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My soil blocks keep falling apart

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My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/16/2011, 9:06 pm

It's a little frustrating. My 3/4" block seedlings were getting long and spindly, so I figured it was time to put them in the 2" blocks, even tho I think a video I saw said to wait until the roots were covering the bottoms. But these are getting too long, I think they need more dirt. So I did make the 2" blocks tonight and put the 3/4" blocks in them. Then I figured I better water them from the bottom of the tray, but then some of the blocks started falling apart, so maybe I watered them too much.

Anyway, my broccoli, tomato, eggplant, & pepper seedlings are kind of just flopped over, maybe 3" long lanky things, hmm. I did have to replant some peppers and tomatoes that didn't sprout.

So I'm hoping the blocks stay together long enough until time to transplant outside, and that everything is still alive by then. The indoor sprouting method is not as easy as I was thinking. I have the tray on a heat mat, with a light on them all day. They're making me nervous, so tall and thin...

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 4/16/2011, 9:09 pm

Have you started seeds indoors before? I'm asking because I'm wondering what the setup is like. I had trouble, too, but seemed to get something right with my latest round of peppers and tomatoes. But, it could just be dumb luck, too...lol.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/16/2011, 9:42 pm

This is my first time doing indoor seedlings. I'm like a nervous mother. Probably going to do it all wrong. Very Happy Overprotectiveness, overwatering, overworrying.

Are your tomato and pepper sprouts tall and spindly? Maybe tomorrow I'll pull out the camera and post a photo.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  Blackrose on 4/16/2011, 10:02 pm

How wet was your mix that you made the blocks with? I find that they hold together the best when the soil is the consistency of smooth peanut butter. When I make my 2" soil blocks, a little bit of water actually squeezes out of the soil while I'm pressing the blocker into it. I usually don't need to water them for a few days after making them because the soil is moist enough. I just mist the top after putting the 3/4" block in to help it "meld" into the 2" block.

It took a little bit of trial and error for me too with planting seeds indoors and using the blockers. Don't worry, everything will work out in the end and they're just seeds. If the first round doesn't work out, just plant some more. Smile

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  middlemamma on 4/16/2011, 10:04 pm

Did you really pack the blocks?

I planted 75 seeds about a week ago in the 3/4 soil blocks and I have watered a few times, my blocks are holding together well. But I PACKED that sucker, pushed it hard on the bottom of the tray to make sure, then tried to press more dirt in a few times until it just would not hold another speck of soil.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  Blackrose on 4/16/2011, 10:06 pm

@middlemamma wrote:Did you really pack the blocks?

I planted 75 seeds about a week ago in the 3/4 soil blocks and I have watered a few times, my blocks are holding together well. But I PACKED that sucker, pushed it hard on the bottom of the tray to make sure, then tried to press more dirt in a few times until it just would not hold another speck of soil.

+1 Forgot to mention that. Laughing

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  middlemamma on 4/16/2011, 10:07 pm

And I forgot to mention the water! LOL...So between the two of us I think we covered it all!!!

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  Lavender Debs on 4/16/2011, 11:05 pm

I'm new at this. I'm finding that 4 containers of dry mix (I call it dirt but it is the mix of sand, soil and peat +) and one container of water. I let it sit for a few minutes before I mix it together with my hands. It is like peanut butter, but the old fashioned kind, not Jiff.

I've not made the 3/4" blocks, just the 2", but I hand press extra mix into the blocker and press it in with the heal of my hand before leveling it with my fingers. They hold together.

I'm told that getting the right consistency is half the battle. The other half is getting the mold well packed. I cannot remember if I read this or was told, but it helps to have the mix one and one-half times as deep as the mold. Press the mold into this and give it a twist (or do what I do and press it in with your hand).

Deborah....hope that helps as much as the posts that came before this.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/16/2011, 11:14 pm

I did pack the mold, but I think my consistency might have been a little too watery. I didn't get the whole peanut butter thing tho, because mine just felt like wet dirt. Smile But I did have water oozing out of the mold, so it may have been too much.

I used a combination of potting soil (which had verm. and I think maybe perlite in it) and compost (from a bag) and peat. I'd like to try Johnny's seed starter and see how that compares.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  middlemamma on 4/16/2011, 11:16 pm

I used whatever generic seed starter they had at my local farm supply store...I don't think you have to spring for Johnny's and pay shipping. Smile

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Make Your Own Mix

Post  quiltbea on 4/17/2011, 12:36 am

You can make your own soil block mixture:
3 Qts Peat Moss
2 Tablespoons each green sand, phosphate rock and dried blood/blood meal
Mix together well
Add:
1 Qt Perlite
3 Qts Compost
Mix all together.

That's it. This is Eliot Coleman's own recipe for the soil block mix from his TV show some years ago.

