at the market. It held about 15 pounds of spuds.

Although I no longer sell at the market, I still do quite a bit of gardening to feed my husband and me, as well as experiment with new things. I like to take advantage of the rhythms of nature and do things that involve less work and less stuff. Starting seeds in the coldframes fits in well with that philosophy. However, if I need them, the wood flats are handy in my shed. I still have the flats I made in 1992, minus the ones I passed on to my daughter and daughter-in-law to use in their own gardens.Homeplace Earth

UPDATE: More about wood flats at Mother Earth News.

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SeedLibraries~MENSeed Libraries: And Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People has arrived! Homeplace Earth is well stocked and ready to fill orders with signed copies. Writing this book has brought me in touch with wonderful people all over North America who are making a difference in their communities by setting up programs for saving and sharing seeds. You will meet them in the pages and learn what they did and how they did it, giving you ideas to follow their lead with your own program.

Don’t really understand what the big deal about seed is? Seed Libraries will take you through how our society went from one of independent seed savers to a society dependent on corporations for its seed needs and the danger that looms if we don’t take action to change now. The reasons you should save seeds are discussed, such as preserving genetic diversity, flavor and nutrition, unique varieties, and cultural heritage. Other reasons include growing to seed to attract beneficial insects, saving money growing your own seeds, and learning new skills. It is always good to learn something new and seed saving will make you a better gardener.

Seed libraries are often located in public libraries. You will learn just how much these institutions have to offer. Having a seed library located in a public library is good for community access and good for a public library that wants to expand its programs and stay relevant to the community it serves. Whether a seed library is located in a public library or elsewhere, often it is in partnership with other groups. You will find examples of some of these groups and their projects in this book.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas with 80% germination. Two days later they achieved 100% germination.

You need seeds to start a seed share program and you need to take care of them. Where to find seeds to start, how to take care of them, and how to do a germination test to make sure the seeds are still viable is all covered. You also need people supporting your project. You will discover who would be beneficial to have on your committee and how to form a mission statement. A mission statement is one of the most important things you can have to define your project to others.

How to package the seeds, sign up seed-sharing members, and how to educate your members so they will bring back healthy seeds that haven’t cross pollinated with other varieties is all in the book. The plight of seeds is so important that everyone should be aware of seeds, not only the seed savers. This book is loaded with ideas to celebrate seeds throughout the year, keeping the excitement and momentum going for all involved.

Not all seed share programs take the form of organized seed libraries. Sometimes it starts with friends saving and sharing seeds among themselves and grows to public seed swaps. In fact, seed swaps are good ways to become acquainted with sharing seeds and are a good prelude to a seed library. You can use the ideas in this book to organize your own seed swap.

If you are already involved in a seed library, the ideas in Seed Libraries will help to energize your project. There is so much to know and think about and this book puts it all together in one place, making it easier for you to have the information at hand, and easier to explain it to others that you want to involve in your project. Just give them a copy and you can discuss the issues together. Links to Internet resources are listed, giving you access to the helpful materials there and keeping you up-to-date on the changes that seed libraries are experiencing as these new seed sharing programs continue to evolve.

We are living in exciting times and I invite you to be part of the positive changes that are coming in our society. I hope you like the book!Homeplace Earth

 

UPDATE: In Seed Libraries I wrote about Sascha DuBrul being the one to come up with the idea for the first seed library. In his blog post http://www.mapstotheotherside.net/history-of-seed-libraries/ he tells the back story of that time. Keep reading to the end and he posts what I wrote about him in the book, which will help you to understand his story. You never know what will happen to your ideas when you follow your heart–and being a little crazy is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

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