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
(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 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 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:

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, 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. 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.