DIY Gardening: Starting Seeds in Recycled Egg Cartons

Good news: Ellen Drews is joining us for another gardening tutorial! Last spring, Ellen shared her DIY container gardening technique (pictured below). Today, she’s going to teach us how to start our own seeds in egg cartons! Have you ever done something like this before? I can’t wait to give it a try!

Before we get to her wonderful post, I did want to take a second to let you all know that Anne and I leave for Greece tomorrow! (Follow me on Instagram to see some pictures of our trip.) We will be home in three weeks, and I’ll be back to blogging in late July with more projects, recipes, and some pictures from our trip. I’ve got an exciting collaboration and giveaway coming your way later this summer!

Without further ado, Ellen:

As a backyard vegetable gardener in Somerville, Massachusetts, I am always cooking up ways to feed my gardening addiction on a tight budget. I love finding ways to use recycled materials to grow my vegetables safely in the city. This year in my container garden, I decided to see the process from start to finish. I was going to start my own seeds in my own DIY greenhouses: egg cartons!

Starting seeds indoors is an important concept for vegetable gardening. There are some vegetables that prefer to grow right where they’re planted (i.e. cold-tolerant plants like spinach, or delicate root-crops like carrots). For these crops, I put seeds directly into my container garden as soon as the soil has thawed.

Other plants must be started indoors and then transplanted to the outdoor garden as seedlings, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and basil. These warm-season crops evolved in hot climates with longer growing seasons and so they have a long, leisurely lifespan. Where I live in New England, we can have frosts as late as Memorial Day, which would most likely kill a seedling before it had a chance to bear any fruit—the ultimate prize of the tomato plant. Starting tomato seedlings indoors as early as April allows you to get your plants going so they will reach fruiting maturity by midsummer.

Seedlings are available for purchase at farmers’ markets, grocery and hardware stores, and big-box stores like K-Mart. However, there are awesome benefits to starting from seeds:

  • Choose varieties! There are thousands of beautiful heirloom seeds out there and many cool ones are available through seed companies with the mission of saving these varieties (Seed Savers Exchange, Hudson Valley Seed Library, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are some of my favorites).
  • Save money on fancy organic seedlings and use the seeds you already have. I’m still using seeds that I bought or traded two years ago (with proper storage, seeds can last up to 5 years).
  • Avoid the pitfalls of buying cheaper, mass-distributed seedlings at stores like Home Depot and K-Mart. Devastating diseases can spread across the country via these discount seedlings. For example, in 2009, late blight on tomatoes spread across the east coast because many people bought tomato seedlings from K-Mart, Walmart, and Lowe’s—all of which carried a fungus originating in a handful of greenhouses in Alabama. (Read one article about it here.)

So, now that you’re convinced that starting your own seedlings at home is a good idea, I’ll show you how I started mine this year!

Starting Seeds in Recycled Egg Cartons

Materials:

  • Plastic or cardboard egg cartons, empty (avoid Styrofoam or heavily inked cartons)
  • Nail or awl
  • Organic potting soil or mix (Look for varieties that contain compost. You want your seeds to access as many nutrients in their little cells as possible.)
  • Seeds!
  • Spray bottle or watering can with a gentle sprinkle

Step 1: Using the nail or awl, punch three holes in the bottom of each egg cell to allow excess water to drain.

Step 2: Fill the egg carton cells with the potting soil. Use your fingers to gently press divots into each cell and re-fill the divots with more potting soil. You want to give your seeds as much material in each cell as possible without compacting the soil. For many weeks, the nutrients in the soil will be all they will get so you’ll want to fill ‘em up!

Step 3: Put 1-2 seeds in each cell, following the directions on the seed packet for how deep to put them (it will be under “seed depth”). Cover with a light topping of potting soil.

Step 4: Soak the cells with water using a spray bottle or a gentle sprinkle of water. You want water to drip out of the holes at the bottom of the egg carton to ensure that you have really soaked all the soil. BUT you also want to be careful that you don’t dislodge the seeds or compact the soil so it’s important to be gentle when watering!

Step 5: Place egg carton seed-trays indoors in a sunny window or under grow lights. Seeds should germinate in about a week! I also got fancy and used the lid of the egg carton to create a greenhouse effect over my seeds. The plastic roof kept moisture in and trapped some heat from the sun. I also punched holes in this “greenhouse” roof to keep things from getting way too humid in there.

Here’s what my tomatoes and tomatillos looked like after they grew up a bit! Now that it’s June, it’s a bit late for starting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant like I did here, but it is a great time to start seeds for fall crops such as broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, chard, fennel and kale.

And here’s what my garden looks like today!

Leave a comment if you’ve found other ways to use recycled materials in your garden!

Note: All photos were taken by Ellen Drews.

