Invest in fancy seed-starting gear or buy a $17 lunch tray

If someone walked into my seed-starting area in the basement, a space that gives off strong Walter White meets Dexter vibes, they would probably take one look at all the gear I use for the process and decide this is not the hobby for them.

Stacks of (now sterilized) plastic trays and little clusters of pots sit next to humidity domes on top of heat mats waiting to be called into service under a collection of grow lights. And of course there are the bins — one for flowers and one for vegetables — that contain an oversized seed collection.

I take no pride in this elaborate setup, but I do take pleasure in it. I’ve been growing plants from seed long enough to have found gear that I’m partial to and I don’t mind investing in products I know I’ll use for many years. I do wonder, though, whether my return on this investment would look good on paper. I can still produce loads of plants for pennies, but I’m definitely spending more pennies than I need to be.

In fact, an imaginative and thrifty person could grow loads of plants from seed for almost nothing.

All those fancy trays, cells and pots I use can be replaced by things found in the recycling bin. Take-out containers work well for sowing several seeds, which can then be pricked out into individual pots made from disposable plastic drinking cups, yogurt cups or other small plastic food containers. Rotisserie chicken containers were practically made for seed starting since they come with their own humidity dome, but you can make anything into a pot as long as you can poke drainage holes in the bottom.

Or you could skip the plastic option for potting up all together and make newspaper pots, perhaps from the very page that you’re reading this on, or use cardboard tubes from paper towels or toilet paper.

In fact, you can even grow plants from seed without buying seeds. Port Washington’s Neiderkorn Library has a seed library that allows you to “borrow” seeds, then bring back some that you harvest from what you’ve grown. (Don’t worry, they don’t assess fines if you don’t bring some back). And gardeners in general tend to be quick to share what they have.

Seedlings do need a strong source of light, and a window usually won’t cut it. If you’re growing seeds that need to be started early indoors, the one item that is worth the investment is a grow light. Creative people might find a free workaround for that as well.

Reusing items meant for another purpose for seed starting is such a good idea that some entrepreneurial gardeners have made a business out of it. The other day I caught a fast-growing garden supply company offering what they proclaimed to be the best bottom tray for soil blocks. It is fiberglass with short, slightly angled edges, and looks oddly familiar. I could almost smell the Salisbury steak from the elementary school cafeteria when I realized what it was — a lunch tray. And it can be yours for only $17 plus shipping.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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