Build an Upcycled Seed Starting Operation

February 21, 2018


Starting seeds indoors before the garden season arrives is one of the best ways to get a head start on providing your own vegetables at a reasonable cost.  Sure, you can buy a fancy set up with shelving and grow lights, but you don’t have to spend a small fortune to get your seed starting operation up and going, especially if you're not too concerned with looks.


Our "greenhouse" is just a room between our two garages that we turned into a seed starting station with an assortment of upcycled equipment and supplies. 



Here are some simple upcycling ideas to get your indoor greenhouse started:


Surface: You’re going to need a nice big table or shelving system if you want to grow a bunch of seeds.  Your easiest option might be to check out a used furniture store for an old kitchen table, but you can also think outside of the box to create a bigger surface.  We have built seed starting surfaces out of:

  • Old doors propped up on milk crates or saw horses;

  • A thrown away futon frame disassembled and re-assembled into a table form;

  • Used countertops and cabinets from the recycled building supply store.

Lights: Yes, you need a good grow light or two for your indoor seed starting operation, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy a fancy grow light for a hundred dollars.  Basically, you’re going to need a fixture, full spectrum bulbs, and a system to raise and lower the light.  One of our lights is an actual grow light purchased on sale at the Gardener’s Supply outlet, but our other is simply an industrial lighting fixture relocated from our basement from which we removed the fluorescent lights and inserted full-spectrum aquarium/garden tube lights from the hardware store.

  • To create a pulley system, you have a few options.  One of our lights is held up with rope, slipped through a loop in the ceiling, and then tied off on the table on cleats (like those you would find on a boat).  Our other light uses a chain attached to the ceiling via s-hooks so that we can attach the chain at any height. 


Pots: While a good seed starting tray is not a bad investment (you can use it year-after-year), there are also a number of other solutions for starting your plants in a good potting soil mixture:

  • Toilet paper or paper towel rolls can be cut into sections, filled with soil, and used to plant; by the time you are ready to transplant you can easily pull of the cardboard or just plant it right in the ground.  Here’s a quick guide from the Urban Organic Gardener on how to make pots this way.

  • Recycled or re-used plant containers are also a great option.  We have been saving plant containers from purchased plants for years and have a collection of about 100 3-4 inch pots that we used each year, especially for plants that are going to need some solid support like tomatoes, squash, or peppers.  Check with friends and neighbors to see if they have a stash hidden away or will save them for you this season.

  • Egg cartons can be used for smaller plants or later starts that you will transplant sooner.  For an added bonus plant right in the egg shell; they’re great for adding nutrients to your garden!

Trays: no matter what kind of pots you use, if you want to water efficiently and be able to move seedlings around as needed, you’re going to need some trays for your plants.  Again, you can buy a beautiful plant tray for $30-50, but why not use something cheaper and just as practical?  We have used:

  • Boot trays;

  • Christmas tree trays purchased when holiday stuff is on sale;

  • Plastic bin covers (especially when you’ve managed to break the bin and no longer use it!).


What other upcycled solutions have you found for your seed starting operation??

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