Pre-Season Garden Planning and Sowing

Catherine and Lucy urge you to read the gentle piece in the Globe and Mail tilted -I’m Ready to Restart My Garden (and Escape the News of the World) by Angela Jouris Saxe. She journals about how she threw herself into the garden with gusto last year, sharing what she tackled by the month. She quotes Minnie Aumonier “When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden”. Angela says, “I am grateful for the lessons gardening continues to teach me: one must have patience and hope. We will be vaccinated when the time is right, and just like the forest’s gypsy-moth infestation, this pandemic will pass leaving us more resilient, wiser and hopefully better prepared”.

Gardening Successes

It is fun to reflect on the unexpected successes in the garden over the years. Lucy recalls her first house in Saskatoon and the old washing machine in the yard full of dirt where she planted her first tomatoes, and how amazingly successful they were. Little did she know they would still be her most successful tomatoes 40 years later. In her first home in Edmonton she had the most lovely bleeding heart bush and rich, abundant compost. The year she had a condo she grew a massive amount of basil on the balcony which her friend Liane turned into pesto. Then there were the hollyhocks and raspberries that naturally came up every year in her Aspen Gardens home, along with the Evans Cherry tree that could feed the neighbouhood. Last summer Lucy was thrilled with the bumper leafy greens of lettuce and arugula that produced all summer, with four harvests in her Riverbend home. Clearly being stuck at home all summer allowed her to keep it well watered. She loved the yellow and purple theme of flowers in her planters, mimicking the wild flowers seen all thru the desert of Joshua Tree National Park in California. Lucy always looks forward to the fragrant blossoms on the cherry, apple and lilac trees that bloom in her yard for the May long weekend, and the birds love these trees too. As winter leaves us we always feel hopeful for what sure and unexpected successes our planters and garden will bring.

Germinating Seeds

Lucy learned a lot about germinating seeds indoors from reading a gardening article “Growing Your Own” by Gerald Filipski, member of the Garden Writers Association of America. Gerald explains all the steps in great detail so there is no room for error. You can start sowing your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost which in Edmonton and Toronto is May 15. 

The key take away about germinating the seed, is the soil must remain moist all through its growth indoors, so check the soil daily and mist it. To help keep it moist during germination make sure the container is covered with a lid or plastic bag (with an opening underneath to allow air in). If you are improvising, Gerald suggests using the kind of plastic clam containers that you get at the grocery store used for bakery goods such as cookies. Use sterilized soilless potting mix. Pack the moist soil hard enough so there are no air pockets, but not too hard! Put the container in a bright warm room but not in direct sunlight. Once the seeds have sprouted the cover can come off and a light source like a south or west facing window is required. Turn the plants daily. Again the plants should never dry out or be sopping wet. Once the plants have a second set of leaves it is time to carefully transplant them into individual containers. Loosen the soil around the plant before grabbing it. You can use cut down 15 cm paper milk containers with holes poked in the bottom for drainage. Once the danger of frost has passed you can begin hardening off the plants by exposing them to the sun outdoors for a few hours a day. Gradually expose them to more and more sun and eventually leave them outdoors all night as well. 

Milk Jug Winter Sowing

Lucy’s neighbour is trying out the milk jug sowing of seeds, and this week she sees some plants are already emerging. The semi transparent milk jug (or strawberry or rotisserie chicken containers) becomes a mini greenhouse that allows one to sow seeds outdoors earlier and, like all ways we sow our own seeds, it’s a great way to save money gardening. There is no need for grow lights or hardening of plants. One needs to rinse the jug well, punch 4 drainage holes in the bottom and cut the jug horizontally at the bottom of the handle leaving an inch or so attached to act as a hinge at the handle. Use soilless starting mix (potting mix that is well sifted to remove large chunks) and be sure it has no fertilizer which can burn the seedlings. Put in 2 inches of damp medium, plant the seeds according to the package instructions, replace the top of the jug and seal it with packing tape. Place the containers in an area of sun outdoors. If the temperature dips at night cover the jugs with a blanket, but this system seems to be forgiving and tolerates some frost. Water the seedlings lightly if they dry out. When the temperature reaches 10-16 degrees Celsius undo the tape and open the tops of the jugs so the seedlings won’t fry. Close up again in the evening. When the seedlings have 2 sets of true leaves it is time to transplant them into individual containers to allow the roots to grow. Don’t forget to label the jugs clearly with a waterproof ink, and find a second way to label them since even waterproof ink can come off. 

What to sow in Milk Jug Seed Pots?

Seeds that require cold stratification, hardy perennials, cold hardy annuals, many native plants, wild flowers that require short periods of stratification and many herbs can be started early in jugs. For more tender perennials and annuals, start the process a month later. You can experiment and try to plant the same seeds in jugs but a month apart to see what works best. Keep notes so you can tweek the process next year. Tomatoes and peppers and other heat loving vegetables will not do well with this method in cold winter temperatures as they need warm soil to germinate. ( –

Facebook Gardening Group

There is a very helpful Facebook group called “Winter Sowing and Planting, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba” for the zone Lucy lives in. From following this group my neighbour Eva planted 25 jugs and they have been outdoors all of March. She planted: poppies, hollyhocks, lupines, penstemon, delphinium, sweet william, malva, butterfly milkweed, foxglove, pansies, gaillardia, coneflower, bachelor buttons, sweet pea, dianthus, cornflower, zinnia, bergamot, columbine, datura, calendula, 2 kinds of lettuce and kale. We will likely be having more bees and butterflies and hopefully a few hummingbirds this year with all these colourful fragrant flowers in the yard!

