It is February, which means it is time to be starting spring crops. We start all our seedlings under grow lights and on seedling heat mats. Everything is in our basement currently, but in the future we will be moving seedling production to the greenhouse.
Our seedling flats were moved to the basement today and have begun to come up to germination temperature. Once the growing medium reaches the correct temperature we will add seeds.
Start with hardy and moderately hardy varieties
Everything we are starting now are varieties that are hardy and moderately hardy. They will go into the garden well before our average last day of frost and will be protected with mini hoop houses. Some of this will hopefully be going into a greenhouse we will build soon.
Our seedling choices for spring
We have amended our list of crops for this year. Those we will be planting first are broccoli, cauliflower, onions, kale, spinach, red and white beets, and cabbage.
Determining when to start seedlings
While planning or starting spring crops we take advantage of the garden planning detail sheet in spreadsheet form. We enter or ADLF and the spreadsheet will calculate when we need to start and transplant the different seedlings. You can get the XLS file from the Mittleider Gardening group on Facebook. It is in the files section there in the group.
Every couple weeks we will be starting more seedlings.
Changes we are making to our garden plan
We are dropping a few plant varieties that we really don’t eat and have added a few. Radishes, eggplant, bush beans and Brussels sprouts have been removed from our garden plan for this year. The bush beans were difficult to get everything picked without having some sort of trellis to hold up the plants. We are instead going a pole bean. The others we found we just don’t eat much. That space they used to occupy will be better used for the things we do eat.
If you cant find a good source locally you can use equine pellets sawdust. In a Mittleider garden the sawdust is used to fill seedling flats or even entire grow boxes.
Ideally you would have access to free sawdust from a sawmill and don’t need to go through the added expense of buying sawdust. If you’re only going to start seedlings a single bag of pellets would last a long time. It also wouldn’t be cost prohibitive. To fill grow boxes would take a lot more sawdust and would quickly become expensive.
If you are considering using equine pellets sawdust to fill a grow box I’d highly recommend that you consider soil beds. They can grow food equally well despite your soil condition while being much cheaper.
How to go from pellets to sawdust
The process of taking pellets and turning them into usable sawdust is easy. All you need to do is add water with a good watering wand to soak everything well. As the pellets absorb water they will expand as the binding agent used a glue dissolves.
adding the pellets to a container that will allow the excess water to drain will make the entire process easier for you. Our wheel barrow has a crack and allows excess water to escape.
If you do not have a container that will allow water to escape try adding water a little at a time until all the pellets are damp. Try turning the pellets with a shovel to ensure everything is wet.
Where and what pellets to get
As the name implies, these pellets can be bought at business catering to horse people. Another source is at business that sell hardwood pellets for homes heated with pellet stoves. Those hardwood pellets are fine and any wood type except walnut will work. The pellet stove pellets can be bought in bulk and can often be bought cheaper by the bag than equine pellets.
The hardwood pellets intended for heating homes is often only carried seasonally and may not always be available. They may also be bought at discount in the spring as they’re no longer needed.
Watch sawdust being made with equine pellets
In this video you can watch equine pellets expand roughly three times into sawdust once it becomes wet. The process is quick and only takes a few minutes.
This old table was originally built with a sheet of plywood and an old pallet I had lying around. The plywood wasn’t treated so it’s getting pretty rough and in need of repair. These treated deck boards should last for years and give a lot more life to this old seedling table. This table is able to hold 4 of those Mittleider seedling flats that I use.
Is gardening in sawdust possible? Can you grow a garden in sawdust even though it has zero nutrients for the plants? You can with the Mittleider gardening method and it will do amazingly well. Sawdust generally has a nearly ideal pH, it doesn’t have any plant borne diseases like blight in it and can be acquired cheaply or even for FREE as we have done.
You need more than just sawdust
Unfortunately you do need more than just sawdust to grow a beautiful garden. First off, you will need to mix sand in with your sawdust. This will allow for proper drainage.
Because there is no nutritional value to the sawdust and sand it is therefore necessary that we add preplant and weekly feed to our custom soil mix. Due to no nutrients being in sawdust we must add them. As the result of giving the plants all the nutrients they need you will see them thrive.
To learn more about the Mittleider gardening method
We use sawdust in our Mittleider garden for our grow boxes and in our seedling trays. Each year we top off the grow boxes before the growing season begins. Today we made the trip over to a nearby town where a sawmill allows us to shovel our own sawdust for free. They make pallets and are largely cutting inexpensive cottonwood trees for the lumber. Any tree expect the black walnut provides a usable sawdust for a Mittleider grow box or seedling trays. Make sure you get the correct size particles in your sawdust! If you don’t have sawmills near you then you can use equine pellets.
The sawdust is mixed with sand for both the grow boxes and the seedling trays. For the grow boxes it is mixed at 3 parts sawdust and 1 part sand. For the seedling trays it is 2 parts sawdust to one of the sand. Both are mixed by volume. I’ll try and take some pictures that show the size of the particles. Too large and too fine are both bad.
No idea how much wood they cut in a week, but this sawdust pile is massive, the picture truly doesn’t do it justice.
The seedling heating mat is plugged in and and the seedling trays are being brought up to growing temperature. Today a bunch of our frost hard and moderately hardy plant will go into the seedling flats and get covered with sand. A few items like our tomatoes will get started as well but will be protected from frost when they get moved into the garden.
The pre-plant has been added to the seedling flats. After the seeds are in and covered it will get watered with straight water through burlap until the seeds have begun to sprout. Once they do the grow lights will get turned on and we will begin to water with constant feed.
Kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, collard greens, spinach, eggplants and lettuce will all get started today.
We are late in getting these seeds started, but today we got enough seeds in grow boxes that we can do one full 30 foot grow bed in bush beans. There are 9 rows in this seedling flat with 15 seeds in each row.
Notice the old vegetable can with sand and a white handled spoon sticking out of it? IRS my preferred method to cover those seeds with wet sand. It cover the seeds and the use the back of the spoon to even out the sand with the growing medium. The sand, when wet, just doesn’t shake out of the can easily.
After the picture was taken the rest of the seeds were covered and the seedling flat was covered with burlap. We water the seeds daily through the burlap seeds sprout. The burlap diffuses the water and helps prevent the seeds from being washout out of the sand.
Today the table saw came out and we quickly constructed a few more seedling flats. It’s time to bump up a few of the vegetables under out grow lights, starting with the kale. They’re pretty simple to make and relatively inexpensive.
The flats are 18″ X 18″. The instructions for building your own can be found on page 181 of the MGM book. We used the table saw to cut the two widths of the slats for the bottom of the seedling tray and a pneumatic staple gun to assemble each part.
The beans I recently started from seeds for my fall crops are growing like mad and will need to be bumped up before I transplant them in the garden. To allow room for them to grow when we bump them up (transplant) we built a couple more seedling flats.
In your Mittleider Gardening Course book you can find a description and dimensions of the seedling flats on page 181.
The flat was filled with the same sawdust, sand and perlite mix that was used in the first one where our seeds are now growing. The beans will be transplanted into the new flat soon.
Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden