Now that I’m gearing up for Winter Sowing 2009, I should reflect on how it all went last year.

I slowly started five boxes around January 27, 2008 and on May 9, 2008 they looked like this:

Looking at these boxes, I calculated that I had a 60% success rate with my seed sowing.  Not bad for not really having to do too much after initial start up.  It’s a lot less work that starting seeds indoors and having to harden them off before transplanting.  The only thing I did after setting them out was make sure they had enough water and didn’t get too hot.  Some seeds definitely responded better to winter sowing than others and the ones that really did well were the lupines, daisies, alyssum, cornflowers, squash and zucchini.

The alyssum and daisies really filled out the front planter as summer went on.

Lessons learned:

  • Shell out a couple of bucks and buy a paint pen from Micheals instead of using a Sharpie on the plastic knife label.  The writing wore off and I had no idea what was what.  Eventually, I didn’t care and just planted whatever was still growing in May.
  • Don’t leave your lovingly-drilled plastic tote boxes outside all year because they break and crack causing you to rethink your whole winter sowing approach and make you wish you lived in the US so that you could buy recyclable gallon-sized milk jugs.  Don’t get me wrong, the totes were a good idea.

I really like winter sowing for starting things that I wouldn’t normally start indoors, such as annuals, perennials and some vegetables.  I like having flowers however I’d much rather make room on my grow-op for vegetables that I’m going to eat.  Winter sowing allows me that flexibility of having vegetables and flowers too.  And you really can’t beat the root system that comes out of a winter sown pot – it’s pretty impressive.

Happy winter sowing!

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I think I’ve been pretty successful in my first year out for winter sowing. This is a method where you sow seeds in sheltered containers and then put them out in the snow in the dead of winter. This is great for those seeds that need scarification as the process of freezing and thawing helps the break the seed coat. Also, you don’t have to worry about damping off or hardening off as you do with starting indoors and you get really hardy plants with huge root systems. I started off this year with 5 clear storage containers with small pots/cups inside.

BOX 1

Here’s a picture of Box 1 back on April 6, 2008:

A couple of weeks later on April 17, 2008:

And here is it this morning on May 2, 2008:

You can see a nice pot of alyssum, some marigold and cosmos.

BOX 2

April 6, 2008:

April 17, 2008:

May 2, 2008:

Loads of wild lupine, spinach and coneflower in this box!

BOX 3

April 6, 2008:

April 17, 2008:

May 2, 2008:

Zucchini, squash, cucumber and tomato fill this box out quite nicely.

BOX 4

April 6, 2008:

April 17, 2008:

May 2, 2008:

I’ve got bunching onions, alyssum, zucchini and squash doing really well in this box.

BOX 5

April 6, 2008:

April 17, 2008:

May 2, 2008:

Lots of coneflower, lupine and one or two columbine pots.

BOTTLE

I also put together a 15-gallon bottle of mixed flowers such as, gaillardia, lupine, columbine mixed, cornflower, lavender, rudbeckia and echinacea.

Here it is on March 21, 2008:

April 17, 2008:

May 2, 2008:

Overall it’s been pretty low-maintenance so far. The only thing I do for them right now is angle the lids during sunny days to let hot air out so that the seedlings don’t cook inside. They’re protected from frost and they’ve been getting lots of water from the recent rains. Back when there was a warm spell I had to water them every day as they’d dry out quickly. I already know I’ll be up to my ears in wild lupines!

Ongoing Winter Sowing

March 18, 2008

This past weekend, I finally dug my storage containers of winter sown seeds out from under all the snow and did an official tally of all the containers. I had been keeping pretty spotty records since starting in February and wanted to know what I had sown and when. Also, I had been inspired by someone in Zone 6 posting about how their dianthus seeds had already germinated and I was eager to see what was happening in mine. Nothing, of course.

