SOIL BLOCKS

I start many of my seedlings indoors, using soil blocks.  These blocks are made with block makers made by Ladbrooke Soil Blockers, in England. They can be found at JohnnySeeds.com, GrowOrganic.com, along with information about using them. It's a bit of an investment, but these blockers make great plant starts with a high success rate.  Making the blocks takes a little practice, with trial and error, but after a little practice, it's "as easy as pie" -- mud pie, that is.

Germination starts for many of the smaller size seeds (flowers, herbs, tomatoes, peppers) in the 3/4" MICRO blocks.  This gives them a chance to start in a cozy, warm, small space.  The blocker to make these makes 20 small blocks at a time.  I put them in these cake pans, with holes on the bottom, so I can water them from the bottom by putting water into the tray lid, then placing the tray into the lid. (UPDATE: I no longer put holes in the bottom of the trays. I just water between the rows in addition to spraying the tops. I use the plastic lid to cover the pan, loosely, until sprouts reach the lid.)


Here is a photo of some onions that were started in the MICRO blocks.  These were later put into the 2" MINI blocks.  As you can see, a couple of these got a bit dry.  It's important to keep them moist, but not too wet, while in these blocks.  Until they emerge, I keep a lid on loosely, and put the trays on TOP of my grow lights, for bottom warmth.  Once they emerge, they go under the lights.



After seeds have begun to grow, they are transplanted into 2" MINI blocks, which are made with a cube-shaped indentation just the right size for the MICRO blocks.    The photo shows how nicely they fit.  This gives the seedlings a chance to grow more before being transplanted either outdoors or into MAXI blocks for further growth indoors.

Some larger seeds, such as beets, squash, and even corn & beans are started directly in this size of block.  Yes, with this method I even start my corn and beans in blocks.  In our short growing season it gives them a nice head start, and when transplanted outside I have nice, even rows of things that have all germinated--no empty spaces from failures.  I also use aluminum cake pans for these, with 20 blocks per tray, holes in the bottom of the trays and trays placed into the plastic lids, as mentioned above.

After growing to a good size in the MINI blocks, plants are later transplanted into the 4" MAXI block for a time before they can be transplanted outside.  These blocks are made with a 2" indentation, just the right size to fit the 2" blocks.

I like a little extra space at the top for some transplants, particularly tomatoes, so for these I dig a little out of the bottom of each block's indentation.  After putting the smaller block into the larger, I add some soil at the top and bury the stem just a little more.  I wish the blockmaker was made with a little more space, but I've learned to make do, digging about 1/4-1/2" of the soil out with a kitchen fork.

This was taken just after transplanting my tomatoes into the MAXI's, 4/8.  I've been using the soil blocker mix recipe found at a website that no longer exists. You can view it HERE. It has worked well for me.  Some of the ingredients are hard to find, and a bit expensive, particularly things like "glacial rock dust" and "greensand",  but with the quantities I purchased, I'll have plenty for years to come.  Fortunately, I live in quite an agricultural community, and have found a supply house that has most everything I need at better prices.

This was taken 4/25.  See how fast they grow!  Whoops...looks like I need to lift those lights a bit higher (again!).  And next year, I don't think I'll start them quite so early. These plants are in an old keyboard case, which fits 40 blocks--it's quite handy to hold the water on the bottom.  I started them at 8 weeks before the last frost, which is May 15 in our area.  They'll be pretty tall when time to go outside.  Next year, I'll go for 6 weeks or so before last frost.

I'm so thankful for this work area my husband made for me!  It's perfect for making the blocks, with the handy sink, and the cart at the left with two inset steam table pans.  (We got this cart, INCLUDING the two pans for $35 at a Habitat ReStore.  The pans alone would have cost that much new!)  My furry little helper is there, too.  Eventually this will have a cement floor and be at the back wall of our future greenhouse.

UPDATE: This area is now inside the greenhouse on the cement floor, making it a very nice place to make blocks inside, while it's cold outside.

Before-under porch.
After-at back of greenhouse.

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