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Chelsea Green - Page 2 of 422 - The Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living. : Chelsea Green

Growing and Marketing Organic Medicinal Herbs

April 29th, 2015 by admin

In the United States, the herbal medicine industry has exploded over the last twenty years, but many of the herbs used are imported rather than grown domestically. In their new book, experienced small-scale herb farmers Jeff and Melanie Carpenter offer tips on how farmers, and other small-scale growers, can get started in the profitable world of growing organic medicinal herbs.

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer is both a business guide and farming manual that teaches readers how to successfully grow and market organic medicinal herbs. The Carpenters cover the basic practical information any grower needs to get an organic herb farm up and running, including size and scale considerations, soil and plant conservation, growing and cultivation methods, harvesting, processing, business planning, and much more. The book also includes fifty detailed plant profiles, going deeper into the herbs that every farmer should consider growing—from the more common peppermint, lavender, and echinacea plants to the less familiar elderberry, arnica, angelica, and calendula.

Rosemary Gladstar, prominent herbalist and author—fondly known as the fairy godmother of western herbalism—believes this book is a vital and important resource for farmers. In her foreword she writes, “It carries a hopeful and pertinent message, provides detailed information and innovative tools and suggestions, and offers a roadway to success for the small family farm.”

The Carpenters demonstrate that incorporating medicinal herbs into existing farm operations can not only increase revenue in the form of value-added products, but also improve the ecological health of farmland by encouraging biodiversity and permaculture as a path toward greater soil health. Check out the videos below to hear more from the authors themselves about their herb farming operation and their mission to be stewards of the land and safeguard the tradition of farming for future generations.



Spring Cleaning Sale: Time is Running out!

April 27th, 2015 by admin

Don’t forget to soak up the savings as you dig into spring. There is just one week left to save big on select Chelsea Green books.

Through May 3rd we’re having a Spring Cleaning Sale to make room for our forthcoming Spring releases. But hurry it is only while supplies last!

As always, we offer FREE shipping on orders of $100 or more.

Happy reading from your budget-conscious friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 3, 2015

~ ~ Deep Savings: $9.99 – $14.99 Books  ~ ~
The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat (with CD)
Retail: $49.95
Sale: $14.99
Desert or Paradise
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $9.99
Home Baked
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $9.99
Adobe Homes for All Climates
Retail: $34.95
Sale: $9.99
Death and Sex
Retail: $25.00
Sale: $9.99
The Raw Milk Revolution
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $9.99
Taste, Memory
Retail: $17.95
Sale: $9.99
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $9.99

~ ~ Deeper Savings: $4.99 Books  ~ ~
A Sanctuary of Trees
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $4.99
Wild Flavors
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $4.99
Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares
Retail: $17.95
Sale: $4.99
Raising Dough
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $4.99

View All 4.99 Books

~ ~ Deepest Savings: $1.99 Books  ~ ~
Compost, Vermicompost, and Compost Tea
Retail: $12.95
Sale: $1.99
Growing Healthy Vegetable Crops
Retail: $12.95
Sale: $1.99
Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping
Retail: $12.95
Sale: $1.99
Whole-Farm Planning
Retail: $12.95
Sale: $1.99

View All 1.99 Books

~ ~ New Releases  ~ ~

The Seed Garden The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer Altered Genes, Twisted Truth Community Scale Permaculture Farm

View all books on sale

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 3, 2015

RECIPE: Veggie Mandala with Chervil Aioli Sauce

April 23rd, 2015 by admin

With the birth of spring comes its profusion of gifts—the warm sun, higher temperatures, and (best of all) fertile soil. With each day, more colors seem to burst forth—both in nature and on our plates.

This is certainly true of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center—one of California’s first certified organic farms. Spring not only brings color and life into their gardens, but also an abundance of diverse crops to add to their daily meals. In their new book, The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook, kitchen manager Olivia Rathbone showcases the biodiversity of all four seasons with over 200 inspired vegetarian recipes.

A favorite spring dish, popular at OAEC parties and celebrations, is the Veggie Mandala with Chervil Aioli Sauce. This brightly colored assortment of vegetables and edible garden leaves is traditionally served directly on the surface of the entire length of the farm table. But, whether you use serving platters or eat right off the table, this light dish will be welcome shift from the heavier foods of winter. Check out the recipe below and see how easy it is to make!

If you’re still hungry, here are a few additional sample recipes from The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center Cookbook.


