Query for the Hivemind

Sharon March 12th, 2010

Hi folks – I was wondering, do you start all your own seeds or buy at least some transplants?  Where do you get them? 

I’m asking because starting seeds is one of those things I do really well – I love doing it and it comes easily, and it occurred to me that I might add to my plans to sell bedding plants at farmers markets a CST (Community Supported Transplants ;-) …or something), in which people could hire me to do custom seed starting (from a list of funky varieties probably not available at their local nursery), and/or pre-reserve varieties that I would start for them.    I’m thinking of offering groupings as well like “Herb garden in a box” or “Custom pizza topping garden.”  I could offer fall gardening transplants as well, since I know a lot of serious gardeners have a hard time getting that late crop in.

What do you think?  I know many of you probably do your own, but would it work in your area?  I’m going to have to accumulate customers in Albany/Schenectady, I suspect, but that’s ok.

Sharon

48 Responses to “Query for the Hivemind”

  1. Abby says:

    I’m not in your area, but I would totally do this. I buy transplants and direct-seed – I don’t have the energy or space to do my own starts.

  2. Not having a real good set up in our house to start seeds indoors without using grow lights, heat mats, etc., I generally get most of our veggie garden as starts. Or direct sow outside, which is tricky in MN with our short growing season. (I’m also 1) still working on figuring out how early it is possible to start stuff here, and 2) usually crazy busy with other work at about that time. It’s a challenge.)

    That said, were I any where near you, I’d be interested in getting starts from someone I know is using organic and resource sensitive methods to start their plants, and I’d be *delighted* to have access to funky heirloom varieties. The themed collections are a great idea, too.

    I’m kind of sad I live half the country away from you. And now it’s not just because you have goats. ;)

  3. This is the reason I started doing my own seedlings this year – I wanted heirloom / OP tomatoes like Arkansas Traveler, Carbon, and Royal Hillbilly not otherwise available. If I hadn’t had the equipment, I would have gone to the Farmer’s Market to see if they had anything that my local place (Horn Seeds) didn’t carry.

    I think it sounds great!

  4. e4 says:

    Heck yeah I’d buy started seedlings if I lived nearby. For some reason seed starting is something I never want to do. It’s so easy, and I’m so eager to do gardening. But for some reason that I’ve never been able to explain, I don’t enjoy starting seeds indoors.

    Depending on whether I procrastinated too much, I do sometimes buy heirloom seedlings from the plant sale at a local historical site. They always try to grow a historically accurate garden, so along with that comes some very cool heirloom veggie seedlings.

  5. Adrienne says:

    That sounds great. I know I can get organically grown transplants at my farmer’s market, but this will be the first year I’m actually planning to buy some, so I haven’t looked closely at the amount of variety. If there’s nifty heirloom stuff I’ll be interested.

  6. Julie says:

    We have very little choice here. If it isn’t in Canadian Tire (doesn’t that sound like the logical place to buy tomato plants?) or Walmart you are not getting it…so I try to start my own but then there is the starting mix. Again we a limited to “soils” that are available at the above mentioned commercial outlets, it can be less than satisfactory. I have made my own mix with some screened compost but then I get damping off and bugs.
    I exaggerate somewhat, we do have a local nursery but even there the plant starts available are so ubiquitous you who are thousands of miles away could probably tell me what varieties of tomato, broccoli and lettuce are available. Every year I struggle with getting strong, healthy, open pollinated plants into my garden so if someone started selling these locally or better still started my chosen seeds for me I’d be delighted.

  7. Nettle says:

    I love the idea of custom seed-starting – I get my starts at the farmer’s market or from the local elementary school (the kids start seeds as a project and have a sale every spring.) But of course that limits me to whatever’s being sold. I’m not in your area but if someone did this near me, I’d sign up right away.

  8. We buy starts – I didn’t have the skill (or the desire, frankly) to grow from seed until recently, and now it would require space we don’t have….it’s Topsy Turvy tomatoes on the balcony this year, and a few herbs. So yes, I would love to be able to purchase quality starts from a knowledgeable gardener – we’ve got a decent source here (Austin) for heirloom varieties but it’s shopped very heavily (meaning they’re out of what I’d like often as not). I would buy them from you in a minute if we lived in NY. Be well, it sounds like a great idea.

