What I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm. The seeds I plant don’t always sprout, the seeds I sprout don’t always flourish, and other times I’ve gotten everything right only to have rats eat my carrots while they were still in ground.
Perpetual optimism and dreams of homegrown herbs and veg propel me to keep trying. There remains some magic in that first glimpse of a seedling pushing through the soil wearing its jaunty seed shell beret.
And so I am always looking for ways to improve the ecological odds.
How to start seeds in eggshells
I’d found this simple seed starting idea somewhere on the internet and decided to give it a go. It uses two waste materials from the kitchen: eggs and the egg cartons. This means you don’t need to buy special containers or use plastic – making it frugal, permaculture friendly and Zero Waste.
Step 1: Save your eggshells
They don’t need to be a perfect half shape, and it’s not an issue if there is additional cracking. In fact, with those that didn’t have any cracking across the dome, I made a small hole in the bottom to let excess water drain out. Seeds like to be uniformly moist, not necessarily sopping wet.
Step 2: Fill each eggshell with seed starting mix
Fill the half eggshells with a good nutritious soil mix and put them back into the carton. Moisten the soil.
Step 3: Plant the seeds at their recommended depth
The larger the seed, the deeper it’s meant to be planted, but half an eggshell is plenty deep for most anything, including the black zucchini you see here. For more specific info, look for instructions on the back of the seed packet, or it’ll be google-able if you’re using seeds you collected (go you!).
Since seeds don’t usually need the sun until they sprout up, you can even close the lid of the carton until they’ve germinated. Useful if you want to keep them cozy while starting them indoors in early spring (when Australian homes remain stubbornly chilly).
Step 4: Plant out your seedlings
When my seedlings emerged, I planted them out into a larger container, still in their eggshells. I made sure to crack each shell a bit more to allow the roots to grow through, but I figure the extra moisture retention from the egg ‘cup’ will be a boon to these little sprouts through the hot weather. See also: enthusiasm> skill.
I marked the pot with an upcycled bamboo fork noting the date they went in and composted the egg carton.
So far, the eggshell method has been successful for starting cucamelon, radishes, eggplant and this black zucchini.
And now the waiting begins to find out if these little seedlings will bear fruit.
Anyone else tried this Zero Waste seed starting method?
Bill Gates thinks a chicken is the best investment you can make. While he doesn’t go into too much detail on the nuts and bolts, you can imagine it’s more to do with egg production than a particularly satisfying rotisserie meal. But it’s not just the chicken or the egg that have value, the eggshell too can be useful. A great example of how a ‘waste product’ is really just another raw material.
Scratching at the surface
My partner’s brother keeps chooks in their backyard and it’s fun to watch them sunning and perching. Chickens are perhaps an under-appreciated one of design of nature – egg making machines powered by food scraps and pasture grubs. If I could, I’d keep chickens at home. In the meantime, I buy eggs laid by pasture raised chickens, or at the very least, free range chickens.
This is a long way from what I used to do, which was look for the cheapest food possible. It did me well as a uni student, where leftover cash could fund my drinking hobby, but my view on this started to course correct after reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma, and generally learning more about food production systems. I now buy the best quality food I can afford and pay attention to animal husbandry involved. And I drink less.
Shelling out for quality
I justify spending $6 – $10 a dozen on pastured eggs because I know they are better for me, the chooks and the environment. How the animals are raised impacts on the nutrition of their output.
After I use an egg, I hold on to the eggshells and store them in the freezer until I plan to use them, bothering no one except my partner. He once asked why I was storing garbage in the freezer and I had to gently remind him that there is no such thing as garbage. The eggshells, apple cores, celery bits and citrus peels are all raw materials just waiting for a good way to be used.
Here are a few ways eggshells are useful long after the nutritious interior is gone.
Use eggshells in the garden
They can go directly into your compost or they can be used to start seedlings and improve the soil.
Improve the soil In the soil, eggshells act as a slow release source of calcium, which helps to raise the PH of the soil (making it less acidic). Grind finely for best effect. Apparently this helps in vermicomposting if the bedding becomes too acidic. I have also read that the grit of the eggshells helps the worms, toothless creature that they are, to grind away at the food scraps.
Start a seedling There are plenty of ways to start seedlings – this Pinterest popular solution shows that half an eggshell can replace those small plastic punnets.
What aren’t they good for? Deterring slugs! According to this blog anyway (what you really want is diatomaceous earth).
It’s nice to know the minimalists among us could do away with a bottle brush. Since I already have a bottle brush, I use this trick whenever the brush doesn’t fit. Just add crushed eggshells and water into the bottle, and shake it like a Polaroid picture. It’s crazy how well this works.
Calciumsupplementation Milkwood’s Kirsten Bradley adds an eggshell to water kefir ferments where it slowly dissolves over several batches. Each eggshell would have about 2000 – 2500mg of calcium, so you wouldn’t want to overdo the daily dose, especially if you’re getting a lot of calcium elsewhere in your diet or have heart issues. I don’t supplement calcium, but thought it an interesting way to achieve specific supplementation without the typically bottle and seal waste.
Use eggshells in…the bathroom?
