Indoor planting time

Seeds or seedlings?

Those eager to join the vegetable gardening revolution this season have a decision to make.

Are you going to grow your vegetables from seed? Or will you purchase seedlings from your local garden center or a farmers' market?

If you are going to grow your own seedlings, it is just about time to get started. The advantages include savings, pride and choice. You can grow exactly what you want, in the numbers you want and you don't have to count on somebody else's idea of variety.

Though seedlings can be pretty inexpensive, selling for a dollar or two, you can purchase a packet of perhaps 50 seeds - and a measure of personal satisfaction - for the same amount.

Buying seedlings saves a lot of work, and it can save a lot of disappointment. There are any number of reasons why the seeds you plant won't germinate or won't thrive.

However, unless your garden center purchases its seedlings from a dependable local grower, you run the risk of importing diseases from another part of the country. That appears to be how late blight made its way up the East Coast last summer and decimated so many tomato crops.

A seed-starter kit, which includes 48 seed cups, markers and a dome that creates a greenhouse effect, can be purchased from mail-order houses such as Gardener's Supply Co. for about $49.95, and they include a germination mix and irrigation trays to make watering easier.

How many seeds do you plant? If you want just six tomato plants, do you plant six seeds?

"At least double what you want, and the whole pack if you can," said Susan Iglehart of Glyndon, Md., who will start about 20,000 seeds this spring in more than 100 flower and vegetable varieties. "That way, you will have your choice of the sturdiest seedlings, and you can give the rest away to friends."