Are plugs an expensive shortcut or an important input for a successful flower farm? Can you really grow everything you plant from seed, or are there crops best left to the experts? Our hope is to help you to consider the true cost of growing your own seedlings and to learn the value of starting with plugs.
Some crops are just difficult to grow at home
Lisianthus is the primary crop we sell as plugs, and with good reason, as it is in fact really tough to grow! Well-grown, it takes 12 weeks to grow a small plug from a seed. It needs ideal light levels, humidity, fertility and temperature control to produce a healthy plug, and this is very difficult to accomplish in the home setting. Most grow lights simply don't give off enough light intensity to keep Lisianthus happy, and your home would be a moldy mess if you were to raise the humidity to the ideal level for the plants.
When I'm growing a few trays of a crop, I really enjoy the process of seeding, germinating, and caring for the growing plants. As your farm grows and the number of seedings required increases, you may notice that your quiet winter off begins to feel more and more like work. I first grew plants from plugs because we like to travel in the winter, and I didn't want to be tied to home for the 3-4 months leading up to planting season. Consider the value of your time.
Most of us seed starters grow under lights during the coldest months, perhaps transitioning to a greenhouse, tunnel or sunroom as spring approaches. Every time I have added more lights and shelves to my setup, it fills almost immediately, leaving some plants on the edges that never get the care they deserve. I have also never gotten around to sowing hundreds of seed packets because I simply didn't have the room. Letting a plug producer grow your hardest-to-produce crops will free up space for you to grow the faster, easier crops, or crops you simply can't obtain as a plug.
As businesses grow we all find ourselves needing help to get all of the tasks done on time. Seed sowing is time consuming, as is watering and pest control. Plugs help you to reduce the need for early season labor. Seed starting is also a precise skill that can be difficult to teach.
Stay on schedule
Having plants ready on the day you want them to be ready is really challenging. When you are growing annuals, perennials, biennials with different temperature and humidity requirements all in the same space, something is going to be ready late and something is going to be ready too early. A facility like Gro 'n Sell can accommodate these different needs of each crop, and then ship them to you in the week you have selected. It never fails to impress me!
We are all good at starting our spring crops more or less on time, but the second and third plantings often get overlooked or forgotten. Fall planted crops have to be the hardest to remember to sow because we are all so busy weeding, cutting, and selling at that time of the year. To stay on schedule, be realistic about your available time to complete all tasks.
Some crops just can't handle a bad day in their life. I never knew what good stock was like until I grew it from plugs. Stock is not hard from seed, but my grow room was always too warm and too dim for stock transplants to establish well. They were always leggy and yellow before I got them planted out. Some recovered and grew to a marketable stem while many died, and others bloomed short and crooked. There were lots of gaps. When I first grew from plugs, every plant lived, they all bloomed at the same time on tall stems and I was able to sell every one. It certainly cost more to get plugs, but I made more profit from that crop than I ever did with my seed grown attempts and every inch of my tunnel space was used effectively.
Access to new varieties
Some crops are grown from cuttings or from tissue culture, and simply aren't available from seeds. The only way to access them is to work with a plug grower who is getting the cuttings in from speciality facilities, rooting them, and then shipping them on to you. We are always looking for new sources and varieties, and increasingly these are vegetatively produced, not seed grown. Only the best of the best plants go into tissue culture or cutting production. There is no comparison in production when you look at seed grown Scabiosa as compared to Scoop Scabiosa. Similarly, the new lines of Tissue Culture statice produce MANY more stems per plant than their seed grown counterparts, and the size and quality of those stems is vastly superior. Are they more expensive? Sure. Do you make more in the end? Absolutely.
We also scour the globe looking for seed supplies that are not immediately available through US seed companies. We are in regular communication with seed breeders in Japan, Israel, Australia, Holland, Colombia and many other countries, securing the seed supply to produce exactly what your business requires.
We are here to help, not just to sell
Yes, we are in the business of selling plugs, but this business grew out of a need for access to better varieties in America. Before I started Farmer Bailey there were significant gaps between what was being grown internationally and what we had access to in America. The old school brokers and growers just didn't want to put in the work necessary to bring these crops to us. I never intended to start a business brokering the sale of plugs, I just wanted better access to these crops myself, and I needed a critical mass of growers to go in on this idea with me. It worked! Your success is at the core of what we do.
Keep growing from seed!
It may seem odd that I am a HUGE proponent of you growing your own transplants from seed. But I am. Plant propagation is a dying art in the US, and we all need to get better at it. The better you get you will find that you no longer need plugs of some crops whereas other crops will make more sense to obtain as plugs. You can't understand the value of a tray of Lisianthus until you've tried to grow your own, so keep experimenting and finding your strengths.