For the veteran gardener or just the beginner there is a question that always vexes us at the beginning of every garden season
How many and what kind of plants do I want to grow this year. Depending on the types it is sometimes prudent to prestart your plants so you are putting seedling not seeds into the ground. Starting seeds inside has several advantages,
adds several weeks to your growing season
lets you baby troublesome hard to grow plants
lets you pick the best seedlings for your garden
spreads out the work load of seeding your gardens
There are plenty of commercial seed starters out there such as the Jiffy Greenhouse Starter Kit or the more expensive Hydrofarm Germination Station. They will provide excellent seed starting and may be prefered by some people. But if you are like me and budgets are tight or you are just frugal by nature these really don’t appeal to you. Over my years of gardening I have found a few methods that provide excellent seed starting without having to purchase items specific for that task.
The individual cells in egg cartons are perfect for starting small seedlings in your windowsill or under a grow lamp. They allow for up to twelve seedlings per container and due to the porous nature of the carton they can be watered from the the bottom. Whenever I have used these I placed the carton complete with soil and seed planted in a container that I can pour about 1 inch of water in. The water is then soaked up by the carton and the soil which provides even moisture for the seed to germinate with. Then if desired I will place the whole works in either a bread bag or a cereal bag. This plastic envelope prevents the soil from drying out to quickly and it raises the temperature which helps seed germination.
Generic Yogurt Containers
I really enjoy this method because it will allow you to grow seedling as big or bigger that what can be found in nursery. There are several advantages to using yogurt cups verses the commercial cells.
More durable if taken care of and used properly
can grow larger seedling and they are easier to get out at planting times
already have then laying around or can easily be obtained.
Some disadvantages would include
have to handle each container individually since they are not connected
some assembly is required(punching holes in bottom of containers)
To use these they can be treated similar to the egg cartons by filling them with soil and placing the seed in the center of the cup to the appropriate depth. When filling them make sure you mound the soil a little since settling will visibly reduce the amount of soil in the cup. Then place the containers on a tray for ease of movement. If you have drilled or punched holes in the bottom of the containers then with a deeper tray such as a cake pan you will be able to water from the bottom like with the egg cartons. If you have not punched holes I would suggest using a spray bottle to gently water from the top as needed. If you want to create a mini greenhouse for these as well I would suggest either a cereal bag again or a plastic bag. Make sure when you have the bag on that it is loose enough to provide ventilation but not so loose as to negate the greenhouse effect.
2 Liter Pop Bottles
My personally favorite for growing large seedlings of corn, tomatoes, peppers or herbs is the humble two liter pop bottle. With a little bit of disassembly you can turn two liters into a perfect little greenhouse for starting seeds. You start by rinsing out the bottle so it is completely clean. Then remove the label so you can get full sunlight into the bottle. Cut it at the half way point in the bottle so you have to separate halves. Some bottles have the new Eco shape bottles like the one shown in the picture these should be cut just after where the bottle begins to slim down.(I do not know for sure if two liters come in "Eco Shape" but it has a similar shape to 20 oz bottles that do claim that) Now cut a 2-3 inch vertical slit in the bottom of the top half of the bottle. Then fill the bottom with soil to within 1 inch the rim of the bottle and place seed in the center of the bottle. I water these with a spray bottle to provide a even wetting and to prevent the seed from washing out. Then place the top half of the bottle over the bottom half till it covers 1-2 inches past the edge and place the bottle and seed in the sun or shades as needed for germination.
On the right is a completed pop bottle greenhouse complete with growing tomato seedlings. As of the writing of this article those seedling are still growing in that bottle and when they are large enough they will be place in one of those Topsy Turvey Planters. I am running an over the winter experiment that I covering in my blog the young environmentalist. If you want to check it out the link to the blog is in my signature.
These three DIY seed starters are simple and effective with a little patience and some trial and error. They do not always work 100% of the time but nothing ever will even the commercial seed starters will not give total success.
If gardening and growing plants is a passion of yours then these DIY seed starters should give you a good leg up in all the springs to come. Please feel free to comment on these methods and let me know about any DIY seed starting methods you use.