Free Press columnist Georgeanne Davis

Free Press columnist Georgeanne Davis

If you’ve been thinking of starting your own seeds indoors, this is the perfect time. Thanks to quarantines and lockdowns, winter has seemed interminable, and any new project involving soil and green growing plants is guaranteed to turn thoughts to spring. Whether you’ve never gardened before or are a seasoned enthusiast, pots of fresh seedlings on sunny windowsills are a sure cure for cabin fever.

By now you should have purchased seeds, as there is a strong possibility that they will be in high demand. Last year the pandemic drove many people to start a home garden for the first time and suppliers were taken by surprise. The seeds were there, but the supply lines were shaky. This year seed purveyors are better prepared, but you’d be wise to garner your seeds now, by any means possible. Most garden centers are fully stocked, so a visit to your closest nursery or garden supply center can meet most of your needs. While there, purchase the seed-starting soil and potting soil you’ll need to fill your seed cells or pots, or the components of these soils if you prefer to mix your own. If this is your first foray into starting seeds and you’d like to begin small, with just a few varieties of vegetables and flowers, while buying your seeds and soil mixes, you can pick up a kit that contains peat pellets, a base tray, a clear greenhouse dome and plant labels. The pellets hold together well for transplanting into larger pots and all you need to do is add water and your flower, herb or vegetable seed to start your seedlings. For less than $10 you can find a kit that will hold six dozen or so plants, plenty for a patio gardener or anyone wanting to grow a few tomatoes and peppers or some flowers for a cutting garden.

If you want to make your own starter kits, the options for fashioning a holder for soil and plants from materials you have around the house are almost limitless. For a small investment, you can purchase a seed blocker, which allows you to use your own potting mix and compress it into blocks to start your seeds. The blockers come in various sizes so you can start seeds in smaller blocks, then pot them up into larger blocks that will have all the nutrients your seedlings will need until it’s time for transplanting. I’ve liked using soil blockers, but it’s a learning curve getting the right mixture of soil that will form firm blocks and stay solid throughout the indoor growing season. The soil blocks also need to be set in trays to keep them intact and catch water, but any baking pan or shallow tray will serve the purpose. One big plus: the blockers take up no room between seasons.

If you’re whiling away the winter nights in front of the television while you watch those nature documentaries that take you to warm jungles or exotic beaches, you can find work for your otherwise idle hands by making newspaper pots for your seedlings. You can purchase a handsome wooden pot maker, but it isn’t really necessary, as a soup or bean can will do. All you need is a pile of newspaper, your can and a tape dispenser. Begin by tearing a single sheet of newspaper in half and folding it into thirds. Wrap the paper around the can a quarter-inch from the top edge. Wrap firmly, but loose enough that you can slide it off the can when done. Secure your wrap with tape. Turn the can over and fold in the bottom paper, moving around the edge until it’s all tightly folded over and you can secure the bottom with tape. Voila! The first of many pots is done and ready for soil.

Cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper can be used in much the same way. Fold the tubes in half one way and then the other, forming them into squares. Cut the toilet paper tubes in half and the paper towel tubes to similar lengths. Make 3/4-inch cuts at the creases on one end of each tube. Fold the four flaps you’ve made back and forth and then fold one down, then a second one down, overlapping that flap, then fold the next flap down, overlapping that flap. Finally, tuck the remaining flap under the bottom flap and over the top flap. This holds the pot together without tape, although you can secure it with tape if you prefer.

One of my favorite seed-starting kits utilizes my stash of plastic salad clamshells. I heat a metal skewer and punch drainage holes in the bottom of the pods and fill them with some soil. The tops are then used as greenhouse domes. When you’re finished using them, the clamshells can be rinsed and are still recyclable. The only drawback to using this method is the the seedlings have to be cut apart before transplanting into larger pots.

When you’re pawing through your recycling in a search for seedling holders, don’t overlook small plastic yogurt containers, last season’s plastic seed six-packs or single-serving water bottles that can be cut in half. Once you’ve assembled your chosen containers, you’re ready to fill them and plant them, making a glorious mess, so lay additional newspaper down on your work counter to catch the soil and water spills.