This is the time of year when gardeners are scrambling frantically in search of anything that can be used to germinate seeds. Some of us go for the trays specifically designed for seed starting. These trays can hold several types of seeds in their own little rows utilizing very little space. Some gardeners prefer to start their seeds in individual containers like peat pots or in cell packs. Still other gardeners go for the more unusual containers like fast food containers or even egg shells.
A container I frequently use for germinating seed is the clear plastic fruit tray that strawberries and other fruits are packaged in at the grocery store. These have holes in both the top and bottom for drainage and air exchange. Eight, one quart containers will fit into a flat for easy transport. Once seeds have germinated I open the top until seedlings are big enough to transplant to individual containers or cell packs. Other possibilities include sundae containers and salad boxes from fast food restaurants or plastic corsage boxes. Make sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom to prevent over-watering. The cardboard roll found inside paper towel and toilet tissue is another possibility. Cut the rolls into 2 or 3 inch sections, fill with potting soil and sow 1 seed per container. The rolls can be planted just like peat pots without having to disturb the root ball of the plant. Make sure all portions of the cardboard are planted below the soil surface. Any exposed edges will act like a wick and dry out the transplant even if planted in moist ground. Cardboard egg cartons work much the same way and are easy to use for germinating and growing seeds. Styrofoam egg cartons can be used as well; however, remove the plant from the styrofoam carton before transplanting because it does not break down in the soil.
Seeds will germinate in just about anything as long as it holds soil and provides adequate drainage. Once seeds germinate, the seedlings will require adequate light, water, fertilizer and space for adequate growth. Using everyday items from around the home is a great way to recycle items that would otherwise be thrown away. Back to the egg shells. Yes, they too can be used to germinate seed and the shell can be planted right along with the plant. However, you'll need to save the carton as well to hold the eggshells while the plant grows.
This article originally appeared in the March 16, 1994 issue, p. 24.