Friday, April 9, 2010

Searching for a better seedling growing method

Last year I went on a search for a better plant growing system.

Over the years I have used a variety of planters and peat products to start my seedlings. I used recycled yogurt tubs, those small six pack planters, then I used the small 2 1/2" square planters, since most plants outgrew them to fast and I constantly had to replant the seedlings I went to the larger and deeper planters. These at least I did not have to re-pot as quick the drawback to all these little planters, to use them you have to wash them and sterilize in bleach water. Since I have to do it in my kitchen-sink and I don't like to clean dirty pots in the kitchen-sink I later might want to wash my lettuce in and it is quite a bit of work many times I just would use the dirty pots and sometimes my plants would damp off. Not sure if it was the dirty pots fault or just by chance but dirty pots can carry pathogens from last years crop.

Then I used the 'APS' (Accelerated Propagation System) Styrofoam seedling trays from the Gardener Supply company, they work with capillary mats. These worked nicely for growing plants since the ground is always nicely moist, just perfect for little seeds to sprout and grow and you did not have to water so often. Since they come in different sizes I was able to grow most of the plants without having to re- pot them, at least not as often. Their drawback was the cleaning part. Since they are Styrofoam trying to clean the dirt off them was somewhat a struggle. Dirt likes to stick to Styrofoam, a lot. And trying to clean them without breaking them, was almost impossible. Styrofoam in most regions of the US is not recycled and in the end I decided if I have to throw them away after a couple of seasons and buy new they do not fit into my picture of sustainability and not wasting resources.

Last year I came across the 'Compact Plant Trainer System' made in Sweden by 'Agralan' in the Jung Seed catalog. They looked real sturdy and you can wash the trays in the dishwasher. Reusable without breaking easily and being able to not have to hand wash sounded really good.

 Those also were supposed to have a capillary action, drawing the water to the roots from a bottom tray. I only used them for one planting last year, since I got them toward the end of my indoor seeding season. I had a bit of a struggle last year to get the seedlings out of them without disturbing the roots much. The bottom tray has these pegs which you use to push the seed plugs out when you are ready to transplant, the problem was it did not push them out far enough and since the tray is rather small and the seed plugs are close together it was difficult to grab the plugs without breaking stems of seedlings. The dirt did not hold tight enough and so I ended up with a huge mess, many broken stems and disturbed roots. I also thought the capillary action could have been better. The bottom of the root plug was too wet but then the top level, where the seeds need the moisture was to dry and I constantly had to be on the watch to moisten the top. Last year I thought maybe my potting seedling mix was not a good fit for the trays, too loose maybe. So this year I added a bit more compost and garden soil for it too be able to suck more water up, but still I had the same problem. Too wet on the bottom, to dry on the top. Many of the seedlings had trouble sprouting and again I lost too many seedlings by crushing them trying to get them out of the tray.

So now I came back to my old friend I had for a long time. I don't know why I neglected him so much in the last years since he is sustainable, lasts a life time, I never have to clean him, and there is nothing to clean up after. My dear old 'Newspaper pot maker'

It is so easy to use and by cutting wider newspaper strips you can make deeper pots. So this year I am growing almost all my seedlings in newspaper pots. My plants are growing so nicely and when I transplant them into the garden. I can plant them pot and all.
My first pots I made this year, seemed to disintegrate quicker then I remembered from a few years ago, when I used it heavily and I think that maybe the newspaper paper used today must be thinner then back then.
So my second batch I used my newspaper double and this seems to work much better.
I have been collecting the lettuce plastic bins, they sell the mixed, washed lettuce in the grocery store in, I put the dirt filled, seeded paper pots in these bins and with the lid on it made perfect little green houses. The taller pots I put into some old refrigerator door bins I kept, the lettuce bins fit perfectly on top.
Everything stayed nicely moist in the bins, I hardly had to water and with the help of my home made warming trays it all stayed toasty for the seeds to sprout.

When I had to re-pot my tomatoes I just made some higher pots by cutting wider strips of paper and I think I might not have to re-pot them again before transplanting them out.

All in all my good old Newspaper pot is coming out to be my best system to grow my plants with. Sometimes the simplest thing is all one needs. To top it off it is easy to use, costs very little money, recycles my newspaper and therefore fits in with trying to be more sustainable.

Paper pot Wins!


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