To start seeds or to buy starts?

For me, this has been a question I’ve asked myself for the past few years, and I just changed my answer this year! I decided to dive in and grow my own, and here is why.

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Some crops (like tomatoes and peppers) really need to start inside and be transplanted outside when the weather warms enough, but the decision whether to start your own or buy them can be a difficult one for a beginner gardener (or at least I thought so!). To me, the answer is easier if you have a really tiny garden, or a really massive garden, but when you are somewhere in between, as I am, the decision can be a little more difficult. With a small garden where you just grow two or three tomato plants, buying a couple quality starts is likely more worthwhile than buying a whole pack of seeds when you only want a couple, and investing in grow lights (but if you want to, go for it!). On the flip side, it makes the most sense to start your own seeds, I think, if your garden is really large. So, if you are currently in the middle somewhere with me, I thought I’d let you in on the math that I did to make my decision. I have about 180 square feet of garden, and in the past three years that I’ve had this garden I’ve usually purchased starts for my tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, alyssum and broccoli; so I thought I’d break down my math for you based on those plants only. Everything else that I grow I just seed outside anyways, so we’ll ignore that part for this math. So how much would it cost me, each year, to buy the starts for my garden, versus starting my own seeds?

Buying starts:

Let’s say I buy all my veggie starts for $2.50, and a pack of 6 flowers for $4.00, since that’s about the ballpark of what I spend on them. Based on last year my cost would be as follows:
12 tomatoes  $30
4 peppers       $10
4 broccoli       $10
12 alyssum     $8
12 marigolds  $8

                       $66

You could, of course, also spend more if you’re buying larger starts, etc.

What if I buy the seeds and equipment needed to start my own? It gets a little more complicated if you are also buying multiple varieties of tomatoes and pepper (which I did). So here is the cost for the seeds I actually purchased this year. And as a note, these are certified organic, non-GMO seeds (the tomatoes and peppers at least), so are also on the higher end of cost.

Indigo Rose Tomato  $2.75
Roma VF Tomato       $2.75
Gilbertie Tomato       $2.75
Brandywine Tomato  $2.75
Marigold                     $1.69
Calendula                   $1.69
Alyssum x2                 $3.38
Broccoli                      $3.20
Jalapeno                     $2.75
Red Bell Pepper        $2.75

                                   $26.46

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Supposing I only bought one variety of tomato, and one colour of alyssum, I could of course reduce that down as well, by as much as almost $10. However, there are some other expenses; I also bought seed starting trays, and a seed starting soil blend. Also, to get a good tomato or pepper start, they do like a lot of light, so  I invested in a grow light this year, and the stand that came with it. Some people also swear by using heating mats, because optimal germination temperature for tomatoes and peppers is pretty warm (75-85 F approximately). I didn’t go for that this year, so I’m not including that in my math. Adding all my accessories to my budget I get:

Hydrofarm JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System   $80
Seed starting trays (48-cell insert plus outer tray) x2           $10
Black gold seedling mix (16 qt)                                                $10.99

                                                                                                    $100.99

All-inclusive, this year’s new endeavour then comes to $127.45, versus my $66 for buying all my seed starts. While it sounds cheaper to buy the starts, I’ll now reuse my grow light and trays every year. I also have seeds leftover, that if I store in a cool, dry place will still be good for next year. In fact the alyssum is from last year and I still have more seeds left over, and they are germinating just fine. You can also save money in other places, like by making your own seed starting mix, or sharing the cost of seeds with a friend who also has a small garden. You can also save your extra seeds for the next year. The price of how much electricity the grow light will use (especially if you have a few) also could factor into the math, but I’m not really sure I can make a good guess at that.

As an additional note on the grow light, I am really happy with it so far. If you want to buy a light on it’s own, and build your own stand, you could go that route, but if you are looking for one that comes with a stand, this setup is really nice. The height of the light is also adjustable so you can raise it as the plants grow, and the stand is very easy to assemble. They also make a 2-ft version if you are looking for something smaller.

All-in-all I’m happy with my decision, despite a bit more upfront cost. I also just enjoy the fact that I can watch the seedlings grow, make sure that they are properly hardened off before planting outside, and move to larger pots when I need to. I also like that I can have more control over the varieties that I plant (I’ve never seen Gilbertie before for instance). So, if you have a little extra time and money, I think it’s well worth it. But hop to it soon, spring has sprung!

