February 25, 2009: EZ Does It Sooper Dooper Soil Blocker

Yesterday, on the Square Foot Gardening forum on GardenWeb, the blogger at John's Journal was showing off some of the soil blocks he'd made with his home made soil block maker. I was kind of kidding around and told of an experiment I wanted to do......John said "Use your imagination and give it a try". So I did.

I wanted to make multiple small soil blocks at a time, and I thought an ice cube tray would be just the thing I needed. I also needed something small, round and hard to make the indented area in the center for holding the seed. John had suggested small round beads, but I didn't have any of those handy. Hmmmm...what looks like a small round bead, that I have right here in the house?

Frozen peas!

Now I needed a good soiless mix with which to fill them. I had a partial bag of seed starting mix, and some peat blend potting mix that I'd combined for repotting the tomato plants last week, so I poured some of it into a bowl and added warm water until it was the consistency of oatmeal.

I carefully dropped just a bit of the mix into each compartment. Just enough to cover the peas and hopefully keep them from moving.

Then I packed the mix into the tray just as tightly as I could press it in. I think I had it a bit too wet, as the water was squishing out over the top, so I took it to the sink and carefully pressed out some of the excess water. When I felt it was sufficiently moist, but not too wet, I placed it into the freezer for several hours.

When the blocks had frozen solid, I submerged the bottom of the tray in hot water for a few seconds, just to loosen the blocks enough to pop them out. I placed them on a small tray, and took a paring knife to scoop the peas out of the centers. Most of the peas had stayed in place, only 2-3 were off center.

I let the still-frozen blocks sit for a few minutes, then removed any leftover pea that was showing, and they came out much easier than with the solidly frozen cube.

I left the tray of blocks on the counter overnight to thaw and dry out a bit. This morning they were still very wet, but held together beautifully when I picked them up.

I'd consider the experiment successful! I'll probably use this method to make small blocks for starting things like lettuce, that can go straight to the garden in them. I do think I have some old trays with square compartments, rather than the rectangular ones like this one had. I'll use the larger block maker that John made for me for larger vegetables like tomatoes.

We don't have an ice maker in our refrigerator down here, and Mr. H wasn't real happy that I used his ice cube tray to make soil blocks! I told him just to be sure he didn't use them in his evening bourbon and cola *grin*.


Yesterday I was cutting some dry leaves from the bottoms of my two little cucumber plants. these cucumbers had been planted in a large pot last November, and never did grow into anything worthwhile. The tallest is probably around a foot high, neither looks terribly healthy, but I didn't have the heart to dispose of them. Well, wouldn't you know. While I was removing a leaf, I found a cucumber! It wasn't very big, about the size of a tennis bal, but it was definitely ripe. It will be my one and only cucumber from these plants, as there aren't any others that will mature by the time we leave for Washington. But I can't say they were a failure, can I? I actually got a harvest from them, even though it was only two ounces!

I got another cutting from the little salad garden yesterday. Every week it is an ounce more than the previous week, and this time it put my total harvest over the one pound mark! And Mr. H said it would never grow. I should get about two more cuttings of lettuce and spinach before we leave, and we might get a small meal of beets. I felt under the dirt, and the beets seem to be about the size of a quarter now. I'll give them ten more days, then pull them and see if they are large enough to fool with. I will weigh them into the harvest total regardless, as the greens and tiny roots will be edible. we don't care much for beet greens, but I have a neighbor who will gladly take them.


  1. That is ingenious :> What a great way to start your lettuce.

  2. Granny, that is "wicked cool". I'm often amazed at things you come up with...Like the guy in the guiness commercial says.. "brilliant!"

    BTW, I didn't realize that John's name was "the blogger over at John's Journal" Ha!


  3. Daphne, I think it would make Frugal Girl proud! And it was so easy and fun, just playing in the mud.

    EG, I'll probably catch it from John for calling him that!

  4. Brilliant solution for making soil blocks without a soil blocker! I might give that a try when I get around to the next batch of lettuce starts. But poor Mr. Granny with his gritty bourbon. (Oh noze!)

    ...and congrats on your fat cute little cuc.

