SHOULD I RAISE VEGETABLES FROM SEED?
Conversation overheard recently at a garden centre. First customer:
‘Oh look, they’ve got loads of veg plants here; I’m going to get some lettuces.”
Second customer; ‘What do you want to pay all that money for? There’s only twelve in a pack and they’re £1.99 a pack. You can get a packet of lettuce seeds for the same price and you’ve got hundreds of plants.”
When I got home, this got me thinking. Years ago, when I had a large vegetable garden, I would have agreed with customer number two. Despite all the advice about sowing small amounts of seed regularly throughout the season, the temptation was always to sow a long row of something, just because the seed was comparatively cheap and it was easier to use up a whole packet than save some for a second sowing. Twelve plants for £1.99 would then have seemed a poor return for the money.
The result was invariably a huge glut of the vegetable in question. Other jobs in the garden would crowd in on the time needed to thin out regularly, leaving far too many spindly, cramped specimens that invariably either went to seed or succumbed to some disease of overcrowding.
Eventually I realised there were better ways of having fresh vegetables for just the two of us. I converted half the vegetable plot into a soft fruit garden and the other into a perennial vegetable garden, containing easy care varieties like asparagus, rhubarb and artichokes – far less time consuming and glut-producing. The other crops are now grown in six raised beds each one metre square.
I soon learned that in these beds, crops planted out as young plants grew much better than those raised from seed and thinned. Taking into consideration the seed left over, the fact that to all the beds would be in use at more or less all the time, leaving no space for second sowings, and the relative efforts involved, a pack of plants didn’t seem such a bad buy after all, provided you chose your varieties carefully.
For instance, twelve cut-and-come-again lettuces work out at approximately 16.5p per plant, well under the cost of a shop-bought lettuce. But if you take into account that, properly cared-for, these plants should give leaves to last most of the summer, buying the plants looks even more attractive. The same thing applies to calabrese and cabbage – remove the first, large heads when ready and you will get successive crops of smaller ones.
Alternatively, if you have an allotment or large plot, raise packs of plants yourself and share them. Customer One and Customer Two would both be happy.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian