Well, I've never tried starting seeds in toilet paper rolls, but I've read post where others have. Most folks found that the rolls tend to unroll when they get moist; that could be a problem. Personally, I would be afraid of mold forming on the moist cardboard (or whatever they're made of). When it comes to germinating seeds, I usually stay away from products that may tend to stay too damp, and that includes wood. I much prefer plastic products.
However, since you've got the toilet paper rolls, why not experiment with a few, just to see what happens. If you make sure they don't get too wet it may work out okay for you.
A couple of years ago, I read on some thread or other to use them for sweet peas. After soaking, I put 3-5 seeds into each TP Roll filled with potting mix. I stuffed 5 rolls into a 5" plastic pot to keep them from falling apart or falling over. When the plants were ready to put outside, I slipped the rolls out of the pot and planted the whole business in one clump. It worked great.
You can use the bottoms of plastic 2-liter soft drink bottles to make pots. I started off my indoor gardening using them. Don't forget to drill some holes in the bottom. You could use smaller plastic drink bottles or small water bottles to make smaller pots.
Great minds really do think alike! I've been saving those, bringing them home from the recycle bin at work, for months now.
I'll use some of them to give seedlings away to people who might not plant them out quickly or water them frequently. And they might just leave them in the bottles until they get root bound and poop out.
So I was thinking about emulating "Earth Boxes" on a smaller scale, to make them last longer between waterings and maybe support a bigger, older plant with less care.
I plan to drill the drain holes around 1 1/2 to 2 inches above the bottom, so the very lowest part of the bottle will hold 2-4 ounces of water.
Before I fill with my fast-draining mix, I plan to drop the inverted 2" from the bottom of a much smaller bottle into the center of the 2 liter bottle. That little cap will hold soil and roots out of the little water reservoir, except for a narrow "wick" around the periphery. I'll drill it a few times, smaller than 1/4".
My thinking was that, since I'll have a fast-draining and airy mix, it won't hold much water. Once the plant is large, it might have needed to be watered twice a day. Adding a reservoir that roots can draw on, and that will be wicked up when the rest of the soil gets dry, should extend the interval between watering and wilting.
I think that 2 liter bottles are relatively tall for their width, so removing the bottom 1.5 or 2 inches from the root zone ought not to hurt.
I don't know about using the paper rolls but I did the newspaper tube/cups last year and while they worked ok, I rolled them too thick and so I had to peel off a few layers before planting them. After about the first week, I only watered from the bottom, so maybe that is why I didn't have any trouble with mold or damping off.
Your "earth box" idea sounds interesting. Since the indoor relative humidity tends to be low during cool/cold weather, indoor plants can transpire water rapidly, and watering can become a problem. I use PermaNest trays, 11 x 22, to catch any runoff, and they also make it easy to bottom-water all the pots in the tray by just pouring water into the tray. As I recall, 8 of the 2-liter pots will fit in a tray. The trays are about 2 inches deep, so they can hold a significant amount of water.
When we were going to be away for a few days, I extended the self-watering capabilities of the trays by replacing one of the 2-liter pots with a 2-liter self-waterer. The self waterer was simply a whole 2-liter bottle with a single hole drilled down near the bottom, about a half to three quarters of an inch up on the pot. I filled that self-waterer with water, capped it tightly, and quickly placed it an already flooded tray. When the plants sucked up the water until the level in the tray fell below the hole in the self waterer, a little bubble of air would enter the sealed 2-liter waterer and it would discharge a little water. By replacing one plant in a tray with a waterer, we could add 2-liters of watering capacity, and if we needed more than that, we could replace other 2-liter pots with additional 2-liter watering bottles. Be sure the lids are on tight on the waterers, or all the water will leak out prematurely. Many poultry waterers work on the same principle.
Obviously the fluorescent lights must be high enough for the full bottle to fit under them, but that wasn't a problem for me because the plants in the pots took up at least as much space as the missing part of the 2-liter bottles that were the pots.
