Dec 8, 2008

Wonderful World of Winter Sowing

Forever has come and gone since the last time I had dirt under my nails. Reality dictates that I picked the last of my vegetables from my garden only a month and a half ago....but where does reality fit when it comes to vegetable gardening. My life in the backyard is an abstract thought at best.

So it was with absolute pleasure, and the wonders of Winter Sowing, that I planted a few different types of perennial seeds this morning. It was a glorious start to the day , with the fabulously soft soil under my nails and the heady fragrance of new life swirling in my nose. All of this green-ness despite the bone chilling cold right outside my door. This was amazingly up-lifting. I guess I have been missing my garden more than I let on.

Now for those of you who are wondering what in the heck Winter Sowing is, it is a method of planting seeds in enclosed containers, recycled from around the house, and placing outside. Thus allowing nature to do its nature-ly thing with our seeds. This year is my first tenuous step into this method of planting, but I have heard from so many that it is a fool-proof and completely economical way to start so many plants at home. I must say it has perked up my otherwise winter weary spirits, and I want to share it with everyone.

I think it is best for all if I print the actual instructions straight from the site.

So without further ado, the steps:

How to Winter Sow
Several years ago, Trudi Davidoff, a Long Island housewife, began thinking about how plants reseed: seeds fall in late Summer or in Fall, endure Winter without any human assistance, and reemerge the following Spring or Summer. She began experimenting with giving certain seeds a little help, and before long, winter sowing caught on fire: first on the GardenWeb and later also on the Winter Sown Organization site . Trudi didn't invent the concept of sowing in the Winter for flowers the following Spring, but she created a system and organization that's cheap and simple. And it works. This will be my 5th year wintersowing; I've never successfully grown plants from seed any other way.When I bake, I like to make sure I have all the ingredients first. Here are what you'll need to get started with winter sowing:
Box cutter
Ice pick or soldering iron
Duct tape
Clear packing tape
Saran wrap
Potting soil
Milk jugs, ½ gallon or gallon size, soda pop bottles, margarine tubs, the deep meat trays used by Wal-Mart, and the Styrofoam boxes sometimes used for shipping meat from Omaha Steaks (a generous Christmas gift we received one year from hubby's sons) are some of the containers I like using. Last year I picked up some 99¢ plastic boxes from Wal-Mart and used them, too. Soak the containers in a 1:10 Clorox solution and allow to air dry.I discovered that Sharpies don't last outdoors as well as Deco Art paint pens, which I get from Michaels. Mark one line 4" from the bottom of the container and another line 3" from the bottom.After warming the box cutter's blade, slice along the 4"-from-the-bottom line, but don't cut the container in two; instead, leave untouched about 2" to create a kind of hinge. Using a soldering iron or ice pick (or whatever you prefer), poke drainage holes in the bottom of the container. For milk jugs, I poke 5 holes. Not as large as the holes on plastic plant pots, I'd guess the holes I make are about the size a pencil point might make, about ⅛” . If you’re using plastic containers with lids, solder some holes in the lid, too.Write the name of the seeds you're about to sow on the duct tape and place the duct tape label on the bottom half of the container, a few inches beneath the severed part. Some people prefer using a numbering system, such as 3J -- rather than using the plant's name.I fill a large, very cheap, mixing bowl with potting soil (I had a bad experience with Miracle-Gro potting soil so I use Fafard; be sure not to use seed starting mix) and then I wet the soil completely. Fill the container up to the 3" line and (finally!) sprinkle the seeds. Tamp lightly to ensure there is good soil-to-seed contact, close the top to the bottom of the container, and seal with clear packing tape, and the containers are ready for the outdoors. Choose a full sun location where runoff from the roof won't drown the seeds. If the location becomes windy or is likely to be nudged by curious animals, you'll want to prop your containers so they don't fall over.Sometimes, as I'm placing my finished containers on the tray I use to carry the containers outdoors condensation inside the containers begins, but usually the condensation forms soon after the containers are put outdoors. It is critical that you see condensation inside the containers because that means there's sufficient moisture for the seeds. Usually, containers won't need supplemental water until the temperatures begin to warm. When condensation stops showing, tilt the container on the side very gently and let water trickle slowly down, being careful not to dislodge the seeds or place the containers on a shallow tray filled with water and let the containers soak up the water. Even in my Southeastern Zone 8 garden, condensation forms best when the containers are placed in full sun, although I do move the slow-to-germinate containers to a shadier spot when temperatures warm up.
Okay, I hear a question: why use clear tape on the containers? No matter how nasty Winter weather becomes, the moment you see signs of germination, you’ll be doing the happy dance. I hear another question: how many seeds per container? No doubt you'll do some experimenting and fine-tuning of your own way of winter sowing, but with tiny seeds like Shirley poppies, I probably use a whole packet per gallon-size jug. Larger seeds, like those of Blackberry lilies, I space more generously in the container -- maybe 16 per container.There’s no need to pot seedlings up to larger pots: the seedlings can be planted directly in the ground. Trudi calls it the "hunk o'seedlings" method: grab a piece and plant. No pricking out and no acclimating the seedlings to the outdoors since they've been growing outdoors all winter. Of course, for larger seedlings, you'll be able to break off individual seedlings, but the hunk-o' works. Although I felt like a meanie doing it, last year I planted out Clarkia seedlings the last of January, and they thrived. Winter sown seedlings are very sturdy little guys!Why is Saran wrap on the list? If you use margarine containers, for instance, you'll want to cover them with Saran wrap, but be sure to poke a few holes on the top. It may be necessary to place hoops made from hangers to create a structure for the Saran wrap so that it doesn't touch the tops of the seedlings. Using a notebook will help you know which seeds you've winter sowed and when. I also like to note when I see germination, when I've planted the seedlings, and when flowers first appear. But of course all that is optional.Okay, which seeds can you winter sow? Hardy annuals, perennials, biennials, shrubs, and trees. If an annual reseeds in your area, then it's hardy for you. Trudi's list of hardy annuals in the FAQ's is so helpful I kept a printed copy handy for reference when I began winter sowing.

Winter Sowing begins.....

The seeds are all nestled down snug in their milk jug beds, while visions of Summer sun dance in their heads.....sorry about that .....

All closed up for the Winter.

Don't forget to check back to see how the Winter Sowing goes. I am looking forward to seeing the plant babies come Spring.

1 comment:

Bruce Adams said...

Thanks for mentioning Fafard soils in your story!
Bruce Adams
Conrad Fafard, Inc.