Most people probably start their gardens by running down to the local nursery or home improvement store. They load up a cart or two with flowers, vegetables and herbs. Just like that, they’re able to run home and start planting their garden, yards and flower boxes.
I do have to say, typing that out right there makes it sound pretty nice! There’s a lot to gain by starting your garden from seed, though. Maybe you never knew there was another way? Maybe you’ve always wanted to try? Read on!
Growing A Garden From Seed Is A Matter Of Pride
But, when you raise your garden from seed, you “connect” with your garden in a way that you really can’t otherwise. You get to enjoy all of your plants earlier than the traditional growing season, you get to watch them “grow up” and become mature plants.
For us, it’s the sense of pride. When we are laying out a garden that’s over 1,800 square feet and we know we grew most of it from seed, there’s an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It’s a point of pride. We are the reason that each one of those plants exists. Sometimes, we can point to a specific plant and remember its history. Like if one barely looked like it was going to make it, but it pulled through, and we get a proud sense of “plant daddy” and “plant mommy” for it.
The Economic Benefit Of Growing A Garden From Seed
The main reason we grow our garden from seed is the economic benefit.
Obviously not everyone is planting an 1,800 square foot garden. For some, it may be actually cheaper to buy from a nursery. But for us, to buy all the plants we need, would cost over a thousand dollars every year. For us, it makes more economic sense to put money into trays, domes, inserts, grow lights, electricity and seeds.
Our “real” cost to grow from seed every year is electricity and seeds, perhaps water if you’re measuring to the gallon. It would be ignorant to think that we have no “start-up” costs, we absolutely do. There are dozens of things factored into this, but most of it is not terribly expensive and will last many seasons. Perhaps the only exception to that are grow lights, which are higher dollar items.
Seed Costs: A pack of seeds generally only costs somewhere between a dollar and a few dollars, depending on variety and source. This will often give you the ability to raise hundreds of those plants. Most seed packs will last us several seasons, so over time, each plant only costs pennies in seed costs. In all, we usually spend around $30 to $50 a year in seeds, perhaps a bit more some years.
Operational Costs: As for electrical costs, with our new DIY COB LED setup, costs about $100 for the entire season, assuming 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s from March to May and will allow us to raise nearly 600 plants. Our older 6-bulb T5 CFL lighting setup, assuming we operated both lights, would cost about $200 for the growing season. (Now you see why we switched to LED!) We also use some water and fertilizer, let’s just say that’s an additional $10.
Equipment Costs: To be fair, let’s consider the start-up costs. We have a LOT of money locked up into our new LED lighting. Let’s say $750, but this is expected to last for at least 10 years. For everything else, we try to practice “buy once, cry once” wherever we can by buying high quality equipment. It’s more expensive up front, but we get exactly what is needed and it’s expected to last for a long time. Let’s say everything else (trays, domes, snips, spray bottles, inserts, etc) cost about $600 on the very high-end. Again, these are expected to last around 10 years. Per year, that’s about $135 in equipment costs.
Total Costs: To summarize, our operational costs per year are about $110. Our equipment cost per year is another $135. Add in the seed costs of about $50. Our total per-year costs equals out to be $295 per year.
Making Back What You Put Into The Garden:
Recouping On The Costs: If we paid an average of $7 per 6-pack at the nursery, our costs on 1,000 plants alone would be almost $1,200! That’s not even the half of it, though. Some plants are “per each” like tomatoes, those could be as much as $7 per plant. We’re growing 36 tomato plants this year. That one crop alone, at $252 nursery bought, pays for our entire grown from seed garden!
We put a lot of focus into the preservation of our food. We use all the tricks to make our garden last longer. Freezing, drying, canning, refrigerating, pickling, fermenting- whatever it takes. We try to maximize the value we get out of our garden.
It’s hard to put a number on how much we save by having a garden. Figuring out the retail cost of everything is just something we’re not interested in doing. But, there’s a few metrics we can use to get a very conservative estimate:
- 50+ ready to eat meals ($5/each)
- Canned mixed veggies with beef/chicken
- 50+ prepared foods ($5/each)
- Sauces (Hot, garlic, etc)
- Dried veggies
- Canned veggies
- 70+ servings of frozen vegetables ($3/each)
- 10+ herbs & mixes of herbs ($5/each)
That’s over $750 we get out of our garden, just counting preserved foods. When we count the dozens of salads and other fresh foods we can supplement our meals, we probably get to about $1000. It’s interesting to note that this is less than what we’d estimate having to buy garden starts from the nursery.
You could put a fairly accurate estimation for yourself and your garden. We’re probably on the high-end of start up costs, most people aren’t interested in top of the line LED lighting. If you took our numbers and the number of plants you’ll need/want with some average costs, you can fairly easily figure out if it makes sense for you economically.
