While you won’t be eating sun-ripened tomatoes for a few months, there are plenty of seeds to sow right now! Taking advantage of these cold-hardy plants will help you extend your growing season, and get you eating fresh garden food way before tomato time.
Where should you start your seeds?
There are a lot of factors that determine whether a seed should be started indoors or out. The main thing you need to know, however, is your growing zone. You can find that by searching your zip code on the USDA Plant Zone Hardiness Map. Growing zones tell you on average how long your growing season will be, and the range of temperatures you can expect throughout the year.
Here in Fort Wayne, Indiana we are in Zone 6a. We experience average low temps of -10° F to -5° F. So not a lot can survive our winters. That means I need to start a lot of things indoors so I can have them ready to transplant outside after our last frost date.
Cold Hardy vs. Cold Tolerant
There are some plants that can actually withstand quite a bit of cold. Some even prefer it! This can change depending on the plant and on the variety of the plant, but some plants can handle a light freeze (at or below 32° F), where others like cabbage can handle a hard freeze (at or below 28° F). Plants that survive a light freeze are considered cold tolerant, and plants that survive a hard freeze are cold hardy.
You can start some cold hardy plants from seed outside, but more often than not, you’ll be starting these plants indoors and transplanting them outside before your last frost.
What You Need to Start a Seed
Starting seeds is simple. You need to give the plant what it needs to grow, and you need materials to make that happen. You can keep things budget friendly, or invest in some higher quality materials, but in the end, it’s all the same thing. Plants want to grow, and you as the gardener are facilitating that process.
What Plants Need to Grow
Plants need light, nutrients, and water. That’s it! So if you can find a way to fulfill all three of those needs, you can start seeds. You can use grow lights or keep your plants by a well-lit window if grow lights aren’t in your budget (you will need to rotate your seedlings daily to keep them from getting too leggy). You can make or buy specialized seed starting mix, or you can use potting soil. You might get better germination rates with a grow light and some nutrient dense seed starting mix, but plants will still grow with the window and potting soil.
Materials to Get Started
My recommendation is to start simple and add on each year. My husband and I started with tiny cups and putting plants on our window sill. Now, we have a whole shelving unit in our laundry room set up permanently with grow lights, and we have special trays and soil blockers, as well as heat mats and cups for up potting. Here are the materials you need, and a few ideas of where to get them.
- Cups (can be red solo cups, peat cups, or plastic seed starting trays)
- Alternatively you can use a soil blocker to save money on cups.
- Soil (I like Fox Farms Happy Frog Potting Soil)
- Lights (there are so many grow lights out there it’s hard to pick the “right” one. But overall, if you’re investing in some grow lights, make sure they have the full spectrum of light. That will simulate sunlight the best. These are the ones we have.
- Heat mats (great for starting warmer weather plants like peppers and tomatoes.
- A greenhouse for plants that are too big for inside, but not ready for the garden yet.
Top Ten Seeds to Sow Right Now
Here are the top ten seeds you can sow right now (in no particular order). Some are quicker growing crops that will bring you an earlier harvest (peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes) but others you want to get started and transplanted so they have time to grow before temperatures get too hot (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower).
- Herbs (Cilantro, Thyme, Oregano to name a few)
- Broccoli/ Cauliflower
- Swiss Chard
Some Final Tips
Don’t worry too much about getting everything right. You won’t. This is our fourth or fifth growing season, and we’re still making mistakes (albeit new/ different ones, but still). You learn best by doing, and experiencing the successes and failures for yourself.
I share more of my day to day work on the homestead and as a stay at home mom on Instagram, so be sure to follow me over there if you want to see behind the scenes and what my days look like! Most recently I shared how I start my peas in egg cartons!
Peas grow super fast, so I like using egg cartons because they’re cheap and keep my growing trays open for crops that take more time and space, like cabbages, peppers, tomatoes, etc.
Best of luck, and comment down below with any questions, comments, or tips you have for starting seeds this spring!