When I saw several empty plastic seedling trays chucked atop the local grocery store trashcan last year, I just had to inquire inside, “Do you throw those away?”
To my astonishment, the store manager told me yes, they do toss the trays in the garbage, and I was welcome to as many as I wanted.
After I quit being appalled by how many billions of those trays are manufactured annually to be used only once and then trucked to a landfill, a light bulb went on in my frugal mind. I could use those trays spring after glorious spring for my seedlings – and I wouldn’t even need to scrounge up any peat or plastic pots.
Instead, in yet another super-efficient use of newspaper in the garden, I make transplant pots that can be planted right along with the seedlings. The pots take only a few seconds each to make, are basically free and disrupt the delicate seedling roots almost naught.
First, gather your supplies: newspaper, potting soil (I use a mixture of my compost and garden dirt), trays, seeds, skinny trowel or spoon, and a sturdy form to wrap the newspaper around. Here, our wooden domino box fits perfectly in the trays with square holes and a hard plastic fish oil bottle fits the round holes.
Do not use glossy, colorful magazine paper for your pots. They would look artsy, but that paper takes much longer to decompose and likely contains dyes and whatnot that are not good for the worms, soil or your plants.
Depending on the size of paper your news comes in, you’ll likely tear the paper up the middle lengthwise, giving you two pieces about 11 by 21 inches. Fold one of those sheets again lengthwise and roll it around your form, letting about 3 inches or so extend beyond the bottom.
Holding the paper-wrapped form in one hand, fold over the bottom like a present, but without the fancy ribbon. Pinch the paper to hold it together as you slide out the form. Still holding the pot, scoop in enough dirt to fill the paper pot about three-quarters full. There is no need to fasten the paper in any way. After a few days of being full of damp dirt, the pot holds its shape.
Set the dirt-filled pot in one of those scavenged trays (or a cake pan or shallow cardboard box), plant a seed to the normal depth, water and wait for the miracle of new growth. Here in the Ozarks, it’s time to plant cucumber and zucchini seeds indoors. Wherever you live, you don’t want to start vine-type seeds too early or they may be weak and leggy by the time the soil outside is warm. A three-week lead is sufficient.
The paper pot method works very well for tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables normally grown as transplants, herbs and flowers of all sorts.
To plant, carefully unfold and tear off the paper bottom and plant just as you would a peat pot. If your pot has a bit of a collar, you can leave it above ground to deter cutworms. But, tear it off after the seedling is out of the cutworm-danger stage. If not, the paper collar will act as a wick, drying out the soil.
This year, I am trying something new by planting bean seeds in paper pots in an effort to keep our multitude of mice from eating my precious seeds before they sprout. I plan to put the seedlings out when they are just a few days old. Stay tuned for more on that project.
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid, and invented the WaterBuck Pump, a manually-operated deep well water pump machine.