Veggie Mandala

An OAEC tradition for parties and celebrations is to create a giant colorful mandala out of diverse garden veggies served directly on the surface of the entire length of the table. An assortment of raw, blanched, and roasted elements adds to the diversity of the flavors.

Serves 4-6:

2 ½ pounds assorted brightly colored veggies: brassica florets, roots, and whatever other veggies are happening in the garden or at the farmers’ market

1 bunch large edible garden leaves: Rainbow chard, variegated collards, fig or grape leaves, the large side leaves of cauliflower or broccoli—whatever looks big and healthy

Serves 30-40:

15 pounds assorted brightly colored veggies: brassica florets, roots, and whatever other veggies are happening in the garden or at the farmers’ market

5 bunch large edible garden leaves: Rainbow chard, variegated collards, fig or grape leaves, the large side leaves of cauliflower or broccoli—whatever looks big and healthy


Wash, peel, and chop the vegetables into attractive flippable spears and keep separate. Decide which vegetables make sense to blanch, roast, or leave raw, choosing a few for each category. For example, in the summertime, leave juicy vegetables like cherry tomatoes and cucumbers raw. In the winter, roast the fennel and winter squash. Parboil or roast the remaining roots or florets, depending on your mood.

Spread the vegetables to be roasted in a single layer on separate cookie sheets, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a 375° oven for 20 minutes, flipping as needed. Meanwhile, blanch each type of vegetable separately (see below for how to blanch veggies). To serve, clean your serving table well with soap and water. Cover the surface with large edible leaves, then thoroughly arrange the assortment of veggies in a beautiful pattern with a bowl of Chervil Aioli (see recipe further below) or an herb pistou for dipping. Circle around the food and meditate on the abundance!

Blanching Veggies

One of the secrets to getting people to fall in love with vegetables, especially green ones, is blanching. By locking in the vivid color, fresh texture, flavor, and nutrients, veggies are elevated to center stage rather than being relegated to a forgettable side role. When cooking for a crowd, this is also a convenient way to prepare veggies ahead of time to be reheated or incorporated into a dish later.

Get a big pot of water (the higher the water-to-vegetable ratio, the better) to an aggressive boil on the stove. Add lots of salt, about ½ cup per gallon of water—this helps prevent the color from leaching out into the cooking water and perfectly preseasons the vegetables. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and cold water. Slice and stage the raw veggies.

Note: Be sure to blanch each vegetable separately, as cooking times will vary.

Put your first round of raw-cut veggies into the basket and lower gently into the rapidly boiling salt water. For small veggies like peas, 30 seconds should do; with larger cuts or root veggies, like julienned carrots, you may need to cook them for 4 to 6 minutes. Keep a close eye on them because a few seconds can mean the difference between vibrant al dente and mushy gray. When the color brightens up and the texture is cooked but still retains a hint of firmness (stick a fork in or taste one), pull the colander basket out, draining out as much of the hot water as possible, and then submerge the colander in the ice bath to halt the cooking process. When the veggies have completely cooled, remove the colander and drain completely. Let the pot of water come up to boiling again before starting the next round and add more ice to the ice bath as needed.

Blanched vegetables can be frozen like this or stored in the fridge for a day.

To serve immediately as a simple side, return the vegetables to a clean pot on the stovetop and reheat on medium-high either covered with a dash of water or uncovered tossed with oil. Serve with simple olive oil and salt, a dash of tamari, or a tab of herb butter.

Chervil Aioli

Serves 4-6 (makes a little over 1 cup):

1 farm-fresh egg yolk from clean, healthy chickens (don’t use factory-farmed eggs for this—or any—recipe)—room temperature

1 very small clove garlic, less than a teaspoon crushed (optional)

1 cup oil


Squeeze of lemon

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chervil, or substitute a combination of tarragon and parsley

Serves 30-40 (makes 4 cups):

4 farm-fresh egg yolks from clean, healthy chickens (don’t use factory-farmed eggs for this—or any—recipe)—room temperature

2 very small cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon crushed (optional)

4 cups oil


Squeeze of lemon

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh chervil, or substitute a combination of tarragon and parsley


Let your egg sit out on the counter until it comes up to room temperature. Separate the egg and reserve the white for another use. If you’re using garlic, crush it with a garlic press or mortar and pestle into a smooth paste and stir it into the egg yolk. Add about a quarter of the oil and whisk until a very well-incorporated mixture forms. Drizzle in the rest of the oil in a thin stream while whisking it all the while. Add salt and lemon to taste. Stir or blend in the chopped chervil. Use right away.