  9. Robin says:

    I grow starts for myself and a few friends, as well as my church garden. They would probably pay me if I asked. I think you have a great business idea here. The themes are good for pre-orders, but if you go to a market to sell I would think you might want more pick and choose stuff.

  10. Psunflwr says:

    Here is the Kansas City area we have many choices of farmer’s markets and many choices of seedlings. I buy all of my tomato and cabbage starts at the farmer’s market. Last year I had 8 different tomato varieties. Did not have the wilt but did not have great production because of the cold gloomy summer.

  11. Edward Bryant says:

    Seeds from Fedco and a little from Johnny’s, Bountiful Gardens and a select few others. I now buy my tomato, pepper and eggplant starts from local growers, CSA etc. Sometimes a friend will start mine on contract(must have sungolds, my only hybrid).

    I think selling starts is an excellent value-added cottage industry and if I lived anywhere near you I would get mine from you!

  12. Kevin Wilson says:

    There are people out there doing this – here’s one:
    http://www.rockvillemarketfarm.net/content/5170

    It’s something I’ve thought of doing but not made the time for.

  13. Lise says:

    I’d love to have someone else start seeds for me. They’re pretty much doomed to fail in my hands.

  14. Ailsa Ek says:

    Heck, if I were near you, I’d cheerfully buy you the seeds to start!

  15. Erica says:

    I think it’s a fantastic idea. I’ve been thinking about doing something like that myself. I especially like the fall starts idea, because NOBODY around here does that, and our climate is ideal for fall gardening. Last summer we got in a bind with the fall garden planting and my husband bought some broccoli and cabbage starts, the only ones he could find at the farmer’s market. The broccoli turned out to be kale, and the cabbage turned out to be ornamental (we ate them anyway).

    The thing I can’t wrap my mind around is how to keep the customers happy in light of the fact that some plants started indoors will inevitably die of transplant shock when transplanted – no fault of the seed starter. This could be a problem, especially if the buyers were novice gardeners.

  16. Amanda says:

    I usually start my own, just so I can get good quality transplants and what I want. The farmer’s market is great, but they only really have tomato, pepper and cukes… That said, most gardeners I know buy at least some transplants. Even I do if there is a seed I forgot to purchase. I would be more inclined to purchase fall transplants, because I don’t usually have as much space to do them, and I am still working on the timing of them. It would be nice to have them at the right time.

  17. Eleanor says:

    I like to start my own, especially since you can get some terrific unusual and bug/disease-resistant open-pollinated varietes. I go for the printed catalogs because I can go through and research the varieties. A lot of the catalogs have a lot of information about growing conditions, bugs and disease. Plus, it’s just fun to use them as “wish books.”

    My favorite companies are:
    High Mowing Organic Seeds;
    Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (in MO, the fanciets, most fun catalog);
    Seeds of Change; and
    Wood Prarie Farm (in Maine, specializing in great seed potatoes-my new seed potatoes arrived just yesterday)

    Tomorrow will be my first planting day of the Spring. I’m really looking forward to it.

    Good Luck to You!

  18. Claire says:

    I start my own plants, and lots of them. Last year I calculated that it would have cost me over $300 to buy seedlings if I had purchased them. That is actually too low an estimate, because most of the varieties I grow aren’t offered for sale, except maybe through Gateway Greening or specialty (expensive) stores.

    St. Louis seems to have a lot of options in terms of buying plants. I’ve seen them for sale at farmers markets and local nurseries as well as the big box stores. Gateway Greening, our community gardening nonprofit, offers seedlings for sale to the public as well. I think there is still demand unsatisfied for specialty seedlings, however.

    I have given away all my extra plants in the past, and still plan to give some to my neighbor and maybe others who are trying to get by on low incomes. But I am starting to think I could sell some of the extras. If I have enough extras this year, I might try selling some of them.

