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Supplies for Starting Seeds

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Flats of seedlings hardening off.

Flats of seedlings hardening off.

Photo © Lauren Ware

If you are a small farmer who wants to start your own seeds, there are a few supplies you will want to make it easier to do this. If you are a hobby farmer or homesteader, you may want to lean on the DIY side of things: forage for materials, recycle, improvise - do whatever you can to cut down costs. Even if you're beginning a small farm business, your cash flow may be so challenging that you decide that reusing as much as possible is the way you will go, even if it means an extra investment of time. But if you are producing on a large enough scale and you have the capital to invest, standardizing your equipment for seed starting and figuring out a frugal, but streamlined workflow for starting seeds will help your bottom line by reducing labor costs. Of course, reusing things is always better than buying new, so keep that in mind as you set up your seed-starting station.

Shelving

Some kind of system for keeping trays of seedlings elevated and underneath a light source is what you're looking for here. A set of inexpensive plastic shelves works well as long as there is somewhere for the hooks of a fluorescent light fixture to go. Many stores - even drugstores - sell wire shelving that can be fitted with light fixtures. You could also use a folding table, kitchen table, windowsill - any vertical surface will do.

In a hoop house, you can start seedlings in trays on wood that is laid across sawhorses, or any other simple system you can devise. Keeping them elevated helps them stay warmer early in the season.

Lights

Four-foot long fluorescent utility or shop lights are the standard for starting seeds. Using a full-spectrum bulb helps plants thrive. Try to set things up so that you can adjust the height of the lights, as they should always be about two to three inches above the tops of your seedlings.

Seed Starting Mix

The right seed starting mix can be the difference between leggy, pale seedlings and squat, lush, thriving dark green beauties. It's hard to recommend just one, but here's a good place to start.

Containers

Peat pots, plastic cell packs, peat pellets, felt, reused yogurt containers, origami newspaper - there are many containers to choose from. Use larger containers for larger seeds, smaller for smaller seeds. Use whatever is inexpensive and convenient. If reusing plastic containers, poke holes in the bottom for drainage.

Fertilizer

A simple fish emulsion is good for seedlings. You might not need it, but have it on hand in case your young'uns need some extra nutrients.

Labels

Obvious, but I remind myself all the time: label, label, label. You'd be surprised how easy it is to get calendula and carrots confused when there is nothing above the soil level to remind you what is growing there. Label early and often.

Transplant Pots

You won't need them right away, but you'll need them before you know it - so have your larger pots handy and ready to go.

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