Who else is so ready to start planting wonderful things like this?
But has a garden that still looks something like THIS:
But wait, I have good news!!
You can “Winter Sow” vegetable and flower transplants now!
Even if you have 3 feet of snow on the ground like we do!
And this post will show you exactly how to do it.
But first, may I admit something embarrassing?
I haven’t started my own veg and flower transplants for years.
As my kids now say, “Reasons.”
First, this time of year I can’t use our greenhouse. Our laying flock lives there until the snow melts off. And you know chickens - they adore tasty baby plants!
Second, I can’t start transplants inside because we are renovating our house; I really don’t want construction dust all over the food I plan to feed my family!
But I’m not alone, right?
Building and heating a greenhouse and/or starting seeds indoors really just isn’t practical for most of us.
Likewise, buying transplants gets expensive.
Plus it’s virtually impossible to find transplants for the rarer varieties of flowers or veg we may want to grow.
That’s Where winter sowing Comes in!
Winter sowing gets around all these seed-starting obstacles.
1) It’s done outside, requiring no space inside your home.
2) It requires very little outside growing space and can be done in the smallest of yards (even on a balcony!).
3) It uses the sun’s warmth only. That means no artificial light or heat.
4) It requires no special equipment and can be done with low-cost/recycled materials.
Even better, winter sown plants are often better than fancy-pants store bought transplants:
1) They’re a far cheaper way to get veg or flower seedlings - literally just the cost of the seed and the potting soil
2) They’re already acclimated to your growing conditions and transplant more successfully than pampered plants raised in cozy greenhouses
3) It takes far less effort to winter sow than it does to start your transplants indoors/in a greenhouse
Ready to try it?
Then just scroll down to see how!
And if you’re winter sowing - or even starting transplants in your home or greenhouse - I’d love to hear what plants you’ve started!
I’ve done kales, lettuce, kholrabi and wildflowers to name a few. This week I’m starting a whole bunch more!
Happy planting dear Friend! Warm breezes will soon blow our way!
Winter Sowing - step-by-step
Organize your Planting supplies
I strongly encourage you to simply use whatever materials you already have. Here’s what you’ll need:
Any organic seed starting mix. I used Espoma because I could get it quickly. Just avoid seed starting mixes with chemical fertilizers
Any clear plastic containers you already have. This include clear “clam shell” containers, 1-gallon jugs, you name it. Just make sure it’s clear
If you’re using gallon jugs, cut them in half. I cut them right where the handle joins the base of the jug. I recycle the top half of the jug and keep the bottom half of the jug as my planting container. (see pic below)
A way to mark your planting containers. I use a Sharpie to write the seed name on a popsicle stick then stick that into the appropriate planting container
Large clear tote with clear, locking lid. You’ll need it clear to ensure the seedlings get ample sunlight. You’ll need the locking lid to hold in solar heat and ensure critters don’t disturb your seedlings
Seeds of your choice
Prepare your Planting containers
Make sure your planting containers have good drainage
1) Using a sharp object such as a knife, pierce the bottom of the plastic container multiple times. (I used the pointy end of an insta-read cooking thermometer).
2) Ensure you have multiple holes from which water can drain. I encourage you to make as many holes as possible. Good drainage is key to the success of your seedlings.
Place your planting containers in the large plastic tote.
Before I fill the planting containers with seed starting mix, I put them in the tote. That way, any seed starting mix that falls out goes directly in the tote. That way I can easily be scoop it up and reuse it.
Fill your planting containers with seed starting mix
Fill each container with seed starting mix. Don’t skimp on the amount. You’ll want a lot of mix in each container to ensure seedling roots don’t run out of growing space
Plant your seeds
1) Label each planting container
2) Sow seeds of choice, following seed packet instructions for planting depth
For seed spacing, I plant very closely at this stage. As soon as these seedlings have their first true leaves, I will transplant them into the garden. Which means they need very little space now.
Naturally, if you’re worried about crowding you can space less closely.
3) Lightly tamp down soil. Don’t press hard. Just lightly firm up the top
Using your dog for moral support and Child labor for the hard parts, Move your tote outside
Find outside location for tote
You can put your tote anywhere that gets a decent amount of sun.
We chose a south facing spot but I understand the winter sowing works even on northern exposures.
Just make sure it’s located where you can easily check on it
Since we still have so much snow cover and because our property gets incredibly strong wind, we decided to partially bury our containers.
To help our totes gain even more solar energy, we tilted them toward the south. (Pictured further down in post)
Cover your planting containers with snow
If you’ve still got snow on the ground, add a thick-ish layer of snow to the top of your planting container. As the snow melts this will water your seedlings
If you no longer have snow, then simply pour water into the tote. Do not water planting containers from the top.
Because you have drainage hole in each planting container, any water in the tote will be absorbed into the starting mix via these holes
Put lid on tote, lock it in place and you’re done with the first step of winter sowing!
SEt it. but don’t forget It.
Every few days be sure to check on your totes to ensure:
1) The starting mix stays damp but not wet.
2) If it’s too dry, add more snow on top, or water from the bottom.
2) If water is standing in the bottom of the tote, pour it out.
Transplant your baby plants!
Once your baby plant have their first true leaves, they can be planted directly into your garden!!
To ensure you’re not planting out too early for your growing zone, use a frost date calculator to determine optimal planting time. I like this one.