Monday, July 23, 2007


Dear reader,
Don’t believe everything you read and that includes the pearls of wisdom that trickle from this blog! Back on April 28th, Gabrielle posted one of her rare blogs to tell you about our idea of using the middles of old toilet rolls in which to plant seeds for later easy planting out. It was inspired by her purchase of a paper potter (see photo) which makes up little pots from strips of newspaper. The idea is that one plants a seed in each pot and when the seedling is big enough to plant out, this can be done without disturbing the roots. It’s something that Gabrielle had had her eye on for some time and was excited to finally lay her hands on. She put loads of effort into fabricating huge amounts of the paper pots, filling them carefully with compost and then sowing individual seeds. The toilet roll middles seemed like a logical and innovative extension of this.


Robbyn, female farmer in Florida, posted a comment to say that she was now going to save her toilet roll middles. Closer to home, Miranda, a friend of ours who saw what we’d done, took the idea to heart and even posted a blog, with photo, on the subject, citing us! So, just when we seemed to be cardboard iconoclasts, leaders in the field of paper potting, we have to admit that it didn’t work for us.


Empirically, perhaps even heuristically (yeh, you go and look it up in the dictionary … I had to!) we found that seeds planted in open ground sprouted and grew more strongly, overtaking the paper-potted plants. When we dug up these plants to see what was going on, it was evident that the paper and cardboard pots had not rotted away quickly enough and were now constricting the roots. We have two other chemical observations: paper / cardboard are basically carbon, which requires nitrogen to break down, nitrogen that nourishes plants. Thus, the paper / cardboard pots might actually be reducing the levels of nitrogen in the soil that surrounds the nascent plant. Secondly, aluminium (or a compound of aluminium, Al(NH4)](SO4)2 to be exact) is used in the production of paper. Apparently, this can leach out of the paper (when in an acid soil) and reduce the amount of phosphorus (also necessary for plant growth) in the soil.


In his The Earth Care manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and other Temperate Climates, Patrick Whitefield says, “Welcome to the experiment.” So don’t take our word for it: that either that you should use paper pots, as we originally suggested, or that they don’t work, as we are now saying; your soil conditions and other factors may be different. Please post a comment to tell us your experiences of planting in paper / cardboard pots or any other bright ideas you might have in germinating seeds and planting out seedlings.


Yours (stumbling around in the darkness of inexperience)
Stuart & Gabrielle.

3 comments :

DOT said...

Don't throw your toilet rolls away just yet. I used to collect them, glue them together in strange and wonderful shapes, apply gesso and paint, and, voila, bog art!

Liz said...

I use the paper pots and find they're fine if they are only one layer thick (does that make sense?). I also try to use black and white newspaper because I'm slighlty dubious about the ink in coloured newsprint. Normally the pot is pretty much disintigrated by the time it goes in the ground and any thick bits can just be pulled off the roots. The plants may be a little weaker initially but growing them on is the only way we can keep the slugs at bay. Also, I only use them for plants that absolutely hate having their roots disturbed like beets and parsnips - anyhting else seems to do better in bigger, plastic pots.

mandarine said...

This is exactly why I read your articles: one learns from one's own mistakes, but one learns almost as much from other people's blunders, with a much much lower cost. I was not quite sure what to think of paper pots; now I know I will not be buying or turning one of those paper potters.

If you are not too far ahead, I'll remember to return the favor and tell you of my mistakes as I make them (I can already tell you how not to lay the 'lambourdes' under a ladder-patterned floor)