How to Start Seeds on a Small Farm Scale

Learning how to start seeds efficiently is important for the new small farmer or market gardener. I'm in the middle of seed starting right now (February 2010) for my own organic market garden, so I thought I would offer a few tips about that topic for the new market grower. This is the straight poop (composted of course) about what works for us here on the farm.

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Let's start out right at the beginning, i.e. ordering your seeds . . .

How to Start Seeds Tip #1: Buy your seed early, and buy more than you think you need. Seed is relatively cheap; it will make up a small fraction of your total expenses in the garden.

Seed houses often run out of popular varieties, and you may be out of luck if you try to order more seed late in the season. And, most seeds keep for several years; what you don't plant can be kept for next year.

How to Start Seeds Tip #2: Buy the right equipment. DO NOT try to use odd containers, and assorted 'found items' to start your seeds.

I understand the impulse to try to economize and the desire to make use of recycled pots etc for seed starting. But, using the right equipment will make your seed starting more efficient and effective, and will save you time and money in the long run.

This is your business, and efficiency counts. Buy actual trays and dome covers intended for seed starting, and the appropriate 'inserts' to start various seeds. The trays are of a uniform size, and make planning and management much easier.

Buy these items in case lots whenever possible, because you will save 50% or more over the retail price. And with care, the trays and inserts are re-usable for several years. See the point about asking for a discount below as well.

How to Start Seeds Tip #3: Use a sterile seed starting mix. Buy Promix or similar sterile medium intended for starting seeds. Do not use 'homemade' mixes, at least for the first couple years when you are getting started.

The sterile seed starting mixes will get your plants off to a good start, with no problems of stray weeds and diseases that may be lurking in your own soil.

Try to buy the seed starting mix in bulk quantity as well. I often get a discount just by negotiating a price for 5 or 10 bales at a time.

In fact my supplier gives me a flat 10% discount on everything I buy from him, because I explained that I would give him all my business. This saves me hundreds of dollars each year, over and above the wholesale price I get by buying in quantity.

See also: How to Plan a Garden


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