Propagate Plants Efficiently

Latest Update 5th April 2019.

I have used this propagation method for a few years and the process has continued to evolve, so some of these ideas are still work in progress.

EcoPropagators have a built-in water tank which maintains constant moisture in a layer of high quality sieved homemade compost above it.  This compost remains evenly moist as long as the tank has water in it, and there is an indicator to make sure its level is easily monitored.  The compost is rich in humus and beneficial microbes and is virtually free of plant pathogens and weed seeds because of the high temperatures developed during the hot composting process.  

The EcoPropagator protects its contents against extremes in weather and in winter the timber framed cover is fitted with a polycarbonate sheet.  It acts like a small greenhouse, and seedlings are protected against frost .  They benefit from higher than ambient temperatures and growth is kept moving at an acceptable rate during the colder months.  In summer the polycarbonate cover is replaced with a polyester knitted net capable of excluding insects and other pests and reduces the sun's intensity by more than 20%.
I'm always looking for ways to reduce cost and improve productivity, so this years peas and broad beans are being sown directly into the homemade compost being used as a wicking medium.  I have never seen peas germinate so quickly (4 days), and the seedlings had grown a very healthy root system within 2 weeks.  They transplanted easily and with imperceptible transplant shock.  I will be testing this method with the rest of the range currently propagated in pots and continue to update this page as my techniques evolve.

Currently root and bulb crops like onions, leeks, beetroot and turnips are multi sown in clusters of 4 to 6 seeds per mini pot containing finely sieved homemade compost.   These mini pots are sunk into the propagator's compost wicking medium up to their rims.  While the seedlings are quite small, each cluster is transplanted directly into a planting hole in the designated bed keeping the compost around it as intact as possible.

Plants with small seed like lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, capsicum, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli are sown in clusters in mini pots and then transplanted singly into fresh mini pots when established but still quite small.  When these seedlings are mature enough they are removed from the pots and planted out into the prepared bed.

Plants with larger seeds like peas, climbing beans, corn, pumpkin and cucumbers can also be sown in clusters of 3 per mini pot and planted out when established but still quite small.  

Growing plants in clusters in rich compost seems to encourage collaboration rather than competition and my results have been excellent so far.  Charles Dowling who has a smallholding in Somerset in the UK has used this technique commercially for many years and his YouTube presentations are well worth viewing.

Large seeds like broad beans, silverbeet, cucumber and pumpkins are sown individually in mini pots and planted out when ready into a prepared bed.  Germination has proved to be exceptional using this technique and most large seeds give me 100% success.

Carrots seeds do not transplant well and they take a long time to germinate.  Without regular rain, they are hard to germinate in Ecobeds because evaporation dries out the top 10mm of soil.  Using a method favoured by permaculture practitioners, I broadcast my carrot seeds in a narrow band on top of pre-saturated soil and cover them lightly with finely sieved compost.  A flat piece of untreated timber is placed over the seeds and left there for 3 weeks to maintain a satisfactory level of soil moisture.  By then the seeds should have germinated, and uncovered, be ready to grow strongly to maturity.

Apart from carrots, seed potatoes and garlic cloves are the only edible plants sown directly into Ecobeds these days, and by planting fairly deeply into a drill containing high-quality, moist, homemade compost, plants rarely fail to germinate.

The EcoPropagator's water tank provides moisture to the compost layer above it by capillary action.  This moisture finds its way into the mini pots and provides an ideal environment for rapid germination and healthy growth of the seedlings.  To avoid a build up of plant pests in the constantly moist wicking medium, it is renewed with fresh compost twice a year in spring and autumn.  

When transplanting mature seedlings into Ecobeds, I use a large dibber to place them accurately.  So long as the compost has been firmed in each mini pot before sowing, the plug of compost enveloping the roots of the seedlings can easily be transferred intact.

I propagate most of my seeds in EcoPropagators, instead of sowing them directly into the soil, because it helps optimise the Ecobed's productivity.  Once the ground has been prepared for the next crop after a harvest, new seedlings should be available for planting without delay.

If the plan is working properly, the new seedlings will have been growing in the Ecopropagator for 4 to 6 weeks by the time the Ecobed is ready to accept them.  This cuts the amount of time the plants need to grow in the Ecobed by that 4 to 6 weeks period.  This is particularly useful in early spring when the soil is too cold for direct sowing, but the environment in the EcoPropagators is warm enough for seeds to germinate and grow strongly and be ready for transplant as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

I also use a dedicated EcoPropagator to grow plants from cuttings.  The highly active compost I make is about 60mm deep and the moist humid conditions are ideal for growing cuttings.  I have had near 100% success striking them directly in this compost without needing to use hormone preparations or anything else other than watering them in with dilute seaweed extract.

When taking cuttings (usually in early spring), I like to cut them about 100mm long if possible.  In any case, they need to be cut just below a leaf node and stripped of leaves other than the top 2 to 4 small fully opened ones.  The cuttings then need to be inserted to 50% of their length in the compost medium and watered in with dilute seaweed extract.  

Once the cuttings have established themselves and are growing vigorously, they are ready to be planted out.   Its important to ensure the root ball is not disturbed too much during this process.

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