A Mini-Festo for Earth Day – Rebuild the Foodshed

April 22nd, 2015 by admin

For the past month, author Philip Ackerman-Leist has been on a Twitter MiniFesto campaign – each day sending out a new tweet designed to spark conversation and pass along some lessons he learned whilst working on his last book, Rebuilding the Foodshed.

You might also know Philip as the author of his memoir Up Tunket Road or as Director of the Green Mountain College Farm & Food Project and the Director of the Masters in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. Or, from his carbon offset approach to commuting to work.

We know that Philip spends some of his time answering tweets and questions from his PastureFone (a mobile phone that doubles as a cattle herding device we think), and we all know that some of our best thinking can come when we’re away from devices, and getting dirty, or frustrated, with our daily chores.

So on this Earth Day we’re offering up the full Minifesto of Ackerman-Leist below, and a link to a downloadable and printable file that you should feel free to print and download, and then put up in the nearest outhouse wall, bathroom stall, or other popular, quiet reading places.

Your Revolutionary Minifesto Friends at Chelsea Green Publishing

Minifesto: Tweets for Rebuilding the Foodshed

I. Start from the grassroots—and move all the way down to the highest levels of government.

II. Sustainable farms are run by the sun: the rest of the food system needs daylight, too.

III. When thinking about farms: management first & scale second. You figure out where location fits. (Hint: about 1.5)

IV. Fully understanding the expanse between farm to plate demands the full distance between one’s ears.

V. Local was never intended to be universal.

VI. Small successes are easier to manage than big failures.

VII. Success leads; policy follows.

VIII.Crow tastes like chicken: Be prepared to eat some.

IX. Main ingredient in a recipe for disaster: sticking to the recipe when you don’t have all of the ingredients.

X. Two ingredients not needed in a recipe for success: us and them.

XI. Leave the selfie at the door. Shift to panorama mode.

XII. All white ain’t alright.

XIII. PC quickly becomes passé: Do what’s right, not necessarily what is correct.

XIV. Get off the can (BPA, dude!) and out of the box!

XV. Change comes more from victual sharing than virtual sharing.

XVI. Food is neither left nor right of center, but in our politics we are left with the right to food question.

XVII. Food system as economic driver: A job doth not a fair wage make.

XVIII. The divide is less urban/rural than it is have/have not.

XIX. Trust the windshield view more than the dashboard indicators.

XX. Don’t just move the needle. Bend it a little bit. When all else fails, consider a new dial.

XXI. Nuance provides precision–and it’s too often the victim of well-intentioned advocacy.

XXII. Numbers & values: sometimes the same thing, sometimes in opposition.

XXIII. Behind every label lies a story…some are fairy tales.

XXIV. Fields of expertise: Farmers & fishers need to be at the table, too—not just profs, chefs, wonks, & good intentions.

XXV. Finitude sucks. Prioritization rules.

XXVI. Don’t forget to dig! (We might even require ag in school if it weren’t so complex.)

XXVII. Old dirt, same story: New horizons in soils help cultivate common ground, common sense, & uncommon potential.

XXVIII. Food system waste is nothing more than a lack of ecological imagination.

XXIX. Tomorrow is only 1/3 of the answer.

XXX. Impatience is your most important ally; patience is your best friend.

To follow Philip on Twitter go to @ackermanleistp

Anno MMXV “Twitterus rebuildum”


Download the Minfesto, print it and spread the revolution!


Minifesto-RebuildingTheFoodshed Day30 by Philip Ackerman-Leist

April Showers Bring Fresh Savings: Spring Cleaning Sale!

April 20th, 2015 by admin

Congratulations, you’ve survived another long winter! Now it is time for Spring Cleaning. Through May 3rd we’re cleaning out our warehouse to make room for our new spring releases.

You have three chances to save—up to 85% off—on select books. But hurry it is only while supplies last!

As always, we offer FREE shipping on orders of $100 or more.

Happy reading from your friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

P.S. For the month of May we’re putting our pioneering permaculture authors at your disposal for a month-long Q&A session designed to help you become a better permaculturalist. Have a burning question?

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 3, 2015.

