Down on the Urban Farm

Now that the first summer planting flush is over, it’s time to get started on the second round of planting. Folks often ask us why is our small garden so productive. One of the main reasons is we have successful succession plantings. When one crop goes out, another one comes in.

It was pretty hot out the other day; but Justin had the right idea. He was in the shade making soil blocks – over 1,ooo of them! He’s a pro soil blocker, whipping out dozens in just a few seconds. Thump, thump, thump.

What will Justin be planting in the soil blocks?

Another batch of summer squash, assorted greens and basil (can never have enough basil!).

If you’d like to have some fun in the garden and whip up some of these babies yourself, here’s how:

The Tools

Soil Block Maker (buy online)–spring-loaded tool that shapes and ejects four 1-3⁄4-in. cubes of compressed potting mixture. We’ve had ours for nearly 18 years and it’s still cranking out thousands of soil blocks every year – best garden tool investment we’ve made! Heck, I imagine that thing’s made over 50,000 soil blocks (that’s a conservative estimate!).

Oh yeah, and you can get the nifty Garden Hat that Justin’s wearing on our online store too! We find the this hat very durable and great at keeping the summer sun at bay.

Ok, back to the soil blocks

How To

Using a soil blocker has a lot of advantages – saves money and is eco friendly. For one, it’s a much cheaper way to start seedlings. What’s more, you can prepare your very own compost-based soil block mix – another savings! The savings just don’t stop there – no more plastic or peat pots!


An ideal soil mixture must be fibrous enough to hold together through many waterings – Basic Soil Mix Recipe ( you can definitely modify)

Make a slurry of soil and water, mix well in a large tray (concrete mixing tray works well). Add one part water to every three parts soil mix. Tip: Let the mixture soak overnight.

Punching Out

Now the fun begins. Your mixture should be nice and moist. It’s better for it to be on the wet side; if it’s too dry, your blocks will crumble as they’re punched out. Excess water will be pressed out in the blocking process.

Plunge the blocker into the mixture, twisting down as you push so the blocker will be as full as possible. Pick up the blocker, if the cubes need more soil use your fingers to add more. Make sure each cube is filled tightly by pressing it against the palm of your hand. It is important for the blocker to be firmly packed with soil.

Scrape off any extra soil from the bottom of the blocker, and set the blocker in whatever container you’re using. Now, punch out your blocks. Easey, peasey

Sowing Seeds

We seed all my crops this way except for root crops like turnips, beets and carrots. Root crops don’t do well in soil blocks because of their long roots.

Place the trays and remember to KEEP THE BLOCKS MOIST at all times.


For best results, plant your seedlings outdoors as soon as roots appear. Since the soil blocks retain water better than peat pots or pellets, no special care is needed after planting.

Now that you have the low down on soil blocks, go forth and plant.

Happy sowing, blocking and growing!

:: Supplies ::

Soil Block Maker (buy online)


  1. Bob says:

    Do you use a special mix of soil or compost for the blocks ? Could you share basic soil ingredients for the blocks?

    • Bob says:


      OOOPS !
      I as the song says can see clearly Now . slow witted speed reader I am. 🙂

      • Anais says:

        @Bob: Glad you found the link!

  2. Laura says:

    We usually start seedlings inside during the early spring. I wonder if the blocks would be a bit messy for bringing the seedlines inside? We were just talking about straw hats the other day. We seem to be missing the ones we had and think it would be nice to dip them in water to keep cool while working in the garden.

    • Anais says:

      @Laura: You can put the soil blocks on shallow trays. Any of our readers tried soil block sowing indoors, care to share your experience. These straw hats are wonderful, very sturdy and “Farmer Justin” tried and approved. 😉

  3. Sandra says:

    Thank you for this. I was just wonder if it was too late to start some more summer squash seedlings. Our first round doesn’t seem to be doing so well – I blame it on this weird Los Angeles weather we’re having.

    • Anais says:

      @Sandra: Not too late to start a second batch of squash. Yep, the weather’s been weird alright. Almost July 4th and still wearing sweaters in the morning and evening! Happy sowing!

  4. Turling says:

    I was wondering how those things worked. Nice overview. I might have to purchase on of those soil block makers.

    • Anais says:

      @Turling: Glad you found the post informative. We LOVE ours. I know I already said that. 😉

  5. Stacy says:

    I’m wondering how this is different than simply using compacted soil in the seed trays. It must be there is a benefit to the squares?

    On a side note… I’ve been enjoying the photos of the building of the cob oven. Is there a blog discussing it on your site?

    Thanks! Thanks for the time you take to share all that you do. Blessings to you!

    • Stacy says:

      After posting my question about the soil blocks, I ran across a very informative article in “Hobby Farms” magazine (Mar/Apr 2008) called “Soil Blocks …for transplanting success”. It explained the benefits of using a soil blocker. Great article and a handy tool to be sure. I was looking for a way to cut down on having to buy seed starter cups. I’m looking forward to owning one of these tools!

  6. Tammy in Alabama says:

    I may have missed it somewhere, but could you share more about the garden beds–what are the beds built with, how high, etc. Also, do you use the same mix in the beds as for potting?
    Thanks for your site. I learn something new every time I visit.

    • Anais says:

      @Tammy in Alabama: No we don’t use the same soil block soil mix in our raised beds. That recipe is for starting seeds. Our raised bed soil comprises mainly of our homegrown soil – manure from our critters, worm castings from our worms and compost from our assorted lot of composters here on the urban homestead. To that soil we mix a bit of minerals and EM (effective microorganism) The raised beds are a typical 4′ x 8 ‘ and about 1 1/2 ft high. We’ve used a variety of wood over the years to make the raised beds – from plywood to wood that we found from a construction site. Right now we are using douglas fir.

  7. Brigitte says:

    Hi, I was just looking at your recipe for a soil mix. I don’t know how this is in America but in Europe the use of peat is bad for the invironment, we are recommended to use coco-peat instead, which is made of coconut fiber. Do you have experience with that?

  8. Scott Hill says:

    Are you removing your spring planted crops as they produce less and replating in the same space? Or are you starting your second round of crops in new beds and still taking produse from the spring planted crops?

    • Anais says:

      @Scott Hill: We have a print out of the raised beds and we keep track what we planted and when. We try to rotate as best we can, each year planting something different in the beds. Yes we are removing the spring crops, simply because they are ready to harvest and eat! Actually we are starting our second round of SUMMER crops like beans, cucumbers, squash and lots of greens

  9. KClowlife says:


    I see that you’re placing the blocks into a plastic tray of some sort that appears to fit the width of your tool almost exactly. Can you share where you found or purchased the trays?

    Also, I live in Kansas City and can’t enjoy the climate that y’all do. So for my cool season crops I must start them for up to 6 weeks indoor in the winter and again in the summer. Do you think the blocks might start breaking up if they were exposed to the air for that long a period of time? I typically mist or water them in the morning and evening.


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