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Do you buy your starts or grow your own? Any new and exciting plans for this year?

 

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Happy Spring!

Spring is here! Spring is here!! Spring is here!!!

I’ve always said that summer was my favourite season, but this spring with the anticipation of planting my garden, getting back into canning pretty much every week, and starting up on this season’s field work, I am tempted to say I have a new favourite season. The daffodils are all coming up, the trees are starting to flower and smell amazing, and now and then we actually get some sunshine. I apologize to those of you out east – but here, dare I say I think it’s spring.

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I thought the first day of spring would make a great day for my first gardening post. A tour of the little plots of land that I have, what I plan to do with them this year, and that sort of thing. So here it is, my front yard. If you don’t know me, we live in a duplex where we only have a front yard, but it’s at the very end of a cul-de-sac so we have full sun all the time which makes it a great area to garden. So here is the grand tour! In my yard I have a few raised beds, and the front of the house area. The beds are 4ftx8ft, 4ftx4ft and 2 that are 3ftx8ft. Then that little box is 2×2 and I plan to do potatoes in that. The front of the house bed is abut 12ftx3.5ft. Then I have a triangle ish area by the side of the house (pictured next) that is probably 40-45 square feet. So all in all I have about 180 square feet, if my math is okay. Not too bad for such a small little yard and only in the front! 🙂

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The side yard is a weird shape and not ideal , but I make do. The landlord built a fence around it so it’s more shady than I’d like, but I will do my best to put more shade tolerant plants over here. Excuse the weeds, planting time isn’t quite here yet…

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So what have I done so far to get ready for another great year? I’m so glad you asked! I’ve started planning everything I want to plant this year and have done a few early seed starts. I pulled out all my leftover seeds from last year, and bought a bunch more, here they are!

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It’s still early so I’m trying not to be over excited, but I did start some things that I know can handle a bit of cold. So far I started a bunch of lettuce, beets, spinach, kale, peas, herbs and some flowers – alyssum and marigolds. In the past I haven’t done a lot of seed starts, but it’s a nice way to get things going. My beets did quite poorly last year so I’m hoping this will help. So here are the babies only about 5 days after I started them. I can’t start many more, my window sill is full!

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The peas are starting to poke out their little heads. I don’t normally start peas, just direct seed them, but it’s still quite cold at night at the garden is kinda soggy so I thought why not!

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Beets! So adorable!

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Another thing that can go in this early is potatoes. I got my “seed potatoes” ready to go. I have that in quotations simply because these are potatoes I found in the back of my cupboard and thought, “sweet, I forgot these were there, what perfect timing, I will plant them.” Don’t let the garden centre fool you, seed potatoes are just potatoes. ha! Anyways they are cut and being planted this week.

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And last but not least, for things already started and growing – brace yourself for some rhubarb recipes, look how big it already is!

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Awesome, spring is here and I’m ready to plant! So let’s take a quick look back at last year’s garden. Spoiler alert – this jungle is what my front yard will look like in a few months. This shot is from mid August last year. You really can produce an amazing amount in such a small area and even with fairly shallow beds (mine were only 6-8 inches, but more discussion on this later!)

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So what’s on my list for this year?
Tomatoes – millions of them. OK that may be slight hyperbole, but I can’t get enough of them. They are probably the most versatile thing when it comes to canning, and though you have to wait all season for them, they are a great bang for your buck in terms of how expensive they are at a farmer’s market, and how many of them you use if you can them for salsas and sauces.
Zucchini – although maybe less than last year.
Lettuce, kale and spinach – gotta get those greens!
Potatoes – I am trying the potato box again. It was moderately successful last year so here’s take 2! Basically as they grow larger you add another layer and build it up to get more taters.
Beets – I love ’em!
Carrots – maybe, they were delicious last year, but take a long time
Peppers and onions – probably cutting this year as they take a lot of space and effort for the price of them at the market or farm stand
Beans – It’s my nickname from my sister and who doesn’t love beans! Also my very first canning project
Pickling cucumbers – Check out that sweet trellis I built for growing them vertically.
Lots and lots of spices

OK – I’m sure I forgot something, but such is life! There will be more posts 🙂
Do you have a small garden space that you are trying to utilize efficiently? What are you planting this year?