The consistency of the soil is a strong factor in the blocks holding well. You have to push the block maker into the dampened mixture once and wiggle it around, than move it to another spot and wiggle it around so the blocks get well filled.

I use a spatula to smooth off the bottoms before I release them, so the blocks sit evenly and don't topple over.

Keep them damp so the seeds can germinate.

Most crops have different germination days:
broccoli 4-7, cabbage 5-7, cauliflower around 6, chives 7-14, lettuce 7-14, parsley up to 21, peas 14, peppers 6-8, spinach 7-14, squash 6-10, tomatoes 6-8, and so forth.

I water my 2" blocks from the bottom and don't have any trouble with them falling apart unless I knock off a corner with a label or my finger.




NHGardener.......If your blocks are falling apart and you're really worried, find some plastic soda bottles and cut off the tops and make pots for them, but add air-pruning vents. I pound a screwdriver thru the bottom for some drainage holes, then with scissors I cut a very narrow slit up from the bottom about half way. When the roots hit the air vents, they stop growing in a circle and stangling the plant.

Can you see the cuts in the bottle pots for my tomatoes last year?
I use 2-litre bottles for peppers, eggplant and tomatoes and 1-litre pots for smaller plants if I need to hold them over a little longer than expected.

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Are these seedlings healthy?

Post  NHGardener on 4/17/2011, 8:21 am

Okay, here's a photo of my seedlings as of this morning. I put them into the 2" blocks last night, and first planted the seeds 9 days ago. The bottom left 2 rows of photo are broccoli, the short row above the broccoli are the eggplant, the back entire row is peppers (which aren't as spindly), the tomatoes are the bottom right section. As you can see, they're falling over.



quiltbea, you have some excellent ideas, about modifying your planter cups so they are also open air. And I had wanted to follow Johnny's recipe for the starter mix, but "buckets" mixed with "1/3 cup" and reduced in size by about 10 for my few plants, just didn't compute in my mind. I have the bag of blood/bone meal unopened, as well as the greensand. AND the perlite I bought at the farm store, when I got home, I realized it had Miracle Gro mixed in it, and I think that's a no-no for SFG? But your recipe sounds much easier to follow.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  camprn on 4/17/2011, 9:35 am

How far away from your plants are your lights?

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  FarmerValerie on 4/17/2011, 9:44 am

This looks like the method that QuiltBea was talking about, although they are using the commercial block maker-the big expensive one.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2m8-hfhtDU

I was wondering, can you use MM for blocks?

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/17/2011, 9:49 am

@camprn wrote:How far away from your plants are your lights?

The light is pretty high up there. The heat mat is underneath, so I wasn't as concerned about the light. At night I cover them with another upside down tray and let them greenhouse for the night.

So you're saying maybe the light should be closer then? Or maybe there isn't enough light? That could very well be. Hmmm.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  camprn on 4/17/2011, 9:52 am

Yeah, the light should be about 2- 3 inches away from the top of the plants. The seedlings are getting leggy because they are reaching for the light. Since they have already sprouted, you may take away the heat mat.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/17/2011, 9:55 am

@camprn wrote:Yeah, the light should be about 2- 3 inches away from the top of the plants. The seedlings are getting leggy because they are reaching for the light. Since they have already sprouted, you may take away the heat mat.

Yikes! So glad this forum is here! I had no idea.

Do you think I can save the seedlings, or should I start over?

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  camprn on 4/17/2011, 10:02 am

If it was me, I would lower the light and try to save them, but I would also plant again as insurance. In the end, if it doesn't work, chalk it up to a learning experience and would but starts at a local greenhouse/nursery. Wink

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/17/2011, 10:09 am

@camprn wrote:If it was me, I would lower the light and try to save them, but I would also plant again as insurance. In the end, if it doesn't work, chalk it up to a learning experience and would but starts at a local greenhouse/nursery. Wink

That's excellent advice - I'll do that, I have extra soil and an extra tray and I can start with the 3/4" blocks. Altho I do hate to waste the seeds, but oh well.

Having to buy starts, even at a local nursery, would be a complete failure in my mind. Smile I spent so much time and anticipation picking out just the right heirloom/open pollinated seeds...

And at this point, who knows WHEN it will get warm enough to transplant outside. With a heat mat I just may have time to try another batch... but will keep the first batch in intensive care.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  quiltbea on 4/17/2011, 10:42 am

NH,
Just use half the ingredients for the block mix...1 1/2 qts, half a quart and 1 Tablespoons of the stuff.
You can surely use it all up. I mix mine in a kitty litter box I bought for the purpose. Its a great size. When I'm done, I leave it there for the next group of blocks. If I need the space, I pour the already-mixed into a spare large plant pot so its out of the way til needed. Or you can just put it in a plastic bucket and its all mixed for the next blocks you need to make. Sow cool weather seeds first and later you can sow the warm weather ones. They don't get started at the same time usually.