Here’s my four storage containers and one 15-gallon water bottle re-arranged on my back deck. I’ve piled snow back on top of three of the containers to help insulate them until spring:

I dug down to the deck layer and made myself a nice rectangular space to re-position my containers. Inside you can see the different seeds in small square containers, labelled with plastic knives:

Here you can see the plastic tumblers I picked up on a post-Xmas sale at Wal-Mart as well as a couple of larger squares:

Once I fill up the last container I’ll pile snow into all the spaces so that all my seeds are well-insulated:

I’ve got a total of 79 containers of the following winter sown seeds:

  • Alyssum ‘Carpet of Snow’
  • Aster ‘Green Leaves’
  • Balloon flower
  • Blue Pimpernel
  • Canterbury Bells ‘Cup & Saucer Mixed’
  • Clustered Bellflower ‘Marine’
  • Columbine
  • Coreopsis
  • Cornflower Tall Mixed aka Bachelor’s Buttons
  • Cosmos: ‘Sensation’, mixed, pink, and purple
  • Daisy: ‘African’ and ‘Little Miss Muffet’
  • Dianthus: ‘Arctic Fire’ and ‘Sooty’
  • Echinacea: ‘Magnus’ and purple
  • Four O’Clocks: fuschia/yellow and ‘Marvel of Peru’
  • Foxglove ‘Milk Chocolate’
  • Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’
  • Iris: ‘Klingon Princess’, ‘Summoned Spirit’, ‘Nessie’ and ‘Raspberry Jam’
  • Jack In The Pulpit
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Lavender
  • Lupine, wild
  • Mallow ‘Mont Blanc’
  • Marigold, ‘Great Grandma’s’
  • Monarda
  • Morning glory: ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ and pink
  • Nicotiana
  • Painted Tongue ‘Bolero’
  • Red Hot Poker
  • Spider flower ‘Helen Campbell’

I winter sowed some vegetables as well, hoping to compare their growth to indoor seed starting and direct sowing methods:

  • Bush bean ‘Andrew Kent’
  • Chives, garlic
  • Onion, Hardy White Bunching
  • Parsley
  • Pole bean: ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ and ‘Yugoslavian Climbing’
  • Spinach
  • Tomato: ‘Bonny Best’, ‘Canabec Rose, ‘Earliest + Best’, mini yellow pear, ‘Moscow’ and ‘Purple Cherokee’

I also put together a 15-gallon bottle of mixed flowers such as, gaillardia, lupine, columbine mixed, cornflower, lavender, rudbeckia and echinacea, for which I hope to find a good home.

I can’t wait to see my first sprouts!

EDIT: I forgot to mention that while I was standing out there with my book in hand and my pen in mouth, my neighbour came out onto his deck and said to his wife (loud enough so that I’d hear), “Dear, our neighbour is crazy, she’s already started planting!”

Snow, snow, snow

March 10, 2008

We’re on our way to setting a new snowfall record in the Ottawa Valley after 56 cm of the white stuff came down on the weekend. Since winter has started, 413 cm of snow has fallen. That’s 13.5 feet. The highest record was 441 cm set in the winter of 1970-1971. Here is my poor apple tree half-covered in snow.

In the backyard the railing is about to go under, the tomato cage we usually use to gauge the snowfall is completely buried and my 124-quart wintersown storage containers are barely distinguishable from their surroundings.

I can’t even see the top of my composter on the back fence. I can’t wait for spring.

Winter Sowing

February 11, 2008

I’ve decided to try winter sowing, a method of starting seeds outdoors during winter for germination in the spring. It bypasses all indoor starting methods, including the dreaded damping off, and produces tough plants that are already hardened off at planting time. It’s very low-cost and apparently addictive.

There is a huge recycling aspect to winter sowing (WS) that helps keep the costs down. Many of the containers that people use are recycled gallon milk jugs and 2L pop bottles. Unfortunately neither of these two popular choices are suitable for my situation. In Ontario, all our milk comes in tetra pak cartons or plastic bags and I don’t buy pop in 2L bottles. I could steal bottles from my neighborhood on recycling day or find some large pop-drinking family though I would have to do that on a continual basis as most of the containers seemed like they are really only good for one season.

To WS using a milk jug or pop bottle, you get rid of the top cap, cut the container in half, cut drainage holes in the bottom half, fill the bottom half with at least 4″ of damp soil, lightly sow your seeds and duct tape the top half of the container back on. Then you put the container outside in the chilly, snowy weather and forget about it until spring. Once the seeds germinate you start watering the seedlings and venting the containers so your seedlings don’t cook inside their “mini-greenhouses”.

