Ahh… sunny Australia! Being a born and raised British Columbian, finally seeing this much sun is pretty revolutionary. In my first year of university, Vancouver broke its record for number of days in a row with rain (40). Summers in BC are glorious and warm and wonderful—the problem is that they’re way too darn short. Here in Sydney, the growing season is almost exactly opposite to that in British Columbia / North America, so right now is actually the time I should be thinking about my gardening efforts for the upcoming year.
Growing your own food at home—even just your own herbs and some lettuce—does three things. One, you save money on buying expensive bunches of fresh herbs from the grocery store, half of which always seem to end up in the trash. Two, you no longer have to go to the grocery store (or market) to buy said herbs, saving a trip in the car. Three, you get all the joy of growing your own plants and you get to learn the ups and downs of what it takes to get such a simple ingredient from seed to plate.
This is the first post of what will probably be many having to do with my successes and speed bumps in apartment gardening. I’m not an expert, though I (quite fortunately) have one close on hand—my mum is an amazing gardener and a botanist besides. I like to think I’ve gotten a bit of her green thumb! At any rate, I’ll be learning just as much through this process as you. This first post has to do with folding your own newspaper seedling cups to get your seeds started. Below the instructions I’ve provided some resources for buying seeds online, and some tips for what to look for in varieties. Let’s garden!
Folding Paper Seedling Cups
Gardening is harder work than you think. And easier than you think. The most amazing thing is that the seeds know exactly what to do themselves—all you have to worry about is providing them with a bit of soil, water, and plenty of light. Last year, I began my gardening efforts a bit late in the season, and only purchased the plants pre-sprouted from our local garden warehouse. There were ups and downs with these plants, some have survived and are currently hardying the winter, others which caterpillars and bacterial rot got to before me. What’s more is that purchasing pre-sprouted plants is expensive in comparison to buying seeds. If you buy a variety of seeds the total cost can still rack up, but you’re getting, say, 200 tomato plants for maybe half of what you would have paid for one. And the satisfaction of seeing these little guys poke their heads out of the soil just can’t be compared!
I tried a lot of different ways of making paper seedling cups before I found this pattern. There are a lot of gizmos out there that you can buy to make newspaper cups (which may or may not work, I have my doubts), not to mention all the plastic trays and covers and peat pots that are also available. I like these because they’re free, take only a few minutes to make (a great project to keep your fingers busy while you’re watching winter TV), and you’re reusing material instead of consuming new. Alright, on with the origami.
1. Start with a rectangle of newspaper. Do not use any kind of glossy or coated paper, just plain newspaper as it will decompose the best. I used a quarter of an average sheet of newspaper, which was 20 x 28 cm or 11.25 x 7.75″. These measurements do not have to be exact, experiment with different sizes to get a seedling pot that works for you. These pots come out to a final measurement of 5.5 cm tall, 3.5 cm square (2 x 1.5″), with about 2 oz volume.
2. Fold in half to form another rectangle of similar proportions (i.e., hamburger not hot dog). Fold in half again, and again, like below:
3. Fold out the top of the rectangle to form a triangle, and repeat on both sides.
4. Fold in the two triangle sides into the middle (see above photo, bottom left). Fold in one more time into the centre, and repeat on the other side. (See below.)
5. Fold over the flaps, and carefully separate it to form a little box! I’ve found too that folding the flaps back to the inside of the paper cup makes it a bit stronger (and you don’t have to deal with them being on the outside). Fill with dirt and you’re done!
If you find these instructions overly obtuse, you can also watch this video here. (Taking the photos yourself doesn’t always work the best!)
Tips for buying seeds
Tomatoes: My first round of both Roma and cherry tomatoes went under because of bacterial/fungal rot. Verticillium and fusarium wilt are quite common, and can strike both tomatoes and related plants such as potatoes, peppers/capsicums, and eggplant. The only way to protect against bacterial and fungal rot is to purchase varieties of tomatoes which have the resistance bred into them already. Planting with complementary plants (such as basil) can help to reduce the likelihood of wilt; however, it is often transmitted through soil so it can be hard to know that you have until it’s already too late. If you have soil that has been infected, you can plant other things in it, but don’t replant your tomatoes there! I will write more about what to look for if you think your tomato plant might have bacterial/fungal wilt later. In the meantime you can check out this article.
Lettuce: It’s so great having lettuce or spinach on hand for a fresh salad. I got to eat only a little bit of mine before caterpillars decimated it, but that’s a story for another time. If you’re growing in very hot conditions like I will be later in the year, it’s important to find varieties that have been bred to resist heat. “Darwin” lettuce in Australia, for example, is a good choice. Do your research on what will grow best in your climate.
Heirloom: Heirloom varieties of plants can yield gorgeous colours and unique fruit. Plus, they’re often hardier breeds that have stood the test of time. Be this basil, chives, or tomatoes, if you can find heirloom seeds, you’ve found a treasure trove!
Keep it realistic. Certain plants need space, temperatures, sunshine, etc. in amounts that you might not be able to provide. Think about the kinds of plants that grow well in your area and in your climate, and what you have the time, energy, and patience to provide to your plants. Most herbs (the only exception I can think of is cilantro/coriander) are incredibly easy to grow—other larger vegetables can get quite picky when it comes to sun and shade and humidity and soil. Unfortunately, if you have great growing conditions, the hardest part is when to stop!
Where to buy seeds
There are lots of places to buy seeds. If you have a farmer’s market nearby or a garden centre, go there first! Garden centres often have employees who know their stuff, and if it’s in your area, they’ll know what to grow when and what will or won’t work. If you’re too busy to get to a garden centre during store hours or don’t have a good one in your area, here are a few online seed shops that ship for reasonable prices:
Do you have advice to share about buying seeds? Do please share!