Seed seed starting wintersown

Winter Sowing – It Begins – and Vegetable Tidbits

With the end of my fresh tomatoes, peppers, and onions in sight—- (yes – I’m still eating fresh ones)(using the last pepper today) — I’m  glad that winter sown planting time is here.  At least I can take the beginning steps towards having a bounty of freshly grown produce in 2013.

Winter-sown is the most relaxed way to plant.  It allows me to accomplish a great deal over a long period of time without rushing.

To make my work even more convenient, I keep a large pot filled with moistened grow mix at my work area.

    I keep a large pot of moistened grow mix handy at my work area for filling my jugs each day.

I keep a large pot of moistened grow mix handy at my work area for filling my jugs each day.

Everyday I punch holes in the bottom of a jug or two, cut it almost in half, and then fill the bottom part with about 3 inches of the mix.  Then I’m ready to plant whatever I want, label the jug, and tape it closed. After that I forget it  — except for peeking in the hole at the top every once in while to see what’s happening —- until it’s time to transfer to the garden.

You can start almost any cool weather crop right now.  I start warm weather crops using this method — but I wait a month or so —- germinate them inside — and then move them outside.

Here’s my list (so far) of what I want to start now through January:

  • Parsley – I love lots of parsley growing everywhere.  I pick some everyday and have it chopped fresh with other vegetables for lunch.  It’s an excellent and delicious way to get calcium.
  • Lettuces — I’ll plant at least a dozen varieties. More than likely, the lettuce seed will be some of the first to germinate and I can transplant quickly to my hoop tunnels. That way, I should have more ready-to-eat lettuce earlier this spring.

This lettuce under the hoop tunnel has been supplying lettuce for meals at least every other day since October!

  • Chard — We had chard for dinner tonight (torn chard, rough cut onion, chopped garlic tossed with olive oil and roasted/baked). Was the best chard I’ve ever tasted!  Guess it’s like spinach and gets sweeter in cold weather.  It’s been in the garden since last spring and believe me — it owes me nothing!  I’ve picked it all year!  I had several varieties but Rainbow chard is so beautiful and tender it’s my favorite so far.
  • Mache (Corn salad)– I finally found out why I hadn’t done well growing Mache before.  It LOVES the cold and HATES warm.  Last spring I didn’t plant it soon enough.  What germinated at all languished in the warm weather we had.  I was so surprised to find it all over that bed this fall.  I transferred it to my hoop tunnel beds and it’s lovin’ this cold.  Keeping that in mind — I’ll only plant a little — but it should do ok if the weather stays cool.  Next October I’ll plant a lot for my winter garden.
  • Lacinato (Dinosaur) Kale —  For some reason this kale doesn’t want to germinate well for me — and when I do get a seedling or two — it doesn’t want to grow.  I’ve got seed left — so I’ll give it another shot.
  • My favorite Kale is Russian Kale. It reseeded itself and came up last September — so I have plenty growing already.  And as you know if you grow it —– the plants get huge and 5 plants are enough to feed an army.
  • Spinach — I’m missing my winter spinach.  Something ate almost every bit I planted in the fall.  I should be able to get a nice amount by early spring if I winter sow now.
  • Mizuna — I have one full plant in a border. And one under the hoop tunnels that is the best I’ve had so far. I’ll only plant maybe 6 via wintersown. They get full and lush and with all the lettuce I’ll have — 6 mizuna plants are all I’ll need.   It makes a better winter/fall/early spring crop than it does a summer crop for me because of flea beetles.  They love it and try to devour it the minute the weather warms.
  • Hakurei turnips — I will do a few winter sown in jugs.  The rest I’ll direct sow.
  • Tatsoi bok choy —

Herbs (on my list so far)

A lot of herbs that are usually hard to get to germinate are easy with the winter sown method.  My list so far this year includes lavender, santolina, thyme, rosemary, and chamomile.

Flowers (on my list so far)

Flowers (and/or herbs) include echinacea, snapdragons, marguerite and iberis.

Direct Sowing in January under protection.

I’ve left some room for planting in the beds under my hoop tunnels.  I’ll direct sow lettuces, chard, mache, spinach, cilantro and bok choy under the plastic anytime now.  After all — it works — just like the jugs —- as a green house.

Important Points about any covers for winter crops —

During the warm spell we had a few weeks ago — I had the plastic off the hoops for about 2 or 3 weeks.  It’s back on now and everything under the plastic is doing great.  I anchor  the plastic to the hoops with more clips when high winds are expected but that’s not often.

Almost all winter — unless it stays severely cold (25 and below) I leave each end loose — not totally open — but loose enough that air can get into the tunnels.  If you close things up in our Virginia climate — you’re look for a lot of trouble.  (Mold, mildew, and aphids.)

And no matter where you live — you still need to consider opening your hoop tunnels and cold frames when the weather allows.  Good air circulation is just one of those universal principles that has to be paid attention to in order to be a successful gardener.

I have 3 hoop tunnels in the garden this year.  I really cold use another one --- which I will see to next year.

I have 3 hoop tunnels in use in the garden this year.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t started your winter sown  stuff yet, now is a good time.  It’ll give you a lot more time come spring.

Let the sowing begin! 🙂 And have a great New Year!