I used toilet paper rolls as collars around Holly Hawk seedlings when planting them in the middle of a hill side bed. They worked great to keep the critters from munching the young plants. It looked a bit strange at first to have all these rolls sticking up in the garden but it filled in nicely in a few weeks and the rolls disappeared from sight in the new foliage. I pushed the rolls into the seed pots before planting and scooped the whole thing (potting soil, seedling, and roll) and replanted it. Also, used them when planting Sunflower seeds directly in the garden. Helped me to know where I planted them, also kept the deer and rabbits from grazing off the new seedlings. It works best for me when I am planting in an established bed. I don't loose site of the new seedlings coming on.
I plan to plant my vegetable garden around late April. I have grow lights in my basement. How many months ahead of my planting should I begin germinating?
I also end up with my tomato starts very leggy. I do pit the lights as close to the growing plants as possible, but they are still leggy. Usually if I plant them deep enough there isn't too mush of a problem, but wondered how to get them fatter rather than taller.
(I tend to count backwards from the "last 90% frost date", that is, the date after which you will only freeze your first sowing one out of ten years.)
It might be regional in addition to the "average" last frost date. (Ask a neighbor or a clerk at a garden store).
If you have a long, slow spring and often have late-spring cold snaps, start a few weeks earlier.
If you have a short growing season, "push it", and start some 2 weeks early, hoping for an early spring.
If you have a long growing season, take it easy and avoid risk - start a few weeks later and you will still have plenty of growing days for your crop to ripen.
It might also be "personal preference".
If you are risk-averse and don't want to follow up first plantings with second plantings after a late frost, wait.
If you want fresh veggies absolutely ASAP, start seeds a month or 6 weeks early, and plant out under plastic (row covers, hoop houses, cloches or a cold frame).
>> how to get them fatter rather than taller.
1. More intense light.
2. After they germinate and have a few leaves, grow them on a little cooler than they germinated. I believe that having nights slightly cooler than days also helps make stocky plants.
3. More intense light.
4. Pot up a few times. Each time, bury as deep as practical, maybe even cutting off one pair of leaves and burying to the next pair of leaves. Maybe pot up into the bottom half of very tall pots, like cut-off soda bottles. Then, as the seedlings stretch, add more soil-less mix to the surface, burying the stem.
4. More intense light.
5. The real experts are over in the Tomatoes forum,. but I think they will advise more light, cool nights, and starting them indoors late enough that they go outside ASAP, where they will get full sun.
If you're using fluorescent tubes, find the highest lumen output you can find. Keep the lights on for 16 to 18 hours per day. A very gentle fan blowing across the seedlings will help the stems grow a little sturdier but keep an eye on the soil moisture as the fan may have a drying tendency. You will want to water less frequently but a little more deeply as the plants get older. If using daylight, I discovered that here in the midwest, we only get about 25% of the summer sunlight in winter.
Forgot to mention that DD has used toilet paper tubes in the past, starting her seeds in them and then planting directly into the garden when the seedlings had grown large enough. Said that it was supposed to help keep cutworms from chewing up the seedlings.
That first picture shows an impressive assortment of creative gardening techniques. I first noticed the heavy gauge wire hoops over the cool weather veggies. Then the raised beds and small terraces and those big green poles for vertical growth and what looks like a piece of cattle-panel-like wire as a trellis. And the natural stone retaining wall. And of course, the Dixie cups.
I considered using 9-gauge wire hoops for small low tunnels for early Spring starting this year, but I now plan to use bent one-half-inch electrical conduits for even more rigid hoops. I will probably use the same hoops for frost protection this Fall. I hope to extend my growing season by 6 weeks or so, by using the low tunnel hoops and covering fabric. And during the Summer I might switch to bird netting on some of them to keep the seed-eating birds from snacking on my hand-hybridized zinnia seeds.
I do cover that first bed for early lettuce, spinach, etc. The poles are 6' plastic covered stakes. I've had them for years. I attach covered wire plant ties to the top, and wind the tomato branches up them as they grow. The trellis on its side is from Gardners Supply, for the cukes. The squash are in a perennial bed used as filler to keep the weeds down where I don't have plants yet. I do what I can... Lol