You can’t buy these seedlings in a shop

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Celeriac seedlings, with a bit more growing to do yet
Celeriac seedlings, with a bit more growing to do yet

There’s a lot to be said for growing vegetables from store-bought seedlings. It’s quick and easy, and you can be confident that the seedlings are ready to plant right away. It can also give an earlier start, and therefore earlier harvesting times.

The one big drawback, however, is that you’re limited to what’s available in stores.

Every year, the “classics” will be available in any gardening centre: herbs, onions, cabbages, beans, peas, etc. These will typically be the same varieties from year-to-year.

There will also be some less common stuff, based on the latest trends, or on what’s been showcased on national TV gardening shows.

That still leaves a lot of plants that never appear in garden centres, including the majority of the heirloom varieties.

This is where it pays to grow things from seed, purchased from one of the many seed suppliers. The seedlings above are celeriac, for example, which is a tasty addition to the winter table.

I’ve also grown a bunch of heirloom brassicas, parsnips and french red shallots. Yum!

You can, of course, mix-and-match. Which is what we’ve done — I don’t think that’s “cheating”!

Making paper seed raising punnets

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A pile of paper pots, ready for seeds.
A pile of paper pots, ready for seeds.

When on holiday in Tasmania over Christmas, one of the thing we picked up was a paper pot maker. It’s a lovely little device made of turned wood, and it creates very practical paper pots for seed raising.

I’m doing all my seed raising in these for Autumn/Winter, and so far so good. The paper stays nice and moist, and doesn’t seem in a hurry to break down or fall apart.

One variation from the instructions is to make the paper pots taller than the first batch shown in the photo above. This gives the roots a bit more space, and the pots a bit more volume, reducing the danger that the pots dry out.

Making pots is also a good thing to do while watching TV 🙂

Broccoli seedling, poking its head up from a handmade paper pot.
Broccoli seedling, poking its head up from a handmade paper pot.

Carrots: $1.45 each, compared to $3.50 for a packet 500 seeds

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Our local Woolworths: carrots at $1.45 each!

We saw this sign in our local Woolworths over the weekend: carrots for $1.45 each.

My goodness! A packet of seeds costs about $3.50. At that rate, it would take only 3 supermarket carrots for the seed packet to be ahead.

There’s 500+ seeds in a typical packet of carrot seeds, and the seeds last 2-3 years.

It’s days like this that growing your own food makes perfect sense…

Chinese cabbage gone to seed

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Chinese cabbage, gone to seed

We planted about eight chinese cabbages, grown from seed. Most of them we ate, even if we had to fight it out with the slugs for the meals.

With the warming weather, however, a number of the cabbages bolted straight to seed. No matter, a good opportunity to seed save for next year.

Like broccolini, the plants grow to an immense size, with a profusion of yellow flowers much loved by bees. I let a pair got to seed together, to make sure they pollinated successfully, and the seed pods are already growing.

We’ve got a small jar of broccolini seeds. I suspect we’ll have the same for chinese cabbages. Drop by and we’ll share some when they’re ready…

Silverbeet going to seed

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Silverbeet on a rampage, and going to seed
Silverbeet on a rampage, and going to seed

I’ve just got back from two weeks in Europe (work unfortunately, not pleasure). It’s definitely spring: everything has grown hugely in the last fortnight.

This includes the silverbeet, which seems determined to take over the world! The leaves are huge, and are crying out for some serious harvesting. A number of the plants are also going to seed, so I think they’ll soon be coming out, to make space for the next round of planting. Peas perhaps.

Seed apocalypse

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A number of my gardening books, including the Seed Savers Handbook, recommend keeping your seed collection the fridge, to extend its life.

My hard-learned recommendation: don’t listen to them.

As per our previous post, we planted a pile of seeds in seed-raising mix. Still more went into the ground. None have germinated.

It seems that storage in the fridge has very efficiently sterilised my entire seed collection. I suspect it’s due to the cold spots in the fridge that I’ve only recently started to discover.

So this morning, I placed an emergency order of seeds, to get me the beans, tomatoes and other staples needed for spring. Not a massive cost, but a big blow to my confidence as a gardener.

Still, I guess this gets us just a little bit closer to the experiences of a true farmer: one flood or drought later, and you’re left with nothing, wait until spring next year to start again. At least we’re a lot better off than that, and we can get some seedlings to make up for the time lost waiting for the dead seeds to come up.

Right. Round two.

All broccoli, all the time

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Yup, it's broccoli, not cauliflower
Yup, it's broccoli, not cauliflower

I took a two-pronged approach when planting out in Autumn. I bought punnets of dwarf cauliflower, planting out two rows of seedlings. I then supplemented this with two rows of broccoli, planted from seed. At least, that was the plan.

As you can see from the picture above, this is broccoli, not cauliflower. In fact, everything has turned out to be broccoli. It must’ve been a mis-labelled punnet. Luckily we like broccoli!

Growing from seed

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Seed packets from Diggers Club
Seed packets from Diggers Club

A lot of what we’ve grown has been from seed, rather than seedlings. What has been interesting is that plants from seeds have consistently grown quicker and stronger than seedlings. For example, our sugar snap peas from seeds are gowing incredibly, while the seedlings of snow peas from the local garden store have barely moved (very disappointing).

Dollar-for-dollar, you can’t beat seeds. At $2-4 per packet, that’s the price of a single vegetable from many supermarkets. Packets contain 50-200 seeds, depending on the variety. This may seem a lot (it is!), but it gives plenty to share around with neighbours, or to trade for other seeds.

Most seeds last for 2 years, giving a good chance to get value out of them. I’ve also been lazy: instead of planting in punnets, I’ve sown seeds directly into the ground, with complete success. (No doubt this is due to the warm Sydney climate.)

There are many suppliers of seeds in Australia, mostly organic, including:

Note that a lot of these suppliers concentrate on heirloom seeds, old varieties no longer seen on supermarket shelves. These are great, well adapted to local conditions, and often both tasty and unusual. Seek these out wherever possible!

Where have you been getting your seeds from?