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Amy Rhodes

How To Plan A Garden #2: To Sow or Not to Sow?

How To Plan A Garden #2: To Sow or Not to Sow?

It's an age old question...Is it better to start seeds indoors and transplant later or to sow seeds outdoors directly into the garden? And what about just skipping seed starting all together and purchasing transplants from a local farmer or garden center? Which is better? Where should I start?

 

Indeed! The uncertainties of life's big questions are enough to keep a would-be gardener from ever getting started! The good news is, just like in life, there are no hard and fast rules in gardening. The short answer to these often challenging questions is...

 

It depends.  

 

Choosing whether to start your garden from seeds or transplants depends on a number of factors - time, experience, and budget to name a few.  The type of vegetable or herb being grown also makes a big difference. Some plants prefer being directly sown into the garden, while others prefer to be nursed along indoors before being transplanted.  

 

Outlined below are some benefits and drawbacks of starting seed indoors or in the garden. The benefits and drawbacks of starting with transplants are also considered. Knowing these factors will help you determine the best way to get started and on your way to growing a happy, healthy garden. 

 

Starting From Seed

 

Benefits

  • All ages enjoy sprouting and caring for life!
  • If you're planning a large garden, starting from seed is more affordable. 
  • You control the source of the seeds and the varieties grown.
  • Start early indoors, transplant, then seed in succession throughout the season.
  • Root crops - carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets - prefer to be directly sown.
  • Beans, corn, garlic, and peas also prefer to be directly sown and grown in one place.

  

Drawbacks

 

  • Time – Waiting for soil temperature to rise and night air temperatures to be above 50°; Waiting for seedlings to mature for transplanting; Monitoring young sprouts 2-3 times per day
  • Weather – If you sow direct outdoors, drought, heavy winds, flooding and insects can destroy young seedlings. 
  • Equipment – The cost of protective covering, seed trays, germination heating pads, and indoor grow lights can add up.

 

 

Starting with Transplants

 

 

Benefits

  • Get a head start on the growing season! 
  • Start broccoli, chard, and kale indoors and move them outside soon after your plant hardiness zone’s frost-free date.
  • Planning a small garden? It may be more affordable to purchase transplants.
  • Transplants are stronger and more resistant to weather conditions and pests.
  • Celery, eggplants, leeks, onions, peppers, and tomatoes do well as transplants.

 

Drawbacks

  • Transplants can go through shock when moved from their original container.
  • If you start seeds indoors, you will need to harden off your seedlings before transplanting them into a permanent location. Hardening off your seedlings means moving baby plants outdoors (a few hours each day) then back indoors, over a period of a week, while they adjust to sun and wind.
  • Transplants purchased from other farms or greenhouses may introduce pests, diseases, or weeds into your garden. 
  • Plant varieties at nurseries and big box stores are limited. If you prefer non-GMO, organic, or heirloom varieties, it may be best to start your own transplants from certified seed sources

 

 

When beginning your garden from seed, sowing directly into the garden or starting in trays, be sure to pay attention to the temperature of the soil. The number of days for seed germination is related to the warmth of the soil. Seedling flat heating mats are great for moving sprout times along more quickly and predictably.

 

Here’s a handy chart to help you with timing:

 

If starting from seed isn’t for you, search your local farmers’ market in the Spring and Fall to purchase transplants. These are usually reliable, often heirloom varieties accustomed to growing in your local climate.  You can also learn a few secrets of gardening success when buying from local growers.   

 

Odds are, if you're up for the learning curves and fun of growing your own food, you will end up combining all these ways of starting your garden - buying transplants, starting your own indoors, and starting seeds directly in the garden.  For more detailed information about when to start specific varieties, check out this 2017-Planting-Chart.pdf from High Mowing Seeds

 

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, How To Plan A Garden #3: Preparing for Pests.

 

Guest

Key Strategies to Keep Your Seeds on Track this Year

Key Strategies to Keep Your Seeds on Track this Year

 And they’re off! Spring has sprung and it’s time and past time for seedlings to be in their trays. Questions abound…will they sprout? Did I plant them too early? Too late? Are there enough? Too many? When do I water them? When do I transplant them? Where should I source my seeds?


What to plant?

1. Plant what you like to eat!

2. Plant what will grow in your zone and bear fruit in a season. The zone refers to the area you live and how many months of frost-free growing you have in that area. Zone 3, for example, has three months of growing between the last frost of spring and the first of the fall.  Zone 10 has ten months of frost-free growing). Latitude, proximity to the coasts, aspect in relation to the sun, and elevation above sea level all affect zones. Microclimates affect the success of plants. These shady, cool spots or warm sheltered places within your yard make a difference.

3. Plant what will work within your limiting factors. Consider the amount of light/shade; water availability; wind exposure; soil composition; your time limits). These factors can make the difference between beautiful tomatoes or wilty plants. It is important to be clear about your time, too. We all have the best of intentions in April—and busy lives in July and August when the weeds are thick and the harvest is coming on.

4. Don’t plant everything you want to grow. If you are only going to plant out a few tomatoes or squash plants; it makes more sense to buy from a nursery or farmers’ market vendor.

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Where to source seeds?

Look for more on this topic soon, but suffice it to say for now that we need more seed variety in this country. There are several good seed companies and they all need your support. Look for seed companies local to you. Look for seed companies that produce seed in a zone like yours. Look for open-pollinated and heirloom varieties. Buy organic seed if you can. Borrow from (and replenish) a seed library.           

Consider the possibility of starting to save your own seeds to start next year. With a little prior proper planning on your part, you can begin to breed your own varieties suited to your specific area. And you get to name your creation!

Some of our favorite seed companies: http://www.johnnyseeds.comhttp://www.superseeds.comhttps://www.horizonherbs.comhttp://www.burpee.com


When to plant?

This is a combination of factors. Most important is the length of time to fruition and the length of your season. Most seed packets and catalogs list when to plant and the number of days until germination and fruition. Start some plants indoors well before the average last frost. Start hardier plants outdoors (most of these can also start in trays).  Note: Trays are more subject to chill temperatures. They need the protection of plastic or a building or a heat mat to produce well. Likewise they need regular watering to maintain soil moisture.

To get continuous production in your garden, you can seed plants every several days within the window for each type of plant. For example, if radishes are your thing and you have a six month growing season, you can plant radishes every week. Radishes take about 30 days to harvest. You would have a regular harvest every week, or until it gets to be too warm or until you tire of radishes.

 

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Caring for Seedlings

We plant out several varieties of greens in trays each spring. We fill other trays with mini-rows of brassicas (cabbage/broccoli family). We even put beets and parsnips in trays. The ends of the mature root crops may not look perfect, but their success from a tray vs. direct seeding in the soil makes it worth it.  

The seedlings need light, heat, and closely-regulated moisture. They need a good, nutrient –rich soil for their growth. This soil should be light and fluffy so the roots can spread out and growth healthy plants. A well-grown seedling will have more of its mass in its roots than the stems or leaves. At the same time, the leaves and stem should be strong, a vibrant color and free of blemishes.

Start seedlings close together in rows and transplant them into individual spaces. These can be individual pots or larger spaces in deeper trays. Give them a few days to adjust to the new conditions. Then “harden them off” by leaving the plants outdoors for longer periods of time until they adjust. Now you are ready to transplant them into their garden tower or permanent growing bed.

Now, how to distribute all the extra seedlings grown? And we're off to start the next batches of seedlings!

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