  19. Susan in NJ says:

    I start my own and buy starts when I can find what I want. Custom starts would be great, too bad I don’t live closer to you (sigh). Me personally, though, I don’t like herb collections/groupings since I tend to winter over herbs from the previous year. I saw some pretty single container collections of herbs or tomatoes plus last year at local markets but they didn’t seem to be selling like single pots ([perhaps in part because of a premium price), but I would think that kind of thing might do well in a more urban environment where people were say balcony bargaining.

  20. Susan in NJ says:

    And what did I mean by “balcony bargaining”???? Meant gardening.

  21. Sarah F. says:

    Hi.
    I grow my own starts but am a sucker for something interesting so I always end up buying some stuff even though I don’t have room for 1/2 of my own plants.

    I traded lots of tomatoes starts for things like homemade wine, jam, other plants – worked well for me. So there is a demand.

    I saw some beautiful baskets and pots full of various lettuce and herbs for salad for sale at a farmers market. They looked nice and the idea was to cut a salad and let the plants grow back and then cut another one. They were going like hot cakes. Might be something to try.

  22. AnnMarie says:

    Oh, yes, PLEASE! I am not good at seed starting–poor light/heat, cats who eat plants, can’t keep track of when to water. I have never managed to get anything when I did try. So I buy seedlings. Mostly from stores but there was a farm back in WI that did peppers and tomatoes, all heirloom, and I had to restrain myself. It cost upwards of $4 per plant buy oh so worth it. Hoping I can find same here in Maine. I found the farm via a natural foods store. The farm delivered there twice which made it easy to buy too. You ordered in advance buy not too far. I would have ordered before they planted to make sure I got what I wanted.

  23. kathy says:

    I do my own starts but I nearly always find I need to fill in around the edges. I am a sucker for kits. I bought herb kits from Richters this year. I have medical, tea, salad, pot pourri and culinary gardens now.

  24. That’s what we do, the hardest part is getting the buyers on board with the CSA model of ordering and then picking up the plants. They are very exuberant in the spring but when summer hits, it takes a little gentle reminding to get them in the planting mode for fall. But it does work well.

  25. Wolf says:

    For years, my family has bought small plants from a local farmer (who my parents actually went to high school with). We do this for tomatoes, cucumbers, and a few other things like the first round of lettuce.

    Around the same time, we’ll plant things like more lettuce, beans, carrots, etc that we also grow. We don’t have a greenhouse and the weather is just too unpredictable to start things in New England. But buying the small plants allows us to actually get tomatoes before the frost (tomatoes are our biggest weed in the garden, but we rarely get any from the naturally, if unintentionally, started plants). Plus, it allows us to get multiple rounds of lettuce and fresh salad almost all summer.

    It’s really one of the best things.

  26. Brad K. says:

    Gah! Now you tell me. Here I just bought a $10 plastic florescent fixture, a $8 18-inch grow light bulb, and welded a frame to dangle the light above a card table. Now you tell me that someone else might be starting the plants I want?

    Actually, I am kind of proud of the light frame. It clips on the sides, adjustable 18-30 inches high, and reasonably light on materials. And I already started weeding, separating the tomatoes and peppers I started from the grass from the . . . pony’s yard. Well, if I actually did an intentional compost, I am sure it wouldn’t have had seeds . . .

    I started a few more tomatoes and peppers than I intend to plant, and hope to sell some at the flea market and gift to friends. In moderation, and until I know there is a market for them, selling starters makes sense to me.

  27. Charlotte says:

    We have someone here who does this (Kitchener-Waterloo), but I prefer to start my own seeds. (a) I’m cheap, and I’d have to pay a TON to buy all those plants ready-started, (b) watching little green things sprout from nothing is one of the few things that keeps me sane in the never-ending winter.

    I don’t have the ideal setup for starting seeds, but between hot-water bottles in travel coolers (to provide warmth for the first few days) and hanging a CFL light fixture onto a shelf (for artifical light), and a cheapo shelf screwed into my wooden window frame at the one window that gets decent sunlight, I manage ok on a shoestring budget.

  28. Karen says:

    I used to buy my tomato and pepper starts from a great little place when I lived in Eugene OR. They had a lot of varieties that weren’t generally available. Each year they tried out a few new types to see how they would do in the somewhat challenging Willamette Valley.

