Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Cheap Way to Start

Yesterday was another very successful plant swap! There were lots of plants and lots of people. Other than the fun these things are, I have a feeling that plant swaps are gaining momentum because of the current economic situation. Plants, Gardening and Landscaping can be expensive. If you divide your plants or plant seeds (which are relatively inexpensive) you have a lot of bartering power. Hence the power of the plant swap.
I noticed yesterday also that there were a good many vegetable seedlings. This too can be caused be the economy. Many people are trying to grow their own food, again, trying to save money.
If you are cheap like me, (read also poor), I am always trying to find ways to do things cheaper. I love to swap plants, find deals and propagate cuttings from friends plants. I also make my own cheap, easy, permanent plant tags from trash. Check out that blog here:

Seeds, like I mentioned above, are a cheap source of plants. You can get them just about anywhere for a couple of dollars and in theory you can get many, many plants. Sure, you can start them in any container with some good potting mix. You can go out and buy the pricey peat pots or peat pellets. I am here to show you that you can go into your kitchen or bathroom and have some of the materials needed to start high quality plants from your trash!
Basically you only need a few things to start any seed. The seed is a good start. After that, you need, soil, water, humidity/heat and something to put all that in. We will start there, what to put them in?
Go into your bathroom or kitchen and find those cardboard tubes that the toilet paper or paper towels come on. You know, like these:
Yes, we are going to grow seeds in your trash.
After you have saved up a few of these, it will depend on how many seeds you want to start as to how many you will need.
The next step is to cut them up:
About 2.5-3 inches wide is good. You should get 3 out of a toilet paper roll and 6 or 7 out of a paper towel roll.
Pretty easy so far, right?
Then you need to locate some kind of tray. I usually have a dozen or so of the old black trays laying around. Anything that will hold the little seed pots in will work.
For instructional purposes, I have used an old bowl and one seed pot here:
If you only want to start a couple of seeds, this is the easiest way to do it.
Fill the "pot" with some kind of potting mix. Just as a side note, this is actually going to be the most expensive part. Get a good bag of potting mix, the best you can afford. The better the mix, the better the plants will be, it will pay for itself in the long run.
After you fill the "pot", plant two seeds. The reason for two? Just in case one of them is bad, you are hedging your bets that at least one will germinate. If both do, you can either just let both grow, or cut one of them off at the soil line. You can try to separate them, but I advise against this because you can tear too many of the roots and you might lose both seedlings.
Next, you want to water gently so you do not displace the seed or wash the soil out.
A mister or spray bottle is great for this step.
I mentioned heat/humidity earlier. My next trick for you is to create a greenhouse, again, out of your trash.
Take a 2 liter soda bottle, cut it about half way up. The cap end is the side you want. Place it over the bowl like this:
There you go, instant greenhouse. You want the cap end so that you can mist the seeds occasionally. Just unscrew the cap, mist, replace. Again, this is great for only starting a couple of seeds. If you want to start a flat of them, there are plastic seeds trays available. I am a cheap person remember? Use an old plastic tray as the base. Use some uncut toilet paper rolls for the columns and cover the whole thing in Saran Wrap. If you happen to dry clean your clothes, the plastic bag they come home in will work also.
Place the whole kit and kaboodle in a bright warm place. I have seen people use the top of the refrigerator for the warmth. When they see the seeds pop out, they move them into a sunny spot. Be careful of the greenhouse effect though, it can get very hot under there and will cook your seedlings.
After the plant has gotten a few inches tall and a couple of its first true leaves, it is time to plant them in the ground or container.
This is where it gets easy. Gently pick the whole thing up and plant as is, pot and all can go into the soil. The paper pot will disappear and become compost for your plant. The roots will grow right out through the moist cardboard. Why go through all this? When plants are young, they are very fragile. The less you have to handle or expose the roots the better. Being that pot and all get planted, you accomplish not exposing the roots or disturbing them. There is also the thought out there that peat is eventually going to disappear. Whether you believe that or not is up to you, but the thought is out there.
So, there you go, you have gotten rid of some of your trash, saved a couple of dollars, handled the roots almost nil, possibly saved a peat bog, and have some of the healthiest plants on the block. What more can you ask for?
Happy Growing!


  1. I have been deminstating for years on how to use trash for starting plants that work better tha sore bought start supplies. Only one out of several dozen was trainable. I never thought of your coke bottle top half. a pleasure to see your site.

    Thanks. Steve