The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
April 7, 2012

3 Cool Tips for Plastic-Free Gardening

It’s spring.  Are you starting a garden?  Right now, the plastic-free garden I planted last year with assistance from Organic Gardening’s Eric Hurlock is totally overgrown.  The chard has become a huge bush of pretty white flowers and stalks that are taller than I am.  Most of the rest of the yard and garden are taken over by little yellow flowers (some would call them weeds) and some kind of lily that has spread from its spot by the wall, due to my having dug up the bulbs last year and haphazardly tossed them behind me.  (I didn’t realize they would still grow even on the top of the soil.)

I’ll get to work on my garden again eventually.  Just as I did last year, I’ll be attempting to do it plastic-free.  (See my “Gardening Without Plastic” series, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). And this year, in addition to the tips and advice I gave last year for plastic-free gardening, I’ll add a few more tricks, courtesy of Ro Kumar, a local blogger and urban farmer whose family converted their suburban house into a sustainable farm in 2010.  I asked Ro to write about more ways we can avoid plastic in gardening.  Here is his post.

3 Cool Tips for Plastic-Free Gardening

by Ro Kumar

Although gardeners are becoming increasingly obsessed with composting, you’d be surprised how much plastic is still involved in gardening these days. From the tools, to the containers, to the storage, pesky plastic tends to be involved along every step of the way.

I manage a blog about urban farming and sustainability called localblu. The inspiration for this blog started in 2010, when my family and I converted our suburban house into a sustainable farm. As part of the shift towards a more green lifestyle, we wanted to avoid the use of plastics. There are many reasons to avoid plastic while gardening. Most concerning, however, is the possibility of plastics leaching toxins into the soil, which can in turn enter our food.

Here are some simple and easy tips to avoid using plastics while gardening:

1. Use a seed blocker to start your seedlings

Seed blockers are an easy way to start your seedlings without using any container at all. Although they are available in many stores these days, you may have to go online to buy one. Simply pack your starter soil (example: a mix of compost, coco fiber, and vermicompost) into the seed blocker. Then, pull the handle of the seed blocker. A block of soil will be pushed out of the device. Just drop your seeds into the block and add some more soil on top. You’re done! You can leave the block outside for sprouting, or plant it directly into the soil. For more information on this check out our website.

2. Use seed balls for planting your seeds

Seed balls were popularize by Masanobu Fukuoka – a gardening legend. They are an easy to start your plants without using a plastic container. Use 2 parts clay, 1 part compost, half-a-part ground mesquite charcoal, plus a small handful of seeds (all of these ingredients are available without having to use plastic). Mix by hand and add water until the mix is malleable. Shape the mix into small gumball sized balls. Let the balls dry. You can chuck them anywhere there’s soil, and plants will start growing! Again, you can find out more about this and other techniques on our website!

 

3. Store your seeds in old glass jars

Glass jars are an extremely common form of food packaging – and they happen to be one the easiest and best way to store your seeds! Save your old jars and gather up jars from your friends. It’s very easy to start your own seed bank with a few handfuls of seeds in jars. You can even label and grade your seeds (for example: Winter Squash, Grade A).

 

I hope this article was helpful for you! Stay in touch with the urban gardening scene at localblu.com!  What are your favorite plastic-free gardening tips?

Ro Kumar is a writer at localblu.com, a blog about urban farming and sustainability. Based in the Bay Area at UC Berkeley and Stanford, he is a passionate advocate for a cleaner planet with healthier people. 

18 comments
Christine
Christine

I think my favorite plastic-free gardening tip is to use unglazed ceramic pots buried in the ground for watering! It's supposed to conserve even more water than drip irrigation and takes the guesswork out of figuring out how much soil needs! 

My Plastic-free Life
My Plastic-free Life

Compost is the best and you can make it yourself! There are recipes online for various homemade insecticides. It depends on what the problem is.

Suzanne Meyer
Suzanne Meyer

insecticide - we are using corn gluten to stop weed germination and sulfur dust for mildew - both come in plastic -

Suzanne Meyer
Suzanne Meyer

Hi Beth - any suggestions on plastic free organic fertilizer and

Eve Stavros
Eve Stavros

The good news about your garden literally going to seed is that, if you planted heirloom varieties, you can collect the seeds (or roots), dry them, and have what you need to get started, if not this year, then next season.  Seed Savers has tips of planting and saving all sorts, in a searchable database:  http://www.seedsavers.org/Content.aspx?src=sseresources.htm 

Ashlynn Ross
Ashlynn Ross

The seed balls are an awesome idea! I'd love to convince my son hep me with this activity. Thanks for sharing. :)

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Jay, wow, I can't wait to see that film. What a beautiful website. And here is a quote about the seed balls, which is just gorgeous: "What we have to do is offer seeds to Nature and in order to protect them from the animals, rodents, and the birds we simply have to make clay balls and sow them before the rainy season starts. And we’re talking about offer, because this is practically what we do is to try to give Nature the possibility to restore itself. If we try to do something more, then we’ll create problems. So it’s not a work. Because Nature is our mother. And if Nature dies, humanity dies, god dies."

Rob
Rob

I must give my two cents. I like and have used all these methods. A few more methods instead of purchasing compostable containers, try becoming friends with your local coffee shop- I re-use used coffee cups, found in the coffee shops trash for containers; also one can reuse yogurt containers (and reuse them year after year for starting cups. If you drink soda and have 2 litre bottles you can make SIP planters, like little green girl does..( http://greenroofgrowers.blogspot.com/2012/03/lets-make-sips.html ). again find these in the trash and grab them. same goes for small starting cups made from water bottles- just cut them down to size, and recycle the unused portion.

Ann
Ann

Hi Beth, I have been collecting up (and making up) the toilet roll pots you showed us - with garden compost, and will be seeding them in the coming week - I'll let you know how they do.

Tammy
Tammy

I have used the seed blocker before and it works fantastic! They have a tiny one and then the bigger ones for transplants!! Great!!

Jay Sinha
Jay Sinha

Very cool, Beth and Ro. Thanks for this. And for those out there interested in learning more about the seed balls Ro mentioned, please keep your eyes open for a screening near you of this just released film, which highlights the amazing and visionary work of Masanobu Fukuoka: http://landawakening.com/ The film is by Raul Alvarez, and is both a dense, info-packed documentary, and a spiritual journey into a healthier way of life for the Earth and all living beings. It's not for sale yet, but will be and there are several teasers you can check out at the site. Happy gardening! Jay

Joan Larcom
Joan Larcom

Hi, Beth, I'm a rather new gardener but a long time environmentalist. This is my first time answering a blog so I'll see if this comment goes through before I contribute anything on plastic free gardening, something that interests me a lot. For this first attempt, I'd like you to know that I love reading your web site and can really use your advice. Aloha, Joan

Melissa
Melissa

Another great plastic-free way to start seedlings is with Cowpots http://www.cowpots.com/ They are made on a great family dairy farm in northern Connecticut. They collect the cow manure to a methane digestor that converts methane to energy that heats their entire operation: animal barns, produce greenhouses, farmers market shop, bakery. And then the solid waste left over is molded into totally biodegradable Cowpots...to start seedlings. You can then put the whole thing into the ground and fertilize at once. Also, no plastic packaging!

Tracey TieF
Tracey TieF

I'm going to try seed balls using half baked compost or something hanging around here once I find my stinky stash of hand dug river clay. Dryer lint? Oops, my dehydrator doesn't make dryer lint. Well something, then! I bet my 6 year old will love it!

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

 @Eve Stavros Hey Eve, what if I just let the seeds blow in the wind the way they do in nature?  Won't I get new plants wherever the seeds land and start growing?  I am really enjoying the wildness of my yard right now and discovering what plants I can eat (dandelions, for example) that I didn't plant there on purpose.  My arugula has turned into big vines of little white flowers, which I found out are edible and quite delicious!

Eve Stavros
Eve Stavros

 @BethTerry

 Some might, but others need the drying out process to keep them viable and free from mold.  I'm no expert, however, so just enjoy whatever you've got going on!