It’s deep winter. The weather is cold and miserable in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Now is the time of year when those who have gardens wistfully think about the planting ahead. People buy seeds, they sterilize flats, they even set-up elaborate grow-lights and indoor greenhouses to ready themselves for Spring planting. (If you lack a garden and crave one, why not find a community space?)
Last season I ended up with an entire village of seedlings cramped into a tiny apartment window. The recycled cardboard flats collapsed near the end and oozed their earthy brown goodness onto our window-sill. Nice. For plants. But it was all worth it (right Gerry?). That is until I read about a new technique (at least to me). Winter seed sowing.
With winter seed sowing you start the seeds outside in the winter and let them do their thing.
But how will seeds survive the icy cold of winter?
Here’s how. Seeds are sown in recycled plastic containers (plastic take-out containers, which shamefully are not recyclable in the New York City area) apparently work great. Milk jugs cut in half with one side left intact, also work. One side is left attached so that the top can be flipped back over the base. All containers need lids to create a mini-greenhouses effect. I’m told that anything that allows a few inches of soil and a cover will work. This will be my first year trying this, so I can’t speak from experience. Follow along with me if you like.
- Wash out the containers with hot, soapy water and use a nail to poke holes in the lids and the bottoms of each one.
- Add soil (ideally a special seed starting mix – make sure it’s organic) and sow your seeds as usual.
- Water each container letting the water drain completely.
- Next, tape on the lids.
- Don’t forget to label the containers with a permanent marker. Even these can fade with time, so take notes as well.
- Move your containers outside to a sunny locale where they’ll get some rain (or snow?) but are somewhat protected from strong winds and intense sun. Forget until spring. If you’re like me, you’ll be checking them regularly anyway…but you don’t have to.
Once the weather warms, be on the look out for new growth. Keep them out of full sun…each container is a mini-greenhouse and there is the very real risk of cooking your delicate seedlings at this point. They’ve survived this far, don’t let them fail now!
Certain types of seeds are better suited to this than others…seeds that require a cold treatment, cold weather vegetables, and hardy annuals or perennials are good candidates. I plant to try a few different seed varieties and see what happens. One advantage to this approach is that you’re working with the natural rhythm of the season. If the season starts early, the seedlings will grow sooner. If it starts later, they may lie dormant for longer but you won’t have root bound plants or lanky seedlings drooping in their pots. The other upside is that the seeds learn to adjust to your particular climate condition much more so than if they lived in your comfy home. This holds especially true if you save your seeds from year-to-year.
Seeds are amazingly resilient beings and when we allow their natural intelligence to emerge we can make our lives easier and even have healthier plants in the process.