Seed Starting

We begin starting our vegetables and herbs from seed in early March. We utilize a variety of seed starting methods. Park's Bio Domes, AeroGardens, peat and plastic pots are everywhere for a few months. As the seeds sprout they are moved out into the greenhouse.

While in the greenhouse, they stay warm on seedling heat mats and wait to be transplanted into bigger pots or directly into the garden.

Why do we do it this way? It comes down to personal preference. Everyone is different and that is why there are so many seed starting methods and products out there.


  • Six Packs
  • I have tried using the black, plastic six packs. You know that ones you get plants in, at the local garden center. They are very thin molded plastic. Some people like these. They are inexpensive and lightweight. But after the 4,000th plastic paper cut I received through my non-latex gloves, I declared Never Again.

  • Peat Pellets
  • Expanding peat pellets. They come as flat disks. You soak them in water and they swell up. They have a divot in the center where you place the seed.

    I find that these tend to expand inconsistently. I had seedlings leaning every which way. Also I had a problem with them developing green algae on the outer surface. The greenhouse tends to be humid which contributes to this.

  • Trays

  • How about just starting seeds in rows in shallow trays of soil mix?

    The roots do not have their own compartments and can get tangled together. I find this method tedious when it comes to transplanting time.

  • Pot Maker
  • This little item makes little pots from strips of newspaper. Similar to a peat pot, you plant the whole thing in the ground when it comes time to transplant. The Pot Maker itself is made of hardwood & will last you a lifetime.

    I have this item. I do use it occasionally. Not for starting large amounts of seeds though. It's good for seeds that sprout quickly, like sunflowers and peas. They are ready to transplant before the newspaper started to disintegrate. The newspaper pots don't hold up to a lot of shifting around, but the will fill in in a pinch.

    When it comes to economy or starting a garden on a super tight budget, this one wins on the basis of cost. It uses old newspapers that you were going to use as mulch or send to be recycled, so the cost is nothing. Especially if you got the newspaper from someone else for free.

  • Paper Towels
  • Sprouting in damp paper towels? This one I never understood. Unless the seeds are large, like soybeans or larger, I would need tweezers to grab them. I do not have the patience.

    Direct Seed Method

    We rarely direct seed. The germination rates seemed really low when direct seeded versus starting indoors. I chalked it up to more controlled & warmer conditions indoors until I realized what was happening.

    We have a lot of birds in our area. I feed them during the cooler months by throwing stale bread and seeds on the lawn. Apparently they can't distinguish between seeds for them and seeds for the garden. The birds that watch me plant the seeds and wait until I have gone into the house to steal them. I have observed them from the kitchen window. They will walk along the rows I have just planted, scratch the ground and eat the seeds.

    The only things I directly seed now are carrot, rutabaga, radish and soybean seeds. They do not appreciate being transplanted. Once they are planted, I cover the rows with a floating row or portable greenhouse cover.

  • Park's Bio Dome
  • I have had the Park's Double Bio Dome for about 5 years. It is my favorite seed starting method for flowers and vegetables. The one drawback is that I can not start larger seeds, like pumpkin and sunflower in it.

    Bio Dome with Seedlings

    It consists of a black plastic tray, styrofoam planting block, planting sponges and clear plastic, vented dome. The components are very sturdy.

    Each year I purchase the Bio Sponges that fit into the styrofoam block. They have a small hole in the top where you drop in the seed. There is no worrying about the planting depth. My seeds sprout faster in a Bio Dome than any other method.

    Those are my tomato, eggplant and pepper seedlings in the photo of the planting block above.

    The seedlings all grow very uniformly. They are well spaced, they do not shade or crowd each other. The lower tray is deep and waters the plants from the bottom. They develop nice, big root systems. This cuts down on the chances of things getting green and fuzzy.

    They are also the easiest to transplant. I let the sponges dry out for a day or two. This causes them to shrink back from the walls of the planting block a bit. Then I just push from the bottom of the block and they pop up and out.

    From the block they can go right into the ground. The seeds started in late winter go into plastic pots to await their final transplant into the garden beds.

    Last year the sponge refills cost me about $14.95 for a bag of 80. That is a cost per seedling of 18.5 cents. This may be a bit pricey for some, but I have such great success with them that I feel it is worth the cost.

    You can find them, and more seed starting supplies, on the Park Seed Website.

  • Peat Pots
  • I like to use peat pots to start larger seeds like Zinnia, sunflower, pumpkin and squash. More info about starting seeds in Peat Pots

  • Aerogarden
  • Have you seen the Aerogarden infomercial... more on the AeroGarden.


    What I like are nice self-contained units. No tangled roots. No vicious paper cuts. Less tedious but more potting soil.

    I'm sure there are at least a half dozen more seed starting methods that I have not thought of. Let us know what works for you.

    What is your favorite Seed Starting Method?

    Do you have a great money saving method to start seeds? Share it with other gardeners!

    Please contribute your personal experience with this, or any other, approach to starting seeds. We want to hear from you!

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    What Other Gardeners Have Said

    Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

    Great comparison of seedling methods 
    When you transplant seedling started in Parks BioDome, do you include its sponge or separate the seedling from it? Thanks for your well written article! …

    Perfect Starts 
    Just an FYI: Future Garden ( has a sponge based seed starter called 'Perfect Starts' which comes in two sizes #2 or 20x50mm and #4 or …

    Tropical Girl  Not rated yet
    I started my seeds in early March. They all were surviving well, and when it was time to put them outside it rained that night a lot and they all drowned. …

    Old School Not rated yet
    I'm old school. Just peat pots & potting soil on a heat mat. Works great most of the time. Sometimes the pots get a little green & furry, but other …

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