If you’re interested in vegetable gardening and growing your own food, all of the advice out there is going to tell you to start your seedlings indoors. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to do that. In fact, I’m going to tell you that it’s better if you don’t.
Back when I was first learning how to garden, I would dutifully do what I was told and start my seedlings indoors in February. This was the beginning of what I considered to be an insane amount of work with no pay-off. Once Spring came I would carry all the seedlings outside, then back inside for a long hardening off process, just to finally plant them and have most of them die off immediately.
One year I didn’t get my seeds started and decided to direct sow them outside once we were past the frost date. I was worried that direct-sowing wouldn’t work so I also bought some baby plants from Lowes. One garden box had eggplant seeds and the other garden box had small greenhouse grown baby eggplants. I ended up having the perfect opportunity for an experiment.
Even though the greenhouse eggplants were probably started two months earlier, they only produced fruit two weeks earlier than the direct-sown eggplants. But then two weeks later my eggplants caught up and then quickly out-produced the greenhouse plants. Not only were my seedlings more productive, but they were healthier and more pest-resistant too.
In theory, if you start seeds two months early, you should have vegetables two months earlier, but that’s never the case. There’s a natural rhythm of things, and my experience is that plants will barely grow before the Spring solstice. There just isn’t enough light, and even if you’re using grow lights, you will only produce weak lazy plants that wont produce as well as plants that were grown the way that they are intended to be grown in nature.
Since my experiment, I have only direct-sown seeds. The biggest benefit is that I do a lot less work than other gardeners. The biggest con is that it’s very hard to find information on how to grow seeds this way. One of the things I’ve found is that there are a lot of plants that want there seeds to be sown in the Fall and then allowed to overwinter. Onions are a good example of this. If you try direct-sowing and it doesn’t work, that may be the issue for the plant you are trying to grow.
Some plants may simply not be suited for growing in your area and that may be the issue. In those situations, I use a cold frame to start seedlings outdoors in their intended garden bed, or I simply don’t grow them at all and focus on the other plants that do grow well in my area.
I understand that for some people, they enjoy gardening so much that they love starting seeds indoors in order to have something to do in late winter. If that’s the case, don’t listen to me! Keep doing what works for you! But if you’re like me and you’re looking for a more natural gardening method that’s also a lot less work, consider direct-sowing all of your plants this year.