As part of my kids’ garden project, I’ve been collecting toilet paper rolls for a while now. I wanted them to be responsible for the whole growing process, from seed to harvest, and since some crops do better if started indoors, I wanted them to be able to participate in this part of growing as well.
I was looking for a fun way for us to start seeds indoors, something a bit more creative than filling a 72 cell flat with soil, and came up with the toilet paper method.
Now, after I’ve done a few of those little seeds starting pots, I have to say, if you are starting seeds indoors on a smaller scale, this is actually a nice and free (assuming you use toilet paper) solution.
The rolls are biodegradable, so you don’t have to take your young plant out of the pot to transplant it, you just plant the whole thing in your garden.
The rolls hold a nice amount of soil so you can grow your seeds to a good size, strong little plant before transplanting to the garden.
And there is more than one method you can use, actually, there are four different ways to use toilet paper rolls to start seeds, so you can choose the best way depending on what seeds you start.
OK, let’s explore…
First, collect your rolls. You can also ask the neighbors and your friends for theirs.
The easiest way to use them is just as they are. Take a plastic bin, I used the basic 6 qt bin you will use inside the house to organize stuff and place the rolls in it tight together.
You will then fill them with soil (we will go over that part soon) and plant your seeds in the center of each roll.
I will start tomatoes this way. What you can do, is not fill the roll all the way to the top but, let’s say, half way, then as the tomato plant is growing keep adding soil. This will save you the repotting that is usually required with tomatoes to make sure they have a strong root system before transplanting.
We will try to start some tomato plants this way in the spring. The only difficulty I can think about will be to get the additional soil in the roll without damaging the seedling. We will try to use a teaspoon, hopefully, it will work.
You can also start seeds like corn and beans and peas this way. Those are larger seeds that usually direct planted, but since the roll holds a nice amount of soil and you don’t have to move the plant (you are planting it with the roll) you can go ahead and start them in the rolls. This will allow you to control the spacing better or start those plants a bit earlier.
When you pick the rolls up to plant in the garden, I imagine some soil will stay behind in the bin, but most of it should be held by the plant roots.
The next option is similar but instead of using the whole roll, you use half the roll. Many crops like lettuce, for example, don’t need so much soil when started indoors, so instead of using the whole roll, we can simply just use half.
For that, I needed a shallower dish. I had those mesh greenhouse flats that I bought for a few cents from a nursery that closed down a couple of years ago.
I covered it with tin foil so it doesn’t leak inside the house…
Cut each roll in half…
And placed the rolls on the flat. I could fit about 80 half rolls in this flat. Then I filled the rolls with soil and planted my seeds.
The third method will be to, again, use the whole roll but close it at the bottom, this will help to keep the soil around the roots when lifting the roll to transplant.
And the fourth way to do it is to use half a roll and close the bottom. This is what I ended up doing because this little pot holds enough soil to start most seeds.
So grab a roll…
Cut it in half…
Next, make two half an inch cuts across from each other on the bottom of the roll…
Then one cut in the center of each of the halves you created. So basically, we divided the bottom of the roll into four equal parts.
Start by folding one section in…
Over the second section…
Then the third section goes over the first while one corner of the last section goes under the second section and the other corner above the third.
It holds nice together but if you can find a biodegradable tape to use on the bottom it will be even better.
Organize all of your pots on the flat or whatever container you plan to use…
And now it’s time to fill the rolls with seed starting soil. I bought a bag but you can also mix your own seeds starting soil. There are many recipes online. A couple of years ago I mixed my own and used my worm castings in it with great results.
I transferred the soil into a mixing bowl…
And added water to make it wet.
You don’t want to make a soup, just make it damp enough so it’s easier to work with.
Fill your pots with soil…
Grab your seeds, I planted lettuce…
And plant them in the center. Since those are last year seeds and the germination rate is lower by now, I planted a few.
Cover with some more soil and tap it down.
That’s it! Now you will have to wait for the seeds to germinate and then place them under lights. To keep the soil moist I use a sprayer to water.
From here you will do the same as you will with any seeds that you start indoors. Make sure the soil stays moist, water with some kind of fertilizer like compost tea once or twice, make sure they have plenty of light, harden, and plant in the garden.
I know my kids are going to love this project. This year, since we put together a germination room at the farm we have plenty of shelving space under the lights, and since I will be starting many flats for the farm I know they will enjoy having their own for their own garden.
Till next week,