DIY Newspaper Seed Starting Pots

Pumpkin sprouts in DIY newspaper pots

I watched my parents start seeds indoors every spring as I was growing up. They had amassed quite the collection of plastic pots, and they’d start their seeds in those. The pots would get grouped together on cafeteria trays and lightly covered with a sheet of plastic wrap, then set in the sun.

Now that the frog choir seems to be in session nearly every evening and the primroses are blooming outside our bedroom window, I’m starting to think more about how I’ll start my own seeds this spring. I don’t have a plethora of pots like my parents do, and I refuse to buy seed starting trays (even secondhand) when I can make do with things I have around our house.

Egg cartons are great for starting seeds, but I unfortunately only have two of them.

Over the last few months, I’ve collected a few things I’ll be trying to start seeds in, ranging from egg cartons to paper towel tubes to plastic clamshell packaging (makeshift mini “greenhouses”). But my focus will be on DIYing newspaper pots. This appeals to me on many levels: they’re cheap (practically free), easy to make, and you can plant them right in the ground when the seedlings are big enough.

Yes, there is a nice wooden tool you can buy to help you make your newspaper pots, but it’s totally doable without it. All you need is a tin can or a glass jar, a lid the base of the jar will fit into, and some newspapers.

Here’s what I did:

1. Cut a strip of newspaper. One sheet of newspaper will make 4 strips to wrap around a 16 ounce tin can.

2. Wrap the newspaper around the can/jar, leaving about an inch of extra paper at the bottom.

3. Tuck the extra paper under, like you’re wrapping a present, and then mash the jar into the lid. This extra force will help the paper crease better.

4. Slide the jar/can out and fold about 1/4 inch of the top inward on itself to form a lip that will keep keep the top closed.

5. Fill with soil and sow some seeds! 

Patiently waiting for seeds to sprout. A plastic clamshell package makes a great mini “greenhouse.”

Alternatively, you can lightly wet the bottom of the newspaper pots and set them on a tray to dry if you’re not ready to fill them yet. I made a handful and have been keeping them in a box in our guest room until I’m ready to use them.

A stockpile of newspaper pots just waiting to be filled

This is an easy, mindless activity you can do while watching TV in the evening or if you have a few minutes of downtime while dinner is cooking, etc. You can even experiment with different sizes of jars/cans for larger or smaller newspaper pots as you see fit.

I hope you give this a try, and let me know how it works for you! Happy growing!

A Frugal Gal’s Guide to Buying Books

It’s no secret that I have a bit of a book buying problem. It’s at the point where I need to purge my library because our three bookshelves are overflowing. (Which, in my opinion, is when a bookshelf looks its best, but I digress.)

I’m often asked how I can justify buying so many books. The secret is to not buy brand-new books. I can’t even remember that last time I bought a book at a big-box store, which, I know, for someone with a degree in book publishing is sort of a no-no… But if I didn’t feed my addiction in a frugal manner, I would be broke.

My top 3 places I source used books are:

  • BookMooch. This is a book swapping website I’ve been using since high school. I love getting books this way, and I love sharing my books with other people when I’m done with them. All you pay is shipping when someone requests a book from you, which is really cheap if you elect to use Media Mail. I’ve gotten some really neat books using BookMooch, including some interesting old ones.
  • My local library’s used book nook. My library has a little room where you can purchase books people have donated. These are priced 50 cents to $1, and the money goes toward the library, which I think is great! I’ve found some awesome gardening books and cookbooks in the nook that would have been expensive otherwise.
Last week’s book nook scores for a grand total of $2! And some free lilac shoots from my local Buy Nothing group.
  • Thrift stores. I feel like this one is a no-brainer — books are always cheaper at the thrift store. Salvation Army steeply raised the prices of their books recently, so I try really hard not shop there anymore (among other reasons). Our humane society thrift store, however, has a great and reasonably priced selection of books, so I often look there or at Goodwill. (Case in point, I found Vol. 1 of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” at ReTails for $4!)

If I’m looking for something in particular that I’m unlikely to find at any of the above places, I will try to find it secondhand on Abe Books or on eBay. Amazon is usually my last resort because they treat publishers unfairly, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

Where do you typically look for affordable books?

Marge’s First Cast Iron Skillet

Do you cook with cast iron? For a few months now I’ve been keeping my eye out for cast iron cookware at the thrift stores I frequent, and this week I finally lucked out!

I got this nice “little” skillet for $8 — a very good price for a cast iron piece that isn’t covered in rust. I’m not sure what make it is/how old it might be since it’s unbranded (except for “8K” stamped underneath), but I intend to find out!

That early evening light makes my heart sing.

I’ve also never cooked with cast iron before, so I’m really excited to clean/season this skillet and give it a go. I’m thinking pork chops are in our future, or maybe a nice pancake breakfast!

My only hesitation about using it is the resulting grease splatter since it’s lidless—you’ve heard me gush about my beautiful vintage Frigidaire range. My husband will tell you I’m very anal about keeping it clean, and grease is not fun to wipe up. But it seems like nearly everyone raves about how great cooking with cast iron is, so I’m gonna give it an enthusiastic try.

Do you have any tips for seasoning or cooking with cast iron? A favorite recipe?

Wish me luck!

