Propagate Plants Efficiently

Latest Update 11th July 2018.

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 thin 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 by a polyester knitted net capable of excluding insects and other pests and reduces the sun's intensity by more than 20%.

Root and bulb crops like onions, beetroot, carrots and turnips are multi sown in clusters of 4 to 6 seeds in each module of a 30 module seed tray containing finely sieved homemade compost.  While the seedlings are quite small, each cluster is transplanted directly into a planting hole in a prepared bed with the compost around it as intact as possible.

Small seed plants like lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, capsicum, beetroot, spinach and broccoli are sown in clusters but are then transplanted singly into modules when established but still quite small.  When ready these seedlings are then planted out into a prepared bed.

Small seed plants like carrots, onions, leeks, turnips and beetroot grow well in clusters and are multisown in modules and then planted as clusters into a prepared bed while still quite small.    

Plants with larger seeds like peas, climbing beans, corn and cucumbers can also be multisown (3 per module) and planted out when established but still 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 is my "no dig " hero.  His YouTube presentations are worth viewing.

Large seeds like broad beans, silverbeet and pumpkins, are sown individually into modules 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.

Seed potatoes and garlic are the only edible plants sown directly into Ecobeds these days, and by planting into very rich moist soil, plants rarely fail to germinate.

The propagator's compost layer is kept constantly moist, but a light watering with captured rainwater after sowing seeds is beneficial.  The compost in the tray's modules is replaced with fresh compost for each new sowing and is full of beneficial microbes which set up their mutualistic relationships with the new plant's roots as they emerge. 

I propagate most of my seeds in EcoPropagators, instead of sowing directly into the soil, because it helps keep the Ecobeds productive.  Once the ground has been prepared for the next crop after a harvest, the new seedlings are planted out without delay.  If the plan is working properly, new seedlings will be ready to go, usually saving from 4 to 6 weeks growing time in the Ecobeds compared with directly sown seeds.

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 module before sowing, the plug of compost enveloping the roots of the seedlings can easily be pushed out with a piece of 10mm dowel through the large hole in the bottom of each module, without it collapsing.

I also use a dedicated EcoPropagator to grow plants from cuttings.  The highly active compost 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 plant out.   Its important to ensure the root ball is not disturbed too much during this process.