Purging the Plastics: Seed Starting

Okay! The first installment of Purging the Plastic and this week we are going to talk about seed starting gear. And there is quite a bit of it, depending on your style.

I’m not going to get into grow lights because for most of us, they are necessary and are usually made of metal with replaceable bulbs. All in all, pretty eco-friendly (especially if you are using or switch to LED bulbs). I’m also not going to discuss Grow/Heat Mats since, again, for most of us they are necessary and they usually last many, many years.

The tray situation is a beast for another post (the next post, I promise) so I’m going to talk pots and containers for starting seeds (and cuttings) today. Obviously, most of us use something plastics derived to be the temporary home for our seeds and seedlings. So if we are trying to use less plastic, what can we use?

Way back before plastics were cheap and readily available, wood and terracotta were the usual options. Metal is an option too, as are options that are soil or paper based. Let’s dive in to the pros, cons, and options for each.

  • Wood
    Wood is easily compostable and these can be done DIY style if you are handy enough. I personally worry about cleaning them and their overall durability. Their compostability also means they aren’t built for the long haul unless you use cedar or another especially durable wood. There are some fun antique options out there on sites like Etsy if you are game to try something vintage.
    Image result for wood seedling trays
  • Metal
    Metal options are great because they are incredibly durable, easy to clean, and will probably last a lifetime. I am particularly fond of these because they can be recycled when their lifespan is over, but that will hopefully be long after I’m in the ground myself. These are great because the individual cubes are bottomless for easy watering and removal, and the unit comes with its own tray/container for watering.  I’m sure this unit will be on my own Christmas list!
  • Soil Blocks
    Another great option that only requires one piece of metal equipment to make endless seed homes made entirely of soil. I have one of these and they are exceptionally easy to use, hold up shockingly well, and are zero waste. I highly recommend them! There are different sizes and there are larger cube makers that these smaller cubs fit into for “potting on” which is a quite slick system. I just just the mid-sized one and pot up if necessary.
  • Newspaper Pots
    These are easy to make with a readily available resource that are also biodegradable. You do have some ability for customization with the height of the pots you make and word on the street is that the pots go together quite quickly. If I didn’t have a soil block maker, I would certainly give one of these a try and at about $19 it is really affordable.
  • Terracotta Pots
    Who doesn’t love the look of terracotta pots? They are reusable when they break (crocks, grit, etc) and can be ground up when broken. The biggest down side for me is their fragility and heft when it comes to storage. My other concern is that it can be hard to find deep pots with small diameters for the things that need/want longer root runs. I’ve found some on eBay and a few at craft stores. They are affordable and something I will consider, albeit in small quantities.
  • Upcycling Containers
    Think of the empty cardboard containers you dispose of (hopefully in your compost). Things like paper towel and TP inner rolls, egg crates, etc. These ideas abound on the internet and people’s cleverness and resourcefulness never ceases to amaze me! My problem is that these items end up in the compost bucket, covered in coffee grounds, before I remember to re-purpose them.
  • Biodegradable Containers
    There are a number of options available in this category, though these are supplies you would have to buy yearly. Bonus points for not having to store them, but minus a few points for not being able to reuse them. Still, they are better than plastic and likely available at your local big-box store.
    Biodegradable 3" Round Fiber Pots, , large
  • Durable Plastics
    If one has to go with something plastic, the current wisdom is that you buy high quality, very sturdy/durable plastic components that will last a long time. Ideally 5+ years or more. I bought these when I first started gardening and 8 years later they are still holding up fabulously with no end in sight.

    This past winter I bought these for their smaller size and the ability to broadcast seeds to get them started. They too are very sturdy and should last many, many years.
    6 Garland Half-Size Standard Seed Trays, 23cm, green


I’m very happy to report that there are more options than I initially thought there would be- all at pretty affordable price points. Despite already owning some of the plastic options (durable type), I plan to slowly work towards more metal-based options and use my soil block maker more often.

How many of these options seem like good alternatives to you? Do you currently use any of these alternatives? How do you like them? I’m excited to hear how other gardeners are (or plan to) combat plastics.

Next week, the trays that all of these guys will have to sit in!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s