A Hopeful Orchard & Another Kitchen Update

Spring is on its way, and we’ve been busy here at our place. Two weeks ago we planted our first fruit tree together—hopefully many more trees will follow soon! The one we planted is a semidwarf Bosc pear tree that I picked up at our local Wilco farm store. I’d like to add some peach, plum, and a few other varieties of apple trees to our land in the future to really get an orchard started. My dream is to have an orchard similar to the one at my grandparents’ farm, with a worn picnic table in the middle that gets lots of use at family gatherings.

In other tree-related news, we lost part of an evergreen tree near our house due to the snow we had a few weeks back. I’m pretty sad about it, as our cat often liked to sit on this particular branch that fell. But I’m relieved it missed the house, and now we get to buy a chainsaw, which is thrilling and also terrifying!

As as for gardening stuff, I have yet to start any seeds indoors or make any progress on the raised beds I keep talking about building. I’ve been rather preoccupied with painting our kitchen cabinets.

I’m pleased to say that I’m nearly done with all the upper cabinets, they just need one more coat of paint and a top coat! Even though I still need to start on the pantry and the lower cabinets, it’s already brightened up the room so much. That awful orange glow is almost no more, and I feel much happier when I walk into the kitchen now. It’s truly amazing how much color affects your mood.

On Sunday we hit 69 degrees, which is incredible considering we had snow just a few weeks ago. I had already committed to spending the day inside painting, so I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to enjoy the nice weather too much. I did manage to take a break here and there to plant some summer-blooming bulbs, however.

This was my first opportunity to use the bulb planter I’d picked up a while back at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and holy cow did it make things easy! I’m thinking it’ll be a huge help when I plant my dahlia tubers this later year. (Soon!)

At one point I had to run into town to get some paintbrushes at the Dollar Tree, and I have such a hard time saying no to their seed selection. It always seems to get more diverse. I couldn’t say no to the ranunculus, gladiolus,  and tigridia. And the zinnia mix reminded me of my mom—she always plants zinnias and marigolds around the fountain in her garden, and I have fond memories of helping her.

Dollar Tree seed and bulb scores

I know I won’t get everything planted this year. I have a habit of setting high expectations for myself and then beating myself up when I don’t meet those expectations to a tee. I’m continually reminding myself this spring that it’s ok if I don’t plant everything I’d hoped to plant — first-year gardens are daunting and fraught with trial and error. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, but I will keep dreaming.

In the meantime, I’ll keep on enjoying some breathtaking sunsets through the trees before the branches fill in with leaves and we won’t have as clear a view. Life is good, folks.

2018 Homesteading Goals

It often feels like I have way too many plans for our little slice of land. I grew up on 5 forested acres, so that’s what we were originally looking for when we started house hunting last spring, but we settled for 3 acres and even that seems a little daunting now.

We have mostly flat, cleared land along a private road, and a small amount of “wilder” land off to the other side of our house—mostly a tangle of old oak and hawthorn trees. I think the cleared land was farmed originally, maybe for wheat,  but that’s not quite what we want to do. I’d like to have an orchard, some chickens, some bees, and maybe some goats eventually… and the more I think about all this, the more my head spins. I just don’t know where to start.

So I’m breaking down my goals, starting with the most pressing things that need to be done this year. Most of them aren’t really that exciting, but for me it’s nice to see them written down and have a visual reminder. And, hey, maybe you’ll find them at least little interesting!

  • Replace the water heater in our house. It’s 16 years old, enough said.
  • Install new skirting around our house. This is something I’m honestly not looking forward to at all. We will need my dad’s help, and it’s going to be a lot of work that can really only be done in the summer when it’s not rainy and muddy.
  • Build raised garden beds
  • Plant fruit trees in the fall. We do already have a few cherry trees and an apple tree, but they’re growing along the fence line, and I’d like to start filling in our field so there’s less for Jordan to mow.
  • Plant a hedge along our private road. We don’t have any privacy from our neighbors along that side of our property, and I feel very exposed when I go out wandering through our field checking on the trees, etc. But I still can’t decide what I want to plant! Preferably something fast growing. I’m thinking maybe some rhododendrons, since they get so massive here, but maybe some sort of tree would be nice. I’m open to suggestions, if you have any!
  • Build a composter. Opossums are cute and all, but also slightly scary when you come upon them in the dark and they’re feasting at the open compost pile.
  • Install a solar tube in our kitchen for more natural light. Our kitchen is dark, and I hate wasting electricity during the daytime when I shouldn’t have to have the lights on. A solar tube seems like a much better option (financially and for energy efficiency) than installing a skylight that would likely leak and require continued maintenance.
  • Create a cat-waste compost system. This is the one area of our life where we produce the most waste and that I constantly feel guilty about. I’d like to switch our cats to a compostable wood pellet litter (fingers crossed; our old man isn’t a fan of change), eliminate the plastic bags used for scooping, and create a designated compost area for it.
  • Switch to reusable cloth napkins when we run out of our bulk package of paper towels.

I don’t expect we will accomplish everything on the list this year; more likely we will only get around to a small handful — we are still new homeowners, after all, and it does take a while to really settle into a new house. But I think this will be a good way to hold us accountable for the things we keep saying we’ll do. Here’s to a productive 2018!