A Watering Can Hack For Newspaper Pots, The Tragedy Of Thinning Seedlings, And Getting Ready To Head Outside

April 21st, 2011 - filed under: The Farm » Flora

I think this is some sort of squash. But maybe it’s a cucumber? No, squash I think.

This year I planted all my many sprouts inside of homemade newspaper seed pots. I adore this little DIY project because it upcycles old newspaper and it means I don’t have to buy any additional paraphernalia. However, there is one downside to my beloved paper planters: the leakage.

I discovered this during my first year using them. Every time I watered, I’d end up with a sloppy mess spilling out the bottoms. My answer back then was to line up my seedlings on baking trays, but I knew this wasn’t a permanent solution.

Why is there a spice jar amidst the sprouts?

Please meet my new watering can! I know it sounds strange, but bear with me here. It’s actually a perfect hack.

The problem with normal watering is that it’s too hard to control the stream. You end up with a gush of water in one location, that quickly soaks through and out the bottom. But with a spice jar fitted with its little hole-y lid, the water flow is slowed to a sprinkle – just like a miniature watering can!

It’s the perfect upcycled compliment to the perfect upcycled seed pot. Free solutions are the best solutions, don’t you think? I’ve been using this method with my potting table in my living room, and haven’t had a single drop overflow onto the floor yet!


I may have been overzealous with my seed sowing . . .

As my seedlings grow I’m filled with a mixture of pride and sadness. I’m so proud of their achievements (drink up that water little root nest! lean towards that light little leaflets! grow little guys grow!), but I’m dreading the inevitable. The thinning out, wherein I am forced to kill the vast majority of them. Shakespeare himself never conceived of such tragedy.

One is the loneliest number. Grow big so you can play with your pals in the planter!

But it’s all part of the process, and so I do my duty as the harbinger of death. I always look for the largest sprout that’s closest to the center of the pot. This gives the little guy the best chance of survival. Thinning is always a risk – if you select the wrong sprout and it dies, then you’re just out of luck. So choose wisely!

My hand, she is a bloody battlefield.

I’ve mostly been thinning tomatoes and squashes, which unfortunately go straight to the compost. But remember, many varieties can (and should!) be eaten. Sunflowers, spinach, beets, lettuces and other tender greens, and all the brassicas like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, kale and other dark greens – these are all contenders for a little spin in the blender. They make a mean green smoothie!


These little dudes have doubled in size since I took this picture. Time to head out!

Spring is buzzing along and some of my babies are already big enough to transition outside. This is just a friendly reminder not to shock your seedlings with a sudden move. You’ll need to harden off to slowly to accustom them to the great outdoors.


Another friendly reminder: keep a close watch out for seedling thieves!

  • http://windycityvegan.wordpress.com Monika {windycityvegan}

    Ugh, the thinning stage is always my least favorite part of growing from seed stock. Until just this season, Nina still cried “noooooooooooooo, you’re killing them!!!!” if she saw me thinning anything. Never mind the fact that until last spring, she would randomly grab full-grown plants and seedlings alike and yank them from the ground, Cheshire grin on her face as she announced to her horror-sticken mother that she was just doing her part to help with weeds (she totally knew better two summers ago).

    Great reminder about hardening off seedlings, too!

  • Jeannie

    I love your watering can!! I love to think of alternatives to make things work better. I loved your post today. It made me smile (and I’m at work, shhh!) I don’t have the time to do all the seedlings but I have planted my first container garden of veggies. I used starters from our local nursery. I am excited for my harvest of crook neck and zucchini squash, and 2 types of lettuce. Oh and my son wanted me to plant a habanero for him. (He is 20 and loves hot, spicy foods!) I know it’s not much but I don’t have much time to tend a traditional garden. If this works this year I’ll do more next.

  • Cedar

    haha! soooo funny. i was just telling my husband how much i hated thinning the sprouts because they are all so pretty! i didn’t get around to planting anything this year except for sunflowers because they are so pretty and provide a nice privacy screen for the front of our house. plus, they are super easy which is a must with a little babe in the house!

  • http://craftylittlegnome.blogspot.com/ Adrienne Audrey

    oooh good idea with the watering can!

  • http://sweetness-light.tumblr.com Natasja

    WOW I never knew you had to throw out the smaller seedlings ( I thought you just moved them into their own little space, lol) and hardening them off makes sense now … I OBVIOUSLY need gardening lessons, haha. Lucky we have all winter to learn from Bonzai Aphrodite, and my parent’s garden is HUGE so I can’t wait for spring after baby is born & we can start planting some seeds, woo!
    Looking forward to following your garden through the next stages & hopefully learning something :P

  • http://www.naturallyseasoned.blog.com Lauren – Naturally Seasoned

    Oh the tragedy of killing those poor little seedlings! I’ve contemplated trying to plant them, but quickly came to my senses. Love the spice jar watering can idea, always looking for little things like that to make life easier! I used your tip from a post or two ago about being able to write on jars with a sharpie, kinda of a no brainer but it was revolutionary for me!

  • Richard

    I’ve got a few trays of peas sprouting just for the leaves and my landlord has been planting a ton of things all week, so we’ll have salad galore and other stuff soonish.
    I’ve been experimenting with green smoothies at last and soaking my beans I’m so glad I’ve moved out I’ve got so much more dietry options here and its forcing me to do alot more!
    I also have an orphened olive tree I am fretting over :(

  • Meghan

    Thinning! I can’t do it! Seriously! I don’t (purposefully) put more than two seeds per pot. I figure if I don’t get good germination, I still have plenty of time to plant a new seed. The growing season is long. I am patient. If both seeds come up, I tend to either make them suffer together, or I caaarreefffuully pull up the weaker looking of the two and stick it in its own pot. I’m crazy! I know! But I seriously can’t stand it! Little plant abortions! I can’t do it!! AHHHH!!

