Sunday, September 28, 2008

Eleven Mistakes Made With Soil Blockers

I have heard that many people bought soil blockers through the years, and then, stopped using them. There are numerous complaints as to why they won't bother with them again. This has come about due to the lack of authentic information at the time of purchase, and misguided information from garden forums on the web. Results from your soil blocker should always be excellent. We have covered the basics for a successful experience at www.pottingblocks.com. However, should you read this before you buy, or before you begin practicing the art of soil block making, as you will be far ahead of the learning curve. Once you know what NOT to do, maybe all that's left is the right way to soil block, and any further discussions, or shall I say, speculations, on garden forums on the web will end. Here is my top ten list of the biggest mistakes made, most common errors made, or beginner busters that need to be avoided. Let's count down to the biggest mistake. Oh, and on a positive note, the only way we learn is through our mistakes. So, thank us later, those who have come before you and learned the craft of soil block making.
Number 11. You don't wet the potting soil enough, or you water it down too much. Your striving for the consistency of oatmeal. You would want to pick up a ball of mud and sling it on a wall and there it would stick. You want your blocking mix to be wet, yet only drip when well squeezed with your hands. You are looking for stiff wet mix, yet you won't see any water puddling. The soil should easily stack up in your bin. Keep churning it, and adding water to wet, or more potting soil to dry.
Number 10. You don't dip your soil blocker in water after every discharge. Dipping is essential to wetting the machine and allowing the next round of blocks to eject smoothly.
Number 9. You don't screen your potting/blocking soil with a 1/4" screen. This is essential, as particles larger than 1/4" will clog the simple moving parts in your blocker. This causes the blocker to eject a crumbly erratic block.
Number 8. You don't charge, or pack your blockers with enough soil. Don't be afraid to pack that soil in the mold. How else is it supposed to hold up to watering and root growth without a pot to contain the plant? You cannot overcharge a soil blocker. This is why it was created: To hold 3-4 times more soil than a loose filled pot of the same dimensions. The roots will penetrate the soil easily, provided you made your own potting soil. See recipes.
Number 7. You don't cover your seeds with a sheet of black plastic, or sift more potting soil over the top. Unless your seeds require light to germinate, always cover with black plastic or sifted potting soil to anchor your seed in the block and mimic natural conditions, like moisture and darkness. Be aware that a vital seed will sprout very fast under the black plastic, so check every day.
Number 6. You don't use a thermostatically controlled heat mat. How else are you supposed to trigger the seed to sprout if you don't give it a perfect soil temperature 24 hours a day? In nature, the soil on the ground serves as a heat sink or bank and can retain that constant temperature. Not so in blocks and pots. You must provide the minimum heat requirements.
Number 5. You don't tilt, lift and twist off the bottom of your mixing bin to release the suction and pull off a clean and smooth bottomed soil block. This is certainly the trickiest trick to soil block making. If you don't tilt, lift and twist your blocks will get stuck in your bin over and over, or fall out prematurely, or not lay flat in your flat. Be prepared to practice a few times, if this is new to you and allow some trial runs.
Number 4. You don't use one hand with the Micro 20, 3/4" soil blocker. Try using one hand and pack and pack and pack the soil blocker until it is so compacted that the bottom looks like one block. Then, DON'T SCRAPE THE BOTTOM. Scraping the bottom of the Micro 20 is counter productive and ruins a good block. But, make sure it lays flat in you flat.
Number 3. You don't mist your blocks. How else are you supposed to deliver oxygen to your roots unless you "mist" them and oxygenate the water as you water your blocks? Mist mixes with air and light as it is soaking your blocks. Misters are easy to find and are the life blood of your plant roots. If all you have is a watering can, at least fill it up using a squeeze trigger nozzle and really, really agitate the water so it gets real foamy and bubbly. This aerates the water and delivers oxygen to your roots.
Number 2. You don't water them enough. After your seeds sprout, they'll need water three times a day if you use a peat moss based soil. Less, if it has coconut peat, and even less if it has water absorbing crystals in it. That's why it's important to know your ingredients. Bottom watering is helpful, but are you aerating your water with an air bubbler? Remember, you must actively aerate your water for your blocks, unless they're planted at the edge of a rushing stream!
Numero Uno. You don't use the right potting soil. You must make your own and in the correct proportions. At very least, you have to experiment with store bought brands. Potting soil and mixes were never meant to be used in compression machines. They were not formulated to allow water to penetrate while being compressed. They were not mixed with the right volume of peat to compost. They may not have enough aerator and moisture retaining ingredients like perlite, diatomite rock, or pumice. Or, the particles are too big. Or, the compost was made with forest by-products. Or, there was no long term fertilizer. Many people believe that all potting soils are the same and should work with their new blocker. All potting soils are not the same, and must be tested in order to see if they're compatible with the soil block machine. Some say that mixing their own is too much work, or they can't find the right ingredients. You can always buy the "Old Farm Boy" potting soil, which is specifically formulated for soil block makers, but is used by everyone. Because, while all potting soils can be used for containers, only one brand can be used successfully for block making. You simply have to mix your own if you want real great results.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Art of Watering Container Plants

