About this time of year, I start gathering things I need for seed starting. You can buy things, of course, and I’ve done that in the past when I haven’t wanted the hassle of storing a bunch of saved containers, but this year I’m really thinking about not buying new stuff as much as possible after reading our January book club selection, How To Be Alive, by Colin Beavan, and we’re trying to save every penny for our trip to Paris later this year, so I’m doing the frugal thing and collecting seed starting stuff. I’m storing everything under the far end of my dining room table, on the bench Jeremy made me for a wedding gift, next to my winter, table top garden.

I use a variety of household items to start seeds in. There are lots more options than what I use myself. Here’s what I use.

Toilet paper tubes

Low Cost/Free Seed Starting Options!

Cut this in half and it’s good to go!

This is my favorite seed starting option. I feel like the cardboard from toilet paper tubes decomposes at just the right rate, so that I feel confident the roots will be able to grow out of it, but that it won’t fall apart before it’s time to actually plant them. They are also the perfect depth for early starts when you cut them in half, and obviously, you don’t have to remove the plant from the tube before planting it in the ground. Though, if I’m honest, one of the main reasons why this is my first go to is because this was my grandmother’s method, and I learned much of what I know about gardening from her. Still, I have tried a lot of other things and this is my favorite. I also use paper towel tubes, cut to the right length, but since I try to limit my paper towel use, I don’t get as much of those. Obviously, I’m not trying to waste toilet paper, but yeah, I use more of it.

Milk and juice jugs

Low Cost/Free Seed Starting Options!

Remember to poke holes in the bottom for drainage!

This is for bigger plants. Some times you need to pot up your baby plants in the toilet paper tubes before they are ready to go outside. I often save milk jugs for that, because why not? Just cut off the top half, and remember to poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Although these days I try not to grow anything that will need to be potted up ahead of time because it’s kind of a pain in the butt to get plants out of the jugs when it’s time to plant them in their forever home. Also, big pots take up a lot of space inside for seed starting, and the space we have is precious. Eventually we want to turn our lower patio into a greenhouse though and when that day comes, watch out. I’ll be more than happy to keep larger starts in there.

Leftover containers from purchased plants

I always save the pots from my purchased plants, if I don’t destroy them removing the plant, or leave them out in the sun so they get all melted and warped (that’s happened more times than I care to admit). If you are going to buy pre grown plants (which I almost always do, because some stuff is just too hard to start from seed for me) improve your investment by saving the pots they came in! You can use them for seed starting. Or, many garden centers and nurseries have recycling programs where you can get discounts on future plants by returning the pots. I take advantage of that second option myself.

Plastic trays

Low Cost/Free Seed Starting Options!

Because I don’t want water leaking onto my beautiful table that Jeremy built.

I collect a variety of plastic trays that I can put my toilet paper tube starts in to hold water. I have a couple of seed starting flats I bought as well.

That’s about all I use in my setup. It’s what I’ve found works best for me over the years. But here are a number of other options other people use and love, and maybe some of them will work better for you.

Newspaper pots

There are lots of tutorials on line for making pots out of newspaper. These work pretty well but I personally don’t want to go to the trouble. It’s actually kind of hard to get a hold of newspaper these days unless you subscribe yourself, too, because so few people do subscribe to newspapers anymore. Also, I have heard different things about potential toxins in the colored ink of newspapers, I’ll leave that research up to you if you’re interested in using newspaper pots. There are tools you can buy to make pots, or you can look into making them without tools. Actually, that video tutorial is pretty cool. I like doing origami.

Egg cartons

Lots of people like to start seeds in cardboard egg cartons, but personally I feel like they are too shallow and don’t decompose fast enough to allow for good root growth after they are planted in the ground. Maybe they work better in more acidic and less clay soil (most soil on the front range of Colorado, where I live, is very alkaline and heavy clay).

Egg shells

The idea behind this one is that the shell provides nutrients to the plant as it breaks down in the soil. However, a woman in my Hort 101 class a few semesters ago tested this for her final project, and it turns out that the shells don’t decompose fast enough and they really restricted root growth as the plants grew. Obviously restricted roots lead to restricted growth overall, so her control plants, that she planted in 2″ plastic pots, worked much better. Its likely that the tomatoes never even benefitted from the calcium in the egg shells, because the egg shell did not break down in the time the plants were growing. Maybe it would have eventually, if she let it grow further, but I doubt the extra calcium (meant to prevent blossom end rot) would have done much to counteract the stunted growth. My recommendation as far as egg shells goes is either to just compost them, or save them individually and crush them up before mixing them into the soil at the bottom of your planting hole when you put your seedlings in their permanent holes.

Soil blocks

Now, this sounds pretty cool, and a molding device is definitely on my wish list. You can make blocks out of nothing but soil to start your seeds in, getting a similar effect to peat pots or those peat discs that inflate when you put them in water. Peat has some environmental issues, so I try to avoid it. Here’s a tutorial on making soil blocks. Obviously, you wouldn’t have to worry about how fast the soil block decomposes, because it’s pure soil, and after the initial investment in the tool to make it, it costs nothing.

Do you have a favorite seed starting method? Tell us about it in the comments!


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