    I think that bunnies have been eating my lettuce. Or maybe the squirrels. The squirrels ransacked my seedlings that I was hardening off on Monday… The neighbor across the cul de sac feeds them, but for some reason they insist on bringing their booty to MY yard to eat/bury.

    I love the spice jar idea! Until the roots are very well established I’ve been using a spray bottle to water my pots. I ended up getting peat pots this year, but in the future I am going to buy reusable plastic trays I think. I don’t like the idea of using much peat, and while your newspaper idea is adorable, it just isn’t something I’m willing to invest my time in (although it seems like a great project for when I have kids to help!!) I bought some marigolds at a nursery the other day, I think I’ll try reusing the trays they came in. In fact, I should probably do that NOW… I had a small pack of marigold seeds that I started in just a cookie sheet full of dirt. The poor seedlings could use somewhere deeper to live, I think!

  • issy

    i love how many of us have a hard time thinning out the starts :-). it never occurred to me that i could eat the runners-up, thanks for that!
    i really appreciate your last “fall-out” post too, here’s a link i thought i’d share where i’ve been gleaning some info about what to take (as precautions against radiation) as well: http://www.gabrielcousens.com/DRCOUSENS/DRCOUSENSBLOG/tabid/364/PostID/153/language/en-US/RADIATION-UPDATE-FROM-DR-COUSENS.aspx
    also, wondering if you’re concerned about acid rain falling on your garden?
    LOVE the newspaper pots, and that live food looked amazing, does that restaurant have a website where i could check out their menu??
    thanks for all the healthy, vegan, bad-ass inspiration, xo.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com Sayward

    Aww, I love hearing how many people share my distress over thinning seedlings. Glad I’m not the only one who anthropomorphizes my little plants!

    @ Monika – haha, that is adorable. I cannot *wait* until my little man is big enough to hep me in the garden. It must be such a joy!

    @ Jeannie – Aw, glad I made you smile. And yay – good luck with the garden!

    @ Cedar – Oof that reminds me, I need to get my sunflowers into the ground. Thanks!

    @ Adrienne Audrey – Thanks!

    @ Natasja – Well technically you *can* move them, if you have the garden space and the patience to do it without damaging them (they’re so delicate). But the standard practice is to sow more seeds than you’ll need in case some die/don’t grow, and then thin out once they’ve matured a bit.

    @ Lauren – The sharpie thing was revolutionary for me too! Totally a no brainer but it took me years to figure it out, haha.

    @ Richard – Ooh, sounds like you’ve got all sorts of fun and healthy projects going on, that’s AWESOME. And an orphaned olive tree? I’m jealous, that’s great. Are you going to ut it in the ground? Or in a big pot so you can keep it forever? I’ve got a lemon tree growing in my living room and yesterday I bought a goji berry bush (!!!) to put in another giant pot. =)

    @ Meghan – Aww, you’re SO sweet with your seeds! That’s awesome, they’re lucky little guys “Plant abortions” is friggin hysterical. And re: bunnies, oh man I feel ya. The first garden I ever planted on my own, I lost ever. single. lettuce to a gopher. He would pull them down from below, just *whoosh*, disappearing plants. SO FRUSTRATING!

    @ issy – I agree, I think it’s sweet and proof that we’re an empathetic bunch. =)

    Thanks for the link! I adore Dr Cousens and if I had a guru, I think it would be him . . . which is funny because he is a super spiritual rabbi and I’m the second-least spiritual person I know! But I resonate with him *SO* much. Very interesting stuff he wrote, thanks for that!

    I was very concerned about acid rain falling on my garden. Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I can only do what I can do. I can be mindful and preventative to a degree. But at some point I have to ask – is the stress more detrimental than the radiation??? I believe that fresh food grown with love in my own garden is healthful. More healthful than the alternative – not eating fresh food (the rain is everywhere, after all). So I choose not to worry about it, in this case. Thats the place I’ve come to with it. What do you think?

    Do you mean the live food in the Weekend Send-Off post? This is the restaurant: http://www.yummytummyoasis.com/

  • Meghan

    I made some little pots with toilet paper rolls and newspaper this weekend! I had started my marigolds just on a cookie sheet of dirt, but I accidentally had the sheet placed just under the gutter, and after a big storm today I discovered them drowning. So I put them in individual pots. I had a few peat pots left, and some of the plastic pots that my store-bought marigolds were in, but I ran out!

    I also did some thinning (relocating!) today. In my experience, tomatoes seem to deal really well with being relocated, they’re tough. I haven’t tried with my brassicas yet, I probably should… but first I need to make some more pots! (I was determined that it was too time consuming… and maybe I still agree! But it is the end of the month and my budget is full!)

  • http://vegetalion.blogspot.com Sarah P

    All these comments make me feel better about my horror over thinning my sprouts. First, I am just sad to take out the little guys. Second… What if I pick the wrong one? I HAVE MURDERED IN VAIN.

  • issy

    @sayward: thanks for the reassurance about gardening. i totally agree with doing all we can to make sure our immune systems are tip-top, and also not stressing too hard on influences beyond our control. in my efforts to stay well-informed, i can get a little overwhelmed, and it’s always nice to check in with others for a little perspective. i’m glad that you’re so concerned about radiation exposure, but not irrationally paranoid ;-). i’m excited to get planting, acid rain or no!

  • a

    Squash leaves are edible. They sell them at asian markets. Good in miso soup. Cant see why you couldnt eat the sprouts

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  • http://www.pickypinchers.com Mrs. Picky Pincher

    I’m just curious: do you ever worry about chemicals in the newspaper leaching into food-bearing plants? I always wonder if it’s healthy or not. Curious to hear your thoughts!