Every year, without fail, I start the year full of optimism and hope. It’s human nature to reset on a cycle, put the past behind us and look ahead to the promise of a better future. We make resolutions and burn our regrets. This year will be better than the last. It has to be because it will be different and we will be learning from our mistakes.
But by the end of February, the coldness and darkness of winter has taken its toll on my psyche, the endless gray. And all my optimistic plans seem so…much. I’m tired, half-hibernating. I replay in my mind all the work it took last year to run this little farm. The constant toil, the stress of the weather, the timelines, the tasks that didn’t get done, the mental and physical strain of it all.
But farming is a cycle, circling around the seasons the way the Earth circles around the sun. And by the first of March, I know in my bones it’s time to sow seeds. It’s the only thing I look forward to in March. The novelty of snow has worn off by then and I start to seek out signs of spring emerging: birds singing again in the trees, geese flying south, hardy green shoots poking up from the frozen earth. Each sighting is like a little lift in my belly- it’s coming, spring is on its way!
I sow the first of my seeds: this year it was onions, peppers, parsley, and eggplant. Within days, the neon shoots of the onions emerge, each tipped with a little black seed cap. The sight of them feeds my eyes and my soul and I forget all about the work this season will bring. I’m uplifted once again and the cycle begins anew.
That’s all it takes for me to keep going. And it never gets old. Every year, I almost dread the task of sowing as many seeds as I do. I organize them in bags by length of transplant time (8-12 weeks, 6-8 weeks, 4 weeks, direct), and I putz around mixing my potting soil, laying out my heat mats, cleaning out the little greenhouse. It takes me approximately forever to prepare for the first little seeds. And it’s a bit of a chore. But when they sprout- oh the joy, I’m smitten with growing things all over again.
Eliot Coleman’s Soil Block Recipe
I often use plastic 72-cell trays to start my seedlings. But I’ve been experimenting with a more eco-friendly (and plant healthy) way using soil blocking. To do this, you need a soil blocker (available from seed suppliers such as Johnny’s or Amazon). The method and the recipe for mixing the soil to do this was pioneered by organic Maine farmer Eliot Coleman. Here is his soil block recipe.
A standard 10-quart bucket is the unit of measurement for the bulk ingredients. A standard 1 cup measure is used for the supplementary ingredients. The following recipe makes approximately 2 bushels of mix.
- 3 buckets brown peat (standard peat moss).
- ½ cup lime.
- 2 buckets perlite.
- 3 cups base fertilizer (equal parts blood meal, colloidal phosphate, and greensand). Mix thoroughly.
- 1 bucket garden soil.
- 2 buckets well-decomposed compost. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
Moisten the mix thoroughly using 1 part tepid water for every 3 parts blocking mix. Successful soil-block making depends on the mix being wet enough. The mix should have the consistency of soft putty or wet cement, so that a small amount of water oozes through small openings in the blocker as the blocks are made, and the individual blocks cling to the blocker until you are ready to release them.