Build Your Own Seedling Flats on the Cheap

A big part of our backyard mini-farm is growing our plants from seed – not only does this save a ton of money (think 100-1,000 seeds for two bucks as opposed to six plants for two bucks), but it really helps you connect with the whole process of raising your own food from start to finish. You can also get healthier plants by starting them in seedling flats and transplanting them into the ground as opposed to directly sowing the seeds in the ground, where the soil will get compacted in the critical early stages and leave the seedlings susceptible to birds, slugs, and the elements. Finally, starting everything in seedling flats is more efficient–you use less water because you’ve reduced the dead space between seeds (since you’ll transplant them), and you can continue to grow something in the ground while your seedlings get ready!

Seedling flats are a great way to economize on space, watering, and not using little throwaway plastic six packs. They’re also better for your plants because they have ample room to grow roots (ever pop out a nursery seedling and see the roots crammed all around the side of those tiny containers?). But they can be a little pricey (over 30 bucks if you buy them already built).

On the other hand, you can build one yourself for, say, seven bucks! Here’s how:

Step One: Go to the lumber yard and/or hardware store. Get wood and supplies. You’ll need:

  • An 8-footer of redwood 1×4 (which will measure actually about 5/8″ x 3.5″). 11 bucks. This is for the sides. Cedar is ok too. Both redwood and cedar will last a long time outdoors.
  • One piece of bender board, usually about 8 feet as well. Two bucks. This is for the bottom.
  • 16 wood screws, 1 1/4″ #8 screws work well.
  • A bunch of wire nails, at least 1/2″ long.

Step Two: Chop it up. With an 8-footer, you can build two seedling flats, 13.5″ x 10″. Using your saw, cut four pieces 13.5″ long, and four pieces 10″ long from the redwood 1×4. For the bender board, cut eight pieces a hair less than 10″ wide for the bottom.

Step Three: Drill holes. In the 10″ pieces, drill two holes each on the edges that are about 5/16″ of the way from the edge. These will screw into the longer 13.5″ pieces. I counter-sink mine so the screws will go in flush. You’ll now have a pile of supplies that looks something like this:

Step Four: Put the sides together. Drive wood screws to connect the 10″ pieces into the 13.5″ pieces. Like this:

Step 5: Nail the bender board bottom on, leaving a tiny gap in between each piece. You may have to chisel down one of the pieces to make it fit.

Step 6: Condition the flat with some linseed oil. This will help it last a long time.

Step 7: Fill with soil and plant some seeds! Water, and watch them sprout. Transplant when ready.

Step 7: Re-use year after year, decade after decade.

(Basic plans from How to Grow More Vegetables)

3 comments to Build Your Own Seedling Flats on the Cheap

  • Nicole M.

    This flat is exactly what I have been looking for, thank you for providing such clear and detailed instructions! Sharing them for free is a bonus and very kind of you. Making these flats will be my first woodworking project since shop in high school. I’m excited to make a couple of them for my soil blocking experiment. Have a GREAT day and thanks again!

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