Starting Early Spring Vegetables.

If you have a cubicle, a corner or just a counter you can grow your own seedlings.  Take me for example. All I have is a dungeon, yet I grow hundreds of plants in it every year.

Told you.  Dungeon.  Complete with imitation mummified cat.  I don’t often show my seed starting area because it doesn’t exactly inspire, but as I was down there today I realized, again … my view of the world has been skewed by Pinterest and Instagram.  Work with what you have.  If all you have is a crypt, then that’s just fine. As long as you have some grow lights you can grow your own seedlings.

If you decided THIS was the year that you were going to start your first vegetable garden, or grow plants yourself then it’s time for you to start following along with me.

Today I’m going to tell you about what seeds you can start now.

Now is the time to start COLD HARDY crops.  Things that do well in cooler weather as opposed to things like tomatoes and peppers which do well in warmer weather.

Why Start Seeds Inside?

There are 2 reasons I start a lot of my own seeds. Both vegetable and flower seeds.

  1. I can get a head start.
  2. I can grow the exact varieties I want based on how well they do in my climate, how well they tolerate pests, how they taste, how they look etc. etc.

By getting a head start you can get your cold hardy plants going and into the ground before they’re even available to buy in nurseries.


Easy Cold Hardy Vegetables You Can Start NOW.

(can all be started 4-6 weeks before your last frost date)

Use my Seed Starting Calculator for exact dates. If you don’t know your last frost date, Google it.

BEETS  (beets are funny things. Their seeds actually contain up to 4 plants, so for ever beet seed you plant, you’re actually going to get 3-4 beets.  These can be separated later on or grow in clumps)

BROCCOLI  (best grown under cover outside to prevent cabbage worms)

CABBAGE  (best grown under cover outside to prevent cabbage worms)



KALE  (best grown under cover outside to prevent cabbage worms)



SWISS CHARD  (best grown under cover outside to prevent cabbage worms)

  • If you’re starting seeds for the first time I recommend you only start 3-4 different things so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • If you don’t plan to grow them under floating row covers don’t start plants that require this. It will lead to disappointment when you spend all that time growing your own broccoli only to bring it in the house and realize it’s filled with green caterpillars.  Slugs and cabbage moth can also decimate cabbages in NO time.
  • If you don’t have a lot of space, plan to have a salad garden. Lettuce (which you can start now), a cucumber plant, and a tomato plant which you can start later.

Different seeds take different times to germinate so don’t get worried if your kale is popping up in a few days but your parsley still isn’t up in 2 weeks.  If the seeds are fresh and the conditions are right (you’re keeping the soil moist and covered) they’ll eventually sprout.

The #1 reason for seeds not germinating is if they’re old seed or if they dry out.

(there are exceptions because some seeds like tomato seeds will germinate years later, while other things like onion seeds really only last for 1-2 years at the most before they refuse to germinate)

Black Magic kale, my favourite kale variety.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can SUCCESSION PLANT.

Succession planting is when you plant a crop of seeds ( like these peas ) and then a week or two later, plant another crop of them.  This takes some pre planning and organization. If the thought of it is making  you dizzy with fear as opposed to excitement, maybe skip succession planting until you’re comfortable with regular planting.

These peas are ready to go into the garden after hardening off.  In behind them are more peas I started 2 weeks later that are just starting to germinate.  Once all the peas from the first plants have been eaten, the peas on the next crop will be ready.

Succession planting extends your harvest.  You can apply the same principles to flowers to extend the harvest.


Flower Seeds You Can Start NOW.

Most, but not all, annual flowers can be started 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. 







POPPIES (NOT for the amateur)




SWEET PEAS (soak these seeds for 24 hours prior to planting to help them germinate)



This of course isn’t a complete list it’s just some of the more popular flowers you might want to start from seed because you can grow SUCH great varieties of them all with seed.

I’ve already started my Sweet Peas and poppies and between this week and next week I’ll be starting the others you see as well as some more.  It’s gonna be a big year for flowers for me. My plan is to have 2 solid beds filled with flowers.  Two 16′ x 4′ beds.  Plus the borders of my garden.

Imagine.  Soon each of these trays will be full of enough flowers and vegetable seedlings to fill a  40′ x 40′ garden.

I buy some seedlings already started (usually broccoli, melons, cauliflower and some lettuces). And I always end up grabbing a few new tomato varieties if I see them.  If I were to guess I’d say I start 85% of my plants myself from seed.

Now. You want to know how to actually plant them, right?  All of that information is in this Seed Starting post.

If you’re ready to get started but aren’t sure what to buy  I’ve compiled an Amazon list of EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO START SEEDS NOW.  13 packs of seed, a seed starting tray, heat mat, soil and plant markers for just $77 for everything.  You can also add in the grow light I’ve picked out for you for just $29.  Go to The Art of Doing Stuff’s Amazon Seed Starting Shop to get everything you need.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be prompting you to start your tomatoes, peppers and other warm weather crops.

