Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Flowers In The House

One of the blogs I follow, SmallButCharming,  has a Flowers in the House link on the last Monday of the month.  I missed it yesterday....oops...  So I looked around and spotted some little crocuses and some rock iris.  I added the tiny rose hips from a miniature rose bush and put it all  in a coffee cup vase.  I adore little arrangements in tea cups and tiny bottles.  So here is my flowers in the house photo.  Maybe next month I will get it done on time. 

                                        Dreaming of Spring!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quotable Sunday 2/26/2012

Still Waiting

Here it is Sunday again and I am stuck.  What to write about again.  What would be interesting to read and know.  Right now, there are hundreds of jobs and chores to do (literally).  We should be pruning our fruit trees, cleaning up the veggie garden, pruning roses and lavender and on & on..... But it has rained, hailed and snowed in the last couple of days.  Add to that, the muscle of this operation has come down with a major cold, has no energy and sleeps a lot.  And if luck has it, my turn is only a day or two away.  Stinks being sick when there is SO much to do around here. 

 Finally the anemones are budding up in a larger way.

They look pretty good but had to go back undercover again because night temps will be in the twenties.  I just want it to be slightly warmer temps and for spring to slowly ease in to place.  I want us to be healthy and energized to get all the work done.

I just Want buckets of these little guys!  What I Need is patience!

" Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. "
                        -May Sarton-

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quotable Sunday 2-19-2012

We decided a while back that maybe we should do a blog about growing flowers.  Or I should do a blog about flower farming with Tony as occasional featured author.  I am not very comfortable writing, as you probably can tell.  In my head, I am very conversational but what comes out on the key board is a grade school letter to Grandma ( How are You?  I am fine.)  I think I am scarred and scared to put words to paper, maybe my childhood trauma of my brother reading my diary to his friends and everyone laughing is the reason.  Oh well, very long time ago.  Any way the challenge was to write something at LEAST once a week.  How hard would that be,  just write about pretty flowers and show lots of photos.  Well here it is Sunday and I am going "what do I write about?"  Nothing is blooming, we are just planting, and planting and more planting.  I am waiting for the beautiful ranunculus and anemones to bloom.  Waiting for the daffodils and tulips to bloom.  What  is there to say or show?  Okay here are some photos from around the farm.
                                    Here are some roses that are budding out and need to be pruned.             
                                                 Alliums that have just come up.
The capillary mats are working well and the propagation house is filling up.
The daffodils are poking through the ground and really starting to grow and bud up.

The camellia has lots of buds on it.  It is a soft pink variety.

Brodiaea is coming up in a box that is supposed to be cleaned out.  Mmm, wonder if it will get to stay?

And even some ranunculus from a season ago has sprouted.  Boy they are tough little buggers.  Wonder if they will stay?  These boxes will have another round of anemones planted in them on March 1st.

So there is a small tour of the place.  Lots & lots of clean up yet to happen.  Just waiting for the pretty flower pictures.  So stay with us and please wait for the springtime flowers.  It is almost here.

"The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter is in the imagination"
-Terri Guillemets-

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day Flowers

Yesterday, Valentine's Day, I went to help out a local florist, make bouquets and deliver flowers around the city.  I had a great time, surrounded by many others, making beautiful arrangements, helping customers and brightening people's day.  They had been working for several days and were getting tired but still working their hearts out.  At one point, one asked me if I was tired of flowers yet?  My quick answer was no, never, I am one of those flower nerds that just loves to play with flowers.  The quick  response but not the entire truth.  I feel so strongly about the flowers that I grow them also, in addition to playing with them in arrangements. I never tire of  flowers, I may get tired from the hard work but never of the flowers.  It is hard to express the love of flowers and the magic I feel when I can get them to bloom for me.  When you think about the tiniest seeds, or odd shaped bulbs going in to the ground, maybe spending the winter in the cold and dark, waiting, for the moment when it gets the signal it is time, and it  pushes its way out and produce the first bloom of the season.  It is amazing and magical, at least for me.  When it sits in a pretty vase or bottle, by your bedside, on your dining room table and just smiles at you , hoping for a smile back; how can one not see how wonderful a flower is and how much it should be valued.  I know it is not food, or a fancy electronic device but it is real, it is natural, it is valuable.  In the times we live, where everything is the biggest, the fastest, the flashiest, maybe we should slow down a bit, look for the simple, the small, the elegant, the beauty and the glory of the natural world around us.  

So, after making many beautiful arrangements and surrounded by so many beautiful flowers, those little anemones in that bottle made me really happy because we grew them. The first blooms of the season, not enough to share yet but soon.  Other flower people  may want jewelry, dinners and other fancy presents which are lovely, but the thing that makes my heart sing, are pretty little flowers.

Thanks sweetie for the flowers!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quotable Sunday 2-12-2012

Valentines Day is almost here.  So here is my tribute to the guy who is working his butt off to help me pursue my dream.  It is not said often enough but thank you and I appreciate all that you do for me!  Oops forgot, love ya babe!

