Pressed Paper Pots

This year I am actually growing some seedlings inside to transplant outside. I bought these Burpee compostable packs for the job.

20130425-195433.jpg20130425-195451.jpg20130425-195459.jpgThey are cheap, about 15 cents each, and go directly in the ground when you are ready to plant. But as I was looking at them, it occurred to me that they are really just pressed paper. If you’ve ever made home made paper on a screen, you’ll understand what I am talking about.

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If not, let me explain. You can make that thick, fancy textured paper by shredding paper, blending it to pulp, and pouring out onto a screen and pressing out liquid, then letting it dry completely. The paper will end up having the imprint from the screen. I thought surely I could figure out a way to make these. I didn’t know if I would use the screen…that imprint was just the clue that keyed me on to the idea of making these. The trick would be to be able to mold them.

As I normally do with projects I have an inkling for but no clear direction with, I hit the internet. Surprisingly, I really couldn’t find a precise replica of these. At best, I found methods using newspaper “cups” (really, just taking newspaper and making a flat bottomed cup), toilet paper rolls (almost tempted to use this), paper egg cartons (clever but too small, I thought) and eggshells (cute but impractical) . I was fully expecting a paper mache option to mold your own cups or pots, at the very least. Being unsatisfied and having a rudimentary understanding about how to make paper, I stumbled through this on my own.

I took a couple of cardboard boxes out of the recycling and started tearing them up. I then soaked the cardboard.

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While soaking the cardboard, I again researched how to add more structure to the cups. I was afraid that the moment I added water, they would fall apart. I saw some suggestions online about added dryer lint to as a way to make paper. I figured that since it was not paper, it might add firmness to my cups. I went to my dryer and grabbed a thick wad of lint and threw it in my soaking paper. Too late I realized what a bad idea that was…especially if I were actually making paper to give away. My dryer lint is full of cat hair since I have two of the furry little beasts. However, since these were ideally just going in the ground, I was still hopeful the lint–hair and all–would add structure. I added more water and then threw in about a quarter cup of flour on a completely untested theory that it would make the paper harden more (a la paper mâché). I then threw it all in the blender.

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Careful if you add lint, the stuff tends to wind around the blades kind of like the underside of a vacuum. When done blending, I then had a bowl of really awful looking stuff.

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It felt really gross. Kids would probably love this project.

As I mentioned above, the biggest challenge I faced was how to make pot shapes that I considered big enough plant in. The best solution I could come up with was using these silicone cupcake molds. They were a lot smaller than I would have wanted, but I figured that seedlings don’t get too big before you stick them in the ground. (Based on this thinking, I don’s know why i insisted the egg carton was too small… maybe I just wanted to make pressed paper pots.) I figured that the silicone would peel easily from the dried paper and I wasn’t bringing other waste into the mix. If I hadn’t gone with those, I would have tried to use plastic cups… as long as I was recycling them (saving them from the trash to reuse and/or continued to use them afterwards.) If you go out and buy the plastic cups for the sole purpose of making these and then toss them out afterwards, you’re defeating the purpose of making recycled projects and should just use the plastic cups as planters directly.

The first couple cups I tried to make free form by pressing small sections onto the mold. But then I figured out that I could just use an empty mold to squeegee out the water and help shape the mold I was working on. I made sure to apply to pulp thickly to avoid thin spots and proved enough support.

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The entire process was a bit labor intensive, but in the end I was hopeful. My husband, on the other hand, was very skeptical. I started to blog right away about these, even as my little cups sat there all soggy and sad looking. I told him that I felt confident that they would dry…but I honestly had no idea what would happen once I added dirt and water.

Sure enough, the cups dried beautifully in about three days. I would have liked to have left them outside in the warm sun to dry faster, but it’s April in Illinois, and warm sun is scarce. I might have tried baking them to dry them out more quickly, but I remembered the hairy lint and knew that would be a smelly, bad idea.

Alas, I have not really provided a precise recipe or method, either. More like an idea and a plan. I would love feedback if anyone out there plays around with the idea. I don’t know if the flour and lint are necessary, but I feel that they helped make a sturdier end-product.

It is important for me to consider how cost effective these projects are. But the costs are not all measured in money. I would attempt this project again because I saved money, and found a good use of waste materials, and produced something using no emissions.

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I am going to plant them and report back how well they hold up! I hope to soon show you pictures of little seedlings!

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