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March 29th, 2011

From Seed-Starting Trays to Soil-Blocks in 3 Steps

Kim Draves resides in Emmaus, Pa, works at Rodale Inc.as a Marketing Director, and perpetually bothers the Organic Gardening staff with gardening questions.  As a form of payment for their continual advice, she submits this blog entry.

The Decision

As the ground outside began to thaw and I could see my lawn for the first time in months, I stared at my plastic seed-starting cells and trays and decided that I really didn’t like them. I mean, they are good, and they served me well (I reused them for several years), but I felt like it was time to try something new. After all, isn’t our age measured by our willingness to try new things? So I decided to try soil-block making.

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I purchased the Medium 4 Soil Blocker from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I’ve purchased so many items from Johnny’s that my husband has started announcing, “Here’s Johnny!” à la Ed McMahon when the postman comes to the door.

The Process

Thankfully, the shipment included a recipe for seed-starting mix. I grabbed a few shovelfuls of compost from my garden, purchased some perlite, and found a leftover bag of peat in the garage. For a cost of about $10, my husband and I had a mixture ready in just 20 minutes.

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The soil-block maker itself worked well when the mix was the right moisture level. The blocks turned into blobs if the mix was too wet, which is the mistake we made. Although I kicked my seed-starting cells to the curb, I did keep the trays and the plastic covers to transport the blocks from the worktable outside into my little garden room indoors. I couldn’t let go of all the utility those trays provided.

The soil-block maker also included dibbles that made little holes for the seeds. This feature really appeals to me because it allowed my 3-year-old daughter to help place the seeds in the blocks. I just had to show her where the holes were and she was more than happy to help. In about an hour, we had five trays of about 30 soil blocks ready to go under the lights for germination.

The Outcome

I was worried about watering the soil blocks. As I mentioned, we already had a problem with moisture at the time we made the blocks. Very few of the blocks crumbled when I watered them, and the seedlings have still come up beautifully. I am officially converted from a seed-starting-tray user to a soil-block user, and I cannot wait to simply plop the soil blocks into the ground without having to pry them out of the plastic cell packs.

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Trying new things is always scary, but I have no regrets about this decision. It was actually more fun and involved more of my family members. If you’re thinking about switching from plastic seed-starting trays to soil-block making, go ahead! You won’t regret it!

The one problem that the soil-block maker did not solve for me is leggy tomato seedlings. I’ve tried multiple solutions, including putting them closer to the light source and putting a fan directly on them. I know I can just bury them up to their first set of leaves, but I think they’d be much stronger at the time of transplant if it weren’t for this issue. If you’ve experienced this problem or have any suggestions, I’d love to hear what you’ve done to prevent it or correct it.

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