Spring-Sowing Outside! (YES, before the last frost!)


Some of you lucky-ducks are already able to sow your seasonal tender annuals outside (hello joyous west-coast!!)….but here in the prairies we cannot usually leave plants outside until the May long weekend, and even then, they still need to be carefully hardened off. Way. Too. Much. Work. And honestly, for most veggies, this is just not a long enough growing season.

I have been contemplating trying some growing lights with seedlings. I even grabbed a couple of sets from Costco to help overwinter my succulents, but with the house going back on the market this week, my insect and plant science experiments throughout the house are starting to reach “this much weird stuff is frowned upon” territory.

I don’t do a ton of vegetable gardening, but love to have a few special ones to involve the kids in growing, picking, and of course eating the most delicious and healthy veggies around. This year I will be doing them in a few patio pots to make moving easier (fingers crossed). Next year I have much bigger dreams.

Since I cannot start them early sprawled all over the kitchen table, like I have done in the past, I figured this would be the perfect year to try Winter-Seed-Sowing that I have heard about for years but have never tried. If it goes well I will try earlier next year with Perennials that need to be sewed during the coldest winter months.

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Winter/Spring-Sowing is a very simple and passive way to plant both hardy and tender plants. I have been informed of the simple steps by a good friend’s mom, and she was happy to let me share her expertise with you. For the few minutes it takes…try it out and see if you can get a few tender vegetables a really early start and have them already hardened to the cool nights by the time they go into the ground.

I have been told that I can Spring-Sow any veggies that are hardy enough to seed themselves in the compost, and not to bother with root vegetables. I am going to try Zucchini, Tomatoes (Cherry and regular), Cucumber (hard to grow in Calgary because of our short season…worth a try!!), Mixed Lettuce and Green Beans.

The goal is to make mini greenhouses, that will allow the seeds to start growing as soon as the weather starts to warm up, and really cold nights will stop them from coming up too early. You still won’t want to put them into pots or the ground before the last frost, but you should get as much growth as indoors with lights (or more). The big bonus? Less work, no electricity required, and most of all…they are already hardy to the cool spring nights!

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I am told this is also the perfect method to germinate those perennials that we all love, but none of us start from seed because so many of them need to be cold-stratified. Think of the cost saving possibilities! Great ones to try in the winter will be Lavender, Phlox, Delphinium, Rudbekia…so remember to save your seeds from the garden this year, and make trades with your friends. Apparently any perennial specific to your zone is worth a try, as well as many hardy veggies and herbs like Broccoli, Parsley and even Lettuce.

Winter Sow Perennials and hardy annuals around


Spring Sow more tender annuals approximately

4-6 weeks before last frost

Because we are planning to move, I did not need to add a million new Perennials to my garden but will be saving my seeds and doing a mass planting next winter.

It is also a great way to start strong and healthy tender plants, which is what I have started this week.

Great suggestions from my friend for a spring start about 4-6 weeks before the last frost are: Tomatoes, Cucumber, Squash, Coleus, Zinnias, Basil, Dill and most other annuals.

This makes walking through the seed aisles at your local gardening stores a whole lot more exciting.

Here is what you need:

  • empty milk jugs

  • exacto knife

  • soil

  • seeds

  • Sharpie

  • duct tape

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Here’s what to do:

  1. Wash milk jugs. You don’t need the lids, Throw them away. Remove labels.

  2. Slice with exacto knife around the middle of the jugs as shown, leaving about 2” left uncut, so that it hinges open. (See above)

  3. Cut 4 1” X shapes into the bottom of each just to allow for drainage.

  4. Fill each jug with about 3-5” of soil and water the soil allowing it to drain out the bottom. Using regular, plain top soil or garden soil without special additives is apparently fine…i.e. the cheap stuff.

  5. Label each jug using a sharpie as to what the you are going to grow in it. I used two jugs for each different type of seed.

  6. No need to pre-soak seeds. For small seeds, sprinkle on top (about a dozen in a 4L jug) and tamp down. For larger seed, plant about 1/2”-1” deep, and I put 5 in each jug. You will thin as needed before you move them into the ground.

  7. Tape around your cut line to re-seal your jugs and prevent too much moisture and heat loss.

  8. Place outside in a sunny, semi-sheltered location.

  9. Until they germinate, other than a little water here and there, they can be left alone. This goes for really early sown seeds (under a blanket of snow of snow) or later in spring like I am doing. As the weather gets warmer and the seeds germinate, be aware that they are more vulnerable to direct sunlight cooking them, so possibly move them out of direct sun on hot days once they have sprouted, or start to hinge the lids back and let a little extra air in during the hot hours. Once it gets to this point, the tape can be left off, just close them back over in the evening.

These are the ones that I have sitting out on my deck right now.

These are the ones that I have sitting out on my deck right now.


Sounding to easy to be true? I kind of think so too! I am told and have read a little bit to make sure that this isn’t completely insane, and am assured that it works! You will notice on a sunny afternoon that the jugs have condensation inside, if they do not water them a little.

The only other tip that has been drilled into my head is remember to throw the lids in the garbage. Your plants will rot and burn if you leave the lids on.

Since writing the first 1/2 of this post, Cadence and I have tucked one of my indoor grow lights into the furnace room on a storage shelf, and planted trays of the same seeds there incase me starting a few weeks earlier makes my first outside try a complete bust.

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This is the perfect project to get your kids involved with. Involving them in all of the steps, makes picking and eating your crops far more exciting.

My furnace room little light set up. I may add a second shelf once they get bigger. but this is my back up plan in case I started my tender ones too soon (in trying to get you photos of the process).

My furnace room little light set up. I may add a second shelf once they get bigger. but this is my back up plan in case I started my tender ones too soon (in trying to get you photos of the process).


I will keep you updated on how it’s going.