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Should You Start Your Own Seeds?

March 5th, 2014

It’s Wednesday, that means it’s 5×5 Garden Challenge Day.  As I was starting seeds this past weekend, I thought newbie gardeners might wonder if they should start from seed or buy plants from a local greenhouse instead.
I’d have to say that perhaps the best place to get seeds and plants is from a local gardener.  If you happen to know someone that has a beautiful vegetable garden, chat with them.  I’m always giving away seedlings to local friends for their gardens.  You may end up with a great new friendship and a few lovely plants for your garden.  They will also be a great resource for your new gardening efforts.
Frost Kissed Seed Tin from Peaceful Valley 5
If you don’t have a friendly local gardener to get plants from, I’d recommend direct seeding a few things and buying a few plants as well. Some things, like beans, peas, and zucchini are easy to start from seed, so go ahead and buy seed for those.  They are also direct seeded in the garden, so you won’t have to worry about buying seed starting supplies.  The seedlings are also easy to differentiate from weeds, so you don’t really have to worry about accidentally pulling one of your seedlings while weeding!
Tomatoes are easy to start from seed, buy you might not get the timing quite right.  Plus you might want to try a few different varieties in your garden.  It’s much easier to buy a few plants at the greenhouse and purchase the seed and supplies to start your own. I’d recommend finding a small independent greenhouse nearby to see what kind of selection they have. Most likely you’ll be able to find tomatoes, peppers and herbs there.
Another reason to buy plants is because of the number of seeds in the packet. If you only want two tomato plants, you’ll end up with a bunch of unused seeds. They will remain viable for a while if stored in the right conditions, but you’ll have to find a place to keep them. You might also not end up liking the variety you grew or you might want to try a new variety the next year.
Another reason to buy seeds is because you can get a jump on the growing season. Most often greenhouse will have lettuce seedlings very early in the season. You can buy those, plant them in your garden and have lettuce ready to harvest in a few weeks. After you harvest the lettuce you can go back to the greenhouse and purchase tomato seedlings to plant in their place. Learning how to time starting seeds can be a bit trick for a newbie.
Starting from seed isn’t difficult, but there is a greater risk of failure if you have never done it before.  You also need to purchase a few supplies to do it, soil being the most important.  If you are interested in starting your own download my free Seed Starting 101 e-book (see the link in the sidebar).
seed starting 101 cover image
I don’t want to discourage anyone from starting all their plants from seed the first year if they want to.  Jump right in if you want, you can always find plants easily enough if things don’t go quite as planned, and you may end up with fabulous plants and a great gardening experience!
first raised bed in the garden
My first edible garden consisted of two 4×10 raised beds. All of the plants in them that first year were purchased at a local greenhouse. The following year all my seedlings were grown in my basement. Do what you want to do and what you have time to do.

As a newbie, are you planning on buying plants, starting from seed or both? As an experienced gardener, do you have any advice for newbies when it comes to finding plants for their first garden?

17 Comments to “Should You Start Your Own Seeds?”
  1. KimH on March 5, 2014 at 5:12 am

    I never found growing plants to be difficult at all.. I only had problems not growing 500 tomato plants.. haha.. true story. :P

    I stumbled upon Winter Sowing method of starting plants and I love it.. Im still growing a few under lights in the basement but eventually I think I’ll stop that & go 100% with the Winter Sowing.. It works great and Mother Nature is the greatest gardener anyways…

    Reply to KimH's comment

  2. Nebraska Dave on March 5, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Susy, the reason I started using seeds is as you have stated, the timing is tricky. Those prize tomato plants show up way too early in the stores …. and people buy them. (rolling eyes) So the choice becomes wait for the right time and get the dregs of the plants or grow my own. Another reason I like growing from seeds is that my area is done with garden plants by the end of June. When I decided to try planting a fall garden a couple years ago, I went to the local nursery for some plants or seeds. No plants were available and only one spindly rack of seeds. Now I use the extra seeds from the Spring planting to plant in the fall. I haven’t tried winter gardening yet which is not really gardening in my humble opinion but that’s another whole story. This has been my biggest year for starting seeds and even though I don’t have the sun in my basement like some folks do (raising eyebrows with jealousy), they seem to be responding well to the heat mat and florescent sun light bulbs. Unfortunately, I’m running out of seed starting space and hopefully in another month will be able to get some of the plants out in the garden.

    Have a great day planning and starting the seeds for the 5X5.

    Reply to Nebraska Dave's comment

  3. Deb on March 5, 2014 at 9:48 am

    I don’t buy plants from a nursery/greenhouse as I ahve no desire for the chemicals put on them. if you buy them you might as well buy processed foods as you’re getting chemicals anyway. My cousins had a greenhouse/nursery business for amny years until his death from the chemicals sued in the greenhouse. I ahve started my own plants for 10 yrs. now and will NEVER go back to buying for the reason I mentioned. Any folks need to be careful if they want organic plants as those won’t come from your local places. If you have Farmer’s markets nearby perhaps you can get some from there. No chemicals on mine in allt he 10 yrs. it isn’t that terribly expensive as you cna recyclle 3-4″ pots and then never have to transplant from tiny TP rolls or egg cartons. Just keep in the pot till ready to put outdoors. So simple and reuse till they fall part. I use organic starter as I don’t have enough stuff to make my own. My compost comes from a friend of my son’s about 3 miles away. Now that I ahev chickens I cna have my own by next spring. Way too early in Ohio tpo start yet witht he weather e’re having. My greenhouse door is frozen and ground would need a pickaxe to plant anything outdoors. Some of my raised beds ares till missing under the snow. Couldn’t keep the greenhouse warm enough anyway even with a layer of glass windows and a layer of plastic inside that. I figure if I’m lucky end of this month, much later than usual. I agree with nebraska Dave on the good plants being frozen out and killed by those ‘early gardeners’ who know nothing about gardening. Then when it’s time to actually plant them they’re all gone. I grow only heirloom and they’re hard to find much around here. SO, so much cheaper to do your own.

