In preparation for starting my seeds (March 9, 10, and 11 is when I start my peppers this year), I began making my pots to hold the little seedlings. We have a small garden and I’ve found that, because I don’t need to start a lot of plants, sowing seeds in flats isn’t an efficient method for me. In order to fill a flat, I have to sow a small number of each variety, which can get confusing, and I find pricking out (transplanting tiny seedlings into a larger container) an endeavour fraught with tension as I hold my breath and gently, gently tease the little plant out of it’s snug home, into a new pot, and gently, gently tamp it in. Frankly, I don’t need that kind of stress!
So I sow my seed directly into a little newspaper pot that I create with this handy tool. The pot goes onto a water-catching tray, gets watered (just enough to dampen the soil), and then the tray and pots get covered with a plastic bag to prevent the soil from drying out while they sit in a warm place waiting for the seeds to germinate. I check on the pots several times during the day to make sure the soil is damp enough. If not, I find misting the pots and soil is a better way to increase the moisture than directly watering the soil – it’s easier to control the amount of water and it won’t create little pockmarks in the soil surface. Note: When watering seedlings, use only filtered, room temperature (or slightly warmer) water – you don’t want the tender little things to be absorbing chlorine or lead or other toxic chemicals, and you don’t want to shock them with cold water (at least, not yet).
Once the seeds have germinated, I remove the plastic bag, and place the emerging seedlings under a grow light. When the plants look like they’re outgrowing the newspaper pots (indicated by roots starting to push through the newspaper walls), and if it’s still too cold to transplant them directly into the garden, I pot them up into larger plastic containers (about 20cm diameter size), newspaper pot and all. I find this to be an easier method of starting seeds for a small garden.
There can be, however, the occasional problem. If I’ve watered too much, the newspaper disintegrates – although you’d be amazed at how much water that takes. If I’ve watered too little, the newspaper crumbles, usually at the bottom, which necessitates transplanting the threatened seedling into a 10cm plastic pot. These things don’t happen frequently enough, though, that I feel the need to change my method.
I’ve been asked whether the inks in newsprint are toxic and I’ve yet to discover a definitive answer to that question. All I know is that they are less toxic than they used to be, for whatever that’s worth. From what I’ve read, the amount of heavy metals used in the ink has been severely reduced and, in the case of lead, been almost eliminated. There is still concern, however, about benzene, toluene, and napthalene (among others) although the good news is that many newspaper printers have been moving toward soy-based ink rather than petroleum-based, thereby reducing the toxicity even more. As I understand it, if you’re unsure of what ink your newspaper is written in, your safest option is to use only the black and white part of the paper and never, ever the glossy, colorful inserts since these contain the highest amounts of lead, cadmium and chromium. Although I’ve never tested my plants for heavy metal contamination, I’d hazard a guess and say that it’s probable; but whether that contamination comes from newspaper ink or simply from the air and water that plants absorb from our toxic environment would be impossible for me to say. What I can say, is that my plants have never shown any visible sign of contamination and their health seems to depend more on the quality of the potting soil than whether I’ve started them in plastic or newspaper pots. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has more knowledge than I do in the printing process (and an unbiased opinion).
In addition to being able to grow more interesting varieties than you might find in your local nursery, starting your own seeds can be an inexpensive alternative to purchasing plant starts – I’d love to hear how other gardeners start their seeds, particularly any frugal, stylish, and/or sustainable ideas.