I dream of owning the perfect greenhouse. I know exactly what I want it to look like, but the financial reality is that it will take several more years to save for it. We live in an area with a short growing season so I’m always looking for ways to extend the season. Winter Sowing is an inexpensive, fool-proof way to get a jump start on growing those vegetables.
I researched this method and was completely intrigued by the concept. Last year I started my seedlings in disposable plastic drinking cups lined up in strawberry flat boxes. On good days, I carried them outside to capture the sunshine and to allow the breezes to strengthen them. Day after day I carried all 8 flats outside and back in. It was quite labor intensive but the result was strong, healthy plants that adjusted without any problems once transplanted. A friend told me about this new method that he had discovered and I new I had to give it a try.
You do not have to wait for good weather to start your seeds. Plant them and forget about them. When the timing is right they will grow. I started my first batch of early vegetables in late January and they were ready to transplant in late March. When I started the tomatoes in March, they took quite a while to germinate. I almost gave up when I noticed they had started to grow. The peppers took longer to germinate than the tomatoes, which would be expected because they are a hot weather crop.
Winter sowing is the easiest method I have tried yet. I pretty much just ignored them with the except for giving them an occasional drink of water. Try it for yourself!
Winter Sowing Experiment
Winter sowing is supposed to produce healthy, cold hearty plants without worry or hassle. Come rain, snow or shine the seeds germinate when they are ready and the little seedlings stay protected. Our experiment with early vegetables went much better than anticipated. This really works!
Many containers will work nicely for winter sowing. The important thing is to make sure the water can drain out the bottom and the plant can breath out the top.
Used milk or water jugs work well for winter sowing. Poke holes in the bottom of the container for drainage. We found that the easiest way to accomplish this is to heat a Phillips screwdriver tip over a can of canned heat and poke it through the plastic. The hot tip makes a nice hole without cracking the container. Cut the jug under the handle all the way around except where the label is. The label works well to act like a hinge.
Recycled 2 liter bottles work nicely for winter sowing. Poking the holes in the bottom is a little tricky, but the hot screwdriver makes it simple. Our 8 year old son poked holes in over 50 bottles for us. He had a great time.
Once the containers are cut and the holes are made, you are ready to plant. Fill the containers 2-3 inches with a good moistened potting soil. Plant the seeds and close up the containers with Duct tape. We chose to keep our containers against this south facing brick wall. It is a little bit warmer there and they are protected from the wind.
The tops of the containers should be open to allow for ventilation. I mark the container with the name of the vegetable or flower and the date planted. Make sure to water them well after planting and then just forget about them for awhile. There will usually be condensation inside the container. If there is not, it probably needs to be watered.
These Russian kale seedlings are ready to plant. Notice how healthy and strong they look.
It has been one month since those seedlings were transplanted. Here we are in late April and we have already harvested leaves off of these for several meals while our neighbors seedlings are just emerging.
This is romaine and red romaine lettuce. As you can see we have been harvesting leaves from these plants for a couple of weeks now. The plants are healthy and the lettuce very sweet.
This is how our line up of containers looked. They are tucked under black raspberry bushes against a wall for protection.
Very happy winter sown red cabbage plant one month after transplanting.
Again ... very healthy Russian kale plant started in a winter sown container.
Again ... 4 weeks after transplanting seedlings this green cabbage is doing very well.
Once all of the early vegetables were planted into the garden beds, I used the containers to start the later crops. This container has a tomato start that is ready to transplant out. There are peppers, tomatoes, flowers, onions, and other seedlings in the containers now.
Some successful examples of winter sowing gardeners: Get Busy Gardening, Utah Valley Gardens, Garden Web, Winter Sown and A Garden for the House. Give it a try. Greenhouse plants are expensive and don’t provide the same exciting varieties of vegetables that you can get by starting your own. Winter sowing makes it easy to successfully start your own seedlings for only pennies with very little work.