Thursday, February 26, 2009

How to Make Free Soil Blocks Part 4 of 4



There could be no free soil blocks without the free soil blocker. Try this home made technique at my fabulous web site for the do-it-yourselfer. See Soil Cell 1 at pottingblocks.com. Here you can go down to the local hardware store and pick up
a few parts for under 10 bucks and in a few hours have a soil blocker to last many years.
There is also a link on that page for making another set of home made soil blockers.
Inspect both options and choose the one best suited for your time and skill.
This concludes our series found no where else in the world, except, of course, your source for all soil block gardening information, supplies, and technical assistance, PottingBlocks.com.

One final note to those who choose to purchase gardening products.
This is our hobby, our passion, maybe even our careers. To think that we can get along without ever needing to buy anything is refreshing. However, buying seeds, supplies, tools, garden aids and sometimes useful gadgets are what we enjoy doing. There as many ways to garden as there are people. Those, like myself, who buy gardening products to make our gardening more efficient, faster, more productive, more nutritious, more abundant, and ultimately the most joyous daily activity imaginable, are in it for sport, for love, and for sharing the wealth. We would spend our paychecks weekly for another brick in our wall of gardening splendor. To us, I say, shop on! You'll never know when you might find the Holy Grail of gardening Truth disguised as a potion, gimmick, or obscurity unless you buy and try.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to Make Free Soil Blocks--Intermission


Before we wrap up the conclusion to "How to Make Free Soil Blocks Part 4", I need to address a serious problem among users of soil blocks. The problem is stinky, rotting blocking mix. This happens due to a few reasons. 1.) Using unfinished compost in your recipe. 2.) Choosing a potting soil with steer manure. 3.) Making up a slur, and then leaving it in your tub for days without using it. Remember, finished compost smells great and is dark and crumbly and is aged for several months after it has broken down, or collapsed from thermophilic activity. Check your potting soil for steer manure, it will always stink no matter how broken down it is. And, finally, you must use your blocking mix immediately after it "knits" together, like 1-2 hours after wetting it down. If you let it sit, it becomes anaerobic, or without air, and begins to putrefy. All soils need air to breathe and keep the microbes alive and well. To this extent, I have coined the term "Actively Aerated Potting Soil". A.A.P.S., for short, is the process of churning, mixing, and aerating your wet potting soil. Since blocking mix is whetted down into a slur, or muffin batter, it is going to react a lot different than filling up plastic pots of soil and watering them down, only to drain out at the bottom. The mix will just start rotting if air is not incorporated frequently into the mix by stirring vigorously every hour until it is used. Churn and mix and turn and stir, over and over until you smell good clean "soil smell" again. Let your nose be your guide to a good actively aerated slur.

You may be wondering how the block gets aerated after it gets made and is all compressed in a block. How does that get aerated? Well, it gets its air from the water that drains through it, and the drainage material used, perlite or great compost, as these ingredients allow air to penetrate the block. That is why I stress the use of misters. Misters have more water particles blasting the block than a watering can, and that means that more oxygen particles are being delivered to the roots than just dumping water over the block. If that's all you've got, fine, just make sure to aerate the water first by a.) shaking it up in the can, or b.) filling it up violently with your spray attachment. This will create more air molecules in your water. Your blocks are exposed on five sides to air, so they should get plenty of it. If you pack your blocks side by side, touching each other, than it is important to aerate your water, or brew compost tea and apply. But, AAPS goes a lot further than that, stay tuned for future articles at the Soil Block Blog for the first hydroponic system in the world that uses soil blocks as the medium. These techniques will simplify and demystify the science of hydroponics as it is applied to soil block gardening and organic fertilization. This trademark by the guru is known as OSBH, Organic Soil Block Hydroponics. Stay tuned for information found no where else in the world. Thanks for supporting. I greatly appreciate you all, even though you are few, but growing!

