Like peat, paper pots also break down in the soil, allowing you to place them right in the garden, pot and all. They also draw excess water away from the seed-starting medium, although not to the degree that peat does. You can buy pots made from recycled paper or make your own pots from newspaper strips.
Another option is to skip the pots completely and start your seeds in soil blocks. If you go this route, you can do without containers, but you will need a soil-block maker—a device that compresses the seed-starting medium into cubes in which you plant your seeds. You can choose between block makers that produce four 1¾-inch cubes (just right for big seeds, like those of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers) or twenty ¾-inch cubes (for lettuce, alyssum, and other tiny seeds). Like peat and 27paper pots, soil blocks go right into the garden without disturbing delicate seedling roots. But, also like peat, the cubes dry out quickly, so you’ll need to water them often to keep the seedlings from drying out. See page 29 for details on making soil blocks.
No matter what kind of container you start your seeds in, you’ll also need a tray to put beneath the containers. This allows you to water your seedlings by filling the tray rather than dumping water on them from the top. A plastic lid or wrap for covering the containers after you seed them will help keep the seed-starting mix moist and encourage germination. Also be sure to have some simple markers or labels on hand so that you can note the variety and sowing date.
Seed-Starting and Potting Mixes
Seeds contain enough nutrients to nourish themselves, so a seed-starting mix doesn’t have to contain nutrients. But it should provide plenty of air spaces, hold moisture well, and be free of weed seeds and toxic substances. Peat moss, compost, perlite, and milled sphagnum moss—either alone or in combination—are all good materials for starting seeds. Don’t use plain garden soil, though; it hardens into a dense mass that seedling roots can’t penetrate.
When your seedlings have their first set of true leaves, you’ll need to transplant them to a nutrient-rich potting mix. You can either use a commercial mix (check the label to make sure it doesn’t contain a synthetic chemical fertilizer) or make your own. To make a basic mix, try this popular organic potting soil recipe:
Each component provides specific benefits to plants. Soil contains essential minerals. Sand and perlite assure good drainage. (Perlite, an expanded volcanic rock with many air spaces, will make the mix lighter than if you use sand.) And compost releases nutrients slowly, helps maintain proper soil pH, improves drainage, and holds moisture.