Cold Weather

The average last frost for this area is April 11. So this morning the temperature got down to 31. Thankfully the only thing that got hit was basil. Thankfully I had only put out 1/2 of the basil plants. We also put the citrus trees back in the greenhouse yesterday. They may get to stay there for a few more days.
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Yep, thankfully I brought the peppers, eggplant and tomatoes in last night. We had a huge "rabbit tracking" frost this morning. I'm just west of you, they say I'm in 7a, but I'm not convinced. Steve
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Count me in. I haven't put anything out yet. It is a good thing I have just plain been busy and have not planted. I have a pepper on the plants I started in January and boy are they pot bound. Maybe this weekend? Southeast of Raleigh but not quite the coast MJ
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wrote:

I am on the edge between 7b and 7a. The line seems to be between Surry and Yadkin counties, the Yadkin river. I am about 5 or 6 miles north of the river.
The hardiness zones can only give you a general idea about the climate. Someone told me that I should not set out my tomatoes until the first of May. I will keep a close eye on the weather for the next couple of weeks.
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I am in between Bladen and Sampson counties. Live in one get mail from the other. One one my biggest problems is the wind that comes off the lake. It tends to put a lot of stress on everything.
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On 4/12/2012 12:11 PM, The Cook wrote:

May 15 is normal frost free date here in northern Delaware. I've had tomatoes out earlier but it does not appear to make any difference. I bought seedlings over a week ago and re-potted and they are growing nicely behind sliding glass door in the house. I'll take them in and out to make sure they stay hardy but will not plant til May 15.
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"Vegetable Gardener' Bible" by Edward C. Smith. <(Amazon.com product link shortened) />/ 1580172121/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid06815454&sr=1-1> (Available at a library near you)
says not to transplant until the soil is 70F (21C), which is why I normally use Clear plastic to heat the ground. I need to get to it, but I'm feeling lazy this year. Only plants that I have in are snow peas.
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Zones are all about how cold it gets in winter - not when it gets warm. After seeing a post here from Delaware with the same last frost date as we have, I went to recheck ours - and it holds. But at ~300 miles south of me and closer to the ocean, you can bet they are in a different zone.
Does it go below 0F where you are at any point in any winter? You're not 7a if it does. Do try to use a thermometer you can trust for that, or go look up the archived data for the nearest official station (slightly more of a pain than it should be, but possible to do.)
I can find a zone map that clams I'm in 5a, but I've seen it go below -20F inside the past 9 years, so I don't exactly buy that. This past winter we might have been zone 6 (-8F or -5F for the closest two station's official lows - and only two days in January got that cold or even close to that cold), but my bamboo does not appear to agree, or it's not what I thought it was; it still looks winterkilled.
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Well, the _average_ last frost means some years later than that, some years earlier than that, so plunking out basil the day of the average is asking for it, IMHO, unless the forecast looks really good (and even then I'd have the fabric covers or plastic or something handy just in case.) With the wacky weather this year, anything can probably happen (I wonder if the week of June we got here in March will be traded for a week of March in June...complete with snow.)
Got peas poking up and lettuce/spinach seedlings out in the garden. Will be planting the "shallots from seed" into the cold frame Saturday, looking at the forecast. Been hardening them out there in the days for a week or so. Probably also put broccoli out, but in wall-o-waters. Garlic is up, some has been up all winter, garlic is not concerned about cold - I like that.
My basil, tomatoes and eggplants are dicots or one set true leaves, cowering inside under lights and waiting for May - late May, mostly, though W-o-W will probably move that up a bit for at least some of them. Average last frost is May 15th, and we've had 4" snow on May 19th - the lilacs were in bloom (not very long ago, nor very recently, but I don't recall which year) - it's _only_ an average...
Zone 4 NW Mass.
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On Thu, 12 Apr 2012 14:34:48 -0400, Ecnerwal

