Since seed-starting is our hot topic right now, I wanted to give you more information about what I'm starting and the types of containers I use.
I mentioned in my Sunday column that I start peas, beans, squash, pumpkins, corn and melons indoors. You don't have to do this unless you have the same situation I do: there are a lot of birds in my garden that just love to nibble on freshly-sprouted seedlings. And, of course, I'm the one who wanted to attract them to the garden in the first place, since they love to eat insects as well so I really can't complain!
Starting those seeds indoors allows me to get the plants off to a good start for a week or two indoors, before putting them out in the garden. Also, I get much better germination rates by starting them indoors in a controlled environment.
The other veggies I like to start indoors are tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, eggplants, leeks, cabbage, celery and Brussels sprouts. I also will be growing some annual flowers from seed.
For starting the large-rooted veggies (peas, beans, squash, pumpkins, corn and melons), I always use a deep-root flat insert like you see above, which you can find at well-stocked garden centers like Northwest Seed & Pet and online at Lee Valley Tools. They are probably available at other mail-order businesses, but I know Lee Valley has them for sure. I should also mention that once seedlings that have been started in a deep-root insert are ready to be transplant outdoors or into a larger container, I use a long slot-style screwdriver to slip into the insert and gently lift the seedling out. Never pull a plant out by its stem because that will really damage it.
Over the years, I've found some seed-starting kits that I really like. My favorite is from Gardens Alive! and it's called the All-Roots Seed Starting System (see photo at below, to the right). The kit is comprised of a planting tray, foam grow plug holder, a "humidity dome" and soil plugs.
I've had terrific success using this kit because the plants develop impressive root systems (see seedling photo below) that grow down into the water that is stored in the planting tray. So it's like a mini hydroponic gardening set-up. The seedlings are easy to transplant into larger containers, or directly into the garden, depending on the plant.
The only downside is that you have to purchase additional soil plugs once you run out of the ones that came with the kit since they're specialized to fit into the grow plug holder. They average about 37 cents each. But I have to admit there's no mess when using soil plugs rather than seed-starting mix! (which I use for the deep-root insert and pony packs and such) Each soil plug has a little indentation that you set the seed into, rather than having to "bury" it.
Park Seed sells a similar product called the Bio Dome, which consists of a sturdy storage tray, styrofoam insert which is open at the bottom, soil plugs to insert into each hole and a clear plastic lid. You also have to purchase additional soil plugs from them once you run out. They run anywhere from about 27 cents to 50 cents each. I haven't used the Bio Dome but it looks like a very nice seed-starting kit.
One caveat I have with either type of kit is that they aren't so ideal for the large-seeded/large-rooted veggies like the ones I mentioned above because you really have to wedge the seed into the top portion of it. That can make it difficult for the seed to sprout. But I plant those in the deep-root inserts so it's not an issue for me.
I hope this information will be helpful to you. As always, if you have questions, just comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get back to you.