Back in March, when there still was snow and it was cold, I started the winter sowing project. Well, what is winter sowing anyways? Winter sowing is a way to start seeds outdoors in the winter, in a small container greenhouse. It was first invented by Trudi Davidoff. Seeds will germinate whenever it is naturally time for them.
I did not doubt the system in general, I just was worried that in zone 3 the seeds would come up too late. Read about the planting here: winter sowing in Zone 3. This post is an update on how it did.
Normally when I start seeds I carefully look after them. I want the seedlings to grow strong and healthy. For this trial, there were no frills. In snow, in frost, even in heavy late frost when the seedlings were already up, they had to stand it all or die. And they did not die. Many of the seeds germinated and grew. Yes, winter sowing does work in Zone 3 too.
What did well with winter sowing
Cabbage and swiss chard germinated the best. So the hardier the plant, the better it works.
Dill and celery are just coming. I did not plant any summer crops, but looking into the out-coming, I do not think it would be good in our cold climate, if you have experience with a summer crop, please share.
The seeds that did germinate grew healthy and sturdy. They actually look better than those that I started indoors. Here’s a comparison broccoli plant.
Also, the spot on the south side of the house seems to be a good one. Till today (May 14), I did not water, protect, or open them. They did very well on their own. A real ‘Plant and Forget it’ system.
However, pampering them a bit more would have brought even better results.
What I would do differently
I had all the little greenhouse jugs in a container, so it was easy to carry them out and have them all in one place. However, after the snow melted they were sunken in water and I had to rescue them a few times. Drainage is important, having them in a water-tight container is not a good idea.
I also would like to plant more (veggies, greens, and flowers) and all denser, just in case some do not germinate.
I would want to give them some more protection during very cold times, that would speed them up a bit more.
Winter sowing is a great system, especially for those who live in a more predictable climate where spring comes gradually no matter what zone they are in. But even with our ups and downs, it did work.
I updated the planting blog post, to add more detailed information. Head over if you want to learn more: Winter sowing in Zone 3.
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Kristen from The Road to Domestication says
Looks like a great system! And makes you feel like Spring will be arriving soon, having seedlings growing under the snow!
Yes, I am so excited that it works even in our a bit crazy climate.
I had no idea you could sow in the winter like that.
Back when you posted about seed planting, I planted basil and lettuce seeds. The lettuce is now ready to harvest and the basil is growing well. I usually buy the plants, but planting the seeds were fun!
Glad I could inspire you! We are still far from anything ready to harvest, but it will come.
Ricki @ The Questionable Homesteader says
This looks great! I love the fact that they came out looking better than the indoor ones. Thinking I might have to try this.
I’d love for you to share it at The Weekend Social starting every Thursday at 9 EST through to Sunday.
Thank you for the invite! Will go over and check it out.
Jeremiah Robinson says
This is so interesting! It never even occurred to me to try this. Next year I’m definitely going to do some greenhouse winter sowing. Thanks for the great idea!
You are welcome! It was a first for me too. I am glad I tried.
Ricki @ The Questionable Homesteader says
Thank you for sharing at The Weekend Social. I’m really looking forward to trying this next year, I’m told that we are a zone 4 in my area but I’ve had more success with the zone 3 plants (I loose the zone 4 ones often enough that I’m a little leary of planting them) and I’m always itching to get out in the garden to plant my veggies (the earlier I get them in the sooner I get to eat them) so this information could really help me out next spring.
Thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward to seeing what you have for us next week
Valerie Jaquith says
Hi, I live in zone 2-3 in the mountains we get deep snow and temps occassionaly down to 30-35 below. Winter stars early. I plan on sowing spinach in the late fall this year, wondering when that would be, I am guessing just before the ground freezes solid?
I am also going to try planting an assortment of early and mid season radishes, carrots salad greens/lettuce, plus a variety of kale, and other of my well performing cold season crops
What advice can you give me – I plan on preping the soil, planting the seeds, mulching heavy with aspen leaves and covering with my heavy duty frost blanket. Any other tips for me? Great blog by the way!
Valerie it sounds like you got a great plan. With the assurance of deep snow you can plants almost anything in the fall, it will work like the winter sowing, whenever conditions are right, seeds will germinate. You can also plant spinach now, you might get another crop this fall and an very early crop next spring. They will be earlier than the seeds you plants, since it is already a plant. Also leave some carrots in the ground, in the winter you can dig them up under the snow, or wait till early spring, just not to long, so the carrots don’t start growing again. The carrots would need some extra protection, we use straw. The spinach and seeds should be fine just with mulch and snow.
L Rotor says
WOW! As a northern gardener of 35 years, and daughter of an organic gardener from the 1960s (converted to organic gardening during the Depression when pesticides killed all the birds, and there were plagues of insects and a dust bowl when his parents’ wheat farm could not grow grain, I didn’t think there was much more I could learn from a gardening blog other than technicalities.
But this is real news! I had NO idea I could start some of my seeds outside with a bit of protection. I don’t have a greenhouse, but could put up a bit of plastic on a frame and try this!
Thank-you very much for sharing this very helpful info!
You are welcome. I will take this as a big compliment. It seems that as gardeners we never stop learning.
Beth Oman says
Found you looking to learn more about maximizing my garden in a short growing season. Since you asked about more tender things, I have started tomatoes with winter sowing in milk jugs in 4a and 3b. We definitely harvested but can’t remember how long our season was compared to people who started indoors. Also for some reason I thought they were supposed to be on the north side of a wall so that is what I did.
Thank you for sharing your experience.
Hi there! Just curious if you know exactly how cold it got? Want to try this too as I am in zone 3 (Edmonton, Canada).
No, I do not remember the exact temperature. However, spring is usually a bit cooler here and comes a bit later than it does in Edmonton. So it should work for you.
Hello there! Do you think this process could work for tree seeds that need cold stratification? Thank you
I can’t see why not. It is actually a good idea, thanks for asking.