    Reply to Deb's comment

    • sarah on March 5, 2014 at 11:08 am

      You’re making a lot of assumptions. There are numerous organic nurseries in my city.

      Reply to sarah's comment

  4. whit on March 5, 2014 at 10:03 am

    For the same reasons as Nebraska Dave mentioned about not buying plants from the garden center, try sourcing plants from a farmer or small nursery at the farmer’s market. If you can’t find anyone with plants for sale, ask around there. There may be some one who will sell some of their’s grown for the farm. Or if you know a farm from the market, find a way to contact them and ask if they could seed an extra couple for you. Offer them going market rate for plants at least, please.

    Reply to whit's comment

  5. sarah on March 5, 2014 at 11:02 am

    When I started gardening, I tried to grow everything from seed. Now, 5 years in, I don’t bother trying to grow my own tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant for the reasons you listed. I also have more success buying cauliflower and broccoli starts, and herbs (except basil).

    I live in an 800 sf house with a toddler and a cat and no garage. One day I’d like to grow all my plants from seed but I don’t have the space to do it right now.

    Reply to sarah's comment

  6. Reid on March 5, 2014 at 11:50 am

    If you go with plants, buy early. That way, you can ensure that they are cared for properly in their infancy. A root-bound plant is stressed, and a stressed plant equals a stunted plant later. You can ensure hardening them off (gradually getting them used to the elements). I’m our knowledgable host will talk about doing this at a later date.

    Reply to Reid's comment

  7. Sara on March 5, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    A lot of times the varieties I want aren’t available as easily as plants, so I start more and more from seed. I still like to buy plants from the market and local nurseries–sometimes I have a crop failure or just want one or two of something new. I’m actually growing out extras sets and planning on having a plant sale this year–All the types I grow will be things I have experience with and I know will do well in my area.

    One useful thing I’ve found for smaller gardens (in order to use up seeds before they get old) is buying variety packs–basil, lettuce, kale or even cabbage/broccoli. It lets me try out several things at once to see what I like, and sometimes they have different maturity dates so your harvest is spread out over time. Also–seed and plant swaps with friends and neighbors can help spread out the costs and the work.

    Reply to Sara's comment

  8. amy on March 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Ditto what Nebraska Dave said….Also planting from seeds means the possibilities are pretty much infinite….so many different varieties and choices! Gardening seed catalogues = Gardening porn;)

    Reply to amy's comment

  9. daisy on March 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    I prefer seed sowing. Any seeds that are leftover can always be swapped with other gardeners for different varieties that a new gardener may want to try. Besides, those seed catalogues are mighty hard to resist!

    Reply to daisy's comment

    • Kathi cook on March 5, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      Our indoor farmer’s market has a seed exchange in February for this purpose. I love it.

      Reply to Kathi cook's comment

  10. Marby on March 5, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I think it depends a lot on your growing season, climate and the garden space available.

    Some years the seasons are milder than others so my plan is usually to start seeds first and early. I figure there are enough seeds in a packet or stored and do multiple sowings a couple of weeks apart. This works for me and I can be sure to have something ready to be planted out when it will grow well. Some of the harder to germinate or finicky seeds I buy in punnets from the organic range at our local nursery.
    My one piece of advice to anyone starting out on the seed route would be to have the garden beds ready as soon as you can. When those seedlings are ready to go they go fast ;)

    Daisy that is a great idea! I never thought about swapping seeds for variety.

    Reply to Marby's comment

  11. Caroline on March 5, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Last year was year 1: I started some basil, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers from seed, and purchased some tomatoes and peppers.

    Some of my seed starting worked out, others not. Mostly due to poor planting location. Live and learn!

    I love starting from seed because the plants feel more like MY plants. Plus I’ll have the seeds for the next year (I store them in a ziplock bag in a closet in my basement), plus I can sell some of the seedlings in my annual garage sale.

    PLUS the variety of seeds FAR outnumbers the variety of plants to purchase at the garden centers!

    Reply to Caroline's comment

  12. Kathi cook on March 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    I start some of my own tomatoes because they are harder to find some of the varieties I like. I also start my own basil because it is so easy and cost efficient esp for the more unsusual varieties and if I have extra people love getting basil and tomato plants. I have not had good luck with starting my own peppers, so I buy plants. Most everything else I direct sow.

    Reply to Kathi cook's comment

  13. Sara on March 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

    I’m with the rest who say I like the selection of varieties when I start my own seeds, plus it saves money. Tips for new gardeners buying plants: talk to your farmers market vendors on what varieties they like (or see what they have to sell later in the year) they know what does well in your climate.

    Also, I use a lot of mix variety packs, which means I don’t have five packs of seeds to use up–things like lettuce, kale, basil, even broccoli and cabbage–some even have differently maturing varieties included which spreads out your harvest. It lets me try out new types without committing to an entire seed packet that might take me years to use up. Also–seed/plant swap with friends and neighbors!

    Reply to Sara's comment

  14. Teaching Seeds on March 7, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    I love having many varieties growing in the garden, so I start a lot of seeds myself. By using open pollinated seeds I can save the seeds from year to year. Planting seed flats is fun to do with friends. Have your friends bring their empty, soil filled flats over You can each provide a few varieties and over coffee (or wine), plant your seeds.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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