Related Posts:

You Can Plant in December

Looking at Winter Sown Seedling and the Garden

Warm Weather Crops and the Winter Sown Method

Seed Starting – Another Variation of Winter Sown

Winter Sown – Another Plus

Transplanting Root Crop Seedling

Wintersown and Garden Report – Radishes – Lettuce – Spinach

Seed Starting – It’s Easy Even with Less than Perfect Conditions


Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.


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  • …again, Happy New Year, Theresa!

    And thank you for this timely article, because I so very much needed it. I have researched winter sowing methods before, but often become bogged down by all the details, the ‘must do’s’ and ‘don’t do’s’ I have encountered/read along the way. You simplified it for me a great deal with this one article and I suspect I’ll find a great deal more information AND (just as importantly) inspiration when I read your other articles devoted to the subject.

    Happy Gardening, Theresa! And Happy Gardening to everyone else who reads this!


  • By all means Grace, please do read my other posts on winter sown. It is so EASY. I don’t know why so many people try to complicate everything in various articles online — or anywhere for that matter.
    If you have any questions whatsoever —- please let me know. Because winter sown is one of the easiest and most relaxed ways to plant! You just can’t go wrong.

    Happy Gardening to you as well Grace! I wish you abundance and prosperity in every avenue of your life — and of course in your Garden!

  • I can’t wait for my last ingredient to come so I can make my own seed starting mix and I can plant too.
    Thank you for details on winter sowing. 😉

  • Punching holes in milk jugs right now. Planting at the weekend!! I agree, it shouldn’t be difficult, but more like fun.
    This is definitely the site to read in order to eliminate the overwhelm, Grace!!

  • Thanks, this information is really helpful. Unless my eyes have deceived me you have hills you are planting in. Is this your way of having raised beds? I am getting some wonderful ideas here and just as soon as my garden dries out I am heading there. Thanks so much.

  • Patricia, my beds are not “hills” according to the dictionary definition: “a naturally raised area of land”
    They are raised beds because they were originally double dug. I plan another post on raised beds — which probably is long overdue.

    The second part of the soil preparation post tells you how to do that:

    These posts will show other views: 2nd picture down
    3rd picture down (first and third picture)


    P.S. By the way — about your soil “drying out”. I’d be interested in knowing the following:
    Were your beds double dug? If not, how were they prepared?
    Do you keep your soil covered?
    How wet is you soil now?
    This will help me to know what needs to be addressed. Thanks so much.

  • Hi Theresa, I am loving all the practical information on your site. Thank you so much! Just wondering if you can winter sow onions?

  • Susana – Glad to hear you are lovin’ all the info on TMG! And you are very welcome!

    The answer to your question could be very lengthy.
    I’ve covered it in detail over numerous posts if you read all on onions and wintersown on TMG.
    But in brief — you can wintersow, but the onions will come up when conditions are right for germination and that may or may not be as soon as you want in order to give them time to mature in the garden. Depends on where to live and your temperatures etc.
    Many folks in the mid-atlantic region (Va, NJ, Md. etc.) start onions in January inside. Once they germinate you can close up the jug and put them outside under a coldframe.

  • Hi Theresa. I love your winter sowing posts! Thank you for them.

    I have a question regarding containers. I have run out of all my winter sowing containers. I don’t drink liquids that come in containers that would work, and I’m trying to put something together at the last minute.

    I have pictures on Pinterest of folks using large, plastic bins like the ones here: What do you think of these? I know you’d have to drill holes in the bottom and in the lid. However, I’m not sure if a lot more consideration needs to be given to water/heat as the milk jugs. It seems the milk jugs take care of themselves. I’m not sure if the bins would do the same.

    I have also seen folks using these bins but, instead of planting directly into them, they lay individual cells like this: I have read that, for winter sowing, these cells aren’t good b/c they freeze too easily even though they’re kept in the bins. Would this claim make sense to you?

    Lastly, cost aside, I was wondering what your opinion was on using something like this for winter sowing:

    The best start we ever had to our garden year was the year we winter sowed. I’m hoping to make it more of a regular habit for our family. Thanks for your help!

  • Hi Patricia,

    Regarding your first link showing plastic bins from walmart —
    I like smaller containers. But if you like these large ones you could fill them to half with grow mix and use them with holes punched for air circulation and drainage. Also, I’ve found that clear containers (rather than the opaque) don’t do as well. Painting the outside white could make a difference.

    I sometimes have to use those clear gallon bottles that water now comes in. I don’t like them anywhere near as much as the opaque jugs that water use to come in, as did milk. I don’t paint them white, but as I mentioned, that would probably make a helpful difference.

    Lots of people use those cells that you linked to to start seed. Since I like “easy” — I don’t like them.. They take space I don’t have, they’re harder to work with, in most cases they add more steps (potting up), it’s hard to get the plants out, and on and on.

    Regarding your question about the cells freezing –
    When I’ve used them in the past and freezing temps were forecast I kept them under my little make-shift cold-frame. Didn’t leave them out to freeze.
    They’re thinner than jugs, but jugs freeze as well if left out.

    If you have my Secrets to Seed Starting Success pdf, it’s packed with information on seed starting. You might want to review that before you spend money on cells or other containers.

    Hope this helps.

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