Monday, June 21, 2010

Mud Pies for the Adult Gardener

Last weekend, I finally got out to my garden and PLAYED!!! Spent a glorious afternoon with my hands wrist deep in soil blocking mixture and water. For weeks now, my soil blocker had been calling me. This spring's finicky weather worked against me. I was fooled into direct sowing only to be hit by cold weather and then by scorching heat and freaky cold spells!! As a result the seeds took too long to germinate and  then grew so slowly that they were old before they reached full size. My current plan is give my seedling a fighting chance by starting them in soil blocks. The evening before, I mixed up a batch of blocking mix for my soil blocks. Added water, mixed and let it sit to ensure that mixture was evenly moist.

Two years ago, I bought 2  soil blocker mould to avoid using plastic pots in my yearly seeding starting routine. More than 20 years ago, I read Elliot Coleman Organic gardening book and was immediately attracted to the idea of using soil blocks to start seeds. I had just moved to the US at that time and the idea of spending so much money to buy a contraption to press mud into mud/soil blocks that acts as pot was ridiculous. I was still converting Malaysian Ringgit to US Dollars - $4.50 Ringgit to US $1.00 was tough to swallow. But a good idea will stick with you. When I started being serious about growing heirloom vegetables it made sense that I grew them as green as I could.

Blocking mixture - soil, perlite and coco fiber

Correct blocking mixture yields perfect soil blocks
Essentially a soil block is a soil pot made of wet soil mixture, shaped and compressed with the use of a soil blocker. A seed is inserted in a depression in the block. The seedling grows uninterrupted, its roots air-pruned when it reaches the edges of the block, creating a strong root system. There is no transplanting shock because it is not in a container.  I love that I do not have seed starting plastic pots to clean and store. It is essential to mist the soil blocks daily to avoid it drying out. I start minuscule seeds in my 15 soil block sets and larger seeds in the 4 soil block sets. If I am working with the soil block in early winter I sometimes start off the seeds in the 15 soil block sets and later pot up  into the 4 soil block set  before setting out the plants in the garden.

I'll keep you posted on how this year soil blocks work out.

N.B. - birds have started to peck out the seeds in my soil blocks. Since the weather is warm, they are flying all over my garden. I covered the soil blocks but the wind blew open the fabric cover. Hopefully they left me enough seedlings!!

Eating from my garden

As May drew to a close and sunny June, despite the June gloom reputation, settled in,  my garden started to take off and provide me with pleasurable eating. I started off eating blueberries with my breakfast cereal, slowly adding blackberries, then came the strawberries. Now, I am in heaven!! I am eating my morning cereal with all those berries and tree ripen bananas from the garden. Imagine!! 

Harvest the fruits
slice the strawberries and bananas, scatter blueberries

Milk Star on blueberry

It has been many years since I have devoured, yes that is the correct expression- DEVOUR- because that is exactly what I do, tree ripen bananas from my garden. Almost every year a banana plant or two would flower. Invariably it is almost Fall when it does so. I half heartedly let it flower but more often that not chop off the flower, sometimes offering it to my Filipino friends. This is because there would not be enough time for the fruit to develop before winter. Somehow last year, the timing was right and I let it develop combs of bananas. Sceptic that I am I never thought it would ripen. It sure took a long time but now I have delicious bananas!! I was going to cut down the whole stalk and let it ripen away from the tree. Luckily for me, my dear husband suggested that I leave it on the tree and enjoy them tree ripen. So each day I can be seen plucking individual bananas and eating them right under the tree. 'Ice Cream' banana does its name proud.

Banana grove
Ripening combs of bananas
Top combs ripening first

The first tomatoes are also on our dinner menu. Speckle Roman tomatoes with fresh basil from the garden, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil makes a fine lunch. Cherry tomatoes are the sweetest fruits in my garden bar none. They are so beautiful with the sunlight shining through them.Olive oil, chopped garlic, pinch of chili pepper flakes, fresh basil sautéed with those cherry tomatoes makes a delightful sauce served with spaghetti. 

Heirloom Speckle Roman
Sliced Speckled Roman, Basil and fresh Mozzarella  Cheese

Cherry Tomatoes glisten like jewels in the sun