By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru
Believe it or not, spring is really just around the corner and now is the time for the gardener to start thinking about starting some seeds indoors.
Gardening can be expensive if you need to buy a lot of plants to fill your garden each year. Starting your own plants from seed is an economical way of extending the budget for plants.
You can start all kinds of plants from seed, including annual flowers, perennials, herbs, many houseplants, and, of course, vegetables.
Starting seeds indoors can really boost your spirits by getting some “early” gardening done, and also is a fun project for the kids.
You really do not need a lot of fancy equipment to start seeds indoors. Some containers for planting, as well as some windows with adequate light, are all that is really required.
There are many creative and thrifty solutions for containers and supplies suitable for planting, but one thing you do not want to skimp on is your soil.
When purchasing any bagged soil for planting, spend the extra money to ensure you are buying a sterilized product. Whether it is soil for houseplants, starting seeds, or the soil-less mix for seedlings or planters, make sure you always purchase a pre-sterilized product.
It is not always necessary to go out and spend a lot of money on seedling containers when you may have many items around the home that are suitable. I’ve listed a few ideas to get you started (if you use your imagination, you probably can add to the list yourself).
When dealing with very small seeds, it may be better to germinate them first by placing some potting mix in plastic container like a sour cream container to the two-thirds level.
Mist the top of the potting mix with water until it is moist, sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil, and then snap on the lid. Most seeds need light to germinate, so make sure you use a clear plastic lid.
The container will act like a mini-greenhouse by keeping the warmth and moisture inside.
Transplant to larger containers once the seedlings touch the lid.
Empty egg cartons make great seed containers. Cut the container apart at the fold and place the lid underneath the cup part to act as a tray to catch the water.
If there are any vent holes in the lid, seal them with duct tape to make the lid waterproof (if using a Styrofoam container, also punch a small hole in the bottom of each cup).
A recycled paper egg carton is just as handy, and the cups can be planted directly into the garden because they will disintegrate (to make the lid a waterproof tray, just place inside a plastic bag first).
Clear produce containers with a hinged lid (like strawberries come in) also can be made into little mini-greenhouses. Cupcake liners, egg carton cups, Styrofoam cups, toilet paper or paper towel rolls (cut to size), peat pellets, or peat cups all can be placed inside these containers.
Simply plant the seeds, water, close the lid, and place in a sunny spot.
If the cups are of paper or peat origin, then they can be planted directly in the soil when the time comes. If the cups are non-paper, then the seedling will pop out easily for re-planting.
Plastic mesh berry baskets are a gardener’s best friend and have many uses in the garden. They are ideal for using as a planting container for seedlings whose roots do not like to be disturbed when transplanting (i.e., cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash).
Just line the basket with a few layers of newspaper, paper towel, or a coffee filter, add potting mix, and then the seed. Water and then set in a tray.
Once the plant is ready for out planting, snip off the bottom of the mesh basket and then place the basket in a shallow hole, slip off the plastic mesh, and firm up in the garden with remaining soil. No root disturbance using this method.
If you have extra seedlings within the basket, just trim them away with scissors, instead of plucking them out, and then you avoid any root disturbance.
Coffee filters are great for placing in the bottom of pots to block drainage holes for your houseplant or your container gardens. They also can be inserted into plastic containers (for side support) with drainage holes or the bottoms removed, and then the soil added and the seeds planted in the soil.
At transplanting time, simply pop the filter “pot” out and into the planting hole.
For heat-loving seedlings, use a shoe box (or any other container), completely lined with either black plastic or tin foil, before filling three-quarters with potting mix (leaving some of the plastic or foil exposed on the sides of the box to reflect heat).
Make sure you leave about an inch sticking up like a collar around the edge of the shoebox, in order to attract and deflect the heat to the seedlings.
It can be very cumbersome to water delicate seedlings in small pots without disturbing the soil or plant. If you have used a container that is absorbent (i.e., paper or peat based, not surrounded by plastic), it is best to place the water in the bottom of the tray holding your plants.
Commercial greenhouses use wicking mats to accomplish this.
You can create your own wicking mat by inserting a synthetic chamois cloth in the bottom of your tray before placing in the pots. Keeping the synthetic chamois cloth moist at all times will ensure a constant moisture supply to your seedlings—making for healthier ones.
A synthetic chamois cloth can be purchased at most stores in the kitchen or cleaning supply area. They often are treated to resist mould or mildew, and can be washed and reused for next time.
They also can be cut into strips to make good soft yet strong ties for staking plants in the garden.
These are just a few ideas to get your thrifty thumb working while helping you to get the green one going a little early. Many of the items we put in our blue box or garbage can be reused at least once in another way before we dispose of it completely.
So before you discard an item, look at it with an open mind and see if it can assist you in the garden.
I’ll be sharing more thrifty gardening tips throughout the season, so stay on the lookout.