Seedlings emerge from peat pellets
Seedlings emerge from peat pellets

For several years I’ve started seeds for my garden in commercial seed starting trays. These are the cheap, vacuum molded plastic trays with clear lid that accept 36 or 72 small peat pellets. I prefer the peat pellets over starting seeds in a seed starting soil, though I might some day change my song if I ever specialize in hard to start or delicate plants that require particular conditions. For general vegetables and flowers, these peat pellets are ideal.

I’ve discovered that just about any seed will sprout in the humid greenhouse conditions these clear lid provides. Though incredibly cheap in feel and in durability, they are priced cheaply too. I like that I can purchase replacement pellets as well, and have used the same trays now for several rounds of seed starting. In fact, the tomatoes in my garden were this year’s first sprouts that came up in new seed starting trays. I used the same trays to sprout peppers, which dried out due to a bad estimation of a grow light’s heat output. Now my third seed batch – not under the grow lights yet – have sprouted the peppers I originally hoped for. I’ll be growing some ornamental flowers in the same trays next.

72 cell seed trays with various peppers just coming up.
72 cell seed trays with various peppers just coming up.

The instructions say to slowly add two and a half quarts of warm water to expand the peat pellets, but I dump all the water in at once, it absorbs just fine. Once the pellets are expanded, the mesh bag can be worked open at the top and the peat fluffed up if you desire. I use a couple of garage tools like screwdrivers and tweezers to do that work. Seeds can be sown according to the seed packer’s instructions, but I generally don’t plant deep. You can germinate seeds on or near the surface if you keep the moisture level constant. I sow three (or more) seeds in each cell. First, I shove the seeds into the peat with just a bit of the seed showing, and then surface sow another in the same cell, and finally a third one shoved in a bit deeper. This covers all seed preferences and I can thin out those sprouts I don’t want.

Some seeds germinate best at certain temperatures, check your seed packages. Warmers are available for seed starting trays, but I live where I have never needed warmers.

Once the seeds come up and begin stretching toward a light source, its time to take the lid off and put your seed tray in a sunny window or under a grow light. I use grow lights, but this is my first year of doing so. So far, I love how much my gardening options have expanded now that I have a grow light. I can sprout and grow just about anything now.

I can happily suggest the Jiffy/Ferry Morse Seed Starting trays (though I will not buy FM seeds). They are in just about every big box home and garden center, or on Amazon. You can also get the Jiffy Seed Starting Pellets online or at your local garden supply.

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