Fertilizing plants and watering them properly are closely interrelated. Plants obtain sufficient nourishment only when the soil is moist. This horticultural fact is often overlooked.
Many people refuse to believe that plants should be watered every day. They counter with the assertion, "Over watering kills your plants." This is true, but 99% of all container bound plants suffer from drought rather than from excess water.
There are two methods of watering plants; one entails the use of a sprinkling can, the other is automatic watering. If you have gone to all the trouble of mixing soil and installing lights, you will want to understand thoroughly the principles behind each system. You never can quite get away from a watering can, and yet for your tiny seedlings, vegetables, annuals, and perennials you will probably prefer to use automatic watering.
The philosophy of watering is well illustrated in terms of the out of doors. What gardeners call a "really good rain" does not just sprinkle the ground but saturates it thoroughly. It does not come down in a flood but falls gently for some time. Growing conditions are considered excellent when such a rain is followed by sunshine, so that the soil dries out gradually; but before it actually cakes and cracks, another good shower should come along. Try to give your plants these ideal conditions. A number of things will help.
The first important step is to purchase a good watering can. A skillful waterer is able to use anything from a tumbler to a pitcher but a watering can with a long spout is a great help. Many types are on the market. One type has a spout two feet long, which makes it possible to reach all your plants easily. The tips of these spouts vary in diameter from 1/8" to 1/4". The smaller the opening, the smaller the stream they deliver. This is excellent for your plants, provided you do not skimp on the amount of water you give them. Sometimes it seems to take a long time to moisten the soil in a pot thoroughly with a small stream of water.
How to Water
With your sprinkling device in hand and your thinking cap set firmly on your head, you are ready to water. Do not just draw the water from the tap, but test it as you do for a baby's bath by sticking your wrist in it. It must be just lukewarm-neither cold not hot. Study, too, the needs of your plants. For example, our African violets, in three inch pots, usually require about one-fourth of a cup of water apiece per day. The begonias, on the other hand, one whose leaves are about equal to all the leaves of the African violet, takes at least four or five cups a day.
When the soil in a pot looks dry, pour on about 3/8" of water; if it looks quite wet, add 1/8" to 1/4". Add the water slowly. When a small amount seeps through the drain hole at the bottom, the plant is properly watered. If, in the course of a minute or two, no water has penetrated through, add more. Make a practice of letting only a small amount come through the hole, since large amounts of water will carry away the nutriments in the soil. But make sure it does come through; oftentimes you may need to add water two or three times if the soil is dried out. When you have learned to judge the needs of each plant more accurately, only a very small amount of water will seep through the drain hole. That is the whole story of correct watering.
But life is complex. Even in this simple operation there are a number of traps. You may have skipped a day or two so that the soil is thoroughly dried out and shrinks away from the sides of the pot, leaving a space around the edge. As you pour water out of your sprinkling can, it will drench down the sides and come swiftly out the bottom, counterfeiting the real thing. If your thinking cap slips off, you can water your plants in this fashion and scarcely give them a drop to drink, as the the ball of earth is completely dried out and the water will not penetrate.
When the soil in the pot is dried out, it must be thoroughly soaked, pot and all. Submerge the pot in a pan of water so that the water comes nearly to the rim. Remove the pot a soon as the soil is moist. With your fingers press the soil back against the sides of the pot so the gap will be closed and you can water normally again.
You can achieve the same result-but it takes more care-by watering the plant from the top and pressing the soil firmly against the sides with the fingers. The soil, as it gets wet, swells. The process will to be repeated three or four times before the soil is thoroughly moist. The first method is usually safer for a beginner.
Sometimes the drain opening in the bottom of a flowerpot will become sealed off. This prevents the water from draining through, and the soil becomes waterlogged. You can detect that a pot is not draining when water remains for some time on the surface of the soil. Correct the difficulty immediately, for plants cannot live long in water. Drain holes occasionally become sealed off when pots rest on a very smooth surface. Usually there is sufficient dirt or unevenness on a bench to prevent this from happening; but if your have trouble with it, the pots may me set a a hardware cloth, pebbles, or a layer of vermiculite.
You can tell whether soil is too wet or too dry by touching the surface with your finger. Dry soil is firm, and very little will adhere to your finger. Moist soil is soft, and much more will adhere, leaving your finger somewhat soiled. Water-soaked soil is so wet the water will ooze out when you press it. This usually occurs when your flowerpot is placed within a decorative container. Should this happen, immediately empty the water from the decorative container and take pot and plant to the kitchen sink. Lay the pot on its side, and the excess water which has collected in the soil will drain off. It is probably best to leave the plant on its side for about a half-hour, because the roots of the plant will die if they are allowed to remain in water soaked soil. After draining off the water from a water-soaked plant, do not water it until the surface of the soil again has a normal appearance. Soil is always darker when wet; as you observe its color, you will gain experience in gauging the amounts of water needed.
When all is said and done, watering from the top is an art, and many fail to learn it. However, there are other ways of watering plants. Self-watering devices are not difficult to install, and the plants thrive with this method of watering.
Automatic Watering
We were slow to investigate automatic watering for soil pots because we ourselves had mastered the art of watering, but once we had used it we became enthusiastic devotees of the system and installed it wherever we could. Unlike many automatic devices, an automatic watering system is not difficult to provide and entails very little expense. We got our start in gardening through hydroponics, the ultimate automatic watering device, but moved on to soil because it was less costly and less finicky and you can farm more land than hydro pots. With these simple techniques, the plants grow much better because the soil is kept constantly moist and it saves you a lot of time, hours of time.
One of the simplest forms is the wick method. It is possible to purchase special flowerpots that are designed to be used with a wick, but it is an easy matter to adapt any container. Just as a lamp wick carries oil to the flame, such a wick carries water into the soil as the plant absorbs it.
Wicks may be made of stove door seals or asbestos rope, cylindrical fiberglass, or pieces of cotton cloth or burlap make into 1/4" cylindrical roll and held in place with string or rubber bands. About 1 1/2" inches of one end of the wick are frayed and unraveled and spread out in the bottom of the pot. The other end is threaded through the drain hole and rests in water. The pot is rested to keep it above the water. Empty tuna fish cans, well washed, with a hole punched in the center of the bottom for the wick to pass through, make excellent stands for pots in your decorative water container.
Your plants will grow much better as soon as adopt this method, for it ensures a constant water supply. Of course, you need to keep the water replenished. Washing and packing of the soil and nutriments are also eliminated.
Seedlings which are to be grown in flats can be watered with wicks too. Holes about four inches apart each way are drilled through the bottom of the flat, and wicks run through the holes into a pan underneath, which is filled with water. Watch the flat to make sure it does not dry our even slightly, but generally it will not if the reservoir below is kept supplied with water.
When it comes time to fertilize the plants that are being automatically watered, we water each pot separately with a watering can. A fairly safe rule is to add 1 cubic inch of the fertilizer solution to each 6-8 cubic inches of soil. Thus, a three inch flower pot or a 2" soil block requires 3 tablespoons of the fertilizer solution. A 4 inch pot or 3" soil block requires 1/3 cup of solution; a 5 inch pot, 1/2 cup, and a 6 inch pot or a 4" soil block, 3/4 cup.
If you are using automatic watering for seedlings that you plan to transplant out of doors, and they are in micro blocks, it is very easy to figure the number of cubic inches of soil, and to add the proper amount of fertilizer solution each week. Fertilize when the depth of water is low.
Installing automatic watering does not relieve you of the necessity of keeping a watchful eye on your plants to see that they do not dry out. Oftentimes, it will be necessary to water from the top. Cucumbers, melon, squash, and lettuce seedlings use a great deal of water and will probably need additional amounts.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Soil Blockers vs. Speedling Transplant Trays

