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Growing your own vegetable transplants

Sure, you can buy transplants of most garden vegetables. But with some, it's really best to grow your own. Here's how to decide.

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Lettuce, shown here growing in a greenhouse, is the ideal vegetable to transplant: It grows quickly and requires minimal indoor space.

Lee Reich/AP

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If this were spring 100 years ago and I were a wealthy Victorian, how lush my large greenhouse would now be with tomato, lettuce, marigold, zucchini, and zinnia seedlings.

Well, perhaps not zucchini seedlings, because I'm never all that hungry for the first fresh zucchini of the season.

But I'm not a wealthy Victorian with thousands of square feet of greenhouse at my disposal. Using windows, "grow lights," and perhaps a small greenhouse, modern gardeners do not have the space for growing all the garden transplants they desire.

Today, we have to be more selective in choosing just which flowers and vegetables are worth growing as transplants.

WHAT'S NOT WORTH STARTING INDOORS

Besides zucchini, there are other transplants I do not consider worth growing because they are not favorites, or because they "show their colors" long after my hunger for the very first colors and flavors from the garden have dulled.

I love winter squash, but it isn't worth eating until fall or winter anyway. Why rush it?

Giant sunflowers, also. Their sunny heads cheer up any garden, but even transplanted ones won't open until well into summer.

Try to limit transplants to those vegetables and flowers for which you really want to get a jump on the season.

Also, don't sow indoors any plants that are almost impossible to transplant. Mostly, these are root crops — carrots, parsnips, turnips, and so on — and the reason they are so hard to transplant is obvious: Their roots want to go straight down deeply, deeper than your average seed flat, before they swell. Any disturbance, and the plants die or yield deformed roots.

With some vegetables, individual plants yield too little to justify growing them as transplants. Think about how few pods you harvest from just one pea plant, or one bean plant. Remember, when you plant peas or beans out in the garden, you place the seeds only about 2 inches apart down the row.

WHAT MAY BE WORTH STARTING INDOORS

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