Save a Fortune by Starting Your Own Seeds

5 Seed Starting Tips

When a seed costs only pennies and a transplant costs a buck or two, you don’t have to be a math wiz to know that you can save big bucks by starting your seeds from scratch. But how exactly do you get started?

GMO, conventional, or organic seeds?

A lot of people ask if they have to buy organic seeds to avoid those that are genetically modified, and the answer is no. Organic seeds are definitely not genetically modified, but organic also means that they came from plants that were grown organically. Conventional seeds were probably grown with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, but since the seed is such a tiny part of the final plant, some people will buy conventional seeds and grow them organically to save money. (Organic seeds cost more.)

If you purchase genetically modified seeds, you will have to sign a “stewardship agreement,” which is a really long contract with lots of tiny print that includes the promise that you will not save seeds for replanting in the future because the seeds are the intellectual property of the company that developed them. A regular seed company won’t ask you to sign a contract with tons of tiny print, so that’s a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with genetically-modified seeds.

Peat moss or coir?

Seeds should not be started in dirt because it gets rock hard, which makes it challenging for seeds to sprout. Most soil starting mixes are based on either peat moss or coir. Both have their ecological advantages and disadvantages. Peat moss is not considered a renewable resource by some who worry that the peat bogs in the northern US and Canada are being destroyed. Coir comes from coconuts, on the other hand, which must be shipped from halfway around the world. Both work equally well as a seed-starting medium. If you buy a “seed-starting mix,” check the label to see what else it includes because it may include synthetic fertilizers.

What kind of pots?

Plastic pots are the most expensive option, and they are not exactly environmentally friendly. The tiny little pots made specifically for seed starting are thin and can’t usually be used more than once, meaning you have to buy new ones every year and throw the old ones in the trash.

Peat pots are made of peat moss and were my favorite for years. Since they are pressed from peat, you simply place the whole lower half of the plant, including the pot, into the ground when it’s time to transplant. The roots grow through the peat pot and into the ground, and in a month or so, you don’t even see the pot.

You can make homemade pots with newspaper by wrapping them around a dixie cup and taping up the bottom or creating a little origami pot, but some people worry about what’s in the ink. It’s pretty unlikely that your local newspaper is using an environmentally friendly soy-based ink.

Paper egg carton can also be used for seed starting. Like peat pots, they can placed directly into the ground and will decompose over a few weeks as the roots grow out into the ground.

A soil blocker is similar to peat pots in that there is no waste. Unlike peat pots, which have to be purchased every year, you buy a soil blocker once, and you can use it for years and years to make blocks of soil where you plant your seeds.

Do you need lights?

Yes! If you have a south-facing window that gets excellent sun every day, you may be able to get away without lights. However, once I bought some fluorescent shop lights and strung them up above shelves for seed starting, I won’t go back. My dining room used to be completely taken over the seed starting, and now I have a spot in my basement where there are four shelves, each with a shop light hanging above it. Two seed trays fit on each shelf, and that’s where I start my seeds. The lights are on a timer, so the plants get 14 hours of sun every day.

Do you need a heat mat?

Yes! This was a game changer for me! For years, I failed miserably at starting seeds until I finally decided to buy a couple of heat mats. And, BOOM! I became a seed starting maven. Even though I start eight trays, I only have the two heat mats because they are only needed until the seeds germinate. So, I start two trays at a time. As the seeds sprout, I move those trays off the mats and start two more.

Because the heat mat was such a game changer for me, I contacted the nice people at Johnny’s and asked if they’d give one to one of my readers, and they said yes when this post was originally published. (The giveaway has now ended.)

Are you ready to start your first garden? Check out >> A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening

seed starter

52 thoughts on “Save a Fortune by Starting Your Own Seeds”

  1. Hello! I am planning on starting tomato seeds that I saved from some heirloom tomatoes. Having always purchased plants in the past, this is my opportunity to save some real money!

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    • Hay everyone. This is very effective and low cost idea to do with tomatoes and melons seedling just after there sprouting take any used tires you have. Use them as mini raised beds. They absorb heat. They will work very well and look kinda cool

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      • I might do that for flowers, but I worry about chemicals leaching out of the tires when planting food crops in them.