    I don’t always have space to start seeds myself, so I’d love to have someone local selling a nice mix again. I try to go with a local farmer who is working to keep a family farm going, but his tomato and pepper selection just isn’t what I want and he’s not interested in trying new ones. The ability to make choices or even have custom starts would be great.

    I’d be willing to do shipping on something like this. I can’t remember the name, but there used to be a place in Maine I think that would do mix and match transplants by the flat. You had to order a whole flat so that there wasn’t movement space in the shipping. The whole flat was too much for a lot of small scale gardeners, but the idea of going with a standard size order is good.

  29. Mark N says:

    Starting your own seedlings is one of those things that any gardener with a little patience and tolerance for the occasional failure can do. There is far less wasted energy and materials when you grow your own. I’ve sold some plants to co-workers in the past, but in general, I end up giving away plants to friends, neighbors, and family. The big box stores and large nurseries at present dominate the market in the Capital Region of NY for most common varieties of seedlings for mainstream gardeners. The discriminating growers who seek out the the more “funky” varieties generally grow their own. Good luck growing seedlings for profit, you’ll need it.

  30. Apple Jack Creek says:

    I start my own because like Charlotte, it is one of the ways I stay sane at the end of winter! Besides, I live in the middle of noplace and getting out to shop (even at a farmer’s market) is a hassle. So, I’m not a good person to ask I suppose, but as I’m part of the Hivemind (does that make you the Queen, Sharon?) I figured I’d put my voice in as well.

    I have one of those little greenhouse shelf units with the plastic cover – of course the cover is long dead, but the shelf is awesome for plant starts. My kid loves DQ ice cream cakes and I saved a couple of the domed containers they come in – I have seedlings in newspaper pots in the little domes, propped up at the edge for circulation. They are staying moist way longer than the way I had it last year, just out on cookie sheets.

    The seedlings that are on cookie sheets I’ve draped in bubble wrap, to keep the moisture in and give them a boost of warmth. Once they are up and well sprouted, they get transferred to a dome. soon I’ll be out of dome space – not sure what to do after that. :) Get my kid another cake, maybe – it’s almost his birthday!

    I did my tomato seedlings in gallon metal cans that my mom saved from the camp kitchen she works at – the greater volume of soil holds the moisture and heat better. I also do some home brewing, so I wrapped three cans with the electric brew belt to heat them up for germination – that worked awesome! I never thought about a hot water bottle – gotta try that.

    I’ve never really done the ’start the seedlings in flats and transfer to larger pots when they are a sturdy size’, so this is new this year.

    So far, it’s working pretty well.

    Now, if I *did* ever go to a farmers market type place, I am sure I would be suckered into buying some interesting looking plants. And, it’d be nice to know someone had some good stuff going in case my own didn’t work out. Last year when the tomato starts all got killed by a late frost, I just did without tomatoes. One of the dubious advantages of having grocery stores around, I guess.

  31. ToilingAnt says:

    I think you’d have a great market with people who do container gardening. I’m in an apartment with a small porch and I don’t have a lot of space, indoors or out, to start flats of seedlings, so I almost always get seedlings from a few vendors at the farmer’s market. I think creating themed groupings (pizza herbs, etc.) is another GREAT idea– people love kits and package deals! (At least, *I* do!)

  32. Erika says:

    I would love to have more local “nurseries” to support! I buy seeds (unfortunately, not locally, but it is a small-ish business, and does not sell GMO or hybrid…) and transplants from a local garden (one county away). Little over a year ago, a greenhouse was built just for me, and I started tomatoes, squash, cukes, peppers, peanuts, lettuce, and herbs in there (so far), in Feb. and Mar., so far, with success; we use a safety heater while we’re home and awake if needed, and keep the seedlings covered on 3 sides (4th side to the sun)… but I’d love to have more local producers to buy bigger plants from!

    –Erika

  33. Stephen B says:

    We start everything ourselves except what we buy to replace our own failures.

