It is a lot cheaper to start your own seeds using organic seed starting supplies rather than buying organic plants later in the season. You do not need a huge seed starting setup to start your own plants. A small tabletop will work. You also do not need to run up your electric bill (although a little extra light will help your plants get a strong start). Since my post on GMO vs. Heirloom plants is so popular I know organic is the way many people want to go. All you need to do is focus on starting strong plants. Strong plants fight off disease more easily. Here is how I start seeds using organic seed starting supplies.
Organic Seed Starting Supplies: Containers
One of the organic seed starting supplies you will need are containers. You can make your own seed starting containers using toilet paper tubes, egg trays, egg shells, or newspaper. All you have to do is make a container that will hold soil. For example:
Newspaper as a Seed-Starting Container
- You can plant the entire newspaper container directly into the ground. However, make sure you tear it before you do so the roots can break free. It will take a long time before it decompose enough for the plant roots to break through them so if you do not tear the container you will still get root-bound plants.
- To make a container using newspaper just roll it into a tube and fold the bottom to make a round (or square) tube. You can use a little tape, but keep in mind that it will come apart when you water the plant.
- Want to make it easy on yourself? The Esscert Designs Paper Pot Maker will help you quickly make perfect paper pots (without tape). Definitely worth the $15.
Toilet Paper Tubes as a Seed-Starting Container
- Although a toilet paper tube is also compostable, I would not plant it directly. The cardboard will take more than a season to decompose. When I used toilet paper rolls I would take the plant out to transfer to the garden and then throw the tube into the compost bin.
- You may want to cut the tube in half (or you end up with small, skinny containers).
- These make small containers
Egg Shells as Seed-Starting Containers
- I have seen this on pinterest quite a bit and it does work, but… they are very small. Even extra large eggs make pretty small containers. If you are going to use them this way try to break the egg near the top so you have more room for the roots.
- Be careful when watering your plants in an egg shell container. You cannot water them from below because the shell will stop the water from coming up from the bottom. When you water from the top you need to make sure not to disturb the plant or seed and make sure you do not water it so much that it becomes waterlogged (the water will not be able to escape the shell)
- Crack them before you plant. Like the newspaper containers (and even more so) an egg shell container will not decompose in only one season. If you leave it intact then you can get a root bound plant.
Egg containers, Baby food jars, etc
- Recycled items can make great organic seed starting supplies. You can use anything that holds soil to start seeds in. Read the watering warning in the egg shell post. If your container has a solid bottom then there is nowhere for extra water to go then your seedling can become waterlogged. You will also have to water from above, which can be difficult with seedlings (use a spray bottle to make it easier).
Purchase a system
- You can always make it easy on yourself and purchase a Burpee self watering seed starting system, like the one I show you in that post. Burpee does offer organic seed starting supplies (and an organic version of their seed starting system).
Organic Seed Starting Supplies: Trays
No matter what sort of a seed container you use you will need a seed starting tray to hold them so that should be on your organic seed starting supplies list. You can always use a cardboard box, but you are not going to want to move seedlings individually. A cardboard box does not hold water in so it can get messy.
I like trays like these plant growing trays. You can also use them to sprout greens. I purchase the ones without drain holes because you can always add drain holes if you want, but it is hard to get rid of them if they are pre-drilled. A solid plastic plant growing tray gives you a spot to water the seeds. If you pour the water in the tray the seedlings will pull it up from the bottom. This is healthier for seedling and is less likely to disturb a seed or seedling. In fact, it is always healthier to water from the bottom up (even full size plants in your garden), which is why DIY irrigation for your garden works so well.
A few things you can recycle and turn into organic seed starting supplies are:
- salad trays
- rotisserie chicken boxes
- a package that a sheet or blanket set came in.
These can also double as mini greenhouses if you leave the top on.
Organic Seed Starting Supplies: Seedling Heat Mat
A seedling heat mat is optional, but a great addition to your organic seed starting supplies. While using a seedling heat mat my seeds sprouted faster (in about half the time of previous years, and yes, I track that… I'm a numbers dork!) Because of that, they were much stronger plants by transplant time. For me, it was very worth it. The hard side of growing organic is making sure you have strong starts. If your seedlings are strong from the start then you will have less disease and growth issues. If they are not then you will have a much harder time not turning to conventional methods to save your plants.