~ ~ Deep Cleaning: $9.99 – $14.99 Books  ~ ~
Gene Everlasting
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $9.99
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $9.99
The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat (with CD)
Retail: $49.95
Sale: $14.99
Slow Gardening
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $9.99
Food Not Lawns
Retail: $25.00
Sale: $9.99
Home Baked
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $9.99
The Chelsea Green Reader
Retail: $15.00
Sale: $9.99
Atlas of American Artisan Cheese
Retail: $35.00
Sale: $9.99

View all $9.99 Books

~ ~ Deeper Cleaning: $4.99 Books  ~ ~
Up Tunket Road
Retail: $17.95
Sale: $4.99
Retail: $17.95
Sale: $4.99
Cooking Close to Home
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $4.99
A Sanctuary of Trees
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $4.99

View all $4.99 Books

~ ~ Deepest Cleaning: $1.99 Books  ~ ~
Non-Toxic Housecleaning
Retail: $9.95
Sale: $1.99
Compost, Vermicompost, and Compost Tea
Retail: $12.95
Sale: $1.99
A Solar Buyer's Guide for the Home and Office
Retail: $14.95
Sale: $1.99
Retail: $14.95
Sale: $1.99

View all $1.99 Books

~ ~ New Releases and Coming Soon!  ~ ~

Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical Self-Reliance The New Livestock Farmer The OAEC Cookbook What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming

View all books on sale

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 3, 2015.

Books in the News: ‘The Tao of Vegetable Gardening’ & More!

April 16th, 2015 by admin

What does Taoism have to do with gardening? That question is being answered in The Washington Post this week with a lengthy profile of Chelsea Green author Carol Deppe—gardener, plant breeder, seed expert, and geneticist based in Oregon—and her new book The Tao of Vegetable Gardening.

“Once I read The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, with its mix of sly humor, dirt gardening (how to use a hoe with the least effort), the art of non-doing (very Tao), how to cook greens and even freeze them (heretofore impossible in my kitchen), and passages from Deppe’s own translations of 2,500-year-old Chinese texts — well, I had to meet this woman,” writes reporter Anne Raver in her profile of Deppe, which appeared in the Post’s Home and Garden section.

The story is a mix of her visit to Deppe’s homestead back in February along with what she learned from that meeting and how she’s applying it to her Maryland homestead, and includes a photo slideshow of some of Deppe’s squash and corn, along with pictures of some of her greens that she grows.

Demand for Deppe’s insight and wisdom was not only evident in Raver’s article, but also in a review by Rachel Foster, garden writer for The Eugene Weekly, who wrote, “If you grow vegetables, or hope to, you need this book.” And, Library Journal recently listed The Tao of Vegetable Gardening as one of the bestselling gardening books nationwide. The top 20 list of books most ordered by librarians around the country also includes another Chelsea Green title, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation by Tradd Cotter.

Other authors in the news recently:

Speaking of Tradd Cotter and his bestselling mushroom book, he was recently on WSPA-TV Your Carolina to talk about growing mushrooms, their medicinal uses, and his recent workshops at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC. Our favorite question by the host: “What happened to you growing up that made you this way?” 

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds author Katrina Blair was recently on Sierra Club Radio to talk about the 13 weeds found anywhere in the world that are edible, and can also be used for medicine and self-care.

Per Espen Stoknes—author of What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming—had a front-page feature on about the five psychological barriers to taking action on climate change.

Author Gianaclis Caldwell (The Small-Scale Dairy, The Small-Scale Cheese Business, and Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking) was on Cooking Up a Story recently to talk about what it takes to run a small-scale, off-the-grid goat farm and cheesemaking business.

And, finally, it’s the one-year anniversary this week of the death of author Michael Ruppert (Confronting Collapse) and writer Frank Kaminski penned this tribute to Ruppert’s life and enduring legacy.

Permaculture Month: Ask the Experts

April 15th, 2015 by admin

This May, in honor of Permaculture Month, we are once again putting our pioneering permaculture authors at your disposal for a month-long Q&A session designed to help you become a better permaculturalist.

Over the years, the term permaculture has become increasingly popular among those who grow food on both large and small scales. However, the philosophy behind permaculture can be applied to all aspects of our daily lives and relationships. In essence, permaculture is a system of designing households and communities that are productive, sustaining, and largely self-reliant, and have minimal impact on the environment. Chelsea Green is proud to publish and distribute some of the most recognized, and award-winning names (both present and future) in permaculture, and we’re making several of them available to our readers to answer any and all permaculture-related questions.

