RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you’ve never tried starting your own seedlings indoors, or perhaps have no experience in planting a vegetable garden at all, a great way to start is to grow a few plants with a specific cooking project in mind. One of my favorite projects is pizza! The main ingredients—one or two tomato plants, a couple of basil plants, and a couple of pepper plants—will take up only a few square feet of garden space or a few big containers on a sunny deck, and they'll provide you with the basics for making the best pizza sauce you’ve ever tasted (and many other culinary treats, including fresh salsa and salads).
What You Need:
Look for tomato seeds that are of a plum or paste variety, such as Roma or Amish paste, which produce oval, meaty tomatoes with few seeds that are perfect for cooking into sauce. Then you'll need a packet each of basil seeds and seeds for the pepper or peppers of your choice (choose from sweet bell types or spicier ones, depending on your tastes). Pick up a small bag of organic seed-starting medium or potting soil, also organic. If you can't find organic, look for one with no added synthetic fertilizers. The store may also have a selection of pots, pellets, and other pricey paraphernalia for starting seeds. Leave it all on the shelf! You’ve already got plenty of things to repurpose at home in your recycling bin. Any container you can punch holes in the bottom of for drainage can be used as a plant pot.
You can even make really good seedling pots out of newspaper, which are easy on you and your baby plant’s delicate roots because you'll plant the paper along with the plant. The paper breaks down rapidly in moist garden soil. To make newspaper pots, use a juice glass or small jar that's about three inches across and four inches tall. Tear six long strips of newspaper about six inches wide. One at a time, wrap each strip around the glass, letting the extra two inches of the paper stick out beyond the bottom of the glass. Then fold in the extra paper around the bottom of the glass, smooshing it against the bottom with your hand so it becomes a bottom for your pot. Slip the paper pot off the glass, and to help it hold its shape, fill it nearly to the top with seed-starting medium.
Put your seed-starting containers or pots in a watertight tray or dish, or use those clear-plastic clamshell containers that salads or takeout dinners come in. The lids make perfect built-in greenhouse tops, which help keep the soil moist until the plants get too tall.
Read on for more tips on starting pizza-garden seeds.