Reap What You Sow: Beginning Your Crop from Seeds
Unless you plan to clone your garden or buy young plants, you’re going to be growing your plants from seeds. Here are some reasons why starting from seeds is a good idea, and how to get started.
Seed terminology has become a metaphor for any number of life’s messages. From planting the seed of an idea, to reaping what you sow, the reason seeds are used as an example is quite natural. You plant a seed, nurture it and, if conditions are favorable, it germinates and grows to eventually reach fruition.
If you love gardening and all that growing entails, watching the miracle of growth unfold from seeds planted by your own hand is very satisfying. One of the many benefits of growing from seed is the increased diversity of plants available. Beginning your crop from seeds means more choices than what is available at the garden center.
For example, if you’re growing flowers, your local nursery may only offer a few color choices, as it isn’t feasible for them to carry every genus of every plant and their colors and variations. Buying seeds affords you a multitude of options that aren’t available otherwise. Additionally, when starting from seeds, you eliminate the risk of bringing home any diseases and micro-organisms that live plants can harbor.
Choosing Your Seeds
No matter which company you buy seeds from, the germination rate is set by natural law and if the company has a good reputation, there will be little if any difference in the quality of the plants that sprout and grow. Seed companies often offer consumers some options when it comes to buying seeds.
Many can be purchased in different packet sizes, ranging from a handful of seeds to hundreds. Most seeds have a shelf life of 1-3 years, depending on the variety, so try to buy only what you think you’ll use in that time period.
Seed prices can vary, depending on the type of crops you plan to grow. Specialty hybrids can be pricey, as can organic or heirloom seeds. Rare or exotic seeds can be expensive to buy when compared to more common varieties.
As with many things for sale, though, you can often find that same item for less if you do a bit of research and comparative shopping. Gardening doesn’t have to be expensive; you can grow any number of plants, flowers, vegetables, herbs and more with a smallish monetary investment. If you truly love gardening, whatever you pay to get started is repaid to you a thousand fold in ways money can’t touch.
With few exceptions, seeds should be planted individually. Some people like to throw a handful of seeds into a container, water them and let Mother Nature take her course. While this may work for some plants such as wildflowers, onions, mint and leeks, planting two or more seeds in the same container can be problematic once they sprout and it comes time to transplant them, as untangling a wad of roots can damage fragile root systems and cause you to lose a few plants in the process. More than one seed per container is acceptable if you’re not sure if every seed will germinate.
To house your germinating seeds, I like to use small, plastic flats that contain a dozen separate containers. Place the flats somewhere warm. A windowsill is not a good place to put these flats, as the temperature variance is too hard on germinating seeds—the sun can get quite hot through the glass, and the nights can swing in the other direction quite a bit. Some seeds also require darkness to germinate.
Follow the directions on the packet pertaining to water and lighting requirements and plant according to the directions. A few fluorescent bulbs will provide sufficient and inexpensive lighting for young seedlings.
The Best Grow Medium for Seedlings
What grow medium works best? The short answer is whatever type works best for you. There are many kinds to choose from. Some potting mixes contain soil and some do not. Regardless of your choice, keep in mind that all soil used for planting seeds should be sterilized. Sterilized soil is readily available at any garden center or plant nursery. Here are three common grow medium options:
- Peat pellets are flat little discs of compressed and dried peat that are packed with all the nutrients your seeds require to germinate and get off to a good start.
- Commercial seed-starting mixes generally consist of vermiculite and a compost combo that is porous so tiny roots can spread easily.
- Soil cubes, made of tightly compacted soil, can be made at home with the help of a tool available at your local garden supply store.
Reap Your Reward
If you’ve never planted a seed and watched it grow, you have been missing out on one of the true wonders of life. Seeing a flower you have planted from seed start to bloom is a thing of beauty on many levels. While I believe everyone should have a garden of some kind, ultimately, it’s your call. I can only plant the seed.