Using Recycled Materials to Start Your Plants

So every year my wife and I run out and buy seed starters around February or March in anticipation of a late April planting (though in Oregon, it can be as late as June).

I’m sure you’ve seen these:  the ubiquitous little disks that you soak and then add anywhere from one to a few seeds?   Soak.  Wait.  Water.  Sprout.

There’s a number of these on the market, but we usually buy Jiffy Peat Pellets:


However, I found that there are a number of alternatives – free ways to reduce your waste while getting your starts going.  Here are two to get you going:


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Did you know that you can use 2/3s of an eggshell to start your seeds?


  • Eggshells are biodegradable and you can plant the start and shell as-is.
  • As we noted in earlier articles, calcium is critical to the growth of health tomatoes.
  • You can write on the shells and use the egg carton to grow a number of starts
  • They are free (if you or a friend eats eggs)
  • They are completely safe (if you boil the shells for a few minutes before you use them)
  • They don’t get soggy, making it very easy-to-transfer your labeled starts to their new homes in your garden

Here’s my favorite step-by-step guide over at Intractables by “NatureCulture” that will get you started:  Eggshell Seed Starters

If you are really ambitious, they also have a couple of ideas on starting a sodapop green house where you can incubate your newly planted starts.

Toilet paper/paper towel rolls


Every time I finish a roll of paper towels and am left with a perfect cardboard tube. I have tried to find another use for them before putting them back into the recycling bin (hint:  they make a great dog toy!).

However, you can also use them for seed starts.  The tubes can get a big soggy, but that also works to your advantage:  If the tube is dry, it’s probably time to water your start.  When you are ready, simply carry them to your desired location and plant them.  The cardboard overtime with regular watering will eventually break down.

Here’s a link to a number of other household items that can be re-purposed for getting your garden underway, even if it is a few months out:

As we get closer to planting time here, I’ll post pictures of our starts using some of these free, alternative methods.

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