Monday, February 23, 2009

How to Make Free Soil Blocks Part 3 of 4

Of course you can't really make free soil blocks without making free soil. Our next subject will cover the art of blending your own soil block mix soil, for free, without the need to purchase anything.

Someone once said "Necessity is the mother of all inventions.", well, when I needed some blocking mix, I invented some right on the farm. It was really more about experimenting with on-farm materials until I came up with the right stuff. From those experiments, I figured out how to keep the free blocking mix coming so that it was always there. If you want to make free blocking mix, first, you have to discover what you do have. Blocking mix, in my experiments, need to have at least 3 parts fibrous material, 1 part drainage and/or aeration material, and 1 part compost, and a little nutrition/sweetener. Let's break down these elements into what you might find at your place:

Fiber (to knit your blocks together) is normally purchased in peat moss. If you have a peat bog in your back yard, dig some up and tell me about it. Here, in western Oregon we are blessed with a type of moss that lives on fir branches and the forest floor. It is very similar to peat moss, in fact, it is a moss and works just as well. You might have seen it lining hanging baskets. It's a light green, soft and very fibrous moss. You can dry it and crush it up a bit to make your own home-made peat moss. If not, the next best thing is chopped straw. It contains a nice light texture when chopped and sifted so that it knits together with the addition of compost or some compost/soil mix. Provided you have some dry straw, crush it up and sift it over a wheel barrow with some 1/4" screen. No straw? No problem, how about hardwood mulch or saw dust or hardwood branches that were stacked up and dried in a brush pile? Crush the brush pile and sift out the little pieces with your trusty, "wait for it", 1/4" hardware screen. Same with the mulch or saw dust. I really only recommend hardwood, as it is not so acidic and it doesn't inhibit germination. The best fiber from hardwood is a big hardwood pile of mulch or chips that have composted and are dark colored. Look around the neighbors yard, too. You or your neighbor will also have the next fibrous material, leaf mold. Leaf mold is decomposed leaves that still have some structure or leaves in it. It is known as "mold" because of the beneficial fungus that eats and lives in the nutrient packed leaf. Make sure it is also dried out a bit, crushed and sifted over a "you-know-what". These are the best ingredients to use, but if they are still not available try dried, brown, and fluffy grass clippings. Feel them, are they loose, dry, brown, light, not sticking together? You could make this material by bagging your own clippings and then sun drying them until they are crispy. Try dried, black pine needles under a fir, pine or spruce tree. They have to be black and dried so they will not cause major problems with your plants, like over acidity and numerous other problems that I urge you not to discover. Do you shred your own paper at your home or office. Bag it up and take it home. However, leave the little plastic window pieces from the envelope in the trash. O.K. then, I know anyone can have fiber around their house somewhere. Let me know if I missed any material.

