This year, I happen to be growing all of my vegetables from seed, which is a throwback to when I started vegetable gardening. In the interim, there have been years where I grew entirely from plants purchased at a nursery. During most years though, my vegetable garden has consisted of plants started from a combination of seeds and plants.
Why the constant change? Whether to grow vegetables from seeds or plants depends on an ever-changing context of gardening goals, gardener abilities, and personal responsibilities and lifestyle.
Seeds are more fun
I asked my friend Erik what he thinks about growing vegetables from seeds versus plants, and he said he prefers seeds. Why?
“Seeds are more fun.”
I agree, in the sense that it’s a marvel to watch a seed germinate and unfurl its cotyledons. It wakes and emerges from the soil like a hatching bird. It stretches toward the sky. It’s alive! It really feels miraculous, every time.
Plants are easier
“But plants are so easy,” Erik continued. “Like my broccoli this year. I bought plants in trays, put them in, done. They grew so fast and well.”
In fact, growing vegetables from seeds might not be fun at all if you’re just learning to garden. You might have a lot of failure. That wasn’t so fun for me when I started.
I remember sowing my first seeds. They were peas. What do I do, just bury them in the ground? Don’t they need water? How? Most of that first pea crop failed.
Seeds offer variety
As you get more seasons under your belt, however, you may have grown every variety of a certain vegetable that your local nursery carries. I feel this way with tomatoes right now. Nurseries carry many varieties of tomato plants (usually starting in March), but look at the seed rack and you’ll find five times more. Moreover, look at the catalogs or websites of seed companies and you’ll be overwhelmed with the possibilities.
This year, I’m only growing five tomato varieties, and three of these are unavailable as plants from my local nurseries.
Plants offer convenience
What if my tomato sowings fail? I can always fall back on buying plants of whatever varieties are available at the nurseries.
I love the convenience of growing vegetables from plants. Whenever you’re ready to plant, the nursery will most likely have plants ready to buy.
So here’s a good middle ground. You try some vegetables from seed, and if it doesn’t work out you go buy plants.
Seeds are cheaper, but . . .
You do pay for the convenience of those ready-to-plant seedlings at the nursery. What does a pepper plant cost? You might find a six-pack of small ones for $4 or $5, or you can buy a bigger single plant for $4 or $5.
On the other hand, what do pepper seeds cost? Even for fancy F1 hybrid seeds, you can get 10 seeds for about four bucks. This year, I’m growing a poblano-type pepper called Bastan, and the packet of 10 seeds cost $3.70.
Always, seeds are cheaper, but don’t forget to count the time and effort of getting those seeds up to the size of the plants you’d buy. You must count all the costs. How much time and effort are required to grow from seed? That depends somewhat on how experienced a gardener you are, in addition to what other responsibilities you have going in life.
Some always from seed, others always from plants (almost)
I try to be efficient with the time and effort that I spend vegetable gardening, and so I tend to grow some plants mostly from seed but others mostly from plants because doing so saves time or effort in some way.
Some vegetables I almost always grow from seed because the seeds are big and sowing success comes easily: corn, beans, peas. Some vegetables I grow from seed because transplanting plants is tedious: carrots and beets. Some vegetables I always grow from seed because it’s so much cheaper: lettuce and greens.
Other vegetables I often grow from plants because they grow slowly from seed: peppers and eggplant. Other vegetables I often grow from plants because the seeds must be started in the heat of late summer when watering can be a real chore: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi. Other vegetables I usually grow from plants because I don’t grow many and a packet of seeds would be wasteful: squash and melons.
All from seed this year
Yet, as I mentioned above, I’ve been going 100% seed this year. Oddly, the biggest reason is that I have chickens which make excellent compost that I can use to start seeds in. There’s nothing to buy but the seeds. It’s so easy.
My tomatoes are already up and growing in trays. Unfortunately, the other day I caught a towhee pecking at the seedlings; the bird damaged a handful.
So in the end, I won’t be surprised to still find myself buying some tomato plants at the nursery on April Fool’s Day. Seeds or plants, however you get started, what ultimately counts is that you get something to harvest.
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