Clear As Mud
Let me back up a little bit. A couple of days ago I posted about my recent acquisition of a soil blocker and the recipe for the soil mix that I use to make the blocks. Since then I have gotten several questions about blocking, the recipe and the reasoning behind a decision to adopt the practice in the first place. So let me start in the beginning…
Seed Starting Needs
When you have made the decision to start your own garden seeds, you have several ways to go about it. You can sow your seeds directly into the garden, then wait anywhere from a few days to several weeks for the seeds to germinate before anything starts to grow. For a few crops, like carrots, this is the only way to go because of inherent risks associated with transplanting seedlings. There are other crops that, for most of us, require transplanting because of the length of the growing season, germination requirements or other factors that make these crops a bit more touchy. There is also a large group of plants that can go either way, depending on what you are trying to achieve. If you are only starting a handful of tomato and pepper plants per year, soil blocking may not be terribly appealing. On the other hand, if you start a lot of seeds for transplanting it can make sense to use a soil blocker.
Blocking Versus Other Methods
- By not requiring a pot, there is a cost and storage savings.
- Soil blocking mix may be purchased ready-made or mixed on site with readily available ingredients.
- Instead of forcing roots to the pot wall where they begin to wrap around the rootball, soil blocks (like peat pellets) force roots to develop within the soil, making them less prone to root damage and faster to get established when planted out in the garden.
- The soil mix used in blocking is far superior to peat pellets or conventional “seed starting mix” because it steadily feeds the plants from the beginning.
- True it is common practice to use a mild liquid fertilizer with conventional seed starting, but this extra step is eliminated because of the plant food in the blocking mix.
- The blocks fit more closely on the tray than do round pots or pellets, and blocks have greater volume than do cylinders. Spatially you can fit more plants with greater root volume per plant, compared with round or tapered pots.
- Although I have not purchased the other blocker sizes, blocking offers a method to “pot up” small sized blocks into larger blocks so that plants may be held for longer periods before planting out.
Blocking Increases Production
If your goal is to maximize garden production, using the soil blocker can help. It combines the greater control that indoor seed starting offers with increased vigor that is the result of well developed roots with less damage. You can harvest one day and set out well started plants the next, decreasing the interval between crops by weeks. Vigorous plants are less susceptible to disease and insect damage, further increasing success.
Questions On The Recipe
The blocking mix recipe I used is for small batches such as most of us would use. If, however, you want to do one large batch for the season, you might want to use a larger vessel for each “part”. If so, calculating the “handful” of lime as 1/8 part, and the 3 cups of Sure Start as 1/4 part should get you in the ballpark.
I buy peat moss in a compressed bale of 2 cubic feet and the vermiculite comes in a 2 or 4 cubic foot bag, both widely available at garden centers and home improvement stores. The lime comes in 40# bags labeled “garden lime” or “lawn lime” just be sure to get the powdered form and not pelletized. Stay away from “fast acting” lime because it’s not suitable for this application. You can either use homemade compost or purchase mushroom compost or high quality composted manure (no fillers). The garden soil is just that, soil right out of your garden (I have a heavy clay base and it works like a charm).
I’m New At This Too
I would like to hear back from those of you who have used blocks. Any thoughts on the process, whether or not you have continued using them, would be helpful to the rest of us. Thanks for your comments!