DIY Plant Nurseries: Save Big $ on Planting From Seeds

You can save a ton of money by starting your own plant nurseries indoors not mention get a drop on the growing season.  I don’t know about other gardeners but when I plant, my motto is go big or get lost. But outfitting a garden my size with all the different variety of fruits and vegetables I love to plant each year would break the average person. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not working with acres here, but I make use of pretty much every available inch and I use pots…over 100 of them! In addition, I go vertical as well. So if you have a small backyard or no yard at all, you can still plant fruits and veggies for you and yours. Yes a potted garden is possible and I will cover that in an upcoming post.

Regardless, buying plants to fill your need can be very pricey. Sure you can go to a garden center and get some reasonably priced plants but you will have to: 1) pray the quality is good, 2) pray the prices are reasonable,  and then 3) hope and pray they don’t die on you because of disease or pest or some other issue. That last one is a doozy because some nursery plants you buy from garden centers can have disease and pests in them, which could blight the rest of your garden, so be careful. Only patronize trusted garden centers. But what if my local grocery store start carrying plant nurseries…that’s fine right? Not necessarily. Inspect and ask questions. If they can’t tell you where the plants came from, how they were treated and the soil used, don’t waste the money even if it’s 2 for $1. However, if they can give you guarantee that you can return the plant for a refund if it shows signs of blight or just ups and die on you, then take the chance. A certain big box store and one nursery producer I can think of does this. However, their prices aren’t exactly rock bottom either. Still, I have been known to patronize them in a pinch. For names of these entities, please contact me.

So what do you do when you want to garden like Hillshire but your wallet screams window box? It’s  simple…start your own nurseries. The wisest and most lucrative thing you can do for yourself, and in my case some of my neighbors, is to start your nurseries indoors. The main things you will need: a sunny window, filtered water, clean air flow, containers and seed starting soil or soil product; more on that last one later. You don’t need a lot of space depending on how many you plan to start and how soon. You should know that the earlier you start, the more space you will need. This is because as the plants get bigger, you will have to transfer them to larger containers with more soil. In addition, may also start other plants at a future date. Also, if you think you will need to buy plants to supplement your garden, you should start from seed those plants you grow the most of or those that are most expensive. In some cases, you can’t get nurseries for some plants so starting from seed is your best option there. In addition, if you are like me and live in zone 7, you know your planting season is short. Starting indoors helps you to get a drop on the season. Put it this way, besides me and my neighbors who I give my extra nurseries to, everyone else has to wait until June for tomatoes. I start early and when I plant out after Mother’s Day, my nurseries are over 2 feet high and sometimes are already blooming or fruiting.


About The Necessaries

A sunny window is necessary because seeds need the warmth of the sun to wake them up and they make their food from the sun as well. The more sun they have the better. This, however, is not true for all plants. There are some plants that will burn is full sun, so an area where the sun is not too strong will be needed in those cases. In addition, starting in winter means that there will be days of no sun and the window area will be freezing. In such cases, you will need to remember to move the plants away from the window especially at nights when the temperature is at its coldest. Failure to do so will stunt seedlings and freeze roots of developed plants. That last bit happens a lot faster when there is moisture in the soil. On the flip side, if the window area is especially hot, water will evaporate from the soil quickly so regular watering will be needed depending on the quality of soil used. If you live in an area where a sunny window is not available, you can use growing lights. Use a clamp light or a regular lamp without the shade with the special bulb and that’s it. If you want to get fancy, hook the lamp up to a timer.

               Filtered water is second best for your plants after good rainwater whether it’s a nursery or you have transplanted outdoors. Like people, good water is essential to growth and function. If you wouldn’t, and you shouldn’t, drink straight from your garden hose, your plants shouldn’t either. Also, the chlorinated water from the hose kills off the good bacteria in the soil, which lowers their resistance to disease. Remember, what comes out of the lining of hose and the tap will also contaminate the soil. If you planted consumables, then you will be consuming the contaminants when you eat the food. My suggestion is to invest in a filter for your garden hose. Use filtered water to water your plants and get a rain barrel if you can. That last one is a life saver. Your water bill and your plants will thank you. I have 2 in my back yard hooked up to the drain spouts from the gutter. You will be surprised how much water one good rain fall produces. In some areas, the city gives these away for free on a first come first served basis. Check with your local congressperson, senator, etc office or website to see when this is happening in your area. One thing to note here is to keep the barrels sealed properly or mosquitoes will take up residence. This problem can be mitigated by adding a pump to the barrel to keep the water moving or attach the hose and use to water the garden. Remember, mosquitoes can only survive in still water.

