Many Gardeners Use Modules For Starting Seeds. But Commercial Growers Use Automated Soil Blocking & Seeding Machines Without the Module. It Makes For Faster Planting & Saves Money As I Explain Here.
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In the garden I grow a handful of this and a handful of that. But when I grew commercially a sowing of say lettuce was never to grow fewer than 6,000 plants. And on occasion I’d produce 100,000 plants at a time by using an Automated Soil Blocking & Seeding Machine.
A typical spring saw 100,000 lettuce under glass and plastic plus another 100,000 outdoors. We staggered crops by growing different types and varieties and outside covered some with fleece to advance their harvest day by a week or so.
Immediately after we harvested spring lettuce under glass we planted tomatoes, 10,000 of them. And under polytunnels we’d plant thousands of peppers and chillis (I liked peppers and chillis as they require very little work and can be harvested once a week). And over the full season we grew half a million lettuce. We propagated lettuce every week in sporing summer and autumn, and every winter month.
It sounds like we were a big outfit, growing this many plants. But we weren’t that big. I had neighbours that grew far more than me.
I’m often asked how we managed to propagate so many plants. The answer is easy. I automated wherever I could.
How to Grow 100,000 – 500,000 Lettuce Seedlings The Easy Way
There is no way I could have filled thousands of module trays with compost and seeded them all. What we did was to automate the process without using modules or seed trays. We produce a compressed soil & compost block that didn’t need a module to hold it in place and the following video shows a similar system to the one I used.
Mine was slightly different, with a bit less automation, but its essentially the same.
The Automated Soil Blocking Sysgtem
The process is very simple.
Moist compost is moved along a conveyor and stamped with a die to produce what looks like a large chocolate bar of compost blocks. A depression is made in the middle of each block into which a seed is placed. The chocolate bar of seeded blocks is then put in a tray and moved to a greenhouse to germinate and grow prior to planting out.
It’s that simple.
In my own case we removed the chocolate bar of blocks from their conveyor with a long tined “fork” and placed them in the tray manually. In the video a machine does it.
And in the video they are seeding with pelleted seed. I used natural seed and seeded by hand. It sounds laborious, and in a sense it is. But with a good system we could each seed 1000 blocks an hour by hand. It requires concentration and good eye and hand coordination but can be done. Practice makes perfect.
The reason I didn’t use pelleted seed is that it cost around £5 a thousand more than natural seed and it made economic sense to work by hand at my scale of operation.
Here’s the video .. Click to view it.
Small Scale Hand Made Blocks
Various hand blocking machine, costing from around £25, are available online. They produce four blocks at a time. I’ve not used them so cannot recommend them. I did however, many years ago, make a similar machine that produced 40 hand made blocks
Tag: Soil Blocking
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