Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Egg Carton Tomato Seedlings - Fast, Easy, Cheap!:

I heard someone say it is finally Springtime.  Well. There is no Snow at least in South Central Kansas!  My "Weather Bug" tells me the temperature outside is now 43 degrees and heading down until Morning.  I have a ton of work to do in my Garden but my bones say it's just to cold out there.  Do I worked up a new Project I hope you will try.  

There is a little project I have been wanting to try for several years and I decided to give it a go:

Starting my Seedlings in Egg Cartons.
I done a little experimenting and come up with what I think is an exciting new way to do this.  I've seen the method where you save eggshell halves, put them in an Egg Carton, then later transplant them to the garden or pots.  But I didn't have any Shells when I started this project.  So I came up with a way to use the Egg Carton only -  with a little cutting. Either with a Big Kitchen Sheers or a Little Band-Saw - which is Faster!

 I used the old-style "Paper Mache" type Cartons mostly but the new Strafoam Egg Cartons will work to start the plants - though you won't be able to go directly into the Garden with them.  You will need to transplant the plants into trays or pots as soon as they start putting out their True Leaves.  It will depend on the plants you seed into the cartons wether you need to transplant into holding pots or trays with the old gray Paper Mache cartons.  With the Styrofoam cartons, the lids have no holes and make perfect drip trays with out any extra work.  However, the Paper Mache wick water very fast and very little gets into the Tray Lid anyway. Most Paper Mache Cartons have a Top Lid with Holes in it.  Just lay a strip of newspaper or Aluminum foil down to catch the drips (if there is any) You might want a drain hole in the Styrofoam egg cups but it probably isn't necessary in the Paper Mache egg cups.  They dry out pretty quickly and you will need to mist (before the seeds sprout) and water (after they start sprouting) daily - or more often.

Be sure to Never let the cups dry out completely.  

Step One:  Prepare the Carton for reassembly.

Cut the locking flap from the carton.
Cut the Top from the Egg Cups.  

Not shown but best do it now, Cut down the center of the Egg cups so you have 2 sections.  This is easy with a small saw but can be done with a Scissors.  Be careful with your fingers. This part Can be a little tricky.  Always know where your fingers are while you cut. If you are a natural Cluts, let someone else do this for you! Spare your fingers!

Step Two:  You can use the Lid Lock Piece to block the holes in the side of the Egg Carton Lid Piece.  

 Apply Glue to the Carton Lid Soon to be your Drip Tray.

Apply a little pressure for a few minutes until the two pieces start to hold.  Go to the next step.

Step Three:  (You may skip this part if your Carton Lid has no holes. Or you just don't care anyway!)

Seal the holes in the Carton Lid with a piece of Cardboard, Plastic Wrap, or Aluminum Foil if you are worried about leaks.

Step Four:  Set the Egg Holder Cup sections in the Tray you have just finished.

I cut off the tips of the middle section just because they looked crazy and awkward like that.  Do what you will with them.

Your Egg Carton is Ready to Seed!  

I will  show you how I do this if you would like.

Seeding Your Egg Carton Trays
For Seedlings, I like to use this Mix. You may use what you wish.
1 part sifted Compost
1 Part sifted (1/4 inch screen) Perlite
1 Part sifted (1/4 inch screen) Potting Soil .

I mix it well then add enough water to make a moist (but not muddy) mix.  If you over-do the water.  Just add in a little dry Mix until it is the right consistency.  If you squeeze a handful, no water should drip out of the lump. It should hold together by itself for a few seconds.  Construction Sand (not fine play sand) may be used in place of the Perlite. However, Perlite holds moisture.  Sand does not requiring your watering or misting more frequently.  (The seeds must remain moist but not wet.)

 Step One:  Put Seeding Soil Mix in the Egg Cups.
 Fill the Egg Cups with your Soil Mix.  Firm each down slightly with your fingers.  You should feel a little resistance.  Let up.

Step Two:  Poke holes for the seeds.  
I use a short piece of 1/4 inch wooden dowel for most seeds.  A Pencil would do if you like.  Poke a hole in each Cup to the depth you seed package recommends.

Step Three:  Put Seeds in the holes.
Drop one seed in each hole.

You can put 2 or 3 seeds if you are seeding Tomatoes or Peppers because you can later carefully separate the plant roots from each other and transplant each little plant to its own pot.
  Most seeds are sold with a 85% germination rate expected so usually All will come up with only 12 Pots to an Egg Carton. I just plant extras if I am not sure I will have enough.  Egg Cartons are Cheap - and I save most of my own seeds anyway so they're
cheap too!

However, I would recommend only One seed for plants such as
Cantaloupes, Squash, Cucumbers or Watermelons, Pumpkins etc.

Step Four:  Drop a little soil in each hole to cover the seeds and again press down lightly to firm in the seeds.

Step Five:  Again lightly mist the seeds planted until the soil is wet on the top.


The Tricky Part about Germinating Seeds: 

 The seeds must be kept moist at all times.  The Temperature should be at least Room Temperature (72 degrees or so) at all times.  There must not be any chilly drafts.  The seeded containers should be covered at all times Except allow at least an hour of fresh air to pass over the Egg Cartons every Day. This goes a long way to preventing "Dampening Off" or introducing Mildew to the soil surface.  I Very few plants need light to germinate.  I think maybe lettuce.   But don't quote me!  A Bread Sack fits nicely over an Egg Carton to Keep the soil moist and warm. I allow a little air to get in

I sometimes use Freezer Bags and leave the ends unzipped. And open them wide for more fresh air for about an Hour a day. Every day!

Again: Keep Warm.

            Keep damp (Never Wet).
            Give Fresh Air at least Once a Day for about an hour.
             Keep Covered to avoid drying out.
             When the first seedlings sprout - Give them light!
              Remove the Cover but keep the new plants moist. and 
When you see the Seedlings Start to come up: 
When the first few seedlings appear, get the whole tray under lights immediately.  Even a desk light (non-hot) Fluorescent is best.  No more than a foot away with 75 or 100 watts equivalent.
  Old Incandescent bulbs will Cook your tender new plants. Do not get any closer than a foot to 18 inches.

  Florescent bulbs can get within 2 or 3 inches of the top leaves. The closer the better for more light.  If you cut the distance from the light by half - your plants get 4 times Stronger. It's the law!

You need to get rid of the covering completely to keep the new seedlings from touching the cover.  Which can introduce rot to the leaves. 

 Under ideal conditions, some of your seedlings will sprout from almost Twice as fast as shown on the seed package.  Don't be surprised! Tomatoes are fast. Peppers as still a little slow.

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