getting ready to plant: trays, soil and labels

Starting Seeds

seed try
trays soil and old trays

Now that I’ve got seeds and a plant shelf, next is trays, soil and labels.

Seed trays
: I like seed trays with small cells (1″ x 1.5″ cell, 12-packs, 96-per tray) so each seedling gets its own. Except for the seedlings that get bigger (like tomatoes, peppers and large squashes), these little cells work well. The goal is one seedling per tiny cell. Plant a couple seeds per cell and thin.

I saved as many old seed trays as I could. I have quite a few, but most get ripped during transplanting. I went by Agway just now to look for new trays, but the kind I want aren’t in. I’ll check back next week.

Onions and celeriac are the first seeds I’ll plant. The recommendation for onions is: fill cells with soil, compress to make a uniform surface, then sow 5 seeds in each 1-1 1/2″ diameter cell and cover with 1/4 inch of soil. If the seeds are too shallow, the onions will tend to push themselves up out of the plug. Thin later to 3/cell and then transplant each cell 6″ apart into the garden.

Potting soil: I have been using the largest cheapest bag of fertilized potting soil. Last year Miracle Gro. This year I have Scott’s. I don’t even know what’s in these big plastic bags. Soil? Soiless? Of course its not organic. Someday I should look into the best potting soil to use. But there are always so many issues: economy, availability, how well it works, and an environmentally friendly product.

Plant labels: I use small labels for seed trays. Last year I used little wooden ones. They look nice and are biodegradable, but single use. And I hate to throw things out. Some of the poorer quality wood labels I bought last year didn’t hold ink well. The ink ran and I had no idea what was where. This year I’m trying plastic labels. I think I can probably remove the ink with a solvent later and reuse them forever. I’ll give this a try.

16 Comments. Leave new

  • i use plastic lables that i cut in half, so they’re only about 2-3″ tall. and mark with pencil. pencil doesn’t fade or run, and you can erase them and reuse them forever.

    see this quick little slideshow.

  • For labels, Master Gardeners here on Long Island use the slats from old Venetian blinds. Easy to find at Goodwill. You can even write on some of them in pencil.

    Be careful with ink on plastic labels, they also run and fade.

  • Are you going to multiplant your onions together, 3 per spot outside?

    I am reading “The New Organic Grower” by Eilot Coleman, He writes about this. When the onions are planted out 3-4 together they push each other apart and form rounder bulbs. It is also easier to weed in between them.

    Another thing I have read about onions is planting them a little deeper like you said grows rounder bulbs. If you plant them too shallow they will develop flatter bulbs.

  • I make mini plant markers from empty bleach bottles. If you use a Sharpie pen to write on the label, a light spritzing with hair spray keeps it from running. I know pencil is better, but I never can find one when I need it.

  • Looks like you are all ready to go:-)

  • Great comments! It will take me a bit to go through these.

    First off. Suzanne’s slide show is very nice. But I will especially use her method of sterilizing old seed trays as I do like to reuse these if I can. Thanks!

    Margaret, I only bought 10 plastic ones to test. Thanks for the warning. I HATE the fading and running part. If you go to the effort of writing the label, it SUCH a bother to lose it! I also bought 10 of the wood ones that worked well for me last year. Some day I’ll be an old pro at this….

    Dan, I look forward to looking into multi planting onions as I have NEVER hear of this…. (I HAVE to package your seeds tonight….)

    The bleach bottle sounds SUPer! And HAIR SPRAY! How clever. (Goodness know I have enough of this around. Don’t tell anyone.) I bet an apple juice plastic bottle would work too. One bottle might do a whole a whole year’s worth of trays.

  • I had not heard of it either. He plants with soil blocks but the cell’s serve the same purpose. He thins to 3-4 plants per block/cell and then just plants them out like that, spacing 12″ apart in each direction. The book really is a great read, I believe he is from your neck of the woods as well.

    I am going to give it a try this year. It conserves space too which I greatly need to do.

    There really is no rush on the seed, when ever you have time is fine with me.

  • I mix up my own soiless potting mix, it’s much cheaper. I use Elliot Coleman’s recipe from “Four Season Harvest”. You can also find cheaper options at a large greenhouse (instead of harware stores) at least around here.

    I haven’t settled on a good labeling system either. Usually my seelding I labe on the trays with small labels (I label each row or section of rows). By the time I plant them outside I know what they are and don’t need the labels any more.

  • Ready, steady, GO! It looks great Kathy.


  • Question for you: How do you deal with the temperature factor? My seeds will need a warmer climate than I keep my house…. is the heat from the grow lights enough? Or is there another way you’d recommend to keep them at the proper temp?

  • I think its only the peppers that need a higher temp for me. My house will be 65-70*F. Last year everything did fine. I kept the peppers under my 78*F fish tank for 2 weeks, until they germinated.

    If its just a few pots that need incubation at a higher time for a few weeks, you can search for a place in your house where there is extra warmth: under the fridge?

    Or you can get a plant tray heating mat.

    Maybe there are other ideas?

  • I plan to use old plastic knives for labels. A restaurant was throwing them out because they were a little bit yellowed. Hundreds of them! A sharpie should stay on them, no?

    Will you be wrapping your shelf with some plastic sheet or some such (even better: insulating material)? It will keep the heat in. The most heat-loving seeds/seedlings can go on top, where the most heat will collect.

  • My sister uses old plastic ware too. The marker seemed to work fine on this.

    Don’t know yet about wrapping….

  • Suzanne, thanks for sharing the “sterilizing old seed trays” demo. I’ve gotten lazy with this step and subsequently have had failures. Annie’s Granny’s tips are priceless. Thanks for sharing too!

    I bought a heating mat but I didn’t think it warmed up enough or maybe I was impatient. I’m going to try tomatoes and peppers again for the third time this weekend.

    Kathy I applaud your seed starting set up. I usually soil block on flats, throw them in the hobby greenhouse out back and hope for the best.

  • Adriana, I don’t know what ‘soil block on flats’ means or what a ‘hobby greenhouse’ is. I’ll stop by your site and see if I can figure it out.

  • Kathy … I second the “use white plastic containers cut up into strips as markers” tactic. I use quart yogurt containers but any white will do. When done, toss the strips in the recycle bin. Also, there is a specific kind of “marks on anything” marker that I use … mine is red but there may be other colors. It holds better than most. Finally, for others … you can use a heating pad under an old piece of tempered fridge glass as a bottom heat source … set the pad on low.




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