Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter Sowing

by Deanna Matzen

Advent is a season of waiting in expectation for the coming birth of Jesus Christ. This weekend I started another season of waiting in expectation...for my spring vegetable garden.

I recently learned about winter sowing from my mother, who learned about it from some friends and enthusiastically shared the method with me. Perhaps she was tired of listening to me whine about how poorly my seeds did when I tried to start them indoors - the seeds grew but were always much smaller than the seedlings you can buy at the store and it seemed like my garden was perpetually behind everyone else's. I'm sure that if I invested in the right technology, growing lamps, warming bases, all that good stuff, that they would do much better. But if I can start seeds outside and let mother nature do the work...that's my kind of gardening!

So what is winter sowing? It's a simple and cost effective germination method to start seedlings. All you have to do is make a mini-greenhouse (perferably with reused container), make sure it has holes for rain to come in and go out, and fill it with the right kind of seeds. As winter transitions into spring and the weather warms, the seeds will germinate when the time is right. Before long the seedlings will be cold hardened and ready for transplant. So simple!

You can use almost any kind of container, but please try to reuse one that can't be recycled or you already have on hand. My mother suggested those large plastic containers that fruits and vegetables come in (like grapes purchased from Costco) or an old milk jug, etc.

If it doesn't already have holes, make some of your own - on the top to let the rain in and on the bottom to let it out. If you use a cardboard container, just make sure to enclose it in a plastic bag and add slits on top and bottom.

Any old potting soil will do.

This is the tricky part. Not all seeds can be winter sown. Look for these key words:
Needs Pre-chilling (freeze seeds, refrigerate seeds, stratify for x amount of days or weeks), Needs Strarification, Will Colonize, Self Sows, Sow outdoors in early Atuumn, Sow outdoors in early Spring while nights are still cool, Sow outdoors in early Spring while frosts may still occur, Hardy Seeds, Seedlings can withstand frost, Can be direct sown early, Wildflower, Weed (such as butterfly weed, joe pye weed, jewel weed.)
Since I'm a vegetable gardener, here's the list I'm working off of this year:

Allium family (onions, shallots, garlic, chives)
Artichokes (zone seven and warmer)
Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, kale, collards, etc)
Corn (select an "early" type as it can germinate at lower temps)
Curcubit family (cukes, squash, pumpkins, melons, gourds)
Herbs (edible and ornamental)
Nightshade family (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes - from real seeds....not "seed potatoes" ;-)
Oriental veggies (any)

This weekend I started kale, turnips, and leeks - the only seeds I had left from last year - and then ordered more seeds online from Seeds Savers Exchange - four tomato varieties, broccoli, cabbage, and spinach. But you may want to get seeds for free through seed trading.

I hope you will join me in sowing some seeds this winter as a reminder of the expectant waiting of Advent. I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out this spring! For more information on winter sewing, see

1 comment:

kookster said...

I've thought about trying this, I'd just be afraid of one hot day where I might cook the plants! I'm curious to know how it works out for you.