Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Gardening 201- Winter Sowing

This post originally aired on February 20, 2013. Since I've seen many of you on FB and IG talking about growing some of your own produce this year. I wanted to share it again.

You've chosen seeds, you have a great idea about where to put your garden...but what? It's only 11 degrees outside? (Or twenty, or forty.)

Never fear, enter winter-sowing! We live in Indiana. Where most people don't get enough sunlight in the winter, and it can be really difficult to start seeds indoor without grow-lights. So what to do, what to do? 

Last winter my friend introduced me to a great blog "A Garden for the House." Kevin has WAY more time than I have, for cooking, blogging, & gardening, but I love his advice on winter-sowing. You can go directly there from this link if you still have questions when I'm finished today: http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/category/gardening/winter-sowing/

The general idea is this: start your seeds outdoors, in little greenhouses made of recycled milk-jugs. Since it'll be too cold for anything to grow for a little while, they'll just sit and wait. Once it starts to warm up outside, your seeds will be all ready to go, you'll just need to keep an eye on when they need water.

Here's last year's lettuce on March 16th

By the end of March it was already big enough to eat! Our "frost-free" date here is May 1st, so we were WAY ahead of the game.
We did this for the first time last year and had the best tomato starts I have ever gotten from seeds. Short and stocky!

Now I'm going to show you how I winter-sow. I do it a little differently than on agardenforthehouse, but it's just a few tweeks of my own.

First- save LOTS of empty (washed out) milk and OJ jugs! We had 28 so far, but I'll probably end up starting 40 mini greenhouses total this year, so I'll keep saving them!

Next up, gather your supplies: you'll need: jugs, a tray to pot on, some newspaper to catch your mess, seeds, potting soil, a BLACK sharpie, duck tape, a sturdy knife & kitchen scissors. An empty box to put down when you are cutting is a plus.

Then, punch at least 4 drainage holes inthe bottom of each jug (do this first to ALL of them so you won't forget it!) I punch the knife in, and then twist it. It makes a hole about the size of a writing pen.

After that, you'll need to use your sturdy knife to cut a slit in one side, I like to put it in the middle of a side that adjoins the handle. Do this step for several jugs at a time, them move to the next step.

The following step is to use your scissors to make the slit wrap around all but the part under the handle, this will be your hinge!

Now to the messy part. Mix up your potting soil nice and muddy. On days when the weather breaks, I do this outside in a 5 gallon bucket. But since it was 45 and windy, I did it inside in an old ice cream bucket.

Now put soil in the bottom about 2-3" deep and plant your seeds according to the package. For small things like lettuce, you can plant a few dozen per jug. For plants you want to grow big and stocky (like tomatoes) limit yourself to 4 per jug. 

Use your duck tape (whatever color you have on hand) to tape shut the two sides opposite the handle-hinge. Notice the drip-tray to catch (at least most of) the wet, soggy soil leaking out the drainage holes!

LABEL, LABEL, LABEL! Use a black sharpie (other colors fade too soon) and mark what you planted in each jug & the date you planted it. After all, those tomato plants are all going to look alike when they are still small!

Finally, put your jug greenhouses outside in your garden spot (whether it's ready yet or not!) 

Today I only started 10 greenhouses, but I didn't want to go dig in the garage for more potting soil, so the next time it's warm(er) out, I'll get a lot more started. 

Don't be discouraged if you aren't ready for this because you don't have your seeds yet. It will still be helpful to start your plants in March or April the same way. I'm starting mine now for 2 main reasons: 1- I want fresh lettuce ASAP, & 2- I'll be doing a lot of these, so spreading them out makes it more enjoyable!

Dreaming of fresh tomatoes!
Thanks to Arlene for being my photographer for the day!


  1. I love to start things in my large window in the winter. I have lemon balm growing now with some herbs and spices as well.

  2. I'm going to start some tomatoes. I'll need to find a pot for them eventually, but at least I'll have a start.

  3. We have been saving empty bottles since you shared this link, and today we started our seeds. Thank you!