Urban Gardening & Homemade Seed Plugs

One of the main challenges I’ve faced living in London is that I have had to move around a lot. Whilst this has had some benefits (ummm…?), the main set-back is that I have had to plan my growing on a temporary basis. Restricted outdoor space means getting creative, too. However, even when I’ve had little more than a windowsill, I have managed to yield some excellent results, so don’t let this hold you back. It’s just a matter of planning and picking the right crops to suit your space. On one windowsill a few years ago, I grew salad, spring onions, calendula, cornflowers, radishes and herbs with great success. It’ll depend which way your window is facing, amongst other things, but a little research can go a long way.

broad bean seeds
Above, seeds from last year’s broad beans. Community gardens are a great place to exchange seeds with locals and to get growing advice.

A good resource at your disposal is your local community garden. Most boroughs have them, and many of them hold courses with opportunities for hands-on practice that will push your skills to the next level.  If you are in South East London, I cannot recommend Glengall Wharf Garden enough. They are kind, patient, interested and interesting, and have provided me with a wealth of invaluable information. They hold a number of courses throughout the year, and provide gentle, encouraging guidance to everyone from the most seasoned gardeners to complete beginners.

Although I have done a lot of sowing-and-growing during my relatively short time on this planet, I like to consult books on even the most basic of things just to familiarize myself with alternative methods. It provides me with a way to troubleshoot if and when things go wrong (they often do!), and it is very satisfying when new, experimental methods work out well. We all have something new to learn, and, it seems, even the experts miss a trick every now and again. I came across one such instance recently when reading through the Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No.4. Diacono often talks about using Jiffy propagation plugsto start his seeds off. Whilst these are indeed effective (and perhaps useful for growing on a commercial scale), it seemed silly to me, because there’s a resource available in most households (except, perhaps, some vegan households!) that is superior, and a good reuse of household waste: egg shells.

egg shell seed propagation plugs
Egg shells make for great seed propagation plugs. Above, a dozen broad bean seed plugs I made a couple of days ago.

Making an egg shell seed starter is easy, read on for my guide to making your own.


1. First of all, you must reserve the shells from the eggs that you have used that week. Each half of a cracked egg will form one seed holder. If you are worried about bacteria, then you can boil the egg shells for a few minutes, or bake them at 100’C for a couple of minutes (better to do this whilst cooking something for the sake of energy expenditure).

2. Using a needle (carefully!) press a hole into the bottom of each half shell to allow for drainage. Be careful of where you place pressure, as the sides of egg shells are designed with breakage in mind and the middle width serves as a pressure point. Too much force and you’ll lose half a shell!

3. Fill with compost, spray with water, place your seed in the middle, cover, label, and voilà! you have a tray of propagation plugs. When the seeds have sprouted, they can be planted out into the soil directly. The plant and the soil surrounding it will benefit from the calcium contained in the egg shell!


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