Adventures in Soil Blocking

Branching Out

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@Branching Out

Got a soil blocker for Christmas, not the Ladbrook but hoping it will work well. 1.85"x2" blocks. DH wants me to take it for a trial run, he's not understanding how it works.

Cross your fingers I don't make a fool of myself trying to get the right compaction. Only soil currently on hand is Lambert Seed Starter. Plan to use Pro Mix for the real event. Any hints or suggestions?
Well this is exciting! Try to screen your seed starting mix if possible, to remove any large bits of bark or pebbles. Then mix in some dry fertilizer if you have some; I use a dry organic fertilizer called Gaia Green 4-4-4. Probably the most important step is to hydrate the mix for several hours or over night before you make the blocks, which will result in easier handling. It takes a bit of trial and error, but you will catch on quickly.

I am also having better success when I pre-sprout my seeds on a moist paper towel for a few days before sowing them in the blocks. What kind of seed are you thinking of starting with?
 

AMKuska

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How do you cause it to be firm? I see a handle and the place to put the dirt, but there's no door to shut for it to press the dirt against. Do you press it against the tray?
 

Branching Out

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How do you cause it to be firm? I see a handle and the place to put the dirt, but there's no door to shut for it to press the dirt against. Do you press it against the tray?
What great news--I had been wondering what your husband got for you this year! Congratulations on your new soil blocker. You will indeed be pressing the blocker on the bottom of the tray in order to compress the soil in to a dense block. First you firmly plunge the blocker all the way to the bottom of a deep dish of the moist soil mixture, mashing it around a couple of times until it is well-filled. Then you lift it up, scrape the bottom to level it a bit, and set it on the tray that the blocks will live on.

If you are using the mini-blocker, to release the blocks you just press the handle straight down with a firm hand, and then carefully lift the blocker straight up to remove it. When you lift off the blocker the 20 adorable little cubes of soil will be neatly lined up on the tray. For the larger 1 1/2" blocker, you press down hard on the top of the handle with your palm-- but then you use your fingers to carefully pull up on the flat horizontal bar that is below the handle. The blocker will glide gently upwards leaving uniform brownie-like cubes sitting on the tray.

The technique is not difficult, but it can take a few tries to get the hang of it. Plan on spending a few minutes just playing around with it while you become accustomed to it. As mentioned before, sift the soil mixture first, add any dry soil amendments, and then stir in the water so the mixture can hydrate for a few hours before you try to work with it. I would recommend watching the video that I linked in my May 22nd post as it provides a good overview. Most importantly have fun! 🙂
 
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Branching Out

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This afternoon I spent a few minutes working with my little lettuce seedlings that are about 4 weeks old (1 1/2" blocks). They had grown to the point that they were completely crowded on their trays but I didn't want to use a lot of soil to pot them up, so for the time being I separated the blocks and placed them on larger trays that would permit a couple of inches of space around each lettuce. The fine feeder roots had more or less attached themselves to the original tray, so when I peeled them off and moved them there was now nothing to anchor them to the new tray. Hopefully the plants will be able to remain upright if I don't disturb them until they can put down new roots to anchor themselves. I also watered them really well and gave them a shot of fish emulsion; there was dry fertilizer in the initial mix, so there should be ample nutrition for them to grown for another couple of weeks I hope. Clearly, spreading them out sooner would have been a really good idea. And as an experiment I did end up placing one of each variety in a little pot, just to see if they grow bigger and faster if their roots have the extra soil to work with. A very nice bonus was that I had to trim off a couple of bottom leaves from each plant so my bunny got a nice feast of greens to munch on.
 

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AMKuska

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What great news--I had been wondering what your husband got for you this year! Congratulations on your new soil blocker. You will indeed be pressing the blocker on the bottom of the tray in order to compress the soil in to a dense block. First you firmly plunge the blocker all the way to the bottom of a deep dish of the moist soil mixture, mashing it around a couple of times until it is well-filled. Then you lift it up, scrape the bottom to level it a bit, and set it on the tray that the blocks will live on.

If you are using the mini-blocker, to release the blocks you just press the handle straight down with a firm hand, and then carefully lift the blocker straight up to remove it. When you lift off the blocker the 20 adorable little cubes of soil will be neatly lined up on the tray. For the larger 1 1/2" blocker, you press down hard on the top of the handle with your palm-- but then you use your fingers to carefully pull up on the flat horizontal bar that is below the handle. The blocker will glide gently upwards leaving uniform brownie-like cubes sitting on the tray.

The technique is not difficult, but it can take a few tries to get the hang of it. Plan on spending a few minutes just playing around with it while you become accustomed to it. As mentioned before, sift the soil mixture first, add any dry soil amendments, and then stir in the water so the mixture can hydrate for a few hours before you try to work with it. I would recommend watching the video that I linked in my May 22nd post as it provides a good overview. Most importantly have fun! 🙂
Thank you! I'm excited to try it! I won't hi-jack your post but his mom actually got me this. My husband got me something even cooler, but I'll need to wait a few days before everyone can see it! :D
 
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Branching Out

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Thank you! I'm excited to try it! I won't hi-jack your post but his mom actually got me this. My husband got me something even cooler, but I'll need to wait a few days before everyone can see it! :D
Oooh--- now I'm really curious! I have a thought, but will keep it to myself so as not to ruin the surprise if I am correct. And what a thoughtful gift from your mother-in-law. That is so nice.
 

GottaGo

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Well this is exciting! Try to screen your seed starting mix if possible, to remove any large bits of bark or pebbles. Then mix in some dry fertilizer if you have some; I use a dry organic fertilizer called Gaia Green 4-4-4. Probably the most important step is to hydrate the mix for several hours or over night before you make the blocks, which will result in easier handling. It takes a bit of trial and error, but you will catch on quickly.

I am also having better success when I pre-sprout my seeds on a moist paper towel for a few days before sowing them in the blocks. What kind of seed are you thinking of starting with?
In the past, I'll sometimes start seed in 3" pots... regular plant soil in the bottom, and seed starting soil in the top inch of the pot. I've had fairly good luck with that combination. Regular plant soil seems too heavy to support some seeds/seedlings IMO.

My fine motor skills in transplanting pregerminated seedlings is not as good as it should be. I've had pretty good germination rates with one of my latest seed sources, so not a big concern. Even my harvested seeds have germinated around 90%.

Scrambling around for a high sided soil tray, and came up with an old cat litter tray (scrubbed and cleaned, thank you!) that should work for the trial runs.
 

Branching Out

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In the past, I'll sometimes start seed in 3" pots... regular plant soil in the bottom, and seed starting soil in the top inch of the pot. I've had fairly good luck with that combination. Regular plant soil seems too heavy to support some seeds/seedlings IMO.

My fine motor skills in transplanting pregerminated seedlings is not as good as it should be. I've had pretty good germination rates with one of my latest seed sources, so not a big concern. Even my harvested seeds have germinated around 90%.

Scrambling around for a high sided soil tray, and came up with an old cat litter tray (scrubbed and cleaned, thank you!) that should work for the trial runs.
I sometimes top-dress with seed starting soil too- that's a handy technique to use, especially if you just need to sprinkle a light layer of soil to cover the seeds a bit. And like you I enjoy seeing what I can find around the house for seed starting. Good chance that cat litter tray will be purr-fect! ;)

Today I realized that trying to presprout snapdragon seeds is an exercise in frustration; the seeds are like dust, and almost impossible to remove from the paper towel after a few days. Next time I think I will just scatter pinches of snapdragon seed on top of the soil blocks instead.
 
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