DIY Travel Backgammon & Checkers

As Anne and I get ready to leave for Greece (8 days!), I’ve decided that our packing list should include games we can play on our trip. Playing cards are a no-brainer, but I was curious how I might go about creating a travel-friendly backgammon and checkers board. Backgammon is widely popular in Greece, so learning to play is something I’ve been very interested in. Checkers I already have down pat.

After scouring the Internet and a local art supply store to get ideas on how to make this vision a reality, I ultimately settled on a design that is freakishly easy. So easy that creating a blog post tutorial on it is almost cheating. I wanted to use materials I already owned, though, so creating two board games for $0 is a win in my book! The supplies are few, and the steps quite easy.

This board game takes up virtually no room in your travel bag, and is sure to be fun no matter where you are: a local taverna, the beach, your room, a long plane ride, etc.

DIY Travel Backgammon

Materials:

  • 8.5″ x 11″ chipboard (I purchased mine here)
  • Pencil
  • Sharpie marker
  • Ruler
  • 30 buttons, 15 each in two colors (or any other checker-type object)
  • 2-4 dice, depending on what style backgammon you are playing (or download this dice app if you’ll have wifi on your trip)

Step 1: Using a pencil and then a Sharpie, draw a thick line down the short side of the chipboard at 5 1/2″. To make this as accurate as possible, make a tick mark at 5 1/2″ on either long edge of the board. Then, connect the dots.

Step 2: Working outward from either side of the thick line, use a pencil to make six tick marks every 7/8″. There should be 24 tick marks in total.

Step 3: Use the ruler and Sharpie to begin creating the backgammon points (or triangles). Place the board in landscape position. The long edge closest to you I will call Side 1, and the farther long edge will be called Side 2. Connect the farthest left tick mark on Side 1 to the second most left tick mark on Side 2. This should create a diagonal line. Continue this across the board to create 12 parallel lines. Next, go back and create 12 more parallel lines going in the opposite direction (i.e. connect the second most left tick mark on Side 1 to the farthest left tick mark on Side 2).

Step 4: Create the two-toned backgammon board by filling in every other point with stripes. The points facing each other should be opposite colors.

DIY Travel Checkers

Materials:

  • See above! This board requires the same materials as backgammon, except only 12 checkers each.

Step 1: Turn over your brand-new backgammon board to the blank side of the chipboard. Create an 8″ x 8″ square using the ruler, pencil, and Sharpie.

Step 2: Make tick marks every 1″ along all four sides of the square. Create smaller squares by connecting all opposing tick marks. There will be 64 squares total.

Step 3: Create the two-toned checkers board by filling in every other square with stripes. No striped square should be touching another striped square.

P.S. Have you seen my DIY Scrabble game? It was the subject of an early blog post on Scissors & Sage, but it might be one of my favorite projects ever.

Print Your Own Recipe Cards

This week I decided to try something new and make my very own recipe cards! I’m the recent owner of a beautiful recipe box, so these cards are a natural accompaniment. While the process was painstaking at times, I am so happy with the end result. I used Microsoft Word to create my template, and I customized the nine colors you see above. I wanted to create a clean, distraction-free design for ease of writing. It’s up to you to add your own flare, whether it’s an artsy doodle of a delicious pie, or your own elegant hand lettering.

Let’s talk logistics. This recipe template is 4″ x 6″. (You can, of course, print it smaller or larger using the scale option when printing.) It’s best to print the cards on either text weight or cover weight paper. To print the card double-sided, first print page 1 of 1 only. Then, feed the same paper back into the printer and only print page 2 of 2. Once your recipe cards are printed, cut them, leaving a 2/8″ border on the left and right, and a 3/8″ border on the top and bottom. This will create an exact 4″ x 6″ recipe card.

These recipe cards are meant to be versatile. Print all one color, or print one of each! Use them for your own recipe collection, or give a whole blank set as a gift. The options are limitless!

Now, I want to see how you use your printed recipe cards! How will you fill them in? What are you cooking and baking this season? Share your cards on Instagram using #scissorsandsage and I’ll repost them!

Cantaloupe

Here is what the back of each recipe card looks like:

Click here to download and print Cantaloupe.

Honeydew

Click here to download and print Honeydew.

Strawberry

Click here to download and print Strawberry.

Sky

Click here to download and print Sky.

Licorice

Click here to download and print Licorice.

Blueberry

Click here to download and print Blueberry.

Lavender

Click here to download and print Lavender.

Salmon

Click here to download and print Salmon.

Asparagus

Click here to download and print Asparagus.

Don’t forget to share your recipe cards! I’d love to see how you fill yours in. Tag them with #scissorsandsage and I’ll repost them!

Homemade Soy Wax Candles

Candle-making is a craft that I have wanted to try for a few years now. Anne gave me candle-making supplies for Valentine’s Day this year, and we spent an afternoon making a whole batch together. It was a lot of fun, and produced some seriously pretty candles!

Are you in need of a Mother’s Day gift? It’s not too late to give this a whirl. The instructions below are adapted from Martha Stewart.

