You might be interested in reading How to Start Seedlings Indoors.
Starting Seeds Sustainably
I try to think about my impact on the environment as I go about my daily activities. I’m glad to say that our family produces very little waste compared to the average American, but we can do better. As I looked for my seed starting materials this year, I took a harder look at their impact on the environment. I’m sorry to say that I’ve been using plastic trays and potting soil with peat moss for quite a few years now.
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Plastic trays don’t biodegrade in the environment and are made with petroluem. Peat moss is harvested from bogs (a biologically sensitive ecosystem) at a rate that far outpaces their natural rate of regeneration. Surely I can find alternatives that create a smaller footprint.
Do you want to reduce your garden’s impact on the envirnoment too? Let’s start by listing the things that you need to start seeds indoors to get a jump on the season.
Seed Starting Materials
- growing medium (‘soil’)
- label (optional)
- light (natural or artificial)
When possible, grow non-GMO organic heirloom seeds that can be saved and replanted each year. You will reduce the number of seed packets you purchase and also the shipping required. In addition, you’ll be able to save the seed that is most suited for your growing conditions each year. Using organic seed will ensure that they are not treated with heavy metals used as fungicides.
Here are some alternatives to the plastic trays and pots that never seem to hold up for more than one use…
- clear plastic salad containers*
- yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream containers*
- paper towel and toilet paper tubes (check out Mother Earth News)
- newspaper pots
- clay pots
- egg cartons and egg shells
- Burpee’s Eco Friendly Seed Starting Kit
*I’m trying to purchase fewer products packaged in plastic, so I don’t always have these on hand. You could put a request on Craigslist or Freecycle for these.
These newspaper pots are pretty quick and easy to make and they will biodegrade in your garden. If you don’t have newspaper, try asking for it on Freecycle or Craigslist. You can also use other types of paper. Fill them with growing medium and plant your seeds. Burpee’s website has a short video showing you how to make these pots much neater than mine came out.
Burpee’s Eco Friendly Seed Starting Kits
I found Eco Friendly seed starting kits from Burpee at a local garden center. The price was $6.99 + tax… higher than the conventional trays. I had a rebate check that paid for all but $2 for two trays. The plastic tray is biodegradable and made from plant material and the growing pellets are made of coir, an all natural fiber from coconut shells (a biodegradable ‘waste’ product). They also contain a compostable plastic sheet to cover the trays to trap moisture for germination.
I liked the convenience of the trays and the uniformity of the cells in comparison to some of the homemade and recycled containers I’ve used. I also like the fact that it is a more eco friendly product than the conventional plastic trays. However, I’d like to see the packaging made from compostable plastic and the cardboard insert could be replaced with recycled paper.
The plastic film for holding in moisture is much better for the environment than clear plastic domes, and they’re made from biodegradable plastic. The coir pellets were not very uniform in size and I ended up filling up some of the cells with potting mix, but that wasn’t a big deal. Overall, I liked these trays, but I’d like to reuse them if possible to further reduce my environmental impact.
Conventional Plastic Seed Starting Trays
I had a couple of these trays left over from last year so I’m using them and will attempt to reuse them next year. Although the packaging has a small label saying that it is made with recycled plastic, it doesn’t list whether they used any post consumer plastic and it also doesn’t list a percentage. It comes wrapped in plastic with a cardboard insert. It has a plastic tray, plastic cells, and a clear plastic dome. That’s a lot of plastic.
I started using this trays a few years ago because I like the uniformity and size of the cells. They fit easily under my shop lights and are easy to move out to the garden. However, I have never felt good about buying the plastic. I’ve decided not to purchase these anymore.
You’ll need some sort of growing medium to plant your seeds in, and peat moss is often the main ingredient in potting mixes. Coir is a great alternative and is a renewable resource. It’s made from coconut shells and I’ve found that I like it much better than peat. It doesn’t contain all the little sticks and stones I find in potting mixes and it holds moisture quite well. You can also use garden soil after it is sterilized in an oven, but I find that our soil is very heavy on clay and doesn’t work well. You might have a better soil structure for this application. You can even try making your own soil blocks like the professional nurseries use.
- garden soil
A combination of these would make a great soil mix for starting seeds indoors. Be sure that the soil you use hasn’t had plants with diseases growing in it!
I found two products made from coconut fiber for sale at my local garden center.
Planters Pride Growing Mix
This product is made from 100% peat free renewable coir. I liked the fact that it is compressed, requiring less packaging. However, this company included a plastic bag for mixing it…give me a break! Planters Pride, you need to rethink the plastic bag. Any gardener worth their salt will have some sort of container for rehydrating and fluffing up the compressed brick of coir! That was my only complaint about this product. Be sure to check the instructions for using coir products…some of them need to be rinsed with water to remove salts before using.
I liked how the coir brick fluffed up when I soaked it with warm water…
Burpee’s Eco Friendly Organic Seed Starting Mix
The only thing that I didn’t like about this seed starting mix is the heavy plastic bag. I think that Burpee should try to come up with an environmentally friendly package for this product. I did like the fact that there is nitrogen in the mix from turkey litter. That is convenient for getting little plants off to a good start. I’m not sure that the perlite is necessary, but it makes the mix a little bit lighter than the 100% coir.
You don’t need to use plastic labels for your seed starting trays. Here are some ways to reduce, re-use, and recycle…
- wooden popsicle sticks
- cut out strips of white plastic from packaging
- make labels from styrofoam meat trays
- use masking tape on side of trays to record seed varieties
- reusable metal plant labels
- old spoons or table knives with varieties stamped on them
I’ve started seeds in a sunny window, a greenhouse, and under lights. Hands down, a green house is the best place to get those little plants growing. Hopefully someday I’ll have a solar heated greenhouse, but for now I am starting my seedlings under flourescent lights in the basement. It is the best set up for this house. But I know this isn’t the best option for reducing my carbon footprint since it uses electricity. If you have a greenhouse heated with renewable energy, that’s the best way to go. A sunny window can also work, but don’t start your seeds as early or they will be leggy and easily damaged by wind. Move them outside on nice days, but watch to be sure they don’t burn.
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These are just a few ideas and products to get you started on your way to a more environmentally friendly garden. There are many other tips and tricks that I’m sure would help you in this effort. If you have any you’d like to share, please leave a comment! I love to hear from you. 🙂