16 April 2012
Spring garden: homemade starter pots
I don't know about you, but I'm usually at a loss as to where to start new vegetable seedlings every year. In theory, I should have a plentiful collection of little plastic nursery pots; in reality, I have about three or four, and they're currently occupied with baby spider plants. I'm not really the type to go out and buy a couple flats of little pots, especially as I would have to find somewhere to store them after everything went in the ground. I knew it was possible to make DIY starter pots out of newspaper--gardening catalogs sell wooden forms for just this purpose. But I didn't really want to spend money to make my own pots either. The internet to the rescue!
My father-in-law had let me know about a newspaper pot how-to a few months back. The only real problem with this is that we don't usually have any newspaper in the house. I could go collect the local free papers (and I still might), but those have lots of colored ink to watch out for. Besides, I'm lazy. So I poked around some more until I found Minnesota Locavore's toilet paper roll pots. Now there is an idea I can get behind. Why not eliminate the paper-rolling entirely?
To make these starter pots, you need a bunch of empty toilet paper rolls and a pair of scissors that work ok on cardboard. That's it. You could even get away without the scissors if you were so inclined. That would be annoying, though, so I don't recommend it.
To make the pots, start by cutting all your toilet paper rolls in half.
Cut four equally spaced 3/4-inch snips around the perimeter of one half of a piece of tube. I found it easiest to flatten the tube, make one cut through both layers in the middle, and then cut along the folds at each side. You have now created four flaps of cardboard.
Reshape the tube (if needed) and bend each flap toward the middle. Overlap them so they form a pinwheel shape and hold themselves closed. You may need to crease the flaps downward for further security; play around and see what works best for you.
Repeat this for all the rest of your pieces of tube. Voila! Homemade seed starter pots!
Now you can fill them with potting soil, add seeds, water them, and release them into the wild--in my case, that's the kitchen windowsill. When your seedlings have grown enough to transplant, just pop the entire pot in the ground. The paper will disintegrate as the plant grows.
Clearly, toilet paper roll pots have a few limitations. First, you obviously need to have a lot of toilet paper or paper towel rolls lying around. If you're only starting to collect now--at the most crucial time to get seeds started and in the ground--the delay could be problematic. Pot size could also be an issue for larger seedlings. I don't think I would want to start zucchini or winter squash, for instance, in one of these tiny little dudes. You could make the pots deeper by simply not cutting the roll in half before you create the bottom closure, but again, this means you have fewer supplies and therefore fewer pots.
I think using a combination of methods would probably be the best solution here. Make as many toilet paper roll pots as you can, and use them to start seeds that you need to get in the ground ASAP. Then grab a bunch of newspapers and use standard 16-oz cans to make bigger pots, which you can use for those plants that need a month or so to grow before transplanting outside. This way the earlier spring plants won't have a chance to outgrow their little pots before you get them into the garden, and the warmer-weather plants will have a chance to grow a bit and get strong before you submit them to the harsh gales of the outdoors.
Of course, I personally planted all my initial seeds in the toilet roll pots because of the aforementioned lack of newspaper. That's ok, though! We live in CA, where there is definitely never any danger of frost in April, and the harvest doesn't end until early November, if then. We have plenty of time.