When deciding which seed starting equipment to purchase, always take in account the "plastic factor", or the eventual need to discard, replace, sterilize, and store plastic trays. Also, we've created the first comparative breakdown of two systems: soil blockers and Speedling transplant trays. We will use the Micro 20, 3/4" soil blocker versus the Speedling 3/4" tray.

-----------------Soil Blocker------------------------------------------ Speedling

Seeds/unit---------- 20 blocks in 10 seconds------------------------- holds 338/tray

Price ----------$29.99 one time investment--------------------------- $6.99/tray

Price/cell/block -------------$1.49 ---------------------------------------$.03

Limit------------- unlimited -----------------------------------------------338
---------------2 minutes=17 charges=338 blocks ----------More seeds?=more trays needed

Time to equal costs---10 minutes=1690 cubes=$.03/cube ---More seeds?=more trays needed

Volume of soil ----------.75 cubic inches -------------------------.25 cubic inches

Maximum time plant
is allowed in cube after
germination
(using a tomato as the example) -----14 days ---------------------------4-7 days

Average life span ------minimum 20-40 years---------------------- less than 4 years

Cost factors -----one time investment ------------------------yearly price hikes(plastic=oil)

Time to maintain -----------------5 seconds -----------------------10 minutes
(clean, sterilize, store, etc.)

Transplant shock?----------- No ------------------------------Yes

Damage by excess water? ----No------------------------------ Yes

Sand in potting mix?---------- Yes------------------------------ No

Damaged by the sun?--------- No -------------------------------Yes

Bottom watering?------------- Yes------------------------------ No

Extra options needed? --------No -------------------------------Yes, inserts, drain trays,
----------------------------------------------------------------------UV blockers, etc.


