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About five years ago, I started doing soil blocks for the majority of my seeds. I use Eliot Coleman’s recipe. This recipe can be used for both soil blocking and regular seed starting in any other container. Because the recipe belongs to Eliot Coleman, I have not posted ratios on my blog. However, the full recipe can be found and printed from a pdf on Johnny’ Seeds website HERE. Johnny’s Seeds and Eliot Coleman collaborate on many projects (They make a lot of the tools he talks about in the book!).
I also highly recommend his book, The New Organic Grower, which has the soil block recipe noted above and a mini block recipe. The book is worth it just for the soil block recipes. In addition to that Eliot Coleman is a gardening genius and it has tons of other gems in the book as well.
Even though I’m not sharing ratios, I wanted to share the ingredients with you and how I put it together as a home gardener. I’ve learned some extra tips from experience and I’m sharing them with you here.
Sifted Peat Moss
Perlite or Coarse Sand
Organic Fertilizer: Blood Meal, Bone Meal or Rock Phosphate, and Greensand
Sifted Garden Soil (Psst, UPDATE… I’ve omitted this ingredient in my mix. I add extra compost instead)
The trick with the soil block mix is to sift almost everything through a screen. You don’t want big chunks ending up in your mix because seeds will not germinate as well in it.
A few years ago, I had Cameron build me a soil sifter for the purpose of creating the soil blocker mix. It’s 2x4’s formed together in a square with 1/4 inch hardware screen stapled around the edges.
I start by pouring the peat moss onto the sifter little by little. You don’t want a ton on there because the bottom will get crowded with the larger pieces and it will be harder to shake the small particles through. The peat moss I get is so compacted I usually have to break up some of the chunks with my hands prior to sifting.
The sifter gets set on a storage bin, because as I mentioned earlier, it is heavy! Then your shake it back and forth and get a good arm workout. Or you can just run your hands through it.
The large pieces (above) get reused and dumped in a garden bed that needs it. Here in Arkansas, we have heavy clay soil and those large peat chunks are a welcome addition.
Left in the storage bin is the good stuff you keep and use for the mix.
I continue to sift in small batches until it looks like I have enough. Then I measure it out to the correct ratio and dump it on a tarp. One time I tried to just mix it in a wheelbarrow. I added each ingredient but by the time I got to the end it was so full I didn’t have the leverage to mix it thoroughly. I tried to carefully stir and still spilled a bunch on the ground. Lesson learned, just use a tarp. It is the best way to mix thoroughly no matter how large your amount of soil.
Another little tip: Be sure to secure your tarp by putting some kind of weights on the corners. I just use rocks usually. It seems obvious but it’s another lesson I learned the hard way.
After you’ve measured out the peat moss, add pulverized lime and mix thoroughly. Lime balances out the acidity of the peat moss.
I just use my hands and arms to mix. It seems to work better than a shovel and it also feels really nice :)
Once that is all mixed, then you add perlite or coarse sand. I’ve used coarse sand in the past. It worked well enough but I found the perlite was a little better at creating the space the roots of my seedlings needed to grow.
Another tip, buy this brand of perlite from Home Depot if you have one near you. This perlite is Organic garden approved and much cheaper than the Miracle Gro brand Perlite you’ll find at other stores. Also, did you know Miracle Gro Perlite has added chemical fertilizers? I did not until recently. Consequently, I was happy to find this alternative!
No sifting of the perlite is needed just measure and add straight to the pile.
Then you measure out fertilizer. I use blood meal (Nitrogen), Bone Meal (Phosphorus), and Green Sand (Potassium and minerals).
After the perlite and fertilizer are added do another mix with your hands or a shovel.
Next I sift compost, then garden soil, using the same method. I measure and the correct amount gets poured on the tarp with the existing pile.
Can you see how the pile just grows and grows? The last step is one final mix together.
After it’s all mixed it goes in a storage container. A key here: do not put on the lid all the way. I’ve learned from experience that is a great way to get mold growing on the top. I leave the lid slightly ajar and put it in my shed or garage until it’s time to use it. Personally, I think it’s best not to let the mix heat up. If your garage or shed get hot during the day, I would store it indoors.
Eliot Coleman recommends using the soil mix right away. However, as a home gardener I don’t end up using it all at once. I like having it ready to go for when I need it. I haven’t had any problems storing it for a while before use.
Above its an overview sequence of the steps I described above!
SOURCES FOR INGREDIENTS:
While it’s getting more common to see organic fertilizers like blood and bone meal in local big box stores, some of these ingredients are hard to find. Below is where I got mine.
*Please keep in mind, most of these sources are bulk. You do need bulk Peat Moss and Perlite for this recipe. You don’t need bulk fertilizers. I tried to include some sources for smaller sizes too.
Blood Meal- GrowOrganic.com 50lbs. They also sell it in 25lbs. Nitrogen is a fertilizer that you want in bulk. I don’t just use this for my seeds, I use it in my garden too. A good price for small size, 3lbs, HERE.
Colloidal Rock Phosphate- GrowOrganic.com 50lbs, this is a killer price. Last year I bought Bone Meal at Lowes (smaller amount) as a substitute. I had to buy locally because I was in a pinch and needed it quick. Be mindful of the fact that phosphate sticks around in your soil a long time. If your garden soil test shows your soil is already high in phosphate I would by the small bag because it will be plenty for the DIY Seed Soil Mix.
Compost - I make my own. However, if you do need to go out and buy some, I recommend finding a local source of certified compost.
Garden Soil- Just take a bucket full right out of your garden. No garden yet? My first year I went in the woods and dug some soil from under the trees. It was a beautiful mix of broken down leaf matter and soil. Worked like a charm.
Groworganic.com occasionally has coupons they send if your on the email list. If you can hold out until they have one, you can get an even better deal.
ONE BIG CAVEAT!
Making my soil mix this way is much cheaper and I know exactly what goes into it. However, if you are only going to make one batch and not use up the rest of the ingredients over the years, this may not be cost effective.
There is an alternative soil mix that can be purchased that is a very similar mix to Eliot Coleman’s soil block recipe. It is Johnny’s 512 mix. Found HERE.
Be sure to factor in shipping. For me, it would have been $78 for one bag (60 quarts) including shipping and tax. Yikes. I think its cheaper if you live closer to Maine.
They have another option for 20 quarts for $15. Shipping price to my state plus product was $35. 20 quart bag is found HERE
*By the way, using the original recipe by Eliot Coleman makes about 2 bushels or about 72 quarts.
Coming in future post, I will give a tutorial on the soil blocker!