Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Starting seeds in canning jars

This past weekend, I started my seeds.  After years of killing all my plants, I have successfully gotten to the point where I now kill only some of my plants.  Huge improvement!

I use my canning jars as seed starters.
I start my seeds in canning jars.  I've tried a bunch of alternatives:
  • Little plastic starting pots are expensive (okay, not hugely expensive, but they're not free), and they don't let the seedling grow much.  I've since learned that people who know what they're doing will eventually move seedlings to larger pots, calling this "up potting".  Too much work for me.
  • Wooden salad bowls I no longer used were both pretty and free, but the plants that started in them all died quickly.  
  • I've saved little plastic tubs from various foods -- yogurt, for example.  But as I work to eliminate my trash, I have fewer of these, and the assorted sizes were difficult to store.
Two years ago, I was casting about for a way to start my seeds and remembered my large stash of canning jars.  I figured, "what the heck?", and tried them.  To my utter surprise, I had the best year ever with my seedlings.  I haven't looked back since.

First, I put in potting soil and 2-3 seeds per jar -- I know some places recommend more seeds, followed by thinning.  I don't have the heart to deliberately kill something green that has managed to survive my attempts to accidentally kill it.  So I practice plant contraception instead (or is that plant abstinence?).  Once I've poked the seeds into the dirt, then I add a bit of water.
Adding water.  Note the canning funnel on the left for quick soil transfer.
The cool thing that happens next is the potting soil floats up on top of the water.  This used to worry me, but after two years of not-total-disaster, I now just think it's cool.  When the roots start growing, the water at the bottom will disappear into the soil.
The soil is floating on a half-inch of water.
Last year, I planted one dozen jars of tomatoes.  That felt like a lot -- and it was -- but we love tomato sauce, so I'm doubling the number this year.  (We don't get a enough tomatoes from our CSA to bother canning those).  This is two-dozen jars of tomato seeds, in my southern window:

Move the tomatoes into the light.
In past years, I capped each jar with a sandwich baggie until the plants started growing.  This year, I rescued a dry cleaner bag that my husband had tossed, and I'm using that to keep the moisture in, instead.

Eggplants, peppers, jalapenos, and melons, all getting ready to grow.  Or maybe, to die spectacularly.
The plants ought to start sprouting in a week or more.  I'll have little baby tomato plants poking up in time for my birthday . . . I can't tell you how much I've been waiting for this time of year.

All the seeds I planted so far this year are leftover from last year.  Ditto for the potting soil.  So essentially, the cost of gardening so far this year is $0.

This whole process of starting my plants in the same jars where they'll wind up again feels a little bit like cannibalism -- reminds me of the comedienne A. Whitney Brown, who said, "I'm not vegetarian because I love animals.  I'm vegetarian because I hate plants."  But me, I'm rooting for my plants.  Grow, baby, grow!

[Today I linked up with Frugally Sustainable].


  1. From start to finish in a jar--totally awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is so cool! I have tons of these jars and no money to spend on the starter kits. Do you water them ever after you've covered them or just that first time?

    1. Once the seeds start growing, I sometimes need to water them. But it's really easy to see whether they need watering just by looking at the color of the soil through the jars.

      Before the seeds start growing, I haven't needed to water them at all.

  3. Just a thought...use the lid ring to hold the plastick tightly in place on each jar.

    1. Actually, nowadays I skip the plastic entirely and use a canning jar lid on the top of each jar to keep the moisture in, at least until the sprouts appear. I don't need to use the ring as well. This has worked well for several years now!

  4. I know this is an older post, but its exactly what I was looking for! What is your method for removing the seedlings?

    1. Hey, Mama Gypsy. Welcome! In answer to your question, if the tomatoes get the root system going well, I can just let the soil get a tad dry (to contract), and the whole thing comes out in a ball. Often, though, I'll just use a spoon or knife around the edge of the dirt, and scoop stuff out that way.