Monday, December 26, 2011

Mostly about Winter Sowing...

About a week ago, both Catherine at aGardenerInProgress and Jenni at RainyDayGardener made posts about winter sowing. This got me thinking, am I the last one in the world to know about this?
Well if I was, I was going to try it out. So, I emailed my mom (Minnesota master gardener extraordinaire) to see if she had heard about it and had any help. (I also hoped I would find out I wasn't the last to hear of it). Of course I should have known, my mom not only knew about it and had been doing it, she had loads of info and even an article that was in the newspaper. (It's nice knowing famous people!)
Now I have never been very good at moderation (although I might be if I ever tried it). I just get an idea and run with it - and usually end up wishing I had gone slower. This might be the time it all pays off!
I am not sure if the proper etiquette at this point is to show what I did then what all of the experts say to do or vice versa. I'm going to flip a coin then post it that way. Heads experts then me; tails my fun then the expert way. Here goes...(in proxy, my wife will do it as I don't have any money) tails it is!

Right Ho! So after reading all of the good ideas from my mom and Cathrine, I read some more on a website called Great website with lots of good info. Then, I went to McLendon's this morning and bought a slew of seeds for the plants that were listed on wintersown website. I also purchased three types of potting soil, Black Gold, Miracle Gro, and the cheapest kind they carried. After a brief stop at Albertsons (no, I didn't ask where the tin pans with plastic lids were, I just walked around until I found them) I had everything I needed.

Back at the homestead, I assembled the necessary parts, got my little helper up on the counter, and went to work. Like Catherine states, this can get messy - especially if you have a 1 and 3/4 year old helping. I put down some paper towels, etc, but you may want even more. I started with the milk jugs for the taller plants like foxglove, delphinium, larkspur, and sun flowers. I cleaned the milk jugs with 9/1 deluded bleach, then rinsed them out; cut them in half leaving a small area for a hinge, sliced 1/2 cuts on bottom, filled with 3-4" of dirt, put seeds in, watered until water drained out of the bottom. Then I taped the bottles closed with duct tape and labeled them.
**as part of my desire to make this a perfect system, I labeled them with duct tape, permanent marker, and a piece of paper sealed with clear packaging tape. I will see which one fades the least.

Then it was on to the flats. I poked holes in the top and bottom of each of the containers, filled with dirt, watered the dirt until water came through the bottom, planted seeds, sprinkled a little more dirt, put on the lid and labeled with the patented three label system.
** Another small addition here is that I used three different types of dirt, Black Gold, Miracle Gro, and cheapest brand. I will then see which produces the best result. Experts have discussed the dirt issue for many years, but this may be the final conclusive test.

After that I planted them all in the kitchen garden where there should be plenty of sunshine (if we get any that is), no dogs, and not very much wind.

Here is the photographic evidence of all the steps...

Here's my happy helper.

Seeds and List for labels

9/1 bleach and water for cleaning the jugs

Milk jug cut in half with small area left in tact for hinge

Cartons filled with dirt and ready for planting

Lucy is planting the Larkspur

Tins with 1/2 slits in them
Dirt filled container

Lots of water until it drains through the bottom

Final product with lid on

Here they all are! Now nature and the good Lord will do the rest.

Now, if you made it through all of that, you probably want to know how it should be done. First, check out Catherine's blog post. She also has a link to a previous post with more how to's on it.
I asked Catherine a few questions and she emailed me back. Following is the email.
   "I learned about it [winter gardening] about 4 years ago and have had fun with it.  It helps fulfill my gardening needs when it's too cold to really garden (although we've had such a mild fall this year).  Anyway here is a link to the winter sowing website There is tons of information there, also on Garden web there is a winter sowers forum. You're supposed to use the seeds that require cold to help them germinate, but honestly I don't pay attention to that.  I just try whatever I have and 99% of the time I have at least some germination.  Some seeds take months to germinate while others do practically overnight.  I usually wait til spring to decide what I've given up on. I normally buy whatever cheap potting soil I find.  Some people are more picky, but I'm not.  The main thing is to remember to have drainage holes in the bottom of whatever you use to plant in so they seeds don't rot.  I do get some algae on the soil sometimes but it doesn't make a difference.  If you live somewhere where it gets windy just be sure to set a rock on top so they don't blow away.  Otherwise I just set them in a sunny spot and peak in every so often to check.  Let me know how yours goes, it's really worth the try.
  -   Catherine

Also, here is also the article that I mentioned earlier...

