I recently received a catalog from Gardener’s Supply Company and the cover caught my eye. It showed a tomato growing in a milk carton with the heading – “You’ve come a long way, baby.” The caption was, “Milk cartons are so last century. Find the most foolproof and fuss-free seed starting innovations inside!”
I’ll give the advertisers credit for a catchy cover page. Also, this company wants to sell you all sorts of things to meet your seed starting needs. If you flip through the pages of this catalog, you’ll find lights, soil, trays and containers all to make seed starting easier.
But from my perspective, I don’t think most of these “innovations” are all that important. To start seeds inside the house, you need three things (apart from the seeds): soil, a container and light. That’s it!
The soil that I use to start seeds is a soilless mix that I get from a local garden center. There are lots of mixes out there and some of them are specifically formulated for seed starting. It really doesn’t matter what kind you use as long as it’s sterile. This helps to prevent damping off, a disease that can affect seedlings when grown inside.
When it comes to containers, its only purpose is to contain the soil. I’ve tried a lot of the special containers – Jiffy 7’s, peat pots, trays with individual cells for each plant, etc., etc., etc.. But as I wrote last year (Rethinking the Need for Individual Pots in Seed Starting), I’m questioning the need for all of these special containers. This year I plan on using yogurt containers for starting seeds and then transplanting the seedlings into plastic trays that were once used as containers for storing shoes. I like the idea of re-purposing things I already have.
There are a lot of options for providing light for seedlings. I’ve found that you need some kind of artificial light since plants grown on a window sill tend to get leggy. To provide the light needed to grow stocky seedlings, you can buy light stands with t8 fluorescent lights, t5 fluorescent lights and even LED lights. These are some really nice light stands available but some of these setups can cost well over $500. I’ve found that plain t8 fluorescent light fixtures like the ones I’ve been using since the ’60s work fine. I don’t even bother with the special gro-lights; any fluorescent light works well as long as it’s suspended only a few inches above the plants.
Sure, Gardener’s Supply Company wants us to think that all of their products are vital to starting seeds in 2014. I’ll be the first to admit that many of their items are pretty cool. But all you really need to start your own seeds is sterile potting mix, clean containers and light.
If I drank milk I’d probably still be using old milk cartons to grow my plants. It might be so last century, but it still works!