Best Seeds For Planting In Jan/Feb in Any Climate

Hello all! I got a seed order yesterday which has prompted me to create a list of the best seeds for planting outdoors right now, in January, even if you live in a sub-freezing climate. I was so excited by the email below -- I think it is great that so many of you are starting winter gardening! Here is what this couple wrote to me:

“Hi Caleb. My wife and I have just finished reading your Forgotten Skills book and would really like to start our own winter garden. I have built some cold frames out of free wood I found on and we already have a system for starting seeds in the house. We are excited to use open-pollinating seeds and garden for more than just 3 months out of the year. I don't know if starting off in the middle of winter is the best idea but we really are too excited to wait until spring. So we would like to order some seeds from you:

One packet of America spinach
One packet of Grand Rapids lettuce
One packet of Buttercrunch lettuce
One packet of Scarlet Nantes carrots”

This is Caleb again. Some of these would not all be my first choice for beginners to plant in January, so I thought it would be helpful to share my experience with what works best from seed outdoors in winter. Here is what I would recommend to any of you itching to start winter gardening today! I have all of these seeds available for order now.

1. Cascadia Peas. Why? Because they are almost unbelievably frost hardy -- more hardy than all other peas I’ve tried. And they germinate in cold soil. And, best of all, you can eat the leaves and they taste just like peas -- just like them! -- in salads, so you can start harvesting something immediately. Of course, don’t overharvest the leaves or you won’t get actual peas!

2. Mizuna. This extraordinary Asian green grows unbelievably fast. It does not seem at all fazed by bitter cold, and it has a beautiful frisee leaf. The goal of planting from seed in January is to get food to eat self-sufficiently as fast as possible, which is why Mizuna is a great choice. I just planted a bunch of this seed and it is growing very well.

3. Rutabaga. These wonderful root vegetables only sprout in cool weather, and right now they are thriving at my house, planted this month from seed. These make the very best mashed potatoes. You probably haven’t tried a rutabaga. They are like a cross between a carrot and a sugar beet in flavor. You’ll love them!

4. Red Orach. This is a relative of spinach and you eat it used just like it. It produces beautiful red-purple leaves that can be eaten raw or sauteed. I love it in an omelet! This vegetable just loves to sprout in winter. And it’s great to have a fresh winter “green” that isn’t green!

5. Basil. We can never get enough of this herb at our house. Can you even eat pasta without basil? And if you are not putting basil on your beef roasts, you are missing out! Yet basil can be finicky to sprout if the weather is not cool. It will sprout in January, and do even better in February.

6. Amsterdam Forcing Carrot. I have never been able to start carrots in January until I found this very old European winter carrot. I am one of only two seller of this seed in the U.S. -- it is extremely difficult to come by. The great thing about planting carrots in January is that it really starts you on your way to being self-sufficient year-round in carrots, like we are at our house. And it’s fun!

7. America Spinach. This is traditional spinach, and it will sprout in January, but it can be slow to grow, especially in the beginning. But once it is up and going, you’ll have spinach all spring!

8. Grand Rapids Lettuce. This is by far the fastest growing lettuce out of more than 100 varieties I have trialed -- it is just amazing. If you want self-sufficient fresh lettuce fast, this is the place to start. In a hot bed it grows an astonishing four inches A WEEK! It is cut and come again -- so to harvest, just cut it off at the soil level. It will grow right back, over and over again. 

9. Extra Dwarf Pak Choi. A fun miniature Chinese cabbage that grows very fast and loves cold weather. Tender and succulent to eat, great in salad, steam, raw, or stir-fry!

10. Osaka Purple Mustard Greens. Purple and green leaves with a spicy kick. Put a little in a salad for a burst of taste.
I’ve chosen all of these for the winter garden beginner. They are the easiest to sprout, and the most durable in bitter weather. Now a couple of quick notes on planting seed outdoors in January and February. You must at least have a cold frame made of greenhouse plastic or glass. You must place the cold frame in the garden where you want to plant for at least a few days with sun before you plant. All snow has to be melted, and the ground has to be unfrozen (which is what the cold frame will do for you). Everything on the list above will sprout faster, and grow three times faster, if you put it in a natural hot bed covered by a cold frame. Everything you need to know about hot beds and cold frames will be in my new Backyard Winter Gardening book which comes out in February. In the meantime, you can email me and I’ll try get to you, but remember I get hundreds of emails every single day, so be patient with me :) Here is the link again for buying my seeds -- and remember, all of the advice above is not from books, it from my garden. We believe we are the last family in the U.S. to grow an extensive winter garden. Join us! You won’t regret eating fresh and free in winter! -Caleb


  1. what's your recommendation for the clear part of the cold frame for 10 degrees colder than where you are- Northern Utah? Is there anything I can get locally? I'm so excited I want to get started on it now!

  2. I'm about to order seeds to plant in my cold frame. Would you give some hints for starting them since your book isn't out yet (I have pre-ordered from Amazon)?