Posts from the ‘Tools’ category

Soil Blocking

While we don’t actually own any (yet), we’re quite taken with the wonderfully efficient soil blockers. Recently I got to use them while helping plant a couple of thousand tomato seeds with some of our mates. When I say I ‘helped’ do this, I really mean I mostly played with my 1 year old niece while my mates planted them. I did actually do some work, for at least 15 minutes – but I’m not sure that really counts. But hey, I was there, did some blocking and I liked it, really liked it. Here’s the low down on why.

Soil blocking is exactly what it says it is, where you make blocks of soil of varying sizes. To do so you use the very cool contraptions shown below. The smallest on the left if the one you usually start with (depending on the plants you’re growing) where you’re providing the seeds with just enough soil, space and nutrients to get started.

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Once they’ve poked their heads up and have two or more leaves the blocks are ready to be upgraded to the next size block. But unlike the usual transplanting methods which can be a bit (or a lot) disruptive to the seedling’s root system this technique is seamless. You simply pop the whole block into the next size block as you can see below. This means there’s no stress caused to the seedling and the root system can continue on it’s own merry way, expanding into the additional space provided.

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The blocks are like babushka dolls, where one fits within another which then fits within another…. Image from here.

Another cool thing about this method (there are quite a few) is that there is no chance of the roots getting ‘root bound’ which is a common occurrence when seedlings are left in containers too long. Instead, the roots are ‘air pruned’ which means once they reach the boundary of their soil block, air prunes them from going any further, so they can develop a healthy, naturally shaped root system.

root_bound_vs._root_prunedA root bound seedling on the left – a common ailment of leaving them too long in containers and seed blocking showing a healthy root system forming which has been air pruned. Image from here.

But lets backtrack a bit to the very start. To make sure your blocks have good ‘form’ and don’t crumble, you have to get the soil mix bang on.   We made a mix up with the rough ratios of 3 parts worm castings (you can also use good compost), 1 part sand (river sand) and 1 part coco peat (coconut fibre). The worm castings are the ‘glue’ to the mix making sure the whole thing holds its shape, the sand provides drainage and air pockets while the coco peat does a brilliant job at holding moisture and nutrients in the block.

3Mr James Da Costa working hard

The mix needs to looks crumbly and when you squeeze it tightly there should only be around one drop of water coming out of it, no more. We use this great sieve do screen the mix, removing any bulky items and making sure there’s good ‘fluff’ factor. It’s made from timber lying around the garden and vermin mesh.

4Once the mix is ready to go you can get going on your blocking. We used the smallest blockers as we were planting out a whole bunch of tomato seeds (which are tiny and don’t need much space). Other plants may be best to start in some of the larger blocks.

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There’s a bit of technique involved to make a good ‘block’, it requires a firm, yet gentle hand and a bit of caution. But after a few goes you’ll have you method sorted and pump them out.

5You can plant your blocks directly into a standard tray or make your own. James whipped up a whole bunch of these great planting flats made from timber and corflute which are super easy to stack to transport around. The downside to this design is the lack of airflow which means you can have some fungus growing on the timber. As a result we’ll be transferring the blocks into standard trays to increase the air flow factor shortly.

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Fin rocking the blocking!

A little trick to be mindful of is to dunk your soil blocker into a bucket of water in between each ‘blocking’. This ensures that the blocks can slide out easily without getting caught on soil bits left behind from last time.

Once your blocks are all laid out you can plant your seeds. If you look closely you’ll notice that each block has a little hole in the middle – this is created automatically when you do the blocking and is designed for the seed to be placed perfectly in there. Once you’ve done so you can come back with a dusting of soil mix to cover them up and water them in using a spray bottle/mister thing.

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A couple of weeks later and they’re now ready to be upgraded to the next size block – yay! However, due to having some older seed, some of them aren’t quite ready to move up a size yet, but that’s ok we’ll just have them at varied stages which isn’t the end of the world.