    I often end up buying at our local hardware store chain because that’s where my school/program has their charge account. While I’d love to buy at several local flower and garden outlets instead, both to support them and because they have a better variety of offerings, doing so would mean that I’d have to pay cash out of my pocket and then suffer a long, arduous, reimbursement process from my accounts payable people in our central office in Boston.

    For my own backyard, I simply use some of my school’s seedlings.

    But this is my fairly unique situation.

  34. Emily says:

    I would love this. I hate, hate, hate starting seeds indoors, but for a Michigan gardener, some things really need to be started ahead. I’ll do all my own cold-tolerant crops with some cover outdoors, so I’m all set for cabbage, broccoli, and the like, but anything that needs heat, lights, and protection from frost is just too much trouble.

    Here’s the catch: As I’m trying to extend the season and root-cellar my own fresh veg, I need very specific varieties. Copra onions, for example, store much better than the generic “sweet yellow onions” I can usually get. So I’d love it if I could just have someone sprout me a couple hundred Copras and some specific tomato plants.

    If you’ve got a central place to deliver these – like a farm market – I’d say you have a really great business plan here. FWIW, I pay $2 for a 4-pack of tomatoes at my market, for really gorgeous, organic seedlings in an undivided container (has about 2x as much soil as a 4-cell pack).

  35. owlfan says:

    My in-laws used to sell a lot of seedling plants at a farmers market in Cleveland. They sold a lot of herbs and various heirloom tomato plants. Their prices seemed rather expensive to me (I don’t remember what it was, just that the whole market was pricey), but I guess you go with what the market will bear.

  36. Phyllis & Paul says:

    We started our own, but also like to buy some. The variety is key.

    In Northern Schoharie County, we don’t have anyone who grows unusual, heirloom or organic transplants, just the standard stuff–so I would be interested.

    I would be willing to buy the seeds from Fedco, Johnny’s, Landreth, etc. or take them out of my stash and have you grow them.

    The last two years we had a friend who milks for us grow some of our transplants for us, but he has moved on.

    How about a barter–Grass-fed Beef for transplants? Fresh Milk for transplants? Heifer calf for transplants? Let us know if you decide to jump in! I m sure we can work something out.

  37. Stephen B says:

    I think the fall transplant market is underserved. There have been a few times I wish that I could pick up a few cabbage plants etc. after some kind of disaster took out our seedlings destined for the fall garden.

    I like the collection idea too.

  38. cecelia says:

    start most of my own or direct sow – but still buy some. Especially need to buy heirloom tomatoes and herbs. The stores here charge a lot for herbs and the selection tends towards the usual – rosemary, sage, basil, thyme. I like to grow borage as a companion plant and caraway – which I never can find – even the seeds are tough to find. Bay is another one tough to find as seed and expensive as a seedling – if you can find it. So yes – if I was near a reasonable cost seedling seller who also did the unusual herbs and heirlooms – I would be thrilled.

  39. Barry Brown says:

    I have a couple of German designed coldframes with lids that open automatically, great for starting all the lettuces, spinach, the hardy plants but not so great for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, so for those I buy from a young family nearby who have a greenhouse. They have a high-fenced two acre truck garden from which they run a CSA and supply a couple of restaurants. They are starting Principe Borghese Tomatoes for several of us who want to try drying tomatoes(canning is a miserable chore in the Ohio River Valley’s heat and humidity in August). Provided local gardeners know you will start seeds as business you will probably have all the business you can handle – the local nurseries and big box stores around here sell a very limited variety of vegetable plants.

  40. MaryK says:

    I start all mine in the house by the end of March. I have a greenhouse setup in my attached garage that I use once the seedlings have developed two true leaves. I like growing many varieties of fruits and veggies. Many of the herbs I start are not available anywhere. Grouping the offerings in easy-to-visualize boxes is perfect. You could have a grouping of Thai basils (cinnamon, clove types) along with fennel and hot peppers for oriental cooking and offer bok choy or oriental spinich with it although they would wilt in the heat that the herbs require. I think I could do this too in my neighborhood. Good idea.
    But, Sharon, how will you find the time? ( -;

  41. Sarah says:

    I start a few things, but more because I enjoy the process than for real production- I don’t have a particularly good set-up and seedlings are cheap and in better condition than the ones I grow myself. I buy seedlings at the farmer’s market and at Honest Weight, but neither of them have fall starts that I’ve noticed, and I’d LOVE them.

