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It’s winter. Time to plant?!

Free talk on sowing seeds in the snow this Feb. 1
CHILLY STARTERS — St. Albert master gardener Dale Ford will give a free online talk Feb. 1, 2024, on winter sowing. The talk will cover how to use modified milk jugs (such as those shown here) to start cold-tolerant seeds outdoor during the winter. DALE FORD/Photo

It’s the middle of winter, but St. Albert master gardener Dale Ford has already started growing plants outdoors.

All you have to do is take a milk jug, cut it in half, add dirt and cold-tolerant seeds, tape it shut, and toss it into the snow, she explained.

“I have some on my deck right now, which sounds crazy, but some seeds actually germinate better that way,” she said.

“It’s almost magic … you go outside and open it up and go ‘Oh look! There are actually plants growing in this!”

Ford is holding a free online talk at the St. Albert Public Library this Feb. 1 on winter sowing. The talk is linked to the St. Albert Seed Library, which offers free seeds to residents who want to grow their own food.

St. Albert gardeners have to start melons, tomatoes, and other crops indoors well before spring thaw because our growing season isn’t long enough for them to mature otherwise, Ford said. While you could always buy a tomato plant instead, starting your own from seed is cheaper and gives you more choice in what to grow.

“You can pick from all over the world and grow something different,” she said.

Many seeds, especially native species, need a blast of cold before they will germinate, said Emily Brady, community outreach librarian at the St. Albert Public Library. While you can give them this cold treatment by putting them in the fridge or planting them in the fall, you can save space and electricity in your home by seeding them outdoors in the winter.

Winter gardening

Winter sowing is different for every plant, Ford said. Some must be grown indoors, and may require heat lamps, heat pads, and absurd amounts of space. (A pumpkin started today will take over your living room by spring, she noted.) Others require one or even two cold cycles before they will sprout. You’ll have to use specific seed-starter soil mixes to avoid disease, and (for indoor plants) give them very specific amounts of water.

You can sow cold-tolerant crops such as kale, Swiss chard, and spinach by tossing the seeds onto the snow, said professional horticulturalist Jim Hole. When the snow melts, those seeds drop into moist soil and are ready to sprout. You can also dig down to the dirt, plant your seeds, then cover them up again with snow.

Winter sowing can get you an earlier harvest, but it has limitations, Hole said. You have to sow more seeds, as some will get eaten by birds, and you probably won’t get as many plants. Still, provided the seeds are cheap, winter sowing is usually a worthwhile gamble.

Ford said the milk-jug technique mentioned above creates a mini-greenhouse for your seeds, and works for lettuce, perennial flowers, and even trees. It’s also a fun activity for the kids.

The winter sowing talk runs from 7 to 8 p.m. Feb. 1. Visit to register.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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