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Seeds Versus Transplants

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“You can’t take poor-quality seed that germinates at 20 per cent or 40 per cent and then somehow magically improve things.”

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When growing vegetables, producers can choose between seeds or transplants to start their crop. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, says Rob Spencer, commercial horticultural specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

Seeds can be faster and simpler to use than transplants. It generally costs less to plant seeds and can be more cost effective. However, transplants allow producers more control when grown in a greenhouse, as they are able to manipulate a variety of climatic factors, Spencer told the recent Berry and Vegetable School here.

When seeds are grown outside, seedbed quality is more important. Using seeds can also result in a variable plant stand, which could affect crop quality, Spencer said.

Using transplants can reduce emergence problems because producers have more control over temperature and moisture. This generally results in a more uniform plant stand. Transplants can be grown in a seedbed of poorer quality and good-quality specimens can be transplanted, which can often result in faster, higher and more dependable yields.

“Basically you’re getting a jump on the season,” Spencer said. “You’ve got a plant that’s always six to eight weeks old where if you go into the field, you’re a number of weeks behind, so you have a definite advantage that way.”

However, using transplants generally costs more. Producers who use transplants often require additional facilities, special equipment, time and labour. Some crops do not lend themselves well to transplanting, so they must be grown in the field, said Spencer.

When planting seeds, producers should consider the percentage of seed that will germinate and compensate for any losses, he said. Strong, vigorous seed with a high rate of germination will result in better crops. “The quality of your seed is where you start. You can’t take poor-quality seed that germinates at 20 per cent or 40 per cent and then somehow magically improve things,” he said.

It is extremely rare to get 100 per cent seed germination, as germination is affected by environmental conditions, also known as “field factor.” Spencer said seeding rates should be adjusted based on the germination rate according to lab tests and field conditions. Seed size will affect how much seed is needed, how deep the seed is planted and how easy the seed is to handle.

Spencer said producers should consider the distance between plants in rows, and the distance between the rows. These decisions can be influenced by the type of equipment used and by the size of the plant when it is fully grown. “You have to really look at what density is going to do to quality.”

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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