Sow your seeds in the winter, outdoors. It’s easy and productive.

outdoor seed starting in the winter
Start your seeds outdoors this winter using leftover containers.

I have fervently sung the praises of my Kellogg’s Beefsteak tomato discovery. I’ll add that one of the happiest parts of the process was the starting of the tomato plants from seed using the winter, outdoors seed starting method.

outdoor winter seed starting
Seedlings are a treat to see when you practice outdoor, winter seed starting.

This little garden trick starting flying around the internet around 2005 and caught on big-time with many northern gardeners. Local great gardener and photographer extraordinaire Michelle Mero Reidel brought it to the masses via countless classes through The Minnesota State Horticultural Society.

I used the plastic bins that salad greens often come in. This in itself is a treat; to be able to reuse these massive throw-aways. The drill goes like this:

  1. Using a utility knife or opened, sharp scissors, slice a few slits in the bottom of the container for drainage and poke openings in the top for air transpiration.
  2. Add about 3 inches of cheap potting soil and moisten the soil until well-soaked, almost muddy.
  3. Plant your seeds according to the package depth.
  4. Secure cover, using a duct tape if necessary.

Now the container goes outside and sets a spell. Anywhere the sun will reach it is good. Thawing and re-freezing temps will stratify the seeds, which loosen the seeds coating … a necessary seed-starting step.

kellogg's beefsteak tomato
Kellogg's Beefsteak Tomato is a winner in the northern garden.

As our weather warms, you can begin to harden off your seedlings by increasing the size of the air holes. Condensation on the cover will indicate sufficient moisture. If you don’t see, water your container. Usually by May 15, you can completely remove the cover, but be sure to water if necessary.

When you see a few nicely formed leaves, you can transplant your seedlings, but no need to hurry with tomatoes. June 1 is plenty early to get a good crop.

Tomatoes and other annuals can be started in early March, but perennials can be started as early as January. Don’t be too concerned if your seedlings are a little puny and sad when they are transplanted into the garden. Keep them watered and they will soon leap.

Try some outdoor seed starting and save yourself the process of setting up grow-lights. It’s an almost magical process.

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