The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Recycled Seed Starting Materials: Paper Pots, Watering Bottles, and Venetian Blind Labels April 9, 2017

Seedlings growing in recycled materials!

Seedlings growing in recycled materials!

The spring is a wonderful time to begin starting your seeds–and here in Western PA, we just crossed the “eight weeks before last frost” threshold, so it is a bit of an urgent matter! This means that this weekend is the time to start many of the warm season crops and perennial herbs. Today’s post takes a “recycled” spin on seed starting to share with you a number of tricks for seed starting all using recycled and repurposed materials (drawing upon the permaculture principle, “waste is a resource”). For these seed starting options, we are making use of many typical “trash” and “recycle bin” products: newspaper, styrofoam take-out trays, two-liter soda bottles, and Venetian blinds. Even if your household doesn’t produce this stuff yourself, a simple walk down any suburban or town street will likely yield more of these materials than you’ll likely ever need.

 

If you want to know more about seeds and how to develop a good seed starting setup, you can visit my earlier post. I also have written about the kinds of seeds to start and my spiritual insights on seed starting in earlier posts.

 

Recycled Two-Liter Soda Bottle Seed Waterer

For really small seeds that need to be sown on the surface (like chamomile), watering them with a regular watering can or small indoor plant watering can dislodge the seeds. Then, the seeds flow to the edges of your pot and then sprout along those edges. However, a good farmer friend showed me this trick to create a very effective seed waterer using a two-liter soda bottle.  This waterer offers a very gentle watering system that doesn’t dislodge seeds (it also allows for uniform watering quickly of many different seed starts).

Materials: A drill with a small bit, a two-liter bottle with cap

Instructions: You simply take a very small drill bit and drill in a series of holes, like below.  The more holes you drill, the faster your water will come out (so you might want a few different options).

Drilling holes in the lid of a soda bottle

Drilling holes in the lid of a soda bottle

Once you’ve drilled your bottle, you fill it with water and water away!

Filled bottle

Filled bottle

 

Squeezing the bottle gently gives you a wonderful sprinkle that is just the right size for your seedlings and is kind to the tender plants.  Here I am watering some st. johns wort plants.

Watering St. John's Wort plants (plants for my refugia garden)

Watering St. John’s Wort plants (plants for my refugia garden)

 

Recycled Venitian Blinds as Seed Labels

Venitian blinds made of plastic are in widespread use but often end up being a waste product. Personally, I can’t stand the things, but I’m glad to have found a real use for them. If one or two of the smaller flimsy plastic blinds break, they are typically thrown away.  Larger ones eventually also are discarded. We see this here a lot in my college town–you can probably pick up a dozen or so of the discarded sets of blinds within a year’s time if you keep an eye out. What a friend of mine taught me some years ago was a simple trick to create labels for your seedlings and outdoor plants: using Venitian blinds and marker.

 

Cut up Venetian blinds actually make a wonderful choice for labels because they are hardy and don’t break down.  The only potential challenge is that if you use a sharpie on them, the marker will eventually fade in the sunlight (not a problem for seed starting, but can be a problem for planting out).

 

Materials: Venetian blinds of any size, scissors, sharpie marker.

Cutting up a larger blind into smaller segments for labels

Cutting up a larger blind into smaller segments for labels

To make the blinds: 

Any kind of blind works: you can use both the larger blinds (as in the photo) or the smaller blinds; both cut with a simple pair of scissors. Once you’ve cut them, simply label them and stick them in your pots (paper or plastic; In the photo below have some hand-me-down plastic pots with Veneitan blind labels–some of the seeds I started this week).

A finished tray with labels

Smaller Venetian blind labels

Smaller Venetian blind labels

The labels can be used year after year; even if the marker fades, you can simply replace it.

Recycled Paper Pots

This year, a friend and I experimented with these paper pot makers from the UK. They are nice–you roll up the pot, and then, the pot maker kind of crunches up the bottom as you twist it on a wooden base.

Paper pot makers (commercial)

Paper pot makers (commercial)

After some experimentation and modification, however, we found an even easier way to make these pots–with an added benefit of a bottom watering option using recycled take-out trays.

Paper pots ready for planting!

Paper pots ready for planting!

The process we developed doesn’t even need the paper pot maker–any jar (like a vitamin jar or spice jar) will easily do the trick.

