Starting Seedlings for Market Retail

brgcuviSeptember 10, 2013

Hello All!

We will be doing veg. seedlings this coming spring for resale at our local farmers market. We are in zone 6B, last frost is typically mid-May. I intend to start the seedlings in my finished basement under lights and then move outside to a heated GH.

Wondering if anyone might share their "step-by-step process" for starting & finishing seedlings for market resale. I've noticed many of you start seeds in what look like "community trays", and then transplant each seedling. Do you transplant from there into plugs, and again into pots? Or directly into pots? Is there any advantage/disadvantage to starting individual seeds in plug trays?

Also, I haven't had any luck finding an affordable "soil less" seed starting mix. Do most of you suggest this and if so, any suggestions on where to purchase? Some of the prices I've found online are through the roof.

Thanks for any info you can share : )


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I've done this for years. the soil that I use is Miracle Grow Potting Soil with Moisture control, it's the best easy to find that I've found.

Yes, I start the seeds in a community tray, as you call it. You don't want to start your seeds in too big of a pot, the seed will have to work harder for roots and you won't get the stems.

I start my seeds, depending on how many seeds I want in either a 4" pot or a ribbed tray. If it's in a ribbed tray, I might start several varieties of the same seed in THAT tray. You don't want to start seeds of different plants, since some plants will want different care, and in 1 tray, you will not be able to give each plant what it needs.

I don't cover my seeds with plastic or glass and I water everything from the bottom.

after the seeds get up to about 2-3" tall, I pluck them out and put them into cell trays, different sizes (most common size that I use is a 48-50 or 72). Professional can start their seeds in 512 or 288 cells, but my fingers won't allow for that.

I specialize in tomatoes, so I'll give you the info for tomatoes. Tomatoes like to be gently transplanted, so after the plants have been transplanted in the cells, I give them a few weeks (not more than 4), then they go into 4" pots. they could be planted out anything from cell size and bigger. After being in the 4" pots for up to 4-6 weeks, I take them into gallon or 2 gallon pots, depending on how tall the plant is. I bury the stem to the very bottom of each pot and fill with dirt, this doesn't matter what size of pot, I do it for each.

I will say that broccoli, cabbage and the other cole crops do better seeded directly into cells.

Any more questions, just call and I'll try to answer.

Keep in mind, even at the farmers market, there will be rules that you will need to follow, such as collecting sales if your state requires and having all the licenses and permits to do so. Get this done now before you start that first seed. also make sure you can get into the farmers market, many are full even for next years.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 6:25PM
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Thankyou so much for the info! Would you mind to tell me what Tom. varieties you work with and/or suggest? I have been attending the farmers market for a couple of years but only as a customer. It was the middle of summer when we decided to do this in the upcoming 2014 season; veg. seedlings had already passed at the market so I wasn't able to see what others were working with. I know what tomato varieties I use for myself but I'd love some insight.

Any suggestions on where to purchase seed from, especially heirloom varieties?

After being under lights for aprox. 4 weeks, should I decide to move them to the GH, what is the minimum temperature that I need to maintain for them to stay healthy/happy?

Thanks Again!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 9:15PM
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Most of my timing is a gut feeling, and I don't take my plants out until I can keep the gh above 40-50. If you take them out too cold, the fruits can cat-face, which you won't know, only your customers.

Varieties are something that is regional. I personally like Big Beef, which isn't a heirloom. I don't find that people buy heirlooms here.

Since you have decided to start this so recently, you are aware that you will be competing against the big box and other stores that buy their plants, and will be lower in price than what you will need to price your for. This is not a make money project.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 9:14AM
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Agree - I only sell my leftover starts, I usually have more than I can plant since I start extra in case of damping off or loss during hardening. I only sell hardened plants.

Catfracing is only a problem if temps are too low during pollination - sell the plants before they blossom and you won't have to worry.

Varieties - that might be a regional thing. Here people want Celebrity and Jet Star and Big Boy b/c that's what they're used to seeing in the big box stores, but then you have to compete with the big box prices. Quality doesn't count b/c people think bigger (and blooming, or even set fruit!) is better. I did have luck selling heirloom plants, though big box stores are starting to carry those too. And a lot of people around here don't have room for gardens, I found people were asking for things they could grow in pots (and I had to explain that a 1-gal pot was NOT going to be big enough for a beefsteak, even if it was a determinate). Research your market before you order seeds.

