How To Start Seeds Indoors For Next To Nothing

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There is something majestic about sowing seeds: the starting of new life, the joy of watching nature at its finest, the reassurance that humans have been planting seeds since before recorded history, and the potential of what can be harvested and then stored. It’s all so exciting, partly because of the change of seasons (I normally start seeds indoors in later Winter or late Summer in anticipation for the next growing season), and partly because being the nurturer I am,  I love babies – any kind of baby, human, animal or plant!

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The only thing that is not exciting about starting seedlings is the flimsy plastic containers that most of us use for planting seeds. I hate these containers!

They are bad for the environment, they leak, and I don’t care what anyone tells you, they are seldom reusable. The cognitive dissonance that occurs when I am in my organic, unpolluted garden planting seedlings that were started in these plastic containers that will take a 100 years or longer to decompose is almost painful.

I know what you are thinking. There is a container in the picture above that is biodegradable. Yes, there is, but they are expensive, and even though they will eventually decompose they usually do not in one season, so I end up digging them up when I clean out my garden every year. So this year I decided to do something different—make pots out of paper.

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Since my seedlings will be planted in newspaper pots I need to insure proper drainage. Placing rocks in the bottom of the container that will hold the pots will prevent the pots from sitting in water after the seedlings have been watered. I bought this four dollar bag of rocks at a big box store to lay in the bottom of my reusable plastic tubs.

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I am pretty sure someone just scooped these rocks out of a river bed somewhere, bagged them up and sold them to the big box store, so they needed to be cleaned. You want to make sure your seedlings have an  environment that is clean and bacteria and virus free.

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I bought these tubs at a big box store for about two dollars a piece and they will last until the end of time (give or take a year…) if I keep them out of the sun.

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Here you can see I have two pot makers. The little one (the one on the right) I got from Amazon; I like it but the pots it makes are a bit small. They are useful if you watch the calendar closely and are able to plant your seedlings in the ground exactly on time (before the plants get too big and the roots start coming out the bottom). In other words, they are perfect if nothing goes wrong weather wise and your schedule is flexible enough so that you can stop everything and plant the seedlings before they out grow the small pot.

My weather (I am in North Texas) and my schedule are hectic so I went in search of a bigger pot maker. The only place online I could find The Big Pot maker was in England, which was a bit frustrating because the last time I ordered something from overseas (a matador costume my son had to have for a choir performance) I paid more for shipping than I did for the item. Lucky, after corresponding a bit with the company that makes The Big Paper Potter I was able to find a stateside distributor.

Minnie and Moon sells The Big Paper Potter online. You might be able to find The Big Paper Potter in local garden or specialty shops, but if you are like me and do not have a ton of time for shopping, mail order a great option.

Also, The Big Paper Potter has lines on it so you can make shorter pots is you desire so you really do not need to invest in two different sized pot makers.

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I was so impressed with the packaging I took a picture.

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The Big Paper Potter makes a pot that is about 4in tall and 3in wide. The small PotMaker makes a pot that is about 2in high by 2in wide. Start out with a long strip of newspaper (or other similar paper). Cut the paper for the smaller PotMaker to 3.5in by 10in (or longer). Cut the paper for The Big Paper Potter to 6in x 10in (or longer).

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Then simply roll the paper around the pot maker. Here I am using The Big Paper Potter. Note: You can make these pots a little taller if you wrap the paper further up toward the handle, however, the the pots might be a little trickier to get off the pot maker.

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 Making a cylinder.

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 Here is a picture of what the bottom should look like.

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Once you have the paper wrapped around the pot maker, then just tuck in the edges.

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 Flatten out the bottom.

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Then press the top of the pot maker down on the bottom to make the creases in the paper and insure the pot’s integrity.

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 Then slide the pot maker out of the newspaper pot.

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 The finished pot.

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 The process is the same for the small PotMaker.

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As I mentioned before, I am using The Big Paper Potter for my seedlings because it gives me more flexibility. Fill your pots with potting soil.

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 Sow your seeds.

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If you have ever sown herb seeds before you know how tiny some are. So I wanted to share this trick I learned a few years ago. You really do not need one of those fancy seed sowers like this one. You just need a skewer and some water.

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 Dip the skewer in water.

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Since the skewer is wet the seeds will stick to it.

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 See. Two teeny tiny seeds!

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 Stick the skewer in the pot removing it slowly to make sure the seeds stay behind.

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Place the seeds in a warm place to germinate; click here to see how I built this very inexpensive growing rack. These tubs do not have a clear plastic top to create a green house effect so you can wrap the top in plastic wrap to keep the moisture in, or place a damp towel over the top, or just make sure they stay moist by checking twice a day. If you do decide to use plastic or a damp towel remove at the first sign of sprouting.

How to start seeds indoors without flimsy plastic containers. Plus how to use a paper pot maker and how to sow very tiny seeds without a special tools.
  • Hi Jennifer! Thanks for this timely post! I will consider one of those pot makers for next year. I already have seeds sprouting and getting ready to transplant some into a larger pot. Hope your garden grows well this year! Blessings from Bama!

  • op voronin says:

    I see you use wooden sticks (aka popsicle sticks) for plant labels. Have you had a problem with the moisture in the pot wicking up the stick and destroying the writing on the stick?

  • Terry says:

    Hi
    thank you for posting. Where do you buy your seeds? do you use organic seeds?
    thanks

  • Geir Åge says:

    Who in their right mind would grow food in the ink that comes with newspaper? .. Wake up!? ..

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Geir,
      This simple is not true. Newspaper ink has gone through a transformation in recent years. If you are using paper and ink produced in this century you should be fine. Now, if you took newspaper out of your grandmother’s attic that was produced years ago then there might be cause for concern.

  • Candace says:

    Hooray – just ordered one of these large paper pot makers! Now to find some newspaper….

  • Karla says:

    Yeah!!! You have just made it so much easier for me to continue my dream. I just ordered the larger one and can’t wait to combine this with your ingenious plant growing 5 tier stand to start my vegetable garden early this year.

    You rock!!!

    Karla V 49 in Iowa

  • Don from MO says:

    Holly cow, I just happen to have a wood lathe in my shop so I can make these. May I suggest to the readers they check a local woodworking store or even the local school shop instructor to see if this could be a project for a or some of the students. Just suggest that you could get them some fresh produce this summer for the service, then you don’t have the expenses of ordering etc. plus you may make a valuable contact for future projects. Just a thought.

  • Darlene says:

    what’s wrong with using a soup can to form the paper pots?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Darlene,
      You can use a soup can or any other similar shaped object if you like. The advantage to using the the paper potter is that it is little smaller and has a base so you can really fold the paper to form a pot.

  • Cathleen Gilliland says:

    I so enjoyed your segment on starting seeds in paper pots. It was rather ingenues because the paper becomes mulch for the plants. I always come away from you news letters armed with new knowledge. Thank you.

  • Janine says:

    I am new to gardening, and I was planning on using egg cartons (the paper-ish kind) to start my seeds. I’ve been saving them for a couple of months. In your opinion, is this still a good idea?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Janine,
      The egg cartons should work fine for seedlings you can plant in your garden soon after they sprout. Egg cartons are fairly small and don’t give you a lot of time for crazy weather or a busy schedule. I prefer a little bit bigger container to give myself some leeway.

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