January isn't all icy roads and blowing snow. Here are some seeds to start in January to get you thinking about the growing season ahead.
January is an inhospitable month in most climes. The sun rises late and sets early, and frost and snow blanket the ground more often than not. Whether spring starts in March of May for your garden, there is no getting around the fact that January seems unnecessarily long. Here are some seeds to start in January to help you stop twiddling those green thumbs.
Rosemary takes a long time to grow. I like to start mine at least three months before the warm weather hits, which means I start my rosemary seeds in January or February. I really enjoy starting rosemary from seed in the winter. The plants are slow to germinate and have generally lower germination rates than other culinary herbs, which means I get to spend a lot of time staring at my seedling flats wondering which cell will pop up next.
Since I grow rosemary as a container plant, I don't have to worry about popping it in the ground right away. Instead, I pot my seedlings up and keep them on a windowsill to catch the rays. On warm spring days before the last frost date, I put them outside during the day and bring them back inside at night. Only when I am sure the weather has turned do I leave them outside 24/7.
Technically most of us could wait another month or two to start sage from seed indoors, but I like to pot my sage up really well before setting it out. Of course, this could also just be an excuse to start more seeds in January than I really need to.
Sage takes about three weeks to germinate and does not reach its mature size for two years, which is why most gardeners prefer to grow sage from cuttings. If, like me, you enjoy the seed starting process, then another year or so won't matter. Starting sage a little early is also completely acceptable for container gardeners, as you don't need to worry about frost dates. Sage is hardy to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, so I keep some in containers and plant the rest in my garden.
Thyme is another one of those slow growing, woody perennials with poor germination rates. The seeds that do germinate take anywhere from 7 to 28 days to raise their little green heads, provided they are kept consistently moist and at temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since thyme takes its time when it comes to germination (pun intended), try giving it a hand by covering your tray with plastic wrap. Creating a mini greenhouse helps the soil maintain a constant temperature and retain moisture. As your thyme grows, keep the soil consistently moist but never wet, as this will likely damage your seedlings. Pot them up when they are around four inches tall or transplant them into a container if you plan to add them to a container herb garden. When the threat of frost is over, move your thyme out of doors and plant it in your garden.
The trouble with starting most vegetable seeds in January is that they grow too quickly. Leaving them in containers puts them at risk of growing rootbound. Unless you give in to the temptations to garden indoors during the winter, starting tomatoes, peppers, greens, and squashes in January just isn't practical.
Growing microgreens bypasses these issues. Since they get harvested at an early age, you don't have to worry about transplanting them or wasting potting soil. I like to grow microgreens using leftover seed from the previous year. Sprouting older seeds tests their germination rates and gives me a quick harvest with minimal investment. Lettuces, mustards, arugula, kale, collards, chard, beets, and other edible greens all make excellent microgreen candidates.
To grow microgreens indoors, select a shallow container with decent drainage and fill it with roughly two inches of potting soil. Sow your seeds thickly over the surface and cover with a fine layer of soil, then mist until the surface is evenly moist and place in a windowsill or under a grow light. Since different varieties have different germination rates, try and group greens with similar growth rates together.
Keep the seedbed moist during germination and harvest your microgreens once they develop their first true leaves.
Like microgreens, sprouts are a good way to use up last year's seed or to test germination rates. Beans, peas, and alfalfa make nutritious, flavorful sprouts that require minimal effort on your part. All you need are your seeds, a glass jar, and some cheese cloth. You will place your seeds in the jar and secure the cheesecloth over the lid to create an easy drainer for your seeds.
Soak the seeds thoroughly to revive them from dormancy. Soaking time and practices vary from variety to variety, so be sure to do a little research about the best way to soak your seeds before hand. Once they are finished soaking, drain them. Rinse your seeds 2-3 times a day by thoroughly spraying them with cool water. After each rinse, drain them and leave them in a place with good air circulation. When they have sprouted to your liking, rinse one last time, eat, and enjoy.
The best part about starting seeds in January is that it helps the time pass, putting you closer to February and March when seed starting season starts in earnest. January is also the best time to pour over those seed catalogs and choose the seeds for this year's garden, and I find that looking at seeds is almost as satisfying as planting them, especially if done from a cozy armchair with a cup of mint tea from last year's harvest.