Image by ky_olsen
By Heather Rhoades
Can you imagine being able to harvest vegetables from your garden a month before your neighbors are able to? What if you could have a garden magically pop up in spring without you even having to buy a single seedling or get your hands dirty in the spring? This is all possible if you use a method called pre-seeding.
What is Pre-Seeding?
Pre-seeding is when you plant seeds for your spring garden in the late fall or early winter. In essence, you plant the seeds for next year’s garden the year before.
When you pre-seed your garden, you are allowing Mother Nature (rather than the nursery industry or your own judgment) to have control over when the seeds germinate. This results in both earlier seed germination in the spring but also in plants that are better suited to the outdoor weather and healthier because of this.
Often, when we grow our own seeds or buy seedlings from a plant nursery, the seeds have been germinated in “ideal” conditions where temperatures are high, conditions like rain and wind are not an issue and light is evenly diffused. When we then move these pampered seedlings outdoors, where temperatures are cooler, rain and wind batter the plants and sunlight is much stronger and direct, this can cause shock and damage to the seedlings. Hardening the seedlings off helps, but no matter how well you harden them off, there is still some stress to the seedlings’ systems which delays their growth and production outside.
With pre-seeding, it is a little like seedling boot camp. Seeds germinate when the conditions are right for them outside and they are exposed to the harsher elements of nature from the start, which results in far less shock to the plants, which means they can focus more on growth and production faster.
How to Pre-Seed Your Garden
Pre-seeding works best in areas where the weather stays consistently cold. This is because freezing and thawing of the soil will actually do more damage to the seeds than if the ground stays frozen. Also, pre-seeding works better in gardens that stay mostly dry. Gardens that tend to get swampy after normal rainfall, even for a short period, you may not be able to be pre-seeded as the standing water may rot the seeds.
In order to pre-seed your garden, you need to prepare your garden in the fall. This means that all of the debris from that year’s garden must be cleared away. Then you need to work in compost and other organic material into the soil.
Then, after the temperatures in your area have dropped below freezing, you can plant out your desired seeds. They need to go into the ground the same as you do in the spring according to the directions on the seed packet. Then water the area.
After the seeds have been planted and watered, cover the beds with about an inch of straw or mulch. This will help keep the ground frozen in case of an unexpected thaw.
In early spring, the seeds will germinate and you will have a wonderful start to your spring garden.
What Vegetables Can Be Pre-Seeded?
Almost all cold hardy vegetables can be pre-seeded. This includes:
- Brussel sprouts
Some less cold hardy vegetables can also be pre-seeded with varying success. These vegetables are the ones you often see coming up as “volunteers” in the garden. They may survive the winter and they may not, but it is still fun to try. They include:
Pre-seeding can make your spring garden much easier to start, which will allow you to focus on other areas of your garden while still being able to reap the benefits of your own vegetable garden.