Monday, March 29, 2010

Soil Blocks and Paper Chain Pots

The focus these last few weeks has been split between finishing the Clubhouse building, working on starting seeds in the greenhouse, and managing the ebb and flow of waters entering all the buildings on the farm as the rainwater sets in.

The Clubhouse is a small timber frame structure built by our friends Jon Courtney and Robbie Alden, to whom we are ever thankful. The building went up last year and John and I used our "outsider" carpentry skills over the winter to finish the interior and apply some shingles to the outside. Now, don't look too closely at the cuts I made as you will surely find imperfections but that's part of the character, right?

The space has multiple uses, the primary one being to offer our interns a space to wash up, cook meals and generally congregate for social goodness. We also use the space to pour milk and clean up after milking the cow each day. With a fresh coat of paint and an eclectic mix of Early-Brenner and Buxton-transfer-station-swap-shop kitchen utensils, it is modestly equipped to manage the meals of the crew.

The greenhouse is the heart of the action for all the young plants and kittens. Last year, as you may remember, we built a Rocket Stove to replace our barrel stove for heating purposes in the greenhouse. When the greenhouse isn't flooding with constant heavy rainstorms, everything is well controlled and quite pleasant, a well lit office. With a little music and many helping paws, the seeding moves smoothly and the environment is cheerful.

After a lengthy process of acquiring approval by MOFGA Certification Services or MCS to use Japanese paper pots in our fields, we received the approval right on the eve of needing to get the alliums (onion family) all started. The Japanese paper pot transplanting system is a model of transplanting seedlings that has been used with great success on small scale rice and sugar beet farms in Japan. The seeds are started in trays with paper pots that look like a honeycomb due to the nature of the wrapped paper chain of pots.

Each individual seedling is planted in a cell and the cells are connected by a piece of paper They unfurl in the field with a planting device called a paper pot transplanter. Supposedly, we can transplant up to 260 plants in as little as 30-60 seconds. Here is a great video about the Japanese Paper Pot transplanting system:

This we will report back on when we try get to that step. What I can tell you is that planting into the paper pots has demonstrated an elegance that I am enjoying. The paper chain between the cells varies between 2, 4, and 6 inches, thus dictating the in-row spacing for your plants. We are trying a variety of flowers, corn, leeks, onions, beets, spinach, and other greens started and transplanted using this system.

Our old stand-by when the in-row spacing needs to be farther apart than 6 inches or not every piece will be put into the field, in the case of bedding plants, is to use our soil block maker and bread trays that we purchased wholesale a number of years back. The soil block maker requires a little practice to get the right consistency of soil and little muscle to make the blocks, but with a few trays under your belt, you get the hang of it. After using the soil block maker for 3 seasons, we realized we could use a second block maker in the medium size and today marked its inaugural use as I worked with our newest intern on her first day making soil blocks together.

Flora and Emma love to spend time in the greenhouse. Usually, they like to convene tea time at 3:30 but from time to time, they will get busy in the dirt. Flora recently crafted these lovely mud pies and put them out to sun-bake.

This lovely piece of art graces our greenhouse wall. A fine tribute to the important work done in this space and a great example of the gems available at your local transfer station.
In addition to a variety of flowers and produce germinating in the greenhouse, we are also rooting a number of different kinds of willow. These cuttings come from a variety of places we have been scoping out over the years and will be used to create the beginning of a tree-lined wind break along the road.

Blessings on the meal,
Stacy and John


  1. The intern space is so incredible! I'm working in VT this summer gardening with kiddos but I have to get to Maine to see the finished product!
    -amanda w.

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  3. Come on by! We'd love to see you!

  4. just wondering where you purchased your transplanter?

  5. RainFlo in Pennsylvania for the waterwheel and for the paperpot transplanter