Homestead Update: Seeds Germinated!

About a week ago I made my soil cubes to start the first seeds of the season. Below you can see my “soil cube building station”. By the way, I use the Soil Cube by Clayton Jacobs and if you haven’t heard of them they are awesome! It is a little machine that uses hand power to make cubes out of soil. These can then be used as biodegradable pots for starting seeds that are themselves filled with nutrients.

Soil Cube Starting Station

Soil Cube Starting Station

 

 

Basically, I took a really big bucket and filled it half way with my soil mixture. Then I poured in some water from my rain barrel and hand mixed it into mud of a consistency such that it sticks together, but isn’t completely dripping wet. Next, I  put a board over the top of the bucket. Then I hand scooped my soil into the cube machine and used the board as a table to press the cubes out. This way any extra moisture and soil falls back into the bucket. Then using the tongs that came with the machine (I really used my hands, but this takes practice and I wasn’t moving them far) move them into a tray. I used roasting pans from the local grocery store and loved them. The ones I used were from a company called Eco-foil Roaster/Baker Pans found in the baking aisle at the grocery store. They bow at an angle forming high-sided bowls measured 11 3/4 in. x 9 3/8 in. x 2 5/16in.  The measurements make it perfect to fit 12 soil cubes very snugly. This makes watering them easily as it wicks up from the bottom. And they are made from 100% recycled aluminum. Best of all they were made in America by an American company. I don’t remember how much they were, but it was cheap and they came in 3 packs. I have used these for their intended purpose before and they work well as that too. ;) If you want one and they aren’t in your store you can order them at www.eco-foilpans.com  Below is a picture of what to look for…

 

Eco-Foil Pans

Eco-Foil Pans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: Someone mentioned to me the possibility of leaching Aluminum into the soil.  This is a very valid concern as it could inhibit root growth. However, it could be somewhat negated by layering the bottom of the pan with newspaper. Hopefully, that would filter out any microscopic Al particles from transferring into the soil during that time. Remember, this is only for starting the seeds, once they reach a certain height they are transferred outside either into a coldframe or directly into the bed.

I set up a seed starting station in my garage last year and have really got it down perfectly I feel. I was fortunate enough to already have a wire shelving unit built along the wall so I didn’t have to start completely from scratch. I will document it fully later (I think I did earlier and if so will link to it), but I can describe it and put a picture below.  I bought a cheap fluorescent light fixture from Home Depot that uses the long tubular bulbs. Then I cleared a shelf off the length of the light and hung it from the shelf above so it was facing downward. I took a thin silver mylar blanket and hung it as the roof and backing to reflect light and heat. Next, I hung two desk lamps upside-down from the bottom of the shelving unit so they faced upward. I put very low watt incandescent bulbs in those to provide heat from the bottom. NOTE: Only one of these lamps is on at a time. I alternate to heat up different sides every other day or every two days. I also coated the bottom with aluminum foil to help reflect heat and warmth. I put 5 trays width-wise side by side under the light and it fit perfectly.  I made side reflectors with more foil on top of cardboard. One side was left open for easy access. All of the lights were then wired to a surge protector and that was then put on a timer to provide 14 hours of light a day. Below is a picture of the entire setup…

 

 

My Seed Starting Station

My Seed Starting Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To start off the 2012 season I chose to fill the trays (in order left to right in the pictures) with:

 

sorry for the grainy iPhone pic ( I did 12 cubes per packet)

 

 

SO… as stated, I was able to fit 12 soil cubes (3 by4) very snugly. This worked perfectly because I was able to then use a pitcher of water to pour into the pan and let it wick up the cube without destroying it in the process. You do have to pack them in gingerly prior to watering, especially the last few.  At 12 cubes a tray with 5 trays, I was able to fit 60 cubes. The soil cube maker also forms an indention for the seeds to simply be placed into. Then a little bit of dirt is just dusted over top. Below is a picture of everything ready to go…

 

 

And guess what… It worked! I had seeds germinate in every cube in less than 7 days!

 

Until next time keep Making a Homestead, one day at a time!

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7 comments to Starting Seeds Indoors with Soil Cubes

  • Thanks for the post. So, what mix do you use in your soil cube maker?

    • Thank you for commenting Fritz. I am not very precise in my mixtures, but I usually do something like, 1/2 Peat Moss, 1/4 Potting Soil, 1/4 Compost hand mixed. I keep a pitcher of water and add to it as I mix it until I’m satisfied with the consistency.

  • Do the cubes stay separate and not have the roots all grow together?

    • I think it really depends on how long you leave the plants in the tray and what you are starting. For the most part roots tend to grow down more than horizontal. That being said there is definitely some root transfer, but not enough to be an issue as long as the cubes are pressed properly. Usually when it is transfer time I take the trays outside and gingerly pull them apart with my bare hands. Most roots separate without an issue, but I keep a sharp pair of garden shears nearby to snip the stubborn ones.

  • i’ve been using the original soil-block mkares all year.musta made over a thousand now! , this one seems to work fine but it’s kinda an inferior knock-off homemade version.. i’m also a furniture maker and at first did consider making my own,but for $30 to get the All-Metal 2 blocker it didnt really make sense to make one out of wood and plastic. take a look on youtube for them, it makes 4 blocks at a time for the small version, the 3/4 makes 20 at once for $20 or so. love em

  • Mey

    i’ve been using the original soil-block mearks all year.musta made over a thousand now! , this one seems to work fine but it’s kinda an inferior knock-off homemade version.. i’m also a furniture maker and at first did consider making my own,but for $30 to get the All-Metal 2 blocker it didnt really make sense to make one out of wood and plastic. take a look on youtube for them, it makes 4 blocks at a time for the small version, the 3/4 makes 20 at once for $20 or so. love em

    • I’ll have to check those out, I haven’t seen them before. One reason I like the soil cube maker though is I like helping out up and coming entrepreneurs when I can. I can definitely say though that the wood and plastic one really does hold up as I have been using mine for years. I’ll definitely follow up on that though. The idea of making 20 at once would be VERY helpful indeed.

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