This project came about from trying to get the healthiest starts possible for my garden and not knowing when to stop.
Step 1: I Began This Project With the Simple Project From Grade School When We Started Plants in an Old Egg Carton With Some Soil....
I had started a few starts with just some moist egg cartons that I put seeds in with some paper towels over top to get starts from. From there I realized being an adult with a full time job these days and life in general happening, that I didn't always remember to add water daily. This in turn guided me to come up with a way to make the environment constantly moist where I only had to do a little bit of upkeep on it and still get healthier plants to start from seed.
Step 2: Behold the Old T-shirt Wick!
After thinking about how to make a self watering system on the cheap for a while, I was cleaning out some old t-shirts. I took one from the pile and cut it into strips. By braiding the strips together, I was able to make a wick that would feed water from a small IKEA bin up to the egg carton. This worked great! By cutting off the tops of the dividers of the egg carton, I could thread the wick through and keep submerge the wick in the water. I used some small plastic tubes that came from something my kid broke to add support under the egg carton to keep it from sagging into the water.
Step 3: Water Alone Isn't Healthy for Humans or Plants...
Plants need nutrients. I contemplated buying some hydroponic nutrients from the garden shop, but I'm cheap.
I was talking to a friend about this and he suggested I put the weeds I pull from my outside garden into a bucket of water. Once the nutrients have leached out, he explained what sounded like an overly complicated method to strain the fibers and seeds from the nutrient tea.
Being a huge believer in the KISS rule (Keep It Simple Stupid!), I figured out I could just make an old T-shirt tea bag with my yard debris.
All this took was sewing the bottom of the shirt up, filling with weeds, and tying the sleeves together with the neck to keep everything inside.
When I filled the T-shirt sack with weeds, I rinsed it off to insure there weren't any seeds that could potentially grow plants I don't want in my mini garden.
After a few hours the water was brown with yummy garden goodness for my future food!
Step 4: Plants Breath Too!
I got a cheap (<$15) solar pump from eBay with plans for a aquaponic garden but found the pump was too weak to move the water 6' up.
I placed the pump under the egg carton to catch the splash the low pressure stream and also to help keep the medium moist at all times.
The pump has proven to be perfect for the small bit of splash the water needs to keep aerated. This is my second crop of starts I've done this way. The root system on my plants is incredible!