This chart is helpful for those considering soil blockers but are hesitant because of past reliable performance of Speedling trays. However, you wouldn't be reading this if they lasted forever?
Choose soil blockers, choose http://www.pottingblocks.com/ to purchase your soil blockers. Why? Lifetime warranty, 30 day money back guarantee, live customer service 24/7, technical support 24/7, free consultations, free charts, tips, ebooks, videos, free samples, customer updates on new products and services, and a real comittment to your success: Known as the Potting Block Promise. Choose potting blocks, "the last seed starting equipment you'll ever buy".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Using Soil Blocks in Hydroponics--Part 1 of 3

Soil blocks make the perfect growing medium for a simple hydroponic unit. Suprised? Isn't hydroponics supposed to be soil-less and water based? They can be, but there is a big misconception that hydroponics have to be that way. Hydroponics can be any way you like. Not that you'll hear that from the hydroponic dealers who all want to sell you something better. Soil blocks in a hydroponic setup has many advantages over a traditional hydroponic kit. First, soil is a forgiving growing medium, which is to say, you can screw up with fertililzers or forget to water and your plants are not going to die. Second, using soil blocks in hydroponics is easy to use, not like the complicated hydroponic systems which need pumps, timers, sterilizing, meters, monitoring, costly fertilizers, and water purification and ph adjustments. This is too much science and not enough enjoyment. Third, making soil blocks from your own potting soil is a lot cheaper than buying rockwool cubes for every plant you want to grow. We are going to lead you down the path of least resistance; soil block hydroponics. Of course, you should have a set of soil blockers. I call a set as follows, a Micro 20 3/4", a Mini 4 2", and a Maxi 1 4". You can view these blockers here at www.pottingblocks.com/sizechart.html. This is a one time investment, unlike rockwool cubes or even coco cubes. When the blocks are done, they go in the compost pile with no little wrapper. With rockwool, you're back to the store for more. With soil blocks, you make your blocking mix up or purchase some potting soil and you have unlimited amount of blocks for pennies a piece. Fertilizers can be made at home with compost teas, worm teas, and manure teas for pennies a gallon. Containers for soil blocks can be made from reusable plastic bins or rubbermaid bins or barrels or even wood trays lined with greenhouse plastic. A step up with modual container size systems would be the use of high grade black plastic nursery grow bags from sizes down to a quart all the way to 30 and 50 gallons. (email for prices and details)The rest of the bags are filled with a number of inexpensive growing mediums like inert pumice stones, coco/coir chips, clay pellets, Vegan compost, or even shredded straw. Seriously consider using numerous local byproducts of farms, like walnut shells, plum pits, or moss found in a forest floors or the old man's beard moss growing from fir tree limbs. These are safe, environmentally responsible growing mediums which are ecologically harvested and minimally produced. Nature provides if we look around.
Now, the issue of watering can be as varied as the person who's doing the growing. There's the manual top watering with fertigation, or water plus fertilizer in a diluted form. There's manual bottom watering, ebb and flow, wick watering, or wicking, and then water basins, pumps and timers for the automated setup. All these hydroponic setups can cost little to nothing, and allow the beginners of hydroponics to get their feet wet and still outgrow the professionals. How? Simply by the miraculous power of soil. Yep, soil is a miracle substance that just water and fertilizers do not have alone. You can have one without the other, but make mine with soil. I like the billions of microscopic biological creatures, called the Soil Food Web, to assist my plants whether I'm growing hydroponically or in the farm field. For every problem that comes up with most hydroponic growers, something has to be bought and applied and fixed in order to get a crop. With soil block hydroponics, if a problem comes up, you have the power of natural based elements like compost teas, wildcrafted or garden herb teas, kitchen ingredients like molasses, milk, eggshells, and spices like cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and dish soap for remedial aids. These cost nothing and work with soil and effectively balance out your little biological imbalances like bugs, pests, molds, fungus, etc. Soil is like the fulcrum point in hydroponic gardening where you can always get balanced with something on one end or the other, like air, water, nutrients, biology, light and temperature. With just a water based hydroponic system, EVERYTHING must be precise or you'll end up with some pretty sad plants. I prefer the forgiving and learnable art of soil and water hydroponics. Stay tuned for part 2 and I'll teach you how. But first, take a look at the soil block web site of choice: www.pottingblocks.com.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Environmentally Sound Potting Soils for Soil Blocks

