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 nights...you'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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