I read about soil blocking on various websites after seeing a Ladbrooke Soil Blocker on Amazon (affiliate link). I was curious – I had never heard of a soil blocker before, but anything that could save us some money in our garden was worth some research. I had been using jiffy pellets that last two years, which have worked well, but starting in the pellets and transferring to pots before finally planting in the garden becomes a little expensive. I’ve been reading up on seed saving and and started buying heirloom seeds since last year. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, and although I found plenty of “recipes” for the soil to use, it was difficult to find any two the seemed to agree and ended up just buying some of the ingredients from a few different ones and mixing it until it felt like it would stay formed. I bought the middle size soil blocker from Amazon – there is a smaller and a larger which is part of a neat system, but since I am only using it for my personal garden, the 2″ medium block seemed the best compromise. In my investigations, I did find a few homemade soil blockers on other blogs like The Prairie Homestead made out of things like tin cans and PVC pipe – but I preferred to make the one time purchase of the blocker that makes 4 blocks at a time.
The mix I used included:
- Peat moss (I was looking for coconut fiber/ “coco peat”, but couldn’t find it at Lowes, so peat moss it was)
- Blood Meal
- Garden Lime
- Top Soil
I used a large plastic tube to mix everything up, figuring that I could throw a lid on any extra to be used as needed. I used two parts peat moss to one part top soil – I used just one 8 quart bag of peat moss initially, and this mix made me through three trays of blocks. With that mixture I threw in about 2 cups blood meal, 2 cups garden lime and 4 cups perlite. This made a nice, fluffy soil prior to adding water. Then I filled a pot with warm water and with a plastic measuring cup, added a small amount of water at a time, working at one end of the plastic tub and working across.
Prepping the Trays
One thing I learned last year working with the jiffy pellets (affiliate link) was that I needed a sturdier tray. I managed to dump an entire tray of seedlings when the plastic tray that comes with pellets cracked. Luckily I was able to salvage most of the seedlings, but it was not an experience I wanted to repeat. I found these growing trays (affiliate link) which were sturdy enough to support the blocks and be reused every year, yet not overly expensive. I also got humidity domes (affiliate link) which is one feature that worked really well with the jiffy pellets (until the puppies decided to eat them).
I poured a little over one cup of water into each tray and laid two layers of newspaper into the bottom forming a smoother surface. This is probably not needed, but I was concerned if the bottom of the blocks were laying directly in water they may begin to disintegrate.
Using the Blocker
I ended up packing the blocker with my hands – in some of the posts I saw a method where you scrape the dirt into the blocker, using the bottom of your soil container to apply pressure and pack the blockers, but in the tub I was using it wasn’t work so well. I have to admit it was a little rough on the hands after a while, so I think for next year I will grab a block of wood to use to push the soil into the forms. Otherwise it worked very well. I would slightly over fill the blocker, and then use my hand to press in the soil until excess water would run off. After all four were filled and compressed, it was just the matter of flipping the blocker over and pushing the handle until the soil blocks were out. I would use one hand to push the handle and one to push the block off.
I ended up placing them in four in a row, although I could have easily fitted in five. The garden will be a little on the smaller side this year because I’m working on my master plan to have a completely enclosed raised garden (more in future posts) so I’m only using maybe half of the garden area this year.
I used strips of cardboard to indicate what I planted in each section and placed them all on the table up in my loft under the sky light. Although they get a good deal of light up in the loft, I suspended a grow light to supplement them. Hopefully by next year I’ll have my shelf grow system set up in the utility room where I can more closer control temperature, but that will take a few more grow lights. So far I’ve had good luck with this grow light (affiliate link), but I wanted to test it before investing more money into buying one for each shelf.
So far so good with the set up. I’ve had about 50% of the seedlings emerge with more every day. Some I’m not sure if they’ll grow given the seeds are a few years old, and haven’t always been stored properly, but we’ll see what happens with those. I did have a little problem with that white mold/mildew from the humidity. I read up that spraying the seeds with your typical over the counter hydrogen peroxide will kill off anything that may hurt the seedlings without harming the seedlings themselves, so all the plants have been sprayed and I’ll have to update throughout the process!