I am in love with the idea of planting fast growing, small plants around the slow growing, large plants with the intention of harvesting the fast growing plants before the slow growing ones need the space ex: lettuces planted between cabbages. I get more crops in less space and I get good weed suppression and all the benefits of polyculture this way.
I also like direct sowing because it takes so much less work than making and planting starts.
The super fast growing, small crops that pop up and mature in 30 days (lettuce, radish, cover crops etc) are obviously better off being direct sown. They grow faster than the weeds. Stuff that take months to mature such as: tomatoes, peppers, and perennials obviously should not be direct sown because they just aren't going to compete with the weeds very well. What about the in-between stuff? carrots and early cabbage need 60 days. Cauliflower needs 90 days. Would you use starts or direct sow?
Is direct sowing compatible with mulching? Is mulching even necessary when the soil is mostly covered by vegetables anyways?
If I were to direct sow crops with different maturity times and spacing requirements, how would i keep track of what is where? This might seem like a ridiculous question, but it seems to me that is would be pretty difficult to keep track of where I dropped a tiny cauliflower seed and make sure that I don't drop a lettuce seed right on top of it. The most obvious solution in this example would be to make starts for the cauliflower and direct sow the lettuce but what about more complicated designs? What if i wanted to plant not only lettuce and cauliflower, but also green onions (30 day maturity, 1 1/2 inch space requirement) and carrots (60 day maturity 3 in space requirement). In this case I would have lettuce planted 6 inches away from the cauliflower, carrots 6 inches from that, and onions in the lettuce-lettuce and lettuce-carrot gaps. In this case, its pretty important to know where each seed gets dropped because there will be crowding otherwise. I'm thinking i might have to go out, armed with labled popsickle sticks but that seems even more trouble than starts. Does anyone have any advice here?
Where are you or how long is your growing season? Do you NEED to start certain things to have them in time? Do you want to eat certain crops earlier in the year than they normally would be ready?
We plant lots of things from starts to get an early harvest, then plant a second crop of the same thing from seed. We have even planted tomatoes from seed here. In a good year we would have three plantings of most things, but seldom do we get that done. One planting usually gets taken out--either by late frost or storm or drought at the critical fruit bearing time, so we try to spread the risk and hopefully get at least one crop out.
You need mulch for things like tomatoes and strawberries and squash because touching the dirt can ruin the fruit. But carrots, not so much.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
Let me rephrase your question by taking out 'or' and replacing it with 'and' -- Starts and direct sow? Yes, do both.
Often times the weather doesn't cooperate when you direct sow, and then it is nice to have a back-up plan -- like the containers you have started in a more controlled environment. When you end up with holes in your vegetable bed, then you can pop something appropriate in there.
I'm in Taiwan. I have a semi-secret, small bed tucked in the corner of the local park. I'm moving back to the USA, possibly in March so I haven't planted anything that takes longer than 90 days to mature. This bed is not my greatest permaculture aspiration. When i move back, I have plenty of land in the PNW. While i've learned so much on the internet and by browsing Permies, I have learned a lot of practicalities by this little bed.
I like to laugh to myself when i walk by my neighbors gardens. They have low-quality, pest and disease ridden crops and they have to work so hard to til, weed and water everything. They don't know how to make compost so they almost all use pelleted fertilizer. I've seen only a few examples of companion planting, and none of them more than two types. I have seen only one person mulching with anything more than rice hulls. Almost everyone in Taiwan sprays pesticides. I always offer to bring them to my secret garden where I promise things such as: more crops per space, less weeding, less work, zero purchased fertilizer and most importantly, negligible pest damage. So far, everyone has turned their noses up at the very thought of even considering some *arrogant, foreign child's advice* and nobody I've invited has come to see my garden. I have renewed respect for you guys who activley promote permaculture. Man is a stubborn animal.