Soil Blocker at Star & Bullock Hardware – $26.95
Farming, or even small scale gardening, is all about the details. Yes, the pH of your soil matters. And Your NPK fertilizer ratio matters, and the amount you water, and it goes on and on.
Something most people take for granted is that a seedling is a seedling, but this is not even close to true. Seedlings can become root bound, or they can just get confused as to how much they are able to grow. And these conditions can stunt them.
I had a very successful small hobby farm in Western Massachusetts in the early 2000s. There I grew almost ever vegetable you can think of, and I started all of my seedlings in February. I had a dirt floor cold basement, so I built a 5 level seedling station using a small hot water heater, copper tubing, and a small pump on a thermostat. Back then you could only get florescent lights, but It worked incredible.
To make them, I learned to use a soil blocker.
The concept of a soil block is that it has no boundaries that the plant can detect, but the slightly different alignment of the blocks next to each other is enough to tell the plant that this is my space, and that is your space.
In my personal experience, it has a huge effect on the final result. Even seedlings that are long past the time they should be in a 2″ x 2″ block kind of halt at the edge of the block mostly, and just wait. It helps the plant to not get too leggy, because it just kind of waits.
In the round plugs you find at Walmart, the roots go around and around in a circle, and once they start that pattern, forget it. You will have stunted plants. It is very important to get those into the ground, and preferably break open the bag, long before they hit the sides of the cylinder.
Likewise for the plug trays. In those the roots tend to bounce off the plastic and travel up and down, which also prevents them from spreading out as they should.
When you transplant a soil block, the plant knows something is going on, so it reaches out again, and the roots grow out sideways very easily. I have seen nearly miraculous growth, and as I said in the video, I got watermelons over 2 feet long and perfectly sweet in the foothills of the Berkshires. That is supposed to be impossible. Most books will tell you to not even attempt melon transplants.
It is crucial in many parts of the US to start your seedlings early, long before the danger of frost has past, but even in those zones, there is no guarantee that the ground will freeze at the projected freeze date. And if you get an occasional frost before the fruit is mature, you can use a spray bottle to water them on the cold night. This usually will save them from freezing.
As you long time fans of Prepping 101 know, I am not a huge advocate of people planning to live off of what they can grow, because it is so easy to fail. But if you have put away a good amount of food, there is no reason to start gardening. We have some time. There are no food shortages today. Just take the actions now.