Growing Veggies Indoors: An Update on Indoor Urban Gardening

by heather

005Well, it’s been about 3 weeks since I planted my herb and vegetable seeds, courtesy of Hometown Seeds. All the seeds I’ve planted are the Heirloom kind, which means I’ll be able to harvest seeds from these plants to use for next year. I’m now officially an urban gardener. Whoo-Hoo!

I wanted to post a quick update to show some of the frugal ways I found to start seeds indoors. And to highlight some lessons I’ve learned so far.

Lesson #1: Hit the Coffee Shops

See the beautiful tin pictured on the right?

A few weeks ago I was in Beaner’s Coffee. I saw these beautiful tins lined up on their back wall. Normally, these tins hold really delicious, really expensive teas.

I asked the owner what they did with these beautiful tins when they were through with them.

Your heart is going to sink. She said, “Oh, we just throw them away.”

Yes, it took my breath away too. Literally. But you’d be proud…I was very diplomatic.

I told her that the tins could easily be re-purposed for something else, like pencil holders or bead collectors or planting pots. And I asked if she had any empty ones on-hand?

She fished this one out of the garbage to give to me. Just, don’t dwell on this. I still get dizzy thinking about it.

The point here is not that coffee shops in Howell don’t recycle. The point is that by hitting up local coffee shops you might be able to score some really awesome tins to use as planter pots (and keep them out of the landfill!). If your local brewery doesn’t have any available right then, leave your name and number. Explain why you want them. They’ll probably be glad to re-purpose them over to you.

Lesson #2: Use Anything To Plant

Here’s a pictoral diary of my urban garden, which is currently growing in my dining room.

Sidenote: We have no dining room table anymore. I requisitioned it to grow seedlings since this room is the ONLY room with sufficient sunlight to grow the plants, and because I have a minimal amount of furniture. We’ve been eating on our ottoman in the living room, Turkish style, and we both really like it better. I’m thinking of just getting rid of the table altogether and using a very low table and floor cushions from now on…

Anyway, this first image is my Lincoln Peas, which are just starting to come up. The container used to hold grits. I cut it in half, and got two pots out of it (I used the lid as the bottom for the second pot).

This used to be a container for grits...

This used to be a container for grits...

This next picture is my tomatoes, which are also just on the cusp of coming up. This container used to hold hummus. Yum!


This used to hold hummus...

This next image is classic egg crate seed starting.

An important lesson here: I used styrofoam AND cardboard egg crates in my seed starting. So far, the styrofoam crate has far outperformed the cardboard. The dirt in the cardboard dried out every day really fast. I even used plastic wrap to make a “mini greenhouse” to keep the moisture in.

I ended up losing 90% of the plants I planted in the cardboard egg crate. I’m not sure why.

I have carrots planted in this particular egg crate. So far, they haven’t come up. But the styrofoam is doing an excellent job keeping the dirt moist. My first batch of styrofoam plants was spinach, and they did really, really well. I’ve already replanted them into a bigger pot.

Classic egg crate seed starting...

Classic egg crate seed starting...

Remember when I wrote that post on Frugal Ways to Start Seeds Indoors? Well, one of the ideas was to use toilet paper rolls as seed starters.

I’ve tried this with my squash. I don’t know if it’s me, the seeds, or the toilet paper tube, but they haven’t come up yet. My guess is that they might not be getting enough light, but I really don’t know. If you try this, proceed with caution. If you HAVE used TP rolls successfully, could you chime in and let me know if I’m doing something wrong?

I’ve also used several tin cans to start seeds, which you can see behind the TP rolls. These have worked really great so far. Everything I’ve planted in cans is coming up well.

Toilet Paper Roll Planting

Toilet Paper Roll Planting

Lesson #3: Transplant With Spoons

My pole beans shot up so quickly that I had to replant them into deeper pots this week. And I discovered an easy way to transplant the little seedlings without damaging them.

The pole beans were in tin cans. So I used a butter knife to separate the dirt from the sides, and I gently slide everything out into the pot.

The herbs were tricker. These little basil plants were in an egg crate. I ended up using a large spoon to just sort of scoop them out of the egg crate and into the pot. It worked really well! I didn’t lose any plants when I replanted them into larger containers.

My pole bean and basil is now in a huge pot...

My pole bean and basil is now in a huge pot...

Last Word…

So, where’s my veggie garden going when the weather warms up?

Well in case you missed it, I’m building an outdoor trellis garden on the south wall in my backyard. You can learn more about it here.

I’ll be starting on it pretty soon, and when I get it built I’ll definitely be posting pictures and a “How To” in case you want to build one yourself! This garden will allow me to grow a ton of vegetables in my teeny weeny backyard.

