The easiest and most adaptable seed starting system is the Ladbrooke soil blocker. With this ingenious device, you can make your own soil blocks and forever eliminate buying peat pots, which often cause your plants to become root bound and do not break down in the garden. A Ladbrooke soil blocker is a one-time investment and is quality made in England. Commercial growers use these to make millions of soil blocks year after year without any wear and tear. Simply keep your soil blocker clean, and it will become an heirloom to pass down through generations. There are cheap Chinese imitations, but they will only wear out quickly after they cause you much frustration.
The Advantages of Ladbrooke Soil Blockers
Ladbrooke soil blockers save time and space, since you will not need to clean seed starting trays or find
a place to store them. The soil blocker also eliminates purchasing seed starting trays which are made out of plastic, which will continue to become more and more expensive as oil prices rise. The 2 inch blocker is about the size of a Grape Nuts cereal box, and if you will only be purchasing one size, this is probably the correct size. Starting seeds out in this size of soil blocks will eliminate the need to transplant into a larger sized block or container, and the size of the soil block is appropriate for most vegetable seedlings. The Ladbrooke Mini 4 makes four 2 inch soil blocks at a time, and each block contains as much soil as a 4 inch plastic pot.
Soil blockers save money, simply buy the ingredients at any local nursery, and either make or buy well decomposed compost or worm castings. Big box and department stores may have these ingredients, but be wary of the quality, and be careful not to buy products with chemical ingredients. Quality ingredients make quality blocking soil which grows quality plants. Whether the soil blocks are transplanted into containers or the garden, the rich ingredients will improve soil quality, and nothing goes to waste.
Growing seedlings in soil blocks produces much stronger seedlings for several reasons. The seedlings’ roots have much more exposure to air since at least 5 sides are exposed to air. This naturally causes root pruning since when the roots reach air, they either turn around or temporarily stop growing. When you transplant the soil blocks into the garden or a container, they take off and grow very quickly. If the weather is not cooperating at planting time, seedlings grown in soil blocks can be held over much longer without damage than seedlings grown in containers. Soil blocks eliminate transplant shock, especially if you harden them off before planting out.
As long as the soil blocks are made properly, they are not nearly as delicate as they look. If the soil blocks will hold together right after you make them, they will generally hold together until it is time to transplant. After the seedlings’ fibrous roots spread throughout the block, the blocks become very durable. In Europe, selling plants in soil blocks is the norm, and one will rarely see plastic pots.
Soil Recipe for Ladbrooke Soil Blockers
There are many recipes for soil blocks, and this one is the one from Ladbrooke (measured by volume):
4 parts finely milled peat moss or 2 parts peat moss and 2 parts coco-peat, coco pith, or coco fiber
1 handful limestone or rock powder
Mix these well, then add:
1 part well-decomposed compost or worm castings worm castings.
1/8 part washed coarse sand, 1/8- to 1/16- inch diameter particle size
It is easiest to mix this in the same container that you will use to “charge” (fill) your blocker. A Rubbermaid tub or wheelbarrow work well. Mix the ingredients well, and remove any lumps or sticks since these will cause your soil blocks to break.
Water with one part water per three parts soilless mix. If you have chlorinated water, let it sit out for a few hours or overnight so that the chlorine can dissipate.
Let the mix sit for an hour so that the peat moss can absorb as much water as possible. This step is critical for making the mix correctly since peat moss sheds water and takes a while to become thoroughly saturated. Skipping this step can cause your soil blocks to dry out prematurely after you have planted your seeds. When the mix is ready, it will resemble oatmeal or peanut butter, and when you squeeze a lump of it, a little water will come out but the lump will stay intact.
To make the blocks, firmly press the soil blocker into the soilless mix three or four times using a twisting motion. Remove the soil blocker from the soilless mix using a twisting motion, otherwise the section created will pull the bottom part out of the soil block. Place the soil blocker on the spot where you would like to discharge the blocks and push the handle down while drawing the soil blocker straight up.
If possible, discharge the soil blocks directly into the container where you would like them to grow. If necessary, you can move them, but leave a 1/8 inch gap in between. Depending on how you would like to water, you can use anything as a container, whether it has a mesh bottom, a bottom with holes in it, or a solid bottom. You can use recycled growers flats, food containers, plywood, wooden boxes, food trays, wooden boards, or anything else that you have.
If you prefer to water from overhead with a sprayer, any type of tray will work.
If you prefer to bottom water, which keeps the seedlings dry and less prone to diseases such as damping off, you can use a tray with holes in the bottom and place it inside of a tray with a solid bottom so that you can lift the seedlings out once they have absorbed enough water.
If you would like to bottom water and you are careful about how much water you put in, a tray with a solid bottom will work.
Dip the soil blocker in a container of clean water and depressed the handle to clean it. Change the water as often as necessary.
The dribble, or dowel, leaves a depression to plant the seed. Use only one seed per block since germination is excellent in seed blocks. For small seeds, pour a few seeds onto a small plate and use a sharp pencil dipped in water to attract one seed at a time, and carefully touch it to the center of the soil block, which will attract the seed away from the pencil.
There is no need to cover small seeds, but a thin dusting of soil mix is beneficial for larger seeds. Once the seeds germinate, run a fan on low oscillating mode. Keep the soil blocks evenly moist at all times.
Harden off your seedlings for a week or two before you plan to transplant them by placing them outside in a shady area for a few days and then moving them into more sun for a few days. Water the soil blocks well before you transplant them, and then water the soil and the transplants to eliminate air pockets in the soil after you transplant.
Seed Starter Soil Block Long Dribble 1 Set of Four
Seed Starter Soil Block Insert Set of 4
Transplants in soil blocks booklet
Open mesh bottom trays to start seedlings.