I integrate a variety of growing methods into my urban potager, and  John Jeavons biointensive is one that I find works well for small spaces. I start in January, and I am in the dirt until fall! This year I am growing more plants for people who need help growing. My newspaper pots are the most affordable way to get plants from seed to bed without a lot of fuss or mess! I will be working on some projects locally to help others grow food in our Quad City community.

A seed takes a journey in my growing room to get to its newspaper pot…

It always starts with my own seed or fresh organic seed from a safe seed pledge company each season. I use old medicine bottles or glass bottles that I keep around for my seed saving. I also save a lot of my seed in the fridge/freezer/cool basement since  many companies will stop carrying some of my favorites.This year I am saving my old-fashioned pansy mix since last year there were only 2 seed sources in the USA. I love this old mix,but our zone 5 weather does not insure it will winter over.

I start all my seed after I have researched how best to germinate the seed. Some seed may need to be kept in the fridge for a month or more, presoaked,nicked, or in the dark until germination begins. This year I have been trying a variety of seed starting mixes as well as making my own.

I usually start them in small growing trays (8 x 8) where they germinate. I then lift them out very delicately. I have tried a variety of tools, but my best tool is an old spoon from my house that is used for ice cream floats! It has a nice long handle and skinny base.

 There are some plants that do not like to have their roots disturbed ,so I  germinate them in paper pots/paper pulp pots. Newspaper/Pulp pots are perfect since their roots can perforate the paper later when they are placed outside in the soil.

Here is some Palla Rossa red raddichio,which works wonderfully in the spring, I started them in January.I placed them in a “50 tray” here back in January and later transplanted them to paper pots since our winter does not seem to be letting up and they were getting too large for the tray.

I started them in January + in February I put them in paper pots. They will go in the garden in Mid March after I harden them off outside.

It always amazes me how developed the roots on these seedlings are in the first few weeks of life….a seed contains everything it needs until it gets it first true leaves. It never ceases to amaze me!

I started a lot of native plants this year as well as our cole crops for spring salads. I can hardly wait!!!

Growing from seed has taught me about patience. These Agastache foeniculum were slow to germinate among my natives. They were up to a month later with their germinating and very slow to be large enough for a 50 tray/paper pots. They are a favorite with bees in our urban potager and well worth the long wait.

Here, I am placing them in paper pots next to Swiss chard + Gaillardia + Rudbeckia which was started around the same time. I have learned to give certain seeds a bit more time to germinate, don’t give up on them too fast!

I needed to use a larger bottle to roll these paper pots since some of my natives are getting a bit crowded in their smaller pots.  I have found it you go to YouTube and type in “rolling newspaper pots” for starting seeds you will find a variety of choices. You can make them round, square, thicker, larger etc.Try a few types to see which ones work for you in your seed starting.

I have learned over the years to incorporate a variety of growing methods + create my own system for my unique space...and you will too!
I have learned over the years to incorporate a variety of growing methods + create my own system for my unique space…and you will too!

I have a 3 season rotation system + sometimes a growing area will rest with plants feeding the soil. I have perennials mixed in beds for companion planting, which remain, from season to season.I have adapted the concepts of biointensive to my urban potager. I do set plants closely together, rotate, build soil, but  due to my heavy clay soil I used lasagna gardening to start my beds. As you study your space and look at the various “growing methods”, you will integrate you own approach to your space.I like to mix annual or perennial flowers, vegetables + herbs together, so they work together to create their own community!

Written by Robbie

M.S. Education, , Organic Gardener, soil + nature lover, former modern dancer

38 comments

    1. Yes, and as I start you will be slowing down. Your bounty astounds me, I hope I can do half as well as you did this year! Your garden looked like it was on steroids-lol..just beautiful and filled with food!

      1. Lol…every year the soil gets better, and every year it’s lots of harder work!!

        I must admit I am ready to start winding down and just to sit reading and learning what others do sounds jolly good to me 🙂

      2. Yes! A tropical island would be good wouldn’t it? No big rushes to do anything just confidence you could grow all year around and an easier pace in it all. And we wouldn’t have to preserve anything!!