Our Permaculture Experts

The participating authors are: Toby Hemenway, author of a perennial Chelsea Green bestseller Gaia’s Garden and a new book out this summer The Permaculture CityEric Toensmeier, author of the award-winning Perennial Vegetables and the latest Paradise Lot, and a host of new Chelsea Green authors including Josh Trought (The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm), founder of D Acres—an ecologically designed educational center in New Hampshire, Olivia Rathbone (The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook), kitchen manager for one of the most successful and established permaculture sites in the word, Steve Gabriel (Farming the Woods), co-founder of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute and forest farming extraordinaire, and Tao Orion (Beyond the War on Invasive Species), teacher of permaculture design at Oregon State University and active in ecosystem restoration. Also joining this group will be plant specialists Stephen Barstow (Around the World in 80 Plants) and Anni Kelsey (Edible Perennial Gardening) whose books we are distributing in our catalog.

Toby Hemenway Eric Toensmeier Josh Trought Olivia Rathbone
Steve Gabriel Tao Orion Stephen Barstow Anni Kelsey

Do you want to learn more about a specific design you have in mind or how to incorporate permaculture into your community? Or are you just getting started and want to know how to best evaluate your backyard or homestead? Whether you’re tackling edible garden spaces or acres of farm fields, our expert authors are prepared to answer your questions on permaculture design, edible landscaping, plant guilds, perennial plantings, as well as the economics and social impact of permaculture.

To submit your permaculture question, use the form below. Feel free to put your query to the attention of a specific author (if you have a question about something you’ve read or tried in their book), or ask a general question and we’ll direct it to the right author to respond. Keep checking back throughout the month as we’ll not only be posting answers, but excerpts and other information to celebrate permaculture month.

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Wild Edibles: 5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

April 13th, 2015 by admin

Ever spotted a dandelion growing in your backyard and wondered, can I eat that? According to wild plants expert Katrina Blair, the answer is a resounding yes. And there are plenty of other commonly found weeds that fall into this category as well.

In her book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, Blair introduces readers to thirteen weeds that can be found growing all over the world—especially in densely populated areas like cities and suburbs. These nutritious “survival plants”, as she calls them, can be eaten from root to seed and used for a variety of medicinal purposes to achieve optimal health.

If you are new to foraging, below are a few beginner tips from Katrina Blair to get you started on your hunt for wild edibles. And, next time you are taking a walk around the neighborhood keep your eyes peeled for these thirteen plants: dandelion, mallow, purslane, plantain, thistle, amaranth, dock, mustard, grass, chickweed, clover, lambsquarter, and knotweed.

For more information on edible weeds and how Blair uses them for food and medicine listen to her interviews on Sierra Club Radio and Heritage Radio Network’s “Sharp and Hot”. Or if you’re ready to eat now, check out her suggestions for how to use lambsquarter.


5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

  1. Ask for help. Seek the guidance of a local plant expert who can help you identify the subtle differences between various plant species.
  2. Stay close to home. The wild plants that grow closest to where you live are the ones best adapted to support your ability to thrive in your current environment. Wild plants are extremely resilient and they help us embody those same qualities of excellence.
  3. Be mindful of where you harvest wild weeds. Use your observation skills to determine if an area may have been sprayed with herbicides or heavily fertilized with chemicals. If a plant is discolored or curls downward in an unnatural way it may best to harvest elsewhere.
  4. Start off simple. Look for the common simple plants first that are easy to recognize like dandelions. Dice them up finely and add to your dinner salad along with something sweet like apple slices.
  5. A little goes a long way. Wild plants are very potent so it is best to start by ingesting small amounts. Begin by nibbling a taste of a common wild edible plant and slowly introduce it to your body and taste buds.


Soil Blocks vs. Pots: Two Ways to Start Seedlings This Spring

April 9th, 2015 by admin

With Spring having finally sprung (in many places), it brings the official start of planting season, and we have two experts with advice on how to get your seedlings off to the right start and ready for the garden.

When it comes to starting your first seedlings, are you a pothead or a blockhead? We’re talking about using pots versus soil blocks and no matter which you choose, our authors offer step-by-step methods and troubleshooting advice.

Master gardener Eliot Coleman is an advocate for soil blocks. In the excerpt below from The New Organic Grower, he outlines how soil blocks work, why they’re beneficial, the equipment you need to make them, and shares some helpful recipes to prepare your own block mix.

Josh Trought on the other hand, author of The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm, uses plastic trays and containers to grow his nursery starts. Unlike soil blocks that use ingredients like peat moss and coconut fibers to maintain their structure, Trought prefers the all-purpose potting soil mix he has developed that requires limited out-sourced amendments.

Read more about Josh Trought’s potting soil recipe here.

