By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART’s In the Dirt Newsletter Editor
Start your own seeds
I’m always surprised when a long-time gardener tells me he doesn’t start his own seeds, but buys transplants instead. We do so many less interesting and less rewarding tasks in the garden, so it’s hard to believe he thinks seed starting is tedious. Is it fear of failure, or is it corralling all the supplies and setting up that’s the challenge? Gathering the lights, trays, planting mediums, etc., can be confusing at first, but once you do, you are set for years.
Starting your own seeds means you decide what you plant, and when you plant it, and determine what will grow best in your particular garden microclimate. Buying vegetable and flower transplants leaves you at the mercy of merchants, who want tough plants that can take the rigors of shipping, and not necessarily the most flavorful or beautiful varieties. It also means you control the inputs, including pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals.
Starting seeds yourself means personalizing your gardening experience from start to finish, reaping the rewards and owning the failures. It’s bragging rights. And it is a kind of exploration. The average person will never climb K2, or discover a new plant in China, but seed starting is an expedition into a world that’s mysterious, yet explainable, where things will go right and things will go wrong, and you won’t always know why. And that’s what will keep you coming back. That, and tasting the fantastic Brandywine tomatoes you grew yourself.
Buy organic seeds and plants
And if you already start your own seeds, why not make sure the ones you buy are organic? If you endeavor to choose organic at the supermarket or farmers market, then organic seeds are a logical next step. Buying organic seed offers the satisfaction of knowing the plants you grow are organic from start to finish. Organically grown seeds aren’t coated with fungicide as some conventionally grown seed is. And the farmers growing this seed for sale are improving their land by managing it organically. That’s healthier for the farm workers and for you. Plus, by demanding organic seed, you’ll ensure demand, which encourages suppliers to offer more.
If you use peat moss, make the switch.
If you are buying potting soil or seed-starting medium that contains peat moss, or using bales of it as a soil amendment, don’t. Peat moss comes from wetlands (bogs) where decaying plants, including sphagnum moss, accumulate in deep layers over thousands of years, storing immense amounts of carbon. To mine peat, the bog is drained of water, living plants are destroyed, and the peat is removed to a depth up to 6 feet. This releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Peat moss, while natural, is not a renewable resource because, at an accumulation rate of a quarter-inch a year, “renewable” takes thousands of years.
And when you take into consideration how difficult peat moss is to rewet once it dries out, and that it is devoid of nutrients, you wonder why any gardener would use it. Alternatives such as coir, a byproduct of the coconut industry, are good for seed starting and for potting soil. Compost and composted leaves are better for the soil in your garden, and much cheaper.
Buy from local garden centers.
Buying local isn’t just for farmers markets. All over the country, locally-owned garden centers—the mom and pop places that have been serving their communities for decades—struggle because they can’t offer the rock-bottom prices on plants and supplies that the big box stores can.
What they can and do offer is more plant variety, better quality plants, and, of course, years of knowledge about how to grow those plants in your area; knowledge that no youngster in an orange apron has.
Sure, buy a flat of “bargain” petunias occasionally while you’re stocking up on light bulbs or getting a gallon of paint, but when it comes to the plants that matter, the perennials, trees, shrubs you’ll have for years, go with your local experts.
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