Saturday, February 21, 2009

Playing in the Mud

Remember when you were a kid and got to play in the mud? It was that kind of day today. I got to play with my new toy - my soil blocker. I debated endlessly with myself over whether to buy one or not and if I did, what size it ought to be. For those that have no clue as to what I'm talking about suffice it to say that it makes blocks of soil that you use in place of a pot. I bought it as a means to keep from buying all those plastic six packs and tossing them when they started getting ripped.

I figured the most useful size for me was the uncommon 1 1/2" size which is called the Mini 5 Blocker because it makes 5 little soil blocks. Most people go with two at the beginning - the 3/4" and the 2". You start all your seeds in the 3/4" block and then plop the the 3/4" block right inside the 2" block when you want to pot up. Which saves a lot of space with the new starts under the lights, but as they all go into the 2" eventually it adds up. 1 1/2" is smaller and I have extremely limited light space. Most of my plants only stay inside about 4 weeks. The 1 1/2" size ought to cover that. The others I'll have to pot up into larger pots or make myself someway to make larger blocks. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I bought them and the soil mix I'm using from Fedco. They seemed to have reasonable prices. I liked their mix of potting soil - Fort V, so I didn't mix up my own. It is made with lots of compost and is organic. Hopefully it drains well enough. I ought to add sand to it, but I didn't. I'll find out soon enough if all my seedlings rot out instead of growing.

I took a small bit of the mix. I only needed to make a couple of rows of blocks. All the advice says add water until you can just squeeze water out of the mix. So I did. Then I took my soil blocker and plunged it down into the wet soil. The first blocks didn't quite come out right. Some fell apart. Some didn't have enough soil at the top and had gaps. All these mistakes got tossed back into the mix to try again. I played around a little. Some say you need to dunk the blocker in water between each set of blocks or the soil will stick. I tried it both ways. Not much sticking either way. I eventually got tired of playing and made some nice nice blocks that were totally filled out and held together.

I can see a need for a tool that is thin and as wide as the blocks, like a giant pair of tweezers. That way I could move them around if I wanted. As it was I just picked them up carefully with my fingers and put them where I wanted, which was two plastic trays that fit six blocks each. Then I put the lids on so they could germinate. One tray was for my bunching onions, Nabechan. The other for my extra, extra early lettuces, Red Sails, Mervielle de Quatre Saisons, and New Red Fire. So I have just two of each of the lettuce types started. I'll start lettuce every 2-3 weeks throughout the growing season, so there is no reason to start more than this. Two heads a week is probably more than sufficent to feed me.


  1. Well...ain't that spiffy....Five at a time, boy that's convenient.


  2. Hi Daphne, I think you got the best size, less space and since they get repotted anyway why not? You are so restrained with your seed starting. I have so many babies and was proud for not dumping the whole packet of seed right off the bat. Succession sowing is the way to go. But I get bored and want to start more seeds and it is so easy and fun to do. HA

  3. Drop Elliot Collman a note with the idea and specs for the tongs. Maybe they will be in the catalog next year. Maybe you could even get a comp pair! Ed will be playing in the dirt soon too!

  4. My next blog (I'm waiting on my daughter to send a picture...she said 4 PM, she lied!) shows a surprise that I'll get as soon as I get back home. The blogger at John's Journal has made me a 2" soil blocker, and I'm anxious to put it to use! Playing in the mud might become our new favorite pastime!

  5. I have been contemplating building ones of these out of plywood & bolts. I'm just not sure if it is worth the work, after purchase the supply's it probably would only be $15 less then just buying one. Decisions, Decisions.

    Yours is very nice and I am sure it will work great for you.

    I bet they are great for starting things like melon, squash, zucchini, peas etc before planting out.

  6. Daphne, oh goody! You got to play in the mud! Looks like a good size. I went with the mini and the 2". The micro makes 20 and the 2" makes 4, I believe- 5 would have been nice, but I don't think I've ever seen that one here (Territorial Seed), I'll have to check. I use a trowel to scoop out the soil block- picked it up at Home Depot. It fits the soil block (at least the size I have) perfectly and when setting the blocks out it the garden I turn it around to make a perfect square hole for the transplant. For the micro I have a tool that I got from an art store it looks like a mini trowel and fits the micro size perfectly! I can send you pics of both if you'd like.

  7. EG, it is the one reason I didn't do a homemade one. Though I did think about designing a homemade one that had multiple cells but I figured the nice metal one would hold up better.

    Sheila, I thought so too :> I so love my new toys.

    Frances, I really want to start more too. I'm dying for spring, but I'm also a very practical person, so I'll be good.

    Becky, I think I'd want to experiment with them first :> Hmm maybe I'll make some.

    Annie's Granny, OHHH someone to make one for you. I used to occasionally get my engineer son to make me things, but then he went off to college.

    Dan, I'm not sure wood is the right material. I think the grains would make the dirt stick too much. If you lined it in plastic it might work. Or use the plastic bottle trick and connect them. I'm wondering if I should be starting my snap peas in them this year. Last year all my snow peas came up great, but for both my fall and spring crops, my snap peas rotted. I tried different varieties, but for some reason, they don't like to germinate in my soil. I could trick them by starting them inside and transplanting them.

    Tessa, very few companies sold that size. I checked around for it, just to make sure I wasn't paying too much. I probably have that mini trowel you are talking about since I used to paint.

  8. My peas took a long time to germinate last year because the soil was cold. I read some where about starting them inside and planting them out around when the first true leaves start to develop. I don't think they like their roots disturbed so soil blocks would be perfect.