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Brownie pan soil blocks for seed starting

This year I thought I’d try out soil blocks for seed starting. I’ve tried the peat pots, but the the outer wrapping needs to be removed for planting (it doesn’t decompose, at least in my northerly climate). I tried making cardboard pots, but they ended up going mouldy. And I really don’t like the plastic ones — they just feel cheap and flimsy and don’t last long.

I put out a call on the GardenFork Discussion Group and got some quick responses. Erin, The Impatient Gardener, sent me to a post about her experiences with them and Dave, from Clean Slate farms, posted a video that he did about his experiences with them. Though it looked good the price of the unit was a lot more than I wanted to spend!

I happened to be going to a thrift store that day to drop off some stuff and decided to look around. For $5 I came back with a lot of things (& ideas!).

One of the important things about soil blocks is getting just the right mix that will stay together on its own without a pot. Everyone seems to have their own special blend so its hard to know where to start. Before going out to buy a bunch of ingredients I thought I’d just try what I had first — and surprisingly, it worked!

I looked at the bag later and noticed it has most of the ingredients everyone says you need (but of course I don’t know the ratios).

I found that the instruction Dave gave for wetness of the mix to be a good guide. In his video he says to leave for 5 minutes but I find leaving overnight to be better. I found it best to do 6 parts soil to 3 parts hot water the night before, then add more (up to 1 part) the next morning until its really wet. I don’t know if the hot water is necessary but it sure seems to mix nicer (and feel better on the hands!)

To make them its just a matter of packing it in as well as you can. I found putting a layer over the pan, then packing, then adding more, packing, and maybe even again was best. They’re done when you can squeeze a bit of water out when packing.

After that its just a matter of popping the outer shell off and slowly pulling the cutter up while pushing them down. They don’t all work but its no big deal — they just go back in the bucket and go into the next ones.

I originally got into this a few weeks ago and didn’t have any seeds to start so I thought I’d experiment with them and see how they held up. I’ve been able to water the pans from below without them falling apart. I’ve let them dry down and been able to re-hydrate them. And I’ve left them saturated with water in the bottom for days without mould growing. All that’s left is to put some seeds in and see what happens!

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