Generally, most gardeners buy their vegetables as seed packets or as young transplants or container plants. People often purchase plants and seeds in the spring from a variety of places, including markets, home stores, and nurseries. Racks of veggies sprout up everywhere in the springtime! You'll notice different brands and companies and quite frankly, not huge differences in price.
Whether you choose to grow plants from seed or buy started plants may depend on cost, the kind of selection you want, when you want to begin, and the type of plant. Read on for the basics of how these beginnings vary.
Seed packets are particularly popular because they help save money and provide a broader, more interesting selection. Upon purchase, or certainly upon opening a new seed packet, you quickly notice an awful lot of little seeds in there! The reasons are many: The company wants to make you feel as though you're getting something substantial for your money, and when you sow, some won't sprout or will be thinned out later.
Furthermore, you get enough for successive sowings or to save for next year (note that little seeds, like lettuce seeds, tend to dry out if stored for a year, whereas big seeds like beans can keep for several years). Keep seeds in a dry, cool (non-freezing) place until you're ready to sow them.
Certain seeds can, and should, be started indoors, well before the garden outside is awake yet — so read the labels to see whether indoor starting or direct-sowing (sowing outside, when the soil and weather is warm enough) is recommended for the area where you live. (See "Sowing and planting your vegetables" for more information.)
You can purchase transplants, container plants, or seedlings locally — at a garden center, home store, farmer's market, spring fair, or from roadside entrepreneurs — or from mail-order companies. Someone else has done the seed-starting work for you; all you have to do is choose, take 'em home, and care for them. If you can't get the plants into the ground right away, set them in a sheltered spot out of the hot sun and the wind and water them often (small pots dry out alarmingly fast, and young plants can't tolerate neglect).
Transplants are the way to go if you can't or don't want to bother with seed-starting, or if you wait till the last minute to decide what you're growing this year. They're worth the upcharge for the convenience.
Just as with seed-shopping, you can shop for different varieties (buy three different kinds of tomatoes, for example). Again, though, the selection may not be too exciting comparatively.
Ones to buy pre-started include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Certain vegetables simply don't transplant well from a wee pot to the garden. Direct-sow plants like corn, carrots, and potatoes.
Of course, you can also create your own transplants from your own seeds. I explain how under "Starting your own seeds indoors," later in this chapter.
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