Gardener watering plants in greenhouse

My Sustainability Journey: Seed Starting

At The Meadow Flower Co, my passion for flowers goes hand in hand with a commitment to sustainable growing practices. Here is the second part of my blog where I explain what I do to be sustainable while also looking for the improvements I will make. This blog is about seed starting - key to any flower farmer’s success!

Why Grow From Seed?

Starting plants from seeds is a time-consuming way of building plant stock for cut flowers, but is well-worth it for me. Firstly, many of my staple flowers (cornflowers, cosmos and calendulas, to name just a few) are annuals, so need growing every year. However, I am trying to increase my proportion of plants that are perennial as this will reduce the labour required, eventually! On the whole, I still aim to grow many of these perennials from seed, though as this is a much more sustainable (and cheaper!) way of building my stock because the transport costs of getting potted plants from suppliers is high. Also, I believe that seeds raised in my own climate and soil will do better in the long-run, reducing the need for amendments and watering.

Compost Choices

One of the foundations of my sustainable approach is the use of peat-free compost. Peat extraction is incredibly damaging to the environment, so I’ve chosen to go peat-free, relying mostly on homemade compost for seed starting. This not only reduces waste but also ensures that my flowers grow in nutrient-rich soil which I can trust not to contain pesticides etc. I make use of a wormery at home; vegetable waste is turned into the most beautiful, dark-coloured, sweet-smelling compost by my hundreds of “red wriggler” and tiger worms. I mix this with coconut coir (a waste product of the coconut milk industry) and vermiculite to make a light mix which seems to do well for most seeds, either in modules or in soil blocks. You can read more about soil blocks on my earlier blog posts.

Long-Lasting Equipment 

All gardeners will be familiar with the bright green seed trays that are ubiquitous in garden centres but that quite quickly start to crack and break up, making them short-lived and risking the release of micro-plastics into the environment. This is why I have invested in seed trays that are built to last. These durable options can be reused season after season. This reduces plastic waste and ensures a more sustainable start for my flowers.

Another key action I take to reduce waste is to reuse/repurpose as much as possible. Lots of gardeners will have hundreds of plant pots from their garden-centre purchases over the years - I carefully store these by size so I can easily use whenever necessary. Do note that many garden centres now have return stations for pots to be reused.

Sustainable Watering Practices

Water is a precious resource, and I strive to use it wisely. Whenever possible, I use rainwater to nourish my growing seedlings, rather than relying on tap water. Collecting rainwater not only conserves water, reducing the energy costs of water purification, but also provides my plants with chemical-free watering. 

Buying seeds 

When the various seed catalogs pop through my letterbox, it can be tempting to buy hundreds of packets - I never want to miss out on an exciting new variety. I’ve learnt, however, that I should plan carefully and check my existing seed packets before ordering to avoid wastage. I am also careful to source my seeds from companies with an ethos I trust - for example those who use recycled and recyclable packaging. I store my seeds carefully - in a box out of direct sunlight - and also put in those little packets of desiccants that sometimes come with deliveries to keep the seeds dry. This keeps the shelf life of seeds longer so I don’t have to throw them away before I finish the packet. 

Areas for Improvement

While I’m proud of the sustainable practices I’ve implemented, I recognise there’s always room for improvement; sustainability is a journey of constant development. One area I’m focussing on is the careful storage of equipment to reduce sun damage and increase its lifespan. By protecting my seed trays etc. from the elements, I can ensure they last longer and reduce the need for replacements; it is amazing how much damage is done by leaving plastic exposed to the sun, for example. 

As I mentioned before, I use vermiculite to create a good seed starting medium. It is a great material as it adds drainage and water retaining properties to the compost. However, as it is obtained from mining, it is not a renewable resource and as such is not sustainable. The vermiculite I have used to date is leftover from a previous DIY project, so I am happy to use it up, but I am searching for an alternative. At the moment, it is looking like adding more organic material, perhaps in the form of leftover cork and/or sourcing leftover grit from the building industry will be my best bet.

Finally, while I currently use mostly rainwater that is harvested from the roof of our house to water my greenhouse plants, this doesn’t last throughout the long, dry summers that seem to be more frequent. As such, I would like to invest in more water storage to be able to capture more in the winter. I am also researching irrigation systems for my greenhouse as I think that this could reduce water use, for example by watering very early in the morning, which is more efficient.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my reflections on my current practice - please comment below if you have any tips on how to make seed starting sustainable.

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