Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Onion Sprouts and Newspaper Pots

A few days ago, I decided to start some onion seeds....

I sprouted them in this plastic take-out tray. I cut a piece of paper bag to fit the bottom, sprayed it until it soaked up the water, and sprinkled onion seeds in. Once the top is snapped shut, it stays nice and moist. I kept them near a sunny window to stay warm. And tonight, they were ready to go.
Onion Sprouts

A close-up:
Onion Sprouts Close-Up

Time to put them into some soil! It's far too cold out even for cool-weather crops, though. Newspaper pots to the rescue! After a little trial and error, here's how I made them....

You'll need black and white newspaper, a soda can, a tray or small tub, a spray bottle, and potting soil.
Newspaper Pot Materials

Cut or tear black and white newspaper into single pages and then into into quarters.

Take one of those quarters and make any adjustments to size that would be appropriate for your purposes. I folded one edge over, as shown below, to make them shorter and more uniform.
Fold the Paper

Now, wrap the paper around a soda can, letting a couple inches extend beyond the top of the can. It should overlap itself. Notice that I have put my fold on the bottom, which lets the ragged end extend beyond the can.
The Overlap

Now we're going to form the bottom of the pot. At the overlap, fold the paper over the top of the can.
Fold #1

Fold it a second time, leaving just a point of paper.
Fold #2

Fold that final point down. Voila! You've just formed a biodegradable seedling pot!
Fold #3

But it's not going to stay together all by itself. I found that it helped to spritz the folds of the pot bottom as well as the edge of the overlap.
Dampen the Folds

Place them all in the tray or tub. They should be somewhat snug, so that they will help each other hold their forms, but not crushed together. Voila!!! Your very own biodegradable seedling pots for FREE!
Snug in a Tub

They held their forms quite nicely once they were all nested and filled with soil. Here I am making indentations for my onion seeds.
Pots Filled With Soil

I put in the 16 healthiest looking sprouted seeds, covered them, gently misted the soil with the spray bottle until it looked nicely moist on top, then poured water into the tub itself to allow the pots to soak it up. I'll primarily water them by misting heavily, since I didn't set up the tub to allow the pots to drain. (You could do so by putting a layer of rocks beneath them.)

I put plastic wrap over it to hold in the moisture and keep out the cats, and I'll make room for it in the sunny laundry room tomorrow.

Once ready to plant, I can just plop the pots in the ground and the paper will biodegrade and become part of the soil. If you make these, keep in mind that they aren't as sturdy and peat pots. You may want to double the thickness if you're concerned about them falling apart when you lift them out, but I plan on lifting them out with a kitchen spatula while holding them with my other hand. Once plopped in the ground, I want them to fall apart as quickly as possible.

One other note: I'd avoid color newspaper. I've read in more than one source that you shouldn't compost newspaper with colored ink if the compost is going into a vegetable garden, so I'd venture to guess that you should keep those colored inks out of your garden entirely.


Jessica said...

I saw this method for making seed starting pots in this month's Mother Earth News. I thought you might be interested in trying it out. ;)

Elizabeth said...

Oh, I like that method better than simply cutting the tubes in half, Jessica. I like that it has a bottom, you you can easily bend the bottom away from the roots when you're about to put the plants in the soil.

Kerri said...

LOL all I could think was...she does not have a toddler. :-)

Anonymous said...

Good use ... but why plant singly? And why not plant directly into the pots?

Elizabeth said...

Kerri, no, but I do have a very troublesome little cat! I have to be careful to keep things out of her reach.

Anon, I plant them singly so I can just pick up the newspaper pots and plop them right in the ground. Super easy. Same basic concept as the "peat pellets/pods." And I sprouted them rather than directly seed the pots as an experiment, but the idea is that there is a faster germination rate if you sprout the seeds first. It also eliminates some of the mystery of whether or not the seeds are sprouting at all under the soil. :)

Anonymous said...

I think this would be a good opportunity to combine your starters with a square-foot gardening method, and you can size your paper pots to do so. You can fit 16 onions (four rows of four plants) in one square foot.


Elizabeth said...

Hey Anon, not a shabby idea for next year. But I'm not confident a full foot-wide paper "pot" would stay together the way a small one does.

Anonymous said...

Maybe not, but perhaps if you doubled up the newspaper or reinforced it. Still you could even reduce it to half a foot and still yield 8 plants per. Just something you might like to experiment with, and square foot gardening is perfect for people in urban areas.

Elizabeth said...

I could, perhaps, see 1/4 a square holding together through the transplanting process.

And yes, SFG works wonderfully for urban areas. That's why I already use it! :D

Log Homes said...

Great blog post! I love learning about this online as gardening/landscaping are not only hobbies of mine but I actually do a little bit of work like that during the summer months as a second job. I appreciate your content in your blog and wish that you would keep up the good work :)