Seeds vs Plants: A Buying Guide for Vegetable Growers

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Vibrant, marbled pineapple tomatoes; adorable easter egg radishes without a single crack, rainbow chard leaves without spot: looking at pictures of vegetables in seed catalogs can be inspiring but also disappointing because you know none of your vegetables house will never look like this. The kaleidoscope of these images is, however, an effective tactic: it makes you buy more seeds than you need. It also requires you to buy vegetable seeds which you are probably better off buying as seedlings.

Although I’ve been gardening for nearly two decades now, I’m still not immune to these temptations. But following a clear set of criteria – what to grow from seed and what to buy as seedlings, and how much – has helped me become a much more realistic buyer for my vegetable patch.

And that brings me directly to my first guiding criterion: am I realistic?

The reality check

All your plant, whether grown from seed or from a nursery, needs to be watered, fertilized, possibly pruned, weeded, inspected for pests and diseases, and treated, harvested, and processed quickly. New gardeners often get overwhelmed and give up because they didn’t expect it to be so much work. Think in small steps and be reasonable in your expectations. It is essential that before buying any seeds or seedlings, you make a plan of your garden plot, raised beds or containers to know how much space you have and what you can actually do there. put. Unless you have a large family style garden and can devote most of your free time to it all summer, expect your home garden vegetables to only supplement what you buy and that you cannot live off the land.

The hunt for heirlooms

Seed companies will offer tons of more vegetable varieties than you might find already growing in a nursery. There are over 10,000 different tomato varieties available in seed form, while a well-stocked nursery can contain at best two dozen varieties. If you have your mind set on more unusual varieties (including heirlooms) that you cannot find as plants, starting from seed is the way to go. Keep in mind that root vegetables such as beets and parsnips do not transplant well and should be sown directly in the garden, as do beans, peas and leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach.

find the light

The need for sufficient light for seed starting cannot be overstated. I’ve found that the often recommended sunny window for your seedlings won’t be enough – they soon start leaning towards the light and the seedlings get lighter with every inch they are moved away from the light source. Unless you are the proud owner of a greenhouse, you will need full spectrum grow lights that simulate sunlight. A new trick I tried last year was to use the LED lights in my hydrogarden after I removed the water bowls and grow bridges and the seedlings were the strongest I have ever grown.

Prepare for a commitment

Ask yourself if you can invest the time and effort to start from seed. This means watering daily, usually twice a day. Letting the seeds dry out even the slightest bit during germination is an absolute no-no, and keeping them consistently moist is key.

You should also monitor the temperature. For example, tomato seeds germinate best between 65°F and 85°F; anything lower or higher will delay germination – or the seeds won’t germinate at all.

Consider the timing

When starting seeds indoors to get a head start on the growing season, timing with the onset of warm weather is crucial. Start your seeds too early and your plants will reach the size they need to be transplanted when it is still too cold for tender seedlings to survive outdoors. Leaving them indoors longer is not an option as the seedlings tend to get weak and spindly – they need natural light to grow strong.

. . . and the overall cost

Seed packets are often touted as cheaper than buying plants, but once you add up all the costs of a proper seed starting setup, plus your time and effort, it can be more economical. to simply buy plants. It’s also the safest way, because you don’t have to deal with the uncertainties of seed starting.

Seed packets usually contain a lot more than you can fit in your garden, but you don’t have to use all the seeds in a year; some seeds are good for at least another year. I love Fairy Tale eggplants, which are hard to find at local nurseries; that’s why I start them from seed and share the packet with a friend. It keeps costs down, and that way I can order fresh seeds every year.

The quantity factor

The number of plants of a particular vegetable and variety you want is also a factor. For tomatoes, I like a bunch of different varieties – mainly the famous San Marzano tomatoes for sauce and canning, as well as beef steak, red and yellow cherry tomatoes for eating fresh. Buying a packet of seeds of each strain just to get a few plants doesn’t make much sense. The same goes for bell peppers and hot peppers.

For herbs, it depends. If you just need a few basil leaves for caprese or a batch of pesto, buy a plant or two. But if you’re like me, you can never have enough basil for pesto, freezing, and drying, so growing basil from seed is the best option. The same goes for parsley. To make, say, tabbouleh, one plant doesn’t get you very far.

Another consideration is that you can only continue harvesting certain annual herbs until they begin to bloom. To ensure a constant supply of cilantro and dill, you will need consecutive generations of plants, so it is best to grow them from seed. By the time you need a new cilantro plant, all nurseries will likely be exhausted.

Rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano and many other herbs are perennials, and one plant is usually enough to cover your needs. In this case, buying a plant makes more sense than starting from a seed. Also, herbs are slow and difficult to germinate – parsley takes 14-30 days.

Whatever you decide, don’t delay shopping. Due to the increased interest in gardening, the demand for seeds and plants has exploded over the past couple of years.