Sunday, April 6, 2014

Seed Starting: multi-cell seed-starting kits versus individual pots

The first time I started seeds on my own, I bought a 60 cell seed starting kit complete with a styrofoam tray that floats in a bottom tray (so you can't over or under water), a clear "biodome" to provide a warmer and more humid environment, and moist little pre-fab plugs I was supposed to simply drop a seed into.  Easy as pie.

Ten days later, the tomatoes were 3 inches high and threatening to pop the biodome off, a few of the eggplant had just started to germinate, and there were no signs of life from any of the peppers.  With the variety of seeds at different stages - some requiring heat, some needing to be moved under the grow lights, and some nearly needing to be potted up already, a multi-cell seed starting kit for the backyard gardener is just not the best method for seed-starting.

Recently, I bought a few 10 cell kits thinking that I could simply put a single variety of seed in separate trays to avoid the problems I had with the 60 cell kit.  The idea of not worrying about watering and the ease of simply dropping a seed into a plug and then plopping that plug in the hole in the tray was so appealing.

The results? Tomatoes germinate reliably and quickly as usual.  Peppers were not reliable and as seen in the photo above, it was a great waste of valuable space under the lights to keep this whole tray with just a few seedlings going.  By the time I consolidated the seedlings that DID germinate by potting them up and labeling them, I could have just done it the right way from the beginning.  And the tomatoes that are looking great?  Well, they're quickly outgrowing the 3/4" plug and will need to be potted up.  The final word on these seed starting kits?  A waste of time and space.  What I would consider almost a gimmick - that I fell for again.

Today, I started a second batch of seedlings using the method that I've used for years prior to being hyponized by the apparent ease of the seed-starting kits.  I also potted up some plants have have outgrown their tiny plugs.  My hands get dirty.  It's a lenthier process.  I make a little bit of a mess on my kitchen table. I have to keep an eye on watering.  I had to go to my local coffee shop to steal my plant markers (and to pick up a latte because this seed-starting process takes more time and energy). But it's simple and effective.  I can recycle the medium-filled pots if seeds don't germinate.  I can move individual pots around that are ready to go under the lights or keep pots that haven't germinated together in a warm environment or on the heat mat.  My seedlings also have a longer period of time in these larger pots before they need to be potted up and most can go directly in the garden.  Am I the only gardener that continually needs to learn you shouldn't try to fix what ain't broke?


  1. I just stopped doing seeds indoors altogether. Even when I got to the point where they could go outside, there was the hardening -off trauma and then the actual planting and waiting for something to lop their little heads off.
    I now take the lazy person's route and buy my seedlings, which are far more robust than anything I can produce.

  2. I bought seed starter 'bio-domes' for the first time this year, and I get where you're coming from. Before I would just start seeds outside in large containers with saran-wrap over the tops! My zinnias popped the lids off the bio-dome pretty quickly, and it's a pain when you have multiple types of seeds in one flat. That said, I'll probably use mine again, just a little more carefully. I'll be better about keeping one type of seed in each flat, and just putting one or two seeds per cell. And I'll be quicker to move 6 packs out of the bio-domes next time, and start the next round of seeds. I learned that my window box trays fit in my windowsill (propped up against the table my other seeds are sitting on) and that the six packs fit nicely in the trays. I've got a little rotation system going so that seeds start in the bio-dome, get moved out to the windowsill, start spending a little time outside, then get re-potted. It is a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it's still worth it in the money saved from buying full size plants. Next year I may wait until it gets warmer, and just start seeds, in bio-domes, on my porch.

  3. The only way those seed starting trays work is if you're sowing 50 of the same thing. As you stated, not so great for the home gardener who likely isn't planting 50 of any one thing. ... This year, I started flower seeds with a seed tray. It's been several years and apparently i forgot this principle, Wendy. The 4 o'clocks are long and lanky. A few others are tiny and the rest haven't done a dang thing yet. Live and learn. I need a better system. :)

  4. I had good luck with these biodomes last year, but the full tray of zinnias this year is having mixed results. They all sprouted right away, as zinnias do, but at least half of them soon withered away. You have long been the queen of seeds, so of course you should follow your tried and true methods. I will continue to struggle along in my haphazard way.

  5. I'm a buy them already started kind of person. I've had real problems getting them to transition to outside. So I'm with the first commenter.

  6. Ha! Good point here lady! Last year I had such an issue with the cells and like you found that it was a bit of a waste...this year I have been doing just a few. Look forward to seeing your garden!!! Hope you are well! Nicole


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