Many of our readers are sharing their concerns about the enviromental impact of horticulture grade potting soil materials, not to mention the possible irritants of mined products. So, PottingBlocks.com has made a new commitment to provide detailed information about new environmentally sound and healthy-minded potting soil ingredients. But first, a clarification: Potting soil contains soil or compost or living ingredients. But, then it could be sterilized and become inert. Always know what has been done to your potting soil. Then, you have potting mix. Potting mix or potting soil mix is always inert, and always free of soil, or known as soil-less. For the most applications, your blocking soil is a potting soil, or, full of soil, compost and never sterilized. Now, back to the point...Peat moss has come under attack, as of late, because of environmental degradation of peat bog ecologies. PottingBlocks.com has responded with test runs of coir fiber from some companies that are milling it just right for soil block making. Suprisingly, most coco peats will not work for soil blocks without half peat moss. We are almost ready for release of the first and only soil block recipe with only coir. In the past, I have always recommended peat or coco peat mixed half and half. That is because soil blocks must knit together and yet still be friable. Peat moss has been our only medium. But, with certain techniques, coir can be washed, aged, composted and milled exactly like peat moss, so hope for the future is here! We will be updating everyone when we have the coco peat moss line available. If you have access to straw, like wheat, barley or rice straw, the kind with the hollow stem, you can shred it by hand, or leaf shredder, and sift it with a 1/4" soil sifter. Use it as the same ratio as peat moss. The key here is to use soil and compost in your block mix to bind it all together. It will be friable enough for seed germination. As, far as human health is concerned, perlite has been known to cause certain irritation in some people's throats and lungs. Perlite lets off a lot of dust when dumped and mixed, so ALWAYS WEAR A DUST MASK! Mining products are still a key component to horticulture, so at the present, the next best alternative is PUMICE STONE. Pumice stone is mined from abandoned, open field, lava and volcanic ash wastelands, so it's impact is minimal. I can find it for less than $50 a ton, and is a very suitable replacement for perlite, with no toxic dust! This is a miracle product that I wish I was using years ago! You might be able to find it by the bag, but, maybe you should call or go to a nursery and see if they can bag you up some. The next concern is vermiculite, which is a known carrier of asbestoes, IF IT HAS NOT BEEN TESTED! Always buy "tested for no asbestoes" vermiculite. The best suitable replacement for sand would be large, coarse, washed horticulture grade sand. It may not help moisture retention, as water usually drains freely in sand. But it does work, if you keep your blocks well watered. You must, however, use the coarsest sand possible so your blocks do not fall apart. Sand harvesting, as you might expect, does minimal damage to the environment. We will keep you updated as soon as our test results are complete to which materials we should all be using to save our beautiful, abundant planet. Also, we will be releasing our line of Vegan Composts, Vegan Worm Castings, and Vegan Fertilizers and Amendments, as well as our commercial line of ready to use blocking mix called Old Farm Boy. Stick with the guru, I promise to protect the environment!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sowing Schedule for Weekly Lettuce Harvest


Building on our fundamental soil block making and fall planting lessons covered earlier, lettuce (pun intended) look at a sowing schedule and how it compares to a harvest schedule during the shorter days of fall and winter. These results are accurate for 36 degrees parallel and up. Lower parallels will be similiar, but have shorter harvest times due to longer winter sun hours. Gauging the harvest time from sowing is crucial for fall cropping. With cold frames, greenhouses, cloches, etc., climate is not as big of factor as sunlight. Lettuce harvests will take so much longer due to the shorter days, but production, or number of days to harvest, will return at a better rate in January. This Dutch data chart has the horizontal axis representing sowing dates from August through April. The vertical axis gives the number of days to harvest. Written along the curve of the graph are average harvest dates corresponding to the planting date directly below. Notice how a sowing in October 5 will take 2 and a half months to harvest(February 5). Lettuce planted in April should really only take 30-40 days to mature. But, by using this chart you can actually time the harvest of lettuce to meet your family's demand for fresh greens. This lettuce chart can be used for just about any salad greens, baby greens, or spinach. Keep track of your results and expect a learning curve. Plant extra seeds for this experimental stage. Weather can be a factor: Cloudy days will most certainly slow your chart down a bit, but sunny days can easily speed it up. Soil blocks are very important in this procedure. A 2" block gets a better start and can easily outgrow and outpace a 1.5" block. Eliminating transplant shock is critical to good growth in the winter. Soil blocks make this harvest a reality. Understand the length of day will have the biggest effect on crop timing. With that understanding, a day to day harvest is the goal.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Succession Planting In Soil Blocks.


