To Do In The NW Edible Garden: January 2014

It has been an unusually pleasant January up here in Cascadia – fairly dry and mild – and I’ve been out in the yard more, tidying and futzing and making a few changes to the layout of the garden. I am very eager to get going on this year’s garden.

You know how some years you have the passion as soon as the seed catalogs start arriving and some years it takes the warmer days of spring to pull your inner-gardener forth? This year, oh it’s on, baby! I’m having to physically restrain myself from doing something stupid like starting eggplants inside right now, just to get to play in the dirt.

Soon…soon we can get going.

To Do In The Garden: January

Plan & Purchase

The most important gardening task in January is planning. Enjoy seed catalogs, sketch out dream gardens, or figure out where to put that next raised bed or pot. (Read More: Be A Very Lazy Garden Planner.) I recently partnered with the super-ethical High Mowing Organic Seeds and, if you don’t already receive it, I highly recommend requesting their free catalog.

Take an inventory of your existing seeds, toss any that no longer germinate with verve or those varieties that you don’t actually enjoy. Order the seeds you will want for this season. Try a new variety or several but try not to go crazy just because everything in the catalog sounds good. None of us has unlimited space or time. (Read More: How To Pick Your Seeds Without Going Crazy.)

Tip: DIY Kitchen Sink Mesclun Blends

I take old seed packets that have languished for a few years – usually because I wasn’t that impressed with the single varietal – and make “kitchen sink” blends. Anything leafy – a random few sad old seeds of lettuce or spinach or  beets or chard gets mixed together into a “mesclun mix.” I’ll add any brassicas to this as well – kale, cabbage, cauli, radishes, etc. – those baby seedlings are all perfectly good eatin’ when little.

The nice thing about doing this is I have a guilt-free broadcast blend and if one of the varieties doesn’t germinate at all, I’m not out anything. I just sow pretty thickly and whatever pops up is good by me.

January and February are good months to place online orders for any bare-root fruit trees, bushes, canes or vines you might be adding to your garden this year. A good nursery will ship your plants to you at the right time to be planted in your area, before they begin breaking dormancy.

Onion starts and potato seed can also be pre-ordered from general seed houses and specialty growers for delivery based on your region. Even though you might not get these things delivered for a few months yet, the availability of favorite varieties is great now. If you wait, you might be out of luck.

Place Your Orders For:

  • Spring & Summer Vegetable Seeds
  • Bare Root Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs (pre-order)
  • Bare Root Cane Fruit & Vines (pre-order)
  • Onion Plants (pre-order)
  • Potato Seed (pre-order)

Prepare and Prune

It’s not too early to start thinking about soil. If you live someplace where the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, you can amend your beds with lime, slow-release organic fertilizer, compost and whatnot in preparation for the spring planting. If you aren’t sure what your garden needs, get a soil test. And don’t go plopping anything fast acting like blood meal on your soil right now – you’ll just be wasting nitrogen (and money!)

By mid-month, spray peach trees that are prone to peach leaf curl with copper or lime sulfur. You’ll need to do three sprays total. (That’s kinda a lot of work – good reason to look at leaf-curl resistant varieties, if you ask me.)

Tackle dormant season pruning. Prune fruit trees for size, to remove crossing limbs, and to give the trees good air circulation and sun penetration.

Spray fruit trees with dormant oil to control mites, scale and overwintering buggies. You can use a specialty horticultural oil, or make your own.

Tip: DIY All Natural Dormant Oil Spray For Fruit Trees

I use this formula, based off the Cornell University dormant oil spray recipe. Mix all the ingredients together and spray on dormant fruit trees to smother overwintering pests. Use right away after mixing, fully cover tree surfaces, and shake mix as needed to keep the oil in suspension.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (soy is best for its insecticidal properties)
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 4 drops natural, biodegradable liquid dish soap (like Seventh Generation)
  • 1 gallon of water

DIY Dormant Oil Spray

Sow Indoors

Mid-January is about as early as you can get seeds going under light in the Northwest. That’s still plenty early for hardy vegetables and long-season crops and if you start too early you risk some types of crops bolting before they grow big enough to harvest. So, anytime from mid-month to the end of January, start these under lights:

