Start Seeds Indoors for a Better Selection
Yes, it can be quite a bit of work to start seeds indoors. And yes, you can find an array of plants at your local garden center, ready to pop into a container or into your garden.
But if you want the best selection of plants, from heirloom plants and vegetables to rare and unique varieties, you should at least consider starting from seed.
Not to mention you can save a lot of money in the process. A pack of seeds can contain 100 seeds and cost under $3. But a flat from the nursery with six-12 plants can run between $4 to $8 or more. And single specimen plants will cost even more.
The rush is on
And if you’re going to start seeds indoors, don’t wait! Given the shortages that resulted from last year’s pandemic, some seed companies are already reporting early panic buying.
Triggered by memories of shortages of everything that arose in the early days of the pandemic, gardeners are trying to get ahead of the crowd, and thus creating logjams at online seed companies.
Greta Kryger of Greta’s Organic Seeds in Ottawa, Canada, told the CDC that her clients are ordering earlier than ever.
“Definitely,” she said. “January [was] like March last year. They’re scared they won’t get them if they don’t order early enough.”
According to a report on NPR earlier this month, there isn’t a shortage of seeds. There is a shortage of people available for everything from packing the seeds to handling orders.
“The closest [similar shortages] before COVID hit was during Y2K, and Y2K was this little blip compared to this,” Nikos Kavanya, a purchaser for Fedco Seeds in Maine told NPR. (Y2K was a panic triggered by the fear that computer software couldn’t handle the switch to the year 2000.)
Kavanya reports Fedco hits their daily order limit within 10 minutes every morning. He said the company is taking steps to meet demand, including adding suppliers, customer service representatives and shifts.
“It’s not so much the shortage of seed, but it’s that we don’t have the staffing to ramp up that quickly, especially in COVID.”
But if seeds are so hard to find at the moment, and so much more work than buying a finished flat or plant, why bother?
Well, in addition to the cost savings already mentioned, you also have access to a much wider range of plants, herbs, and vegetables than the local garden center can afford to carry in stock.
Besides, there’s something primal about planting a seed, waiting for it to germinate, and watching it grow from a tiny speck into a healthy, thriving plant.
And if it turns out later that you don’t have a green thumb for growing your own plants from seeds, you can always head to the garden center as a fallback move.
Like any hobby, starting plants from seeds takes time, patience, and a bit of a learning curve before you get the watering and light requirements just right.
You have to have adequate space for the seedling trays, as well as either a south-facing window, a cold frame, a greenhouse, or grow lights. And if you don’t have adequate humidity where you plan to start your seeds, prepare to mist them daily.
Finally, you have to know when to plant your seeds. If you start your seeds too soon, they’ll be ready for transplant before the weather is ready to accommodate them. Start them too late, and you shorten your potential growing season.
For most plants and vegetables, experts recommend starting seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the average last spring frost date. For Gainesville, that date is just two weeks away: March 6. So if you’re going to grow your own, you need to get moving.
Actually, though, it’s better to start a couple weeks late, because if you set out seedlings and a late-season frost hits, you’ll either have to cover everything or bring the plants back indoors.
And this year, with the sudden unusual cold snaps we’ve experienced this month, you’re probably better off waiting an extra couple of weeks.
Be sure to harden off seedlings before putting them out in their permanent locations, whether in the ground or in pots.
This process helps adapt the plants from the sheltered location where they germinated to the harsher conditions they’ll encounter outdoors.
Start with a sheltered spot out of the wind. Set them out on a cloudy day for two hours, them bring them back inside. The next day, repeat the process, allowing them about one hour of direct sun. Bring them back indoors if a heavy rain threatens, because their slender stems could snap.
Gradually increase the time outdoors and exposure to sunlight over the course of a couple weeks, by which time they’ll be ready to plant.
If you’ve never tried to start plants from seeds indoors, give it a shot this year. You’ll be surprised how rewarding the effort can be.
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