Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Winter Sowing Seeds with Recycled Materials

I'll admit it.  I am basically a "lazy" gardener.  Well, at least in the fact that if I can find an idea that saves me from extra work, then I am all about it. That's what I've discovered with the idea of "winter sowing."    I actually tried this two years ago with lettuce plants and liked the results but forgot about it until a gardening friend shared a blog post about it recently.  

It's such a great idea.  You plant your seeds pretty early, some in January (like cold hardy perennials) and put them outside in mini-greenhouses, usually made out of gallon milk jug containers, and let nature do its work on the seeds.  Snow, freezing and thawing eventually soften the seed coating and help it to germinate when the temps become just right.  Now the seeds with the added protection of the greenhouses means that they'll germinate earlier for you.  

So, it's like starting indoors but in my thinking much better because I don't have to set anything up and I don't have to harden off any seedlings. This means I will start my cold hardy greens and lettuces now, as well as some perennial herbs, but will start my peppers, tomatoes and basil outside in April.  

Clear plastic cup having a second life as a greenhouse.
Normally I direct sow many of the seeds right into the garden, but this year I am going to attempt a no-till garden (less work, yeah!) and so I will need plants to begin the garden.  Because we are so limited in space, I normally have to buy almost all my plants which is $$$ and often times they run out of my varieties or the plants don't look so great.  So, winter/early spring sowing is going to help me out immensely. 

Because I am lacking in milk jugs, I ransacked my recycle bin to see what I could use.  Any clear, fairly tall container should work.  I will be on the lookout for milk containers as well but in the meantime, I used what I could find.  I don't need too many plants of most things so I am not concerned about their size as I can always transplant them right into the garden once the weather warms up a bit.
This rectangular spinach container makes a great greenhouse.

I am using the toilet roll holders as seed pots too.  I marked the what the seeds were on the little pots.  You could plant the whole container, but again, I don't need 20 plants of everything.  I also like the idea of just planting the little pots into the ground.  It gives the small plants more of an anchor when starting them out in the garden.  

When making mini-greenhouses, you want to make sure that there is at least one hole in the top for snow/rain to get through and also drainage holes at the bottom.  You can duct tape them closed if you had to make a cut in them to use them like the honey container above.

When temps rise you only need to remove the tops during the day and seal up at night.  If it goes below freezing after the seedlings have emerged, cover with and old blanket or shower curtain to give them extra warmth.  

You may want to try this for spring vegetables or if you don't have a lot of space inside.  I am space limited inside and out but the outdoors is much easier for me to start lots of seedlings because I'm not stuck to a few sunny windows. 

Plants started this way are often hardier and healthier because they have adjusted to the temps in their own setting.  It's like a lot of small cold frames but these are moveable and adjustable to the specific needs of each plant variety.  If you have very tender plants like tomatoes, you could also bring them inside on frosty'll just need to watch the weather during the early spring transition.

For more information, please check out this great post on Winter Sowing.  He will show the technique with milk jugs ( which I used successfully too) and even a list of plants and when to start them.  You'll have to adjust the dates according to your own planting zones. 

Have you ever tried winter sowing?  What kind of items do you use as mini greenhouses?


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  1. I've never tried this before, but what a great idea! I'm still learning about gardening. I think it might be a life-long process! Haha. I like how you used all recycled or repurposed items. So frugal and green :)

    1. Thanks Tammy! I think it's a great idea to look for milk jugs!

  2. Nothing to do with laziness.

    The end result counts.

    Hope to see your blossoms soon.

  3. Great idea - I'm very limited for space inside too! Can't wait to see how everything comes up - keep us posted!

    1. Will do...I did this for lettuce and the plants did super well. Hoping this will work well for everything.

  4. Nancy, this is a pretty cool idea! I'd like to try this sometime!

    I'd like to invite you to share this post and up to two others at Farm Girl Blog Fest #19, which is live right now. You would be a great addition to the wonderful posts that are shared!

    Farm Girl Friday Blog Fest #23

    Hope to see you there!
    ~Kristi@Let This Mind Be in You

  5. Thanks for sharing. I have a few packages of sweet peas and I might try this with a few to get a head start.

    1. Sounds great! I planted mine and put them should be perfect for them. :)

  6. What a great idea. We've always just used soil cubes or the jiffy pellets but I like the concept of using recycled materials that would normally just be thrown away. Thank you so much for sharing this post on the HomeAcre Hop. Hope to see you tomorrow evening when it goes live.


    1. Thanks Jenny! The soil blocks would be great too. Thanks for hosting!

  7. Great idea! May as well have those plastic containers go to good use!

    hugs x

  8. Wow! What great ideas! I never think of these things when I have the containers available, but I have a package of strawberries in the fridge I am sure my kids will devour today! Perhaps I will plant some lettuce :-)

    1. Sounds like a great idea! :) Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. You're a genius! I use eggshells and homemade newspaper pots, but I'm gonna try using some of our strawberry containers! Thanks so much for sharing. ;0)

    1. That's awesome! It's amazing what pops out at you when you start looking for mini greenhouses... :) Thanks for reading!