The ground is still snow covered but inside the greenhouse, our little seedlings are growing and thriving. This morning we started our first round of tomatoes and peppers, which is exciting as these warm season crops love heat and their beginning must mean that winter is ending. Right?! The greenhouse is filling up with onions, scallions, cilantro, kohlrabi, kale, parsley, swiss chard, and beets. The beets will be the first thing to be transplanted into our tunnel, destined to be baby beets at our first farmer's market.
We seeded our tomatoes and peppers in soil blocks in the hopes of giving these finicky and long season crops the best start. Soil blocks are ideal for transplants. They contain more growing medium than cells of the same size in plastic trays. And plants air prune themselves instead of becoming root bound, so when you plant them out in the field plants establish themselves faster. Joe and I are always looking for ways to make our little farm more sustainable and self sufficient so we are also pretty excited about avoiding plastic trays, which although they can be reused, will fall apart after a few years. Soil blocks do have disadvantages, namely that it takes much longer to mold all the soil blocks than to just fill a tray with soil. They also use more soil, which is an advantage for the transplants and adding fertility to the field, but can be a debilitating cost for a new farm. So this year we are growing many crops in both soil blocks and plastic trays in order to see for ourselves what the difference is in the health of our transplants and determine what crops most benefit from soil blocks.
We thought that we would be able to use plastic bottom trays to hold the soil blocks, but because soil blocks are so moist and dense they are pretty heavy, and we don't think they'll be able to handle the 4 inch blocks that our tomatoes will soon be potted up to. The bottom trays are also wrong size for the soil block maker and so it was taking even longer than normal to fill a tray. So this week we made our own soil block trays out of 1x2 cedar pieces and hardware cloth. This design is based on the trays used at Earth Sky Farm, thanks for the inspiration and guidance!