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October 2, 2014

Make This: Get on a roll with your veggie garden

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Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2014 1:00 am

Here’s a garden tip for you: When you’re ready to begin planting, you can find some very helpful supplies right in your bathroom. Yep, it turns out a roll of toilet paper can go a long way when starting plants from seeds.

Planting from seed can sound intimidating, but it’s the most frugal option, and for some vegetables, the only one. Many root vegetables, such as carrots, radishes and beets do not transplant well, so seeds must be sown directly into the soil.

Any easy alternative to the scatter-and-thin method is seed tape, a long strip of paper with seeds inside. You just plant the entire thing as a row and the seeds will root through the paper. Seed paper is easy to make at home with toilet paper. Just pull off a couple of sheets of TP (I used three because that was roughly a foot long) and lightly spritz them with water. Sprinkle seed down the middle and fold both edges of the paper over the seeds, creating a long skinny strip. I sat down for an hour or so one weekend recently and made enough strips to finish off a roll and use up some open packets of carrot, radish and beet seeds.

I made some strips with radish and carrot seeds combined because the radishes sprout first and mark a line in the soil. They and the carrots need to be thinned to about an inch apart, so they are natural partners. Thin the plants when they are 2-3 inches tall and enjoy the tiny roots in a salad. Radishes are especially fun to grow because they are ready to harvest so quickly — sometimes within three weeks. The seed tape method would also work well for planting greens such as spinach and mesclun, since they need to be thinned down as well.

I made many strips in advance and let them dry so I can easily plant for a continuous harvest. In two or three weeks I’ll plant another row or two of carrots and radishes and then again in another two or three weeks, etc., so there will always be some ready to harvest.

The paper isn’t the only useful part of a roll of TP. The cardboard roll itself makes a handy biodegradable seed starter. Just cut some slits in the end of the roll and fold the flaps over to cover the hole (visit our gardening board on www.pinterest.com/starfeatures for a detailed how-to). Then just add some soil and seed.

Once the seedling is big enough to transplant you can open up the bottom and plant the whole thing — the cardboard will slowly disintegrate. This method is especially handy for plants susceptible to cutworms like kale, broccoli and cauliflower. Plant with several inches of the roll coming out of the soil, and the delicate — and delicious — stem is protected from cutworms.

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