 

Materials: Newspaper (preferably black and white, as this has soy-based inks), stapler, recycled styrofoam or plastic tray.

 

The process:

First, you fold your newspaper into the right size.

Folding newspaper for a smaller seed starting pot

Folding newspaper for a smaller seed starting pot

After folding, you need to roll it on something.  So here we go…

Rolling the paper around the pot maker (jar works fine as well)

Rolling the paper around the pot maker (jar works fine as well)

Now, you staple it or fold in a corner to hold it together.

Staple the pot - one staple is more than enough! You can also use a paperclip here (can be reused)

Staple the pot – one staple is more than enough! You can also use a paperclip here (can be reused)

Now, we place the pot, with the open bottom, into a recycled take-out tray and fill each with soil.  A spoon works really well for this purpose (although I prefer to get my fingers right in the soil).  If you put your soil in a bucket and make your soil wet (getting it to the consistency of brownie batter) your pots will fill very easily and then you don’t have to try to water the seeds after planting them (dislodging them).

Filling the pots with soil!

Filling the pots with soil!

These paper pots hold up pretty well over time.  We’ve noticed that when the plants outgrow them, they start to break their roots through the pot (see photo below).  This is a good sign to plant out or transplant into a bigger pot!

Ready to plant--roots coming out!

Ready to plant–roots coming out!

Not to mention they look really cool by comparison to other plastic options.

Beautiful trays of paper pots!

Beautiful trays of paper pots!

And don’t forget–seed starting is serious business! Someone needs to check your work. Here is our inspector general, Acorn.

Acorn inspects the watering.

Acorn inspects the watering.

 

I hope that the blessings of the spring are upon each of you!  If you have any other good tips for recycled/repurposed seed starting or growing ideas, I’d love to hear them :).

Save

Save

 

The Environmentally Conscious Consumer = Oxymoron June 8, 2012

We live in a capitalist culture, and that capitalist, consumerist culture would have you believe that “buying green” products is an environmentally conscious practice. I was with a group of friends the other day, and we began talking about environmentalism and consumerist practices. Several of them were convinced that buying “green” made them better people, and talked about the neat new green products they could buy, like new bamboo socks or a nifty water bottle.  I wanted to write a post about this issue, because its been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I think its important to set the record straight.

Suddenly, “green” products are popping up everywhere, asking you to “buy me!” “Buy me! Look! I’m green and good for the planet.”  Let me be clear–any product, regardless of how green it claims to be, is a product that has been created using resources, energy, and so forth.  It may be that this product is far superior to others of its kind in terms of that process that was used to create it and the way that raw materials / resources were used in that process (hence the “green” label, which may or may not really reflect good environmental stewardship).  But regardless if whether or not the product is a “better” product than others on the shelf–its still a product, and you are still buying it.  And that’s really at the root of the issue.

The most environmentally conscious thing you can do, period, is NOT BUY AT ALL. 

To be truly one with our land, to minimize our impact and develop a relationship with nature, rather than having nature only work for us, we must move away from our heavily consumerist mindset. We must recognize that so much of what we have, we don’t need.  So much of what we think we need, we really don’t.  And if we spend time searching, we can find better, often free, alternatives.  Here’s a little mantra that I really try living by.  I’ll admit that it works better for household items than art supplies, lol.

1) First, evaluate whether or not you really need that *awesome new thing.* A lot of times, you don’t.  If you really think you do, wait a week and see if it still holds the interest it did for you 7 days before.

2) If you still think you need it, is there a free alternative that’s readily available?  Check your local Freecycle, etc.  Consider borrowing–do you really need that miter saw if you’ll use it once a year?  What if your neighbor has one and is willing to let you borrow it?  Also, keep an eye out on the side of the road.  People throw away all kinds of good stuff–I’ve gotten all the gardening supplies I’ll ever need for free as well as outdoor furniture, good wood that I turned into other projects, etc, all along the side of the road being set out for trash pickup.

3) If not, can you get it used?  See if you can find what you are looking for at a thrift store, on Craig’s list, or at a yard sale.  You’d be surprised by the high quality stuff you can find this way.

