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) @ 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 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:, 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 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.