Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Soil Blocking 101

Soil Blockers 02

One of the first things I learned on the farm was a little thing called soil blocking. Basically, it involves mixing up a good batch of soil and arranging said soil into nice little cubes on a tray. Then ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, you've got trays of neatly arranged soil ready for seeding. Here's my step-by-step breakdown of soil blocking:

1) Find your soil blocking gadgets. They kind of look like the love child of a pogo stick and a cookie cutter.

Soil Blockers 01

2) Mix your soil. This involves peat moss, vermiculite, hot water, lots of cold water, and a top secret combination of fancy nutrients. I'd tell you the combination, but then I'd have to kill you.

Mixing Soil

3) When you're mixing your soil, make sure it turns the right colour. If it's too dry, it's a light brown. If it's too wet, it's really dark, muddy, and hard to turn over with a shovel. If it's orange or purple, you're in big trouble.

Mixed Soil

4) Stab your soil blocker into the soil mix. Then give it a twist, pull it out, and make sure it's packed tight with soil. You will get dirt splatter on your clothes and face. This is all part of the soil blocking charm.

Soil Blocking

5) Release the soil from the soil blocker and onto a tray. This works kind of like one of those cookie cutters with a spring on top. It's a delicate art, but after a few tries you get the hang of it.

Starting a Tray

6) Repeat until the tray is full. We have soil blockers that do sets of 4, 12, and 20. The goal is to get as many blocks as possible onto a tray. Apprentice Jill is especially good at this. She also holds the record for most completed trays of soil blocks in a morning - 24 trays in 4 hours, or something crazy like that.

Finished Tray

7) Seed those bad boys! Pop a single seed into all those tiny holes and try to do it quickly and efficiently. Below are some nice, big beet seeds, but sometimes you've got to deal with something tiny and annoying like lettuce or purslane. If you double seed a block, Farmer Brock cuts off one of your toes. Once you're out of toes, he goes for your non-dominant/non-seeding hand fingers.


8) Pinch a little dirt on top of those seeds and drop them off in a greenhouse. With careful watering, sheltering, and the occasional bedtime story, hopefully they turn into healthy starts like the ones you see below.

Trays of Starts

9) Repeat until your back hurts. Piece of cake, right?


  1. Love it! Do these go right in the ground? You doing all veggies?

  2. Yup - once the fields dry out (we've been getting tons of rain), all those starts will go into the ground. We're doing mostly veggies and some flowers.

  3. We've mainly been planting dahlias lately, but eventually we'll be doing some sunflowers and other stuff. And we're planting some edible flowers for that chef!

  4. step 10) do situps later so your back doesn't hurt so much