Recycled Seed Starter Tray for Earth Day!

Tomorrow is Earth Day!  Yay!  We're celebrating by working with recycled seed starting containers.  I can't wait to show you what I did!  But first, I want to share with you more of my gardening story.     

When I was in college, I experimented a lot with growing seeds.  I was pretty successful at seed sprouting, but I never knew what I was doing beyond that point.  I tried basil (which was mostly successful), tomatoes (I could only get 1 tomato out of the 30 sprouts that survived), and pumpkin (I got it to grow to like 8 feet with flowers, but it eventually died because I didn't have the proper space or container on my little apartment porch).  

July 2012: Propagated aloe vera plants in jars. 

July 2012: Propagated aloe vera plants in jars. 

July 2012: Tomato sprouts in a vegetable container.

July 2012: Tomato sprouts in a vegetable container.

Sept. 2012: Sweet basil sprout in a recycled Yankee Candle glass container.

Sept. 2012: Sweet basil sprout in a recycled Yankee Candle glass container.

I have since learned from my mistakes.  Here are some mistakes that I made (not limited to seed starting) that I want to help you remedy if you are struggling:

1) Over-watering.  In my experience, most plants do not like super soggy soil all the time, but a good watering where the water comes out of the drain holes, can happen WHEN your plant NEEDS the water.  Examples: 1) Rosemary and lavender want soil that dries out almost completely before a good watering.  For these types of plants, a good rule of thumb is 1/2 to 1 inch deep into the soil should be dry before watering.  2) Mint wants soil that is moist but not soggy most of the time.  So, if the soil looks like it is starting to dry out, it may be time to water again.  This is a good rule for seeds and little sprouts, as well.  

BONUS: Pay attention to the rain!  Allow mother nature to do some of the work for you!  

2) Sunlight.  My apartment was mostly part-sun but I had some areas that were full-shade.  So buy plants that are 1) for your zone (find this online) and 2) find plants that are suited for the type of sunlight you get.  I also spent a lot of time rotating my plants.  This will help your plants look fuller since all sides will get a chance in the sun!        

3)  Container size.  I used to experiment a lot with types of unconventional containers to grow seeds in because I didn't have the money to spend on containers and I wanted to recycle containers I already had.  But, the key is to make sure that your container is deep enough for the roots to grow.  For mature plants, try to buy a planter that is a couple sizes wider in circumference than the plant ball itself so that the plant has room to grow.  This may help reduce the dreaded root-bound plant.  Also, ensure that the planter has proper drain holes.

Above are the items that I used to create this cute little recycled project.  Originally I wanted to use a recycled egg carton.  Unfortunately, I didn't actually have one available so I thought that the ice cube tray was similar enough to replicate what I wanted to do.  With automatic ice makers in freezers these days, I wouldn't be surprised if these are laying around your house!  But, if not, try an egg carton!  

Materials, description, and instructions:

  • Ice cube tray: I have read online that the depth of your container is really important (around 2 in.) for seed starting so that the roots have room to grow.  These are slightly shorter than 2 inches, but I think they will work.  
  • Soil: I used Miracle Gro Cactus Palm and Citrus Mix.  I've read it is better to use a mix specifically for seed starting, but I don't have the money to purchase multiple soils for multiple plant projects.  Feel free to purchase something like this.  I have had success with regular potting soil, though.  I filled each cube almost to the top.  
  • American Seed chantenay red cored carrots seeds and tendergreen mustard spinach seeds: I put 3-4 seeds in each cube.  I put the carrot seeds in one row and the spinach seeds in another.  You may want to label yours so you can tell a difference!  Place a very thin layer of soil over the seeds in the cubes.  Usually the seed envelope says how deep to put the seeds into the soil.  These envelopes said seed depth is 1/4 inch.  

*BONUS!  These seeds are the cheapest I have ever found.  You can't beat $0.20!  There are a wide price range of seeds available.  Feel free to purchase or use organic versions or heirloom versions if you wish.  But, if you are on a budget like me, try these! 

Chantenay Red Cored Carrot Seeds

Chantenay Red Cored Carrot Seeds

Tendergreen Mustard Spinach Seeds

Tendergreen Mustard Spinach Seeds

  • Water: Water your seeds generously.  Try to water with something that won't overflow each cube with such vigor that you lose all of your seeds.  Many resources say a spray bottle should do it but I have had much better success with a small watering can or a water bottle with good pouring control.  If you are reusing and not purchasing (which a greatly recommend!) ice cube trays, then you could drill some small drain holes in the bottom of each cube tray.  I actually didn't do this here, but if you are worried about overwatering, this may be help you.

*BONUS!  I supplement my water with Expert All Purpose Plant Food to help support the little seedlings (as well as my other plants).  Feel free to find an organic equivalent if you want to go that route!

  • The Ziploc bags/Saran wrap:  I used the a Ziploc bag to seal in the moisture in the soil.  I would tape them to the tray with some removable or reposition-able tape as mine kept blowing off the tray and proved to be worthless.  My plants were pretty successful outside without a cover, though.    

Here are my plants after 10 days!  Make sure to put your seeds in a sunny location!  This will help them grow stronger and look less leggy!

Top: Mustard Spinach; Bottom: Chantenay Red Cored Carrots.  This was taken on April 19, 2016.

Top: Mustard Spinach; Bottom: Chantenay Red Cored Carrots.  This was taken on April 19, 2016.

The next step would be to thin out each cube to 1 or 2 plants when they are approximately 3-4 inches tall.  This will allow the sprouts to grow better and push the nutrients from the soil and enhanced water to the remaining spouts.  Then, allow them to grow a little more so that they are more durable.  Usually, these are grown in larger cubes where they may stay until they are more fully formed, so it could be more difficult to determine when to transfer them to their permanent planter.  Use your best judgment!  I believe in you!  I will post updates so you can see the progress my seedlings are making!

Thanks so much for reading and happy gardening!

XOXO,

Sarah