Winter Sowing
By Patty Citrowske – University of Minnesota Master Gardener
Winter is upon us, and most us look longingly outside in the snow at the remnants of last year’s gardens.  Already the seed catalogues have been arriving and many of us are making strategic plans for our best-ever garden of 2010. Flipping through the pages of the catalogues one might long for a certain variety of perennial that is elusive in the gardening centers, or that special vegetable that no one seems to have.
                Winter sowing is a practical, easy way to grow a wide variety of plants rather than buying started plants. It’s a way to start seedlings for just pennies while Mother Nature does the work.  Seeds are sown into miniature greenhouses that you make yourself from recyclables and are placed outside to await the warmer spring weather to germinate.
                Getting started is as easy as gathering supplies; most of which you have in your home already.  Pop bottles, plastic vegetable containers, milk jugs, and even take out containers with plastic tops will work for your mini-greenhouses.  Make sure to soak them with 1:9 bleach/water solution and air dry. Any inexpensive potting soil will work, although Dollar Store soil tends to be heavy and dense which does not allow for good root development.  For the rest of the project you will need a box cutter, duct tape, seeds, and a marker.
                To begin, place a piece of duct tape on the bottom of your container to label what is growing in your mini-greenhouse.  The writing won’t fade on the bottom. Using your utility knife, poke half inch slits on the bottom for drainage. If you are using pop bottles or milk jugs, this is the time to cut them in half leaving two inches of plastic in place for a hinge.  Next add 3 to 4 inches of soil and lightly tamp it down. Plant your seeds, making sure you follow package recommendations. Cover with more dirt if necessary. At this point you will need to gently water your mini-greenhouse, making sure the water drains from the bottom. You may add a marker inside as well if you want to.  To finish, tape the halves together with duct tape or snap your container shut.  Throw away the lids on the bottles and cut slits in the top of your containers if needed. You will need to add these holes for air transpiration.
                Your greenhouses are now ready for the great outdoors. Condensation will form inside the containers as you bring them into the cold, indicating there is plenty of moisture inside. Place them on the east, south, or west side of your home, on a table, deck, patio or even in the garden. It is important for the rain and snow to reach the containers, so avoid awnings and overhangs. We are going to let Mother Nature do what she does best. Most seeds need stratification, a pre-chilling process, necessary for germination. This freezing and thawing loosens the seed coat to allow the seedling to emerge.  
In spring when the seedlings emerge, you will need to increase the size of the transpiration holes to keep your plants from overheating. This also helps in the hardening off process. In mid-May you can remove the covers completely.  Watch your mini-greenhouses closely to make sure they are getting enough water and don’t dry out. Water gently because the seedlings are still tender. You can also place the containers in a shallow tray to absorb the water from the bottom. 
The seeds that are winter sown will sprout earlier and be ready to transplant sooner than the seed sown directly into the garden.  You will want to wait until the first two true leaves and a good root system are established before moving them to your garden.
Winter sowing is simple and fun. It will allow you to start seeds easily without all the fuss of lights, tables, containers and not to mention space for the germinating flats. The cold temperatures and fresh winter air prevent damp off that kills young seedlings. Planting in recycled and reused containers makes it economical. The rewards of growing your own seeds for pennies will last through out the growing season, and years to come. For more information on winter sowing ,visit

So, best of luck if you want to try this out!

Special thanks to all of the people who helped me out on this. 


  1. I'm so glad you're trying! I've started many of those at different times and have had great success. I swear the Larkspur I start by WS does much better than what I direct sow. Love that you have such a good helper, that makes a big difference! :) Glad I could be of some help. Your Mom's article is really good, very clear instructions (as your post has).

  2. I love this blog article, great photos, and love your little helper--so CUTE!

    Trudi D

  3. I actually got a lot of information from the same website Catherine talked about. This blog is the best information condensed. It is a fun way to plan for the summer garden and get a head start.
    I also love the helper. So cute!