  5. Great job Granny, now if you could swipe some ice cubes from Mr. H, put them in ½ pint Tupperware containers in place of the peas fill with soil and freeze. When the large blocks thawed and the ice cube melted, it would drain down into the large block giving you a perfect fit receptor for transplanting your mini blocks. You would have to put the pea on top of the mini block though so the bottom end was the small end.

    p.s. I have been called much worce than that :o)

  6. Sinfonian on my blackberry here: Great post. Ain't soil blocks fun? Great idea to freeze them. Were you planning on leaving some in the freezer to pull out when you replant? I can't remember.

    Funny looking cuke. Did you get many blooms? Females? I hand pollinated mine. Helped tons! Of course, cukes are a summer crop, and likely don't like cool nights.

    Bravo all around Granny!

  7. Just Jenn, Mr. H accused me of putting cow poop in his ice cube trays! I told him it was peat moss, which is so sterile it can be used to dress wounds, and he calmed down a bit. Not that cow poop would hurt him once it was drowned in bourbon ;-)

    John, I am waiting to see how hard these get when they are dried. I have them out in the sun right now. I suspect I could use one of these small blocks in a larger container to form the "well" in the big block, or even cut out one of the plastic cubes from the ice tray to use for the indentation. I think the trays with the square compartments might be straight sided, so it wouldn't matter which was up or which was down.

    Sinfonian, I'm just playing with these. They will get crumbled back into the bag of potting mix when I get through experimenting. I just don't have the room to take them back with us, so I'll make them once I get home. Yes, leaving them in the freezer would be a good thing. It would let me make them in advance without having them dry out.

    The cuke was way at the bottom, and I had only seen one tiny blossom, with a little cuke forming behind it. That one is still there, but it hasn't grown a bit in two weeks. I'm sure the other one was small and round because it was trapped under the leaves, between the leaf and the ground. It's a Spacemaster cucumber, so in normal growing conditions should be long and quite large. But we had two or three weeks of freezing/near freezing nights. It still gets into the low 40s.

  8. Love your use of ice cube trays! They are so handy, for so many different purposes! I used to use them to freeze small portions of baby food back in the day. :)

  9. Mommyamy, I did that too, WAY back in the day...like 35 years ago! I also like them for cubes of chicken stock, cubes of tomato paste (so many times I don't need the entire can) and especially cubes of fresh lemon juice. I squeeze and freeze the juice from the lemons and toss the cubes in a bag. I grate the rind and put that in a small plastic bag with the juice cubes....easy lemon pie ingredients!

  10. Good thinking with the ice cube trays. They would be a good size to start peas in before transplant too. Cool little cucumber, I think your gardening efforts this winter have been well worth it.

  11. Dan, only a true gardener would think all the time and effort I put into raising a crop that weighed slightly over a pound was actually worth it! It's a good thing we can count the fun of it as being of worth.

  12. Granny, you are truly a girl after my own heart. My hubby is convinced I am totally nuts, too, and isn't all that supportive of my efforts, either. I've come up with a few questionable ideas myself, and believe in just jumping in to see what happens.
    If it doesn't work, I haven't lost much, but if it does, I can give DH the old Bronx cheer and say "I told you so!" That can be so satisfying...

  13. SB158, Mr. H has kept this nutty old lady around for nearly 47 years now...I think he's beginning to get used to me ;-)

    I absolutely love "I told you so"....as long as it's coming from MY lips!

  14. Granny, the mad gardening scientist. I just love it when you can find a new use for something laying around the house. A++

  15. Mwa-ha-ha Cheryl...thanks for the good grade! I was quite proud of myself :-D

  16. Ohh, good job! Very creative of you.

  17. Do you have a Hot Glue Gun? I haven't tried it myself but that hot glue plastic seems to stick to everything. I wonder if you could use the hot glue to put a big dab in the center of each ice cube compartment to act as your seed hole. Then when to twist out the blocks the glue will stay in the tray and the blocks would fall out with a hole you wouldn't have to dig out the peas from. I just got a mini ice cube tray and I might try that and get back to you on the results.

    1. Valeria, I made a new small block maker out of a medicine bottle, so I no longer have to use the ice cube tray. That was a makeshift "invention" while I was down in AZ. Good luck with the glue gun idea, and do let me know how it works!

  18. Great idea, i will try that . You could stick a bead to the bottom and put few holes in the bottom of each cube to squeeze out water.

  19. Thanks for sharing nice information about square ice cube tray with us. i glad to read this post.