    There were fliers at the co-op last year or the year before from someone doing pre-orders like you’re talking about- I don’t remember the name, but if you talk to Gale at the co-op she might know.

  42. emmer says:

    i wonder if the pizza grouping might not be called the spagetti or lasagna group. i think more folks make s or l than p. its really about the same herbs.
    the farmers’ market here, nw oregon, generally has lots of plants. not always what i want and often later than i want to start. i use a few hybrids for the higher yield, but would surely appreciate more and earlier heirlooms known to thrive here.
    good luck with your project. the more ways a cottager has to bring in income the better–and this dovetails well with your other ventures.

  43. Anne says:

    I am not yet expert at seed starting — somehow mine have never yet amounted to much — so I have been buying a lot of my transplants from my CSA, which sells off their extras. So yes, I would highly recommend this as a good business model.

    Starting my own seeds *successfully* is this year’s learning project. Actually, that’s not quite true. They start fine, but they don’t get enough light and they don’t thrive. I’m going to try your foil lined box suggestion to see if it helps to make the most of the light available. I am tempted by grow lights but they are expensive, and of course, depend on electricity.

  44. Susan says:

    I’m late to the discussion, but I actually have started all of my plants from seed this year. However, I will happily buy locally raised starts from people I know, or trust, to do them in a chemical free manner like my friend does. I bought tomatoes from her last year after I lost all too many to blight or something.

  45. Mark N says:

    If I may give some advice on low-cost seedling growing to Anne, after you have successfully germinated your seeds, move them to a south-facing window (no UV filtered glass) if you have one. Then when they are small and sturdy and before they get leggy, move them directly into a cold frame, which you must learn how to monitor and adjust correctly to outdoor conditions. Frost-tolerant plants go in first. Sensitive ones later on. You can make a cold frame easily, and you won’t need grow lights or greenhouse. Works for me, anyway.

  46. homebrewlibrarian says:

    I start peppers in January and tomatoes in February. All the rest of the non root vegies get started in early April. Here in Alaska unless you can spring for a heated greenhouse, you’ve got to start your warm loving plants indoors and early. I have a 4 ft wide, 18 inch deep set of four shelves with two sets of T-8 fluorescent lights (natural spectrum or one each cool and warm bulbs) on each shelf. As I start plants, more lights get turned on. I’ve got the lights on a digital timer for 13 hours per day. The lights are suspended on chains that start at just about the tops of the seedlings and gets moved upward as the plants grow. I find this helps to dramatically reduce leginess in starts. I also use electric heat mats for seed germination (I keep the temp in my place at 55 in the winter) and also for warm temperature loving starts.

    An aside: I live in 600 sqft and keep my electricity usage to a minimum. My electric bill once I begin plant starting is between $29-$54/month. Once everything is out of the house my electric bill falls to about $27/month. I figure I can afford to use electricity for plant starting since I make reductions elsewhere.

    After buying onion starts for the last two years (from a farm in Texas – remember I’m in Alaska), I decided to see if I could grow my own starts. So I started four types in February. I’m going to be trimming them pretty soon and I hope they’re big enough by mid-late May for transplanting. I have had nothing but excellent results when I used starts so I’d suggest growing onion starts or sets because both would be easy for gardeners to start with. There are lots of different kinds of onions many of which are not found in grocery stores so by having “gourmet” varieties, I bet you’d find a market for them.

    Kerri in AK

  47. Heather G says:

    I mostly grow from seed outdoors, although I’ll be trying to start tomatoes again this year. Two years ago it went badly — something in the ‘organic’ potting soil, and last year I was too busy, so I opted to buy starts from a local farmer. Although strawberries I’ve always bought as starts, and most of my herbs, so I guess it depends on the plant.

  48. heatherB says:

    Hey Sharon, how about something like this?
    http://www.thelostseed.com.au/page61.htm
    I usually direct seed, or start my own, but I admit, this even had me tempted!

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