Elaborate - actual seed, or starts?
I've planted several hundred - weather last year didn't yeild great shallots, so those I got, I saved for replanding. Filled a 6x12 cell tray with them (just so they can start rooting, and I'll xplant the individual soil plugs later), a small wooden planter, and half of a 4x8 foot raised bed (which already has several that are bunched to a couple dozen apiece). My wife is going to be wondering what to do
I'm north of San Francisco.
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These are the shallots (or "shallots") that are grown from actual seed - hybrid, Dutch seed, I think from a bit of my follow-on reading - variety is "Ambition" (there are others, but that's the one the place I was buying seed from had). Storage life is supposed to be good, some folks like the flavor, some think it's not true shallot flavor, and they are evidently not really usable for sets. Trying for the first time this year so I can't actually report on the flavor yet.
100-pack had ~108 seeds, germination above 90%, got them planted 5 to a 1-3/4" block as a "multiplant" (ie, I'll just plant the blocks as is on a wider spacing.) I'm also experimenting with soil blocking this year without spending money on it, and that non-standard size what my "scrap materials crude block press" puts out.
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On Thu, 12 Apr 2012 17:46:01 -0400, Ecnerwal

Mine didn't stay plump, but managed 10 months in my barn and were sending out green wisps. I wouldn't normally plant as many as I did, but because of the miserable conditions last year, they didn't turn out well for cullinary purposes, and they certainly weren't going to do any good being stored for much longer. I'll have plenty for cooking, some for giving away (either in start form, or mature), and more than enough for replanting next year.
I had noted that while they bunched up nicely, no scapes ever formed. Seems odd for an allium to not flower, but then last year was weird. My carrots went from seed to mature flowers in < 6 mo, through the "spring that wasn't" (outside from a few warm days, it was cold/cool up until the first day of summer - those warm days are what screwed my carrots).

Why going with hybrid seed instead of sets?

Pics anywhere?
What are you using for a press? An offset lever, a screw jack, ?
I've seen the block makers in catalogues such as Johnny's and the sort, but the premise confounds me -- don't you want light fluffy soil for the plant starts, rather than compacted stuff?
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$1.95 and the shipping's already covered for the rest of the seed order .vs. $6.95+$6.95 extra shipping - more or less. I think there's probably also more end product from the seed than there would be from the sets, without spending even more for a larger package. If I find the flavor disappointing, I'll try sets next year.

Not so far. I'll see about that, not that it's much to look at.

Nothing so beefy. The commercial block makers (as best I can tell without owning one) are just a form the size of the final block, which is jammed into the soil mix to pack them - soil mix being stacked 3 times deeper than the form. This obviously requires excess soil mix - no problem for the folks making thousands, annoying if making 25 or 100.
My current version is a square plastic package for a drill bit and a piece of wood that fits in it. I put about 2X the final block height of mix in it (3x would not compress that far), and lean on the wood plunger with body weight to compress it down. Then I pull the plastic up to "eject" the block. Not being fully committed to the idea, I wasted little time making it nice, fancy, or efficient. I'll save those for version 2, if I end up feeling the blocks are worth bothering with. I've meant to play with them for years, but happened to get reminded of them at the right time to actually make a stab at it this year. When I make the last block, the most I'm left with is 1/2-3/4 of a blocks worth of leftover mix.
Version 2 would probably be a lever, just to make it more convenient. Likely a dual lever to also make the ejection part more convenient. I still don't see me buying the ones that are sold.

Not really, for a lot of things. Even in pots one is usually better off "firming" the soil rather than leaving it completely loose - or the plant falls over from no support. Plant roots are remarkably robust at pushing through soil. Also, you are not making concrete-like bricks - a high peat content is most of what's holding the blocks together, rather than a massive amount of compression. Most of my seedlings have been fine so far, a few have indicated that they might have liked a softer start (root pushed up) but most of those have been fine with a bit of added soil over the pushed-up root part, and they have since grown into the block just fine. That aspect may have been aggravated by following the advice to more-or less lay the seed on the surface of the block, rather than covering it over and firming it in.
The supposed big advantage (other than not having hundreds of little plastic pots/sixpacks/etc around) is "air pruning" - the idea being that the roots grow to the edge of the block and stop, rather than growing to a pot wall and winding all around. This is claimed to reduce (or eliminate) transplant stress. I have not much to report on that front as yet. The roots are also well-aerated as compared to a plant in a pot - the soil is more compacted, but instead of a tiny hole at the bottom which may be sitting in water, the whole surface of the block is exposed to air.
They are a bit more fragile and fiddly to water than flats/six-packs, but so far have held up better than I thought they would. Someone else I know moves things around more than I do, and has had more problems with blocks eroding or crumbling than I have (so far.) She is "not a fan" of them, at least for herself, though she did like the air-pruning aspect.
Without promoting any particular site, There's quite a lot of information (much of it unbalanced in the positive direction, of course) if you drop "potting blocks" into a search engine.
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On Fri, 13 Apr 2012 10:03:30 -0400, Ecnerwal

