There are heaps of advantages to growing your own veggie and flower seedlings from seed. It's cheaper, you can do it without chemicals, you can grow really interesting and delicious varieties -- and it's oh so satisfying and fun.
I have been growing my own seedlings for a few years now, and the process has taken a lot of fine-tuning. There is still trial and error involved, but I now reliably grow healthy seedlings for my own garden each season as well as growing extras to share with friends.
Some of my summer seedlings
One thing that drastically improved my success rate a couple of years back was realising that SEED QUALITY MATTERS!
As a beginner gardener, I had assumed that any failures -- particularly with germination -- were due to my own ineptitude. But when I got back into home food growing in a big way after working on an organic market garden for a few years, I had more trust in my own skills. And I realised that a lot of the seed I was using wasn't germinating because it was simply poor quality.
There can be a number of reasons that seeds don't germinate -- and some can be down to the gardener and the conditions you provide. (Temperature and moisture are particularly important -- but those are factors for another post.)
Off to deliver a seed-raising workshop!
But there is another possibility: that we have bought seed that is old, poorly grown or harvested, ill-adapted to our local conditions or otherwise shoddy. And this is surprisingly common.
Pretty much all of the seed you buy from the big brands in hardware stores, as well as from national gardening clubs and seed subscription services, has been grown overseas. The best you can hope for is that, for heirloom varieties, it might have been grown somewhere in Australia for one season.
This has big implications: not only has the seed travelled from far away, probably subjected to fluctuating temperatures and moisture as it did; and not only has it been grown on farms where you have no idea how the workers or the soil have been treated -- but importantly, it is not going to be adapted to local conditions. This means that even when the seed does germinate, the plants themselves are not going to perform at their best in our climate. They may not fruit as well or for as long, they may struggle in the heat or have very high water needs, or be susceptible to diseases or pest attack.
Chooks supervise my seed raising
It takes generations of artificial selection in one place to develop robust, resilient plants that perform well to local conditions.
For that reason, I recommend that you source seed grown with care, and as close as possible to where you are gardening.
One seed grower I trust is Transition Farm, who have been selecting heirloom vegetable and flower seed on their organic farm on the Mornington Peninsula for over a decade. The wonderful thing about selecting seed like this (and these folks have a rigorous process for doing so) is that the process of selection results in improvement -- bigger, juicer, more resilient plants -- every year.
While none of these suppliers are super local to me, it is a start! Even better is to save your own seed, attend local seed swaps and share between neighbours.
Don't hang onto old seed (you can always use it as a green manure) and do compare how different seed performs under the same conditions.