Making Soil Blocks

Since spring is here and this is one of the busiest times of year at FiveDollarFarm we are focusing on basic areas that will become habit once you start implementing them.  One of these areas is planting your own seeds in soil for the plants that you want to grow.  Whether those plants are part of a healthy diet or perennial plants or flowers for your landscape, you can save money by planting the seeds yourself.

You could go down to the local “China mart” store and buy your standard run-of-the-mill seed starter trays and bag of starting soil.  We have done that in the past but no longer.  A few years ago we began saving our small plastic 8 ounce yogurt cups.  These were great for us when we were just trying to feed our own family because we generally only planted about a dozen of each plant we wanted like cucumbers, tomatoes, and the like.  I still use them when I am experimenting with seed germination rates or when I find some old seeds that I am not sure if they will germinate.  Our goal has been to use what we have instead of buying everything we need.  Reuse where you can to save some money and the planet.

One new thing we have tried this year to take our sustainability to a new level is the soil block maker that we purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  We actually bought two block makers and the plug attachment for the larger one but generally we are only using the larger one.  The basic idea for these is to mix up some good seed starting soil and use the block maker to compress the soil into its own container for seed planting.  Brilliant!  Also, 50 soil blocks fit perfectly into a 1020 flat tray which is a standard plant tray.

 

Soil block makers from Johnny’s Selected Seeds

 

We also began using Johnny’s Selected Seeds almost exclusively for two important reasons.  First, they offer most of their seeds in a pelleted version which I found works nicely with the soil blocks as you can drop one pelleted seed into the dimple.  Secondly, I found that they generally have a higher germination rate that most other seed companies out there.

Another mistake we had made in the past was to plant multiple items into the same tray.  We didn’t know what some of them were when they began to germinate.  That could be quite confusing.  However, in the spirit of our own personal renaissance, we are challenging all rules that we know or were taught that limit our creativity or thinking.  In this spirit, I will sometimes happily surprise myself by intentionally NOT labeling a tray to discover something incredibly delightful when it spouts.

 

Flower Seeds
Seeds from Burpee found in the supermarket.

 

This post has a video associated with it so you can see the soil block maker in action.  If you have any questions about the block maker or suggestions that everyone can use please feel free to share them.  All comments are welcome.

Seed Starting Methods

It’s that time of year when I can barely contain my enthusiasm over the coming spring.  Not to mention the fact that it is tax refund time and bonus time while I still work off the farm.  However, the seed catalogs have been filling the mailbox for sometime now and I have perused the best websites for my seed selection.

I have already ordered some and germinated some of my earlier crops (brassicas) such as cabbage, spinach, some lettuce, broccoli, and herbs.

The seed starting trays are on a heating mat to provide the correct temperature for germination
The seed starting trays are on a heating mat to provide the correct temperature for germination.

I also have used a newer method ( new for me) in the greenhouse where I created a containment area with old unwanted hay bales and filled it with horse manure.  I then built a simple table frame with furring strips across the top to hold 1020 flats that have mostly soil blocks in them.  The table is covered by plastic which is supported by pvc hoops.  The heat contained within provides the temperature for seed germination.

 

How exciting.  I used this idea after watching a YouTube video of “Muddy Fingers Farm” in New York.  I believe there location is colder than mine here in Pennsylvania.

Now that the table is built in the greenhouse, this weekend will be consumed by soil preparation and soil block making to fill the table with the goodies that all the locals crave after a winter such as ours.

Filled with fresh horse manure, the table uses composting heat to aid in seed germination.
Filled with fresh horse manure, the table uses composting heat to aid in seed germination.

This year we are using the soil block maker purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  The first time I used this I failed horribly and was discouraged.  But my second attempt after correcting for soil moisture content and screening my materials yielded very nice and uniform blocks.  My mixture consists of well composted horse manure, decomposed double-ground hardwood bark mulch, perlite, and a touch of vermicompost.  The ratios are not necessarily important so don’t get hung up on them.  You’ll know a good soil when it’s in your hands and if you don’t, keep trying until you do.  Make sure you have plenty of moisture so the blocks will form.

I bought two different sizes, 2 inch square and the 3/4 inch.  I also bought the dimple kit for the 2 inch square.  This makes a cube in the top instead of the dimple so that the smaller block can be “transplanted” into a larger block when the time comes.  Brilliant!

These soil blocks are handy to make and use and 50 fit nicely into a 1020 flat.
These soil blocks are handy to make and use and 50 fit nicely into a 1020 flat.

If you try any of these ideas let me know if you were successful. Have a great spring.  Just go out and plant something and play in the dirt.  It’s good for your soul.