Going Potty

My veg plotMy tiny-but-glorious veg plot: 1 – Chili; 2 – Spuds; 3 – Carrots; 4 – Garlic; 5 – Salad leaf; 6 – Raspberry; 7 – Comfrey; 8 – Tomato

The pot. A humble vessel for dirt and seed and the foundation for the glory that follows. But pots can cost money, and money is something best saved for punk rock music and cider wherever possible.

So what’s a thrifty punk with an eco-conscience to do? Call on his / her DIY ingenuity and put it to good use, that’s what. So here’s my list of favourite ideas for growing your own pots.

Yoghurt pots. An obvious one to start with, and probably something that most Brit schoolkids have used. Simply punch four holes in the bottom with something sharp and / or pointy (I used a screwdriver with the tip heated up in a flame for a few seconds). They can be used for both sowing seeds and for growing on young seedling transplants.Yoghurt and paper potsNewspaper pots. You can do this completely for free, or you can spend a few pounds on a paper potter, a simple tool that should last a lifetime and makes the process even easier. The free way involves getting an unsquashed toilet roll tube and some newspaper. You can then follow this brilliant walkthrough if you want to give it a go. The other way simply involves buying the potter tool, cutting up strips of newspaper to the right size and following the instructions. The bottoms of pots made this way are firmer and don’t use as much paper, so you can usually make at least four or five pots with each sheet of newspaper. Kids seem to love using it too (a handy source of free labour if you know how to play it right).

Cardboard egg boxes. Impossible to find in a vegan household, but most of us know some ovum eaters who will happily donate them. Egg boxes are very useful for chitting potatoes and, once they’ve done that, can then be turned into biodegradable seed pots. Simply add dirt and a seed or two to each segment and sprout as directed. Once the roots show through, cut or tear the segment off and plant out into its growing position. The card will break down quickly once its buried.

Plastic tubs. Use takeaway tubs, maragarine tubs, in fact anthing that’s flat on the bottom and open on the top. Like the yog pots, you’ll need to punch some holes in the bottom. Fill them and use them as seed trays, or use them as pot holders for your paper or card pots.

Tin potsTins. You need the sort with the ring-pull lids that your baked beans (or whatever) come in. Remove the ring-pull end and put in your recycling box. Then use a tin opener to remove the other end. Let this end fall down inside the can to act as a base – it’ll sit on the flange left behind from removing the ring-pull, and water will freely drain between the overlap. Fill with soil. These are great for beans and peas because of their depth. Use two or three seeds per tin. Once the seedling is around six inches tall, simply push the base back up into the tin to remove the bean and rootball.

Loo roll potsToilet roll tubes. These are also good for beans and peas. You could just put them into a plastic tray and fill them with compost but you may end up losing half of the soil from the open bottom when you come to transplant them. You could loosely stuff one end with newspaper before filling, which is better. Or you could take a few seconds more and do a proper job. First, make the cylinder square by squashing it flat down its length. Then cut a slot along each of the four creases, so that you now have four flaps. Simply fold these in like you would a cardboard box and you have a flat base. If you want to use toilet rolls for smaller seeds or seedlings, simply cut the tube in half first.

Tetrapak potsDrink cartons. The tetrapak. A very useful but also very annoying invention. Useful because it keeps my soya milk fresh, annoying because it’s very triple-R (reduce, reuse, recycle) unfriendly. I’m one of the lucky few to have a collection point for ’em fairly close by, but it still seems like a lot of work (and energy) involved in recycling ’em. So I’ve started to turn them into larger pots for young teenage plants (like these tomatoes) to allow them to grow into healthy young adults before planting them into their final tubs. Once the cartons are past their best, they get a rinse and a trip to the recycling bin.

