Here in Chicago we just had a few days of beautiful warm weather. It reminded me that it’s time to start my garden! I still can’t start it outside yet for quite a while, but now is the time to start some plants indoors if you have a nice sunny spot to put them.
Planting seeds makes for a great activity for the kids too. If you haven’t done gardening with your child, you should start! First of all, kids love getting messy, and gardening gives them PLENTY of opportunity for that.
Kids are also fascinated watching things grow. From the seeds just starting to sprout, to the first leaf, to the blossoms and finally the vegetable, growing and changing color. They love it! And the best part is, when they are so invested in the plants, they are more apt to want to EAT the fruits of their labor and LOVE IT!
And if you plant herbs, your child can graze in the garden all summer long as my Em does! By age 3 she knew how to identify nearly a dozen herbs, and she loved (and still loves) munching on them all! [Need pinnable photo/featured image – and also hand-craft an excerpt]
OK, back to the beginning – starting the seeds. You can buy special kits for starting plants, with the little brown compostable pots, and some even come with trays and covers to keep them warm and moist. But if you want to do it on the cheap or, even better, FREE if you reuse and upcycle, here are some other options for starting those seeds.
#1: Milk or juice cartons
Take a half-gallon carton and cut out one side. If you have a carton that has the cap/spout, position it so when you lie the carton on its side it is at its lowest point (so, rotated a quarter turn clockwise from what’s shown in this photo from Natural Beach Living). This allows for drainage if necessary. I liked using these cartons because they were deeper and sturdier than most of those little starter pots, so the plants could get bigger before transplanting. And you can put more than one plant per pot, depending on what you are growing. I used about half a dozen of these last year to start my peppers and squash and I’ll probably do it again this year.
Another option is to cut the carton in half lengthwise and get two shallow planters out of it! Twice the planting space!
Since the cartons are waterproof, they will last a long time, so they are reusable. If you’d like to invest some time to make them a little prettier, paint them, duct tape them, or whatever!
#2: Newspaper pots
If you want something more like the store-bought ones that you can just plant the whole thing in the ground then this is the solution for you! And with the origami-like paper folding, it’s two activities in one!
Just be aware that these are flimsy! Make sure to put them on a sturdy tray and pack them tight together to support each other. Don’t have a tray? Try using a plastic box lid, or a cardboard box trimmed down (lined, with plastic or foil, of course).
#3: Paper mâché pots
Want to get even craftier? Use paper scraps, newspaper, cereal boxes, or whatever paper or cardboard you can find to make paper mâché pots. Tear whatever you use into little bits (instead of strips), and instead of the usual glue used for binding, use flour and water. Mix it together so it’s almost like a dough. Form the pots in muffin tins. If you use silicone muffin forms, they’ll just pop right out when they dry. If you use the more traditional metal tins, you’ll have to line the cups first with pieces of plastic wrap, pieces of foil, or foil muffin wrappers or you’ll never be able to remove the pots once they’ve dried. Trust me on this one.
This is so much fun for the kids! Good instructions can be found over at Kids Chaos.
#4: Soda bottles or water bottles
This is a great one for those of us who forget to water… Cut the bottle in half. Poke or drill a hole in the cap and thread a piece of yarn or heavy string through to be the wick. Flip over the top half and put it neck down in the bottom half. You put water in the bottom half and dirt in the top half and you get a self-watering planter! Neat! (Reading that back, it sounds really complicated, but I think the picture is self-explanatory so the words get in the way.) You can even go bigger and use a gallon milk jug in the same way. Full instructions and more pictures can be found at Totally Kids Times.
As an alternative, you can skip the hole in the cap, and instead use a rolled up paper towel sticking out the neck of the bottle to act as the wick. Or don’t use a wick at all. You’ll need something to keep the dirt in by either putting something in the bottle before you add the dirt (like newspaper, paper towel, coffee filter, etc.), or put something over the outside of the neck (paper or something held on with a rubber band, or duct tape with a little spacing or poked holes. If you don’t have a wick, though, you’ll have to put more water in the bottom to come up high enough on the neck and you’ll have to fill it more often.
#5: Take out containers
When we order out Chinese, the food comes in these rectangular black or white plastic containers with clear lids. Poke some holes in the bottom for drainage. While the seeds are just starting, you can keep the cover on. But these containers are shallow, so the cover can’t be used for long, and you’ll have to transplant before the plants get too big. The transparent round soup containers work well too!
