Why Sow Your Own Seeds
For as long as we have been gardening, we have raised almost everything from seed (hence, the name). It is not solely an economical decision and it surely is not one of convenience. Starting plants from seed is a huge investment in time and planning. I have come to love it for many reasons: it is therapeutic to garden in the deep, cold winter months; I can determine what specific varieties we grow by choosing seeds over starts; and most notably I derive a huge amount of satisfaction knowing we shepherded this life from a small but mighty seed through to a mature plant that nourishes our family.
When you choose seeds over starts, you select the specific varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers you will to grow. You can order the most obscure peppers or tomatoes, invest in unique and colorful kale varieties, and hand select the types of broccoli, for example, whose maturity can be timed just right for your hardiness zone. Many of these beautiful plant varieties are only available as seeds. We tend to grow several varieties of cabbages, for example, whose harvest is spread out over more than a month. Layer on top of that successional sowings throughout spring and the result is a stream of cabbage from early June all the way past first frost. You don't have the same flexibility with plant starts; you are at the mercy of the growers and what varieties they chose to germinate.
Your local garden center will have plants readily available around your last frost date, which is more than sufficient for most growers, but not for our family. We start our brassicas (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) in mid-February and transplant them to our garden 6 weeks before our last frost date under the protective comforts of a small hoop house. We like our starts to be quite strong before transplanting them; for brassicas they get a good 4-6 weeks inside before making the transition. If an early harvest is part of your garden dreams and plans, you will need starts well before they become readily available at your local garden centers or farmers markets.
Seeds are as stunningly beautiful as the plants they become.
For example, our farmers markets don't start until early May in Minnesota, yet we get our first succession of transplants into a protected hoop house by the end of March. That's right, five weeks before you'd be able to purchase starts. That is a tremendous jumpstart, and one that we not only rely on to maximize our short but lovely growing season, but also one that we measure annually by noting the first harvest dates, continually trying to improve year over year. The last two years we have begun to harvest from our garden by early May. If you're adding all this up, in a place like Minnesota where winter is practically half our life, getting food from our garden at the moment when we are waking up from winter is remarkable. We marvel at and give gratitude to this feat with every harvest we collect.
If you are daunted by the notion of growing everything from seed, don't fret it. While I find a deep sense of pride and a satisfaction over selecting our varietals, growing a garden is much bigger than only growing from seed. I would rather see you growing food in your backyard and enjoying the process, regardless of how the plants made their way into the soil. The main "garden vegetables" that people think of from their parents and grandparents garden are either readily available as plant starts at any garden center or do best when started from seed well after all danger of frost has passed.
Next week I will share what to start when, including how we specifically garden plan for successional plantings, highlighting when it's better to just go ahead and buy starts instead of toil over indoor starts, and what crops do best when they are simply plopped into a furrowed strip of soil.