It’s easy to go overboard when shopping for seed supplies. Not only is it exciting to start growing things again, but there are so many tempting products. If you’re not careful, starting seeds can become surprisingly expensive. But with a little planning, you can get your hands on everything you need at a low cost — or even for free.
Reusing, repurposing and making your own planting containers is one of the easiest ways to pinch pennies.
If you don’t mind transplanting your seedlings, all kinds of plastic food containers can be repurposed into pots: yogurt cups, cheese tubs, milk jugs, water/juice/soda bottles, plastic clamshell containers from purchased fruit and vegetables, or K-Cup coffee pods. Soft plastic containers have an advantage — when you’re transplanting, you can squeeze the soil and seedlings out, without worrying about injuring the seedlings or their roots.
However, if don’t want to mess around with a bunch of different-sized pots (which can be a headache as far as positioning your grow lights), you can make seed flats out of larger containers. Foil containers with clear plastic lids are especially useful, because they will create a greenhouse-type effect. Rotisserie chicken trays, frozen cake pans, or trays from the deli section, used for family-sized meals like lasagna, work well.
If you prefer biodegradable pots so that you can avoid transplanting, there are free options for those, too. It’s easy enough to cut toilet paper/paper towel/wrapping paper tubes down to peat-pot size. You don’t really need a bottom on these. Paper egg cartons provide excellent individual seed pots, too — just cut the cups apart when you’re ready to plant. Or, if you’re looking for a project on a blustery winter day, you can fashion pots out of newspaper. There are lots of online tutorials with instructions. All you need is newspaper, a glass or small mason jar to roll the paper around, and tape.
The next step, of course, is filling your pots with a planting medium. While bringing in garden soil might be the cheapest option, this is the one item that you really should spend money on (one bag goes a long way). Garden soil might contain insects, weed seeds, or pathogens, and it’s likely too heavy and dense to have good aeration and drainage. If you really want to use garden soil, you should sterilize it by baking in your oven, and then amend it by mixing one part soil with one part peat moss and one part perlite or coarse builder’s sand.
You also can make your own soilless mix, which costs more than amending garden soil, but is still cheaper than buying the premixed stuff. A basic recipe is to mix together one part perlite with one part peat moss and one part ground sphagnum moss. Another recipe, posted at The Prairie Homestead, is to mix two parts coconut coir with one part perlite and one part sifted compost.
The last essential product you need to start seeds is, well, seeds. If you don’t already save your own seeds from year to year, you might want to plan for that this season. If you buy seeds, you might have extras lying around that you didn’t plant in years past. It’s always best to test the viability of old seeds before planting them. The germination rate of seeds decreases over time.
It’s easy to test the viability of seeds. Simply moisten a couple of layers of paper towels, and space out about 10 seeds of any one variety. Roll or fold up the paper towel and place in a plastic bag. Keep the bag in a warm, bright spot, and make sure the paper towel stays moist until the testing is done, which might take up to two weeks, depending on the type of seeds. Check every few days to see if any seeds have sprouted. If at least some sprout, it’s worth planting them — but make sure to plant extras to make up for the ones that won’t germinate.
One last tip: if you love seed tape as much as I do, you can pinch pennies by making your own. All you need is toilet paper, homemade flour and water paste, and seeds. There are several online tutorials about how to make seed tape, and it’s another great project for a blustery winter day.
Gardening is already a frugal way to feed your family, but you can stretch your food dollars even further by starting seeds at an extremely low cost.
Do you have any more tips on how to save money while starting seeds? Share your secrets in the comments below: