Now you’ve collected seeds to get started on growing your own vegetables, you’ll be desperate to get going. Again, you could go to the garden centre and buy a stack of seeds trays or small pots, but this can be an expensive option. However, with a little imagination, you can find free or very low-cost options for growing your plants, which will help keep things within your budget. And as an added bonus, you won’t be contributing to the world’s plastic mountain by buying plastic pots and trays either. You don’t have to have containers that are perfectly shaped or necessarily rectangular – almost any shape will do! So here are ten free alternatives to shop-bought seed containers.
1. Food trays
Flat shallow trays are best for seeds, and ideally you need a little depth too – the very shallow ones won’t give room for the tiny roots to get properly established before you move them to larger pots (known as ‘potting on’).
If there are larger holes in the bottom, line the tray with newspaper or kitchen paper – this will stop the soil swilling out when you water, and help retain water for your thirsty seedlings. If there are no holes, punch a few with a skewer, otherwise your compost will get waterlogged and your seedlings will drown! You can also use egg boxes or cut sections of toilet roll – great for starting individual seeds such as squash or pumpkin!
2. Large plastic milk containers
The largest-sized plastic milk containers also work well as seed trays. Use a very sharp knife (e.g. a craft knife), to divide the container in half vertically, then lay each half on its side to make a container – two for the price of one, but be careful when you’re cutting!
3. Cereal boxes
You’re not going to have your seeds in their initial containers for very long, so biodegradable containers are a great choice. A large cereal box with one side removed makes a superb seeds tray. However, it won’t be very stable once it’s wet, so you may want to place it somewhere where it doesn’t matter when water runs out of it, such as on a plastic kitchen tray.
4. Juice containers
Cardboard juice containers also make good seed trays, and they’ve got the added advantage of having a waterproof lining and being relatively stable. Remove one side and lay the container down, before filling with compost and sowing your seeds.
5. Used food tins
Many food tins nowadays have ring-pulls to open, which means you don’t have sharp jagged edges around the top like the tins when I was younger. Remove the label and rinse the can out well, then punch a few holes in the bottom – try using a bradawl or even a stout nail and hammer for this. Again, they won’t last forever, but they’ll do very nicely for a while.
6. Newspaper origami
If you’re a bit creative, have a look online for instruction for making origami boxes, and make some out of newspaper, Again, they won’t be very stable, and won’t last forever, but they’ll certainly do the job for the amount of time you’ll need them.
7. Newspaper pots
It’s also possible to make small pots out of newspaper. These are superb, because they’ll hold their shape reasonably well when they’re wet, but biodegrade easily. In fact, you can just pop the whole pot and seedling straight into the ground when it’s time, so the roots won’t be disturbed, which can slow the growth of your plants. You could use an expensive wooden ‘mould’, but why not try a cheaper option? Check out this great tutorial on Garden Betty.
8. Fabric or canvas bags
You can buy canvas bags or sacks for growing vegetables, but they’re not really a cheap option. However, if you’ve got some old shopping bags you don’t need (Lidl or Ikea bags are great), you can use these to plant vegetables. These are especially good to plant potatoes, but you can grow all sorts in them with a little imagination!
9. Stone sinks or trays
You may be lucky enough to have an old stone sink or tray laying around that you don’t need – buying a new one is definitely not very affordable! Make sure it has a drainage hole – a plug hole will need to be covered with a piece of broken pottery or something similar, so you don’t lose too much soil when watering. A layer of gravel in the bottom will also help with drainage.
10. Use your imagination!
It’s probably true that you can grow vegetables in almost any container, providing it’s deep enough to allow good root growth for the crop in question. Try wooden satsuma crates, an old wheelbarrow, shoes and boots with holes in, or an old washing up bowl. Once you start imagining, there’ll be no stopping you!
Check on the internet for growing instructions for the crops you want to grow. You can start lots of them indoors, such as on a sunny windowsill, if you don’t have a greenhouse. And if you do sow some seeds in an ‘alternative container’, do let us know in the comments!
Coming next: How to Grow Your Own Potatoes on a Budget
Photo courtesy of Sharon McGriff-Payne at Flickr Creative Commons