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How to germinate vegetable seedlings using re-cycled household items.

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Have you ever faced the dilemma of having to ruthlessly remove crops which are still producing because your garden is small, and according to the instructions on your seed packets, you need to sow next season’s crops now! If you don’t have space to do both directly in your garden beds, your only alternative is to start next season’s crops in seedling trays or pots. Once your current crops are finished producing, your new seedlings should be ready to plant out.  All you need to do this is a few recycled containers, good quqlity seedling soil; and a warm, brightly lit to sunny windowsill indoors, or a covered, protected area outdoors.

The following projects are fun to do with your children and may even encourage them to eat more veggies too!

Being winter veggie season, I decided to experiment with some ideas I found online i.e. sowing seeds in egg boxes, empty toilet roll holders, as well as in plastic, store bought vegetable and yogurt tubs, to determine which worked the best. All my seedlings were germinated and grown on a sunny windowsill indoors and did remarkably well.

Besides your containers, all you need is really good seedling soil. Do not skimp on the soil you use, buy a top quality seedling soil from your garden centre – one bag will go a long way.

Seeds sown into egg boxes:

Cut the boxes to fit a waterproof container which you can cover with cling wrap, or simply sow into the egg trays and close the lids until germination. Using a permanent marker, name the crop and the date sown before filling with soil and sowing the seeds. Spray wet with a fine spray, put the egg tray into your container, and cover with cling film until the seeds germinate. If the cling film gets too much condensation on it, you can open the container for a while before sealing it again. Once all the seeds have germinated remove the cling film.  Spinach and Calendula seeds were sown and both germinated very well. The only disadvantage with this method is that there is very little soil so the seedlings had to be transplanted into bigger containers very soon.

Calendula's are excellent companion plants for the winter veggie garden and are so cheerful with their large orange and yellow flowers. The pot marigold is also a wonderful healing plant for both humans and their furry friends, with anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anti-fungal actions. Read more in our herb and spice section.



Toilet roll pots:

The toilet roll pots worked extremely well and are really great for sowing larger seeds like peas, but if you are patient, small seeds can also be sown this way. Folding the bottom of the roll does take some time but the advantage of these larger pots is that the seedlings can be grown to planting out size without having to transplant them into larger containers. This will save you lots of time in the long run.

Also, it is amazing how many toilet rolls you can fit into a small square or rectangular container. The container need not have drainage holes as long as you water carefully, making this method great for growing seedlings on windowsills indoors without a muddy mess.



First, cut 4 slits more or less equally spaced and the same length into the toilet roll and fold them down, gently squeezing the roll into a square shape. Next fold the bottoms into one another as you would a cardboard box. Label the rolls with the crop sown and the date before placing them into your re-cycled container and filling with seedling soil.


Sow the seeds and cover lightly with soil, then spray thoroughly with water before sealing with cling wrap until germination takes place. If the cling film gets too much condensation on it, you can open the container for a while before sealing it again. Once all the seeds have germinated remove the cling film.

Once your seedlings are large enough to plant out into the garden, open the folded bottoms and plant into your garden beds, toilet roll and all. This method minimises root disturbance which is always good.

My peas grew so quickly that they needed to be planted out sooner than I expected, and I still had no space, so a plan had to be made.  “Empty yogurt containers to the rescue!”


Empty yogurt containers:

Large or small yogurt tubs with lids are great to use as seedling pots. Cut the bottom off, punch holes into the lid before replacing it and turning the container upside down. Label and sow your seeds directly into the tubs; or transplant seedlings in toilet rolls which have outgrown their container, and your garden space is still not ready. 

Only two weeks later the pea plants were thriving and had already developed a good root system in the yogurt tub. To plant into the garden, remove the lid and slide the plants out gently into prepared planting holes. You can also remove the lid and plant the entire tub into the soil, leaving only a few centimetres above ground. This is great if you want to keep cats away from your plants, and helps protect from cut worms.


Plastic, store bought vegetable containers as seedling trays:

For very fine seed like rocket you can use plastic, store bought vegetable containers as seedling trays. Because they do not have divisions, it is easier to spread the small seeds over the soil. Spray moist after sowing and close the container until germination takes place. Often these containers have holes in their lids, so you will have to check regularly to see if further watering is required. If the bottom of the tray does not have drainage holes, you can punch in a few, or simply water carefully, using a fine mist spray to avoid over watering.   

With this method you will need to transplant the seedlings into bigger containers. Toilet rolls can be cut in half, and placed in a clear plastic container with a lid - a cake container works well. Seedlings can be transplanted into folded toilet roll holders as explained above, or you can cut the rolls in half. For these half sized toilet roll holders it is not necessary to fold the bottoms. Place the rolls into the container, fill with good soil and carefully transplant the seedlings. Water gently with a mist spray and put the lid on for a few days, or until the new transplants are settled. The lid can be removed for a couple of hours if condensation is too great. You want to keep the seedlings moist but not soggy. This method worked well for tiny seeds.


In conclusion:

I won’t be sowing into egg boxes again as the seedlings had to be transplanted far too quickly, due to lack of root depth. Seedling trays made from plastic veggie containers worked very well for sowing small seeds, which are then transplanted into toilet rolls. Sowing directly into toilet rolls definitely worked the best and required the least work. This method is especially good for larger seeds, but if you have patience even tiny seeds can be sown this way. Transplanting seedlings growing in toilet rolls directly into garden beds, or into yogurt tubs to grow them on further, also worked very well.

This little experiment was great fun and proves that you don’t have to spend a fortune in order to have a productive little vegetable patch. Alternative ways of gardening will not only save you money but will also help to reduce land-fills. Toilet rolls decompose easily and plastic containers can be reused many times.

If you are new to growing vegetables and are never quite sure when to plant, or what to plant-  “Growing Vegetables in South Africa e-book” has all you need to know about growing your own veggies, and is so easy to understand - even a child could do it! Follow this link if you need to know more or wish to order.

Happy veggie gardening,


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