***Note, buying used is almost always better than buying new.  Used stuff is already in the system, and doesn’t really create new demand.  Each time you buy something new, you add demand to the system–meaning they make more stuff.  For more information, you should REALLY watch The Story of Stuff.****

4) If not, can you find an environmentally friendly product? Its only at this stage, where you’ve exhausted your other options, should you consider purchasing something.  And then, its wise to research where you are going to get it, who you are buying it from, and so forth.

To show you this in action, I’m going to provide two such examples:

1) Food.  Food is obviously a necessity, and so obviously you have to acquire it somehow (growing it, foraging, purchase).  But not all foods are created equal. Let’s take, for example, the potato.  If you buy a bag of potatoes in the store, what are you actually buying?

  • You are buying the plastic that the potatoes come in (likely not recyclable and likely to cause a lot of pollution – here’s a link that takes you to a video about the problems of plastic).
  • You are buying the fossil fuels that it takes to move the potatoes from where they were grown (say Idaho) to where you are eating them (say, Michigan, which adds up to approximately 2000 miles).
  •  You are buying the pesticides and environmental pollution involved in growing the potatoes, not to mention probably supporting Monsanto, whose greedy little mitts have chained up our food supply.
  • You are supporting a business, who you purchase it from.  Does this business exploit their workers? Do they respect equal pay? What are their practices concerning the environment, social justice, and so forth.

Let’s say, after considering all of that, you put the conventional potato back in the cart and instead decide to choose an organic potato.  This is a really wise thing to do since pesticides concentrate in root vegetables more than many other kinds (potatoes end up on many “dirty dozen” lists, like this one).  What, then, are you buying?

  • You still have the issue of fossil fuels for transport
  • You still have the issue of packaging/plastic
  • You still have the issue of supporting a grocery store/big box store, etc.
  • Maybe you’ve cut some of the pesticides, petro-chemical fertilizers, and Monsanto out of the picture. Or maybe not–many so-called “Organic” brands are grown right along side their conventional ones, and sold under different labels.

This brings us to two other much more enviormentally-friendly options–purchasing it locally from farmers or growing it yourself.  Assuming that you purchase it from a farmer, that farmer may only be traveling 10-20 miles to get the potato to you; using very little packaging, and hopefully, raising it organically.  If you grow it yourself, it travels less than 100 feet to your house, and you control every aspect of its development. So in the end, a simple purchase like a potato (which yes, is a necessity), can still be terribly damaging to our ecosystem.

2) Clothing.   Ok, sure, you say, food is not as challenging because we have lots of farmer’s markets and so forth.  But what about that other necessity, clothing?  First, let’s evaluate your current wardrobe.   How many pieces of clothing do you own?  How many do you actually wear?  Do you really need more?  Again, let’s think through the list above.  Do you need it?  Let’s say that you, like me, pretty much wear your clothing to rags (and then turn it into rags to get the last bit of use out of it).  So maybe, yes, you need it.  And you’ve exhausted your free optoins.  Do you need to purchase any new clothing?  I would argue, no, pretty much never in most cases (and in most cases you really don’t want to because clothing has a substantial environmental impact).  I have purchased almost no new clothing in the last two years–all of the clothing that I own has either been upcycled/recycled from other clothes or purchased used at thrift stores and/or yard sales.  I am a professional, I work a real job.  And most of the clothing I find used is really quite nice.  I have made few some exceptions to this–I did purchase a good pair of hiking boots for hiking/gardening (because a good pair of boots is hard to find used–I looked!).  I also purchased socks/underwear new, for hygienic reasons–in this case, I purchased them online from environmentally friendly companies.  But for those I purchase new, I will make sure I get every last bit of wear and tear out of them.

So, in conclusion, don’t be fooled by advertising that convinces you to buy something just because it is green.  The best green thing you can possibly do is to not buy at all.  Produce your own food, find things for free, borrow and recycle things.  Don’t be afraid to dumpster dive.  If you have to buy, buy used.

While these things may seem small, remember the lessons that the river teaches us.  A river the size of the Mississippi is massive and able to shape the land around it.  The Mississippi doesn’t start out that way.  It starts from tiny little streams–millions of little streams coming from springs, rain runoff, etc.  Each of those streams becomes a small creek, each of those small creeks becomes a river.  Those rivers join up, and as they join, they eventually become the massive, mighty Mississippi.  Each of us is one of those streams.  And together, we become a river.  We become unstoppable.

We become the river.

We become the river.