3 Steps to Start Your Plants Off Right
Transplanting Tree Seedlings Using Roof Gutters


Soil Blocks

by Eliot Coleman

How Soil Blocks Work

A soil block is pretty much what the name implies—a block made out of lightly compressed potting soil. It serves as both the container and the growing medium for a transplant seedling. The blocks are composed entirely of potting soil and have no walls as such. Because they are pressed out by a form rather than filled into a form, air spaces provide the walls. Instead of the roots circling as they do upon reaching the wall of a container, they fill the block to the edges and wait. The air spaces between the blocks and the slight wall glazing caused by the block form keep the roots from growing from one block to another. The edge roots remain poised for rapid outward growth. When transplanted to the field, the seedling quickly becomes established. If the plants are kept too long in the blocks, however, the roots do extend into neighboring blocks, so the plants should be transplanted before this happens.

Despite being no more than a cube of growing medium, a soil block is not fragile. When first made, it is bound together by the fibrous nature of the moist ingredients. Once seeded, the roots of the young plant quickly fill the block and ensure its stability even when handled roughly. Soil blocks are the answer for a farm-produced seedling system that costs no more than the “soil” of which it is composed.


The best thing about the soil-block system is that everything that can be done in small pots, “paks,” trays, or plugs can be done in blocks without the expense and bother of a container. Blocks can be made to accommodate any need. The block may have a small depression on the top in which a seed is planted, but blocks can also be made with a deep center hole in which to root cuttings. They can also be made with a large hole in which to transplant seedlings. Or they can be made with a hole precisely the size of a smaller block, so seedlings started in a germination chamber in small blocks can be quickly transplanted onto larger blocks.

Blocks provide the modular advantages of plug trays without the problems and expense of a plug system. Blocks free the grower from the mountains of plastic containers that have become so ubiquitous of late in horticultural operations. European growers sell bedding plants in blocks to customers, who transport them in their own containers. There is no plastic pot expense to the grower, the customer, or the environment. In short, soil blocks constitute the best system I have yet found for growing seedlings.

The Soil-Block Maker

The key to this system is the tool for making soil blocks—the soil-block maker or “blocker.” Basically, it is an ejection mold that forms self-contained cubes out of a growing medium. Both hand and machine models are available. For small-scale production, hand-operated models are perfectly adequate. Motorized block-making machines have a capacity of over 10,000 blocks per hour. But they are way overscaled for a 5-acre vegetable farm.

There are two features to understand about the blocker in order to appreciate the versatility of soil blocks: the size of the block form and the size and shape of the center pin.

The Form

Forms are available to make ¾-inch blocks (the mini-blocker), 1½-inch blocks, 2-inch blocks, 3-inch blocks, and 4-inch blocks (the maxi-blocker). The block shape is cubic rather than tapered. Horticultural researchers have found a cubic shape to be superior to the tapered-plug shape for the root growth of seedlings.

Two factors influence choice of block size—the type of plant and the length of the intended growing period prior to transplanting. For example, a larger block would be used for early sowings or where planting outside is likely to be delayed. A smaller block would suffice for short-duration propagation in summer and fall. The mini-block is used only as a germination block for starting seedlings.

Obviously, the smaller the block, the less potting mix and greenhouse space is required (a 1½-inch block contains less than half the volume of a 2-inch block). But, in choosing between block sizes, the larger of the two is usually the safer choice. Of course, if a smaller size block is used, the plants can always be held for a shorter time. Or, as is common in European commercial blocking operations, the nutrient requirements of plants in blocks too small to maintain them can be supplemented with soluble nutrients. The need for such supplementary fertilization is an absolute requirement in plug-type systems, because each cell contains so much less soil than a block. The popular upside-down pyramid shape, for example, contains only one-third the soil volume of a cubic block of the same top dimension.

My preference is always for the larger block, first because I believe it is false economy to stint on the care of young plants. Their vigorous early growth is the foundation for later productivity. Second, I prefer not to rely on soluble feeding when the total nutrient package can be enclosed in the block from the start. All that is necessary when using the right size block and soil mix is to water the seedlings.

Another factor justifying any extra volume of growing medium is the addition of organic matter to the soil. If lettuce is grown in 2-inch blocks and set out at a spacing of 12 by 12 inches, the amount of organic material in the blocks is the equivalent of applying 5 tons of compost per acre! Since peat is more than twice as valuable as manure for increasing long-term organic matter in the soil, the blocks are actually worth double their weight in manure. Where succession crops are grown, the soil-improving material added from transplanting alone can be substantial.

