Seed Starting for the Frugal Gardener

Gardeners are champing at the bit to get their hands dirty after a long and dreary winter, though it is still a little early to plant most things outside.

If you are itching to get a head start and a leg up on the garden, think about starting your own seeds indoors. Many vegetable plants, annual flowers and even perennials can be started indoors before the garden season.

Why start your own seeds?

Why take the time and effort to start your own seeds when plants are readily available? One big answer is that there is a bigger variety of plants available to you in seed form.

Seed racks and catalogs are full of varieties you aren’t going to find at the garden center or local market. There are hundreds of tomato varieties, but you may be lucky to find 10 or so as transplants at the garden center.

There’s also the process of seed saving. If you have that certain vegetable or flower that you want to save from year to year, you are going to need to start it indoors if it is a warm-season plant.

Then there’s the consideration of cost. If you are smart, you can reuse containers and materials to start seeds frugally. (I won’t call myself cheap, but I do like to be smart when it comes to gardening.) Compare a packet of many (sometimes hundreds) of seeds to one or two transplants at the same cost. These days you are lucky to find a tomato plant at a garden center for less than $2.50. You may have better luck at a local market, but it will still be much cheaper to start your plants from seed.

Frugal seed-starting tricks

Go to any box store or garden center after about the middle of January and you’ll have your choice of seed starting trays, pellets and ­gizmos. I believe that these tricks waste more money than necessary. Here are some of my thoughts on saving money while starting seeds:

  • Start your seeds in a reused container.  If you are starting several, start them all in one container and separate them out into individual containers after they have their first leaves. Shallow takeout containers or disposable aluminum baking pans are good containers in which to start multiple seedlings.
  • For individual plants, use yogurt cups (or other similar containers) or make your own pots from rolled up newspaper. We also reuse K-Cups for small seedlings we send out to school gardens (they already have a drainage hole in the bottom).  To make a newspaper pot, fold paper in thirds (lengthwise) and wrap around a tin or pop can with about 1½ inches hanging over the bottom. Fold the excess together and smash with the can.
  • To provide heat for new seedlings, think smart instead of buying an expensive heat mat for seed starting. You only need to provide heat to the seedlings until they germinate. After that, you need to move your seedlings to a cooler (50 to 60 degrees) area.  You can clean off the top of the fridge and start seeds up there. Since most seeds don’t require light to germinate, they should be cozy on top of the fridge.
  • The only thing I suggest not skimping on is a seed starting mix. You need something airy and loose to keep seeds from getting waterlogged. You can buy seed starting mix at any place that sells seeds.  You can also mix up your own using about ²/³ peat moss or coconut coir (that’s the fibrous material found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut) and 1/³ vermiculite. Some recipes I have seen have compost in them.  I always warn against using compost or soil unless it is pasteurized in the oven (at least 30 minutes at 200 degrees until it reaches 180 degrees). If compost is not properly made, it may not heat up enough to kill off potential diseases. Soil could also contain pathogens and be too heavy for a mix.
  • Once your seedlings have their first set of leaves, you’ll need to put them into a regular potting mix until you are ready to plant them in the garden. You can mix up your own with 1 part vermiculite, 1 part peat moss and 1 part compost (either properly made or pasteurized).

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3 thoughts on “Seed Starting for the Frugal Gardener

  1. Great list of tips. Ill have to give some a shot this year. My only issue is no good spot to start indoors, something that no one can help me with! lol

  2. I was wondering if you would be interested in a guest blogging opportunity with Gardening Know How? If so, please e-mail me for details! Thanks, and hope to hear from you soon!

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