              Clean air flow is as important to plants as it is for people. If you smoke in your house, your nurseries will not survive. If the air quality is bad for other reasons, they will not survive either. Another tip: if nurseries you plant can’t survive in your home despite having met all other requirements and the seeds are fresh and healthy, you should be worried for your own health as well as that of those who live in the house with you.

The containers you use are also crucial to the success of the plants. I prefer to use those clear inexpensive party cups. I get them in various sizes to accommodate the various stages of growth. However, I like to start them out in clear pudding and fruit cups as well as clear plastic egg containers. Heck, even an old ice tray will do, rotisserie chicken tub cover, deli salad containers, I’m not too picky. Recycling saves money and these containers are good for years if washed and stored after use. The clarity of these containers allows the sun to penetrate the soil and when the plants grow, you can see the condition of the roots. You can also see if you have too much or too little moisture in the soil. Any pests or fungus that attacks the plant roots can be seen readily and the plant can be disposed of before it infects others. Compressed cardboard paper containers are great and they are biodegradable, but you can’t see what’s going on. Don’t ever use Styrofoam containers for nurseries of consumables…think about the problem with the garden hose plus you can’t see through them either.

              Soil quality is vital for planting successful nurseries as well. It’s good to start with a good seed staring soil or soil like product like dried ground up coconut husk. I find that the combination of the two works very well. The coconut husk allows more oxygen to the plant roots and the soil provides the nutrition the seeds need to grow. Sometimes I will add water absorbing pellets to the mix as well so that I don’t have to water often. This is beneficial when you have a lot of nurseries to tend to and not a lot of time.


The Planting Process

I first combine 1:1 the seed starting soil and ground up coconut husk in a bag or container. Then I add the water absorbing pellets according to the directions and mix it together. I use a spoon to fill each compartment of the egg container or cups half way and then add the seeds. I place them close to the sides of the container in a triangle formation so that I can see them at the sizes of the container. The spacing ensures that you will readily see the roots, the seeds and roots will get adequate sunlight and separating them will also be easier as the roots should not be so tangled at the time of transplanting.  I then fill the compartments up with the soil. I lightly pack it down with the spoon and add the filtered water to moisten the soil. From there, it’s off to a warm place; not necessarily the window. Close to a radiator is good so long as it’s not too hot. You don’t want to cook the seeds or have the soil dry out too quickly.  Once the seedlings emerge, it’s off to a sunny window. Depending on what you plant, you may not want to put the nursery in direct sunlight or have them in the sun all day. Some plants are sensitive from start to finish. I will cover this more in another posting

Depending on the size of the container I may put at most 3 seeds per cell or container. I start with the egg cartons. When the seedlings reach a substantial size (2″), I carefully separate them. I remove the largest ones first and give them their own containers; pudding cups, yogurt cups, etc. After that they graduate to the small party cups and then the larger party cups.


Note: do not give plant food to seedlings. Some say using half the recommended dosage is enough but I wouldn’t risk it. I have learned this the hard way; doing so will cause the roots to burn and they could die. Besides, the seed starting soil has all that is needed already. I normally wait to do this when they are at least 5 inches tall. It also helps to keep a planting journal. I like to keep track of when I started a particular plant, the soil medium I used and how quickly the seed sprouted. I also note the freshness of the seed. I also note any irregularities such as disease and pest. Keep in mind that the fresher the seeds, the faster they will sprout. That means a tomato seed from the tomato you just ate will grow in about 4 -7 days while a dried seed from a packet you bought may take 14 days to germinate and sprout. Keep this in mind when factoring for time. As per the last comment, not all seeds you plant have to come from seed packets. You can save the seeds from the fruits and veggies prior to eating and cooking them. In addition, if you happen to have some old seeds, more than a year old but three years or less, they could still grow. They will, however, sleep longer and take up to 21 days or more to germinate. If they take longer, watch them carefully and treat them gingerly. If after a month nothing sprouts, the seeds are a dud and you will either have to buy fresh seeds or fresh fruits or veggies. Good luck and…


Happy Gardening!





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