Sunday, March 1, 2009

Making the 4" Block

After you successfully made the 3/4", and transplanted into the 2", 2-3 weeks later you will want to transplant into the 4" block. The 4" will have it's own learning curve, as you're about to pack as much soil in a 6" plastic pot into a 4" cube. The first requirement is potting soil mixed with enough water for the mix to be stiff, but not dry. It should stand up when you form it into a mound. The mix should be thoroughly wetted, and let set up for an hour or so. You'll need a large rubbermaid tub or round rubber tub to make them. Fill it up almost halfway with mix, as you'll soon see that the 4" cuber eats up soil, fast! Now dip your block maker entirely in water and begin to mound up the soil in the tub to a peak as you start compressing the soil with your blocker. Keep charging the blocker, once, twice, three times into the muddy peak. At this point, see if water is oozing out of the top of the blocker. Keep charging until it is. Make sure to slightly tilt and twist at the same time and then lift off the blocker from the bottom of the bucket. This will release suction. Now, the time comes to eject. Place your blocker(heavy, isn't it?) where you want your block to sit. On a board, tile, plastic sheet on a bench, bread trays from a local bakery work well. I recommend using a piece of greenhouse plastic, or heavy garbage bag, and building a little wooden frame around it so when you place the plastic on the frame, it creates a little plastic lip that holds in water. You can staple the edges on the back side of the frame. That little bit of water retention will keep your blocks moist and worry-free. Back to the ejection, first, firm up the blocker by pushing the handle down into the cube, this sets it up in place and creates a firm foundation and 2" impression. Now, lift the handle up with your fingers and then push down on the lever with your thumbs, while lifting your arms up. This is one continuous motion. Your block should have a suction sound as it is trying to release the block. Hold this pattern steady, be patient......and the block releases. Inspect. Are your edges perfect, is the 2" insert deep enough? Is the block tall and erect, or is it squat and flat? Is it crumbly? You should be able to pick it up, EASILY! If not, you must try again. Check your moisture in your mix, wet enough? If anything, a wetter block is easier to make than a dryer block. The water acts as a lubricant and helps slip it out without crumbling the sides. This is the most important time of your block making life. So many people have given up at this point. The blocks aren't performing the way you think they should. You need to practice, get over the learning curve, and experience success. Take some time to master this art, once, and the rest is history. Keep trying until you make the block that feels like it doesn't want to come out of the mold, and then all of sudden, you hear a loud sssssssuction, and the block pops out stiff, strong, firm, wet, upright, only slightly tapered, perfect 2" insert indentation with a deep hole.

Here's some tips: The blocker might actually need to be lifted off the ground temporarily to let gravity pull it down and out. Always dip your blocker so all the edges are clean for the next round. I like to use perlite in my 4" mix because it acts like a spring and helps pop it out. When in doubt, keep charging, you can't over pack the blocker, so, keep compacting so the water is gushing out the top. Lean over your blocker, eject it at waist height so your arms can lift straight up into your chest and gravity is pulling the block down. (Ejecting at chest level will fatigue you quickly.) Place your blocks in a space where they won't be moved for a while. If it's still cold out, keep them off the floor, as cold settles to the ground and will stunt your root growth. If you have to move them, use a metal kitchen spatula, or a big cedar shim. A perfect block can be picked up and moved around with ease with your bare hands. This took me hundreds of times to get it to the point where I could actually toss you a block and it would stay together. Believe me, it's possible. I'm here to help. This is the most underrated gardening product on the planet. Our entire nursery has converted to the 4" blocks to sell tomato, pepper, eggplant and perennial herbs like rosemary, lavender, and globe basil. I grow entire heads of lettuce in a 4" block on the floor of my greenhouse throughout the winter. Think about this: if all you ever had was soil blockers and nothing else, not even potting soil, you could contrive a way to transplant starts. For instance, I use some soil in my back yard that has a little clay in it. I mix it with a little home made compost and then mix it with chopped straw(or straw that's been walked on and is much smaller than it's original form) and wet it down and make perfect 4" blocks. Then, I take them in new garden spot, punch a hole with a post hole digger, right into the sod, plant a cube, and walk away. I let nature do the rest. You can grow the best cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and sunflowers and even tomatoes this way. If you mulch heavily, you don't even need to water. So, don't give up. You're blocker is an investment for the future. USE IT. Tell me about your success, please. We need readers like you to tell the world about the 4" block and how great it really is. Thanks, folks, for listening!

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