Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11, 2011

Short post today on my soil blocks and succession planting. Mostly I wanted to make it through the last of my pictures and topics from the last week so I could get to the newer stuff.  I'd like to say I saved the best for last, but I didn't.  Soil blocks aren't the sexiest thing out there, but when they work, they work amazingly.  Most of this post is about when they DON'T work. 

Having dutifully grown indoor lettuce in 4 blocks per variety over the last month due to the inability to plant out in this inclement weather, I decided to go with 8 seedlings per variety this time.  Of course by now the aged compost and vermiculite potting mix I had stored in a kitty litter bin in the garage was gone, so I made more.  My overwintered compost was great.  Worms were plentiful and everything but the egg shells were broken down nicely.  My new potting soil was made up of rain-moistened compost and a conservative dose of vermiculite, as I'm running out and don't want to buy more in our economic situation.

The soil blocks turned out great!  They compacted nicely and came free of the soil block maker easily without breaking. I was really quite pleased with myself as I hear so many people talk of complex potting soil recipes.  I just don't have access to all that material and I'm certainly not buying anything I don't have to.
As always, two seeds went into each divot and the whole tray went into the kitchen.  My wife wasn't thrilled about putting back the stand I use to keep the tray off the counter, but she didn't complain about the clumps of dirt in the kitchen... maybe... just maybe, I'm growing on her.

All was well for the first day, but as these blocks dried out, they started to fall apart.  At first I thought it may actually be a worm or two that got into the blocks that were doing the damage, but then it started happening to all of the blocks, especially when I watered them the first time.  I was so unhappy.  All that seed and work to make those blocks. Not to mention I actually had rapid germination from this year's Red Sails.

Unfortunately it was even worse by the time enough had germinated and I sent the tray upstairs to the light system.  Boy did I have to tinker with the lights and tray placement to keep optimum light distance.  Kind of a fun little puzzle.

So, how are your indoor seed starting adventures turning out this year? I'm sure many of you have flatS of them going at all times right now, but some of you may be just like me, with a small garden or just starting out, and you're wondering if starting seeds indoors is worth it.  Well, for less than $100 I built my light system will be making my own soil block seedlings forever.  And if you would just feel silly just starting a few plants, don't.  I do it all the time. All the better to park on top of the fridge to germinate.  So let's hear it. What works and what doesn't? And as always...

Enjoy your garden!


  1. Soil blocks are something I have yet to venture into. I was thinking about asking for a block maker for Christmas this year (yes, I think ahead!) but I am hesitating as they seem a bit complicated at times. I am sure I can figure it out - but the question is... do I want to?! LOL!

    I just moved/shuffled around abunch of seedlings today - getting ready for another big round of seed starting tomorrow. Thinned the broccoli starts down to one plant per cell and should repot the second round of tomatoes this weekend as well. The March weather has been so wet and blustery that I am likely going to postpone my usual potato planting day and the peas too.

  2. I've been using pro-mix and compost for my soil blocks with great results. A few weeks ago, I ran out of both and tried a batch of soil blocks using just seed starting mix. They are not holding up very well and are crumbling and collapsing each time I water them.

    I picked up a small bag of pro-mix and potting mix that will hopefully get me by until the garden centers open for the season. I will have to remember to stock up in the fall this year. I will be making some soil blocks and seeding some lettuce this weekend.

  3. I've had seeds growing for a few months now - some of them were just seed tests back in December but I kept them alive and just planted those out under a floating row cover yesterday!

    Wonder what your lighting system looks like? I have five dual-bulb fluorescent shop-lights (about $10 each) and then 40-watt cool white fluorescent bulbs (about $3.50 a pair). I then made a container with some scrap wood that was lying around and glued plastic sheeting to the bottom and walls. That way I can put water directly in it for the containers to soak up - and any water that leaks from the containers won't ruin anything.

    Lastly, I then just made a cheap hanging system out of 1/2-inch PVC pipe.

  4. I love my soil block maker...I use a mix of 1/3 regular garden mix from the local landscape supply (a soil and compost mix), 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 vermiculite (McLendon's Ace Hardware sells huge bags of both at a good price)...I get the mix really wet and make the blocks...haven't had any problem with them falling apart....

  5. Just thinned and set out a little flat of salad greens to start the hardening off process today. Left the house to celebrate daughters birthday and as we are on the freeway a freaking monsoon came through. "That's the end of those seedlings" I said. Sadly, it looks like even under semi-shelter the angled rain pretty much flattened the seed leaves. Some may recover, most proabably won't. So, thats what DIDN'T work for me today. : /

    I'm sorry about your soil blocks! : ( I don't do blocks yet, but I do my little half-TP tube things, and I know you were concerned about the ability of the roots to get through the cardboard. I thought I'd give you a follow up - maybe it's a technique that could work for you if you like the consistency of your current potting mix as it is but it's not sticking together for you. This year I started all my toms in my DIY bio-pots at the end of Feb - the 26th, I think. When I up-potted them yesterday the pots in the center that tended to be the moistest showed root growth right through the cardboard. The drier pots on the edges were not breaking down as quickly (makes sense). So, since I didn't want to constrict root growth at all in a potted situation I just sort of unwrapped the cardboard that wasn't showing good breakdown yet. Because of the way the TP tube is made they uncoiled really nicely, like one of those store bought biscuit-in-a-tube things. So that's what DID work. I haven't ever used the DIY bio-pots for a situation that required up-potting, but I was totally out of 4" pots when it was time to start the toms so I figured I'd give it a shot. Anyway, just my experience, thought you'd be interested.