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Soil blockers are one of those life changing tools which can save you bucket-loads on time and provide you with a superior product. We love their low-tech style and the results you get, so many wins with these gadgets!

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 *Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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Tool love: How To Replace A Shovel Handle

For a gardener, tools are the enabling and magical ‘Inspector Gadget’ extension of your body. They make things happen which wouldn’t otherwise, improve the outcomes of the job you’re working on to no ends and, when used properly, can reduce your long-term workload significantly. So we love our tools, no matter how modest or common, we love them.

Untitled-1Hannah with a collection of our modest but darn useful tools….. They actually look like they need a bit of a clean in this photo, hmmm. Excuse the ‘split’ effect on this image, it’s a scan from the local newspaper, The Mercury.

Take the humble shovel for example, our lives would be hard without it, really hard. Our shovels have moved a lot of soil, blue metal, sand and gravel – it scares me exactly how much but it’s somewhere in the tonnes. The shovel is actually a wonder of technology (as are all tools).  The steel for the blade has been mined as iron ore and combined with roughly equal parts coal to make a steel bar.  This bar has been stamped and pounded with 10 tonne metal presses to create its shape.  Following this they are dipped in a durable external grade paint.  This is then attached to a shaft that has been harvested from a forest, kiln dried and lathed to create its funky ergonomic shape.

Unfortunately this wonder of technology is not overly valued.  When you can buy a half decent shovel for $30 from your local hardware, it’s easy to throw it out and replace it with a new one when it breaks instead of spending time patching them up.

We try and fix everything we can, or get someone else to if it’s beyond us, to extend the life cycle and also because it makes sense to not throw out valuable resources. One of the more regular tool injuries that happen on our hillside is snapping the shovel handle, this usually happens from either old age or when we’re trying to do something we probably shouldn’t, i.e. move heavy, wet clay (cough cough). So in an ode to our glorious tools and how much we value them, here is a simple guide to how to replace a shovel handle.

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 Our recent tool injury looked like this. 

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Its worthwhile to check if the head is in good condition, this shovel is around 3 years old and still in pretty good nick.  Although there is a bit of dried cement on the blade – you should really take the time to clean tools properly after use, something which sometimes gets away from us…

You can see that there are two key ways the shovel head is being held on.

  1. There is a steel collar, in this case welded on to the shovel shaft
  2. There is a steel pin/nail that connects the shaft to the timber handle

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The first task is to grind out the pin and the weld on the steel collar.

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The next step is to remove the handle which can be a bit tricky as it’s usually pretty well stuck in place.  With a bit of luck, the remaining wooden shaft can be hammered out, you can see I gave this handle a fair bash with a hammer but it didn’t move an inch.

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Enter the trusty power drill!  Starting with small drill bits, simply drill directly into the wooden shaft and gradually  move up to larger drill bit sizes.  Once it’s pretty much drilled out you can ‘gently’ bash/nudge the scraps out with a hammer.

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Now the fun bit, inserting the new timber handle.  It is worthwhile checking as closely as you can before inserting the handle that it is the correct size and orientation (you don’t want the handle up side down), if correct, insert the handle. To drive the head onto the handle, hold the handle with the head in the air and bash down onto a sturdy wood block.

There isn’t a photo of this but it’s worthwhile dipping the handle in linseed oil prior to attaching the head.  This will help the head slide on and help preserve the timber.

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Almost there…  The last bit is focused on locking the handle into place.

  1. Pre-drill a hole and drive a sturdy nail into the same location where the pin was previously located.
  2. Bash the collar back into position, it can now be held in place with a weld or a small dab of epoxy glue.

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The finished product in all its glory amongst our fresh earthworks which weren’t done with our shovels, we got an excavator in for that job!

Some hot tips for looking after your new handle. Your new handle will last a lot longer if you…

  • Store it under cover, and
  • Oil it annually using Linseed or other oil based timber preservers, eg Livos oil, Tung oil

What now? Time to get digging!

 *Your blogger is Anton Vikstrom, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and a total renaissance man.

 

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