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Question

david e kelley
How do I make and use soil blocks for seed starting?
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I have used soil-blockers & found they worked as nicely as described. Several of our serious full-time local growers with greenhouses swear by soil-blockers of all sizes & the whole plant-foward method. I think soil-blockers can be perfect for someone who works with their gardening on a daily basis. I like the "less packaging" aesthetic! For myself, I was gardening intensively but part-time as a very busy person. Soil blocks needed more attention to watering than I had at the time. I gravitated to using Speedling flats because they were much more forgiving for a part-time schedule of watering & planting-on. I love Speedling flats, which actually share a key functional advantage with soil blocks: When roots grow to the edge of soil blocks, they air-prune & this lack of roots-circling-in-the- container prevents premature senility in the plant. Speedling flats provide the same non-circling via their square-inverted-pyramid shape & the sizeable hole at the bottom of the cavity is where emerging roots air-prune. Overall Speedling flats provide more buffering on water-retention & on ease-of-handling with many flats of plants Once when my son broke his femur ski-jumping I didn't get my spring broccoli seedlings planted until late summer & they grew on into a beautiful, productive fall crop, thanks to Speedling flats. With the same neglect in soil blocks, they would have been dead as well as really ugly.  :-)
Seed blocks are an excellent idea. For those of us who have problems keeping our integrity (well, the integrity of the block, anyway) I've found that GrowBalls work well. You squeeze a handful of compost into a square of kitchen paper, leaving a gap at the top. Then you put them into muffin trays like little cakes. Keep watered and the GrowBalls will show life in around eight days. By the second week, the root balls are usually ready to pot on, at least into greenhouse pots. That's just as well, as the paper starts to rot after the first week. (Doesn't harm the plant.)
I love your idea of GrowBalls, especially for households with small children or pretty teens who may tell you they "...don't do the dirt thing!" but then when they see you enjoying gardening, they do! I never thought of GrowBalls despite years of muffin-tins in my kitchen! Thanks!
Thanks, Jessica. An even neater idea for the kiddies is to make SeedBalls. You mix dried red potters clay with seeds and a little water. Let them dry. Then you catapult them into neighbourhood wasteland lots. Choose your seed carefully and you can rehabilitate an entire neighbourhoood. Seriously, SeedBalls are being dropped by helicopter nowadays to revitalise barren regions. A Google search is very instructive! As you probably know, a Japanese gentleman called Fukuoka ('The One-Straw Revolution') pioneered them.
Yeoman & Fukuoka are compelling proponants for seedballs! You make me want to try them, though where I live there are no "wasteland lots." There is instead "scarce & expensive developable land inventory" & patrolled weed ordinances, so the undeveloped "natural landscape" is in a relatively good state. Please refresh my memory about what seeds Fukuoka put in his revitalizing seed balls. I am enough of a planner that it would pain me to introduce plants that were not viable & welcome wherever they land when catapulted. Dry-land alfalfa would be a good one for a seedball around here. We are in zone 4 great basin @ 6500' with about 17" annual precipitation. More? Something flowering for the pollinators, birds & hikers? Buckwheat? You remind me that on Halloween my sons & their friends used to catapult water-balloons into the open doors of bars from nearby rooftops, using surgical tubing rigging. 
http://www.pottingblocks.com/    Dear David, I have used soil blocks for the past two years and prefer them to all other methods, even though I still use the APS systems I bought from Gardeners supply a decade ago. For more information try  the website above. Also Elliot Coleman has a chapter devoted to them on the "New organic gardener". If they are good enough for him, they are good enough for me.   They are a little tricky to keep wet, but once the seed has sprouted and showing true leaves I usually let them sit in water rather than mist them. Don't bother with the 4" block. I have had some success timing the growth in the 2" block (even for tomatoes) prior to planting out. Though you can pot them up in 20 oz styrofoam or plastic cups of potting mix and keep well watered. If you have any specific questions not answered by Jason (pottingblocks) or Elliot please e-mail me at igrowfood@insightbb.com. pax John    
Thank you all for the information.  Lots of info on the web, but I wanted to hear from our members whom I trust.  Experience is wonderful, and gaining it can be painful and even expensive.  I've been through some of both good and bad.  I learn something either way. Stay natural, David
"Learn more at Johnny's ... " is okay with me! Their wonderful free catalog is packed with definitive growing information for individual crops & their seeds are well-packaged in generous or tiny amounts & well priced.

 

 

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