Your lights need to be only 1 1/2 to 2" from the top of your plants. They get spindly when the light is too far away. That seems to be your problem in that regard.
And don't leave the lights on all the time. Just for 14-16 hours a day. I turn mine on in the morning when I let out the dogs, around 7 a.m, and turn them off again around eleven when the dogs go out for the last time at nite.

My lights are in the furnace room on my quilting tables (where it stays pretty much 62-66* all the time) so I don't use a heat mat for them after they graduate into the 2" and larger pots. The heat mat is for my 3/4" blocks only until they germinate.

As for air pruning pots, I also make them from 16-0z plastic cups that I slit down the sides. Don't widen the slits. The pressure of the soil in the cups will widen them naturally. Four slits approx evenly around the cup from about midway up the cup to the very bottom. I don't put in any other drainage holes. The water will drain from the slits at the bottom edge. They are great for cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, herbs and other smaller plants. I fill the cup a bit more than halfway with good potting soil (bought by the bagful), then lay the 2" block in the middle, hold it steady while I fill up the rest of the pot with potting soil all around it. Then water it in. Stick a label in right away so you don't forget what you're growing. I use venetian blind slats I've cut down quite small and narrowed one end for sticking in the soil and any Sharpie marker. Heavy-duty chisel markers for the outdoors plant labels so the rain won't wash away the print.
[url=http://www.servimg.com/image_preview.php?i=596&u=15016226][/url
Can you see the slits in the sides of these broccoli and cabbage seedlings and the slat plant labels? Or you could just write on the side of the cups.

Keep trying. You'll get it.
hugs,
quiltbea

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  Lavender Debs on 4/17/2011, 11:16 am

How long does it take seeds to sprout with a heat mat? Just a couple of days? I would start over but the mommy in me would want to save the babies. They have a limited amount of energy to get started and it seems to make a difference to the final plant if they produce well or if they just poke along.

It sounds like everyone makes a different mix. It also sounds like you make it as you need it? Ray and I made a bunch of it on the day we were mixing MM on a tarp. I store it in a large tub on the back deck. When I want to start seeds I use a 1 quart yoghurt container to measure 4 scoops of mix to 3/4 scoop of rainwater in a dishpan.

This is the recipe I used to make the mix. We used part of 5 composts that we had just mixed for the compost. The recipe we followed came with the blocker. It did not call for green sand (rather rare on the west coast). We used a 5 gallon bucket for our measurement. (crum, the recipe isn't where I thought it was... I look for it but perhaps no one cares anyway) It was like a bucket of sand (we used contractor’s), a bucket of compost (I set aside a bucket of the mixed 5...and it might have been 3 buckets, I'll have to look), a bucket of garden soil (I used MM because I think the idea is to get your babies somewhat used to what they will grow in.... besides I have no garden soil) 3 buckets of peat, 2 cups of complete organic fertilizer (it has the killing meals, rock phosphate, etc already mixed together) and 1 cup of dolomite lime. We mixed it on a tarp and hefted it in to the tub. Quite convent to have it already when I want to plant.

Mine seems to do better when I sort of follow mm's (MM=Mel's Mix, mm=middlemomma) advice and start the seedlings in vermiculite. But I just fill the divot with fine vermiculite and sort of wish that I had the 3/4" block gadget for my 2" maker. I'd fill that hole with vermiculite and plant....but it works fine in the divot too.

Do most of you make a tub of dry ingredients at the start of the season and make blocks when you need them or do you just make what you need when you need it?

Deborah.....who thinks straight MM would spring apart too easily

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/17/2011, 11:17 am

quiltbea - If you're doing the soil blocks, why do you then also use the containers? Is it because they outgrow the 2" blocks before transplant time?

Wow. Those plastic cups are a great & easy method! I'm starting to think the blocks aren't that necessary.

I keep a chart on paper of just what each seedling is. Sticky labels on the cups would be a great idea too.

Okay, off to round two. Gardening is not intuitive to me (it wasn't to my mother either), but with practice one can overcome...

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  NHGardener on 4/17/2011, 11:21 am

Deborah - You make me wonder whether a 2" soil block, with the 3/4" part filled with plain vermiculite, would be a good seed starter material? That way they get to start in verm., but can shoot right down into soil when they're ready...

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  Lavender Debs on 4/17/2011, 11:23 am

I've been wondering the same thing and hope you try it for me before I spend the money!

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

Post  FarmerValerie on 4/17/2011, 11:30 am

I just watched a video on youtube and that is exactly what they put in the hole to cover the seeds, vermiculite.

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Re: My soil blocks keep falling apart

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