Starting Seeds

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Seeds started in reused nursery containers. Squash seedlings are shown in this picture (taken in May 2013)

Starting seeds in reused containers

Spring and fall is a busy time for gardeners as there are garden clean-up chores to be done and new plants to be started.
There are multiple methods of starting seeds and preparing transplants.

If you have never started seeds at home before then start with what you have available at home instead of investing in special trays and other growing supplies.
All you will need to buy is a good potting mix or seed starting mix. Seed starting mix is best for very fine seeds but for most of the commonly sown seeds any potting mix will be adequate.
For a container any small cardboard or plastic container or cup that can be found around the house is good for sowing seeds. Some examples include the egg cartons, yogurt cup, lower 3-4 inches of a plastic bottle. Any thing that can hold the soil will work. Create one or two small drainage holes in the bottom of the container and fill with the potting mix. Sow the seed at a depth mentioned on the seed packet and cover loosely with potting mix. Since the air is very dry in El Paso it is best to keep these containers in a tray and cover with a plastic with a few holes for ventilation. Keep these in shade and never in sun as the the seeds and soil will get cooked under the sun due to the plastic cover. As soon as the seeds sprout transfer the containers to a sunny spot. The seedlings will get leggy if they are left in shade even for a day or two.
reuse containers, start seeds, garden
reuse container garden, reuse household items, start seeds, seed starting containers, garden
start seeds in egg carton, start seeds, sow seeds, seed starting
Starting seeds in soil blocks using a soil block maker

If you are comfortable starting seeds at home and have been doing so for some time soil block maker could be a good option. It is also more environmentally friendly as you will not be needing the containers.
Soil blocks are also considered healthier for the seedlings as they never get root bound which they may in a container. There is also less transplant shock to the plants when they are transplanted in the ground.
Sow one seed in one block and cover with slightly moist seed mix or potting mix. Cover the tray with the clear dome to retain moisture. There is no need to water at this time as the mix used to make soil blocks was quite wet. Observe everyday and only if blocks appear dry, put some water in the tray. Blocks will absorb the water. The tops of the blocks could be misted with a water mister bottle or could be very gently watered using a hand, few drops at a time taking care not to wash away the mix. Before the seedlings grow there is nothing to hold the blocks together therefore do not water directly with a watering can. If you are using a tray dome/cover often there is no need to water from top. After you add water to the tray moisture builds up inside the dome and moistens the blocks evenly.

Seed Starting Supplies

If you have sown seeds for one or two seasons and want to start a larger number of plants at home it is good to have some more growing supplies. There are a vast varieties of trays, containers, shelves, lights etc available in the garden centers and online. With all the enthusiasm of starting the plants one is often tempted to buy a number of these items. Often an artificial need is created by marketing and advertisements in magazines and one feels the ‘need’ to have these supplies in order to start seeds. But once you take your mind away from these advertisements and get back to the mind of a savvy gardener who is trying to grow a garden in the most sustainable way possible you will realize that you need only a few supplies. It is better to invest in durable supplies that will last for years.

Not everything has to be bought at the same time. First start small and in subsequent seasons you can expand according to your needs. Here are some basic supplies you may want to collect or buy for starting seeds.

1) Seed starting containers - There is almost never a need to buy these. Save the containers that you get from nursery transplants (the 6 packs and other 2-4 inch containers). These can be reused to start seeds. Also, be innovative and convert and reuse other house household items to grow seeds. There are a number of examples you can find on web for reusing items.

2) Seed trays: Save the trays and flats that you might get from nursery when buying transplants.
If you invest in buying tray buy very sturdy ones that will last for years. These are slightly more expensive but you will be not buying them every year which will save you money and eventually less plastic will be disposed in the landfills.

3) Tray cover - buy only one or two covers first. Buy a sturdy material dome cover about 5-7 inches in height. The tray covers which are only 1-2 inches high are not much useful in our dry, windy weather. Once the seedlings are about a inch high you will not be able to use these low tray covers and will be exposing the seedlings to harsh weather.
The high dome covers are more useful as they can be used to protect the young plants from cold or wind as they are growing.

4) Soil Block Maker - available in 3 different sizes. The 4-block soil block maker is the most useful.

5) Heating mats: Buy 1-2 seed mats for those plants which are started in December and January but need some heat to sprout such as peppers and tomatoes. Heat mats are not essential and you can certainly do without them. They do however shorten the seed germination time and may improve the rate of seed germination.

6) Mister bottle - to mist those fine seedlings and seeds which can be washed away sometimes with regular watering methods.

7) Labeling supply - Labels for trays and individual containers could be made using card stock, popsicle sticks, cardboard strips etc.

Potting mix recipe

Mix all these ingredients together -
Two parts peat moss
One part perlite
One part compost
Half part worm casting
1-2 table spoons of green sand or any other mineral sand

More information and pictures on starting seeds will follow soon