Winter Sowing A Vegetable Garden

I often hear the question when do I start my garden?  How early can I put it into the ground?

This is kind of a loaded question.  There are a lot of variables to look at when growing a garden.  Like location, types of plants you wish to grow and the time you have to spend working in the garden.

However, one method I've used that has a really high success rate is called winter sowing your vegetables.
winter sowing
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    What is winter sowing?  It is really very basic.  Instead of waiting until the spring to sow your seeds indoors, you collect and sow seeds into a milk jug greenhouse starting in some areas as early as December or January.

    Yep, that's right.  You can start growing your garden super early.

    If your mind is blown like mine was, let me share with you how it works and get those questions answer.

    winter sowing

    What is winter sowing?

    Winter sowing is a method of gardening that allows you to plant seeds in containers outside during the winter months.  Instead of sowing seeds indoors, you use a mini greenhouse method to grow seeds outside.

    Most winter sowers you find are growing flowers with this method.  And it works great!  I've grown snapdragons, celosia and marigolds this way.

    However, the winter sowing method is also great for growing your garden vegetables.  

    winter sowing seeds

    When do I start winter sowing?

    You can start winter sowing right after the first day of winter.  Usually in late December.  However, you can wait until January, February, March and even April.

    The idea behind winter sowing is that seeds germinate outside and get more strength from growing in the elements.  

    The question you might also wonder about is when do I transplant my winter sowing vegetables?  That question all depends on your plant hardiness zone.  Warmer climates can transplant earlier in the year than cold climates.

    The best rule of thumb is don't transplant your plants before the last frost date in your area.  Unless you plan to baby them and cover plants for several weeks.

    winter sowing containers

    What are the benefits of winter sowing?

    Winter sowing flowers and vegetables are hardier and typically easier to transplant.  They also aren't as "leggy" as those that are often grown indoors.

    Plus, winter sowing seeds don't take up space in your home.  You don't need expensive lights or special equipment to successful grown your garden.

    Instead, you take a few months to collect milk jugs, soda bottles and other plastic materials to sow your seeds.  That means you are giving plastic a new life too! 

    winter sowing seeds

    Why should I winter sow my garden?

    I have found this method of sowing much easier and less stressful than indoor sowing.  I don't have to rotate my plants, put up a fan or even harden my plants for weeks.

    Instead, my seeds will germinate once the weather in my area is warm enough.  They will hang out in their milk jugs until I'm ready to transplant them.

    With the winter sowing method you can plant those seeds are pretty much forget them until the sprout. 

    winter sowing in milk jugs

    Can seeds germinate in the cold weather?

    Yes and no.  Seeds can begin germinating in cool weather but not freezing.  When you plant a seed it is dormant until the soil becomes warm enough to sprout. But seeds aren't hurt by a frost or freeze.

    Once the seeds sprout, that is a different story.

    It is important to keep an eye on your winter sown garden.  If you have an unusually warm week or two, the seeds begin growing and the temperatures drop again, you may need to cover those jugs to ensure the plants to die.

    milk jug greenhouse

    What seeds are good for winter sowing?

    Most vegetables and flower seeds work well with winter sowing.  I wouldn't try this method with tubers since they need much more space.  But here are some that work really nicely:
    • Green beans
    • Squash and Pumpkins
    • Onions
    • Tomato
    • Cabbage
    • Broccoli
    • Corn
    • Cucumbers and Melons

    Learn how to make milk jug greenhouses so you can use the winter sowing method to plant flower and vegetable seeds for your spring and summer garden.

    How to Make a Milk Jug Greenhouse

    Materials Needed

    milk jug greenhousemilk jug greenhouse
    Step 1
    Cut the milk jug or soda bottle around the mid section.  I've also cut mine just down the front because it is easier to tape.  Both methods work.  

    Also, punch several holes through the bottom of your container.  This allows water to drain so your seeds don't mold or rot.

    gallon milk jug green house
    Step 2
    Add moist soil.  You need at least 3-4 inches of soil to allow room for roots to grow.

    milk jug mini greenhouse
    Step 3
    Add seeds.  For tiny seeds, don't cover them.  Just place them on the surface.  For larger seeds, they can go into the soil as deep as 1-2 times their size.  But don't go super deep.

    How many seeds do I add?  That depend on the plant and the size of your container.

    For smaller seeds, I can get 7-12 in a container comfortably.  Seeds like corn and onion.

    For squash and melons, 4-5 is probably the most you would want to try and squeeze in.

    greenhouse out of plastic milk jugs
    Step 4
    LABEL your seeds!!!!!  Add a popsicle stick into the soil with the name of the seed.  

    I also like to label the outside of the bottle.  But that can fade.  That means you need to make sure to use that popsicle stick.

    greenhouse out of plastic milk jugs
    Step 5
    Water your soil.

    If you used tiny seeds you use placed on top, use a spray bottle to moisten the top layer of soil.  If the seeds are larger, you can use a small watering can to water the top layer.

    winter sowing method
    Step 6
    Tape that bottle up.  Duct tape is the best.  It keeps the moisture and air out.  I've used packing tape, I wouldn't recommend it.  It gets wet and starts coming off.

    milk jug greenhouse

    Step 7
    Set your bottles on a flat surface in a sunny area and just let them hang out all winter.  Check them regularly for growth and watch the weather for times you might need to cover any sprouting plants.

    milk jug greenhouse

    Isn't winter sowing such a simple process!  It takes just a few minutes and a bit of planning to get seeds sown for your spring and summer crop.

    Another wonderful tip is you can winter sow all year round.  Not just in winter.  If you want to plant fall crops, you can sow them in the summer and they'll be ready to plant for fall.

    Learn how to make milk jug greenhouses so you can use the winter sowing method to plant flower and vegetable seeds for your spring and summer garden.

    Learn how to make milk jug greenhouses so you can use the winter sowing method to plant flower and vegetable seeds for your spring and summer garden.

    Learn how to make milk jug greenhouses so you can use the winter sowing method to plant flower and vegetable seeds for your spring and summer garden.


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