If you are new to growing your own food, or gardening completely, you might feel more comfortable buying in seedlings from a local plant nursery. Growing from seed might seem a little daunting.
That’s fine – it is how I started growing food … the odd punnet of onion seedlings here, the odd punnet of cabbages there.
Even seasoned kitchen gardeners admit to using a local plant nursery as backup if a sudden frost, or pack of rabbits, has denuded their crop. I still pop down occasionally to see what they’ve got and sometimes come home with something I need to shoe-horn in, somewhere.
But growing direct from seed is actually very easy, and it will open to you an entirely new world of variety that your local nursery won’t be able to offer you. Heirloom seed companies particularly (I talk about them in a later article) can offer you a huge variety of vegetables and fruits. If you thought rockmelons only looked like the ones you see in the supermarket, then think again. They can come with horns, too.
When you buy in seed, each individual seed packet will give you a wealth of information about when to plant and how. Some vegetable seeds can be sown direct into the garden, others need a little more careful nurturing before they can be planted out as healthy seedlings.
You can start seedlings indoors on a warm windowsill six weeks or so before you want to plant them out (or in a greenhouse, if you are lucky enough to have one). They can be planted in seed trays or into individual containers or jiffy pots. I do both, and I often pot them on into small pots to give them a few more weeks growing before they go out into the garden. I do this with plants like melons and pumpkins, cucumbers and chilies – frost tender plants that I really want to be healthy and glowing and bursting with life (and maybe six inches tall) before they dare the garden proper.
Most nurseries will sell seed raising mix. This is fine to use, but I usually make up my own from compost with added vermiculite (a natural mineral) or perlite (derived from volcanic glass), both of which add to the water retaining properties of the mix, and also aerate the mix, which is important.
I do not fertilize seedlings. You can fertilize seedlings once they are established within the garden and are growing on strongly.
If you are sowing direct into rows, then you may need to thin out the seedlings once they are a couple of inches tall. Be hard-hearted, you will need to do this to ensure the ones which remain grow to their full potential. Besides, you can munch on the seedlings as you pull them out! Salad on the run!