Drainage and/or aeration material normally comes from perlite and vermiculite and is used to drain away excess water and provide air to the roots. It is also used to store a little water for the dry times of waiting for the next watering. By far the best material is sand. Sand from the beach, sand from the dunes, sand from your kid's sand box(don't take it ALL!). Sand is free everywhere and needs no explanation other than don't take it from potentially toxic places or sand that is too salty from high tides. Go a little bit further inland and it will be salt-free. Some people have it and some people don't. I have had it only once when we were mixing cement, and used some extra in my blocking mix. I really liked it, but since, have not used it, as perlite has been so cheap. Now, I'm ready to go back to sand, as it weighs down your blocks a bit for the outside transplants that get hardened off in the elements. If sand is not around, and sometimes I know it isn't, try rocks, pebbles, pea gravel, river stones, etc. screened through 1/4" screen. Go easy on the screen by using small shovel fulls and sifting slowly. Rocks should be everywhere and should come from a safe, non-toxic area. Volcanic rocks are best, especially pumice stones. All I've got now are basalt gravel and it's not my favorite because it's sharp and heavy, but screened and washed(driveway gravel) makes a most suitable free substitute. Do you have pine bark from ponderosa or yellow pine or jack pine or black pine trees? Crush it up, sift it out, wash it down, and it makes an awesome aerator. I only recommend the thick pine barks and not fir or spruce as they are much more acidic and difficult to grow plants. You could, however, compost them first, and use them when they are black. So, somewhere, someone will have these three on hand: Sand, Rocks, Bark. Now, it time for compost, and we have all heard it before: the best compost is dark and crumbly, finished, mature, smells aromatic, aged, broken down and homogeneous. Great compost is the key ingredient. See www.pottingblocks.com/compost.html for a primer and a how-to course. Our final ingredient is a little nutrition and sweetener. Your mix might be a little acidic from some of the ingredients we get on our land, so it's best to sweeten or alkalize your mix up a bit. Do you have any old sheet rock around? Crush it up, remove the paper and sprinkle some of the dust into the dry components like the fibrous material first. This is in essence, lime, gypsum lime to be exact. It may not be safe, as some drywall has asbestos in it. Use caution. The next sweetner is a little hardwood ash from your wood stove. Use only pure ash from hardwoods and nothing else. Sift and blend with the dry ingredients. If your soil is made with straw, and you're growing brassica family or Cole crops, dried and crushed eggshells will improve conditions considerably. Live near an ocean? Pick some sea shells and oyster shells and crush them up and add them to the dry mix, too. Do you have animals? Do you feed them alfalfa pellets or hay? Crush those up for a base fertilizer. Wow! We are on a roll with all of our free stuff. We better get a recipe and get mixing, there's still time you know? See www.pottingblocks.com/recipes.html for the right proportions you'll need to make a free blocking mix. Let me know of anything I may have missed or email me with any question. The whole point is to get growing using Nature's lead as our role model. Everything in nature grows just fine with free materials, why can't we? Just mimic our Mother Nature and we will succeed. Stay tuned for the most interesting subject yet, home made soil blockers. Come again in the guru's potting shed!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How to Make Free Soil Blocks. Part 2 of 4


In our next free soil block technique, we will be revisiting the ancient Aztecs of Mexico City. For a primer on this technique, known as the Chinampas soil block, read up on the history of the first soil blocks ever made at www.pottingblocks.com/info.html. We may not have shallow lake channels to scoop nutrient rich mud and make blocks, but with a garden hose, a bucket, a hoe, some scrap wood, straw and soil, we'll come pretty close. Here's the Outline: (Makes one wheel barrow full of mix, about 100 2" blocks, 40 3" blocks, 25 4" blocks.)