You do not need a heat mat on at all times. I turned my mat on only at night. During the day the house is not that cold and the mat stays warm for a while. At night the house dips down a little and I found that was when the soil would drop below recommended sprouting temperature. It really depends on the temperature of the area your seedlings are in.
When all of your seeds are sprouted you will no longer need the mat. When I start to see sprouts I start putting my seedlings in the sun during the day and bring them back to the mat (with a grow light) for a few extra hours each night.
Organic Seed Starting Supplies: Grow Light
A grow light is very helpful when starting your own seedlings, especially if you are using organic seed starting supplies. You do not need to grow completely under a light (although you can if you want). I still use the sun when I can. The seedlings go into the sun until late evening when I move them to the grow light.
A little extra light goes a long way. Try to get your seedlings 12-15 hours of light a day. That probably means a grow light for at least part of that time. A grow light is also more intense than the sun (especially through a window) so your seedlings will grow stronger faster.
When looking for a grow light for your organic seed starting supplies list there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Try for 20-40 watts per square foot. If you use a CFL or LED bulb then use the watt equivalent.
- Full spectrum lights are best (especially for seedlings), look for daylight or T5 bulbs.
- If you want a plant to flower then a red spectrum light works best.
- The blue spectrum promotes green growth.
- Choose a light that you can move up and down. That way you can keep it just a little bit above your seedlings and move it up as they grow. Plants will grow to the light so if it is too far away then the plant will expend a lot of it's energy trying to grow taller instead of sprouting more leaves.
- Make sure the light is not too hot. You can move LED and CFL lights closer to plants without having to worry about drying them out.
If you are trying to narrow your choices of a good seedling growth light then here are some great organic seed starting supplies light suggestions:
- You can use a single light bulb and a reflector, like this option. This will give you the option of changing the light bulb if you want to go with a different color spectrum and it tends to be cheap if you are lighting a small space.
- If you want to light an entire shelf then a 4 tube T5 light fixture like this one is probably best. This provides great light and it can be moved higher or lower when needed.
Organic Seed Starting Supplies Light WINNER!! My favorite is a daylight lamp. It is cheap and has the same fixtures as the T5 lights. I purchased this daylight lamp for only $30. At 150 watts output it will cover 4-7 square feet, but it only uses 27 watts. It is easy to move up and down and can be moved to where you need it. If you have a single plant or an entire growing shelf then you can go with a more expensive option. But, this simple lamp will work great for most people.
Organic Seed Starting Supplies: Hardening Off
Get your seedlings used to the outdoors before transferring them to your garden full-time. I do this over a week, but it can be done faster if you need to. Find a partially protected area outside so they can be exposed to outdoor sun and wind before going into a garden. While this is not necessarily part of my organic seed starting supplies list, it is very important to have strong seedlings and hardening off is part of that.
- Bring your seedlings in at night during this time. I actually still put them under a grow light for a few hours after I bring them in.
- Make sure they get plenty of water (from the bottom if possible). They will dry out much quicker outside in the wind than under a light indoors.
- Keep them protected from critters. Nothing is more upsetting than going to get your tray of seedlings and seeing that a bird (or in my case, ground squirrel) has eaten the tops off half of them. Put them on a table, not on your front porch.
Organic Seed Starting Supplies: Fertilizer
I generally fertilize twice during the seedling stage. Once when I am thinning the seedlings and once when I am transferring them to the garden. If I add a second transfer step (into a larger container) then I fertilize then too. Basically, if it might be stressful, I give them a little fertilizer boost.
Different plants like different fertilizers, but this is my general seedling organic seed starting supplies fertilizer recipe:
You can also find those ingredients in most nurseries and landscape sections of stores. As far as organic seed starting supplies go, this one works great, but be warned, it is smelly! I put it in a spray bottle and spray the soil or add it to the water.
And, there you have it! Strong seedlings can grow up to be great organic plants and using these organic seed starting supplies will get you off to the right start.
Do you want more ideas? My post on ten frugal garden tips has a lot of organic options.