Even a basic image of something provides ideas. I'm always fiddling in the workshop, and taking pictures of interesting things when I'm out and about just because they provide some spark of an idea.

There seemed to be a finger-pull assembly that either gives a little final side compression, or opens up the form to release (I think the former - then when you release the grip, the block is smaller than the relaxed form). A local (well, 40 mile round trip from me) farm supply has some, but I didn't pay close attention to their design after looking at the price...

excess soil mix - no problem for the folks making thousands, annoying if making 25 or 100. Set up a smaller diameter container to hold the soil. Or, start out with a medium sized bin, and when you're half done, and the level has dropped, dump it into a smaller bin (more height, less girth). A moveable partition within a bin would serve a similar purpose, keeping the soil from spreading out: when half done, tilt the bin, drop in the partition, then set it back down and continue making soil blocks.
A milk carton with the top cut off would probably work sufficiently well to hold a small volume of soil mix.

A short section of square tube stock (think trailer frame or receiver hitch stock - but it wouldn't need to be the thicker gauge), would probably work well. In fact, a section of metal (or even PVC, easy to cut, cheap, available in multiple sizes) pipe should as well, with a suitably sized dowel at one end. Drill a hole through the form tubing, with the plunger material inside at one end of its travel, and then push the plunger through to the other end of desired travel (without rotating it), drill through the same hole, then remove the plunger and cut out along between the two holes (probably by drilling a series of holes, then cleaning it up), and then you could put the plunger into the form, pass a machine screw through the middle of the form, and a locknut on the other side, and your plunger will have 'x' range of motion to accept incoming soil, and to eject the block. There's several other ways to accomplish that slide range limiting.

Well, firm is one thing - compressed from 2-3x the volume though seems pretty compacted.

As anyone with an asphalt roadway can tell you once the weeds get into a crevice.

Ah, I don't use a lot of peat - I have a few bales of it for mixing, but it's not a prime component of my potting soil.

Sounds as if your blocks don't have a divot at top centre.
One of the nifty looking things about the commercial forms is that they can batch (like 3 or 6 at a push), and that the size progression uses a divot the size of the prior block. So small blocks have something appropriate for dropping a seed in and covering with a small amount of soil, larger ones have a hole about the size of the smaller blocks so you can "plant up".

Hrm. I have several starting trays I constructed, which have fine screening on the bottom - window screen material, which itself is on top of a coarser, but more sturdy hardware cloth, to actually support the soil. You can set these on a few spacers, and then the starts don't sit in a puddle, and the screening is supposed to provide an air
one could make a stand with something more of a squared cross section of a wavy screen:
--| |--| |--| |-- | | | | | | | | | | | | ------ ------ ------
where the soil blocks could be set into the channels. Then you could move around a tray of them without manhandling the blocks.
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Ecnerwal wrote: ...

i'd like it for not having to mess around with plastic pots. there are other ways of doing sprouts that doesn't involve pots, trays with slats to give spacing could work too.
air pruning to me sounds like an interesting idea, but isn't the point of doing starts to get the plants to size ready to go outside? if the plants are getting root bound then that means you've put the seedlings in too small a pot. and that is why many places go from smaller to bigger pots as the seedlings progress.
so basically, the air pruning is going to limit the growth that you could have gotten if you otherwise used bigger pots or plugs.
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the hills of upstate NY I'm just thinking about putting out some of the hardy brassicas in a week or so...
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