1. Test Soil. 2. Make Forms. 3. Make Mix. 4. Fill Forms. 5. Remove Forms and Cut Blocks. 6. Seed.

Your first step is to determine if your soil is suited for the Chinampas soil block technique. You will need to do a home-made soil composition test. You will want to sample soil that is from your garden and has been weeded recently. You'll also want to take soil from perhaps a stream bank or some areas that are prone to flooding or look black with a humus build up. If you find yourself looking at the soil in your pasture, you might just want to make our turf blocks described last week. Now, take a clear glass jar with a tight fitting lid and fill it slightly over half way with your proposed soil. Take the first few inches of soil minus any heavy mulch or leaves and sticks, we're after the broken down humus and soil particles. Next, fill your jar with water almost to the top. Add two teaspoons of salt. This will help settle the clay. Close the lid tightly and begin shaking vigorously! Shake until all the soil is completely suspended and it looks like chocolate milk. Let it sit over night and check in the morning. You should notice that the soil sample has been seperated into layers of different colors and different particle sizes. Here's the break down: The bottom layer is Sand, the next layer up is Silt, the next up is Clay, and finally the top layer is Humus or Organic Matter(note how it appears to be floating on the top). You can determine rough percentages of content by taking a permenant marker and scoring some lines from the top to the bottom, about 10 lines evenly spaced will give you a percent in ten percent increments. So, what do you got? How much Sand, Silt, and Clay do you notice. My soil here in the foothills of the Willamette Valley are: 30% Sand, 35% Silt, 30% Clay and 5 % Humus. "What am I looking for anyway?", you might be saying. You're looking for at least 30% Clay. Clay will bind the blocks together where you have no other source of peat moss or "channel mud" which is the binding material source for other blocks. Clay is a fantastic soil medium when used with organic matter and lots of water, perfect for soil blocks! If you have too much clay or all clay, that's fine, too. Clay is composed of mineral rich powdered rock dust with a natural binding element. Sounds good for soil blocks! You may be thinking how can you turn sticky clay into rich potting blocks? This takes us to the next step. Provided you have some clay, you will want to get some straw from somewhere. It should come free. At last resort, you can buy some, but look around for some spoiled bales that nobody's using. If it's wet, start chopping it up with a machete or shovel and make it smaller. If it's a dry, start walking on it and break it up with your feet making the stalks smaller and smaller. You could sift this stuff with 1/2" hardware cloth. The wet stuff, keep chopping by hand to make little pieces. Make a big pile, like the size of a 2'x 2'x 2' pile. This is about half a bale of dry, crushed straw, much less of a wet, chopped bale. Our next ingredient is compost. Sift with 1/2" hardware cloth and bring that in a 5 gallon bucket. Now, go out and pick a spot where you will be mixing. Bring in a half a wheel barrow of clay/soil. Wet it down with a garden hose, and mix it up with a hoe. The point is to thoroughly wet the clay, but not soupy, stiff but moist, but no excess water. You will need some hard packed ground to mix the straw in or lay out an old piece of plywood. Do you have an old concrete pad somewhere? Dump out the clay and add the compost slowly, like adding flour to the creamed butter. Now mix in the straw. Chop it in with the hoe, turn it, flip it, get the straw mixed in thoroughly, through and through the clay. If it's too hard, add more water. This will make it easier to mix, but it will be heavier, so go easy. Your over all objective is to make a wet but stiff paste like a muffin mix, or like a cake batter that can be moved easily and spread in a pan.

Now, we need the pan, or the block form. There will be two ways that your block mix can be used now: 1.) in individual cells created with wood scraps or 2.) one large form that can be filled to it's capacity. The first way is to build grid like patterns of thin stocks of wood like 1/2" plywood and make your forms into 2"x 2"x 2" squares, 3"x 3"x 3" squares, or 4"x 4"x 4" squares. It depends on what you are growing. Check out the sizechart at www.pottingblocks.com/sizechart.html. You can make these grids any size you want. The idea is to make a form, fill it, remove it and fill again. These grids are like a honey comb. Make sure the form is wetted down or evenly soaked in water overnight in a tub with pond-like water that is sticky and thick with algae. This "pond water" will coat the wood form with algae that will help it lift off the blocks. Set your forms and blocks on wetted down plywood or a large sheet of plastic. Fill them with a shovel and level off the tops. After you have filled them, you should be able to lift the form up and the blocks stay put. If they do not leave the form, your mix should be wetted down again and tried again. You should have nice shaped wet squares of Chinampas soil blocks.

