Toilet roll art- a better use for them than growing plants in - and more fun
I’ve been looking to expand my plant collection this week by taking cuttings. I generally use 20 cell plug trays to grow them in and have spent a couple of days looking for a non-plastic alternative. With not much luck.
There’s a massive shift in public awareness to find alternatives to plastic or to not use any packaging at all such as shampoo bars and net bags for shop bought vegetables.
In the horticultural industry it looks as though growing on a commercial level without using plastic still has a long way to go.
I did find a lot of items that could be used on a small scale and go into those in greater detail later but on a large scale it’s plastic all the way. I should imagine that having a container that decomposes quickly could cause all sorts of problems, like decaying before the plants are sold. The likes of coir fibre and corn starch plastic could be used but at present they don’t do multicell packs that I use.
I’m taking a look at things we can do on a small, non-commercial level at home to replace plastic containers and it probably won’t be long before growers and manufacturers realise the need to reduce the plastic in the trade and we might see far more eco-friendly products to hold our bedding plants for the same price.
Some ideas and products are better than others but one thing that definitely improves them all is the addition of some type of drainage, without that it’s nearly impossible to grow plants and seedlings successfully.
Materials to use for making home pots
Toilet rolls are the perfect size for seedlings, and you can fold one end over to make a base. I do find that these go mouldy and dry out the soil too much though and wouldn’t use them. I find the empty rolls are more useful for making silly faces out of, and it gives me something to do in my ‘quieter moments’
Origami-style, using old newspaper. There isn’t any tape or glue, no tools required and it takes less than a minute to make one. The ink is soy based too so will compost but again I find the moisture causes mould.
Wooden Seedling Flats
These are wooden boxes that are not compartmentalised, used for seed-raising. They are filled with soil and seeds sown, which can be transplanted once they’ve germinated.
Seedling flats can be made from softwood (like pine) or hardwood. If looked after properly and maintained, they can last several years. The most eco-friendly option are those made from reclaimed timber and offcuts. I’d shy away from chipboard and plywood unless it’s marine grade.
You can press soil together to make cells to plant seeds without any other material by using a soil blocking machine. It’s the same idea as the newspaper press machines for making bricks for the fire. They generally fall apart when overwatered though.
Compostable and Biodegradable Pots
There are a lot of pots that fall under the “compostable” category. The most eco-friendly ones are natural and made of waste materials like coconut coir or aged cow manure. Less environmentally sound ones are made with brand new wood fibre, and/or peat moss (removal of peat moss has been linked to global warming).
Whatever they are made from, they are designed to be single-use. They require energy to manufacture, package and transport. They are more durable than newspaper or toilet rolls though.
Remember here that Compostable means it will break down in a compost bin or soil into humus (natural material) with no toxic residue.
Biodegradable means it will be broken down by bacteria under certain conditions.
A ‘biodegradable’ label does not guarantee it will be broken down into constituent parts, only that it will break down small enough that it cannot be seen. It does not guarantee there will be no toxic residue
Biodegradable (but not compostable) pots are often made with PLA plastic, also called corn starch or plant-based plastic.
These pots are a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional fossil-fuel based plastic pots. It should be possible to reuse them a few times before they begin to break down.
Coir fibre, Concrete,Hypertufa (concrete and peat) hemp pots, Ceramic stoneware, Wool and felt, Bamboo, and my favourite - found object such as old rusty tins could all be used. Individually found items are a good idea but will be a real challenge of they were for retail in large quantities.
Eggshells might look cute, but they are impractical to fill. I found the same with egg boxes, and they are so absorbent they dry out the soil. When it too cold and damp they will encourage mould growth which causes dampening off.