Editor's note: This post was completely produced by Brian. All I had to do was copy and paste. There's a lot of text to start, but a full series of pics below that. Thanks Brian. My name is Brian Creelman of Woodlanders farm, a small, diversified, mostly homestead-oriented smallholding in Quebec's Eastern Townships. I (we) raise a variety of small rare breed livestock, grow and sell OP seeds, and participate in a local Farmer's Market.
Well, there's more than that actually, but what I want to show you is something I have been using and doing for years now that I think would be most beneficial for others to know about. It has to do with getting seedlings off to an early and healthy start as soon as possible after the snow melts away - here in our eastern climatic zone (4b).
The elegance of it, in my opinion, is that it is low-tech, low energy input, doesn't involve complicated and precarious technological systems and provides three bangs for the buck - in other words three positive outcomes for the effort expended.
So, what is it?
Taking a page from agricultural history and reconsidering past successful strategies to accomplish tasks that have always been part and parcel of farming & gardening is a useful exercise that can pay dividends. It was once common - not so very long ago actually - for market gardeners and virtually anyone who undertook the growing of vegetables to employ traditional hot beds to supply an organic source of heat. With the coming of electricity and the grid and fossil fuels - those methods went the way of the dodo - as more convenient, "practical" and expedient means of accomplishing the same goal came about. However, as we find ourselves in a somewhat new reality of diminishing energy supplies and a new regime of other practical obstacles - perhaps we should give a respectful nod to the knowledge, techniques and approaches of the past - and resurrect the wheels that were invented by folks on the past who were up against the same challenges as we are now.
Hot beds were once a ubiquitous cultural method before the advent of propane or electricity or other fossil fuels- and involved the natural tendency of decomposing manure to yield an even, sustained heat over just the kind of time period that is required for starting seedlings.
Below is my variation on the traditional "hot bed" or "forcing pit", where the property of fermenting fresh manure to release slow, steady heat is used to propagate seedlings, even while snow is still on the ground in March here in the east. Horse manure works best - and it should be fairly fresh. Note: this method presupposes you have some cold frames on hand. Adapt it to suit your needs.