Planting in Newspaper Pots

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DSC03606 300x225 Planting in Newspaper Pots

Note: Before you decide to plant in newspaper pots, be sure to check out my update/assessment at the end of this post.

Some of the 450-or-so onion seedlings I’ve sown already are starting to come up! They’re just tiny twigs of green but they remind me that spring will be here soon! In March I’ll really be into starting seeds as I shared in this post about planting by moon phases. In that same post I shared that even though I already had  a detailed seed-starting plan (including my Seed Starting Planner, you can download it for FREE right here!) several things have made me reconsider. The first thing being a desire to try planting by moon phases and the second being second-guessing the medium in which I plant my seeds.

Last year I started some of my seeds in potting soil (soilless mix) in upcycled yogurt containers and some of them in Jiffy pellets. Both have their pros and cons… and I’m pretty disappointed with the cons. Here’s why.

Upcycled Yogurt Containers

Pros

  • They’re free!
  • Recycling them reduces waste.
  • I can plant multiple seedlings in each container (depending on seed/plant size)
  • They are sustainable. Once I have the containers, I never have to buy new ones.

Cons

  • Seedlings get rootbound in them.
  • They are hard to move from one place to another.
  • Their round shape means they don’t fit well into trays.
  • Because they don’t fit well in square spaces, they are not an efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.
Jiffy Pellets

Pros

  • They are a seedling-friendly medium (have the right ingredients)
  • They fit well into trays which makes them easy to transport from greenhouse to garden. (Or move to a new place in the greenhouse).
  • Because they fit well into trays, they are a more efficient use of my limited greenhouse space.

Cons

  • Seedlings outgrow them quickly.
  • Seedlings can get rootbound in them.
  • Though they are relatively cheap, buying enough to start as many seeds as I need to (3,000+) makes them expensive.

Comparing the Options

Aside from obviously wanting to provide a quality growing medium for my plants, my two main concerns are space and money. The right solution can’t cost a ton (taking Jiffy Pellets out of the running) and it has to be an efficient use of my tiny (6′ x 6′) greenhouse (farewell yogurt containers). What’s a nerd girl to do? Make a spreadsheet, of course!

That’s just what I did. I created a spreadsheet of reasonable seed starting mediums so I could compare their pros and cons to find the best one. Here are a few points to go with this analysis:

  1. Some of these seed starting mediums are things I’ve heard about but not actually tried. My assessment is based on my best guess.
  2. I did not include hydroponics in this assessment. For more info on hydroponics (which I know bupkiss about) click here.
  3. Soil blocks are… well… blocks made of soil. They’re somewhat like Jiffy pellets only they don’t have a netting around them, are (typically) larger and can be created from a soil mixture you create. Their most frequently touted advantage is that plants don’t get rootbound in them – when the roots meet air at the edge of the block, they simply stop growing. They can be planted directly into the garden.
  4. Newspaper cups are also similar to Jiffy pellets except that they are made from newspaper mulch. Because the newspaper is biodegradable, they can be planted directly into the ground. Black and white ink is no problem for natural growing because the ink is soy based. (Stay away from colored inks.)
  5. Newspaper pots are square-shaped, origami-like containers folded from newspaper. Like newspaper cups they are biodegradable and made from natural materials so they can be planted directly into the ground. They hold potting mix just like a plastic yogurt cup would.
  6. Potting soil in trays is my way of saying just spreading potting soil in a tray and planting seedlings like I would when I direct-seed them. To transplant them I’d have to dig them up, exposing the roots in the process.
  7. Paper cups can also be used for planting. These are the tiny dixie cups sometimes used in bathrooms. I’ve used these before and found that, even if you poke several holes in the bottom, moisture tends to close those holes back up and they don’t drain well. Also some have a waxy covering which may cause them to take longer to breakdown in soil.

To do the analysis I rated each medium in cost, sustainability, drainage, portability, space-saving and transplanting. Rates were poor (1), fair (2), good (3) and great (4). After rating each option I found the final score by averaging all of that medium’s rates.

Chart Planting in Newspaper Pots

The Results

After making all of my assessments, it turned out that soil blocks would be the best choice for my needs with newspaper pots as a close second. I gave newspaper pots a 2 for sustainability and here’s why: If our culture continues as it is right now, there will be plenty of free newspapers for me to use. However, if something changes, newspapers will not be a naturally recurring resource for me to utilize. I also gave them a 2 for drainage… that was before I noticed that a small hole can easily be made in the bottom during the folding process. When assessing cost, I considered the ongoing expense rather than the initial expense. Turns out that the startup expenses for soil blocks and newspaper pots are very similar: Potting soil and trays to hold them. Soil blocks require purchasing a soil block maker and newspaper pots require purchasing (or getting) newspapers. Since they have so many of the same benefits, I decided that this year I’d save the expense of buying a soil block maker and just go with newspaper pots. My sister-in-law is a couponing queen so I’ll have access to plenty of desinted-for-the-recyling-bin-anyway newspapers (FREE!). Not only that, but if I’m going to use soil blocks, I want to invest in one that makes lots of them at once. Those run upwards of $200, so before I make that kind of investment, I want to try soil blocks out first. You know, just to make sure they’re as wonderful as everyone says they are.

So there you have it. I’m going to be starting my seeds in newspaper pots this year. I’d give you a tutorial on how to make them, but Tina at Happy Hobby Habit (winner of our Reader Tip Contest) has already done a great job of making one for you! You can find it by clicking here.

Well. I’ve got lots of folding to do if I’m going to use 3,000 of these in the next few weeks.

DSC03709 300x225 Planting in Newspaper Pots

Update and Assessment (Originally Shared in 2013 Farmer’s Report)

This winter I spent a significant amount of blogging time focused on the seed-starting process. I learned lots of tips that I’ve found to be effective, such as soaking seeds, chitting potatoes and planting by moon phases. Another solution I presented to you involved creating newspaper pots for starting seeds. The premise is that you turn waste into a resource by folding an origami-like pot out of newspaper, fill it with potting soil and plant your seed. Later when you’re ready to transfer the seedling to the garden you can place the pot directly into the soil since it will decompose. I also liked the fact that you can label each pot since I have had issues with being diligent in labeling. After reviewing several options for seed starting media, I decided that the benefits of newspaper pots sounded like the best solution. Hundreds of them. I folded hundreds of newspaper pots… I even paid my nieces and nephews commission to help me make some of them! Turns out that this solution didn’t work so well for me. Here’s why…

First, the soil in the pots dries out quickly and requires frequent watering. On the flip side, the pots definitely need drainage holes/slots on the bottom otherwise they get bogged down. Also there was a noticeable trend that the seedlings growing in newspaper pots were less healthy (smaller, more fragile) than seedlings grown in other ways. My presumption is that this issue is caused by a combination of the too dry/too wet conundrum and becoming root-bound. Once these limitations  are added up, the fact that it takes a considerable amount of time to fold and prepare the pots becomes another negative.

I did, however, discover this season the method for seed starting that I plan to use for my future gardens. On several occasions I ran out of newspaper pots and opted to sow seeds directly into trays (like these) filled with potting soil. In every case, the seedlings grown in trays were healthier than those grown in pots. This approach takes up the same amount of space in my greenhouse. Since I have lots of trays (purchased here) and can use home-grown compost for seed starting, I now have the resources I need to operate a self-sufficient seed starting operation. Woot!

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