Plastic sacks for spuds. OK, I’ve not actually done this myself yet, but friends have had good results. You can buy very expensive designer sacks, but we’re thrifty remember? So get a large thick plastic sack, such as an old compost bag or garden refuse sack – they need to keep the light completely out, so maybe double them up if they’re on the thin side. Use a garden fork or scissors to make some drainage holes around the bottom then roll the sides down. Put about 4 inches of compost in the sack, place 3 seed potatoes on the surface, then cover with another 4 inches. As the spuds grow, keep adding compost to bury the stems to leave just the top 3 or 4 inches of plant showing each time, rolling up the sides as you do, until you’ve added around 12-18 inches or so of dirt. Then leave ’em to finish doing their thang.

You can do a similar thing with any kind of large container. I bought a cheap large plastic garden tub (another fiver), punched a load of holes in the base, and use that. It works grand and should last for years.

Anything you can salvage and scavenge. Be creative. You might strike lucky and find some decent pots, like the big green plastic ones I’ve got the garlic and carrots in, on Freecycle. You might find ready-made stuff in a skip, which is how I got my seedtrays and many of my small plastic pots. Or you might spot some piece of ‘rubbish’ (like a big can or old teapot) that would look great with something growing in it.

Cheapy shop bargains. OK, so it’s not free, but it’s not far off. Just this week I was passing my local bargain shop and saw a wicker laundry basket for a fiver. I was looking for something to grow a mint collection in (I love mint, but it can be pretty invasive in an open bed), and I immediately saw an opportunity that was a lot cheaper than buying a decent planter from the garden centre. I lined it with an old plastic rubble sack (speared several times for drainage with my garden fork), filled it with compost, trimmed the sack to just above the soil line and planted four mints into it (spear, pepper, orange and ginger). Give it 3 months and the edges will be overgrown with mint and it’ll look lush. It’ll also make a good present for a friend (which is what I’m planning to do).Mint basketLabels. Once everything’s planted, you want to make sure you don’t forget what’s what. So make your own plant labels by cutting any suitable non-transparent plastic – margarine tubs, washing up liquid bottles etc. – into strips, and use a marker pen (Sharpies are my weapon of choice) to write on them. You can see them in full effect in some of the above pictures.

And finally, buy terracotta pots for anything else you want to both grow and show off at the same time. They’ll last forever with a bit of TLC, are eco-friendly, look better as they get older, and display your plants perfectly. Shop around and you can find all sizes and quite a few shapes for not much money at all. Even if you break a few (and you will), the broken bits can be used as drainage crocks if needed. Don’t forget to line the inside of your terracotta pots with a plastic bag or similar before filling them, to prevent water loss.

Anyone got any other ideas?

5 comments

  • Glad to see the wife and I are not the only ones who do a bit of gardening. Living in Texas as we do it can be a bit of a bitch to keep a garden alive during the summer. The temperatures often exceed 100 degrees farenheit which will just about kill anything. Couple that with little or no rain from May to September and it’s murder on gardens. We are persistent mother-truckers though, we have chillis – they do well in the heat – radishes, tomatoes, spinach and a few types of lettuce. We also have some herbs like cilantro, sage, rosemary, garlic chives, and epazote. We are experimenting with potatoes this year as well. Thanks for the ideas and the posts!

  • Fantastic!!! Go green thumbs!

    My ornamental grasses are sprouting in my peat pots in the back yard and my succulents and cacti are going strong and even sporting new growth. I’ll have to take some pics.

  • Ahoy! Bristol pirates also do gardening! Very beautiful indeed, the British sun (and your magic hands, I guess!) keeps your greens greener than mine here at home. But ours at the House of The Black Gecko will save me, ehehe… The Cowboys (no Cowgirls this time…) had a little look at our garden there. We had a great time together. I missed you here, mate! Hope you can come next time… G.

  • I nabbed some of those flip-top plastic tote boxes a lot of companies ship things in and filled them with potting soil. I’m trying my best this year with plants in the dirt, on the roof, in containers and I’m even trying to turn my front yard into a watermelon/pumpkin patch. It has been a lot of fun, and has let me flex my DIY-muscle.

  • Ambyr Amoureuse

    I am such a busy woman but love gardening. I feel terrible because I don’t have time to care about them. I have a small garden in the back yard, with flowers and cherry tomatos. I can water them only at the weekend.

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