Many gardeners start planting their beds in early to mid spring, after the threat of frost has passed. Most commonly, small seedling flower and vegetable plants are purchased from a local nursery, or from a large garden center that has the seedlings shipped in from corporate nurseries. But could starting your own seedlings be better?
- Saves Money – a packet of seeds can be purchased for about the same price as a single seedling
- Better for the Earth – home grown seedlings have a much smaller carbon footprint than nursery grown
- Gardening fun starts sooner in the year – for those who enjoy tending plants, you can start 6-8 weeks sooner
- Learning opportunity – for families with children, growing plants from seeds can be a wonderful home science lesson
- Better quality plants – each has received your loving care, rather than being one of a million in a large nursery
- Better variety – there are many more types of seeds available than seedling plants
- Can be messy and time consuming to get all set up
- Must remember to care for every day (watering, turning to sunlight, etc)
- Each seedling has different special requirements, so a mix of plants can be very complicated to tend
- If transplanted too early, seedlings are not successful
I have always loved gardening. My favorite thing about my favorite season (Spring!) is waking up the garden beds that have been resting all winter. There is a certain joy I find in digging through the cool, moist soil, pulling the winter weeds, chatting with earthworms, and preparing for spring planting. I love the feeling of satisfaction I have after spending a day working and seeing the bare, moist beds all ready for seedling.
For most of my life I have always focused my attention on the front of the house, and planted beds full of gorgeous blooms. Last year, after moving into a house with huge backyard beds, I decided to do a vegetable garden for the first time. We went over to the large home improvement center by our house and picked up a number of seedlings that looked good to us: some herbs, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, a couple different melons. I planted them all in a prepared bed, watered all spring, and by the end of the summer we had a decent harvest. I couldn’t wait for the next summer to try it again!
In January this year, as I was doing some shopping at Target, we wandered over to the outdoors section they were setting up for springtime. My son stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the large display of seed packets for all sorts of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. He started asking about them, and I decided right there that we would plant our own seeds. What a great opportunity to teach him about seeds and plants! We chose some veggie seeds and also picked up a seed starting tray that had everything we needed to get them going.
After carefully mapping out which seeds were going into which cells, we (the three year old and I) got to work preparing the soil pods, and planting the seeds. While it was a great learning opportunity for him, I found much patience is required when involving a toddler in a indoor task involving dirt and water. But we got it done, cleaned up the massive mess, and set the planter in a warm sunny place.
The sprouts came up quickly and within a few days the plastic humidity dome had to be removed. This posed another little problem: I had 72 little pods of dirt open in the middle of my dining room. 1- and 3-year-olds found this to be an incredibly tempting play and explore opportunity. As the dining room was the only place in my house that has enough sunlight for seedlings, I had to quickly improvise. I quarantined the tray of sprouts on a transplanted end table, with a cardboard privacy screen duct-taped around it.
After a few weeks of growing, some sprouts were already quite tall with multiple leaves. Others were starting to lay down: growing still, but not growing UP like happy little sprouts. I was feeling a little worried. As some of the more robust seedlings started getting super big, I decided it was time to transplant. (Here in Los Angeles we can start planting any time after March 1st). I mapped out the garden on paper, and started transplanting.
While planting I found that the biggest, strongest seedlings with thick root balls transferred the easiest (obviously). The smaller seedlings, that were really still just sprouts did not transplant well at all (in retrospect, obviously). There was nothing to hold the soil pods apart and they just fell to pieces. Also the seedlings that the toddler grabbed by the stem and ripped out of the pods before handing to me didn’t fare so well either. I looked at the seedling tray with some plants still in it and debated taking them back to the dining room for a few more weeks. But really, it was all just too much to think about. I don’t need any more babies than I already have, even if they are just vegetable babies. We sowed leftover seeds directly into the ground to replace the lost seedlings, and went off to the home improvement store for some tomato seedlings.
Overall, I found that while a great idea, seedlings should be left to the professionals, for me, in this stage of life. I think growing seedlings from seeds would have worked much better for me if 1) I didn’t have small children underfoot, 2) I was patient enough to wait until the seedlings were actually ready to plant, and 3) I took the time to understand the individual needs of each seed type (apparently broccoli wants to be sown directly in the ground). I will definitely try this again next year, but do my homework ahead of time to ensure success.
Have you ever done your own seedlings? What worked best for you? Please share your tips and tricks below!