Mike, you are quite correct as to my location. It is Wisconsin. When the forum changed over to the new format, it forgot where I lived. Wasn't my doing!
Indeed, tomatoes can be winter sowed. If one wished, he could plant every tomato seed in pots, soaked down, and left outside over winter. 50 degrees is minimum for germination, 85 is optimum. The seeds won't germinate until the temperatures are warm enough for them to do so. In my cold frame, the soil is currently dry. In another week or so, it will be given a good drink and closed up tight. It's possible that some of the lettuce may germinate in late February as it did two years ago. Brassica family will germinate in late March. It will not be until April when the sun is high enough to warm the soil sufficiently for tomatoes to sprout.
This system has been around for centuries and still common in Europe. If you obtain seed packets from European companies, growing instructions often give the approximate dates for planting the seed in cold frames. It was how every gardener here also used to do it before cheap supermarket produce made gardening appear more expensive than buying vegetables. Nurseries came along with an easy and cheap supply of seedlings. Cold frames quickly became a thing of the past and the art and knowledge has been nearly lost. Everybody is too busy now to take the time to bother with a cold frame. Once the plants are up, it must be slightly opened to avoid cooking the plants. Then it must be closed when frost returns. Often both are in the same day. But the cold frame will produce the strongest and hardiest plants to be set out into the garden. No hardening needed, no scraggly plants, and very little transplant shock. If a few seedlings die, it's because they were the weakest anyway and not meant to survive and weaken the gene pool.
Thanks. That might just help me this spring. I was thinking of starting thm in a flat indoors ... might just do it in a cold frame instead. I built one last year but only used it for early greens.
Think of it this way, Mike. Your garden looks just like mine does now. Either black or white, depending upon the weather. If you did absolutely nothing, it would be solid green by late May. Mine definitely would be full of weeds. Those weeds would be dill, groundcherries, leeks, bok choy, lettuce, spinach, epazote, and tomatoes. A few select plants are allowed to set seed every year. As a result, some of those varieties have reseeded themselves for 20 years or more. Dill dates back to 1982 or 1983. Groundcherries since the late 1960s. If Mother Nature can plant those seeds and have them survive, so can Man.
As for planting tender varieties in a cold frame, split your seed supply. Half in the cold frame and half inside. Then you will believe!
Since this morning's reply, I've been busy playing in the dirt. Two new varieties of leek seed arrived and both are now planted in large pots and outside. Exposed to the elements for the duration of winter. About mid-March, clear plastic will be placed over the pots to intensify the sun's rays. I'll have nice well-established plants to set out in mid-May.
There really is no set time to plant seeds and cold-hardy sets outside. I-itoi multiplying onion sets were planted in early December. To close out 2003, more garlic cloves were planted on 31 December. They'll survive! The only requirement for winter sowing is that the soil be able to be worked. Sounds crazy but it works.
Cara, Shumways actually have them. I saw them in one of their "tomatoe packages" the heirloom one I think but I couldn't find it in the magazine. It was in the front in the color pages ... if you have the catalog.
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