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  • Writer's pictureJulie Smith

What you need to start growing

With the current - yes I am going to say it - unprecedented situation, a lot of people are taking up gardening, and that’s a GOOD thing. Gardening as a whole can do wonders for your physical and mental health. So what will you need if you want to get started, from your balcony, your windowsill or your garden? Good news is that you don’t need much to get growing, and it doesn't need to cost the Earth.

To start your plants from seeds you’ll need the following:

- Pots

- Labels

- Soil

- Seeds

Read on for more details...


Using new stuff

  • Plastic trays versus modules

Gardeners generally use a mix seed trays (single trays either A4 or A5 size) to grow seeds together, especially small ones, and modules, which are tiny pots stuck together where you sow only a few seeds per tiny pot or module. I prefer modules, as it’s easier to move the plant to a bigger pot/ its final space.

So looking at longevity, if you are buying new, pick trays or module in STRONG plastic, not the flimsy stuff that will break apart after a season. Often you can also buy the plastic cover that fits your tray and acts like a mini greenhouse- these are great.

  • Choir pots

You’ll also see choir pots- pots made of coconut fibers, that will disintegrate and are designed to be planted in the plant final space with the seedling. These are great, although can be quite pricey if you are sowing a lot of seeds.

  • Big garden trays

Whether you have a greenhouse or a windowsill, your pots or modules will need to be on something that can handle water run-off, so I suggest investing in a couple of garden trays that fit your space. Pick strong plastic ones, preferably with ridges to partly submerged pots.

Classic modules, seed tray, small module

Reduce, recycle reuse

You can use almost any second hand container as a pot to sow and seeds and grow plants as long as:

  • You drill drainage holes either right at the bottom, or (my preferred option), on the side, a couple of mm up to create a mini water reservoir at the bottom of the pot.

  • They are not see through as roots don’t like light

  • They can handle water, or you intend to transplant them in the ground with the plant like paper fruit punnets or egg trays that will slowly degrade.

You can also use newspaper and a wonderful paper potter that will shape said newspaper in nice pots- the best ways to use The Sun in my opinion.

For lids to cover seeds, plastic fruit punnets are great and widely available. And as trays to hold your plants, food trays or old plates will do just fine.


I know you think you’ll remember, but trust years of failure on that one- you WILL NOT REMEMBER what you have planted in three months. I can guarantee that. So label it! And on the label you should write:

  • The type of plant e.g. tomato, pepper, chilli, basil etc..

  • The variety or cultivar e.g. Lemon drop, Padron, Hot wax, Sweet Genovese

  • The date (so you know if things fail/ when you can empty and reuse your container for something else)

Label example with all the info you need

Using new stuff

Classic plastic labels work fine, and if you use a soft pen they will stay put and you can erase the writing at the end of the season and reuse the label by rubbing with your thumb and a bit of water. These days you can find recycled plastic labels which are great, or chalk ones, which are good too.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

You can cut 1cm strips from a plastic milk bottle, and use a sharpie or soft pencil to write on it - you got a label. Painted stone, chalk pieces or old crockery work a treat too (and is a great activity if you have kids to entertain).


This is likely to be your biggest expense, and you can’t really avoid it- a good gardener feeds and cares for the soil, and the soil takes care of the plants. So, if there is one thing you should invest in, it's the soil.

For seed sowing, you need seed sowing compost (no surprises here). This compost is well drained and low in nutrient, promoting strong root growth, and short, stubby seedlings (not the long soft seedlings that won’t make it). If you use soil from your garden or multipurpose compost, seeds might germinate but it’ll work less well.

Seed sowing compost can be found in smaller bags, perfect for starters and small gardens.


That's the core of what you'll need to get growing, but not all seeds are equal!

Buy new stuff

If you can, avoid big companies and go for organic locally grown (to you) seeds. Vital seeds , Real Seeds and Tamar Organic are wonderful examples or high quality seeds grown in the UK. And as I write, they are all open and sending orders.

Be aware that some plants are much easier to grown from cuttings than from seeds- this includes all the mediterranean herbs like lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Beware of all the ‘hacks’ around using seeds from veg you buy at the supermarket- most fruits (veg that have seeds inside, from tomatoes, to pumpkin and cucumbers) cross pollinate, which means the seeds you save from veg you bought to eat are likely to grow into something that might not produce the same fruits (if any fruits at all). So if you are getting started, invest in a few good seed packets. You can also check seed swaps and local seed banks, and then you can try saving seeds yourself!

That does not mean you can't experiment! Go for it, plant every seed you find, just be aware it might not turn out as you expect it to, and that's fun too.

Carrot seeds, London Freedom Seed Bank collection and glass corn seeds

Now you just need to get growing:

- Grow thing you like!

- Careful with space: growing cauliflower for a balcony or windowsill garden probably isn't ideal size wise, but you can grow cherry tomatoes, chilli peppers and herbs even in tiny garden.

- Start small: for example pick 3 types of plants to sow, and don't feel like you can't buy seedlings- it's fine to do both seed sowing and buying seedlings!

- Put your sown seeds on a windowsill and rotate the tray every couple of days to maximise light exposure

- Keep a photo diary of your plants- it's really fun to look at how much they have grown and changed.

Happy growing!

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