Story Courtesy of Craig Goodwin's Year of Plenty blog
Another good example of this is pumpkin plants. I have always worked with the assumption that the best way to grow giant pumpkins is to start the seeds really early. It made intuitive sense to me that the earlier I started the seeds the bigger the pumpkins will get, but it turns out this isn’t true. I spoke with the winner of the giant pumpkin contest at last summer’s Spokane County Fair and asked him about his timing for starting seeds. He explained that he starts the seeds at the beginning of April and plants them in the garden at the beginning of May under plastic. I don’t know the science behind it but in retrospect I understand why this works. I’ve learned that once squash plants start growing they like to keep growing and don’t respond well to having their growth disrupted by transplanting or the shock of moving from the friendly confines of the greenhouse as a large plant to outside in the garden. When I have started squash plants really early and planted them as large plants they tend to sit in the garden for a long time without growing. When the plants are smaller they tend to make that transition more smoothly.
One other consideration when buying plant starts is the issue of sustainability. Bigger plants means that more energy has gone into defying the local climate. In the past I’ve noticed that Home Depot is packed with plants from Texas. Smaller plants grown locally are generally more sustainable. Farmers’ Markets are the best place to buy starts. The big plants are also expensive to buy.
I recommend buying and growing plant starts for:
Summer squash, like zucchini, and cucumbers can be successfully planted as seeds but I have problems with birds that love to nip at the young plants. They leave the bigger ones alone so, if I have time, I plant these as starts. If I don’t get around to starting them early I plant the seeds in the garden but plant twice as many seeds as I need, anticipating that the birds will kill many of them. The one advantage of starting squash plants from seed in the garden is that they don’t like to have their roots disturbed so this method avoids the shock of transplanting them. Take note that it’s beneficial to loosen the roots of most transplants before putting them in the garden, but squash plants are the big exception to the rule. I always plant winter squash as plants because they usually take around 100 days to mature and I like to get a little head start.
Plants that are best planted as seeds in the garden:
I know I’m forgetting some so let me know if you’ve got a question about a plant not mentioned.
Craig Goodwin is a Spokane-based farmers' market manager, local and sustainable food advocate, backyard farmer, wild crafter, blogger, and pastor. He is author of Year of Plenty, a book about his family's experience in 2008 consuming only what was local, used, homegrown, or homemade.