First up is the seed starting trays I made from some the disposable trays that folks brought us food in when the baby's came. To make it I used two disposable cake pans, one of them deeper than the other, and the shallower one had a plastic dome. I also used some flannel that Chelsea had laying around from one of her projects. The idea is that the shallow tray sits nested in the deep tray which holds water, the flannel lays in the bottom of the thin tray and drapes down into the water drawing it up and watering the seedlings automatically so long as there is water in the lower tray. Its similar to a capillary mat system you might find at the home improvement store, but costs much less (like this one by Burpee).
The first step is to cut the bottom of the tray that will hold the dirt and seedlings to allow the flannel to hang down into the water. See the cuts on each end, and the two in the middle. Note: I only cut halfway to the middle on each side, so that there was a thin piece of metal (1/4 inch or so) to give the bottom more strength. You can see the thin , uncut piece where I'm pointing in the picture ->
Next take strips of flannel cut and folded so that there are 4 layers the width of the pan, and with enough length so that the ends when fitted through the slits in the pan will touch or nearly tough the bottom of the deeper pan when put together. In order to get the fabric to fit in your holes on each end, slit the fabric in the middle just enough so the metal will fit up in the slit.
This is what it should look like when it's all done! Next just fill the seedling tray with a seed starting soil or other sterilized medium, put in your seeds per the directions on your seed packet for indoor starting. Once your seeds are in wet the soil with a light mist from a spray bottle to avoid moving your seeds and then fill the lower tray with water. Take care to not put so much water in that the bottom of the top tray is in the water. Place the plastic dome over your seedlings to protect to hold in heat and moisture until they sprout. As soon as you have the first green poke through the soil remove the dome to help prevent mold and fungus.
Here are my onions, you can see a line dividing the red onions on the left and the white on the right. I used cardboard (you can see it in the very first picture) to divide the two, but it ended up molding very early on, so I would do the same thing in the future, but use either some plastic, or paperboard like from a milk carton that wouldn't decay, and I'd sterilize it with some vinegar first. You could conceivably use many dividers to make lots of individual sections for plants like tomatoes (still to early for me to start from seed yet here in ND) and that's what I'd do if I hadn't already picked up the Burpee version of this at a garage sale last summer for 50 cents.
You'll also notice in the picture above that there is mold in my tray, I haven't figured out how to get rid of it other then to try and put it outside and get some UV rays on it, but it hasn't been very warm lately. I have used a 1/10 mix of hydrogen peroxide to water mix in the past, but didn't have much luck, so I haven't tried it yet. Any suggestions? So far it doesn't seem to be hurting any of the plants, and hasn't stopped some of the slower seeds from germinating.
When its warm enough to put these onions in the ground outside I'll just have to pull out the flannel and run it through the wash, and it should be good for next year. While I think that this is more durable than the super thin plastic found in the commercial versions of these kits, next time I make this it will probably be out of a small clear plastic "Rubbermaid" type bin. I imagine a set up like that could last years.
Last thing I'll leave you with this time is the "mad science experiment." Really its just celery ends and sweet potatoes in mason jars with a small aquarium pump feeding an air stone in each jar. I tried to do a sweet potato without the aeration and it grew, but it took forever, and the roots ended up rooting in the water. Having learned a little about hydroponics I applied some of the principles of deep water culture (DWC) and now the sweet potatoes are going nuts, and the celery is doing well too. Now that I'm thinking about it I'm wondering if I should run a line into the seedling tray to fight the slime that's forming in there (eww...)
More posts on other garden innovations later.