These “Midnight Lightning” zucchini seedlings had germinated in my garden by June 1 from seeds planted 10 days earlier. With reliable watering, fertile soil and minimal care they should begin producing abundant summer squash by the end of July. A tomato plant, like the “Old German” variety at the end of this post, requires far more time and attention to get established in an Ontario garden in time to produce fruit by late summer.
Growing plants from seeds can be a fulfilling and educational experience. However, it takes certain skill and patience to grow and transplant them correctly. For the purposes of small vegetable gardeners, purchasing seedlings from a grower or nursery may sometimes be more worthwhile.
Last year I grew practically all my vegetables and herbs from seeds, with mixed results. I realized the cost of a package of heirloom tomato seeds is the same as the cost of a single plant ($3 Cdn). We must also count all the resources that go into starting seeds indoors: pots, starter mix, water and time. If I want to grow several different varieties of tomato, it makes more sense to buy plants from a local grower who raises many in the right facilities and with expert experience to harden them off properly. Hardening off is the process of adapting seedlings from indoor conditions to the harsh outdoor environment. It can be taxing on young plants if handled carelessly.
This year I purchased tomato, pepper, melon, onion and some herb seedlings from farmers’ market. I planted seeds of zucchini and buttercup squash because they germinate easily in the garden and have time to mature within the season.
In deciding whether to buy seeds or plants, consider your goals as a gardener. Philosophy, politics, economics and environmental issues come into play.
Are you doing this as a hobby? Is it a learning experience? Are children involved in the process?
Is is less of a hobby than a practical measure to save money on groceries or reduce your carbon footprint? How self-sustaining do you want to be? Do you have a local grower whom you trust to follow environmental standards you support? Are you well organized to raise seedlings according to biodynamic principles, or is someone else better equipped?
Do you want individual plants of various varieties or would it be more economical to grow a large crop of a particular vegetable from seed? Can you concentrate on growing one species or variety and then trade plants or harvest with other gardeners in your community? Can you save your own seeds year to year?
Do you have facilities such as a greenhouse to help with the process? Do you need to travel during the spring when seedlings will need careful daily attention? If so, can you call upon a plant sitter friend who is responsible and has a green thumb?
It is easier to consider these questions now, in the midst of spring planting and as we observe young plants respond to their growing conditions. Think. Build your convictions now. Come next winter there will be few temptations greater than a colourful seed catalogue. Then you must remember what matters, purchasing only what you need based on a sound strategy that fits your values as a gardener.