If all of this really does seem overwhelming just pick TWO things, right now to start from seed.  Almost anything can be grown in a container so you don’t even have to worry about not having a place for your garden. If you have a large plastic pot you can grow a tomato plant, herbs, carrots, beets, green beans or pretty much anything else you want to try.

So.  What are you thinking of growing?  Is it a Zombie?  I forgot to mention that’s obviously what grows the best in my current setup.



  1. Sherri says:

    I knew that I liked you for a reason, we both love mummified cats. Hahahaha. My seedlings are started, thanks for your great posts.

  2. Erin says:

    I’m seed starting for the first time this year and have been reading (stalking) your site religiously. Funnily enough, the thing that pops out at me the most in this article is that you casually posted a picture of an antique butcher block island, just hiding out in your dungeon! Well, well, well. It must be nice to be the owner of such a vast amount of collectables that a such a beauty doesn’t even make the cut for the human lair of your home. ;)

  3. Cabbage moth decoy.
    Learned about it on #urbanhomesteaders.
    Just wanted to pass on. Your so smart you probably already tried it.
    Sounds interesting 🙂

  4. Fiona says:

    I am in the southern hemisphere so on the opposite season – am currently dealing with a tomato glut and will be roasting then freezing. I’m about to start my winter seeds!

  5. Hannah says:

    I’m in zone 2a so I don’t bother starting seeds until mid-April, but I get SEVERE seed buying urges around this time. And I started some flowers anyways. I can always set heat lamps up in the greenhouse in May.

  6. Emily says:

    I’m barely in zone 6 on the cool side, and have seedlings under three sets of grow lights. The cold hardy plants are in an impromptu cold frame made of bricks and Plexiglass. Years ago I made my own set of light shelves with 2 x 2’s and thin plywood with the lights on chains to be raised as needed — it was easy and inexpensive. Thanks Karen for the info on starting peas inside. I’ve been waffling about that, our planting date for peas is a week from tomorrow and we’ve had so much rain that the ground is too squishy to work. I’m enjoying this series!

    • Karen says:

      I have to get my peas out in some sort of impromptu cold frame myself! I may just do something with a heavy plastic zippered bag that some pillows came in. Wish me luck. ;) ~ karen!

  7. Karen White says:

    I love your gardening posts. This is my 2nd year attempting to start flowers from seeds indoors. I had about a 50% success rate last year. Most of my seedlings started out looking great, then just stayed tiny and wimpy looking. Didn’t look like damping off, but just pathetically small. Perhaps my lights aren’t powerful enough. Perhaps I should have re-potted them into bigger pots. They just never seemed ready for that because of their size. I hope to get all of them outside as early as I safely can this year after hardening them off even if small. Maybe that will help. Also maybe re-potting. Excited to see what happens and I can’t wait to see what flowers you decided to grow!

  8. Sabina says:

    We are adding three new raised beds this year, I’m so excited! My planning on paper and calendar has been done. The new beds are specked out and materials have to be bought. I still have to get my “grow-op” station in the basement cleaned off and ready. I was planning on starting this weekend. You’ve totally blown my mind with starting your peas indoors! I know the season is short-lived but I’ve always followed the advice that they, and beans, don’t do well if their roots are disturbed and should be sown outside around April 1st. So I’ve always direct sown. If I plant an excessive amount of peas I can generally get enough for one small pot of macaroni and peas. I think I’ll start some indoors this weekend and still direct sow as planned. I’m the same growing zone as you, with a nice lake breeze :)

  9. jen says:

    I always start everything right now because waiting to do it makes me anxious that I won’t. This year I WILL try succession seed planting though. Wish me luck!

  10. amanda says:

    Karen, you are such a great motivator for me. You do all the brain work and lay it out with such clarity, and much needed real life humor. I so appreciate that. Then look whose lovely face I see when I’m checking out the gardening section at my local Barnes & Noble! You are nationwide, kiddo!

    • Karen says:

      I know, lol! I wrote the article. :) I loved working with The Old Farmer’s Almanac and hopefully I’ll be working with them again on their next magazine. :) It’s stillllll fun for me to see it out in the world. ~ karen!

  11. Robin Carter says:

    What is wrong with you woman! Why in the world is that gorgeous butcher’s block in the dungeon?? I’ve got a crappy ol table I’ll trade ya ;)

    • Karen says:

      You wouldn’t be the first to ask for it. ;) I LOVE that butcher block. But at the moment there’s nowhere for it upstairs. Hopefully when I redo my living room! :) ~ karen!

