Monday, February 22

Coconut Coir vs Peat Moss

I've been reading up on the latest fads in gardening, and it seems that everyone is buzzing about coconut coir as a germination medium since it is more renewable than peat moss (which is renewable, but takes a long time to grow). So I thought I'd give it a whirl. All I have to lose is money, right?

I bought two types of coir - bricks, which should be soaked in a tub of water, and pellets, which are meant to replace the jiffy disks in germination trays. The bricks remain to be opened, as only one flat of seedlings was planted today, they were $2.50 for ~8 quarts.

For about $5, a box of 72 pellets were plunked into the tray, and warm water added to make them expand and get damp. Be sure to place them in the tray oriented vertically, with the circular sides of the cylinder on top & bottom. Horizontal pellets will expand into the sides of the cell, and remain rather dense (a small screwdriver helped break up the clumps), one cracked the cell wall of a recycled tray. Vertical pellets will expand upwards, looking a little too much like Canadian goose poop, but pouring water over the top helps them settle flat. They expanded quickly - within a few minutes, much faster than peat pellets.

I found the pellets to be a bit small for the cells (perhaps they'll expand more overnight), and didn't fill the cavities completely. But for ease of use and rapid expansion they get high marks. I'm not thrilled at the cost, especially compared to the bricks of coir. Perhaps I can find a different supplier that sells them bulk.
So what did I start you ask?
Garlic Chives
Regular Chives
Spicy Globe Basil
Dark Opal Basil
Creeping Thyme
Lemon Balm
Sweet Basil
Flat Parsley
Curled Parsley

Saturday, February 20

Radish Germination in the Root View Box

Those radish seeds germinated in three days, roots are visible in the photo above. Today they have leaves, but I don't have a photo yet.

Photo of seed leaves - 2-21-2010:

Photo of root view box 3-22 or can see the radishes and the beets are growing nicely!

Saturday, February 13

Building a Root View Box

Ever want to know just what is happening beneath the soil surface? What your seeds are actually doing in there?

A root-view box is simply a planter with a window to the dirt, so you can observe what is happening below the soil surface. By planting the seeds against an angled window, the roots will grow against it. However, roots avoid light, so the window needs a covering.

Like other projects that will be encountering water, this is built mostly of cedar, with some scraps of other wood as trim pieces (holding in the window). It was built to fit the planter drip trays I found at the local hardware store, so anyone building one will want to come up with their own dimensions.

1x6 lumber
trim pieces (in this case 1/2" square stock and some triangles cut from scraps lying around)
1/8" clear polycarbonate for the window
plastic drip tray from a windowbox planter
1" galvanized hinges
2" latch (could use a hook & eye or many other things to secure the window, but these were on the clearance rack for a quarter each)
wood screws
wood glue
screw gun

Mount the window at an angle, so the roots have to encounter it while growing down (geotropism, if I recall primary school biology correctly)
Drill some drainage holes in the bottom.
Add a trim piece that covers the edge of the window across the top, this will block incoming light, since the roots will avoid any light.

If you are wanting to use acrylic to save money on the window, I understand that Lowe's will cut it to size for you - do this - acrylic is not easy to cut without shattering. If you must cut it yourself, use a metal straight-edge and a blade to score it, then repeat the same cut deeper and deeper until you can snap it over a straight corner. Polycarbonate (sold under the brand name Lexan) is a bit stronger and less likely to shatter. Polycarb. can be cut easily on a band saw, or with a fine-tooth jigsaw or circle saw.

Plant the root-view box as you would any other container. This is a mixture of potting soil with a slow-release fertilizer and worm castings, the same mix I'm using for starting seeds this year. I filled a 1.25 gallon ice cream bucket halfway with potting mix and added 5 or 6 cups of water, letting it sit for a few hours to soak in. Then, dump it into the planter box, plant the seeds, and add labels.

Seeds that would be good to try include carrots, beets, radishes, bunching onions, parsnips, and chard (it has multi-colored roots). Science project topics can include obstacle avoidance by the roots (put stones or sticks into the box), different light filters for the roots, different soil mixes (sandy, loam, clay).

I hope to add photos every few days as we watch the seeds germinate and grow. We should see something from the radishes within a few days.

Monday, February 1


Since there was such great interest in the Garden Planner spreadsheet last year, I've decided to add a Google Group to facilitate downloads of the spreadsheet as it develops. You can find us at

The original garden planner spreadsheet is located there, you're welcome to join us and download a copy.

Improvements I'm currently working on include a list of herbs, some bug fixes, and a custom font for the calendar (icons instead of the current abbreviations)