  • Artichokes – My artichokes generally come through the winter, but when I need to replace them I sow seeds in 4″ pots in mid-January.
  • Onions and Summer Leeks – Use fresh seed, allium seed does not keep well.
  • Salad Greens – From the end of January until mid-October, I’ll sow salad greens (lettuce, endive, mache, spinach, arugula etc. depending on the season) about every month or so. If you start lettuce under lights towards the end of January, you’ll be able to transplant out under a cloche at the beginning of March. If you didn’t get a bed prepared and cloched, keep those lettuces growing under lights and harvest them small right from the seed tray.
  • Peas & Favas – most people sow peas and favas directly in the ground sometime between late February and April. If you want to get a jump on peas, you can start them indoors under lights as early as late January. I sow them in a section of plastic gutter. (Read more: Sowing Peas in Guttering)


  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Overwintering Cabbage
  • Carrots & Parsnips
  • Kale & Collards
  • Chard
  • Leeks
  • Turnips & Rutabagas
  • Greenhouse Lettuce
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Sprouting Broccoli
  • Stored Potatoes
  • Stored Winter Squash

Are you doing anything in your garden now, or is it still too early?


  1. says

    I am interested in the High Mowing Organic Seeds and I am going to check out your post on not going seed crazy because I have already gone crazy as I always want all and everything…Lovely post

  2. Denise says

    All we can do right now here in Wisconsin is dream. My garden is under 2 feet of snow (Hang in there garlic. Spring will come.), and the wind chill is -39. Those seed catalogs keep the hope alive!

  3. WaterFowl Farm says

    I am in the throws of a winter sowing experiment here in the panhandle of Idaho. Using the plastic milk jugs and juice jugs I’ve collected over the past few months, I’m planting seeds to start and grow outside! No, I’m not crazy (Well, maybe I’m crazy but this latest experiment is not a symptom!). I’m starting cold hardy perennials, annuals and vegetables that will respond well to the conditions of a mini-greenhouse created by a milk jug – sweet peas, moonflower, kale, etc.

    • Rachel says

      I am doing the same experiment! I also have several milk jugs and thought that it doesn’t hurt to try it since I have the space now. I just figured I would use some of my seeds from last year and see what will grow. But, I am in Pacific NW across the water from Seattle.

  4. Linda McHenry says

    Too cold here to do anything outside except walkabouts to make plans for coming spring. Chose and ordered seeds yesterday and am hauling up our grow light set-up upstairs to the dining room table in a few weeks. Inventorying starting supplies this week also.

  5. says

    I’m pretty close to you here on the Olympic Peninsula. The ground is pretty saturated right now, which makes it easier to pull out invasive grasses and other weeds that otherwise get a jumpstart in March. Mostly, tho, I try to focus on pathways, cleaning up edges, and adding mulches where I can; I try not to compact the main garden areas. Pruning the orchard and training the willows are big tasks over the next couple months. I have a long wishlist started; refraining from going crazy is rather difficult!

  6. Sara Schroeter says

    I’ve had mixed luck starting onion seedlings, some fabulous, some not. I’ve also enjoyed buying the onion plants that you get in bundles. They are usually crazy expensive though. When you talk about ordering onion plants do you have a source you like that is reasonable?

    • says

      The best place to buy onion plants by the fresh bundle is Dixondale. They really know onions. The prices are pretty reasonable especially if you go in with a friend and split a few varieties.

  7. says

    Thanks for the recipe on the fruit tree solution! I plan to use it on our apricot tree…that is, if it makes it though this freeze. I forgot to water it deeply before the weather turned and am worried. :(

  8. Janet says

    I’d never heard of the guttering method for starting peas, but you remind me to start my peas in the way an elderly gentleman taught me here in (typically, but so far not this year) wet Northern-Northern California. I put a piece of paper towel in a pie tin, place pea seeds on top. Spritz with water, cover with another paper towel and spritz again. The pie tin is then slipped into a plastic zip lock or produce bag. I don’t usually seal it. Sometimes I jut put a piece of plastic wrap over the top, then keep it under some florescent lights until they sprout. Once sprouted I transplant them outside. Works great as long as I don’t forget to put the vole trap next to the pea bed.