Succession planting means to continue to plant as the season progresses, at timed intervals, without stopping. I didn't used to plant in succession. I was one of those gardeners who started so early, loaded up on every seed I could, and transplanted, and waited for the harvest. Sound familiar? Then, after all the lettuce was eaten, and all the corn was gone, and all broccoli was done, we had nothing left to eat(or flowers to gaze upon). I loaded up my spring with way to much work, after sitting idol all winter staring out the window at the snow. Sound familiar? Now, I plant in succession, slowly but surely, staggering the things I like to eat all year long. I keep planting, without fear of failure, as failure with some crops is inevitable. I plant all year long with the help of soil blocks, of course! Soil Blocks are the perfect medium to plant a succession garden. First, when you should only be planting a few seeds at a time, you just block up a set of 4 in the Mini 4 2". Like 4 lettuces a week, ALL YEAR LONG. Or, 4 kales, 4 broccolis, 4 green beans, 4 corns, 4 herbs, 4 flowers.....The Mini 4 is so perfect for this task its worth it's weight in gold. In the heat of the summer, while you think it's too hot for anything but lemonade, most seeds will germinate without any heat mats, lights, or greenhouses. The summer temperatures are your perfect germination temperatures. Thus, seeding in soil blocks becomes so easy, as nature is doing all the work. You just pop the block in the ground when it's sprouted. No hardening, no thinning, no competition from weeds, no lights, no heat mats, and no electric bills. Set up an outdoor potting bench. For me, it is two rubbermaid tubs: one to store dry blocking mix and it sits on the bottom, and one to make the slur which stacks on top for easy "charging". Next, I use two cheap aluminum saw horses with two 2 x4's spanning any length(mine are 12'). Then, hopefully you have a bunch of your little plywood trays made up. And, if not, I just use plywood scraps, without sides, without any particular dimension, just as long as they can fit 4 2" blocks in a few rows and can straddle the two 2 x4's. Although, it is nice to have some 2 x2's around to border your blocks for extra moisture retention. I just make some blocks and seed and cover with a sheet of black plastic, or a large garbage bag, and check back in a couple of days. After the seeds have sprouted, I decide if they can hang out in the block for a while, or do I need to go and weed the garden or till or make some potting soil for some container gardens. I've got time. They'll be fine in these blocks, provided I water well three times a day. A lot of people have remarked, "Why don't I sow directly in the garden all summer long?" Direct sowing is a very important skill, not to be undermined. I admit, it might be my weakness. I am a soil blocker to the very end of the fall and start of the next season. I choose to start all my seeds, in summer and fall, with soil blocks for the following reasons: 1.) If, and when the seed comes up, it's guaranteed to grow in the space I will plant it in. No gaps in my garden. 2.) Better germination rate. They're safe from rodents and insects and dry spots in the gaden. 3.) Faster germination due to the warm soil in the heat of the summer suspended and covered with black plastic. Note: Don't let it get too hot or you'll cook your seeds. Try covering with peat instead. 4.) The soil blocks will inoculate my garden soil with the ingredients I've used to create them. This can be anything from organic matter, like compost and peat, to mycorrizae fungus for outstanding root growth, to rock dusts, to fertilizer or fertilizer pellets, to moisture absorbing pellets, to lime, to fish emulsions, kelp meal, soft rock phosphate, greensand, etc. Whatever my garden needs to be productive, I'll add it to the blocking mix. Or, perhaps I'm suspicious of toxic build up of something, I'll inoculate with BioZome. That means, I don't have to spend time on my garden plot except to clear it out and till it up. Whatever it lacks, I'll build up it in my blocking mix. I refer to this technique as "inoculating the soil with soil blocks". I can eventually be adding tons of organic matter in my fields without ever having to shovel manure or compost. 5.) Less work to transplant than it is to seed: Just jab and plant, jab and plant. No machines, no seeds plates, no numerous passes to make furrows or trenches, and way less stooping. 6.) I get to choose the strongest most vigorous seedling to plant without having to watch them struggle in the rows. Thinning blocks are A LOT EASIER than thinning rows of plants. 7.) Succession planting=less work, less often. A tray of 4-12 transplants a week is hardly any work in comparison to thousands a week with normal spring fever. But, if you are in that situation, check out my new Free ebook called "Transplants in Soil Blocks" by David Tresemer (a $9.99 value) @ http://www.pottingblocks.com/ click Free Ebook. This is an excellent handbook for using a garden cart. 8.) Mulch is not needed during a drought. Just make sure and close the air gap around the soil block transplants. 10.) The block protects the roots for weeks from marauding animals and pests. 11.) I can set the block in much deeper in the soil. This means, I can getter a bigger root system and hence more yields. (See today's picture.) I always plant deep enough to cover the seed leaf, right up to the first true leaf. The red circle indicates where more roots will grow, giving you a bigger root system for better nutrient uptake of microbes hanging out in the top soil. If you have a soil blocker, try this today: Seed a row of four with four varieties of salad greens. Do that every Sunday. Make it a rule, a discipline, a hobby, a habit. Next thing you'll know is; your eating salads every day of the year, provided you stepped up to a little season extension. More on that in Fall. Try planting 4 sweet corns every Sunday throughout the late spring and early summer. Whatever your favorites are, get into the habit of soil blocking in succession. My motto is "less work, less often= more harvest, more often." Are we there yet? Tell me your stories about succession planting with soil blocks. The guru predicts soil blocks to be all the rave in America in a few years. Just you wait. So, until next week, the guru says, "Pot on, Pot often, Pot all year, Pot on a smile." and stay tuned, we're taking numbers!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Benefits of Using Extra Potting Soil to Make Blocks.

