Seed starter pots: How to welcome balcony season with some cultivation

Balconista

Depending on the type of plant, you should start your plants off on the windowsill around 4–8 weeks before bedding them out outside. That will usually be around March. The first question to consider: Which seed starter pots are best? There are lots of different options — from pots that are more or less free to making a small investment, the world is your oyster.

Each starter pot has its own advantages and disadvantages, and everyone has their own personal preferences.

The advantage of using small pots made of paper/cardboard and coconut fibres is that you can just plant them straight in the ground. The pot will decompose and you'll avoid giving the plant a transplant shock. Plus, you're helping to protect the environment. For environmental reasons, you should make sure that your starter pot does not contain peat (alternatives include coconut fibre pots or coco coir pellets).

Egg cartons can also be used for cultivation — when bedding out, simply cut the cardboard trays and plant them in the ground.

Old yogurt pots and disposable coffee cups can also be used as a cost-effective alternative — just don't forget the drainage hole! Any kind of recycling is always good for the environment.

 

You can find a few good ideas for seed starter pots I've come across below. 

DIY seed starter pots (cheap & cheerful)

(a) Using newspaper

You will need:
Newspaper (do not use glossy paper)
Bottle (if using a plastic bottle fill it with liquid, but this step is not necessary for a glass bottle)
Seed compost
Seeds
Raffia

Instructions:
See article for using newspaper to make seed starter pots

(b) Using toilet roll

You will need:
Toilet roll tubes
Kitchen roll
Scissors

Instructions:
Halve the toilet roll tubes, plug the lower part with some kitchen roll and fill with soil.  

Buy-it-yourself seed starter pots

(a) Coconut fibre pot

Coconut fibre pots are great for cultivation. Fill them with seed compost, then lay the seeds on the soil. Depending on the type of plant, you then need to either lightly press them into the soil, cover them with soil or plant them deeper. When the seedlings get big enough and it's the right temperature for them outside, it's easy to replant them — you can just leave them in the coconut fibre pot. It's made of natural material that decomposes, so the plants can simply continue to take root without any transplant shock.

(b) Coco coir pellets
Using coco coir pellets is also a great way to cultivate your plants if you put them in special greenhouses. Simply place the coco coir pellets in the corresponding gaps and pour a good amount of water over them. Within 30 minutes, the coco coir pellets drink in enough water to be completely full, growing tall without losing their shape.

The coco coir pellets contain absolutely no peat. They are made from coconut fibres, which are a by-product of harvesting coconuts, are very easy to handle and do not produce any mess. 

(c) Cultivation bags

It is often possible to buy ready-to-use cultivation bag sets (bag + compact soil, or bag + compact soil and seed). Usually, the pressed compact soil is already in the bag — all you need to do is unfold it, pour in the water (usually 300 ml) and wait for 30 minutes. The compact soil swells during this time and is then ready for use.

It's not just the starter seed pots that are important — a pot alone does not make a beautiful plant.

What else do I need to be aware of?

Using the correct soil is very important for cultivation. Conventional potting soil contains a relatively large amount of fertiliser. The plants grow quickly, but don't have any desire to develop long roots. That means that you should use special seed compost, which doesn't actually contain seeds and only has a low nutrient content. This means the fresh seedlings have to actively seek nutrients in the substrate, encouraging growth in the roots and giving your plants an easier start in life. I use unfertilised coco coir as it is peat-free and also sustainable, as it's actually a waste product from growing coconuts.

When cultivating plants, keep in mind that not every seed wants to be treated in the same way. A distinction needs to be made here between light and dark germination. Here is a little information to ensure that everything runs smoothly from the beginning.

Seeds that germinate in the light lie on the top of the ground, or are very slightly pressed into the ground. That means the seeds should not be completely covered by the seed compost (no light = no germination).  Seeds that need light to germinate (and the seedlings they become) are generally small and delicate. They simply lack the strength and energy to work up through the soil.

Seeds that germinate in the dark should be covered with soil. They like it dark; the light hinders their growth. Seeds that germinate in dark conditions (and the seedlings they become) are generally large and robust. As a rule of thumb, the larger the seed, the deeper it needs to be planted in the soil.

And finally, it is important to keep the soil moist (not wet) during cultivation.

What, when, how?

Kitchen herbs

Sowing (inside)

Germination conditions

Take outside in

Basil

March/April

Light germination

From May

Coriander

Feb–April

1cm

From May

Oregano

March/April

Light germination

May/June

Parsley

Feb/March

1–2cm

From April

Rosemary

Feb/March

Light germination

May/June

Sage

March

Both

From May

Chives

March/April

2cm

From May

Thyme

March/April

Light germination

From May

 

Vegetables

Sowing (inside)

Germination conditions

Take outside in

Tomatoes

Feb/March

0.5cm

Mid-May

Cucumber

April

2cm

Mid-May/June

Pumpkin

April

3cm

May

Peas

March

4–5 cm

April/May

Carrots

March/April

3cm

April–June

Peppers

Feb/April

0.5cm

Mid-May

Courgette

April–June

3cm

May–July