Early Garden Prep: Part I

I had a draft of this post all written up a few weeks ago, and then had to delete it and start all over.  See, I was planning on talking about my big plans for my community garden plot (climbing trellises! transplanted strawberries!), but as it turns out, we won't have that anymore now that we are moving.  Instead, we will have something EVEN BETTER!  But that's for another post. ;)

So for now, let's just talk about starting your own vegetable plants at home over the winter.  Regardless of your garden size, this is something everyone can do!

There are quite a few plants that you can get started in the winter.  Check your local growing calendars for exact dates, but usually the earliest plants you can start from seed in your home are:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Pepper
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

STEP 1: Purchase your seeds.

Part of this step includes being realistic about how much you are going to grow.  Do you have a few pots in your apartment?  A 100 square foot community garden plot?  A small farm?  It's easy to over-buy seeds and get excited about it.

A selection of my spring seeds.

A selection of my spring seeds.

STEP 2: Prep the baby plant world.

Seeds are a funny thing.  Sometimes when you read how to prep seeds for planting, you wonder how nature gets along without us.  In reality, it was really quite easy to get these things started, so don't be intimidated.  YOU CAN DO THIS!

For several months over the winter, I had been collecting egg cartons for this very purpose.  Egg cartons work great as plant starter pots with the added bonus that they are biodegradable, so if you wanted to, you could stick the whole dang thing in the ground.  I personally don't tend to do that, as I've found it takes way too long for the carton to break down in certain soils.  I just remove the plant when transplanting to the garden and compost the rest.  Do as ya like.

The best way to use the egg cartons is to poke drainage holes in the bottom of each egg nest for drainage.  Then, cut the top off the carton and put it under the bottom half to allow the water to seep out.  I then put this whole set up into a large plastic pan I got at a garden store - you could easily use something else.

Poke holes in the bottom to allow water to drain.

Poke holes in the bottom to allow water to drain.

Put the top under the bottom to allow proper drainage.

Put the top under the bottom to allow proper drainage.

STEP 3: Plant your seeds.

Fill the cartons about halfway with soil.  Place 2-3 seeds on top of this soil layer in each little nest (your seed packet will likely tell you how many to use for your specific vegetables).  Finally, cover with another thin layer of soil, then gently water.  While the seeds are germinating, they can be kept in a warm, dark place.  Only when they start to come up do they need sunlight.

Make sure you are keeping track of which seeds you put where - a lot of these plants will look very similar when they are small.  I made little flags with tape and toothpicks to keep track.

STEP 4: Wait.

Patiently.  But probably not for too long. 

I started these plant babies several weeks ago, and they are doing GREAT!  I'll post another update in a few days showing the progress.

Anyone else have suggestions for starting plants indoors over winter?  There are plenty of opinions on the internet, but this very simple and very straight-forward process has worked amazingly well for me so far.