I've read quite a few comments on the net as to why people are reluctant to use so much potting soil to make soil blocks. Reasons like cost, weight, effort, usage, resources, etc., make people doubt their soil block making advantages with insignificant cause. Let's look at this concern.
Isn't the reason for using soil blockers to pack more soil into the seedling space for the roots to stay compact, air pruned, and still provide plenty of space for air, nutriments, and water? Wouldn't that require more potting soil? But, wouldn't that also mean you could have more time before you need to transplant? More green growth while you wait for the right weather, the time to harden off, or even until the harvest of some greens, herbs, or flowers? Isn't it better to have one excellent plant versus a dozen mediocre plants? Well, if you're using up your potting soil resources to make blocks, then you must be doing it right! The 2" block uses the same amount of soil as the 4" round pot! Weren't you going to transplant into the 4" plastic pot anyway? Why risk transplanting? Pot on! Pot on! Pot on! (Sounds like a drum.)
Now the concern over cost of potting soil and your usage. Are you making your own? You can save a bundle by buying peat moss, compost, perlite, and amendments and fertilizers by buying large quantities. Yes, it is more expensive up front, but you may not need to buy them again for years! Or, did you ask your neighbors or friends to split up the bags and spread out the cost? Or, did you buy one bag at a time at your local retail store? Yes, that will eat up any one's budget. Soil blocks demand more potting soil to achieve these wonderful results described in http://www.pottingblocks.com/. We have the Ladbrooke recipe: 4 parts peat moss, 1 part compost, some sand, a handful of lime, a handful of rock powder. PERIOD. Buy a bale of peat moss, make your own compost or worm compost, scoop some sand from your kid's sandbox, borrow a cup of lime from your neighbor and you got yourself approximately 900-1200 2" blocks(depending on the amount of compaction per block). This bale costs me less than $10.00. Folks, that's a penny a block!
Some are complaining of the extra work involved in making the blocks. Wetting the slur, charging the blocker, lifting the heavy maker and releasing it, transporting the trays and watering three times a day, all sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? It doesn't have to be. Results with soil blocking are amazing if you focus on quality, not quantity. For those who still complain about the extra effort, and there are many of you out there, I have one last parting shot: Give your soil blocker away to someone more ambitious, excited, grateful, resourceful, enthusiastic, energetic, scientific and biologically-minded, environmentally conscious, and, wait for it.....ENLIGHTENED!!! You'll quickly make a best friend and you can go back to the endless train of plastic, sterilizing, storage, Miracle grow addiction, transplanting up and up and up, and more transplant shock than if someone where to move you from your house to a bigger house in Mongolia! It may be bigger, but it wasn't comforting, and you may not recover from your new location no matter how much water and food and hot desert sunshine they give you! Harsh, but forward.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bottom Watering for Soil Blocks