The Pin

The pin is the object mounted in the center of the top press-form plate. The standard seed pin is a small button that makes an indentation for the seed in the top of the soil block. This pin is suitable for crops with seeds the size of lettuce, cabbage, onion, or tomato. Other pin types are dowel- or cube-shaped. I use the cubic pin for melon, squash, corn, peas, beans, and any other seeds of those dimensions. A long dowel pin is used to make a deeper hole into which cuttings can be inserted. Cubic pins are also used so a seedling in a smaller block can be potted on to a larger block; the pin makes a cubic hole in the top of the block into which the smaller block is placed. The different types of pins are easily interchangeable.

Blocking Systems

The ¾-inch block made with the mini-blocker is used for starting seeds. With this small block, enormous quantities of modular seedlings can be germinated on a heating pad or in a germination chamber. This is especially useful for seeds that take a long time to germinate, because a minimum of space is used in the process.

Mini-blocks are effective because they can be handled as soon as you want to pot on the seedlings. The oft-repeated admonition to wait until the first true leaves appear before transplanting is wrong. Specific investigations by W.J.C. Lawrence, one of the early potting-soil researchers, have shown that the sooner young seedlings are potted on, the better is their eventual growth.

The 1½-inch block is used for short-duration transplants of standard crops (lettuce, brassicas) and as the seed block for cucumbers, melons, and artichokes by using the large seed pin. When fitted with a long dowel pin it makes an excellent block for rooting cuttings.

The 2-inch block is the standard for longer-duration transplants. When fitted with the ¾-inch cubic pin, it is used for germinating bean, pea, corn, or squash seeds and for the initial potting on of crops started in mini-blocks.

The 3-inch block fitted with a ¾-inch cubic pin offers the option to germinate many different field crops (squash, corn, cucumber, melon) when greenhouse space is not critical. It is also an ideal size for potting on asparagus seedlings started in mini-blocks.

The 4-inch block fitted with a 1½- or 2-inch cubic pin is the final home of artichoke, eggplant, pepper, and tomato seedlings. Because of its cubic shape, it has the same soil volume as a 6-inch pot and can grow exceptional plants of these crops to their five- to eight-week field transplant age.

Other Pin Options

In addition to the pins supplied with the blocker, the grower can make a pin of any desired size or shape. Most hard materials (wood, metal, or plastic) are suitable, as long as the pins have a smooth surface. Plug trays can be used as molds and filled with quick-hardening water putty to make many different sizes of pins that allow the integration of the plug and block systems.

Blocking Mixes

When transplants are grown, whether in blocks or pots, their rooting area is limited. Therefore the soil in which they grow must be specially formulated to compensate for these restricted conditions. For soil blocks, this special growing medium is a blocking mix. The composition of a blocking mix differs from an ordinary potting soil because of the unique requirements of block-making. A blocking mix needs an extra fibrous material to withstand being watered to a paste consistency and then formed into blocks. Unmodified garden soil treated this way would become hard and impenetrable. A blocking mix also needs good water-holding ability, because the blocks are not enclosed by a nonporous container. The bulk ingredients for blocking mixes are peat, sand, soil, and compost. Store-bought mixes can also work, but most will contain chemical additives not allowed by many organic certification programs. If you can find a commercial peat-pearlite mix with no additives, you can supplement it with the soil, compost, and extra ingredients described below.

In the past few years commercial, preformulated organic mixes with reasonably goof growth potential have begun to appear on the market. However, shipping costs can be expensive if you live far away from the supplier. To be honest, I have yet to find any of these products that will grow as nice seedlings as my own housemade mixes.


Peat is a partly decayed, moisture-absorbing plant residue found in bogs and swamps. It provides fiber and extra organic matter in a mix. All peats are not created equal, however, and quality can vary greatly. I recommend using the premium grade. Poor-quality peat contains a lot of sticks and is very dusty. The better-quality peats have more fiber and structure. Keep asking and searching your local garden suppliers until you can find good-quality peat moss. Very often a large greenhouse operation that makes its own mix will have access to a good product. The peat gives “body” to a block.


Sand or some similar granular substance is useful to “open up” the mix and provide more air porosity. A coarse sand with particles having a 1/8 to 1/16 inch diameter is the most effective. I prefer not to use vermiculite, as many commercial mixes do, because it is too light and tends to be crushed in the block-making process. If I want a lighter-weight mix I replace the sand with coarse perlite. Whatever the coarse product involved, adequate aeration is key to successful plant growth in any medium.

Compost and Soil

Although most modern mediums no longer include any real soil, I have found both soil and compost to be important for plant growth in a mix. Together they replace the “loam” of the successful old-time potting mixtures. In combination with the other ingredients, they provide stable, sustained-release nutrition to the plants. I suspect the most valuable contribution of the soil may be to moderate any excess nutrients in the compost, thus giving more consistent results. Whatever the reason, with soil and compost included there is no need for supplemental feeding.

