Saturday, February 7, 2015

My Journey Towards Self-Reliance, Part II: Winter Sowing

Winter Sowing
Here's a brief summary on how winter sowing may improve your self-reliance.

  • Winter sowing allows you to start a large amount of plants from seed with reduced costs and work compared to growing seedlings indoors.
  • Reduces trash that ends up in landfill by using common, recycled materials.
  • Eliminates risk of plant death to overexposure (transplants are already hardened from sun/wind burn and some cold snaps), and reduces risk of pest problems.
  • A passive approach makes winter sowing easy and generally problem-free.

Last month, I began recording my progress towards self-reliance with an article about high-efficiency artificial lighting for decreased home energy consumption.  Today, I am continuing that series with another article on self-reliance, but I am going to change gears a bit and talk about an important part of creating a sustainable and reliable food supply.

In order to be released from the choke hold of the modern grocery store, one must somehow provide themselves the bulk of their caloric needs from their own land.  And to do that, one must grow a LOT of food.  Furthermore, one must have a continuous supply of this food through the growing season.

Now I don't want to go off-topic by getting into the exact numbers of plants a family needs to grow in order to supply the majority of their food from their own land.  However, we can assume that in order to have a self-reliant food supply from one's own property, one would need to start by growing a lot of plants from seed.

Today's article is going to be explaining how to do just that: Starting plants from seed easily, frugally and efficiently by using a method know as "Winter Sowing."

Flowering plants are easy to winter sow, but will it work for vegetables as well?

Winter Sowing: What Is It, Exactly?

The name is essentially what you do in this method... sowing seeds in the winter.

It's more or less a simple method to get seeds to germinate and grow plants for using in the garden.  It uses common recycled materials to enhance early seedling growth, while also providing protection from some pests and moderately cold temperatures.  It also eliminates the need to grow many sensitive plants indoors, saving space for other plants or furniture, as well as eliminating the need for artificial lighting.  Additionally, just about anyone can use this method, as it is super easy to learn and very inexpensive.

What Materials Do I Need to Winter Sow Seeds?

Here's a list of things you need to winter sow:

  • Potting Soil (preferably a mix of homemade compost and peat moss, but store-bought soil will work too)
  • Seeds
  • An old plastic container (empty milk jugs are most common, but you can use things like soda bottles, juice containers, yogurt, ect.)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Marker (optional)

How Do I Use the Winter Sowing Method?

In a nutshell, you will be growing plants in recycled containers that have been modified to hold soil and protect young seedlings from frost.

You can find step-by-step instructions at .  The pictures in the link show you how to make it out of semi-transparent milk jugs, but there are many kinds of containers (juice, yogurt, ect.) that will work the same way.  Just make sure they are clear or at least somewhat transparent.  The solid color containers won't work because they don't allow enough light to reach inside.

Here is a short video of me going through the entire process, with tips and pointers to help ensure your success with winter sowing.

I experimented with winter sowing last year with a few milk jugs and flower seeds, and I had a pretty good success rate.  My hypothesis is that growing vegetable seeds using the winter sowing method will work just as well, enabling me to start vast amount of plants outside.  This will eliminate the need use artificial lights and having to constantly monitor the seedlings before planting in the garden.  In the worst case scenario, I would just have to get a late start on most of my warm season veggies.  But in my optimistic prediction based on last season's experience, I think winter sowing just may be the most efficient way to start large amount of plants from seed in terms of cost and workload.

Why Not Just Sow the Seeds Directly Into the Ground?

Good question.  Many warm season vegetables (e.g. pepper plants) need a longer growing time to produce, hence the reason most of us resort to growing indoors with lights.  The outdoor soil temperatures stay too cold for these plants to germinate directly in the ground at the time we need them to begin growing.  There's also a good chance a late frost will damage or kill tender seedlings, even if they did germinate and grow a bit.

Winter sowing allows the seed to still be exposed to the same conditions as the outdoor environment, but the container it is planted in will help protect against extreme temperature swings and harsh winds.  Your seedlings will be hardened to the sun's rays and colder temperatures right from the beginning, and they are at a reduced risk for wind damage and slug attacks.

Some seeds may take longer to germinate when winter sowing compared to starting them indoors, but most of the anecdotes I've read from other people who've grown plants both ways claim that the winter sowed plants usually catch up and surpass the ones grown indoors.  I will determine if this is true for myself during the next growing season.

What If It Snows or Freezes?

Winter sowing will most likely protect your plants during unexpected cold snaps in the late winter and early spring, so long as they remain closed during said cold snap.  If you are worried about especially tender plants, you can put a blanket over the containers for the night and remove it the next day.  However, the idea behind winter sowing is to grow plants with less work.  I wouldn't worry too much about providing protection for your containers, as nature itself is pretty good at determining when seeds should germinate.

You may have even better luck if you sow cool season vegetables the earliest in the season, while waiting more towards the end of winter to sow the warmer season vegetables.

That's all for this article.  Stay tuned for more of my self-reliance journey series.

ADDENDUM 2/08/2015:

Here are some pictures I found of a few of the flowers I grew last season using winter sowing containers... just a bit of anecdotal evidence to add to the mix :)

Bachelor button, highlighted in the circles.  This was right before they all bloomed.

Asters with an insect enjoying its nectar.  I also had purple and white varieties.
A huge marigold that actually got out of control in my main vegetable garden bed.  It bloomed from July to mid-October.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Is the Egg Industry Fooling You Into Thinking Eggs Are Healthy? A Review of a Study On Eggs and Cholesterol Levels and Weight

Some scientific studies have shown eggs aren't harmful for your heart.  But is that the truth, or are these studies fundamentally flawed?  Here's a brief look at today's research review.