You Can Grow What You Can’t Buy At The Nursery
Every nursery has to make choices about what they will carry. Those choices are entirely about what will sell. If it won’t sell by the truck load, it’s probably not worth it to them to grow it. There might be some exceptions to this, but it’s largely true.
When you grow from seed, the world of choices are at your finger tips. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of varieties that you can try out. Many, if not most of these varieties, you might never see in a commercial nursery.
You will be surprised if you go looking at seeds the varieties that are available. Things you’ve never heard of, certainly. There be others you want to grow just because of how cool it looks. You may find traits that are specifically important to you, like for us finding a storage tomato variety that is both early fruiting AND designed to ripen off the vine.
If you want a purple cabbage, have a purple cabbage. If you want insanely hot peppers that will make a Habanero taste like a pickled jalapeno, those are out there too. The varieties of potatoes are almost innumerable! Did you know you can grow a peanut? Almost every plant out there has an incredible diversity to be explored.
You Will Learn More About Gardening If You Grow From Seeds
Understanding the entire plant’s life cycle is very valuable knowledge. It will make you a better gardener. For example, if you notice that a plant early on requires more nutrients, you’re going to know that variety needs some special care later in life.
If all you ever learn about gardening is that you put a plant in the ground and it grows, you’re missing out on a lot. You’ll be just fine in life, that’s for sure. I will say this. Growing from seed can be HARD! You will kill plants, period. But when you learn how to successfully grow that plant from seed, you will be the better gardener for it.
You’ll learn how to read plants. Did the nursery or home store take care of their plants? Is that a nutrient deficiency or because they forgot to water them on a hot day? What does a well-grown vs. not well-grown plant look like? (Because you’ll see both!) Are there plants that you just shouldn’t try to grow from seed? (Looking at you dastardly cauliflower!)
You will also probably start to get interested in learning how to save seeds. Every plant has a reproductive cycle that you can use to your benefit. When you learn how to harvest and save your seeds, you can perpetually grow a plant for your benefit. This may also benefit your neighbors, friends and fellow gardeners too.
It’s Not As Hard As You Think To Grow From Seeds
Remember, plants all around us grow from seed without any human intervention at all. Simply have a seed make its way to the ground, add water and voilà, full-grown plant. It doesn’t take any human interaction whatsoever. Against all odds, too, with wind, torrential down pours and other weather events working against the little seedling.
What’s most challenging is growing “everything” from seed. Most seeds have a “preference” of the climate they like to grow in. It’s nearly impossible to meet those needs exactly when you’re growing a lot of diverse plants. Some will not survive, and that’s just something you have to get used to. But for the most part, you can create a happy medium based on what “most” plants like.
You will make mistakes. Even if you’re an experienced, professional grower. The point is trying to do what you can and make the most of what you get.
You may end up having to buy some nursery grown starts. That should be OK and part of your total budget. Do yourself a favor and take notes so you can learn each year.
But, But, But…
It takes space! Oh, we know, we make sacrifices to grow our garden from seed. We don’t have space for it, but we make space. It would be in the center of the living room if it had to be. We can grow 600 garden starts in 16 square feet. That’s two small 2×4 foot tables. Out of that, we produce enough to plant 1,800 square feet, plus gain hundreds of pounds in food.
It’s expensive to get started in! Yes and no. There are ways to cut costs, many ways. You don’t have to buy the top of the line LED lighting we did, a $30 shop light will also do. You could buy $2 growing trays instead of $10 heavy-duty trays. We buy most of our stuff online, in bulk, so that our “per each” cost is as low as it can be. You could do what we’re doing this year for a few hundred dollars. Then, the next year’s gardens are super cheap.
It takes time, I don’t have time! OK, so you got us there. But here’s what you’re talking about from a time investment. For 8-12 weekends, you may have to fill an insert with dirt. You’ll spend 30 minutes some of those weekends transplanting or “potting up” each plant. Then, once or twice a day, you need to mist your plants with water. That’s it. You’ll probably also spend hours admiring your handy work, but that’s not on us!
My cat, my dog…they love to eat the vegetables! So, if your lovely pets are prone to eat anything green, it might be good to take some precaution. Get a baby gate or five. Put them on a table and discourage their access by putting things everywhere. Use humidity domes as long as you can. Or, discourage them in whatever way you know best. This could be a legit excuse, but you could probably figure it out.
My husband/wife won’t allow me to do it! I don’t want to go into interpersonal relationships here, but this could be an understandable road block. This is a hobby, though, and one that will only last 2-3 months a year. You might be able to offer a compromise or do a “trial run” for a year to see if it works. It works for both of us, but we’re also both gardeners.
We hope you decided to garden from seed!