      3. Yes! Indeed it would be perfect:-) I was wondering can you grow year round with cole crops there,or does everything die like it does here. I am exploring microgreens inside I will do a post on them later. I find they are fun to grow. Actually I am eating some of my seedlings, harvesting their baby true leaves-lol-yummy!

      4. We do not have the harsh winters you have there, very mild in comparison. I past winters the frost has just sat in the back yard and little has grown – Roger has really knocked back the trees on the boundary so we are hoping there will be more light there …..? We can grow green in the raised top garden, that’s about it.

  1. You are pure wonder Robbie! That you do all this and give it away so freely is truly beautiful to observe. Living in such a temperate climate I am amazed at the care that goes into keeping your garden going….. it makes me realise how much we take for granted here, where plants ‘winter over’ mostly quite happily outside and provided the garden gets some sun all year round some veg and flowers can be grown all year round!

    I love your dedication to keeping the heirloom plants viable too – you and all the others who are doing this quiet work around the world will be our saviours when Monsanto and co have ruined everything else!

    I hope Spring comes soon for you – and that she brings gentle days of wonder and joy xoxo

    1. Pauline you are so lucky to be able to grow gardens year round-( long sigh) I was just thinking how nice it would be to not have to grow kale, Swiss chard, spinach and others every spring. I would have more time to grow more flowers! I have several friends that have MS and I try to put together gardens for them, tomatoes for my parents, and I am working on a few projects locally which involve gardens. I don’t mind because all a plant asks is a little time + attention + they give you such big rewards! I have about 4 heirlooms I have been growing out ,but we will see if I can do more. I have never saved pansy seed and it is really tiny, so I will need my glasses to sort that stuff-lol

  2. Robbie, what a neat idea…….all of your seedlings look so healthy! They must really like the newspaper pots they are in. I’ve got heavy clay soil too and am constantly amending it. I don’t think I would know how to garden with good soil to start with. 🙂

    1. It is so much easier than having all those plastic pots! I have been amending mine for years and I pick natives that help me break up the soil too! I need to roll them in the fall when I have more time since when I need a lot of them your hands do get black rolling them-lol.

  3. What a great post. Your plants look so happy and healthy (I think your secret ingredient is LOVE)! I have to ask what your potting mix is? Do you make your own or buy it pre-mixed?

    1. Well, I never cared for the premixed packages you buy with seeds in the big box chains. They worked okay, but they were expensive. Then I tried soil blocks and used that for a bit, but I found it hard to get all the ingredients to make soil blocks. I was not too adept at making them-lol, but I did like them a lot. I went back to paper pots since I could roll them quickly and they worked well for me in the long run + for other people I was growing plants for locally. I also use paper pulp pots,too. They are biodegradable. I decided this year to grow organic plants + comply with OMRI (The Organic Materials Review Institute) which works with USDA certification.That is a challenge since I really liked Espoma Organic seed starter premium potting mix for both seed starting and potting. I top them off in their pots with fresh Earthworm Castings. I really don’t need to use anything else, but I always fertlize young seedlings once a week with Organic Neptune Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer which the seedlings love after they get their first true leaves. That is about it until they go in the garden and then I use compost + this year earthworm castings.

    2. Espoma has been around since 1929 before “OMRI” and they are not OMRI certified. I found it interesting Miracle grow has a seed starter, but they are associated with Scott/Monsanto guys and they are OMRI certified. Well, I also would like to explore coco in my mixes instead of peat for environmental reasons. Coco coir vs peat is a big issue right now with the harvesting of peat moss. The problem I have with Coco coir is when I used the pots in my garden they never broke down much even after the season passed! It concerned me how the plants roots would work through the pots:-)

      1. 🙂 sorry Eliza I probably gave you more than you wanted..lol..just I am trying to figure this all out and keep the costs down, but grow healthy plants:-)

  4. This was wonderful! I love the photos. I grew up with our living room filled with card tables covered with all sorts of seed-starting-pots (milk cartons, cottage cheese containers, etc. But never used newspaper pots–so cool! You’re such a gift, Robbie.

