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You don’t need new pots and trays to start seeds. Here are some ideas for starting off your seeds in recycled materials and containers including toilet paper rolls, eggshells, and upcycled plastic cloches.
It’s finally getting to that point of the year — seed sowing time. From now until the summer I’ll be sowing a lot of the seeds for my vegetable garden in modules and pots and then planting it out. I do this to give my plants an easier, and earlier start in life and to help them avoid slugs and other pests as they’re just emerging.
While I do have plenty of purpose-made seed trays and modules to grow them in, I also use a lot of recycled materials. Toilet paper rolls, supermarket veg trays, and egg cartons to name a few. Here’s a collection of ideas for seed starting with recycled materials. They’ll help save you money and reduce waste.
1. Toilet Paper Rolls
Toilet paper rolls are great for growing most plants but especially ones that don’t like their roots disturbed: beans, peas, and sweet peas. This is because you plant them directly into the soil outside without having to take the plant out. Tip: they may start molding and breaking down before then but it’s nothing to worry about. Also make sure to peel back the tops of the roll before you plant them. This is especially important if you’ve not filled them all the way with compost.
2. Supermarket Veg Trays
Do you know those plastic trays that you buy mushrooms, strawberries, and other fruit and veg in? Pop some drainage holes into the bottom and they’re great to use as seed trays. They even stack really well together so if you have a bunch, use them one year then clean them out and store them for the next year too.
3. Newspaper Pots
I recently shared two clever ways to make newspaper plant pots using glass jars or origami. Newspaper, and the black and colored ink they’re made with, are safe for the garden and break down over time. The pots will last long enough without falling apart and give you a gardening activity for a rainy day.
4. Paper Cup Pots
Unwaxed paper cups are perfect containers for starting off seeds and plants. They’re made to contain liquids so are a bit tougher than toilet paper rolls or newspaper so plants can stay growing in them for longer. Make sure to poke a drainage hole in the bottom and your plants will have a snazzy recycled home to live in. You could even stop by a local coffee shop to see if they’d mind you reclaiming some leftover from customers — while you’re there ask if they have spent coffee grounds too since they’re great to use in the garden and in making compost.
5. Pastry ‘Clamshell’ Propagator
If you’re starting seeds that need a bit more warmth, consider popping them into a pastry clamshell. This tutorial from the Empress of Dirt shows how she uses them to keep her African Violet cuttings warm and cozy.
6. Water Dispenser Cloches
This is an idea from an allotmenteer here on the Isle of Man. I’m not sure where they got the large water bottles from but the bottoms have been removed and they’ve been converted into cloches. Cloches are like mini-greenhouses that are fitted over individual plants in the garden. They keep the plant warm and help protect it from slugs and snails. There’s also a clever way to make recycled gardening cloches in this piece.
7. Plastic Bottle Cloche
Not everyone has access to large water dispenser bottles but they might have plastic drinks bottles. These can also be converted into cloches either like the photo above or by using the top so there’s a bit more ventilation. This image and a lot more ideas can be found in ‘Gardening on a Budget‘ written by guest writer Elaine Rickett. Tip: try to use clear bottles since darker ones can block out some of the light.
8. Upcycled Outdoor Planters
Now that it’s warming up you can begin sowing seeds outdoors. I have several recycled and upcycled containers including an old Belfast sink that I grow Rocket (Arugula) and Coriander (Cilantro) in. Since it already has drainage by means of the drain, I’ve just filled the bottom with gravel, topped it up with soil, and it’s now a perfect planter. You could up-size this idea by planting into an old bathtub.
9. DIY Pallet Planter
A wooden pallet can easily be converted into another style of upcycled planter. All you need to create this Wheeled Pallet Planter is one wood pallet, 4-5 Caster wheels, a few other materials, and some basic DIY skills. It’s a great mobile planter for salad crops, leafy herbs, and other shallow-rooted crops.
10. Sow your Seeds in Eggshells
Not only do these eggshell planters look incredibly cute but they too can be planted out directly into the garden. Wash them before using them, and consider popping them in a 130°F (54°C) oven for twenty minutes. That will kill off any germs and bacteria.
Fill the eggshells with compost, sow a seed or three inside, and only lightly water. The shells won’t have drainage unless you carefully make some holes at the bottom. When planting, you can put both the plant and shell in the soil. Make sure to gently crack the eggshells before you put them in though. It will help the seedling’s roots to break through and stop it from drowning in the meantime. Rain will fill the shell, and pool up inside.
11. Egg Cartons
Once you’ve had your omelets, and planted up your eggshells. you can use the egg carton to sow even more seeds! Each egg cup can be filled with soil, sown with seeds, and then ripped off and planted directly in the garden. Like toilet paper rolls, the paper breaks down making this growing idea very handy indeed.
12. Tomato Seeds saved on Paper Towels
One of the easiest ways to save your own tomato seeds is to scrape them out onto a paper towel, goo and all. Let it dry completely before storing it away or sending the seeds to a friend. When you’re ready to sow them, you tear or cut off a piece of the paper towel and plant it with the seeds into the soil. Here’s more on how that works. More tips on growing tomatoes can be found here.
More Low-Cost Gardening Inspiration
- How to Build a Potting Bench out of Pallets
- DIY Herb Spiral Instructions (grows lots of herbs in a small space)
- Thrifty Ways to get Plants for Free
- How to make a Bokashi Bin (a composter for ALL food scraps)