Compost is the most important ingredient. It is best taken from two-year-old heaps that are fine in texture and well decomposed. The compost heap must be carefully prepared for future use in potting soil. I use no animal manure in the potting-mix compost. I construct the heap with 2- to 6-inch layer of mixed garden waste (e.g. outer leaves, pea vines, weeds) covered with a sprinkling of topsoil and 2 to 3 inches of straw sprinkled with montmorillionite clay. The sequence is repeated until the heap is complete. The heap should be turned once the temperature rises and begins to decline so as to stimulate further decomposition.

There are no worms involved in our composting except those naturally present, which is usually a considerable number. (I have purchased commercial worm composts [castings] as a trial ingredient, and they did make an adequate substitute for our compost.) Both during the breakdown and afterwards the heap should be covered with a landscape fabric. I strongly suggest letting the compost sit for an additional year (so that it is one and a half to two years old before use); the resulting compost is well worth the trouble. The better the compost ingredient, the better the growth of the plants will be. The exceptional quality of the seedlings grown in this mix is reason enough to take special care when making a compost. Compost for blocking mixes must be stockpiled the fall before and stored where it won’t freeze. Its value as a mix ingredient seems to be enhanced by mellowing in storage over the winter.

Soil refers to a fertile garden soil that is also stockpiled ahead of time. I collect it in the fall from land off which onions have just been harvested. I have found that seedlings (onions included) seem to grow best when the soil in the blocking mix has grown onions. I suspect there is some biological effect at work here, since crop-rotation studies have found onion (and leeks) to be highly beneficial preceding crops in a vegetable rotation. The soil and compost should be sifted through a ½-inch mesh screen to remove sticks, stones, and lumps. The compost and peat for the extra-fine mix used either for mini-block or for the propagation of tiny flower seeds are sifted through a ¼-inch mesh.

Extra Ingredients

Lime, blood meal, colloidal phosphate, and greensand are added in smaller quantities.

Lime. Ground limestone is added to adjust the pH of the blocking mix. The quantity of lime is determined by the amount of peat, the most acidic ingredient. The pH of compost or garden soil should not need modification. My experience, as well as recent research results, has led me to aim for a growing medium pH between 6 and 6.5 for all the major transplant crops. Those growers using different peats in the mix may want to run a few pH tests to be certain. However, the quantity of lime given in the formula below works for the different peats that I have encountered.

Blood Meal. I find this to be the most consistently dependable slow-release source of nitrogen for growing mediums. English gardening books often refer to hoof-and-horn meal, which is similar. I have also used crab-shell meal with great success. Recent independent research confirms my experience and suggests that cottonseed meal and dried whey sludge also work well.

Colloidal Phosphate. A clay material associated with phosphate rock deposits and containing 22 percent P2O5. The finer the particles the better.

Greensand (Glauconite). Greensand contains some potassium but is used here principally as a broad-spectrum source of micronutrients. A dried seaweed product like kelp meal can serve the same purpose, but I have achieved more consistent results with greensand.

The last three supplementary ingredients—blood meal, colloidal phosphate and greensand—when mixed together in equal parts are referred to as the “base fertilizer.”

Blocking Mix Recipe

A standard 10-quart bucket is the unit of measurement for the bulk ingredients. A standard cup measure is used for the supplementary ingredients. This recipe makes approximately 2 bushels of mix. Follow the steps in the order given.

3 buckets brown peat
½ cup lime. Mix.
2 buckets coarse sand or perlite
3 cups base fertilizer. Mix.
1 bucket soil
2 buckets compost

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly.

The lime is combined with the peat because that is the most acidic ingredient. Then the sand or perlite is added. The base fertilizer is mixed in next. By incorporating the dry supplemental ingredients with the peat in this manner, they will be distributed as uniformly as possible throughout the medium. Next add the soil and compost, and mix completely a final time.

Mini-Block Recipe

A different blend is used for germinating seeds in mini-blocks. Seeds germinate better in a “low-octant” mix, without any blood meal added. The peat and compost are finely screened through a ¼ inch mesh before adding them to the mix.

4 gallons brown peat
1 cup colloidal phosphate
1 cup greensand (If greensand is unavailable,
leave it out. Do not substitute a dried seaweed
product in this mix.)
1 gallon compost (well decomposed)

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April 8th, 2015 by admin

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