While we can’t wish the deep freeze temperatures away, there are some things we can do as we wait for the weather to warm up. The time is near for beginning our indoor seeding – even if the cold weather outside doesn’t make it feel like garden season is around the corner. It’ll soon be the right moment to start giving our favourite annuals and edibles a “head start” into the season by seeding them in the warmth of our homes, giving us a longer window to enjoy them after their spring transplant.
Before You Plant Your Seeds
Gardening indoors during the winter can have a magical effect on your mood, as we’re able to get the joy of seeing fresh spring shoots before the real thing appears outside. Beyond the mental health benefits, however, seeding our flowers indoors has tangible benefits for our gardens, too!
Our growing season in Manitoba is unfortunately short, with most regions only
seeing up to 125 frost-free days per year. While there are plenty of early-maturing flower and edible varieties out there, indoor seeding allows us to enjoy other varieties who wouldn’t have a chance to reach maturity if we waited to plant until after the last frost. Before you get started, though, you’ll want to prepare first:
Read your instructions carefully. The back of each seed packet has important information specific to that particular variety. Ensure you read the back of the packet before purchasing so you’re prepared to meet your seedlings’ special requirements – and that the end result is what you’re looking for.
Get familiar with your zone. The southern
half of Manitoba is predominantly zone 2a, 2b, and 3a. Review a plant hardiness zone map prior to purchasing seeds. While some that are from zones close to ours can be convinced to grow here, some seeds adapted to much warmer climates may start indoors just fine, but might not survive our climate after transplanting outside.
Start small and work your way up. If it’s your first year of seed starting and you hope to plant an entire edible garden, pause before you start seeding all your vegetables indoors! It’s better to start with one or two varieties and learn how to care for them well, rather than biting off more than you can chew with five to ten plants in the first year. It’s better to have one or two strong, healthy, high-yielding plants than several struggling ones. Besides, you can still always purchase starter seedlings in the spring if you still want to expand your edible garden.
Don’t start too early. While it may be tempting to start seeing something fresh and green as soon as physically possible, you find yourself a little underwhelmed by starting seeds too early. Most plants only need about six weeks of start time before they’re ready for transplant. Start too early and the conditions the plant needs to grow won’t be there for it yet, leaving you with a weak, lanky, or stunted seedling. Review a seeding calendar to plan your indoor seeding schedule first!
Planting & Germinating
Once you’ve prepared properly, you’re ready to get growing! Here’s how to get your seeds started indoors:
Use the right soil blend. Potting soil is great for houseplants, but plants that are being grown with the intent to transplant need different conditions. We recommend a
blend of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite, which should allow sufficient drainage and oxygen flow for your developing plant. Whatever your blend is, though, make sure it’s with new materials purchased at the garden centre and not pulled from your garden, because your vulnerable little seeds will need sterile conditions to get started. Then, follow the seed packet instructions for the correct planting depth.
Give seedlings a proper introduction to light. Before germinating, seeds haven’t developed a system for synthesizing light. So they should be kept covered to conserve moisture until the first leaf develops. Once you see the leaf emerge, place them by a sunny window. In our climate, your seedling likely won’t receive the necessary 12 hours
of light it needs per day this early in the year, so supplement light during those dark hours with a grow light!
Be mindful of moisture levels. Seeds are already rich in the nutrients they need to grow, so they need no fertilizer, but they will need a consistently moist environment to germinate. Too much water can cause mould and too little can dry out the baby plant. Keep soil damp by misting as needed with a spray bottle.
Transplant thoughtfully. While those first few days of above-zero weather may make us feel like breaking out the shorts and t-shirts, it’s still a little early for your seedling to survive outside – especially in the chilly spring nights! After the risk of frost has passed, harden them off by giving them a few hours outdoors at a time, then move them back indoors. Repeat this daily for longer and longer stretches of time. Overcast days without wind or rain are particularly good starting points, as your plant is not accustomed to direct sunlight or rain. After a week or two, your seedling should be toughened up enough for transplanting.
Plants, like babies and puppies, are a lot more work than you’d expect from something so small – but at least they have the manners to stay in one spot while they grow! However, as they mature, all the dedication you put into them is worth it. Before long, you’ll be able to look on proudly as they sway in the summer breeze – and this winter will be a distant memory.