  • The study under review today claims that eating eggs does not affect cholesterol levels in the body, but the researchers tested cholesterol levels after a 10-hour fast.
  • Participants who ate eggs in the study for just three months showed modest rises in fasted cholesterol levels, though not enough of a change to be considered statistically significant.
  • The researchers had almost no control over the subjects' diets, making it practically impossible to draw conclusions from the data collected.
  • This study uses other poorly designed scientific experiments as citations for its hypothesis, building further upon already flawed research.  
  • Unsurprisingly, this study was funded by the American Egg Board.

For a long time, I thought eggs were a nutritious food.  They have lots of choline, a decent amount of protein, and a moderate amount of calories.  Eggs are generally cheap, filling and tasty to boot, which made them a main stay in my breakfast meal for most of my life.

But are they really that nutritious?  I've changed my mind about eggs being healthy, due to a large variety of research I've been reading over the past few weeks.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Journey Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting

Formerly "Moving Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting"

I've been slowly working towards my goal of being self-reliant in food, water, energy and finances.  Today, I want to discuss how to become more energy-efficient as part of the larger goal of becoming self-reliant.  More specifically, I want to talk about high efficiency lighting.

Do Light Bulbs Really Use That Much Energy?


According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, artificial lighting accounts for at least 10% of the typical American's total energy usage in their homes.  Various other sources claim even larger figures, with some experts citing that lighting can make up as high 30% of the annual electricity usage.

It's hard to imagine that a simple light bulb would use that much of total energy a house expends throughout the year.  Indeed, even the most inefficient light bulbs don't use that much power compared to other appliances, like refrigerators or clothes dryers.

Hardly anyone uses just one light bulb in most rooms in a typical house, however.  The combined sum of wattage used by light bulbs can quickly surpass that of larger, power-hungry appliances, especially when left on for long periods of time.

Obviously, turning off lights when not in use will save energy and money.  However, most of us like having artificial lighting, especially at night when we would accomplish nothing without said lighting.

Artificial lighting may be necessary, but we can choose specific types of light bulbs to significantly reduce our energy usage.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Garden Progress, Early September 2014 - Helpful Tips and Tricks from the Dow Dominion Garden

It took me longer than expected to post an update of my frugal veggie garden since my last article, but fear not!  Today, I've posted a new video going over some of the routine tasks I do in the garden, as well as some other tips and tricks I've picked up along the way this season.  I also do a tour around my garden (what's left of it, anyway) to show my readers what I am growing right now and what plants are still producing from the last sowing.  Here's a few highlights of the video:

  • What material I compost 
  • How often to turn the compost pile
  • How many tomato plants I expect to need to feed my family during the next growing season
  • Lots of mulching advice and recommendations
  • Fall gardening experiments
  • Beans, beans and more beans!
  • A primer on winter sowing
  • And more...

I hope you guys enjoy the video.  Let me know if there are any specific questions you would like answered, or any particular topics you would like to have me cover.  Stay tuned for further videos and articles!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Learning From 2014's Successes and Failures So Far

The weather has been strange lately.  Very strange.  The last week of July produced temperatures cold enough to need a comforter on my bed during the nights.  We normally expect to turn the AC on around this time of year, but it felt more like a nice, cool week in the fall, not smack-dab in the middle of summer.  So we decided to open the windows instead, to save money on electricity and to get some fresh air in the house.  It seemed very unusual, but we were welcoming of lower temperatures none-the-less.

My garden has gone through a number of changes over the past few weeks.  Most of my cool season vegetables have produced what they could and died off.  A majority of the summer crops are now producing ripe, delicious food.  Beautiful flowers that attract pollinators and predators have started to bloom, and I've started to sow more veggie seeds for the fall.  It's been a pretty bountiful gardening season, but despite that, I'm already starting to plan and design how next year's garden will be set up.

Today's post is going to be a review of what worked (and what didn't work) in my garden this season.  It's important for me to keep a record of these things, because I can further improve upon my successes, and either fix or avoid the failures that I had this year.  I think I have mentioned before that I would like to eventually have 80-90% of my family's food grown from our garden, and accurate record-keeping is necessary to move towards that goal.

So let's take a look at my successes and failures over the spring and summer this year, and how that will influence my garden's design for the next season.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Garden Progress, Late June/Early July 2014 - Applying Permaculture Principles to the Garden, As Well As Other Experiments

It's been a good while since the start of summer, and my garden looks considerably different now than how it did in my last video.  In this month's update, I take a walk through the garden and explain what has changed over the course of the month.  I also talk about different projects I've been working on around the garden, in my pursuit of self-sufficiency.  Take a look:

I tried to fit as much updated information as I could into the video, but I know I missed a few things.  I promise to give these plants and/or ideas some time in the next video.  Additionally, I wanted to go into further detail about the different methodologies that I have been applying, so here are some notes on those techniques that I've taken from my own experience.

Monday, June 16, 2014

3 Tips to Keep Your Frugal Veggie Garden Healthy and Productive

It's the middle of June and it's getting hot outside!  My frugal veggie garden is growing fast, and I've already harvested quite a bit of my spring veggies.  Although I've not been weighing out my harvests like I intended to do (perhaps next year), my wife and I harvest and eat something from our garden nearly every day.

The peas vines are making good use of my cotton twine "trellis" (i.e. fence)

Snow peas and Sugar Snap peas both ready to eat

My frugal veggie-growing guide includes instructions and details on how to get your garden up and running for minimal money investment, but even a frugal veggie garden needs continual attention and maintenance to keep the plants productive.  Until now, I haven't really discussed the tasks that I am continually doing around the garden now that it is well established.  So today, I am going to share a few tips that I've learned over my few of gardening experience that make the biggest difference in terms of a healthy, happy vegetable garden.