By guest blogger Robyn Jasko, cofounder of Grow Indie
Instead of buying transplants this year, you can save a ton of money by growing your own tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, kale, lettuce, and herbs, and more from vegetable starts--for just the price of a packet of seeds and soil. Here are a few simple ways to grow your own seedlings without buying expensive seed-starting setups or kits:
Turn Your Recycling into a Mini-Greenhouse
Those plastic salad containers and egg cartons make fantastic mini-greenhouses that are perfect for starting a wide variety of seeds, so check your recycling and save your containers. It's really easy to turn a plastic lettuce container into a seed-starting greenhouse--all you need to do is poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage, add your soil, plant your seeds, and put the plastic cover back on top. The lid of your container builds humidity, which helps your seeds germinate faster. Once the plant has sprouted, take the lid off and place the mini-greenhouse in a sunny windowsill or under lights.
You can also use one of those plastic egg cartons to make a DIY seed-starting setup that self-waters and creates a cozy greenhouse in which to start seedlings. Just cut the top off the egg carton and put it aside (this will become your water reserve). Then take a safety pin and poke a hole in each of the 12 egg shapes (this is where the water will go up to the roots). Put the top underneath the egg carton, fill the compartments with soil and seeds, and put the lid back on. Voilà! You now have a perfect 12-compartment seed-starting greenhouse to put on your windowsill.
Make Your Own Newspaper Pots
If you are looking to start larger plants, newspaper pots are an easy way to make your own containers without buying a thing. All you need is some extra newspaper and a small cup or mason jar that is the size of the pot you want to make. Larger, 4-inch newspaper pots are great for potting up larger starters like tomatoes and peppers. Once you get the hang of it, these are really easy to make--here's a simple tutorial.
Make sure to use only black-and-white newspaper for this project because color inks can contain heavy metals that will leach into your garden. The New York Times uses soy-based ink, so I always stick with that to be on the safe side. Since the newspaper will decompose naturally, you can then plant these right into the garden. Newspaper also gives you the added benefits of retaining moisture, so you don't have to water as often. When planting into your garden, remove the bottom of the newspaper pot so the roots have a chance to stretch out.
Try Soil Blocks
You can bypass the container altogether by using a device to create soil blocks to start your seeds. Made famous by garden author and writer Eliot Coleman, these devices create mini-blocks that you can plant your seeds directly into, which are then planted right in the garden. There are plenty of benefits to growing seeds in soil blocks, including reduced transplant shock for healthier seedlings and avoidance of rootbound plants.
Once you buy a soil blocker device, you can make unlimited soil blocks and use it year after year. Soil blockers come in many sizes, but the main system is a 20-block ¾" tool, a single-block 2" tool, and a single-block 4" tool; buy one or all three, depending on which sizes you need. If you buy all three soil block devices, you can start your seeds with the smaller system and then keep moving them up until they reach the 4"-pot size. After the initial cost, you never have to buy a seed-starting kit again! Or, go DIY try making your own soil block system at home.
Robyn Jasko, creative services director at Runner"s World magazine at Rodale, is a local-foods activist, community garden starter, and cofounder of Grow Indie, a site promoting sustainable lifestyles, homesteading, eating well, and living local. Her first book, Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make and Store Food, No Matter Where You Live, was released May 2012.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com