A seed starter kit is one of the best options when you’re planning to start your very own garden. It gives you all the ingredients necessary to grow your favorite herbs and veggies at home.
But if you’re committed to being eco-friendly, you might find it a bit challenging to find sustainable seed starter kits when walking past the garden aisle of your local home improvement store (or even when searching online).
You want to stay committed to the plastic-free cause, but you also really want to grow your own herbs and cherry tomatoes, so you can proudly sprinkle them on your salads or artistically place them on top of your Sunday night pizza.
The struggle is real.
The good news is that it’s possible to create your very own eco-friendly seed starter kit. Not only will it be better for the planet, but it will also be better for your health and wallet!
If you’re not sure where to start, this beginner’s guide is for you. Join us as we explore the benefits of seed starting, the advantages of building your own growing kit, and how to overcome some of the potential challenges that may come up. Most importantly, you’ll get a step-by-step guide to create the home garden of your dreams.
The Benefits of Seed Starting
Seed starting (or seed germination) is the perfect way to start your gardening adventure. Even though the idea of sowing seeds from scratch may sound tedious, there are plenty of reasons why this is the way to go.
For one thing, plants grown from seeds have sturdier root systems. This makes them more resilient when confronted with their natural enemies — like annoying pests or harsh weather conditions.
And if you’re worried about lack of an outdoor area, then fear not. Seed starting is best done indoors and won’t require a lot of equipment or space. You’ll only need a growing tray, potting soil, plant saucer, some seeds, and a sunny-lit windowsill.
If you’re looking for specific herbs, flowers, or special seeds (such as heirloom tomatoes), you might have a hard time finding them in seedling versions (young plants grown from seeds). However, you won’t have the same issue when it comes to seeds. You can find seeds for anything your gardener’s heart desires.
But the best thing about seed starting is that you have full control over the way your plants grow. This includes every single detail: the garden tools, the growing medium (aka the type of soil), any fertilizers (or lack thereof), and even the quality of the seeds themselves.
Also, it’s affordable. Super affordable.
A single plant — whether it’s an aromatic herb, a flower, or a vegetable — typically costs a lot more than an entire packet of seeds.
It’s also nearly impossible to find a seedling in a plastic-free pot. Plus, did you know that seedlings can suffer from transplant shock when they’re pulled from cell trays to larger vases or the soil?
Yes, it’s true.
By now, you probably agree that seed starting is awesome, and you feel ready to give it a go. But before you start, it’s important to learn about the most common beginner mistakes so you can learn how to avoid them. Let’s do this!
How To Avoid Common Seed Starting Mistakes
The best way to overcome any home gardening obstacle is to know what it is in the first place. Below are a few pointers on what to look out for when starting out.
Seeds like moist and warm environments to successfully start germinating, so the best way to guarantee these conditions is to opt for indoor seed starting. By doing so, you ensure your seeds have a healthy start, which ultimately leads to healthy roots and a strong plant.
A common beginner’s mistake is to sow the seeds too deep and then stare at their pots for weeks, hoping for something to pop up. When seeds are too deep in the soil, they run out of food before they break through the surface and reach the light. They’re only able to make their own nutrients when they produce leaves and are exposed to sunlight. This process is called photosynthesis.
Some seeds do require light to germinate, so you should sow them on the soil’s surface. When watering such varieties, it’s best to mist the surface with a spray bottle. This will keep the surface moist with minimal disturbance to the seeds.
All other seeds should be watered at the bottom (by adding water to the plant saucer), as it keeps the surface of the soil dryer, helping to prevent diseases. When sowing seeds, watering from above (like with a watering can) may create seed movement, which can end up slowing down or halting the germination process. Or it can lead to an over-watering situation.
Always read the instructions on your seed packet for specific details on how and when to sow your seeds, and the environmental conditions they prefer.
The Importance of Choosing an Eco-Friendly Seed Starter Kit
The problem with most seed starter kits is that they’re often made entirely of plastic: the humidity dome, the seed starting tray, the heat mats, and other tools that accompany the kit. They also usually come wrapped in — you guessed it — plastic packaging.
Most of the cheapest kits come with equally cheap growing trays made of flimsy, nondurable materials. This means they’ll likely end up breaking after a short period and you’ll need to replace them. That’s even more plastic that may end up not being recycled, and an extra expense for yourself. Even if you go for more expensive and long-lasting germination kits, they’re often made of plastic.
Also, keep in mind that certain plastic materials have been found to leak toxic chemicals when exposed to water and sun. If you’re spending extra on organic seeds and then end up putting them in plastic containers, you may not be getting a purely organic plant.
Another issue you might encounter with most conventional kits is the size of the cells (the compartments inside the seed starter tray). If they’re too small, you may find that when larger plants start their propagation, the cell quickly becomes crowded. As a result, you may have to end up transplanting them into a larger pot — an unnecessary hassle — or outside, long before the temperature is suitable. This may cause your beloved seedlings to wither and die.
The good news is that when you create your eco-friendly kit, you can pick compostable growing pods to accompany the growth of your plants until they reach their final destination. And the best thing is that you won’t even have to pull your fragile seedlings from their growing trays. You just transplant the whole thing into a larger pot, add some soil, and you’re done!
