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How to be more efficient in unmarrying seedlings.

 
André Troylilas
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Location: North of France
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Hi,

I know I grow too many plants for the time I can invest.
The soil of my allotment is watterlogged hard clay, so that everything I sow directly has a very hard time growing (despite the heavy mulch).
I got the allotment in march of 2015, and I'm getting much better results this year, but it's quite a lot of work growing everything at home in small pots to plant in the allotment afterwards.
I may success in direct sowing next year, but for the time being, I have to keep on growing in pots before planting.
I also have a garden at home, and one at work, and I LOVE giving away plants (vegetables, medicinal plants, fruit trees, whatever) at other gardeners at the allotment, neighbours, friends, family and colleagues.

So... I know I will have to go on growing plants from seeds in pots until I resign.

For the time being, I use crates
in which I put 7 rows of 5 plastic pots .
Most of the time, each row contains a different variety/cultivar. I'm pretty fast at doing that, so that's not the problem.

What I'm not good at is to "unmarry" seedlings once they grew up. I just can't resign myself to remove seedlings just to let one thrive... So I remove everything from the pot, and redo another crate with just one seedling per pot. I have to find the right level of humidity to manage to unknit roots, and THIS IS REALLY TIME CONSUMING...

I know I should sow less, but I need many plants of each cultivar/variety and don't have much room in the greenhouse at home. If I ever was sowing just one crate at a time with one cultivar/specie, I would not grow that many varieties...
In fact, seeds of different varieties don't sprout at the same time with the same vigour, so that I can unmarry just one row, and get a crate with ready-to-plant seedlings out of the greenhouse.

So, I'm quite happy with the methology, except it takes me too long a time to unmarry to create new "ready-to-plant-in-near-future" crates.

Maybe I'm totally stupid in the way I do, or I maybe could just enhance the last part of the process. I thought of showering the content of the pots in order to unknit the roots more easily, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, if you ever have any tip or think my method is pure BS, please let me know.

Thanks.
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Casie Becker
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I don't know if it helps, the tip of a teaspoon can be fairly precise without cutting through delicate roots. If you planting media is loose enough you can just empty the soil it into your palm  and carefully use the the spoon to move one seedling at a time into the separate pots. Most gardening tools that small have edges that are too sharp for handling such delicate tissues, so the spoon is actually safer.
 
Tracy Wandling
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I have a couple of thoughts on the subject:

One idea is to use soil blocks. You can use the tiny blocks to start seeds - you can fit a LOT in a small space. Then only the ones that germinate get potted on to larger blocks, or pots. I think that maybe using this method could help, even if you then pot the little blocks into larger pots together. The roots might stay separate better. Just an idea. Soil blocks take up much less space than pots. I used them this year and loved them.

Also, there are quite a few things that can be grown in clumps, with a few plants all grown together. I got this idea from Eliot Coleman's book. He uses soil blocks (which I did this year too), and some things he'll plant multiple seeds, and grow them in clumps. For example, onions, leeks, green onions and chives can all be grown in clumps. I grew onions in clumps of 4 to 6 and green onions 10 to 12 seeds per block. They grew fine all together.

Here is a list of plants from Eliot Coleman's book The New Organic Gardener:

Beets - 4 seeds
Broccoli - 4 seeds
Cabbage - 3 seeds
Corn - 4 seeds
Cucumber - 3 seeds
Leek - 4 seeds
Melon - 3 seeds
Onion (bulb) - 6 seeds
Onion (green) - 12
Parsley - 4 seeds
Pea - 3 seeds
Pole beans - 3 seeds
Spinach - 4 seeds
Turnip - 4 seeds

Hope this gives you some ideas. Happy gardening!

This is the soil blocker set I use.







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André Troylilas
Posts: 112
Location: North of France
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Thanks a lot for your inputs.
I have a soil blocker, but never managed to get the perfect soil mix.
It collapses at the first watering, or gets as hard as concrete if I forget to water it, and never gets really wet afterwards.
I for sure have to work on that.

Your list of vegetables I can group in the same pot (and clump afterwards) is very helpful, thanks.
I was only doing that with peas and beans for the time being.
 