If you don’t get take-out, try butter/margarine containers, yogurt cups, sour cream containers, salad packages, clear bakery containers, rotisserie chicken containers, … just about any container works! Just remember, drainage is important (especially if you have little kiddos doing the watering).
#6: Toilet paper rolls
Maybe you don’t get take-out, but this is an item EVERYONE has! There are several ways you can plug the bottom end of the tube – cut and fold in the edges a bit to form a bottom, use a coffee filter, or newspaper, or paper towel, or,… well you can probably think of something else (exercise left to the reader). These are nice because, like the newspaper ones, they can be put right in the ground with the plant! Good for transplanting those delicate seedlings. Easy peasy! I got this nice picture from Older Mommy Still Yummy, and she got the idea and instructions from Earth911.
#7: Plastic bags
You can take the small sandwich bags or all the way up to gallon size and fill with dirt. You might want to fold over the opening to make a sturdier top that can stay open better. When it comes time to plant, you can just slice the bag to remove it. Or… line the bag with a coffee filter, paper towel, or newspaper first, and then you can remove the plant from the bag without tearing the bag.
Over at Upcycle Us, there are pictures from an Anthropologie window display (one is shown here). Hanging the bags is a great way to start your plants indoors when space is at a premium. I suppose you could leave the smaller plants in there to mature too.
#8: Egg cartons
I love this option, because you get a whole set of little starter pots connected, so you can have one label for the whole tray! You can use the cardboard style or the Styrofoam cartons. Cut off the top lid and use it underneath to make a tray so it is sturdier and can catch that overflow water. If you use the cardboard style, you may want to line it with plastic wrap or foil. Poke holes in the Styrofoam ones for drainage (not as necessary for the cardboard ones). A good post on how to make this a fun and educational activity for kids can be found at Stories and Children.
When you are ready to plant, if you use the cardboard cartons, just cut them apart and plant the whole thing. Don’t do this with the Styrofoam ones.
#9: Egg shells
Yup, that’s right. You can save your egg shell halves. Of course, this assumes you are careful when you crack open your eggs and don’t smash them to smithereens and use them as an unintentional added ingredient when you make brownies. Rinse them out and put them back into the egg carton. You’ll want to carefully poke a little hole in the bottom for drainage. The egg shells can be planted directly into the garden and they’ll feed your plant too! I found a nice how-to with pretty pictures at P. Allen Smith.
I’m thinking this might be a hard one to do with the kids…
Now, if you are like me and have egg shell bits that can’t be used for dainty pots, you can still use them for gardening. Smash ’em up really small and sprinkle around your plants once they are in the garden. The egg shells provide nutrients to the plants, and the sharp edges keep the slugs away (ugh! shudder!).
#10: Fabric Pots
Okay, I don’t want you sewers feeling left out! You can make a simple bag planter from just about any fabric scraps you have in your stash. The ones in the picture, found over at Keen & Fitting, used to be for sale on Etsy, but aren’t available anymore, but I thought they were so pretty I had to show you!
These fabric plant pots won’t hold up forever like the plastic ones, but they also won’t disintegrate quickly, so you could definitely leave some of your plants in them for the season if you make them big enough. These would be great to make a colorful herb garden on your patio or apartment balcony!
If you are new to sewing, this is the perfect starter project. Visit Sew Mama Sew for a good tutorial on making a tote bag. Obviously, for the planter you don’t need to have a lining or pocket or handles. Just two rectangular pieces of fabric, sew three sides, make the gusset bottom to help shape it, and you are done! [If you don’t know what a gusset is, check out the tutorial.] You don’t even have to finish the top edge if you don’t want to! Just roll it over a couple of times. I would say the two fabric pieces should be anywhere from 5″ x 5″ up to 10″ x 10″ or anywhere in between. They don’t have to be square. It just depends on how tall and wide you want the planter, if and how many times you’ll be rolling over the top edge, and just what you have on-hand. You could go bigger, but then you’ll need to make sure you have a heavy-duty fabric like canvas or burlap and you might also want to put on some sturdy handles to make it easier to move around.
This would be a great project for teaching your kids to sew. They could do it by hand, or learn to use the sewing machine. Simple straight stitches make it easy! It’s very forgiving for those little mistakes, and you’ll get something you can actually use instead of another flimsy potholder!
These are just a few suggestions for using what you have on-hand to start those seeds. I’m sure you can think of a bunch of other things too. What do you use? Don’t keep it to yourself—share it with us!