    I also use empty plastic juice containers as cloches throughout the garden by cutting off the tops. For my tomatoes (in greenhouse) I will punch a few holes in the bottom of the juice bottles placed near the plant and use them as a poor-woman’s drip irrigation system. It really saves time when watering to just fill up the jugs.

  9. Amy says

    Good post – thanks Erica. Now is also a good time to start alpine strawberry seeds (indoors). I’m trying a variety of red, yellow, and white varieties this year. I should have berries from these precious little seeds in 5 months or so! :-)

  10. says

    It is *way* too early to be doing anything garden-related right now, except dreaming and adding to the compost pile. Your January looks quite a lot like our “mid-to-late November” when Winter is still not quite here yet. ;-)
    Looking forward to guerrilla-gardening more winter squash, though. Maybe I’ll try radishes again, as well. ;-)

  11. Jennesa says

    When can I start seeds in my unheated greenhouse? I assume mid-January is probably too early? I live in Portland, OR. Thank you!

    • says

      Depends which seeds. Typically in Western Cascadia, the temps inside unheated greenhouses aren’t actually that warmer than outside at this time of year. That has to do with our typical cloud cover which stop solar radiation from effectively warming….anything, but that’s another post. You could try now but chances are your germination times will be really, really long. I’d wait until early Feb at least for hardy stuff like lettuce, spinach, chard, etc. Your tomatoes and peppers and warm season stuff you could try in mid March, but I’m not sure you’ll have good luck on germination for the heat lovers without supplemental bottom heat. With bottom heat you can do whatever you want. ;)

  12. says

    Excellent! I’m so excited for another January to-do list (I’ve been using your 2011? 2012? one of those). I’m trying an experiment and am starting kale and cabbages under the grow lights… it’s probably too early, but I’m hoping to have them nice and big, harden then off, and then introduce them into the garden in milk jugs as mini-greenhouses. Have you had luck in the Pacific NW getting an early jump?

  13. Barry says

    It’s now my high season for catalog marking, ranking, prioritizing, and eventually, ordering. I like your mesclun blend idea, which makes use of seeds that would be called “weeds” if they were to come up sporadically in planting areas for something like beets or carrots, but when they are coming up where they are thickly sown, they are proper veggies – to be clipped for their tasty baby leaves. And – I get more room in the seed boxes to put in the new orders. Outside, it’s tough to do anything more than scoop up the molehills to spread on the garden beds becoming, with thick layers of cardboard to follow, plus the dandelions I can “harvest” from the lawn. I also will pick a day soon to put a match to the brush mounds formed from the summer’s attacks on the blackberries and scotch broom seedlings. There’s still a long wait ahead, so I will have to settle back with some of those books I stacked up at the bedside. Not quite time to clean up and sharpen the tools – gotta save that for later.

  14. says

    Oh man, between this and all the seed catalogs piling up, I can feel the spring rush coming so fast. It didn’t feel like the winter pause ever arrived this year, so it feels like I am having more trouble getting organized for the gardening season this year… but I am looking forward to getting back in that garden even if that means that things are just going to soon become busier than ever! Thanks for a great January guide to inspire me to get it together! I will order the seeds this week!

  15. Veronica says

    It’s January in Montana – a bit different from the Northwest. I’m itchin to get into the dirt but appreciate the reminders to plan, inventory seed stash, and “take the reality pill daily.” Lovely today, 20 degrees, 3 inches of snow.

  16. says

    Finally out of the deep freeze in Northern Wisconsin today, likely to see a “normal” twenty degrees for the first time since Thanksgiving! Jill has been pondering seeds and sources and finally decided on Fedco over Johnny’s on climate similarity: this took a month. But now what? The deer “harvested” the last of it while we were away, and any sowing would be wildly optimistic. Looks like house projects to me.

  17. ecophonic says

    Could you point towards more information on slow release fertilizer? How is it different than something one might pick up in bags at a hardware store, and is there something you’d recommend?
    Thank you!

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