Winter Gardening Tip #1: Starting Seeds Indoors

About the time February rolls around, I often find myself staring outside, imagining tomatoes ripening or carrot and radish tops peaking out of the soil.  I think our Home Gardeners and Youth Grow Students start feeling the same way, frustrated by the rainy winter months and wishing for a little sunshine. One way to cheer up ourselves (and our students) during the winter months is by starting seeds indoors.

Many vegetables, particularly those that grow slowly, do better when they are transplanted into your garden as young plants (starts) then when planted directly as seeds. Growing your own starts from seed is cheap, fun and gives you more choice in what you grow. And it’s a great way to get your hands in the dirt, even when it’s still chilly outside. Here’s how:

1) Gather supplies.  You’ll need:

Seeds and plastic bags

Pots: Clean out and reuse any left over pots from last year’s starts.  You can also use individual-serving sized yoghurt containers, or another similar-sized plastic pot.  Wash them out and punch a hole in the bottom to let water drain out.

Potting soil: combine equal parts of finished compost free of sticks and rocks, and one part good soil from your garden.  Mix it up well and break up any clumps.

2) Plant the seeds. Label the containers with the date and with the type of seed you will plant in them, then fill each about 3/4 of the way with potting soil.  Gently bury big seeds (cucumbers, squash, etc) about ¼ inch deep into the potting mix.  Place small seeds on top of the mix, then sprinkle a bit more soil on top of them.  Put two or three seeds in each pot, in case not all of them germinate.

3) Water until the planting mix is moist. Put the seeded pots into plastic bags to hold in moisture, then put them in a warm spot—the top of your fridge is good.  Check them regularly to see if the seeds have germinated and to be sure they don’t dry out.  Most types of seeds should sprout within 2 weeks, although it can take longer if it is cold or if they are buried deeply in the pots.

4) Once the seeds sprout, remove the pots from the plastic bag and place them in a greenhouse, under grow lights, or in a bright, south-facing window.  The plants will grow best if they’re kept between 65 and 72 degrees, and they like as much light as they can get.  As the plants get bigger, pinch off all but the strongest-looking seedlings in each pot.  Remember, don’t let the plants dry out!

5) Transplanting. Find approximate dates to start and to transplant different kinds of seeds in the chart above.  As a basic guide, the starts should be big enough to have true leaves but not so big that their roots fully fill the container .  To transplant, water the starts then gently tip the plant and potting mix out of the pot and into your hand.  Try to avoid touching the plant itself—instead, hold the block of potting mix it is growing in.  Plant the start in your garden bed, burying it up to just below its lowest leaves.  Hot sun will wilt the plants, so try to transplant them in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day.  Water the plants thoroughly after transplanting.  With a bit of luck, you’ll now have the pleasure of seeing your plants grow from seed to harvest.



  1. my seeds indoors sprout nicely but alway’s get a long stem and then die what am i doing wrong?

    • Thank you for your comment, Ingrid. It sounds like once your seeds sprout indoors, they aren’t getting enough sun (or light). One way to address that issue is to use a grow light, and raise the light as the sprouts grow-The grow light will keep your sprouts from getting leggy. If you don’t have a grow-light, try to find the sunniest window spot possible. We hope this is helpful info. Good luck with your sprouts!

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