  12. Brita says:

    I have very vigorous broccoli and cauliflower seedlings and the eggplants are just beginning to sprout. Still waiting on the peppers, and tomatoes will be seeded in two weeks… and I’m thinking there are a lot of weeks until setting them out and I’m also thinking I was crazy. But the years when you just go to the nursery and buy generic seedlings in May, while easier, are not as much fun.

    • Karen says:

      I know. And the truth is waiting is actually better! It gives you a better chance at avoiding pests. But … WHO CAN WAIT??? ~ karen!

  13. We live in your town and our property is called “deerlawn”. That’s your first clue…
    But the last time I went to the grocery store celery was $5, so I decided I want to grow a small (read “miniature”) garden on our upper 14’X14′ balcony. It receives tons of sun so if I manage to actually water things, they grow, but I purchased an Aerogarden just in case. Do raised beds work, and if so, what can I plant that doesn’t need roots all the way to China?

    • Karen says:

      O.K. No joke. My mother told me about the $5 celery too, lol! Raised beds absolutely work. You just need to make sure you have good soil in them. Most waist height beds are deep enough that you can grow everything in them. I bought my mother Lee Valley’s Vegtrug and it works perfectly. And 3 or so weeks ago Costco had one that was plain, black and only around $120. ~ karen!

  14. Lee Ann says:

    I’m a seed starting gardener since I was a little tyke. And I grew every imaginable vegetable and flower that could survive Zone 4. I’ve also started seeds for trees, shrubs, wildflowers as well as other forms of propagation all for the love of it.
    Anyway, I’m cheap.
    You can start several seeds under plain old fluorescent lights in styrofoam cups with a hole poked in the bottom. Plastic food trays from chicken or ground beef purchases can serve as watering trays. But the dirt, alas, is best when it’s sterile seed starting mix. I tried microwaving regular garden dirt and although it worked, it didn’t work fab. Happy, happy gardening all!

  15. That spray bottle you have is THE BEST. I got it for our son for spraying his tortoise’s bedding, but I borrow it here and there in the house (mainly to “iron” my tablecloths). I stole it yesterday to water my seed trays. Perfect for that! I need to find another one just for me.
    P.S. My snow peas, snap peas, and radishes were the first things to peek out of the dirt yesterday. I literally squealed out loud.

    • Lynn says:

      For the sprayer try Canadian Tire, Pevey Mart, Homehardware or even Walmart. Most hardware stores have different sizes of those sprayers. At least in Canada that is.
      Hope that helps.

  16. Jenny says:

    Is anyone else in California? Our last frost date is just two days away now. I just started my summer veggie seeds and my tomatoes are ready to transplant!

    • Jennifer says:

      Yes to California, Jenny! I was supposed to start my seeds 6 weeks ago, but I still haven’t. Think I’ll start a few just for experiments but buy some tomato seedlings too. I want to plant them in a week or two. I’m in zone 9b. Good luck with yours!

  17. Megan Geiger says:

    I’m so excited for spring and growing stuff!! I just got a tomato, a couple peppers, and that Toothache plant you recommended (for my window boxes, I have hoodlums that like to come through and tear up my window boxes, boy are they in for a surprise this year!). They are all going into containers seeing as all of my beds are currently A. shady (like those hoodlums) and B. rocked (by the previous homeowners, and not in the good way). Wish me luck!

  18. Susan says:

    I love your setup Karen. Just shows you can grow plants anywhere!!
    Wondering whether you ever use your potmaker shown under your table. I saw them at Lee Vally and wondered if they are worth buying.

  19. Ryn says:

    This post came at a great time since I was planning on buying my seeds tomorrow! Honestly, I’m a little jealous of your dungeon because it looks way more organized than my stuff which is everywhere lol. But I’m getting more organized this year, which I like to call “not Pinterest worthy but good enough for me”.

  20. Darlene says:

    Don’t forget foliage too! Without the green stuff, the flowers can look like they are just floating….

    • Karen says:

      Yup, I have a bunch of that growing but I’ll be talking more about flowers and the importance of greenery in another post. :) ~ karen!

  21. Nancy says:

    Love the grow op comment Deb. We grew edible mushrooms for a few years and always referred to it as our little grow op. One day we had an RCMP friend over for coffee. It was fun watching him repeatedly look over at the mushroom bales until finally he said “Okay, what the heck is that!”.

  22. Deb says:

    About 20 years ago, my daughter, when questioned about the lights in the parlour, what the lights were? She told her friends mother that it was my friends grow op. I had to answer a few questions about that one. Still going every spring and still no, now leagal, dope.

  23. Christina Blanchard says:

    I really hope this is the year for my spinach. Despite starting indoors in March/April I never seem to get a good harvest. The spinach bolts and I only ever get a couple leaves.

    Any recommendations for spacing for sowing? What varieties do you find produce the best?