A location would help.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 10:55AM
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Catfacing does happen if the plant gets too cold, also. Just try to stay away from the cold whenever possible.

I started out selling my leftovers and now only plant for sales, with very very few going into the garden. I've transitioned to a plant grower versus a vegetable grower. there is a big difference. You have to have plants that the customer likes, versus what you can work with.

Location will only help to someone else in your area to answer, and each farmers market customer base is different. Best thing is to find out what local nurseries/greenhouses that grow their own are growing. You should have looked earlier this year. I researched for over 1 year before I started, and I believe it takes at least that long. since you want to start before that, plant what you like, since you will be planting alot of what you grow.

It takes awhile to establish yourself as a plant grower, several years usually.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 11:39AM
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I meant location would help with best place to buy seeds. I didn't think catfacing would occur if plant got too cold before blossoms started forming - and I try to harden off and sell my extras before then.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 11:41AM
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Personally, I like Jordan Seeds out of MN. they have been fair to me and reasonable prices. Of course, this years tomato seeds have been rare because of the drought the year before. One of the reasons that I buy several years worth at one time and store them in fruit jars (I use the blue ones that I won't can in). they are my tomato supplier, I use other ones for the heavy seeds. Jordan's doesn't offer free shipping, and the light weight seeds don't add up to much.

I also always harden my plants off before I offer them for sale, so many people just don't know how to do it properly and then they are upset when the plant doesn't do well.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 11:52AM
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Last year, we purchased the corner block on main street and moved our business there (a golf car/utility vehicle dealership). 1/2 of the parking lot (quite large, it was formerly a Dodge dealership) was empty, so we started working with a local nursery doing shrubs/trees/berry bushes. It has done well for us and, after finding out that our local greenhouse is not re-opening next year, we decided to expand a bit. I'm elated; if we didn't have bills to pay you couldn't pull me off of our little 40 acre farm other than Saturdays market : )

Other than Walmart (if you can count that) and the farmers market, we have no other sources locally for veg. plants of any kind. This is a rural "country" area. Almost everyone does a garden of some kind.

My thoughts were not to "get rich quick" but to offer something that will be needed in our area, and hopefully draw some folks into our business that typically wouldn't stop. We'll be doing the farmers market on Saturdays with our shrubs/trees and can bring the seedlings along.

I have a meeting with the ladies who own the greenhouse on Friday about their golf cars : ) Planning to pick their brains a bit about varieties.

Thanks again for all your advise. I've followed this forum on/off over the last year and have really enjoyed some of your posts; very helpful!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 12:51PM
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Definitely count on WM to take sales away. Ask the greenhouse people WHY they are quitting, you might find that it's not a profitable venture. So many are just holding on, and getting deeper and deeper in debt just to stay open. That's why we only have 1 greenhouse that still grows their own, and they had to file bankruptcy this last year. Nobody was keeping track of what the plants were costing to have, and just assumed that they were making money.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 1:48PM
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Last spring was my second year selling plant starts out of my greenhouse at my farmer's market. Everything I sell is priced lower than Wal-Mart, and I take a lot of enjoyment in that.

The weather controls demand for your product, and in the last two years it has been unusual. No one wants to buy a tomato plant when it is cold and wet outside. But if there happens to be a warm sunny day in early spring, even if it is before the typical last frost, everyone will want to buy tomato and pepper plants.

If you are interested in unusual heirlooms, google search for "Tormato seed swap." Make sure google does not correct the spelling of Tormato. That's how I got my unusual heirloom varieties last spring. 'Every tomato has a story' is what I tell customers, and I will tell them the story of every variety for as long as they want to listen.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 10:10PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Some people think you have to transplant everything. I usually sell several flats of zucchini, cucumbers every year. This year I am going to add watermelon and cantaloupe. Just the very basic seeds.

I usually plant them, start selling them 7-10 days after germination, then sell them for 2-3 more weeks. Very quick money, very little time involved and I sell them for $2 a pot (usually 1 or 2 seeds in a 2401 pot). If they don't sell, I just transplant them in the garden for myself. I start them about every 2 weeks. Usually a tray or two of each at a time. The only reason I even started doing this is at customers request.

Just an idea.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 2:50PM
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Yes, don't limit yourself to just tomatoes, pepper and eggplant. I've sold several zucchini (actually had to plant a 2x time just for sales), cabbage, cucumbers and other such. Just start them about 2-4 weeks before normal planting time. Most don't want to be transplanted often, so direct seed them.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 8:31AM
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