For the other method you will make only one form with a thickness of 2", 3", or 4". It can be made out of any stock and built as large as you want, provided you have made enough mix to fill it. You can put your form over a sheet of plywood, a large sheet of plastic, or a concrete pad, just make sure you spray everything down with lots of water to prevent sticking. After filling the form full of muck, smooth out the top with a trowel or board, sort of like screeting concrete. Now, lift off the form and what is left is a big block of mud soil. Take an old knife, or machete, or a piece of hardwood board sharpened into a shim-like cutting tool, known as the coa, or digging stick of the ancient aztecs(see entry photo) and cut and slice your brick up into the same size as the thickness of your board. You can score out the pattern first, and then cut through completly. Either way works well. I like the one form method because it's a lot less work and cutting those bricks or blocks are so much fun. On the other hand, a well made honey comb form made with wet soil spaces the blocks out just right for the air pruining technique. No need to move them any further or cut the roots when transplanting. Finally, it is time to seed. Poke a hole in your newly formed blocks with your finger, a stick or dibble, plant your seed, sprinke a little compost or sifted soil over to cover and wet them down. You could cover with black plastic to keep the heat in if it's chilly. Keep them moist, as the clay will have tendency to dry out. Transplant out when the white roots have poked out of the block, or when the canopy of plants are shading each other out of sunlight. Cover the block completely in the soil so the clay will not be in contact with the air. Mulch over for more moisture retention. Drip irrigation is best in Chinampas blocks. Top dress with manure, or fertilize with compost tea.

You now know how to make the famous Chinampas soil block. A very low tech, high performance soil block that costs nothing with large yeilds and enhances garden fertility with clay, compost and straw. Let me know how it goes or if anyone in the states has done authentic Chinampas type channel muck gardening. Lettuce get growing!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How to Make Free Soil Blocks, Part 1 of 4

You may not have a soil blocker and don't want one, but you are still interested in making soil blocks. You are inclined to do so because we all realize that plastic comes from oil, and oil is on the price hike. Plastics used to be cheap, very cheap. Now, even my cheapest wholesaler can't sell me a 5 gallon plastic bucket for under $7.00! So, it seems fitting to write about the subject of Do-It-Yourself Soil Blocks. Before I was a farmer, I lived in New Mexico and built Adobe and Rammed Earth homes since I was 19 years old. These principles guided my ability to create soil blocks at home. These techniques are nothing new to agriculture, as the ancient Aztecs made soil blocks over 2000 years ago. They are, however, revised and updated so that anyone, anywhere can make them for free. The idea is that the gardener has nothing but seeds, and would like to grow and protect them in a nursery until better planting conditions exist. Here, you will receive the most comprehensive subject ever written on Home Made Soil Blocks and Free Soil Blockers. I encourage readers to write and to add to the expanding list of techniques.

How To Make Free Soil Blocks: Part 1 of 4

First, we will follow the way of the old school American Farmer. He made Turf Blocks and raised them in a glass house or glass cold frames from old glass windows. All that was needed was a good piece of sod from a good pasture or backyard. The soil should be dark brown to black and have been growing grass or grasses for years. It should be cut from soft soil and not hard packed from human or animal traffic. You will also want a sod cutter; a wide, semi-circle metal blade atttached to a handle. A long serrated kitchen knife will do as well. Something to cut the thick matted root mass is all that's needed. Try bones, sticks, wittled hard wood scraps or old pieces of metal. Water the patch of sod the night before so that it's easy to cut in the morning. Get right down to it and cut the sod in a 1 foot by 1 foot square. This first cut may not come out well and it doesn't have to because you're just getting the edges started for the next cut. Rip or tear or cut that first square out and discard. Clean up the edges all around the square and cut another 1' by 1'. With the one edge previously cut it should lift out easier. You'll want all that root mass and soil to be about 3-5" thick.

How does it look? Square? How does it hold up to handling? Intact? Solid? Keep searching for a good tight strong piece of sod. Different grasses have different lengths of roots and runners. Find a good chunk! When you have a perfect square and about 3-5" thick, cut it further into 4 squares. A serrated blade works best, scissors will do the cut, too. A machete blade can dice it into four squares with two hard, precise chops. An old cow or sheep shoulder bone will work, too. Now turn them over and place them where they can grow for a while, like a board or on cleared piece of ground, or some metal roofing or against a south facing building. The idea to make blocks in the first place was to get a head start. So, create your nursery with the best place possible. Sunny windows? If you provide no cover, it is best to at least protect them from the wind and keep them on the sunniest side of a building. If you're expecting a frost, sprinkle the seedlings with straw or long dead grass, or cover with an old blanket, but use some wire hoops are fir bows or bent poplar sapplings for support. Do not crush seedlings. Next, you will want to wet your blocks really well so you can poke a hole in them with your finger or a stick, depending on the size of the seed. Plant your seed and cover lightly with some good compost or black topsoil. Water again and do what you can to increase the temperature of the blocks. See http://www.pottingblocks.com/season_extension.html for ideas on creating a micro climate.

