That time of the year is here again, and with it brings a question for every homesteader: what are the best containers for seed starting?

These days there are tons of creative ideas out there to reuse, or even make from scratch, for seed starting. But, not all of them are really as efficient or as useful as they seem. Here’s the pros, and the cons, of all kinds of seed containers.

Plastic Starting Trays

Plastic starting trays are the basic option that most start with for their first seed starting attempt, and that most want to avoid when looking for alternatives. They don’t cost much, but seeing as most other options are free, even the small cost of these containers is enough to scare some people off.

They can be re-used, and come with holes already poked in, so there is a benefit to purchasing them. While they are the easiest option out of the gate, pinching the bottom and gently pulling the seedlings out the top can be frustrating for new gardeners, and those trying to grow delicate seedlings.

Peat Pots

Peat pots are one of the most popular alternatives to plastic, but for the life of me I just don’t understand why. Yes, they can be planted directly into the soil, which is convenient, but that does come with downsides.

First, this is the most expensive option. Second, if the peat pots have been properly soaked, I find they’re practically falling apart. That’s great for putting them into the soil, but awful when you’re hardening off a plant and moving them in and out of the house or greenhouse all the time.

With other brands of these pots, I find they’re still pretty intact when I go to plant, and I worry that the pot won’t quite break down, or will break down but will limit my plant’s growth anyway. I’ve found myself cutting them open a bit, or just tearing them off, which ends up being more of a hassle than the plastic trays.

Recycled Cardboard

The next option is all kinds of recycled cardboard. Recycled egg containers are a favorite for seed starting, as are toilet paper tubes and paper towel tubes. Some go as far as to use recycled egg shells, but I find they are usually just too small. Maybe if you get large eggs from your hens or other birds this option will be more feasible for you.

If you’re using cardboard, the one thing you must avoid is inked, unless you’re going to take the baby plants out of the container before planting. Again, most people say that these containers will break down, but because none of them are actually intended for seeds, I tend to trust them even less than peat pots. So not only do you have to poke holes in them before I put the seeds in, you also may end up ripping them open a bit before planting them.

Others have taken the recycled cardboard option a whole lot further, getting inked cardboard and reprocessing it, at home, to make seed trays. This involves soaking the cardboard to get the ink out, boiling it, straining it, shaping it, and leaving it to dry.

It’s an involved process, so if you’re investing time in it, you’re probably going to want to re-use them. It’s also easiest to make your own paper when its dry and sunny out, so they form up quickly. But, if you’re starting seeds, its isn’t dry and sunny out yet, so it’ll take even longer. You could make them ahead of time, of course.