Winter Sown Update #1

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A few days ago I talked about my plan to winter sow many of my seeds for this coming growing season, so I thought I’d share a small update on what I accomplished over the weekend.

Sunday was a beautiful chilly, foggy day (no rain!), and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to set up on our picnic table and get some seeds winter sown. We’d made a brief stop at the garden center before doing our grocery shopping the day before, so I was all set with new bags of soil and perlite. I’d also drilled holes in the bottoms of all the containers and cut them in half prior to bringing them outside, which made the process much smoother.

I labeled each jug, lined them up on the table, and worked assembly line fashion. For now these are labeled with a Sharpie, but I’m hoping to get these labeled with a paint marker in the near future since we get so much rain; I’d hate to have all the labels wash off — it’s really not fun trying to figure out what you planted once they start germinating. On the Winter Sown Facebook group, it seems many people make plant markers out of old mini-blinds and stick them in the soil before taping the jugs closed. If I can find some old blinds at the ReStore, I might try this too! (They’d also be great for labeling my dahlias after I plant them this spring.)

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For my first session, I sowed two varieties of asparagus, Brussels sprouts, comfrey, bee balm, and butterfly bush, for a total of six jugs — not a bad start! The bee balm and butterfly bush seeds were minuscule, and it was really difficult to see where I was sowing them. I’m crossing my fingers they’ll do well!

When my hands started feeling numb, I figured it was time to go inside. I taped up all the containers (I used packing tape, but next time I’ll use duct tape), set them at the edge of our deck, and went inside to record my seed sowing in my garden journal. I plan on doing this with each batch of containers so there’s a record I can look back on.

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We drink about a gallon or two of milk a week, so I should have a steady supply of containers to use each weekend. And as you can see, I got creative and used an orange juice container and a jug white vinegar came in — lots of possibilities, so if you’re interested in trying this, you don’t have to limit yourself to only milk jugs. They just have to be clear or transparent so the light can get in.

Well, that’s all for now — I’ll see you next weekend with another update!

An Experiment in Winter Sowing

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I fully intended to DIY some sort of indoor grow-light situation for starting seeds this spring, but the thought of how much stuff I would have to purchase was really weighing on my mind. For one thing, I knew it would cost a lot of money — still cheaper than buying a “real” grow-light setup, but still a lot of money. Not to mention the extra cost running the lights would add to our electric bill. No thanks. And another thing: I really don’t feel the need to buy more stuff that will end up commanding valuable space in our house.

Patrick on the One Yard Revolution YouTube channel (one of my favorite places to peruse for gardening info and inspiration) mentioned winter sowing in milk jugs in one of his videos, so I thought I’d look into it a bit more. And after doing a more research and joining the Winter Sowers group on Facebook, I’m convinced this is the way to go this year.

The idea is that you use milk jugs as mini greenhouses — poke a few holes in the bottom, slice in half, add some soil, sow the seeds, and tape the two halves back together. Leave the cap off so moisture can still get in, and the seeds will germinate when they know the time is right. And since the seeds are started outside, hardening off should be much easier since the plants will already be acclimated to the elements.

This method appeals to me for many reasons — it yields hardier plants, is incredibly affordable, and doesn’t require a lot of time and fussing. Plus, space isn’t an issue — I don’t have to worry about running out of room since all the jugs are going outside, and I don’t have to worry about our cats getting into the seedlings either. And it allows me to get my hands in the dirt in the dead of winter — something I’m sure many of us are craving right about now.

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We get very mild winters here in southwest Washington, so I’ll be starting my winter-sown seeds soon while we still have fluctuating cold temps. This week I’ll be sorting my seed packets into different groups (starting with perennials and plants that are more cold hardy) and will sow a new group each week. This weekend I’ll (hopefully) sow cabbage, Swiss chard, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts.

There are only a few things I will not be winter sowing: tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, since I know they need a lot of heat to really get going. I may end up DIYing some sort of grow-light setup for these seeds, but it will be considerably smaller than the setup I would’ve needed for germinating everything else I plan to grow. (And who knows, maybe I’ll decide to winter sow some of these outside anyway to compare with the ones started inside.)

Only a couple of my 2019 seed orders have arrived so far, but that doesn’t put much of a damper on my plans — I plan to grow a lot of what I grew last year, so I have ample seeds on hand to winter sow right now. Also keeping me motivated is my 2019 garden journal (just an old notebook I collaged with seed catalog cuttings). I’m so excited to fill it up with planting dates and first-bloom dates!

The hyacinths and daffodils are showing their slender green necks outside, which seems much too early, but is nevertheless a welcome sight. I’m just giddy with anticipation; aren’t you?

A Letter to Myself for the Dead of Winter

Dear Marge,

It is August as I write this — one of those 90-degree days where the sun bakes the sidewalk to a crisp, and school is so close to starting that you hear phantom diesel rumblings of the bus down the road each morning. I know you still get anxious toward the end of the month, even though those first-day-of-class jitters have no right to exist anymore.

But now it is winter, and you’d probably welcome a little of that August anxiety now if it came with a few golden days and a stroll through the garden after work. I know how it goes — it’s dark when you wake up in the morning and dark when you return from work, and you’re probably a little crabby and tired of taking Vitamin D supplements, and the steady trickle of seed catalogs into the mailbox isn’t helping your patience at all. You’re probably coveting every steamy greenhouse you shuffle past on your afternoon walk, and I’m sure you’ve forgotten what it feels like to wear sandals every day.

It will be here soon, I promise. Put on your boots one foot at a time, layer on a scarf over your shawl, and wander the yard for the telltale signs of the changing seasons. Look for the buds swelling on the lilacs and the apple tree. Breathe in that fresh air, and keep dreaming about the tomato seeds you’ll sow in just a few months’ time — the sticky green plants shooting up with their tangy, citrusy scent that makes your mouth water just thinking about it, the anticipation of plump homegrown tomatoes warmed by the sun of an amber evening alive with the thrum of crickets.

The first dahlia catalog arriving in the mail is a ray of sunshine — a beacon of hope in bleak times when the clouds press so low they snag on bare branches. Flip through those pages of sunbursts and and dog-ear to your heart’s content, imagining the day you’ll get to sink your hands into the dirt again — the dahlias are always the first to go in.

The days are getting longer. Look for the hyacinths and potted tulips at the grocery store; spring is just a stone’s throw away. The bulbs you tucked beneath the earth will be waking from their slumber soon, pushing their happy green shoots up through the ground — daffodils and tulips and short little crocuses all stretching and yawning after their long winter’s nap, ready to burst forth into a kaleidoscope of color. If those knobby little bulbs can weather months of dampness and the chill and come out glorious, so can you.

Think of the dog frolicking through the field, his coat glowing copper and rust in the sunset as he herds the cat around the vegetable beds. Remember the neighbor’s ponies, who hang their long faces over the fence and nuzzle their velvety noses into the palm of your hand. Remember curly green pea shoots and crimped rhubarb leaves and fistfuls of fresh beans. It will all be here soon enough.

When you can’t sleep at night, picture great big billows and drifts of cosmos dancing and swaying in the breeze. And if that doesn’t help and you find yourself wide awake in the kitchen at midnight, fondling and sorting creased seed packets, it’s ok — I promise not to tell.

Hang in there, kid.

Sincerely,
Marge