Don't worry about the living grass underneath the block as it will die and become organic matter when you transplant in your garden. Keep them moist. Fertilize with compost tea, rabbit manure tea, fermented seaweed, or your own urine diluted with water at 16:1. Hey, you're the one gardening on the cheap, you don't have to tell anyone, anything. Human urine has been used as a fertilizer since the dawn of man. But don't take my word for it, try a little research and see what you find. Look at this book called "Liquid Gold", by Carol Steinfeld. Even Jesus Christ mentioned it: "Drink thy water from thine own cystern." Quoted from another farm book called 'The Water of Life". I may have gone out on a limb, but hey, now is the time and here is the place. Transplant your turf or sod blocks when all your garden soil is warmed up, all danger of frost has passed and the block is starting to show white tipped roots poking out. Stay tuned for more in Part 2. This is the Potting Block Guru signing off.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Transplanting the 3/4" soil block into the 2" block


Let's examine the soil block method of transplanting, or otherwise known as "potting on". We call it potting on because you pot "on" top of the next size block. When we transplant, we simply lift one block up and place it on another. No pricking out, which always scares me that I might be ripping some roots out or traumatizing the poor seedlings. No popping out of the container which also seems damaging. And, no untangling any roots that have been circling the pot. Nope, not here. We "pluck" and lift, place and push in slightly to release air pockets. No transplant shock. No stress. However, the potting block method has to be done before the roots overtake the bottom of the block, the only side not air pruned. As you can see in the picture, this tomato taproot has broken the bottom surface and needs to be transplanted. If you were to see the top, the seedling hasn't even produced seed leaves, yet. It is still in it's seed coat, while the root is galavanting around looking for food. That is why we must pay attention to the roots in the Micros versus the leaves. We must have our 2" blocker with cubic pin inserts ready to go and get ready to make some up. We should have made our grow tweezers and be ready to pluck, lift, pot on, push out the air. This ensures a rapid root developement in our seedlings. We now can relax, and watch the growth. We can do this for about 2-3 weeks before we're planting in the garden or planting in the 4" block. Sometimes, growth happens even faster. Say, a week, and we need to tranplant because the roots have maximized the block. So, we stress the need to pay attention to the roots, not the leaves, in soil block transplanting.



It is interesting to note that you can leave tomatoes in the 3/4" block for an extended period of time. Yes, they will be set back a little bit. But, our next move will get them back up. Say, you just didn't get to them in time and they're three inches tall and roots hanging out everywhere and into each others' blocks. We know it happens, especially with that ambitous tomato! You might notice that it would be very difficult to transplant this tomato into a 2" block. It is clearly overgrown. No worries, if you have the 4" block maker! We'll get into making the 4" block next week. If you were to make some 4" blocks and then take your little overgrown seedling and, with a clean exacto knife, cut off all the leaves except the top four. Then, wrap the stem and roots around the micro block, for 360 degrees. A complete loop. At this point, only the top four leaves should be right above that root and stem ball. Now, place in the 4" cube. (The 2" cube can actually work just as well, but make sure you build a strong, wet, fibrous block and push it in.) Back to the 4" cube, simply take some slur and fill in the big 2" hole insert, covering the stem/root ball. Squeeze out the air pocket and let it develop new roots off the stem. After a few days of that, watch out, this 'mato is gonna bust! Try it, you'll have a stronger stemmed tomato that can sit in that block for another 2 months before transplanting.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Practical tips for the 3/4" Micro blocker