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  2. I will be starting organic seeds for zuccini yellow and butternut squash, tomatoes, bell peppers and cantalope and watermelon.

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  3. Hey there! I usually start tomatoes and peppers and I am still figuring out how to do it right, after about three years . A heat mat would be an amazing step.

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  4. I am getting ready to go on my seed starting adventures in the next few weeks, so I am glad to have a little extra information on what to look for in the seed starting mixture. Any thoughts on topping it with vermiculite?

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    • I’ve never topped with vermiculite — only used it when it happened to be part of a seed starting mix. I haven’t noticed much of a difference either way. You could do half of your seeds with it and half without and see what happens. 🙂

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  5. I have started dozens of different seeds this year! My tomatoes and onions are doing the best so far. I have never used a heating mat, but I’ve been reading about them and would LOVE to use one!

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  6. I manage a kitchen garden so I plan to start all manner of seed. I have not yet tried a heat mat, but I would sure love to give it a try! Thanks!

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  7. Here is what I have started already, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, jalapeños, sweet peppers, tomatoes (just started), herbs, celery, moringa tree, passion vine. Not all have germinated yet, but there will be much more. We built a greenhouse last year and I like to start extra plants for local community gardens. I do have a few small heat mats but with all I start I’d love another!

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  8. We’ve had a small garden before, but his year I really want for it to succeed. We’re growing a ton of tomatoes because my kids love spaghetti, haha. Cucumbers, corn, carrots….all sorts of goodies. I’ve never used a heat mat before but have been thinking of giving it a try.

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  9. I already started my tomato seeds last month (January) using a heat mat and lights. They are now between 2 and 6 inches tall. Last week I started broccoli and peppers and the broccoli is just coming up. It’s a great way to continue gardening throughout the winter and to get a head start on plants to transplant when it warms up.

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  10. Definitely not an expert here on gardening. Especially starting seeds indoors, it just never works for me. Sounds like a heat mat would make a big difference! I’ve tried starting tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, etc.. all indoors with no luck. Great info!

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  11. I will be starting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs and flowers! I tried using my heating pad last year. It did seem to work, but I really could use that heat mat!

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  12. I plan on starting my annual flowers and some vegetables. I don’t have experience with a heat mat. Thank you for the chance to win.

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  13. I am wanting to start some cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes for sure, as well as some forget-me-nots. I have never used the heat pad before.

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  14. I plan on starting Amish paste tomatoes, my go-to canning tomato. I used my mom’s heat mat years ago but would love to have my own.

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  15. I buy my seeds from Baker Creek every year and I’ve always had pretty good germination rates but last year I used heat mats and the difference was huge! Not only did I have a higher germination rate but they germinated in days.

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  16. This will be my first year trying to start seeds indoors. A heat mat would definately help. I will be starting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, and various flowers.

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  17. I agree. Lights are a must. They do take over the dining room tho! Between plants and chicks, spring makes our little house crowded! I’ve used soil blocks, too and find them really efficient and convenient. This year I am starting several different kinds of medicinal herbs from seeds. A heat mat would be great for my project. Have a great day!

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  18. I just bought soil blocks from Johnny Seeds. I need to get a heat mat too. I am still trying to get the nerve to try them out!

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  19. We bought some conventional seeds a couple weeks ago but haven’t planted them yet. Honestly, this is the first I have ever heard of a heat mat. I would love to give it a try.

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  20. I have never used a heated mat, but I am thinkging that is a great way to go! I have plans to start everything from cold weather plants like brussel sprouts to tomatoes

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  21. I plan to start pretty much every kind of garden plant this year except beets, rhubarb and corn. Only starting things indoors that transplant well. Not cucs, pumpkins, squash’s’, peas, etc. already have artichokes seeded. I have never used a heat mat.

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  22. I have not used a heat mat but I bet my little seeds would LOVE starting warm! I will be starting tomatoes in my basement today!!! Come on Spring!

