Are Transplants Worth the Effort?

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

A frequent forum topic is whether to start your own transplants or buy them. Sounds like a simple cost/benefit analysis, and some forum members just expect a software program to give them an answer. But, as with most things farming-related, the answer is “It depends”, so a computer program won’t help much.  And don’t ask Mr. Google on this one. Your search will lead you to a punk rock band or a bunch of bald guys.

If you want to DIY, you need to cost out the materials and your labor to determine if it’s worth your while. No software is needed. Just pen and paper. In the Seed Savers Exchange Catalogue, the cost of $500 seeds is usually less than $15. A very minor cost per seed. If you were doing a few hundred transplants, the labor required is not great. You could seed directly into 3” – 4” jiffy pot. So you need to price out those. Ditto for the potting mix, though cost here can be brought down by using your own compost.

You’ll need some drip trays, but those are reusable. If you are doing transplants indoors, say in your basement, you’ll need to set up a lighting system, of say a few shelving units with and some grow lights. So you need to price that out, but consider that this type of shelving unit system would be good for many other applications and would last for many years. You would have to tend these plant around 6 weeks. So you need to factor in the cost of the labor involved, and the extra cost to run the lights.

If you buy transplants, they will cost more than the DIY approach, but you do not have other material costs or labor inputs. And you can plant them soon after buying them. Also, the selection of transplants is limited and won’t include most of the interesting, and lucrative, heirloom varieties. Plus, if you get too reliant on transplants, you might loose your skill in starting your own, should you ever need it. Starting your own transplants is something every grower should know how to do.

Sorry I can’t give a definitive answer, and that’s why the SPIN forum will always have a place. Some decisions require that you think your way to an answer, and sometimes several experienced heads are better at thinking things through than one. But if you want to expand your musical horizons, you might want to check out The Transplants.SF photo transplants peppers Jared

SPIN member Jared Regier’s pepper transplants in one of his backyard plots at Chain Reaction Urban Farm.

Cost/Benefit of Transplants

Courtesy of Bingo B., Boise ID

I’ve found that while starting your own transplants is fun, the money for starting up such an operation will be about the same as buying your starts. If you plan on doing it year-over- year then the investment will pay off, and you know what you will be getting. But for a first year, with other costs involved, I would source out your starts. What you will be saving is a lot of time. However, selling veggie starts at your farmer’s market is quite profitable and would justify the time and start-up expense.