Soil Blocks, Seedlings and Salves: An Update from the Interns

 In Community, Permaculture Projects

Written by Teresa McLaren, 2013 Verge Intern

We have had a bit of a wet start to our internship this summer. I don’t know what else to say about that as local neighborhoods and towns are flooding. I hope everyone stays safe and dry this evening and that damage is minimal.

I have been gardening and preserving food for most of my life. I had heard a little about permaculture through my gardening volunteer work but didn’t really get to understand the principles until taking Rob’s intro course in 2009 and reading Toby Hemenway’s classic “Gaia’s Garden”, I went on to take Verge’s Permaculture Design Certificate in 2010 and help establish a community garden in my neighbourhood of Southwood in 2011. What I most wanted to get out of this internship was to develop my ability to not only manage my own garden and household according to my values, but to find what surplus I have to offer to bring my livelihood in line with these values as well.

We started off the season going over the planting calendar and starting seeds in soil blocks. The soil mix and complete organic fertilizer (COF) we used, as well as many of the tables on when to start seedlings based on succession cropping, were from the book “The New Organic Grower” by Eliot Coleman. I was reminded of the importance of using COF myself, especially when planting my heavy feeders (tomatoes, peppers, and squash) and vegetables you are going to consume. You are what you eat and what your food eats too. The more nutritious the soil is your plants grow in, the more nutritious they will be for you. I used the complete organic fertilizer discussed in Steve Solomon’s book “Gardening When It Counts” in my own garden. I was new to using soil blocks and, if you can get the soil mix right so they stay together, they are the way to go for starting large amounts of seedlings. Soil blocks are faster to make than filling pots, easier to pot up or plant out, produce less waste and disturb the roots less when planting out.  We started the seedlings on trays placed on heat mats to kickstart germination and then moved them under grow lights in the garage.

Michelle emphasized the importance of hardening off your plants well before planting and to avoid planting on a sunny day if possible or using shade cloth if you do. I have always tried to plant my tomatoes as deep as possible but this was the first time I planted the tomato plant sideways in the soil so only the tip shows. This way the majority of the stem will become root underground, giving the plant a much stronger root system. Michelle also removed the leaves from most of the day before so it would have time to heal over. We filled the raised beds some excellent worm compost from Earthly Matters and I was able to get a cubic yard delivered to my own garden. I’m hoping this will also add some great organic nutrition to my soil. 

One rainy day we stayed inside and made salve using a mixture of calendula, comfrey and seabuckthorn infused oils Michelle had on hand. We used a modified recipe from “Boreal Herbal” which we kept track of. It was a bit on the oily side so I ended up melting it back down and mixing it with some other calendula salve I had made earlier that was far too waxy. The result was perfect but I can’t really say what the final proportions ended up being. It was a good reminder to keep track of the recipe we used so we can make adjustments to it next time.

We also helped Rob set up a wicking bed and I picked up a few tips such as using a leveled layer of sand at the bottom and landscape fabric underneath to protect the pond liner from puncture. A few other projects we are working on include setting up an indoor microgreen growing station and helping Rob establish his huge new vermicompost bin. Rob has kindly given me the opportunity to use my illustration skills to work on some of his projects on the side. I’m hoping to develop my permaculture design rendering skills even further over the summer as my surplus yield to the permaculture community. Illustration and design are where I see my right livelihood. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer brings and eating some nutritious and delicious local food.  

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