With time, these biodegradable materials will decompose and some — such as coconut fiber pots — will even turn into nutrients to further support the health of your garden. These sustainable options support not only the well-being of the planet, but also your plants.
Keep in mind that seed starting doesn’t have to be overly complicated: mini-greenhouses, peat pellets (which also contain plastic), and other fancy products are not necessary to successfully germinate seeds.
All you need is patience, lots of TLC, good soil, and a high-quality seed bundle — and somewhere to grow them, of course! There are plenty of options to substitute the fragile plastic seedling trays (which you will learn all about in the next section).
Seed starting has been successfully done for centuries, long before flashy kits or self-watering trays appeared. If your ancestors did it, you certainly can too.
How To Create and Grow Your Seed Starter Kit
Now that you know the most common mistakes of seed starting and why making your own sustainable seed starter kit is a good idea, it’s time to get your hands dirty.
Below is a list of what you’ll need to get started, tips for picking the best materials, and when and where to begin your germinating journey.
Here are the essential supplies to start growing your own home garden:
- Grow trays: Compostable peat pots and coconut fiber seed starter cups are two of the most sustainable options out there. Once your seed has turned into a seedling, all you have to do is place the whole thing — without removing the plant from its container — into a larger pot or your veggie patch and cover it with soil. If you’re on a tight budget, one of the cheapest compostable trays in the world are — drumroll, please — egg cartons. Open them up, fill them with potting soil, and add seeds. Boom.
- Seeds: Seeds can be the thing that will make or break your gardening ventures. High-quality, organic seeds may be slightly more expensive, but they are well worth the price. They not only turn into tastier herbs and veggies, but they tend to pop up out of the ground earlier to get a head start on pests. Studies show organic seeds turn into more resilient and more robust plants than those grown from conventional seeds.
- Planting soil: To grow seeds, you need soil. And since you want to keep things as natural as possible, opt for organic potting soil. Unlike conventional soil that often contains chemicals or pesticides, organic planting soil is made from organic material such as compost, manure, worm castings, or bat guano. It might sound yucky, but it’s oh-so-good for your plants and the planet.
- Plant labels: You’ll need plant labels to keep tabs on what’s sprouting out of your grow trays. While you might be able to find cute little wood labels at your local gardening center, you can also go the DIY route. Simply glue two popsicle sticks in a T-shape and use a marker to write the name of your plants. (Bonus: Using popsicle sticks is the perfect excuse to eat more popsicles!)
- At-home supplies: Since you’re dealing with small containers, you can easily use a tablespoon from your kitchen drawer as a little shovel to add soil into your grow tray. Or use your hands (it’s very satisfying). An old baking tray makes for a fantastic plant saucer for your coconut fiber growing pots.
- Optional: Even though they’re not a “must” for seed starting, LED grow lights can be handy, especially if you’re sowing during early spring. This is because sunlight at the beginning of that season isn’t as intense as the summer sun, and the days are shorter.
Where To Place Your Seed Growing Trays
As you’ve learned, the best way to support your baby seeds is to germinate in the comfort and warmth of your home. In other words: indoor is best.
Check the instructions found on your seed packets to learn what they like. Do they prefer full or partial sunlight?
In the initial stages of germination, a windowsill is almost a foolproof location for your plant nursery. Since you’re not using anything to cover them and trap the humidity, keep them moist by using a spray bottle, preferably in the morning or later in the day when the temperature has cooled. Doing so ensures that the water is actually used by the plant and doesn’t simply evaporate.
Once your seedlings are big and sturdy, simply place them inside a bigger pot and secure them with a generous amount of soil. If you plan to put your plants outdoors, ensure that the weather conditions are suitable.
For a pretty, plastic-free place for your plants, consider terra cotta pots. Unlike plastic pots, which retain a lot more moisture that can lead to moldy and unhealthy roots, terra cotta is a naturally porous material that allows seedlings and plants to breathe better.
Other fantastic choices include metal pots, wooden planters, big glass jars, unused ceramic teapots, old coffee cans, you name it.
When to Start Sowing
Read the seed packets to determine the best time to start sowing each specific seed.
If you’re thinking about keeping your plants permanently indoors — we’re looking at you, parsley — this shouldn’t be a major concern since you’ll be keeping them in a consistent temperature.
If you want to move them outdoors into a veggie patch or a big planter, then you’ll need a bit more preparation.
Sowing dates vary from year to year, but they generally depend on:
- Your average last spring frost date — if you’re not sure about this, ask someone at your local garden center or check the Old Farmer’s Almanac
- Whether the plant prefers warm or cold weather (their growing season)
- The amount of time the seed takes to germinate and grow
The Best Seed Starter Kit Is the One You Create
Now that you have the basics, you’re ready to put on your gardening hat and get to work. Growing plants is a soothing hobby and a great way to reconnect with nature, so enjoy the process.
Even though you might encounter some challenges, sowing seeds is quite easy and intuitive, which makes it a perfect activity to do with kids.
Opting for organic, high-quality seeds and eco-friendly gardening materials will give you and your plants the best possible start to create your little garden heaven.
When you devote time and care to your seeds and plants, there’s no better or more satisfying feeling than seeing your dedication literally bloom into life.