I decided on a more long-term approach for my WS using storage containers and plastic cups. The idea was to buy a clear or translucent bin, drill holes in it and fill it with many containers of soil. On one of my trips to the States (only a 20 min. drive away), I picked up two 124-quart storage containers made by Real Organized. They are 32″ x 19″ x 15.75″ in size and have a snap-shut lid and clear base for $9.95 each. Next, I bought twelve 5.5″ square pots and found out that one storage container was only big enough to hold ten square pots. There was also a 4″ space between the square pot and the inside wall of the storage container just asking to be filled up with the perfect container. I needed something tall, narrow and pliable enough to drill holes through.

On yet another trip to the States I found packs of six 7″-tall plastic tumblers on sale at Wal-Mart for $0.50 down from $2.99 (thank you post-holiday sales!) and bought 14 packages, really way more than I needed.

Here’s a shot of my square pots and cups in my storage bin:

It looked pretty good so I started getting ready to drill holes in the cups and the bottom and top of the storage container.

I had read about a gardener using a glue gun to make holes in the plastic cups and decided to give it a try. It didn’t stink as much as I thought it might however it made really wide holes with high walls inside the cup. Not very good for drainage. I got my boyfriend’s cordless hand-held drill, put in a 1/4″ bit and started drilling holes into the storage container and 7″ cups. Doing a clockwise rotation with the drill made the hole too fast and cracked the plastic. After a couple of test runs I decided the best approach was a counter-clockwise rotation pressing gently into the plastic, creating a slower entry point for a cleaner drainage hole. Here’s a shot of some of my earlier attempts (upper right is the glue gun attempt):

I was able to drill holes into about 20 cups and then moved on to the storage container. Here you can see the bottom of the storage container:

I was a little haphazard with the placement of my drill, realizing afterward that I should have been drilling my initial holes into the raised area underneath my palm as this would be where the water would accumulate for drainage.

Here’s the finished storage container bottom with 29 holes:

I then drilled 25 holes into the top cover for the storage container (not shown) and spaced them out evenly.

Next was to prepare the cups with dampened soil. I dumped some organic potting mix into my kitchen sink and sprayed with down with the water sprayer, getting a nice, even damping:

I filled up the cups with the dampened soil, gently knocking them on the side of the sink to settle the soil before topping up the cup. I prepared a few at a time and put them in a plastic bucket so that the water wouldn’t drip out while I was seeding the cups.

I had been looking for a suitable plant marker for each cup that was easy to label and sturdy enough to hold up through months of inclement weather. I didn’t have any used plastic containers or old mini-blinds that I could cut up into labels. I finally found a package of plastic knives that were perfect for labeling.

I didn’t know how many seeds to plant in each container and ended up planting 12 seeds per cup for the larger seeds, such as lupine and coneflower, and just sprinkling the smaller seeds evenly like columbine and parsley. Here’s a shot of a seeded lupine cup:

As I seeded the cups I transferred them outside:

In Storage Container #1, I have 10 square pots of:

  • coneflower, white
  • coneflower ‘Magnus’
  • coneflower, purple from Peg (2)
  • coneflower from Val (2)
  • cleome ‘Helen Campbell’
  • bee balm
  • aster ‘Green Leaves’
  • pole bean ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’

and 7 cups of:

  • wild lupine (4)
  • columbine, purple
  • columbine from Peg
  • clustered bellflower ‘Marine’

In Storage Container #2 I have 14 cups of:

  • spinach (3)
  • wild lupine ( 8 )
  • lupine from Peg
  • coreopsis
  • parsely

The second container has room for 11 more cups that I will probably fill up soon with vegetable seeds. I also picked up another two containers and will need to drill holes into them too.

The containers have been out there for a good two weeks and have been snowed in:

I’m looking forward to the seeds germinating and seeing how my wintersowed seedlings compare to my indoor seeds that I will start in March/April. For now, they will stay out in the cold, freezing and thawing, for the next month or two.