Dying basswood tree lives again in seed transplant boxes

Barbara Hootman

A dying basswood tree threatening Becki Janes’ house in Black Mountain has found new life in wooden vegetable transplant boxes.

“Arborist John Parmenter said it was the largest basswood he had ever seen,” said Janes, owner of Becki’s Bounty, her produce business from which she teaches gardening skills. “I had attended a series of classes in biodynamic agriculture taught by Craig Siska at the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, and he introduced the class to planting with wooden seed boxes instead of using plastic cell packs and trays that don’t last long and add to pollution.”

Parmenter cut and transported the tree trunk to the Warren Wilson College sawmill where it was milled into the appropriate thicknesses for building the seed transplant boxes. The Warren Wilson College sawmill group brought the milled wood back to Janes’ house where it was stacked and allowed to dry for a year. The entire process cost Janes $1,250.

Diana McCall, garden manager of the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, enlisted garden volunteer Victor Wilson to craft the seed transplant boxes at his home woodworking shop at Cheshire Village.

“The garden is very grateful for Becki’s initiative in this project,” McCall said. “It’s a wonderful example of what makes our community great - folks coming together to share the best of themselves towards a greater good. We’ll be able to increase our numbers of starts (tiny vegetables grown from seeds) this year.” That will help the garden increase the number of pounds of food it donates to Bounty & Soul, a Swannanoa Valley charity that supplies food to needy local residents.

Basswood makes the transplant boxes special, Janes said.

“We decided to use the basswood for this project because it is a light wood,” she said. “It makes the boxes lighter once they are filled with dirt.”

The smaller dimensions of the deeper box make it easier for small hands and older volunteers to carry them at the community garden. The boxes are built with dimensions in accordance with the teachings of biodynamic agriculture, a field largely introduced in this country by Alan Chadwick and based on the writings of Rudolph Steiner.

Craig Siska worked with Alan Chadwick and is now involved in establishing Chadwick’s archives.

“A primary difference in starting seeds in this way is that seeds grow together instead of in isolated cells. This encourages stronger growth and the ability to pick out the most vigorous plants for transplanting into the garden. Siska worked out the proper dimensions for the boxes.”

The boxes were divided between Becki’s Bounty and Dr. John Wilson Community Garden. They are not available to the public.

Brian Brace, a fine furniture maker in Black Mountain, estimated the retail value of the boxes at $30-$35 each.

The boxes were made in two different sizes. The three-inch shallow box is used for the first planting, and the deep box of 6 inches is used for “pricking” out the plants (moving them to the deeper box for more root development). Slatted bottoms in the boxes allows for good drainage, and they are treated with a wood preserver.

Siska said his role was to supply the design and dimensions of the boxes based on wooden seed boxes he had made and used in the biodynamic-French intensive approach to horticulture class taught in the “production garden” portion of the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden.

“In 2014, I gave some informal gardening classes, which Becki attended, and I suggested that wooden seed boxes were the optimum containers for sowing seeds,” Siska said. “Victor built the seed boxes, pro bono, making it a community effort.”

Wilson and his wife Jane are avid gardeners. He had built five soil filters for the garden to replace three filters that had been well used.

“When I completed the soil filters, Craig Siska asked me if I would consider making about 30 seed boxes so the seeds could germinate indoors prior to spring planting,” Wilson said. “These seemed to fill a nice niche, so Becki asked if I would make about 30 more, which I finished about a week ago.”

“I want others who have trees that need new lives to know what they are facing before they start a similar project,” Janes said.

For more, contact Janes at