Beth Varas is the hard-working owner and one-woman show behind Mystical Gardens Flower Farm in North Stonington. Beth sustainably grows specialty cut flowers for weddings, bouquet subscriptions, local farmers markets & businesses. From farm to bouquet, her flowers are grown from seed and nurtured into beautiful cut flowers without using any harmful chemicals. Fresh flower bouquets don’t get any more local and gorgeous than hers.
On Saturday Feb 8., Beth presented a workshop at Wheeler Library on “Soil Blocking” and how she starts thousands of seedlings indoor each season without using a greenhouse. Soil blocking is a resourceful seed starting method using compressed blocks of soil that results in seedlings with strong roots that quickly reestablish growth upon transplanting.
Using an informative easy to follow slide show presentation followed by a live soil block demonstration, Beth packed a lot of information into her workshop, which drew around 25 people to Wheeler Library on Main Street.
Working with supplies like a soil blocker, blocking mix, and a potato masher, she started 40 Digitalis (common name Foxglove) seeds in a matter of minutes.
To help seeds germinate or “sprout,” Beth keeps the soil blocks evenly moist, gently misting seeds without overhead watering, and also uses a heat mat to warm soil, as seeds germinate when soil reaches 70-85 degrees. Once half of your seedlings have germinated, remove the cover and move them under lights. Beth uses shop lights: T8 fluorescent lights, one cool and one warm - two lights per shelf. Providing 16 hours of light per day will produce strong seedlings. Beth fertilizes the blocks once/week with an organic fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer and adjusts lights up as seedlings grow.
Once seedlings are 4-inches, Beth moves the soil blocks outside to a covered protected area to “harden off,” which means getting them slowly acclimated to being out in the real elements. Harden off seedlings on front porch or covered area for five to seven days and then plant in the ground using a hoop and cover.
Beth outlines the advantages as well as some disadvantages of soil blocking. An advantage is the blocks are easy to transplant right into the ground. They also have a higher germination rate, and fruit & flower earlier. Other advantages include less expense, less waste, and less storage than buying traditional seedling trays and plastic pots every year.
Some disadvantages of soil blocking include more time and effort; Beth notes it can can take a few tries to get the technique down causing some possible frustration. Also it may be difficult to start some bigger seeds, as some seeds won’t fit inside the 3/4-inch tray.
Beth has recommended Johnnys Seeds as a great resource for supplies, blocking mix recipe and other information on soil blocking. Visit www.johnnyseeds.com
For more on Beth Varas and Mystical Gardens Flower Farm, visit www.mysticalgardensct.com
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