    Please help… I think I may be doomed to forever eat turnip and potatoes lol

    • Karen says:

      I have the best luck with spinach by sowing it in the late summer. It just barely gets started and then in the spring you have a great harvest. Otherwise, I’m the same. No matter what variety I try it’s bolted. The only thing I would suggest is starting it outdoors under protection in April as opposed to inside. ~ karen!

  24. Joanne says:

    We have the same basement……..I didn’t know others had survived Airbnb.

  25. Jerry Dye says:

    Please don’t forget the leeks that can be planted now. Most important !!

    • Karen says:

      I was going to mention leeks, but I actually plant them later (around June) and then over winter them for a spring crop. it’s my way of attempting to lessen the damage of leek moth. :/ ~ karen!

  26. Suzette Fergusson says:

    Got the seeds (including dried beans!!!) at Seedy Satursay last wknd!!! Nobody had sweet peas! I am going to get some at Lee Valley (I really love that place).

    I don’t have a heat mat. Is it worth it to grab one?

    • Karen says:

      For the price of them now (around $20) it really does speed up and improve germination. I just got delivery of a 2′ x 4′ one yesterday and already have it on the job. :) ~ karen!

  27. Tina says:

    Lol, I’m WNW if Boston and still have a foot of snow in the ground so planting seems far away.

    I’m going to distribute seed moss rose this year in an area I don’t want to mow. Everything I looked up said they can be distributed on April 9 but that seems so early. I’m nervous!

  28. Flash says:

    Still lots of snow here. I am pretty sure it’s a tad early

  29. Nicole says:

    Do you *need* to have a fancy grow light? Will an ordinary fluorescent one do?

    • Mirjam says:

      I’ve been starting all my seeds for years now, in my attic under the cheapest fluorescent tube I could get – they always do fine. A “real” grow light might give even better results, but I’m too cheap to buy one :)
      Just make sure you have a set-up where you can move the light higher when the seedlings grow taller.

    • Karen says:

      A fluorescent light will work but it won’t get you the healthiest, strongest seedlings because the colour spectrum isn’t right and they just aren’t as strong. So your plants will grow for instance, but they won’t be stocky and robust. They’ll be more spindly. Sometimes that isn’t an issue and they pop back to life once you get them planted outside. :) ~ karen!

  30. Meg says:

    I am thinking of planting FAR TOO MANY types of seeds. Several perennials, some annuals, and a few veggies planned.

    I’m very excited for some geranium seeds I bought. Should be really pretty, and healthy large geraniums are not cheap. Seeds (I hope) will allow me to have more plants. AND I’m very excited about some milkweeds (A. tuberosa and A. syriaca) that I hope actually sprout after some cold stratification. *crosses fingers* *crosses toes* and If not, I’ll pop by the wildflower society where they have native plants for sale, so I can still feed up the local butterflies with native plants.

    I’ve certainly started seeds before, but I am excited as I know much more about plants in general now since the last time I grew seedlings. (Plus I’m the kind of lunatic that loves a challenge, especially of my own making.) So in my exuberance there will likely be some tiny seedling casualties. But I’m usually in my plant area (I keep orchids) every day, I feel the “seedling” stages will be the least problematic. I think bigger issues will be rabbits, turkeys, bugs or whatever eating tender plants when they’re moved outside. (We’ll see right!? Hahah!)

    • Karen says:

      I’ve learned to always save a few seeds for replanting just in case, lol. And I’ve noticed wild turkeys out in the general area of my community garden so I might have to add those to my list of plant eaters as well. Ack. ~ karen!

  31. Sabrina J Funk says:

    I’d love to hear more about starting Poppy’s and what it takes to get them started well. I always end up buying them at the nursery and transplanting them but would love to grow some from seed.

    • Kim says:

      I’m Zone 8b, Central Alabama. We throw the seed in on top of the mulch in the fall and they grow like weeds :)

    • Trish says:

      I live in Vancouver area. I harvest my poppy seeds in late summer and scatter (throw them around) in the fall. They’re easily pulled up if they are in the wrong spot. I have clumps of poppies everywhere. Easy & pretty!

    • Marna says:

      I live in Texas and seem to have problems with poppies too. I do have bluebonnets that I harvest and toss the seeds where I want them to come up next, even share some seeds. I love all the flowers you mentioned. Now that I am old, I do what I can and often am lucky having plants that last more than a year or two, just depends on the weather, if the plant lasted through the hot summer. I started using large rectangular planters, besides large pots that stay in place and are planted with various flower bulbs, so I can still have lots of flowers. I use some large pots for vegetables too, my husband dug up my garden, said we are too old to bother with it. When we moved to our house 35 years ago, everyone had lots of flowers, seems like few people bother now.

  32. Isabella says:

    We have a grow light in our garage which makes the windows glow reddish pink. Our neighbors asked us if we were growing weed. We nervously laughed. So far the Drug enforcement crew has not shown up to investigate our many trays of veggie seedlings.

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