The season of confusion is upon us – how much seed, and from what catalog, do I order? Every year, the catalogs come earlier, which coincides with the Easter candy already on the shelves.
For new gardeners, it can be confusing as to which plants to buy from transplants and which to plant from seeds. Let’s break it down a bit, starting with flowers.
Most perennials are difficult to start from seed, which is one reason they are priced the way they are. There are many annual flowers that easily grow from seeds, either started in pots or directly in the garden such as cosmos, sunflowers, zinnia, sage and marigolds.
Small microscopic seeds like snapdragons are very difficult to germinate, and then to separate for repotting – like planting dust! Petunia and impatiens have a long greenhouse period of 12-16 weeks under the best greenhouse conditions. Lots of time for things to go wrong under home conditions. Check online for the varieties you are not familiar with before checking the box on the order form.
Now vegetables. Buying transplants that bear more fruit is usually a good buy. A decent tomato plant during the season should yield 20-35 regular-sized fruits or a hundred cherry tomatoes. Many years ago, I started noticing kohlrabi and turnips, which were sold as transplants. You have to make fun; a solid rift!
A single kohlrabi transplant cost 99 cents. A kohlrabi plant is equal to a kohlrabi, that’s it. You can buy them ready to eat for cheaper than that.
Crops in which we eat the roots, such as carrots, beets and turnips or modified stem vegetables such as kohlrabi, are always best and definitely cheaper based on seeds – and should be planted directly in the garden. Let’s apply the same mathematical principles of kohlrabi to buy a single tomato plant that produces about 25 tomatoes.
If you assume about $ 2 per. big tomato, if you buy it you would pay $ 50.00 for one tomato plant – who would do that now?
Transplants like spinach and lettuce can be an okay purchase, but they are also easy to start from seed. Green beans, peas and sweet corn should also be planted directly with seeds in the garden. Unless you are planning on getting a stand and easy setup, just plan on buying transplants for your tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs. Melons and squash can be started by transplanting or directly sown in the garden.
For people who want to grow products that can be stored in late fall, you can include root crops like turnips, beets, rutabaga, potatoes, garlic, some watermelons, winter pumpkins and carrots.
Do not wash your products before storage, just brush off any loose soil.
So back to the question of what seeds to buy for a new gardener – you old ones already know what to do. Small steps. My advice to a new vegetable gardener is to buy transplants instead of trying to start them the first time.
The most popular transplants would be tomatoes, peppers and herbs – perhaps eggplant. Buy or order seeds / sets that are best started directly in the ground: squash, pumpkin, potatoes, root vegetables.
Sweet corn is best left to the professionals with plenty of room. Root crops started from seed are likely to need to be thinned out as they are difficult to plant individually. The reluctant gardener often hates to ‘thin’ the plants as it means pulling some out and throwing them aside. If carrots, turnips, beets, rutabagas are not diluted to a plant every few inches, they will not produce as expected. Instead of a golf ball size or larger, you will want balls.
Attempts to replant the extra seedlings are usually a failure. When thinning beets or carrots seedlings, wash and toss in a salad, perfect addition and no waste.
Another book recommendation, my friends: “The Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.”
Why is it more useful than just going to Google? This 1,200-plus page treasure trove of topics answers questions you never knew you could ask!
Every vegetable and all its special needs are catered for. Soil composition, fertilizer information, composting, etc., etc. I paid around $ 35 back in the mid 80’s for my beloved copy, and they sell just this used book for under $ 10 on the internet. A steal.
The first edition was published in the 50s. The revised edition in the 70s. So all of you who believe that organic gardening has just been invented or discovered… Robert Rodale (who is considered the father of organic gardening) wrote about it 70 years ago.
Winter dates for the Mankato Farmer’s Market, held at Drummer’s Garden Center, are: January 8th and 22nd, February 5th and 19th. All dates are at 10.00 – noon.