The first time I set out to plant anything I was just a kid in grade school. I bought a packet of sunflower seeds, shoved them in the ground, watered every day, and just knew they all had to jump up and bloom for me. Now that I am a little older and, I hope, wiser, I have been growing a lot of things from seed and many of them are growing because of the love and care I have learned to give them.
From the first time I helped my grandmother pick seeds from the watermelon to place on a plate and let them dry I knew seeds were full of magic. Growing seeds can be a rewarding experience and growing them can be one of the most carefree ways to garden – if you do them right. This will be a basic story of one gardener’s journey into winter sowing and the rewards of that action.
Spacing seeds out in little tray with soil and grow lights is time consuming and takes a lot of space in the house or green house. You also need to be watering each day or every other day and keeping the little guys close to the grow lights. I gave up after only one year--- it was just too much work! Then the skies opened up and a light boomed from the heavens….. no, not really, but I found a wonderful forum here on Dave’s Garden that opened my eyes to the world of winter sowing.
The basic idea behind winter sowing is Mother Nature gave us the seeds and she just might know what the seeds need to grow. She just might know when to water them, give them a little chill, and give them a little warmth. Letting Mother Nature in on the process frees you up to enjoy your time during winter doing things other than worrying about seedlings!
Let’s get started! Start with cutting any bottle, milk gallon, two liter, or any other paper, plastic, or wooden box you can find and add a few holes to the bottom. This is the best reason to winter sow---you get to recycle! All those containers we keep for some reason can be used. Get the hole in there and, if you have the top, keep it too.We will get there---just keep them on the side, easy to use.
Fill with any good soil medium, really anything half way good will work. I mix half soil from my garden (that I have baked in the oven at 300 degrees or so for an hour) with compost that I have made here in the garden. This way the seedlings, when they grow, will alreadt be in the same soil they will spend the rest of their lives in. In my mind this makes them bigger and better already and they prove it to me each and every year.
Take a pencil and add a few holes to the top of the soil. It’s that easy – just add some seeds to the holes and cover. I know those who have been used to other types of seed planting will want to space the seeds out by the perfect space now – don’t.Just plant away and let Mother Nature start to thin them herself. Place some type of marker in the pot or on the outside of the pot. This marker will be very useful in the spring when you want to know which seeds you planted!
Cover the little seed pots – the best way with 2 liter bottles is to tape the top back on. Get them covered somehow. The bags you get comforters in work fine too.. really anything that keeps the seeds a little protected is all you need. I keep the lids open to let the sun, rain, ice, and snow get in.
Walk away… that’s right, walk away! Forget they are there for the next few weeks at least. I start my seeds in December and I don’t check them until the end of February at least. In a more northern area I would think you would not have to take a look at the little pots until spring starts for you.
Even now, don’t baby them. If they come up early I don’t cover them. If they are dry I will water them but I like to let Mother Nature take care of the watering and most of the time she does fine. When the little plants have their first set of adult leaves they are ready to be set out in the garden. The plants you are going to set out it the garden are going to do great.They are ready for you and your garden. They will last long, bloom better, and be able to jump tall buildings in a single bound– well, maybe not that last one, but it will feel like it when you see the difference they make in the garden.
About Mitch Fitzgerald
I am a pentecostal preacher, gardener,husband, and a father. I love natives, daylilies, iris, and roses. I love teaching others, be they children or adults, about the garden and plants.