Sprouts. Some with their seed cases still hanging on. 
Pretty amazing how that whole plant fit inside that little seed huh?


The seed cabinet is working great after a couple of operator hiccups.

Initially I had rigid foam insulation on the front and decided to replace it with some double-wall poly I scrounged so the sprouts could get some sunlight. After a week of overcast skies the sun came out and heated the cabinet somewhere over 120* according to the recording thermometer - I thought I'd cooked $40 worth of seeds.

Although spotty in a couple of places just about everything has germinated - I may have cooked some of the cabbage a bit early but I think we're going to be OK.

Forming soil blocks and planting seeds

Making Blocks

Here is the setup setup, in the metal tray on the right is the soil-LESS mix (peat/pearlite/sand) I use for blocks. After experimenting a little with ratio and moisture to get the blocks to hold together, packing the soil into the maker and extruding them onto your substrate goes pretty fast. I use a plastic sheet like the stuff to put on bathroom walls and a heavy piece of sheet metal to move it between the bench and cabinet.

Then just place one seed in the little dimple in the top of the blocks (you can sort of see it in the inset photo) and cover with just a very light sprinkling of soil. Part of the deal with soil blocks is that the growing roots won't grow out into the air but instead wait till the block is planted into a container. If so much soil is used that the spaces between the blocks is filled the roots just continue growing and intertwine and generally make a mess.

Here is the working part of the cabinet. 
You can see the thermocouple (the temp sensor portion of the thermostat) is buried in some soil and covered with a square of plastic to keep the soil damp and the same temperature as the soil blocks. If it were to be just dangling in the open air it would be cooler than the soil blocks and make the heat mat stay too hot.

I use a recording thermometer, which of course, records the highest and lowest temperatures. Obviously it doesn't do any good if you've already cooked or frozen your seedlings but it does let you know if the thermostat is doing it's job.

And on the inset you can sorta see the polycarb sheet on the front of the lid and the shade screen Susan stapled on to keep me from turning the cabinet into a Sahara terrarium!

Growing Seedlings

On each sheet of plastic is a grid so each set of soil 20 blocks is identified; A1, A2, A3, etc. As the seeds are "planted" I make a note of what grid they are on so they can be identified down the line.

Ideally, cool season crops would be set on a second shelf where the soil would be cooler and hot season plants like tomatoes, peppers, etc would be right on the mat, they like temps above 70*. Thay will come in time I hope. My next project is to hang a fluorescent grow light in the cabinet (should have already done that...)

BTW, you can see loose soil around the edges of the blocks, it's there to help keep the blocks moist. 

Sprouting soil blocks on plastic sheets in the cabinet on the heating mat.
There are over 1,200 plants here!

Everything is heirloom this year. The closest seedlings are tomatoes, 12 varieties plus some tomatillos and ground cherries, then some cauliflower and other brassicas and on the far end are peppers, eggplant kale and whatall.


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More People Choosing Local Food.

Farm Blog O' the Day
Not Dabbling in Normal



New Boy Scout Motto: They'll Prepare

If the Boy Scouts were formed today instead of 100 years ago, "Be Prepared" I'm guessing would be way down on the nominations list for a motto.

How many people do you know who could make it through a week or month without going to the store? How many even have enough water or heat for a few days if they were cut off from whatever it is that makes the water heater work?

One difference between life on a small farm and life in a town of whatever size is that many services taken for granted by the urbanite are self-maintained by the rural dweller. Granted, many country folks (including lots who own farms of substantial size) are simply suburbanites with an extra long commute and pretty well act that way regarding their own "infrastructure" - i.e. they call someone when the faucet just sits there instead of running.

Of course our primary energy comes on wires and wheels like everyone else's but because we don't have town jobs (at least not steady ones) we do need to think about our personal infrastructure a little more – we can't call the plumber at the first drop or even first drip.

We have a well, septic tank, propane tank, burn barrel, wood lot/pile/shed, pond and various other ways of harvesting runoff, not to mention the pantry, store room, freezer and meat on the hoof/foot/whatever.

None of which make us all that much less dependent than city folks, it just make us a little more aware of how thin is the veil of "modern life".  And it certainly is much easier than life would have been here 100 years ago when the Boy Scouts were formed. In those days "Being Prepared" was required every day not just when something out of the ordinary happened.

Like the guy in Maryland whose power went out along with his heating oil after the big snow. He tried to dig his way out with a front-end loader - to get to a motel 6 I guess - but failed at that, so he went to a shed and ran the engines on his various vehicles until they ran out of fuel. Luckily his cell phone still worked because the state police came in a helicopter and carried him out.


Greenhouse is a Go!

I'm getting antsy to start planting! If the difficulty I had ordering from was any indication so are a lot of other folks.

I've made a deal to sell starts at the local feed store this year. We decided to compete with our little greenhouse in town and the big stores 20 miles away by only selling "heirloom" plants mostly. Along with that we are expanding our garden out to market size - maybe an acre this year. Plus putting in some brambles...

