In most cases, any effort to grow your own food using organic principles is a net positive for the environment. You’re cutting down on total food miles and reducing the use of fossil fuels. So why nitpick? Because we can always do better.
What if I told you that the peat moss used as a seed starting medium was formed over millennia, and is being depleted much faster than it can possibly be replenished?
Besides “fossil” peat moss, other traditional seed starting materials aren’t much better. Those tiny plastic pots often make it just one season before cracking and breaking, adding more bulk to the landfill.
How do you start seeds using renewable materials?
Sustainable Alternatives to Peat Moss
A natural by-product of the coconut industry, coconut coir is a renewable resource. It’s close to peat in terms of seed starting characteristics, but it has a number of added bonuses. While peat is a bit acidic and devoid of nutrients, coconut coir has a neutral ph and is a ready source of micronutrients for plants.
To make your own coconut coir based potting soil, mix:
You can also try a more complex recipe for potting soil, including organic amendments, by substituting coconut coir for the peat in this potting soil recipe.
Sand and Compost
I’ve tried skipping the peat all together and making my own homemade seed starting mix using rich compost and sand. The sand helps provide drainage and aeration and the compost provides nutrients and just enough moisture retention.
In the past, I’ve used a 50/50 mix of sand and compost. The soil was actually a bit wet, and in the future I think I’ll go with 60/40 with more sand than compost.
Wait, seed starting in tea bags? Yup.
You won’t want to leave the seeds in the teabags for long, but you can grow seeds out to about an inch tall in teabags and then plant the tea bags directly into the garden. This is a great option for the avid tea drinker who really powers through teabags every week. If you’re getting started at the last minute and you only have a few weeks left until you can plant outdoors, give teabags a try and you can skip the potting soil and the pots.
Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic Pots
Instead of making pots out of compressed peat, one company is making pots out of compressed cow manure. They don’t smell, and they’re completely compostable in the garden. It’s a great way to give your plants a boost while skipping the plastic in your seed starting.
Compostable Plant-Based Plastic Pots
Many of us have seen the compostable plant-based plastic drinking cups making their way into takeout restaurants. That same compostable “plastic” is now being used to make pots that you can plant directly into your garden. The plastic in the pot breaks down to provide nutrients to the plants and saves extra bulk from the landfill.
Newspaper Pots with a Paper Pot Maker
There’s a simple wooden tool that creates pots from newspaper, meaning that you can create an unlimited supply of pots for free. The newspaper lasts through the seed starting process but breaks down naturally over the garden season.
Here’s a quick guide on making newspaper pots for seed starting using a cup as a guide, rather than buying a paper pot maker.
Origami Newspaper Pots
If you’re feeling crafty or just love the fun and challenge of origami, try making your own origami paper pots. Just a few simple folds on a newspaper page and you can have biodegradable newspaper pots ready to use, no extra supplies needed.
Upcycled Plastic Containers
Just about any container that will hold soil and stand up to water can be used for seed starting. When you’re creating an upcycled seed starting operation, make sure you punch holes in the bottom of any plastic container for good drainage. Homemade cardboard seed starting containers have the benefit of natural drainage right through the material.
If you’re gardening with kids, the novelty of using an old yogurt container brings a smile to little faces. Here are a few more tips for seed starting with kids.
If you buy a simple soil blocker tool, you can skip using pots all together. The soil blocker compresses traditional potting soil into blocks that hold their shape until they’re transplanted into the garden. Here’s how to use a soil blocker tool.
Really, you don’t have to limit yourself to using traditional “pots” for seed starting. Just about any organic material, like eggshells or citrus rinds, can be used as a container for seed starting. I love this guide to using just about anything from your kitchen or otherwise for starting seeds with common household items.