Dear Friends in the Northern Hemisphere, (Yes, Americans, that’s you…)
I know you can hardly believe that winter will ever end. I hear the snow has amassed in States that never see snow. You’ve been ice-bound, snow-bound, and all around stuck inside for far too long. But do not fear – spring is coming!
As a little way to get you thinking, planting, and scheming for Spring, I’m posting a basic tutorial on how we start our seedlings, transplant them into paper cups, and then eventually plant them out in the garden**. Starting seeds inside is not only fulfilling, but also allows you to get a jump-start on the growing season. Additionally, you’ll save a few bucks and get your hands dirty before the ground even thaws! Plus, come July when your tomatoes are rocking it in the garden, you can brag to all your friends – I grew this puppy from a seed! Everyone will stand in awe. It’ll be great.
Paper Cup Planting Tutorial
2. To prepare the newspaper: Cut in half along the ‘binding’ or crease. Lay aside one half for later. Fold the remaining half hot-dog-style aka length-wise, TWICE. You’ll have a folded piece that’s 1/4th the size of the original. Unfold and cut or tear along the creases. You’ll have 4 nice stacks of strips about 4-6 inches tall, and 12-16 inches wide. Repeat the process with the other half you torn at the beginning.
8. Make as many paper cups as you have seedlings. I always mis-count, so I recommend making 10 or 20 extra, so you have plenty to plant into.
(Note: About two weeks earlier, you’ll need to have planted your seeds in a basic box. You could use almost any container, just make sure it drains a little. Mark your seeds with their variety and type. I use a 50% sand, 50% compost mix. This soil does not have to be very rich. and needs to drain well. Hence sand.)
16. Place under a grow lamp when it’s too cold outside, or in a sunny window. You will want to water your seedlings several times a day. My friends at Bluefield Farm taught me a watering trick. Take a 1-2 liter plastic bottle. Poke holes in the lid using a knife. 5-7 holes should suffice. Fill with water, place the lid back on, and you have a nursery ‘watering’ bottle. The stream from the small holes will not hammer the plants like a normal, full-size watering can would.
18. If your Date of Last Frost has not passed, but your seedlings have outgrown the paper cups, you can use a larger form, to create larger cups and transplant into them. We typically only leave them in paper cups for 2-3 weeks. Any longer and the cups will start to *ahem* disintegrate.
19. To plant outside: Simply dig a small hole, place the whole cup – yes cup and all! – into the soil. Tear off any newspaper that sticks up past the soil’s edge. Gently tamp into place, surround with mulch, water gently.
The BEST thing about these paper cups is that when it comes time to transplant out – there is zero trauma to your plants. By the time the roots are ready to ‘outgrown’ your paper cup, the newspaper will have disintegrated, and your tomato will stretch her roots down, forgetting she was ever started inside a planter.
Do you start your seeds inside? What tips do you have for growing seedlings? What questions do you have about this method?
** All credit goes to Permaculture South Africa for teaching us this method. Thanks, guys!