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Seed Starting Tips, Part 1

If you are a gardener, chances are you are avidly awaiting the beginning of seed starting season. Though it is early for most home gardeners to start seeds (greenhouses are already in full swing!), the time will be soon.

Though the debate about which seed starting method works best has been going on forever, and will never be resolved, so I'll just give you a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each style, and you can decide for yourself.

Biodegradable pots - These pots, usually made from a mix of fibers, are supposedly biodegradable. Seed into them, and than plant the whole pot in the ground. However, the time it takes for some brands to degrade is highly variable - some might last the whole season or longer in the ground. Or, they might disintegrate halfway into your seed starting venture! Try a few brands and pick your favorites. These CowPots work well and have compost integrated into the fibers, but they are not certified organic because of the recycled newspaper fibers.

Plastic containers - Pots (for larger plants and transplants) and trays (for more volume and baby plants) are always very popular because they tend to last for a long time, if you buy sturdy ones. However, the downside is that the tend to last a long time...even after they outlive their use. Plastic does not biodegrade. But these are the standard for most nurseries and farms, because they work, and they will last for a few seasons. Be wary of leaving plants in smaller plastic trays for too long, as their growth and health will be stunted.

Soil blockers - The gold standard for some organic growers, made famous by Eliot Coleman. These handheld simple machines take wet soil and compress it into a block with a depression in the top for seeds. Simply put your seeds in the hole, cover with soil (if needed), and water. The advantages of these blocks? Zero waste - these tools last ages if properly cared for. They are modular, and come in a variety of sizes to suit all seeding and transplanting needs. Plus, the seedlings are usually pretty happy in them, as their roots don't get stunted as in smaller plastic trays. They also hold up surprisingly well to watering - just be careful when you first starts the seeds, as anything more than a gentle mist may cause the blocks to fall apart. When the seedlings get established, their roots fortify the blocks and they are quite sturdy at that point. Disadvantages of the soil blocker is that they take up a lot of room. The blocks themselves are larger than plastic trays, and each block needs a bit of breathing room around it so the roots don't grow together. Plus, it takes a minute or so of practice to get the technique just right, and making the blocks is slightly more time consuming than just filling containers.

Other - There are so many other DIY seed starting methods, there is no room to cover them all here. Hollowed-out eggshells, egg cartons, plastic solo cups, cardboard tubes, etc. Experiment and have fun with reused and recycled materials! Worst comes to worst and your plants die, just head on over to your local grower and support them.

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