|Latest Update 18th August 2017. |
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 covering layer of high quality sieved homemade compost. The 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.
I top up the compost from time to time as it gradually decomposes, and every spring I renew it. The used compost, which seems to acquire earthworms from nowhere during the year makes an extraordinarily rich top dressing to be reused wherever you see fit.
The propagator protects its contents against extremes in weather and in winter the timber framed cover is fitted with a polycarbonate "window". 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. In summer the polycarbonate window is replaced by a polyester knitted net capable of excluding most insects and other pests and reduces the sun's intensity by more than 20%.
Small seeds are sown in plastic mini pots in an organic seed raising mix, and because germination rates are high in the propagators mini-ecosystem, you don't need to sow too many. After soaking the pots in dilute seaweed extract for half an hour, they are buried in the wicking medium up to their rims, and beneficial microbes are easily able to move into the pots and set up their mutualistic relationships with the new plant's roots as they emerge. When the seeds are mature enough to transplant, they are separated and planted individually into jiffy (fibre) pots to mature ready for planting out in a prepared bed.
Larger seeds are sown into organic potting mix in jiffy pots one or two at a time. Germination has proved to be exceptional using this technique and most large seeds give me 100% success. After soaking the seeds in their fibre pots in dilute seaweed extract, the pots are buried up to their rims in the propagator's wicking media. Once the seeds have germinated thin out weaker seeds so the strongest plant remains in each pot. Snip these unwanted seeds off at soil level to avoid disrupting the soil by pulling them out roots and all.
I propagate most of my seeds in propagators now, instead of by direct sowing, 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 planning is working properly, new seedlings will be ready to go, usually saving from 4 to 6 weeks growing time in the Ecobed compared with directly sown seeds.
Some plants, like carrots and parsnips, are very sensitive to transplantation and need to be sown directly as seed into the prepared bed. These are best sown in small groups to fill any vacant spaces.
Potato seeds are too big to be transplanted and are also sown directly into prepared ground. Before that they need to be chitted (exposing them to warmth and light out of direct sunlight with "eyes" pointing upwards). Re-purposed egg cartons support them as their new shoots are stimulated and emerge after about 6 weeks ready for planting.
When transplanting mature seedlings into Ecobeds, I try to make sure the whole of the root ball is transplanted including some of the compost surrounding the jiffy pot, especially if there are roots penetrating into it. This ensures the minimum disturbance to the plant's roots, and virtually eliminates transplant shock and wilting.
I use a small propagator to grow plants from cuttings. The active compost medium and moist humid conditions are ideal, and I have had near 100% success striking cuttings directly into it 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 (not always 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 leaves. The cutting then need to be inserted to 50% of their length in the compost medium and watered in with dilute seaweed extract.
Once the cuttings haves established themselves and are growing vigorously, they are ready to plant out. Its important to ensure the root ball of transplanted cuttings suffer the minimal amount of disruption during this process. I plan to use larger jiffy pots filled with sieved compost and sunk into the propagators compost to strike cuttings. If successful, it will allow plants to be relocated with less risk of disturbing the plant's root ball.
I have been using jiffy pots for some time now and I have been very happy with the results, but I will be looking for less costly ways of providing this important function in future, perhaps with homemade pots of some kind. Watch this space.