      1. What a great post Robbie – you have inspired me to try making some newspaper pots – the plastic ones take up so much room &I never have the size I want when I need it! I am so impressed by your knowledge & dedication to organic growing. I am organic in the sense that I grow my crops without chemicals but I can see that I could go a lot further. Like you I am just starting off all the crops – spinach, chard & kale being top of the list – it will be good to be eating home grown again soon!

      2. Hi Julie- I use to use plastic pots, peat pots + coir pots,but decided that it was getting too expensive.Plus there is a lot of concern about peat not being sustainable. I tried the coir pots, but they don’t break down as well as newspaper pots. I tried newspaper pots about 5 yrs ago, and I have never gone back. I do like the soil block system, but it can get a bit messy for other people if I have to transport them + they don’t plant them in the garden that day. I also like the fact, I have no messy pots stacked all over the garden after planting, and have to store them!It all goes in the soil and there is less mess:-)
        I agree I am so eager for home grown that I have been cutting some of my kale in their pots to stir fry!lol They are cut-and-come-again, so it works!
        I am checking out our OMRI listings of organic products, and it amazes me what they consider organic + in USA I think it is more political in nature as to what company is listed. Espoma was one of the first companies to introduce organic growing in 1929 + their products are wonderful, but they are not on the list. I believe UK is way ahead in the organic growing arena than USA:-)

  5. So cool that you are helping out others with this project, too!!! PS, how do you deal with the quality of light this time of year? Do you use gro-lights or do you just have a sunny spot? I ask because that looks like a lot of baby plants to take care of! Good luck with this year’s growing season(s)! 🙂

    1. lol.. I use T5 lights which I strung up on “storage wire shelves” to make a growing system. They wanted 600-800 dollars ( before shipping too!) for growing systems in some catalogs and I thought that was nuts!I just looked around and found what I needed and put it together for 1/4 the cost! It works great and I can grow a lot of organic plants:-)Yes, it is a lot of baby plants to take care of + I took over one of my kids old bedrooms. I am a terrible mother-lol, I cleared their rooms out when they moved out after college each time. Last one moved out last summer + I took his old bedroom ( use to be my office) and made another room for my hardening off since it is filled with southern sun, windows and door to the outside. Now my plants have their own bedrooms-lol:-)

  6. I am definitely going to master making newspaper pots! Thanks Robbie for the encouragement. I think I started my seeds too early last year so this year I am waiting a bit – I feel way behind but with this Winter, I think I’ll be okay. I am going to start some annual vines and flowers that I’ve never tried before. You are right – I hope I’ll develop my own system and method – each year I work on it a bit more but I think I have many years to go before I am a pro. I had a nice Agastache, Jubilee I think it was, that wasn’t hardy here but reseeded itself. I see it pop up every year right in the garden. I love plants like that!

    1. Oh I have always wanted to grow Agastache Jubilee! That is the light green one + oh so pretty:-)I found a video which showed how to make a paper pots years ago, and the other day I found a bunch on YouTube which showed how to make square ones, round ones etc! People are getting crafty with paper pots! I really like them because the roots just thread through the paper + seem to not be bothered like they were with my coir pots/peat pots. They also break down rapidly in the soil. I have coir pots laying around after a harsh winter the next spring. I know they are sustainable, but they just do not break down too well. Me, too I work on it every year + seasons under our belts just help us get better!
      I started my seeds too early last year + I am waiting a bit longer too. We had a warm winter a few years + it tricked me into thinking spring was a bit earlier, it is not! The snow storm yesterday missed us, but dumped 5 inches on Chicago!!!

    1. They are so much fun since you don’t have all that mess afterwards and worry about finding a place to recycle. It all goes in the ground..simplicity is bliss:-)

  7. Wow Robbie… I am just so impressed with all the work you do. You must have a huge garden or else you’re master of using small spaces for lots of plants. I’m amazed at the variety you grow. This is a great tutorial on how to do seeds well and make it fun. You write such great posts and I always learn so much from you! Thanks for this one… 🙂
    peace,
    Steve

    1. aww..thanks steve:-) I have a city lot with a house included it is almost a third of an acre. I have trees, bushes,cement, long driveway, porches front and back, so not all growing space on that .33. I use to think it was not enough, but now I believe it is just right for us:-)

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