You put the lime in the coconut and grow a little seed
If you are like J. and I and are new to gardening you too may be wondering what the best container is in order to grow seeds or maybe you are looking for a more eco friendly option. If you do a little research on the internet you will find individuals that swear by each one so what’s the best one? Honestly we don’t know because to truly give an informed opinion we would have to do a controled study where all variables are the same and then we would have to chart our progress. We are not that scientific. We would probably forget to chart the progress or forget which seeds or get frustrated when nothing grew in anything. So instead I (N.) intend to present you with information and links about each option in one place so that you can decide. Now don’t get confused by the pictures, I love to type in something like “plastic” in flickr and see what I find. Personally I think the picture of Mr. Potato Head is cooler then one of a plastic pot, but maybe that’s just me.
Plastic seeds pots and plastic seedling trays are probably the most widely available potting option when you are looking to start seeds. They are sold in high end nursery as well as discount places like Walmart and they are relatively inexpensive everywhere you go. You can buy them as individual pots in a variety of sizes but it’s more common to see people purchase large “flats” that can house a couple dozen to a couple hundred seedlings. So flats will come with plastic covers and removable bottom trays for watering. This features certainly make life easier for us but they aren’t so great for the environment. You can find some from companies like Trex and AHL Garden Supply but I haven’t seen of them widely available in stores. Granted plastic can be used over and over again if properly cared for but personally I think that there are better solutions.
(The picture above shows a pile made up of more than 20,000 pounds of recycled newspaper from Steven Siegel’s Scale which is located at Abington Art Center’s sculputre park.)
Another options and the one I primarily used this year is newspaper pots. You can go dumpster diving Freegan style in the recycle bin and come up with an endless supply of “pots.” It is really simple to make the pots themselves all it requires is a little time, a pair of scissors, and something to roll the newspaper around (we used a bottle of vanilla). I’ll admit trying to make 50 of these much less 500 like some people plant is tedious and you wouldn’t want to do it in a single day. BUT it’s free, it’s eco friendly because the newspaper pot can be planted directly into the dirt once you tear the bottom off, it’s less traumatic to the plants because they aren’t completely removed, and you can still water from below like you do with plastic trays.
If you google “newspaper seedling pots” you will get a bunch of hits but all the instructions are pretty much the same so for an easy how to you can check out the Urban Garden Hoe. I set my pots in random tupperware and baking dishes and they did really way. You could also cover them with a glass lid (like from a casserole dish) or just use plastic wrap (although that’s not so great for the environment) to retain heat and moisture while they germinate. I also so someone use a glass cake cover which they found at a thrift store. I like this idea for all the reasons listed above and think it would work great for people like J. and I starting small container gardens but I admit on a large scale it probably isn’t the most practical solution.
A relatively new option are cow manure pots. Now is it just me or is anyone else just a little weirded about by this? I found a number of companies selling these online but again I haven’t been able to find them in any of the local brick and mortar stores. They have the advantage of being made from a material that is “naturally” created and might otherwise go to waste and they are biodegradable so they can be directly planted into the soil when you are ready to move your seedlings outdoors.
Cowpots were designed by a pair of Connecticut dairy farmers, who are also brothers. Like most dairy farmers, they needed to figure out what to do with all the manure their cows produced. They use the methane from the manure for energy on the farm and then dry the manure. The brothers, Matt and Ben Freund, figured out a way to combine the manure with fibers and glue and then bake it into a container perfect for seed starting.
My concern isn’t about small local farmers doing it but rather large scale feedlots further exploiting cows by making money off of their byproducts. If you don’t know cows that live in feedlots live confined lives and are fed a grain based diet which fattens then up faster but also causes significant health issues in the long term. It becomes almost a blessing for them to get slaughtered because at least they are no longer in pain. The other issue would be the hormones/chemicals etc that are used in the cows that would be transferred to their manure and then obviously into the pot.
Perhaps the most well known and well marketed “natural” alternative to plastic seeds trays are peat pots. They are advertised as being better for the environment and biodegradable. Sounds great doesn’t it? They are relatively inexpensive and they are easily found at any nursery or garden center. Unfortunately like many mass marketed products you can’t believe all the hype. Many peat pots are advertised as natural but in order to keep the peat pots from drying out manufacturers use snythetic wetting (so much for “all natural”). That however is not a peat pots greatest sin.
Peat bogs (where these pots come from) are an important habitat that can take centuries to regenerate if they are drained in order to collect the peat. Peatlands play a significant role in the larger landscape. They provide habitat for a great diversity of native plants and wildlife, resting and feeding areas for migrating birds, a source of water that may supply downstream areas, protect water quality through purifying the water, and protect upland terrestrial areas from flooding. These wetlands also have value as areas for scientific research, nature study, and recreational use.
I don’t know about you but this isn’t where I want to get my seedling pot from.
A better solution for the environment and a growing trend among gardeners is coconut pellets. These pellets made from coconut fiber are a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to peat pots and pellets. You can use coco fiber pots and pellets exactly as you would the peat as both types perform the same while coco fiber also has higher resistance to mold, 10 times faster water absorption, and holds more water and retains it longer resulting in less watering. Like peat pots they are biodegradable but as far as I know they don’t use any synthetic wetting. I first heard about these at Elements In Time but since then I’ve seen a few other bloggers post about them. You can also see their opinion of coconut bricks. They seem similar to regular soil bricks and I cover those in a bit.
If you want to use something you already have but don’t like the idea of rolling a lot of newspaper then you could use eggs. This is another one that I think is better suited to small growers unless you want to get your entire neighborhood in on saving eggs for you and making sure they are careful how they break them. J. and I tried a couple seeds in these and had marginal success, unfortunately about a week after planting the seeds I tripped and knocked the eggs onto the floor. It was not a pretty site. Now we just crush our eggs up and use them as a soil additive.
And finally (although I’m sure I could think of more ideas if I really tried) are soil blocks. You can purchase metal molds online through a variety of surfaces and then use your own soil mix of choice to create the blocks. Once the seedling is ready for transplant you can take the little block and plop it into the ground. You won’t have to worry about any webbing remaining and preventing plant growth (this happens with peat pots sometimes) and you will only have to purchase one soil block mold to make endless amounts of “pots.” Since they come in different sizes you can purchase the mold that bests suits the number of seed pots that you need so it isn’t as tedious as newspaper pots. Obviously you would have to purchase or prepare soil anyway so you aren’t really adding any expense or effort and you can control any all all chemicals that go into the process. Occasionally peat pots have additives to assist in plant growth so they aren’t really organic. If you don’t feel like purchasing a soil block maker you could even make your own.
Wow that was I think our longest post so far but hopefully we have covered some valuable information and failing that our pictures are at least amusing :).