Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sowing Seeds

I started this post with a description of soil blocks and how I use them and which ones I like, but it got way too big. So I've broken it up. Today is what got planted and tomorrow is all about my soil blocks.

You can barely see the masking tape labels

Last week I made two whole flats of soil blocks and planted them up. All my lettuce and some Asian greens in one flat. I think some of the lettuce seed that I'm trying will end up being too old, but I'll just resow the blocks again if they don't come up. Bunching onions, alpine strawberries (which are in the freezer right now), celery, sweet alyssum, and leeks in the other flat. You might notice that I put the slower germinaters and growers in one flat and the fast growers in the other. I can move them around with tongs, but it is easier if I don't have to.

I also made some blocks for wintersown plants. I should have gotten them out a couple weeks ago, but I was out of soil then. I hope there will be enough cold weather left for them. Or I'll have to call them springsown plants. I have Alpine strawberries both yellow and red. Some lettuce as a trial. I want to see how long they take to germinate and grow in these containers. I might want to do my spring lettuce this way, but maybe not. Maybe just the later plants this way. And some herbs like oregano and sage. I have a lot more to plant up this week.


  1. I have been considering switching to soil blocks next year but had not even thought about the labeling aspect of them. Does the tape really work okay for keeping track of what is planted? Right now I stick a small tag in each 6-pack I plant and so if I move it aorund the tag stays with it. It sound like once you set the cube you pretty much like to leave it be until it is time to plant. That makes sense from the labeling and fragility of the blocks - but does it pose some problems with adjusting lights etc? Just curious because I have myself pretty well convinced I should make the switch to soil blocks but want to understand as much as possible before making that leap.

  2. I'm also considering making the switch to soil blocks. Winter still is not over here. It was only 19 here this morning. Either way the effect will be the same for your wintersown plants.

  3. I am curious about the soil blocks too. Are they really fragile (can you move the trays around without them falling apart?) What kind of soil do you use?



  4. Very nice Daphne! It's definitely reassuring to see that spring is finally on the horizon in our parts. I have been mostly planting in cells it's about time to break out the soil block maker.

  5. I was wondering what soil blocks are? Any pictures on the inside of the tray?

  6. Yes tape works pretty well. I usually have a row of the same seed go all the way across. But sometimes I split a row and label both sides (with a 2/6 or a 4/6 etc). So I know what is where. The tape can be moved with the blocks. I often move blocks around if some are getting too big for their neighbors. Moving blocks is not an issues once you learn to make the blocks properly. And if you get some good tongs for them. I find they fall apart easier if I use my fingers, but never with the tongs. The first year though they fell apart a lot since I hadn't really learned to make them well. It takes a while to learn.

    The Mom, I just hope there is enough cold outside for my alpine strawberries to break dormancy.

    Ali, Yes I move my trays around all the time. My onions went outside for the first time today. Only for an hour, but for a small bit at least. I use Vermont Compost Company Fort V potting mix. I've also made Coleman's mix and it works well too (just do a search for it, his recipe is all over the web). You can also use a peat based potting mix from the store. I've never used one, but I hear they work quite well too.

    Thomas, yes finally. I thought it would never come, but it seems to be coming right on time.

    RandomGardener, I have pictures tomorrow. But they are just compressed blocks of soil.

  7. Hehe, I love my soil block maker. Don't let my block woes post fool you. I just got lazy on my potting soil when I ran out and figured what's the difference. Now I know I need to spend more time on the soil and even if the blocks form and look good, watch them to make sure they don't crumble later. Oh, and keep worms out of the blocks, they'll break it up fast. Hehe.

    I love your trays, where did you get them? I'm always looking for good repurpose trays for gardening.

  8. Ditto on the trays. I'm trying not to buy extra equipment this year.

  9. Hey Daphne,

    I've been waiting for some seed sowing posts- and you'll have to let us know about the winter sown project. I've sown some of my crops (in soil blocks, of course) and I'm experimenting with multi-planting those blocks- we'll see how it works. I'm also going to revamp my soil block flats- they're wooden, as Coleman made his, but the whole idea is that they are air pruned nicely- but with a solid bottom that doesn't happen as nicely. I'm thinking 1/4" hardware cloth in the bottom of my flats with holes. What do you use? I see Johnny's now sells special flats that allows you to even put the micros in- nice. To label them I just sow a few rows and right after the last row I add a tag with the variety, the date, and how many rows (just in case ;)

  10. Thanks Daphne for the follow up info!

  11. I'm guessing the winter sown ones will be off to the races pretty fast. Last year I had romaine germinating at the end of Feb.

  12. I forgot to ask- you say you use tongs to move them? So I'm sure any roots at the bottom aren't a problem? Do you give them a good soak first- I'd imagine that they could fall apart with tongs? I use a trowel and move two at a time with them, but I worry about any roots on the bottom getting sliced off (using a flat with holes would solve that.) I also have a very handy tool I purchased at an art supply- it's looks like a tiny long and narrow trowel- it fits the micro blocks perfectly!

  13. Love the idea of using the recycled food containers as seed starter. Fits perfectly with one of our mediaOrganic mantras..reuse, recyle repurpose. We did a short piece this green idea here - http://www.media-organic.com/reduce-your-environmental-footprint-4

  14. Sinfonian, I've never had a block crumble on me later. but then again I make them and mostly move them all right away to make sure they are evenly spaced. If they are going to fall apart they would do it then. But so far this year (and I'm better at it than last year) I've only had one failure out of five full flats. And I found it as soon as I made it so just tossed it back in the pail and redid it. The soil you use has to be able to hold together though. Coleman's mix works. I've found the Fort V potting mix (probably only available in the northeeast) works great.

    Nerdmom and Sinfonian, the trays I use will be described in detail when my post comes out this morning. I have a system very different from Coleman's. But since it uses regular flats it is really easy and cheap to get.

    Tessa, I tried a little multi planting last year and they didn't do as well. The two onion blocks did almost as well as the singles, but anything higher and they fared worse. I gave each plant (not block but plant) the same square footage so spaced accordingly.

    Dan, I hope they do well. If they are almost as fast as the indoor ones, I'll do a lot more next year. I have limited light space so if I can grow more outside the better. I'll do more of that kind of sowing later with some flowers.

    DirtDigger, yes tongs. I have ones that are a little narrower than the blocks. I fit my blocks very tightly into flats and without a side removed (like coleman's flats) you can't use a trowel to get under the blocks. You need to use tongs to pick them up. For wall made blocks they do not fall apart when picking up. Sometimes the roots grow a bit under the plant through my screening (you will see in the post today how I do it), but I've never had issues with getting them out. The roots tend to come out whole. Then again I don't usually let the plants overgrow their soil blocks very much. Once the roots fill out the block, it is really time to plant.