Starting a garden, no matter how many times you've done it, is extremely exciting. One of the things you'll want to figure out, pretty early on, is whether you'll want to start from seed or purchase starters to plant directly in your garden. I enjoy the process of seeds. I like the challenge, being apart of the entire process, and watching as they grow and deliver their bounty.
The idea of starting seeds can be pretty intimidating, particularly if you hunt around the internet for too long. You start adding up all the things you'll need: lights, special pots, soil, shelves, heating pads, ...(and on and on). And when you start adding it all up, it clearly makes more sense to just not even start a garden at all. Fortunately, humans have been managing to grow and culture seeds for many a moon without all of modern day's luxuries. And you can, too.
Pots can be one of the biggest expenses, depending on which route you go. With this list (which should inspire even more ideas), you shouldn't have to spend a dime.
Starbucks To-Go Cups
Starbucks to-go cups are a perfect starter cup. They're easy to cut down to size, waterproof, and basically free (if you're a Starbucks frequenter). They also hold heat in very well, so when you're first starting out this really helps to keep the soil warm while your seeds work to germinate. Cut your cup to size (if you're using a Grandé cup, I cut it about a third of the way down). Add a seed starting soil, place your seeds (I put in three seeds to a cup). Cover with plastic wrap and set on top of your refrigerator while germination takes place.
Some tofu is sold in a small, rectangular container filled with liquid. Once you pull the tofu out to press and cook, you're left with this perfectly sized small container in which to start seeds. Wash the container and remove as much of the remaining seal as you can. Add your starter potting soil, seeds, cover with plastic and place on top of the refrigerator. I use three seeds to a container.
Moe's To-Go Containers
When I say Moe's I'm talking about the Southwest Grill. It's pretty new to our area and I've only been a couple of times. The last time we ate there was for an SPCA benefit night, and we grabbed dinner to go. Their to-go containers are perfect for starting seeds (and Microgreens!) and are essentially very small greenhouses. They come with this great plastic top, and make starting seeds extremely simple. And while you might not have a Moe's Southwest Grill in your area, I'm betting you have a restaurant with a similar take-out container. Now that you know what to look for, I bet you'll find similar containers all over the place. The process is the same as the steps listed above, but instead of plastic wrap to cover, you can use the fitting lid.
Anything pressed paper
The container I show here was some packaging from Blue Apron. We were given a week free as a gift and upon delivery found there to be quite a bit of packaging included. Blue Apron allows you to send it back, but it's all stuff that you could easily re-purpose. That's where this idea originated. Anything made with this kind of material works really well for starting seeds and is pretty reminiscent of what you'd buy in the store. Paper egg cartons and to-go cup trays (also another Starbucks freebie) are other examples of things you could use. The instructions are the same as above, just cover with plastic wrap while your seeds germinate.
This is the internet's very favorite seed starting freebie. And why not? It's free and plentiful. I like them too, but they're probably not my favorite. They tend to mold quite easily and don't hold up as well as some of the other options listed above. However, they do work, and when it comes time to plant, all you have to do is stick it directly in the ground. The paper will disintegrate and the roots will be free. You can use a toilet paper roll cut in half, or a paper towel roll cut into thirds. Some people cut and fold the bottoms in to create a make-shift floor for the pot. I left mine open and have had no problems with soil coming out. I set all of mine in aluminum baking tray and they've done extremely well. If you place all your rolls in a tray, you can use one sheet of plastic to germinate and it makes checking on them much more simple than if you were to cover every roll individually.
This list is a great starting point to generate even more ideas. Maybe your coffee shop of choice isn't Starbucks, no worries, any paper to-go cup can work. Same with the other containers. When you start looking around, you begin to find an abundance of options all around you. While some of the fancy seed starting trays and things are great for huge operations, if you're a small-scale gardener like myself, you can get away without those kinds of purchases. However, there are just a few things you'll need to purchase to get started:
Do yourself a huge favor and invest in quality seeds. Heirloom and organic are my number one parameters. You can find great seeds at Mountain Valley Seed Company.
Don't skimp on soil. Seed starting soil is lighter and designed for fast root development. I went with Miracle-Gro Seed Starting soil and have had great success with around a 95% germination rate of all planted seeds. I grabbed a bag from Tractor Supply and still have over half of it left. You don't need much, but it does need to be a good quality!
Seeds require heat to germinate. You can get a heating pad specially designed for seeds, or you can use what you already have in your home. I used the top of our refrigerator and this proved perfect. I've also hear of using the water heater as another warm surface. This is the stage where you'll want to cover your seeds with plastic and keep the soil moist, but not soaked. Check daily. When the seed sprouts and you can see the plant emerging, remove plastic and move the container to a light source.
I always use natural light. A south-facing window sill will do the trick and spare you the costs of running electric lights. This year, I started my seeds super early (enthusiasm is a powerful thing) in February. They did just fine. Monitor the temperature of the room and state of the seeds regularly and adjust as needed. It's pretty obvious when you're plants aren't thriving. Limp (or leggy) stems mean your plant needs more light. Shriveled plants, likely indicate a need for a warmer room (or more water if your room is obviously warm). The needs of each plant vary greatly. Read your seed packet for the best environment information.
Have a question? Ask below. I'd love to help you on your seed starting journey!