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  23. I start a lot of seeds every year. Already started onions. I will use a heat mat to start warmer season plants like tomato, pepper, basil.. I’ve found through experience that cooler crops like onions and broccoli don’t appreciate the mat as much. I also have tried the peat pots but didn’t like them as much since they molded before my plants were ready to move outside.

    Reply
  24. Hi Cindy ,
    You shared the outstanding information about the wine decanters,But if you want to pouring (decanting) the contents from one vessel (typically a bottle) into another vessel by using wine aerator because these oxygenate the wine as it passes through the narrow tube drawing in air through a clever, then you must read all the procedure carefully are mentioned in the above information which provide you the best way of cleaning and transfer of material easily without wastage of material and time .
    Thanks .

    Reply
  25. Yes, I a seed starter. Love the one heat mat I have (would buy more but $ low). Started perennial flowers/herbs and some pepper varieties to date….more to start later ( vegetables).

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  26. Thank you for the article! I’ve always tried starting seeds without the heat mats and never understand why my seedlings didn’t thrive. Lol I’m hoping to invest in a few this year to start my Pepper and tomato plants.

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  27. Great article. Thank you for sharing your experience. In the past, I have started seeds on top of my refrigerator, but that space is more for storage now. I think it is time for me to be more organized about this process. I’d really like to try the heat mat and some lights. Even with a south facing window, I’ve had leggy tomato starts too many times.

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  28. I have Tomatoes, Cabbage, Brocc, Cauliflower, Peppers a few different flowers and borage already started. i am planning on starting Celery, fennel, and Lavender. A heat mat would increase germination for me.

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  29. I seed save, plant tomatoes from last year’s or the year before, will be starting my celery, broccoli, herbs like basil – which I already started because it’s a good house plant too and can share the babies with my family and friends….there are a LOT! will be starting a lot of flowers as well, since I’m a flower essence practitioner. haven’t ever used a heat mat, and would love to see how it helps!

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  30. Thank you for the article. I have bought my first grow light and have planted seeds for the first time. I am excited to see the progress. Your article was very timely.

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  31. I work at a school in Chicago where we are trying to start 300-400 plants this year. (Last year we did about 200.) In addition to our school garden, they will go to students’ families and a nearby food pantry garden. Most families will take a free plant and try to grow it, even if they’re not gardeners per se.

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  32. Have never heard of using a heat mat. Very interesting! Going to start some tomatoes for sure. Haven’t decided what else. Maybe some herbs and peppers.

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  33. I’m looking forward to starting cabbage broccoli and cauliflower. What spectrum light bulb is required for germination? Will a 40-60 watt bulb do?

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    • If you don’t buy a specific grow light, you can just buy the fluorescent “shop lights,” but they need to be kept about an inch above the soil and then the plants. Otherwise the plants get leggy trying to reach the light.

      Reply
  34. I just took a class on seed starting from our local gardening gurus at East Hill Edible Gardens. I’ve just made up a batch of homemade starting soil that I will be using this weekend to teach and share with grandkids as we start Seminole pumpkins, peppers, eggplants and green beans. So far I have lettuce, spinach, roselle and heirloom tomatoes started. A heat mat would be awesome!

    Reply
  35. This will be my dirst year starting my own seeds. I have never used a heat lamp. My hubby and I are self taught farmers and have hax a garden for more than 30 years. We always just till in the spring and plant our seeds and buy a few plants as well.

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  36. I save seeds all the time, and my husband calls me the seed lady.
    I’ve started seeds many times and all the plants get really spindly. Is that a word lol? Well the plants are sparse and weak and usually don’t make it.
    I have not tried a heat mat but would really love to. I usually use peat moss or an organic seed starter mix to plant in. This year and all years it seems I plan to start some Tomatoes, and Bell Peppers as well as some carrots, and spinach and cucumbers. My husband and I built some raised grow beds with landscaping wire on the bottom to keep the crazy gophers from eating our veggies. They are crazy here and one year ate a tomato plant a day till we had none.
    I’ve always seemed to just go and buy some plants at the store each year since they are full and a lot better looking than anything I’ve tried to grow which I hate. I think lighting is a big problem.

    Reply

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