Bin Gardening

Bin Gardening

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Homemade Seed Mats

I hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather! Yesterday we had a refreshing afternoon rain and a cool evening in GA, and the plants are loving it!


I have had two questions running through my mind this week: How well do seed mats work? I'm referring to the "roll and grow" wildflower, herb, and vegetable mixes you see in garden centers or online that cost from $5 - $30 (not those with built-in heat mats nor the mats with grass seed). These seed mats are from 8"-10" wide and 4' - 10' long. Typically there are 8-9 plant varieties included with over 100 seeds in each mat. The seeds are embedded between sheets of a biodegradable material such as wood fiber layers or tisue paper. I checked several seed mat reviews on Amazon and saw an average customer rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars. The main disappointments expressed were a lack of germination, and not as much variety as advertised on the packaging. I thought there must be a more dependable way to plant, yet still have the ease of using a seed mat. 

I’ve  also wondered how many gardeners buy seed packets and plant only a portion of them, intending to save the remaining seeds for the following year. I have saved several seed packets from the past three years. I wanted to test their viability without taking up valuable “real estate” on my deck garden, so I recycled some clear plastic berry containers (plastic sandwich bags would also work) and used a wet paper towel cut in half to do a germination test.


I started with forget-me-not seeds, a favorite flower during my childhood, and planted the whole pack, expecting that maybe 20% of the older seeds would sprout. I saturated the paper towels with lukewarm water and sprinkled the seeds on the bottom towel, then placed the top towel over the seeds inside the plastic container (total prep time: 30 seconds). Since seeds need warmth and moisture to sprout, I placed the container in a sunny window, and in about 5 days, approximately 90% of the seeds had sprouted.


The seedlings remained in the container for another week as their roots penetrated the paper towel. Not wanting to disturb the tender roots, I took the paper towel (now a mini-seedling mat) outside and placed it on top of a pot filled with potting mix. I misted it each morning and within a couple of days more roots were spreading in the potting mix. I will eventually need to thin out the seedlings, but this was an extremely easy (minimal time and almost no-cost) way to test the viability of older seeds.


I would love to hear other ideas on making and using homemade seed mats and their effectiveness. Meanwhile, I will continue this experiment with other crops to determine whether or not it is an efficient method of germinating older seeds to transfer to a container garden.

Below are some forget-me-not plants that germinated in March. These were purchased in a tiny metal bucket as a growing kit with just a few seeds at Target for $1 – I am anxious to compare the Target flowers to homemade seed mat flowers – stay tuned!


I will close with a couple of pictures from this morning - raindrops on tomato plants growing in our plastic bins. I am thankful that everything seems to be growing very well!

Blessings to you, gardening friends!


Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Planting in Bins

The seeds are planted and the anticipation is high as we watch the daily changes from seed to sprout to stem with true leaves. I love this “new birth” part of the growing season!


Here are 6 of the 12 bins we plan to assemble this season. The PVC and other plastic pipes have been pre-cut, so it now takes 30 minutes to “build” each one. The nice thing is that we should be able to re-use these (soil included, but with amendments) for four more years.


I have planted cherry tomatoes, Beefsteak tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, iceberg lettuce and Romaine lettuce. The most beneficial thing I have noticed using containers in this early part of the season is having no weeds or pests competing with the tender new growth.

Bin gardening for vegetables is our main experiment this year. We still plan to till the garden plot and plant some corn, melons, pumpkins, and whatever else my 12-year-old daughter would like to grow. We have provided her with her own growing space each spring since she was 3 years old. She became hooked when she saw her sunflowers grow taller than all of us, and when she ate her sweet, home-grown corn on the cob for lunch one summer afternoon, and when we used the pumpkins she grew for Halloween one year. What a sense of accomplishment for a child (and for an adult)!

Sunflower Kate aIMG_0339b

Our hope was to instill in our daughter a life-long love of gardening, and an appreciation for the beauty of nature. We are having a wonderful time planting this spring, and she is as excited as we are to try our 2012 “mostly” container gardening experiment.

For instructions on how to create our self-watering planter from an 18-gallon Sterilite bin, please click on the following video:

Wishing you successful planting!