Should you direct seed your garden — planting seeds directly in the ground — or grow the seedlings in small containers, then transplant them into the garden? Many crops benefit from the transplant method, for several reasons:
1. Less seed is needed — You sprout and grow each seed and seedling individually. The germination rate is higher, and you don’t lose seed to pests or weather (too dry, too damp). You also have more control over seed germination conditions, such as temperature or humidity, so seeds sprout sooner and more reliably. If you have little seed for a particular variety of plant, transplanting is the way to go.
2. Seedlings protected from damage — Bad weather can wreak havoc on a crop in its earliest stages of growth. The seedlings are tender and easily harmed by too little moisture, too much moisture, insects and other pests. Growing seedlings indoors for transplanting to the garden protects the seedlings, making crop success more likely.
3. Earlier Start to Crop Season in Spring — You can start your seedlings indoors before the spring weather is warm enough for direct seeding. This gives you a jump on the spring season. You will then have a harvest sooner than if you waited for warm weather and used direct seeding.
4. Earlier Start to Subsequent Crops — The same principle applies to subsequent crop cycles. You can start the second crop indoors, before the first crop has been harvested. This gives you a jump each crop, again providing earlier harvests. Overall, using transplants gives you a longer growing season.
5. More precise spacing of crops — When transplanting seedlings into the garden, you have precise control over the spacing of the plants. Proper spacing increases yields. The ideal spacing varies for each crop. But it’s more difficult to get the right spacing when direct seeding because some seeds will not germinate, leaving gaps in your garden spacing.
6. Better root system and more tillers (plant stems) — For some crops, transplants with proper spacing develop a more robust root system, leading to more plant stems (tillers) per plant. Plants like rice and wheat usually grow multiple stems per plant, resulting in more panicles (the ear containing the grain) and more grain.
7. Higher crop yields — But the main reason for using transplants is higher yields. All of the above factors combine to give you a more reliable and larger harvest. And if you are growing food for survival, you can’t ignore this crucial benefit.
Another way to obtain high yields is to research each crop online, to find the best methods for the highest yields. Transplanting will often improve yields substantially, but for some crops direct seeding is more practical or just as good. See my past post on System of Crop Intensification.