Since spring is here and this is one of the busiest times of year at FiveDollarFarm we are focusing on basic areas that will become habit once you start implementing them. One of these areas is planting your own seeds in soil for the plants that you want to grow. Whether those plants are part of a healthy diet or perennial plants or flowers for your landscape, you can save money by planting the seeds yourself.
You could go down to the local “China mart” store and buy your standard run-of-the-mill seed starter trays and bag of starting soil. We have done that in the past but no longer. A few years ago we began saving our small plastic 8 ounce yogurt cups. These were great for us when we were just trying to feed our own family because we generally only planted about a dozen of each plant we wanted like cucumbers, tomatoes, and the like. I still use them when I am experimenting with seed germination rates or when I find some old seeds that I am not sure if they will germinate. Our goal has been to use what we have instead of buying everything we need. Reuse where you can to save some money and the planet.
One new thing we have tried this year to take our sustainability to a new level is the soil block maker that we purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We actually bought two block makers and the plug attachment for the larger one but generally we are only using the larger one. The basic idea for these is to mix up some good seed starting soil and use the block maker to compress the soil into its own container for seed planting. Brilliant! Also, 50 soil blocks fit perfectly into a 1020 flat tray which is a standard plant tray.
We also began using Johnny’s Selected Seeds almost exclusively for two important reasons. First, they offer most of their seeds in a pelleted version which I found works nicely with the soil blocks as you can drop one pelleted seed into the dimple. Secondly, I found that they generally have a higher germination rate that most other seed companies out there.
Another mistake we had made in the past was to plant multiple items into the same tray. We didn’t know what some of them were when they began to germinate. That could be quite confusing. However, in the spirit of our own personal renaissance, we are challenging all rules that we know or were taught that limit our creativity or thinking. In this spirit, I will sometimes happily surprise myself by intentionally NOT labeling a tray to discover something incredibly delightful when it spouts.
This post has a video associated with it so you can see the soil block maker in action. If you have any questions about the block maker or suggestions that everyone can use please feel free to share them. All comments are welcome.
The picture below shows a Google Image search on the phrase “solar energy”. As I have been saying, this is disconcerting to me because solar energy is so misunderstood.
Humans have a tendency to tear things apart and put them into pieces while ignoring the whole from a distance. We need to have a “bigger picture” mentality in my humble but accurate opinion. Take a step back and think about solar energy from a different perspective. I have the idea in my mind that the idea should include sustainable agriculture.
Why sustainable agriculture? Because sustainable agriculture is the bigger picture that we need to better utilize solar energy. On a small piece of land solar energy is collected in the open fields and produces grass. But when we include cattle that are grazed with intensive management techniques followed closely behind by chicken tractors containing meat birds and free range poultry, something new begins to happen. The bigger picture becomes more clear. Our food is better as well as more healthy. We can make better hay to feed the cattle in the winter. The cattle manure makes the grass better. The cycle will never cease unless we disrupt it somehow and for some reason.
We can quickly take a small piece of land and make it more productive, more profitable, full of health, and at the same time use it to feed many people. The grass stores our solar energy.
We can quickly solve a few other problems by doing this as well. We are removing confinement operations that have a tendency to concentrate illness that puts a food source at risk. If we also keep the production and consumption local as well, we eliminate the fuel used to transport our food across the country as it is now.
Many are starting to realize that our food system is broken. They are searching for some other alternatives and as farmers it is our responsibility to give them better choices. We can store solar energy and create better food at the same time. Learning to make a system work as a whole as opposed to tearing it apart and utilizing one part or only a few is counterproductive.
What do we do now? We educate others that solar energy is not just putting up a panel and using about twenty per cent of what we collect as a convenience or a conversation piece to establish our nobility as good earth citizens. Going further can also mean eating locally grown and produced food, supporting local farmers markets, and being responsible with your own personal choices.
This will not happen overnight but it is happening at a faster pace as we look around. People are demanding more options and making better choices. When that happens, we all win.
What exactly is organic farming? Thank goodness the USDA has a website that defines exactly what that means. Not really. I find it hard to espouse and embrace the organic culture as it has been defined recently. To think that for thousands of years humans grew food, tended animals and lived off the land without our benevolent government to tell us the correct methods is not commonly accepted. Actually, I personally despise the certification of the food I grow and the methods of which I grow it.
How is it that humans lived so long without an agency to approve of the methods of food production? Maybe the free market had something to do with it. Perhaps if someone produced bad food in a community, word got out that the food was no good and the locals ceased buying from that producer. Word of mouth advertising is more prevalent today than ever with the explosion of social media usage. When you find a good restaurant or local produce stand you surely tell your friends and family.
And what of the producers? What are their motivations? Do they wake early in the morning determined to produce the best possible product that they can? I believe most of them do. But lately, I have met some local farmers who think it is important to have a USDA Organic label on their products. I ask them why and the response is that it proves that the food was produced responsibly. But does it really mean that this is the case? I believe the jury is still out on this issue.
What must happen to insure the safety of our food supply? I have given this much thought and have come up with some answers to my own questions and provided myself with some standards that I will utilize as a new farmer in my community. Please note that the items listed below are my virtuous attempt to get to an ideal.
Soon we will explore in more detail the solar energy that is available to us and how we understand it and use it to our advantage.