Many people are convinced the only way to raise soil blocks is by bottom watering. This is also known as manual ebb and flow, static evaporation, and water wicking. It is not the only way to water soil blocks, but it is the best way to water if you have very little time to monitor your seedling garden. Let's explain bottom watering and explore the variety of methods used with advantages and disadvantages, and instructions on creating them.
Bottom watering is the manual watering technique that fills a shallow, water tight tray with water up to a predetermined height of water at specific intervals to hydrate the roots of seedlings, transplants, or cuttings. The rate at which water is supplied is determined by the rate of evaporation of the environment, and root wicking caused by plant growth. The amount of water supplied is determined by the size of the plant container (or soil block) and the depth of the holding tray or water reservoir. Bottom watering can be done manually by watering cans, or automated by timers outfitted with drip irrigation, or with timers on pumps which fill and empty the reservoir, known in the hydroponic industry as ebb and flow (E&F).
You should ask yourself, "Do I need to bottom water?". "Am I at work for 4-8 hours a day, every day?" "Am I new to soil blocks and gardening?". "Do I have A LOT going on in my life and tend to forget little things?". "Am I going on vacation, or away for the weekend?". "Do I live in the desert?". "Do I want to grow baby greens?". If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, then you are a bottom watering candidate!
After viewing a brief discourse on soil block making at my website: http://www.pottingblocks.com/, you'll want to have your system of watering prepared in advance of making blocks, since they will need somewhere to go right away. Big Tip Here: If you are bottom watering, you need to make absolute sure that your blocks are very firm. Make sure and charge the blocker 3-4 times and watch for water oozing out the tops. If not, your blocks could just melt away.
The fastest and easiest way to start bottom watering is to reuse some of your recyclable containers. Look for aseptic packs, or rice dream and soy milk containers, Styrofoam take out trays, salad bar trays with clear lids, plastic bottle bottoms, old cake pans, salad green tubs, etc. Make your blocks and discharge them into the container with about 1/8" spacing between the blocks. After you seed or place cuttings, you won't have to water for about three days, as the newly wet blocks contain enough moisture in them for that time. Cover your seeds with plastic to make absolute sure they won't dry out. After about three days, you'll want to water your blocks by gently pouring in water on the side of the container, never directly on the block, to a maximum of 2/3's of the height of your chosen block, be it micro, mini, or maxi. You'll have to watch and keep track of how fast it is evaporating and how fast your plant uptakes the water in order to gauge how often you'll be filling your trays up to the 2/3's mark. Never go over that line or you could drown your seedling. Better to have too little water at this stage then too much as the block itself contains a lot of water pores for emergency use. Only when the plant is well established in the block could it be over watered and pose no threat to growth. If your block is made from a potting soil that DOES NOT CONTAIN FERTILIZER OR AMENDMENTS, make sure to begin an organic fertilizer program in 10-14 days until your blocks are transplanted into your garden bed. Consult my web site for fertilizers to use, or my past blogs at www.pottingblocks.com/blog.html for free ideas.
The next best way to begin bottom watering is to cut the bottom out of an old Rubbermaid tub, provided at least 2" of the bottom is salvageable. A jig saw is easiest! Try cutting the bottoms out of any old plastic junk lying around. This works well for a larger blocking system.
The best way for larger scale growing is to make a custom tray out of plywood for the bottom, and 1x3's or 1x2's nailed or screwed around the sides to make a lip. Then, take a spare or old piece of greenhouse plastic (4-6mm) and line the tray and make it water tight. Be sure and sand any sharp edges and wrap it completely and staple, duct tape, or lathe it to the bottom of the plywood. If you decide to staple, use some kind of a tab on top of the plastic to prevent it from tearing, as the water will stretch out the plastic and make it loose if you don't secure it firmly. This method takes a little longer to construct, about a half an hour to an hour, depending on your size and if you have to rip your lumber down to size, but creates a solid tray that can be used for a few years. Build shelves for them in a greenhouse, or create a potting block bench top with the option to cover with wire hoops (9 gauge) and plastic for a hoop-bench propagation station! Add a large heat mat with a thermostatically controlled switch and you got yourself a mini greenhouse.
Now, you can take the last option and create a hydroponic system known as the ebb and flow with a pump and timer. For this you will need: a timer(capable of multi-settings), a little fountain pump, a water reservoir or Rubbermaid tub, silicone, some plastic tubing that fits your pump, and whatever fittings secures the pump with the tubing with couplings. Now, build your plywood trays deeper, at least 2" for the micros or minis, or 4" for the maxis. Drill a hole the same size as your tubing at a corner of the tray and then cover with plastic. That hole will be your drain and fill hole. As you position your tray make sure it is slightly slanted towards the hole for proper drainage. Position the tray on a bench over the reservoir and secure the pump in the reservoir, silicon the tubing to the hole in the plastic lined tray. Check for proper water drainage and tilt. Hook up the pump to a timer, fill the reservoir with water, and manually test to see how long it takes to fill up the tray to the 2/3's rule on whatever block you choose. This amount of time will be programmed into your timer to come on once every three times a day. Next, fill with soil blocks, and seed or transplant or fill with cuttings and wait three days and turn your timer on. The water should fill through the pump and drain through the same hole. Mix fertilizer in your water at the 10-14 day mark and watch for rapid growth in order to transplant before the roots spread out too far. You can transplant or pot on the next block and replace them back in the tray, or get them out in the garden. Make sure to harden plants off properly to prevent stunting of growth.
Experiment and create for yourself the wonderful options of bottom watering. Be sure to check out timeless, in-depth and hot information at my website to steer you clear of soil stumbling blocks. And, be sure to stay focused on blog spot to receive the three part series on hydroponic soil block gardening. I'm sure it will please those who want to go hydro, but need to stay with organic soil systems.





























Thursday, June 26, 2008

Greetings! Now Open for Business!

Hello gardeners, farmers, and the curious, and welcome to The Soil Blocker.
Yahoo is unable to fix my feed problems, so I've made the jump to blogspot. Critical research and history to the soil block movement has been sitting unavailable to many readers, until now. This blog is created to dispel many misconceptions and misuse of soil blockers, even by gardeners who have been using them for years. It seems as if these folks have a lot of advise for techniques that should've been corrected by the proper use of a soil blocker. I am here to help realign the growing movement for the soil blockers. You may recall, I am the Potting Block Guru, and I am here to answer all questions about soil blocks, soil blockers, seed starting, transplanting and even commercial farming with soil blocks. Stay tuned, get your feed, every Sunday you will learn how to make that soil blocker sing with results that puts all other methods of seed starting, transplanting, growing and propagating, to shame!