Updated: Apr 6
Now that the majority of us are stuck in the house most of the time and the idea of growing our own food seems more like a necessity, there are ways that we can increase our self-sufficiency without requiring us to spend lots of money. By using items we would probably otherwise recycle or send to the landfill, we could start our own food-growing journey and save our precious pennies for other things.
We can all do our parts now to keep things out of the waterways and landfill especially now that so many must shelter in place while growing fruits and vegetables to feed ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors.
Did you know you could use those empty water bottles, soda bottles, and milk jugs to start seeds without grow lights? Those types of containers can also be used to grow food. Most plants that we consume need at most six inches for root growth.
Do you have papers that you can’t bring yourself to throw away? Use newspaper to create seed pots for growing transplants. Newspaper or used printer paper are great media for fashioning seed envelopes for your excess seeds after sowing or seeds donated by friends and neighbors.
Do you want to start growing your own herbs? They’re easy to grow in a self-watering planter. These vessels can be made from so many different kinds of bottles, but it’s easiest to make one from a 20-oz soda bottle or a 500 mL water bottle to learn the technique. Regardless of the container size, the technique to create a self-watering planter is the same.
First, we need to consider the seeds. Human beings need food, clothing, and shelter to survive, and seeds need moisture, warmth, and air to germinate or sprout. Seeds also need to be planted at the correct depth in the soil to optimize growth. A general rule is to sow seeds two times as deep as they are long. You can sow your seeds using items you probably have lying around the house.
Seeds can be sown in empty egg cartons. Cardboard egg cartons are particularly good because the seedlings need not be removed from the carton in order to be planted. Each egg cup can be cut away and planted individually once the seedlings are ready to transplant. The cardboard cups will decompose over time in your garden or in whatever container you use to grow your plant, which will add organic matter to your soil. The cardboard also acts as a wick for water and moisture, which can add to the plant’s growth.
What if you don’t have any egg cartons? You can use cardboard toilet paper rolls that have been cut in half or cardboard paper towel rolls cut into 3-inch lengths. There is no reason to remove the paper before transplanting.
Another option for starting seeds is to use a technique called winter sowing. A milk jug or other plastic container is prepared in such a way as to act as a miniature greenhouse for seeds to germinate and acclimate to the outdoors; the seeds spend their entire lives outside in the elements. The seedlings will get rained on, live through the snow, and they sprout when the conditions are ideal for those particular seeds. This is a good method for starting large quantities of seeds at once, for seeds that need cold stratification in order to germinate, people who can’t (or don’t want to) buy grow lights, people without sufficient space inside your home to dedicate to starting seeds, and those of us who don’t like babying their seeds. Cold stratification is the process of a seed experiencing certain low temperatures for a prescribed length of time, which is dependent on the specific seed. Winter sowing, even when it is no longer winter, can also be used to grow tender annuals. Once the seeds have reached sufficient size and maturity, they don’t need to be hardened off before being planted into their final home.
Did you know you could propagate most of your store-bought herbs? Many herbs can be rooted in a cup of water, just change the water every other day or so. Once you have established roots, the propagule or cutting can be planted into a self-watering planter made from a 500-mL or 16.9-oz water bottle that you can put on your kitchen window sill. A self-watering planter allows the plant to wick up water as needed, which makes the planter also good for sowing seeds. The wick can be made of any material made of natural fibers such as hemp string or piece of a cotton T-shirt.
So, what do you do with the seeds you have left? Save them for later! You can always save them in the original packaging or you can make your own seed envelopes. The best options don’t require tape or glue such as the ones found here and here. Be sure to write all the seed information on the envelope BEFORE you add the seeds because you don’t want to risk puncturing the seeds or the envelope. Used printer paper, loose-leaf, newspaper, and even paper bags can all be turned into seed envelopes. A US letter-sized piece of paper can potentially create 4 seed envelopes large enough to accommodate most seeds.
There are so many ways to start your own seeds and this is just the beginning! By starting your own seeds instead of buying transplants, you save money as well as gain more control over what you eat and how it is grown from beginning to end. Securing your food supply is empowering because you can grow what you want to eat. If you can, sow an extra seed or plant an extra row so that you can be a blessing to your friends and neighbors who may not have enough. By using recycled materials, we are being better stewards of our environment and reducing the amount of waste we send out into the world. If each of us uses what we have to do what we can, we can create an abundance with the blessings God has already given us.
Recycle your trash into resiliency:
Recycled Milk Jugs
Cardboard Egg Cartons
Toilet Paper Rolls
Seed Saving Envelopes