Why Start Seeds Indoors?
In other words, why can’t I just buy seeds, and plant them in the garden?
The simplest reason why to start seeds indoors is because most* of us live in a climate that does not have ideal growing conditions for every kind of vegetable. I’ll use two examples: Tomatoes and Broccoli.
Tomatoes require an extremely long time to grow from seed to harvest. They are a very tender vegetable that won’t grow well in cooler temperatures–in my area there isn’t enough warm weather to grow tomatoes from seed outside. If I did, the fall frost would come and kill my plants before I harvested anything! Instead, I must start tomatoes indoors (or buy them from someone else who has started them early) and transplant after all danger of frost is past.
Broccoli is a hardy, cool-weather vegetable. Where I live we have a relatively short spring, and it warms up quickly. There isn’t enough time for broccoli to grow from seed and reach maturity before the warm temperatures make it bolt and go to seed. I can’t plant it outside any sooner, because the ground is still frozen! So broccoli has to be started indoors (or purchased) and transplanted in the early spring so it can mature before the hot weather sets in.*I would say that this applies to almost all gardeners in the USA and Canada except some parts of California, Texas, and Florida. The lucky gardeners who live there might have a mild enough climate to plant most things directly from seed.
Why don’t I just purchase plants at the store?
While it’s true that some plants must be started in a controlled environment and transplanted when weather conditions are suitable, that doesn’t mean you have to be the one to grow them from seed. You can simply purchase plants from your local nursery, home and garden store, or catalog and save all the hassle.
If you are a beginner gardener, I strongly recommend that you purchase plants! Starting seeds indoors requires equipment, (grow lights, pots, soil, seeds, fan, fertilizer) time, and much devotion to ensure the seedlings are growing well, getting enough light, water and wind. All of this hard work can be lost to disease, accident, or neglect.
When should I grow my own transplants (aka: start seeds indoors)?
I have come up with several scenarios where it is probably worth starting seeds yourself, instead of purchasing transplants:
1. You can’t buy transplants or they are very expensive. It seems like there must be a Wal-Mart in every corner of the universe, but I imagine there are people who don’t have easy access to a nursery or home and garden store. Perhaps the cost of a trip to purchase plants, or the higher prices you pay ordering from a catalog make it worth it to grow your own, instead of buying.
2. You have to grow most vegetables from transplants, making it very expensive. In some areas of the country the growing season is so short that nearly everything has to be put in the ground as plants instead of seeds. While it’s not too expensive to plant most of your garden from seed, and purchase just a few tomatoes and peppers, the price of buying transplants for everything might justify starting from seed on your own.
3. You enjoy starting seeds indoors; it makes you happy. This is the reason I have invested time, energy, and equipment in growing my own transplants. I simply enjoy growing something green while the weather is cold and grey. My itch to garden comes much sooner than the warm weather, and starting seeds indoors lets me scratch it.
Not all vegetables need the extra benefit of being planted as a plant instead of a seed. In fact, some plants do not transplant well and should be started from seed. Here is a guide to help you decide.
Plant from seed
- Bush/Pole beans
Either works, I suggest plant from seed
- Mustard greens
- Summer squash
- Swiss chard
- Winter squash
Either works, I prefer transplants
- Collard greens
Grow or purchase transplants
- Bell peppers
- Hot peppers
- Asparagus–purchase and plant “crowns,” takes 2 years
- Onions–you can also plant sets, which I prefer
- Potatoes–grown from certified seed potatoes
If you’re ready to jump right in, read more about starting seeds indoors. Happy gardening!