The Micro 20 or 3/4" block maker is an amazing tool. It blocks 20 spaces for seeds with 3 times the amount of soil of a 1" tapered plug. It is a space saver. You hardly need any space to whip up 20 seedling cubes. But, this machine does have certain particularities that you might not be aware of at first glance. First, the best potting soil to use is simply peat moss screened over a 1/4" hardware cloth or screen. With 4 parts peat, 1 part vegetable compost (or worm castings) and a handful of horticulture grade lime and rock dust you can create hundreds of successful blocks for little or no money. The mix should come out stiff but not dry, thoroughly wetted and moist, but not soupy. Second, such a small machine will have two types of users: one with big hands, and one with small hands. For the small handed folks, using two hands to charge the blocker seems appropriate. Pack your blocker in a shallow plastic tub. Use your pointer fingers and thumbs, and push into the tub over and over and pack it tightly. For the large handed users like myself, use one hand and hold the ejection mold and pack and turn and pack and turn. Using a flat wooden surface works fine, just pile the soil in a heap over and over again. Scrape it against a real flat blade, like a trowel or a dull knife or thin piece of wood. But, a bit of advice from the Guru: You simply may opt out of the scraping the blocker step, as I have found it leaves a less desirable block. Try both ways, first. If you don't scrape, you'll want to press the maker firmly on the tray to flatten out the bottoms. Your blocks should come springing out and be perfect little squares with a nice seed hole definetely indented. Anything less than perfect is not acceptable with the 3/4" blocks. You should be able to pick them up easily; firm, strong, solid, crisp. It will take a few times to find the sweet spot. Third, lay them on a small square of plasic or a recylced plastic container of some sort. I'm not a big fan of wood anymore as it seems to dry out too fast. Wood works fine if you're constantly watering. But, even better is some recylced plastic container with a shallow lip around it to hold in some water for easy watering. DO NOT LET YOUR MICROS DRY OUT! You could lose valuable seeds, quickly. Now let's talk about what to grow in Micros.
In my experience, tiny seeds for flowers work best in Micros. We are planting more and more flower starts each year, and the space saving benefits are miraculous. Seeds that take a long time to germinate are perfect because you don't tie up all that space waiting for seeds to germ. Classic examples would be flowering tobacco and alpine strawberries. They can sit there a month before anything happens. As far a vegetable seeds go, parsley and celery are best started in Micros. If you are a market gardener or nursery owner, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are the norm. Not that a home gardener shouldn't use the Micro, if that's all you've got, but I would just use the 2" blocker if I had a small amount of seedlings of those three to start. Then you have to change out pins for transplanting, and that's a little time consuming for home gardeners. I have a dedicated 2" blocker for every pin, so I don't change them out anymore. Make sure to cover tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants with black plastic to keep the moisture in after watering, and it help heat up the surface. Transplant quickly for these three, because their roots are already three times the size of the seed leaves that are visible. Note: If you have let them get too lanky and tall, just transplant them on their sides convering up the long stem with soil. They'll just grow roots on the stem and your plant will be stout and strong. The best transplanting method is using a grow tweezers. You might have to make your own. Just take two wooden plant label stakes about 6-8" and staple or tack them over a 1" dowel at the end. You could also use some scrap metal for a spring taped around the stakes. You could use some cedar shims split to 3/4" and some metal wire spring or sheet metal or the 1" dowel for the fulcrum end. If you find one, a tortilla flipper is PERFECT. Always dip your tweezers in water before plucking out a block. The ends should be fairly thin and sharp to push in and cut or separate the blocks from each other. Transplant immediately to your prepared 2" blocks with 3/4" cubic pin. Push down firmly to release all the air gaps. Water with a little willow branch water for root growth, or kelp fertilizer to ease them in their new home. With a little practice the Micro 20 will become the most amazing space saving seed starting invention you've ever used.