"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life."
Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Using Soil Blocks on the Farm

Awhile back we began to look at a number of our processes on the Farm and try to figure out more sustainable practices to use.  One of the biggest areas for us was how we ran our seed starting and transplanting.  We, like most growers, used a variety of plastic plug trays to start and transplant our young seedlings before  we would plant them in the field.  Plug trays although advantageous in  that they provide a clean organized way to start the plants have a number of draw backs that bother us.
  • Plastic begets more plastic!  The plastic plug trays are typically good for one to two seasons before becoming damaged and have to be replaced.  Plastic waste that is difficult to recycle bothers us a lot.
  • Reusing plug trays is time consuming in that each tray has to be washed by hand before being reused.
  • Getting the plants released from the trays for transplanting can be time consuming and most of the time stresses the plants during transplanting.
  • The cell sizes and shapes of the trays are more designed for automated equipment handling rather the manual processes of our small farm.
  • On some plants growing them on to field transplant size allows time for the seedlings to have their roots circle around the inside cell wall of the plug such that they are unnaturally growing towards a tight root ball instead of in a more natural out ward pattern.  This tight root ball pattern most of the time leaves the plant with a poorer root system after transplanting to the field.
So we began to explore the idea of using soil blocks instead.  Although the initial planting process can take a little longer than using a straight plug system due to time spent mixing soil, the quality of the plants for us seems to be much better and it solved all the issues mentioned above.

Using the 3/4" mini soil blocks to seed difficult to germinate plants and then easily transplanting them to larger blocks for growing on actually began to save us time and space in the propagation house.  So that is what I'd like to show you today is a pictorial of transplanting 3/4" mini-blocks to the larger 2" soil blocks process from start to finish.

The first step is to put together the soil blocking formula mix.  We using a simple formula for our 2" blocks.  The base is 8 parts a peat Perlite Promix BX(which comes PH balanced; followed by 5 parts organic compost; 1 part Vermicompost; 2 parts additional Perlite; and 1 part soil(soil is from a fertile bed on our farm)

Mixing the soil block formula
I typically use a big tub and currently we are hand mixing the materials. Once we scale this up we will be using a portable powered concrete mixer to do this faster and in larger batches.

I hydrate the mix to the consistency of a firm mud. Because I'm a weenie here I use warm water to mix..keeps the hands from freezing and is way more comfortable when making a number of trays.
Just note here; before adding the water mix all the dry ingredients together first.  Set some aside in a small bucket to add later if the mix becomes watery.

Showing the consistency of the mix is just about right.


 Like good pasta I like to test the mixes consistency by taking a small handful and throwing it against the side of the mixing tub. If it sticks in a clump its good to go.  If it falls off in crumbs it needs more water; if it slides down its too wet and needs some more dry mix added.

This photo shows the mix is just right!

3 basic blockers we use
 When I started this experiment I purchased the 3 basic size blockers shown. 

The one in red is the 3/4: mini block. It contains 20 individual blocks with a dibbled top. Going counter clockwise the one above the mini blocker is the 1.5" blocker with 5 individual blocks produced with each pressing.  The last one is the 2" blocker with 4 individual blocks produced in each pressing.

The 2" and 1.5" blockers have removal center pins for different sized dibbles or a square dibble which is used for transplanting the 3/4" mini's.

Charging the blocker is simple.  Keeping a bucket of water next to your mixture, dip the blocker in water before each use then immediately plunge it into the soil mix several times till you see a light mixture of mud come through the top.  This tells you the block is full.  If some of the blocks show the mud but others don't re-plunge again until you see it across all the cells.

The next step before putting the block in your tray is to scrap the excess off the bottom of the blocker.  I do this so the soil block sits square when resting in the tray.

These two photos show you the actual formation of the block in the plastic holding tray.  The type of holding tray we use is weaved on the bottom so that the soil blocks when resting on a capillary mat will be able to wick water up.  The standard tray is about 10" wide by 20" long and will hold 50 2" blocks or 84 of the 1.5" blocks.

As I'm filling the tray I occasionally use a straight edge to even up the blocks so the tray can fill evenly.

Viola! A finished tray ready for transplants.  The cool thing about these blocks is the soil mix already has natural compost fertilization for a good start built right into the block.

Today we were transplanting early season Stock. Each 10"x 20" tray of 3/4" mini-blocks contains 300 possible transplants.  Since germination of very few types of seeds is 100% using the mini's to germinate saves space, potting mix and in the long run time by not washing more plug trays then you needed due to empty cells that did not germinate.

Using a very technical set of tools.....2 Popsicle sticks, we begin by lifting the first mini plug out of its germinating tray.  we use the sticks on the first few to open up space without damaging the plants.  Once there is enough room we just use our fingers to pick up the blocks.

These blocks are actually quite sturdy. Once the plant germinates it immediate sends roots throughout the block which just increases its structural strength.

The beauty of the square dibble used in the 2" block is that it is precisely the same size as the 3/4 mini block being transplanted.  So transplanting is simply placing the 3/4" block in the square hole..give it a gentle pressing in and your done!

A just finished tray of Stock transplants

The final tally sitting on the propagating house's capillary mat.  This whole transplant process wasn't much slower then manually transplanting from plugs into another type of plug tray.  In the end we have found that these transplants grow faster with hardly no transplant shock. Aside from a weekly foliar dose of sea kelp/fish fertilizer the only thing to do is keep them hydrated.   As small as these guys are now they should be ready for the field by the end of first week of March.

Our goal over the next year is to move all of our seeding and transplants to the soil block system and reduce our reliance on plastic just a little bit more.   In my next entry I'll discuss the planting of the finished block in the field and talk a little bit more about how we use the 3/4" mini's  and the 1.5" blocks.

As part of our philosophy of keeping what we do transparent to all who follow us or buy from our sustainable farm I'm glad to answer any questions. You can contact me at

Tony Gaetz

We have received a lot of email, asking where to get the block makers.  Johnny's Seeds and carry them now.  At the time of the original post, they were harder to find.  We are so happy folks are interested in giving them a try.  Happy Growing!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Quotable Sunday 2-4-2012

                       Today we are planting hundreds of freesia bulbs.
            From bags of bulbs brings buckets of beautiful blooms!

        "I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers,  someone is taking the time to plant some."     -Herbert Rappaport-

                We are on the Job!
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