Anyway, the GH project is to a place we can at least get started. Here is the south side with the recycled storm windows finally installed:

I only have one layer of good 6mil UV resistant poly on so far (the only thing here store bought) but will get on another layer on before the seedlings come out of the cabinet.

Speaking of the seed cabinet, here it is with the front and top hinged up. You can see the vinyl sheet on the bottom under which is the heat mat with the thermostat on the cabinet and the thermocouple ready to stick in a bread pan of soil to control the temp.

I'm going to build a shelf and hang a grow light inside for plants to get a little bigger before they re potted out. BTW the cabinet is 5' wide, 2' deep and 2' tall and if I were to fill it up with 3/4" soil blocks it would sprout 1,800 seeds at once!

Finally, here are some of the benches, 2'x8' (2 are pushed together in the foreground). I'm set up for standard 1020 trays, you can see 72 cell plug flats closer and six-packs beyond. 

Theoretically we can get 3,400 plug cells or about 300 6-packs on the benches without getting too cramped so we'll start everything in plug trays they move them on to 6-packs as it gets closer to march(?) and stick them outside under some heavy row covers.

That's the plan anyway. This year is going to be all about balancing what hope to sell as starts and what we'll plant ourselves.

I always knew I'd be doing this eventually, I just wish I'd gotten around to it sooner!


Today's Farm News
Ag Touristas

Farm O' the Day I've linked here before but I like 'em!



Don't Be Dependent!

This is just a general rant,

Don't be so naive as to think a little bad luck can't put a cramp in your style.

Sometime after Katrina showed the world that even the good old US isn't omnipotent, a website went up called 

There, the Department of Homeland Security (a title that gives me the willies but that's another story) urges everyone to do the unthinkable, namely, take a little responsibility for themselves.

Now, this isn't a call to "bunker up" just a reminder that sometimes bad things happen and you might need to take care of yourself for a while till things get back to normal.

He [the Lawton, OK mayor] couldn't emphasize enough that residents need not worry about their water being turned off. However, there is a possibility that some could run out of water sooner than others. 

A couple of jugs like this filled with tap water and a few drops of bleach could make life lots easier, we have used them or loaned them several times. You can use big soda pop bottles too but be careful of milk jugs because some will degrade and leak.

HaHa! Buy 'em from Amazon!

More on living on the edge of the rich world

It really is amazing how rich we are, we replace possessions from simple boredom. Out in the country old timers are pretty frugal but (along with dairies) your exurbanite neighbors can be a goldmine - and I mean that in a nice way!

One neighbor bought an old farm like ours and with his town jobs is slowly fixing the place up. Along the way I've brought home such castoffs as dozens of sheets of corrugated metal (in various stages of decomposition) more than enough to build a dozen calf hutches and a loafing shed and there is still enough for a new hen house.

He had the 20(?) year old windows replaced on the farmhouse and I snagged those and the storms too. The storm windows made the new wall on the greenhouse and the window sash are in storage waiting to be installed in the sunroom on our farmhouse (when I get it built). Bt the way I'll post up pics of the newly refurbished greenhouse soon.

I've hauled home a mostly working cook stove, sink and water heater for our summer kitchen. Salvaged half rusted tractor implements from fencerows and barn-corners; a brush hog, disk, carry-all, 3 pt. scoop, piles of pallets, all sorts of scrap lumber and even a wooden, belt driven winnower and a kerosene heated incubator.


Use it up, wear it out.
Make do or do without!


Todays Farm News
Sustainable ag in the Farm Bill?



Farming on the edge of industrial Ag.

We are in a fairly rural area and since I'm such a scrounge I've discovered a few things a person can put to use by getting to know the local "big guy." Dairies in particular use lots of inputs to keep those girls producing and have lots of "stuff".

There are strict rules regarding the safety of milk and of course there are lots of chemicals involved in keeping things clean. Teat dip is a disinfectant and sometimes comes in 55gal plastic barrels. This contains sodium chlorite at a low concentration but I'd not use the barrels for anything food-wise. BUT fill 'em with water and they are great as thermal storage in the green house!

Many dairies feed silage (chopped fermented corn and stalks) and they use a very heavy grade of plastic to cover and seal the pile, sometimes even reinforced like ripstop nylon. If you make a habit of dropping by regularly, you can probably haul off more white/black 6-8 mil plastic than you can use - and they don't fill their dumpster.

Net wrap is another item in the waste-stream you can intercept. Ask the farmer to toss his old net wrap in a pile or a barrel you provide and it'll save him having it hauled off. You can use it to tie melons off the ground, drape it over a heavy wire strung between posts as a trellis for peas and beans to climb or as a barrier to keep birds from fruit trees. 


I'm going to focus more on what we are doing in coming posts, next time some more recycling...


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