While direct seeding is probably the most common way of starting a garden, there are some major advantages to starting your seedlings in a tray and then transplanting them once they have gotten to the right stage.
- Very little seed is wasted.
- Thinning can be done while comfortably sitting at a bench or table.
- By starting Spring crops before the last killing frost, harvest comes several weeks earlier.
- Beat the bugs. Insect pests arrive when plenty of food is normally available to them. By planting earlier than normal, you can harvest while pest pressure is still low.
- Aesthetics – There is just something very rewarding about looking out over your garden and seeing full, straight, evenly spaced rows. It is generally easier with transplants than with direct seeding.
Let’s look at the process, step by step:
A few more notes:
- My standard spacing for most crops is 12″ between plants, and 24″ between rows. Larger plants, such as tomatoes and eggplant, are spaced wider.
- The seed trays I use are available from Hoss Tools, which is where I get most of my garden tools. These are the 162 cell trays with the Heavy Duty Bottom Trays. They are not cheap, but they are incredibly rugged, and will probably last long enough to be passed down to your grandchildren if given reasonable care. The Bottom Trays may seem like just an added expense, but they are very helpful and well worth it. If you’re just getting started, you might want to start off with another cheaper type of tray; eventually, though, I have no doubt that you’ll end up getting some of these Hoss Tool trays.
- Once the seeds have sprouted and sent down their roots, you can water from the bottom up. This is where the Heavy Duty Bottom Trays come in handy. Make sure that you water from the top until all the seeds have sprouted and put down roots before you start bottom watering.
- Be sure to read up on what you will be planting. Not all plants will tolerate transplanting very well, so they work better if direct seeded. Some examples of plants that generally do NOT do well with transplanting are beans, corn, and okra. I have done reasonably well transplanting even those plants that are not recommended for it, but as a general rule, follow the planting guidelines unless you just want to experiment (which I highly recommend!).
- I try to always plant a few “spares” between the rows, or somewhere else in the garden. These are used to replace the ones that don’t survive the transplanting – I like neat, full rows.
- I mentioned earlier to make sure that the soil is damp before adding it to the trays. If it is too dry, surface tension will not allow the water to penetrate the dry soil, and your seedlings will shrivel and die for lack of water – even though you are “watering” them regularly (see photo below). You want the soil to be just damp enough that you can squeeze it into a ball and have it stay in that shape. You might be able to squeeze a drop or two of water out of it, but you don’t want it much wetter than that.
Just a reminder – links on this site are NOT “affiliate” links, nor is there any type of financial incentive or compensation for anything mentioned here. If it’s mentioned, it’s because I use it myself. If I don’t like something, I’ll make that clear also. I do this because I enjoy writing these posts, and I receive no monetary benefit of any sort for what I write.