If you’re starting seeds indoors and have learned some of your own frugal tips and tricks, I’d love to hear them! I think ย a lot of people are starting a garden this year, so it can only help me and other readers do it better (and not lose our plants!) This is my first year starting seeds from scratch so I can use all the help I can get! ๐Ÿ™‚


Alix March 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Heather, where are you from? I’m from Toledo and Beaner’s is my favorite local hang-out and coffee spot.

heather March 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Alix, I’m in Howell, MI, so only about 1 1/2 hrs. from you!

Barbara Marlow March 25, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Oh I got excited when you mentioned Howell….there is a Howell, NJ not far from here.

I still haven’t purchased the indoor Worm Bin, but I did start another compost bin in a plastic tote outdoors. The first one that I did about 18 mos ago is LOADED with worms!

[email protected] March 26, 2010 at 10:15 am

I really like your post and how you reused different containers, especially the one from the coffee shop. I really should also start saving seeds from various fruits and veggies and start growing my own frugal indoor plants – we have a huge backyard where this would be perfect for later when spring takes off.

RenaissanceRonin March 27, 2010 at 2:16 am

Used “Grits” containers?

Who are you kidding? Nobody eats grits, or even sucks the heads off crawfish… It’s just an urban legend. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Like you, I’m using stryrofoam egg cartons as seedling “baby beds.”

And, right now, I’ve got time on my hands, and thyme sprouting pretty well, so I’ll get back to work on your milk crate trellis garden plans.

Remember, all good “Milk Crate Ninjas” wear black, and move in the shadows… And if you bungee cord them together, they’re easier to carry when you’re running away from the back of the grocery store, after dark… ๐Ÿ˜‰

No bungee cords were harmed in the creation of this post. ๐Ÿ™‚

heather March 27, 2010 at 6:52 am

Listen, Ronin, you don’t know what you’re missing. Grits are GOOD. With cheese and jalapenos…yum!

I seriously haven’t seen milk crates anywhere. In all seriousness, where do you get those things? I need to find some soon. I think I’m just going to plead for some on Freecycle. I certainly don’t want to have to go out and buy any…

heather March 27, 2010 at 6:54 am

@Maja, Thanks so much! This is my first year starting seeds because I was always kind of intimidated. I thought you needed a “sunroom” and tons of planting pots and heating pads for the seeds (that’s what I read on gardening forums, anyway). I didn’t have any of those things and my seeds are coming up just fine. It’s really not hard. My only advice is to buy quality dirt. If you’re a member of Costco, right now they have these enormous 50 qt. bags (I think that’s the size) of Miracle Grow for $10. I bought two, and am going to go get more. That’s a huge bargain compared to what you’d pay for that stuff at Home Depot! Anyway, I know you can do it too!

heather March 27, 2010 at 7:00 am

Barbara, good for you! That’s awesome! I checked on my worms yesterday and saw my first ever super tiny baby worms. So, they’re reproducing. Yay! ๐Ÿ™‚

RenaissanceRonin March 28, 2010 at 6:04 am

Oh great, Heather…

Now you’ve stooped to “worm porn.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

“Super tiny baby worms, my butt…”

What’s next? A “Marlin Perkins” documentary on proliferation of Snickerdoodles, or Snickerson’s or whatever you named the little bass baits?

(For you youngsters out there, Marlin Perkins was the “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” guru, who was always about half comatose while his young aid was getting eaten by pythons, or chased by lions, or wrestling with P.O.’d gators… It was hysterical… “Oh look, He’s getting his arm chewed off. I hope the lighting is good so that the viewers can get a good shot at it.”)

Those milk crates are all over the place down here. Maybe I need to round some up and figure out a way to ship them to you?

heather March 28, 2010 at 7:03 am

Listen, if I DO make a documentary about the worms (the Snickersons, they’re called the SNICKERSONS!) it would win top prize at the Cannes Film Festival AND Sundance. Yes, it would be that good. And then I’d be famous! ๐Ÿ™‚

Milk crates…yes, it’s turning into a situation here. I put an ad up on Freecycle yesterday asking if anyone had any. No one wrote back.

Hey, it’d probably cost a small Turkish fortune to ship those things up here. I’m sure I’ll find some. ๐Ÿ™‚

Debi April 1, 2010 at 2:09 am

This is just an FYI, but sunlight has way less to do with seed germination (excepting things like dill or poppies) than moisture and heat. Most seeds don’t need any kind of light to germinate. Squash just takes a longer time than smaller, softer seeds. If they don’t come up, try putting some paper towel in an egg carton or small container. Put a seed on top, get it really wet and set it on top of the fridge or on a windowsill or whatever. Just check every day or so to make sure it isn’t dried out. It should take about a week to germinate and then you just stick it in a planter or pot or whatever. I like sprouting my seeds first ’cause then I don’t spend forever waiting for a bum seed to decide to not sprout.

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robbie April 30, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Hi Heather, while you’re at the coffee shop, ask for used grounds. They’re great additions to your garden!

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