Indoor gardening can give old plastic containers a second life
Use sustainable, environment-friendly pots for your indoor gardening
Further to my earlier post about growing organic microgreens, I spent some time chatting with Chris Rowlands about his prolific indoor garden of microgreens.
While discussing the pros and cons of various container options for indoor plantings, we found we shared similar concerns about balancing ecological impact (masses of cheap plastic pots are tossed into garbage dumps every year) with affordability and suitability.
Here is Chris’s report on the best sustainable pots for growing microgreens indoors.
Pots for Growing Plants Indoors
If you're an indoor gardener of any description, you'll understand the subtle, yet crucial part played by your pots.
Much like the stage upon which an actor stands, a plant short a good pot simply can't give its best performance – and finding the right balance of cost, availability, plant suitability and ecological responsibility can be a challenge.
Thankfully, whether you're transplanting or growing from seed, there are a surprising variety of useful small-size potting solutions available. Depending on your needs, some of the highlights include:
Reusable Plastic Trays
Although they are not biodegradable, there are some solid, hardily re-usable trays out there that can last for years through many plantings. These are often excellent for getting seedlings and small transplants started.
Coir is a durable, biodegradable material. It is essentially the result of a refining process using waste coconut shells, and has good water permeability for drainage. Some variations are more long-lasting than others. All are compostable once you are finished with them.
With similar properties to coir, peat has been a longstanding favourite material for expendable pots. However, a significant problem with peat is that it is harvested from natural bogs and marshes, and taking peat from such ecosystems can affect their natural balance for the worse. Given the choice, coir is currently a much better material, ecologically speaking.
Old Cooking Pots and Recycled Cans
If you're looking to keep things cheap, you can't do much better than to reuse your old recyclables. There are concerns when it comes to how a metal container might affect the acidity of the soil – aluminum in particular is poisonous to some plants, and I would recommend avoiding aluminum in general for food crops as a safety measure – but as a simple solution, this approach has its advantages.
Recycled Plastic Containers, Egg Cartons or Styrofoam Packaging
Less durable than pots or cans, but similarly cheap, these items are plentiful in most homes. Use old plastic yogurt containers, Styrofoam food take-out containers, and empty egg cartons as a simple, easy solution (and one that helps mitigate recycling loads and/or landfill waste a bit, as well).
Lee Valley Tools' PotMaker creates hand-pressed pots
from old scrap paper
Free Spare Pots from Garden Centres
Your mileage may vary with this one, but it doesn't hurt to ask your local garden centre if they have any spare pots they don't mind parting with. You might just get lucky.
If you don't mind making a small investment, there are two interesting potting solutions I have seen available at Lee Valley Tools.
One is the “PotMaker” (see photo), a simple hand press that uses strips of scrap paper (such as old newsprint) to make dirt-cheap, expendable paper pots.
Another is their “Soil Block Moulds”, which come in two sizes. These metal presses compress a simple soil mixture into a solid block, which makes for a compact, pot-like format great for starting seeds in.
If you want them to grow beyond the capacity of the soil block, you can pot them up into an available container.
Whatever method you choose, always be sure to bear the needs of your target plant in mind. Good luck, and happy planting!