Make tooth powder I make a tooth powder using calcium carbonate powder, clay, cinnamon, and sometimes bi carb or charcoal. I used to do the bi carb and coconut oil recipe, but it seemed a waste of oil and I didn’t like the idea of spitting oil into the drain pipes. All ingredients bought as refills from either the Soap Dispensary in Vancouver when I was there last year, or one of the bulk shops in Sydney. Since we don’t have a Soap Dispensary equivalent (tragedy really) in Sydney, finding a Zero Waste source of calcium carbonate could have proved difficult. Enter the ancient texts….
I’d read that ancient Romans used to grind eggshells for toothpowder. Clever, I thought, but I didn’t take action on this until I came across Zero Waste Chef’s post on making the same and then considered my lack of bulk calcium carbonate powder options.
How to find a good egg
If you can, buy or trade from someone you know. From a farmers market is a close second.
Watch out for misleading Free Range claims. In Australian, under current regulations, the stocking density can vary from 1,500 to 10,000 hens per hectare and no meaningful outdoor access. Animal welfare experts recommend 1,500. Sometimes this is listed on the carton, sometimes not. You can bet the cheapest free range eggs at the major supermarkets are produced with the max stocking density. More detail on the Choice website, including the names of brands that comply, those that don’t, and those that have been fined for lying.
How to tell if your egg is still edible
Australian eggs are often sold on the shelf, not in a refrigerated section. Once refrigerated, keep them there, but if they are not in the fridge when you buy them, there’s no real urgency in getting them into one, unless it’s really hot out or you plan to keep them for ages and ages. This also makes them handy for taking camping.
To see if your egg is still edible (and it probably is) you can check if it floats or sinks. Don’t eat a floating egg.
So give these ideas a crack or share in the comments any other uses you have for eggshells.
I bang on a lot about compost because I want to make it the norm.
Composting isn’t just for people with gardens or yards, but for everyone – even those of us living in small apartments in big cities.
Yet barriers remain.
Most people probably know that if you have a yard, to compost is pretty simple. Local councils often even offer training and discounts on equipment. Your scraps simply go from house to yard for recycling. Easy.
Ostensibly, these council offerings are meant to help apartment dwellers join the compost party too. And the collecting of scraps is pretty straightforward, even in an apartment. So far so good.
But ummmm, soooo, what are those of us who live in units to do with the compost after we’ve collected it?
We might not have or want a garden. We may simply want to compost food scraps because it’s the right thing to do; Organics recycling is this unicorn-like activity that manages to both reduce methane in landfill and also sequester carbon.
For the solution-minded amongst us, the question becomes, how could we make it easier for people living in apartments to participate?
We have some choices here – we could ask our government to do it for us (and likely wait a while) or we could be resourceful and ask ourselves how we can do something about it today.
I’ve decided on the latter. My solution has been to start a compost exchange here in Sydney.
I might be glorifying it a bit, since for now it’s simply an open Facebook group, but it’s the first step in addressing what I think is a big problem / opportunity – unit dwellers shut out of organics recycling.
The goals of the compost exchange are to:
connect people who live in apartments, like me, with others who would accept their food scraps.
encourage acceptance of organics recycling as an essential part of modern urban living.
help make composting more accessible and less mysterious to all.
promote knowledge of alternative composting methods, like the Bokashi method.
Maybe it’s only fitting that I can now claim to have grown some of the smallest potatoes I’ve ever seen. So small, in fact, I almost didn’t find them at all.
I didn’t set out to plant potatoes.
Last spring was my first spring (in the southern hemisphere) living in a new apartment with a south-facing balcony. Not ideal for an aspiring urban food grower.
When you pick what to grow in your garden you might start thinking about the types of foods you’d most like to eat, or that are delicate to ship, or expensive to buy. In many ways, it ultimately comes down to what will thrive in your particular micro environment. I had experimented with lots – kale, arugula, spinach, chillies, strawberries, coriander, beets and more.
Potatoes weren’t on my list.
But when I noticed some of my potatoes in the cupboard growing sprouts, I thought to myself, well, why not? I cut them into chits and let them callous over. I planted them in a large pot outside and covered them with a thin layer of soil. I mounded rich soil around the green shoots as they grew. And grew and grew.
The potato plants grew until they became huge and unruly and took over one part of my small balcony. Hopes were high.
In spite of the leafy growth though, there came no signs of tubers.
I spoke to someone who told me it was the wrong season- too hot- and that the sprawling stalks were a signal that nothing was growing underground. It was the last straw.
I could be using that space for cooperative plants, like arugula, chili peppers or basil, instead of wild, leggy, potato plants with no signs of potatoes, I thought.
So I ripped them out, and started using the soil from the bucket for other crops in other pots. This was months ago.
Tonight, a surprise.
I needed extra soil for a sage plant I was repotting. With my spoon (who needs a spade with a garden this small), I dug into the last of the leftover soil from the former potato pot.
I unearthed one, then two small potatoes.
Gifts from my garden, undiscovered until now.
My balcony harvest can’t sustain a family, let alone one person. Nevertheless, it’s the small joys from moments like this that I never want to overlook.