Valley Vitals Fernie: Tips #2 Direct Seeding vs Starting Indoors

Well this Spring has been an excellent example of the resiliency required to grow food in the Elk Valley. It kind of reminds Ashley Lortscher of a Katy Perry song? So she’s back with more beta for cold climate gardening!

I think one of the most heartbreaking gardening experiences, for myself, is spending half the winter cultivating beautiful seedlings indoors, only to transplant them and watch them wither away. I’m always so eager to grow food, but my eagerness to start seeds indoors is usually to my disadvantage. So here is my personal rule of thumb: direct seed everything possible! If you can, avoid starting plants indoors and having to transplant them.

Fernie weather is so unpredictable in the Spring, it’s hard to know when to transplant your more sensitive garden delicacies. For five years I would start zucchini indoors to get a jump start on the market garden season. For five years I watched the directly seeded zucchini quickly outgrow the transplanted ones. When you start a plant by placing the seed directly in your garden bed, it acclimates to the microbiome around it (fungi, bacteria, other plants, ect) and can create beneficial relationships with them. The plant will be better acclimated to the temperature of the soil, light, and UV exposure of where it is situated. Plants that are directly seeded are far more likely to develop a tap root architecture (root ‘shape’) then if it was started in a tray or a pot; tap root development makes the plant more drought resistant and more readily able to take up nutrients. You also get to skip all the work and resources required to seed in trays, buy grow lights, pot up plants, harden them off, and then transplant them.

Yes, it is unlikely you will get a watermelon in Fernie without starting indoors first, but you would be surprised at the number of cherry tomato varieties you can direct seed and still harvest fruit in August! Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself! Have a zucchini race and see if a direct seeded plant grows bigger, faster, or stronger than one that had a jump start indoors.

That being said, every technique has its place. I like seeding lettuce up in trays throughout the Summer. Lettuce doesn’t mind transplanting too much and has more of a fibrous root architecture. Not only do the trays allow me to start oodles of lettuce in a small space, it also allows me to have plant material readily on hand to fill in gaps in my garden due to seeds not germinating or space being created from harvesting the veggies that are ready. This works well with bok choy, broccoli, bush beans, and chard as well.

The thing I love the most about gardening is that I get to be a scientist and learn new things! So start your own little garden experiments this Summer and find out what works best for you.