Homemade Soy Wax Candles

Materials:

  • Wicks with a metal bottom
  • Chopsticks or skewers
  • Glass jars
  • Soy wax
  • Double boiler
  • Meat or candy thermometer
  • Oil-based essence of your choice (i.e. lavender)
  • Scissors

Step 1: Clean and dry all glass jars. Use chopsticks to rest one wick in each jar. To do this, wrap the wick around the chopstick as to hold the wick in place. It’s important that the wick is centered in the jar.

Step 2: Set up the double boiler and melt the wax to 135°F.

Step 3: Remove the melted wax from the heat, and stir in 80-100 drops of essential oil, or to your desired amount. (Note: 80 drops gives off a light aromatic scent, while closer to 100+ drops will smell more like a commercial candle.)

Step 5: Carefully pour wax into jars, and place them in a cold water bath in the sink. (You may need to hold the wicks in place for a few minutes.) As the wax cools, it may begin to sink. Add melted wax as needed, and re-cool. Remove chopsticks and trim wicks with scissors.

Especially if you’re considering giving your candles as gifts, consider making labels for each of them. Use stickers, washi tape, or Sharpie markers to describe the scent you’ve used.

Are you making anything homemade this Mother’s Day? If so, share in the comments! I’ll send the mother of one lucky commenter a surprise care package. (Continental US moms only!)

DIY Self-Watering System for Houseplants

Happy Monday! Did anyone notice I was absent last week? The bad news is I had bronchitis for a few weeks there, but the good news is that I’m feeling better! Philly is in full-blown spring mode, and I can’t get enough of it. My parents visited me and Anne this weekend, and we had a great picnic at the Japanese Gardens in Fairmount Park. The cherry blossoms were out of control!

As the warmer weather begins to take us out of hibernation, it quickly becomes the season to travel more. Day trips, weekend excursions, and longer vacations. All of this traveling means that those houseplants you so carefully take care of are soon left to fend for themselves.

When Anne and I took our road trip through the south last spring, we devised a self-watering wicking system to keep our houseplants happy and healthy while we were away for a week. I pride myself on my level of care for our houseplants, but let me say this: our plants have never looked better than that week they were watering themselves.

Here’s why a self-watering wicking system works so well:

  1. By using a wicking system, the plants only absorb the amount of water that they need. They will never sit in an excess of water.
  2. Different plants require different amounts of water. With this setup, you can keep all of your plants hydrated with one system.
  3. You don’t need to do a damn thing! This system will water itself and leave your plants feeling great.

Oh, and another tip: If you’re new to houseplants, or aren’t sure how much to water them, use this system even when you’re home. You can reap the benefits of keeping houseplants, but your black thumb won’t get in the way!

Are you convinced? Do you want to use this system the next time you’re away from home? The setup process takes about 30 minutes, and should be done the day before you leave in order to minimize stress and confirm the system is working. I’ll walk you through the steps to making your own at home.

DIY Self-Watering System for Houseplants

Materials:

  • 100% cotton string
  • Scissors
  • Paper clips
  • Pasta pot
  • Short stool

Step 1: Gather your houseplants in a location near where they usually reside. Cut the cotton string into two-feet segments (cut as many as you have plants). If you do not have cotton string on hand, take an old 100% cotton t-shirt and cut it into long, thin strips.

Step 2: Tie a paper clip to one end of each piece of string.

Step 3: Fill a pasta pot with water, about 4 quarts. Place the pot on a stool to elevate the water above the level of the plants. (Gravity will work with you to pull the water down the string.) Gather the plants around the pot of water.

Step 4: Place the paper clip end of the string in the pasta pot. (The paper clips will ensure that the string stays in the water.) Take the other end of the string and, using your finger, bury it about one or two inches into the soil of each plant. Press firmly on the soil to hold the string in place.

Step 5: When you have placed the string into each plant, make sure that there are no “dips” in the string. The line of string from the pasta pot to the plant needs to be a fully downward slope. If the string dips below the planter, water will not travel back up the string and into the soil. To avoid this, gently pull the extra string into the pasta pot.

Wrong:

Right:

That is how to create your very own DIY self-watering wicking system! In about an hour, you will notice your plant beginning to receive water.

Depending on how long you are away, there will most likely be water still in the pasta pot when you return home. Gently disassemble the string from the plant, and go back to your usual houseplant routine in about ten minutes.

Or, don’t! There are other, more subtle ways to continue this system while you’re home. Keep your plants where you usually have them, and place smaller bowls of water–on a stack of books, say–near your plants. You can refill the water bowls and know that your plants are receiving just the right amount of water at all times.

Note: Our orchid and fiddle leaf fig are getting their own self-watering setups when Anne and I travel to Greece this summer. They are quite particular plants, so I will keep them right where they are elsewhere in our apartment.

Are you going anywhere this spring or summer? Tell me where you’re traveling in the comments!