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 for my own organic 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.
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.
We often buy the next biggest quantity size up from what we need for immediate use. This will also save you money because of quantity discounts, and might save you shipping costs in future seasons.
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.
Foe the last few years we have used a soil blocker for seed starting. This saves on buying plastic cell inserts (economically and environmentally friendly) and in my opinion, they grow a better transplant. My 2" soil blocker works fine with my seed starting mix. You can find one at Johnny's Seeds.
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.
Here's how you develop a schedule for your vegetable garden plans:
When you are planning when to start your garden, you need to consider your last spring frost date (LFD) for spring and summer crops, and first fall frost date (FFD) for fall crops (if you live in an area subject to frost).
You also need to know that not all plants are started at once. Many plants have an optimal age or size of transplant that works best, so you have to plan your schedule to get the plants into the garden at the right times for maximum survivability and to extend the harvest.
Here's an example for growing broccoli:
Lets assume your last frost date is May 17, like here at the farm. Broccoli is a cold-tolerant plant; it can be transplanted out into your garden several weeks before last spring frost. And the optimum age of a broccoli transplant is about 5 weeks.
So, you would start your first broccoli seeds indoors around mid-March; that is, May 17 minus 4 weeks to plant out minus 5 weeks to grow a good-sized broccoli transplant = March 15 seed starting date.
This is the kind of planning we do for our market garden, and the kind of information you need to include in your home vegetable garden plan.
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