If you're a regular visitor to your local garden supply store, it's a good bet you buy at least a few and possibly more seedlings for your garden spaces. After all, seedlings are relatively inexpensive if you just want one or two specimens of a particular variety. They're a no-fuss option, too. Dig a hole, plop a plant inside and you're done, right? Well, that might not be a completely accurate guide to seedling cultivation, but you get the idea. It can be fast and easy.
Why Grow Herbs and Other Plants from Seed
Starting plants from seed takes time. It also takes extra effort, especially if you're starting seeds indoors. There are advantages to making seed cultivation one of your late winter or early spring projects though:
Variety - The plants on offer from your local nursery or garden supply franchise were probably chosen for your specific climate and other growing conditions, which is convenient. The problem is that there may only be one or two different options for say, sage or thyme or basil. These three herbs and many others are available in dozens of varieties. Some are strictly ornamental while others are culinary. Some have medicinal applications while others can help provide solutions to pesky landscaping problems. When you grow plants from seed, you have access to lots of variety -- and maybe just the variety you need to enable a plant to thrive in your garden.
Value - Depending on the plants and seeds involved, you can often obtain a packet of multiple seeds (from 6 to 50 or more) for what it costs to purchase one seedling. Yes, you will have to provide light, soil, moisture and some type of container (maybe), but you'll net multiple plants from your investment.
Say your seeds produce five strong seedlings you can test in different locations around your herb patch, perennial border or veggie garden. That's a nice return on your investment, and creates a good learning opportunity for next year about what does well and what doesn't do so well. Multiple plants also make it easier to add companion planting to your garden design, which can aid in natural pest control.
Insurance - A new season in the garden brings new challenges. If you put plants out over the course of a week to 10 days and have trouble with unexpected pests or weather conditions, like an early cutworm infestation (the blighters) or a late frost, you'll still have the stock and time to recover and plant a healthy garden. Having those extra plants in reserve can be a nice insurance policy.
Heck, creation is powerful, and when you see new green shoots bestir themselves up out of the soil and into the light, shoots you remember as seeds languishing in a paper envelope (and lately too), you'll be hooked. Here's another inducement: Once you grow herbs and other plants from seed, your annual seed harvest in late summer and fall becomes an event better than finding a spectacular bargain at a garage sale. It is nature's two-for-one sale, or 100-for-one sale, or 1,000-for-one sale. (Yikes, I'm getting flustered just thinking about it.) If that sounds too good to miss, you're right. It's amazing.
There's more: Every time you cultivate a crop and harvest the seeds, nature has helped you choose seed varieties with special attributes adapted to the conditions in your garden. Every new seed is unique, and growing your own helps to produce subsequent generations that will like the environmental conditions you have to offer.
Here's another fun factoid you'll appreciate. Back during WWII, victory gardens were all the rage. By some estimates, 40 percent of the produce grown for U.S. tables during those years came from victory gardens. Gardens sprouted in tree lawns, backyards and along the sides of roadways. Many of those plants (that helped feed a nation), were grown from seed on windowsills, in cold frames and in makeshift greenhouses.
Since 2007 (and the beginning of the global financial crisis), backyard produce gardens are on the rise. Folks want to save money, but I also think that news reports about food supply contamination and the potential problems with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) engender a desire in just plain folks to exert more oversight and control over the foods we eat. Starting plants from trustworthy seed sources, like heirloom varieties, is a good way to start doing just that.
Start an herb garden from seed this year -- and a vegetable garden, too. Backyard gardening for food and flavor can be hugely productive. The Burpee Garden Seed Company conducted a survey in 2008 that concluded the average gardener could realize up to a 1 to 25 cost savings by growing his (or her) own produce, including the cost of supplies. Even if that figure is somewhat exaggerated (and I'm not saying it is), it still bears serious thought. The more you plant, the more you're likely to harvest (given you observe good garden and plant management practices).
There's information here at The Herb Gardener to help get you started. I also plan a series of posts for seed happy folks like me as well as newbies. If there's enough interest, maybe we'll all start a seed exchange for next year, who knows.
If you haven't ordered your free seed and plant catalogs online, here's a link to my annual list. You can also find it in the sidebar: List of Free Seed Catalogs 2013
Get ready. Spring is on the way with its promise of a new beginning in the garden -- and isn't that terrific!
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