Daniel Schmidt
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Location: Jacksonville, FL
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You can get a cup or bucket of water and dunk them in there after taking them out of the small pot. This will help remove most of the soil. If you shake it back and forth in the water it will loosen up a bit and make it easier to pull apart. It might require you to do this before they get too big in order to get good results. Of course this also leaves you with a bare root plant which is harder to plant and can affect overall growth.

It might be better to try and use even smaller pots. If you can find something smaller, perhaps paper towel rolls or egg cartons to start them out, then move them to slightly larger pots. Even if you have to put them together in larger pots due to lack of space they will still be easier to separate since each plant will have their own root zone. It isn't ideal, but can be made to work.

The idea of growing things together is also a good one. You could mix complementary plants or ones that grow in a different manner together. Perhaps something that spreads mixed with something that grows upright. Plants that hit their stride at different times could also work. Start some seeds of fast growing plants and after they germinate put in seeds of something with a longer growing season.

The only other option I can think of is to go vertical. If your potting area is limited then buying or making some sort of racks to maximize the use of the space could yield more seedlings. Just throwing around some ideas. Good luck!
 
André Troylilas
Posts: 112
Location: North of France
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Lots of good tips indeed, and some ideas sound very exciting to me (will have to graft a new brain on my poor head in order to get them to work, but...).

I already have "The Winter Harvest Handbook" on my shopping list. I'm wondering if I should replace it by "The New Organic Gardener".  :

Anyway... Can I really toss 4 corn seeds in a pot and grow 4 corn plants in a clump?

Thanks.
 
Tracy Wandling
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Hi André;

I haven't read the Winter Harvest Handbook, but I have found The New Organic Grower to be an excellent book. I go back to it again and again.

In that book you will find the recipe for creating the soil block mix. It worked great for me. The blocks held together and stood up to watering really well. I could even pick them up and easily move them around once the roots were holding them together. Misting them at the start helps, until the roots are big enough to hold them. If you can't get all of the 'nutrient' ingredients, I wouldn't worry about it. It's the soil/sand/compost/peat mix that is important. (Although next year I'll be replacing the peat with coconut coir). You have to get the mix quite wet, and then leave it for a few hours, to soak up as much water as possible. It will stick together better, and any excess water will get squished out as you make the blocks. I'm going to do a video of making soil blocks soon, as some others have wondered how it's done.

This year I planted onions together in clumps, and they worked great. Next year I'll be testing out more of the veggies. The trick is in the spacing. You can plant multiple plants in one clump, but you have to give them a little more space around them. But it still works out to more veggies being grown in the space. And it makes translating MUCH less work. I would definitely try this with whatever plants you are growing! Experiment with a few, and see how it works. I am quite pleased with how the onions worked out! They were faster to transplant, and took up less space. Win-win.

Next year I will be experimenting with all of the veggies I grow. I'll do some in the conventional way, and some in clumps, and see what works. I'll be sure to post my results so others can try it, too. (I do love to experiment!)

Anyway, I hope this helps in your future gardening endeavours! 

Cheers
Tracy
 
André Troylilas
Posts: 112
Location: North of France
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Sure, Tracy, this will help!
Thanks a bunch!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Andre, 

Lots of good ideas already for  you to try.

We use toilet paper rolls for our sprouting and growing transplants, two to three seeds each, if we need to separate we do that just as soon as the stems stiffen up so there isn't a huge amount of root yet.
A gentle water stream over the roots aiming down the stems helps separate the seedling roots quickly and without much breakage. These are replanted as they come apart so there isn't any danger of root drying.

Have fun and experiment, some of my friends love the soil blocks, some don't.
Our method works well for us and we can always get free containers (toilet paper rolls) to fill with our seed starting medium.

Redhawk
 
André Troylilas
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Thanks Bryant, will give it a try.

Tracy, I got the book today. I know for sure what I'm going to do tonight.
 
Tracy Wandling
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Hi André;

Great! I think you'll enjoy it. I found it not only full of great information, but also very inspiring. He's pretty passionate about what he does.

Enjoy!

Cheers
Tracy
 
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