Insta-Pot Sowing of Vegetables Hurries Up Mother Nature

On CBC TV News was an item about an Ottawa scientist who used her one pot on the yogurt setting to get germination in 2-4 days of many vegetables including difficult to germinate vegetables like red peppers. She put seeds between damp paper towels inside a ziplock bag in the Insta-pot and now has more plants than she knows what to do with, all ready for outdoors, even though it it too early to plant. So if you want to give this a try you can likely wait until May to do it. Move over mushroom risotto!! Here is the link to learn more! (CBC –

Edmonton Pop-up Community Gardens to Return this Year

The pop up community gardens were so popular they had a wait list last year, so this year the City of Edmonton will continue with this venture with a slight change. “Considerations to social vulnerability in the proposed garden location and higher priority to those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 will be considered.” The deadline for application will be April 4. Last year the city delivered 350 pop up plots to 29 sites in a variety of locations from fields to parking lots to existing community gardens. Up to 30 gardens will be funded this year with the city providing containers, soil and in some cases, water. Applicants are to provide tools and seeds. The city started the project to mitigate COVID-19’s impact on food security.

(CBC –

Spring Flower Bulbs

From advice of last year’s guest blogger Shanthi, who wrote about Growing Cut Flowers on August 13, 2020, Lucy has bought some spring flower bulbs, dahlias and gladiolas. They have yet to arrive, but are much anticipated. She ordered them online from Victoria BC ‘Wildwood Outdoor Living Centre’, and wished she placed her order in early February because many of the color choices were already sold out by the end of February.

“Spring-planted bulbs produce some of the most dramatic garden color with minimal effort. Tuck them among your perennials to create a fuller looking bed, or create a special ‘patterned’ bulb garden to wow your neighbors. Many of these bulbs are ideal in containers; use them to liven up your porch or deck. And don’t forget to plant extras for cut-flower bouquets!”

Here is a list of spring bulbs to consider:

Lucy and Catherine’s Gardening Plans for 2021

It is so exciting to think about growing flowers and vegetables and watching the world green up in spring. Lucy plans to plant a large hydrangea bush out front in honour of her Mother, and a second small vegetable garden at the front side of the house, which means clearing the space of stones and building a 2 level planter. The new fountain she purchased last summer will be moved out front too. This and planting the flowers, vegetables and herbs should keep her busy until we all can get vaccinated for COVID-19. Right now she is just fixing up the mess in the lawn left by the voles over the winter….likely caused by the seeds falling from the bird feeders!

Like Lucy, Catherine is excited and impatient to “triple the fun” this gardening season, her second as a fledgling veg gardener. Plans include adding a second raised bed in the backyard, plus planting in her new Vegepod, received as a special surprise Valentine’s Day gift. The goal is to grow lettuces and asparagus in the Vegepod, protecting tender shoots under cover from uninvited nocturnal nibblers…that’s the theory anyway!

Learning from season one, she will let go of carrots and peas which were pretty limited-shows. Instead, she is taking guest blogger Audrey’s advice and looking to enjoy early rewards by planting radishes for the first time this season. Other first time additions and expeirments will include beets, leeks and onions. Returning “stars” (hopefully) will be the inspiring “squash-on-steroids” that brought so much joy, wonder and entertainment last season, plus plans for added rows of beans and garlic, building on last year’s successes, together with the odd pepper plant. There will also be container pot herbs to look forward to once again – such a joy to pick herbs fresh from the garden as part of meal prep. Herbs of choice include parsley, oregano, rosemary, basil, thyme, mint and chives. Exciting to see the chives already starting a new season of their own accord!

Catherine also is inspired by the passionate “tomato whisperer,” 15-year old Emma Biggs, who shared her tips and enthusiasm for all-things-tomato recently on a Leaside Garden Society Zoom lecture, and is keen to try her hand at germinating Emma’s recommended “best ever beefsteak tomato” – the Pantano Romanesco, and the beautiful Sunrise Bumblebee. (To learn more about Toronto’s Leaside Garden Society, founded in 1986 – ; to check out Emma Biggs’ website and podcast: or read about her in this recent Toronto Star profile

We hope you also have fun getting outdoors and getting your hands dirty even if you are just planning and planting some pots. Happy spring!

3 thoughts on “Pre-Season Garden Planning and Sowing

  1. Jean Heather McLeod

    Great gardening info and tips-thanks! Can’t wait to get my vegetables and flowers growing again this year. A great activity and escape!


  2. Jean Courtney

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring read! Looking through my gardening books and currently bingeing on Monty Don’s Gardner’s World YouTube episodes ….
    if you haven’t watched his Big Dreams, Small Spaces — worth it and on Prime Video


  3. Wendy Curilla

    Thank you for a great read! Never thought of using milk jugs or the clear fruit containers with lids. Retrieved them out of the recyclable bag for gardening use now! Also, interesting to read about the teenager gardener, Emma Biggs. A great inspiration for young and old kids! Happy gardening!


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