Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Week 3

What to do this week:

So now that the seeds are ordered, let’s plan those windowsills. Onions get the first rotation on the best windowsill. Best means warmth and light. You can plant onions by mid-FEBRUARY. You can also start new perennial flowers then. I tell you, compared to buying perennial flowers one by one at the garden center, it is way cheaper to start them from seed. If you start them early, you might even get flowers the first year. I know, this is a food-garden tips column, but flowers are food for the soul.

By the end of FEBRUARY or early in MARCH, once the onions have germinated, you can start to plant lettuces and spring greens and even annual flowers if you have room. At that point, the onions can move to a window in a cooler part of the house. By mid-to-late-MARCH, if the windowsills get too crowded and you find that you are rolling over in bed and sending onions flying, you can think about putting the onions out into the cold frame or greenhouse. Most seeds need warmth to germinate but once they do, they can handle cooler conditions. We want to stay warm, but they need the light they are getting out there. If we get a real cold front I just throw a blanket over the cold frame, or a 200-watt light bulb in the green house.

Windowsill seedlings. (Photo via Allotment Heaven

Windowsill seedlings. (Photo via Allotment Heaven)

A cold frame can be just a wooden box with an old window on top. You might even be able to throw one together for this year. Your spinach will thank you. I have shovelled snow off the cold frame and planted spinach, and had the best and earliest spinach ever. I will talk more about getting a quick cold frame together if conditions are good in a month or so.

Sometimes I start a few tomatoes toward the end of MARCH but we really shouldn’t start tomatoes until APRIL. If we start them too early, they get too big and mighty too soon. You can even wait until the end of APRIL here in Cape Breton. By then, the greens are in the greenhouse, or in a cooler window, and you will have the best windowsill for tomato, pepper, eggplant and basil.

If you don’t have a cold frame, the main thing is to get even light on all the seedlings. If you don’t, they will start reaching and get scraggly. I sometimes cover cardboard with foil and put it behind the seedlings to reflect light back, or turn the tray every few days, but even so they get lanky. Think about building a cold frame, but until you get to that, you have to manage the light. Another down side of not having a cold frame or greenhouse is that you will have to gradually introduce your developed seedlings to the full summer sun and other elements. They do better if they can do that themselves as spring turns into summer.

Some things, like artichoke, eggplant, and basil, really need warmth. Don’t start them until the end of APRIL. If it is still cool in the house then, think about a heat mat. Some of these plants might even have to stay in the greenhouse all summer some years around here.

And finally, on the windowsill rotation, we have the squash, all varieties. Don’t even start squash until the beginning of JUNE. You can’t plant them outside until the beginning of JULY.

Next week I will give you some advice on potting soil, pots and alternatives so you will have everything you need to get things started.


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Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.