Start your garden in February with seeds planted indoors under grow lights or outdoors in milk jug greenhouses.
If you’re planning to plant a round of cool weather crops, February is a great time to start sowing your seeds. We have started seeds a variety of ways over the years. Expensive seed trays are not required! Plants such as onions, kale and leeks do well in milk jug greenhouses.
[Side note: if you’re looking for a more expansive list of garden chores to work on in February you can find my February Garden Checklist here]
Why start seeds indoors?
There are so many reasons. Here are the big ones:
- Getting an early start helps you MAXIMIZE your harvest potential. Most of us have a limited space available for gardening. If your cabbage plants go into the ground with 4 weeks of growth then they will be ready to harvest sooner and give you time to plant another summer or Fall crop in that location.
- Mid-Atlantic weather has a tendency to warm up fast. Cool weather crops (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.) do best in cool temperatures. The sooner they finish growing the better. If it gets too warm, broccoli especially, is likely to go to seed before producing a head.
- Getting a jump on the bugs. Bugs seem to love our moist temperate climate. The best (organic) way to avoid them is to plant sturdy crops that are nearly ready to harvest either before the bugs get going or after the main crop of bugs has passed in the Fall.
What cool weather crops can be sown indoors in February (in our Zone 7a Mid Atlantic Region)?
- Broccoli and cauliflower
- Onions and leeks
These cold hardy seedlings should be ready to plant outside in 3-5 weeks.
Warm weather seedlings can also be started in the latter part of February. These include:
Tomatoes and peppers will need a warm (80 degrees Fahrenheit) place to sprout such as on a heat mat or on top of your refrigerator. Once they sprout, they also need a strong light source lest they become long and leggy or suffer from damping off.
Which soil should I use to start seeds?
- I always use Miracle Grow Organic Potting soil or something similar. For seed sprouting, some garden books recommend using soil without any kind of fertilizer, but that has not done as well for me. I think it’s easier to start with nutritious soil than to try to remember to start fertilizing seedlings when they have 2-3 true leaves.
- You can also mix up a big batch of your own seed starting soil. Seed starting soil recipe (From The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman):
- 3 buckets brown peat (standard peat moss).
- 1⁄2 cup lime. Mix ingredients together thoroughly.
- 2 buckets coarse sand or perlite.
- 3 cups base fertilizer (equal parts mix blood meal,
- colloidal phosphate, and greensand). Mix thoroughly.
- 1 bucket garden soil.
- 2 buckets well‐decomposed compost. Mix all ingredients
Containers for seed starting?
Here are some examples of seed starting containers that we have used over the years. I currently use plug trays (link below) — they are reusable and I tend to start A LOT of plants each year. The other ideas worked well for us on a small scale and many of them are better than plug trays, as the containers are biodegradable, can be planted directly in the ground, and avoid disturbing the roots.
- Egg shells –these are great because they also add calcium to the soil
- Egg cartons
- TP rolls
- Newspaper pots
- Plug trays — I have also found these at Ace hardware a couple times.
- Jiffy pots or plugs — These are easy to use and as a bonus – no need to buy any soil to fill them with!
- Trays and recyclables in general
- Milk jugs — I will talk about this more in another post about winter sowing.
**Make sure whatever container you use has good drainage**
Watering seed starts?
- Beware of overwatering
- Let it get fairly dry and then water deeply
- Always water from below if possible
- Sunny window — it needs to be VERY sunny or the seedlings will get leggy
- Grow lights — this link is to the ones that I use, but there are a lot of options out there.
- Winter sowing – cloches or milk jugs. You can create mini-greenhouses with plastic milk jugs cut in half. Punch drainage holes, add soil, and plant seeds. Then water well, and tape the top half back on. These can be left outside to sprout in the winter sun.