Grow Your Own

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Garden center transplant; look how few roots have made it to the outside of the root ball.

While I’m not exactly a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, I am an independent soul. There are plenty of things I know how to do but choose to pay for because of time constraints. Sewing, for example – I can make a tee shirt, but I can also spend two or three bucks, get a used one at the Salvation Army store and save myself several hours of work. It makes much better sense to buy my jeans, for similar reasons, although I’m so hard on them that I buy new, top-quality jeans (on sale, of course) and wear them until they fall apart. When it comes to transplants, however, I really think the labor and time of growing my own are well worth it. The advantages to transplants are many:
You choose the varieties. Garden centers are finally getting on the heirloom wagon, which is great. What’s not so great is that in a lot of cases, their offerings are limited. If, as I do, you garden in a zone different than that of the local garden center, their transplants may not be as suitable for your zone. Garden centers only offer what sells well; your favorite but little-known variety probably won’t make it on their list.
You manage the timing. Unless you happen to be lucky enough to catch the transplants at the garden center in just the right stage of growth, the odds are high they will be overdeveloped by the time you get them in the ground. They don’t take transplanting as well and may fruit prematurely or quit blossoming for a while.

Good parsley germination; lots of extras so I can pick the best ones.

You spend less money. It’s a no-brainer – about one or two cents per seed or a couple of dollars and up for a transplant. Even if you only have a 30% germination rate, you still save a bundle.
You can practice succession planting. Garden centers are like clothing stores. They offer what’s in season at the moment, then quickly clear off the racks to get ready for the next season. It’s highly unlikely that you can go down to the garden center six weeks after they first start to offer tomatoes and pick up some transplants to put in another later crop. If you can find anything at all, the plants are likely to be post-mature and suffering from various diseases or nutrient deficiencies.

Tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings.

You can grow them correctly. While I am not trying to put down the efforts of the folks who work in garden centers, they are often inadequately trained or have conflicting duties that get in the way of caring for potted seedlings. You can give your transplants your full attention and you’ll gain expertise with every batch you grow.
So that’s why I grow my own.

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5 Responses to Grow Your Own

  1. Karen says:

    I’ve always wondered.. You seem to do fine using metal cans as containers. How do you manage to get your starts out of the cans you plant them in with their root-ball still intact? I’m afraid if I don’t use plastic containers, I’d mutilate my babies come transplanting time. Also, what do you use for your soil mix? I’m on a crusade to find a cheaper alternative.

    • Bee says:

      Karen, there are several secrets to using cans. First, I water the seedlings the night before I transplant so they are moist but not sloppy wet. I dig a planting hole slightly bigger than the root ball, fill it with water and let it sit until the water is absorbed. Next I tap sharply around the side of the can four or five times with a trowel. The tapping makes the moist soil “rebound” from the edge and compress slightly. I put one hand over the top of the can with the seedling between two fingers, turn the cap upside down and give it a couple of sharp raps on the bottom with a trowel. The seedling slides right out; I place it in the planting hole, push it slightly against one side of the hole to make good contact and tamp dirt into the small space on the other side. Then I water again. As for potting mix, I have clay soil. I mix it about half and half with garden potting soil or compost. It depends on what I have handy, and if it’s potting soil, I buy the cheapest stuff there is, without any kind of “special” amendments. I may also mix it in thirds, with the final third being old, screened chicken litter. Don’t use fresh litter, as it may burn the seedlings. If the seedlings need a nutritional boost a week or two later, I use manure tea.

  2. Denny144 says:

    Along the lines of saving money by growing your own is that I can grow only as many plants as I need. I have a tiny garden and plant only one, maybe two, of each kind of veggies. At the garden center, l have to buy a pack of six jalapeños or cucumbers, for example, and I only have room for one. And it isn’t as easy as you’d think it would be to find homes for the leftovers, at least not for me.

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