“The soil is the great connector our lives, the source and destination of all.” – Wendell Berry
In my last post, I discussed the benefits of growing plants from seed hydroponically and suggested some activities for those of you who may be home and educating children through this global pandemic, or just looking for an interesting growing project. In this post, I am introducing a simple method to grow plants from seed in soil with containers made from recyclable materials you most likely have at home, so no need for a trip out to gather supplies as most us remain under quarantine and “stay at home” orders.
With the rush to stock up on toilet paper a few weeks ago, toilet paper tubes are numerous. I re-purposed several tubes to make these seed starters. You can also use paper towel tubes, just cut them into three pieces before making the planter. With a scissors, I cut seven slits about one-third of the way up the tube from one end. Fold all the pieces in on each other, fill with soil, plant seeds, and water. Make sure the soil stays moist and place your tubes in a sunny window. The paper tubes are completely biodegradable so if planting the seedlings outdoors, the whole tube can go into the ground or pot. Although the egg carton can also be used a planter, I prefer the paper tubes as they are deeper and give the plants a little more depth to grow before transplanting. The egg carton does work well as a “stand,” to keep the bottoms of the tubes closed. I only planted four tubes, but there is enough room for a dozen.
The following is a very short list of specific plants that grow quickly and provide a multitude of learning opportunities:
Dill – Dill is easy to grow and the plant is one of my favorites. It is beautiful, fragrant, and delicate with its feathery leaves and lacy, yellow flowers. As the host plant of the Black Swallowtail butterfly, it is an ideal plant to observe the butterfly life cycle. Dill can be harvested and used in the kitchen to season a variety of dishes, including dill pickles. After flowering, the seeds can be easily collected, dried and saved.
Lemon Balm – Lemon Balm is another easy-to-grow plant. Its lemony fragrance is bright and cheery. Steeping the leaves in water or tea adds a light lemon flavor. It is just a happy plant!
Mint – There are endless varieties of mint…and kids just love mint. Most kids are happy just simply plucking the mint leaf from the plant and chewing it up, or adding it to water.
Zinnia – Zinnias are tall, beautiful flowers whose bursting blooms remind me of fireworks. Many of the zinnia seed packets are a mixture of seeds, so the anticipation of bloom color lends to the joy of growing these colorful bouquet flowers that children love to share.
Marigold– Marigolds, a relative of the sunflower, have a pungent, musky scent that some people find offensive. I love the scent. Marigolds grow profusely and bloom continually throughout the summer and into early fall, deterring garden insect pests while providing food for butterflies and other pollinators. The flowers are not only edible, but can be used as dye. In addition, marigold has a rich, cultural and religious history – a great research project for students! Like dill, its seeds are abundant and can be easily collected and saved as blooms wither and dry.
Green Bean – Green beans are large seeds that can be started wrapped in a moist paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag taped to a sunny window. Using this method, they germinate quickly and are easily observed. Transplant to soil as the sprouts get larger. There are bush varieties and pole varieties. The pole varieties are great examples of vine plants and will grow up any homemade trellis. Picking and eating the beans straight from the vine is a feeling of accomplishment for young gardeners.
These plants are my top six choices of starting from seed projects that are simple, but bring a variety of learning opportunities to your growing space, big or small. They are easy to grow and easy to manage with minimal maintenance, but offer many educational opportunities for children all summer long.